Category Archives: Beer Styles

Historic Bavarian Weißbier

One of the distinctly Bavarian beer styles still around nowadays is Weißbier (sometimes spelled Weissbier), which literally translated to “white beer” in English. Modern Weißbier is a top-fermented beer with around 11 to 13 °P original gravity, a grist of at least 50% wheat malt, low hopping, and a distinctly estery and/or phenolic aroma and flavour reminiscent of banana and/or cloves. Until the last few decades, it’s only been popular in Bavaria, and even there, it used to have the image of a drink that was mostly consumed by elderly women, not unlike Milk Stout in the UK.

You will quite often read about this beer style that the “Weiß” in “Weißbier” is allegedly referring to its wheat content, often alluding that “Weiß” (white) and “Weizen” (wheat) have the same etymological origin. From what I could find out, this is not necessarily the case.

The origins of Weißbier apparently lie with Bohemian white beer that became popular in Bavaria in the late middle ages. With the various beer purity laws enacted in 1469, 1487, 1493 and 1516 in Bavaria or parts of it, brewing with wheat was prohibited for the common folk. Brewing Weißbier was an exclusive privilege that was first handed to the Degenberg dynasty, and was later taken back by the Wittelsbach dynasty, who also happened to be the rulers of Bavaria, so producing Weißbier was practically a state privilege. Only in 1798, this exclusivity was repealed, and privileges were sold to other breweries. State-run breweries were eventually sold or leased out. One of the leaseholders of one these breweries, in particular Weißes Hofbräuhaus in Munich, was Georg Schneider. In 1873, Georg Schneider started his own brewery, as the lease for Weißes Hofbräuhaus was about to run out. Since he was leaseholder, he had the brewing privilege and the right to all ingredients, and thus was able to take both the privilege and the original yeast from Weißes Hofbräuhaus over to his new brewery. That new brewery is now known as Schneider Weisse, but have moved their headquarter and production facilities away from Munich since then. So Schneider Weisse, in terms of their origins as business, and in terms of the originality of their yeast, have a well-documented provenance.

But what was Weißbier like back then? From what I could find out, it did show quite a few differences to the modern product. First of all, the name. Nowadays, Weißbier (white beer) and Weizenbier (wheat beer) are treated as synonyms. In Germany, if you want to call your beer after the type of malted grain that you used in it, it needs to contain at least 50% of it in its grist. But in the past, Weißbier had a different meaning.

Generally, beer in Germany used to be classified in two different types, Weißbier (white beer) and Braunbier (brown beer). The distinction was in the malt: kilning technology in the middle ages and early modern era was rather primitive, and well until the early 19th century, smoke kilns were in use. These smoke kilns not only gave all the malt a smokey taste, it was also rather hard to control the temperature with which the green malt was kilned. Under such circumstances, it was basically impossible to gain an exact control over the malt colour, so all kilned malt was brown and smokey. To produce a pale malt, the easiest option was to simply air-dry it. The green malt was spread out in a well-covered place with a constant draft to slowly dry it out without applying any additional heat. Of course, that process took a lot longer and was more laborious that kilning, and the resulting malt couldn’t be kept for long because it tended to spoil quickly and get mouldy. With the difference in these malts, brown beers were made from brown (i.e. kilned) malt, while white beers were brewed using pale, air-dried malt.

When we look at historic sources, we indeed find an indication that Bavarian Weißbier was not necessarily brewed with wheat. One such source is a book called “Die Bayerische Bierbrauerei oder die Brauerei der braunen Biere und des weißen Gerstenbieres, […]” written by Friedrich Meyer and published in 1830, whose title translates to “The Bavarian beer brewery or the brewing of brown beers and of white barley beer, […]”. Well, that just gives it away. In the book itself, the author writes that Weißbier is brewed from only slightly kilned malt or alternatively air-dried malt. There was a difference in fermentation as well: while brown beers were bottom-fermented, white beers were top-fermented. That shows how dominant bottom-fermentation in Bavaria was. Because of the top-fermentation, it could also be done in warm weather, and thus was a perfect beer to be produced during the summer.

The author also notes that if wheat is not too expensive, a bit of wheat malt can be added, at a ratio of half a Metze of wheat malt for every Schäffel of barley malt. A Metze is 21.6 liters, while a Bavarian Schäffel was 222.36 liters, so that means only about 5% of wheat malt in the overall grist. That’s not a whole lot, and even totally optional according the author.

Interestingly, the author also mentions that Weißbier in Bavaria is in decline, and he partially blames the brewers for it. Some of them even openly mentioned to him that “one had to deliberately make a bad Weißbier so that the brown beer can be sold more easily”. He counters that top-fermented beers that can be consumed 3 to 4 days after fermentation is completed and that it can be sold within only a few weeks means less tied-up capital and less risk for the brewer.

The same author published an updated version of his book in 1847 under title “Die bayerische Bierbrauerei in all ihren Theilen […]”. It also contains a chapter about Weißbier. In there, the author makes a specific distinction between “weißes Weitzenbier” and “weißes Gerstenbier”, i.e. white wheat beer and white barley beer, both of which were commonly called Weißbier. He again mentions that it’s a beer style in decline, praises it for its refreshing qualities in the summer time, but also describes it as a drink that was more common in the countryside, and, because of its relatively low price compared to lager beer, popular among poor people.

The recipe described in 1847 differs from the previous one from 1830: this time, it’s at least one Metze of wheat malt for every Schäffel of barley malt. But even that means only about 10% of wheat malt, although it can be more. Another difference of Weißbier compared to brown beer was the malt itself: the rootlets of malt for Weißbier was allowed to grow longer, which might be an indication that malt for Weißbier was more modified than lager malt.

Weißbier brewed from wheat on the other hand is described as made purely from wheat malt alone. It’s described as less perishable than Weißbier made from barley malt. Other than that, the processes of brewing it are the same.

Both versions of the book say that Weißbier is brewed with a method called “auf Satz brauen”, which is a rather complicated method that involves multiple mashes with cold and hot runnings being drawn off at various points. I shall discuss this at a later point in time, also because I haven’t fully understood the method myself.

Other sources confirm the descriptions found in both of Meyer’s books: in Handbuch für Bierbrauer by P. Müller (1854), the author describes Weißbier as top-fermented, with a grist of 1/2 to 3/4 Metzen of wheat malt per Scheffel of barley malt (a different spelling of Schäffel, in case you wondered), and that it’s brewed both in summer and winter. The author also provides information about the original gravity: 10 to 10.5% extract. That’s actually a bit less than modern Weißbier.

All three sources describe about the same hopping rate: about 1 to 1.5 Pfund of hops per Schäffel, and the hops are boiled for 45 minutes to one hour.

So, with all the parameters that we know about Bavarian Weißbier in the first half of the 19th century, we can convert all these old units to modern ones and scaled it to the typical recipe size for homebrewers, and end up with a recipe like that:

  • 3.6 kg Pilsner Malt (93.5 %)
  • 0.25 kg Pale Wheat Malt (6.5 %)
  • 25 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (3 % alpha acid)
  • 1 pack of Bavarian Weißbier yeast, e.g. Wyeast 3068

In my opinion, the particular mashing method wouldn’t have a big impact on the beer here, so I’d follow a simple mashing scheme like a Hochkurz infusion mash. Mash, lauter, sparge as usual, boil the wort for an hour, add hops at the beginning of the boil. Chill wort to 20 °C, pitch yeast. The resulting beer should look like that:

  • OG 10.5 °P (1.042)
  • 4.4 % ABV
  • 10 IBU
  • 5.5 EBC (2.8 SRM)

Most of the beer’s character would come from the expressive yeast. If you want to be even more adventurous, you can try and make a starter from the dregs of a Schneider Weisse bottle. With a lower alcohol content than modern Weißbier, it would probably be even more refreshing, certainly a great summer beer. And last but not least, the beer, compared to a modern version, would show how much of an impact the use of wheat malt makes on the beer’s overall character. My guess is: not so much. But then, I haven’t brewed this beer yet.

My Attempts On The Perfect Munich Helles

There is one beer style that seems to be the goal of many homebrewers to get it right: Munich Helles. A pale, golden lager beer with a malty body and not much hop character. Many have tried getting it right. There are threads on homebrewing forums, even on German ones, Reddit also has something, there’s a even a blog dedicated to brewing lager beers with the focus on Bavarian beers, aptly named “The Quest For Edelstoff“, the almost legendary export-strength Helles brewed by Augustiner.

Since my wife and I particularly enjoy Helles, it has been my goal in the last few years to brew a really good one. In February, I brewed my fourth one, and so far, it’s been absolutely fantastic (it’s still carbonating, though). In the fourth try, I got everything just right, it looks right, it smells right, it tastes right. There is nothing where I would say that this is a fault (no matter how minor) in the beer, and I am overly critical about my own beer.

Maybe I should discuss what my previous attempts looked like. In the first recipe that I did in February 2014, the grist was rather complex (mostly Pilsner, some light Munich malt, some CaraPils, some Melanoidin). The mash was a Hochkurz infusion mash, 90 minute boil, with a single hop addition of Hallertauer Mittelfrüh. W-34/70 yeast. If I remember correctly, the beer came out a tad too dark (still pale, but more brown than golden), and it had a honey-like note. I blame the melanoidin malt for that.

The second attempt, in October 2014, was close to the first recipe, except no melanoidin malt, and Perle hops at 90 minutes and 15 minutes. The mash was unexpectedly more efficient than planned, and in the end the yeast must have stalled a bit, so it came out strong, more like a Maibock, with some residual sweetness.

The third attempt, brewed in September 2015, was 100% Pilsner malt, with a Hochkurz double decoction. This time a 2 hour boil, and Perle at 60 and 40 min, and Hallertauer Mittelfrüh at 15 min. Yeast (again) was W-34/70. The overall result was very cloudy, and had more hop aroma than anticipated. It tasted more like unfiltered Staropramen than a Helles.

For the fourth attempt, done in February 2016, I decided to do a few things differently, and incorporated a lot of recommendations from Ludwig Narziß’s books. I composed the grist of 98% Pilsner malt and 2% CaraHell, which I then mashed at 38 °C in a water adjusted to a residual alkalinity of 0 °dH. I rested for 20 minutes, then heated up to 50 °C. I then drew a decoction, heated the decoction up to 65 °C, rested until conversion, then brought it to a boil for 10 minutes and poured it back to bring the mash up to 65 °C. I then let it rest for 50 minutes. I then drew a second decoction, again brought it to a boil for 10 minutes, and poured it back to get to 75 °C. I then lautered and sparged. Again, a 90 minute boil. For hopping, I used Hersbrucker hops this time, with additions at 70 and 40 minutes. Also, I cheated, and added some Irish moss at 15 minutes. After chilling the wort to 11 °C, I pitched a large starter of Wyeast 2308 (i.e. the Weihenstephan 308 yeast strain), and let it ferment for 2 weeks, followed by 7 weeks of lagering at 1 °C. I then kegged it. It’s currently carbonating.

Since the overall amount in the fermenter was about 21 liters, but the keg only fit 19 liters, I got to try some uncarbonated Helles. The colour was clearly golden, and just right. The hops were subdued, and the beer was dominated by a very soft malty note. There was no sweetness though. The mouthfeel was very full-bodied, and there was a typical lager flavour in there – I guess low levels of sulphur. All in all, a very pleasant experience.

For the colour, I’d say it’s most definitely the grist that’s responsible for that. 100% Pilsner malt was a tiny bit too pale, small amount of Munich and/or Melanoidin malt made the beer a tiny bit too brown. 2% CaraHell really seems to do the trick.

Then the hops: Perle clearly doesn’t work so well, Hallertauer seemed okay in the past, but the Hersbrucker seems to taste even nicer when used in rather small amounts and with no late additions.

And last, probably one of the most important factors, the yeast. While W-34/70 is one of the standard strains in lager brewing, I’m not sure it’s particularly well-suited for brewing Helles. Even when fermented cleanly, it just seems a bit harsher than the W-308 strain, which is just softer and a bit less attenuative. I’m not sure whether the decoction mash made any real difference, but it’s certainly a technique to achieve a highly fermentable wort.

I’m not saying my Helles is the perfect Helles, but of those that I’ve brewed so far, it is by far the best. For the next attempts, I will definitely keep the grist, and most likely the hops, and at most will I experiment with other mash schedules and methods, and most likely with other Bavarian lager yeast strains that are not W-34/70. W-206 is certainly worth a try, and so is W-109 which is a traditional strain for Helles and available for homebrewers.

Horner Bier

Some time ago, I stumbled upon a mention of an Austrian beer style called Horner Bier in some historic brewing-related book, and it got me interested. Deriving from name, the beer was from this small Lower Austrian town called Horn. I have no direct relation to that town (other than an officer in my medical training in the Austrian Army articulating the empty threat that we’d be transferred for disciplinary reasons to the Horn barracks if we didn’t pass the training), but I was nevertheless curious. Apparently, the Horner Bier was an oat malt beer, and quite popular in Vienna in the 18th century (and probably earlier). Just like I got obsessed with proper, historic Vienna Lager a bit, I just had to research this beer, as well.

A starting point is an article that Evan Rail wrote about Horner Bier a while ago. In a book from 1865 by Karl Balling, he found a rough description of the beer:

  • It’s an oat beer
  • It’s very fizzy and refreshing
  • It’s cloudy

Also, Mozart apparently mentioned the beer in some lyrics.

Horner Bier

Looking further, I went through the historic brewing books of which there are plenty available for free on Google Play. A book that I mentioned too often recently is “Vollständige Braukunde“, it briefly mentions Horner Bier as one of the few oat beers still being brewed:

Horner Bier

In another section on Austrian beer, that same book mentions that in 1822, a law was enacted in Austria that prohibited sparging and making beer from second runnings. It makes no mention about the reason, or previous practices. So for at least some time, Horner Bier may have been a no-sparge beer.

Looking further, the book “Die Staatswirthschafts-Chemie” briefly mentions Horner Bier, as well, in particular that it was made from unkilned, air-dried oat malt (Hafer-Luftmalz), and that it was slightly sour.

Also, in a book about Vienna from 1808 with a title too long to mention here, Horner Bier is mentioned as one of three beer styles common in the city. In this account, it is mentioned as containing very little hops and a small amount of cream of tartar.

Horner Bier

So, to summarize, what is known about Horner Bier is that it was made from oat malt, it was fizzy, cloudy, considered refreshing, slightly sour, contained only a small amount of hops, and also a bit of cream of tartar was used in its production. It would be interesting to see measurements of original and final gravity, or perhaps even a historic recipe, but my research hasn’t surfaced anything like that. I’ll probably attempt to brew a version of it for the Berlin Homebrewers meetup in September with the theme of historic beer styles.

(thanks go out to Lars Marius Garshol who encouraged me to write down my few findings on Horner Beer)

Historic German Beers That Did Not Conform To The Reinheitsgebot

Bamberger Bier

Bamberger Bier in the early 19th century sometimes had salt added to get it to clarify more quickly.

Braunschweiger Mumme (Brunswick Mumm)

This historic German beer style used to be a popular export product. Besides wheat and barley malt, other ingredients were used, such as juniper berries, marjoram, thyme, and plums. Other sources mention fir tree bark, fir tips, birch tips, burnet, elderflowers, and rose hips.

Farrnbacher Bier

This beer from Bavaria was reportedly brewed with sugar, juniper berries, and cream of tartar.

Kottbusser Bier

In this beer, the barley malt, wheat malt and oat malt was augmented with honey and sugar.

Mannheimer Braunbier

Brewed with juniper berries and ginger.

Merseburger Bier

Brewed with gentian roots and bitter oranges.

Schwedisches Bier (“Swedish beer”)

This beer was brewed in Germany, and besides the usual ingredients of barley malt, wheat malt and oat malt, brewers also used oregano and honey.

Spandauer Bier

This beer was brewed with sugar.

Weißes Stettiner Bier

Also brewed with sugar.

Weinartiges Weißbier (“wine-like white beer”)

This wheat beer was brewed from two different types of wheat malt, barley malt, oat malt. Besides that, brewers added sugar, cardamom, and lemons. Alternatively, brewers could substitute the lemons with cream of tartar.

Weizenbier (“wheat beer”)

A wheat beer recipe from the first half of the 19th century mentions ingredients such as syrup (it’s unclear which kind of syrup), juniper berries, ginger, and salt.

Baierisches Weizenbier (Bavarian wheat beer)

Wheat beer in Bavaria in the first half of the 19th century used to be brewed with either top- or bottom-fermenting yeast, unlike nowadays. When bottom-fermented yeast was used, Branntwein (brandy) was added. Also, the recipe gives a grist of 2/3 barley malt and 1/3 wheat malt. While only the addition of brandy is strictly against the Reinheitsgebot respectively its modern version, this recipe goes very much against modern norms that are considered to be “traditional”: nowadays, only top-fermenting yeast is allowed for beers containing any other malt than barley, and in order to be called a wheat beer, the grist must contain at least 50% wheat malt.

Source: “Vollständige Braukunde” by Johann Carl Leuchs, published in Nuremberg in 1831.

Is The Purity Law a Uniformity Law – Does The Reinheitsgebot Prevent Diversity?

This is part of my series to discuss 500 years of Reinheitsgebot.

In this part of my series of “frequently questioned answers”, I will discuss the question of diversity or lack of diversity that comes with the German purity law, as it was brought up in the FAQ on reinheitsgebot.de.

Question 9: Is the purity law a uniformity law – does it prevent diversity?

Their answer:

Despite the limitation on malt, hops, water and yeast, German brewers have an extreme diversity in ingredients to brew good beer. More than 170 different hop varieties, 40 different types of malt, about 200 different yeast strains, the liquor (brewing water) also has an influence on the beer, just like the brewing method itself. According to them, that gives the freedom to brew 1 million different ways of brewing a beer according to the purity law.

My answer:

If there were a million different ways, then why is Germany’s beer landscape so uniform? Go to an average supermarket, and have a look through the aisles, what do you see? Twenty different brands of Pils, a few Hefeweizen, maybe a Kristallweizen, a Schwarzbier or two, if you’re lucky you’ll find a Helles, a Kölsch and/or an Altbier. In addition to that, the typical “world beers”, generic lagers from major international producers, and maybe bottled Guinness. And that’s it. Some focal points of great, local beer, like Franconia, remain local, and are hard to get in other parts of Germany, with the exception of specialty beer shops, of which there are only relatively few.

And even if you look at these mainstream beer styles, there is very little variation inbetween. In blind taste tests, people consistently fail to distinguish and identify major German Pils brands. I’ve even seen a blind test on German TV where people failed to identify what they claimed was their favourite Pils which they would always buy. This makes all the major brands essentially interchangeable, and the beer market cannot possibly be driven by variety, but by brand reputation only.

So, the question remains: if the purity law were actually an enabler in beer diversity, why is the German mass market so dominated by mostly uniform beer?

An English Barleywine Recipe

About two years ago, my then girlfriend and I brewed our first Christmas beer. It was an oatmeal milk stout which, in retrospect, had just too many components and was a bit confused, but still drinkable. Right after finishing that, we had another great idea: why not brew a big beer that takes some time for aging, and serve that as Christmas beer in a year’s time? So the obvious style for us was English barleywine. I put together a recipe, we brewed it (and had a very chaotic brew day with too many stuck sparges and very low efficiency), bottled it, and after a year, it came out really nice. We kept a few bottles, and yesterday, we brought some of them to the Christmas beer tasting of the Berlin Homebrewing group.

This beer, now two years old, was well-received, and so I’m documenting the recipe for others to brew it and have the patience of a year or longer to actually get a great beer.

Grist:

  • 83 % Pale Ale Malt
  • 17 % CaraRed

Hops:

  • 2.5 g/l Target @ 90 min
  • 3 g/l East Kent Goldings @ 10 min

Two hour mash at 62 °C, then a 90 minute boil. Nottingham Ale yeast. OG was 22 °P, FG was 3.5 °P. 9.6% ABV. 65 IBU (calculated).

In my notes, I forgot to write down the alpha acid content of the hops that I used. In the end, it doesn’t really matter much, because the hop bitterness almost totally fades, and there is just some very muted, round bitterness there that accentuates the overall maltiness. Because of that, I’m not sure whether anything but a bittering addition really makes sense in the end.

After fermentation, we bottled the beer without any priming whatsoever, and no fresh yeast. It still took up some carbonation, which probably comes from tiny amounts of fermentable sugar left after the main fermentation, which was eventually, and very slowly eaten up by the yeast. After that, we sampled the beer at 3 months, 6 months, and 9 months age. Only at 9 months age, it started to taste nice, but really only reached its full potential after 12 months of bottle maturation. An additional 12 months added even more complexity, and that makes me very happy about this beer and the recipe.

Optimizing a Hefeweizen Mash for Esters and Phenols

A few days ago, I had the idea that I wanted to brew a classic Hefeweizen. In my few years of homebrewing, I had actualy only ever done a “proper” Hefeweizen once, and it was the “Almtaler Hefeweisse” kit from Hopfen&Malz. I wasn’t overly impressed by the specific beer, it seemed a bit too watery for my taste. But then, that may have been purely because it was my third beer that I ever brewed. After that, I brewed two more Hefeweizen, but both with a twist, i.e. a heavy late aroma hopping, followed by some dry-hopping with Nelson Sauvin. That beer was a success, but it’s definitely not your classic Hefeweizen.

A Bavarian Hefeweizen has some specific properties: it’s brewed from a mix of barley malt and wheat malt, with the wheat being at least 50% of the grist. Some commercial examples even contain as much as 70% wheat malt. The beer is cloudy, both from proteins from the wheat malt and yeast in suspension, and while pale, it’s usually a tad darker than your German pale lager, sometimes even going towards a reddish hue. Hop bitterness is very low, with no hop aroma. Alcohol-wise, the typical commercial examples usually have 4.8 to 5.5% ABV. The yeast strains used for that style are top-fermenting. Historically, Hefeweizen did not conform to the Bavarian Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) because it contains wheat malt, while the Reinheitsgebot only allows barley malt. Special permits were instead issued to those who held the privilege to brew with wheat.

Because I wanted to brew a Hefeweizen on a rather short notice, I went to Bierlieb and got some ingredients. Their choice in ingredients is alright but not great, but definitely enough for quite a few German beer styles, your odd IPA or Belgian-style beer. Unfortunately, they only offer dry yeasts, so I had to get WB-06. Now, the thing is that I’ve heard quite a few bad things about WB-06, namely that it’s a rather bland yeast that produces only tiny amounts of the typical phenolic and ester notes of a proper Hefeweizen. My previous experience with dry yeasts in general and specifically Fermentis dry yeast has been rather good so far (S-04 is my standard for most British styles, US-05 is the Chico strain and so probably the standard for almost everyone’s American styles, and Saflager W-34/70 and S-23 have worked for me in the past, too), so I wanted to give them a try nevertheless.

Just to be sure that I would definitely get enough phenolic (clove) and ester (banana) notes in my Hefeweizen, I was looking for a way to optimize my wort production to provide the yeast with as much of the precursors as possible.

For the clove notes, that’s relatively easy. The phenolic clove notes in Hefeweizen come from the specific yeast strains metabolizing free ferulic acid to 4-vinyl guaiacol. Ferulic acid is in the malt itself, but it needs to be freed and available in the wort. That is usually done through a ferulic acid rest, at about 45 °C.

The banana notes on the other hand are esters, iso-amyl acetate and ethyl acetate, and their production by the yeast directly correlates to the amount of glucose in the wort. So obviously, I’d need to do a mash in a way to increase the amount of glucose. Fortunately, there is a pretty cool method for that, the Herrmann method, or Herrmann-Verfahren in German. It is named after Markus Herrmann who wrote his doctoral thesis at Weihenstephan about the formation and influence of flavouring substances in wheat beer about a decade ago (sorry, German only!).

The principle behind the Herrmann-Verfahren is relatively easy: malt contains a number of enzymes which manipulate starches and complex sugars at specific temperatures. The most important ones are alpha- and beta-amylase that do most of the work. But there is another enzyme, maltase, which can break down maltose into glucose. Unfortunately, maltase works at about 45 °C, and is quickly denatured at higher temperatures. So Herrmann designed a mash schedule that first produces a good amount of maltose through a straightforward Hochkurz infusion mash, with 60% of the grist. Then, a second mash with the remaining 40% of the grist and cold water is done, which is then added to the first mash, bringing it down to 45 °C. That way, the maltase enzymes from the second mash can munch on the maltose produced by the first mash and create more glucose. After that mash, a second dextrinization rest is conducted, followed by mash-out.

The whole process is illustrated here:

Herrmann-Verfahren

That way, you end up with a wort with a lot higher amount of glucose, eventually leading to more esters after fermentation with the right yeast strain. Coincidentally, the 45 °C of the maltase rest is the same temperature that is also necessary for the ferulic acid rest.

The recipe that I came up with for my Hefeweizen looks like this:

Grist:

  • 66.6% Pale Wheat malt
  • 18.5% Pilsner malt
  • 9.3% Munich malt (dark)
  • 5.6% CaraMunich II

Hops:

  • 0.5 g/l Hallertauer Tradition (7% AA) first wort hopping
  • 0.25 g/l Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (3% AA) @ 20 min

60 minute boil. 10 IBU. Mash as described above. WB-06 yeast. OG 13.25 °P. For carbonation, I’m using about 7.5% of the wort as Speise.

For fermentation itself, I’m chilling the wort down to about 17 °C, then I’ll pitch the yeast, and will let the temperature freely rise to ambient temperature (about 23 °C in my flat at the moment). Fermentis recommends for the WB-06 yeast to keep a temperature below 22 °C for clove flavors and above 23 °C for banana flavors. Given that my wort provides the yeast with enough glucose and ferulic acid to actually produce either flavors above the perception threshold, I should be fine with that fermentation schedule to achieve a hopefully balanced Hefeweizen with all the right aromas and flavors and none of the wrong ones.

As soon as the beer is finished, I’ll report back about the results.

Reflections on Beer Taxonomy

People are obsessed with taxonomy. Classifying things. Grouping things by how similar they are in certain properties, and to distinguish them. Everything. Flora and fauna, chemical compounds, diseases, fonts, whatever you can imagine. And of course beer.

So obviously, there are different kinds of beers, often distinguished by colour, alcohol strength, aroma, flavour, ingredients, and often connected to a certain locality.

So different people got together, and put much thought into classifying beer, and put these characteristics into beer style guidelines. The Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guideline is a very common one among homebrewers. Then there’s the Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines, developed and annually updated as guideline for professional beer judging. CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, also has their own style guidelines, which are mostly focused on British beer, i.e. milds, bitters, golden ales, porters, stouts, and similar styles.

But when you look at these style guidelines, they contradict each other in lots of details. I criticized this earlier in my article about Vienna lager. Such contradiction is only natural and to be expected, because, well, humans are humans, and humans have opinions, sometimes very strong ones. The understanding of lots of beer styles is a rather informal one, so beers are grouped by similarity, and then from this similarity, a more general description is derived. And edge cases are often the problem here.

Some people go crazy about styles. Especially among homebrewers I’ve noticed that the BJCP guidelines are seen as the universal truth and gospel, even though claims about a lot of beer styles are completely unfounded and ahistorical. In the extreme cases this leads to people beers brewed after historic recipes as “not true to style“, because of minuscule details they or someone else might have just made up or misinterpreted.

Or another case that I stumbled upon, is this hilarious question on reddit recently about Hall&Woodhouse’s Poacher’s Choice. The important question is whether this beer is a strong ale or a winter warmer.  There wasn’t much response to this, but people argued it may be a strong ale, a strong pale ale, or a winter warmer, but probably not a winter warmer, because they usually are spiced. WAT? What is the difference between a strong ale and a strong pale ale in the first place, and what is a winter warmer? A case of people assuming something about a beer style, even though there is not the slightest bit of consensus in sight. Last time I checked, none of the style guidelines are really clear on that. Plus I don’t think there’s any useful definition of a winter warmer out there in the first place.

But that’s a general problem, especially with English beer styles: some beers are just too similar. Fuller’s, and that’s always my favourite example, makes three different beers from the same grist, but doing three runnings, and then blending them to get three different worts of different strength.

For whatever reason, may it be disillusionment, or just an attempt of distinguishing yourself from others, more and more brewers and beer producing companies went a post-modern way of describing beer styles, where all styles basically got deconstructed, and aspects of beer styles got reduced to simple terms and attributes, and everyone can just pick them up, put them together as they like.

Golden, Blonde, Pale, Amber, Dark, Black, Red, Brown, White, Belgian, English, Norwegian, American, India, Imperial, Double, Triple, Session, Strong, Farmhouse, Abbey, Wheat, Rye, Spelt, Old, Aged, Infused, Ale, Helles, Stout, Porter, Lager, Pilsner, Lambic, Hefeweizen, Gose, Saison.

This, of course, gets absurd really quickly, where breweries release beers that they “Imperial Porters”, using the “Imperial” to imply a stronger beer than a “normal” porter. You know what a stronger porter is called? A stout. Same with “Imperial Lager”. It’s Bockbier, really.

So, how should we deal with that? Shall the craft beer scene of the 2010’s be like the metal and rock scene 10, 15 years ago, where each band had to “invent” their very “own” music style?

I know no ultimate solution, but at least I have one idea for an approach: be more moderate in discussing styles. Less strict interpretations of arbitrary style guidelines, more reflection on existing beer styles and their history (!), all that balanced with less forced distinction. Because in the end, all that counts is that we enjoy good and creative beer, and not fight about absurd styles and names.

And now excuse me, I need to design a recipe for a Golden Imperial Session Stout Lager. 😉

P.S.: on a side note, it took me about two weeks to write this article, because WordPress seriously screwed me over and decided to simply not save a previous revision of that article, and so I had rewrite about half of the article. Another reminder why I’m sometimes not fond of IT in general and software in particular.