Category Archives: Recipes

My Home-Brewing Project 2020: Cloning Mahrs aU

Possibly one of my and my wife’s favourite beers from Bamberg in Mahrs aU. It’s an ungespundetes (unbunged) pale-amber Kellerbier, meaning that it was carbonated without spunding, taking up only the amount of CO2 the liquid would do under the current temperature and atmospheric pressure, and is normally served unfiltered.

Brewing ungespundetes Bier is traditional for Bamberg, and has already been described as being particular to the city’s brewing practice in the 19th century (e.g. Das Bierbrauen in allen seinen Zweigen by Johann Muntz from 1840, p.121). It also shows in the name: “aU”, which some people call the shortest beer order in the world, is local colloquialism for “ein Ungespundetes”. The Mahr brewery in Bamberg, located in the city’s district “Wunderburg” and just opposite of Keesmann brewery, has been around since 1670, and has been owned by the Michel family since 1895. They are one of the traditional Bamberg breweries, and not just because of aU, they have a faithful followership locally and around the world.

A glass of aU, straight from the source.

If I want to brew a clone of Mahrs aU, I first need to find out about the beer’s specifications. Fortunately, I found a video from 2010 about the production of aU that contains some information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ubmm2j-2Uq4 (embedding is unfortunatey disabled, so you’ll have to click the link to view it)

From there, we can extract quite a bit of information about the beer. It’s a bottom-fermented beer, with an original gravity of 12.7°P. The grist consists of Pilsner malt and Munich malt of unknown ratios. The sole hop variety used is Hallertauer Perle with an unknown hopping schedule or bitterness. The final beer contains about 5.2% alcohol by volume and is carbonated with 4 grams per litre of CO2.

This is already quite a bit of information that we can work with and construct a recipe out of. Of course, I don’t expect the result to be perfect, so this is just a rough first outline. Further changes to this are up to the result of the first brew.

For the grist, I will start with simply 50% Pilsner malt and 50% Munich I malt. I couldn’t find anything useful about the mashing regime employed at Mahrs, so I’m simply sticking to my preferred double decoction scheme, hopefully ending up with a wort of the right OG.

For the hops, I’m sticking to just Perle. I managed to buy fresh 2019 harvest cone hops, which in my case have 7.2% alpha acid. I estimate the bitterness of aU to be roughly around 30 IBU. This is not just based on taste testing, but also on a rough bitterness scale that Mahrs provides on their website: the Helles has 3 hops, the aU has 4 hops, and the Pils has 6 hops. The following is a lot of conjecture, but bear with me: if the Helles has roughly 20 IBU and 3 hops, then 1 hop in their proprietary scale is equivalent to 6.66 IBU. If we assume the Pils to have around 40 IBU (it is rather bitter) and 6 hops, we get the same result: 1 hop is equivlaent to 6.66 IBU. In that respect, the scale seems fairly consistent. Based on this, a beer with 4 hops bitterness should be equivalent to about 27 IBU. Now I dare anyone to correctly blind-taste the difference between 27 and 30 IBU.

So for a first test brew, I decided to simply add to hop additions, one at the beginning of the boil (90 minutes) at 1.6 g/l, and a late addition just 10 minutes before the end of the boil at 0.6 g/l. This should add the desired bitterness of about 30 IBU, and leave behind some hop flavour and aroma, without being too hop-forward.

I will ferment this beer like any of my other bottom-fermented beers at 10°C, and then briefly lager it. In the beginning, I will simply use W-34/70 yeast. I do think though that Mahrs house yeast strain has quite the impact on the overall flavour of the beer. This is noticeable in direct comparisons of their aU and their Helles which I’ve conducted, and the Helles has some underlying subtle spiciness that is very present in the aU and can’t simply be explained through the malt (the Helles most likely contains no darker malts, unlike aU) or the hops (the Helles is hopped with Hallertauer Tradition and Mittelfrüh, whereas aU is all Perle). A future point in experimentation is to see whether there is any live yeast in bottles of aU which could be grown and used to ferment later batches, or whether other commercial strains show better results, in case straight-up W-34/70 doesn’t cut it.

This is my hypothesis how an aU clone could be constructed. Whether any of speculations hold true will show when the first test brew is ready to drink. My plan is to brew it with the next few days, which means it will be ready in about 6 to 8 weeks time. I’ll keep you updated here.

How to Brew my Award-Winning Berliner Weisse

I recently brewed a Berliner Weisse, submitted it to SLOSH SOUR 2019, a homebrewing competition dedicated to Berliner Weisse, and I won! So here I’m documenting how I brewed and what’s the rationale behind it.

Since the homebrewing competition was about brewing straight Berliner Weisse, with no twists and no innovations, I decided to simply follow how Berliner Weisse used to be brewed according to historic brewing literature.

Grist

Naturally, I wanted to use large amounts of pale wheat malt. Historically, the wheat malt used in Berliner Weisse was high in protein and quite undermodified. Malt like that is practically impossible to get, so instead, I chose to use a large amount of chit malt. To bulk the grist up a bit more, I also added some floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt. The final grist looked like this:

  • 2 kg pale wheat malt (Weyermann)
  • 1 kg chit malt (BEST)
  • 0.5 kg floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt (Weyermann)

Hops

Berliner Weisse is classically mash-hopped, so I simply added 6 g of Tettnanger hops (3.4% alpha acid) to the mash.

Mashing

I mashed in all the malt with 10 liters of hot water. To stay authentic, I used untreated Berlin tap water. I slightly underestimated the required temperature, so the resulting mash temperature was 46°C. I then heated it up to 53°C and did a protein rest of 40 minutes.

I then heated up the mash up to 62°C, and did a brief saccharification rest of 15 minutes, then further heated it up to 72°C to rest and convert for 45 minutes. After these 45 minutes, the mash was completely converted.

Now this is obviously a weird mash schedule, but in fact I based it on the mash schedule documented by the former Groterjan brewmaster A. Dörfel. At Groterjan, an initial protein rest was done at about 53-54°C, then the mash was slowly heated up to 75°C. I did a brief 62°C rest because I assumed that on my homebrew kit, heating up would be much quicker than on Groterjan’s big kit. I also kept the temperature a bit lower to prevent any issues from potentially overshooting the target temperature. I also left out one step that Groterjan did: they boiled parts of the mash as a final step and slowly mixed it back, trying to keep the temperature at a maximum of 76°C. This just did not make sense for me to do on my homebrew kit.

After conversion was finished, I moved the mash to my lauter tun, briefly did a lauter rest, and then started lautering and sparging. I collected about 20 liters of wort, which I then brought up to 80°C to pasteurize it for 10 minutes. I then chilled the wort down to 20°C and pitched all my microorganisms.

Yeast and Bacteria

I pitched half a sachet (5g) of S-04 dry yeast, a pack of White Labs WLP672 Lactobacillus brevis and a pack of White Labs WLP650 Brettanomyces bruxellensis at the same time, and let it ferment together.

If you want to recreate this and are worried about infections: my protocol is to simply have a separate fermenter for anything involving Brett and Lacto fermentation, that hasn’t caused me any issues in the past.

Primary fermentation quickly started and was finished after about 3 days. The souring process took a bit longer, but after about 3 weeks, the young beer had attained a good acidity. Around the same time, a secondary fermentation, presumably from the Brettanomyces kicked off, which was done after about a week. I then let the beer sit in the fermenter for another few weeks, and then bottled it. As priming sugar I used common sugar, and went for a carbonation level of 6 g/L. Then I put all the bottles in a quiet corner and let it mature.

The OG of the beer was 8.8°P (1.035), slightly higher than the 8°P I had actually planned. At bottling time, the FG was measured to be 0.8°P (1.003). The calculated amount of alcohol is therefore 4.2% ABV. A bit higher than what I wanted to go for, but still low enough to make the beer low and refreshing.

At the time of the competition, the beer was about 2.5 months old, so still fairly young. According to one taster who described himself as hypersensitive to sulphur, it still had some hints of sulphur left. The overall flavour and aroma was quite pleasant though: tart, citrusy, but not overly sour, so that the beer was still balanced and refreshing.

I still have a few bottles left, so my plan is to keep some of them and age them for longer. This should definitely help the Brettanomyces develop more complex and interesting flavours. I also kept the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter, and I plan to repitch it in future batches. I’m actually thinking about brewing another Berliner Weisse soon, just to have something to age and maybe hand in for next year’s SLOSH SOUR competition.

Thanks to everyone involved, in particular THE MASH PIT who organized the homebrewing competition, and Berliner Weisse Kultur e.V. who made it possible for me to present my home-brewed beer to a wider audience at Berliner Weisse Gipfel.

My Beer At Slosh 2019

On May 4, Berlin’s homebrewing competition SLOSH happened at BRLO brewery. I took part with a beer myself. I didn’t win anything, but it was nevertheless a good event to serve samples of your own beer, drink beer, and talk homebrew.

In total, 37 or so homebrewers took part, serving 40-something different beers. The competition mode is different what you may know from other competititons: brewers were divided up into 8 different tables of 4 to 5 brewers each, labelled A to H. Every brewer and visitor could vote on the beers of another table, selecting their three favourites, giving them 3, 2, and 1 points respectively. Obviously, brewers were assigned different tables to vote on than their own.

At the end of round one, the points were added up, and the most popular beer of each table was selected for round two. In this second round, professional judges tasted the beers and selected an overall winner.

Of course, this mode makes it relatively hard to choose the “right” beer style to win over other homebrewers as well as visitors, as crowd pleasers would more likely be voted favourite than just technically well-executed beers. My table was a relatively strong one: besides my own beer, a Golden Ale inspired by our last year’s visit of New Zealand, there was a citrusy Pilsner (quite classic, but with a late addition of Pacifica hops), a Saison hopped with (IIRC) Galaxy hops, and a NEIPA. From what I’ve heard, the votes were relatively close, and in the end, the NEIPA won.

As for my NZ Golden Ale, it suffered from my “competition curse”. So far, not a single beer that I submitted to a competition worked out as intended: 4 years ago, a Czech pale lager (essentially a PU clone) got oxidized rather badly when bottling and therefore scored rather poorly. 3 years ago, two beers that I submitted (a Saison and an ESB) got mixed up, and the ESB also caught an infection when bottling. The Franconian-style Kellerbier (inspired by Mahrs aU) didn’t work out because the dry lager yeast I used stalled twice, once at lager temperature, and once at room temperature, and so the beer never finished and was dumped. And this year’s beer, that’s a story on its own…

When we brewed our NZ Golden Ale, everything went fine until we went to boil the wort. That’s when we found out that the immersion heater that we use to boil the wort had broken. I normally boil in an electric cooker, but the cooker’s own heating element is a bit too weak to bring 25+ liters of wort to a full boil. I nevertheless tried that, but even after 3 hours or so, I still couldn’t bring it higher than 90°C. So I had to improvise, and split up the wort between two electric cookers (the second one normally functions as a kettle to boil decoctions, and later on as hot liquor tank).

With pouring the wort back and forth, I think I unnecessarily oxidized the wort, making it darker that what I had planned for. Also, the boil-off rate was quite different, so instead of ending up with a 11°P wort, I instead got a 13.5°P wort.

I was also worried about possible underpitching, so I pitched two sachets of Nottingham Ale dry yeast. Unexpectedly, this caused a very rapid and intense fermentation which finished only 72 hours after pitching. The resulting beer had a slight taste of fusel alcohol, confirming my suspicion that the beer may have heated up too much during fermentation at room temperature. In total, I wasn’t super happy about the result, but nevertheless served it at yesterday’s competition.

The overall feedback was surprisingly positive, and fortunately for me, serving the beer cold masked the unpleasant fusel alcohol notes.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 4.5kg Pale Ale malt (it was kindly provided for free by competition sponsor Weyermann)
  • 20g East Kent Goldings (5% alpha acid) – 60 minutes boil
  • 40g Nelson Sauvin (10.8% alpha acid) – whirlpool
  • 20g Waimea (15.5% alpha acid) – whirlpool
  • 2 sachets of Nottinghame Ale dry yeast, rehydrated

Unlike most of my other brews, the mash was simple: just 60 minutes of mash at 67°C, then lautering, and then boiling for what was planned to be 60 minutes (see above). I used East Kent Goldings hops for bittering. After the end of the boil, I waited until the wort was down to 94°C to reduce the amount of additional bittering contributed by the whirlpool hopping, and then added the whirlpool hops for 20 minutes. I then transferred the wort to the fermenter, chilled it down to 20°C, pitched the yeast, and let it do its thing.

The outcome were 18 liters of Golden Ale with an OG of 13.5°P, and 5.7% ABV (stronger than your typical Golden Ale). The colour of the beer goes very much towards orange rather than gold, and probably due to the large amount of whirlpool hops, it also looks rather hazy and never dropped bright.

Missing Local Beer Styles

This is my contribution to The Session 129, aka Beer Blogging Friday.

As someone who lives in Berlin, I would call myself rather privileged when it comes to beer diversity: there is a vibrant craft beer scene, including a number of microbreweries, places dedicated to specifically German or Belgian beer culture, and generally a great availability of everything. Except for one thing: cask ale.

One of my great pleasures in beer is cask ale, that is fresh beer, usually top-fermented and of a British style, conditioned with live yeast in small casks, and served directly from it or via a beer engine. When done right, this is probably the best beer you can have, and you can have more than one of it. Now, if I said that there was no cask ale in Berlin, I’d be lying, because there is in fact one pub called Loch Ness, a pub run by two Germans who are rather… enthusiastic about Scotland, including the beer culture, and so cask ale is usually available which they import themselves once every few weeks. Once a year, they even do a Real Ale Festival. The only problem is: it’s rather far away. From where I live, it is surprisingly hard to reach, we’re easily talking about an hour. Ironically, Försters Feine Biere is only about 30 minutes away by foot, but for me to get there, it takes me about 30 minutes as well, so it works out the same in the end. This difference is owed to the layout of public transport in Berlin: while Försters is close to an U-Bahn line which runs close to mine, Loch Ness is close to an S-Bahn line which is rather out of the way and would require me to travel to Brandenburg gate.

But then, that’s not even the point. I don’t want one pub that serves cask ale, I want several. I don’t want outrageous beers in them, but rather easy-drinkable beers that are just well done, think of beers like Landlord, Harvey’s Best, London Pride, Old Peculier, or for when I want a hoppier beer, something like Jaipur. I’m not saying I want exactly these beers (I certainly wouldn’t mind them, though), but rather something like it, possibly and preferably even locally brewed.

My other interest in beer, besides drinking it, is the history of beer. One truly local beer style that I miss in Berlin is Berliner Braunbier. You’ve probably never even heard of it. Berliner Braunbier is the other local top-fermented beer style in Berlin besides Berliner Weisse. Unlike Weisse, the Braunbier was a proper brown beer, made from a very dark kilned malt, and was not sour (or if sour, only very little). But just like Berliner Weisse, it was put in casks while it was still fermenting and sent to the local pubs and inns, where it finished fermenting. Also like Berliner Weisse, it was diluted before it was served or bottled.

Berliner Braunbier existed in two variations: one was a rather sweet version, barely hopped, while the other was strongly hopped, a so-called Bitterbier. Already in the 19th century, some beer writers argue that Berliner Braunbier are actually two distinct types of beer because of the vast differences in the different Braunbiere that were served in Berlin.

The Braunbier itself was brewed from a high-dried malt, some sources even claim it was four-row barley malt. Because of relatively simple smoke kilns at that time, the malt was smokey, but the malt was left to mature for several months in order to lose some of that smokiness. The resulting beer was described as very dark, and hopped differently, at rates ranging from 1.4 g/l to 11 g/l. Again, already in the 19th century, some literature notes that for efficiency and flavour reasons, roasted malt together with a paler malt could be used instead of producing a dark malt. Does that ring a bell? It sounds similar to English Porter used to be brewed: first it was formulated as 100% diastatic brown malt, and only later the amount of brown malt was reduced in favour of pale malt and black malt.

In some ways, that makes Berliner Braunbier a kind of local convergent evolution that shares several similarities to Porter, but is historically unrelated to it. How can we be sure that it is unrelated? Because Germans knew and liked Porter, and when German brewers produced something like a Porter, they would call it a Porter, even going so far as making their own German Porter beer style (which is a whole topic on its own).

Funny side story: in February or March this year, I attended a talk by Joe Stange about German and American brewing and the mutual influences, hosted at Vagabund Brauerei. In a discussion, one of the brewery owners noted that Berlin’s water is relatively hard and quite suitable for brewing dark beers, so he wondered why there’s no local dark beer style. Haha, there actually was! It’s just been completely forgotten about, and like many top-fermented beer styles that were popular in Northern Germany, died out when pale Lager beers became popular and revolutionized the beer market.

If you want to brew Berliner Braunbier yourself, here are some rough specs. You will find a number of historic recipes in my upcoming e-book about homebrewing historic beers which I will hopefully be able to release soon. So anyways, here’s roughly what the beer looked like:

  •  OG 15-16 °P (1.061-1.065)
  • 96-97 % dark malt (e.g. Munich malt)
  • 3-4 % black malt
  • Any German noble hop variety, with a hopping rate of e.g. 1.4 g/l, 4.4 g/l or 11 g/l.

Dough in malt with hot water into a very thick mash at 61 °C, then rest for 30 minutes. Add boiling water while stirring to raise temperature to 76 °C, then rest 120 minutes. When lautering, add another 9 liters of boiling water. Boil for 90 minutes, add all hops at the beginning of the boil. Ferment with a top-fermenting yeast strain at 23 °C.

Let’s talk about SMaSH beers

This is my contribution to session 125, aka “Beer Blogging Friday”. In this session, I’m writing about my views about SMaSH beers.

SMaSH beers are a way of formulating beer recipes. SMaSH stands for “single malt and single hop”, meaning that in the formulation of the recipe only a single type of malt (usually a base malt of some sorts) of a single hop variety are being used. Everything else, from yeast to mashing regime to hop dosages and timing, is up to the brewer.

Would I consider SMaSH beers to be trendy? No, not at all. The only reason that I can see in purposefully producing a SMaSH is to try out a specific ingredient, be it a specific base malt, a new hop variety, or even a new yeast strain on top of a simple, neutral SMaSH wort. While certainly a great tool for homebrewers for learning to know ingredients, I personally find them boring and uninspired. In particular when commercial brewers produce them: it reeks of beer geekery, it will not impress people with no interest in the finer details of brewing, and more often than not, the resulting beer is unbalanced.

Don’t get me wrong: there are beers and whole styles that happen to be SMaSH beers, but they were not conceived with the specific idea of producing a beer to highlight one type of malt and one hop. From a purely historic point of view, most beers were probably SMaSH beers: the maltster made one type of malt, the brewer took that one malt and used the local hops he always used for brewing, and made beer out of that. Modern base malt names like Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, and Munich malt show this historic connection with classic styles.

Of course, there are many ways to formulate recipes for styles like Bohemian-style pale lager, Vienna lager, Munich Helles or Munich Dunkles. But for each of these classic lager styles, there is a straightforward way that happens to be SMaSH.

For a Bohemian-style pale lager, like a Pilsner, you can just use 100 % Pilsner malt to an OG that is suitable for the strength you want to achieve, hop it with large doses of a hop variety like Saaz for both bitterness and aroma, and ferment with a lager yeast.

Vienna lager? Similar: 100 % Vienna malt, bittering with a classic hop like a Bavarian noble hop variety or Saaz, ferment  with a lager yeast. And the same goes for the Munich beer styles: depending on whether you want it pale or dark (Helles or Dunkles), choose a pale or dark base malt, hop with some Bavarian noble hop for only a restrained bitterness, and ferment with a lager yeast.

Of course, this goes beyond classic lager styles: beers like pale ales, IPAs, golden ales, bitters, or saisons could easily be formulated with just a single base malt and just one hop variety. Even a relatively unknown style, Grätzer/Piwo Grodziskie, was/is usually brewed with a single malt: oak-smoked wheat malt. There are probably plenty of many more examples.

Other beer styles can practically not be achieved as a SMaSH, in particular those who require more than one type of grain: just think Bavarian wheat beer, which needs to be brewed with more than 50 % wheat malt, but usually also contains a certain share of barley malt. Dre Beechum suggested an interesting extension to SMaSH, “brewing on the ones“, that only slightly widens the constraints of SMaSH, but allows for more existing styles to be formulated easily. I wrote about this in the context of designing simple beer recipes a few years ago.

But still, I’m convinced that SMaSH or “brewing on the ones” beers should not be done just for the sake of strictly keeping to this scheme of recipe formulation, but rather as a rough guideline to formulate simple recipes in order to brew excellent beers. After all, the resulting beer is what counts to the connoisseur, not the (by itself meaningless) notion that only one hop and only one malt type were used. If a beer can be improved by adding a single specialty malt, or by using different bittering hops than aroma hops, then you should totally do that, instead of insisting on conceptual purity. Because what counts in the end is that the beer is good.

A Refreshing Golden Ale

I recently brewed a Golden Ale that I would like to briefly introduce. Even though I brewed only about a month ago, the beer is already drinkable and in my opinion absolutely fantastic. And it’s such a simple recipe, a “SMaSH”, but I didn’t specifically design it to be one, it just happened to be one.

Here are the basic numbers:

  • OG 11.25 °P (1.045)
  • 4.6 % ABV
  • 30 IBU (calculated; Tinseth)
  • ~6 EBC

The grist is just 100 % Extra Pale Maris Otter, which I mashed at 68 °C until fully converted. The hopping goes like this:

  • 1 g/l Brewer’s Gold (6.8 % alpha acid) @ 75 min
  • 1 g/l Brewer’s Gold (6.8 % alpha acid) @ 10 min
  • 1.5 g/l Brewer’s Gold (6.8 % alpha acid) @ 0 min

As yeast, I chose Nottingham Ale dry yeast, and just let it ferment at room temperatures, so it rose to probably something like 22 to 23 °C.

Now what’s so special about this beer? Well, for one, for such a young beer, it’s incredibly drinkable. Besides that, it’s a great showcase for German Brewer’s Gold hops. In typical descriptions of this hop variety, it is characterised as quite pungent, and more recommended for bittering than anything else, but I have to reject this notion: it is equally usable as aroma hop, as it adds typically “British” herbal-floral-spicy notes, complemented by a citrus note that is relatively subtle and not in-your-face like American varieties but still more pronounced than other traditional English hop varieties. And these characteristics even show in Hallertau terroir.

Brewer’s Gold was originally developed at Wye College about a hundred years ago, and to my knowledge, isn’t grown much in the UK anymore. For whatever reason, it still seems to get grown to a certain extent in Germany. I got my hops through a hop order directly pretty much directly shipped from a hop grower in the Hallertau, organised through a German homebrewing forum.

In my case, I bottled the beer with a relatively low carbonation, so as a bright, hoppy beer, it is the closest to fresh cask ale you can get under these circumstances. When this batch is finished, and it probably won’t take too long, I’ll definitely consider rebrewing this beer, which is something I don’t normally do.

Beer Brewing in Bamberg, 200 Years Ago

I recently bought a reprint of a historic book by the name of “Das Bamberger Bier”, written by Johann Albert Joseph Seifert. It gives an overview over the ingredients and processes used specifically in Bamberg to produce beer. As I already said on twitter, it’s full of gems.

Let’s start with the ingredients: the malt. The book contains a description how to let the barley germinate, how it needs to be turned, when it needs to be dried, and so on. What caught my eye in the production process was a single paragraph that essentially says that brewers with enough space in their buildings to produce air-dried malt will have a good, pure, wine-coloured beer. I interpret that as a suggestion to use air-dried malt (“Luftmalz” as it’s often called in historic German brewing literature) for brewing beer if possible.

You can’t produce air-dried malt during the winter, though, as a night of frost can destroy all your drying malt. So kilning your malt is still recommended during these times.

Then the water. According to the author, rain water is the best for brewing, but at that time, cisterns to collect had already fallen out of use, so brewers would have to work without it. River water, if clean enough, was the next best choice, that is if the brewer has access to it. Well water was considered to be of the worst quality, and required thorough boiling before it was usable by the brewers.

As for the hops, Bohemian hops were commonly used in Bamberg at that time. The author then gets mysterious: he went to school in Komotau/Chomutov, only a few kilometers away from Saaz/Žatec, and he alleges some dodgy things are going on with customs between the Bohemian-Bavarian border without going into details. He does propose though that hops more local to Bamberg can produce equally good beers.

The yeast that brewers in Bamberg used was mostly bottom-fermenting. Probably it was all bottom-fermenting by today’s standards, but the differentiation 200 years ago could not be done on a morphological level (nobody knew what yeast really was), so instead yeasts were distinguished how they cropped: so-called “Oberzeug” is top-cropped yeast, and usually synonymous with proper top-fermenting yeast, while “Unterzeug” was bottom-cropped, all the stuff that was on the bottom of the fermenter at the end of the fermentation. Brewers weren’t keen on using top-cropped yeast, but if nothing else was available, they would still use it, in particular for winter beers.

Fermentation was done cold, as in most parts of Bavaria at that time, at least for the higher-strength lager beers or summer beers, at about 12 °C, while the Schenkbiere or winter beers, running beer that was brewed during the winter to be served after only a few weeks of maturation, was fermented warmer, at 18 °C or warmer.

Now about the process itself: while in most parts of Bavaria a triple decoction mash very common, Bamberg is quite different. The specific mashing regime is often attributed as the reason why beers from Bamberg are as peculiar and more alcoholic than other lager beers at that time.

So how mashing in Bamberg essentially worked 200 years ago is infusion mashing: grind the malt, add water of a certain temperature, let it stand for some time until all sugars have been converted, then lauter. Then do a second mash with water that’s a bit hotter, again let it stand for some time, then lauter again. In some way, the method bears a lot of similarity to classic English mashing. Homebrewers may also recognize it as similar to “batch sparging”.

You essentially start off to dough in the malt to a very thick consistency. The book is not very clear on how much water per amount of malt this would be, but from my own experience, I would guess about 1.3 liters per kg of malt, because that that’s about enough to wet all the malt, but not to have much free-standing liquid afterwards.

The water is mixed from 2 parts of cold water and 1 part of hot, nearly boiling water. If we assume “cold water” to mean about 10 °C and “hot water” to be between 95 and 100 °C, the water would have a temperature of 38 to 39 °C, and the resulting mash would end up at about 34 °C. That’s quite close to the temperature of an acid rest, which is done at about 35 to 45 °C to lower the pH of the mash. At this temperature, the mash is left to stand for about 15 minutes.

The next step is to do the first mash. Water is added (the author is unclear about how much, though) that was previously mixed from 2 parts of hot water and 1 part of cold water. If we make the same assumptions as before, we come up with a strike temperature of 66 °C. The resulting temperature of the mash will be lower. Since we do not know how much water we can add, we can at least assume that we need to add so much that we hit a mash temperature of 60 °C or higher. This mash, after thorough mixing, is then left to stand for an hour. After an hour, the first lautering starts, where the wort is first recirculated until it runs clear, then all wort is completely drained and put on the coolship.

Then the second mash is conducted, with water mixed from 3 parts of hot water and 1 part of cold water. That would mean 73 °C, and the resulting mash temperature will probably be around 68 to 70 °C. This again is thoroughly mixed, and left to stand for an hour, then again recirculated, and completely drained.

Optionally, you can do this even a third time, with hot water only, and this third wort would be used for small beer only. This small beer was called “Heinzele” or “Hansle” in Bamberg. Some brewers would also use cold water only for this final mash.

For lager beer, only the first and second wort was used. The hops were boiled in a very particular fashion, by what was called “Hopfen rösten”, or “roasting the hops”, where a small amount of wort was used to boil the hops for an hour, then the hops were removed (so that they could be reused for the Heinzele), and the hopped wort was boiled with the rest of the wort for another 60 to 90 minutes. The author did not like this practice, and said that beers made without roasting the hops would actually taste nicer and keep better.

After the wort was fully boiled, it is cooled as quickly as possible in a coolship, then moved to the fermenter, where yeast is added. After the fermentation has finished, the young beer is moved to casks, where it is left with the bungs open so that it can expel any remaining yeast and clear up. These casks were unpitched, but instead just washed with hot water and burnt with a small amount of sulphur. Since most other Bavarian beers were filled into pitched casks, this will very likely also have had an influcence on the flavour specific to beer from Bamberg.

As for the recipe itself, I converted the amounts of malt and hops provided in the books and ended up with these rough parameters: it most likely had an OG of about 14.5 °P (1.059), about 5 % ABV (depending how highly fermenting the lager yeast strain was), and used as much as 8.75 g/l of hops. Due to the hop roasting, alpha acid extraction was probably quite inefficient though, so the bitterness of the beer was probably at about 35 to 40 IBU.

To produce 20 liters of this beer, 5.4 kg Munich malt and 175 g Saazer or Spalter hops should suffice. Use a strike water calculator of your choice to find the optimal amounts of water for the different mashes. A bottom-fermenting yeast with a relatively low attenuation would be most suitable for this style. My personal preference is White Labs WLP820.

Besides a description of ingredients and brewing processes, the book also contains a list of all breweries in Bamberg at that time, 65 in total, including the owner’s name, the brewery’s or pub’s name, the address, the amount of malt used, and the amount of beer produced from it. Of the breweries that are still around in Bamberg, some of them do appear on this list:

  • “zum Spezial”, run by Peter Brust, 2nd district, house no. 593, produced 789 Eimer beer and 394 Eimer “Nachbier” (Hansle) from 306 Schäffel and 5 Metzen of malt.
  • “zum Greifenklau”, run by Johann Müller, 3rd district, house no. 1333, produced 835 Eimer beer and 417 Eimer Nachbier from 325 Schäffel and 1 Viertel of malt.
  • “zum Fäßlein”, run by Anton Kröner, 3rd district, house no. 1004, produced 364 Eimer beer and 182 Eimer Nachbier from 141 Schäffel, 2 Metzen and 2 Viertel of malt.

Ron Pattinson has the full list. These breweries, while still around, weren’t by far the largest though. The place with the highest beer production was “zur weißen Taube”, with a whopping 1379 Eimer of beer and 689 Eimer of Hansle.

Looking at the numbers, there’s also an interesting pattern showing up: for every 2 Eimer of beer, 1 Eimer of Hansle was produced. And also the ratio of beer to malt is relatively consistent, at about 2.5 to 2.6 Eimer of beer per Scheffel of malt.

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.

Brewing a Historic Berliner Weisse

It’s March, and I’ve been wanting to brew a Berliner Weisse for quite a while. So what better time to brew a Märzen-Weisse?

Relatively little is actually known about Märzen-Weisse. What is known is that it’s a stronger version of a regular Weisse. In his 1947 brewing notes, the brewmaster of Groterjan brewery mentioned a high-gravity version of 16-18 °P that some breweries produced occasionally. I don’t know whether that’s the Märzen-Weisse strength, but it definitely sounds intriguing.

For this brew, I teamed up with Franz Pozelt of Slowfood Berlin, to do one Weisse according to my recipe, and then one Weisse according to his recipe. Last Sunday was the first of two brewing dates.

We started off with a historic Berliner Weisse recipe that calls for 20 parts pale barley malt, 10 parts wheat malt, and 2 parts oat malt. We didn’t know where we’d end up in terms of gravity (because it’s a no-boil recipe, see below), so we used 4 kg Pilsner malt, 2 kg pale wheat malt, and 400 g oat malt.

The mash schedule was also based on historic methods: with dough-in at about 40 °C, we then slowly rose the temperature until we reached 50 °C to rest for 15 minutes. Then we continued to slowly heat up until we reached 62 °C, which we held for 45 minutes. We then drew a thin decoction and boiled it for about 5 minutes. At this point, we also added the hops, literally 3 leaves of Hersbrucker, to boil it. Mash hopping is another historic method in Berliner Weisse.

We then mixed the decoction back to raise the temperature to 72 °C, held that temperature for another 15 minutes, and then moved the mash to the lauter tun. With enough vorlauf to achieve a bright and clear wort, we then went on to sparge. Since this was going to be a no-boil Berliner Weisse, we didn’t know what efficiency to expect, so we simply collected enough wort until we reached 16 °P.

The wort was then heated up to 95 °C, and the temperature held for 20 minutes. This was a bit of a compromise, as older recipes lauter directly to the cooling tub resp. the fermentation vessel, but the Groterjan brewmaster mentions this as a possibility to prevent beer infections (such as Pediococcus) without having to resort to a boil. Interestingly, the resulting wort had 17 °P. That may be due to a measurement error earlier, and we didn’t mix the wort properly before (my experience is that during lautering, the runnings don’t mix well, most likely due to different specific gravity, so you get wildly different measurements with the refractometer depending where you take your sample).

Right after that, the wort was transferred to the fermentation vessel, and cooled down to 30 °C.

Fermentation itself is where my approach deviates from history: to better control the resulting sourness, I decided to sour the wort with a big starter of Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus buchneri, and when sourness will have approached a good level, yeast will be pitched. I decided for US-05, as it’s a relatively neutral ale yeast which has been shown to successfully ferment even in wort with a pH level of 3.38, plus it’s cheaper for me to get several sachets of it than e.g. a single vial of WLP029 or a smack-pack of Wyeast 1007.

Since the brewday went without any issues, the lacto is doing its work now, and I’ll keep measuring the pH levels and tasting the souring wort. The yeast will be pitched when the sourness is right. In addition to that, the fermentation vessel was used to ferment and mature a batch of porter with Brettanomyces, so I expect an infection with B. claussenii, as well, which is perfectly fine for the style.

I’ll report about any results. At the moment, the lactobacillus is slowly fermenting away, producing some CO2. I suppose that’s fine, as L. buchneri is heterofermentative.

Mannheimer Braunbier

After my research of Horner Bier, I took more interest in trying to reconstruct other historic beers. In “Vollständige Braukunde” by Johann Carl Leuchs, I stumbled upon Mannheimer Braunbier, which is, as the name says, a brown beer that used to be brewed in Mannheim.

The typical brewing process for the beer is the Rhine method which was common around Mannheim, Frankfurt and Strasbourg. The malt is doughed in by underletting a mix of boiling and cold water. The water to grain ratio is relatively low, while the initial mash temperature is 30 to 50 °C, depending on the brewer. Then boiling water is added, until stirring is easier, and the mash is constantly stirred for 45 minutes. Then wort is drawn off and poured back onto the mash until the wort is clear. When all wort is drawn off into a cooling tub, more boiling water is added to the mash, a rest of 30 minutes is done, and the second runnings are drawn off into the cooling tub. At that point, the grains are considered to be completely spent, and no small beer is made from them. During the second mash, a bit of wort is taken, the hops are added, and are boiled for 15 minutes. This is called “roasting”. After that’s done, the remaining wort is added from the cooling tub. In the cooling tub, any unclear material like flour shall remain back to make sure a clear wort is boiled. Total boil time is 3 to 4 hours, then the wort is cooled down to about 18 °C, and yeast is pitched.

Leuchs mentions two recipes, one brewed with brown barley malt, amber barley malt and sugar, the other one brewed with equal amounts of brown barley malt and amber barley malt, juniper berries, and ginger. For the latter recipe, Leuchs refers to Hermbstädt, the author of the book “Chemische Grundsätze der Kunst, Bier zu brauen“. Interestingly, Hermbstädt mentions that originally, Mannheimer Bier was indeed brewed in Mannheim, but in 1826 (the year that book was published), was brewed in Berlin, where it was enjoyed as a common, healthy, and nourishing drink. It is described as very clear.

Interestingly, Hermbstädt describes a different mash schedule than Leuchs: in total, 12000 quarts (1 quart is about 1.145 liters) were supposed to be used for mashing to produce just 2000 quarts of beer, with a boil of only 30 minutes. I don’t know how that should work, so I simply don’t believe it. Also the hopping is different: hops and juniper berries are infused in water twice, and that infusion is then added to the boiled wort. When the cool wort is added to the fermentation vessel, chopped up ginger is added along with the yeast. According to Hermbstädt, the beer was drinkable already 8 days after brew day.

Based on this information, I tried to come up with an interpretation of the beer style. I’d leave out any excessive boiling, but I’d keep essential elements like the mash schedule as described by Leuchs, and the distinct technique of hop roasting. As brown and amber barley malt, I’m simply picking Munich malt and Vienna malt. This may not be the truest representation, but it’s the closest what we can get in modern diastatic malts that roughly matches the colour description. The question of how smokey the malts for this beer originally were is not something I’m able to answer, nor am I willing to do a wild guess and produce a smokey beer. As hops, I’m picking Tettnanger as that would be a relatively local hop variety for Mannheim.

So, here’s the recipe:

  • 2.75kg dark Munich malt
  • 2.75kg Vienna malt
  • 180g Tettnanger hops (4% alpha acid)
  • 14g juniper berries
  • 4g ginger root (chopped up)

The day before brewing, smash up the juniper berries and soak them in a liter of water until the next day, then remove them.

Dough in the malt with 10 liters of water to result in a mash at 50 °C. Keep that temperature for 30 minutes, then add another 10 liters of hot water to result in a mash temperature of 68 °C. If that’s too much effort, just add 10 liters of water of at least 50 °C, then heat up to that temperature.

Then do a Vorlauf until the wort is clear, and lauter. Sparge with hot water. Take the first few liters of the first runnings, and bring them to a boil together with the hops, and boil for 15 minutes. Then mix that with the remaining runnings and boil for 90 minutes. At the end of the boil, add the juniper berry infusion, and chill the wort to about 20 °C. Add chopped up ginger to the wort, and pitch an ale yeast. Depending on your brew kit’s efficiency, the resulting beer should come out with about 13.5 °P, 80 IBU and 5.5 % ABV. The bitterness is obviously crazy high, but with some aging, it should subside and smooth out.

As for brewing that, I have no immediate plans to do so. I’m currently planning to brew a Berliner Märzen-Weisse inspired by a historic recipe, about which I will post here soon. If you’re brewing Mannheimer Braunbier though, I’d love to hear about any results.