The Story of East-German “Motorist’s Beer”

Alcohol-free beers are a hot topic these days, both because of consumer demand and improvements in quality of this beer achieved through research.

When recently talking about the subject with my friend Ben, I brought up Aubi, the East-German “Autofahrerbier” (lit. “motorist’s beer”). When looking into the topic of Aubi more closely, I found out more about its history that I’d like to share here.

First the plain facts: in the GDR, beer brewing was guided by TGL 7764, an industry standard that defined which beer types could be brewed, how they could be brewed, which ingredients could be used for them, and under which parameters each of these types had to fall. In short, it was an early form of a beer style guideline, but specifically for the East-German brewing industry.

In the 1980 revision of TGL 7764, Aubi was listed as the only alcohol-free type of beer. In its production, at most 11 kg of brewing malt per hectolitre of sellable beer could be used, and at most 9 g of hop bittering compounds (i.e. alpha acid) per hectolitre. At most 70% of hop bittering compounds could be from hop extracts. It had to be matured for at least 3 days, with a recommended time of 6 days. Its original gravity was between 6.9 and 7.4 °P, its apparent attenuation 30 to 40%, its CO2 content at least 0.38% (i.e. 3.8g/l), and its bitterness 22 to 34 IBU. In terms of colour, it had to be about as pale as pale lager beer (I can’t translate the GDR colour scales to modern ones like SRM or EBC). In bottles, it had to last at least 90 days, the longest best-before dating of all beer types (together with the Pilsner Spezial type). And unlike most other GDR beer types, it had no specific beer label colour prescribed.

The development of the beer itself was a relatively surprising one: at the time, brewmaster Ulrich Wappler at VEB Engelhardt brewery in Berlin had an unexpected surplus capacity, as the Schultheiss brewery on Schönhauser Allee in Berlin was shut down and Wappler’s technicians managed to transfer tanks to his own brewery. In East Germany, the blood alcohol limit was at 0.0 since 1956, much stricter than other Western countries at the time. Truck drivers coming in from West Germany would bring their own, specifically Birell, a Swiss brand developed and brewed at Hürlimann, and at the time (as far as I could find out) the only alcohol-free beer on the German market (Clausthaler, the later dominant alcohol-free beer brand in West Germany, only launched in 1979). Birell was even specifically advertised near the border on the West-German side with the fact of the strict alcohol ban for drivers in East Germany.

The brewmasters in East Berlin were approached whether they would be able to develop a GDR-brewed alcohol-free beer. With the free capacity, Wappler would have been able to do it and agreed to it. His problem was rather finding a way how to brew an alcohol-free beer. In the GDR, he unfortunately had no access to Western brewing literature, nor any of the Western patents, and he wasn’t allowed to get in touch with West-German brewers either as he wasn’t a party member and his brothers had left the GDR for the West. He eventually managed to get access to Western patents through a source, and studied them for 6 months. Of the two methods of producing alcohol-free beer (biological, i.e. restricted fermentation, and mechanical, i.e. physical dealcoholisation), they decided that they could build the equipment to brew using restricted fermentation.

This was still not without problems: they did not have any special yeast, so a special apparatus to quickly chill down the beer that had only just started fermenting had to be built. Then higher-ups had heard about the efforts and the supposed progress, and basically forced them to send out unfinished beer that had not fully matured, which was actually well-received.

An area where this new beer was particularly successful were the heavy industries, in particular glass blowers and steel mills. In these jobs, workers were of the opinion that they needed to drink beer to help with salivating. They refused to just drink water, while at the same time, the union had strictly banned alcohol. So they tested the alcohol-free beer (at less than 0.5% ABV) in some of these factories, and the workers liked it. Also price-wise, at 75 Pfennig per bottle it was cheaper to buy than imported Birell, and also cheaper than other domestic beers. So their alcohol-free beer filled a gap, even more so in the heavy industries than for motorists. It took some tweaking of the recipe, including hop oils, to make it a really good beer, and in the end, the product also piqued the interest of other countries of the Eastern Bloc like Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, who also tried to brew similar beer but all had over 1% ABV and none of them tasted nice.

The cheap domestic price of just 75 Pfennig also became a problem in terms of economics: while it required fewer ingredients, brewing Aubi was much more energy-intense, because mashing involved a special mashing schedule (more on that later) and restricted fermentation required more energy on top of that for chilling down the beer. Because of this, production volumes were lowered.

The beer itself was brewing like this: the grist contained 20 to 50% (sic!) unmalted adjuncts and was mashed using a special type of decoction mashing that specifically skipped the optimal temperatures of beta amylase and rather inactivated them to then have alpha amylase saccharify the starches, resulting in a much less fermentable wort. After only briefly starting fermentation, the wort was chilled down quickly to restrict fermentation.

Internationally, the East German alcohol-free beer was also a success, and was exported from 1986 to the United States under the brand name “Foxy light”. If we can believe a tasting and ranking of alcohol-free beers in the Chicago Tribune from 1988, Foxy light couldn’t exactly compete in terms of flavour with other European imported alcohol-free beers at the time, but fared well compared to domestic alcohol-free beers, while also being one of the cheapest ones. In England, the same beer was sold under the brand “Berolina”.

With the end of the GDR, production of Aubi also ceased. Most East-German breweries were shut down as they were completely outdated compared to their West German counterparts. Brewmaster Wappler managed to get work in West Berlin breweries for his workers. Until his retirement, he helped conceptualising brew systems for other breweries and training people on them.

Sources:

The best beer I ever brewed?

OK, this is probably the clickbaitiest title of a blog post that I’ve ever come up with, but bear with me.

For the June/July 2022 issue of Craft Beer & Brewing magazine, Evan Rail wrote an article about Czech Dark Lager, aka tmavé pivo. I’ve always quite enjoyed this particular style, especially whenever we were visiting Prague, as it is (in my opinion) a very balanced beer type that combines the complexity of flavours of dark kilned and roasted malts with a great drinkability, the kind of balance that other dark beer styles don’t quite achieve. But it is not always hard to find.

Inspired by this article, I noted all the tips and tricks on formulating a recipe and brewing the beer, then developed a preliminary recipe, and got together with my friend and neighbour Ben to actually brew this.

What we brewed in the end had the following grist:

  • 2.5 kg Bohemian Pilsner malt (49.0%)
  • 1.9 kg Munich II malt (37.2%)
  • 0.6 kg CaraBohemian (11.8%)
  • 0.1 kg Carafa Special II (2.0%)

One important technique that was emphasized in Evan’s article was to add the roasted malt (Carafa Special II) only in the lauter/sparge stage. If this hadn’t been mentioned, I would have simply added it to the main mash, intensely boiled it in the first decoction, and probably ended up with a beer with too much roasty bitterness.

In Czech tradition, we chose a double decoction as our mashing regime. We mashed in relatively cold, then pulled a very large decoction which we step-mashed with a rest at 73°C, and then boiled it for 15 minutes until we mixed it back to get to our conversion temperature of 66°C. After a while, we pulled a thin decoction, boiled it for 6 minutes, then mixed it back to get to 73°C. After 15 minutes, we then heated the mash up to 78°C for mash out.

After transferring to the lauter tun, we added the roasted malt to the top of the mash, and started collecting the wort. The impact of the roasted wort is subtle at the start, but will develop over time until we ended up with a dark but still slightly translucent wort.

As for the hops, we went for something really simple: just Czech Sladek hops (8% alpha acid), with two additions at 60 min (1 g/l to contribute about 17 IBU) and 20 min (1.7 g/l to contribute about 17 IBU) before the end of the boil, for a total of 34 IBU. That was another tip from the article, namely that the beer style can do with more bitterness that you’d think.

(As a side note, I find the name Sladek for that hop variety just great; Sladek was developed as a cross of Czech Saaz hops and Northern Brewer hops; Sladek means brewer in Czech, so crossing Northern Brewer with the classic Czech hop variety made it a Czech Brewer – a Sladek; this is my personal theory of why this name was chosen)

After 60 minutes of boiling, we chilled down the wort which had a OG of 13.6°P, even better than the 13.3°P I had planned the recipe for. When the wort had reached a temperature of 10°C, we finally pitched a healthy dose of bottom-fermenting yeast. That was actually a point where we deviated from the tips in the article. Ben had gotten his hands on fresh pitching yeast from a large industrial lager brewery here in Berlin, so of course we just had to use this very fresh, vital yeast instead of using a genuinely Czech strain (which was actually a bit hard to find at the time).

Fermentation went a bit slow, but after 4 weeks, we finally reached our FG of 3.8°P. This may seem high, but a point of the mash schedule was to produce a larger quantity of unfermentable sugars which would keep the FG high and the beer’s body full. After an excruciating 6 weeks of lagering at low temperatures, we finally bottled the beer last weekend, adding just half a liter of wort we had held back as a source of sugar for bottle conditioning. During lagering, the beer had already attained quite a bit of carbonation where CO2 simply naturally went into solution due to the lower temperatures, so not much Speise was necessary.

The final beer probably has about 5.3% ABV, at least that’s what our calculations said. And now look at this beauty:

The beer is dark, but not black. The foam is dense and off-white. And the taste? Just sublime. Better than any of the samples I had taken from the fermenter or even during bottling. If I had been served this in a pub in Czechia, I would have been very happy. There is some roasted bitterness, but it melds nicely with the hop bitterness. There’s a lot of chocolate and coffee going on in there, the body is full but not too full, making you want to drink another one at the end of it (I restrained myself and only had one, as I want to keep more of the beer for Christmas). There are notes of dark malts and caramel malt, but no cloying sweetness whatsoever.

Ben and I then went through the BJCP style guideline’s description of Czech Dark Lager, and the beer seemed to tick all the boxes. The bitterness is certainly on the high side, but I think it only makes it more interesting and adds some complexity.

All in all, we’re both very happy with the result. For me, it is probably the best beer I’ve brewed myself. I’m rather self-critical, and I could not find a single flaw. And I think what got me there were the quality ingredients, sticking to all the traditional methods that I had learned about, and most importantly, not cutting any corners in the brewing process.

The PGI Beer Style Guidelines

In 1992, the EU introduced the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) framework to preserve the designations of origin of food- and drink-related products. In particular, three different systems exist: PDO, Protected Geographic Indication (PGI), and Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG). Each of these are easily recognizable through their logos which you may have seen on food packaging.

And of course, a number of these are registered for specific beers. Out of curiosity, I looked into some of these and realized that some of them are rather specific. So I wondered… how many types of beer are registered as any of these geographic indications in a specific enough way to turn them into beer style guidelines akin to the BJCP or the Brewers Association’s Beer Style Guidelines. Turns out: quite a few. So here are my PGI Beer Style Guidelines (see at the end for a brief discussion):

Munich Beer

(source)

Helles

OG °P: 11.4 – 11.9
% ABV: 4.7 – 5.4
EBC: 5.0 – 8.5
IBU: 14.0 – 25.0

Light yellow, pale, palateful, pure, smooth, mildly to pleasantly hopped, delicately spicy to spicily fresh with a pleasant bitterness depending on the brewing process.

Export Hell

OG °P: 12.5 – 12.8
% ABV: 5.5 – 6.0
EBC: 5.5 – 7.5
IBU: 15.0 – 26.0

Light yellow, highly attenuated (until bright), palateful, ranging from mild, mellow-smooth through to strongly spicy, delicately hopped and delicate bitterness.

Export Dunkel

OG °P: 12.5 – 13.7
% ABV: 5.0 – 5.9
EBC: 42.0 – 59.9
IBU: 15.0 – 24.0

Mellow, smooth, malty aroma to strong, Munich malt sometimes dominant.

Pils

OG °P: 11.5 – 12.5
% ABV: 4.9 – 5.8
EBC: 5.5 – 7.0
IBU: 30 – 38

Slightly sharp, delicate, fine, hoppy bitterness, hoppy accents through to hoppy aroma, light, elegant, sparkling.

Leichtes Weißbier

OG °P: 7.7 – 8.4
% ABV: 2.8 – 3.2
EBC: 11.0 – 13.0
IBU: 13.0 – 15.0

Refreshing, effervescent, tangy, cloudy with yeast, typical top-fermented Weißbier taste.

Kristall Weizen

OG °P: 11.5 – 12.4
% ABV: 4.9 – 5.5
EBC: 7.5 – 12.5
IBU: 12.0 – 16.0

Effervescent, very tangy, filtered bright, clear, sparkling, top-fermented note, typically top-fermented.

Hefeweizen Hell

OG °P: 11.4 – 12.6
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.5
EBC: 11.0 – 20.0
IBU: 12.0 – 20.0

Highly attenuated, naturally cloudy, typical top-fermented character, tangy, refreshing, effervescent, sparkling, sometimes yeasty, Weißbier aroma.

Hefeweizen Dunkel

OG °P: 11.6 – 12.4
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.3
EBC: 29.0 – 45.0
IBU: 13.0 – 16.0

Naturally cloudy, mellow, malty taste/character, top-fermented note/character.

Märzen

OG °P: 13.2 – 14.0
% ABV: 5.3 – 6.2
EBC: 8.0 – 32.5
IBU: 21.0 – 25.0

Very mellow, palatable, mild, altbayerisch aroma to malty aroma, very mild bitterness.

Bockbier

OG °P: 16.2 – 17.3
% ABV: 6.2 – 8.1
EBC: 7.5 – 40.0
IBU: 18.0 – 32.5

Highly attenuated, ranging from mellow, palateful, smooth, aromatic, via delicately hopped, slightly sharp to well hopped, sometimes spicy in character.

Doppelbock

OG °P: 18.2 – 18.7
% ABV: 7.2 – 7.7
EBC: 44.0 – 75.0
IBU: 18.0 – 28.0

Strong, powerful, spicy, full-bodied, malty taste.

Leichtbier

OG °P: 7.5 – 7.7
% ABV: 2.7 – 3.2
EBC: 5.5 – 7.0
IBU: 24.0 – 26.5

Slightly sharp fine taste.

Diät Pils

OG °P: 8.5 – 9.3
% ABV: 4.3 – 4.9
EBC: 5.0 – 6.5
IBU: 26.0 – 30.0

Low in carbohydrates, slightly sharp, dry taste.

Schwarzbier

OG °P: 11.3
% ABV: 4.8
EBC: 70.0
IBU: 17.0

Slightly spicy malty aroma.

ICE-Bier

OG °P: 11.2
% ABV: 4.9
EBC: 6.5
IBU: 20.0

Harmonious, mellow, palateful.

Nähr-/Malzbier

OG °P: 12.3 – 12.7
% ABV: 0.0 – 1.2
EBC: 65.0 – 90.0
IBU: 8.0 – 15.0

Low in alcohol, very mildly attenuated, malty, spicy, very weakly hopped.

Oktoberfestbier

OG °P: 13.6 – 14.0
% ABV: 5.3 – 6.6
EBC: 6.0 – 28.0
IBU: 16.0 – 28.0

Light, golden, amber colours or dark, ranging from palateful, very mellow, smooth or malty aroma through to slightly hopped with a very mild bitterness or a powerful, slightly sweet taste.

Czech Beer

(source)

Pale Lager

OG °P: 11.00 – 12.99
% ABV: 3.8 – 6.0
EBC: 8.0 – 16.0
IBU: 20 – 45

Dark Lager

OG °P: 11.00 – 12.99
% ABV: 3.6 – 5.7
EBC: 50 – 120
IBU: 20 – 45

Pale Draught

OG °P: 8.00 – 10.99
% ABV: 2.8 – 5.0
EBC: 7.0 – 16.0
IBU: 16 – 28

Dark Draught

OG °P: 8.00 – 10.99
% ABV: 2.6 – 4.8
EBC: 50 – 120
IBU: 16 – 28

Light Beer

OG °P: 7.99% max
% ABV: 2.6 – 3.6
EBC: 6.0 – 14.0
IBU: 14 – 26

Bavarian Beer

(source)

Schankbier

OG °P: 7.0 – 9.0
% ABV: 2.5 – 3.5
EBC: 5 – 20
IBU: 10 – 30

bottom-fermented; a full-bodied, soft, fizzy beer with fewer calories and less alcohol by volume than Vollbier (full-strength beer).

Hell/Lager

OG °P: 11.0 – 12.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.5
EBC: 5 – 20
IBU: 10 – 25

bottom-fermented; a slightly aromatic, light, full-bodied, mild beer.

Pils

OG °P: 11.0 – 12.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 5 – 15
IBU: 30 – 40

bottom-fermented; a distinctive, slightly sharp beer with a bitter edge lent by the hops.

Export

OG °P: 12.0 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 5 – 65 (hell – dunkel)
IBU: 15 – 35

bottom-fermented; a full-bodied, well-rounded bitter taste.

Dunkel

OG °P: 11.0 – 14.0
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 40 – 65
IBU: 15 – 35

bottom-fermented; a full-bodied beer with a malty aroma.

Schwarzbier

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 65 – 150
IBU: 15 – 40

bottom-fermented; a beer with a roasted aroma, a slight malty aroma and a bitter edge lent by the hops.

Märzen/Festbier

OG °P: 13.0 – 14.5
% ABV: 5.0 – 6.5
EBC: 7 – 40
IBU: 12 – 45

bottom-fermented; a malty-flavoured beer with a slightly bitter edge lent by the hops.

Bock

OG °P: 16.0 – 18.0
% ABV: 6.0 – 8.5
EBC: 7 – 120 (hell – dunkel)
IBU: 15 – 40

bottom-fermented; a full-bodied, malty-flavoured beer with a delicate aroma of hops.

Doppelbock

OG °P: 18.0 – 21.0
% ABV: 7.0 – 9.5
EBC: 10 – 150 (hell – dunkel)
IBU: 15 – 35

bottom-fermented; a distinctly full-bodied, malty-flavoured beer with a hint of caramel.

Weizenschankbier

OG °P: 7.0 – 9.0
% ABV: 2.5 – 3.5
EBC: 7 – 30
IBU: 5 – 20

top-fermented; a fizzy beer with the aroma of yeast.

Weizenbier

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.5
EBC: 5 – 65 (hell – dunkel)
IBU: 10 – 30

top-fermented; a fruity beer with an aroma of wheat and a slightly malty flavour.

Kristallweizen

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.5
EBC: 5 – 18
IBU: 5 – 20

top-fermented; a carbonated beer with the aroma of wheat.

Rauchbier

OG °P: 11.0 – 14.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 30 – 60
IBU: 20 – 30

bottom-fermented; a full-bodied beer with a smoky flavour.

Kellerbier/Zwickelbier

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 5 – 60
IBU: 10 – 35

bottom-fermented; a beer with a slightly bitter edge lent by the hops, unfiltered, tapped from the lower part of the barrel, with a low carbon dioxide content.

Eisbier/Icebier

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.0
EBC: 5 – 20
IBU: 10 – 25

bottom-fermented; very mild and soft.

Kulmbacher Beer

(source)

Alkoholreduziert

OG °P: 7.3 – 7.9
% ABV: 2.8 – 3.2
EBC: 5.0 – 7.0
IBU: 25 – 30

A mellow, slightly sharp-tasting beer with the trademark flavour of Kulmbacher Pils.

Pils

OG °P: 11.1 – 11.8
% ABV: 4.7 – 5.2
EBC: 5.0 – 11.0
IBU: 23 – 38

A mellow, lightly hopped beer with a fresh, delicately bitter character.

Lager hell

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.8 – 5.2
EBC: 6.5 – 12
IBU: 18 – 26

A balanced, mellow, mild-flavoured beer.

Lager dunkel

OG °P: 11.5 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.8 – 5.2
EBC: 30 – 40
IBU: 18 – 22

A mellow, malty-aromatic beer.

Export hell

OG °P: 12.1 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.7 – 5.9
EBC: 6.5 – 15
IBU: 22 – 30

A smooth, mildly aromatic-flavoured beer.

Export dunkel

OG °P: 12.1 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.7 – 5.6
EBC: 35 – 100
IBU: 22 – 32

This beer has a distinctively smooth and lightly hopped flavour.

Festbier

OG °P: 13.0 – 13.7
% ABV: 5.4 – 5.9
EBC: 10 – 13
IBU: 23 – 25

This is a strong, aromatic, slightly sweet beer with a robust colour.

Bock dunkel

OG °P: 16.0 – 16.8
% ABV: 6.4 – 6.8
EBC: 25 – 40
IBU: 21 – 27

This is lightly hopped, medium-coloured strong beer.

Starkbier hell

OG °P: 24.0 – 30.0
% ABV: 9.0 – 11.2
EBC: 30 – 38
IBU: 15 – 26

This is a lightly hopped, mediumcoloured strong beer.

Starkbier dunkel

OG °P: 24 – 30
% ABV: 9.0 – 11.2
EBC: 60 – 100
IBU: 15 – 26

This malty aromatic, dark, robust strong beer is the strongest beer in the world: EKU (Erste Kulmbacher Actienbrauerei) 28.

Hefeweizen alkoholreduziert

OG °P: 7.3 – 8.0
% ABV: 2.8 – 3.4
EBC: 7.0 – 15.0
IBU: 13 – 17

This is a light-flavoured, typical Weizenbier (literally “wheat beer”).

Hefeweizen hell

OG °P: 12.2 – 12.9
% ABV: 5.0 – 5.6
EBC: 10.0 – 15.0
IBU: 13 – 17

This is a slightly sweet, robust typical top-fermented beer.

Hefeweizen dunkel

OG °P: 12.2 – 12.9
% ABV: 4.9 – 5.4
EBC: 60 – 80
IBU: 13 – 17

This is a malty-aromatic, dark beer with the typical characteristics of a top-fermented beer.

Lower Francian (“Mainfranken”) Beer

(source)

Leichtbier

OG °P: 7 – 9
% ABV: 2.4 – 2.9
EBC: 6 – 12
IBU: 15 – 30

Hell/Lager

OG °P: 11 – 12.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 5
EBC: 7 – 15, 40+
IBU: 12 – 30

Pils

OG °P: 11 – 13
% ABV: 4.8 – 5.2
EBC: 6 – 12
IBU: 25 – 35

Schwarzbier

OG °P: 11 – 13
% ABV: 4.8 – 5.3
EBC: 40 – 80
IBU: 25 – 35

Export

OG °P: 12 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.9 – 5.5
EBC: 6 – 15, 40 – 80
IBU: 16 – 25

Märzen/Festbier

OG °P: 13 – 14
% ABV: 5.0 – 5.7
EBC: 10 – 20
IBU: 16 – 30

Weizenbier

OG °P: 11 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.8 – 5.5
EBC: 7 – 20, 40+
IBU: 12 – 20

Weizenbock

OG °P: 16 – 18
% ABV: 5.5 – 7.2
EBC: 7 – 20, 40+
IBU: 12 – 20

Bock/Doppelbock

OG °P: 16 – 19
% ABV: 5.5 – 7.2
EBC: 10 – 20, – 80
IBU: 20 – 30

Českobudějovické (Budweiser) Beer

(source)

Pale Lager

OG °P: 11.4 – 12.3
% ABV: 4.6 – 5.3
EBC: 9 – 13
IBU: 20 – 24

Aroma: medium to strong intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops.

Taste: bitterness of slight to medium intensity, mild to slightly harsh character, medium to full-bodied taste with a sweetish aftertaste, pronounced sharpness.

Kräusened Pale Lager

OG °P: 11.4 – 12.3
% ABV: 4.6 – 5.3
EBC: 9 – 13
IBU: 20 – 24

Aroma: medium to strong intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops.

Taste: bitterness of slight to medium intensity, mild to slightly harsh character, full- to very full-bodied taste with a sweetish aftertaste, pronounced sharpness.

Pale draught beer

OG °P: 9.5 – 10.1
% ABV: 3.5 – 4.5
EBC: 8 – 12
IBU: 18 – 21

Aroma: medium to strong intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops.

Taste: bitterness of slight to medium intensity, slightly harsh character, medium-bodied taste with a sweetish aftertaste, pronounced sharpness.

Special beer

OG °P: 16.0 – 17.0
% ABV: 7.4 – 8.2
EBC: 11 – 17
IBU: 24 – 28

Aroma: medium to strong intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops.

Taste: bitterness of medium to strong intensity, mild to slightly harsh character, full- to very full-bodied taste with a sweetish aftertaste, pronounced sharpness.

Non-alcoholic beer

OG °P: 3 – 4
% ABV: 0.2 – 0.5
EBC: 5 – 7
IBU: 22 – 26

Aroma: medium intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops, slightly reminiscent of hopped wort.

Taste: bitterness of medium intensity, slightly harsh character, light-bodied taste, pronounced sharpness, with a hint of hopped wort.

Dark lager

OG °P: 10.5 – 12.0
% ABV: 4.0 – 5.3
EBC: 60 – 120
IBU: 20 – 35

Aroma: medium to strong intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops and roasted malt.

Taste: bitterness of medium to strong intensity, mild to moderately harsh character, full- to very full-bodied taste with a dry, roasted aftertaste, pronounced sharpness.

Lithuanian Beer

Kaimiškas Jovarų alus

(source)

OG °P: 12.0 – 15.0
% ABV: 5.6 ± 1.0
EBC: 15 – 38
IBU: 10 – 30

Colour: the colour ranges from golden yellow to golden brown (amber).

Appearance: the beer froths when poured into a jug or glass, usually creating a tall head of thick, white foam. Characteristic turbidity as a result of the yeast sediment.

Nose: a notable aroma of yeast, bread, caramel and fruit.

Taste: an intense, malty beer taste. Characteristic bitter taste of hops with a hint of yeast, berries, caramel, hazelnuts, herbs and citrus fruit. If natural honey is added, there is a hint of honey.

Discussion

What is very noticeable is that all these guidelines are awfully specific. In particular the Bavarian groups of beer styles (Munich, Mainfranken, Kulmbach, Bavaria) have a significant amount of overlap in terms of styles, and of course, they mostly contradict each other in terms of what’s an outlier but still “within style” for original gravity, ABV, bitterness and colour. Some styles even seem very restricted, like the maximum bitterness of a Munich Pils would be 38 IBU, 40 for a Bavarian Pils, 38 for Kulmbacher Pils (which in turn could be as low as 23 IBU), or even only 35 for Lower Franconian Pils.

The next question is of course: how would any of this be enforced? Several of the official documents list contact addresses for fraudulent usage of the PGI term, but what would be fraudulent here? If a Bavarian brewed a 45 IBU Pils and put a Bavarian Beer PGI logo on their bottles, would that constitute fraud and a misuse of the PGI logo? Or are these style descriptions just vague suggestions? That’s been entirely unclear to me.

A funny detail to be found in the list of styles is a former fad in German brewing that has died off since the original filing of these documents: one of them is Diät Pils, a term that has actually been discontinued in Germany about a decade ago when it was prohibited to produce and advertise food products specifically for diabetics. Another one is Eisbier or “ice beer” (not to be confused with Eisbock, a freeze-distilled strong beer), where beer is lagered at colder temperatures than normal and ice crystals are filtered out which allegedly also removes some of the bitterness compounds and thus produces a very mild-tasting beer. In fact, both fads have fallen so much out of fashion that amendments have been filed to remove both from the PGI documents.

One thing I also need to note is that I only included some of the beer-related PGI filings. Some were not specific enough (like Kölsch, which just seems to be a translation of the Kölsch-Konvention), others were a bit ridiculous because they are so hyper-regional that at the time of filing, only 2 breweries existed there (like in the case of Hofer Bier from Hof/Saale in Bavaria). No PDO filings for beer seem to exist. There exist several TSG filings for various beers, though, but I chose to not include them because they were not quite specific enough.

The Battle of the Beer Analysis Methods

When brewers measure the specific gravity of their wort or their finished beer, the two most common scales to use are either specific gravity (SG) which is particularly common in the UK and the US, and Plato which has found its way into the standard methods of beer analysis in Europe and much of the rest of the world.

John Richardson was the first one to come up with a method to measure extract in the late 18th century, and his measure of how many pounds per barrel wort was heavier than water found widespread use through devices like Long’s saccharometer.

Long’s saccharometer

When I recently went through Philipp Heiß’s “Die Bierbrauerei mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Dickmaisch-Brauerei” from 1853, I was surprised to see the use of 3 scales to measure extract. Philipp Heiß was the former brewmaster at Spaten brewery, and through Gabriel Sedlmayr’s journey through Great Britain, they had picked up the use of Long’s saccharometer (Spaten would continue using it up to the 1870s). Besides pounds per barrel, Heiß also listed two other measurements, Balling’s saccharometer, and one that was just called Kaiser’s Procent-Aräometer (Aräometer is another word for hydrometer). Interestingly, both the specific measurements and the calibration temperature for Balling and Kaiser were identical (14°Ré = 17.5°C), and both measured the amount of extract dissolved in terms of percentage of the overall weight. So that got me thinking: were there in fact two practically identical saccharometer systems around at the time? And why does every brewer know the Bohemian brewing scientist Karl Josef Napoleon Balling (at least by surname), and nobody Bavarian chemist Kajetan Georg von Kaiser?

Turns out, the field of beer analysis in German-speaking countries was far from settled in the 1840s and 1850s. The first method that can be found in brewing literature of the time was Prof. Fuchs’ hallymetric method which involved measuring how much pure sodium chloride could be dissolved in a sample and subsequently how much lighter it got when vaporizing all the alcohol in it. In terms of process, it took a relatively long time and required consumable supplies.

Prof. Kaiser constructed his Procent-Aräometer around 1838, while Prof. Steinheil followed another approach through this “optical-areometric” method which we first published in 1843. It involved a beam balance and a refractometer and was praised for being easier to use than Prof. Fuchs’ method.

In an article by Prof. Holzner of Weihenstephan from 1883, it is noted that while Steinheil’s method was widely quoted in contemporary brewing literature, it seems like nobody actually understood the method as nobody caught two miscalculations in Steinheil’s original publications.

Balling started his research of fermentation chemistry in 1833 and first published about the general use of hydrometers in 1837, followed in 1843 by a paper about using a saccharometer to analyze beer and in 1844 his first book about fermentation chemistry (n.b. the link is to a later edition from 1854).

Karl Balling

Steinheil did not seem particularly happy about Balling’s method, as he published separate articles both about his own method and about Balling’s “saccharometric beer analysis” in 1846. Reading the article gives me the impression that Steinheil either didn’t understand Balling’s method, or misrepresented it on purpose. Steinheil claims that Balling requires the vaporization of alcohol in samples, accuses the method to be imprecise compared to other methods at the time, and in general sees no advantage in Balling’s method. The article finishes with Steinheil suggesting that Balling should work on topics in which he is knowledgable, and that in the future, should he ever publish again, should be less arrogant and show more humility.

Balling did not seem to have directly replied to this attack, but rather in a short article pointed out issues both in an article published by Prof. Fuchs as well as Steinheil’s article about the optical-aerometric method. According to Balling, what they were missing was an understanding of fermentation theory, but he still pointed out that Steinheil’s scales were potentially more precise than saccharometers.

Ultimately, Balling’s method became the standard over the years, not just because it was dead easy to use, but also because Balling had developed this whole theory of fermentation/attenuation theory (he seemed to have used the German terms Vergärungslehre und Attenuationslehre interchangeably) which made it very easy to calculate alcohol content and degree of fermentation of a beer from just two quick measurements, the original extract before fermentation and the apparent extract after fermentation had finished. In Austria, Balling’s work even very quickly found its use for taxation.

Steinheil’s downfall came when he was too aggressive in pushing his own method with Bavarian officials: while his beam balance was made an official method in Bavaria to measure extract, the optical part of his method was not. To show how useful his method was, he conducted some measurements on his own and in 1846 wrote a letter to a Bavarian ministry in which he claimed that his analyses showed that the beer of the season had a lower extract than expected, thus brewers must have illegally used lower amounts of malt than they had to (at the time, Bavaria strictly regulated how much malt a brewer had to use to brew a particular volume of either summer or winter beer), which according to Steinheil showed the necessity for a simple analysis method (i.e. his own). Not only did he accuse brewers of fraud, the publication of this letter also angered local beer drinkers. To avert another beer riot like in 1844, officials in Munich had to lower the beer price. The only problem was: the barley used for brewing the 1846 beer was of poor quality, the harvest had been bad, and the malt gave lower extract than usual.

Steinheil also had his findings co-signing by Prof. Kaiser, who did not oversee parts of the calculation and was only made aware of the letter after Steinheil had sent it off. The ministry of course immediately ordered a verification of Steinheil’s result, which was negative: all beers were well within their parameters and of excellent quality.

It was decided that local authorities were to be equipped with the means to conduct such beer analyses themselves in the future. To answer the question which method was the most suitable, the polytechnic association of Bavaria put together a committee to investigate it. This committee consisted of the leading brewing chemists at the time, like Prof. Fuchs, Prof. Kaiser and Prof. Steinheil, but also brewing practitioner Gabriel Sedlmayr.

During this work, Steinheil was very insistent that his method was the best, of course with the idea that he’d be able to sell his devices to the Bavarian State, but all his attempts to have his device put first were struck down by the rest of the committee. Gabriel Sedlmayr even said that it took him over a year from being instructed in the use of Steinheil’s method to getting results with it that were verifiably correct. In later experiments, it was shown that Steinheil’s method deviated from the others, so Steinheil kept submitting further undated analysis protocols which suddenly showed the right results that matched up with other analyses. The whole conflict escalated when Steinheil made further outrageous claims about devices he had invented for Prof. Fuchs, all of which were countered by sworn statements from other members of the committee that Steinheil is not telling the truth. This seems to have further deteriorated his already questionable reputation.

From Prof. Holzner we also learn why Kaiser’s method eventually disappeared: Prof. Kaiser had sold the rights to build his Aräometer to a company named Greiner. Unfortunately, the company lost the instructions how to build the device, and so production simply ceased.

Balling’s success though meant that his calculations were put under further scrutiny: in Bavaria, Dr. Reischauer helped with its popularization, which eventually got him to re-examine Balling’s tables as he came across some deviations in his own private experiments. Balling had not published all his data, but rather only finished conversion tables, and seemed to have made some mistakes in it. Another brewing scientist named Schultze also did his own experiments to come up with another conversion table. Ultimately, Dr. Holzner was able to show that any deviations between Balling, Schultze and Steinheil (who had also created similar conversion tables) could be simply explained by reading errors.

The rest is history. Balling’s work was later refined in 1900 by Dr. Fritz Plato, who built upon Balling’s publications but calibrated it to 20°C. Balling’s formula (that puts original extract (before fermentation), real extract (after fermentation) and alcohol content in a direct relationship to each other and allows the calculation of each of these if the two other values are known) can be found in every serious brewing text book, while Steinheil’s and Kaiser’s methods have drifted into obscurity.

What were English Kilns?

While it might seem like a minor, mundane detail, I keep getting asked what an “English kiln” was, particularly in the context of 19th century Continental beer brewing. English kilns are mentioned in the context of Anton Dreher (who personally witnessed British malting techniques), and the Burghers’ Brewery in Pilsen, nowadays better known as Pilsner Urquell, is also often mentioned as having used one since 1842 (just Google “english kiln” “pilsner urquell” and you will find plenty of sources). But what is usually not answered is: what actually was an English kiln? Any kiln designed or built in England, or rather a specific type, and where does the association with England come from anyway?

So when I started searching for sources, I was very surprised to find an 1785 book about fuel efficient stoves with a description of what is called an English malt kiln (“englische Malzdarre”), including technical drawings. Essentially, this English kiln used hot air to kiln the malt, and it generated this hot air by directing its hot smoke through a maze of pipes that would transmit the heat to the air, without the smoke ever touching the malt itself.

The next reference to a hot air kiln that I could find was Hermbstädt in 1826. He was a respected early brewing scientist in Berlin at the time, but admitted that he had never seen nor built a kiln that just uses hot air. The thought of it seemed important enough to him that he floated the idea in his book, which was basically an oven that would heat up a metal pipe to be glowing hot which would in turn heat up the surrounding air. This hot air would then flow through the green malt and carry its humidity with it and out the chimney.

But already in 1831, Leuchs mentioned two principal types of kilns: smoke kilns and hot air kilns, followed by a one sentence comment: “in England the latter types of malt kilns are often placed underneath the drying floors.” This is the first source I could find that directly associates hot air kilns with England, not just in name, but specifically as a place where these were being used.

Professor Balling, the legendary Bohemian brewing scientist, makes a similar point: hot air kilns were first built and used in England, and are thus also called English malt kilns.

All these authors recognized the advantages of hot air kilns, though: not only was the hot air dry and thus very effective in drying out the malt, it also prevented the smoke from touching any of the grains, thus not transmitting any smoke flavour into the malt. With smoke kilns, maltsters had to be careful which fuel to use, and generally, only properly dried and cured hardwood like beech or oak were used that would impart only a slight smokiness that was not unpleasant. With hot air kilns, it was possible to switch to other, cheaper fuels that could burn dirtier than old-fashioned smoke kilns, making malt production cheaper.

Interestingly, an 1846 brewing book by Julius Gumbinner discusses two different constructions of English malt kilns, but then also goes on to describe Bavarian kilns which apparently were still fairly widespread in Bavaria at the time, and were essentially what was called Dutch kilns, an advanced type of smoke kiln that tried to minimize the contact of smoke with the malt so that it imparts as little smoke flavour as possible.

In 1850, J. F. Schultze mentions hot air kilns and calls them English malt kilns, but also briefly describes a different type of malt kiln, the Brabant malt kiln but apparently (besides kilning malt) could also be used to pre-dry malt (something that German maltsters at the time would do at room temperatures over several days) as well as drying freshly harvested grains in general. The specific distinction in construction is not entirely clear to me, but Schultze claims both types had some disadvantages which could be alleviated by combining the English and Brabant malt kiln design.

Philipp Heiß, former brewmaster at Spaten, published a brewing book in 1853, and of course briefly mentioned kilns. He referenced Balling, but adds another detail for nuance: at the time, some English maltings still used very simple coke-fired smoke kilns. Heiß also corroborates Schultzes mention of Brabant hot air kilns, but he mentions the Netherlands as a place where maltings employed hot air kilns that used simple clay pipes to transmit heat from the smoke to the surrounding air (i.e. they have no connection to the Dutch kilns mentioned by Gumbinner).

Ladislaus von Wágner goes even further in his 1877 book where he claims that the term “English malt kiln” is inaccurate because England is the place were hot air kilns are used less often compared to Austria-Hungary and Bavaria where breweries had mostly switched from smoke to hot air kilns.

After reviewing all this literature, my impression of what an English kiln was during the 19th century has certainly improved: an English kiln was simply a hot air kiln that allowed smoke-free kilning of malt, and it was named an English kiln because the technique of hot air kilning seems to have first been applied in England, even though coke-fired smoke kilns remained in use there for a relatively long time.

There seemed to have been lots of different constructions of how these kilns were built, and German engineers surely quickly adapted and came up with lots of different designs. I even found one book from 1881 with a whole chapter on all the possible details how to construct kilns. But the idea of smoke-free hot air kilns seems to have been around for a long time, and at least somewhat documented in brewing literature of the first half of the 19th century. All it needed was young, curious brewers and maltster to pick up these books, learn about English kilns, and adopt them in their own breweries. None of that seemed secret or even involved industrial espionage (like some contemporary beer books suggest), nor did it require the import of kilns built in England.

Probably the most useless fact that I picked up during this research though was from a book that advertises different kiln constructions: what do the breweries Tetley & Sons (Leeds), Schultheiss and Landré (both Berlin) have in common? They all had the same specific model of hot air kiln installed, by E. Münnich & Co in Chemnitz. Remember that for beer history trivia night!

Bakewell Pub Guide 2022

June 11 to 16, 2022, my wife and I spent our holidays in Bakewell in the beautiful Peak District. We happened to try out quite a few local pubs, so this is my (obviously very subjective) guide to all the pubs in Bakewell we went to.

The Peacock Inn

Very focused on standard pub food. Three beers from cask, all from Peak Ales: Chatsworth Gold, Bakewell Best and Swift Nick. Well-kept but really just your average bitters and golden ales. When we were in Bakewell previously in 2016, they wouldn’t even let you sit down inside unless you wanted to order food. This has fortunately changed. Good for a quick refreshment in the sun.

Website, Google Maps

The Queen’s Arms

In a stark contrast to the previous pub, you’re being greeted by a “sorry no food” sign. With parts of the floor carpeted, the whole length of the wall is lined by benches accompanied by tables and chairs. The whole pub gave me a rather simple and slightly Spartan impression. Even though it was relatively busy when we were there, it seemed quiet and relaxing, with some people reading their newspaper and enjoying a few pints. It seems to be a Marston’s pub, and had Pedigree and Old Empire from cask (besides a few others I don’t remember). Good for a quiet day.

Facebook page, Google Maps

Wheatsheaf

Despite its slightly sterile and pub-chainy look, we were unable to determine who actually owns this pub. I wanted to try Young’s London Original, but had to return it after I was served a pint of vinegar (the beer wasn’t taken off though), and went for Wainwright instead, which was fine but less bitter and hop-aromatic than what I remember it to be. The couple on the table next to ours also had food, but weren’t happy with their Sunday roast.

Website, Google Maps

The Red Lion

Three cask beers on, with either Timothy Taylor’s Landlord or Boltmaker being on all the time. Boltmaker tasted great, though a bit on the sweet side. It was quiet when we went in, the overall atmosphere seemed fine, but it can apparently get very busy at times.

Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker

Website, Google Maps

The Joiners Arms

This pub wasn’t around yet when we first spent time in Bakewell. With slightly hipsterish-looking panelling from reclaimed scaffolding boards on the bar and the walls, it had a micropub-like, very informal atmosphere. In total, they had 6 beers from cask, always rotating, but while we were there, at least 1 to 2 Thornbridge beers were on, accompanied by several keg taps (lager, craft beer, cider). No food other than the typical pub snacks like crisps and pork scratchings, but instead a good place to get to casually get to talk to people, both locals and tourists. The pub is also very dog-friendly, and lots of people walking their dogs seem to make a quick stop there for a pint.

A good place if you’re into trying new, local beers, or if you’re into craft beer.

Facebook page, Google Maps

The Rutland Arms Hotel

Essentially a hotel bar, it has 2 beers from cask, namely Jaipur and Lord Marples, as well as their Helles Lukas from keg. The whole hotel lobby/bar/restaurant has been completely redone since we were last there in 2016, apparently after a takeover from a hotel chain. All the beers were Peak Ales back then, and frankly, I’m glad they changed it because all casks beers this time were well kept, tasted great, and highlighted a local product to tourists (and there were several American tourists at the bar while were also there).

Thornbridge Lord Marples (left) and Lukas (right)

Website, Google Maps

Thornbridge Taproom

A bit further out from the town centre, this is Thornbridge’s brewery taproom, with a fairly large range of their own beers from cask, keg and bottle or can. Everything we tried was well kept. If you’re hungry, you can order pizza which is all made from scratch in-house, and even though we didn’t have any, it smelled fantastic. As I learned, they take their pizza pretty seriously, got a proper pizza oven (though not wood-fired) and even ensure to buy the right flour.

By far the best place to try Thornbridge beers straight from the source!

Jaipur X at the Home of Jaipur

Website, Google Maps

The Manners

This is a Robinson’s pub, and it shows in the cask offering: Robinson’s Unicorn, Wizard, Trooper and Dizzy Blonde (despite the name, the visual branding has improved since 2016). The beer is perfectly fine, just not the most exciting to me. Instead, this pub is best visited for its food. By far the best pub food I’ve had in England. Our food highlights there were the honey roast belly pork, the steak & ale suet crust pie, the super juicy venison cheese burger, and of course the local specialty, Bakewell pudding.

Bakewell pudding at the Manners

Website, Google Maps

A few remarks

If you’ve been to Bakewell before, you may have noticed that we have not covered all the pubs. This is because we didn’t go there specifically to put together a complete pub guide, and also there was one particular pub that we thoroughly did not enjoy last time, and thus didn’t return. As for drinks, I mostly mentioned cask beer because that’s what I’m interested in. If you want to drink keg beer or cider instead, the typical offerings are stuff like Carling, Coors, Fosters, Peroni, John Smith’s, Guinness, Strongbow (& Strongbow Dark Fruits), etc. You get the idea. Some places (like the Manners or the Joiners Arms) also have craft beer on keg.

When comparing the state of Bakewell pubs in 2016 with 2022, I have to commend those who have expanded their offerings: back then, we couldn’t find a single pub that served Thornbridge beers (it’s literally brewed a few hundred metres down the road!), save for the Thornbridge taproom itself, which was just a bit of a lounge and a small bar underneath some of the brewery offices. Nowadays, you will find multiple local places happily serving a fairly wide range of Thornbridge beers in excellent condition, and Thornbridge brewery itself now has a massive and very popular taproom, all of which are great improvements. And there’s even a micropub-ish free house in the town centre that brings rotating taps to the town that have clearly been missing before.

How did Whitbread’s fermentation cellar work?

While looking for a picture of a Burton Union in old German brewing literature as part of another beer history discussion on Twitter, I came across a source that described Whitbread’s fermentation cellar and its setup. So that’s what it looks like:

(source)

But how did it work? Fortunately, the drawing is accompanied by an explanation.

In the center, you see a large vessel marked M. This is the main fermenting vessel. From the left, a pipe leads into it, marked r on the very left. It is actually enveloped by another pipe x, through which cold water can flow at a regulated speed. Pipe r comes from various cooling tubs, and the chilling pipe was meant to allow temperature control at which the wort is filled into fermenter M.

In M, fermentation is then started, and what the description calls the first fermentation is conducted. I think this is a slight misunderstanding in the process or just a poor description of it, because the beer is then filled into the smaller vessels N where it will expel more yeast that collects in the troughs in the middle. As some beer is lost in this process, all the N vessels are automatically topped up from O with more beer. This is done through a float valve that automatically tops up N if the level is too low. This very much sounds like a cleansing apparatus. And since O is also producing yeast, it has an iron swimmer connected with a leather hose so that any yeast on the top of the beer can fall into this swimmer and down the leather hose, ensuring that also the beer in O is cleansed.

And finally, the arched cellars P underneath, built from stone and made watertight, are used to store and mature finished beer. According to Martyn Cornell, these were vaults used for maturing porter that were opened in 1784.

And, of course, he wrote about this all in great detail quite a few years ago on his own blog.

My Summer Beer 2022

Like last year, I decided for 2022 to brew a light and refreshing beer for the the summer. I was really really happy with my 2021 beer, and so for this year, I again brewed an 8° Czech-style beer, this time even more traditional than last year.

And that was my exact approach: be as simple as possible, but stick to the ingredients that would constitute a Czech beer according to PGI (if I brewed commercially in the Czech Republic and wanted to sell my beer with a Czech Beer PGI label): the sugar from the wort needs to be at least 80% from Czech barley varieties, at least 30% of the alpha acid needs to come from Czech hops varieties, decoction mashing needs to be used, and the beer needs to be bottom-fermented. So I went all in:

The brewing and fermentation process itself was rather uneventful: I hit 8.4°P OG, chilled the wort to 10°C, pitched a yeast pack, fermentation took off in less than 36 hours, and after about 3 weeks, it was finished, with a FG of 2°P. I then ramped down the temperature to 2°C, let it sit at that low temperature for just 2 weeks, and then bottled it, bottle-conditioning it with 1 liter of wort that I kept back.

I’m absolutely impatient when it comes to waiting for beer to be finished maturing and bottle-conditioning, so I had to crack one bottle open after just 1 week. I pre-chilled it for a few hours, and then poured it into a Pilsner Urquell glass I had at home. While carbonation wasn’t 100% there yet, it was definitely enough to drink it. The foam was fluffy but with rather big and open bubbles (I hopes this improves when carbonation is higher), the beer still looked slightly hazy with a very pale colour). It smelled absolutely amazing, and just after the first sip I could definitely say that this was exactly like a Czech beer (it’s not a Czech beer because I brewed it here in Berlin, hence why I call it Czech-style). It has that exact bitterness and the kind of hop flavour and aroma that I would expect from any Czech beer, it has a unique edge to its malt character that I would attribute to the intense decoction mash (hard to describe, but once you’ve had plenty of Czech beers, you just notice it, from your easy-drinking 10° beers to modern Czech-brewed IPAs e.g. from Matuška), and it’s got a very good body for such a low-strength beer.

The Urkel Lager strain, despite (allegedly) having a Pilsner Urquell provenance, does not seem to produce diacetyl at any detectable levels. What it does though is produce lots and lots of sulphur. This was particularly noticeable during fermentation and at the beginning of the very short lagering period, but at packaging, all of that was gone.

In the end, choosing the right ingredients and processes for the kind of beer you want to brew matters, and I’ve only ever gotten all the details of a Czech-style beer right when I applied all the techniques that I knew, with all the right ingredients.

What follows is a quick recipe. In terms of ingredients, it’s incredibly simple and one of those beers that can be formulated as a SMaSH beer – single malt and single hops. In this case:

  • 3.1 kg floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt from Weyermann
  • 24 g 2021 harvest Saaz hops (4.2% ABV) @ 60 min
  • 24 g 2021 harvest Saaz hops (4.2% ABV) @ 30 min
  • 24 g 2021 harvest Saaz hops (4.2% ABV) @ 5 min
  • 1 pack Imperial Yeast L28 Urkel Lager yeast

Use enhanced double decoction mashing scheme. Lauter, sparge, chill to 10°C, pitch yeast. Ferment fully, lager at low temperature for 1 week (I went down to 2°C), bottle or keg and carbonate. This should get you about 20 liters of a beer with 8.4°P OG, 2°P FG, 3.4% ABV, about 25 IBU in bitterness, and a very pale colour.

Experience in Brewing a Belgian-Style Tripel

I’m not really an expert on Belgian beer styles. I do like my gueuzes and lambics, and there are some Belgian beers that enjoy occasionally (my wife and I keep a collection of various vintages of Orval), but my personal interest is not exactly focused on Belgian beer, and therefore I don’t seek them out regularly or brew them at home.

My Dutch neighbour Rick though, he’s very much into Belgian beer styles. When he learned that I knew how to brew beer at home, it was clear that we had to brew something together. I asked him what his favourite beer style was (it’s Tripel, with his favourite beer being Tripel Karmeliet), and so we decided to brew a Tripel. Prior to that, I had only brewed one Tripel that was loosely inspired by Brooklyn Brewery’s Local 1. So off I went to do a bit of research.

My first decision was to make the base mostly Pilsner malt, and use some sort of sugar so as to make the beer “thinner”. With a high original gravity, you’d expect the final gravity to be fairly high and the beer to be full-bodied, so adding sugar to amp up the original gravity but keep the final gravity at a fairly low level is the way to go.

With the hope of adding a bit more complexity to the malt profile of the beer, I decided to also add 500g of flaked spelt. Not only is it a fairly cheap and easy to get ingredient, it could potentially also impart its own flavour to the beer, and (as a relative of wheat) also help with head retention.

When it came to the choice of sugar, I first looked at what my options are with pale candi sugar. Turns out, candi sugar syrup from home-brew stores is really expensive, and so I decided to look into other types of sugar. I found a slide deck “The Sugars of Tripel” by Ted Hausotter which discusses several option in great detail and also involved some experimentation. If you plan to brew a Tripel yourself and are thinking your sugar options as well, don’t miss this presentation. Looking at the slides of tasting results and rankings of the type of sugar used, I opted to go for cane sugar, as it seemed an okay option that also didn’t deteriorate flavour-wise over time. There was some warning that sucrose could add a slight cidery note to the finished beer, but I was willing to risk that.

As for the yeast, I took a closer look at what my options were with dry yeast. Fermentis has two options that could roughly fit the phenolic and estery profile of Tripel, namely SafAle BE-256 and SafAle T-58. Lallemand also has two options, one is their LalBrew Abbaye, the other one a more recent offering that might seem a bit unusual at first: LalBrew Farmhouse, which they describe as a hybrid-style saison yeast. Unlike most other saison strains, this one is non-diastatic, meaning the yeast is missing a gene that would otherwise help it enzymes to break unfermentable sugars down to help ferment a beer to absolute dryness.

When I came across that product, it actually got me thinking: normally, saison yeasts are a bit more phenolic in their flavour profile, but if that yeast is indeed non-diastatic, I could end up with a beer less dry and still with enough body to make it a convincing Tripel. What’s the worst that could happen? If the flavour profile does turn more towards a typical saison, I’d have something akin to Dupont Bons Voeux. So let’s be a bit experimental.

When it came to hopping, I wanted to have enough bitterness and hop aroma so as not to make this beer too sweet. It’s what I had noticed with some Tripels, and Joe Stange had also mentioned to me in the past that Tripels can work surprisingly well even with higher levels of bitterness. I think his prime example was Westmalle Tripel. When aging strong beers, my experience is that you could lose quite a bit of noticeable bitterness, so it’s better to aim too high than too low. In the end, I decided for go for 1g/L of Herkules (16.7% alpha acid) as bittering addition, 1g/L of 2021 harvest Saaz hops (4.2% alpha acid) as flavour addition (30 minutes before end of boil), and 2.5g/L of the same Saaz hops as late aroma addition (5 minutes). In terms of calculated IBU, this should end up at about 38 IBU.

The brew day itself was fairly relaxed: Rick and I mashed in 5.2 kg of Bohemian Pilsner malt and 500g of flaked spelt, did an initial protein rest for about 15 minutes at 54°C, then ramped up to 62°C for saccharification for about 40 minutes, and then 72°C for another 30 minutes, finished off with an increase to 78°C. Lautering and sparging went fine, and we mixed in and dissolved 1.2 kg of cane sugar (an organic own brand from a local health and beauty retailer that is ever so slightly darker than regular table sugar). After 60 minutes of boiling and adding all our hop additions according to schedule, we chilled the wort to 20°C, measured OG (19°P) and pitched two sachets of the Lallemand Farmhouse yeast.

I had originally planned the recipe for an OG of 18.5°P, but for whatever reason, we had slightly higher extraction and got 19°P. Surely not a bad thing.

After about 2 weeks, the beer was fully fermented. We then bottled it, using the same cane sugar for priming, and then let it sit for a few weeks for bottle-conditioning. The final beer came out at 2.7°P FG, which means that the final beer should have about 9.2% ABV.

We finally sampled the first bottle together this Friday. The resulting beer was actually less bitter than expected, and the hop aroma was more subtle than what I had expected, but nevertheless present in sufficient amounts. The beer itself looked slightly hazy, with a pale orange tone that made it look very inviting. The foam was very white, long-lasting and pretty dense, while the carbonation was exactly the right amount to make it pleasantly fizzy but not overly so (we went for about 2.5 volumes / 5g/L carbon dioxide). As for the flavour of the beer itself, I think the yeast expressed a very balanced amount of fruity ester and spicy phenols without either of them being too much in your face or overpowering anything. The body is just right, not too dry and not too full, which makes the beer dangerously easy to drink. The alcohol does not show at all, it is very smooth and slightly warming, and no cidery note from using cane sugar was noticeable. Rick (as a home-brewing newbie and Belgian beer aficionado) was very happy, and so was I, as I hadn’t brewed this style much beforehand, and therefore was really just guessing my way into a recipe based on some reading about the style that I had done.

(it glows more when held against the light)

The choice of yeast, although a bit risky because it was supposedly not an ideal match for the style, was a good call, and I can absolutely recommend Lallemand Farmhouse dry yeast for Belgian Tripels and similar styles. Keeping the grist simple with just Pilsner malt and spelt flakes also turned out to be a good choice, as was the use of cane sugar.

To summarize the recipe:

  • 5.2 kg Pilsner malt
  • 0.5 kg flaked spelt
  • 1.2 kg cane sugar
  • 20 g Herkules hops (16.7% alpha acid) @ 60 minutes
  • 20 g Saaz hops (4.2% alpha acid) @ 30 minutes
  • 50 g Saaz hops (4.2% alpha acid) @ 5 minutes
  • 2 sachets Lallemand Farmhouse hybrid saison yeast

Mash in and do multi-step infusion mash as described above (54°C, 62°C 40 min, 72°C 30 min, 78°C mash-out), lauter, sparge, add cane sugar to wort, boil 60 minutes with hop additions as describe above, chill to 20°C, pitch yeast, package with carbonation level of 2.5 volumes / 5g/L.

More about the Brewing Commune in Freistadt

Alistair Reece recently blogged about brewing communes in Bohemia during the 19th century. As we had a brief exchange about this topic, I thought it would be worth looking more closely into the history of Braucommune Freistadt, the last remaining brewing commune in Austria.

The history of the brewery in Freistadt is quite a fascinating one: officially founded in 1777 (we’ll get to that later), its company structure is a remnant of how old brewing rights used to be organized. As Alistair mentioned in his blog, another remnant is the Zoigl tradition in the Oberpfalz, but it has survived in a slightly different way.

As someone who has been socialized as a beer drinker in Upper Austria, everyone just knew about Freistädter brewery and what makes them unique: the company is owned by the real estate owners of the Old Town of Freistadt (i.e. what’s within the city walls), company shares are tied to specific houses, not their owners, and the owners of these houses still have an “Eimerrecht” (lit. “bucket right”, where the Eimer, about 56 litres, was an old measure for liquids such as beer), which nowadays means that the brewery pays out dividends.

The city of Freistadt has had the so-called “mile right” since 1363, that forced everyone up to a mile (longer than a modern mile; the 17th century definition in Austria was roughly 7.58 km but it may have been even longer as the mile right apparently extended up to Kerschbaum which is more than 9 km away from Freistadt) to have to buy their wine, mead and beer from Freistadt, no brewing on site was allowed. This was a powerful privilege, and guaranteed the citizens of Freistadt income from their beer brewing.

Speaking of the brewing itself, this was originally something that was done at home at the time. For practical reasons, the brewing was not necessarily done in the households, but in separate brew houses. In 1525, Freistadt had 12 dedicated brew houses, in 1637 still 5. One house was then set up as a dedicated white beer brew house (white beer was popular through the influence of Bohemian White Beer). From 1687 onwards, Freistadt only had two brew houses: the white brew house which was owned by the city and the brown brew house which was owned by the citizens. Every citizen had brewing rights, the amount of which was determined by the value of their house and noted in the city’s house registry.

Some houses were excluded from these brewing rights, either because they didn’t belong to citizens or because they were built much later (you couldn’t just buy yourself into it by building a new house within the city walls). Particular houses that were excluded were those owned by the church, which included one house (no. 11) which originally had brewing rights but was then bought by the church and donated to the Piarist religious order, thus losing that right, as well as the local school that was founded by the church. Houses owned by the city also didn’t have brewing rights for the brown brew house, which included the town hall, a tower of the city walls, the local city barracks, and the white brew house (well, it did have brewing rights, but they were separate from the citizens’ brewing rights); the same applied to houses owned by the state or nobility (e.g. the local salt authority building).

Before the new brew house was built, the brown brew house was also rented out, regularly for periods of 3 years. The tenants had to take on quite a bit of risk, they had to pay in a substantial deposit, and they had a number of responsibilities: the quality of the beer, they had to deliver Germ (baking yeast) to the local bakers (a strong indicator that the beer was top-fermented), they had to take care of selling the spent grains, they had to pay the brewer, the brewing workers, the coopers and the beer transporters. But they also had certain privileges: they were allowed to export beer on their own, and they were allowed to confiscate as contraband any beer or cider (Most) imported by innkeepers, of which they were allowed to keep 50%.

As for the ingredients, some of the barley was grown by the citizens themselves, while more barley was bought from local farmers around the city, and occasionally, when the local supply was used up, even from Bohemian cities such as Budweis/České Budějovice and Krumau/Český Krumlov with which Freistadt has had a close trade relationship. Hops were grown locally (Mühlviertel, the part of Upper Austria north of the river Danube, has historically been a minor hop growing region), but sometimes also brought in from as far as Saaz via Krumau traders.

The decision to build a new brewhouse was made for several reasons: the brown brew house was basically falling to bits and constantly needed repairs done, having an old brewery within the city walls always brought with it the danger of fire, the experience with renting it out hasn’t always been great and had caused some damages to the citizens in the past, and fear of competition (Bohemian beer from the North, beer from Linz from the South) and a possible loss of the exclusive “mile right” that required a consolidation and rationalization in the production of the local beer.

A precondition to build a new brewery was that the citizens had to buy the old white brew house including the brewing rights. One original idea was that that brew house would get modernized and the brown beer brewing would get moved there, but the alternative was to build an entirely new building outside the city walls. After some negotiations, the buying contract between the citizens and the city was finalized on December 31, 1770, when building works for a new brewery had already begun.

Building the brewery itself was a slow process, and it took 10 years until the brewery was completed. Where does the supposed founding date of 1777 come from then? That year was when the building works were the most active, and when most of the building was completed. The main gate of the brewery building bears the year 1777 because of it.

The old brew houses were emptied and equipment was moved over to the new brew house in 1780. Some of the old coppers were sold to the local copper smith to turn them into new coppers for the brewery. The white beer brew house was sold in 1781, and the buyer with his new house was admitted as a citizen of Freistadt, receiving the transferred brewing rights from the old brown beer brew house of 30 Eimer.

At what scale did this new brewery operate? For the early years, this is hard to tell, but we know from an 1886 ad that the brewery was selling a 48 hectolitre copper pan, an iron coolship of the same volume and a sparger “due to the conversion to machine operation”. From brewing statistics of the same time, we also know that the brewery was brewing about 10,000-11,000 hectolitres of beer a year, which pans out to 1 batch a day on 4 to 5 days a week. With that amount of brewing, they were considered a medium-sized brewery for Upper Austria. Other industrial breweries, like Dreher in Schwechat, brewed at an entirely different scale at the same time, around 450,000 hl per year. For Freistädter brewery, it was obviously good enough to satisfy the demand of the local market. A shift in production size seem to have happened in the 1890s, when the annual amount went from 11,150 hl in 1892 up to 19,861 hl in 1898. Up to 1930, this annual amount remained about the same (most likely interrupted by brewing restrictions during World War 1), at roughly 20,000 hl per year.

Ironically, the Braucommune in Freistadt was only added to the company registry at the commercial court in Linz in 1895. This registration clearly listed which house numbers were included as shareholders. It even very clearly says “Company owner is a society of the respective owners of the following houses located in Freistadt: 1, 2, 3, 4, […]”, cementing that the company ownership has been bound to the houses, not the citizens.

Nowadays, Freistädter brewery has the status of a local brewery serving the local market, brewing beer that generally has a good reputation. Distribution is limited, and within Austria, is mainly limited to Mühlviertel (i.e. Upper Austria north of the river Danube), a few major cities of Upper Austria including Linz, and then Vienna, Austria’s capital. As for the annual production volume, it has grown in recent years: for 2013, the brewery reported 65,000 hl per year, but by the end of 2018, more than 100,000 hl per year had been brewed.

Fun fact: thanks a former work colleague of mine who lives in Freistadt (though outside the city walls), I visited the brewery a few times in 2007/2008, for a monthly event called “Abpiff” (lit. blowing the final whistle) at the brewery: for a modest fee of €8, you would get a snack and about 2 hours time to pour (and drink!) as much beer as you wanted from gravity-dispensed serving casks (designated drivers were of course provided with non-alcoholic drinks). This continued until the final whistle was blown, and no more new serving casks were tapped. According to my former work colleague, this wasn’t just an event for the local beer lovers to get together, but also an opportunity for the brewery to try out new beers and one-offs. I loved the concept of it, and whenever The Event™ is over, I’d love to go back to it.

(As a source for this article, I mainly used the 1937 book 160 Jahre Braucommune Freistadt as well as various statistics from Gambrinus, the Austrian “brewing and hop newspaper”)