The Diversity of Beer, 200 Years Ago And Now

You’ve probably heard the complaint before: craft beer is becoming monotonous, it’s all about IPA, most breweries just brew hazy bois with a few fruited sours and pastry stouts sprinkled in between, and if they feel extra special, a West Coast IPA. This is usually refuted with the argument that brewers just brew what pays the bills, it’s what people want to drink, etc., which is again countered with lamentation that other beer styles are dying out (ok, a bit hyperbolic) because nobody brews them anymore.

This is not a new phenomenon.

150 to 200 years, German beer and brewing experienced a massive shift. Small breweries were previously mostly brewing relatively small amounts of beer solely for the local market using little to no automation, brewers were organized in guilds, not interested in scaling out their businesses, and sometimes even bound by local law to brew and sell their beer on a rota (Reihebrauen). Then the industrial revolution came and destroyed a lot of these structures.

In some cases it was young brewers with an entrepreneurial spirit taking over from their fathers and looking to expand and grow it using modern technologies, in others it was simply trained brewers backed by money to start entirely new brewing companies with all the latest equipment and scientific knowledge to brew excellent beer.

Bottom-fermented beer became fashionable, and due to how it was produced and stored (at cold temperatures with a yeast that increased the sulphur content of the beer, two factors contributing to a more stable beer) the beer became more suitable for export. Export in this context simply meant shipping it further than what was the common “local” area, but innovations like the railroad made it possible to ship beer quite a bit further, and with the invention of ice waggons, some breweries were even able to establish proper cool chains (a famous example for that is the Dreher brewery in Kleinschwechat near Vienna which shipped ice-chilled lager beer from their brewery to the Paris Expo 1867, one delivery took just 5 days and was kept at a constant 4°C). The beer tasted clean, fresh and properly quenched the thirst of beer drinkers.

People started craving this fashionable beer, so naturally, the market adjusted to it, beer legislation was liberalized, and more brewers had the opportunity to enter the market and brew bottom-fermented beers. At the same time, the old-time breweries where “local beer for local people” had been brewed for hundreds of years, didn’t have the money to upgrade their equipment to brew these new-fangled beer styles, or even to make smoke-free malt like the new lager breweries were doing it.

Within just a few decades, a lot of small, local breweries simply shut down because they couldn’t compete, and local beer styles (German brewing literature at the often spoke of Lokalbiere) simply went extinct because nobody wanted to drink them anymore. A lot of these beers we only know by name these days, a few have been preserved in the form of recipes, though a lot of details like how specific malts were prepared are not so well documented, leaving more questions than answers.

When we look at Germany, which beer styles are prevalent (because craft beer is really just a teeny tiny 1% segment of the whole market) and which of these beer styles are from before the industrial revolution, it becomes apparent how bleak it really is.

To the best of my knowledge, the list is really short: Berliner Weisse, Bavarian Weißbier, Altbier and Kölsch (I like to group them as Rhenish Bitter Beers or Top-Fermented Lager Beers because they are more similar than different though people from Düsseldorf and Cologne may hate me for that), Leipziger Gose, and Bamberger smoked beer, and some of them did not fare too well in the last 70, 80 years and were only just rescued from dying out.

Berliner Weisse was still brewed by a few breweries in both East and West Berlin after World War 2. The biggest shock was probably when Schultheiss stopped brewing their traditional unboiled mixed-fermented version. Berliner Kindl Weisse, a very industrial beer brewed by fermenting a low-alcohol beer normally and blending it with another batch that was just fermented with lactic acid bacteria and then sterile-filtrated, thus became the only available brand on the market. In Berlin, the style was really only rescued by a few craft brewers, such as Andreas Bogk, BrewBaker, Lemke, Schneeeule, Berliner Berg, Vagabund, and others, who specifically intended not to let this piece of beer history die out.

Bavarian Weißbier was already a niche product when it again became permitted for private Bavarian brewers to brew with wheat again, and it only survived because of a relatively small group of connoisseurs, until the 1960s when it suddenly somehow became more fashionable again and thus had its revival.

Altbier and Kölsch were not particularly popular during the interwar period, and really only regained popularity after World War 2: Kölsch as it was marketed as a genuinely local beer, appealing to the hyperlocal patriotism in Cologne, while Düsseldorfer Altbier apparently only regained popularity in the 1960s. Münstersches Altbier, another Altbier style, really only exists in the form of one brewery, Pinkus Müller.

Leipziger Gose was actually functionally extinct from the early 1960s when the last Gose brewery shut its doors until the mid-1980s, and it could only be rebrewed and revived to its original taste because the East German brewers producing it could have it taste-tested by beer drinkers who still remembered it from before the 1960s.

And finally smoked beer. Even in Bamberg, this is kind of a niche product. Of the more than 10 breweries that are still around, only two still make their own smoked malt to brew their very own smoked beer, Brauerei Heller (Schlenkerla) and Brauerei Spezial. Greifenklau stopped their own kilning operation in the early 1970s, but fortunately is still around. Nowadays, they brew some smoked beer as a seasonal product, but their owning malting and kilning operation is long gone. And Polarbär brewery, which I like to call the fourth Bamberg smoked beer brewery isn’t operational since the 1950s or so.

And yet, none of these beer styles are truly extinct or even remotely in danger of going extinct. Why? Simply put, thanks to craft beer. Starting in the US, but now really all over the world, there are countless beer nerds who truly care about these old beer types, some rebrew them at home, others brew them commercially, making these beers that were definitely at the brink of extinction better known to beer drinkers all around the world.

Yes, there is some truth that IPAs and hazies are taking over, and yes, some breweries certainly struggle with that problem, because it’s what pays the bills. “The customer is king”, and it would not make sense economically to brew a beer that would not be as popular and thus not sell as well. In the end, IPAs keep the other styles afloat, as the money earned through them gives brewers some freedom to also try out other styles. Styles that used to extremely local to just small regions of Germany have now gained worldwide fame. Even 50 years ago, this probably would have been mostly unthinkable.

More About Upper Austrian Hops

A few years back, I wrote about the demise of Upper Austrian hop growing. At the time, I was wondering what variety these local hops were. With the annexation of the Bohemian hop growing regions, the Upper Austrian hops all got uprooted, and only after World War 2, new hop of different varieties were planted. My research into Styrian hops about 3 weeks ago motivated me to also look into Upper Austrian hops in the same way, looking at what newspapers wrote about them.

In 1863, about 6000 Zentner of hops (1 Zentner = 100 kg) were grown in the Upper Austrian districts of Aigen, Haslach, Lembach, Neufelden and Rohrbach, all located in the Western part of Mühlviertel. That particular article is very insightful about what hops were grown: it mentions both “green” and “red” hops, referring to green bine and red bine hops. The quality of the green bine hops was allegedly very good, with a high amount of lupulin, and comparable to red bine hops from Auscha/Úštěk, while the Upper Autrian red bine hops were between Auscha/Úštěk red bine hops and green bine hops from. It apparently also preserved the beer very well until late into the season, the only complaint was that the prices paid for the hops were very low compared to the quality, especially in relation to the quality and prices paid for Auscha/Úštěk hops.

In an 1868 article, the same issue is being mentioned: Upper Austrian hop growers knew that their product had a good quality, but felt like they didn’t get nearly the right amount of money for it. This article defends the profitability of hop growing even at the prices at the time by calculating quite in detail how much you need to spend on growing hops, and how much revenue you’ll get out of it.

An 1871 ad gives us more insight into what variety at least some of these hops were. A trader from Linz advertised Upper Austrian hops from the 1870 harvest for 20-24 fl. per Zentner, and mentions that it was grown from Saazer seedlings. It is not clear whether this was the case for just this batch of hops, or whether this applied also to most if not all other hops grown in Upper Austria at the time.

An 1871 ad advertising Upper Austrian hops grown from Saazer seedlings.

The same trader, Friedrich Smeykal, reported in 1872 that he sold several hop bales of 1869 and 1870 harvest to a London hop trading house, which required him to prepare and package the hops in a particular way. To demonstrate this, he presented several bales at an exhibition of a local folk festival, as it could keep hops fresh and aromatic for several years. We unfortunately do not actually learn what that particular method was.

As mentioned earlier, the Upper Austrian hop grower were discontent with the prices that they were paid for their hops. An 1869 article claimed that hop growers were only paid 60 fl. for their hops, while at the same time, Upper Austrian hops were traded in Saaz for 90 to 100 fl. This is blamed specifically on Jewish hop traders, who the anonymous author accuses of arranging with each other, thus controlling the prices. The same author suggests that hop growers should form an association to centrally control the sales of Upper Austrian hops, thus having more leverage to dictate prices.

This article was immediately contradicted by an expert who specifically pointed out in a letter to the editor that on the day the article was published, Upper Austrian hops traded at 62 to 64 fl. in Nuremberg, while hops in Neufelden (where Upper Austrian hops were traded wholesale) were sold for up to 70 fl. The editors added a note to the letter, claiming that the author, although only anonymously signed as “an expert”, was a Jewish hop trader.

About a month later, another article was published in a different newspaper, denouncing the initial reports as wrong, not only correcting the wrong price information, but also scalding the use of defamatory, antisemitic language.

Similar to what I described in my previous article about Styrian hops and how they were bought up, repackaged, and resold as “Saazer” hops, reports about similar transactions also surfaced about Upper Austrian hops. Most of these reports are again specifically blaming Jewish hop traders, like this report from 1884 or this article from 1888. One article from 1885 even claims how this relabeling was allegedly discovered in one instance: an Upper Austrian brewer had purchased bales of Saazer hops, and when they opened one of them, they found a knife in it and were surprised to see the name of a local hop grower written on it.

In reality, the situation often wasn’t quite as bad. In January 1873, pretty much all Upper Austrian hops were already sold out in Nuremberg, showing that it must have been a popular product where demand must have outstripped supply. In January 1877, Upper Austrian hops even sold for significantly more (430-460 Mark) in Nuremberg than Saazer city hops (375 Mark), showing that the 1876 harvest must have been of even higher quality than the Saazer hops.

Not everybody only blamed Jewish hop traders, though. In one letter to the editor (published anonymously) from 1884, the anonymous author primarily blamed “Czechization” for local hops getting bought up for cheap by Bohemian hop traders, who then ship it back to Bohemia, “nationalize” it, rebrand it, and sell it back to Austrian brewers under different names instead of their actual geographic origin of Upper Austria resp. Mühlviertel.

All in all, the amounts of hops grown in Upper Austria during the 19th and early 20th century were never particularly large, and with the dominance of Bohemian hops in the Austrian and European hop trade, they never established themselves as a “big name”, while still being able to compete with their relatively small amounts through quality.

Hop growing in Mühlviertel has fortunately been revived after World War 2, but the original hop varieties are nowhere to be found. Instead, hop growing restarted with the originally English variety Malling Mid-Season, grown in Austria simply as Malling, with more varieties that were added later on. Nowadays, you can even get Upper Austrian “Golding”, which is really Fuggles because it’s Styrian Goldings with an Upper Austrian terroir, as well as other varieties such as Aurora (also brought in from Slovenia), Perle, Tradition, Hersbrücker spät, Saphir, Spalter Select, Tettnanger, Magnum, Taurus, and even more craft-y “flavour hop” varieties such as Cascade, Comet and Sorachi Ace. And unlike back in the day, marketing and direct sales are nowadays also handled by the hop growers themselves. At less than €30 per kg for T90 pellets of last year’s harvest, I’m considering directly buying Malling hops or maybe Cascade hops for a future brew.

Historic Saaz Hop Fraud

In a recent conversation I had with Michel Stenzel of Schlossbrauerei Hundisburg, the topic of Styrian hops (steirischer Hopfen) came up. I didn’t know too much other than that most of the hop growing nowadays of what used to be Styria is happening in Slovenia today, while in Austria, only a small hop growing agriculture in Leutschach has survived (or rather, was reestablished after World War 2, like Upper Austrian hop growing) with as little acreage as 80 ha (for comparison: in Hallertau, the total hop acreage amounts to 17,100 ha).

What is also well-known is that the “classic” hop variety from Slovenia is Styrian Golding, nowadays more commonly marketed as Styrian Savinjski Golding, referring to the Savinja region of Slovenia. Styrian Golding started off as cultivar of Fuggle hops getting planted in the region.

Prior to that, Styria had its own native hop variety, simply known as “Steirischer” (i.e. Styrian). In his 1930 Handbuch der Brauerei und Mälzerei, Prof. Franz Schönfeld listed Steirischer as a descendant of Saazer (žatecký poloraný červeňák) hops, together with Schwetzinger, Tettnanger, Neutomischler (Nowotomyski) and Auschaer Rothopfen (red bine hops from Uštěk). This old variety was eventually replaced with the more disease-resistant Styrian/Savinjski Golding hops, I wrote about this before.

Doing a bit more research (basically just checking old newspapers for mentions of Styrian hops), I came across something interesting: Styrian hops weren’t particularly well known in the 1850s and 1860s. Nevertheless, the hops found buyers: in October 1858, a Graz newspaper reported something previously unheard: bales of local Styrian hops getting sent by train to Bohemia, the #1 hop growing region of the Austrian Empire at the time. In the middle of the 19th century, Styrian hops still had a major reputation issue: the quality was fine, and price-wise Styrian hops sold at roughly the same price as Auschaer hops, but once buyers knew they were Styrian hops, they weren’t interested anymore, even when they were packed in Saaz bags.

That last bit got me interested. Styrian hops in Saaz bags? Yes, that was a thing, apparently. In 1866, Bohemian hop traders came to Styria, bought over 800 bales of hops while outbidding local buyers, repackaged them into Saaz bags they had brought themselves, and shipped the hops back to Bohemia. Quality-wise, the hops were absolutely comparable with Saaz hops, except you needed 40% more hops (7 Pfund instead of 5 for a 40 Eimer batch of beer), indicating a lower alpha acid content.

Once Styrian hops were sold under their own name, they actually fared really well. This happened first in 1875, and the German Hop Association considered it to be the best hop variety right behind Saaz city hops (meaning the Saaz hops were grown on city ground and not somewhere in the surrounding district). Besides its fine qualities, it also went to market earlier than other hop varieties, which was a great advantage and got Styrian hop farmers to achieve some of the highest prices.

The virtual equality of Saaz hops and Styrian hops also shows in 1877 pricing, where Saazer, Spalter and Styrian hops all sold for the same price, though in that year, neither of these varieties were the most expensive ones.

Still, the fact that Bohemian hop traders would repackage Styrian hops and sell it as Saazer hops seems like a dubious business practice. They probably did it because they knew that the quality was perfectly fine, that customers would not be able to smell or taste the difference, but they basically arbitraged by misrepresenting the origin of the hops. Due to the poor (but unwarranted) reputation of Styrian hops, this misrepresentation was material to the price that could be charged for them. In my book, that’s fraud.

Interestingly, this is not even the first time I came across accusations of fraudulent misrepresentation of hops. In his 1818 book Das Bamberger Bier, Johann Seifert claimed that he had witnessed how hops had been bought in Amberg (east of Nuremberg), brought over the border into Bohemia, and then reimported into Bavaria with a Bohemian hop seal on the bales. He was very critical of a supposed superiority of Bohemian hops, and tried to get brewers to use cheaper local hops of the same quality instead of potentially getting defrauded with “Bohemian” hops that were actually grown near Nuremberg.

More Details about Keesmann and Mahr, A New Little Mystery Around Schlenkerla

I couldn’t let go of the little mystery of Keesmann and Mahr that I had come across recently: an 1876 address book of Bamberg and the surrounding area connected the two breweries as both belonging to “Brenner” brewery. The brewery nowadays known as Mahrs Bräu in the Wunderburg area of Bamberg used to bear exactly that name and was commonly known as “Zum Brenner” already in a book about brewing in Bamberg from 1818.

A second little mystery was that I had found the name “Ambros Mahr” in two contexts: once in connection with “Zum Brenner” at Wunderburg, and once as liqueur and vinegar manufacturer on Dominikanergasse, in the building of modern-day Ambräusianum, and I was wondering whether these were the same person or two different ones.

Let’s start with the second mystery first: I searched for the name in the city archive of Bamberg, and even though I wasn’t able to get full files (nothing digitized yet other than the catalogue and some photos, it seems), I found that there exists a marriage document for “Mahr Ambros, Bierbrauer” from 1864 and another marriage document for “Mahr Ambros, Liqueurfabrikant” from 1869. To me, the impression is that these are two different persons, not only because of two marriages in distinct years but still close together, but also because the profession is mentioned in addition to the name.

When it came to a possible connection between Keesmann and Mahr, this wasn’t quite as easy. One thing I noticed was that Keesmann was generally referred to “Keesmann’sche Wirthschaft” (meaning something like “Keesmann’s public house”) before November 1867, but starting in that month, mentions of “Keesmann’sche Brauerei” (Keesmann’s brewery) also start appearing. The term “Wirthschaft” is still being used later on. 1867 matches up exactly with the “official” foundation date of Keesmann brewery. In later years, it becomes very obvious that Keesmann is most definitely a brewery: Georg Keesmann is listed with the profession “brewer” as candidate for the fourth election district of Bamberg in 1869, while in previous elections, his profession was still “Wirth” (publican).

The earliest mention of Keesmann as a brewery, from Nov 23, 1867. “Keesmann’s brewery at Wunderburg, cordially invites to dance music tomorrow Sunday.”

Some evidence that Mahrs and Keesmann were not actually connected can be found in advertising: both Ambros Mahr and Adam Keesmann posted competing invitations to celebrate “Nachkirchweih” (a Kirchweih is the celebration of a church anniversary, often in the form of a fair, so a Nachkirchweih seems to be an after-party to that) in 1877 with similar offerings: both advertise Harmoniemusik (small ensembles of wind instruments), Krapfen, coffee and beer (Lagerbier at Mahr, Doppelbier at Keesmann), with Mahr also offering roast goose, duck and kid goat as food, while Keesmann only says “warm and cold dishes”. Harmoniemusik, Krapfen and coffee seemed to have been a standard offering as Murrmann, another brewery on the other side of the city, was also offering these in addition to roast venison.

Murrmann, Mahr and Keesmann all advertising Nachkirchweih celebrations, Aug 2, 1877.

While this is in no way conclusive, I still have not been able to find a second source that would associate Keesmann with Mahr or “zum Brenner” in any way. So the whole thing might as well just be a misunderstanding or a plain mistake in the 1876 source.

During my research, I also found a most likely incomplete list of beer cellars in Bamberg from 1834, in the tourist guide book Bamberg und seine Umgebungen. These were probably just the ones serving customers directly at the Keller and thus worth mentioning. It still delivered some interesting insight.

As most people who spent a beery time in Bamberg have probably noticed, the brewery/lagering cellar of Schlenkerla (Brauerei Heller) is on Oberer Stephansberg. It’s very hard to miss if you walk up to Wilde-Rose-Keller or take a left turn to Spezial-Keller.

So, the thing is, the 1834 source does not actually locate the Heller cellar in that building. The closest one to it is the cellar of Jäck, which is either part of or directly adjacent to the modern Heller building. Instead, the Heller cellar used to be located on Oberer Kaulberg, on modern-day Laurenzistraße, not too far away from Greifenklau. Schlenkerla’s official chronicle on their website mentions that when Johann Wolfgang Heller purchased the brewery, a “rock cellar on the highest Kaulberg” belonged to it.

Still, it’s not clear when the brewery even moved cellars: the brewery’s history page only mentions that the Schlenkerla beer cellar at Oberer Stephansberg was closed down in the 1920s for economic reasons, and that a new brewery building was erected in its stead in 1936. But that still leaves a gap of about 90 years where Brauerei Heller must have moved cellars. I will keep on researching.

In any case, I added the 1834 source to my map of historic breweries of Bamberg, as a third layer.

Historic Breweries of Bamberg, 1876

Back in July, I put in some effort into mapping the historic breweries of Bamberg as of 1818. Today, I added a second layer to the same map that now contains all the breweries of Bamberg as of 1876, at least according to an address book of Bamberg from that year (like last time, I used this historic map to identify the specific buildings by building number).

map data © OpenStreetMap contributors under ODbL

This allows for an easy comparison of the data from 1818 and 1876, and it shows a trend: of the 65 breweries of 1818, only 41 breweries remained. It was a time of industrialisation and rationalisation, so some breweries were merged, others just closed down. Most of the culling seem to have happened on Steinweg (modern Obere/Untere Königstraße): of the 21 breweries in 1818, only 8 still existed in 1876. One brewery appears new on the map, Zum Goldenen Löwen, but it looks like the brewery of the same name that was previously located at Holzmarkt simply moved to a different building on Steinweg.

It wasn’t much better on Lange Gasse (modern Lange Straße), another cluster of breweries: of 8 breweries in 1818, only 2 remained.

The 1876 address book also cleared up a confusion I had with the 1818 source: the 1818 book lists “Zum Stern” at building 126, even though the brewpub “Zum Sternla” is located in building 144. In the 1876 book though, building 126 is listed as the brewery “Stöhr”, while “Stern” is listed as building 144 (not as a brewery though, only as a pub). To me, that just looks like a transcription error, where the author probably incorrectly wrote down “Stöhr” as “Stern”.

Other breweries seem to have moved: Mohrmann/Murmann (the latter is the 1876 spelling) moved a few houses up the street, Riegelhof brewery is listed at a different address two blocks up the street on Unterer Stephansberg (modern Concordiastraße), and Brenner brewery (modern Mahrs Bräu) seemed to have been in an entirely different building down the road, while the building of where Mahrs Bräu is located nowadays was only listed as a pub.

Talking about Mahrs Bräu in Wunderburg, I came across something strange: the Mahr pub (building 702) is listed as “Brenner” with owner Ambros Mahr, while the “Brenner” brewery is listed with owner Karl Mahr (building 736½ on modern Holzgartenstraße, probably no. 29). But there is a second pub with the name “Brenner” listed, building 708, across the road from Ambros Mahr’s pub, with owner Adam Keesmann. Interestingly, Keesmann is not listed as a brewery (it was officially founded in 1867), and I still don’t understand the supposed connection of Keesmann and Mahr.

Georg Keesmann, the person most often mentioned these days in connection with the foundation of Keesmann brewery (he was a butcher and allegedly finished his brewing education at age 51 to start his own brewery), is listed as a restaurant owner in a different section of the address book, not a brewery owner, for building 708. How are Georg and Adam related? At least based on that data, it looks Georg was running the restaurant, while Adam was running the brewery, both located in the same building. But why it is listed as “Brenner” is entirely unclear.

Interestingly, an Ambros Mahr is also mentioned as a liqueur and vinegar manufacturer, but in a completely different building, 1172, where modern Ambräusianum brewery is located. Is this the same person as the one listed for the “Brenner” pub, or a different one? On another page, the address book lists the brewery owner Ambros Mahr separately from the liqueur manufacturer Ambros Mahr, so that doesn’t exactly clear that up.

In any case, it shows that things were more complicated, breweries, pubs and restaurants were a bit more fluid, and not every historic brewery that still exists these days was always located in the same building. And most certainly, more research into the history of Keesmann seems necessary.

Danish Temperance Beer in 1905

While browsing Gambrinus (an old Austrian brewing industry newspaper), I came across an article discussing Danish temperance beers. At the time, Denmark had a significant amount of distilled spirit consumption (14.57 liters per capita per annum, allegedly the highest in the world at the time, compared to 9.8 liters in Austria-Hungary) as well as a significant beer consumption (91.39 liters, compared to 41.2 liters in Austria-Hungary) that was allegedly only topped by Belgium, the UK and Germany at the time.

In this environment, lower alcohol beers, so called temperance beers, were made tax-free: if a beer had less than 2.25% (the article isn’t clear whether this is by weight or by volume), no duty had to be paid on the beer itself.

Interestingly, these beers were brewed top-fermented, using different methods. The first method was to use a low-gravity wort that was then fully fermented, while the second method involved a regular-gravity wort that was fermented but fermentation was stopped early to only achieve a low attenuation. The article then compares the analytical data of five of these Danish temperance beers with the same data of a Viennese Abzugbier and a Bohemian Schankbier (výčepní).

Mörk Carlsberg Skattefri (Dark)
  • OG 7.47° Balling
  • Residual Extract 2.73°
  • Alcohol 1.92%
  • Apparent Attenuation 63.46%
Lys Carlsberg Skattefri (Pale)
  • OG 6.40° Balling
  • Residual Extract 1.71°
  • Alcohol 1.90%
  • Apparent Attenuation 73.28%
Aegte Kroneoel
  • OG 11.36° Balling
  • Residual Extract 7.51°
  • Alcohol 1.56%
  • Apparent Attenuation 33.89%
Export Dobbeltoel
  • OG 14.68° Balling
  • Residual Extract 10.90°
  • Alcohol 1.53%
  • Apparent Attenuation 25.75%
Krone Pilsener
  • OG 9.48° Balling
  • Residual Extract 5.76°
  • Alcohol 1.51%
  • Apparent Attenuation 39.24%
Wiener Abzugbier
  • OG 10.04° Balling
  • Residual Extract 3.46°
  • Alcohol 2.42%
  • Apparent Attenuation 65.54%
Böhmisches Schankbier
  • OG 10.09° Balling
  • Residual Extract 2.66°
  • Alcohol 3.02%
  • Apparent Attenuation 73.63%

In another article in Der Böhmische Bierbrauer from 1906, Krone-Oel-Bryggeriet is discussed in greater detail. They started brewing tax-free beers with the Kroneoel in 1895. Because of the product’s great success with just 1.5% alcohol by weight, a second product, Krone Pilsener was added in 1899, which was designed to be paler and lighter in original gravity, with a fine, mild hop bouquet. Just a year later, the portfolio was extended with Export Dobbeltoel, a dark beer very high in extract.

The popularity of these tax-free beers (this article is clearer, they must have less than 2.25% alcohol content by weight in order to be tax-free) shows in the sales figures:

  • 1895/1896: 2,918,508 half liter bottles
  • 1896/1897: 5,702,032 -“-
  • 1897/1898: 7,750,032 -“-
  • 1898/1899: 9,281,958 -“-
  • 1899/1900: 10,018,905 -“-
  • 1900/1901: 10,939,750 -“-
  • 1901/1902: 11,430,867 -“-
  • 1902/1903: 13,638,806 -“-
  • 1903/1904: 13,665,237 -“-
  • 1904/1905: 14,704,359 -“-

That is an astonishing increase of the sales volume by 503% over the course of just 10 years, from 29,185 hl to 147,043 hl per year. For comparison, Kleinschwechater Brewery from Austria, one of the largest European breweries at the time, produced 441,490 hl of beer in 1905. Producing a third of that volume just in bottled low-alcohol temperance beer seems quite a feat.

After reading about Danish tax-free beer, naturally I wanted to know more about. After some searching I found this Facebook post that gives a brief overview over it. According to the article, in 1891 the first beer tax law was introduced in Denmark (please note that this was not actually the first beer tax law in Denmark, as the situation is a lot more complicated; in Beer and Brewing in Pre-Industrial Denmark by Kristof Glamann, taxation of beer in Denmark is attested at least since the 1620s). It divided beer between tax-free beers (under 2.25% ABW) and taxable beers. In 1917, this was further revised and only top-fermented beers remained tax free, while other types of beer under 2.25% ABW were put into tax class 2. Previously taxable beers were put into tax class 1.

During World War 1, breweries were restricted how strong beers could be. These restrictions were lifted in 1923 and taxation was again revised. In particular, tax class 1 was divided into 3 sub-categories: the new tax class 1 consisted of all beers with no more than 10.75 °Balling original gravity, tax class A more than 10.75° Balling and up to 13° Balling original gravity, and tax class B consisted applied to all beers with more than 13° Balling original gravity. The new classes 1, A and B again only applied to beers with more than 2.25% ABW, so low alcohol beers could have a higher OG without getting taxed. This was again only revised in 1993 to have different brackets of OG (<2.25% ABW/2.8% ABV beers still remained tax-free), and again in 2004 when it was changed to a sliding scale system (<2.8% ABV beers still tax-free).

Even though the “skattefri” category of beers doesn’t seem to be as obviously prominent in the Danish beer market, it still exists in tax law.

A Very Biased Guide To Berlin Beer and Pubs, October 2023 Edition

Jess & Ray (Boak & Bailey) recently visited Berlin (and met my wife and I). They had previously approached me by email for some tips on beer and pubs in Berlin which I happily answered, and in their most recent blog post, hoped that I would turn these tips into a full-blown blog post. That’s what I’ve done here.

Please note that this is not by any means a complete guide to beer and pubs in Berlin. Even when just focusing on a very specific niche like craft beer bars or German-style brew pubs, there are so many options to review all over a very large city (it would take about 90 minutes on bus, regional train and tram to get from Brauhaus Spandau in the very west of the city to Schlossplatzbrauerei Köpenick in the south-east of the city, for example, just to give you a rough impression of the size of the city) that makes it hard to ever get a complete, up-to-date picture over everything that’s going on. So I’ll just stick to the themes Jess & Ray asked about and the answers that my wife Louise and I have given them.

Eckkneipen / Kiezkneipen

Eckkneipen are the classic corner pubs of Berlin. Kiezkneipen are essentially the same thing, local pubs for local people (non-locals most often also welcome), just not on a street corner.

Zum Stammtisch. This is one of our locals in Moabit, run by the same couple for well over 50 years. In the last few months, we found it to be not always open at the expected hours, which is probably down to the old age of the publicans, but our perception is that they’re in the process of handing it over or at least running it together with some of their children. One of the last places to still serve Engelhardt Pilsner, an old West Berlin beer brand, nowadays brewed at Berliner-Kindl-Schultheiss.

A 0.4 liter glass of Engelhardt Pilsner with a doily.

Brüsseler Eck. A local Eckkneipe in Wedding that has recently been taken over, and the new owners have found a balance between catering to their regulars and attracting a younger crowd. This means live music and a mix of classic Berlin beer (Schultheiss) and stuff for the younger crowd (Bavarian Helles, locally brewed Pale Ale from Eschenbräu) while keeping the classic decor. Louise says their beer glasses were not properly washed on our last visits, let’s hope that has improved.

Eschenbräu Panke Gold served at Brüsseler Eck.

Berliner Bürgerstuben. Louise used to live on the same street, but we never went there. It took moving away to convince me to go to it and we now really like it. Very good beer selection (Schultheiss, Berliner Pilsner, Tegernseer Hell, Meckatzer Hell), it’s reasonably priced, and also has a small offering of traditional Berlin food.

Krüger Eck. A classic Eckkneipe in Friedrichshain with a changing tap list. One of their regular beers is the Pilsner from Hops&Barley, but everything else can be in flux. You’ll occasionally see Franconian beers on tap, for example I’ve had Nikl-Bräu Zwickl one time and Schlenkerla Märzen another time. It can get very busy at the times, but they don’t do reservations unless you’ve been a regular for years.

Breweries and Taprooms

Vagabund. They started off with their tiny 2hl brewery on Antwerpener Str., but have since opened a larger brewery with a second taproom. Their beers are generally solid, and they were one of the early ones of the Berlin craft beer scene (full disclosure: I helped crowd-found their first brewery back in 2013).

Eschenbräu. A German-style brew pub with seasonal beers. Some people really like the beer (like me), others hate it (like Louise), and the waiter can sometimes be very weird, but it’s certainly an experience. You can bring your own food (they will even provide you with plates and cutlery), but there are also simple snack options like Obazda (pre-packaged), freshly baked pretzels (from frozen) and tarte flambée, all reasonably priced.

Schneeeule Salon. Schneeeule’s taproom, probably the best known craft brewery specializing solely on Berliner Weisse. Ulrike Genz, the brewery owner/brewmaster, is behind the bar on most days. A great place to drink their Berliner Weisse and try specialties and collabs that are otherwise hard or impossible to get. Besides sour beers, they will usually have some Franconian lager on tap, as well as some more bottles of otherwise hard-to-get Franconian beers.

Hops & Barley. Long-time brew pub, attracts a football crowd especially during weekends. The beer hasn’t been brewed on site for quite a few years, but that only helped with the overall quality and consistency. Besides the core range of Pilsner, Dunkel, Hefeweizen and Cider, also typically has a seasonal specialty beer on tap. In the past, that was sometimes a bit hit-and-miss (I have vivid memories of too much caramel malt that made some of the beers rather cloying; but then again, I’ve overheard other beer nerds sat at the bar rant about another Berlin craft breweries using even more caramel malt and accusing their head brewer of having a “caramel malt fetish”).

Bavarian-Style Beer Halls

Bavarian Beer Halls have a long tradition in Berlin. While some of them may seem like pure tourist traps, they are usually places for reliable food and drink for a reasonable price.

Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. May seem like a tourist trap from the outside, but Augustiner Edelstoff is served from wooden cask every day from 6pm, and plenty of Berliners actually go there. The atmosphere is great (it feels like you could actually be in an Augustiner beer hall in Munich), the prices are overall reasonable, it’s pretty much always busy, so better book in advance to be sure.

A wooden cask of Augustiner Edelstoff waiting to be tapped.

Hofbräu Wirtshaus. Now this is a properly mass tourism beer hall (Rick Stein featured it in one of his City Break episodes, if you want to see how they operate). The Hofbräuhaus beer is still really good, and the one time I was there with work colleagues, the food was solid. Beery friends of mine loved the Sunday brunch to visit with the whole family.

Maximilians. This was not actually on the list I had sent to Jess & Ray, but we went there with them after it was impossible to get any seats at Augustiner on a Saturday night. Serves Hacker Pschorr beers, including Edelhell from wooden casks. Extremely busy when we were there, and not quite the traditional beer hall feel, but overall still made a very good impression.

Other Pubs & Bars

Foersters Feine Biere. One of our absolute favourites with a great selection of German beers (lots of Bavarian/Franconian, occasionally also Altbier) and quality Brotzeit. Not cheap, but worth the money. It’s also where we meet for our (nowadays very irregular) Stammtisch. Co-owner Sven is one of the most knowledgeable people about German beer I know and will always recommend a beer to you that you’ll like and you’ve never even heard of before, even if you thought you knew it all already. The bar also features parts of Sven’s massive Steinkrug collection. If you’re in Berlin on NYE, Foerster’s special event that day is a Frühschoppen where Schönramer Festbier is served from 11am until 4pm.

Update Oct 31, 2023: Sven Förster announced just yesterday that Foersters Feine Biere will unfortunately close around end of 2023.

Foersters Feine Biere in Steglitz from the outside.

Victoria Stadler. A very Friedrichshain kind of bar, serving Schönramer beer on tap and from bottles because the owner is from there and very proud of the beer. In the winter, has a wood-fired oven in the one of the rooms which makes it extra cozy.

Prager Frühling. A Prague-Spring-themed bar in Pankow. Czech beer on tap (several Svijany beers, Pilsner Urquell, changing tap of local Czech breweries you’ve usually not heard of before), classic Czech bar snacks (marinated Hermelin cheese and the likes). Incredibly cheap, one of the grumpiest barmen you’ll ever meet, Czech radio playing in the background, feels like a pub in Prague, or with all Czech(oslovakian) and Prague-Spring-related paraphernalia all over the place, a Czech pub on steroids.

Svijany dark lager and pale lager in Tübinger glasses, served at Prager Frühling.

Final Notes

As mentioned earlier, this list is by no means complete. It’s based on what Jess & Ray asked us for, reflecting our personal preferences as of October 2023. These might change in the future. Berlin is huge, there are always new places to discover (e.g. Louise recently visited and really enjoyed Dicke Wirtin, but I haven’t been yet thus can’t give my opinion on it), old places shutting down and new ones opening up.

For another list of recommendations, see also the Berlin Beer & Pub Guide that was compiled and curated by the late Fred Waltman.

Bavarian Beer Halls in 19th Century Berlin

Just yesterday I was on a bit of a beer tour in Berlin together with my wife, Jess & Ray and Ben Palmer. After having been rejected at the door of the beer hall of a well-known Munich brewery, and then having had dinner in the beer hall of another well-known Munich brewery, I mentioned in passing that beer halls in Berlin serving Munich beer wasn’t even a new concept, but had already been popular during the second half of the 19th century.

An 1891 tourist guide to Berlin lists a number of “beer palaces”, many of which were owned by or at least serving beer from Bavarian breweries, among them:

  • Franziskaner-Leistbräu, on Leipziger Straße 128
  • Hackerbräu, on Belle-Alliance-Platz 15 (nowadays Mehringplatz on the south end of Friedrichstraße)
  • Löwenbräu on Charlottenstraße 50, on the corner of Französische Straße
  • Münchener Bürgerbräu on Friedrichstraße 59
  • Münchener Hofbräu on Französische Straße 21
  • Münchener Kindl on Potsdamer Straße 123a
  • Pschorrbräu on Friedrichstraße 164/165
  • Spatenbräu on Friedrichstraße 172, as well Spittelmarkt 14
  • Frankenbräu on Königstraße 33 (nowadays Reinhardtstraße); I suspect this to be Erste Bamberger Exportbrauerei Frankenbräu AG, later known as Bamberger Hofbräu AG.

Similarly, the 1898 Baedeker guide to Berlin lists several more:

  • Weihenstephaner on Friedrichstraße 176
  • Brauerei Tucher on Friedrichstraße 180
  • Kulmbacher (“Mönchshof”) on Charlottenstraße 65a
  • Augustiner on Potsdamer Straße 123

Some contemporary publications commented on this as a “Bier-Kulturkampf” (beer culture war) between the classic Berlin beer culture of top-fermented white and brown beer and the newfangled Bavarian beers that made an impact on Berlin architecture. The most prominent beer palace in that regard was probably Spatenbräu on Friedrichstraße 172.

Spatenbräu on Friedrichstraße 172, 1907 (source)
Bottom section of the Spatenbräu building on Friedrichstr. 172, 1886 (source)

The sheer number of beer halls and restaurants made the area around Unter den Linden/Friedrichstraße/Leipziger Straße the “entertainment quarter” of old Berlin. They even got nicknames: “Unter den Linden” was “Laufstraße” (walking street), Leipziger Straße was “Kaufstraße” (shopping street), while Friedrichstraße was “Saufstraße” (boozing street).

Mapping Historic Breweries in Bamberg

One of my favourite books about historic brewing in Bamberg is Das Bamberger Bier from 1818. It comes with an appendix that lists all the breweries at the time, including the name, their owner, the district, and the house number. Ron Pattinson published a digitalized version of that list.

Recently, as part of final research for my next book, I stumbled upon a historic map of Bamberg that also happened to include house numbers. Unlike modern numbering, houses back then weren’t just numbered by street, but had a unique number within the city, which makes it harder to associate historic addresses with modern ones. I did remember that the above-mentioned book contained house numbers, I looked up a few, and lo and behold, they actually matched.

My initial plan was to just send Ron an email with a few corrections, but very quickly I realized that I should turn these into a proper map, not just for myself, but for everyone to look at. And that’s what I did:

map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors under ODbL

I created this map using uMap, an OpenStreetMap-based tool to create your own custom maps. Here’s a link to my map Historic Breweries of Bamberg.

When I created this, certain patterns became apparent very quickly. The 65 breweries were not just spread out over the city, but they formed clusters.

If you’ve ever been to Bamberg, you may remember how the breweries Spezial and Fässla are opposite of each other. This is not a happy accident, but rather a remnant of basically one big street full of breweries. Only these two breweries remain nowadays, back 200 years ago, the road that was then called Steinweg and is nowadays Untere and Obere Königstraße was home to a whopping 21 (!!) breweries, spanning over just ~400 metres. Bear in mind that the whole city had 65 breweries, so basically a third of them were on the same street, within a few hundred metres of each other.

map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors under ODbL

I have no clue what it was that attracted this many breweries to just a single road. Maybe the quality of the well water, the vicinity to the Regnitz river, or the social acceptance of smelly breweries on that one street? I don’t know, all I can do is wildly speculate. It nevertheless was something fascinating to see, information that you wouldn’t just get from a list of breweries and their respective house numbers.

It certainly makes me wonder how it would have been to wander around there 200 years ago…

Other notable clusters of breweries in Bamberg that I won’t discuss in detail are:

  • Judengasse (modern Judenstraße), with 6 breweries within ~60 metres,
  • Lange Gasse (modern Lange Straße), with 8 breweries on a street, all within about 100 metres,
  • The east-south-eastern side of Maximiliansplatz and a bit of Hauptwachstraße, with 4 breweries,
  • A total of 5 breweries on Obere Sandgasse to Dominikanergasse, basically from Zum Einhorn im Sand (modern-day/revived Ahörnla) to Zum Heller (the modern-day Schlenkerla pub).

I hope this map will also be useful to others. It is by no means a complete map of all (historic) breweries in Bamberg, but it should accurately reflect the state of the year 1818.

Here’s what I used to research this:

One caveat, though: the house number for “Zum Stern” in the source is 126. Modern Sternla is on the same street, but further down. The name would suggest that this is the same entity, but I have not been able to verify that, hence why I put the marker for “Zum Stern” on house 126 and not house 144 (modern-day Lange Straße 46).

A Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century California Steam Beer

Somebody recently asked on Reddit about whether historic recipes of California Common from the late 19th or early 20th century exist, like something that Jack London would have drank when he lived in San Francisco, so here is an extended version of my initial reply on Reddit.

Historically, California Common has been more commonly known as Californian Steam Beer, but since “Steam Beer” is nowadays a brand of Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, the term “California Common” has found its way into the beer style guidelines.

A large majority of homebrew recipes for that style that float around nowadays are straight up clone recipes of Anchor Steam Beer, or at the very least heavily inspired by it as many style guidelines have based the style essentially upon Anchor’s beer.

But in reality, this beer goes back much further and has been more varied. This is very well documented in a brewing book from 1901, the American Handy Book of Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades, edited and published by Robert Wahl and Max Henius, two Chicago-based brewing scientists.

In this book, California Steam Beer is described as a beer that at the time was consumed throughout the state of California. The name, according to that source, goes back to the high effervescence of the beer and the high pressure (“steam”) in the serving cask, ranging between 40 to 70 psi.

It has an original gravity of 11 to 12.5 Balling (Plato), which is equivalent to a specific gravity of 1.044 to 1.050. The ingredients used varied: some brewers made this beer from 100% malt, others from a combination of malt and grits or really any other raw cereal, as well as sugar like glucose syrup. The malt used is described as “malted as for lager beers”. The colour of the beer was apparently similar as Munich beer (dark lager), and was achieved through the use of roasted malt or sugar colouring.

The approach of mashing also greatly varied: some brewers simply used an English-style single infusion mash, while others have turned towards a multi-step infusion mash with rests at 60-62 °C, 65 to 66°C and finally 70 °C where the mash is held until all sugars have been converted. If raw cereals were used in the mash, they were cooked first and added in some way as if lager beer was being brewed (which I interpret as a cereal mash). Lautering and sparging commenced after a final 45 minute rest, with the sparge water at 75 °C.

The collected wort is then boiled for 1 to 2 hours, hops are added (presumably at the beginning). The amount depends on the quality of the hops, so with high-quality hops, 3/4 of a pound per barrel of finished beer were described as sufficient. Then the wort was cooled to about 15°C to 16°C. In the fermenters, a “special type of bottom-fermenting yeast” is pitched. After about 14 hours, a thick head should have formed. The fermenting beer in this state was added to other beer that was just racked into casks (more on this later).

The fermenting beer is then transferred to shallow “clarifiers” where it finishes fermentation. When the beer was finished fermenting and is clear, it is racked into trade packages, where a substantial amount of Kräusen are added, typically 33 to 40% of the overall volume. The casks are then closed with special iron screw bungs, and left for a few days so they can build up the necessary pressure. In the saloon, the cask was then left to settle for 2 days, and the bung was opened over night so that some of the CO2 could escape. This was called “steaming” and was only necessary when the beer was poured directly from the cask so that it wouldn’t foam too much.

The beer itself was very clear and refreshing. It could keep 2 to 6 months in (unopened) casks, but was typically consumed with 3 weeks to a month.

Based on this description, we can develop our own recipe, but there is actually a lot of variation possible. The grist could be something as simple as Pilsner malt and either a small amount of roasted malt or an addition of caramel colouring to get the beer to Munich dark lager colours (about 33 to 56 EBC), or something more complex like Pilsner malt, corn grits, and glucose syrup, again with caramel colouring for to set the right colour.

As for the mashing, a malt-only grist could do with a single infusion mash, while using corn grits would warrant a more complex cereal mash where most of the malt is mashed in and undergoing a step mash. The corn grits are then mashed in with a small amount of malt, with a single rest, then boiled and finally mixed into the main mash for the final increase of mash temperature.

As for the hops, California-grown Cluster hops would probably be the most appropriate, or any Cluster hops really if California-grown ones aren’t available to you. 3/4 pounds per barrel translates to a hopping rate of 2.9 grams per liter, bittering addition only.

The “special type of bottom-fermenting yeast” is California Common yeast, a bottom-fermenting yeast that has adapted to warmer fermentation temperatures. Such strains are readily available to home brewers by a multitude of yeast manufacturers, e.g. Wyeast 2112, White Labs WLP810, Imperial Yeast L05, Mangrove Jack’s M54, etc.

When fermentation is finished, the final beer should be highly carbonated (be careful about the maximum pressure your kegs or bottles can withstand!).

This is what I came up with to brew 22 liters of it, but you do you:

Specs:

  • OG: 11.7 °P
  • Bitterness: 50 IBU
  • Colour: 41 EBC
  • ABV: 5.0%

Ingredients:

  • 3.4 kg Pilsner malt
  • 0.9 kg corn grits
  • 0.25 kg glucose
  • 63g Cluster hops (7% alpha acid)
  • Wyeast 2112 California Lager yeast

Please note that this recipe does not conform to the BJCP Style Guidelines for the California Common beer style, so don’t use this to brew beer and get bad marks for it at home-brewing competitions.

(featured image: Picardin, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)