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Lager Beer Made In USA, Part 2: Goldfinger, History and Community

This is the second part in my series about some of the excellent lager beer that I had on our trip to the US in June 2024.

Goldfinger Brewing Company (Downers Grove, IL): History and Community

I had first been in touch with Tom Beckmann, the founder and brewer of Goldfinger Brewing Company, a few years ago, when they had first launched Danube Swabian, their interpretation of a historic Vienna Lager based on specs from my book about the beer style. I found that truly honouring, not just that somebody makes product decisions and takes a certain business risk based on things I like to write in my free time, but the extent to which Tom implemented it was better than I could have ever hoped.

Tom is a big proponent of decoction mashing, so that was of course an element of this beer, but I think what influenced the character of the beer even more was the decision to recreate a historic Vienna malt, in cooperation with Sugar Creek Malt in Lebanon, Indiana. Using Haná barley grown in Indiana and the description from my book of how Vienna malt used to be made historically (with some adjustments), they recreated a Vienna malt quite close to the historic original.

Downers Grove is an easy 50 minute train ride away from Chicago Union Station. Add 10 minutes of walking, and you’re at Goldfinger’s taproom. When we did our trip on a Saturday, it was quite rainy. Several people in Chicago later told me how the weather was “icky”, but I actually enjoyed that, and taking the commuter train through some of Chicago’s southwestern suburbs was surprisingly relaxing.

Tom had mentioned that he was at a “brewery of the month” event in a local market hall and that he was going to join us later, so we just sat down in the busy taproom and ordered beers. Goldfinger Original (a Helles) for Louise, their regular Vienna Lager (of course!) for me.

On the front right, a Tübinger glass with Vienna Lager. Behind it on the left, a Helles in a Tübinger glass. Both beers have a very dense, white head.

With a very recent impression of Dovetail’s excellent beers, these two were quite different. Well, as different as beers of the same respective styles could be. What I very much noticed about the Vienna Lager was a slight residual malt sweetness, and I was somehow immediately transported back to Czechia, but was also reminded of the historic example I had brewed years ago myself.

Yes, if Dovetail’s Vienna Lager is Franconian in its character, then Goldfinger’s Vienna Lager is very much Czech in the best way possible. This is not a judgment of relative quality, in my book both are equally excellent and without exaggeration some of the best Vienna Lagers I’ve ever had.

The beer was so good, I tried not to down it too quickly. Eventually, Tom arrived, and we got chatting, first and foremost about his brewery, his family history (Goldfinger brewery is named after Markus Goldfinger, a brewer and brewing equipment manufacturer from Kraków in modern-day Poland, and an ancestor of Tom), and of course about his beers.

Oh, yes, the beers: I tried all of them on the menu. I don’t remember all the details of all of them, but a lasting impression for me was that every single one of them was absolutely flawless, full of flavour, and so enticing that you would have wanted a second one of every single one of them. Goldfinger Original, Vienna Lager, German Pils, Mexican Lager, Heller Bock (it was the end of Maibock season, after all) and Hefeweizen were on tap, and all of them excellent examples of their respective styles. Not just excellent, but formulated and brewed to absolute precision.

Specifically for the German Pils, Tom told us that he was inspired by Tegernseer Pils when he spent time in Bavaria as part of his brewing education at World Brewing Academy (a cooperation of Siebel in Chicago and Doemens just outside of Munich). While it wasn’t an identical clone, I absolutely got the similarity. Bavarian Pils, whether it’s from Schönramer, Augustiner, Tegernseer or Hofbräuhaus Traunstein, is the best Pils in Germany in my book, and Goldfinger’s German Pils plays in the same league with its fine hop aroma and incredible drinkability.

Of course, no visit to a brewery is complete without a tour around the brewery facilities themselves.

Goldfinger’s brew kit.
The view from the steps of the brew kit towards at least 10 horizontal lagering tanks stacked on top of each other, as well as a cylindroconical tank and two homebrew-sized cylindroconcial tanks. In the background, parts of the brewery taproom can be seen.

You could tell by the size of everything that Tom has big plans for Goldfinger, and fortunately still lots of space to expand to.

While showing us around, he told us about some of the approaches he takes when it comes to ingredients. What I found interesting is that he uses domestic base malts from large producers such as Rahr, then local craft malts from Sugar Creek, and imported malts from e.g. Weyermann, and blends them as he sees fit.

We got to try a sample of Sugar Creek Pilsner malt, it was the most complex tasting Pilsner malt I’ve ever come across. Tom was really pleased with the malt, and I can totally understand why. In fact, I’d love to brew with malt like that myself.

Another peculiarity is that Tom is strictly sticking to lager brewing only, so only bottom-fermenting yeast will enter his brewery. You may have noticed earlier that I did drink a Hefeweizen. It was actually a collaboration with nearby Skeleton Key Brewery, where it was also produced (in my opinion, it was as good as some of the better Bavarian versions; in fact, it reminded me of Schneider Helle Weisse).

Similarly with another seasonal beer that I think has been released only a few weeks ago, the New Zealand Lager: when we told him that the first New Zealand Pilsner brewed at Emerson’s in Dunedin was actually just fermented with US-05 (a top-fermenting American ale yeast strain) at cool temperatures, Tom insisted that he’d only ever brew the style as a bottom-fermented beer.

To be completely honest, I can’t exactly remember whether we tried the NZ Lager from the tank because we tried so many beers that afternoon, but what we most definitely sampled was the Märzen and the Summer Beer. The Summer Beer was also released recently, and was inspired by Anchor Summer Beer. It’s not a clone, but Tom was apparently so impressed by the original, he took all the elements he liked so much about it and recreated them in this summerly 4.0% ABV beer.

The Märzen on the other is a completely different beast, at (IIRC) just over 6% ABV. It’s amber-coloured and has the right amount of malt flavour to make it taste distinctly like the style it’s supposed to be. I also remember a slight residual sweetness, but the beer itself was the opposite of cloying. I could see myself leisurely drinking a few Maß of that beer over the course of a long afternoon in a beer garden or a beer tent. And there was just something about it that very much reminded me of Ayinger’s Festbier of which I once had an unfiltered sample from the lagering tank.

Tom Beckmann squatting in front of one of the lagering tanks, pouring samples of Märzen straight from the tank’s Zwickel. In the background, the people in the taproom can be seen through a large window.

(when you have an Austrian go to a small brewery in Chicagoan suburbia, drink their beer and suddenly reminisce about all the great Bavarian beers it reminds him of, you know the brewery is doing something very right)

Lagering times are another area where Tom doesn’t compromise. No beer is rushed, and some styles are given even more time to condition and mature, like the Märzen which gets a full 6 months of lagering, much longer than what even contemporary Bavarian breweries would do.

We eventually had to catch our train back to Chicago, so just before we were about to leave, Tom surprised us with a four-pack of Danube Swabian as well as some Goldfinger merch. I had assumed that batch of beer was completely sold out and gone, but he had kept a few. What a fantastic gift!

A selfie of a very happy me with Tom Beckmann, holding said four-pack of Danube Swabian in my hand.

I managed to sample the beer when we were finally back in Berlin (at the time of writing, I still have 3 cans in my beer fridge), and there is definitely something special about it. It’s ever so slightly paler than a Vienna Lager made from modern Vienna malt would typically be, but it has a complex malt aroma and flavour that decidedly makes it not a Pilsner. To me, being able to drink that beer means so much, as I never would have thought 4 or 5 years ago when I still worked on my Vienna Lager book that it could inspire people around the world to do such meticulous collaborative work and create the most faithful reproduction of a historic Vienna Lager as of now.

(for the record, Westerham Brewery in Kent is a very close second, which got Crisp Maltings to produce a Haná Vienna malt; I unfortunately never got to actually try it).

Besides the beer and the brewery itself, there were things that particularly impressed me about Goldfinger after my visit: a deep understanding of their own history, and a great sense of community.

The History

While Goldfinger Brewing in Downers Grove, IL, was only founded in 2020, Tom’s family’s connection to brewing goes back to the 19th century, when his ancestor Markus Goldfinger had founded a brewery in Kraków in 1874. When you enter the brewery, the entrance area is basically a mini exhibition about Markus Goldfinger and his brewery and brewing equipment business. Tom even owns a historic Goldfinger-branded tap from the time period.

The close connection to this history absolutely resonated with me. Naturally, I was interested in how much I was able to find out about Markus Goldfinger myself. And it turns out, a few things:

Markus Goldfinger officially registered the firm “M. Goldfinger” on March 20, 1874 at the company register at the Imperial-Royal Regional Court in Kraków (source).

His son Samuel got married in Vienna on March 5, 1889 to Sidonie Silberstein, to which Gambrinus, one of the Austrian brewing and hop trade newspapers at the time, congratulated them. Markus Goldfinger is acknowledged as Brauherr (brewery owner) in Kraków (source).

In the following years, his name appears several times in guest lists of the Austria spa town of Baden bei Wien, e.g here. In later years, his profession is simply described as Kaufmann (i.e. merchant or business man), and I wonder whether it has to do with a shift towards his brewing equipment business.

What got me excited the most though was when I found Markus Goldfinger’s name in a short list of breweries of Kraków, in an index of breweries, distilleries and sugar factories in Austria-Hungary from 1880 (source).

One of the other names appearing in this list is Johann Götz. He was a cousin of Anton Dreher, and was working as brewing foreman (basically head brewer) at Kleinschwechat where he helped invent and brew the very early Vienna Lager, until 1845, when he left Kleinschwechat and founded Okocim Brewery in what is nowadays Poland. While I don’t have definite, conclusive proof, I would say that it’s extremely likely that the few brewery owners of Kraków at the time must have all known each other. At least in Vienna and its suburbs, the brewers all had a Stammtisch where they met regularly. So quite likely, Markus Goldfinger hung out with Johann Götz, someone very closely connected with the invention of Vienna Lager, and discussed the latest innovations in the brewing world.

One of the things I have yet to find out more about is something Tom told me about: Markus Goldfinger apparently owned a number of patents on various brewing equipment he had developed. Unfortunately, in the Austrian Patent Office’s online archive of historic “privileges” (“Privileg” was the historic term for what is nowadays a patent), nothing seems to come up, so either it’s not been digitised yet or is simply not in the archive.

In any case, Tom’s interest in the history of brewing and how he connects it with his brewery was just astounding to me, and definitely showed to me how much thought he put into everything in and around the brewery.

The Community

But Tom isn’t just celebrating the history of brewing with Goldfinger, the brewery also seems to be very community-focused. I first noticed this when we visited the taproom. The weather was quite miserable, there weren’t that many cars parked outside, and yet, the taproom seemed almost full, at a brewery that only serves lager beer styles in a country with a beer scene that is now infamous for its obsession with IPAs. So very clearly, there must be something special about the brewery and the beer that attracts people to just go there (and I guess, quite a few people made it part of their Saturday afternoon walk, or even walked there despite the rain).

We were made really welcome already when we ordered our first beers, everyone of the staff were super friendly and explained everything they offered and did (when I first ordered my Vienna Lager, I asked for a “large” beer, assuming it would be small 0.3l and large 0.5l pours; no, the large option is indeed a Maßkrug, and I was kindly warned about this, LOL).

When you follow the brewery on Instagram (please do!), you will also notice that quite often, visiting food trucks are regularly being announced which also seems to attract quite a crowd. An even cooler event are the monthly tappings of Stichfässer every first Tuesday of the month, just a cask of gravity-poured beer, each time tapped by a different guest tapper from another local brewery. If I lived anywhere near Downers Grove, that alone would be a good reason for me to visit regularly. Most recently, an unfiltered, only briefly lagered version of their Pils was served (a true Keller-Pils), while the month before that, a sneak peek of the Märzen was served, when it still had 3 more months to lager.

The other aspect of community is how Tom interacts with everyone in the beer scene, whether it’s customers at the taproom, professional brewers or beer writers like me. I felt incredibly welcome, and Tom was just such a lovely and generous host that made my visit truly memorable. He also brings together brewers (like inviting guest tappers for the monthly Stichfass), and connected me with head brewer Dusan at Live Oak in Austin, TX (more about them in my next post) for which I’m really grateful. Also, my friend Colin who happened to visit the brewery with his family just a day before us seemed taken aback when he mentioned that he had spoken to Tom, and Tom had remembered him from his only other visit several years back.

So, yeah, Goldfinger Brewing in Downers Grove, Illinois is one of the top places in the US for amazing lager beers and to spend a great time in a vibrant and yet relaxed atmosphere. If you’re ever in Chicago, don’t miss out on their beers, and say hello to Tom if he’s there.

If you want to hear about all this from Tom himself, Craft Beer & Brewing have recorded a podcast with him last year, and if you want to brew one of their beers (and are a subscriber to Craft Beer & Brewing, which I really recommend #notanad), you can find the recipe for Smoked Helles (a collaboration with Fair State Brewing Cooperative) here.

Remember how rainy it was on Saturday, June 1, 2024 in Downers Grove, Illinois? Pepperidge Farm remembers.

How the Hofbräuhäuser of Bavaria were established

Even if you’ve only ever dabbled a little bit in Bavarian beer, you will have stumbled upon the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, owned by the State of Bavaria, and with a beer hall in the heart of the city. But then you look further, and realise that there’s also a Hofbräuhaus Traunstein 75 minutes outside of Munich, and then there’s of course Weißes Bräuhaus. But how were these “court brew houses” established?

It all actually started with a bit of a brewing crisis. Starting from 3 September 1571, brewing in Munich was totally banned. That year’s rye harvest was rather poor, and barley was needed as a substitute to feed the population. Brewing white or brown beer was seen as a waste, and thus completely stopped through a Ducal order.

This brewing ban remained in place until 1580 when it was partially lifted. Of course, the Duke and his court still needed beer. So for the Duke, beer from Zschopau in Saxony was ordered, and the Nuremberg-based trading house Unterholzer facilitated the delivery of Ainpöckischpier from Einbeck from 1573 until 1589.

The court servants though got different beer: grain from the Duke’s storehouse was given to breweries, in particular the religious orders of the Franciscans and the Augustinians, and the brewer Georg Mänhart who held the title of “court brewer”. With that grain, these breweries were ordered to brew beer of the best quality to be delivered to the court.

Soon after Duke Wilhelm V. took office in 1579, he inquired about which breweries in the Bavarian Forest were brewing “white Bohemian beer” and where they got their brewing ingredients from. A commission of 4 people produced a report in 1581 that listed all the white beer breweries in the designated area as well as those that belonged to the Prince-Bishopric of Passau. In 1586, the Duke gave a brewing privilege to the Schwarzenberg family and their male descendants that allowed them to brew white wheat beer, a privilege that otherwise only the Degenberg family held. At the same time, he also inquired about the general profitability of white beer. An earlier report handed to him noted that brewing white beer was considered to be a waste, but could be turned into a profitable business.

In the end, Duke Wilhelm V. remained cautious and only founded one brewery in 1589, the Hofbräuhaus in Munich for brewing brown beer, but building works for it only started in 1591. When the new brew house started operating, the previous court brewer Mänhart lost much of his business and fell into poverty, but was compensated for it with an annual payment of 100 florin a year.

When the Degenberg family went extinct in 1602 through the death of Hans VIII. Sigmund of Degenberg, Duke Maximilian I. set a plan in motion to gain control over white beer brewing in Bavaria. He was much more ambitious and had already looked into white beer brewing before taking office in 1597, as Bavaria was close to bankruptcy and he saw white beer as a profitable way of making the Bavarian Duchy rich again.

Before even the Degenberg inheritance was settled, he immediately continued paying the brewers at the Degenberg brew houses to keep up brewing operation, even though he legally did not own them. Only in 1607, he came to an agreement with the heirs of the Degenberg family, in which he was allowed to purchase the Degenberg breweries for 82,000 florin while cancelling a debt of 20,000 florin of the heirs. Maximilian I. now owned 3 white brew houses, in Zwiesel, Schwarzach and Linden.

Already in 1602, brewers from the Schwarzach brewery were ordered to Munich to teach the Hofbräuhaus staff how to brew white beer and to brew the first batches. The first court-brewed white beer was then sold in Munich on 16 October 1602, directly from the Ducal cellar. A separate white brew house was finally built in 1607 and a dedicated brewmaster for white beer was hired.

A newly built brew house in Gossersdorf that opened in 1600 and interestingly had not been banned by the court (they only banned the brewer from using domestically grown wheat) was sold to Maximilian I. in 1602.

At that time, the court in Munich had already forgotten about the Schwarzenberg brewing privileges granted in 1586, but when their family was able to provide them with original documents, Maximilian I. offered to buy their brew house in Winzer which was finalized on 29 April 1603.

Now owning all the white brew houses of the Degenberg and the Schwarzenberg families, he was the exclusive brewer of white beer in Bavaria. Well, almost, because there were nine communal brew houses in Lower Bavaria (the remnants of the communal brew house system in parts of Bavaria are nowadays better known as Zoigl) that historically also had a customary right to brewing white beer. The Duke also managed to subjugate them and forced them to share their revenue through a duty they had to pay. These nine brew houses were located in Viechtach, Regen, Kötzting, Furth im Wald, Neukirchen bei Hl. Blut, Eschlkam, Schönberg, Grafenau and Hals.

On top of that, more white beer breweries were established: in Mattighofen, the brown brew house was converted to producing white beer in 1607. In the summer of the same year, building works started in Kelheim for a new brewery which started brewing white beer in April 1608, while in Traunstein, an existing building was bought and turned into a brewery in 1611.

By 1612, Duke Maximilian had established a formidable network of state-owned breweries: not only was there the Hofbräuhaus in Munich that produced brown beer, but he also directly owned nine white brew houses and received a passive income from nine more communal white brew houses. Technically speaking, these were all court brew houses, and a dense network of them stretched over Old Bavaria that only got extended with more breweries over the years.

Some of them are still around: the white beer brewery in Traunstein was destroyed in 1704, rebuilt and eventually sold in 1820. Since 1896, it has been owned by the Sailer family and run as Hofbräuhaus Traunstein.

The “white brew house” in Munich kept operating next to the Hofbräuhaus and was leased to brewers. The last one was Georg Schneider. When the buildings of the white brew house were to be repurposed in the 1870s, he simply bought the rights for it from the court and moved to another building, the former Maderbräu building on Im Tal, just a few hundred metres away from the old brewery, which made it easy for his existing customers to visit the new place. The old Maderbräu building was renamed Weißes Bräuhaus (white brew house) and became the headquarters for the Schneider family brewer. In 1928, the Schneider family bought the white brewhouse in Kelheim, another formerly state-owned brewhouse which became their main brewery after World War II, and which they now claim to be the oldest white brew house in Bavaria.

What remains though is that the Hofbräuhaus is still around, even though ownership has changed, as the Bavarian King transferred it to the Bavarian State in 1852. The white beer privilege has long been broken, but even of these formerly privileged white brew houses, some are still in operation, the one in Kelheim even still dedicated to the production of white wheat beer.

Interpreting a 1960s Bavarian Dunkel Recipe

Whenever somebody asks me how I would brew a Bavarian Dunkel, I have to respond that I never actually brewed one on my own. Instead, I rather point to an authentic modern-ish recipe from a Bavarian brewery from the 1960s.

A few years ago, Urban Chestnut Brewery from St. Louis, MO posted a sheet from 1967 brewing records of Brauerei Erharting in Bavaria. Their brewmaster, Florian Kuplent, had originally apprenticed there, and most likely got his hands on these records that way.

The recipe is interesting because there are a lot of assumptions baked into it that you’d only know if you had an idea about Bavarian brewing. It also challenges conventional wisdom that Bavarian brewers would just brew their Dunkel from 100% Munich malt. At least in the 1960s, this was not true anymore for this recipe.

This recipe for Export Dunkel starts with the grist: it simply says 1350 kg of malt, of that 50 kg pale malt (lit. “Hellmalz”), 50 kg CaraMunich (originally CaraMünch, the German brand name), 10 kg roasted malt (Farbmalz in the original). What the recipe doesn’t say is the rest. The use of Munich malt (likely on the darker side) was simply implied from the type of beer that was being brewed. The pale malt was most likely a Pilsner malt. That way, we end up with a grist like that:

  • 1240 kg Munich malt (91.9%)
  • 50 kg Pilsner malt (3.7%)
  • 50 kg CaraMunich malt (3.7%)
  • 10 kg roasted malt, e.g. Carafa special II (0.7%)

Why the Pilsner malt? I can only speculate, but I assume that this might have been formulated under the assumption that the Munich malt had so little diastatic power that it would only self-convert and not fully convert the (enzymatically inactive) caramel and roasted malts.

The next part is the mash. It starts with doughing in the malt and letting it sit for 20 minutes at 35°C. This was typically done to ensure that all the malt was fully hydrated. Nowadays, this would be ensured through a pre-masher that would combine water and malt just before it goes into the mash tun.

Then, the mash was heated up to 52°C within 15 minutes. The mash tun must have been heatable.

The recipe then further mentions to mashes. For the first mash, 22.5 hl of mash were pumped into the kettle while the stirrer was running. In the kettle, the mash the underwent a multi-step mash on its own: 10 minutes protein rest at 52°C while a bit of wort was drawn off (Malzauszug) and kept in the Grant, 10 minutes saccharification at 60°C, 10 minutes saccharification at 65°C, 70°C until iodine test was negative and the mash was fully converted (normally 20 to 25 minutes) and then 75°C for another 5 minutes.

This step mash prior to boiling the mash is done to maximize the use of the enzymes that will eventually be destroyed, and to convert as much starch as possible, so that the intense boil will only extract some more starches to be converted in the second mash.

Then the mash was brought to a boil, boiled for 35 minutes and then mixed back into the main mash which then reached a temperature of 65°C.

Then the second mash started: 23 to 23.5 hl of mash were again pumped into the kettle, rested for 10 minutes at 65°C, then again rested at 70°C until iodine test was negative, and then 10 minutes more at 75°C. It was then boiled for 25 minutes, and mixed back into the main mash to reach a temperature of 74°C.

The wort that was drawn off must have then been mixed back in, the recipe is not fully clear on this, though. I don’t know exactly why, but I assume that this was done to retain some amylase enzymes and ensure that some end up in the mash just before lautering to help convert any last few bits of starch (even though this is unlikely given how thorough the extraction must have been through 2 long decoction boils).

Then lauter and sparging happened to collect about 100 hl of sweet wort which was then boiled for 2.5 hours. The resulting amount of wort at the end would have been 78 to 79 hl with an OG of 12.7 to 12.8 °P.

The hopping schedule looked like this:

  • beginning of the boil: 4 kg Hallertauer hops
  • 1 hour after beginning of the boil: 4 kg Hallertauer hops
  • 45 minutes before the wort is pumped off the kettle: 3 kg Spalter hops

The last one is particularly important: the timing does not depend on the end of the boil, but rather on when the wort is moved from the kettle to the chillers. None of the hop additions come with any indication of alpha acid content. There is one source though where we can get an estimation: international hop trader Barth Haas has its full range of historic hop reports online, both in German and English. The 1966-1967 report in English at least reports the “bitter value Wöllner” for some hops: 6.2 for Hallertauer hops and 6.6 for Spalter hops, both from the 1966 crop.

This “bitter value Wöllmer” was an early approach to estimate the bittering quality of hops. In particular, this value is calculate as alpha acid % + beta acid % / 9. For both Hallertauer and Spalter hops, we can assume that the alpha acid content is roughly the same as the beta acid content.

6.1 = x + x / 9 and solving for x gets us an alpha acid content of about 5.5% for Hallertauer hops.

6.6 = x + x / 9 and solving for x gets us an alpha acid content of about 5.9% for Spalter hops.

Bear in mind that these are just estimations, but should nevertheless give us a general idea about whether these were more high or low alpha acid for the variety.

And this is how you interpret a 1960s German recipe for Bavarian Dunkel.

How to build up the Prussian hop industry for 3 decades and implode it within a few years

Prussian king Frederick the Great was apparently very interested in the state of hops in Prussia. He noticed that most hops that Prussian brewers used in brewing was imported from surrounding hop growing regions like Bavaria, Franconia and Bohemia. Self-sufficiency was apparently an important economic principle at that time, if you could grow it locally it meant you didn’t need to spend time to import it from somewhere else.

So in 1743, Frederick the Great gradually ordered the various regions of his kingdom to start planting hop gardens and grow more hops: first Pomerania, then Saxony was ordered to become self-sufficient and if possible, export any surplus hops. In 1751, he ordered that experiments with Bohemian seedlings shall be undertaken in the regions of Altmark and Kurmark, as these hops were more popular on the hop markets due to “their greater strength and power”.

The Seven Years’ War stifled further initiatives, but in 1770, new orders were sent out to further promote growing hops for self-sufficiency. Hop poles were sold to new hop farmers for a very cheap price, and even a contest was started, with a cash prize of the farmer with the greatest hop production at the end of the year.

In 1775, hop gardens were introduced in Western Prussia, and the king’s chamber director was ordered to expand the hop gardens around Potsdam as the existing ones still couldn’t cover to demand from brewers in Berlin. In April 1776, imports into Prussia were completely prohibited due to a substantial surplus production of 2600 Wispel from 1775, about 1420 hecolitres in modern units (it is unknown whether this was in pressed or unpressed form), and enforcement of this law was supervised by the king himself.

There’s a story where allegedly Frederick the Great on one of his carriage rides through his kingdom noticed a carriage with a delivery of hops. Realising that from that particular street, it could have only come from Dessau, he suspected that the hops may have been smuggled in from the adjacent Principality of Anhalt. He immediately started an investigation that eventually found out that the hops were indeed contraband and illegally imported from Anhalt.

But the tides turned: due to a bad hop harvest in 1777, the king didn’t decide to allow imports, but he instead also forbade exports, to prefer the local market. And not just temporarily to deal with the hop shortage, no, this export ban was permanent, and the Prussian hop market was insular. Hop prices crashed, and by 1779, many hop farmers gave up the crop completely. The French period and the German campaign of 1813 didn’t help with developing Prussian hop gardens, either. Only in 1860, when Europe was hit by a terrible hop crop failure, Prussia had a temporary surge in new hop gradens: the Hallertau was the only region with a good harvest of high-quality hops, which sold for 6.5 times the normal rate. Farmers again started looking into hops as an attractive cash crop. By the end of the 19th century, much of the hop growing had shifted to Posen/Poznań, while both the acreage and the yield in the rest of Prussia steadily decreased: in 1898, Prussia only harvested a miserable 4.6 Zentner per hectare, while Bavaria reached 10.6, Baden 13.6, and Alsace 16.8.

If Frederick the Great had been more forward-thinking and less focused on self-sustenance, the current German landscape of major hop growing regions may have looked differently.

Beer Brewing in Bamberg, 200 Years Ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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