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About Dampfbier

So, the story of Dampfbier (lit. steam beer) goes like this… a 19th century Bavarian brewer who didn’t have a permit to brew with wheat malt instead brewed one with only lightly kilned barley malt and fermented it with a Weißbier yeast. As the beer was vigorously fermenting, it looked like steam coming off the beer, hence the name “Dampfbier”.

The problem here is… if a beer style’s origin story sounds too good to be true, it probably is not actually rooted in history. Naive me would simply ask why other beers like Weißbier brewed with wheat malt wouldn’t be called the same name because supposedly, the yeast would ferment as vigorous. When we actually look at historic sources though, an entirely different picture is unveiled:

One very early mention of Dampfbier can be found in Landwirthschaftliches ConversationsLexicon für Praktiker und Laien from 1837. The meaning is a different one, though: it is used to describe beer that was brewed using steam coming from a steam boiler as a heat source for mashing as well as boiling the wort. In that particular case, brewing itself really seemed more of a side business, as most of the article is about how the steam boiler was used in a distillery in Galicia that made Polish distilled spirit from potatoes, supposedly what would be called wodka nowadays.

Philipp Heiss, former brewmaster at Spaten brewery and author of Die Bierbrauerei mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Dickmaischbrauerei (1853), added a small section in his book about brewing with steam. He sees two main applications: to use steam engines as a power source to steadily drive all kinds of machines in a brewery, and to use the steam as a direct or indirect heat source. He talked about several attempts to brew beer using steam, in particular brewer Zacherl (Paulaner) in Munich and Wanka in Prague, but classified both as less than successful. Heiss described Dampfbier as getting sour more quickly, and in total definitely wasn’t convinced about the technique.

Differences between beer brewed with steam vs. those with fire as heat source remained a hot topic in the decades to follow. In Dingler’s Polytechnisches Journal, a 1889 article lists a few experimental results. At Berlin’s Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei (VLB), the amount of fuel required to brew beer using steam was determined to be significantly less than using direct firing, certainly one good argument in favour of steam. In addition, Schloßbrauerei in Schöneberg conducted an experiment to directly compare lager beer brewed using fire with beer of the same type brewed using steam, and the differences were negligible, “contrary to the widespread prejudice that Dampfbier was less full-bodied”.

I could go one like this, but when looking at historic sources, one thing becomes very clear very quickly: Dampfbier in the 19th century purely referred to beer brewed using steam as a heat source, not barley beers fermented with Weißbier yeast.

Even when looking at more recent sources about Dampfbier, it becomes very clear that very few such beers ever existed. A few prominent examples that I was able to find were Maisel’s Dampfbier (Michael Jackson briefly mentioned it as an “ale-like specialty”), Dampfbier from 1. Dampfbierbrauerei Zwiesel (which also seems to be the source of the supposed origin story of the Dampfbier style), and Borbecker Helles Dampfbier, for which is not even clear whether this is actually a top-fermented beer using Weißbier yeast. Besides these three beers, there’s not much around.

So, what can be said to vindicate the beer style? Beer brewed from pale barley malt and fermented using Weißbier yeast definitely existed and is well-documented. Friedrich Meyer mentioned Weißbier brewed from pale barley malt, sometimes with the addition of small amounts of wheat malt in his books, e.g. 1830 Die bayerische Bierbrauerei. The 1847 edition of this book even makes a distinction between weißes Gerstenbier (white barley beer) and weißes Weitzenbier (white wheat beer), but also explains that the term Weißbier commonly refers to the former.

So, in that sense, the beer style that some people nowadays call Dampfbier definitely existed. It just used to be called Weißbier (white beer), and has nothing to do with the historic understanding of Dampfbier as a beer brewed using steam. Personally, I’m just unhappy with the term as it is confusing, it gives credence to the too-good-to-be-true origin story, and it hides the much more complex history of white beers in Bavaria.

19th Century Brewing Methods in Germany and Austria

Only the other day, I stumbled upon a book called “The Art of Brewing“, written by one David Booth, published in 1834. It has a whole section of brewing in foreign countries, discussing differences in brewing between Munich, Prague, Vienna, and other cities. The basis for this section is credited to two unnamed guys, can you guess who?

For the greater portion of ” the Brewing in Foreign Countries,” I am indebted to the manuscript and oral communications of two German Brewers (from Vienna and Munich), who have been, and now are, visiting the principal towns of Europe, for the laudable purpose of acquiring information concerning their business.

Yep, that sounds very much like Gregor Sedlmayr and Anton Dreher.

I also found another book, “Vollständige Braukunde” by Johann C. Leuchs,  that discusses the brewing methods of various German cities. In this article, I will try to summarize and discuss different German brewing techniques from the 19th century, and how they would be seen from a modern (home)brewer’s point of view.


For the mash, a mash tun made out of copper, with a false bottom, and a second, smaller copper, were used. The second copper was used for boiling the mash. The standard recipe is described to be 8 quarters of malt and 60 pounds of best Bavarian or Bohemian hops to produce 27 barrels of keeping beer. Calculating what the outcome of that would be, that would be a beer with about 6 to 7.5 % ABV, with probably 35 to 50 IBU. It does mention the Munich beer as keeping beer, meaning it was matured, or lagered, for a relatively long time.

The coarsely ground malt is doughed in, while the small copper is used to bring liquor to a boil. The boiling liquor is then added to the mash, to result in a 40 °C mash. Then a decoction is drawn, and brought to a boil. The author mentions a thick froth that is beaten down back into the mash. I assume this is hot break, and nowadays you would rather skim the scum instead of beating it back into the mash.

The first boil takes about an hour, where it gets a darker colour, until it is put back into the mash, to raise the temperature to 55 °C. Immediately, another decoction is drawn, but only boiled for 30 minutes, and then put back, with a resulting temperature of 67 °C. A third, thin decoction is then drawn, both taken from the top and taken from the tap (the mash tun has a false bottom, after all). Then it is boiled for 15 minutes, and put back, to reach a temperature of 75 °C. That whole procedure takes about 5 hours.

After that, the wort is drawn off. Hops are added while the first runnings are still drawn off, so this constitutes a first wort hopping. The overall boil lasts 2.5 to 3 hours. Fermentation is bottom-fermenting, as expected. What’s interesting is that after primary fermentation, the young beer is drawn into casks. A batch is spread out over lots of casks, though, so it takes about ten batches to properly fill all the casks. I presume this is to blend all the batches and to end up with a very consistent product over all casks even when the individual batches differ. Lagering period in the cellar is mentioned as lasting eight to ten months. That is indeed a keeping beer.

Beer brewed for the winter differs from this, as less hops are used, more wort is drawn off, and it’s boiled for a shorter period of time. There is very little maturation, and secondary fermentation for carbonation is initiated with Kräusen, and essentially happens in the publican’s cellar. This very much sounds like a running beer. Comparing with modern drinking habits, this is very counter-intuitive, as you’d expect the lighter beer to be brewed for the summer as a refresher, and the bigger beer to be made as a warming, boozy drink.


Apparently, the brewing methods in Augsburg were quite different from the rest of Bavaria. It starts with the malt: it is ground finely. The boiled hops of the previous batch are put on the false bottom prior to putting malt and then cold liquor over it. This is left for six hours. Boiling liquor is then added, and mashed for half an hour, and then more hot liquor is added, to bring it to 60 °C. This is then left for two hours. Sweet wort is then drawn off and put into the cooler. More hot liquor is added, and mashed for half an hour, with the resulting temperature being 67 °C. Then “all the goods” (I presume this means all hard matter) are put into the copper with hot liquor, and boiled for 45 minutes, then put back into the thin mash. The resulting mash is then at 86 °C. After some time, the cooled wort is put into the copper, the wort from the mash is also drawn off, hops are added, and the whole thing is boiled for two hours.

Fermentation is bottom-fermenting, and the beer is ready after about 2 months of maturation. Usually though, it is kept in large vats for a year to 1.5 years.

According to “Vollständige Braukunde”, beer brewed like that requires more cleanliness than the Munich approach, but has a higher yield and produces a milder beer.

Overall, a rather weird method in today’s standards. It seems like an infusion mash in the beginning, but with a final decoction, which would extract complex carbon hydrates, but leave the mash at temperatures where all amylases would have already been denatured, and no enzymes would be left to convert the starches into more simple sugars. Did the Augsburgers like their Blausud? (a Blausud is when a wort sample, mixed with an iodine solution, turns dark blue: it is an indicator that there’s still unconverted starches in the wort)


Prague’s brewing methods are described as similar to Munich, but with a fermentation “of the opposite kind”, which I assume means that in the 1830’s, Prague was still brewing with top-fermenting yeast.

Dough in starts at 46 to 50 °C, with an initial rest of nearly an hour. During that mash, more hot water is added to reach 59 to 63 °C. Then a decoction is drawn, brought to a brief boil, and then put back to get up to 67 to 68 °C. Then another rest of an hour follows. Wort is then run off, a Vorlauf if you will, with the express purpose to get rid of any grains underneath the false bottom. This wort is brought to a boil, and put back, to bring the temperature of the mash to about 84 °C. It is also emphasized that the grains must not be disturbed. Then a small portion of the wort drawn before is brought to a boil together with the hops, and the hops are taken out after 45 minutes. In total, the wort seems to get drawn off in batches and boiled, with the hops getting reused. A sparge is done, and the runnings are boiled with the hops from the previous boils.

Fermentation is done at 20 to 22 °C, so obviously top-fermenting. Maturation then happens in ice-cooled vaults for four to six weeks, and is served directly out of that cold environment. Yep, ice-cold beer.

Anyway, what we can see here is that the Munich style of mashing is a triple decoction, while Prague employed a double decoction.


The crushed malt is doughed in with cold water, and mashed for two to four hours. Then cold wort is drawn off, and is brought to a boil together with liquor, boiling for 45 minutes. The froth on the top is skimmed off. It is then put back onto the malt, with a resulting temperature of 40 °C. Now this seems quite odd to me, as it would mean that a lot of the enzymes in the wort would be denatured quite early on.

Then something truly odd is done: wort is drawn off, and pumped back onto the mash. This is done for over an hour. A certain amount is kept in the copper, and again brought to a boil, but as soon as it starts boiling, it is added back to the rest of the mash, to increase temperature to 57 °C. Then more wort is drawn into the copper, again brought to a boil, boiled for 30 minutes, then put back into the mash. This is now left for 30 minutes at 72 °C. And then more wort is drawn off, again brought to a boil of 45 minutes, put back into the wort, and left for another hour at 82 °C.

Then wort is drawn off once more, and hops are added. When all the wort has been drawn off, the grains are loosened, and water of 56 °C is sprinkled onto it. The wort is boiled for 75 minutes, and some of it is put into the cooler. Then the second runnings are drawn into the copper, and boiled for another 90 minutes.

Then the wort is cooled to about 30 °C, and yeast is added. That’s a crazy pitching temperature. Fermentation is vigorous, and the young beer that is thrown out during the fermentation is collected and fermented in a separate vessel. This sound vaguely like the idea of a Burton Union, although with a separate vessel instead of recirculation. Shortly after fermentation has finished and the yeast has settled, casks of the young beer are sent out to the publicans. This all happens within 3 days.

So, in total, quite a strange process. Kinda like a decoction, except only thin decoctions are drawn. I wonder what prevented this from resulting in a Blausud, as well.


This gets interesting now. Berliner Weisse. “The Art of Brewing” describes it as a beer made from 5 parts of wheat malt and 1 part of barley malt. That’s quite different from the 2:1 or 1:1 recipes that are listed in other old publications. “Vollständige Braukunde” mentions 20 parts of barley malt, 10 parts of wheat malt, and 2 parts of oat malt.

The finely ground malt is doughed in, and hot liquor is added to bring the temperature up 52 °C. This is left for an hour. Then wort is drawn off, and boiled with hops for 15 minutes. A thin decoction is drawn to interrupt the boil, and when this has reached 93 °C, it is put back into the mash, and left for 30 minutes, with a resulting temperature of 67 °C. Then another thin decoction is drawn, heated up to 96 °C, then both the mash and the decoction are put into the “tap-tun”, what sounds like a lautering vessel with a false bottom which is covered with straw (some sources say straw used in lautering was previously boiled in water). The resulting temperature in this tun is 75 °C. The wort is then drawn off, very slowly, though, and hot liquor is used for sparging. The overall lauter and sparge takes 7 hours, to produce a very clear wort. The wort is then put into the fermenting vessel, where yeast is added. Fermentation quickly begins, and the beer gets already shipped out to the publicans at this early stage.

In “Art of Brewing”, the author mentions that brewers thus have no yeast, and must buy it back from the publicans. To keep their yeast strains reasonably clean, they preferably buy from publicans that deal with other breweries than their own. The publicans also take care of bottling and storing the beer until it’s drinkable, which is usually after 14 days.

In total, this is quite the interesting process, as it does a kind of decoction, with the hop boil during the mash, and no further boil. Berliner Weisse is often described as a no-boil recipe, and people often ask themselves how the hops are added to it if there is no boil: directly during the mash. This way, the amount of isomerization of the alpha acids is easily to control, which is usually not the case if you added hops to a thicker mash that would undergo several decoctions.


In this article, I tried to summarize descriptions of different brewing techniques in German and Austrian cities at that time, in particular Munich, Augsburg, Prague, Vienna, and Berlin. It is interesting to see how the approaches completely differ, in particular the amount of decoctions that are drawn, what kind of decoctions are drawn, what is boiled for how long and in what order, and what temperatures are kept. With today’s knowledge and understanding of brewing and the microbiology behind it, it is fascinating to see what would be considered good practice nowadays, and what wouldn’t. The Munich triple decoction is a well-researched and well-documented method, as is the Prague double decoction. You would find descriptions of these in most modern brewing literature. The other methods, not so much. There, we find temperatures that would extract more tannins, or early thin decoctions that would denature lots of crucial enzymes early on in the brewing process. I seriously wonder how these brews went fine, and whether they produced Blausude.

Berlin Homebrewing Competition 2015

For the first time, there will be a homebrewing competition this year, for homebrewers from Berlin and Brandenburg. This competition is organized by Rory Lawton. More information about the competition can be found here.

Rory is currently looking for some judges, so if you’re experienced in beer tasting and haven’t registered yet, please do so here, because you need to register by the end of March. So hurry up!

Talking about the homebrewing competition, I will be submitting beers to three out of four categories, so I’m not eligible as judge for all but one category in the first place. In addition to that, I’ll be in Northern Ireland and Yorkshire for a total of two weeks in May, when the judging takes place.

Also, I will publish recipes for my beers (an English Brown Ale, an American Pale Ale, and a Czech Pilsner) here at some point after the submission deadline, that’s the 18th of April. To be frank, I’m already quite excited about the judging results that (hopefully) will be published at some point in May. Homebrewing competitions in Germany are… rare, to say the least, so getting absolutely honest and unbiased feedback from an anonymized tasting is something to look forward to.