Tag Archives: hefeweizen

Thornbridge’s Old New Burton Union: My Hot Take

By now, many of you have probably heard of the great news that Carlsberg Marston’s, who used to run the last remaining Burton Union brewing system, have handed over one set to Thornbridge Brewery in Bakewell, which will use it to ferment specialty beers. If not, Pete Brown will fill you in on some of the details.

As Pete Brown wrote in his blog post:

I’m sure there’ll be lots of hot takes on this.

So here is mine: Thornbridge should use their Burton Union to ferment a Bavarian Weissbier.

“But Burton Unions were built and used to ferment classic British beers, what’s got Bavarian Weissbier to do with it?” Glad you’re asking.

Let me start from the very beginning: in terms of historic fermenters, there are two big approaches: open fermenters and closed fermenters. The former are basically vats where the yeast is rising to the surface and can be skimmed off, while the latter are casks with a bunghole from which all the yeast (and some of the fermenting beer) is ejected.

German brewers call these approaches Bottichgärung and Spundgärung. English brewing also employed both techniques, but interestingly, Bavarian brewers used to make a clearer distinction, where Bottichgärung was typically used for bottom-fermented beers, while Spundgärung was exclusively for top-fermented beers.

The most primitive way of Spundgärung went like this: the wort was added to a cask, filled pretty much to the top, and yeast was pitched. Any yeast that would otherwise rise to the top would get ejected through the cask’s bunghole and run off down the side of the cask, where it would get caught in a tray. Any beer also ejected with it would be used to top up the cask, until fermentation was finished.

Spundgärung, as illustrated in a German brewing book from 1840

This is of course manual labour, and not the most hygienic, either. So is there a way to do this in a better way? Yes, there is: Burton Unions! The Burton Union is basically a scaled-up way of doing this that is not only more hygienic, but also essentially fully automated, at least when it comes to topping up the casks: yeast is ejected from the bunghole of not one, but several casks, through a pipe going upwards, ending up in a tray that is located on top of the casks. Any beer ejected with the yeast will end up on the bottom of that tray, from where it can run back into the casks.

Pressure (from the fermentation) and gravity do all the work here to keep the casks topped up. And this wasn’t just a British brewing secret, German brewers knew about this approach, too.

A Burton-Union-like system as shown in a German brewing book from 1831

Of course, they knew about it from brewing books and journals that also discussed British brewing, but it was nevertheless known.

In any case, Spundgärung is a technique that has completely fallen out of use in Bavarian brewing and German brewing in general, it is entirely historic. Burton Unions are probably the only system where this approach is still followed, at least the only one I know of, and they almost went extinct, too. So why not bring Bavarian top-fermented beers and Burton Unions together? It would be very interesting to see what impact the Burton Union system has on a Bavarian Weissbier: will it change the typical clove and banana aromas of the finished beer? Does it have any impact on the clarity of the beer?

Sure, Thornbridge announced that they will produce a version of Jaipur on it, and intend to use it for some of their other beers, then new recipes specifically designed for it, and of course, collaborations. A lot of it will probably be traditional British styles, because it’s traditional British brewing equipment.

But for me, trying a Bavarian Weissbier, fermented the old Spundgärung way, would be the most exciting and a project I would absolutely love to see.

Optimizing a Hefeweizen Mash for Esters and Phenols

A few days ago, I had the idea that I wanted to brew a classic Hefeweizen. In my few years of homebrewing, I had actualy only ever done a “proper” Hefeweizen once, and it was the “Almtaler Hefeweisse” kit from Hopfen&Malz. I wasn’t overly impressed by the specific beer, it seemed a bit too watery for my taste. But then, that may have been purely because it was my third beer that I ever brewed. After that, I brewed two more Hefeweizen, but both with a twist, i.e. a heavy late aroma hopping, followed by some dry-hopping with Nelson Sauvin. That beer was a success, but it’s definitely not your classic Hefeweizen.

A Bavarian Hefeweizen has some specific properties: it’s brewed from a mix of barley malt and wheat malt, with the wheat being at least 50% of the grist. Some commercial examples even contain as much as 70% wheat malt. The beer is cloudy, both from proteins from the wheat malt and yeast in suspension, and while pale, it’s usually a tad darker than your German pale lager, sometimes even going towards a reddish hue. Hop bitterness is very low, with no hop aroma. Alcohol-wise, the typical commercial examples usually have 4.8 to 5.5% ABV. The yeast strains used for that style are top-fermenting. Historically, Hefeweizen did not conform to the Bavarian Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) because it contains wheat malt, while the Reinheitsgebot only allows barley malt. Special permits were instead issued to those who held the privilege to brew with wheat.

Because I wanted to brew a Hefeweizen on a rather short notice, I went to Bierlieb and got some ingredients. Their choice in ingredients is alright but not great, but definitely enough for quite a few German beer styles, your odd IPA or Belgian-style beer. Unfortunately, they only offer dry yeasts, so I had to get WB-06. Now, the thing is that I’ve heard quite a few bad things about WB-06, namely that it’s a rather bland yeast that produces only tiny amounts of the typical phenolic and ester notes of a proper Hefeweizen. My previous experience with dry yeasts in general and specifically Fermentis dry yeast has been rather good so far (S-04 is my standard for most British styles, US-05 is the Chico strain and so probably the standard for almost everyone’s American styles, and Saflager W-34/70 and S-23 have worked for me in the past, too), so I wanted to give them a try nevertheless.

Just to be sure that I would definitely get enough phenolic (clove) and ester (banana) notes in my Hefeweizen, I was looking for a way to optimize my wort production to provide the yeast with as much of the precursors as possible.

For the clove notes, that’s relatively easy. The phenolic clove notes in Hefeweizen come from the specific yeast strains metabolizing free ferulic acid to 4-vinyl guaiacol. Ferulic acid is in the malt itself, but it needs to be freed and available in the wort. That is usually done through a ferulic acid rest, at about 45 °C.

The banana notes on the other hand are esters, iso-amyl acetate and ethyl acetate, and their production by the yeast directly correlates to the amount of glucose in the wort. So obviously, I’d need to do a mash in a way to increase the amount of glucose. Fortunately, there is a pretty cool method for that, the Herrmann method, or Herrmann-Verfahren in German. It is named after Markus Herrmann who wrote his doctoral thesis at Weihenstephan about the formation and influence of flavouring substances in wheat beer about a decade ago (sorry, German only!).

The principle behind the Herrmann-Verfahren is relatively easy: malt contains a number of enzymes which manipulate starches and complex sugars at specific temperatures. The most important ones are alpha- and beta-amylase that do most of the work. But there is another enzyme, maltase, which can break down maltose into glucose. Unfortunately, maltase works at about 45 °C, and is quickly denatured at higher temperatures. So Herrmann designed a mash schedule that first produces a good amount of maltose through a straightforward Hochkurz infusion mash, with 60% of the grist. Then, a second mash with the remaining 40% of the grist and cold water is done, which is then added to the first mash, bringing it down to 45 °C. That way, the maltase enzymes from the second mash can munch on the maltose produced by the first mash and create more glucose. After that mash, a second dextrinization rest is conducted, followed by mash-out.

The whole process is illustrated here:

Herrmann-Verfahren

That way, you end up with a wort with a lot higher amount of glucose, eventually leading to more esters after fermentation with the right yeast strain. Coincidentally, the 45 °C of the maltase rest is the same temperature that is also necessary for the ferulic acid rest.

The recipe that I came up with for my Hefeweizen looks like this:

Grist:

  • 66.6% Pale Wheat malt
  • 18.5% Pilsner malt
  • 9.3% Munich malt (dark)
  • 5.6% CaraMunich II

Hops:

  • 0.5 g/l Hallertauer Tradition (7% AA) first wort hopping
  • 0.25 g/l Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (3% AA) @ 20 min

60 minute boil. 10 IBU. Mash as described above. WB-06 yeast. OG 13.25 °P. For carbonation, I’m using about 7.5% of the wort as Speise.

For fermentation itself, I’m chilling the wort down to about 17 °C, then I’ll pitch the yeast, and will let the temperature freely rise to ambient temperature (about 23 °C in my flat at the moment). Fermentis recommends for the WB-06 yeast to keep a temperature below 22 °C for clove flavors and above 23 °C for banana flavors. Given that my wort provides the yeast with enough glucose and ferulic acid to actually produce either flavors above the perception threshold, I should be fine with that fermentation schedule to achieve a hopefully balanced Hefeweizen with all the right aromas and flavors and none of the wrong ones.

As soon as the beer is finished, I’ll report back about the results.