Friday, 31 May 2013

How to make Berliner Weissbier (Dörfel part 5)

The final details from A. Dörfel’s work Die Herstellung obergäriger Bier und die Malzbierbrauerei Groterjan A. G. in Berlin, and we’ve got to the juiciest bit: how they made their Berliner Weisse. This is not a literal translation but I think all the most salient details are included.

The gravity is 8º Plato and the grist is 1/3 wheat malt and 2/3 barley malt. 100kg grist per 3hl water. 25–30g hops per hl and they are put right in with the mash. A decoction mash is used. The mash starts at 30 C and is raised slowly to 53–54C and held for half an hour (protein rest). Then the mash is raised to 75C and held until conversion is completed, which usually happens by the time the mash has reached that temperature.

[I was surprised the proportion of wheat was so low. And the mash hopping makes sense when you realise there isn’t a separate wort boil. The hops would get isomerised during the boiling of part of the mash during the decoction, adding some bitterness to the beer.]

Then 1/3 of the mash is taken out to the lauter tun and what remains in the kettle is boiled for half an hour. When both parts are combined again it is important to make sure that the saccharification temperature is not exceeded (not over 76 C). The mash is left 40 minutes before beginning to run off the wort.

Läutering is crucial with Weissbier. Both first and subsequent runnings must be absolutely clear. For this it is best to have an unbroken run-off, without disturbing the grain bed, unless necessary to avoid channeling. For the same reason the sparge water can be applied using the Hoffmann’s “floating box” (Schwimmkiste). Using this, the entire sparge water can be applied immediately following the wort, enabling a good extraction from the grain.

After the run-off and gravity correction of the clear wort in the kettle, the wort is heated to about 95 C for 15–20 minutes, pumped out and immediately cooled to 18 C.

It would be better to boil the wort at 100 C in the interest of killing off pediococcus, which cause ropiness, a sickness particularly feared in Berliner Weisse. However, the beer tax law states explicitly (at the request of the Weissbier brewers themselves), that a particular characteristic of Berliner Weisse, distinguishing it from others, is that the wort is not boiled.

Ropiness may appear in the bottle during conditioning. The beer becomes thick and syrupy, forming strands, caused by microorganisms of the sarcina type. The beer is utterly undrinkable in this state. If the beer is stored for several months, the slime usually completely disappears again. The beer is once again clear and fit for consumption. A residual fine aroma and a flavour reminiscent of tartaric acid remain, which are prized by some beer connoisseurs. [I don't know what tartaric acid tastes like, but that's what it says].

The sickness of weissbier, the Langwerden (ropiness), has three causes, the most important of which is Pediococcus viscosus. This sickness can be found sometimes in other types of beer and is not unknown in Belgian and British breweries. Sugar and protein are needed for this infection to take hold and the presence of yeast encourages the development of pediococcus. As a preventative measure (as recommended by Schönfeld in “Obergärige Biere und ihre Herstellung”) souring the wort to 0.1–0.15 acidity, high mash temperature, heating the wort to 80–85C for an hour, or 15 minutes’ boiling, and high attenuation are recommended. A ropy Weissbier must be kept in the brewery for months until the ropiness disappears, which means more work, tying up space and cash and interfering with the production plan. Even worse are the effects on the customers, who complain and return the beer.

A special fermenting room is kept for Weissbier and the yeast is pitched – a top-fermenting yeast which also contains rod-shaped lactic acid bacteria. The bacteria and yeast live in a kind of symbiosis: they grow under the same conditions and are found again in the head on the fermenting beer. 1L Weissbier yeast is pitched into 10hl of wort.

The fermentation is lively at 16C in the cellar. The first yeast head is skimmed off and discarded. The main head that forms afterwards is skimmed and that yeast is kept for re-use. The fermentation lasts four days, during which the temperature of the beer rises to 20C and falls to 16C again.

The beer drops bright [no indication of how long this takes] and is bottled, or sent out to wholesalers who also immediately bottle it. It is very important that the beer in the bottles contains the correct amount of residual extract necessary for the desired secondary fermentation. Weissbier should have lots of CO2, so 1% or 2% residual extract are needed. It is necessary to pay attention to whether the beer is intended to be drunk sooner or after several months.

If the beer has already fermented out too far, fresh beer can be added to bring it to the correct strength. Sugar can be used if fresh beer is not available. But this brings with it the risk of the beer exceeding the legal maximum starting gravity (for Schankbier) of 7–8º Plato.

The souring of the beer by lactic acid bacteria is temperature-dependent. Acidity increases with age. Storing the beer at 5–6 C can prevent the beer getting too sour. If it is needed to be ready quickly, it should be stored at 12–15C for 8–10 days. For the best quality, weissbier should mature for at least six weeks, though three months is preferable. For this reason the weissbier business requires a large stock of bottles, because each returnable bottle would only make it back to the brewery for refilling a few times a year.

[So Berliner Weisse breweries needed a proportionately bigger stock of bottles than others. Time to invent a beer myth: the drive to disposable bottles in the 1960s was spearheaded by Berlin breweries]

The main Weisse business is done in the summer. If there is unexpectedly high demand, the brewery may run out of well-matured beer and have to send younger beer into trade, which can be damaging for the reputation of the brewery.

At Groterjan they took these measures: large quantities of soured fresh beer are chilled and held in tanks at 5–6C, where it can stay for months without damage and clarifies. When needed, the beer is bottled and primed with sugar. The beer is sour enough already and the sugar carbonates it so that it is soon ready to drink.

As a Schankbier, the Weisse has a starting gravity of 8º Plato. As it ferments down to 1–1.2º, the finished beer is relatively strong, often 2.5–3.5% abv.

[I’m not sure that any brewer today would describe a beer of 2.5% as comparatively strong. But look how piss-weak most of Groterjan’s other beers were. It’s all a matter of perspective.]

Small quantities of strong Weisse are made sometimes with a gravity of 16–18º. That is best when matured for a year or more.

As a pale, mild and pleasantly acidic-tasting, well-attenuated beer with a high CO2 content (up to 0.5%) and excellent foam-building qualities, Berliner Weisse is a splendidly refreshing drink, especially on warm days. The beer is drunk from large, bowl-shaped glasses and some consumers love to add a slice of lemon or even some raspberry juice, the so-called Weisse mit Schuss, which is a practice abhorred by beer connoisseurs.

The pitching yeast for Weissbier is a mixture of top-fermenting yeast and lactic acid bacteria. Both multiply at roughly the same rate during the fermentation and so can be kept for the next brew. The most important bacteria (which is responsible for its particular bouquet) is S. pastorianus var. berolinensis. It produces substantial amounts of lactic acid during the main fermentation.

Cropping and storage of the Weissbier yeast is the same as other brewing yeasts but the temperature is slightly higher, 8C. The Weissbier fermentation is kept in a separate cellar to prevent contamination of the other beers with the lacto bacteria. Separate equipment and lines from the cellar to the bottling room are used. Again the bottling room and filling equipment are used exclusively for Weisse.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

We’re all going on a Summerhalliday

Nice space for a pint, whether there’s a festival on or not

It’s summer in Edinburgh, making for a long, hot walk down to the south side. The Summerhall complex is soon found and, well, I think I deserve a crisp glass of refreshing beer on a day like this.

Summerhall is a new – what shall I call it? arts centre, venue space, something like that. The Germans would say a “social centre” and that’s what it reminds me of most. They tend to be old industrial or commercial buildings with their former purpose remembered in the name, generally unimaginatively called “The Old Printworks” or “The Old Station” or some such thing (in this country, of course, we prefer to demolish the old buildings and throw up some shoddy flats in their place). The old courtyard of the veterinary school that once occupied the buildings makes a pretty good beer garden, and the various spaces are being used for arts events and let to start-ups.

This part of town is beer central: as well as Summerhall, there’s the biggest homebrew store I’ve ever seen, the excellent off licence Great Grog, the Cask & Barrel Southside for old-school real ale and The Southern for the trendy and rich. All within a couple of streets of each other.

The beer is made behind one of those wee doors on the left
For beer lovers the most exciting feature is that the complex features its own microbrewery. The beer connection is fitting since the site was the Summerhall Brewery a hundred years ago before the vet school was built. Logically, the new regime was keen to bring brewing back to the site.

Barney’s Beer has been operating for a few years from the back of a former brewpub in Falkirk. Unfortunately, the beer was generally dire. With the move to Edinburgh, I am extremely happy to report that the quality is much improved.

Before I even get my first beer I’ve spotted the two people I expected to see here. Adam, who puts in more miles hunting beer around Scotland than anyone else, and Rich, who writes more about Edinburgh beer than anyone else. They helpfully point me in the direction of the bar. In the beer festival, on the first floor, it’s deserted – everyone is sitting outside in the sun, those lucky enough to have grabbed a seat at any rate.

Nonetheless there’s still a queue for beer. Around fifteen beers are on offer, only two from Barney’s (the third has sold out). I have the porter which is a tad dull but there’s nothing wrong with it. Volcano IPA is more interesting with a decent hoppiness, though it’s a little slick and sticky. This is supposedly a version with New Zealand hops. If anything it tastes more European to me.

The brewery itself is located in a side building off the main courtyard, and is tiny. With Andrew “Barney” Barnett (who is much better looking than the caricature of him on his bottle labels) standing in the middle of the brewery, from where he can touch the copper with his right hand and the fermenters with his left, it’s the shortest brewery tour in the world – once you’re in, you've seen everything.

As befits a beer festival on this historic site, I bump into a couple of chaps I know from the Scottish Brewing Archive Association. They’ve got a stall and the original floor plans of the old brewery up on the wall.

Wanting to drink outside in the courtyard, we head to the temporary Inveralmond beer wagon. This is pushing their Sunburst dvanáctka (Bohemian Pilsner fae Scotland, as the posters declare), with their other beers relegated to bottles in the fridge, which, given that Sunburst is currently only 2% of their production, indicates where the brewery thinks the opportunities for growth are.

I’ve spent a bit of time recently transcribing head brewer Ken Duncan’s anecdotes about Inveralmond’s Czech yeast strain for a forthcoming issue of the SBAA’s Journal. So it felt like a nice reward to finally get around to tasting the beer.

Do you know, it’s very good indeed. Lovely and bitter with a bit of malt sweetness and nice hop aroma. I like it better than any of their ales, in fact. A rather nice smoked sausage from the stall up the stairs rounds it off pretty well.

I like this courtyard – I expect it is a splendid place to sit on summer evenings even without a beer festival. But as there doesn’t seem to be much chance of getting a seat in the courtyard, it’s time to split and head round the corner to the Cask & Barrel Southside. A lovely basic, empty pub with the odd group of men sat at tables studying pints of cask ale. There, a new Alechemy beer I haven’t seen before, Starlaw. Full of raw bitterness, it’s not my favourite of their – Alechemy and Tryst are the two Scottish breweries who on occasion produce beer that’s just too bitter for me. Great Heck Voodoo Mild is good, but past its best and the next time I go to the bar it’s finished. But replacing it is Raw Zenith, 3.7% and pale and hoppy. Yum. At this stage, anything stronger would have wrecked me, so I’m glad of it.

Disclosure: Inveralmond Brewery offered me a complimentary ticket to the Summerhall festival. I would probably have gone anyway.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Simon Johnson

I am in shock. I have just got home from the pub and am rather drunk. But I think the subject of this post would have liked the drunk post more than a more considered sober post, so here goes.

The Reluctant Scooper, aka Simon Johnson, is dead.

Just a few days ago he was leading a pub crawl or “bimble” through Derby and blogging about it, now he’s gone. It is as shocking as it is unexpected.

I only met Simon a couple of times. Twice, in fact. I was too drunk to remember the first time and was gauche enough to introduce myself to him again a second time. “Hi, I’m Barm” — “Yes, I know.” Oops.

But even those of us who only ever encountered him briefly must have been impressed by his warmth and intelligence. He was one of the most insightful beer bloggers Britain has seen and the scene will be a poorer place without him. His beer writing was always human and undogmatic, and many a more feted beer writer could have learned from him.

I still cannot believe it. On the one hand I would like to think — that it would be just like Simon to want to see what people would say about him, while he was still around to read it. On the other hand, he wouldn’t cause his friends such pain for a joke. We have to accept it’s true. The Reluctant Scooper has gone.

This reminds us, as Simon’s writing did, that life is short and that beer, while a constant part, is not the be all and end all in itself. It’s the friendships you make and strengthen over beer that are important. Tonight, get in touch with your friends, and tell them you love them.

RIP Reluctant Scooper. Fortunately, I do have a bottle of Orval in the cupboard, although it’s a tad warm. Cheers Simon.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Friedrich Ebert and his glass of Berliner Weisse

A bit of light relief in between the recipes today. If you call war, food shortages, revolution and counter-revolution light relief, that is.

I came across these drawings when I found a reference to Berliner Weisse in the artist George Grosz’ autobiography.

Grosz produced these two portraits of Ebert, the first president of the Weimar Republic. Anyone with knowledge of beer will recognise the bowl-shaped glass in the drawings – it’s Berliner Weisse.

The radical left, to which Grosz belonged, despised Ebert for supporting the war and suppressing the revolution afterwards. So it’s not accidental that he’s shown enjoying Berliner Weisse. Because that was the drink of reactionaries.

The “Berlin white beer philistine” (Weißbierphilister or Spiessbürger) is a common stereotype of the nineteenth century (and even Marx mocks him in passing in a polemic in The German Ideology). He represents narrow-minded, ignorant and obsequious conservatism, kind of the equivalent of today’s Daily Mail reader:
A peculiar vision is the Berlin Spiessbürger: generally a man between forty and seventy of respectable, clean-shaven appearance, who day in, day out in every season and any weather appears in the same pub at the same time, takes the same seat, to drink the same quantity of Weissbier, smoke the same number of pipes and occasionally mouth platitudes or jokes. When it comes to politics, art and literature, he plays in tune with the public opinion. He goes on holiday in the country, to the hills near Spandau. If he goes to the theatre, it is because he has obtained a free ticket. He is everywhere, as his means allow, sometimes better off, sometimes worse; but invariably he drinks good Weissbier with the proper small caraway schnapps. He drinks Weissbier, as his father did and his grandfather; and he never drinks Bavarian [i.e. lager], as the Revolution lies sleeping therein.
Friedrich Heinzelmann, Das deutsche Vaterland in Reisebildern und Skizzen, Leipzig 1858, p.322 (my translation)

In showing Ebert with a glass of Weisse, Grosz is saying that Ebert the Social Democrat has thrown his lot in with the grotesque and decadent capitalists that Grosz famously portrays in his other works. While other plutocratic accessories like the cigar and monocle are more universally understandable, the Weisse says specifically to the German public of the 1920s: Ebert is a Spiessbürger.

Whether Ebert actually drank Berliner Weisse, I have no idea.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Syrup in Berliner Weisse

While I’m on the subject of Berliner Weisse, something has been bugging me. I don’t know when the tradition started of adding raspberry and woodruff syrup to the beer. You don’t see it in most nineteenth-century sources, where a caraway schnapps is the preferred complement. At least, that’s what I thought.

My previous theory that it was all dreamed up by the advertising men taking advantage of colour supplements in the 1960s was completely wrong. It’s significantly older – already everywhere in the 1950s:

A refreshing beverage for those with a taste for tartness is "weisse mit schuss," the summertime favorite in Berlin. The "weisse" is a markedly sharp beer brewed from malted wheat rather than the customary barley. The "schuss" is a natural heavy raspberry syrup.
New York Times, May 12 1953

This is the season of the year when outwardly tranquil West Berliners, by the tens of thousands, sit contentedly in innumerable beer gardens and crowded sidewalk cafés and Drink “Weiss mit Schuss”.
   To the casual eye, the West Berliner has not a care in the world as he sits with his nose in a great glass bird bath, approximately five times the size of a champagne glass, and quaffs Berlni’s special drink, “Weiss mit Schuss”. This is a special kind of “white” beer spiked with a slug of raspberry juice. It sounds horrendous. But it is surprisingly palatable on a hot day and Berlin, like much of the rest of Europe, has been sweltering through one of the hottest summers on record.
Reading Eagle, July 20 1959 (typos in original)

Before the war, it’s mentioned too:

Mit dem Schuß Gemütlichkeit, der zum richtigen Berliner gehört, wie eben der Schuß Himbeer zur richtigen Weiße. (He had the dash of friendliness that belongs to a proper Berliner, just as a dash of raspberry belongs in a proper white beer.)
Paul Westheim, Helden und Abenteurer: Welt und Leben der Künstler, H. Reckendorf 1931, p. 165

In einer benachbarten Kneipe wurden unzählige Weiße mit Himbeer getrunken. (In a neighbouring bar countless white beers with raspberry were drunk.)
George Grosz, Ein kleines Ja und ein großes Nein, Rowohlt 1955
(Grosz emigrated in 1933 so this passage must relate to something before then.)

Man konsumiert Gose wie die Berliner Weiße: mit Himbeer („Schuß") oder indem man Kümmel mittenmang hinter die Binde schüttet. (One consumes Gose like Berliner Weisse: with raspberry (Schuss), or by downing shots of caraway schnapps alongside.)
Hans Reimann, Das Buch von Leipzig, Leipzig 1929

Fr Finton Stack also pointed out in a comment that the characters in Döblin’s classic Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) also drink Weisse both red and green.

So it goes back at least to the 1920s, and seems to have been fairly well established by then. How much further? Possibly as long as the syrup has been industrially manufactured. In the first decade of the 20th century there were already ready-made “essences” that you could buy to flavour cold wine punches such as the woodruff-flavoured Maibowle.

We can go back further still. Just found this tempting snippet:

Ich nehme dann belegte Stullen in der großen Strohtasche dort mit. Die werde an Ort und Stelle im Gasthaus verzehrt, und dazu geht eine “jroße Weiße mit” rundum. Mit was denn? Mit Himbeer. Mit Himbeer? Ja. Ein unglaubliches Gemisch, aber sehr beliebt. Ein großes Schnapsglas voll Himbeersaft wird in das Weißbier gegossen. Wenn man ein bis zwei Stunden marschirt ist und Durst hat, schmeckt alles.
( I took sandwiches with me. They were eaten on the spot in the pub. As accompaniment a “large white with” goes around. With? With what? Raspberry. Raspberry? Yes. An unbelievable mixture, but very popular. A large schnapps glass of raspberry juice is poured into the Weissbier. If you’ve been marching for a couple of hours and are thirsty, anything tastes good.)
Die Grenzboten: 1892, Volume 51, Part 2
As early as 1850 the Magdeburgische Zeitung is carrying ads for  “raspberry lemonade extract”, which mixed with three or four parts water would give a “most refreshing lemonade”.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find out that people were pouring the stuff in their beer even then.

Monday, 13 May 2013

How to make Groterjan Porter and Feinbitter-Starkbier (Dörfel part 4)

1962 menu from the Hardtke Weissbier- und
Charlottenburger Pilsner-Stuben in Berlin
F. Feinbitter-Starkbier

Elegantly bitter strong beer, what a nice name. A nice name for a weird beer. The gravity starts at 16º, which is quite a lot, and only goes down a little.

The grist is 3% black malt, 7% caramel malt, 20% “pale” malt and 70% Munich malt.

The hopping is much closer to what we’re used to today, much higher than for the Malzbier. 400g/hl of best quality hops and 300g/hl of caramel colour. Again they mash in cold at 12–15 C and heat it to 52–53 C. There is a half-hour protein rest, then the mash is heated to 75 C. After 40 minutes conversion time they begin to run off the wort. They do a series of small batch sparges, waiting till each is complete before starting the next and fluffing up the mash to make sure to get all the sugar out of the grains.

The hops are put in while the wort is flowing into the kettle. After boiling for an hour and a half, during which the caramel colour is added, the wort is chilled on the Berieselungskühler to 10 C and yeast is pitched (1L to 10hl wort).

The fermentation must be watched carefully. As soon as the wort has dropped 3º in gravity, after about 40–45 hours, it is chilled through a closed chiller to 3 C and pumped into a lagrering tank. After 2–3 days the fermentation has even at that low temperature produced as much CO2 as is desired for the beer. The pressure is 1.2 atmospheres. The beer is then filtered and immediately bottled and pasteurised for three-quarters of an hour at 60–62 C.

The beer still has 12º extract (that’s more than the starting gravity of many modern beers!) and only 1.2–1.4% alcohol. It has an aromatic malty flavour which is complemented by an elegant hop taste. It is a nourishing beer, which has the same grist as the Porter, but due to the low attenuation has a completely different character.

(That's a weird thing to say. I wouldn’t call 70% Munich and 3% black malt a typical Porter grist. Let's see what they were putting in their Porter.)

G. Porter – Strong beer

The grist is 3% black malt, 7% caramel malt, 20% “pale” malt and 70% Munich malt. (What do you know!) and the gravity 18º.

The hopping rate is 500g/hl and 400g/hl of caramel colour are added during the boil. The mash and boil are the same as for Feinbitter-Starkbier (F), except the wort is boiled for two hours and only cooled down to 16 C. Porter yeast from the previous brew is added at a rate of 1 L to every 3hl of wort (quite a lot of yeast then).

Fermentation takes place at 12–14C and they leave it 14–16 days before racking the beer into small aluminium tanks of 18L. (I don’t understand why they used such small vessels. 18L is however almost exactly the same size as a British pin cask.)

As is usual in England no more yeast is added for secondary fermentation. (Perhaps that's why they added so much in the first place).

The beer is kept in the tanks for 5–6 weeks and allowed to carbonate to 1.2 atmospheres, then bottled without filtration and then pasteurised.

Groterjan only ever made small quantities of this beer. It improves in bottle, but it is not possible to keep the extended lagering time common in England due to lack of tank space.

Dörfel notes that English beers are all top-fermented and that English brewers place great importance on the secondary fermentation yeast. Brettanomyces gives the Porter its peculiar aroma and taste. Schönfeld was able to isolate the fermentation yeast and the secondary yeast and use them separately. At the Hochschulbrauerei they use the technique of adding first a pure-culture yeast and then a pure culture of Brettanomyces afterwards.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

How to make Groterjan Caramel-Einfachbier and Jung- und Braunbier (Dörfel part 3)

C. Caramel-Einfachbier with sweetener, draught

(A really simple beer here. This beer’s name translates as basic or ordinary caramel beer. With a gravity of just 3º Plato, it must have been pretty watery. It reminds me of some of the really weak top-fermenting brown beer they were making in Berlin in the nineteenth century. But there's a discrepancy in the manuscript. At the start he says this is 4º.)

The grist is 6% black malt, 19% caramel malt, 20% “pale” malt and 50% Munich malt. The hopping is 75g/hl. Also added are 350g/hl caramel colour and 14g/hl Dulcin, a sweetener. These go in just before the end of the boil.

It is brewed the same way as Malzvollbier in (A). As soon as fermentation has started, usually after 12–15 hours, the vigorously fermenting wort is pumped into tanks in the lagering cellar, which are immediately sealed. The pressure is 0.35 atü. [this is about 1.35 atmospheres, a quick googling of obsolete physical units tells me].

After 6–8 days the beer is filtered and racked into trade casks without pasteurisation. The beer at racking still has 2.2–2.5º extract and a pleasant sweet, caramelly flavour. This Einfachbier is significantly cheaper for publicans and consumers, due to the small amount of malt needed and the lower rate of duty payable.

D. Jung- und Braunbier, with sweetener

(A discrepancy here too. At the start this is described at having just 3º Plato, weaker than the Caramel-Einfachbier. Here, it’s a tad stronger at 5º. “Young Brown Beer”, it sounds fascinating.)

The grist is the same as Caramelbier (C). Hopping is lower – 60g/hl. 350g/hl of caramel colour and 10g/hl Dulcin are used.

This beer is not fermented in the brewery at all! The sweetened and coloured wort is cooled to 7–8 C and 1 l yeast is pitched per 25–30hl wort. The very next morning the young beer is sent out to beer hawkers, who sell it on the streets or deliver it to homes. The buyer fills it into bottles and it is ready to drink after about three days. The customer generally gets a delivery at least once a week. Therefore there is no great need for the beer to have keeping qualities, and the brewer cannot guarantee that anyway, as he has no control over the fermentation.

Even less tax is payable on Jung- und Braunbier than on Caramel-Einfachbier and it is a cheap thirst-quenching domestic drink that sells well in summer. It represents the last vestige of the time when every household brewed its own beer, says Dörfel rather nostalgically.

(I’m skipping the section on Berliner Weisse because it’s the most complicated and will come back to it later. On to Feinbitter-Starkbier tomorrow. A really weird one. )

Saturday, 11 May 2013

How to make Groterjan Malzvollbier (bottled and draught) – Dörfel part 2

By OTFW, Berlin (Self-photographed)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
We saw yesterday that Groterjan was a brewery of a special type. It specialised in top-fermenting, mostly very low-alcohol, mostly sweet beers. Here are the beers they brewed:

a) 11.5º Malzvollbier with sugar, bottled
b) 11.0º Malzvollbier with sugar, draught
c) 4º Carameleinfachbier with sweetener, draught
d) 3º Jung- und Braunbier with sweetener
e) 8º Berliner Weissbier
f) 16º Starkbier Feinbitter
g) 18º Porter

All the beers with the exception of Berliner Weisse were made with an infusion mash [by which is meant a German-style step infusion, not a British-style single-temperature infusion].

The first four are a type which has almost died out. Look at the gravities. For comparison, a modern Pils has a gravity of about 11.5 degrees Plato before fermentation. Most are ridiculously weak by modern standards. On the other hand, the 18º Porter would be considered strong today in the German market.

A. Malzvollbier (bottled)

The grist is 5% black malt, 10% caramel malt, 25% “pale” malt and 60% Munich malt.
The hopping is just 75g per hectolitre, i.e. hardly anything. Caramel colour is added in the kettle and a sugar solution is added before bottling.

The mash is started cold with water at 13–15 C and warmed slowly over half an hour to 52º. Half an hour protein rest at 52 C. Over a further half hour the mash is heated further to 75 C and held there until complete conversion is achieved. Then they let it stand for another 40 minutes before lautering. They batch sparge for five hours (!) with water at 85 C. The last sparge water has just 0.1º Plato.

Two thirds of the hops are added to the kettle while the wort is running in, and the rest half an hour before the end of the boil. The boil begins as soon as the second sparge has stopped washing out sugar. The boil lasts 1.25 hours.

The final wort should be 6.4º and be very dark. The 5% black malt used is not enough to achieve this colour, but that quantity cannot be raised without affecting the taste. 400g caramel per hectolitre are added to deepen the colour. Through evaporation and cooling the wort has 6.5º Plato when the yeast is pitched.

The wort is allowed to settle in a settling vessel before being cooled over a Berieselungskühler (one of those things resembling a sheet of corrugated iron) – not an open cooler, Dörfel is keen to point out.

Yeast is pitched at the rate of 1L thick slurry per 8hl wort and fermentation takes place at 10 C. After 12–15 hours there is foam on the beer and the hop resins this brings up must be skimmed off and discarded. The yeast head re-forms and after a total of 40–48 hours the yeast head begins to compact and can be cropped for re-use in the next brew. It is kept in aluminium buckets, mixed with water and chilled. It can be kept for about 8 days at about 3–5 C.

The yeast cropping must take place soon enough that the beer will still throw up another head that will protect it from the air. This is particularly important for beer that will be bottled.

The fermentation is completed after 2.5–3 days at 10 C. The beer stays in the fermenters for another two or three days to drop bright and at this stage has an apparent extract of 4ª Plato.

The yeast head is not removed before bottling, it sinks along with the surface of the beer and ends up together with the sediment at the bottom. This residue is not used in the brewery but sent to the food industry.

The beer flows into mixing tanks one level below. Each holds 68hl and is equipped with mixing rakes and heating coils. Together with the beer a sugar solution of 55% [I don’t know whether here the % means the solution is 55% sugar, or that the solution is 55 degrees Plato. There are enough figures given for someone to do the maths]. 1 hl solution is mixed into every 9 hl of beer. Extra yeast is added in the tank to make sure there is conditioning in the bottle. A bottom-fermenting yeast is used because it compacts better in the bottle. This is the only time bottom-fermenting yeast is used at Groterjan (it is obtained from a lager brewery).

The mix is stirred for a quarter of an hour and heated to 25 C, then immediately filled into bottles. Normal 33cl bottles with swing-tops are used. After labelling the bottles are loaded into the pasteuriser and held there at 25C for 14–16 hours. After this time they have developed enough CO2. Samples are taken to check the beer has conditioned enough. This must be done by pouring bottles into glasses, as the use of measuring equipment has been found wanting. If the conditioning goes too far there is the danger of the bottles exploding during pasteurisation.

For the actual pasteurisation the chamber is heated by steam to 65 C over a period of 40–45 minutes and held there for about an hour, then allowed to cool to 35–30 C.

The bottles are removed and placed by hand in wooden trade crates. The bottled beer is sent out into trade the next day.

The gravity of the bottled Malzvollbier is 11.5º, 6.5º from malt and 5.0º from the added sugar. 2.5º is fermented out during the fermentation and  0.8–1.0º during bottle-conditioning, so that the finished beer still has 8.0º (4.2º from sugar), resulting in a low alcohol but very nutritious beer.

B. Malzvollbier, draught – 11º Plato

The grist, mash and boil are the same as before, but the hopping is slightly higher at 90g/hl. After the yeast is cropped on the 3rd day the young beer is pumped into the lagering cellar where it is conditioned under pressure in aluminium tanks at 5–6 C. After 6–9 days cold conditioning the beer is pumped through a Massefilter [this is basically filtering through cotton wool as far as I can make out] and from there into the mixing tank together with the sugar solution.

The beer is then pumped through a heater which heats it to 60C into the filling equipment which fills it under counter-pressure into trade casks. These are wooden and treated with sulphur dioxide for sterility.

The draught beer is slightly weaker than the bottled version and free of yeast. It has a very balanced sweet, malty taste with a pleasant bitterness. Despite the very similar brewing method there is a slight difference in flavour between the bottled and draught beers.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Caramelmalzbier and Grätzer in Berlin: Dörfel part 1

I’ve become enthralled with the 1947 manuscript from A. Dörfel, the head brewer at the Groterjan brewery in Berlin.

I thought I’d summarise the most interesting bit for the benefit of English-speakers. It’s going to take some time as the document is so information-dense.

With Dörfel being head brewer at a top-fermenting brewery, he is concerned with the decline of top-fermenting beer in Germany. As late as 1873 40% of German breweries had been predominantly making top-fermenting beers, in 1938 it was just 4%.

Top-fermentation had been on course to become extinct, but a new type of beer led to a small upswing. This was a sweetened type of top-fermented malt and caramel beer (the ancestor of today’s Malzbier), and that was a major part of what Groterjan produced.

German top-fermenting beers in 1938: Share of the market
TypeGravity (in degrees Plato)Share
Einfachbier (sweet, low-gravity, brown)< 6.5º30.2%
Schankbier (Berliner Weisse, Grätzer) etc.7–8º3.5%
Malz-/Caramelvollbier, rheinisches Bitterbier, bayrisches Weizenmalzbier11–14º65%
Starkbier (Porter, Berliner Weizenstarkbier, Groterjan Feinbitter)16º+1.2%

Hm, that table is less useful than I imagined, as it lumps together Malzvollbier, Kölsch, Alt and Bavarian wheat beer all in the same category. These figures are of course the share of the top-fermenting market, which in turn was just 7.1% of total German beer production.

It’s interesting that there were two kinds of what we would now call Malzbier: a weak and a strong one. The weak one would have barely any alcohol because of its low initial gravity, the stronger one would be very malty but still low in alcohol because the fermentation was stopped by filtering and pasteurising the beer. (Today there are very few genuine fermented Malzbier commercially available in Germany. The mass-market products such as Vitamalz are really malt sodas, or “Malztrunk” to give them their legal name. The Malzmühle in Cologne and Pinkus Müller in Münster still make true Malzbier, and I’m sure there are a few more.)

But from the nothing-new-under-the-sun department: there was a Berliner Weizenstarkbier or “Imperial Berliner Weisse” as the kids would say nowadays.

If you think Germany still has a lot of breweries today, around 1400, in 1929 there were 4192 commercial breweries, of which 529 used predominantly top-fermentation. There were also 35584 registered home brewers who presumably brewed mostly for themselves up to a maximum of 20hl a year.

The only brewery in the country to make over 100,000 hl of exclusively top-fermenting beers per year was Groterjan. Dörfel credits the “unusually fast growth” of Groterjan with sparking renewed interest by large lager breweries in making top-fermenting Malzbier.

Groterjan’s speciality, Porter and Weisse excepted, was the production of low-alcohol, but very rich and nourishing Malzbier. They were originally intended for women, invalids, convalescents, children, nursing mothers and athletes. But they also became popular with workers who could get a strengthening beverage they could drink in work breaks.

Groterjan had replaced all their wooden fermenters with aluminium vessels by 1923. They began replacing their wooden lagering casks with aluminium tanks in the same year.

Interesting to me is that Groterjan was still brewing a couple of beers similar to what Josty had been making in 1900.

Porter is an obvious one. And Josty’s Trinkwürze (literally “drinking wort”) at 18-19º gravity with a large proportion of unfermented sugars, seems similar to Groterjan’s Feinbitter-Starkbier.

As I said at the start, this document is very information-dense. More soon.  

One last thing. Why is this post illustrated with a Grätzer label from the Hochschul-Brauerei? Because it’s one of the other breweries mentioned in the text.

Right at the end Dörfel says: “Grätzer beer is made in Berlin in only two breweries: the Monopolbrauerei and the Hochschulbrauerei, in relatively small amounts.”

Now, if you haven’t read this appeal from Polish homebrewers to call this type of beer primarily Grodziskie and not Grätzer, you should.

However, as well as the original Grodziskie beer, it was also copied by brewers in Germany, and they of course used the German name. In 1900 Josty were brewing “Josty’s Rauchbier nach Grätzer Art (brewed according to the Graetz process)” which was “prepared from the best raw materials and is in all respects superior to all similar kinds of beer.” So there seems to have been some sort of tradition of brewing this stuff at least in Berlin.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Berlin brewer’s memoir discovered

Who says blogging doesn’t get you anywhere?

Andreas Bogk has taken it upon himself to recreate proper Berliner Weisse in Berlin. Not the sad pasteurised beast you get in cans, pre-sweetened with syrup, but a proper one infected with all the correct microorganisms and as authentic as possible.

He’s taking this seriously enough to register a commercial brewery so that people will be able to taste the results. He’s been documenting his progress on a blog – experiments are progressing well but he doesn’t have any beer to sell yet.

But thanks to the blog a reader got in contact. Her grandfather, A. Dörfel, had been head brewer at the legendary Groterjan brewery and had written a document describing how things were done there in 1947.

Herr Dörfel had been in charge of brewing since 1920, so he certainly knew what he was talking about.

The manuscript has (possibly) never been published before and is a priceless slab of brewing history. Andreas has very kindly, with the permission of Dörfel’s heirs, scanned the document and put it online.

I haven’t read the whole thing yet but one snippet caught my eye. For some time I’ve been wondering how old the tradition of adding raspberry and woodruff syrup to Berliner Weisse is. You don’t see it mentioned in nineteenth-century sources, but by the time Michael Jackson wrote about it, it had become ubiquitous.

Dörfel writes that some drinkers of Berliner Weisse like to add a slice of lemon or raspberry juice to the beer. He doesn’t approve: “From the perspective of the beer connoisseur this [practice] ought to be rejected.”

I’m starting to think the whole red and green syrup business must have started in the 1960s. Perhaps coinciding with the rise of full-colour advertising, colour supplements and the like. The opalescent beer in primary colours would have been a gift for the ad agencies. OK, I was completely wrong about that. Shouldn’t speculate.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Always more to discover

Someone once said to me “the only problem with Mark Dredge is that he likes everything.”

He meant that the young beer writer, already festooned with awards in his twenties, was capable of mustering the same enthusiasm when talking about a third-rate European lager as when sampling a rare beer from a highly regarded small-batch brewer.

It’s that infectious enthusiasm which makes this book fun to read. Dredge understands that time and place are as important to beer as the liquid, saying in the introduction “Think about the best beer you’ve ever had. I bet you can remember the moment you drank the beer better than the way it actually tasted.”

With the book, presumably for commercial reasons, being published simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic it quickly becomes clear that it is essentially an American book written by a British guy, and reading it can be disconcerting. Not because of the Americanisms in the copy, although at one point we have a bloke from Kent writing “the pumpkins of fall”, which is just silly, but because the conceptual framework is one rooted in the American homebrewing and craft-beer culture.

As that framework has been enormously influential over the last twenty years this is perhaps understandable enough, but it does fall short of what is needed for a book with “World” in the title.

There is certainly more of an emphasis on British and Antipodean beers than a North American author might have had, and it’s nice to see the latest developments in British brewing recognised in an international book: pale and hoppy (which is now de facto the name of this style) British session beer is described in loving detail. Session beer purists will be happy to see that all but one of the beers discussed in this section are well under 4.0%, and the single exception only nudges through by 0.1% (yet oddly enough, the same brewery, Cromarty, makes another beer, Hit the Lip, which suits the category better).

Where, as when talking about pale ’n’ hoppy, Dredge has superior local knowledge (England) he is able to counter some of the sillier beliefs current in the US scene; where he doesn’t (Germany) one gets the feeling that we are still being shown everything through a second-hand prism, and occasionally the impression that the author is busking it a little.

Dredge has an effusive and engaging writing style, though the odd technique grates through constant repetition: writing the witty flourishes that pepper every other beer description (some of which are amusing, while others fall flat) must have been as wearisome for the author as it eventually becomes for the reader.

Many of the beers mentioned I’d never heard of before, and there has been an admirable effort to feature what (at least in Dredge’s estimation) are the most interesting representatives of a particular style. In selecting these he is quite ruthless, occasionally – as in the case of “Belgian” witbier – not discussing a single example from the country of its ostensible origin. Dredge argues that the classics have been covered sufficiently elsewhere, and chooses to focus mostly on the new wave, including not a small number of breweries which have been set up just in the last two or three years.

Indeed, you will read almost nothing in this book about the beers most people in the world actually drink day in and day out, and it is indeed quite refreshing to not be confronted with yet another photograph of a bottle of Guinness or Früh Kölsch.

The strength of the book is to give a kind of smörgåsbord of different beers all presented at once. European brewers still tend to work in their own traditions; Americans brew anything and everything, and that’s the attitude presented here.

The weakness, directly related, is that there is almost no cultural context beyond “I drank this in Chicago at the karaoke”. But perhaps that, too, is a strength. It’s about drinking now, about travelling and trying everything possible and acquiring personal experiences; not about learning slabs of history.

The nod to the reader who might wonder where these styles originally come from comes in the blurbs at the beginning of each section. These generally try to cram far too many ideas into too little space and come across as quite confused. Additionally, they’re hard to read due to being set in small caps.

Unfortunately another aspect inherited from the American “craft” movement is a tendency to dodgy history. As Dredge is surely fully aware of the research done by the likes of Ron Pattinson and Martyn Cornell, it’s very disappointing to see the same old myths repeated once more: IPA was a strong beer, Scottish brewers couldn’t get hops to brew with, rye beer is a traditional German style, and so on and so on. Perhaps challenging such sacred cows in the US market was a step too far for the publisher.

There are sections where Dredge attempts to answer questions like “so what is craft beer?” and the perennial “what’s the difference between porter and stout?”, and while his thoughts on those subjects are worth reading, it is painfully obvious that he finds the ideological discourse tiresome and would really rather say “sod that, let’s have another beer!”

Where Dredge comes into his own is in the enthusiastic and imaginative beer and food descriptions, and it’s a pity that he was not given the opportunity to write on food and beer in greater depth rather than having to follow the now rather tired “a picture and a paragraph about x hundred different beers” format. Writing about flavours is his great strength and the text is bursting with pithy, juicy adjectives as he tries to cajole the elusive taste sensations onto paper.

Dredge manages to embrace the new while respecting the traditional, an ability missing in many contemporaries. The book makes up in enthusiasm and excitement for what it lacks in scholarship, as does the movement it explores.

Mark Dredge, Craft beer world: a guide to over 350 of the finest beers known to man. Dog ’n’ Bone Books, London/New York 2013. ISBN: 978 0 957140 99 8

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Brewdog Homebrew School!

I hear that Brewdog are now giving tips to home brewers. I wonder what important things the amateurs could learn?

1. How to fill a bottle to the right level. Oh, wait, no, forget about that.

2. How to make a beer consistent from one batch to the next … um, yeah, we’ll come back to that one.

3. How to recycle and sell your mistakes … oh, you can’t sell homebrew? What a shame, that would have been something we could help with!

4. Tell you what, here’s a baseball cap, now shout “Epic!” and make the sign of rock at the camera like a tosser. Yeah!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Calling a Halt to gentrification

A while back I wrote about the threat to turn venerable Woodlands pub The Halt Bar into a gastropub, ripping out most of the interior and remodelling the whole place, removing the central bar to make space for tables and probably doing away with the rear snug (something which is very rare in Glasgow).

I have nothing against gastropubs, but I liked the Halt just the way it was, and it was never going to be that sort of lucrative establishment in its existing form: it had too many customers who have no money and spend all night with just a couple of pints or a White Russian.

The temptation for every pub company is to attempt to go upmarket (or what they believe is upmarket) – spend a fortune on interior designers, introduce a “strong food offering and the premium drinks brands that consumers love”. But the announcement last autumn that Punch Taverns were planning to do just that provoked protest from the pub’s regulars.

At the time, while I wished the campaigners all the best, I wasn’t optimistic. Pubs like the Halt have been on the retreat for years, driven out of the city centre by a declining customer base and pubcos intent on pushing drinks and food with a higher profit margin.

But the campaign succeeded. Punch met the campaigners and agreed that any revamp would preserve the essential character of the pub – a great victory given their original plan to destroy most of the interior and replace it with something trendier. 

We learned from that experience that Punch themselves didn’t really have a clear idea of what to do with the pub – otherwise they wouldn’t have backed down from their initial proposal so quickly. I speculate that another major factor might have been the paucity of potential partners begging to take on their share of the six-figure refurbishment costs.

What the Halt needed, I thought, was an experienced licensee who understood pubs. There are lots of such people, but they are generally too sensible to agree to the kind of crazy terms that debt-ridden pub companies are in the habit of demanding. So I was pretty much resigned to the place staggering on for a while in the hands of someone desperately trying to scrabble a living from it, while not offering anything that I wanted to drink.

When the doors were shut a few weeks ago, I thought that was the end.

Then I heard it was open again, and went along to take a look. And it is better than I had dared to hope: the new operators have changed hardly anything. The exterior has had a lick of paint. Inside, it seems, well, cleaner. The woodwork doesn’t appear to have been re-varnished, but someone has gone over it with the Mr Sheen. And some of the mirrors and pictures have been moved around. There are pies, the sole concession to the “strong food offering” Punch dreamed of.

The old Halt did have one beer I enjoyed – bottled Kaiserdom Dunkel from Bamberg, not a beer you commonly see here so something of a curiosity. But the loss of that is made up for by the fridge of new arrivals: Thornbridge Kill Your Darlings, Black Isle Yellowhammer, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, Colonsay Lager, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, West St Mungo and several Williams Bros beers. A blackboard promises Marble Dobber and Gordon Scotch Ale in the future.

On the cask front progress is being made. The old bar sold Hobgoblin and Deuchars (if you were lucky and there wasn’t an up-ended pint glass over the pump handle), but I never saw anyone drinking it. On re-opening, the range was still fairly dull – Flying Scotsman, Hobgoblin and Doom Bar – but it was in perfect condition and the bar staff were promoting it. I watched with delighted bemusement as the barman talked a group of four thirtysomething women into getting a round of cask ale. Later I overheard them chattering in French and realised that the barman’s job had been easier than usual – the tourists didn’t have the British cultural baggage telling them that women don’t drink beer. But staff in so many pubs wouldn’t bother to try.

There have been small concessions to going upmarket. The candles in wine bottles are trying a bit too hard and light jazz on the stereo has replaced math-rock. The wall of the snug has sadly been stripped of gig and club posters, which is a shame considering the place’s heritage as a music and musicians’ haunt (Stuart Murdoch and Stevie Jackson first played together here).

And while trying not to be a cheapskate, £3.95 is a lot for a pint of mild any way you look at it; but when I think how close we came to losing the place altogether, I’ll happily fork out the extra pennies. It remains a pub where you can bring in your dog or your bike.

A week after re-opening I pop in after work, with a cold, to find Stewart’s Edinburgh Gold on the bar; also not the most outrageously-flavoured beer in the world but one that fits in well in a pub like this. As time passed, we saw the likes of Black Sheep Bitter and Thwaites Mild. You don’t want to drink Mikkeller in here, after all. It’s a pub in which you skive off university, chill out in the afternoon after a job interview, spend long, drunken evenings talking about Situationism and just before closing time form a band with some people you’ve just met. At least, it always was, and I think it will now remain like that. I certainly hope so.