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.


  1. Will there be a translation of the whole text to English? I'd love to read the whole text. Thanks for letting me know this exists.

  2. Probably not, it is faster and easier to paraphrase the most interesting bits than to do a proper translation. I will try to get all the most important information across.

  3. Thanks for working on this. I took a look at the 30 scanned pages online and thought, yeah, I'd translate that for the right money.

    What's he say about rheinisches Bitterbier? That's the Kölsch you mentioned, right?

  4. Nick, he doesn’t discuss it other than this one mention.