Tuesday, 22 July 2008

German top-fermenting beers 1850 - 1910

Time to look at German Ales. Sorry, German top-fermenting beers. The period I've chosen is when most of them began their dash to extinction. Very few of the styles listed still exist. Those that do won't require a second had to count all the examples.

What are the common characteristics of many traditional German top-fermenting styles? Low ABV and high level of acidity. That about sums them up. A beer like Berliner Weisse, nowadays at the extreme low end of ABV and extreme high end of acidity, was a fairly run-of-the-mill beer 150 years ago.

Many of those listed above would nowadays barely qualify as beer because of their minimal alcohol content. In fact, the Gose aside, I doubt any of them could get you very intoxicated. It's no wonder North Germans were prepared to pay more for Bayerisches Lagerbier with 4-5% ABV.

The contrast with British Ales of the same period is striking. These range from 5% to over 10% ABV.

But the story is more complicated than that. At the same time there were top-fermenting beers - such as Mumme ot Adambier - with massive OG's. Though, as in the case of Mumme, this didn't necessarily a mean a high ABV.

Adambier sounds impressive. I know at least one brewer in the States has had a go at it.


Kristen England said...

Great stuff Ron. Gives me much more insight into the acid levels of the varying beers. Specifically Berliner weisse and Lichtenhainer.

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Interesting. The existence of most of these styles was news to me.

But, what was the scale used to measure acidity?

Ron Pattinson said...

Good question Lars. For most of the entries it's the percentage by weight of lactic acid. Some include acetic acid, too.

Acidity is an important figure, but it's measured in many different ways. It can make direct comparisons difficult. I include it as an indicator rather than as an absolute value,

Glad some of you enjoy this stuff. It's all being assembled into my crazy spreadsheet. I want the facts on every beer.

I like crazy goals. Learning the characteristics of every beer brewer in the last 100 years is a bit crazy. But I believe it can be done.

Marcus Oregonensis said...

I wonder if some of those low-gravity items may have been wheat-malt based (like Broyhan).

In one of your older posts, I seem to remember reading a German explanation that wheat was more than twice the price of barley.

Here it is: http://www.beerinator.com/beerfeeds2/Shut_up_about_Barclay_Perkins/2008/03/23/Breihan_(Broyhan)_part_II

Marcus Oregonensis said...

Oops, bad link.

It was a March 23 post entitled "Breihan (Broyhan) Part II."

Ron Pattinson said...


many of the north German Weissbiers sometimes contained wheat and sometimes didn't.

Marcus Oregonensis said...

Interesting indeed.

I was wondering (but for some puzzling reason did not expressly suggest) whether the relative expense of malted wheat might have accounted for those low initial gravity numbers.

I'd also love to know what tool or process the brewers used to measure acidity by weight.

Josquin said...

That Mumme looks thoroughly interesting. It must have been quite sweet. Had you ever come across it before?

Ron Pattinson said...

Marcus, many were brewed from air-dried malt which gives a poorer yield than kiln-dried malt.

Josquin, Mumme was ludicrously sweet. Nettelbeck still make one, though it's non-alcoholic:


I've mentioned Mumme (or the English spelling Mumm) in earlier posts: