Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Cologne brewhouse in 1907

I love old books and magazines. As you might have realised over the last few days. So full of  fascinating stuff. To me, at least.

I thought this might interest a couple of you. It's a report about a couple of Cologne breweries, one top and one bottom-fermenting. A very early reference to Kölcsh, though it isn't mentioned by name:

"On our arrival at Cologne, the friends who met us there informed us that they could not offer us the inspection of large breweries such as we should have seen in Berlin and other parts, but they had many small breweries, and, if of interest, they would arrange for us to look over any of them.

We were taken to a small brewery, known as the Obergahriges Restaurant Brewery, which had been working about two years, and whose beers at the moment were exceedingly popular in the town. It was a large restaurant brewing its own beer; behind the restaurant was a model brewing plant, with everything nicely arranged, covering a space of 100 feet square ; the whole plant had been erected at a cost of £2000.

The beer was produced on the top-fermenting system: it was fermented for four days, then run into the lagers and stored for eight weeks, afterwards chilled and filtered, and served up in the usual way. Its gravity was 17 lb., and we again noticed the pronounced hop flavour which finds such ready appreciation with Germans. The whole of the brewery production was sold in the restaurant (at the time of our visit, about 12.30 in the day, we found 200 customers there), and, as far as I could ascertain, their trade was not less than 100 English barrels per week, to us a large and remarkable trade for one restaurant. We were told, much to our surprise, that the majority of the restaurants brewed their own beer.

We also visited a still smaller brewery, connected with a small restaurant resembling the home brewery attached to the licensed house, frequently found in this country. The proprietor informed us that he was only able to brew during the winter months, but he brewed sufficient then to carry him through the summer. In his case he brewed with bottom-yeast, and he was able to carry through his fermentation successfully at about 50° F. When the beer had gone through its course of fermentation, it was filled into lagers of 12 to 15 English barrel capacity, and removed to the town cellars, where large quantities of beer were stored for small brewers, and the casks were taken out one at a time as required.

It will be noticed that the small brewer was maturing his lager at cellar temperature, viz., 52° (a high temperature in comparison with the large breweries), and I was astonished to find he was able to do without an expensive ice plant, and still produce a beer which I considered equal to any lager I had tasted; it had the pronounced hop flavour, and was very pleasant and refreshing, although perhaps a little too bitter. His trade, he informed me, was from 10 to 15 barrels per week. This was also the only case where I found the boiling of wort done by fire in place of steam."
"Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 14", 1908, pages 50 - 51.

A couple of points. First, how bitter both beers were. I'd though that, in this period, British beers were much more heavily hopped. Secondly, I methods used by the Lager brewer seem a little weird. I'm surprised that he could brew a decent Lager without any refrigeration or ice.


Gary Gillman said...

The high hopping must have permitted the preservation, and there seems a resemblance to a point with an English stock beer - or dare I say, a traditional Scotch Ale. Still, it seems odd that an English palate would find such a beer too bitter.


Barm said...

At the moment I'm translating a thing by Heinrich Becker of Gaffel where he says that Kölsch used to be much more heavily hopped than it is now (and credits his own firm with introducing the milder style). I rather suspect that many German beers were hoppier in the past than at present. I'd love to find a comparison of hopping rates for German Pilsner beers, for example. It will be interesting to see what happens when hops become fashionable again in Germany.

Ron Pattinson said...

Barm, the Koelsch Convention says Koelsch should be "hop-accented". I wouldn't describe many of the current versions as that.

Schoenfeld makes an intriguing mention of a type of beer called "Rheinisch Bitterbier" which sounds like it encompasses both Alt and Koelsch.

When I have time, I'd love to investigate the history of Alt and Koelsch. I've never read anything that explained properly how they evolved.

First Stater said...

Interesting stuff. According to that repository of knowledge Wikipedia Kolsch was first identified in 1906 so this is a very early account. Anything you can dig up on the history of Kolsch would be great.

Thomas Barnes said...

Another wonderful post! It seems that, in many ways, Cologne had the same system of brewpubs and microbreweries a century ago that it has today.

What I want to know though, is when did Koelsch lose its hoppiness, and why?

Ron, some strains of yeast have a very "neutral" profile, unless they're fermented at very warm temperatures. Also, 50-52 degrees F is cool enough to restrain flavor development in a properly-adapted yeast.

So, while it's a neat trick to get a lager-like character with warm fermentation and conditioning temperatures, it's not impossible. I think that's why the author saw fit to mention it.

@ Gary Gillman said...

"Still, it seems odd that an English palate would find such a beer too bitter."

This might have been individual preference, a bad reaction to an unfamiliar hop variety, or an actual fault in the beer - if the writer wrote [hop] "bitterness" when he meant "astringency."

It could also indicate that, despite high hopping levels in English beer of the time, actual levels of bitterness were lower that what we might believe. We've got no information on alpha acid levels for hops of the period, nor how much of their alpha acids the hops lost before they got to the brew kettle.