Monday, 11 April 2011

Malt Liquors Sold in the UK - Vienna Beer

Isn't this exciting? Our first glimpse into the world of 19th-century malt liquors. And where better to start than that perennial favourite of mine, Vienna Lager. Yes, Mr. Dreher does get a mention.


The chief peculiarity of this beer, like that of Bavaria and other parts of Germany, is due to the fermentation of the wort being conducted very slowly at a low temperature, and so that the yeast produced meanwhile falls to the bottom of the liquor instead of rising as froth to the surface. The beer brewed by this sedimentary fermentation keeps better than that made by the frothing fermentation at a higher temperature, and it bears contact with atmospheric air without turning sour, which is not the case with much of the beer brewed in this country for ordinary consumption. The difference between these two kinds of fermentation, is explained by Liebig as consisting in the greater facility which sedimentary fermentation affords for the oxidation and perfect separation of the soluble gluten of the wort by atmospheric air. In the frothing fermentation, this is, to a great extent, prevented by the thick layer of yeast formed on the surface of the liquor, and then the gluten, in its conversion into yeast, appears to abstract oxygen from the sugar, so that the proportion of this substance to gluten is reduced, and, after the fermentation is completed, some unaltered gluten remains, which, by a subsequent process, determines the conversion of alcohol into acetic acid. In sedimentary fermentation, on the contrary, there is little or no scum formed on the surface of the liquor, and air has free access to it, so that less or none of the gluten is left unconverted into yeast.

The storing or maturing of this kind of beer is another point to which great attention is paid ; and instead of being stored in enormous vats, as in this country, casks are used, which are placed in cellars, where a low and uniform temperature is maintained. The basaltic and other porous volcanic rocks, abounding in the Rhine district, afford great facilities for the construction of such cellars, and the rapid growth of the beer-brewing trade there is mainly owing to this circumstance. In Bavaria and the Austrian dominions, ice is largely employed for keeping the store-cellars at a low temperature.

Generally speaking, the beer drunk in Austria and Germany has less alcoholic strength than that consumed here. The strongest Kinds, such as those known in Bavaria by the names "Holy Father", "Salvator", and "Buck", rarely contain so much as 5 per cent, by weight of absolute alcohol. The store-beer, or lager bier, generally contains about 3.5 per cent., ranging from 4 to 2.8 per cent. ; and the ordinary beer for quick draught, schenk bier, corresponding in that respect to our porter, contains from 2.25 to 3.5 per cent, of alcohol. In the Austrian dominions, the beer is generally preferred rather weaker than in Bavaria ; but in Austria, the organisation of the breweries, and the system of conducting the business, have been developed in such a manner as to assimilate more to the vast establishments we have in this country.

Two kinds of Austrian beer are now being imported into England ; one is stated to be brewed by Dreher, at Schwechat, near Vienna ; the other, by the Brewery Company at Liesing, also near Vienna. An examination of these, as obtained at the several places where they are retailed, has given the following results.

Dreher's Beer, bought at the Vienna Restaurant, 395, Strand Liesing Beer bought at the Crown Coffee House, 41, Holborn
Specific gravity 1019.76 1019.11
Alcohol  4.43 4.45
Acetic acid  0.12 0.12
Extract  7.05 6.82
Original gravity  1062.27 1061.67

Both these samples of beer, when fresh drawn, were tolerably bright, and had a thick persistent foam on the surface. The taste, especially of Dreher's beer, is sweeter and more luscious than that of English beer, different, however, from that of Scotch ale ; and there is a peculiar flavour of barley. The hop flavour is distinct in both, and the bitterness more perceptible, a minute or so, after drinking. As will be seen from the above results of analysis, there is no very great difference between the two samples in regard to quality, so far as that can be determined on the principle already described; the proportions of malt used in brewing, as indicated by the original gravities, being for—

Dreher's beer 2.30 bushels per barrel of 36 gallons.
Liesing beer 2.28     ,,           „              ,,

Altogether, however, these samples of beer do not appear to be equal in character to the best beer met with in Vienna or Pesth, although the price of sixpence per pint is about three times as much as is charged there.
"British Medical Journal 1869, vol. 1", 1869, pages 83 - 84.

This was written just before the arrival of artificial refrigeration. A key event in the spread of bottom-fermentation. Until then it had only been practical in places with good cellars and supplies of natural ice. Like, er, Bavaria. Areas without these resources couldn't brew Lager until they had ice machines.

Continental Lager weaker than British beer. It's weird reading that. The change that reversed the situation was almost all on the British side. Except for Salvator, or Bock, which is now stronger than in the 19th century. Think about it, a Doppelbock that's less than 6.25% ABV. Standard Lagers have stayed about the same strength, 5%-ish.

The beers analysed, at around 15º Plato, look to be Märzens. The blanket statement that Austrians preferred their beer weaker than in Bavaria isn't universally correct. In Vienna, average strength was pretty high, with Märzen beer popular.

Old descriptions of beer flavour are often frustrating. Or frustratingly imprecise. "sweeter and more luscious" - what exactly does that mean? I suppose less well attenuated, for one. And it wasn't like Scotch Ale. There's one in the eye for those arguing that Scotch Ale was somehow Lager-like. The hop flavour is distinct? That's not telling us much either, other than that you could taste hops. Sweet, luscious and hoppy. No, i'm not really any the wiser.

Next it's the turn of Vienna Beer's big Lager rival: Bavarian Beer. I cn't wait.


Barm said...

The general rise in attenuation of German beers in the 20th century would seem to account for much of the difference in strength to their 19th century equivalents - it is, of course, more noticeable in beers with a hihger original gravity.

The obvious exception is Franconia, where a lot of brewers are, presumably, still brewing much as their grandfathers did. And they do taste pretty much like the beers described; sweet and luscious with a distinct taste of barley.

I like the terminology too: "There are two kinds of beer: frothing fermentation beer and sedimentary fermentation beer". I wonder how that would go down on TickBeer?

Gary Gillman said...

I wonder if the yeasts generally used then tended to produce lower attenuation rates, i.e., exception made for the few stronger German lagers available at the time.

I commented, under the current posting, that German beers today seem generally in accord with the taste descriptions in these old notes. I was referring really though to Bavarian lager and also some others, e.g., Pilsner Urquell and some other Czech beers, and Gosser and some other Austrian beers, which to me have a notable sweetness.

I recognize that many other lagers in Germany today, and some indeed in Bavaria (e.g. Paulaner), are less malty.

I wonder if development of yeasts over 100 years and more has tended to produce specimens that will yield a circa 5% ABV beer within (to boot) a relatively short lagering period.


Martyn Cornell said...

sweeter and more luscious than that of English beer, different, however, from that of Scotch ale

I suspect this may be a reference to "Scotch Ale" the style, the cousin to Burton Ale, which would perhaps be the sort of Scottish brew most familiar in England, rather than Scottish beers in general.

Thomas Barnes said...

@Gary Gillman. The lower attenuation rates might also be due to lack of proper pitching rates. Lager beer requires more yeast starter, especially for the bigger beers. Before the mechanics of cell counts, growth rates and whatnot were worked out, making lager beer might have been much more of a guessing game.