Sunday, 10 August 2014

German Top-Fermentation Breweries

Here's something else I can't claim the credit for finding. Now I just have to remember who passed it on to me. I never thought I'd be complaining about having too much material, but that's exactly what's happened. I sometimes feel I'm going down for the third time in an ocean of data.

German top-fermenting beer. One of my many things. And I couldn't ignore this artiucle as it comes from thge master himself, Schönfeld. Probably my favourite German author after Erich Maria Remarque and Klaus Mann.

"German Top-Fermentation Breweries.*
The author undertook a journey last autumn with the object of obtaining information and samples, and I now gives the result of his labours.

The brewing of top-fermentation beer is chiefly confined to North and Central Germany, but even there in most cases only holds a secondary position, less care beimg bestowed on its preparation than on that of the loW fermentation varieties.

Usually three kinds of top-fermentation beer are brewed: white beer, bitter, and single or brown beer. The mashing process varies considerably, being in some cases by infusion alone, in others by decoction, and in and in others again a combination of both systems is pursued. Initial heats vary from about 30°—45º R. (100º—133º F), saccharification temperatures between 50° and 56º R. (144º—158º F.), and the whole process occupies some seven or eight hours. The differential treatment for the production of the various kinds of beers mentioned begins after the mashing is completed with the exception that colouring matter when used is added previous to boiling. The beers are mostly weak, 12 per cent, being an unusual strength, the worts averaging 6—8 per cent, of extract, some sinking as low as 3 per cent. White beer is, on the whole, the richest in extract, with 8—10 per cent., although some of the bitter beers are brewed with 10 to 12 per cent.

The worts after staying a short time in the cooler are ready for pitching, but there does not appear to be usually any great anxiety to maintain regularity in this respect. Where more care is exercised 16º—18° R (68º—72.5° F.), or a couple of degrees higher in winter, is about the figure, none going below 12° R. (59° F.) and only one as high as 22° R. (81º F.).

The yeast is first mixed with a few litres of wort and when fermentation commences is added to the bulk. In some instances low-fermentation yeasts are employed to give a milder and more pleasant flavour to the beer, but the same conditions of fermentation and storage are maintained. No exact distinction between primary and secondary fermentation  is maintained, the former being considered terminated when the surface of the beeer remains clear and quiet after removal of the yeast, a stage generally reached in 5 to 6 days. The head first thrown up is chiefly a scum of resins, &c., and is usually thrown away. On removal to the storage cask the secondary fermention continues without a break and a copious head is now expelled through the bung hole, whence it runs down into a receptacle on the floor, these runnings being used to fill up the fermenting-tun. After some forty-eight hours the fermentation slackens, the head then remaining compact without overflowing, and so continues for a further 4 - 6 days at a temperature of about 10 - 15º R. (54.5º - 66º F) by which time the final attenuation will have been reached. The beer is then either left to ripen in the storage cask or is mixed with fresh beer (from low-fermentation "kraüsen" beer) and sent out in barrels to the retailer, who either leaves it to ripen or bottles it (often adding water), no attempt at clarification being made in the brewery ; indeed, beer is often sent out directly after the primary fermentation is over.

The yeast employed in pitching is seldom of pure culture ; generally the head skimmed from one tun is used for a fresh batch without washing, and sometimes both head and sediment are mixed up for use. Notwithstanding this method of procedure the beer is expected to be brilliant and stable, with a firm sedimental yeast in bottle so in many instances the adoption of pure cultures would be highly desirable. It is somewhat remarkable in view of the great risk of infection from the methods of manipulation employed in the majority of cases examined that streak cultures of the yeasts and samples of beer exhibited a very low proportion of wild yeasts, a circumstance probably due to the high fermenting temperatures. Bacteria, particularly lactic, and acetic-acid ferments, were rather more prevalent, and as their presence is undesirable except in the case of Berlin "Weissbier," it is evident that a greater amount of care and cleanliness would be benficial."

* F Schönfeld in the "Woch. f. Brau.," No. 24.
"The Country Brewer", November 21st, 1895, page 778.

I'll translate those three beer types back into German to make it more obvious what they are: Weissbier, Bitterbier and Braunbier. Weissbier means stuff like Berliner Weisse, Broyhan (still just about clinging on at this point), Lichtenhainer and similar. Braunbier or Einfachbier was low-gravity, coloured brown and sometimes sweetened, though I'm not sure if that was the case in the 1890's. Bitterbier I think is the precursor of Kölsch and Alt. I've also seen it called Rheinisch Bitterbier.

We've seen plenty of times before that the old top-fermenting styles - with a couple of exceptions - weren't very alcoholic. By extract they mean the gravity in degrees Balling. 6º to 8º Balling is approximately 1024º to 1032º. But because these types of beer often had pathetically low attenuation, the ABV would have been under 2% in many cases. From other sources, it does seem that Bitterbier was usually brewed at Vollbier gravity, that is 11 to 12º Balling.

I was slightly surprised that decoction mashing was sometimes used. I've always had the impressiuon that  most of the top-fermenting breweries were pretty small and had basic equipment. Which would make decoction a bit tricky.

If those are pitching temperatures, they're very high. British breweries pitched at 57º to 64º F, depending on the gravity of the wort. I can't say that the yeast handling sounds very professional. Sounds like it was asking for an infection. 5 to 6 days primary sopunds very look consiudering the low gravity of the wort and the high fermentation temperature. The secondary fermentation sounds very much like cleansing in pontos. Except that the expelled beer was returned to a fermenting vessel rather than the cask.

I've read in otehr places about beer being sent out at the end of primary fermentation. Berliner Weisse, Berliner Braunbier and Gose were all handled this way. And I know that Berliner Weiss was often watered at bottling time. SOmething I'm pretty sure would have beem illegal in Britain. Was kräusening top-fermenting beer with bottom-fermenting beer allowed in the Reinheitsgebot? Given the rules for top- and bottom-fermenting beer were different, it wouldn'y shock me if you hadn't been allowed to mix them.

I don't think it was just Berliner Weisse where the presence of acidifying bacteria didn't matter: it wasn't the only sour style.

For once, there's no more to come. That's it.


Matt said...

"Braunbier or Einfachbier was low-gravity, coloured brown and sometimes sweetened"

Sounds a bit like mild.

Gary Gillman said...

That's very interesting Ron. His last lines are instructive: it is obvious that much top-fermentation beer was sourish, as has continued in Belgium for parts of its TF tradition e.g. some saison. Clearly little of the beer was brettish however, and given the choices between lactic/acetic and brett, I can see that they opted for the former. This is a good text because it stands as a template for the demise of TF beer in north Europe generally. I sometimes wonder even today where TF survives whether we really get the true taste, because abandonment of plural yeasts, virtually invariable use of refrigeration in different stages of the process and use of disinfectants and cleansers for mashing and fermentation vessels has resulted surely in a kind of quasi-lager. Even in his time, they were starting to use bottom yeasts for a cleaner flavour and today whatever yeast type you use is always influenced by cylindro-conical fermenters, which some feel has done in the flavour of Chimay, for example. I'm not saying his world's TF beers as better, in fact the contrary seems to have been true, but it was surely different.


bernd said...

you are right Schönfeld is always nice to read.

about the "Reinheitsgbot": there was no such thing in the northern States (Prussia where Schönfeld was) until 1906 (Brausteuergesetz)
sugars were then just allowed for top fermenting beer.

BryanB said...

Ah-ha! This is some of what I've been trying to find in terms of the ancestry of the modern German Braunbiers, Rotbiers, Alts and so on.

I've a sketched-out blog post (a thought piece) in draft, trying to figure out if there is a relationship between the Alt family (in which I'd include Hövels Original and maybe Duckstein), the Rotbiers (claimed as a northern speciality, though often now bottom-fermented, it seems) and the Braunbiers.

Part of the problem is that Braunbier seems to be used for different things in different places. In Franconia it can mean a copper-coloured Dunkel Vollbier, for example. Then a chap at Weihenstephan told me Braunbier was a synonym for Dunkel Lagerbier, as in Munich Dunkel - hmm!

Again, the Bavarians say Braunbier was first brewed in 1590 at Trausnitz, and that it denoted barley beer as opposed to wheat (weiss) beer.

Would 1590 have meant top-fermenting though? In which case we're looking at Braunbier being perhaps the standard brown barley beer, with the divergence to bottom-fermenting in the south coming later.

Gary Gillman said...

Interesting about the sugar and TF beer in this period (i.e., comment of bernd above), this must have been due to English influence. Clearly the Germans were very particular about what they wanted from English brewing in this period, taking ideas they liked (including porter and possibly light kilning from pale malt) but sticking to their development of BF as a surer way to stable beers.

Ron Pattinson said...

Matt, weaker than Mild and sweetened with artificial sweetener.

Ron Pattinson said...


it's true that it means something different in the North and the South. Both Dunkles, Bock and Doppelbock would be considered Braunbier in Bavaria.

I've never found any good source on the origins of modern Altbier.

Weissbier has nothing to do with the use of wheat. It just means a beer brewed from air-dried malt while Brainbier means something from kiln-dried malt.

I'm sure Braunbier goes back further than 1590 and I'm pretty sure they were already bottom fermenting by then.

BryanB said...

Ron, I think the 1590 quote is from a Bavarian source and is therefore Bavarocentric. I think it is the (alleged) date of the first bottom-fermented dark lager which is what the Bavarians think of now as Braunbier, and not the date of the first beer to be labelled Braunbier - and especially not of any of that northern muck... (-;