Tuesday, 24 March 2015

American Weiss Beer

I love finding evidence. Especially when it helps settle an argument. And when it lets me combine two of my running themes.

There seems to be some doubt on the interweb as to exactly what type of beer American Weiss was. The Wahls, as you may recall, were quite definite that it was a version of Berliner Weisse:

"American Weiss Beer. This beer is brewed from wheat and barley malt according to methods described for Berliner Weiss Beer.”
"Beer from the Expert's Viewpoint" by Arnold Spencer Wahl and Robert Wahl, 1937, pages 156 - 157.

Some still struggle to believe this and insist it must have been in the Bavarian style. I’m sure they’re wrong. For one thing, when the style emerged in the 19th century, Bavarian Weissbier was incredibly obscure, only produced by a few breweries in the South of Germany. Whereas the North German styles of Weissbier, especially Berliner Weisse, were much better known.

Here’s a slightly more expansive description pf American Weiss Beer from the start of the last century:

The process of manufacture of this beer may be copied from the German methods. However, the material employed and method of mashing is usually quite different. Wheat malt is sometimes, but not generally, used. Instead, grits are employed to the amount of about 30 per cent, together with pale malt. The grits are treated as usual, the mash is started at about 40° R (122º F.), and temperature raised by addition of grits mash and water to about 58º R. (162º F.). The wort is boiled for a short period (about 30 minutes) with hops from one-half to three-quarters pound per barrel.

Strength of wort about 10 to 12 per cent Balling. For treatment of beer during fermentation, see "Berliner Weiss Beer." Ale yeast should not be employed as is often the case but yeast from a Weiss beer yeast should be obtained in case of need. In America the fermentation is generally conducted in vats instead of casks, in which case the yeast is skimmed off. After fermentation the beer is krausened and filled in bottles. Undoubtedly the American article could be much improved by employing the materials, as well as the mashing method in vogue in German Weiss beer breweries, especially the material, as grits will under no circumstances yield those albuminoids that give Weiss beer its character, as wheat malt does. Certainly there seems no reason why American Weiss beer brewers should not be able to procure a good wheat malt.

Weiss beer in America is sometimes stored, bunged, and fined like lager beer, but a brilliant Weiss beer does not seem to catch the fancy of the consumers, who are accustomed to the cloudy, lively article of Berlin fame."
"American handy-book of the brewing, malting and auxiliary trades" by Wahl and Henius, 1902, page 817.

As we’ve learned recently, German versions of the style haven’t always contained wheat either. Though I’m pretty sure they never included corn grits.

Funnily enough, that mashing method isn’t a million miles away from one from 1837 I’ve just translated. Though the earlier one started cooler. At 10º to 12º Balling, the gravity is about the same as in Berlin in the 19th century. Modern German versions are weaker.

The major differences with German methods are the fermentation in a vat and fining the finished beer. I assume they also artificially carbonated it.

Oh yes, that evidence. It comes from I book I’ve had for a couple of years (in digital form) but never properly looked at. Silly me. It’s got some very handy beer analyses. Including these:

Average composition of American malt liquors, as shown by analyses made for New York State Board of Health by F. E. Englehardt, Ph. D.
Kind. Specific gravity. Alcohol by weight. Extract. Ash. Phosphoric acid.
Per cent. Per cent. Per cent, Percent.
Lager, 172 samples 1.016 3.754 5.864 0.259 0.0964
Ale, 199 samples 1.013 4.622 5.423 0.307 0.0832
Porter, 70 samples 1.015 4.462 6.003 0.345 0.0942
Weiss, 28 samples 1.006 1.732 2.356 0.189 0.0491
Foods and Food Adulterants, Part Third: Fermented Alcoholic Beverages, Malt Liquors, Wine, and Cider. by C.A. Crampton, 1887, page 278.

Look at the alcohol content: under 2% ABW, about 2.2% ABV. Not much like the Bavarian style. The low extract tells us that it’s also quite highly attenuated. So we have a low-gravity, low-alcohol, highly-attenuated beer. All characteristics of Berliner Weisse.

There’s that settled.


Stott Noble said...

What do you make of the Phosphoric Acid measurements in the table? Could this be an indicator of overall acidity "as phoosphoric acid?" Or do you think it's just a measurement of how much of that particular acid was added?

Ron Pattinson said...


I've come across Phosphoric Acid in analyses before. Absolutely no idea what it tells us. Or why they measured it.

Paul said...

Here's a few 19th-early 20th century US articles about Weiss beer (details are sketchy about the types).

The alcohol content of Weiss beer in Chicago is said to be 8% in the following article from 1895.

An Episcopal bishop became well known for trying to cut down on drunkenness by serving non-alcoholic beer at the restaurant he ran.

The article describes a "remarkably funny incident" where they ran out of his standard "beerette" and was convinced to sell Weiss beer instead on the grounds that it was also non-alcoholic. He was later threatened by revenue officers on the grounds that his substitute was 8% in alcohol and he needed a license to sell it.


Is it possible that he was selling some kind of concentrated Weiss? This article (advertisement?) mentions "The Berlin White Beer in condensed condition is transported to all parts of the world, and lasts for years without losing its taste. The freight and duty is 80 per cent. less than any other beer. It can be easily prepared by anyone, and is a very refreshing and not intoxicating drink."


Meanwhile, this account from NYC in 1883 describes a court case where the percentage of alcohol in Weiss beer is claimed to be 1.5%.


This article describes a bar bet in 1887 where drinkers in NYC were challenged to drink an entire glass of Weiss beer in one draught, but failed due to the extreme carbonation:


This article repeats the claim that you can't get drunk on Weiss beer, and describes a man who drinks so much that his stomach inflates like a balloon:


Anonymous said...

What is said about fining in the book? Nothing seems to be mentioned in the quoted section and I suppose you don't mean the skimming.

Ron Pattinson said...


I can't remember seeing anything about fining. Though I haven't read every single word of the book.