Friday 8 May 2020

The decline of top-fermenting beer in Germany

We're back with Schönfeld, this time looking at the decline in top fermentation in the 19th century. Though, as we'll see in a minute, the real situation was more nuanced than he makes out.

"d) Development since the beginning of the 19th century
Like the number of local beers, the number of top-fermenting breweries, and the turnover of the breweries of top-fermented beers, decreased. A look at the statistics shows the extent to which conditions in Germany have changed over the past 100 years.

100 years ago, with only a few exceptions, there were only top-fermenting breweries in northern Germany. In Bohemia, too, the top-fermented method of preparation prevailed until the middle of the last century. Only in Bavaria were there bottom-fermenting ones in large numbers. Here, as in Baden and Württemberg, top fermentation soon gave way the bottom fermentation, and only a few businesses remained that brewed in the top fermentation way. What they brewed was wheat beer, which is still enjoyed in some places as a light, clear, carbonated, non-acidic beer."

Top fermentation lasted longer in northern Germany, but had to recede more and more with time before bottom fermentation. In 1873, top-fermenting beers accounted for 40% of total beer production. In 1900 only 17%, and now the proportion of top-fermenting beers is no more than 4%.

All top-fermenting beers that were brewed until around 1900 took shared in the decline."
"Obergärige Biere und ihre Herstellung" by Dr. Franz Schönfeld, 2nd edition, Verlag von Paul Parey, Berlin, 1938, page 130.

This table shows a slightly different story. Though, unfortunately, it only covers a period of 20 years. Between 1882 and 1901, the quantity of top-fermenting beer being produced remained fairly constant. But that meant a proportional decline as overall beer production was increasing rapidly.

Beer production in the Brausteuergebied
top fermenting bottom fermenting
 Year hl % hl %
1882 7,901,207 36 14,211,973 64
1887 8,503,919 31 18,971,927 69
1892 7,664,889 23 25,498,919 77
1897 7,777,049 19 33,654,123 81
1898 7,566,770 18 34,698,630 82
1899 7,280,851 17 35,925,271 83
1900 7,428,980 17 37,300,826 83
1901 7,322,999 16 37,712,996 84
Jahresbericht über die Leistungen der chemischen Technologie, 1903 page 446.

Certain top-fermenting beers cannot be served on draught, for example, Berliner Weisse, Grätzer, Gose. The serving of bottled beer in the taverns, however, does not allow for quick service - and often enough there are cases in which the quickestk service is required - because beer containing yeast must be carefully poured into the glass. It takes time. Far too much in busy periods. Reason enough for landlords to move away from such a beer more and more. Customers had no desire for such a beer, the serving of which put their patience to the test."
"Obergärige Biere und ihre Herstellung" by Dr. Franz Schönfeld, 2nd edition, Verlag von Paul Parey, Berlin, 1938, page 130. 

Odd now to thank that Gose, which is on tap from Sydney too Vancouver, for most of its life was exclusively sold in bottled form. His main point - that bottled beer takes much longer to serve - is true. If the server is pouring it into the glass. If they just whip open the bottle and hand it over, it's just as quick as serving a draught. Personally, I always prefer to pour a bottle-conditioned beer myself. After all my years drinking St. Bernardus, I can pour better than most bar staff.


Steve N said...

When I lived in Northern Germany (Kiel) it never took more than a few seconds for a server to pour a bottled hefeweisse. Its an art form. The two methods I recall are i) angle the glass, pour in the beer in a steady stream, lifting the bottle and glass towards the vertical to ensure a decent head (OK, so that's no different from any other bottled beer of course)...then hold the bottle between two hands, move hands back and forth to agitate the last few centimetres of beer and yeast, and dump that mix into the beer so that the yeast falls slowly through the beer. Takes no longer really than any other beer, and there's a video here (I do not condone the lemon wedge)...; ii) the most impressive way I saw, which is to put the hefeweisse glass upside down on top of the hefeweisse bottle, and in one smooth motion flip the bottle and glass, allowing the beer to come up above the bottom few centimetres of the bottle neck. Then slowly pull the bottle out keeping the neck submerged above the rising level of the beer; when the glass is full, pull the bottle out and you have the beer plus yeast in the glass. The skill here is to ensure a decent head on the beer (maybe 10 centimetres or more) through all of this action. I've seen bar staff in Kiel pour four, five, six beers in a couple of minutes using this second method, each one with a perfect head and no spills. There's actually a video of that second method here...

Anonymous said...

Well, especially the second method is not necessarily the most hygienic or most appetizing one, depending on the cleanliness of the bottle. When I was working in a Munich coffee shop and served a customer his Weissbier that way, I was heavily criticized for using the aforementioned technique for just those reasons. However, privately I don't care that much and still pour my Weissbier that way.
Cheers! -S.