Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Early 20th century German lager

Looking back on recent posts, I realise I've been short-changing you on tables and numbers. This post will have little else.

It's been a while since I've written about anything German. Or lager. Both of those topics, as you'll have noticed from the title if you're paying attention, will be covered today.

Remember who I keep banging on about how beer styles mutate over the years? That doesn't only apply to Britain. Lager styles have changed, too, though not quite as dramtically.

What do I mean? Take a look at the gravities. The dark lagers in particular had higher gravities than today. But the the crap degree of attenuation left them under 5% ABV, despite having gravities over 1055. Modern dark lagers are quite different. Look below.

Modern dark lagers are below 13° Plato, yet have a tad more alcohol than 100 years ago. The gravity of Export has been whittled away even more. Increasing the degree of has maintained its alcohol level, too. In general, modern lagers are considerably more attenuated than their ancestors.


Tandleman said...

Ron was there in your view a commercial or technical reason for such poorly attenuated beers, or was it something else?

Tandleman said...

Sorry if this is repeated, but why do you reckon the beers weren't more fully attenuated? Commercial or technical considerations? Or did they just like it sweeter in those days?

Ron Pattinson said...

Tandleman, in the case of dark lagers, it does look like a technical limitation. You should see the 19th century ones. The early versions of Salvator are barely 50% attenuated.

My guess would be that it's connected with the malt used and mashing techniques employed.

Glad I'm not the only one interested in this.

Anonymous said...

I think in the period mentioned and before, sweetness was more prized. I visited a former sugar plantation in New Orleans last year. I was surprised at the very high price of sugar in the 1800's, it was a form of white gold. Once the price went down to a low point, it stayed there to this day, basically. I think people got their sugar fix from converted cereal starches, often.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, I don't think it's a sugar thing. Sugar was cheap by the end of the 19th century, after they started getting it from sugar beet.

Any brewers know a technical reason why attenuation would have been poor? My guess would be poorly-modified and quite dark Munich malt as the base grain. But what do I know? I'm not a brewer.

Anonymous said...

Ron you are right but I was thinking about your comment of low attenuation rates (circa 50-60%) in many mid-1800's German lagers and I've seen those tables on earlier forays through your blog. Could public taste have become fixed...? It did in England perhaps via continuation of the character of milds.


Anonymous said...

My guess for the poor attentuation would be either:

1. High mash temperatures resulting in large amounts of partially or totally unfermentable dextrinous sugars or possibly destruction of some of the mash enzymes leading to considerable amounts of unfermentable stach in the wort (this would cause the beer to be cloudy) or
2. Poor aeration of the wort and/or low yeast pitching rates both od which can low levels of yeast cells in the fermenting wort and would lead to low attenuation or

3. The yeast just settled out of solution quickly. If it was not roused back into the wort fermentation would effectively cease. I am thinking of the sort of yeast used in yorkshire squares which has to be contiuously roused.

Ron Pattinson said...

MentalDental, you can find details of the Munich mashing method here:


Anonymous said...

Ah! now my experience of decoction is nearly zero. Come on, I'm British. None of this fancy continental nonsense for me, thank you!

But the description of the technique sounds about right. Does the original say how long the mash stands at the saccrification step at 60-62.5C degrees? That's a pretty low temp and should make a very fermetable wort. Unless they didn't leave it at the temperature long enough.

Of course all that boiling destroys enzymes so if the malts were deficient in enzymes this could cause incomplete conversion of the starch in the grist.

So now we might consider:

1. Rubbish continental malt! Those foreigners.
2. Lots of munich malt causing excessive residual sugar.
3. Flocculant yeast.
4. Poor aeration.

I would have thought the yeast would have been sorted out in a continental brewery by then. I understand that Hansen's work was adopted pretty rapidly once it was published in 1883.

Or maybe the drinkers just liked poorly attenuated beer.

You tell me! I'm stumped.