Monday, 20 August 2012

Grätzer beer

Do you remember the days when I used to write regularly about my favourite obscure extinct beer styles? Well those days have returned. At least for one day.

Grätzer is a beer I can never get enough of. In a literary sense. Physically, I've only had a single bottle home-brewed by Kristen. I'm hoping to get more. Much more. Which, indirectly, is why I'm writing this now. Confused? All will become clear in the near future.

"Grätzer beer (from the small town of Gratz in Posen)
This bright, light, highly effervescent fine wheat beer is shipped far. It owes its peculiarities of the use of willow bark. It has a slight taste of smoke from the drying of the malt with smoke. Mashing is done by infusion, but willow bark is scattered on the cooler, and on the next day it is put into the fermentation vat. In this way you create fermentation material from one brew to the next. The beer is well mixed and immediately filled into barrels that have a wide bung hole, which is bunged with straw. The beer is delivered to the customer in this state. While being transported foam penetrates through the straw in the bung hole. Landlords put the beer in the cellar, leave it with open bungs for a further eight days, after which a foamy cap forms. After this time the beer has been fermented, but is still thick with sediment. Draymen also bring landlords isinglass finings, which are used to fine the beer. After it has cleared, it is filled into half bottles and left to lie until it is sparkling, which often requires a period of several weeks. People who have become used to the beer like no other drink. Hence it is that, for example, an inn in Breslau always has 15 to 20,000 bottles of such beer in stock.

The willow bark contains tannin and a well known bitter substance, which is recommended as a substitute of China and is called salicin.

Habich makes (Bierbrauer 1864 p 119) this comment: If willow bark is regarded as the instigator of the fermentation, then there's no reason to suspect the cooler. The real cause lies in the movements of the transport casks in which there is always enough yeast left from the previous fermentation. Habich is here again very fast with his claim.

* Willow bark added to a glucose solution gives rise to a vinous fermentation."
"J.C. Leuchs Braulexikon", 1867, pages 65 - 66 (my translation).

Can you guess what got me excited about this? Pretty obvious, really: the use of willow bark. Not very Reinheitsgebot, but remember Gratz (Grodzisk) is long, long way from Bavaria. And the text is from the 19th century, decades before it became law in this part of Germany. In fact, it was in effect for a very short time here. The Reinheitsgebot was only applied to the whole of Germany in 1906 and Grodzisk became part of Poland in 1920.

Why would they add the willow bark in the cooler? I'd guess to infuse the wort. I assume the idea was to have it added while the wort was still hot.

Salicin is a painkiller. The one from which aspirin was developed. Sounds like a great idea to me, having the hangover cure in the beer itself. But somehow I doubt that was the reason for its use.

The fermentation is also intriguing. It seems Grätzer fermented during transport and in the pub cellar. That's a bit like Berliner Weisse and Gose, which were also sent out very young in barrels and then bottled by publicans. The use of isinglass is different, though. I can't remember reading of it being used to clear any other type of German beer.

Here's the German original, in case you don't trust my translation:

"Grätzer Bier (vom Städtchen Grätz im Posenschen)
Dieses helle leichte feine stark schäumende Weißbier wird weit versandt. Es soll seine Eigenheiten der Anwendung von Weidenrinde verdanken. Ein leichter Rauchgeschmack den es hat rührt vom Darren des Malzes mit Rauch. Das Einmaischen geschieht durch Aufguß, auf die Kühle aber wird Weidenrinde (Lohe) gestreut und diese am nächsten Tag auch in den Gärbottich gebracht. Auf diese Weise macht man sich von Gebräu zu Gebräu Ferment. Das Bier wird gut durcheinander gearbeitet und sofort auf Fässer gefüllt, die ein weites Spundloch haben, welches mit Stroh gespundet wird. So wird das Bier den Kunden zugefahren. Während des Fahrens dringt Schaum durch das Stroh im Spundloch. Die Wirthe bringen das Bier in die Keller, lassen es bei offenem Spunde noch acht Tage liegen, wonach sich eine schaumige Kappe bildet. Nach dieser Zeit hat das Bier ausgegoren, ist aber noch dick getrübt. Die Fuhrleute bringen den Wirthen Hausenblase-Klärsel mit, und damit wird das Bier geschönt. Nachdem es fein blank, ist füllt man es auf halbe Flaschen und läßt es liegen bis es moussierend wird, was oft einen Zeitraum von mehreren Wochen erfordert. Leute die sich an das Bier gewöhnt haben, mögen kein anderes trinken. Daher kommt es, daß z.B. ein Wirth in Breslau stets 15 - 20,000 Flaschen solchen Biers auf Lager hat.

Die Weidenrinde enthält bekanntlich Gerbsäure und einen bitterschmeckenden Stoff, den man als Ersatzmittel der China empfohlen und Salicin genannt hat.

Habich macht hiezu (Bierbrauer 1864 S. 119) die Bemerkung: Wenn die Weidenrinde als Anstifter der Gärung angesehen wird, so ist das eine Verdächtigung, die sich auch das Kühlgeläger nicht gefallen zu lassen braucht. Die wahren Sturmvögel stecken vielmehr in den Wanderungen der Transportfässer, an denen immer noch Hefe genug von der vorigen Gärung haften blieb.
Habich ist indessen auch hier wie gar oft sehr rasch mit seinen Behauptungen.

* Weidenrinde zu Traubenzuckerlösung gegeben erregt Weingärung."


Edd Draper said...

Very excited about this. Kristen could you give us some details on how you made your version? My LHBS just got a new grain in - a delicately smoked wheat malt. We were trying to figure out what to do with it. Looks like now we have a plan! I looked for willow bark online and didn't find any suppliers. I could go to the park and partake in some horticultural vandalism, ie rip off some weeping willow bark. Will that do, or does it need to be white willow? Wondering if the wild yeast in a Maryland tree will give us the right flavour vs. correct bark from Poland. Or should we pitch a commercial yeast variety just to be sure? Whadya all think?

Kristen England said...


100% oak smoked wheat and 100% Lubin hops.
3kg hops per Zentner malt

Well be doing one at PDBC very soon.

Edd Draper said...

Nice! Hope it's a hit. Did some searching and found many recipes and your original SUABP post from like 2007, which have got me energised. Thanks for the info, btw. I think we're gonna try a halfway version of this first - back it off a bit with some pale malt and wheat malt and see what we think. Then we'll have a go at the full-blown Gratzer. Can't get Polish hops, but was considering Saaz for now. Thing is, have had an awful lot of bad homebrew over the years...the locals specialise in it. If it doesn't taste like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, then it often tastes like liquid bacon, and that's what I'd want to avoid. At the Old Wharf Brewing Co. we specialise in English beers, and have had some fun making the Scottish and English ales we find on here. But one has to leave the box at some point, and this sounded like a fun project. Hopefully the Polish brewing purists won't write us off just yet!

Anonymous said...

Just wondering if the technique used with the bark is linked to the practice of dipping a branch in the fermenting tun, let it dry, an use it as a starter for next batch?

Martyn Cornell said...

Salicin also has anti-bacterial properties, and a bitter taste, both of which, doubtless, the brewers found useful.

You can buy white willow bark extract online very easily, mostly from Chinese suppliers, though you might have to buy 25kg at a time ...

Unknown said...

Very interesting. Grodziskie has been undergoing a bit of a revival here in Poland, among homebrewers and craftbrewers—though without the willow, so the beer described here sounds rather different from the ones I've been enjoying recently (e.g. Pinta's à la Grodziskie).

The Polish homebrewer's association has been doing some research into the style with the aim of reviving it. Here's an English version of their interim report.

The version they're trying to revive is similar to what Kristen described: characterized by the use of an all wheat malt bill, including a small amount of oak-smoked wheat malt (Weyermann recently introduced such a malt) to produced a low-hopped, low-extract (about 8 Blg), lightly smoked beer. The ones I've tried have been very light and refreshing. I haven't heard anything about willow in Polish discussion of the beer. Indeed, the whole subject here is focused on the revival of the particular style described in the report: all wheat, oak-smoked, hops but no willow.

If anyone is interesting in trying to make it, the report I mentioned about has enough info to come up with a recipe. I'll probably try it myself soon. I'm looking forward to the first reports of willow-flavoured grodziskie.

Unknown said...

Also, the Polish homebrewer's association has made available a number of the sources they've used in their research into the style.

Most of the source are from the late twentieth century and in Polish, but there are a handful of older ones in German and English, such as an 1893 book called Geschichte des Grätzer Bieres by a Dr. Rodergo Brümers (if my fraktur-shy eyes are serving me well).

JoeMcPhee said...

Interesting - are they using the willow bark as a source of yeast? I ask because of an academic paper that I reviewed here - the source of the yeast is obviously different, but if it works in beech trees, it should work with willow as well: