Thursday, 25 April 2013

Grodziskie - I wish they just wouldn't bother

Over at RateBeer they've added a new style category. Or rather a combined one to include Grodziskie, Gose and Lichtenhainer.

Hang on, I hear you say, how can they lump together Grodziskie with Gose and Lichtenhainer? The latter two are extremely sour while Grodziskie is smoky and bitter.

Well, according to RateBeer Grodziskie is sour:


Sour wheat beers were common in many parts of medieval and early Industrial Europe. Two styles – lambic and Berliner weisse – survived, but many others did not. Gose, Grodziskie and Lichtenhainer are historic styles of sour wheat beer, each a unique style of its own. Gose is seasoned with salt, Grodziskie and Lichtenhainer contain smoked malt. Historical sources are mixed about Lichtenhainer containing wheat, so modern interpretations may vary. Grätzer is an alternative name for Grodziskie. All three will be relatively low alcohol, tart, with a strong wheat character, but will be distinct from classic examples of Berliner Weisse or lambic. As all we have are historical recreations, substantial differences may exist between interpretations."

Here we go again. Didn't I have to argue against a dodgy Grodziskie/Grätzer definition just a few weeks ago? Now here's someone else defining the style incorrectly. What's that emotion I'm feeling? Frustration? Despair? Irritation? A bit of all three.

I'm not sure where they got the stuff about Grodziskie being sour from. The man I trust most when it comes to German top-fermenting styles, Schönfeld, says something very different:

"Under the influence of the supposedly excellent well water, to whose qualities until recently the excellent quality of the beer was erroneously attributed, it was possible to brew a beer of far-reaching fame from pure wheat, which has maintained its reputation through the centuries, as a highly sophisticated beverage which because of its smoke and hop bitter taste was not only earlier highly appreciated, but even now is counted among the best top-fermented beers."
"Die Obergärige Biere und ihre Herstellung" by Schönfeld, 1938, page 162.

Smoky and bitter. No mention of sourness and Schönfeld was an expert in sour beers, having studied and written extensively about Berliner Weisse.

Here's another usually reliable source, confirming an intense hop and smoke flavour as being the defining characteristics of Grodziskie:

"3. Grätzer Bier, a rough, bitter beer, brewed from 100% wheat malt with an intense smoke and hop flavour. The green malt undergoes smoking during virtually the whole drying process, is highly dried and has a strong aroma in addition to the smoked flavour. An infusion mash is employed. Hopping rate: for 1 Zentner (100 kg) of malt, 3 kg hops. Gravity just 7º [Balling]. Fermentation is carried out in tuns at a temperature of 15 to 20º C. Since the beer in the tun, as a result of the expulsion of great quantities protein and resin, doesn't break, it is mixed with isinglass and pumped into barrels. After two or three days it is completely clear and ready to be filled into delivery casks or bottles with the addition of 2 to 5% Krausen."
“Bierbrauerei" by M. Krandauer, 1914, page 301.

Here's a classification of German top-fermenting beers where Grodziskie is placed in a different group to Lichtenhainer and Gose:

"1. Low alcohol content, so easy to digest, an Ausstossbier or filled with krausen into bottles, as free as possible from bacteria, carbon dioxide-rich (Lübbener, Werder'sches, Cölner, Bremen, Hamburg, Grätzer, Munich Weissbier, etc.);

2. the same properties, with a higher lactic acid content (Berliner Weissbier, Broyhan, Calenburger Weissbier, Lichtenhainer, Gose beer);

3. more or less rich in alcohol, poorly carbonated, beers with large amounts of lactic acid (Dortmunder Altbier, called Malzweine);

4. low-alcohol, extra-rich, sweet beers (Braunschweiger Mumme, Danziger Jopenbier, Frauenburger Mumme, etc.)."
"Jahresbericht über die Fortschritte in der Lehre von den Gährungs-Organismen" by Professor Dr. Alfred Koch, 1896, pages 160-161. 
Grodziske is put in the same group as Munich Weissbier and is supposedly as free of bacteria as possible. Doesn't sound like a sour beer to me.

Another smoky and heavily hopped confirmation:

"Sour-tasting beers are Berliner Weißbier and Lichtenhainer, brewed from smoked barley malt, even more so Gose, which is also seasoned with cooking salt. Grätzer Bier, brewed from smoked wheat malt, heavily hopped but of a low gravity, also tastes smoky."
"Encyklopädisches Handbuch der technischen Chemie, Volume 4, Part 1", 1915, page 210.
I'll admit this last one is open to different interpretations. I think it says that Grätzer is another smoky beer.

I can't find any description of Grodziskie in an old text that unambiguously describes it as sour. What everyone agrees on is that it was smoky and hoppy.

In addition, there's a practical consideration. How is a heavily-hopped beer soured? Hops will kill lactic acid bacteria. That's why beers soured with it, like Berliner Weisse, usually contain minimal amounts. There were heavily-hopped German beers that were sour. Dortmunder Altbier, or Adambier is a good example. As is Münster Alt. But they were brewed a different way.

Schönfeld classified sour German styles in two groups:

1. Beers that were lightly-hopped and soured during primary fermentation. Berliner Weisse, Gose and Lichtenhainer were in this group.

2. Heavily hopped beers that only soured during a long secondary fermentation Adambier and Münster Alt were about the only beers in this category.

I don't see how a heavily-hopped beer which was sold relatively young like Grodziskie could have been soured. There were too many hops for it to sour during primary fermentation and there was no long secondary fermentation.

I find the evidence overwhelming that Grodziskie was not sour.

I'm not just doing this because I'm scared the Grodziskie and Grätzer I was involved with will be considered "not true to style". I actually find it amusing when cretins erroneously write that in beer reviews.

The real reason is I don't want history to be perverted and Grodziskie to be lost forever. Because if everyone starts thinking it has to be sour and making versions that way, the authentic style will disappear. And that's something I'd hate to see.

I did bring this up on RateBeer itself first. The admins engaged in a dialogue, but haven't changed the dodgy definition.


Stan Hieronymus said...

I'm not sure where they got the stuff about Grodziskie being sour from.

Perhaps from Michael Jackson's Beer Companion. (As we know, that doesn't make it right, just citing the source.)

"The beer is top-fermented, perhaps with some wild yeast influence, and bottle-conditioned ...

"It has a sourish, sappy, oaky aroma (like a box that held smoked herring), and a smoky, very dry, crisp palate. After a period of storage, it begins to develop a tart, quenching acidity, Grodzisk is a smoked counterpart to Berliner Weisse or the old style of low-gravity wheat beer once made around Leuven, Belgium."

Michael Jackson's Beer Companion, page 238.

Ron Pattinson said...


I'm pretty sure he's wrong about the sourness.

But, of course, because he wrote that, everyone is going to believe that it's true.

Gary Gillman said...

Any top-fermented unpasteurized beer that sits around a while can go sourish. I recall Jackson often saying that various top-fermented beers he found on his perambulations in Eastern Europe could be "tart". Rimaux's rather different Flanders red abbey beer, by the time I got its last bottles in the lamented Rotterdam bar in Toronto, was tart. Last night, two bottles tasted of Russian Imperial Stout, one from Quebec, one from Ontario, went sourish after only a few months storage - still palatable but quite different from the article when spanking fresh.

It all went tart even where it didn't start that way, which is where lager came in..

I have no trouble accepting Ron's argumentation in this case, while at the same time understanding that Michael made a good effort based on limited knowledge and probably an old sample of the beer.


Craig said...

If they can make up a definition, so can I:

Grodsehainer – a bitter smokey, salted, sour beer brewed strong and heavily hopped to survive the trip from England to Albany, NY. Grodsehainer first gained popularity in the 1880s when Adolphus Busch invented it.

Rob said...


hmmmm...I may have to make one of those.

Unknown said...

Keep up the good fight Ron! Having the discussion incorporate excellently documented historical literature improves the outcome considerably.

Unknown said...

In the research I have done there are references to sour mash/lacto tartness, but never actual sourness.

Ron Pattinson said...


I've never seen any mention of tartness. Rather the exact opposite: descriptions saying it wasn't sour.