Thursday, 5 December 2013

Why do I bother

spending so much time researching beer history, when lazy idiots keep undoing my work?

Currently my greatest fear is that Grodziskie/Grätzer is going to get classified as a sour beer, when there's not a shred of evidence that it ever was. Type "Grätzer" and "sour" into Google and see how many hits you get.

This is the commercial description of Dr. Fritz Briem's Lichtenhainer, sorry, Grätzer:

"Grodziskie or Grätzer is a Sour Smoked Wheat Ale that was brewed in the 1900s in East Prussia and dates back to as early as the 15th century. It was named after the Polish town of Grodzisk Wielkopolski or Grätz in German. Our historic version is brewed according to the German Purity Law with air-dried barley malt and beech smoked wheat malt and hopped with Perle and Saaz. A sour mash is created using the old and forgotten technique called “Digerieren.” Finally a three month aging and maturation process creates a complex sour, smoky and heavily hopped wheat ale."
 That's an almost Dornbusch level of mistakes.

1. Grodziskie/Grätzer wasn't sour.
2. It isn't a fucking Ale.
3. Grodzisk is not East Prussia. When German, it was in the region of Posen. Grodzisk is approximately 300 km from the closest point in East Prussia.
4. Grodziskie/Grätzer was 100% wheat malt.
5. Grodziskie/Grätzer was 100% wheat malt smoked over oak not beech.
6. The Reinheitsgebot was in force in Posen from 1906* until Polish independence in 1919.

"The beer is not without controversy, however. Do a bit of googling and you’ll soon discover incredibly heated debates about the style. “Is it a sour beer? How much oak-smoked wheat should be used? What sort of yeast should you ferment with?” BrewLab was intrigued, and so was the rest of the SF beer community."
San Francisco Brewers' Guild Blog.

There has been no controversy over whether Grodziskie/Grätzer is sour. Just some people who've ignored (or not bothered to look for) the historical and guessed it was a sour beer. That's not a controversy, just poor scholarship.



Phil said...

They lose yet more points for leaving the word 'digerieren' (i.e. 'digesting') untranslated, creating an air of mystery for those who don't know any German (which is probably most of their readers). I've no idea what it means in that context, admittedly, but in itself it's not an obscure term.

Bill said...

American arrogance combined with west coast attitude. Are you surprised? Besides, sours are the new cool beer.

Alan said...

If stout was trendy, it would be a stout.

Unknown said...

The good news? At least the US brewers association says it should not be sour: "Sourness, diacetyl, and sweet corn-like DMS (dimethylsulfide) should not be perceived". Though they still call it an ale.

Gary Gillman said...

Just for the record though Ron it should be said that the eminent brewing authors Wahl & Henius (circa-1903), in their chapter on top-fermented German beers wherein they treated of numerous wheat-based and other beers (e.g., Berliner Weiss, Broyan) stated of "Graetzer", as they called it, that it was "deliciously tart and wine-like".

As discussed earlier in relation to their statement that 1/3rd barley malt was used in the mash, they reference a journal article for their source, extracts of which were discussed here in the comments IIRC.

I can understand that you disagree with that characterization, but to state there is no controversy is going too far, IMO.

See page 821:

Also, the Dr. Briem recreations as reported on ratebeer for example report sour or lemony tastes, most are American but one Swedish reviewer said the same thing "sur".

I doubt this German-brewed beer (as you know it is amongst a series of recreations including a Weiss beer) would take inspiration from an American text. Also, the label of the beer claims this character, apparently.

Why would two (presumedly) independent sources conclude the beer had a tart character?

Finally, could it be that tartness was simply a function of age? A beer drank very new might have little or none; an older beer much more. This is true of cider; why not of this style under discussion?

Gary said...

Well, it's bad scholarship - and confusion. Suddenly these "new" German and Polish types of beer show up, most are wheat, most are smoked, some are sour. Three years ago I knew of Berliner Weisse and had tasted two Gose. I hadn't heard of Lichtenhainer and Grodziskie.

That doesn't excuse brewers for not doing their homework though. If you wanna brew a historical type of beer, do your homework!

Mr. Smetana said...

Michael Jackson's Beer Companion (1997, 2nd ed, p. 238) provides the following information:

"significant proportion of malted wheat, smoked over oak; top-fermented, perhaps with some wild yeast influence"

Ron Pattinson said...


I take the Schoefeld over Wahl & Henius. Wherer's the German or Polish source thta mentions sourness?

Gary Gillman said...


Okay, Max Vogel, a German brewing scientist based in Nuremberg, wrote a book published in English called Beer: A Statistical Sketch, in the 1870's. He refers to the 1500's book by Herman Knaust, a German who was the first to write a comprehensive book on beer styles of the day; he appears to have been the Michael Jackson of his time.

Vogel, a German, states that Knaust, a German, wrote that "Polish wheat beers" were "pleasantly vinous" and "refreshing". Vinous usually denotes a degree of sourness or tartness.

See page 49:

Given this terminology by an early chronicler of Central European beer styles, I believe Wahl & Henius (or rather the source they quote in the bibliography), eminent in their own right, have credibility.

I think too we must be (or I at any rate am) prepared to accept that there were degrees of sourness, just as vatted porter could be sour and some old ale was. Given too that other wheat styles such as Lichtenhaimer and Berliner Weiss were known to be sour, it makes sense that this related top-fermented wheat style was, too.


P.S. Does any German or Polish source state the beer should not be sour?

Alan said...

Isn't grassy tart from wheat distinct from sour?

Unknown said...

Here is one for you:

"The Steel & Oak x Four Winds Gratzer is a traditional Polish beer made with oak-smoked wheat malt, German hops, and is fermented with lactobacillus.

Pouring a dark copper with a thick tanned head a distinct smokey aroma with notes of campfire and toast rise out of your glass. On your first sip you will notice smoke, toasted almonds and a subtle spiciness, followed instantly by the tingling of high carbonation. It feels like little Kevin Bacons dancing on your tongue. Then the lacto goes to work as this beer finishes with a distinct tartness that refreshes your pallet and prepares you for your next sip. At 4% ABV the Gratzer is a deceivingly light bodied beer reminiscent of a Berliner Weiss, if Chuck Norris made a Berliner Weiss that is."

Ron Pattinson said...


this is exactly what I was afraid of. Once the story gets out that it was a sour beer and people start making sour versions it will be impossible to convince them that it's not how the style should be.