Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Lukr At That Cask Ale

Take a moment to think about what a pub that specialises in cask/real ale looks like...

Chances are that when you thought about the bar itself it looked something like this:

The beer engine is synonymous with real ale, and has a history that dates back to the 17th century when Dutch inventor John Lofting developed the first beer engine. Joseph Bramah would, in 1797, improve on this to create the beer engine as we know it today. Until the introduction of the use of CO2 to push beer to the tap in the 1870s, the beer engine was the standard for serving beer.

As I was pottering round the old interwebs this week, digging further into the history of beer taps in central Europe - yeah, I am an odd one - I learnt that the beer engine as we know it today is not the only type of tap for dispensing real ale. Enter the Aitken Tall Fount, also know in some circles as the Scottish font. Taking a quick look at the Aitken Fount (actually pronouced "font"), it bears a very strong resemblance to the type of taps I discussed in my previous post (image from the "Beer Tap" page on Wikipedia.

Well, would you look at that, it's a side pull tap, in the same vein as the much vaunted Lukr tap. As Rob Sterowski pointed out in a tweet, the ball valve is the simplest form of valve, and possibly that we had engaged in this discussion before:

I still don't remember having discussed this before, so I am working on the idea that with was all new to me. Although I grew up in Scotland, I have no recollection of having ever seen these kind of taps in the wild. There are 2 main reasons for that in my opinion, although I have drunk beer for as long as I have legally been allowed, I never paid much thought to methods of dispense until about 2008, and secondly my reading would suggest the continued use of the Aitken fount is more of an Edinburgh thing than a West Highland thing, and I have only passed through Edinburgh twice - on the train to and from Harrogate for my few days in the British military. 

In my experience, if you go to any pub in the west of Scotland that serves real ale, you will see a line of hand pumps like the ones in the first picture, which was taken in Glasgow's wonderful Bon Accord. My preferred drinking hole when I am at my parents place near Inverness is a similar story, as you can see here:

I read on a forum a claim that Aitken founts were once the dominant method of dispense throughout Scotland, but that in the 1950s and 1960s they were ripped out in favour of newer CO2 driven taps, and only clung on in a few places, mostly in the east of Scotland - hmmm...where does this story sound familiar from?

From what I understand, one of the major differences between the hand pump beer engine and the Aitken fount is that the Scottish tap uses a small amount of top pressure to push the beer to the tap, which would immediately make such taps anathema in CAMRA purist world. Even so, this got me thinking...

The Aitken Fount is clearly part of the same family as the Lukr Tap, to Rob's point, a ball valve is the simplest form of beer tap, and it makes me wonder if there is an opportunity here in the US for fans of cask ale?

One of the challenges that real ale faces in the US, outside of the occasional place that really specialises in doing it "properly" is that to do it properly takes knowledge of cellarmanship, how to use a beer engine, and also if you are going to be purist, sufficient turnover of stock to make sure the beer is freshh. Thank goodness then for the cask aspirator that extends the shelf life of real ale to give it some hope of viability.

What then if a pub which already has Lukr taps installed for the lager offerings uses them for real ale? Could the Lukr tap be used for traditional British styles like mild and bitter in an attempt to recreate the Aitken Fount? From what I have read, there is no reason to limit Lukr taps to lager, and with the inbuilt filter screen, I imagine a pint of ale drawn through the Lukr tap would look very much like this picture that Tom Cizauskas took...

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Central European Tap Dance

Look at this glorious glass of beer...

If you've been keeping abreast of my mini-series about Schilling Beer Company in New Hampshire, you will hopefully recall that this is their magnificent Malý 8° lager, had on tap at the brewery's tasting room in Littleton. What I didn't mention in that particular post was the method of dispense, and fairly obviously, this particular beer was poured using a Lukr tap, also known as a side pour tap, sometimes also known as a slow pour tap. Whatever you want to call it, this was poured from a tap that is currently all the rage amongst the lager brewing and drinking community in the craft beer world, and is often touted as being the "traditional" method in Czechia.

I still remember the first time I saw a Lukr tap in the wild back in Czechia. It was around 2009 and Mrs V and I had gone to Purkmistr, a brewery and hotel on the outskirts of Plzeň, for a long weekend. Said tap was, for whatever reason, in the room that the hotel used for serving breakfast. I don't recall if they were in use in the restaurant or bar, but I noted them because they were so different from the taps I had seen in pretty much every pub I went to at the time. Almost every pub I frequented had standard taps like those at Pivovarský klub or U Slovanské lipy...

From what folks back in Czechia have told me, the Lukr tap really took off when the concept of the tankovna pub blew up as well, around 2008. The whole concept of it being "traditional" never really sat that well with me, purely based on personal experience, and then I came across a picture in Der Böhmische Bierbrauer on the Austrian National Library website.

Look at those taps in this illustration. Ok, minus the more modern look, they are most distinctly "side pour" taps. Being side pour rather than the modern standard format, they would have relied on a ball valve to control the flow of beer from the tap to the drinking vessel. Then I came across this illustration, again from Der Böhmische Bierbrauer:

A tap system that bore an uncanny similarity to the one I had seen in Purkmistr, clearly there was something here...oh I didn't mention these illustrations yet:

Each of these illustrations came from an edition of Der Böhmische Bierbrauer which contained an article about the new innovation for pouring beer, attaching a CO2 tank to the barrel that would push the beer to the tap. The article had the glorious title of "The Practical Use of Carbonic Acid for Serving Beer" and appeared in Der Böhmische Bierbrauer in 1894. Before the use of CO2, it was traditional for beer to be poured either via gravity or pulled through the line by a hand pump.

Intrigued, I dug further, finding images of such historic side pour taps in use in Germany in the 1930s - sorry folks I am not paying $20 a piece for a stock images of beer being poured in Mannheim at a radish festival, so have a link instead. Eventually I came across the Historische Bierzapf-Säulen website and learnt that the idea for using CO2 to dispense beer from a tap was patented in 1877 by a high school teacher and chemist Wilhelm Carl Raydt, originally from Lingen in modern day Lower Saxony. The new method of pouring beer apparently took off in northern Germany and the industrial cities, but met resistance in traditional Bavaria, which for many decades stuck with the anstich method of tapping beer.

The Historische Bierzapf-Säulen site is a beer history nerd's wet dream. The oldest illustration on the site that shows a side pour tap in use is from the 1880s, and purports to show the Berlin pub "In der Katschemme". There is even a Pilsner Urquell pub in Hamburg in one of the pictures from 1900. The guy behind the website, who clearly has a love of historical beer taps, and the beautifully decorative towers that were once part and parcel of taprooms in central Europe is also the owner of Storchenbräu in Pfaffenhausen, about 100km/62 miles west of Munich.

From what I can ascertain, side pour taps were in use in Germany until the 1960s, and if film evidence from the former Czechoslovakia is correct, there also, being replaced by the more modern flow control taps we are used to seeing in central European pubs today. Though they did seem to still be in use in at least one Zoigl pub in around 2012, and judging by the design of the tap, it is not a Lukr made tap.

Central Europe, broadly modern day Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary, is full of stories like this, where there are parallel foods, drinks, and ways of doing things that each group of people claim as "traditional". Of course, until the First World War, most of the region lay within either the German Empire or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so such commonality is to be expected. To give a small example, recently Mrs V and I went to dinner with some friends. The husband is Serbian, the wife is German - weird fun fact, they met in Lavka in Prague, and lived there for a period that overlapped with Mrs V and I, though we only met them here in Virginia. Dinner that night was a traditional Serbian meal called "podvarak", basically pork shoulder slow cooked in the oven on a bed of sauerkraut. The Czech national dish is "vepřo-knedlo-zelo", slow roasted pork shoulder, dumplings, and cabbage. In Germany there is "sauerkraut und Schwein", erm....slow cooked pork with sauerkraut, often served with potato dumplings. Where modern borders create breaks and barriers, reality is a continuity of shared history and experience.

To come back then to the side pour tap, what we are seeing is a revival of a central European way of doing things that was lost in the rush to modernity that was the 1960s. The uniqueness of the Lukr tap is in an innovation within the tap itself, which I can find no evidence for in the old texts, a filter screen that in layman's terms, turns the tap into a shower head, much like the sparkler does on a beer engine, thus creating the voluminous wet foam that the tap is rightly renowned for.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Full Schilling - Der dritte Teil

I have owned this fact many a time on Fuggled, I am a Germanophile, especially when it comes to beer. One of the main reasons I go to Kardinal Hall as much as I do is that they are a reliable source of German beers, whether Rothaus, Köstritzer Schwarzbier, or something from Weihenstephan, as well as the near ubiquitous Bitburger (though I much prefer their stable mate König Pilsener). The fact that Schilling also produce a wide range of German styles, in addition to their Czech style stuff, is just another reason that I wanted to visit the brewery when we were up in New England a couple of weeks ago.

The other beers in the stash that made the trip back to central Virginia were:
  • Paulus - Munich style helles
  • Rennsteig - schwarzbier
  • Nordertor - northern German style pilsner
With those styles, this is basically a quick three beer tour of Germany from Bavaria in the south, to Flensburg in the north, with a quick stop in Thuringia in the middle.

Without further ado, then on to New Hampshire's interpretation of Munich. Fun side fact, not too far from Littleton is a place called Franconia...

  • Sight - clear yellow, quarter inch white foam, wonderful clarity
  • Smell - doughy, lightly yeasty, floral hops, subtle citrus note (Tettnang perhaps?)
  • Taste - bready with a nice schmeer of honey, clean floral hops
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Helles is one of those styles of beer that I think is best on tap, but this particular batch was canned just 11 days ago, so when I had it on Sunday it had been in the can a mere 9 days. Freshness matters, and this was as fresh as you will likely ever get in central Virginia. Full disclosure, I asked Beer Run to get me a case, and it was from that case that I drank, rather than one of the 4 packs that came back from NH with me, which was canned in mid-March. Anyway, the beer itself, gorgeous in a word, as good a helles as I have ever had. As I sat in my kitchen drinking it, looking out over my backyard, I realised I need to plant some more trees to convert a patch of the yard into my own little biergarten, just to enjoy Paulus in.

  • Sight - deep mahogany, dark red edges, ivory foam
  • Smell - medium-dark roast coffee, crusty toast, subtle grassy/hay notes, hints of chocolate cake
  • Taste - cold espresso, singed toast, some floral character, bitter chocolate
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
Named, apparently, for the Rennsteig ridge walk in Thuringia and just a lovely schwarzbier. The balance is beautiful, making it insanely easy to drink while hitting all the right flavour notes. I think I am going to have to rehash my schwarzbier blind tasting of last year with this in the mix.

  • Sight - pale yellow, large white head, beautifully clear
  • Smell - crackers, hay, some herbal notes
  • Taste - more crackers, noticeable lemony zing, maybe some cantaloupe in the background
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter 2.5/5
When it comes to German style pilsners, I find myself preferring those more in the northern, drier, more pronounced bitterness camp. Nordertor, named for the eponymous gate in Flensberg on the Danish border and depicted on the label, sits very much in that camp, and I love it. The finish is cracker dry and lingers, begging to be followed up by another mouthful, and who am I to deny it?

As I mentioned in the first part of this little Schilling trilogy, I made a point to try all the German inspired beers on tap at the brewpub when we were there, but I wasn't taking notes or pictures - seriously, who does that when you are hanging with mates? Safe to say though that all of them were top class, especially the Seidla kellerbier, and whenever they make it down this way, I will continue to buy them, safe in the knowledge that Schilling know what they are doing, and they do it so damned well.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Full Schilling - druhý díl

A quick recap...this happened:

Those 2 cases/trays of Schilling beer in 16oz cans consisted of:

  • Malý 8° - Czech style session pale lager
  • Nordertor - Northern German style pilsner
  • Paulus - Munich style helles
  • Rennsteig - schwarzbier
Schilling beers already in my fridge when I got home were:
  • Palmovka 12° - Czech style pale lager
  • Augustin 13° - Czech style amber lager
  • Karlův 13° - Czech style dark lager
To round out the selection nicely, I popped into Beer Run and picked up a four pack of Alexandr as it is most reliably available Schilling beer in this neck of the woods. For this here second installment of The Full Schilling, I made sure all the Czech styles were suitably refrigerated...

Having made sure that suitable glassware was clean and ready for use, I didn't buy a Schilling glass while I was up there as the style I wanted was not available, I set about going from left to right...starting with Malý 8°.

Malý 8°

  • Sight - crystal clear golden, inch of beautiful white foam, great retention
  • Smell - spicy hops, lemongrass, crusty bread and crackers, second son Bertie thought it smelt "peppery and juicy"
  • Taste - crusty bread, lemony zing, clean hop bite to finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Simply magnificent beer. Medium-light body, not watery or thin in the finish, this is a drinker's session beer, the kind of thing that you can sit on your deck in the sun and guzzle all afternoon and evening without ever getting bored, the voice of experience may be speaking. The finish is clean, dry, and just pulls you back for more, and more, and more. I almost wish I had bought 2 cases...

  • Sight - dark straw, white foam, beautiful clarity and excellent head retention
  • Smell - citrus, lemon and key lime, hay, water biscuits
  • Taste - dollops of citrus bittering, bordering on pithy, more crackers and some floral notes in the background, like a summer meadow
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
Again a beautifully balanced beer, the bitterness is very much front and centre, but it doesn't overwhelm the malt character. Has the snap that I expect of well made lagers that brings everything into sharp focus and then demands you have another mouthful. I just love this beer, it is right up there with anything I drank in Czechia.

Palmovka 12°
  • Sight - rich golden, white foam that lingers well, again beautiful clarity
  • Smell - toasted crusty bread, spicy hops, freshly mown hay
  • Taste - juicy sweet decocted malt, crusty bread, specifically like the crusty end of a loaf, grassy hop with a clean hop bitterness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
This is not hyperbole, but there is something about Palmovka that reminds me of Pilsner Urquell, though a little stronger. That crusty bread character coupled with a very light butterscotch note just feels so much like Prazdroj that I fear if I had to try both side by side and blind I would struggle to guess which was which - there may be a blog post in the making right there. The bitterness, again, is firm, clean, and finishes off the beer delightfully.

Augustin 13°
  • Sight - light red, ruby highlights, off white foam that stays the course
  • Smell - brioche, subtle hay, floral hops
  • Taste - ovocní knedlík, stone fruit, breadiness in the background
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
This is quite a complex beer, with lots of malt flavours floating around. I realise that ovocní knedlík, fruit dumpling in English, is not particularly helpful if you've never had them, but imagine a plum wrapped inside a yeast dough, enriched with egg and milk, simmered and then served with a touch of sugar and cinnamon, and you kind of get what I am saying. It's complex, but clean in the finish and maybe a little thin for a 13° lager, but that's me quibbling, it's still a grand beer.

Karlův 13°
  • Sight - very dark brown, mahogany edges, solid inch of tan foam
  • Smell - bitter chocolate, toasted brioche, subtle floral hop notes
  • Taste - dark chocolate, nutty, imagine bitter chocolate Nutella, sachertorte, some grassy hop notes
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
A wonderful way to nightcap my little Schilling Czech tasting. Not stodgy in the slightest but with plenty of sweet malt flavours. The finish is somewhere between the soft sweetness of a dunkel and the dry crispness of schwarzbier. Again a very moreish beer that is an excellent interpretation of the Czech tmavé/černé "style".

I seriously considered trying to rank this set of beers by preference, but it would be a fool's errand to bother. They are all excellent examples of the kind of beers I love to drink, and this is what makes Schilling such an exciting brewery for me, they do everything so damned well that it is almost irrelevant what is in your glass, it will be superb.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Full Schilling - Part 1

Let's go for a drive...

It's raining in Jamestown, Rhode Island, where the VelkyAl family was staying with my best mate Dave and his brood. It was a Wednesday morning, and backing out of their drive way, I was excited at the thought of the 240 mile drive north ahead. According to my weather app on my phone, our destination was going to be warm and sunny. Our destination, mostly up I-93 north, going through Boston  to New Hampshire, through the simply majestic White Mountains, including past a still frozen lake, was the little town of Littleton.

Apparently a little over 6000 souls call Littleton, New Hampshire, home and they live in possibly one of the most scenic places I have visited in the US so far. Pulling into the town, crossing the Ammonoosuc River, eventually parking up next to the river, we had just a few hundred feet, and a kids bashing of public gongs session for the boys, to our destination, the Schilling Beer Company.

If you follow any of my social media then you will know that I am a dedicated fan of Schilling Beer Co. We don't get many of their beers down here in central Virginia, but whenever one of them shows up on tap at either Beer Run or Kardinal Hall then I know what I will be drinking when I am there. My first ever Schilling beer was indeed the Alexandr, on tap at Kardinal Hall, back in September 2020, and with a pleasing coincidence it was with Dave back when he and his family lived in this neck of the woods. Again if you are a follower of Fuggled/VelkyAl world, then you will also know that I am an abysmal "beer tourist". I don't plan holidays around breweries I would be interested in visiting, let's be honest here, once you have seen a couple of brewing setups there really isn't much to see that would make a difference. Being a 4 hour drive from Schilling though simply demanded a day trip, yes that's right, we drove 4 hours to Littleton, stayed for a few hours, and then drove back to Rhode Island. Admittedly we didn't spend all those hours safely ensconced in the beery bosom of Schilling, we also discovered that Littleton is a delightful town that is pretty much perfect for the kind of folks that constitute the VelkyAl family, did I mention the gorgeous river yet, on go on then, have another picture of it.

Schilling itself consists of both a brewpub and a taproom in separate buildings, it being lunchtime and with 3 toddlers of 4 years old in tow, we parked on the screened in deck of the brewpub and ordered beer and pizza. Choosing the pizzas was simplicity in itself, my boys can be picky eaters, so Margherita minus tomato sauce was in order. Choosing my first beer was torture, just look at this menu:

A brace of Czech style pilsners that would more than stand up in Czechia, a keller pils, a kellerbier, a Helles, a schwarzbier, an Altbier, a tmavé, a polotmavé, a does a lagerboy make a decision when finally presented with a beer menu that doesn't make him groan? Obviously you get the Alexandr, drink it in four mouthfuls and forget to take a picture, but make sure you follow it up with a Palmovka 12° that you do remember to take a picture.

Just look at that thing of beauty, that walloping great cap of foam that would not look out of place in any of my old haunts in Prague, that near total lack of fizz - there is a difference between condition and fizziness, and by god every beer I had hit the nail squarely on the head. Being with family and friends, I didn't bother with many more photos, but I tried every pale lager they had on tap, as well as the Rennsteig schwarzbier and Kaiserpfalz altbier. Each beer was excellent, not just good, not even plain old very good, but excellent, and in the Seidla kellerbier, downright fucking fantastic. Fed and watered we wandered off on to Main Street to do some shopping, knowing that the tap room was still to come, I had a date with a beer that I knew was there...

As well as being an abysmal beer tourist I am not much of one for traipsing around shops, but I had the happy glow of a satisfied lager drinker on, and Littleton's book shop that doubles as a toy shop was a veritable Aladdin's cave of delights. Better yet, at least for this greedy guts, was the White Mountains Canning Company, that stocks all manner of locally made jams jellies, pickles, and perhaps the best, bar none, American cheddar cheese I have ever had, Harman's Really Aged Cheddar. Our good lady wives had another shop they wanted to get to, so Dave and I corralled our boys and headed to the Schilling taproom, across the way from the brewpub, straight into the embrace of an osmička...

Going by the name Malý 8°, what you have here is a 3.1% abv, double decocted (if I remember rightly), Czech style pale lager that has more flavour, more presence, and exhibits a far higher level of technical brewing skill than basically any other lager being brewed in the US today. Bold claims I know, but if ever there was a gravity that shows the difference decoction makes it is 8°. There are some out there that claim decoction is not necessary because malts are more modified these days, well sorry, they are simply wrong. A decoction mash is not just about getting the right amount of sugar out of the grain, decoction adds flavour, mouthfeel, and character that a simple infusion mash will never give you. Think of it this way, at least for pale lagers, decoction is a 3D beer to infusion's 2D, it adds depth. Malý 8° might be small, but goodness me it is a mighty, mighty fine beer. So I bought a case of cans to bring  home to Virginia with me, and a selection of other beers to make up another case.

Is it evident yet that I love Schilling Beer Company? More than that, I want to go back to Littleton and spend more time there, I want to spend an evening drinking great beer overlooking that covered bridge over the river, and bimble back to a tent or hotel with a happily distended belly full of great lager. I am sure that Littleton will be visited again in the future, and hopefully not too far into that future.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

A Pair of Englishmen Abroad

One of the joys of pottering around archives is just putting terms into the search functionalities and seeing what comes back. That is how I found the description of Bohemian brewed porter that I posted about last week, and it was how I stumbled upon a brewery that existed for a mere 2 years, if that.

My search term this time was "India Pale Ale" and given that I was searching again in the Austrian National Library's newspaper archive, I wasn't really expecting much. Indeed, I only got 21 results and none of them from the brewing focused periodicals, "Der Böhmischer Bierbrauer" and "Gambrinus Brauer und Hopfen Zeitung". Of those results, 2 stood out.

The first was an advert for a delicatessen on the famous Getreidegasse, birthplace of Mozart, in Salzburg from 1866, which I tweeted about the other day. If you fancied some porter or IPA in the middle of the 19th century in Salzburg, just visit A. Florinek and get your fill

The other was from June 1869 in "Illustrirte Zeitung" from Leipzig and was an advert for a brewery in Hamburg.

With a little further digging, yay Google, I discovered that Witt & Williams English Brewery was established in 1869 and wound up in 1871. The advert above contains the usual marketing waffled of the day, claiming:

"The excellent beers of this brewery, which are on a par with those of the best English breweries and are a favourite drink even in England, are particularly recommended because of their pure, healthy, and nutritious quality."

The ad goes on to inform us that samples are available from the brewery, just write to them with postal instructions and the relevant cash for a case of either 24 full sized bottles or 24 half bottles. 4 thaler 15 silbergroschen, approximately 12 Shillings 7 pence in old British money, or, if I have done the various sums correctly, about £60 in modern British money ($80/€73) would purloin for you a case of either "Double Brown Stout" or "The golden Ale", while 3 thaler 15 silbergroschen (do your own maths, my head hurts) would get you the XX Porter or IPA.

Assuming that the beers on offer were truly "on a par" with those being brewed in England, the Double Brown Stout would have had a starting gravity around 1.072, the XX Porter 1.061, IPA 1.066, and the golden ale I am assuming based on it being priced at the same as the Double Brown Stout, probably somewhere in the 1.070 ballpark. Major shout out here to Ron's European Beer Guide site for huge amounts of data that back up my assumptions about strength.

Given Hamburg is one of the most Anglophile cities in Germany, and had a long history of trade with England, there is a recorded English community in Hamburg from the 1600s that led to the establishment of the English church dedicated to St Thomas a Beckett, you would have expected these brews to find a ready and willing audience, yet 2 years later the brewery was wound up. What happened?

It turns out that messrs Witt and Williams had started their business in 1869 with a view to purchasing an existing brewery in Hamburg, and continuing the business. According to the articles of association Witt & Williams Brewery Company also took on the brewery's existing debt. Between the establishing of the company and April 26th 1871 when the Master of the Rolls issued a compulsory order for the winding up of the company, it would seem "no business had been done" and the debts that Witt & Williams had assumed "remained unpaid", and the creditors came calling. Below is the case as described in "The Weekly Notes".

A reminder perhaps that success is not guaranteed in brewing and that since time immemorial breweries have come and gone, been bought, sold, and liquidated, subject to the same rules of business as any other corporation, regardless of status. Brewing is, at the end of the day, just that, a business, not a faith, not a movement, not a lifestyle, not an indicator of being a "good person", not even a calling to some higher virtue.

What happened to messrs Witt and Williams after their business venture in the North German Confederation came to such an unfruitful end? I don't know, perhaps they moved on to some other money making scheme, whether in booze or not. I wonder if they ever got to send a case of samples...

UPDATE: It seems that the Witt bit of this brewery may have been German. From the Hamburg State Archive, I have found that his full name was August Wilhelm Witt, and there were complaints against his brewery, which was located at Neustrasse 46 in the Hohenfelde area, for smoke nuisance.

Second Update: I had made a mistake in my maths that I corrected.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A Bohemian Porter?

Once upon a time I was sat in a brewpub in Brno. On the wall of the brewpub, called Pegas since you ask, was the following sign:

For those unversed in the Czech language, the sign reads "Original Porter from České Budějovice, from the City Brewery". On the opposite wall was the same sign in German, in which "Měšťanské Pivovaru" was "Bürgerliches Brauhaus Budweis", or the brewery known today as Samson, originally founded in 1795. The idea of Bohemian Porter has kind of intrigued me ever since.

When I lived in Czechia there was basically just one Bohemian Porter in regular existence, the delightful 19° Pardubický Porter, but when I was digging around in, I came across several labels for other Bohemian made porters, such as Třeboňský, Brněnský, and more Budweiser Porter.

There are plenty of other examples that shows porter being brewed in Bohemia was most definitely a reality before the descent of the Iron Curtain in 1948. Clearly from the gravities on the labels, porter was a strong dark beer with a gravity of, at least, 19° Plato, which is basically the modern Czech description of a porter.

The thing that often played on my mind was whether the Bohemian Porter of the late 19th/early 20th centuries became the modern tmavé pivo, and I was never convinced. Tmavé is, after all, just a colour descriptor, it doesn't denote the strength of a beer, it's bitterness, or even its point of origin, it is just tells you to expect a dark beer. Even then, it can fall on a colour spectrum from deep red to pitch black, and some lagers marketed as "tmavé" are paler than other breweries' polotmavé, that's amber, beers. It seems as though porter stood apart from the morass of tmavé, with its strength being a key differentiator.

As I have been digging into various newspapers and journals in the Austrian National Library's newspaper archive, I have come back time and again to "Der Böhmische Bierbrauer", the journal of the Brewing Industry Association in the Kingdom of Bohemia. It was here that I found another part of the porter story...a recipe of sorts, and the beginnings of a process. 

So I set about trying to understand what was going on in this, according to the article's author, "well known brewery whose products are highly esteemed and sought after". In the same article, the author discusses "märzenbier" and "kaisersbier" as well.

Anyway, we start with the grist, 2250kg of malt kilned to 76° Réaumur (about 95° C), which thanks to information from Andreas Krennmair would be in the ball park of Munich malt, and 175kg of "Farbmalz". "Farbmalz" literally translates as "colour malt", a phrase in Czech that is still used today - "barevný slad". Farbmalz can also be known as "rostmalz", which is obviously "roasted malt", so we are talking about something similar here to Carafa malts, whether I, II, or III, I really don't know, but that's the ballpark we are playing in. And that's it, a simple grist of 92.8% Munich malt and 7.2% roasted malt.

The grist goes into 48 hectolitres of water, that's 1109 US gallons, or 924 Imperial gallons, a mash then of 1.7 litres of water per kilo of grain. Being an article in the official organ of the Bohemian Brewers' Association, I am going to assume that certain process elements were simply understood and thus not written down. Thankfully though, the author does use the magical incantation of "Dreimaischenmethode", a literal translation of which would be "three mash method", but remember where we are and to whom the author is communicating, and here we have porter being made with a triple decoction mash. We are not told what temperatures are being targeted, but again his audience probably didn't need that level of detail, just do a triple decoction mash, with the first decoction being boiled for 25 minutes, the second for 30, and the third for 20, mashing out at 59° Réaumur (73°C/164.7°F). Oh, and during the third decoction add 52 kilos of hops, assuming here that the hops were added to the decoction while it was boiling, there would have been some isomerisation of the alpha acids to contribute bitterness - but here I am kind of at a loss, so if anyone can explain this better, that would be great.

If I understand the German correctly, the pre-boil gravity was 17.8° Plato, working on the assumption here that "°S" is shorthand for "grad Stammwürze", which post boil came to 22.2°P. With the wort vatted for primary fermentation, it was held at 5.5° R (7°C/44.6°F) for the first 9 days, and then allowed to rise in temperature to 9°R (11°C/51.8°F) for a further 9 days. After 18 days of primary fermentation the finishing gravity was 9.6° P, giving our Bohemian Porter an abv of 7.2% going into the lagering process, which lasted 10 months.

Now, I am not saying that I have an iron clad recipe for porter as being brewed in Bohemia, mainly because I am not the audience for this journal and thus there are gaps in my knowledge, but I think this shows that Porter was understood in Bohemia as a strong, dark, well aged, lager, and was more than just a curiosity. Wonder if I can persuade someone to try making one...

Lukr At That Cask Ale

Take a moment to think about what a pub that specialises in cask/real ale looks like... Chances are that when you thought about the bar itse...