Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Rheinisches Bitterbier

 It's becoming an obsession, really it is.

Ever since Andreas Krennmair suggested the name "Rheinisches Bitterbier" as a name/style for my most recent homebrew, I have been digging around trying to learn more about it. I actually managed to polish off the entire keg with a couple of friends over the weekend, and the final beer looked like this:

I have to admit that I was marginally surprised at just how dark it was, but it was certainly a lovely moreish beer. Towards the end of the keg, the sweetness of the Munich malt had mellowed out a bit, so when I inevitably rebrew it in the autumn, I will lager it as I had previously intended.

Back though to the term "Rheinisches Bitterbier". I mentioned in my previous post that in the early part of the 20th century, the style was listed with "Westfälisches altbier". My research so far has failed to shine much light on the Westphalian Altbier, though I have been able to find some further details about the Rheinisches Bitterbier in some of the German books in Google Books.

According to "Untersuchung von Nahrungs, Genussmitteln und Gebrauchsgegenständen":

Admittedly with the help of Google Translate, my German is o for a general gist, but I wanted to be a little more certain, Rheinisches Bitterbier and Westfälisches altbier are described as:

"These low gravity beers are made like bottom-fermented beers through a vat and barrel fermentation, with a strong addition of hops. They contain 3.64-5.5% extract, 3-4.8% alcohol by volume, and 0.165-0.515% lactic acid"

A confession, the text in red is taking straight from Google translate, and I am not entirely sure by what is meant, though I am assuming they just mean primary and secondary fermentation occurring in separate vessels? What I can say for sure is that we are talking about well hopped, top-fermented, low gravity beer.

Clearly the text above draws heavily on the work of Dr Josef König, who in the 1920 edition of his book "Chemie der menschlichen Nahrungs- und Genussmittel" wrote:


Here König gives another couple of interesting details, including a starting gravity of "9%" which I think would be the equivalent of 9° Plato, or 1.036 in specific gravity. There is also more about the hopping of Bitterbier, "unter starkem Hopfenzusatz bzw von gebrühtem Hopfen zum Lagerfass bei den bitterbieren" meaning that the beer is strong hopped in both the kettle and the lager tank...dry hopping basically.

When it comes to colour and taste perception we turn to volume 4 of "Encyklopädie der technischen Chemie" by Wilhelm Foerst, published in 1953:

My rough translation of this would be:

"Rhenish bitter beer is a top-fermented regular strength beer with a golden yellow color, which is fermented at a fairly low temperature, then lagered at around 6 degrees in the storage cellar and filtered. There is a lot of hops in the brewhouse and hops are also added to the storage barrel ("hop stopper"). This gives it a very aromatic taste."

So here we have a beer that looks very much like a modern Kölsch and is very hop forward, with strong kettle hopping and drying hopping to make a very flavourful beer.

I think then that the beer I brewed would not qualify as a Rheinisches Bitterbier as understood in most of the 20th century.

Interesting from my perspective is that Westfälisches altbier seems to have disappeared from from the books I was digging into, so more research required for sure.

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