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 Pivety.com, 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...

Friday, March 11, 2022

Of Bohemia and Bavaria, with a Taste of Austria

It is sometimes difficult to imagine more iconic beer, specifically lager, brewing regions of the world than Bohemia and Bavaria. Likewise difficult to imagine is a more iconic type of lager from Bohemia and Bavaria than the pilsner. Further, is there a more recognisably Austrian family than the Von Trapps?

Von Trapp Brewing up in Vermont currently have a special release of their Bavarian Style Pilsner, so I figured I'd take the opportunity to do a little side by side tasting of that and their core Bohemian Pilsner...first up, Bavaria.

  • Sight - golden, beautifully clear, good inch of white foam that persists nicely
  • Smell - floral hops, lightly toasted grain, lemon oil, graham crackers
  • Taste - rustic, crusty, bread, some lemony bitterness, very subtle spiciness in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5

An absolutely lovely beer, and more than justifying the fact that I bought a couple of cases when it finally made its way to Beer Run. It was this beer I had in mind when I tweeted something along the lines of the best beers those that you can drink a few ounces of to write your tasting notes, and then just sit back and enjoy the beer, making the occasional note as thoughts come to you. It has a really nicely rounded mouthfeel that complements the medium body perfectly. The lemony hop bite in the finish is just perfection in my mind, and the finish is not overly dry, but definitely clean and sharp. There are times I wish this were a core part of the Von Trapp range, not in the sense that it should replace any of their other wonderful beers, but be added to them.

Onwards them to Bohemia.

  • Sight - paler than the Bavarian, dark straw, 3/4" of white persistent foam
  • Smell - spicy hops, some herbal notes, nice note of fresh hay, slightly grainy
  • Taste - crackers, sweet grass, really solid hop bitterness, almost pithy
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
Using the method of working out starting gravity in Plato by multiplying abv by 2.5, this is a 13.5° Plato lager, making it under Czech classification a světlý speciál. It is perhaps a tad strong for an all nighter, but it hits every flavour and character note absolutely spot on, which can almost trick you into drinking way more of it than is perhaps wise. Sure, the use of Perle is not really "traditional" in Bohemian beers but it is one of my favourites in my own brewing, so I am ok with seeing it here, lending the beer its tempered spiciness that I find works well with later additions of Saaz.

Two absolutely corking pale lagers that serve to highlight the familial relationship between Bavarian and Bohemian pilsners, while being noticeably distinct, almost like fraternal twins. I plan to enjoy the Bavarian style while it is available, and of course the Bohemian is a very regular sight in my beer fridge. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Beyond Definition

Last week, I tweeted the following as the final piece in a thread about how we refer to Czech pale lagers:

This train of thought, combined with something I read in Der Böhmische Bierbrauer about the fact 10° beers were by far the most commonly produced in 1890s Bohemia, got me wondering what exactly is a 10° beer, other than having a starting gravity of 10° Plato?

According to Czech beer law, there are 4 types of beer:

  • Stolní pivo or 'table beer', up to 6° Plato OG
  • Výčepní pivo or 'tap beer' between 7° to 10°
  • Ležák or 'lager' 11° and 12°
  • Speciální pivo or 'special beer' 13° and higher
There is nothing in the law about what colour a particular type of beer needs to be, how many IBUs are expected, and all that other stuff you get with style guidelines. I was reminded of this while I was digging around the old interwebs looking for other information about particular historical breweries when I came across a site about Czech breweries before the Communist takeover in 1948, and what a trove of information that turned out to be.

All the label images that follow are from Pivety, and there is a shit ton more there if you are interested in early 20th century Czechoslovak beer advertising materials.

For example, once upon time, Budvar brewed a pair of 10° výčepní beers, one pale and one dark:



As you can see, the labels are in both German and Czech with exactly the same information on both. It is interesting that the dark lager version, the red one for those with no German or Czech, uses the Czech word "černé", which means "black" as opposed to "tmavé", which is more properly the translation of "dunkles". While I was not surprised to find a dark lager lurking in Budvar's history, I was marginally shocked when I saw this label:


The label is for Budvar's "Granát Export Beer". The "granát" bit is pretty easy to suss out. We are talking "polotmavý", or "half-dark", usually a reddish lager that in terms of colour sits between pale and dark. Such beers often use the moniker "granát" in reference to the garnet gemstones that Bohemia is famous for. I had not seen the term "exportné pivo" though before, and through digging in this label archive, I am pretty confident that we are looking at a 12° Plato polotmavý ležák to use modern parlance. At some point though, Budvar's Granát was a 14° lager, whether it got stronger or weaker, I don't know.


Perhaps the most startling label I have come across so far, was for the Bürgerliches Bräuhaus Komotau, which I referenced in my last post as being at one point in its history registered as a "braucommune". This label shows that at some point the notion of a beer sitting between pale and black on the colour spectrum was known to both the German and Czech speaking communities of Bohemia.


"Halbdunkel" is simply "polotmavý" in German, it was not a term I had seen or heard in relation to German beer before. Seeing it there on the label made me wonder if I could find references to "halbdunkel" in Austrian and German archival sources, but more about that some other time.

This all though does point to the truth that beer is a product of culture, and to understand a people's beer means understanding it in relation to their lived culture. As such, making a 14° pale lager and calling it a světlý ležák when it is more properly a světlý speciál just shows, in my opinion, a lazy disrespect to Bohemian brewing culture and history. Defining "tmavé" as beginning at 11° Plato, when the reality of history shows there have been výčepní beers that are dark is likewise presenting a slanted view of history.

I have argued elsewhere that tradition is an important part of being a craft brewery, but when reaching for someone else's tradition, brewers should seek firstly to be faithful and produce a beer, and label it, something that a person from that tradition would recognise. 

Many years ago, a Czech friend's father was given a bottle of Lagunitas Pils, allegedly brewed in the Czech tradition, and spat it out in disgust. Having taken a large mouthful from a bottle of Port City Downright Pilsner, his response was "tohle je České pivo", "this is Czech beer".

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