Wednesday, February 22, 2023


I mentioned in my previous post that I had once come across the concept of "Dortmunder malt" at some point in the dim and distant past, but couldn't remember where I saw it. With that particular point of interest once again piqued, I decided to bimble around various online sources and see what I could find out about this elusive type of malt, which if you recall was as pale as Pilsner malt whilst being fully modified in the Bavarian manner, which according to the Illustriertes Brauerei Lexikon by Max Delbrück in 1925 makes it part of the "langmalz" family of malt.

"Langmalz", according to Delbrück, undergoes extensive modification over a  longer period of time on the malting floor. Apparently it is possible for "langmalz" to be "too good" if it becomes overly modified. Such over-modification can apparently causes problems with head retention and the body of the beer, especially in "the production of pale beers". The last sentence of this section also notes that "langmalz" is used in the distillery, though here is means malt where the leaf germ is at least twice the length of the grain and at least 20 days old.

With the horrors there of the dangers of over-modification, best to just under modify and decoct right?

So we have a pretty decent idea of what Dortmunder Malt was, but malt doesn't just magic itself out of thin air, it is of course the product of an industrial process, meaning it needs inputs, in this case barley. As I learnt when I spent time with Murphy & Rude malting for my article in Pellicle, not all barley is suited to the malting process. It would appear that Dortmunder malt had a very specific need when it came to the barley from which it was made.

The description above confirms again the process for making Dortmunder malt, extended low kilning resulting in a pale, fully modified malt, but the barley itself needs to be high quality, low-protein barley of the type you would find in Saxony, Silesia, Bohemia, and Moravia, basically modern Czechia and the appropriate bordering regions in Germany and Poland. Given that in the late 19th century Emanuel Proskowetz was busily improving the Old-Haná barley to give the world the "Proskowetz Haná" strain and from there came Kneifl, Valtice, and Diamant, it is no surprise that the maltsters of Dortmund sourced their grain from the other side of Europe.

Taking such malt, the brewers of Dortmund produced a beer that was "highly fermented, alcohol rich, vinous, delicate", and yet very pale when compared to the strength of the beer. Brewed to 14° Plato, the Dortmunder analysed in Der Böhmische Bierbrauer in 1896 had a colour rating, last column in the table, of 6 while Bohemian pilsners brewed at just under 12° Plato ranged from 5.5 to 6.5.

So, a 14° beer yielded the same colour as a 12°, meaning Dortmunder malt was paler than Pilsner malt, but something else was a play in Dortmund, water chemistry.

In the Bayerisches Brauer-Journal of 1908 it was noted that Dortmunder Bier had a "heartiness, fullness, and mildness" that would be unimaginable but for the high concentration of gypsum in Dortmund's brewing water, making it essentially the polar opposite of the soft water of Plzeň, and the writer even name checks Burton upon Trent in England as having a comparative gypsum concentration to the brewing water. Water that is high in gypsum extracts less colour from the malt than softer waters, while increasing extract yield and increasing the perception of bitterness in the beer. So important to Dortmunder was this water chemistry that the writer confidently declare that any "attempt to brew a Dortmund beer from Dortmund malt with Munich or Plzeň water would fail miserably".

This all makes me wonder if any of the beers produced today that lay claim to the moniker "Dortmunder" would be accepted as such by late 19th century and early 20th century authorities? Is there in production today a "Dortmunder malz" as opposed to the near ubiquitous, in lager, Pilsner malt? Weyermann in Bamberg produce an "Extra Pale Premium Pilsner" malt, is that basically a rebranded Dortmunder style malt? Do any of the "Dortmunders" on the market today use the necessary amount of gypsum in their brewing water to create the very pale beer the city became famous for? Have we confused additional strength for sweetness and darkness that would seem to be out of kilter with the original?

More questions, more archive diving...

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Dortmund Question

My last post was ostensibly about how Bohemian brewers felt about North German breweries co-opting the name "pilsener" to describe their pale lagers. The article from Der Böhmischer Bierbrauer that I reference in the post includes several references to quotes by Professor Wilhelm Windisch, one time chief of the VLB in Berlin, where he praises the qualities of Dortmund beer, whilst musing why German brewers felt it necessary to co-opt a foreign brew.

We all kind of know the general outline of history when it comes to pale lager, Josef Groll creates Pilsner Urquell in 1842, which is just a hair paler than Anton Dreher's Vienna Lager, and thus kicks off a pan-continental craze for pale bottom fermented beers. By the end of the 19th century, the list of "styles" that have come about as a result of Groll's introduction of English malting technology to Central Europe included Helles, Biere d'Alsace, North German Pilsner, Polish Mocne, and of course Dortmunder. All of the styles followed the same basic template, pale malt and the local hops, from Strisselspalt in Alsace, though Hallertau and Tettnang in Germany, up to Poland's Lublin.

In our hop centric minds in the early 21st century, we make the assumption that the main driver of differentiation in all these beers was the presence of local hops, relegating malt to essentially the role of hop delivery system. However the role of malt in the development of beer styles seems to get somewhat overlooked, as if all pale central European beers can be brewed with pilsner malt and whatever hops are appropriate. Historically that seems not to have been the case.

I wish I could remember where I first came across the term "Dortmunder malt" but alas the old grey matter is, well, getting older. However, I did find, not in the newspaper archives of the Austrian National Library I am sure you are relieved to hear, a book called the "Handbuch der Enzymologie, Vol II" on Google Books. On page 1236 of the book there is a fascinating breakdown of the different base malts in use in Germany at the time, I believe the book dates from the 1940s rather than the 1545 Google claims. In this section we get a description of the "dark" Munich malt, the "pale" Bohemian and Dortmunder malts, and the "golden" Vienna malt that is a middle ground between the others.

According to the writer, the fact that Bohemian and Dortmunder malts are pale is the only thing they have in common. He goes on to explain how Pilsner malt is modified "just enough" (major shout here to Andreas Krennmair for helping me with the translation of "Auflösung" meaning "modification" in a malting context) while Dortmunder malt is fully modified just like Bavarian malts. As you probably know, modification with regards to malt refers to:

"the extent to which the endosperm breaks down...releasing nutrients for yeast growth and making the starch available for enzyme degradation during mashing"*

In addition to be more fully modified that Bohemian malt, Dortmunder is also to be treated more gently that Pilsner malt, with the kilning process not reaching temperatures of more than 75°C/167°F. The writer describes the kilning process of Pilsner malt as being "pre-drying at 35-40°, rising to 55° until the water content reaches 8%, then kilning up to 100°", kilning also only takes 3 to 4 hours.

Apparently if you subject Dortmund malt to the same process it would become far too dark. Essentially Dortmunder malt needs to be carefully tended when compared to Pilsner malt so as to stay pale whilst achieving a full modification like Munich malt.

It would appear then that, at least in the 1940s, Dortmunder beer was brewed using specifically Dortmunder malt rather than the modern approach where "Pilsner" malt is the base. However, as early as 1913 Der Böhmische Bierbrauer was referring to "so-called" Dortmunder malt as a "minor type" of base malt, whilst describing it as "lightly kilned". It would seem that it was the use of Dortmunder malt that prevented the style from becoming the dominant German beer.

In an article from 1899 in the brewing journal "Gambrinus Brauerei- und Hopfen- Zeitung", the writer discusses why people were moving away from Dortmunder towards Bohemian beers. The writer confirms again that Dortmunder malt is kilned at low temperatures and thus very pale. He goes on to state that such low kilned malt has an "empty taste", and such a paucity of flavour causes the breweries to stick to brewing a 14° beer, which the writer defines as being "ein alkoholreiches Bier" - an alcohol rich beer - inferring then that Dortmunder was strong because that was it's main redeeming feature. The writer finishes his section on Dortmunder beer by comparing the beer with the Bohemian 10° beers that were "doing so well on the market" by stating they are "good beers, that hold their foam well, and don't taste empty at all".

At the end of the day, the average consumer wanted something that was flavourful, looked good, and wasn't "alkoholreiches", and thus Dortmunder was relegated to an also ran of the pale lager world, with Dortmunder malt eventually dropping out of production altogether it would seem.

* quote from "The Brewer's Handbook" by Ted Goldammer -

Thursday, February 9, 2023

1895 - The Year of Pilsener?

It was only within about 50 years of its creation in 1842 that pale lagers from Plzeň were under attack in the learned press of the day. We all know the story of how Josef Groll's golden lager swept continental Europe, inspiring imitations in Munich, Dortmund, Strasbourg, Leuven, Glasgow. You name a major brewing city in Europe in and around 1895 and you likely have a pale lager, vaguely in the style of "pilsner", being brewed, though of course there were hold outs like London, Burton, and Dublin.

Recently though in one of my trawls through the newspaper archive of the Austrian National Library, it really is a fascinating resource that I keep coming back to, I learnt that certain beers being brewed in the recently established German Empire were considered better than the Bohemian original, in particular the "pilsener" lagers of northern Germany and the Dortmunder.

According to one Doctor Wilhelm Windisch, writing in "Wochenschrift für Brauerei", Pilsner and Dortmunder are both "light beers" but of "very different types", and Dr Windisch poses the question "which is the nobler of the two"? Windisch then goes on to sing the praises of the Dortmunder, saying (and here I am relying on the veracity of the quotation in Der Böhmisches Bierbrauer in August 1895 above) that Dortmunder is "always clean". The German here is "es stets blank", "blank" can translate into English as "bare", "shiny", or "pure", though a Czech possibility is the word "čistý", which in English can translate as "clean". Given the context of later in the quote about a yeasty flavour, I think Dr Windisch is talking about the classic clean flavour that we associate with lagers in general.

Dr Windisch goes on that Dortmunder has "a better hop taste than the Pilsener" arguing that in pale lagers from Plzeň "the taste of hop oil is sometimes very strong". His final accusation as to the inferiority of Pilsner, from Plzeň, when compared to Dortmunder is that it has "almost without exception...a peculiar yeasty taste" which he then claims "is not fresh, but a peculiarly old one, like the one imparted to beer by dying or dead yeast". From this he would seem to be claiming that in the Bohemian pilsners of the 1890s you could taste the autolysis of the yeast as it dies.

Moving on from comparing Dortmunder and Bohemian Pilsner, Windisch further extols the virtues of the "Pilsener" style being brewed in Northern Germany, noting that they are "light in colour and...they have a more pronounced hop taste". He points out that this additional hop flavour is due to in part to using more hops in the boil and a slightly different hopping schedule in Northern Germany than in Bohemia. Windisch then goes on to drop the mic, by declaring that Northern German:

"so-called "Pilsener" beers are much more similar to Dortmund beer, and we really didn't need to borrow a beer type from abroad, especially since Dortmund beer has long since acquired an excellent reputation"

leaving us with this question:

"as far as wholesomeness and digestibility are concerned, the question still needs to be decided, whether our light, clear, and not excessively hopped so-called "Pilsener" beer or the Dortmund-style beer isn't even "healthier" than the cloudy, yeasty, strongly hopped Pilsner beer"?

Despite this, Windisch notes that the "importation of Pilsener and other Bohemian beers is steadily increasing and has become very important". As a result of this growing competition from the east,  Munich breweries were forced into action, particularly Spaten and their the recently created helles lager that he notes is "similar to Pilsener beer". So conservative though were Munich drinkers that it had been market tested far from the Bavarian heartlands at the Café Ronacher in Hamburg's Savoy Hotel. As a result of the success of the trial, Spaten started full scale production of their pale lager. The coming of pale lager to Munich, whilst seemingly ignored by the Munich beer press, was declared "notable progress" in the popular press, and in the mind of Windisch himself "a beer-political event of the very first order".

Having quoted Dr Windisch at length, the author of this article in Der Böhmisches Bierbrauer gives short shrift and is quite acerbic in his response claim that:

"you have to get used to the fact that "Pilsner" is making more friends in North Germany because of its excellent properties, is spreading as a result of North German breweries borrowing this popular beer type from Bohemia! The fact that the people of Munich are now also brewing a light beer in the "Pilsner" style doesn't come as a surprise either; already in the 16th Century people set a good example there, in that a brewing method that originated in Bohemia - to produce weisses Weizenbier - was made native in Munich, as can be seen from the brewing regulations of 1616."

Boom from the Bohemian, who signs off as "Ein echter Pilsener". He is basically saying, yes Mr Windisch it is no surprise that people are jumping on the "Pilsener" bandwagon because it is popular, and points out that we have seen this in beer history before, when Bavaria copied the Bohemian "bilé pivo" (white beer/weissbier) and made it is own.

What I found particularly interesting about this little article, which feels like an editorial, was not the history as presented by Dr Windisch, though yes that was fascinating, but rather the response of the "echter Pilsener". Rather than engage with the learned professor on the merits of Bohemian brewed pilsners when compared with those of norther Germany, Dortmund, and Munich he choses the route of rather nationalistic bombast. His argument is essentially, "we're popular and that's why people use the name pilsener", a brewer's "yah boo sucks to you" response basically.

Though putting this in context a little, at this point, if I have understand the other German language stuff I have been reading lately, the definition of what constituted a "pilsner" or "pilsener" in the German Empire, as opposed to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had not been settled. As late as 1909 the "Böhmische Brauhaus" in Berlin was using the term "Pilsator" for their pale Bohemian style lager. What we are seeing here is the beginning of a battle that in some ways rages on to this day, what exactly even is a "pilsner"?

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Could it Work Here?

A few weeks ago I decided to kill some time by finally getting round to watching the Craft Beer Channel series on YouTube about cask ale. If you haven't watched it, I heartily recommend it, as well as the 2 episodes about homebrew cask ale. One episode has stuck with me in particular since my little marathon, and that is the one about micropubs in Thanet.

I love the concept of the micropub, as it allows easier entry into the world of selling booze as well as allowing the business to be more of an expression of the owner as it is unbound by the conventions of "the pub". Since watching the video, and reading Boak and Bailey's fantastic post in BeerAdvocate about their local, The Draper's Arms, I have been thinking about micropubs a fair bit - coincidently, Boak and Bailey posted today about another micropub. Just last week, on our drive to do the weekly shop, Mrs V asked me if I would like to open a micropub, and I had to admit that I had been investigating some of the legalities in Virginia around boozer retailing.

One of the things that has always put me off opening some kind of establishment from which to sell beer is that if you have a "mixed beverage" license in Virginia you are required to also sell food. Said food, and non-alcoholic beverage, sales are required to be 45% of the business's gross food and mixed beverage revenues, and just the food revenues must exceed $4,000, of which $2,000 must be in the form of a "substantial meal". My gut reaction there is simple, fuck that. I don't want to be a place people go to eat meals, I want to be a place people go to enjoy good beer with their friends.

Virginia does though have a "Retail On- and Off-Premises Wine and Beer" license that would allow the licensee to "sell beer and wine for on-premises consumption and to sell wine and beer in closed containers for off-premises consumption". As such, if I understand the Virginia ABC website properly, it would be possible to open a micropub in the Commonwealth.

So while legally possible, I think (this is not legal advice, so don't quote me), there is still a big question pottering around in the back of my head. Would people in central Virginia frequent a place that is essentially an alehouse? My vision for a micropub would literally be a bar in the back corner of the premises, and I like the idea of using empty storefronts on the high street rather than being collocated with the very big box stores that have suffocated so many small towns to the point of becoming commuter dormitories - I won't use the word "community" here. The rest of the space would be a collection of mismatched tables, chairs, and benches, with no table service to speak of - come to the bar, get your drinks, pay for them, and find a space to sit. In the video, I have to admit that I love the idea of The Chapel, a place that is both micropub and bookstore rolled into one.

I can see pretty clearly what I would want my establishment to look like, and at the bar in corner, I'd have maybe 4 taps, constantly rotating through breweries and styles. Given that the license includes the ability to sell wine, sure I have a selection of that available too, though not being much of wine drinker I'd be relying on someone else to help me pick a selection - assuming it would be Mrs V, there would be Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand for sure.

The nagging question at the back of mind however just won't go away...would people get it? Have we as a consumerist society become so accustomed to ease and convenience that the idea of going to a pub and not being able to get a cocktail is too much for some? With people so ready and eager to go online to write a misleading review of your establishment, is it worth trying to do something other than a restaurant with a good beer selection? Do people even just pop out to the pub for a quick drink on their way home from work?

What do you folks think, can micropubs work in small town America?

Homebrew - Cheaper than the Pub?

The price of beer has been on my mind a fair bit lately. At the weekend I kicked my first keg of homebrew for the 2024, a 5.1% amber kellerb...