Tag Archives: Reinheitsgebot

Tankards Everywhere: Tempest’s Beerscapes of 2016

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Fermentation in progress, Weihenstephan

I was at Schloss Belvedere a few days back, the famous Viennese museum that houses the even more famous Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Alongside some of his other iconic works such as Judith und Holofernes hung several paintings dating from the year of Klimt’s death in 1918, all containing the word “unvollendet” (incomplete) somewhere in the title. Like Schubert’s 8th Symphony –– Die Unvollendete –– Klimt’s incomplete works gesture tantalizingly toward what would have been.

The same cannot be said for my growing stack of paper and metaphorically bulging computer file filled with work in various stages of incompletion: inchoate thoughts on everything from the German Purity Laws to the perennial debates about canning and canons of taste; travelogues that set out on a journey with no end; and the myriad attempts to turn aroma and flavour sensations into transcriptions of my imbibing pleasures.

One aspect of my attempts to put pen to paper on a regular basis has remained relatively constant since I arrived in Vienna: I get side-tracked too easily by all there is to see and do in Vienna, in Austria, in Central Europe, and elsewhere on this continent. The desire to post regularly has remained just that. I have to admit that I considered putting Tempest on ice on more than a few occasions, but the sheer enjoyment of writing about all things fermentable keeps drawing me back to the keyboard.

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The Speyside Way in the Scottish Highlands

Almost every one of my trips over the past three years has involved the cultural history and contemporary moment of drinking up. This year alone I walked 15 km from one distillery in Aberlour to another in Ballindalloch along Scotland’s Speyside Way.

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Kloster Andechs. I suspect that most of the visitors aren’t here to attend mass.

I followed in the footsteps of thirsty pilgrims in search of spiritual and corporeal solace at Kloster Andechs.

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A local beer from Carinthia’s Loncium at the Dolomitenhütte

I hiked up a mountain for a view of the Austrian Dolomites and a much-deserved local beer at the top, and cycled with friends along the Danube in Austria’s Wachau region during the height of the grape harvest.

And that’s not all. As I began to gather my thoughts for this piece on the occasion of Tempest’s third trip around the orange orb, I realized that it’s been quite the ride since this time last year.

České Budějovice (Budweis), Plzeń (Pilsen).

Polished coppers at Pilsner Urquell

Polished coppers at Pilsner Urquell

Austria’s Innviertel.

Bogner, makers of some of the best Hefeweizen in Austria

Bogner, makers of some of the best Hefeweizen in Austria

Brussels and Flemish Brabant.

You really can't go wrong with a wheel of lambics.

You really can’t go wrong with a wheel of lambics.

Munich, with its expansive beer gardens and lively beer halls, and Ayinger a half hour away. img_8346

A top-notch hop museum in the Hallertau and several museum exhibitions in Munich commemorating the 500th anniversary of the German Purity Laws (Reinheitsgebot).

The German Hop Museum in Wolnzach (Hallertau)

The German Hop Museum in Wolnzach (Hallertau)

Oktoberfest in Munich, and a hop harvest festival in Freising, home of Germany’s oldest brewery.

You won't go hungry in Bavaria.

You won’t go hungry in Bavaria.

And Scotland! Edinburgh’s majestic pubs.img_0722

The search for a 60 Shilling ale which proved about as fruitless as trying to sight the Loch Ness Monster. And drams of whisky to chase whatever Scottish ale I did find.img_0902

So here we are. Some of the notes and fragments detailing my adventures will see the light of day in due time, but in the meantime I offer you a few words’ worth of images, a visual down payment on writing to come.

Cheers to you, my fellow imbiber, for accompanying me on my journey these past three years! It’s you who keeps me writing.

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Check back in a few days for my write-up about the outstanding beer I cracked to celebrate three years.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Of Whisky Casks and Doppelbocks: The New Wave of German Brewing

It was only a matter of time until a new generation of German brewers started heeding the siren call of hops, spice, and everything nice, even as they continue to craft their beers within the relative confines of the 500-year-old Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Laws).

David Hertl is one such representative of this new wave of brewers leavening tradition with innovation. The resident beer sommelier at Bamberg’s main craft beer emporium, Hertl also happens to be a young brewer who hails from a family of Franconian winemakers.IMG_5084Setting the stage: Bamberg is hilly medieval city in Franconia, famous as much for its Altes Rathaus straddling the River Regnitz as it is for its smoky Rauchbier. Franconia is part of Bavaria, and Bavarian beer is synonymous with the Reinheitsgebot.Reinheitsgebot - Briefmark (Wiki-de)

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As I made my way back to my hotel after a satisfying evening of Bamberg-style imbibing at Mahr’s, Aecht Schlenkerla, and Fässla, something caught my eye: a tastefully decorated storefront in a stone building with rounded arches. Bierothek.

Bierothek is where I made David Hertl’s acquaintance the following day after a long hike toward a mirage-like castle that kept receding beyond the southern horizon. Hertl was about to close up shop for the night, but let me in to browse Bierothek’s 300-strong selection in search of beers to bring back to Vienna.IMG_5047

We got to talking about the Reinheitsgebot, and the difficulties inherent in translating not so much the word “craft beer” into German as introducing it as a concept to German beer drinkers. Consolidation may well have left its mark on the German brewing industry in recent decades, but much of what Germans drink still fits the Brewers’ Association’s definition of craft beer, disputed and relatively elastic as this term may: “small, independent, traditional.”

When concepts take flight, though, the act of translation is never merely a one-to-one exchange, but rather an exercise in interpretation. As Hertl points out, for many German beer drinkers, “craft beer” has become virtually synonymous with American-style pale ales, IPAs, and imperial stouts. Hertl faces the occasional challenge in convincing German consumers that German beer actually is craft beer avant la lettre –– and that the novel tidal wave of American beer, exciting as it may be, isn’t necessarily better, just different from typically streamlined German beers.

This tension between tradition and innovation is one that I find fascinating, especially as it is currently playing itself out in Germany. Hertl and I return to the topic of the Reinheitsgebot in relation to a North American approach more influenced by Belgium than by Germany, and talk at length about the discipline imposed by German tradition.Hertl Braumanufaktur - David Hertl (Facebook) At this point in the conversation, Hertl waxes poetic about the sublimity of a well-crafted helles lager. Lover of lagers that I am, I cannot help but agree, even if I’m no stranger to homebrewing and drinking well beyond the Reinheitsgebot.

As I’m topping up my basket of beer, I notice a foil-wrapped stoneware bottle of Doppelbock aged six months in Islay whisky barrels. And a fortuitous coincidence at that. Up to that point, I hadn’t yet asked Hertl his name, but when I picked up the bottle, he proudly proclaimed that he had brewed it.

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The details: Hertl Braumanufaktur, *Torfig Rauchiger Whiskydoppelbock (Aged 6 months in Scottish Islay whisky casks). 11.3%. 9.60 Euros (~$11 USD). *Torfig means peated.

The first thing that strikes me about this beer is that it isn’t quite what I was expecting of a Doppelbock. Suffice it to say, this is a beer that defies stylistic preconceptions, starting from the moment you pour it into the glass. “Hazy orange-amber hued and the colour of light caramel” isn’t exactly the classic description of a Doppelbock. But that’s fine. We’re talking innovation meets tradition here.

And one more thing: It’s a beer to which you’ll want to give some breathing space, not only because it chocks up a hefty 11.3% ABV. This is a unique Doppelbock that expresses different moods over the time it takes to enjoy it.

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Curtain call. A heady mix of fruit and caramel hints at things to come. Classic Doppelbock-like melanoidin notes brood like Fafner in the depths of his cave. The fruit is berry-like, expressing itself in brightly acidic flavours that blend tart cherries and cranberries.

Not to be outdone, stone fruit contributes a brightness to the aroma and palate as well. Like a Wagnerian motif, this hint of peach sour carries through to the end. A bit of a social butterfly, the peach sour note pairs, by turns, with suggestions of orange zest-spiked shortbread and the occasional trill of yellow plum. Later, the stone fruit strikes up a harmony with a kaleidoscope of darker-toned notes reminiscent of Oloroso sherry before shifting key into a perfumed almond-like character more reminiscent of Amaretto. Hops even make a cameo appearance in this opera of aromas and flavours, giving voice to the kind of spicy mandarin orange peel fragrance that blends citrus and fir needles.

As for the peat? It’s the viola of the orchestra –– rather surprising, considering the beer is brewed with peated malt and then rested in whisky barrels.

What makes the beer unique, though, is the slightly tart-acidic contribution of the Islay whisky casks. This is both a blessing and a slight distraction. On the one hand, the Scotch weaving its melodies in the background contributes the stone fruit complexity and honeyed nuttiness that separates this Doppelbock from its peers. On the other, this diamond-like acidic note cuts through the richness of the Doppelbock’s maltiness a little too zealously, leaving the autumn honey and fruit cake malt duo cowering in the corner. That said, this zingy-tart Doppelbock is nothing if not fruity, and this saves the beer. Fir needle-scented brown sugar and candied orange peel appear as the curtain falls on the performance, leaving behind dried apricot in the tart-dry and fruity finish.

All in all, like many a whisky barrel-aged beer I’ve had of late that isn’t of the bourbon barrel-aged variety, I find myself craving a bit more body and residual sweetness to counter the fruity tartness. A barrel thing that underscores the nature of different spirits? I don’t have enough homebrewing experience to say one way or the other, aside from what I’ve read about the subject. But here’s a closing thought. Perhaps Hertl could propel future iterations of this beer from the terrestrial realm of “unique and compelling experiment” into an other-worldly Valhalla by blending a barrel-aged batch of his Doppelbock with a fresh batch of Doppelbock. I’m not sure if this is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Reinheitsgebot, but the practice seems to help the folks in Flanders introduce a bit more body and sweetness back into their Oud Bruins and Flemish reds.

These are fairly minor concerns. As a man of many zymurgical talents and a mere twenty-five years young, Hertl’s brewing future looks bright.IMG_5091

Related Tempest Articles

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Bourbon in Michigan: Barrel-Aged Beer along the Great Lakes

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie’s Pirate Bomb, Goose Island’s Bourbon County, Victory’s Dark Intrigue

Not Your Average Wheat Beer: Schneider’s Porter Weisse

Images

David Hertl raising a glass (Hertl Braumanufaktur Facebook page)

All other images by F.D. Hofer

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Sustainable Homebrewing

Earth Day 2015 is now receding in the rear-view mirror, but it’s worth keeping the Earth Day ethos in mind whenever we fire up our brewing systems. With the annual Big Brew festivities rapidly approaching, we may even want to challenge ourselves to put some of the following ideas into practice.

The folks over at CustomMade have put together a helpful infographic in conjunction with a ten-step plan for sustainable homebrewing, and have been asking beer writers and bloggers to spread the news. Since it’s been a busy month in Tempest Land and I haven’t had as much time to dedicate to writing about beer (to say nothing of brewing!), I figured now would be the perfect time to post their ideas here. I encourage you to read all of Abby Quillen’s “10 Must-Do Steps for Sustainable Homebrewing.” In the meantime, here’s a quick outline of what you’ll find, followed by a brief commentary on a few points:Barley Field (Wiki)

  1. Transition to Grains
  2. Use Sustainable Equipment
  3. Go Local and Organic
  4. Grow Your Own
  5. Reuse Spent Grains
  6. Reuse Yeast
  7. Chill More Efficiently
  8. Reuse Water
  9. Downsize Container Waste
  10. Green the Clean

In terms of sustainability, perhaps the most important concerns are Points #7 and #8 on water consumption. Between cleaning and sanitizing, brewing, and cooling, the beer-making process uses a prodigious amount of water.IMG_1409 My partner in crime urged me to think of ways to cut back on water waste, so I started collecting my cooling water in empty plastic carboys. To my surprise, it took roughly 14 gallons of water to cool 3 gallons of wort from boiling to around 70F. We used that water to keep the trees, lawn, and garden happy, but it was still a lot of water. So I came up with a pump system that recirculates ice water from a bucket through my immersion chiller. I add a combination of ice cubes and ice packs to a cooler, and use the chugger pump that I bought for the day when I build a larger system. An aquarium pump would achieve the same purpose. Now it takes only 3-4 gallons of ice water to cool the same 3 gallons of wort that once took 14 gallons to cool. That leaves enough to water our herb planters.IMG_1408

With regard to Point #5, I’d caution against the occasional rock or pebble that gets into grain. I may be the only person this has happened to, but the first time I made black bean veggie burgers with my spent grain, I chomped down on a pebble and nearly broke my tooth. What I do now instead is use my spent grains to feed the squirrels during the winter, and add it to the compost heap at other times of the year.

I have a tendency to go on at length about the merits of lagers and other beers brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, but over half of my own brews are experiments that go well beyond the strictures of the Reinheitsgebot . Growing your own or buying locally are great ways to go. So far, I’ve used home-grown lavender and basil in a few of my beers, and have plans to grow a gruit concoction of herbs at some point. I’ve been the beneficiary of home-grown hops, and have also bought peanuts, pumpkins, and honey for my brew days from the local farmers’ market. One of these days I’ll put together a comprehensive post on my experiences using various ingredients in the brewing process.

Without further ado, here’s the CustomMade infographic.

Click to Enlarge Image

10 Must-Do Steps for Sustainable Homebrewing

10 Must-Do Steps for Sustainable Homebrewing
Infographic by CustomMade

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Stay tuned for my post on bottles versus cans in the coming weeks. I’ve been working on it forever, but it’s almost done.

Related Tempest Posts

Pinning Down Place

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

A Bavarian in Texas: Franconia Brewing Company. Dennis Wehrmann of Franconia (north of Dallas) has been so successful with his combination of solar energy and bio-fuel electricity generation that he sells power back to the grid. That’s quite something, considering how much power breweries need to heat the kettles and keep the fermenting beers cool.

Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company. When I completed this article on Chris Asher’s brewery in the northern reaches of Boulder, Asher was still the only one hundred-percent organic brewery in Colorado.

Images

A Field of Ripening Barley, The Palouse, USA: Viktor Szalvay (Wiki Commons).

Water recirculation system and diagram: F.D. Hofer.

Sustainable homebrewing infographic: Abby Quillen.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

It was one of those August days when the sun-baked cobblestones seem to transcend themselves in mirage-like fashion. Since arriving in Salzburg earlier that day, we had been exploring a baroque palace here, a castle overlooking the city there, and churches everywhere. Definitely time for a beer, one of my friends declared. Another suggested a visit to the Augustiner, where we could relax in its chestnut grove with a cold stein.Augustiner Stein (FB pg) With one last burst of energy we crossed the foot bridge over the Salzach and climbed the hill in the direction of the Augustiner. As soon as we descended the stairs into the cellar precincts, the summer heat faded away. We threaded our way through stalls selling bratwurst and pretzels, and came upon the counter where a gruff barkeep in lederhosen was tapping beer straight from the barrel. Steins in hand, we headed out into the beer garden to partake of a venerable tradition: an al fresco Maß (liter mug) of beer among lively groups of friends and families who had gathered at tables and benches in the afternoon shade of the chestnut trees.

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This particularly enjoyable rite of spring and summer traces its history to early nineteenth-century Bavaria. Back in 1812, King Maximilian I. Joseph of Bavaria (1806-1825) set the development of beer garden culture on its present course with a Solomon-like decree that diffused the tensions that had been (ahem) brewing between Munich’s innkeepers and brewers. The dispute had its roots in the set of reforms that King Max had enacted, first as duke, and then as king. Some of these reforms proved more favourable to private Bavarian brewers than had previously been the case during the era of aristocratic brewing prerogatives, and breweries began to proliferate along the Isar River. During the warm summer months in particular, the citizens of Munich took to spending more of their time (and money) at the beer cellars on the banks of the Isar, preferring these shaded chestnut groves to the rather stuffy inns where the beer was decidedly less fresh.

Unsurprisingly, the innkeepers of Munich became increasingly incensed that they were losing revenue to the beer brewers who were also selling food to accompany their refreshing beers. They petitioned Maximilian –– connoisseur of the good life who was more likely to be seen at Munich’s Viktualienmarkt than at the barracks –– to do something.BeerGarden - Rescript_Max_I_Joseph_1812-01-04 A friend and supporter of brewers and innkeepers alike, their good King Maxl paid heed. The resulting decree of January 4, 1812 benefitted both parties and put its stamp on the history of the Bavarian beer garden down to the present day. Brewers could, indeed, keep right on selling their beer fresh from the beer cellars beneath their leafy gardens. But in a nod to the concerns of the innkeepers, the beer garden precincts were limited to the sale of beer and bread.

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Now, as for these beer cellars (Bierkeller) that gave rise to beer gardens? Beer gardens as we’ve come to know them in Bavaria and beyond are difficult to imagine without the history of a beer style many of us have come to know and love: lager. In the centuries before the invention of refrigeration, brewers sunk cellars on the grounds of their breweries. There, they covered their beer with ice blocks hewed in March from the still-frozen lakes and rivers of the region.

Even though monasteries and abbeys had been storing their beer in cellars and in caves at the foot of the Alps since the Middle Ages, the sinking of cellars in Munich accelerated in response to a decree promulgated by Duke Albrecht V in 1553. Despite the vaunted Reinheitsgebot of 1516, not all Bavarian beer was gold, so the duke declared that Bavarians were allowed to brew beer between St. Michael’s Day (September 29) and St. George’s Day (April 23) only. One of the reasons cited for the decree of 1553 was a fear of summer conflagrations caused by hot brew kettles. More importantly, though, brewers and the authorities who knew a good beer when they tasted it had, by the mid-1550s, learned a fair amount about the effects of cold fermentation on beer quality. Slower fermentation between 7 and 12 Celsius (44-55F) in conjunction with extended lagering (lagern = to store) at temperatures near freezing yielded a cleaner beer that kept longer than the top-fermented ales brewed in warmer conditions.

Beer cellars also enabled brewers to store their beer during the months they weren’t brewing, thereby ensuring a steady supply of fresh and stable beer during the summer months. As a further means of keeping the temperature of their cellars cool, brewers planted broad-leafed and shallow-rooted horse chestnut trees. From there, it wasn’t an enormous leap from the cellar to the shade. Enterprising brewers began to set out tables and chairs under the leafy canopy shading their cellars, and voilà: the beer garden. BierGarten - AugustinerMunich (FB page)If you’re lucky enough to live in a North American town that boasts a beer garden, or are even luckier and live in or will be visiting a Germanic country this spring or summer, raise a stein to the wise Bavarians who inaugurated these traditions. What better place is there to enjoy a crisp and spicy wheat beer or an effervescent Pilsner on a spring or summer day than in a beer garden?

Related Tempest Articles

The MaltHead Manifesto

Gose: A Beer Worth Its Salt

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

Pinning Down Place

Further Reading

German Beer Institute.

Horst D. Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1997).

Michael Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

Sabine Herre, “Geschichte der bayrischen Biergärten: Im Schatten der Kastanie,” taz (26 May 2012).

Images

Stein (Augustiner Bräustübl Salzburg Mülln Facebook page)

Decree by King Maximilian I. Joseph of Bavaria allowing Munich brewers to serve beer from their cellars, but prohibiting the sale of food other than bread (January 4, 1812). Bayrishes Hauptstaatsarchiv, München. Image available on WikiCommons.

Beer Garden, Augustinerbäu München

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

A Bavarian in Texas: Franconia Brewing Company

Dennis Wehrmann brewed his first batch of beer at twelve years of age and never looked back. Many begin their brewing careers with a motley collection of pans, buckets, and hoses, and at a much older age at that. Not Wehrmann. He brewed his first batch on a thirty-barrel system.

That this should come to pass was, perhaps, preordained, for Wehrmann is the latest in a long line of brewers stretching back to the early nineteenth century in his native Franconia.100-2890_IMG His mother holds a degree in brewing sciences, and his uncles are still active in the Bavarian brewing scene. But Wehrmann, who apprenticed with Neumarkter Lammsbräu before taking over the reins of the Altstadthof brewpub in the castle district of Nürnberg, chafed under the burden of running both the food and beverage ends of the brewpub.

(On a personal note, long before I made Wehrmann’s acquaintance, I spent a relaxing evening at that very same Altstadthof after a long and taxing day conducting research for an entirely different project at the Documentation Center for the Nuremberg Rallies of the Nazi Party.)

Taking his leave of this timbered Franconian city famous as the birthplace of Albrecht Dürer and infamous for its unfortunate run-in with the history of the Third Reich,Albrecht Duerer - Selfporitrait (Wiki) Wehrmann set off for the United States with his wife. And like so many Germans before him, he ended up in Texas. Even if Wehrmann is the first brewer in his family to fire up a brew kettle outside of Bavaria, though, his Texan beers are German-inspired through and through. No donut and bacon beers here.

Franconia Brewing Company maintains a relatively low profile on the Texas beer scene, but is worth a detour off the I-35 north of Dallas, especially if you identify with the kind of brewer who studiously avoids the latest fads in craft beer. Indeed, Wehrmann – a colourful character with an impish grin – is charmingly fanatic in his denunciation of high IBUs and the recent trend toward sour beer and barrel aging.IMG_0072 High hop rates? “The easy way out!” exclaims Wehrmann. Barrel aging? “Bad beer in, good beer out. You can’t go wrong!” Sour beers? Don’t even get him started. He dismisses these good beers gone bad with an impatient wave of his hand: “We have to ask ourselves why this particular beer is sour.” Only sour beers “done right” – a Berliner Weisse, for example – pass muster.

Instead, Wehrmann and his cheerful band of brewers at Franconia Brewing Company choose to submit themselves to the rigours of the German Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law). If you’re like me and you have a soft spot for Hefeweizen, Munich Helles, Kölsch, Munich Dunkel, Rauchbier, Festbier, Bock, and Doppelbock, you are in luck. Even Franconia’s limited-edition beers – an Oatmeal Stout here, a Double IPA there – are brewed with German yeast and left to lager for a time. Patience is the name of the game at Franconia. As per Reinheitsgebot strictures, all of their beers are naturally carbonated – a leisurely step that adds another two weeks, on average, to the brewing schedule.

Catering to the drinking needs of northern Texas for the past six years now, Franconia was only the second craft brewery to open in the Dallas metroplex area after Rahr set up shop in Fort Worth.Franconia Beers (Examiner-FB) The brewery began bottling its year-round offerings six months ago, and has expanded its distribution throughout Texas. Its flagship beers include a Kölsch, a Hefeweizen (labeled simply as Franconia Wheat), and a Dunkel. The summery and crisp-finishing Kölsch presents spicy aromas reminiscent of coriander underneath fruity tones of stone fruit (peach) and floral lemon. White pepper and a pleasant minerality accentuate blanched almond and bready Pilsener malt flavours. Wheat comprises sixty percent of the Hefeweizen’s malt palette, lending a subtle pepperiness and citrusy orange tang to the mild banana, almond, and light brown sugar notes. Franconia’s ruby-brown Dunkel hews in the direction of a Schwarzbier, combining dark caramel and coffee notes with a hint of smoke. Creamy and mildly bitter, this malt-forward beer is surprisingly refreshing.

Other seasonals that Wehrmann poured for me included a Weizenbock as rich as dark banana bread but leavened by a green apple-like acidity. Another, a whimsical smoked Weizen, bore a resemblance to the year-round Hefeweizen, with an enhanced malt sweetness and a smokiness suggesting air-dried ham.

If Wehrmann’s adherence to the Reinheitsgebot and his aversion to contemporary trends in craft brewing might strike some observers as quaintly traditional, his approach to Franconia’s environmental impact is positively cutting-edge.IMG_0074 Wehrmann is proud of his accomplishments, and with good reason. His days at Neumarkter Lammsbräu, a brewery at the forefront of organic and green brewing practices, made a deep impression on him. Right from the beginning, Franconia’s 6000 square-foot brewery was conceived with an eye toward green technology. Aside from bottles, the brewery is a waste-free facility. Like many craft breweries, Wehrmann hands off his spent grain to local farmers. And like a smaller number of craft breweries, Wehrmann strives to reuse as much water as possible – eighty-five percent, in Franconia’s case. But he surpasses most other craft breweries in his commitment to renewable energy resources, firing his brewhouse with solar energy, powering it with a bio-fuel electricity generation system, and capturing as much energy from the brewing process as possible for re-use. Wehrmann has been so successful in his endeavours that he is not only self-sufficient in terms of his energy needs, but also sells excess power back to the grid.  Franconia TourFranconia Brewing Company is located about forty-five minutes north of Dallas in the town of McKinney, and is easy to find from I-35, Hwy 380, and Hwy 75. Two-hour tours of the facility take place every Saturday morning at 11:00. Tours cost $5, and include samples of the good stuff. No reservation necessary.

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Images:

Altstadthof, Nürnberg: photo by F.D. Hofer

Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar: Wikipedia

Dennis Wehrmann, Owner and Master Brewer, Franconia Brewing Co.: photo by F.D. Hofer

Bottles of Franconia Beer: courtesy of Franconia’s Facebook page/www.examiner.com

Franconia’s green energy system: photo by F.D. Hofer

Franconia tour ad: courtesy of Franconia’s Facebook page

Of Isinglass and Other Fine Additives, Or, Is That a Fish Bladder I Spy in My Beer?

Last night I finally got around to brewing my chocolate peanut porter. With the cocoa nibs and peanuts I’ll add to the fermenter, the beer is no poster child for the German Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law), but at least I got the peanuts from the local farmers’ market. Like many homebrewers, I added a smidgeon of Irish moss toward the end of the boil so that the beer will be relatively clear when I bottle it.

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Irish moss is actually seaweed, a red alga that we also know as carrageenan. Irish moss combines with haze-forming proteins, and precipitates out of the beer. But Irish moss doesn’t aid in clearing yeast strains that don’t flocculate well. (A highly flocculant yeast strain is one that drops out of suspension quickly). To round up these reluctant yeasts, some brewers historical and contemporary turn to isinglass to perform the feat.

Isinglass is fish bladder.

Wait, fish bladder in my beer? The very notion of it has spawned (ahem) a spate of articles expressing righteous indignation at breweries for lacing their beer with, well, fish guts. I’ll address one of those articles here – Food Babe’s “The Shocking Ingredients in Beer” – mainly because it just made its second appearance in as many months on friends’ Facebook feeds.

Food Babe is “hot on the trail to investigate what’s really in your food.” With her article on beer, she turns up all manner of scandalous brewing transgressions, from GMO ingredients and high fructose corn syrup to harmful food colouring additives. And fish bladder.

Source: edibleprogress.com

Source: edibleprogress.com

She takes particular umbrage at the paucity of information on the labels – an issue I think merits debate. But aside from a belated nod to craft brewers and the Germans, she concludes that “if you decide to drink beer, you are definitely drinking at your own risk for more reasons than just the crazy ingredients that could be in them.”

 

Addressing one of Food Babe’s main concerns – the use of GMO adjuncts, particularly corn, by many of the large brewing conglomerates – is fairly straightforward: stop drinking mass-produced beer and head in search of your closest craft brewery.

Source: foodbabe.com

Source: foodbabe.com

Whether you’re choosing artisanal products from Europe or beers produced in your neck of the North American woods, the odds are in your favour that you’ll be getting beer made with ingredients of the highest quality.

And not only of the highest quality but, increasingly, local. New York State is only one of the most prominent examples of this steadily growing promotion of local agriculture. Aided by the recently enacted farm brewery legislation, craft brewers in New York State have helped re-introduce hop cultivation to New York, spur grain production in parts of the state, and spin off ancillary industries such as Farmhouse Malt in Newark Valley. (In the near future I will feature two Finger Lakes breweries that source ingredients grown in-state: Abandon Brewing Company, and Hopshire Farm and Brewery).

Now back to that pesky fish bladder in my beer. Food Babe’s startling revelation is doubly skewed, first by suggesting that all that ground up fish bladder is sitting there in your beer holding up Guinness’ famously resilient foam, and second by implying – via association with GMOs and high-fructose corn syrup – that isinglass is somehow bad for you. (Again, point taken on the ambiguity of labeling, especially if you’re vegetarian, vegan, or among those who have an allergic reaction to isinglass.) But isinglass is a fining agent, which means it doesn’t stay in suspension in the liquid; the amount of it that makes it into your glass is miniscule, if it even makes it in there at all.

Originally manufactured from sturgeon and later from cod, hake, and catfish, this dried and treated bit of fish innards has a long history in beer, mead, and wine production. Writing about porters in 1760, brewer Obidah Poundage looks back at the intervening years since porter’s 1722 inception and lauds the advances made since then:

“I well remember for many years it was not expected, nor was it thought possible [for porter] to be made fine and bright, and four and five months was deemed to be sufficient age for it to be drunk at. The improvement of transparency has since been added to it by means of more and better workmanship, better malt, better hops and the use of isinglass.” (Daniels, Designing Great Beers, 264).

Isinglass and other fining agents such as gelatin, carrageenen, and even egg white yield a clear glass of beer, wine, or mead by bonding with proteins, tannins, yeast cells, and other compounds. Fining agents attract these compounds, which contribute to a cloudy haze that some find unappealing, causing the compounds to precipitate to the bottom of the fermentation vessel or bright tank.

Most of your favourite alcoholic beverages, be they beer, wine, or mead, will clear with enough time. But time adds up in the form of storage space and lagering capacity. Many larger craft breweries will filter their beer or run it through a centrifuge, but these pieces of equipment are usually beyond the means of smaller breweries just starting out.

Among the smaller craft brewers that I have polled – an admittedly very small sample, since I’ve been polling for less than forty-eight hours now – kettle additions of carrageenan are common. One brewer with a long résumé noted that, in his experience, nearly all breweries add finings of some sort to the kettle. Another brewer pointed to his brewery’s selection of a yeast strain that ferments quickly and efficiently, leaving the beer clear. Some beer styles like IPA throw a mild haze from the hops, but many brewers eschew the fining or filtering of beers post-fermentation so as not to strip the beer of flavour and aroma.

So there you have it, fellow imbibers. That clear glass of wine or beer you’re drinking is quite possibly the result of a fining agent used at some point in the process.

Bottoms up.

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I’d like to thank the brewers and beer writers who shared their knowledge with me on short notice.

Further Reading:

Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food (Penguin, 2002).

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (Scribner, 2004).

Jancis Robinson (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford UP, 1994).

Ken Schramm, The Compleat Meadmaker (Brewers Publications, 2003).

Ray Daniels, Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles (Brewers Publications, 2000).