I’m not the biggest fan of the 500 year old Reinheitsgebot, also known as the German Beer Purity Law. The law is touted by marketing departments as the reason German beer is of such high quality, but the truth is that Germany makes great beer because German brewers take their craft extremely seriously. Unfortunately this long held belief in the Reinheitsgebot has led to most German brewers putting all that skill into making the exact same four beers anywhere you go in the country.
So with this being the 500th year anniversary of Reinheitsgebot I’ve decided to research, and attempt to brew, many of the beers that were suddenly made illegal by this law.
Of course many of us call Reinheitsgebot the “German” purity law, but it was actually a Bavarian invention, and was only applied across all of Germany in 1906 when Bavaria made it a condition of joining the German Empire.
Expanding this law across all of Germany suddenly made many other beers illegal throughout the country. This was especially true in the north where many beer styles included ingredients like wheat, oats, molasses, or a mix of spices and herbs. Beers like Broyhan, Kottbusser, and Kirschenbier (cherry beer), were suddenly illegal in their home country.
To bring back many of these beers I’m digging through old books and industry journals from the 18th and 19th centuries, and standing on the shoulders of giants like Ron Pattinson of Barclay Perkins to find recipes, descriptions, and anything else that can shed light on how to recreate these brews.
If you know of a lost beer, have details on any of the beers listed below, or just have some general questions, then please drop a note in the comments or say something on the Facebook page. I can use all the help I can get with some of these beers.
Now to come on this journey of lost German beer-styles you may have to first abandon a few things that you “know” about beer.
1. Weissbier is not wheat beer.
It’s true that many wheat beers (Weizenbiers) are called Weissbier today, but Weissbier originally referred to beers made with Luftmalz (air malt). Luftmalz was made by drying the malt with air without putting it in a kiln. This lack of kilning left the malt incredibly pale and created a “Weiss” (or “white”) beer.
2. Lagers aren’t bottom fermented beers, and ales aren’t top fermented beers.
I’m sure you’ve read in many beer or homebrewing books that all beers are broken into the family of lagers, or the family of ales. That’s actually a fairly modern invention for categorizing beers, and it’s often terrible for describing German (or British) beers.
Lagering is simply the process of storing beer at cold temperatures for a period of time before serving. Several top fermented beers, such as Kölsch and Altbier are lagered, but by the modern American definition these lagered beers are ales. Splitting beers into lagers and ales can be useful for the beginning homebrewer, but not so much when exploring historical beers.
I could never create a complete list of all the beer styles lost to Reinheitsgebot, but the following beers are ones I’ve found reference to in old texts, or first heard of from sources like Ron Pattinson, or Randy Mosher, author of my all time favorite book about beer and brewing.
I also realize that some of these beers were not lost because of changes in the law, but simply because these beers were brewed by small family run breweries that just could not compete with the extremely large lager breweries with their massive scale and capital. My focus will remain on bringing back those outlawed beers, but some lost styles that stayed within the law are so intriguing that I’ll also be including them here.
I will make future posts about each specific beer and create a link here. Just check the name of the beer, if it has a link, then there is a dedicated post.
Stettiner Bergmannsche Bier
Also known as Stettiner Doppelbier, this beer was likely brewed with wheat malt, amber wheat malt, and amber barley malt. It also appears to have contained molasses, juniper berries, ginger, and salt. Several references from the first half of the 1800s state that it was distributed far and wide, but don’t provide any details on the beer itself.
So far I’ve only found one recipe in a book from 1853, and have seen it reprinted in several other books. It doesn’t claim to be a legitimate recipe from a Stettiner brewer, but it does claim to be “indistinguishable” from Stettiner Doppelbier. One very good lead on this beer doesn’t provide a recipe, but does provide details on how the malt for this beer was made.
We usually think of Porter as being a British style of beer, but just about everyone started brewing it once the Brits made it popular. The German versions appear to have come in weak and strong, along with lightly hopped and highly hopped versions. Color and flavor was derived from various malts, caramel sugar, and perhaps even molasses.
Scheps (or Schoeps)
A wheat beer from the Wrocław, Poland (formerly Breslau, Germany) that may have been brewed as far back as the 1300’s. I don’t have much on this beer yet, but one group claims to have recreated it and offers recipe kits for homebrewers, and even the American Brewers Association has recently recognized this beer in its style guidelines.
I’ve honestly found very little about this beer other than a few references in some very old texts. I’m excited to research this beer, but I’m also a little worried I won’t find anything of use.
A style brewed in Köpenick, a town on the outskirts of Berlin, this beer died away long ago, but appears to have been resurrected by a small brewpub from an original recipe dating back to 1752. The only descriptions I’ve found so far is that its smoky and sweet with grassy hop flavor.
Hoppy and smoky, this beer was brewed entirely with oak-smoked wheat malt, and managed to remain in production in Poland up until the 1960s. Luckily this beer is actually making a comeback and a version is being brewed by lots of homebrewers as well as a handful of breweries from The Netherlands to the US. The American Brewers Association also added this beer to their style guidelines in 2013, and I haven’t read much that makes me think the guidelines are wrong.
Strong, dark, hoppy and sour, this beer from Dortmund could contain wheat or be entirely barley malt based; I simply haven’t had time to research this one properly. The American Homebrewers Association also added this to their style guidelines, but I’ve not researched enough to judge how accurate their guidelines are.
Made with barley and wheat, this beer was brewed from the 16th-19th centuries. It contained hops and possibly cloves, and some believe it eventually evolved to become modern day Kölsch, but I’m highly skeptical about that last claim.
This is one of those Weissbiers (remember when we said they’re not wheat beers?) that was lightly hopped and quite sour. It probably did contain wheat, maybe even some other grains, and possibly honey. This is one I’m really looking forward to trying.
Thick and dark, but low in alcohol. Mumme originally came from Braunschweig. With an OG hovering around 1.200 and an FG only a few points lower, this was probably something closer to syrup than the beer we know today.
At some point German brewers were experimenting with rice beers. Even the Bavarians got in on it based on records from Weihenstephan from sometime before 1889. According to the author 400 liters (about 240kg) of barley malt was mixed with 30kg of rice flour to make the beer. Were the Americans really the first ones to lighten their pilsners with cheap adjuncts, or did the German braumeisters bring knowledge of this forbidden ingredient with them to the New World?