Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Weird old beer styles

Collecting strange, extinct beer styles is one of my hobbies. Probably not to everyone's (or even anyone else's) taste, but I thought I would share a few with you. I have to write about something now I'm done with Franconia.

Merseburger Bier

Merseburger, a very famous, good-tasting and healthy brown beer, called Heidecker, which is widely exported. It has a somewhat burnt taste because, during its preparation, the malt, laid on hair drying cloths raised to shoe height, is not turned until it is dry enough, and the ovens have curved heaters, so heat, together with smoke, goes through side openings through the malt. Its bitterness strengthen the stomach, and aids digestion; its excitement of the intestines maintains the opening of the body; and since it also accelerates the flow of blood, it helps the passing of urine and perspiration very noticeably.

Oekonomische Encyklopädie (1773) von J. G. Krünitz, p 5, 30.

Merseburg is in Sachsen-Anhalt, just south of Halle. My wife Dolores went to university there. Lovely town, with a huge chemical works to the North and an even huger chemical works to the South. I've been there once, in 1986. All I can remember about it is a statue of Lenin in his famous taxi-hailing pose.


Geithayner beer. The manner in which this is brewed is almost the same as in other cities, since both use 1 bushel barley, and a little more, and have the malt thoroughly prepared, to brew one Viertel [quarter, a liquid quantity]. Except that for their Lagerbier, which is brewed in March, they use Bohemian hops. After that, however, it differs completely from others. Because, as soon as the beer has been brewed, they carry it, still warm, from the brewhouse to their houses, and pour it into cooling barrels, whose height is 3 spans [1 span = approx 15 cm], but which are somewhat greater in width, into which scarcely 1 tun, or a little more, can fit. When it has stood, depending on the air temperature, 15, 20, sometimes even 24 hours, they test if it has cooled enough by dipping in their fingers, since they then pour it lukewarm together into two large barrels which are somewhat broader at the bottom than at the top, and hold about 5 quarters [Viertel] when full; however they pour only 4 quarters of beer into each, so that almost a third of the vessel remains empty during fermentation. After it has stood like this for a couple of days, it begins to ferment by itself (i.e. spontaneously), so that it throws up a froth (which they call Krausen) of 1/2 elle [half cubit, or approx. 31 cm] high or more. During this fermentation it is wonderfully drinkable, and particularly strong, so that one cannot manage much of it, when they drink and sell it at this stage. After the passing of 11 to 14, occasionally even more, days, depending on the weather, the foam collapses, and becomes brownish, blackish, and the beer flat. Then they take bundles of birch twigs, whip the beer, as one beats egg whites, for 1 to 2 hours, or perhaps less; then it is absolutely flat; whereupon they fill it immediately into quarters or tuns, which they take sealed to mountain cellars, and lay down to lager. It is now left lying until they make it drinkable by opening it up, and they don´t have to do anything else, except to diligently wipe and keep the barrels clean. If it is now to become drinkable, the following method is to be observed. Eight days before, break open the barrel, and fill it twice daily from the top with pure spring water, and wipe it down to keep it clean, after 4, 6 or 8 days it begins to discharge foam through the bung hole; nevertheless they continue to top it for a few more days, so that a Wasserkanne, or even more, of water is filled into some quarters [Viertel]. Then it is an excellent drink. However, if it does not begin to froth over by itself after 6 or 8 days, then they mix a little wheat flour in spring water, and add in it; then it soon begins to foam. And in this way they keep their beer fresh, pure and good until Michaelis.

Oekonomische Encyklopädie (1773) von J. G. Krünitz, p 5, 23.

Geithain (as the name is now spelled) is in Saxony, about halfway between Leipzig and Chemnitz.

You can probably guess from their crappiness that the translations are mine.


Boak said...

Do you know anything about "devon white ale"? Uses egg white apparently. I have a reference to it in "Radical Brewing" by Randy Mosher, which refers to an article in the 1736 London and Country Brewer. But that's the only reference I can find online.

Ron Pattinson said...

Boak, do you mean the Randy Mosher is the only reference you can find? The text of The London and Country Brewer is available on the web:

I seem to remember there is a reference to white ale from somewhere or other.

It's well worth reading the whole text of the book if you're interested in the history of British beer. It provides a unique insight into early 18th century brewing practices just at the time of the Porter revolution.

Ron Pattinson said...

Boak, Zythophile told me he has a book with a recipe of West Country White Ale. He intends blogging on the topic soon.