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Monday, November 15, 2010

Meet Grätzer, the New Gose

The newest thing in brewing is ... old things. Last year, we marveled that the very obscure gose style was enjoying a boomlet. But gose is old hat. Having scoured through all extant commercial styles, brewers now appear to be perusing the extinct. Last week, Ben Edmunds offered a beer inspired by an old style called grätzer (which he pronounced "grate-sir"). We'll loop back around to his version in a moment, but first, let's have a glance at the historical style.

Grätzer is actually indigenous to Poland, where it was known as grodziskie. Grätz was the German name for the town Grodzisk, which was, for a little over a hundred years, part of Prussia. But the beer style both pre- and post-dated Prussia, and was in fact still brewed in Poland until the 1990s. Grodzisk was a major center of brewing, and at the end of the 18th Century, boasted 53 brewers.

One of the famous local products in that old-school Beervana was a beer made entirely of smoked wheat malt. The indispensable scholar (and Grätz enthusiast) Ron Pattinson retrieved this information for our edification:
"Grätzer Bier, a rough, bitter beer, brewed from 100% wheat malt with an intense smoke and hop flavour. The green malt undergoes smoking during virtually the whole drying process, is highly dried and has a strong aroma in addition to the smoked flavour. An infusion mash is employed. Hopping rate: for 1 Zentner (100 kg) of malt, 3 kg hops. Gravity just 7º [Plato]. Fermentation is carried out in tuns at a temperature of 15 to 20º C."
--“Bierbrauerei" by M. Krandauer, 1914, page 301.
In brief, the passage highlights a few key points: in addition to being brewed entirely of smoked wheat, the beer is small (1.028; less than 3% ABV) and aggressively hoppy. Although it was fermented cool (60-68 degrees), it was an ale. Also interesting: the beer is hopped during the mash.

Stan Hieronymus, writing in Brewing With Wheat, tracked down homebrewer Kristen England who, after chatting with Pattinson, brewed his own Grätzer. It became one of his favorites. England told Hieronymus, "The amount of smoke and hop in this very low-gravity beer is absolutely massive."

Fascinating stuff, and certainly something that should pique interest in more minds than just Ron Pattinson's. Aggressively hoppy, intense flavors--the style may date back 600 years, but it sounds pretty contemporary to me.

Breakside's Grätzer
The greatest barrier to brewing Grätzers is not incidental: no one produces smoked wheat malt commercially. This means a brewery either has to smoke its own malt or improvise. Edmunds improvised, using regular smoked malt. In fact, his is an all-barley version, employing Munich and pilsner malt along with the smoked. (To head off howls from uber-geeks, he admits the obvious: "this is not an historical recreation of grätzer, but rather a re-imagination.")

Ben studied brewing in German, and when he consulted historical descriptions, found mention of an apple note. Instead of vibrant hopping, he decided to spice the beer to evoke that apple character, and added cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. He also blanched at the historically tiny OG and boosted it to 1.046--leaving a beer of relatively robust 4.4% abv.

The spice dominated the palate, which was light and quaffable, but only mildly smoky. Hops also fell back. It was actually quite a nice beer, but quite a bit different than my expectations.

A Grätzer Revival?
Given the difficulty smoking wheat malt, it's a bit hard to imagine grätzer emerging an even minor trend. Hieronymus cites a collaboration between Yards and Iron Hill where the brewers smoked some of their malt, but so far as I know, no one has made a fully traditional grätzer. Perhaps a nanobrewery will attempt it. In the meantime, it may be that the style remains solely the purview of homebrewers. I'll confess that after tasting Ben's version, I did a Google search to see how hard it is to smoke malt. At 1.028, we're only talking about five pounds--how hard can it be?


  1. I've been waiting for someone to make one of these ever since I read Ron's first article on them a couple of years ago, and went so far as to try and convince Alex at Upright to brew one.

    That said, a Gratzer is defined by smoked wheat malt and ridiculous levels of hops (if I recall Ron's recipe conversions they approached IPA levels), so if you take away the wheat and replace the hops with spice is it really a Gratzer anymore?

    I'll try and get up to Breakside and try his "re-imagining", but I'm still holding out hope that someone will make a "real" one.

  2. Gratzer is definitely an interesting style. It was my inspiration for the smoked wheat beer I brewed over the summer; 2/3 wheat malt, 1/3 rauchmalt and fermented with a local yeast cultured from my yard.

    A couple Gratzer/Grodziskie threads homebrewers might be interested in:

    Homebrewtalk - Grodziskie Discussion

    Homebrewtalk - Grodziskie Recipe


  3. That would be a lot of wheat to smoke for a pro brewery, even at 1.028! A wheat/barley mix would less authentic but more do-able. Maybe 50/50 wheat malt and Briess cherrywood smoked malt?

    I wouldn't fault any brewery for brewing a test batch of this before brewing a full batch. I bet I would like the results, but unless you have a very adventurous clientele, it might not turn over so fast.

  4. Interesting discussion. By the way: A Zentner is actually 50 kg or 100 Pfund, so the ratio of hops to malt is higher than in the quotation you had.

  5. Alan, you made my day. I'm so happy that we have one pedantic brewer in Portland who has the chops to debate--in the proper German--head to head with beer scholars.

    Now, you can make me even happier if Widmer brews a gratzer.

  6. Buddy pointed me here and asked me to comment.

    The problem with the beer isn't, surprisingly, the 100% wheat. Its getting the level of smoke you want without mucking up the malt. Meaning making sure it can still convert itself.

    I've done many different types of wood and oak realy does work best. Rachmalt is too smooth and hammy. The oak tannins really dry the beer out and with the hops dries the beer out completely. The cherrywood smoke made it taste like an ashtray.

    The BU's are around 40 or so. 2/3 first wort and then 1/3 the last 15min works very well. All low % noble which adds a ton of tannin b/c of all the hop matter that goes into it. You'll be surprised at how clear this beer ends up.

    I find thta OG+10 = bu works great. I like mine about 1.028 and then 38 bu. Finishes around 1.009. Bone dry.

  7. Sorry to resurrect a seemingly dead topic, but Choc brewing, here in Oklahoma, are doing a grätzer right now for release in a few weeks.

    Don't know how widely available it'll be, but they're doing 750ml cork topped bottles and draft.

    I'm looking forward to it.

  8. Weyermann Oak Smoked Wheat malt is now available in the US! Expect to see Gratzer coming back strong(ish).

  9. This is great! It is nice to see that the sour beers are catching on in other parts of the world. Let's hope that in the near future, these Goses and Gratzers (as well as a Gueuze or two) become regulars in the US beer market.

  10. The plans for brewing a Grätzer in Holland are at a pretty advanced stage. With any luck, it'll be brewed in early October.

  11. Ron,

    Excellent! We'll be doing ours probably the end of September if not before!


  12. Ron, are they using the new Weyermann smoked wheat? That product has been responsible for at least four American goses that I'm aware of. (Excluding homebrews, of which I had an excellent example earlier this summer.)

    Grätzer rising!

  13. Yes, it'll be 100% Weyermann smoked wheat malt.

  14. Northern Brewer now selling oak-smoked wheat

  15. The Grätzer was released on Thursday. 100% Weyermann smoked wheat malt, Lublin hops, the original yeast strain, the proper 7.7º Plato gravity.

    It's turned out great, subtly smoky, very hoppy, packed with flavour and just 3.3% ABV.

  16. Another tasty interpretation of a grätzer definitely worth seeking out:

    I linked to this page in my post -- thanks for all the research and information! You're doing the lord's work here.

  17. I am brewing a Grätzer with 100% Weyermann Oak-Smoked Wheat Malt. In Brewing with Wheat, Kristen England's recipe calls for FWH. My question is, how are the IBU's calculated in this recipe? I've commonly seen FWH calculated at 20 minutes, while Gordon Strong says 60 minutes? Thanks!

    -- Richard Berndt

  18. I'm not much for beer, but I had a gratzer a few days ago at a local brew pub, the Cask and Larder, and I can't think about anything else. I'm in love. Just wish I could find it bottled. Found this article very interesting - thanks for sharing, even if I'm a few years late!