You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

What the Brewers Association Did With Adambier and Grodziskie

Update.  When I wrote this post yesterday, Ron Pattinson hadn't commented on the Brewer's Association guidelines.  But he has now, so you should go to the source.

Source: Homebrew Chef
The Brewers Association has decided to include Grätzer/Grodziskie* and adambier as new styles for the purposes of judging in the GABF and other festivals.  This is a curious endeavor.  It's one thing to use guidelines for styles that have a historical through-line; current incarnations represent the best example of what we understand the style to be.  Porter, for instance, refers to a moderately alcoholic black beer with a roasty flavor, not a highly alcoholic, barrel-aged beer characterized by the vinous note of brettanomyces, as would have been the case 200 years ago.  But pick up a style that ceased to exist--especially one like adambier, which went extinct decades ago--and you are confronted with the question of which incarnation to pick.  So what did the Brewers Association do?

Grodziskie, a fairly well-documented style, was a lot of different beers over the years. This is how BA describes it:
Grätzer is a Polish-Germanic pre-Reinheitsgebot style of golden to copper colored ale. The distinctive character comes from at least 50% oak wood smoked wheat malt with a percentage of barley malt optional. The overall balance is a balanced and sessionably low to medium assertively oak-smoky malt emphasized beer. It has a low to medium low hop bitterness; none or very low European noble hop flavor and aroma. A Kölsch-like ale fermentation and aging process lends a low degree of crisp and ester fruitiness Low to medium low body. Neither diacetyl nor sweet corn-like DMS (dimethylsulfide) should be perceived.
Leaving aside the editing that paragraph requires (did a blogger write it?), I see a few issues.  The Reinheitsgebot comment is sort of salient in that the law wasn't adopted outside of Bavaria until the 20th century, but of course the style lived past 1906, confusing matters.  The kölsch comment is odd--what's the link there besides the fact that we're talking German obergärige (top-fermenting) beer.  But more to the point, where does the overall characterization of the beer--light smoke and hop flavors--come from?   It doesn't conform to any of the descriptions Ron Pattinson--in his usual painstaking way--has discovered.  For example:
Grätzer Bier, a rough, bitter beer, [is] 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.  (1914)
The starting gravity for that beer was just 1.028.  It's a post-Reinheitsgebot version, however, so maybe BA was thinking an earlier grodziskie.  Let's jump back a half century:
This bright, light, highly effervescent fine wheat beer is shipped far. It owes its peculiarities of the use of willow bark. It has a slight taste of smoke from the drying of the malt with smoke. Mashing is done by infusion, but willow bark is scattered on the cooler, and on the next day it is put into the fermentation vat.  In this way you create fermentation material from one brew to the next. The beer is well mixed and immediately filled into barrels that have a wide bung hole, which is bunged with straw. The beer is delivered to the customer in this state. (1867)
The source mentions isinglass for fining as well, and observes that "the willow bark contains tannin and a well known bitter substance."  Not very Reinheitsgebot!  One thing I'll note is that the older versions Ron found reference to were all hoppy as hell.  Ron also located a reference to modern Polish grodziskies just before they went extinct.  There were three varieties, a small beer, a 12 P beer of 3.5% alcohol (very low attenuation) and a 14 P strength version that was 3-5%, which indicates incredibly poor to just poor attenuation. 

All of which is to say that in over a hundred years of written descriptions of the style, Ron found none that looked like the Brewers Association.  The descriptions he found mentioned lots of smoke, lots of hop, low attenuation, high effervescence, willow bark, bottle-fermentation--none of which are mentioned in the BA's description.   So where'd they get theirs?

This style seems to have made it to the 20th century, but barely, and it seems to go way back.  Here's what the Brewers Association has to say about it (again, with the atrocious editing):
Adambier is light brown to very dark in color. It may or may not use wheat in its formulation. Original styles of this beer may have a low or medium low degree of smokiness. Smoke character may be absent in contemporary versions of this beer. Astringency of highly roasted malt should be absent. Toast and caramel-like malt characters may be evident. Low to medium hop bitterness are perceived. Low hop flavor and aroma are perceived. It is originally a style from Dortmund. Adambier is a strong, dark, hoppy, sour ale extensively aged in wood barrels. Extensive aging and the acidification of this beer can mask malt and hop character to varying degrees. Traditional and non-hybrid varieties of European hops were traditionally used. A Kölsch-like ale fermentation is typical Aging in barrels may contribute some level of Brettanomyces and lactic character. The end result is a medium to full bodied complex beer in hop, malt, Brett and acidic balance.
Again with the kölsch!  (That style is essentially a modern one, and while it's fine if the BA wants to think of all North German styles as kölsch-like, fine, but nothing before 1900 bore much resemblance to modern kölsches.  Lagers didn't challenge them until Dortmund started cranking out the exports well into the 19th century, and so there was no reason that they would "kölsch-like," by which we mean low-ester, lager-like ales.)  But this wheeze aside, I think they got a lot closer to the mark on adambier.  Here's Ron:
Dortmunder Adambier was a strong, sourish top-fermenting beer. Wahl & Henius ("American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades", 1902) has an analysis of the beer performed in 1889. It was around 18º Balling, 7.38% alc. by weight (9.4% ABV) and a lactic acid content about half that of a contemporary lambiek. In contrast to sour beers such as Gose and Berliner Weisse, Adambier, also called Dortmunder Altbier, was heavily hopped. It acquired its sourness much like Porter - through a long secondary fermentation. Bacteria in the lagering vessels slowly changed the beer's character. It needed to be stored for at least a year for this process to take place.
The weird thing about this is that while Weyermann's new smoked wheat malt has recently unleashed a torrent of grodziskies (ten or twelve, easy), who in god's name is making adambier?  Is this really a style we needed to be statted out?  What's next, joppenbier (also Germano-Polish!)?  Cottbuser?

I await your thoughts on this matter eagerly.
*Even the name is dangerously political.  Grätz is, of course, the German name of the town from which the style came, and Grodzisk the Polish.  Right off the bat you may sense the awkward politics.  Prussia, Jews, and the World Wars played a role in the history of the town (I've no doubt language and religion did, too), and I don't even want to think about which name is less loaded.  I'm going with the Polish, because the small town is now located in the Republic of Poland.


  1. Did a blogger write it? I would have thought the appropriate response would be to ask whether the it was edited by the hands that guided the Oxford Companion to Beer!

  2. "I don't even want to think about which name is less loaded. I'm going with the Polish, because the small town is now located in the Republic of Poland."

    Better change all the 'pilsner' references to 'Plzeňský' then! :)

  3. I haven't checked to see if they have uploaded a fully new set of guidelines yet, but the last version states this in its introduction: “Our decision to include a particular historical beer style takes into consideration the style's brewing traditions and the need to preserve those traditions in today's market.”

    In other words, they’re taking commercial demands into larger consideration than any historical purist is going to. They are an association of commercial brewers, after all. So inevitably the end result is not going to purely reflect the historical traditions involved.

  4. The various style issues aside, it's hard to imagine the BA producing such hackneyed descriptions of these beers. Or maybe it's not. Oh well.

  5. Brewolero, thanks, that's good context. I think you're exactly right on this point, but I'd love the story behind the story. In crafting the grodziskie style guidelines, BA could have said the smoke and hop flavors should be strong--that certainly doesn't make them harder to brew. Instead, they took what appears to be a totally ahistorical angle on the style from a sensory perspective. Why?

  6. Jeff, isn't it because the actual beer won't sell as much? Sorta like Shocktop, right? Commercial interests need priority.

  7. Agreed. You'd think that in a time and era like this where more information is better, that an association would be a tad more transparent about the process. Maybe The New Brewer laid claim to the exclusive rights to the story?

  8. This is Polish beer with centuries-long successful history of brewing in Grodzisk before German occupation. In the next few days me and my friends will send a protest letter to ABA and we will create online information about Grodziskie beer history as well.