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Friday, September 26, 2014

Exciting New Blog!

I wanted to alert you to a new project of mine.  Once a week, I'll be doing a blog over at All About Beer.  My debut post dropped today (every time people are trying to hype something, they say it "dropped) and you can find it here.  It begins:
Every beer-drinking country has a particular relationship to the beer it brews. Germans treat their lagers as a sacred trust, and breweries often have the text of Reinheitsgebot posted like a prayer on the wall. Italians are the quickest to think of their local ales as part of the gastronomic landscape—they brew with an eye to the dinner table. Americans have replaced a focus on quantity for one of quality, but in both cases there’s a maximalist orientation; now we count IBUs instead of empty cans.

The Czechs are the most interesting...
Please go and read the whole thing.  I'd love to affirm AAB's confidence in me with decent traffic, so help a brother out and click through.  Tom Acitelli has been doing some great history pieces, and John Holl even weighs in from time to time.  I'm hoping we can build a bit of a following for the online work we're doing over there.  Go have a look.

Incidentally, that blog is lightly linked to my (forever) forthcoming opus, The Beer Bible, and it shares the title.  I'll keep alerting you when posts go up there, at least for the near future.

Hey, what are you doing still reading this blather--go check out my post.


  1. Great to see you getting more "mainstream" press. You need to signal boost the things people like me and Ron Pattinson have been railing about for years: maerzen is a strength, not a color, modern oktoberfests are pale and so are historical viennas, decoction mashed lagers rule, et cetera. I have faith that you can put right what once went wrong.

  2. When writing about Germany, you should keep in mind there are two parts: Bavaria and the rest of the country. In Bavaria, I would say the attitude is quite close to the Czech approach.

  3. According to contemporary evidence, Dreher's Vienna beer was a darkish gold or amber, much darker than modern Oktobefest beers as made by HB or Paulaner, say. The maerzen style was characterized by numerous factors including this distinctive colour.

    See this detailed description which states flat out it was even darker than English pale ale (Bass's beer was an orangey lightish amber in old illustrations or photos that show the colour).

    I can provide another contemporary description where an English observer familiar with the Viennese beer gardens states the Vienna lager was a "glowing amber".

    This was a distinctive characteristic at a time when Munich lager was mostly dark. On a scale between English pale ales of the period and dark brown dunkel, I'd say a nutty gold or glowing amber are synonymous with bronze, which is what Michael Jackson called the beer.

    Gary Gillman

  4. Here is the glowing amber reference as reported in fact by Ron:

    Gary Gillman

  5. Trap sprung.

    "Amber" is a color ranging from between yellow and orange on the color spectrum. So it is entirely possible that a very yellow beer would be called "glowing amber." Part of the problem is that contemporary usage of the word "amber" itself--to describe a beer that is red to brown--is completely wrong. "Bronze" is not synonymous with "amber."

    Wahl and Henrius said that Viennese beer was between Bohemian and Munich beer in color in 1901, but did not specify exactly where. Modern Vienna malt does fall between Pilsner and Munich in color--but only slightly. 2-3 L vs 4-5 vs 6-8. These malts could have all lightened a few SRM since 1850, but the relative color has remained the same: vienna falls between pilsner and munich, and is about the same color as pale ale malt from the UK, which is, of course, where Dreher borrowed the idea from.

    Where would the extra color in a Viennese lager come from? Southern Germans didn't use blown or amber malt, and Dreher's goal was to get it as light as possible. Dreher's lagers *were* the lightest thing out there, for a couple of years at least. Why would you expect them to be other than pale amber at the lightest?

    Marzens have nothing to do with an orange color, either. Complete myth--Marzens are a kind of "summer beer" made higher strength and have been since the middle ages. In that time they would have gone from the brown of medieval beer to the pale yellow of the modern oktoberfest tent beers. Most marzens in both bavaria and the US today are this pumpkin orange color, but that has come from recent consumer expectation. There is literally no historical evidence to show that this trend is anything but a very recent one. And Hofbrau, Weihenstephaner, and a few others certainly defy that trend, as do consistent naming of pale beers in Austria as "maerzens."

    Finally, here's some actual data from Pattinson illustrating these exact points in 1871:

    In conclusion, just about everything groups like the BA or BJCP says about the "marzen, vienna, oktoberfest" style is objectively wrong. It's a mix of mistaken history and inability to properly categorize contemporary beer. You can categorize Negra Modelo and Sam Adams Boston Lager together in some "Vienna" category if you want, but the usage is completely ahistorical. Which is a synonym for "wrong."

  6. Sorry, not convinced. Amber means amber (to me), especially taken with "nutty-golden". Even light amber is not yellow. Also, I did not state orange was a characteristic of marzen bier's colour. I said English pale ale could have this colour in the period, and remarked that the first reference I cited stated Vienna lager was darker than pale ale.

    Wahl & Henius: Mid-point between Bohemian and Munich's dunkel's colour is... amber, again IMO. You are free to disagree.

    Ron's table is not easy to interpret viz colour as he states himself. Dreher's beer there is called pilsener, and two others only are called Marzen. These are at the high end of the range of colour there. If Ron is right that the ones at 5-6 are darker than Urquell, that is within the amber range certainly. I remember Urquell from the 70's and 80's when it was rather darker than it is today, I'd have called it light amber. Anything darker sounds glowing abver or nutty gold (dark gold, IMO) to me. But again, Dreher's marzen (not mentioned in the table apparently) may have been even darker.

    Hey, you can disagree, that's fine, but as someone aware of these contemporary descriptions, and marrying it to everything I know from after including what Jackson wrote, it is not "wrong" to suggest Dreher's marzen was rather darker than modern helles; au contraire. I believe in other words the colour of marzen, made famous by Anton Dreher, has gotten lighter over the years. I understand some German marzens are still darkish but the last two I had, HB's and Paulaner's, seemed indistinguishable from their helles beer.

    By the way I have no idea what you meant by trap sprung. You stated something I disagreed with, and I stated my view, as often occurs in the comments here. End of story.

    Gary Gillman

  7. I said "trap sprung" because I love getting into fights over this. Call it a drunken Cassandra complex.

    There are a number of points I fundamentally disagree with you with and have a sound, logical argument for these points. The major one is this:

    "the colour of marzen, made famous by Anton Dreher"

    There is literally no evidence to suggest that Dreher made the märzen famous. This is the central myth that we are talking about. There is just absolute scads of evidence that märzens existed for hundreds of years before the Oktoberfest, before Anton Dreher and before Gabriel Sedlmayr. They were associated in the middle ages not with color, but with strength. They were the last beers brewed in march, before the summer season, and the first beers opened in late September, to celebrate the end of the summer/the harvest/probably the solstice. They differed from the smaller winter beers produced during the active brewing season, as well as the stronger bocks, which were aged for special occasions.

    By 1901 Wahl and Henrius identified the classes of lagers in Austria (including Bohemia) in increasing orders of strength as Abzug (discount) or Schank (tap) beers, then lagers, then märzen, then export, then bocks. This is the critical point: as a whole, they said bohemian beers were lighter in color for the exact same styles than Viennese beers.

    This explicitly states that märzen is a descriptor of *strength,* not of color. Just like lager, or bock. There were light märzens, and dark märzens, and everything in between.

    These descriptors have survived all the way into Czech brewing, which keeps the Czech translations of the German originals. Märzen becomes Speciál--presumably because the medieval Bavarian history of "Märzen" is completely obscured), but it's still there. In pale, dark, semi-dark and black.

    Your average "Octoberfest" in Sam Adams style is going to be somewhere from red to brown. I am a pedant so I insist on using the word "amber" for the actual color (the range between yellow and orange) and it most certainly isn't that.

    If you take 100% Vienna malt, which is of course what Dreher did, you get a beer that's just darker than a yellow pilsner, around the color of a pale ale, and what you might call "nut gold." "Amber" in the color wheel sense, but not in the sense BJCP sense of "red-to-brown." This will be somewhere in the range of 4-6 SRM, about the color of the contemporary Weihenstephaner festbier, "Pale to Gold" in the Brewer's Association color guidelines.

    If you take 100% munich (type 1 or 2 or a blend) you are going to get a beer that is orange or--at best--on the orange side of amber. It will have an SRM of 8-10, "light-dark amber" in the BA guidelines, which is still short of the BJCP classification of a Vienna Lager (and whoopsie! the BJCP minimum of 10 SRM places automatically places it in copper/garnet portion of the BA spectrum, not amber).

    Munich malt was invented *after* Vienna malt. How in the fiery hell could Dreher's Vienna lager be even darker than this?

  8. Answer: it couldn't, the BJCP history is completely ass-backwards, a gift courtesy of Michael Jackson and 19th century marketing and brewery propaganda.

    Okay, so modern malts are probably a lot more uniform than older ones. Old school floor malting will add maybe 1 SRM, if you're lucky. Triple decoction, maybe one if you're lucky. Let's say you use a 2+ hour boil, too, and get another SRM that way.

    Still puts you at a good 6-10 SRM lower than Negra Modelo, or Samuel Adams, or Yuengling. How they get that color is easy: they use crystal malt. This is completely ahistorical, and once again the BJCP categories are objectively broken because no one is willing to challenge the Gospel of Jackson here.

    What's happened is that the use of märzen for anything other than "Oktoberfest" has fallen out of favor in Germany. And the beer served at the Oktoberfest is higher gravity Helles Lagerbier for sure--exactly what would be Helles Märzen in Austria. It's just that Germans don't use this terminology: they call them Wiesn, because of their close ties to the Munich Oktoberfest. Märzens in the north of Bavaria only make amber-range Märzens for probably the same reason.

    But czechs have the full range, and unlike Germans (who have categories for "light" and "dark" only--and "dunkel" can roam anywhere from amber to dark brown), they have a word for "not pale or dark." Germany has simply collapsed style categories onto themselves, the way English collapsed 2nd person pronouns into one.

    So in conclusion:

    The Märzen prior to the 18th century was dark brown. Following Sedlmayr's introduction of munich malt, it was likely red-to-brown. This is the color of an American Octoberfest, which achieve this color through the ahistorica use of crystal malt for the most part. It is not the color of a modern German Oktoberfest or Wiesn, which is a 14-15 plato beer that is yellow: a helles märzen. None of these styles have anything to do with Viennese beer in the 19th century, except that Sedlmayr and Dreher exchanged ideas and techniques. Dreher made everything from schankbiers to märzens, in a color that was "in-between" Bohemian yellow (2-3 SRM, BA "straw") and Bavarian red-brown (7-10 SRM, BA "light amber-amber-medium amber), which does not mean a median point, but somewhere closer to BA "Pale to Gold" of 4-6 SRM.

    Michael Jackson, George Fix, the BJCP and everyone who follows them in this categorization (most beer publications, ratebeer, beer advocate) are objectively wrong here, and there is not a credible shred of evidence to defend their position.

    I really respect the work Jackson did, but sometimes even otherwise brilliant people were just wrong. Lenin was a teetotaler, for example. This is one of those times.

  9. Net net, and I've done much more reading than I've indicated here, Anton Dreher and his son revolutionized Austrian brewing, introduced a beer that was darker than English pale ale but lighter than dark brown Munich lager, and their brewery was known specifically by the late 1800's for their "marzen". It appears Spaten was responsible for introducing a beer of similar colour at Munich's Oktoberfest as marzen and so the name became associated to the Vienna colour (although possibly Dreher used it first in that sense, that I can't say).

    But of the colour itself, nutty gold means dark gold IMO and you can find darkish tan colour plates on websites which classify colours if you search "nutty gold". "Wiener" beer in 1800's colour illustrations advertising beer of that style in America show a reddish brown colour, sometimes next to a very pale American or Bohemian-style lager. To me, darkish tan, reddish brown, glowing amber, bronze are all broadly similar.

    I am satisfied, but you may have the last word should you wish.


  10. My last word:

    Thanks, Jeff, for the chance to discuss this interesting question.


  11. It gladdens my heart to come back from a weekend away and see this kind of debate. I don't know how many people will take the time to read it all, but I do, and I enjoyed every word--

  12. And again, the standard Michael Jackson-derived narrative with no evidence.

    Answer the simple question: The traditional narrative states that the malt Dreher was credited for inventing and popularizing was vienna malt.

    We know that a beer produced with vienna malt will be around 4-6 SRM. You're welcome to try it yourself, if you'd like. That's nowhere near "nutty brown."

    So either the traditional narrative about the color of Vienna beers is wrong, the traditional narrative about the grist of Vienna beers is wrong, the narrative about the history of Märzen is wrong, or some combination of three.

  13. BTW, the history of märzen is definitely, objectively, provably wrong:

    Unger's "Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance": "As brewers in southern Germany turned toward using a type of yeast which settled to the bottom of the fermenting trough, the type which required temperatures from 6 to 8 C, restrictions on brewing in the summer increased. It was the policy in Bavaria from 1539 and reaffirmed in 1553 to limit brewing to the period from 29 Sept to 24 April...To compensate for the lack of summer production, Bavarian brewers in March produced a stronger beer with higher alcohol content and more hops. The so-called March beer was typically more expensive than the common winter beer and would last longer into the summer."

    The end of September. Hmm. That's a familiar date in Bavarian festival history, for some reason. I can't quite put my finger on it....

  14. Perhaps Jeff will allow me to state a few more words.

    Vienna malt today (rich and biscuity, golden but not amber in colour) is surely different to Vienna malt in the 1800's. Why would one think it should be the same? Brown malt isn't. English pale malt isn't (it was darker in the 1800's, perhaps why crystal is used with it by English brewers today), etc.

    My interest here is to demonstrate what I think Dreher's beer, his marzen in particular, was like in colour. Two English contemporaries, careful observers of beer, one of which refers to Dreher specifically, stated the Vienna lager was nutty-golden or glowing amber. That is not light gold, the apparent colour, at the SRMs you mention, of Vienna malt today.

    Thus, Vienna malt was different then. And there was a Vienna malt. This trade exhibition catalogue from 1888-1889 listed "malt in three colours" from a Moravian supplier. One was for Pilsen beer, obviously the lightest, one for Vienna beer, obviously the intermediate, one for Bavarian beer, clearly the darkest of the three. The Vienna malt was clearly the one used to brew Dreher's marzen at Klein Schwechat. It had become known as a type and was being promoted in international markets - a fair in Melbourne, in this case.

    Numerous references in 1870's English brewing literature state that Dreher took inspiration from English malting methods to devise his own malt. Of course, its colour would have varied somewhat with the suppliers. But since numerous sources state that mid-/late-1800's Vienna lager, of which Anton Dreher was the avatar, was amber or nutty gold, we must take it the malt used for Vienna beer produced this colour.

    This is borne out by colour illustrations of the period I have seen. There is one in the colour plates section of Michael Weiner's The Taster's Guide To Beer, 1977. It shows a brownish red bottle of "Wiener" beer next to a blondish bottle of American lager beer. No one would mistake the Wiener for light gold, it is much darker than that. The bottles are obviously clear bottles, this is evident for the blonde lager but by inspecting the base carefully of the Wiener bottle, you can see it is clear too. The ad was seeking to advertise both types and show their attractive colours to the public. The beer was from Blatz of Milwaukee.

    Finally, no need to keep adverting to the older history of March/Marzen beer. It is commonly known that top-fermented beers were season-brewed in many parts of Europe, including in the month of March. The question is why the term marzen later became associated in the German-speaking world with a copperish bottom-fermented beer served at Munich Oktoberfest. The answer is, IMO, Dreher devised his own malt at a specific colour, influenced by, but darker than, English pale malt, people liked it, Sedlmayr of Spaten introduced his version in the early 1870's at Munich's Oktobefest, and the rest is history. So the old brown top-fermented Marzen or whatever was served between 1810 and 1872 at Munich Oktoberfest before Sedlmayr did his thing went out the window - at Oktoberfest but then spreading into the German-speaking world generally.

    The marzen term changed in meaning, in other words.

    Gary Gillman

  15. Jeff, trusting also I may amend one thing I said in my last note which may not be technically correct. The 1888 trade fair catalog lists three malts and I inferred "Bavarian" is darker than "Vienna". This may not be so as such. Many reports suggest Munich lager, whether present use or lager (stored), was a lightish or medium brown (as some still is, e.g. Paulaner's), while Bavarian bock was darker tending to a dark brown. Also, I've located information that the kilning temperature for Vienna malt was higher than for Munich malt and not just by a few degrees. Therefore, IMO, it is more accurate to state simply that the essential colours of Vienna and Munich malt were different. No doubt some Munich brewers made a darkish brown lager, and some Vienna brewers made a lightish amber beer.

    But the point being, Vienna beer was much darker than blonde Bohemian beer or modern helles bier (IMO).


  16. I pulled out the old Wahl and Henrius which I know for a fact covered this, and I was not shockingly right: As of 1901, color malts were used in Bavarian beer, but not Wiener beer.

    Color of malts were expressed in terms of amount of iodine in a normal solution as follows

    Bohemian: .2 to .25 cc
    Wiener: .3 to .4 cc
    Bavarian: .7 to 2.0 cc

    Vienna malt is only *slightly* darker than Bohemian, and the lightest Munich is twice as dark as Vienna.


  17. It would be interesting to duplicate the iodine test and see what the different doses - say an average of each range - actually produce.

    The Vienna numbers are 50%-100% greater than the Bohemain, physically the difference might be quite striking. True, the Bavarian is that much more so, but by 1900 dunkel may have been very dark in general. Much dunkel is very dark today, yet a lot of what I've read from the mid-1800's suggests except for bock and Kulmbacher, a lot of it was medium or even light brown. Maybe that had changed by 1900. Or maybe Vienna malt, kilned much higher than Munich malt in the 1870's (heyday of the Marzen style) - I can show this but don't have reference to hand - was starting to lighten by 1900. Or both.

    I'll never forget that column Jackson wrote, I think in AAB, where he said when he went to Vienna, brewers accused him of imagining the copper Marzen style. But as in most other things, he was correct, i.e., his point was the colour generally became lighter over the years especially in the home country of the style. Bavaria has still preserved some brands with the original hue or close, however.


  18. Through Jeff's kind offices, this thread is becoming a kind of clearing house for knowledge of marzen and its history.

    And so, some further references.

    Dreher made its own malt:


    Description of brewing in Vienna and Pilsen (1870's) explaining higher-temperature kilning of Vienna malt.

    Apologies for the French text, but it is a very detailed description of brewing in these centres. One can see even with high school French I believe the difference in centigrade kilning ("touraillage") between Vienna and Bohemian/Pilsner malts.

    Gary Gillman