Friday, November 17, 2006

German Beer

German Beer by Joshua Spaulding

Most German beers are popular, because they are vegan (no animal products are used). Bavarian purity laws require them to use four ingredients only: water, grain, hops and yeast. Real German beer is also not pasteurized as many American beers are, which allows the beers real flavor to flourish.

Listed below are some of the different types of German beers typically found in Bavaria and what you can expect if you order one of these types.

"Helles" ( A lite beer)
The standard light beer, when you order a "Helles" in a pub or restaurant you will usually get a pint. Depending on the brewer it can be quite refreshing. Some beer gardens have responded to the public's outcry for smaller quantities and now also offer them outdoors, the "real" beer garden only serves the "Maß" (one quart). By the way, this precise nation has laws governing the quantity of liquids served to the public, that is why you will find level markers on each glass. If your Maß looks like it is not quite 1 liter after the foam settles, just go back and say "bitte nachschenken". The man at the keg will be impressed that you know your way around.

"Pils" (Pilsener)
If you like a more bitter and less malty taste try the pils which is also called pilsener. You can order them in restaurants and special pils bars. Take a closer look at the time consuming process of serving a foam crowned pils with perfection. You will see dozens of glasses filled with foam only, waiting to settle. It can take a good quarter of an hour for the foam refills to turn into the golden liquid. This particular beer is arguably the closest to American beer you will find in Germany.

"Dunkles" (A dark beer)
Against popular beliefs it is not the most powerful in alcohol contents. It is basically a lager bottom brewed beer containing "toasted" malt. Many enjoy mixing this with cola.

"Weissbier" (A white beer)
A very good idea on a hot day when you prefer a lighter tasting beer. Weizen means wheat, often called a Weissbier (white), and is served in tall and elegant 1/2 liter glasses. But beware of its "light" character it is the strongest in alcohol content. While some will serve it with a slice of lemon, do not put one in your Hefe (yeast) Weissbier. The Hefeweissbier comes only in bottles. A professional will wet the glass and pour the bottle at a steep angle. With the foam that remains at the bottom of the bottle he will collect the yeast (swirling action) and add it to your beer.

“Bock and Doppelbock” (A Bock beer)
Bock is a term used for a stronger beer (doppel meaning double). Fasting monks found an ingenious way of compensating the lack of food - they started brewing very strong beers. March and October are the two most prominent seasons for brewing these special beers but you can find them year round.

For more information on German Beer and Information on Germany please visit

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Homebrew Experimentation - Back to Basics

I started brewing my own beers back in the late 90's. A friend of mine had been brewing successfully for about 10 years and had offered to show me the ropes. I eagerly accepted.

At that time he had already had a sufficient grasp of the process, so my actual first brew was an experiment of sorts, but the outcome was fairly predictable because we were using base ingredients that he was familiar with.

The addition we made to his standard recipe was about 4 lbs. of honey. He thought it would be neat to try our hand at brewing a honey brown ale. We ended up with approximately 10 lbs of fermentable sugars in that brew, and later, during fermentation, the airlock clogged with hops and the lid blew off of my fermenter spewing hops and foam onto the wall in my apartment. It would prove to be one of my strongest brew to date.

Since that first brew I've tried different recipes and experimenting with my own variations on the basic theme. I've used pale malt extracts, dark malt extracts, steeped specialty grains, several varieties of hops, different yeast strains, lemons, limes, rosemary, coriander and other herbs to enhance the "nose." All in an attempt to create my perfect ale.

I still haven't achieved that goal, and now that I look back on all the experimentation, the successes and failures, I understand why. There is no perfect beer, just different beers that need to be appreciated for their own unique qualities and differences. Likewise, different tastes and preferences will cause us to appreciate one style or flavor more than another.

One batch of beer cannot, or should not, be compared to a previous batch of beer, unless the brews were made from exactly the same recipe, they must be assessed individually. They are as distinct as any commercially available offering. Even more so because of the environmental differences, and variations in timing inherent in the home brewing process.

As a brewer who likes to experiment with flavors and other additions, if I can't create the perfect beer I must first create a beer that I am satisfied with and use that as my benchmark for additional experimentation. At least then I can anticipate the result and not be completely disappointed when a particular experiment doesn't turn out as I had planned.

For example, I can't successfully determine the effect of a particular flavor addition if I have also changed the hops variety, or the malt variety for that same batch of beer. I need to establish a base brew for my future experimentation.

Then, if I decide to experiment with different hops varieties, or extracts and grains, I'll be creating a completely different benchmark brew which can be used for further experimentation.

Many home brewers like to experiment with flavors and subtle changes in the recipe, and I'm no exception, but first we need to establish a solid, good tasting beer to build upon. That means we need to step away from the spice cabinet and the fruit basket, and get back to basics. Find the right hops, find the right malts, and build the brew that's right for you.

Once that's done you can start experimenting, but at least you'll know what the underlying beer tastes like, and that will make all the difference.

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