At the beginning of 2022, we set ourselves as one of our goals for the year to contribute to the dissemination of beer culture. To do this, we started a cycle in which we were going to talk about the Brewing Schools that have marked the history of this drink, and today we are going to talk about the German School.
In some places you can find that it is also called the Central European School, because for historical reasons it brings together the beer tradition of Germany, Austria and Poland, where, as you know, beer is practically the national drink!
If we had to choose two characteristics to define this brewing tradition, we would say Lage styler (German word that refers to prolonged cold conditioning) and low fermentation. But we can also find specialties made with high fermentation methods and some very particular styles in the German area.
The Beer Purity Law: the world's first food consumption regulation
For many centuries, gruit (herbal mixture) and hops coexisted as ingredients for brewing beers. The problem arose when the first one began to include a bit of everything (as the Spanish saying goes, "each master has his booklet", but applied to brewers) and some of the drinks that were made did not have sufficient criteria of quality or even toxic.
In the German empire they realized this problem and began to work on standardization and, why deny it, on production control by the government. After some minor attempts, on April 23, 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria enacted the famous German Purity Law or Reinheitsgebot, which is considered the first food consumption rule in the world. world.
This law gradually spread throughout the neighboring regions, and the most surprising thing is that it is still in force today, although obviously with some changes. The Law stipulated, apart from some economic restrictions, the obligation to use only three ingredients in the production of beer: water, malt and hops. When, centuries later yeast was discovered, it was added to this list of ingredients.
What consequences did this law have? The first is that gruit was exclusive to the monasteries, so exchanging this ingredient for hops meant state control of these productions.
And in the end, it turned out that hops became the most popular ingredient because it was discovered (and the nun Hildegard of Bingen wrote about it, as we already told you here) that had conservative properties.
Beer is best kept cold
That was quite a discovery because, for centuries, one of the biggest challenges for brewers was to keep their productions from rotting. The Germans discovered that if they stored the beer in the cold caves of the Alps during the summer, it did not spoil either. This is how Lager fermentation was discovered, a German word that can be translated as “storage place”.
With the development of large industrial refrigeration equipment in the late 19th century, lager beers began to be produced on ever larger scales. This type of beers ferment in the range of 8º-12º and are then subjected to a long maturation at temperatures close to 0º, where a clean and fresh profile is achieved that makes them very easy to drink.The subtle aromas of noble hops are appreciated, but mainly the profile of malts used stands out, which is always the protagonist in this style, whether they are light or dark Lagers. Fermentation and maturation at low temperatures give these beers an exceptional drinkability not found in other styles.
Wheat beers: the beer of the nobles
The Reinheitsgebot law not only imposed hops over gruit, it also determined that barley was the only grain allowed. Some of the reasons historians give for this decision is that
But it seems that there were deeper political reasons: the Degenberg dynasty, a rival of the then reigning Wittelsbach dynasty, held a monopoly on the production of wheat beers. Come on, those who ruled prohibited to make just the style of beer of their archenemies. Game of Thrones in the beer world.
And it goes on: with the death of the last Degenberg, who left no heirs, the Wittelsbach dynasty gained a monopoly on the production of wheat beers, which were quickly included in the law as an exception allowed only for the royal family . And with this privilege, the nobles made a lot of money.
This lasted until the beginning of the 19th century, when sales began to stagnate due to the popularity of Lagers. With sales and production falling, wheat beers are about to disappear. So in 1872, King Ludwig II sold the right to produce wheat beers to Georg Schneider I, who founded the Schneider Weisse brewery together with his son Georg Schneider II. And this was the beginning of that wheat beers were becoming more and more commercialized.
3 characteristics of German beers
It is difficult to determine some general particularities, since they must encompass several styles that are very different from each other (Lager, Bock, Märzen, Kölsch, Gose...), but if we had to indicate three they would be:
Hops called “noble” are used, which refers to the category of hops used, they are the best varieties of hops in Germany, these being: Hallertau, Tettnang, Spalt and Saaz.
- The profile of the beers is clean, without fruity yeast esters.
- The flavor of malt and noble hops is a priority, which provides herbaceous, fruity, floral, earthy flavors and a pleasant and persistent bitterness.
As you can see, the German Brewing School has a long and complex history, closely associated with the politics and historical circumstances of the region.
This has left us with many nuanced and easily identifiable styles. We will tell you more in the next post. Meanwhile, you can find here some beers brewed following the traditional German recipe: water, malt, hops, barley and yeast. Long live German beers!
Sources: mestre-cervejeiro, malbainsumos.