Skip navigation

das Bier, die Biere (beer)

A Good Glass of Beer

If there was a time when mankind was without beer, history has no record of it. It is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages known, and archeologists have found recipes in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics which prove beer was brewed at least nine thousand years ago. The recipe has changed little since then. The kind Cleopatra served Anthony must have tasted much like what the Herr Ober serves you today. Although brewers the world over use approximately the same recipe, the real beer connoisseur is scandalized at the idea that beer is beer. Even with two identical recipes, he points out, the end product can be different.

Beer Is Not Beer

The type of water used, for example, is a determining factor. Thus, Munich beer will always taste different from Berlin beer because the water in the two cities tastes different.

Another difference between beers is apparent even to the beer is beer drinker. He finds on coming to Germany that beer here often appears rather flat when drunk direct from the refrigerator. This is because in German beers the carbonic acid is produced naturally and never removed from the beer, whereas in the U.S. the carbonic acid is removed and then added artificially just before bottling. In Germany, where the carbonic acid is bound in, beer will not fizz when it is too cold.

German beer is never at its best at refrigerator temperature. It should be drunk at about 45°F, when it will fizz and be at its optimum flavor.

Another difference between German and American beer is that American beer is always pasteurized. This is not done to kill dangerous bacteria, but to preserve the beer over a longer period. German beer is not pasteurized unless it is to be shipped to other cities or countries. Unpasteurized, it can be kept about two months. Beer drinkers with very developed tastes say pasteurized beer has a slightly bread like taste, and prefer the unpasteurized variety.

There are many who insist they went to Munich's Oktoberfest and drank beer with 18% alcohol. They are mistaken. Bock beer, which has the highest alcoholic content, has only 5% alcohol. When breweries refer to an 18% beer, they are speaking of the percentage of wort, not alcohol. What is wort? We'll get to that in a little while.

The weakest beer is Malzbier, or malt beer, with less than 1% alcohol. It is considered very healthy and often given to children and nursing mothers in Germany. The famous Berliner Weissbier also contains only about 1% alcohol.

Pilsner is the bitterest beer, with the most hops; export beer the most expensive; Marzen has a robustness between Pilsner and Bock and is sold, as its name indicates, in March; Johan niter is another very strong beer, sold the year around.

Breweries Welcome Visitors

Most German breweries welcome visitors and schedule regular tours of the plant. One sees beer in the making, from the unloading of barley to the final bottling. No guests are permitted to leave without sampling the product - not that any try to.

It's no problem locating a brewery. The pungent, almost overpowering smell of malt dominates everything for blocks around. Inside the courtyard of red brick buildings, one sees cheerful employees carrying a half dozen mugfuls of foaming beer to sustain their working colleagues, pony-drawn wagons loaded with beer kegs clattering by, and huge 100-foot-high silos in which the malt is stored.

How It's Made

Only four ingredients are required; a grain (usually barley), hops, yeast and water.

Most barley comes from Southern Germany. After the barley is harvested, it must rest six weeks to absorb oxygen and store up energy to grow again, as the brewers explain it. Then it is soaked in water and kept in humid air for six days until it sprouts, or germinates, just as seeds do underground in the natural growing process.

This is the beginning of the malting process, and the sprouting barley is referred to as green malt. It is next put into a kiln and roasted to dry it out, producing malt, then stored in the huge, 100-feet-high silos.

Brewing is begun when the malt grits is placed in huge copper brewing vats (called mash tuns), mixed with water from the brewery's own wells and boiled. This frees the starch and albumin from the malt husks. The starch is converted into sugar. This mixture is then transferred to another set of copper vats - the clarification boilers - where the liquid is separated from the husks and solid substances of the malt (spent grains). This is now called wort.

In a third set of copper vats the wort gets literally hopped-up. Hops are added to give the beer a bitter taste and preserve it. There it is boiled unti l the desired quantity of water has evaporated.

In the next step, the hops are removed. The spent grains are also saved, to be sold as feed to cattle owners.

Fermentation now begins. This is accomplished by adding yeast. Breweries cultivate their own yeast, and this is the least of their expenses. All that is needed is one yeast cell, which wlIrgrow indefinitely and produce all the yeast needed for hundreds of years of operation.

In the fermenting vats, the wort expands as the yeast grows, form ing great globs of foam. The malt sugar turns into alcohol and carbonic acid, which gives the beer its fizz.

This so-called green beer ferments for six to eight days. The yeast settles on the bottom and it, like the hops, is used a second time. Then it is sold to pharmaceutical firms who turn it into a medicine often prescribed to cure pimples.

After fermenting, the beer is stored 12 - 16 weeks to ripen. Fermentation continues during storage, with excessive carbonic acid escaping through special openings so the container doesn't explode. Then it is poured into kegs or bottled by machines that can fill as many as 15,000 bottles per hour.

Delivery is usually made by modern trucks, but most German breweries use a few dray horses and ponies for sentimental old time's sake.

horses are provided a daily beer ration which — in contrast to regulations of most other jobs — must be drunk during working hours. The ponies get a half liter, their human colleagues four times that, but the result is the same- happy, willing workers who don't dread going to work in the morning.

Article from These Strange German Ways by Susan Stern and is for educational purposes only.