Munich Lowenbrau in 1895

Lowenbrau-beer_HGR-Oktoberfest (1)We have from The Sun in New York of March 3, 1895 a detailed description of Lowenbrau’s brewing process. The only thing lacking is more information on hop amounts and timing of additions, but from other sources I’d guess at least one lb hops per barrel (U.S.) was used, so like modern Sam Adams lager and possibly modern Lowenbrau itself (I don’t know).  I doubt it was under 1 lb.

The decoction mashing regimen is described in pinpoint detail, as is the aging. Surprisingly, lagering for secondary fermentation was under two months. You can add a month or two more, but the beer had to be consumed within the extra period. We are quite far here from six to nine months or more as in earlier days.

Look at the numbers, the regular lager (not the Marzen consumed in October) was 14 Plato, which is 1057 OG, and at a final abv of 4.45%, I get just under 60% attenuation. This low attenuation corresponds with similar numbers calculated by writers such as Ron Pattinson.

Today, Lowenbrau’s helles must be at least 75% attenuated if not more. I’ve seen recreation specs which start at a lower gravity than 1057 and end at a point or more higher in ABV. Now it must be said, the beer in the subject article was almost certainly dark, a dunkel.

Spaten had just introduced a blond lager the year before, 1894. I doubt Lowenbrau had one in the market in 1895 and if it did, it would have been a novelty, not something the researchers mentioned in the article would have used for their investigation.

By definition the beers were malty in those days. Irrespective of colour and to some extent taste, the attenuation mentioned by Munich’s biggest brewer of the time is a valid point to note, IMO.

There is no question too that many factors can affect attenuation: mash temperature, yeast type, malt type are the main ones. But still I think it is fair to say the 19th century Munich beers were rich and malty drinks. You can see why, in the German lands, malt was the “soul of beer” as the old expression went. It is much less so today. With higher attenuations too, and all things being equal, the significance of all-malt is less and less.

Maybe this is why, when Heineken switched (back) to all-malt 20 years ago, some observers felt it wasn’t greatly obvious in the taste. (I still will always support all-malt over any other strategy, as a philosophy it is a good place to start and end).

And so friends in Germany who support the Pure Beer Law as I do: consider please the historic attenuations of the great lager styles. Who will be the first Munich brewer to issue a special history beer following the old attenuations? Perhaps this is the perfect space for the craft brewers, yes?

Note re image: the old Lowenbrau ad was sourced here, and is believed available for educational and historical use. All trademarks shown are the sole property of their owners or authorized licensees. All feedback welcomed.