Zwicklebier - A "Real" Lager

6 July 2011

For its 21st anniversary, Breckenridge Brewery is calling on homebrewers to submit their beer for competition (deadline 7/20/2011). The best of show beer will be brewed and served on draught at Breckenridge breweries/taprooms. Entries are limited to several styles, and I have selected Zwickelbier as the style that I will brew. In true homebrewer fashion, I have never tasted this beer, so some research is called for.

As usual, one of my first resources for obscure style information is Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing , but a thumb through the index came up empty. Likewise, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guide contained no information. So I turned to the web and came up with several good resources.

It seems that Zwickelbier is less a style and more a process. The beer itself can be based upon a variety of classic German lager styles, but the key elements are that a Zwickelbier be unfiltered, naturally carbonated in the cask, and (traditionally) served directly from the conditioning cask. One brewer finds the style an analogue to British "Real Ale".

The German Beer Institute Website has a great Zwickelbier description, describing it as an unfiltered lager related to Kellerbier, which originated in Franconia. They key to Zwickelbier is freshness; low in alcohol, lightly hopped, unpasteurized, unfiltered, and served directly from the conditioning cask, this beer is not meant to travel. Traditionally, the beer is carbonated by sealing the cask before fermentation is finished, causing the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast to remain dissolved in the beer.

The Brew Your Own Magazine website contains some of the best Zwickelbier information and describes the style as a variation of Kellerbier, an old, traditional Bavarian beer style. Zwickelbier is low in alcohol, at under 5%, and low in hop character. The carbonation is higher than that of a Kellerbier. A Kellerbier recipe is provided; it suggests Pils and Munich malts, Hallertauer hops, and a German Lager yeast. With a bit of tweaking, this recipe might be a good starting point for a homebrewed Zwickelbier.

Zwickelbier is also a recognized style at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) competition. The style description lumps Zwickelbier in with Kellerbier, and states that the category includes “unfiltered lagered versions of Germanic lager styles of beer such as Münchner-Style Helles and Dunkel, Dortmunder/European-Style Export, Bohemian-style Pilsener and German style Pilsener” as well as unfiltered, lagered Marzen and Schwarzbier. Low levels of yeast haze, sulfur, and acetaldehyde are acceptable.

The Beer Advocate website lists commercial examples of Zwickelbier. Several US breweries, including Voodoo, Surly, and Triumph, brew the style, but most of the entries come from Germany.

Additional information on Zwickelbier can be found at the Morebeer Forum, Great Brewers and The Beer Spot.

Check out my homebrewed experiment with Zwickelbier.

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Pilsner Blind Tasting

12 April 2011

I am fascinated by the precarious position of the Pilsner style in modern beer culture. In a sense, this style is an ancestor of the industrial lager that overwhelmingly dominates the global beer market. Historically, the Pilsner style was explosive; it took advantage of a number of new brewing technologies in the 19th century and quickly spread from its home in Bohemia, influencing breweries and beer in numerous ways. Yet the Pilsner is under-represented in the portfolios of our burgeoning craft breweries (and homebrewers), at least compared to IPA's, Stouts, and now, possibly Saisons, and the like.

My own judgment of the seven Pilsners corresponded almost entirely with the distance that each beer travelled. I purchased the bottles from Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado. The best beers by far were from the local breweries: Avery, Lefthand, and New Belgium. The Victory and Sam Adams beers from the East Coast did not fare as well - my blind tasting notes call both of them interesting, but flawed. While living in New Jersey, these were two of my go-to beers (I've had kegs of each on tap at home), and I know that they were quite cleaner when purchased closer to the breweries. The beer that travelled the greatest distance, Pilsner Urquell (probably brewed in Poland or Russia), was not even worth drinking.

Polestar Pilsner, Lefthand A tiny nose of sulfur, with little else. Flavor is balanced with no jagged edges - a good middle of the road pilsner. Medium to high bitterness; very drinkable and dry.

Blue Paddle, New Belgium Low hop aroma, light clean flavor, medium bitterness. Similar to Polestar in its balance. A well-made, middle of the road beer, and a good example of the style. I would have expected Blue Paddle to be slightly less flavorful, but it just makes it as a good drinker. I prefer the slightly stronger character of the Polestar.

Joe's American Pilsner, Avery Floral/Citrus nose of Froot Loop cereal. Very fresh citrus flavor with cereal grains. Medium to high bitterness. Dry. Not a classic pilsner because of lack of spicy noble hops. But a great beer, my favorite out of the bunch. I was pretty sure that this was Noble Pils.

Prima Pils, Victory Aroma of caramel caused me to anticipate an oxidized beer. Underneath the caramel is a great hop and wort aroma. The flavor is fresh and rich, a very intense flavor of malt and spicy hops. Medium to high bitterness. Very interesting, though the body and wort flavor might be a bit too much.

Noble Pils, Sam Adams Very strong spicy hop aroma, but a slightly old quality is observable. Hops are as powerful as the Joe's Pilsner, but not as lively and fun. Definite flavor of old hops that overwhelms the malt. Overall, good flavor intensity, but the stale qualities make this hard to finish. In retrospect, the Noble Pils is a first quarter seasonal, so this beer was probably old and subjected to the rigors of transport.

Pilsner, Lagunitas A good medium pilsner malt and noble hop aroma with no sulfur, and a tiny, tiny, bit of butter. Pretty classic pilsner flavor, but the alcohol flavor is a bit too high, and the malt is clunky rather than delicate. Medium to light bitterness with a weak touch of burnt yeasty flavor. Almost good, but too unsophisticated to stand out. In retrospect, this may be old and abused.

Pilsner Urquell Aroma of sweet potato with butter! Sweet, grainy, slick flavor with medium bitterness. Undrinkable. In retrospect, this beer is flawed because a pilsner cannot handle the abuse of importation.

Homebrewed Zwickelbier Experiment

6 July 2011
So, I have set out to brew an obscure style for the 2011 Breckenridge Brewery 21st Anniversary homebrew competition. I will enter a Zwickelbier, and have spent some time researching the Zwickelbier style. My Zwickelbier will be based upon the recipe from the Brew Your Own Magazine website. I will adjust that recipe to reflect the differences between Kellerbier and Zwickelbier that are mentioned by many sources. Here are the vitals: Starting Gravity: 1.048 IBU: 25 70% Bavarian Pils Malt 30% Munich Malt Hallertauer Hops at 60, 15, and 0 minutes North German Lager Yeast French Oak Chips I will do a forced fermentation on a sample taken just after pitching the yeast to determine finishing gravity, and then rack the fermenting beer to a Cornelius keg when the beer is about 75% through fermentation. The keg will be sealed so that natural carbonation occurs. I’ll let you know the results…