Saturday, September 20, 2008

Einstein's Oktoberfest

Today at noon ―Munich Germany time― the lord mayor of München tapped the first keg of the Oktoberfest. Standing in the Spaten (Schottenhamel) tent, he proclaimed "O'zapft is!" ("the barrel has been tapped").

Oktoberfest continues through 5 October.

A quick look now at the history of the beer known as Oktoberfest.

The genetic identity of lager yeast has only just recently been mapped. Two distinct strains have been identified, each containing genetic material and consequent traits ―including tolerance for cold― from other yeast strains. [Read more about Saccharomyces pastorianus at The Zythophile.]

In 1841, brewers Anton Dreher in Vienna and ―friend and rival― Gabriel Sedlmayer in Munich began brewing with at least one of these lager yeast strains.

A year later, lager yeast was introduced into breweries in Pilsen. The low pH and low mineral content of that city's water allowed the brewing of hoppy, crisp, and lighter-hued lagers ―known as Pilsners, literally, "from Pilsen."

[Historian and brewer Rich Wagner believes that the first lager brewery in the US opened in 1840 in Philadelphia, thus trumping Vienna, Munich, and Pilsen.]

Attempts in Munich and Vienna to brew similar Pilsen-style lagers were unsuccessful.

In Munich, Sedlmayer soon empirically grasped that it was his city's highly alkaline water that was producing harshness when mashed with lighter malts. He switched to darker malts ―of higher acidity― and had much more palatable results.

Vienna's water was also alkaline, but less so than that of Munich. Thus, Dreher was able to successfully brew his lagers with less-kilned amber malts. His Vienna lagers were darker than Pilsen's but lighter than Munich's.

Both brewers continued to upgrade their breweries and processes, especially in areas of barley agriculture and malting technology. In lieu of refrigeration, they collaborated in pioneering the commercial application of beer storage in cold caves and cold cellars. This became known as the märzen process ―literally "from March"― because the beers would be made in the cooler months, and then cold stored during the summer.

In 1860, both Dreher and Sedlmayer installed a new technology called ... refrigeration.

The beer poured during the first years of Oktoberfest was the dark Munich style. It wasn't until 1872, with better understanding of water chemistry, that the brewmaster of the Spaten brewery ―Josef Sedylmayr (younger brother of Gabriel)― was able to introduce the brewery's amber-hued Märzen as the Oktoberfest bier. Based on brewing records, it would have have been medium-bodied, tasting of softly toasted malt, and with possibly just a nuance of yeasty tooty-fruity. The other Munich breweries would soon follow suit.

These amber lagers produced in both Vienna and Munich and associated breweries rivaled the popularity of the lighter-shaded Pilsner lagers.

The beer served at modern Oktoberfests is not this rich amber lager. It is a much less robust beer: lighter in color, body, and flavor. Fortunately, there are indeed many other breweries that still produce '1872-style' Oktoberfests ―but just not in Munich. [Read here and here about two of my personal favorites.]

For the first 74 years of Oktoberfest, it was ice or simple cellar storage that would keep the beer cool. And it was gas or candle power that would illuminate the festival wiesen (meadow).

Then, in 1885, electrical power finally came to Munich's Oktoberfest, wired and generated by ... the Einstein Bros. Company.

Yes, that Einstein!

Albert Einstein was only 6 at the time, but in the following 9 years, he would work at his uncle and father's electrical engineering firm. In his teens, he helped to design several mechanical innovations.

In 1894, Munich removed the contract from the company and awarded it to Siemens. Yes, that Siemens. Einstein Bros. was bankrupted.

Albert Einstein would move on to more theoretical pursuits. But it was Einstein's father Hermann, and his uncle Jakob, who first gave the world a cold beer at Oktoberfest. And that's a noble achievement.

Toast them over the next 3 weeks with a Vienna-style lager, or a Märzen, or an Oktoberfest ―all variations on the same delicious theme.


1 comment:

  1. While the beer served at the Munich Oktoberfest is not the "1872 style" your post erroneously asserts that no brewer in Munich even produces it. Well, sitting in my fridge as I write are a Spaten, Paulaner, and Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest - all in the amber style. They have made these for years, so perhaps your post was merely careless in its wording, or you are just plain wrong and need to get out of the house more often.


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