The Great Grätzer – Oak Smoked Wheat Beer

I can’t remember exactly how we found out about this style of beer, but I do know that once I read about it I had to brew it.  This is a pretty common theme for me–just ask Dan.  I’ll read about a style or try a new kind of beer and inspiration hits!  I then spend hours and days obsessively researching and (if possible) tasting examples of the style and then hopefully find time to brew it!

Grätzer, or “Grodziskie” as the Polish call it, is traditionally brewed with only oak-smoked wheat malt and no barley. When we first brewed this beer on the homebrew scale, we wanted to be as authentic as possible to the traditional grain bill. This presented some difficulty since none of the local homebrew shops carried oak-smoked wheat malt and we weren’t prepared to order a pallet of the stuff since we only needed a few kilograms for a five-gallon batch.  Luckily our friends at Beyond the Grape were able to get us the grain from Weyermann, a malting house in Bamberg, Germany.  It was worth the wait.

Given that this style has not been produced commercially in Poland for over twenty years, there is some debate surrounding what this beer should actually taste like–is it hoppy? Is it smokey? What is the alcohol content? Is it soured?  We had no way of trying an actual bottle of a traditional Grodziskie to know for sure, so we chose what we thought was accurate based on our research: a highly hopped, pale, smokey beer.  We decided to brew ours to end up being about 5.5% alcohol, which arguably is a little higher than it would have been historically, but it was the winter.  Maybe when we do this closer to the summer we’ll reduce the ABV and make it a bit more sessionable.

We had no idea what to expect from this beer never having even tried a Grätzer–from what we can tell, no brewery in BC had made one before, and we couldn’t find any imported examples. We had also never used this base malt before, but hey, that’s half the fun!  We decided on three ingredients for the brew: 100% of the grain would be Weyermann Oak Smoked Wheat, 100% of the hops would be German Saaz, and we would ferment with a German ale yeast. We lagered for a few weeks.  (A quick note: lager comes from the German word lagern which refers to storing something cold. Any beer can be lagered–lager does not mean a light coloured clear beer.)

When the beer was ready we were very happily surprised, not just by the fact that it was quite good, but also by the fact that many people who we didn’t expect to like it did!  We had a hoppy refreshing beer that was unapologetically smokey with some acidity and tartness.  Was it authentic and close to the original of this style?  We have no idea, but those five gallons did not last long and soon after we had sourced enough of the Weyermann product to produce a full batch in the brewery.

Some fun facts about the batch we are serving right now:

  • We used 550 kg of oak-smoked wheat malt special ordered from Germany.
  • There are nearly 44 pounds of hops in this batch.
  • Dan and the boys had an extremely long brew day for this beer: 22 hours!
  • This was the seventh batch we brewed on our brew house.

This is the first of what we hope will be many attempts at brewing historical beers.  It’s a lot of fun for us to explore the history of beer and brewing and hopefully it will be fun for all of you to try them!

Look out for a very limited run of 650 mL bottles of our Grätzer to be available in February.

Adam