Thursday, January 1, 2009

Zoigl, Zwickel, and Kellerbier : German "Cask" Beer Tradition

The name Zoiglbier stems from "Zoigl," the Franconian vernacular for "sign." In Franconian home brewing, a Zoigl was a six-pointed blue-white star, shaped from two triangles similar to a Star of David. The star was made from wooden slats. In the center was a cutout of a beer mug or a pine branch. In the feudal system of the 13th and 14th centuries, every Bavarian home- and landowner in the region north of the River Danube also automatically owned the right to brew beer, and these medieval burghers and farmers used to hang the Zoigl in front of their doors whenever they had home brew ready to drink. The Zoigl was in invitation to their neighbors to come over and have a few. These early burgher-brewers often also made their Zoiglbier in communal brew houses...a natural precursor to the brew's communal consumption under the Zoigl.

One triangle of the Zoigl symbolized the three "elements" involved in brewing: fire, water and air; the other symbolized the three "ingredients" used in brewing: malt, hops and water. The function of yeast had not yet been discovered in the Middle Ages. Rather yeast was considered a byproduct of fermentation, known as "stuff" ("Zeug" in German) to be discarded.

Nowadays, Zoiglbier is brewed exclusively with noble hops from the Hallertau region of Bavaria (slightly north of the Danube). Like Kellerbier, Zoiglbier is unfiltered, unpasteurized, uncapped ("ungespundet"), and low in carbonation; but unlike Kellerbier, it is aged for only of few weeks, before it is served. It tends to have a shorter shelflife than Kellerbier and is generally not sold outside Bavaria.

The name Zwickelbier stems from the sampling cock ("Zwickel" in German) mounted at the outside of a cask or tank to take tastes for assessing the brew's progress during fermentation. Like Kellerbier, Zwickelbier originated in the small artisanal and home breweries of Franconia. It is rarely exported to other German States or internationally. Thus, it is generally not available in the North America. Zwickelbier is unfiltered and unpasteurised, but, unlike Kellerbier, the maturation casks (or modern tanks) are bunged or capped ("gespundet" in German) just before the end of fermentation. This furthers the dissolution of carbon dioxide gas in the brew. As a result, Zwickelbier, unlike Kellerbier, builds up effervescence and has a nice creamy head when poured into a glass. While Kellerbier is aged for months, Zwickelbier tends to be served as soon as it is finished fermenting. Because Zwickelbier has less hops than Kellerbier (the acids in hops serve as a preservative) it tends to have only a short shelf life, which is the main reason why it is not shipped to distant markets.

Literally "cellar beer," this is an unfiltered lager, usually strongly flavored with aromatic hops. Kellerbiers come in a wide range of strengths, but they are often brewed to an Okoberfestbier-Märzenbier strength of about 5 to 5.3% alcohol by volume More often than not, a Kellerbier is deep amber in color, perhaps with a reddish tinge, as a result of a good addition of slightly caramelized malt (called Munich malt) to the grain bill. Authentic Kellerbiers have very little effervescence, because they are typically served "ungespunded" (unbunged) meaning they are matured in wodden casks with the yeast still active, but with the bung ("Spund" in German) not tightened. As the yeast ferments the remaining sugars in the brew and converts these into additional carbon dioxide gas, the gas is allowed to escape through the bung hole ("Spundloch"). When tapped under just atmospheric pressure, a traditional Kellerbier is very yeast-turbid and has next to no head because of the lack of carbonation. It finishes very dry with both noticeable hop and malt notes in balance. This unpasteurized brew originates with the small artisanal breweries of Franconia, where Kellerbier is still a favorite beverage in the local beer gardens. It is usually drunk out of earthenware rather than glass mugs.

SOURCE: German Beer Institute

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