Beer history Belgium

Wood-Aged Belgian Brown White, 1861

Brown Beer, White Beer.

This is from a rather vague article first published in the National Magazine in 1861 entitled ‘German Beer’:

The beers of Belgium and Germany, in general, may be divided into two classes — the brown, and the white, or yellow… The brown differs from the other in taste… The colour may be said to be chiefly owing to a more advanced carbonization of the extractive substances. It must be prepared from the best strong hops, in the proportion of 550 to 642 grammes to the hectolitre of beer. This will do for that manufactured from winter barley. Summer barley requires but 420 grammes… The white beer is prepared from pale malt.

In the rest of the piece, the anonymous author rambles through a list of beer types he or she has come across on their travels, not always specifying clearly whether they are brown or white/yellow.

On the subject of adulteration and fraud, the author has a Belgian brewer called ‘Berhardt’ describing a ‘harmless trick’:

I employ… in the manufacture of my brown beer the following substances, which give it the colour and taste of the ordinary brown beer. I evaporate in a well-tinned cauldron a part of the liquid even to the consistence of a syrup. I keep it in motion on the fire continually until the syrup becomes a burnt and deep-coloured sugar; with that addition alone I am already in a condition to make my brown beer equal to the best of the sort. But as all brown beers have a slightly astringent taste, I give it to the ordinary brown beer by the addition of the bark of oak or mahogany.

In other words, he’s brewing a white/yellow beer but making it look brown with the addition of caramel. That’s still frowned upon today — not very ‘craft’ — but the wood trick is quite the done thing, and we think Berhardt’s beer sounds pretty tasty.

If you fancy a break from brewing black IPA, why not give ‘Belgian brown white’ a go?

2 replies on “Wood-Aged Belgian Brown White, 1861”

English porter brewer’s trick, caramelizing the malt to use as a colouring. In a funny kind of way, the modern “Guinness extract” (different names have been used) is quite similar, Guinness sends this to overseas breweries to add to a base pale beer to make Guinness Stout. We have a version of this in Canada and it is pretty good for what it is. Samuel Whitbread (IIRC) liked the effect of wood aging on his porter because it imparted a quality of astringency, so here again a continuation of the same idea. Still, the Belgian guy seems a little over-wedded to short cuts one might say… Nothing new under the son though, true enough.

Surely this is a similar idea to the addition of dark candi syrups to beers that would otherwise be fairly pale (Rochefort for example).

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