The return of….Lichtenhainer

There are a lot of beer styles out there that are readily produced throughout the world by today’s endless amount of breweries.  However, while there are more breweries out there then we know what to do with, and there is an amazing selection of beers and beer styles that will make even the pickiest beer drinker happy, there remains many beer styles that over time have fallen out of favor, been retired, or simply disappeared.  As beer continues to become more and more popular, and the variety of available beers continues to grow, many of these long lost styles are being revisited, and finally making a comeback.  Styles such as Gose, created in the town of Leipzig, Germany have slowly found their way back into the mainstream.  While there are many arguments as to whether the majority of commercial examples available today, are “true to form” and worthy of being referred to as a true Gose, (an argument I tend to agree with) the fact remains that Gose, like many long-lost styles, has at the very least, become popular enough once again that it warrants some discussion.

While I have enjoyed the Gose revival, and have brewed a couple of different Gose’s over the past year, another style that is slowly being revived and has started to draw some legitimate interest in the beer world is “Lichtenhainer”.  In my opinion this little known beer is more of a sub-style, a play on the tasty and tart Berliner Weisse and another oft-forgotten style the German Gräzter, a smoked beer using virtually nothing but smoked wheat malt.  While I may consider this particular beer a “blend” of styles, it still remains a very unique beer that differentiates itself from the other styles with a very specific flavor profile.  The best way to describe the mysterious Lichtenhainer is as a tart sessionable Berliner style beer with a distinct yet palatable smokiness.  (For those looking for less words to describe the style let’s just call it something like a rauch-berliner)  Unlike many beer styles, especially those accepted by the BJCP, creating a Lichtenhainer tends to rely on a variety of beliefs and rules, that like many other ancient German styles, are quite vague and (surprise surprise) often in disagreement with one another.  Thus, here is my disclaimer, I have heard so many varying opinions on what the specific qualifications are for a true Lichtenhainer.  This includes articles and books from a variety of different moments in the 20th century, recipes from distinguished brewers and of course internet research.  What I have learned is that nobody seems to agree, and everyone seems to have their own opinion.  Therefore, as I break down the Lichtenhainer style, I foreworn you that I will reference and discuss a variety of different concepts and ways to make this beer, and I will not claim that any specific way is the right way.  What I hope to establish in this entry, is the reintroduction of this style, as something new and different that brewers and beer-drinkers can try, enjoy and experience.  In other words, feel free to disagree with the purity of the beer style, but understand this entry is all about piquing your interest and proving to you that Lichtenhainer is actually a real beer.

A colorful map of the region specifically known for Lichtenhainer.  You can find some of the villages listed below on the map.

A colorful map of the region specifically known for Lichtenhainer. You can find some of the villages listed below on the map.

Let us begin our dissection by quickly discussing the history of this beer.  The climax of this beer’s popularity occurred late in the 19th century, and its brewing was focused in the central region of Germany known as Thuringia.  This free-state in Germany is home to a number of villages that were known for the production of this particular beer style.  Among the more prominent villages that produced this beer were, Wöllnitz, Ammerbach, Ziegenhain and of course Lichtenhain.  According to a variety of sources, including Ronald Pattinson a fantastic British Beer Blogger, (If you haven’t read his blog or books, they are phenomenal, check out his blog here) the last “true-to-form” Lichtenhainer was brewed in 1983 at Brauerei Ed Barfuss Söhne.  Pattinson does point out that, “a brewpub in Wöllnitz started turning out Wöllnitzer Weißbier, a beer in the Lichtenhainer style.” back in 1997, but seeing as I have not had the pleasure of trying said beer, I cannot tell you if it is true-to-form.  Furthermore, Westbrook Brewing Co. in Mount Pleseant, SC (a town that I used to spend my summer’s in) also claims to brew a Lichtenhainer, but again we begin to discuss if it is a true Lichtenhainer.  Personally, what I find most impressive is that both Westbook Brewing Co. and the aforementioned brewpub are producing a beer that at the very least is a play on this long-forgotten style.

Westbrook Brewing Co. label for their Lichtenhainer re-creation.  I guess the pig represents the smoked malts.

Westbrook Brewing Co. label for their Lichtenhainer re-creation. I guess the pig represents the smoked malts.

 

Now that we have looked at the history briefly, let’s get to the actual make-up of the beer and thus the debate over how to legitimately make one.  Again, I want to stress that I am sure, somewhere, someone created a step by step, specific set of guidelines for creating a true Lichtenhainer, this beer style is not recognized by the BJCP, therefore creating a beer in this ilk, is much more about getting specific flavors, than it is about set-in-stone ingredients and processes.  In other words, there are many different ways to re-create this style, and I implore you to use approaches that are best for your specific brewing style and equipment.  While there are many ways to accomplish brewing a Lichtenhainer, there are a few things that the beer MUST have, and they are as follows.

1 – They must be sessionable.  I have yet to hear of an Imperial Lichtenhainer.  Like a Berliner, they should be low in ABV.  Most examples show this specific beer sitting somewhere between 4-5% ABV, which is slightly higher than your traditional Berliner. (or at least on the higher end)

2 – They should be low in IBU’s.  My suggestion is to stay below 15 IBU’s and use “blank canvas” style hops that won’t provide to much personality to the finished product.

3 – They should be tart.  Again, returning to the Berliner aspects of this brew, a Lichtenhainer should have a distinct tartness (preferably of the lactic variety) that is obvious yet palatable.

4 – They should be smokey!  This is where the Berliner and Gräzter hybridization comes into play.  A significant portion of your grist should be made up of well-modified smoked malts.  (I would encourage you to use beech-smoked for this endeavor)

These four requirements are all that is needed to recreate, at least in some degree, the old Lichtenhainer style beer.  Let’s first look at requirement one.

Just like their closest relative, the Lichtenhainer is a session beer.  A big part of what makes this beer so appealing is its drinkability.  Therefore when coming up with your grain bill keep in mind that you must get the flavor and body with a small grain bill.  As I previously stated there are plenty of arguments about what type of grain should be used for this style.  Some outlets state that only barley should be used.  Others claim wheat malt should make up a portion of the grist, all the way up to 50%.  Irregardless of what you decide to do, make sure your grain bill fulfills that session requirement.  Personally, I prefer that Berliner aspect to my Lichtenhainers.  Therefore I fall into the mold of brewers who would use a portion of wheat malt in my grain bill.  I prefer a 60/40 split between barley and wheat, while splitting the barley portion in half, with 50% 2-row and 50% smoked malts.  I believe this combination provides that wheat background common to a berliner, while also providing enough smoked malt profile to the grain bill to make sure the smokiness is a major player in the finished product.

Requirement #2, low IBU’s.  The biggest blessing, but perhaps the biggest curse of being a brewer in today’s world, is the amazing amount of ingredients we have at our disposal.  While it allows us to create and endless variety of beers, it also causes us to go overboard from time to time.  With a Lichtenhainer, there are two very prominent flavor profiles that are required.  First, it needs to be tart and second it must be smokey.  Those two flavors are strong, therefore as brewers we must show restraint when it comes to other ingredients to make sure the beer doesn’t become confusing.  First and foremost use a clean English or German style ale yeast.  A strain that will do the job, but won’t provide a ton of flavor to the already busy beer profile.  Second, take it easy on the hops.  The tartness in this beer, does not need to compete with a high level of bitterness, or any of the other flavors and aromas that can be provided via hops.  Yes, you need hops for balance and preservation, but show some restraint and keep the IBU’s below 15.  A basic English style hop such as Fuggle or EKG works perfectly for the style.

Requirement #3, tartness.  I think this is the biggest area of debate when it comes to the style.  Many people argue that unlike a Berliner which is introduced to elements that cause it too sour during primary fermentation, a Lichtenhainer should wait until secondary and aging to begin forming its tartness profile.  This may be fact, but for the sake of this blog I will defer that question to you, and give you a couple of different options that would give you the tartness factor regardless of your brewing style and equipment.  For those who wish to wait until secondary to introduce souring, the addition of Lactobacillus during secondary will do the trick.   Keep in mind that introducing Lacto at this stage is going to be a slow process.  Give the beer plenty of time to integrate the new bugs and too sour.  Even after the lacto film forms in the fermenter, this beer will need plenty of time too really take on that tart/sour profile.  For those wishing to expedite the process a little bit, doing a sour-mash or using acidulated malt during the mash will help build a tart profile much quicker.  Using a sour-mash, acid malt, or even introducing Lacto from the beginning will cause the beer to sour during primary fermentation.  This is a process used when making a Berliner, (soured in primary) and while some argue it is not true to a Lichtenhainer in regards to process, it will absolutely provide you with the tartness you desire.  It may not be “pure” but as we work towards re-creating a “dead” style I think it is a liberty that we can take.  On a side note, many people have discussed the idea of introducing Brett prior to bottling in small amounts.  While I haven’t tried this yet, the idea of allowing the beer to grow some funk while bottled is very intriguing.

Requirement #4, smoke.  My advice here, know your own palate.  I do not think there is a flavor in beer, that I have seen such a range of tolerance for, then smoke.  A beer can quickly go from, not enough, to perfect, to way too much with just a small amount of smoked malts.  Therefore I provide the following advice.  This is a smoked beer, and the smoke must compete with another dominating flavor in tartness.  Therefore do not shy away from using a couple of pounds of smoked malts in your grain bill for a standard 5-gallon batch.  It may seem like a lot, however it is necessary to balance the tartness.  Furthermore understand the specific smoked malt you are using.  Personally I believe that Cherry-smoked malt is much stronger than Beech, thus I would use a little less cherry than beech if that is the malt I selected for the beer.  Obviously play to your own palate, but remember that this is a smoked beer, and the level of smokiness should be obvious yet palatable.

So there you have it, the return of a dead style, Lichtenhainer.   I encourage everybody to help bring this hidden gem back.  Hopefully this entry provided you with some interesting background information and at the very least some ideas for creating your own spin on the style.  While there will be those who argue specific and necessary steps needed to brew this type of beer, simply remember to capture its essence, it must be sessionable, tart and smokey.

 

Cheers!!!

4 Comments

  • […] sour ale, rauch, and lichtenhainer.  If you read through one of my more recent posts called “The Return of Lichtenhainer” then you would have learned that this little-known style is a sort-of hybrid of a Berliner Weisse […]

  • Daniel says:

    If you want a true Rauch-bier in the German sense, then all of the malt can be smoked for this style. Most homebrew shops carry rauchmalt in some form or another, but almost all of it is too old and therefore too mellow for the smoke to really come through after mashing, boiling, and fermentation. Using the freshest beechwood-smoked malt you can find (or smoking the malt yourself) is the best way to achieve the desired result. A mix of oak-smoked wheat malt and the rauchmalt is also an option, but not necessarily historically accurate. Also, it is fine to pitch the Lactobacillus ahead of the yeast (per Brewing Classic Styles – JZ/JPalmer), and may produce better results in souring as the bacteria really prefer the simpler sugars that the yeast will consume early in the fermentation. Just be sure to use a neutral yeast like Kolsch- or Altbier-specific strains.

  • matalec1984 says:

    I agree with all your points regarding rauch’s Daniel. Although I will say the smoked mak
    Lts we carry at our store tend to be fairly fresh. The reason I deterred people from adding the Lacto during primary was simply due to classic practices when brewing a lichtenhainer, although I agree lacto at primary can deliver fantastic results! Thanks reading.

  • […] early 1900s. An excellent description of the history and geography of Lichtenhainer can be found here. I have only had three examples of this style: my own, Freigeist Abraxas, and Westbrook […]

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