30 September 2012

Know your Styles: Zwickelbier

I love lagers.  You unfortunately don't hear that enough out of the mouths of beer geeks, but I really love lagers.  I've heard people say things like "I don't like lagers."  I understand they might associate lagers with macro beer, but they are really cutting themselves off from some of the world's very best beer under that idea. Lagers can be anywhere from wonderfully easy-drinking pilsners to body-warming dopplebocks. One of my favorite types of lagers is the slightly obscure zwickelbier style.

This isn't a very well known style here in the United States, but I certainly hope that will change.  The zwickelbier (pronounced "zvick-el) is a very close cousin of the kellerbier (celler beer) style. They are both unfiltered, unpasteurized, yeasty, hoppy, malty lagers that hail from the Franconian area of Germany. They are still very popular summer biergarten beers. The main difference in the two beers is their mouthfeel and carbonation and on historical examples, the color. Kellerbiers were usually stronger in ABV and in hop levels. True kellerbiers would have been fermented "unbunged" so that the carbon dioxide escaped while maturing in a wooden cask.  The final product would have had little to no head and really would have resembled British cask ale.  That certainly isn't the case anymore, but that is historically accurate.  Kellerbiers were normally brewed to between 5-5.5%ABV.

This is a modern day "zwickel" 
I had to tell you that part of the history to explain where the term zwickelbier comes from and why it is normally an obscure style here the United States.   Zwickelbiers were the effervescent versions of kellerbiers.  The zwickelbiers were fermented in sealed fermenters and served as soon as fermentation was complete.  This created a more effervescent beer due to the carbonation.  Zwickelbiers were normally brewed to a lower strength than kellerbiers, and normally didn't travel well.  On-tap from the brewery used to be the only way you could get your hands on this style of beer. It is still the best way to experience the beer.  The term zwickelbier is derived from the word "zwickel," which was the sampling vessel on the outside of a fermenter to check the beer to see if it was ready to be served. 

I honestly don't know of any zwickelbiers that have been brewed in Indiana. My current favorite available here in Indiana is Zwickel from Urban Chestnut in St. Louis.  With our history of German immigration here to Indiana and the references I can find to pre-prohibition beers in Indiana, we've had these beers here before. It would be nice to have the sunshine on my back, to be surrounded by good company, and to have another stein full of zwickelbier in front of me. 


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