Smoke 'em If You Got 'em
The Polish nation isn't exactly known for its quality beers. Poland has some big breweries, like Zwyiec, Okocim, and Tyskie that produce a range of styles, including a decent porter from Okocim. But Poland is mostly known for its middling pale lagers that recall Stella Artois or less skunky Heineken. In short, they're not worth going out of your way for, much less brewing a batch of at home. (I can hear my Polish friend screaming right now).
This is what makes the Polish smoked wheat beer known as Grodziskie, or Grätzer, even more of a pleasant surprise. It's a beer that is light in color, delicate in the mouth, but complex refreshing and … smokey.
The smoke presence is a throwback to a time when grain was kilned over an open wood fire. This process would inevitably have lent a smokey aspect to the grain and thence to the beer. (Yes, I just used the word “thence.”) As more modern kilning techniques took over, the smoke flavor disappeared from malt and was therefore erased from beers brewed with that malt.
In a few styles, however, smokiness was seen as not only desirable but as an important aspect of the beer's aroma and flavor. That desired smokiness lingered in a few beery enclaves such as Grodzisk, Poland and in Bamberg, Germany, where Grodziskie's German equivalent, rauchbier, is still proudly brewed. (The well-known beers of Bamberg are the most notable examples out of Germany – the Märzen and Urbock from Schlenkerla, for instance).
Grodziskie fell out of favor in Poland through the 20th century but a handful of American craft brewers are turning to the style for its pleasant hint of smoke, its low alcohol content, and refreshing nature.
Grätzer's may have, but don't necessarily require, a grist consisting of 100% smoked wheat, which sounds like a potential headache.
For my Grätzer, I'm using all smoked wheat malt. I'll use a straight-ahead hop like Hallertau, Saaz, or perhaps some Strisselspalt, a hop from the Alsatian region of France. Strisselspalt has similar qualities to the Noble hop varieties but is more restrained aromatically and with a laughably low alpha acid content of around two percent.
The yeast for a Grodziskie is where things get tricky. According to Stan Heironymous, the Grätzer yeast strain, (technically it was a blend of two strains) was lost in the last century and was replaced by a German strain that did not work well. Most Grätzers brewed today are made with a German ale yeast strain. And in my case, I'm going with Wyeast 1007, the German Ale strain.
I've made a smoked porter (eons ago) and a stout or two that had a roasted, smokey aspect I sure as hell have never made a bright blonde beer where smoke will be the star of the show. That contradiction in expectation – a light beer that tastes and smells smokey – is part of the joy of a well made Grätzer.
I can't wait.
Let's just hope my brew day doesn't go up in smoke.Last modified on