Picture this — two Vermont guys meet for the first time at a homebrew club event, bond over their love of a once nearly extinct Polish beer style, and go on to produce countless batches in an attempt to master this elusive Polish brew. At the same time in Poland, the professional brewers of Piwo Grodziskie were working hard to produce their own version of a “Vermont IPA” (some may call it a New England IPA, but not Vermonters). Fellow homebrewers, as exciting and ironic as this sounds, this isn’t the trailer for a blockbuster buddy comedy; this is a real life tale that includes homebrewing nearly 60 gallons (227 L) of Piwo Grodziskie, countless trials and sensory analysis, and a trip to the homeland of this Polish style.
Armed only with a bag of fresh Vermont IPAs to share with the brewers in Poland (this style of IPA is quite popular in Poland right now) and a change of clothes, Andrew (and his partner, Carson) traveled across the globe to get to the bottom of what Piwo Grodziskie is all about, and how we all can properly make it back here in the United States. Andrew also had a few bottles of something else in his suitcase, but we’ll get to that later.
History of Piwo Grodziskie
Piwo Grodziskie, a historic smoked beer style also known as “Gratzer” or “Polish Champagne,” is a low-alcohol, highly-carbonated, refreshingly light-bodied wheat ale that has an oak-smoked flavor melded with a clean hop bitterness.
Piwo Grodziskie, literally translated to “beer from Grodzisk” (a small town in the west of Poland), had been brewed in Grodzisk Wielkopolski for at least 700 years. Production peaked in the late 19th and early 20th century with over 85,000 barrels produced per year. Production continued through World War I and World War II, but declined slowly during the post-war Soviet years. The number of breweries was reduced, no advertising was allowed, and production of specialty food items such as Grodziskie was discouraged. After the Communist period in Poland ended in 1989 the last brewery producing Piwo Grodziskie was purchased by Lech, and proved not to be profitable. As a result of this, the old brewery that had been in continuous operation in the same building since 1880 was closed in 1993.
In 2011 the Polish Homebrewers Association (www.pspd.org.pl/en) decided to try to bring the style back. They began a program called the “Grodziskie Redivivus” project to promote homebrewers and professional brewers to make Grodziskie again. They collected information and original documentation on what is most important to the style and compiled it as a guide to other brewers. Unfortunately, the key ingredients — oak smoked wheat malt and Tomyski hops — were not available at the time. It wasn’t too long after when Weyermann began producing oak smoked wheat malt (by smoking their red wheat malt with oak), but the original hops used during the late 19th and early 20th century are still not available.
In 2015, after being closed for 23 years, the brewery in Grodzisk was reopened under the name Browar Grodzisk and began commercial production of true Piwo Grodziskie. In order to brew their Grodziskie, Browar Grodzisk commissioned Bruntal malts in the Czech Republic to create oak smoked wheat malt in the traditional way by drying the wet malt with oak smoke. They are currently working with Paweł Piłat, a hop grower outside of Lublin, to bring back Tomyski hops so they can produce a historically accurate version of Piwo Grodziskie. They use only the Grodziskie yeast strain, described as a grandchild of the strain from the original brewery, in the production of their beers. They are truly committed to producing and promoting the historical Piwo Grodziskie.
We have brewed several versions of Piwo Grodziskie using the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines along with information from several articles to formulate recipes. But sometimes these guides don’t show the whole story. To try to get a full comprehensive picture of Grodziskie, Andrew visited Poland and went to Browar Grodzisk. He talked to Polish brewers, brewery owners, homebrewers, and drinkers to get a sense of what this beer means to the country, and how it can be recreated in the other parts of the world.
Vermonters in Poland
The flight from Vermont to Poland was overnight and took around 16 hours for us to touch down. After settling into our hostel in Warsaw, Carson and I took a trip to the closest restaurant: A burger joint that was decidedly American, rather than Polish. On tap were two mass-produced lagers, Tyskie and Lech. We tried both, and they were undoubtedly more flavorful than many of the American equivalents. They were hoppier and fuller than the common North American lagers found stateside.
After some time spent doing a little historic sightseeing, we then visited a small craft beer pub, Kufle i Kapsle Żoliborz. The most striking thing initially was the selection. Out of seven taps, four were IPAs or pale ales, one was a sour, one was a Belgian ale, and one was a hand-pulled porter. This sort of abundance of very hoppy beers is something that has recently become commonplace in Poland. The craft revolution really only began around 2011 there, and began with mostly Baltic porters and dark, rich styles. As it’s progressed, and access to new and interesting hop varieties improved, hoppier beers as well as sour beers have overtaken the craft scene. Of note on tap was Bałwan, a 4.5% ABV pale ale by Browar Artezan. Intensely hoppy, yet full-bodied enough at sessionable levels to balance.
The next day, we took a crowded train to Krakow. Krakow has a different feel than Warsaw. Nearly 90% of the buildings were leveled in Warsaw during WWII, but in Krakow almost everything was preserved. It’s old, the streets curve at every chance they get, and navigating can be a pain. But as you walk around a corner getting lost for the third time that morning, you don’t see a dingy shop, but a 17th century cathedral, an ancient cobblestone walkway, and watchtowers still waiting for Tatars to invade. The food is excellent, the alcohol is cheap and varied, and it’s acceptable to get a little too drunk and take the tram home.
While in Krakow we took advantage of the excellent public transport and visited numerous bars and five different breweries and brewpubs, including a traditional English brewpub called T.E.A. Time (Traditional English Ale). We got a tour from the owner, James, and decided to come back in to talk to him about Polish brewing culture, and share some cans of various Vermont IPAs with him. T.E.A. Time has ten taps, eight of which are hand-pulled casks that they brew exclusively. The other two are Tyskie, and a Polish hard cider variety. James isn’t a brewer, but his father was an award-winning homebrewer and many of his father’s recipes are used in the brewery. Much of the beer brewed is an homage to his father, and the brewery itself honors English brewing culture, being one of the only places in Poland that has true cask beer. It thrives, mostly due to expats and tourists from the UK coming in for a taste of home, but it also seems to provide a different variety of beer from what is served in most bars and even craft beer pubs.
After nine days in Krakow we caught a train, and then another, to Grodzisk Wielkopolski, the home of Browar Grodzisk. With some Vermont beer in tow (the brewers got a kick out of trying it!) we trekked half a kilometer through the town square to
Visiting Browar Grodzisk
Upon arriving we were greeted by Magda Hutniczak, one of the brewers and managers at Browar Grodzisk, and quickly brought inside to meet the rest of the crew: Krzysztof and Karolina were Browar Grodzisk staff members, and Paweł, Daniel, and Adrian were brewers and hop growers visiting to talk about beer.
Magda showed me around the brewhouse and answered my ques-tions about the brewing process. The brewery in Grodzisk Wielkopolski is smaller than you would expect. Magda helps run the 85-barrel brew-house. Four 250-barrel fermenters that are almost always in use produced a strong smell of sulfur, which I was assured was normal from the Grodzisk yeast strain. Everything was what a modern brewery should be on their scale: Stainless equipment, electric fermentation controls, closed loop cooling, and piping from every location within the brewery. The only manual labor that really occurs is scrubbing out the tanks and pouring the grain into the hopper of the grain mill.
Magda helped oversee the reconstruction of the brewery in 2015 and has helped design many of the beers they brew. They’ve kept as much of the original building as they could. The new kettles and fermenters have been placed in the same location they were when it was built, and are of the same size. The wooden frame and brick walls remain the same, aged almost 140 years. While their commitment to historical integrity is astounding, Magda admitted that some of this was a result of the town’s historical commission insisting that they restore the building in a very particular way. Many buildings from this period in Poland were lost in the years of occupation, so those remaining are treated very carefully.
Krzysztof Panek, the CEO of Browar Grodzisk, is a food engineer with a focus on brewing and malting. There were no documents covering how Grodziskie malt was made in detail, but they did know that it was dried in oak smoke, which gives it a characteristic flavor. Krzysztof collaborated with Bruntal Malt out of the Czech Republic to make malt in this traditional way, using a recipe he developed. This is more traditional than the malt made by some other major maltsters where they smoke the malt after it’s been dried. The malt from Bruntal is available for purchase by homebrewers and other breweries, but Krzysztof insists on approving each purchase.
Krzysztof worked through all of the documentation remaining from the brewery to develop a historically accurate recipe circa 1900. The 700-year history of Grodziskie means that it has changed considerably, and at times been significantly different, from the style brewed today. But one thing has remained a constant: Oak smoked wheat. At the turn of the century, the style was low alcohol, exclusively brewed using wheat (though not all of it was smoked), highly-carbonated, and crystal clear. It also used the Polish hop variety called Tomyski, which will hopefully be used to brew the fall 2018 batch, thanks to the hard work of Paweł, a hop grower out of southeastern Poland. This style, and how to brew it, is outlined later. But first, about that suitcase . . .
A Polish Homebrew Competition
In what seems like miraculous serendipity, we found out shortly before the trip to Poland that Browar Grodzisk was hosting a Piwo Grodziskie homebrew competition. We happened to have recently brewed a home-smoked version of the style. The recipe was similar to the one provided in this article, except using an electric smoker we smoked some wheat malt ourselves using un-toasted French oak chips. The smoker was set up for cold-smoking, and the wheat malt was smoked for about an hour, with the temperatures of the malt never going over 100 °F (38 °C). We then let the malt sit in a paper bag for a couple weeks to mellow a little. Home smoking malt is a very rewarding experience and allows you to make some truly custom beers. If you have the ability, we strongly suggest giving it a try!
Andrew brought bottles of this homebrew to Poland and submitted it into the big competition, in the semi-open Piwo Grodziskie category (Grodziskie recipes that were not 100% standard). The beer was well liked and was a finalist in this category, but was edged out by a few other specialty brews. We were very proud of how it performed against dozens of Polish homebrewed Grodziskies, and think with some of the new tips learned from the trip, we could score even higher next time.
How to brew Grodziskie
Piwo Grodziskie is light, drinkable, and flavorful. The ABV typically hovers around 3% with Browar Grodzisk’s Piwo coming in at 3.1%. It’s also fairly highly hopped for such an old style, with the IBUs hovering around 25 and a good portion of the hops being used for aroma rather than bittering. Yeast contribution to flavor is minimal. At Browar Grodzisk they use Grodzisk yeast, which is a clean top-fermenting ale yeast that has its roots in the original beer brewed in Grodzisk. German ale yeast, or even an American ale yeast fermented at low temperatures, will work for this beer if need be.
The grain bill is typically one of exclusively wheat with a healthy portion being oak-smoked wheat. Rice hulls or oat hulls are added to allow for proper sparging after the mash. Browar Grodzisk uses oat hulls, but only because they are more available than rice hulls in Poland. Krzysztof says that rice hulls would probably make a cleaner product in the end. Mashing should have a protein rest included to help clarify the final product, though using proper finings may make this step unnecessary.
Grodzisk water has always been linked to the quality of its beer. A story is told of a Bishop blessing the dry well in town in the 12th century, and the water that then flowed out led to the success of the beer industry in Grodzisk. The water is unique. It’s high in magnesium, and the sulfate:chloride ratio of 2.2:1, meaning that the bitterness of the beer is emphasized by the water itself. While not a necessity in brewing this style, the water profile called for in the recipe will make a more traditional Grodziskie. Browar Grodzisk matches their water to the original profile of the well, as the old well in town doesn’t provide the volume needed to brew commercially.
If you only want to modify your water slightly, make sure to add a generous portion of Epsom salt for magnesium and sulfate content, and a much smaller portion of calcium chloride. Lactic acid should also be added to the mash in lieu of a long acid rest to attain good mash pH. The mash used by Browar Grodzisk is a four-step mash without infusion. They spend 30 minutes at 100 °F (38 °C), 45 minutes at 125 °F (52 °C), 30 minutes at 145 °F (63 °C), and 30 minutes at 158 °F (70 °C), and finally mash out.
Once mashed and sparged, the beer is boiled — historically for three hours, which results in increased efficiency due to the increase in sparge water. Browar Grodzisk doesn’t seem to think this is important as far as any flavor characteristics are concerned. They try to minimize any caramelization during the boil, and only boil for an hour. Hops are added during the boil — typically a Polish hop variety called Lubelski (also known as Lublin or Lubliner) is used since Tomyski hops are not yet available — with the final addition occurring within the last 30 minutes for flavor and aroma. This hop is not widely available in the U.S. but can be found online. If you’d rather purchase from your local homebrew store, Czech Saaz or Sterling both make good substitutes.
Once the boil is complete, the beer is chilled and the yeast is pitched. Fermentation is quick, and once it’s over the beer is fined with isinglass. After clarification, more yeast is added along with sugar to bottle condition, and then it cold conditions for several weeks after that. Isinglass is made from fish bladder, but there are several vegan and vegetarian options for fining that can be substituted, or you can skip using a fining agent and simply cold condition until it’s clear.
Piwo Grodziskie Style Guidelines
Ingredients: Oak smoked wheat malt (available through Weyermann and Viking Malt), red wheat malt, rice hulls, noble hops (Preferably Lubelski/Lublin), ‘Grodzisk’ yeast, finings
Appearance: Crystal clear, golden-yellow, with a billowing, white head
Aroma: Light smoke, not BBQ or bacon-ey, and a slight touch of herbal-spicy hops
Flavor: Again, light smoke, with more present herbal-spicy hops on the palate, and perhaps some acidity from high carbonation and the water profile. Bitterness should be present on the palate.
Mouthfeel: Prickly carbonation on the tongue, relatively high body for such a low ABV beer
Overall impression: A quaffable, flavorful, session beer. Good for summer drinking on the porch or winter drinking with a meal. The smoke, moderate IBUs, and herbal spicy hops bring you back for bottle after bottle
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.030 FG = 1.007
IBU = 30 SRM = 3-4 ABV = 2.9%
5 lbs. (2.3 kg) Weyermann oak-smoked wheat malt
1 lb. (0.45 kg) red wheat malt
1 lb. (0.45 kg) rice hulls
3.75 AAU Lubelski hops (60 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 5% alpha acids)
6.25 AAU Lubelski hops (10 min.) (1.25 oz./35 g at 5% alpha acids)
Wyeast 1007 (German Ale) or White Labs WLP003 (German Ale II) or Safale K-97 yeast
1 cup (200 g) corn sugar (if priming)
Step by step
My water profile (in ppm) was as follows: Ca2+ 55, Mg2+ 34, Na+ 32, SO42- 145, Cl– 67, HCO3– 80. On brew day, crush the grains and mash in with 1.75 gallons (6.5 L) of strike water at 134 °F (57 °C) to stabilize at 122 °F (50 °C). This is a strike water to grain ratio of 1.15 qts./lb. or 2.4 L/kg. Hold at this temperature for 30 minutes for a protein rest. Infuse mash with 1.15 gallons (4.4 L) of boiling water to raise mash temperature to 152 °F (67 °C). Hold at this temperature for 60 minutes for a saccharification rest. Sparge with 4.4 gallons (16.7 L) for a pre-boil volume of 6.25 gallons (23.7 L).
Boil for 60 minutes, adding hops as per the recipe. When the boil is complete, cool to 64 °F (18 °C), aerate, and pitch yeast. Allow to ferment and condition for 10–14 days prior to packing. Carbonate (preferably by bottle conditioning) to 3.5 volumes of CO2 and cold condition for two weeks.
Grodziskie also makes a good base for other flavors. There are many varieties of fruited, soured, dry-hopped, and dark Grodziskie on the market. We tend to gravitate towards hoppier beers in general, and by keeping the same grain bill as above, but tweaking the hop schedule, we can make a “New England Grodziskie” that’s got a lot more of that hoppy, herbal, spicy flavor. For that recipe we add 1 oz. (28 g) Lubelski at the start of the boil, 1 oz. (28 g) at the beginning of a 15-minute whirlpool, and 1 oz. (28 g) dry hop addition at high kräusen.
Because this recipe relies so heavily on oak-smoked wheat malt, formulating an extract with grain version would be very difficult.