If you’re a fan of extinct beer styles revived Jurassic Park-style, try Embers of the Deceased, a collaboration between DC Brau
and Bluejacket. This smoked wheat beer originated in a region of Eastern
Europe that was part of Prussia from the late 18th until the early 20th century, then reverted back to Poland after World War I. The center of brewing was a city that the Germans called Gratz and the Poles call Grodzisk; hence, the style is known alternately as a Grätzer or Grodziskie. It disappeared from its native area in the early 1990s.
Embers of the Deceased is so named because “it’s the leftovers of an extinct breed,” says DC Brau’s chief executive, Brandon Skall. It’s brewed with an oak-smoked wheat malt, and isn’t “super-smoky” like German Rauchbiers, he says. It’s got a whiff of bacon, followed by the crisp, bready-citrusy flavor typical of American wheat ales. There is a touch of phenol and bitter hops in the finish. Measuring only 3.7 percent alcohol by volume, it’s a true beverage of moderation.
The only comparable beer available in the Washington area to date has been Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen from the Brauerie Heller-Trum in Bamberg, Germany, a famous producer of smoked beers using malt roasted over a beechwood-stoked flame. But the Schlenkerla smoked wheat beer derives its bacon-y qualities from a portion of smoked barley (rather than wheat) malt, and it’s fermented with a Bavarian weizen yeast, yielding clove and fruity overtones not present in the milder Grätzer beer.
DC Brau isn’t the first American brewery to experiment with a Grätzer. In 2011, Choc Beer , a microbrewery in Krebs, Okla., attempted one after thoroughly researching the style. Choc, according to an article in the July/August New Brewer magazine, shipped samples to Poland so former employees of that nation’s last Grodziskie brewery could taste it and guage its accuracy.
The annals of German brewing mention other styles seldom if ever attempted by modern American breweries . . . like Mumme. This thick, dark, barley-and-wheat ale, once exported across Europe, is said to have been invented by a brewmaster named Christian Mumme who was a contemporary of Christopher Columbus. Will the interest in Grätzer (and the uptick in examples of lesser-known German styles like Berliner Weisse and Gose) spark other re-creations?
DC Brau made 30 barrels of Embers of the Deceased. Skall expects the beer, which debuted during DC Beer Week, to last maybe another two weeks. You can find it at local taprooms or fill up a growler at the brewery. A follow-up batch next summer is a possibility, he says.
Kitsock’s Beer column appears monthly in Food, with weekly updates on All We Can Eat.