Braunschweiger Mumme

As for the mum of Brunswick, which enjoys a traditional reputation on this side of the water, because it had the good luck to be shut out by high duties, and has thus escaped detection, it is a villainous compound, somewhat of the colour and consistency of tar – a thing to be eaten with a knife and fork.

So proclaimed a disappointed Charles Knight in 1843.

I have long had a passing interest in the old beer Mumme or mum, supposedly named in 1492 CE after its German inventor Christian Mumme in Braunschweig (Brunswick), and then going on to become the most popular and widely distributed wheat beer in northern Germany for over two centuries. Mumme was a bitter brown beer very similar to Keutebier: syrupy, thick and strong, an ale usually brewed with two thirds wheat to one third barley malt, but with some recipes putting the ratio as high as one part barley to eight parts wheat. It could be brewed at extremely high gravities, i.e. OG 1200.

It was often divided into two substyles: Stadtmumme (lower ABV) and Schiffmumme (higher ABV), with less common varieties such as Cherry Mumme also brewed. Schiffmumme in particular was exported to Great Britain, the Netherlands and even to India. It did well on long voyages as it was extremely full-bodied with large amounts of residual sugars. Although early Brunswick recipes of Mumme used herbs for bittering, it is claimed that eventually Mumme came to be the first German beer to have been brewed with only hops and no other herbs; making it possibly the first post-gruit German beer!

(I specify German because an English recipe for “mum” dating from late in the 17th century still used gruit – with weird constituents too: betony, marjoram, pennyroyal, wild thyme, elderflowers, cardamom, barberries, fir, birch, sundew, blessed thistle, etc. This is consistent with England’s, overall, less enthusiastic uptake of the hop when compared to Western Europe. So it is unlikely Mumme was the first hopped English beer. Oh yeah, and for whatever reason the English recipe also has legumes in the mash.)

Unfortunately most Mumme has, since the 19th century, been brewed sans-alcohol. The style has made a partial comeback in the last twenty years – as have many historic styles – but is mostly brewed as limited release or small batch varieties. There are only a few places regularly brewing Mumme.

I would love to find direct evidence of the Christian Mumme namesake connection, being a Mumme descendant myself through my mother’s side (and less interestingly, also a descendant of many heavy drinkers in the suburb of Brunswick, Melbourne…) – but alas it appears elusive. Historians have encountered the beer “mum” in numerous historical sources prior to 1492 CE, stretching back to 1282 CE, lowering the likelihood of the Mumme family connection considerably, but I remain undaunted. Maybe the family was named after the beer?

In some ways I’d prefer that!

For now my Mumme beer-family quest will continue. Many other people out there know a lot about this beer, and the way I see it, it is only a matter of time and energy before I learn from them.

Perhaps Braunschweig itself is the place to start? Every November the city holds a weekend event called mummegenussmeile which supposedly transports visitors to the world of Braunschweiger Mumme, with Mumme-inspired food and other products on offer. November 2015 may be out, but perhaps I can make it in 2016. Something to think about!