Category Archives: Brewing

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!

For Beer Stupifies

On the distinctions between wine and beer, quoteth Athenaeus circa 200 CE who in turn quoteth Aristotle from around 400 BCE:

Men who have been intoxicated with wine fall down face foremost,
whereas they who have drunk barley beer lay outstretched on their backs;
for wine makes one top-heavy, but beer stupifies.

Does this imply a higher mortality rate for beer drinkers, given the danger from choking on their own vomit? If this is the case, could we have seen a kind of natural selection taking place in beer drinking countries over the preceding 10,000 years? Does this extend all the way to the present and help explain the rise in wine consumption in mature beer markets?

The answer is no. Oh Aristotle, you goose.

Southeast Asia’s Hop

It is widely known that beer was imported to Southeast Asia, with most indigenous forms of alcohol being fermented from herbs, rice and fruit before the region’s enhanced contact with beer drinking civilizations elsewhere. This beverage preference can be intuitively linked to the range of crops domesticated for agriculture in the region: when one has no access to barley and hops, one generally does not create beer.

Of vital beer ingredients the hop in particular has a falsely European aura, being first domesticated and added to ales over five hundred years ago in the Western part of that peninsula. Interestingly, however, two varieties of the common hop Humulus lupulus do grow in Asia and so do two siblings which are explicitly indigenous to subregions there – one to East Asia and Japan and one to Southeast Asia.

China is the only country where all three species of the hop are found, giving credence to the theory that the plant originated there.

The hop genus Humulus consists of perennial, climbing, dioecious, vines. To get more scientific, it is a member of the Cannabaceae family of the Urticales order which in 2003 was incorporated into the natural order of Rosales. Cannibas sativa, the world’s most popular recreational drug, is the only other genus in the family.

For decades it was known that there were at least two species in the hop genus: the “Japanese hop”, Humulus japonicas and the “common hop”, Humulus lupulus. Then in 1936 a third species, Humulus yunnanensis, was recorded. Correctly considered to be indigenous to high elevations in the mountains of Southeast Asia, this hop was then neglected, understudied and commonly mistaken as H. lupus right up to 1978, when scientist Ernest Small identified H. yunnanensis as a discrete species and published his findings.

Although its cones are greater in size than H. japonicas, generally speaking H. yunnanensis is closer physically to H. japonicus than to H. lupulus. The rigidity of its climbing hairs, small leaf glands and oversized pollen grains all clearly distinguish it as a separate species from H. japonicus and H. lupulus.

H. yunnanensis has only a few glands on the bracteoles of the cone, and therefore potentially has no recognisable, analogous use for brewing when compared to H. lupulus. Instead, the use of H. japonicus as an ornamental climbing vine has been noted in parts of East Asia.

This poses the question: did or do indigenous peoples in Southeast Asia use H. yunnanensis for the same purposes, or for anything more than aesthetics? And if the current trend in neo-localism and beer terroir in brewing continues, could this variety of hop come to have a prominent role in a uniquely Southeast Asian beer?