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Make Your Best Lichtenhainer

Lichtenhainer is a low-alcohol wheat beer with moderate acidity. Josh Weikert explains how it differs from both the Berliner weisse or a gose.

Josh Weikert Jul 22, 2018 - 6 min read

Make Your Best Lichtenhainer Primary Image

Brewers love telling me how the beer they brew just doesn't fit into any particular style. Or, paradoxically, how there's just nothing "new" for them out there anymore.
It's at moments like this that I like to slip Lichtenhainer into the conversation (which sounds far more suggestive than it really is). The reason it's such a good catch-all answer to these diametrically-opposed claims is this: if there's a style of beer that's a session sour ale with wheat and smoke, then two things must be true.

  1. Clearly, the style guidelines have every combination of flavors covered, since that's in there, and

  2. I'd bet money that not even half of the most dedicated beer geeks probably haven't tried Lichtenhainer.

In any case, this is one strange, wonderful, and surprisingly simple-to-brew style. If you want to really impress your fellow homebrewers, whip a Lichtenhainer on them and be ready to answer questions about it for the rest of the night!

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STYLE

Lichtenhainer is a low-alcohol wheat beer with moderate acidity. "But wait," you're thinking, "isn't that a Berliner Weisse?" Nope. Not that sour. "OK, a Gose, then!" Nope. No salt or coriander.

Oh, and did I mention that it's smoked? This is basically the platypus of beers, but that's not terribly uncommon when you wander the dark, spooky halls of the Historical Beer category. ABV rarely ventures above four percent in classic examples, but modern versions (which can still be found in breweries in central Germany) sometimes creep higher.

This beer also shares a feature with the Kellerbier: it's meant to be served young, so raw flavors aren't a fault. I'm not saying anyone should want acetaldehyde in their beer, but if you should find it in this style it wouldn't be considered a flaw (though I don't think you should go out of your way to produce it). The smoke and acidity are in balance with each other and should be driving the flavor, though, with the wheat and just-finished flavors playing supporting roles.

If you want to try one for yourself, and you should before you brew one, find that bottle shop nearest you that scores "grey market" beers that are hand-smuggled back from the Continent. There's a good chance that's where you'll find it.

RECIPE

There's healthy debate over the proper grist in this style, and what determined mine is the answer to this question: what kind of smoke? The smoke should be more-subtle here than in most Rauchbiers, and beechwood- or cherry-smoked malts can sometimes impart a lot of intensity even in modest percentages. However, I've never had oak-smoked wheat go overboard on me, and as we need wheat anyway…

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Start with 2.5 pounds (1.1kg) each of oak-smoked wheat malt, Vienna malt, and Pilsner malt. You'll get a starting gravity at right around 1.040, which is just right for a high-threes ABV. That's it for the grist. If you find that you don't get enough smoke, then consider adding small additions of beechwood-smoked Rauchmalt until you hit the smoke character and level you're looking for, but this ratio works well for me - and the Pilsner and Vienna add just the right biscuit and subtly-spicy graininess that I want in the background.

I've also tried adding a bit of acidulated malt in place of the Pilsner to get a head start on the lactic "zip" in the flavor, but I didn't notice much change post-fermentation, after the Lacto has had its say.

Give yourself a good noble hop addition for the entirety of the boil (15 whole minutes) at a level that provides 8-10 IBUs. It won't take more than that.

Finally, we'll take the same microbiota approach that we did with Gose: Wyeast 1007 (German Ale) and 5335 (Lactobacillus), pitched simultaneously to create some subtle funk and mild acidity. We can always adjust it upwards, post-fermentation.

PROCESS

Mash as usual (no real need for rice hulls with just a one-third wheat malt addition), boil for fifteen minutes, and then chill to pitching temperatures. Ferment at an even 68F (20C) for about ten days, and then package it up: remember, young beer. Carbonate to about 2.75 volumes of CO2, just like with your Berliner Weisse and Gose.

If you want, and if you feel like the acidity isn't quite where you like it, you can go a bit higher in carbonation (to add a bit of carbonic bite) and/or adjust with food-grade lactic acid at packaging. This is a beer that you can actively "finish" to adjust the flavor, but don't feel like you need to tinker - sometimes it's fun just to let this one ride and see what you get!

IN CLOSING

I should point out that I don't have a ton of experience with this style (who does?), but I've tracked down the "original" versions and this recipe is pretty darned close. For sure, it's going to get you in the ballpark, and you can bring it home from there. Prost!

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