Blind Tasting: German Export Beers

Introduction

On 3rd December 2016, a blind tasting was held at Hopfen & Malz with the focus this time on “Export” beers from German breweries.

The key goals we wanted to address in the tasting were:

  • qualitative comparison of export beers brewed by German brewers
  • verify the assumption that genuine Dortmunder Export is a true unique style that differentiates itself from other mildly stronger German lager beers labelled as “Export”

 

An Overview of ‘Export’ Beer in the German Brewing Tradition

In Germany, “Export” beer is not a beer style, but rather a beer strength category. Germany has a long and complex history with beer strengths and taxes applied to different gravities of wort. Traditionally, Vollbier was any beer brewed in the range of 11°-14°P (until 1993, when it was expanded to 11°-16°P). These would include the regular session beers (e.g. Pilsner, Helles, Dunkel).

Many breweries would brew a slightly stronger version for “export” – in this case not to another country, but rather to another city or state. Stronger beers with higher alcohol (and typically, flavour) are more robust and will survive better than the weaker session beers. In practise, this often meant that “Exportbier” from many German breweries would finish in the 4.8-5.5% ABV range.

This is all that “Exportbier” means in the German brewing tradition! Each brewery would use the same water, malts and hops at their disposal. I am unaware of any German brewery deviating significantly from their regular session Vollbier recipe for an Export version.

 

Dortmunder Export as a beer style: a modern creation without link to the past

In the land grab for new unique beer styles to promote / evangelise / sell, brewers tend to seek out any supposed style with a genuine link to the past. In the case of the “Dortmunder Export” as a style, brewers outside of Germany, particularly in the US, have been overambitious with their denomination of Export as an isolated beer style, with a unique character from the brewing water in Dortmund.

Before the First World War, Dortmund was indeed one of the great brewing cities of the world. (Sadly, very little of this heritage is left today). However, the beers brewed there were mostly in the Helles (light German lager beer) tradition – a continuous spectrum between the Helles from Bayern and the more bitter, drier Pilsners of northern Germany.

Fortunately, some of the myths around Dortmunder Export as a unique style are starting to be dispelled. However, there is still some cleaning up to do:

The 2015 edition of the BCJP guidelines have reserved category 5C for “German Helles Exportbier” with a strength of 4.8-6.0% ABV. The style comments describe “Dortmunder” and “Dortmunder Export” as synonyms for this category, although it is noted that this does not align with German brewing tradition, where the term “Export” applies to strength.

Beeradvocate.com lists Dortmunder/Export as a common style with an ABV range from 4.0-6.0% ABV. Ratebeer.com on the other hand combines Dortmunder/Helles and has no Export beer style category.

 

History of Brewing in Dortmund in the last 50 years

The following data was kindly compiled and provided by Ludger Berges of Hopfen & Malz:

  • 1967 Eight breweries in Dortmund, Union Nr. 1 and DAB Nr. 2 in Germany (Five are in the German Top 20)
  • 1970 >7.5 M hl of beer brewed. Dortmund is Europe’s Nr 1 beer city (and 2nd worldwide after Milwaukee)
  • 1971/72 Ritter takes over Bergmann, Bergmann closed
  • 1972 DAB takes over Hansa, DAB moves to Hansa site
  • 1972 Union merges with Schultheiß (Berlin)
  • 1982 DAB builds a new brewery at former Hansa site. This is the place where all Dortmund beers come from now
  • 1984 Hövel’s Hausbrauerei founded (by Thier?)
  • 1986/87 Kronen takes over Stifts, Stifts closes
  • 1988 Union-Schultheiß part of the “Brau und Brunnen” group (incl. Jever and others)
  • 1992 Kronen takes over Thier, Thier closes 1994
  • 1994/95 Union takes over Ritter, Union moves to Ritter site
  • 1996 DAB takes over Kronen, Kronen closes
  • 1999 “Brau und Brunnen” nearly bankrupt
  • 2001 DAB nearly bankrupt
  • 2002 Radeberger takes over DAB
  • 2002 Brinkhoff’s Nr. 1 established by Union (high-end brand for Dortmund, like “Berliner Pils”)
  • 2004 Radeberger takes over Brau und Brunnen
  • 2004/05 Radeberger transfers all activities to one site (DAB), Union site closes

 

 

German Export Beers - in order of preference
German Export Beers – in order of preference

 

Tasting Results

Group Tasting Results

The following table represents the group results from the four participants in the blind tasting on 3rd December 2016:

Group Place Brewery / Beer Average Score
1 Mönchsambacher Export

2.1

2 Moritz Fiege Gründer Export

2.4

3 Dortmunder Kronen

3.4

4 Hebendanz Export Hell

3.8

5 Sternburg Export

3.9

6 Augustiner Edelstoff

4.0

7 Dortmunder Union Export

4.1

8 Ritter Export

4.5

 

 

Personal Tasting Results

Group Place Brewery / Beer My Score
1 Mönchsambacher Export

2.0

2a Moritz Fiege Gründer Export

2.5

2b Dortmunder Union Export

2.5

3 Dortmunder Kronen

3.0

4 Augustiner Edelstoff

3.5

5 Sternburg Export

4.0

6 Ritter Export

4.5

7 Hebendanz Export Hell

5.0

 

 

Observations & Conclusions

This blind beer tasting had the lowest attendance to date. With the exception of the odd position Sternburg Export has in Berlin, Exportbier” just aren’t very popular in Germany!

Two of the beers were truly enjoyable for all participants: the Mönchsambacher Export and the Moritz Fiege Gründer Export. Of the four palates trying the beers during the tasting, I alone enjoyed the Dortmunder Union Export, due mainly to its more pronounced spicey hop aroma, although I am willing to be retest this anomaly.

From a sensory perspective, there was nothing to differentiate the Export beers of Dortmund from those of other parts of Germany.

 

Many thanks, as always, to Ludger Berges and Joanne Noble at Hopfen & Malz (Berlin) for their hosting of the tasting.

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Blind Tasting: German Export Beers

  1. “Export”, in Germany, has become a synonym for outmoded beer. Export is “what my grandpa drank”.
    As a consequence, many breweries don’t use that term anymore.
    In southern Germany, the term “Spezial” is very popular for Export (like Andechser Spezial, Tegernseer Spezial or Alpirsbacher Spezial, just to name some of the bigger ones)
    Another term often used for Export is “Gold”, referring to the fact that Export has a golden colour, compared to “Helles” which is just yellow (f.e. Flensburger Gold, Waldhaus Gold, Gampert Förster-Gold).
    Another example iis the Fiege beer; Fiege stopped making Export some day in 19xx. They came back 2008 with a new Export called Fiege “Gründer” (Gründer = founder) and it looks as if the beer is quite successful.

  2. Acc to figures from the “internet”, the top five beer styles in Germany are Pils, Weizen, Helles, Export and, ähöm, Biermixgetränke. It’s a miracle why the american rating-sites consider Helles and Export one style. All Bavarian breweries proud of their tradition have Helles and Export in their portfolio, with a big difference in taste (f. e. Andechser, Tegernseer, Augustiner, Reutberger, Schönramer, Oettinger…)

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