FAQ

Frequently asked questions

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Until about 40 years ago, beer was simply beer, denominated by type. Most markets were dominated by large industrial-scale breweries, which often produced beers of uniform taste, which went from the light to the flavorless. Around 1980, in the United States, where this unfortunate tendency was particularly pronounced, beer lovers began to establish new breweries that sought to produce beers of character, of recaptured old styles or of new creation. In this way was born the craft brewery, and an association of the sector set a definition to distinguish craft beer from industrial beer. In Italy where the “craft beer movement” arose about 15 years later, its association of the sector had its own definition. The principal points (which were drawn from a law of 1962) specified: breweries that were small and independent and did not use pasteurization or microfiltration during production. By convention the maximum annual volume could not exceed 8500 barrels. Recently a new law (concerning agriculture, of 6 July 2016, comma 4 bis of article 2) set forth the definition more completely and raised the maximum volume to 170,000 barrels. But this definition has also an ideological cast. The definition of the pioneers of craft beer, the American association, permits pasteurization and an annual volume of 6 million barrels. Moreover, many American breweries that began as small craft breweries were successful and grew to large industrial scale but continued to produce craft beers of great taste.
In all of this it is to be noted that there is no definition of industrial beer beyond that it is not craft beer. It is also ironical that almost all the productive techniques used today by craft breweries were developed by industrial breweries.
Heaven forbid.

It is a traditional regional beer. It recaptures a style of beer popular at the end of the 19th century in the Austrian Empire and also in Modena with its traditional ties to Vienna. Birra di Modena is produced according to a Modenese recipe from that period in a brewery in the Czech Republic, the only country where the beer industry still uses the traditional preparation of the wort by the decoction process (and not by simple infusion as with almost all lagers today). This process gives to Birra di Modena a decisive character even though it remains sweet and only moderately alcoholic.

It would have been difficult and expensive to use the decoction process and produce well in a craft brewery.

Because it is the only country where it is possible to produce a beer in the style popular in Modena at the end of the 19th century. That beer, although it had a decided character and full body, exalted the sweetness of the malt and was only moderately alcoholic. It requires the traditional preparation of the wort by double decoction, as specified by our recipe, which is from that very period. We considered various Italian breweries but none of them was able to use the decoction process at reasonable cost with reliable results because this process has fallen into disuse. For lagers it has for at least 50 years been substituted almost everywhere by the preparation of the wort by infusion, which is faster and has far lower energy costs.
It refers to a law issued by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in 1516, the Prohibition of Substitutes (Der Surrogatverbot), which was only much later, in 1918, renamed the Law of Purity (die Reinheitsgebot). This appears on the labels of the majority of German beers, but the importance of the law has been exaggerated. It simply picked up a previous limitation of the ingredients of beer to hops, barley, and water, as had been established by decree in Munich in 1447 and extended to all of Bavaria in 1487. Today yeast is also indicated, but at that time its presence had not yet been identified.

The objective of the decree was to prohibit the use of ingredients that were bizarre and unhygienic and to direct the production of beer to barley, so saving wheat supplies for the production of bread. Actually the 1516 law is devoted in good part to matters of taxation.

It is also to be noted that this law became national, so extending to all of Germany, only in 1906, and still under the technical name of the Prohibition of Substitutes, to become the Law of Purity in 1918. It was ignored in the German Democratic Republic and, in 1987, declared by the European Court to be inapplicable to beers imported into Germany. The law, nonetheless, remains a point of pride not only for German breweries but also for those of other countries that have chosen to respect it.

But it is a point of pride that is a little foolish. It is possible to make perfectly good beer with a mixture of barley and other cereals, such as wheat (used by the Germans themselves, whose circumvention of the law is discussed in a complementary article-FAQ), rice, millet and corn. Italian beers often use a good measure of corn. Moreover, in well regarded beers around the world, there is the use of the most varied ingredients, running from the use of exotic spices in certain Belgian beers to that of algae in certain Scottish beers.

It is possible thanks to a loophole adopted soon after the proclamation of the law. Thus even the esteemed and law-abiding German brewers have followed our Italian saying of “as soon as the law is made, the tricky way around it has been found.” In 1516 Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria issued the Law of Purity (die Reinheitsgebot) limiting the ingredients of beer to barley, hops, and water.

(Please see the related article-FAQ.)

But afterwards, with various ordinances (from 1520 to 1548), the self-same William IV granted to the noble Degenberg house of Schwarznach, as a recognition for services rendered, a perpetual privilege to produce wheat beer. The privilege was probably considered of little importance and was also granted to others in the Duchy of Bavaria. When, contrary to expectations, wheat beer became a notable success, the matter annoyed the Duke and he banned the production by all in Bavaria except for the Degenberg house whose privilege, being feudally perpetual was not revocable.
But, in 1602, the feudal lord died without a successor, and Duke Maximilian IV, far from suppressing the profitable wheat beer, took back the privilege for himself, and production continued as a monopoly of the reigning family of Bavaria until 1798. In that year a few licenses were granted for wheat beer, but only because its popularity had declined. It remained an almost unknown beer until the Nineteen Sixties, when inexplicably it made a comeback and really caught on, to the point that it is now the most widely consumed type of beer in Bavaria.

These two terms are often misunderstood.
In Italy the term “special beer” refers to a legal classification for the alcohol content. In it there are non-alcoholic beers with ABV up to 1.2%, light beers with ABV of 1.2-3.5%, normal beers or beers without particular denomination with ABV of 3.6-5.4%, special beers with ABV of 5.5-5.9%, and finally double malt, strong, and super-strong beers. Thus Birra di Modena falls in the category of normal beers.
The term “premium beer” refers to a commercial-marketing classification by segment for price and image, which identifies beers as economical, standard, and premium. Birra di Modena is a premium beer.
There are various meanings, and they create confusion.
Everything goes back to the year 1842 and the first production of a new type of beer in the Bohemian city of Pilsen (at the time in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today in the Czech Republic) by the Bavarian brewer Josef Groll. He used local malt and hops, both of high quality, together with a particular kind of yeast (smuggled in by Groll according to the legend) and produced a lager with Bavarian techniques. But different from almost all the beers of the period (except for some English ones), the beer was pale-yellow and clear. It had great success and revolutionized the production of beer. In Bohemia the majority of beers became lagers (bottom fermented) rather than ales (top fermented). Also in Germany, where lagers were already dominant but dark and cloudy, the new beer spread rapidly, and then worldwide.

Various terms derive from this history. The term Pilsen beer technique refers to the historical fact of its origin even though for the next thirty or forty years it was commonly called the Bavarian beer technique in reference to Groll and his successors in Pilsen, all of them Bavarian. Beer of the Pilsen type or style refers to beers similar to the original even produced elsewhere. It is associated with the taste of hops, but not necessarily strongly so. The German version does indeed have a marked hoppy characteristic. Now it is called Pils because in the 19th Century the Bohemians succeeded in legally blocking the use of the term Pilsener in Germany, where today it is the dominant type of lager. It is rather bitter and so differs from the sweet lagers of Bavaria, in particular the Helles of Munich. More generically in many countries—for example, in Italy Pilsen or Pilsener indicates any blond lager, therefore about 80% of the world’s production of beer.

Birra di Modena is a beer of the same Bohemian family as that of Pilsen. It is not bitter, it is sweet.

(In a subsequent article-FAQ we will recount a little about Josef Groll rather a slob and an individual of great impoliteness, who for the creation of his Pilsen beer had, it seems, an essential assist from an Italian brewer.)

The term comes from England and refers to a beer of which one may drink 5 mugs in a sitting, or session, with friends. It is in style to call it a beer for easy drinking. It does not represent a challenge to the palate with a taste that is very strong and hoppy. It is sweet not bitter. Nor is it very alcoholic and hence one may easily consume 5 mugs in a session. Generally session beers are normal industrial beers.

But recently session beer has been rediscovered by the craft brewers. Aware that with a strong taste and high alcoholic content their beers discourage the normal drinker and don’t allow the consumption of more than a single bottle, they have adopted session beer to sell volumes unrelated to their usual market of purists.

In reality, the majority of craft beers are contrary in spirit to a true session beer, which favors the cheerful company of friends. The drinker of a craft beer typically holds the glass up to the light, examines, and sips in a contemplative way and then speaks of caramel tonalities with nuances of citrus. Such a drinker does not fit into the class of the session beer drinker, who drinks with pleasure but talks about subjects other than just beer.

Birra di Modena is an ideal session beer, with a definite taste but truly easy to drink.