Today, many — if not most — European beers are made with barley. Earlier European beers, however, were made with any number of other grains. But then came the reformers: Bavaria’s Reinheitsgebot proscribed the use of anything other than barley in 1516; in Bohemia, the great brewing scientist František Ondřej Poupě, author of “The Art of Beer Brewing” (1794), helped kill off other grains at the end of the eighteenth century, famously declaring that oats were for horses, wheat was for cakes, and only barley was fit for beer.
So before barley was the only ingredient to use, what did beers taste like? They might have been a bit like the Historisches Emmer Bier from Germany’s Riedenburger brewery, made with malted emmer, einkorn and spelt (all early domesticated forms of wheat), as well as barley and modern wheat.
Beyond the grain bill, it’s an unusual brew with unusual flavors. From my swing-top bottle it poured a cloudy amber with a thick head and a slightly spicy nose. In the mouth, it was malty and finshed a bit sour, roughly akin to a dark wheat but also rich and full like a Vienna lager. There was also a strange flavor I couldn’t quite place. What I come up with was umami, the flavorsome, food-like notes that reminded me most of doughy notes mixed with vegetables: a good pizza, a rich bowl of pasta, a great sandwich on fresh bread.
It’s also worth noting that this beer is a Naturtrüb, and it is correspondingly cloudy with some amazing amounts of sediment. I’m not sure if you can tell from this shot down the bottle neck, but the last centimeter of liquid was fairly viscous gunk.
My guess is that the hearty, food-like notes came from the primitive wheats in use. In any case, I’d definitely try it again: like a Vienna lager, I think it would be an ideal pairing with pizza or pasta.