It may sound like a case of blind following tradition when there are better options available, but to suggest that would be like selling Toft short. He is one of the best brewers in the world, according to Yvan de Baets of the Brasserie de la Senne, who said that Toft has “an incredible knowledge of malt and hops” and “the precision of a Swiss watchmaker when he brews. . So if Toft chooses to persist in brewing his beers, you can be sure he has good reason to.
“If you have [malt] which converts the minute you add water, that’s not the point of brewing, ”says Toft. “I want to be able to create the wort myself, rather than doing it in the malt houses. I’m trying to get malt that isn’t as heavily modified as it could be. I always ask the maltsters to let me brew. I prefer to spend an extra half hour, an hour in mash. With the decoction, I get this higher degree of apparent attenuation than I can with the infusion, at least not at the same time.
Toft does test brews once or twice a year to compare the results of brewing and decoction on the same batch of malt. In its 90 hectoliters (77 barrels) brewhouse, a decoction will use an additional 10 liters of fuel oil. “By using 10 liters more oil per infusion, I get a final attenuation of 87%. If I do a step-by-step brew, I save the 10 liters, but I only get 84%, ”he says.
So, are three degrees of mitigation really worth all that extra effort and expense? “There are a lot of beers on the market at 80% to 83% and they are good, but they lack that little extra something… that extra level of drinkability, in my opinion,” says Toft.
Schönram beers have that little extra something in spades. There’s a harmonious quality, expressive malt and hop flavors complementing each other, a crisp and richly satisfying finish that connects to something deep inside. I say it’s like all the beer is singing. Toft is a little more sober.
Of his Helles, he says: “It’s the everyday beer in our part of the country. It is a very easy to drink beer produced to have a drier palate. But the whole point is that it gets a little sharper and cleaner [with decoction], which allows the hops to shine a little better. And the interesting thing is that with this higher attenuation you get a higher alcohol content compared to your original gravity. There is therefore a perceived sweetness, but which actually comes from the alcohol.
The Schönram brewery will produce around 115,000 hectoliters (98,000 BBL) this year, which equates to around 24 million pints. Toft says 90% of it will be drunk within 40 miles of the brewery, which is tucked away in the southeast corner of Germany, just across the border from Salzburg in Austria.
People drink a lot of beer in the Toft part of the world. “The German average is just a little [under] one hundred liters per capita, ”says Toft. “And the Bavarian average is about double that. Where I live, it’s about a liter a day. So, uh, people like to drink a lot. Measuring our success locally and seeing how much it is valued locally, I think is a good indicator that we are doing it right.
Toft is American, born in Wyoming, but has lived in Germany for so long that it is apparently unusual to see him other than in lederhosen. (Much to my regret, he wasn’t wearing them when we spoke on Zoom.) “I came here to study with the intention of going back and making my own place, but never came back.” , he told me.
I ask him if, brewing in Germany, he feels tied to an ongoing tradition in a way he couldn’t in the United States. “That’s definitely part of the charm to me,” he says. “They did a lot of things in the good old days. I really love being a part of it and helping to cement it into the present. “