Every year on April 11, beer lovers toast to the legendary beer king Gambrinus (or Cambrinus), also known as the patron saint of beer. Unfortunately, he was no saint or king; Gambrinus never really existed. But that doesn’t mean this legend isn’t interesting.

In reality, Gambrinus was probably loosely based on Hertog Jan (Duke John), also no stranger to the world of beer. This popular Jan van Brabant was a lover of beer and he often went among the common people. According to the stories, he once addressed his army from a pile of beer barrels. The name Gambrinus could be an amalgam of Jan Primus (Jan the First), although this is questioned by historians.

The name seems to have originated earlier when the ancient Romans wrote about a Germanic people they named Gambrivians. Although there was never any evidence for this, this story developed over the centuries until it was not a nation, but a king named Gambrivius. Poets and story tellers ran off with it and various stories came to life.

He is said to have learned brewing from the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris, or he was rewarded with an honorary title when he drank beer for three days and three nights in a row. Or was it a simple brewer who won a race, by emptying the barrel of beer he had to carry along the way?

It wasn’t until 1874 that the legend really came to life. Then the short story collection Contes du roi Cambrinus – or The Stories of King Gambrinus – by Charles Deulin was published. In it, a heartbroken man makes a pact with the devil himself. If he may forget the beautiful Flandrine, he will give up his soul. The dark creature grants him the miraculous hop plant and teaches him to brew.

In addition, Gambrinus – in order to take revenge on his village – gets the talent to make music that one has to dance to. However, the brewer outsmarts the devil. When the latter comes for his soul, Gambrinus plays his music. The beast has no choice but to return the soul in order to be released from the dance. That’s what one calls a hero!

When the story was also made into a play, King Gambrinus became known throughout the Low Countries (now The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and a small area in France). He has therefore become an indispensable part of the beer culture. Several beers are named after him, such as Primus of the Haacht brewery or Rosé de Gambrinus of Cantillon. There are also several breweries, beer associations, festivals and bars named after the legend. Not to mention, he has his own day on April 11.

All in all not bad for a saint who never existed…

Flickr photograph by Howie Luvzus.

It is not clear when roasting in rotating drums became popular with special maltsters. It is nowadays the most used and safest machinery to make roasted and caramelised malts and cereals.

There was a time roasting was done in partially open spheres and direct fired. Consistent malt quality was very difficult to be obtained and danger of fire was prominently present all the time. The use of special roasted malts was limited. The success in the 20the century of specialty beers (trappists and coloured higher density beers and of course the revival of the craft beers, boosted the use of special malts

We can define two mean purposes for the use of drum roaster equipment in the maltings:

1. The perfect caramelisation tool.

Caramel malts are made from germinated cereals. Instead of bringing the green malt to a kiln to dry for making regular malt, the green malt is brought into a rotating drum roaster. The drum can be closed air tide and when temperature raises between 65 and 75°C the brewing enzymes: α and β amylases are on their maximum power and will degrade the sugar polymers from the endosperm, amylose and amylopectin into maltose.

Because the drum is a dynamic system constructed in a way optimal even temperature is reached on every spot in the drum, the saccharification process is fully and fast obtained within 30 minutes. This cannot be achieved with a tradition static kiln (green malt is not moving). The inside of the kernels during saccharification become almost liquid and drying is starting. Once most of the moisture is gone (45%→10%) temperature is raising and the sugars start to degrade into complex molecules which are given a brown colour and taste like toffees and caramel. A minimum of 110°C is needed to allow that process and roasting starts from here.

Combination of Maillard reactions and sugar degradation influence further at higher temperatures (max 165°C) the creation of all different caramel malts: from 20 EBC hell to 400 EBC aroma. The production of caramel via malt is without treatment of ammonia and or acids and is therefore a wanted product in baking and brewing.

2. The perfect roasting tool.

Crude cereals or finished malts are used to heat up and being roasted at higher temperatures (max 235°C). As the cereals and the malts do not contain sugars but only starch, there is less danger for burning the endosperm. The coloration is the result of only Maillard reactions. The higher the roasting temperature the higher the coloration.

Taste will evolve from biscuit up to chocolate and astringent burnt. For brewing purposes only the low colours (max 100 EBC biscuit malts) and the higher black malts (coffee, chocolate and black 700-1500EBC) are used. In the window 200-500 EBC are the malts which are used for colouring flour of wheat used for different types of bread.

In the middle-ages – before the effects of hop in brewing were known – people used a special herb mixture for bittering and flavouring beer. This mixture – and the eventual beer – is called Gruit, also known as grut, gruut or gruyt. And because 1 February declared is International Gruit Day, we will take a closer look at this unique beer.

Gruit originated in the area of the Netherlands, Belgium and part of Germany. It goes back at least to the 11th century, because that is when the Roman Emperor Henry IV started taxing Gruit. As soon as hop was “discovered”, the use of herbs took a dive. By the 15th century Gruit all but disappeared.

Thankfully, the recent craft brew craze has also revived nearly forgotten beer styles, like Gruit. Brewers all over the world tried their hand in brewing with herbs instead of hops. In Ghent, Belgium there is even a brewery that solely commits itself to Gruit.

The mixture of herbs is not fixed, but most use heather, ground-ivy, horehound, mugwort, sweetgale and yarrow. Other ingredients could be – but are not limited to – juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, nutmeg and cinnamon. Today, even hop is allowed, although that seems a little redundant.

You may have already read our latest article about crystal malts on our blog. To keep the focus on these malts the recipe of this month is a traditional English style ale, that relies on various crystal malts.

British bitters emerged from English Pale Ales in the late 1800’s. They have been mainly served as drought beers, very fresh, without any pressure (usually with a hand pump) at cellar temperatures. In the 1920’s and 30’s the use of crystal malts became more widespread and Bitters developed to a more complex and palatable style. Today numerous variations of Bitter exist, from darker, sweeter versions served with almost no head to brighter, hoppier, paler examples with decent foam stands. We brought you a recipe for Best Bitter (also known as Special or Premium Bitter), that is in the middle of the “Bitter range”. It’s more flavourful than Ordinary Bitters, but not as complex as Extra Strong Bitters. In general Best Bitter is a stronger and hoppier type of Bitters, that should be firmly bitter without overwhelming the maltiness.

Grain bill: Pale Ale malt is the key component of any bitter recipe. To have a full malt backbone I would add ~10% of crystal malt, keeping in mind that darker crystal will give the caramel and toasty tones while lighter crystal malt will give sweeter caramel character. I like to use some Biscuit malt to give a crispy hint. A moderate one-step mash around 152 °F (67 °C) should be great for this style.

  The Swaen Malt Color Quantity Ratio
  Swaen©Ale 7 EBC 2,6 lov 3,5 kg 7,7 lbs 84%
  GoldSwaen©Red 50 EBC 19 lov 0,3 kg 0,66 lbs 7%
  GoldSwaen©Brown 220 EBC 83 lov 0,2 kg 0,44 lb 5%
  BlackSwaen©Biscuit 80 EBC 30 lov 0,15 kg 0,33 lb 4%

Hops: Hop bitterness and flavour should be noticeable, but should not fully dominate malt flavours. Not surprisingly traditional English style varieties are recommended.

   Variety Quantity Lenght Alpha acid IBU
  Challenger 14 g 0,5 oz 60 min 9% 18
  East Kent Goldings 28 g 1 oz 20 min 4,5% 11
  East Kent Goldings 28 g 1 oz 5 min 4,5% 4

Yeast: As for fermentation feel free to try the most suitable yeast from our Birdy’s webshop: the Gozdawa ‘Withbread’ (Original British Ale Yeast 04). It’s a famous UK origin yeast strain, applied for the top fermentation beers with neutral final aroma.

Temperature Optimal temperature Attenuation Flocculation Alcohol tolerance
15-22⁰C 16-19⁰C max. 75% high up to 10%


Best Bitter
OG 1,040–1,048
FG 1,008–1,012
ABV 3,8–4,6%
IBU 25–40
SRM 8–16
Batch size: 19 l (5 gallon)
Efficiency: 70 %
OG: 1,044
FG: 1,010
ABV: 4,5%
Bitterness: 32 IBU
Colour: 11 SRM
Carbonation: 1,8
pH: 5,2 (adjusted by 1 tsp citric acid)

Appearance: Orange colour, creamy foam.

Taste: Great introduction and balance of English style malts and hops.

Food pairing: BBQ, burgers, English pub dishes.

Historically, caramel malts were produced from green malt in a kiln covered with a tarpaulin. The tarpaulin reduced evaporation as the kiln was heated to perhaps 60°C to 75°C and kept at that temperature for up to 2 hours needed for saccharification of the starch in the endosperm. To dry and caramelize the grain, the tarpaulin would then be removed and the temperature raised up to more than 100°C while the grain was being ventilated.

Caramel Malts, as the name implies, impart a strong caramel flavor to beer, which is the result of an extra stewing process that takes place during malting, usually in a roasting drum, between germination and kilning. In a roaster, the green malt is kept at a temperature between 63°C and 75°C during saccharification (stewing) stage. This ensures that the starch from the endosperm is converted into a sugary liquid that is trapped under the husk. Subsequently, the stewed grain needs to be dried. Nowadays this drying is also done in the roaster.

The liquefied sugars are then caramelized into solid, semi-crystalline, glassy, long-chain, unfermentable dextrins. During this process two different reactions take place: the degradation of sugars into brown colouring caramel products (pyrones, furanones) and Maillard reactions between sugars and peptides (melanoidins). At higher temperatures both reaction products form (High Moluculair Weight) HMW melanoidins which are typical for high temperature roasted caramels.

Because the caramelized sugars cannot be degraded during mashing in the brewhouses, they contribute directly to wort gravity. They are also responsible for malty-sweet flavors, a deep color, a complex aroma, a fuller body and mouthfeel, and improved foam retention of the finished beer.

Medium coloured caramel malts are used in amber ales and lagers, red ales and lagers, Märzenbiers, and bock beers. High coloured caramel malts in Porter and Stouts, low coloured caramel malts as foam improver in Pilseners and lagers. And of course whatever the brewer composes…

Earlier this month we shared an article on our blog about Swaen Dutch Pale Ale malt. This variety is a real Dutch product, made 100% from local barley, so this time we brought you an original and traditional Dutch beer recipe. Although the beer consumption in the Netherlands was mainly influenced by Belgian brewers, there is a traditional beer style, which has almost been forgotten. Historians say that by the end of the19th century “Kuit” was the most commonly consumed beer in the Netherlands. Kuitbier, also known as Koyt, Kuyt is brewed from three kind of grains: malted oat, barley and wheat. Earliest versions were unhopped, and flavoured instead with gruit, which is a mixture of various herbs. Over centuries the style underwent several transformations. The final version, brewed in the latter half of the 1800’s, was very different from early versions. Nevertheless a few years ago the Brewers Association set guideline for this style. See those attributes in the below recipe.

Grain bill: Original regulations set the proportions at 3-2-1: 50% oat, 33% barley and 17% wheat, while recent rules say it must contain a minimum of the follows: 45% oats, oat flakes or oat malt / 35% Pilsner or Ale malt / 20% wheat or malted wheat. The appearance of the final product is straw to amber, with a wit-like haziness. Darker versions are not resulted by the grains, but the long boiling time, that can last up to 3 hours, over an open fire according to the traditional brewing method.

  The Swaen Malt Color Quantity Ratio
  Swaen©Oat 4 EBC 1,5 lov 3,0 kg 6,6 lbs 50%
  Dutch Pale Ale 7 EBC 2,6 lov 2,0 kg 4,4 lbs 33%
  Swaen©Wheat 4EBC 1,5 lov 1,0 kg 2,2 lb 17%

Some brewers recommend a beta glucan rest for this style to have the best results. Besides use more mash water than usual, min. 4 l/kg.

45°C – 20 min
62°C – 30 min
72°C – 30 min
78°C – 5 min

Hops: Only noble hop varieties are suggested to be used, like Hallertau Mittelfrüh, Saaz, Tettnanger, Spalt. Hop flavour and aroma should be at the lower end. Addition of herbs, spices, fruit or other ingredients are not allowed.

   Variety Quantity Lenght Alpha acid IBU
  Spalt 28 g 1 oz 60 min 7% 20
  Spalt 28 g 1 oz 15 min 7% 10

Yeast: Neutral ale yeast strains are recommended. Ferment between 15-20°C for 2 weeks.

Dry Liquid
Gozdawa British Ale Withbread WhiteLabs WLP029 German Ale
Gozdawa Hybrid Ale Notty Wyeast 2565 Kolsch Yeast

Results: Grainy, bready

OG 1.050-1.080
FG 1.006-1.015
ABV 4.7-7.9%
IBU 25-35
SRM 5-12.5
Batch size: 23 litre (6 gallon)
Efficiency: 70 %
OG: 1.056
FG: 1.010
ABV: 6%
Bitterness: 30 IBU
Colour: 13 SRM