The Beer: American Zoigl
The Brewery: Goldfinger Brewing Co. Downers Grove, IL
The Brewer: Tom Beckmann
“Every year for our lagerversary, which is our anniversary celebration, we’ve done a collaboration lager with Live Oak Brewing. They’ve become friends of ours over the last few years and in preparation for our 2023 lagerversary, I was talking with head brewer Dusan Kwiatkowski about what kind of lager we should brew. We put our heads together and came up with an idea to make a Zoigl but make it make it truly American.
Rooted in tradition
I think there are about six still existing Zoigl in Germany that you can visit, but essentially, it started in the Middle Ages and it was a tradition that the communities would pool together funds to purchase a communal brew house and they brew batches together. They would each take turns bringing the wort that they brewed at the communal brewery to their home where they would let it ferment.
As soon as it was ready to be consumed, they would hang the brewers star outside of their door and that would let all the townspeople know that the beer was ready to drink. They literally just converted their living rooms, or their kitchen, into a town pub. And they’d all get to drink this Zoigl beer.
We thought that was really cool on a bunch of different levels. But one thing that we discovered was that there’s not really a defined style of Zoigl. What we know is it’s a bottom fermented beer, not quite pale but maybe some amber or a coppery color. Beyond that, we just assumed it’s a nice kind of German lager. What’s cool about it is that it all depends on what each household does with it.
So that’s where we kind of granted ourselves some creative license to come up with our own version of Zoigl.
A style is born
Combining that tradition with our desire to explore American ingredients we just made up a new style: the American Zoigl. How we define it is the use of non-barley adjuncts. Because that’s very typical of American brewing tradition, and using preferably all American malts, and American hops. We built the 2023 lagerversary recipe around corn grits.
It’s about 22 percent corn grits and the rest is malted barley with a little bit of caramel malt to give it some flavor and a little bit of color as well. We teamed up with Yakima Chief Hops, and they provided us with some old school American hops. We used Cluster and they dusted off an old box whole cone Mount Hood from the back of the cooler. We had fun steeping this whole cone Mount Hood in the boil. Then we fermented like we do our typical lagers, and lagered for about the same amount of time we usually do and debuted it at our lagerversary
Look for the star
Then I had this idea: if the beer was truly inspired by the Zoigl tradition, we should have a Zoigl that we put outside of our tap room, because that’s our home. And we need to let the townspeople know that this Zoigl is ready to be consumed.
I asked my father-in-law, build a Zoigl, a pretty big star, with a little sign on the bottom that says “Zoigl”, It’s maybe 18 to 20 inches in diameter. You can see it from afar. So, we mounted it above our service window that we have for our beer garden on the morning of our lagerversary. It was the symbolic message to everybody that the Zoigl was ready to be consumed.
I didn’t really have a plan for it after the anniversary.
The wandering star
It soon became clear that people were interested in the star, and the Zoigl, and there was an interest in the tradition and what defined the beer.
What has always attracted me to craft beer is this sense of community across all breweries. I thought it might be a good opportunity to keep that spirit alive and invite other breweries across the country to participate in this concept almost as if we’re all part of one town.
The idea is that each brewery that wants to be involved gets the star sent to them and they can hang it up when their Zoigl is ready to be tapped. Obviously, the first brewery outside of Goldfinger to do it was Live Oak because we had done the first beer together. The other tradition that we started was that the participating brewers have to sign the back of it and date it.
Inside the shipping box is the recipe and a little excerpt of the Zoigl tradition in Germany, and then what we’re trying to create here in the United States. After Live Oak, I started an Instagram account called AmericanZoigl and invited any brewery in America that would be interested to participate to reach out. We received over 60 messages across 45 states from brewers who wanted to be involved. We’re still trying to organize how it will happen long term, but after Live Oak the star went to Urban Chestnut who debuted their Zoigl at their lager fest last weekend.
Next it will travel to Fox Farm Brewery in Connecticut.
Creating a tradition
Not everyone will be making the same recipe. It’s open to interpretation. Live Oak did the same recipes as us because we had leftover hops from our brew. Urban Chestnut selected some different hops that were similar in profile but hopped differently while still staying true to the spirit of the style.
I don’t plan to try to curate it too much, I’d love to have it get a life of its own, and maybe it develops into something better than what we brewed. But initially, I do think that the area that should remain true is that it is a corn or rice adjunctive lager with old world hops. I hope we don’t start to get into like super fruity or tropical hops. That just wouldn’t be appropriate for this style. We’re looking for old school American lager flavor.
We hope that this can redefine what an American lager can be, because it doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to be some kind of light, flavorless beer. It can still be light, still sessionable, even adjunctive.
But it could be more flavorful and be rooted in a confluence of old and new world traditions.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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