This past weekend, my son and I had the good sense to work our way through the Beau’s 2016 Oktoberfest Mix Pack. Although the Vienna Lager was my favourite (such a nice one), I was most intrigued by Return of the Mumme.
Beau’s Vienna-style Lager, from the 2016 Oktoberfest Mix Pack
A few years ago, when I started developing an interest in historical brewing, I came across Mom (or Mum, or Mumme) as a style once popular in The Netherlands and England.
Originally from Brunswick (Braunschweig), in the German state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), it’s a style of ale that most likely dates back to the 14th century. The earliest known record, from 1390, refers to Mumm being provided for a local feast.
Predictably, the style not only varied from one brewer to the next, but also evolved over time. The traits that seemed to be consistent however, were its dark brown appearance, the addition of hops, and a sugary, malt-forward character, sometimes to the point of being syrupy sweet. Old German records speak of a lovely and pure beer, suggesting no additives. English records, as well as later German ones, list off different ingredients being added, from spices like cloves, cardamon or cinnamon, to more surprising additions like birch, pine, beans or even eggs.
Mumme beer became the city’s most lucrative export, which was a pretty big deal considering Brunswick was part of the Hanseatic League, a network of European cities that largely controlled trade across the continent. To be the chief export of such a major trading centre is testimony to mumme’s massive popularity in other regions. Making that even more interesting, Brunswick isn’t a port city. The beer would have to very durable to survive being carted in barrels over some 200 kilometres of rough road before being loaded onto ships. Eventually it would travel as far as the Caribbean and India.
An 1893 ad for Ship Mumme, brewed stronger for long voyages to distant ports. The Nettelbeck brewery (1492) is the oldest surviving producer of the style.
In England, which had its own robust brewing community, Mom imports from Brunswick were banned for a few years to give locals a chance to sell their own interpretations of the style without the inconvenience of the genuine product competing in the same market. In the 17th century there were even dedicated Mom Houses in London. There’s speculation that what was produced in Brunswick was the more pure style, whereas the English brewers were sold false recipes with plenty of additives.
Brunswick beer would have taken on some of its barrel’s characteristics on the journey to England as well, which would explain why the English palate would have expected more ingredients than simply malt, water and hops.
An 1811 English recipe for Mum, from witteklaviervier.nl
Here’s where we jump ahead to Beau’s Return of the Mumme. The Vankleek Hill crew are a rather clever bunch and seem to put a good amount of thought into pretty much everything. Mumme translates to “disguise” or “wrap up” in German. The mummy on the label is more than simply a play on the word mumme.
Beau’s Oktoberfest Mix Pack, 2016
True to what I’ve been able to learn out about the style, Beau’s version is quite a dark pour, rich and malty, and does contain hops (which is not a given with Beau’s). They’ve chosen to go with a more playful interpretation of the style, adding “organic black tea from India, Sri Lankan cloves and a blend of Egyptian spices including caraway seed, marjoram and thyme.” Thankfully, no eggs.
Admittedly, I didn’t spend much time trying to figure out all the aromas and flavours. This was more about sharing beer with my son than dissecting a style that isn’t clearly defined in the first place. What I did notice was a metallic bite to its malty, burnt caramel body, a sweet molasses-like aftertaste, and a soy sauce quality that lingered. After reading Return of the Mumme shares characteristics of a modern Altbier, that makes sense. I often find myself describing Alts in a similar manner.
This weekend I’ll be in Düsseldorf, specifically because I’m curious to try Altbier in its native environment. I won’t make it to Brunswick, as I’m cycling and my schedule doesn’t allow for it, but I’ve already started looking for craft beer shops where I hope to find a vessel or two of Braunschweiger Mumme.