History of decoction mashing is… …wrong?

The history and reasons behind decoction mashing according to many brewers seems to follow that the technique was developed for reasons of under-modified malts and/or lack of thermometers. Through my own research the former seems to hold some truth, with a few caveats mind you, yet the latter seems totally false.Because of the amount of information collected, I will present my findings here in “bulleted format” for easier reading.Part 1; under modified malts.-European malts contain less protein than do North American malts. Sticking with only the U.S., it goes, from highest protein content to least: U.S. 6-row –> U.S. 2-row –> Continental 2-Row.-Continental (European) 6-row is higher in enzymatic power yet malts with higher protein content have been viewed as “garbage” in Bohemia since at least the 1700s. As an aside, English brewers were to the first to describe American hops as “catty” as early as the early 1800s with references of cattiness to both the piney aroma of American hops and/or to the “blackcurrant” of Cluster hops.-The barley favored by Bohemian brewers had barley corns with “fine husks”. It is most likely that these malts were under modified because well or full modification resulted in brittle corns that turned to dust when milled.-According to Briess, Rarh, Weyermann, and a few others the end result of the malting process–the modification–has remained relatively the same for hundreds of years. So, the under-modification of Bohemian malts was done on purpose based on advanced malting experience and know-how; not out of stupidity or inferior product/process.Part 2; the decoction process.-Decoction is the process of extracting “what is desired” from plants and herbs and as a technique has been around for thousands of years. It was how ointments, tinctures, and other medicines were made as well as how teas and if I remember correctly even coffee were originally once brewed. So, German brewers surely knew of the process and its potential to get “more beer” from the mash.However:A. The three earliest references to the more popular German beers I have found so far include a top fermented wheat beer, a bottom fermented wheat beer, and something that was the precursor to what later became Pilsner/Helles/Dortmunder and so on.I have read through History of German brewing as written by Germans and found that the conclusion of decoction mashing was the result of trial and error. My guess, based on my research, is that decoctions may have originated through the higher usages of unmalted wheat, rye, oat, and so on.B. I have yet to find one research paper or reference that gives a date of the first decoction mash let alone a ball-park century. The history of decoction mashing seems to be more round-about than historically factual.B1. Germany is cited as the first Country to do decoctions yet Pilsner Urquell is the first brew/brewery to utilize decoctions. Pilsner Urquell did not come onto the scene until, what, the 1840s?B2. Sometime in the mid-to-late 1700s mashing techniques went from single step to triple step in Bohemia but it is unclear if this were a direct-fire step mash or decoction. Which came first?B3. Thermometers were invented in the 1500s, then finally standardized in the 1700s. They were also used in the early roots of what was to become Pilsner Urquell beginning something in the mid-1700s.C. Pretty much every German/Bohemian brewery and technique that we now refer to as traditional were established in the 1800s; at a time when brewing, let alone agricultural science and science in general, were fairly well understood. Everything prior to the 1800s is simply “old” but not necessarily “traditional”.So, the thermometer reason goes out the window. Also, without thermometers how would a German brewer know how much to decoct, let alone how much decoction to add back, if the goal was to reach the next step temp if the concept of “measured temperature” was purely science fiction at the time? Impossible, right. If they were doing it without thermometers they were simply going of prior knowledge of “hey, if we pull this amount of decoction well get this result. This goes back to trial and error; it was not to reach a specific rest temp.-There is evidence that English brewers at one point in time were doing multi-step mashes prior to the Industrial Revolution as evidenced by the “Second revolution of English brewery design” that were built specifically for single infusion mashes. The English were also the first to specifically modify barley corn for single infusion (that is, full modification). The merits of step mashing and the various rests have been known about for a very long time, yet, the English never did decoction mashes.Part 3; cultural and economic influences.Germany was probably the first country to seriously mass-produce beer for public consumer consumption, yet England was the first to dominate global export of beer. Germans had developed a preference for darker Munich type of beers and other German styles may have been influenced by English porters and ales as early as the mid-1700s, yet, most favored–in particular Bohemian beer drinkers–the bottom fermented beers and beers produced with less protein-rich malts (cloudier).Also, as beer production increased, demand for a more “clean” product, and costs began to rise it is also possible that decoctions were favored because they tend to help produce a more clear product, and, with the breakdown of cell walls “releasing” more starch, the ability to get more beer from less grain, and, as a technique to help create beers influenced by U.K. brewers.This was largely posted for fun, as I am a nerd for this kind of stuff, and of course my research has been limited by time and lack of access (some of those antique brewing books are expensive and I don’t have journal subscriptions to any brewing journal). My point main points were to dispel the myths of “lack of thermometer” and under-modified malts.Also, the phrase “today’s well-modified malts” and/or “today’s malts” goes back in brewing literature to the 1940s as I have found so far and Briess contends that the malting process has not changed in over 100 years despite the advent of newer technology. European malts have more recently been engineered to produce more protein, but this was likely more from pressure of newer breweries who do not have the space, or money, to spend on decoction mashes. Yet, many brewers of yore who once championed triple and double decoctions are now still doing altered double or single decoctions. Sam Adams and Bud, here in the U.S., still employ single decoctions although in the case of A.B. that may just be a separate cereal mash.Pilsener Urquell is still doing the triple decoction, yet, I found some evidence that suggests they did not even begin doing the triple decoction, or any decoction in general, until the early 1900s.What do ya’ll think?

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