[This is the twelfth installment of an ongoing series by Adam Draeger, an experienced homebrewer and engineer transitioning to the world of professional brewing through coursework at the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology.]
Went on a beer rock star tour this week!
Well, we had a bus driver and our own hotel/hostel rooms…but no roadies to carry our luggage. [caution: this is a long post, since I have a lot to cover]
We started out at 8 a.m. and went to Freising (I mentioned before as the location of Weihenstephan) where Steinecker (now owned by Krones) is located. Steinecker makes brewing equipment. They have for over a 100 years and made the Ayinger Brewery, the Doemens Brewery, amongst thousands of others. This set the tone for most of our visits that start with a presentation about the company, history and products. This is then followed by a tour and then a light lunch…and a beer, of course.
We then went over to the HQ of Hopsteiner, the world hop supplier. They have most of Germany’s crop as well as a lot in Czech, US, China, etc. They were extremely hospitable and gave us tours of the storage facilities, the pelletizing, the unbaling, the isomerization process, the lab, the hop extract facilities, etc.
They even let us do a full evaluation of about 14 different hop varieties (you know—the fancy way you lift some hops into your hands and rub them together to release the lupulins and oils, then smell them—awesome). After all our presentations and tours they took us out for supper and beers at a semi-abandoned restaurant and biergarten. I guess this place closed down and they only open it up from time-to-time for special events/weddings. We had one waitress who successfully delivered all our beer orders and brought out a three-course meal for us; she was good.
The next day we headed to Bamburg, pictured right. I loved this city…if I had only one city that I could re-visit again, it’s definitely this one. We found out that there are 600+ breweries in Bavaria and 300 of them are all within a one hour radius of Bamburg. Also hundreds of artisian bakeries as well. Our first stop was Krones HQ. With 10,000 workers world-wide and 5000 at the HQ (I likened it to Pella in size before the downturn), Krones is only about 50 years old but is already the highest quality beverage equipment in the world (read: expensive, too). They became famous for beer bottle fillers but have really taken off with PET bottle for filling of juice, water, etc. After presentations and tours we got to eat in their cafeteria which was about the size of my university’s dining hall. It wasn’t free for the employees but the price was about half of normal and you would have a hard time packing your own lunch for these prices. The company was really cool in other ways too, letting employees pick their own hours for instance, and I just got a sense that company cared a lot for their employees.
We next headed to a brewery owned and operated by a church called Bischofshof. It was newly revamped (by Steinecker, of course) and was about the size of Bell’s or New Glarus in volume sales. After a two-hour tour we got an early supper and more beer for tasting. Hard work, I tell you.
Bamburg is also the home of a famous brewery called Schlenkerla, which makes a Rauchbier (smoked beer), as do most of the 10 breweries in Bamburg (pop~70,000). I used to like rauchbier but drinking it fresh in Bamburg is a treat and they go down really good…I actually preferred the other local called Spezial a little better for it’s drinkability…equally as smokey though.
The next day we visited Kaspar-Schulz, who has been around for 334 years! They also make brewing equipment, but on a smaller scale and specialize in brewpubs and microbreweries systems. Some of their systems are completed covered in hand-shaped copper cladding…as some of my classmates called it…brewing equipment porn. Ha. We finished the tour with lunch in their backyard biergarten and got to try Spezial on cask.
Then I heard we were going to Weyermann Malting next…I was all like “boring, we just saw a small malthouse in the US and now we’ll see a big one, ladddy dah…” Oops, I judged it too soon; turns out this was my absolute favorite stop on the whole trip! Considerably young by German history standards (1879), they have been constantly and consistently growing. They are still family owned and operated and really know how to make a job fun and a good place to come to work. We started in their bierstuberl with presentations, then a really cool tour that took us to their brewery (the biggest one in Bamburg) they only brew one batch of dark wort that gets evaporated to make Sinamar. I’ve known about this product for some time, but didn’t realize that it was so popular (all natural barley coloring for making dark beers that still is in accordance to the Germany purity law). We then went to the R&D department where their head maltster got to experiment with all sorts of roasting, kilning and candy-making (their candy-coated caramalt was really good). They also had a professional baker’s oven for their full-time baker to experiment (yes, they employee a brewmeister and professional baker). They want to learn everything they can about the bread industry and apply it to malt and also for pairing with foods/beer, neat stuff (her experiments are given to the employees every Thursday). We saw the normal stuff like Saladin boxes, kilns and packaging and then we went to the musuem.
After that we saw the pilot brewery where another brewmeister makes small batches. These are put on draft in the bierstuberl and also bottled for the employees. About once a month the employees learn about a new style of beer (some Belgian and American) and then they get to take two cases home (if I recall this correctly). We saw their fanstore (gift shop) and I thought about buying some swag, but we had already learned we were getting some free stuff like pens and hats and pins from them already, so I withheld. Afterwards we ate cheesecake and drank beer and I met the daughter of the owners who is enrolled in Weihenstephan (so she can take over the operations). They even took a group picture so they could have us posted on the wall, what fun people and a fun company.
The last day of our Germany we visited Schneider Weiss brewery in Kelheim. This place was big—320 HL batches, and they use exclusively one yeast strain and all open fermentors. Schneider is known for being founded by the dukes and was given exclusive rights to brew wheat beer in Germany for many years (starting about 400 years ago). Eventually others were able to brew wheat beers but when lager yeast was isolated, everybody abandoned them in favor of the clear, crisp Pilsners and Helles beers…much to the chagrin of their competition. Schneider hung on and is still the leading brewery of weissbier in Germany (wheat bier makes up about 20 percent of all beer drank in Bavaria) One other cool thing they had us do was visit their bottling line museum which had a working device for filling single bottles. So they had us fill swingtop bottles, then hand-glue/apply the labels. (I opted not to take my souvenir home as it wouldn’t have traveled well.) They had a really cool biergarten on a little stream that they had us sample their seven main products (including Aventinus) as well as a meat, bread and cheese tray for snacking.
The last place on the list to visit was Kuchlbauer (another wheat beer brewery). Kuchlbauer is fairly small relatively but still uses a 100HL brew kettle. My uncle Bruce was going to take me to this brewery/museum when I visited him, but when I discovered that our class was visiting here later, I opted to wait. In terms of a brewery, this was very unnoteworthy in terms of beers and production, but what really put this brewery on the map is their art-loving owner and his relationship with the late Hundertwasser (a famous European artist/architech…think Frank Lloyd Wright). Shortly before his death, the brewery owner asked him to design a house for his dwarves of lore that “make his beer.” So there is this 35-meter tower (originally designed as 70 m but it can’t be taller than the church in town…) There is also a museum and the brewery has been “detailed” to match the look of the tower, so everything sort of “flows.”
After we got back on Thursday it was laundry night and “catch a few zzz’s” before getting up at 4 a.m. to catch our train to Belgium. We arrived in Brussels around 1:45 p.m. and found our hotel. The hotel was a dump and there wasn’t even anybody there to check us in for one hour. The streets were covered with garbage and everyplace smelled. We were in the shady neighborhood (read: red light district) but even the nice parts of town were extremely dirty…not like Germany at all. We explored the city and found Cantillon, as well as Delirium Tremens on the first day.
On Saturday we caught a local train to Bruge, finally a nice, clean, beautiful city in Belgium (I didn’t want to go back to Brussels). We walked around and enjoyed the good weather, found one brewpub called De Halve Maan (1/2 moon). My only complaint about Bruge (all of Belgium, in fact) is that service is slow and everything costs about twice as much…(four lunches cost us $144 euro and over three hours, I guess it made up for how cheap Czech was). On Sunday we took in more sights and found the Manneken Pis as well as Jeanneke Pis, statues that make Brussels so famous.
Easter weekend really isn’t the best time to travel Europe unless you plan on just chilling on the beach because everything except restaurants and public transportation are closed. (Forewarning anybody who had Easter travel plans to go to Europe.) As you can tell, I didn’t much enjoy Belgium (aside from Bruge) and my only positive experiences was the chocolate, the waffle I had and Hoegaarden witbier. (The rest of the Belgium beers didn’t have the magic that I thought they would).
Monday was just lunch (the cheapest menu item is usually a $9 euro bowl of soup or $10 euro Croque [fancy grilled cheese sandwich]) and waiting for our train, we did have one hiccup on our transfer to Munchen at Frankfort, but we made the best of it.
Tuesday starts out with another partial week brewery study tour of Austria.
What the heck, I never heard a Rhapsody when I was in Bohemia nor saw a Sprout when I was in Brussels…oh well, at least I can say I saw a hot dog in Frankfort. lol!
Until next time…