The epitome of traditional, purist German brewing
Saturday 23 October 2021
This article is from
A Brief History of Beer
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Bavaria’s ABK is the perfect expression of a particular facet of craft beer’s evolution. With 700 years of history behind it, during which its immaculate beer has only been available to a local audience, it is the epitome of traditional, purist German brewing. Yet, since its acquisition by drinks business Rokit in 2013, it has found a legion of discerning international fans in search of provenance, authenticity and – most of all – great lagers.
As the brewery’s head of marketing Bruce Renny explains, because of the way Germany’s brewing industry developed historically, many of its best gems have remained hidden from us in the UK.
“Germany has around 1500 medium-sized breweries,” he says. “They’re all very regional, basically belonging to a single town, and the people in that town are very loyal to that brewery. So these regional breweries have found it very difficult to expand their reach because they find it very difficult to sell town A’s beer in town B. But that’s been sustainable, because the per capita consumption of beer in Germany was so high. Over the past 30 or 40 years though, the German palate for drinks has broadened beyond beer, which meant the consumption of beer has consistently fallen, and a lot of these hyper-local breweries have started to struggle.”
This may have been the fate of Aktienbrauerei Kaufbeuren, had it not been for two successful entrepreneurs – Jonathan Kendrick and John Paul DeJoria – who were so mightily impressed by the brewery during a visit on an unrelated trip that they bought it, shortened the name to ABK and set about introducing it to the world.
At the time of the acquisition in 2013 though, the beer world outside of rural Bavaria was a very different place. The global craft beer revolution was not only in full swing, but developing month-by-month. Serious beer lovers across Europe, particularly the UK, were turning their backs on craft’s mortal enemy, lager, and embracing the brightly labelled hop fizz coming from the US and from home-grown outfits. To the non-entrepreneur, buying a brewer of quality (read ‘expensive’) lagers, with a distribution network spanning a few miles might not seem like the best idea.
Bruce says: “I’ve always taken the view that there are about 20% of people who will buy the best that they can reasonably afford, whether it’s shoes, cars, watches, chickens in the supermarket, or beer. Those people aren’t driven by price, or by brand; they’re interested more in the story of whatever they’re buying.
“We saw this reflected in the increased interest in local and craft beers, and in the new styles and flavours of beer that were becoming available. And at that point, we believed the next logical step – after you get past all the wacky experimentation – would be a renewed interest in beautifully-made, traditional styles. It always comes back to quality, you see, and people want nothing more than sitting down over a glass of wine or beer, and telling their friends the story of what’s in the glass.”
Even given the huge renewed interest in lager as a category though, Schwarzbier – which is what ABK has provided for this month’s box – is not a style we see in the UK very often.
“It’s really hard to predict the next big thing,” admits Bruce. “In any brewery, you’ll usually find 80% of sales come from 20% of the product range, so that’s where you focus your resources. But you’ve got to keep working on that other 20% too – which is where Schwarzbier currently sits – because it’s a really wonderful style and this is a great example of it. We’d love to see it get the attention it deserves. Maybe once your subscribers have tasted it, we’ll all be drinking Schwartzbier in 2022.”
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