Saturday 01 September 2018
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Here’s a thought experiment for you: picture a traditional German brewery, and hold it in your mind. Not a huge, factory-like export-brewing behemoth, but a white-washed, steep-roofed affair, surrounded by the gentle valleys, lush greenery and crystal clear mountain lakes of the Black Forest. Got it? What you’re looking at is Rothaus, the Baden State Brewery. In a national beer scene where the new school and the old guard seldom mix, Rothaus pulls off the neat trick of being ‘craft’ in both the 2018 and 1791 senses of the word.
Rothaus remains deeply rooted in the local area which defines so much of its character. The Black Forest itself is one of Germany’s most popular tourist destinations, covering 7,860 square kilometres, with broad lakes including the famous Schluchsee, and the country’s tallest peaks outside of the Alps. Rothaus remains a key employer, both directly and through its commitment to working with the regional farmers and other suppliers.
As well we being consistent with its centuries-old values, Rothaus argues its commitment to localism is also the source of its quality. “Because we’re able to purchase all our raw ingredients directly from our home region, we benefit from consistently fast delivery times, maximum freshness and provenance,” explains the brewery’s Sandi Patidar.
“Particularly for the styles we brew, the character of the malt is hugely important. That’s why we use traditional two-row summer brewing barley, grown in the Upper Rhine and Hegau regions. Similarly on the hops-front, we use only high-quality aromatic hops from the growing regions near Tettnang and Hallertau; names that will be instantly recognisable to any beer lover.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly given its location, Rothaus’s brewing water - drawn from seven springs in a headwater region deep in the Black Forest – is exceptionally soft, making it ideal for traditional German styles, and undergoes no processing before being added to the kettle.
The standard of the beer itself is testament to the success of this approach – indeed, as a state-owned brewery, Rothaus is the benchmark against which all other German beers are objectively measured. As well as the brewery’s characteristically Southern German Tannenzäpfle pils – its flagship brew, of which there is also a surprisingly delicious alcohol free version – Rothaus also produces an outstanding Hefeweizen, a Märzen and even a Radler. The eye-catching design of its labels, which look right at home in any modern craft beer bottleshop, was in fact conceived in 1972, and features the lovely Bierget, who has been Rothaus’s figurehead since the early 20th century.
Despite its ultra-traditional setting, background and commitment to time-honoured Germanic brewing techniques, Rothaus is in some respects surprisingly forward-looking, particularly in its brewhouse. Yes, the unmistakable shiny copper pot kettles are all present and correct, but they are backed up by the most modern technical equipment available, giving the brewmaster total control and saving precious energy and resources.
“We are constantly working to keep our consumption of electricity, heat and water as low as possible; being in this beautiful setting I think made us conscious of our environmental impacts before most breweries were thinking about such things,” continues Sandi. “We use the most modern machines and processes available to improve our efficiency in areas such as heat production and thermal recovery.
“A wood chip boiler (fed by residual wood from the local timber harvest) produces up to 75% of our heat energy requirements, replacing somewhere in the region of 1.1 million litres of heating oil with biomass each year. And the Sudhaus itself, which is the heart of our brewing operations, has been key in reducing our heat consumption by a further 20% since it was commissioned in 2006.”
The waste water going out of the brewery receives as much attention as the spring water coming in, as Rothaus is one of the few breweries in Germany to operate its own biological treatment plant. Using microorganisms to reduce the pollution load in its effluent by 99.9%, and then passing this through an ultra-modern membrane filtration system, Rothaus is able to return ‘bathing’ quality water to the Mettma river (where a family of beavers has recently set up home near its outlet.
With a restaurant, tours, interactive exhibition, guest rooms and shop, Rothaus has become a staple of the Black Forest trail, attracting both casual tourists and beer lovers from across Europe and around the world. Combining traditional craft with modern technology, and bringing an authentic German brewing experience to drinkers craving authenticity, it’s easy to see why Rothaus is enjoying a renaissance.
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