Beer52 x Germany
Saturday 01 September 2018
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This month, Beer52 was also able to work with a selection of smaller German breweries on collaborative versions of some of their favourite beers. The results represent a cross-section of the exciting innovation currently taking place among Germany’s crop of small craft breweries, which are rediscovering traditional styles and breaking new ground for an increasingly receptive beer-loving public.
“I started homebrewing more than 10 years ago. At that time, I was already a beer enthusiast and when I came back from a holiday in Belgium I was so disappointed that I could not buy all these great beers in Germany. So I started to brew them myself. In 2013, the owner of my favourite pub in town asked me if he could sell one of my beers on tap. That was when I founded this company under the name of Gruthaus and started looking for capacity to have my beer produced in professional breweries according to my recipes.
“In the middle ages, my home town of Münster, in the middle ages, was famous for its gruit beer. Gruit was the herbal mixture used to flavour beer before hops became prevalent from the 13th century. In Münster there was – as in many other northern German cities – a special house next to the town hall for the production and sale of gruit, the Gruthaus. Anyone who wanted to brew beer in the city had to use gruit which was produced and sold exclusively by the gruit masters at the gruthaus, creating at times up to 2/3 of the whole city budget. As a tribute to the great brewing history of the city of Münster, I have named my brewing project after the Gruthaus and I am dedicated to reconstructing the secret gruit recipe from old documents dating back to 1480.
“I want to create new beers with a connection to the local brewing tradition or recreate forgotten old beer styles such as Grut or Keut, thus avoiding all established beer styles of today, be it classically German or craft/world beers. My beers usually feature at least one special local ingredient like honey, hemp, Pumpernickel bread or historical varieties of barley and rye such as Northern German Champagne Rye. I build the recipes around these ingredients to bring out the speciality character and combine it with maximum drinkability.
“I don’t see much development in the German beer market at the moment. Mainstream beers still rule everywhere, and only very few consumers are aware of so called craft beers, and even fewer are prepared to pay higher prices for them. Beer is a very hard business; the big breweries make less money every year and the new innovative brewing projects have not started to make any money yet. The most successful start-ups are the ones that produce pilsner, weizen, shandy, maybe a watered-down interpretation of a pale ale or even IPA. There is a growing interest in speciality beers, but most consumers don’t like bitter beers, sour beers, dark beers, international beer styles, historic beers, or anything new or truly exotic.”
In the box: “Heller Honigbock, meaning pale honey bock, is a strong top-fermenting beer, brewed with local lime tree flower honey from the city of Münster. The idea for this beer came from a project for the art show Sculpture Projects Münster 2017, a collaboration with artist Emeka Ogboh. Emeka asked me to create a beer with the typical aroma of Münster in summer. I suggested we include honey from the lime trees that blossom in the many parks during the time of the exhibition, where sculptures are shown all over the town.
“During fermentation the beer was exposed to a sound installation by the artist, featuring a fermentation soundtrack that the Münster based Musician Thomas Bücker composed from sounds from soundscapes of Lagos/Nigeria. The project named Quiet Storm combined the aromatic and the sonic essence of two very different cities in one delicious beer. The one-off brew was sold out during the exhibition but I continued to use the local honey in a similar recipe (without the sound installation) under the more descriptive name Heller Honigbock.”
“I’d been home brewing for ten years when I started planning to become more professional. At that time, I ran into Jens Block, who I knew already for a few years. Jens was an attendee at a pop-up festival in our neighbourhood with a mushroom-growing lab. We both needed space for our projects and we decided to search for a location together. When I showed Jens my beers, he instantly said: ‘forget the mushrooms, let’s brew together’.
“We found a place in a farmers’ area in our neighbourhood, where the river Elbe splits into north and south Elbe. This place is called Bunthäuser Spitze, which is where our name comes from. Bunthaus in German actually means: colourful house.
“Jens is a biologist, with a lot of knowledge about yeast and biological processes, which helped a lot. Last year we started a crowdfunding campaign, which we finished successfully and raised €26,000 for a bottle filling machine.
“We have two main beers, which we brew at a bigger brewery in northern Germany: our dry hopped Pilsener (Hopfengestopftes Pils) and our Session IPA (Alpaka IPA). Aside from these, we brew our beers seasonally, which means we look for what will be harvested at our neighbouring farms or what is available in nature – for example, elderflower blossoms.
“Last year we took the next step of opening our own tap room, allowing us to sell the beer ourselves. Sometimes our beers need some explanation, for example our ‘Gose Morning Vietnam’ is a classic Gose brewed with lime, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, rice, coriander and fish sauce (instead of salt). In cases like this you have to tell the customers the idea behind the beer.
“The craft beer revolution in Germany is a little bit behind other European countries like Denmark, the Netherlands or Sweden. One of the reasons might be that Germany historically had a big diversity in breweries, especially in Frankonia. But in general the big breweries got bigger and smaller breweries disappeared from the map. Also most of the breweries were brewing just a few styles or only one.
“Nowadays though, the German craft beer scene is emerging very fast. Every month a new craft beer brewery is founded. In Hamburg we’re a part of a supportive craft beer scene and we’re very close to the home brewing community, that’s why we host a monthly home brewer meetup in our tap room. Currently we’re doing some collaborations with other hamburg breweries like Buddelship. From my point of view, Berlin and Hamburg are great places for craft beer lovers. Flights from England to Hamburg are cheap and we don’t have a curfew. Come over to Hamburg and don’t forget to come to our taproom on the river island Wilhelmsburg.”
In the box: The idea for the Vanilla Killer, a Vanilla Tonka Cream, came up when a regular customer of our tap room brought us a bag of tonka beans and other spices.
Tonka has a vanilla-like flavour and we started thinking about brewing a beer with actual vanilla but not ending up with a dark beer. We discussed it with Beer52 and they liked the idea, even though this might be one of the most expensive beers we produced.
A cream ale is a style where malt and hop flavours are more subtle, which brings more space for the vanilla and tonka flavour. Since we usually brew for a smaller amount of people, we see this as a great opportunity to present our style of brewing to a greater audience. And we are looking forward to feedback that might derive from it.
“My initial experience was through a brewing course in Hamburg, which was a gift from my eldest son, Daniel. The whole family had a lot of fun there and I decided to buy this small brewing plant called ‘Braueule II’. So I started as a home brewer in 2012, working on a lot of different styles; bottom-fermented beer only in the winter time and top-fermented all year round. The beer was tasty and a lot of friends encouraged me to sell it, though this would not have been legal! So we decided to look for a contract brewer, and found Jörg Binkert from Brauhaus Binkert near Bamberg.
“We started selling our first beers in December 2015, at a launch in Hamburg, 700 km away from our home, where my eldest son Daniel was running a craft beer shop. Now we have six different beers (and styles).
“We like to make beers that are tasteful, even if they’re not all to everyone’s taste. The beers are made for special moments – we call them ‘fireplace moments’. This is a time, when you really enjoy a beer with all senses, not only to quench your thirst. We like to make beer outside the German mainstream and, if we make a German style, we add something special (for example dry-hopped cellar beer or a dark bock with a hint of smoke and a New Zealand hop that brings red berries into it).
“The German beer scene is not comparable to, for example, the USA. Especially in Franconia, we find an old beer tradition with a lot of breweries (around 300) and a lot of wonderful beers. Also, the price of these beers is very fair (though not to say ‘low’).
“At the moment, more and more breweries and gypsies (like us) are popping up. So more and more people get in contact with craft beer. But the share of craft beer in Germany is still very small. Since last year, you will find it increasing in super markets, but to convince a traditional beer drinker of craft beer takes a while. That is why we participate at beer festivals, where we can talk to the people face to face and give them explanations of the beers.”
In the box: The “VETO Schokobär” was our first beer. I often brewed it as a home brewer together with the sons Michael and Daniel, who were already in the beer industry. We liked the coffee and chocolate notes which came with the beer. Once, we made a Christmas version with vanilla and Kopi Luwak (from the Indonesian Civet). Together with my wife and sons we decided to make a stout, because this is a beer style we don’t have in Franconia.
When drinking a VETO Schokobär, I tell people they should start with lower temperature than advised (10° C) so they can make a tasting-journey. First they will find coffee or espresso notes then, as the “Schokobär” is becoming warmer, the dark chocolate-notes are coming through.
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