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Ferment catches up with ABK, the Bavarian masters who decided to take on the world
Monday 28 September 2020
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Nestled in the picture postcard town of Kaufbeuren, Aktienbrauerei Kaufbeuren is the very model of a traditional Bavarian brewery. And, with 700 years of brewing experience at its back, this brewery is not just a museum piece, but a powerhouse of craft and expertise, brewing beers that literally define global standards for lager styles.
Indeed, until relatively recently, its classic brews could only be found in the surrounding towns and villages. That all changed in 2013, when the brewery was bought by two successful entrepreneurs, after they were blown away by the clean, flavoursome lager during a completely unrelated trip to Bavaria. Now selling under the more pub-friendly moniker ABK, the brewery is making great inroads in the UK for the first time, marking the next chapter in its centuries-old story.
While the notion of a centuries’ old brewery falling into the hands of a pair of high-flying drinks moguls may understandably set alarm bells ringing, it was clear from the offset that Jonathan Kendrick (JK) and John Paul DeJoria (JP), were genuinely focused on putting in the resources the brewery needed to reach its potential, without fundamentally interfering in process or values.
“Jonathan and John Paul both love German beers, so they went out to Bavaria in search of their dream and discovered Aktienbrauerei in Kaufbeuren,” says Bruce Renny. “When we bought the brewery, it was really about finding something with real heritage and history; we wanted to keep the traditions and values that make it special, but also to introduce its exceptional beer to a wider market.”
As for the beers themselves, it doesn’t get much more Bavarian than this. In 1325, the Kaufbeuren Brewers Guild declared that all beers produced in the town could only use the best hops and barley and ground-filtered local mineral waters. Bear in mind this was almost 200 years before the introduction of the Reinheitsegebot German beer purity law. Today, it still brews with its pick of the locally-grown Spalt and Hallertau hops and grains from the same local farms it has been using since 1308.
“A lot of beers will add other ingredients to give them flavour or extend their shelf life,” continues Bruce. “We couldn’t do that even if we wanted to; our Master Brewer Bernd Trick is one of the most experienced, knowledgeable people you’ll ever meet, and his word is law on these things. Nothing but top quality hops, barley and water, maturated for between six and eight weeks. There’s no other way to get that distinctive character.”
That doesn’t mean ABK adheres rigidly to a few core styles though; the current lineup is comprised of 18 beers, and Bernd is known to frequently go off piste, with seasonal specials and beers for specific markets. The key is that he won’t brew anything that isn’t in keeping.
Having become an international brand just four short years ago, ABK has become a familiar brand in the UK, US, Australia and Asia. Despite this expansion, very little has changed at the brewery in Kaufbeuren. The existing traditional brewhouse provided more capacity than the brewery strictly needed at the time, so most of the investment has gone into some additional fermentation vessels, an upgrade to the kegging line and additional staff. ABK now employs more than a hundred people, all local to the town and many from families who have worked for the brewery for generations.
“I think with the popularity of good, authentic lager growing among craft beer lovers, there’s a real place for ABK in the UK,” says Bruce. “As well as being superb beer, it’s got a wonderful story which isn’t just marketing fluff. This is a beer that’s still being brewed from the same ingredients as it was 700 years ago, with real passion, by the people of the town where it all started. How many beers can claim that?”
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