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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Black Forest Brew

With falling leaves and falling temperatures the end of beer garden season is upon us here in Germany. This is by no means the end of beer drinking but rather a change of venue from outside gardens to a more climate controlled environment. Finding ourselves at the seasonal crossroads our friends, “J” and J”, asked us to join them on a trip to a beer museum in the Black Forest.

Approximately 40 miles southwest of Stuttgart on the eastern edge of Germany’s Black Forest lays the village of Alpirsbach. Nestled in a valley Alpirsbach is typical of most villages in the area with one exception, Alpirsbach is the home of the Alpirsbacher Klosterbrau brewery. Founded in 1880 by then 18 year old Carl Albert Glauner the original brewery, serving primarily as a museum, sits adjacent to The Alpirsbach Monastery.
We arrived around noon, ensuring we could get tickets for the 2:30 museum tour. Fortunately “J” and “J” made lunch reservations at Zwickel and Kaps, a local burger/ steakhouse specializing in Nebraska beef. A quick scan of the menu revealed that “Imported” beef is not cheap, with some of the steak prices tickling 100 euro. Traditional German food it is! I quickly ordered a Jager Schnitzel, which in hindsight could have fed at least two people. If it weren’t for the occasional “Belly Rub” from our waitress I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish my meal!Returning to the brewery after lunch we met up with our tour guide along with a dozen other people. The original Alpirsbacher brewery is a traditional German brewery
complete with copper mash tuns. The brewery and monastery have always been separate institutions, according to our tour guide. After the reformation circa 1530 the citizens of Alpirsbach were forced to take on the same religion as the ruling Duke, which was protestant. As a result all of the Benedictine monks departed with the exception of one, Ambrosius Blarer, who converted to Catholicism. The brewery has named their “Ambrosius Barley Wine” in his honor.   Having been replaced with a larger facility in 1970 the original brewery with its belt driven pumps, remains fully operational and is still occasionally used! The brewery currently employs more than 80 people and uses Black Forest spring water from their privately owned spring to produce their beer.

At the conclusion of the tour the “Tourists” are ushered into the cellar where they are given two .330L samples of beer of their choosing. Thanks to  an extra token from the navigator  I tried three of their beers the Dunkel, Export, and Zwickel, an unfiltered cellar beer that was surprisingly good. Following the beer tasting we made our way to the gift shop where a variety of trinkets and all of their beers are available for purchase. Additionally, depending on your tour ticket the gift shop provides complimentary beer mugs for every member of the tour. For approximately 10 euro tour participants receive a guided tour, two beer samples, and a complimentary mug. Furthermore I purchase eight of their half liter bottles racking up a whopping 15 euro bill. The tour and the beer purchase combined were significantly less than the cost of our lunch! A bargain for an afternoon beer adventure.

While many, including myself, complain about the lack of German beer variety compared to the craft beer revolution in the States there is no substitute for the rich history that is German beer. If not for these early pioneers we wouldn’t have the privilege of enjoying the wide variety of beer available in the world today.
Until next time,


Saturday, September 23, 2017

German Homebrew: Trial by Jury

Cases of Homebrew

Approximately 100 km east of Stuttgart is the town of Gundelfingen, home of the Camba Old Factory brewery. I first visited Camba in August( where I learned of their mid-September Hobbybrauer festival. Feeling confident I quickly secured brewing ingredients for my award winning double IPA which took a silver medal at the D.C. Cherry Blossom Homebrew competition. Award winning is a relative term; basically my beer sucked less than the other entries. In any event I dusted off my score sheets and tweaked my recipe based on the judges’ feedback. The result, a 9.2%ABV double IPA. GAME ON!

The Camba Bierfestival & Hobbybrauerwettbewer is a three day weekend event, attracting more than 80 homebrewers from around Europe. The winning homebrewers beer is produced at the brewery, with the winner receiving 200 liters, roughly 400 cans of their beer! Additionally the winning beer is served in the Camba taproom for a year. Friday is homebrew drop off day, with the actual competition on Saturday, culminating with a standard festival on Sunday. I arrived at the Camba Old Factory on Friday afternoon with eight bottles of my double IPA under my arm. This American was prepared to show the Germans how a true American IPA should taste! At the check-in table I was asked if I would be serving my beer. Unsure of the implications of such a question I quickly replied “Ummm No”. I was told that the “Jury” begins sampling the beer at noon on Saturday, with results no later than 2:00 pm.                                          
 At 1130 on Saturday morning the navigator and I arrive at the brewery. Tents and campers were scattered near the playground area where long distance competitors had spent the night. There were only a handful of people in the brewery where a series of tables were arranged in a horseshoe formation for the competitors to in fact serve their beer. For 1 euro a piece customers purchase tokens which are good for both beer and food. Each homebrewer had a basket at their table where customers pay to sample their beer. Not your typical American homebrew competition.           
Within 2 hours most of the homebrew tables were filled with homebrewers. Cases of their best offerings under the table, and in commercial coolers strategically place behind them. As we wandered along the tables it became very apparent to me that some of the competitors were far from traditional “Homebrewers”, with business cards, banners, and even stickers! Not wanting to sample commercial-like “homebrew” I stopped in front of two young men frantically making signs with a sharpie. These are my people! The two men were from Austria and had been homebrewing for about a year. They offered me a very dark honey wheat beer, warning that its “A Very Strong Beer 8% Alcohol”. As I sipped their beer it was obvious that the beer was much stronger than 8%. It was then that they explained initially it didn’t taste very good so they added a kilo of honey. The honey hadn’t helped. No Token For YOU!

Near the far end of the horseshoe of tables I came across a Wintergreen Pale Ale. Intrigued I asked for a sample. At first sip it was quite refreshing, with a hint of wintergreen after taste which unfortunately kept building to peppermint patty status. When I asked the homebrewer how he managed to get that flavor he replied “I have no idea, I was just trying to brew a Pale Ale”. I gave him a token for being honest. Of the 60 or so homebrewers actually offering their beer I encountered only one American. This was his second time entering the competition but his first time actually serving his beer because like me he was initially confused by the process.

Beer Samples for the Jury
At 3:00 pm the “Jury” reached its verdict, proclaiming a Russian Imperial Stout as the winner. Unfortunately I had not sampled the winning beer as it was produced by one of the commercial-like homebrewers.  While I didn’t receive any awards I did interact with some amazingly interesting homebrewers. Some of those interactions were omitted from this post for the sake of brevity, and the PG-13 rating. Most all of the German homebrewers I spoke with had nothing but praise and amazement for the American Craft Beer movement, criticizing the traditional German beer scene. That being said, all were optimistic that Craft beer could, and would become as prevalent in Germany as it is in the U.S. Based on my experience at the hobbybrauer event I can only share their optimism.  I am already making plans for next year’s competition!

Until next time,

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Where There’s Smoke….

In July the navigator and I hosted our extended family from Maine for their first trip to Germany in more than two decades. Not surprisingly beer played a major role in the visit. Two days into the visit we found ourselves in Bamberg, home of Rauch Bier (Smoked Beer). Suffice to say Rauch Bier is damn near the ONLY beer offered anywhere in Bamberg. Home to nine breweries and a malting facility  a 24 stopover visit is not nearly enough time to visit every brewery, much less the malt house. Obviously a return trip was in order.

Weyermann Malt House
In mid-August we returned to Bamberg, focusing not on breweries, but malt. Weyermann Specialty Malt founded in the late 1800’s, originally malting grain as a coffee substitute. Today Weyermanns is the world’s leading malt producer with 85 different varieties of malt.  Each Wednesday Weyermann offers a facility tour, including beer samples from their pilot brewery for 15 euro per person. Yes Please!
We arrived at the Weyermann fan shop an hour prior to the tour, perusing the wide variety of gifts, craft beer, and liquor. By 2 pm approximately 20 people had gathered in the shop at which point the shopkeeper informs us that the tour will be divided into two groups, English and German. Much to my surprise at least 14 people opted for the English tour, four American’s and 10 Italians with Gregor, the self-proclaimed “Beer Pope of Slovenia” as our tour guide. Our tour started with the malting facility where locally grown grain is cleaned and repeatedly soaked in water to start the germination process. The grain is then sent to one of several germination boxes where the grain is slowly dried over a period of days then sent on to several large dryers for kilning and roasting.  More than 500 local farmers supply Wyermann with approximately 110 tons of grain at their offsite grain silos.
Pilot Brewery
Following the malt house was the pilot brewery, a 2 hectoliter system producing small batches to not only test the grain quality but also allow customers to try new recipes utilizing Wyermann specialty malts. Current production is limited by fermentation capacity in the form of six small horizontal lager fermenters (Lager Jacks). Because they are designed primarily for lagers it’s difficult, but not impossible to brew ales. Planning is underway for the addition of a conical fermenter, improving their ale capabilities.  
The fa├žade of the 137 year old buildings comprising the original Bamberg facility have been designated historical landmarks, preventing the company from modifying the exteriors. Weyermann is a family owned business with the current owners occupying the second floor of the original Weyermann home, while the quality control lab occupies the basement.  Every truckload of grain, some 15 trucks a day, undergoes multiple quality tests prior to unloading. During one test grain samples are warmed with a heat lamp, drawing out any insects that may be present. The entire test process takes approximately 20 minutes, resulting in rejection of approximately one percent of all deliveries. No production facility is complete without distribution. The Weyermann distribution warehouse is a brewers dream with 25kg bags of malt stacked floor to ceiling, wall to wall. On average 40 truckloads of malt are shipped daily. Most impressive was the automated malt palletizer,   palletizing 800 bags of malt per hour.  
Beer List
Our tour concluded in the tap room which consisted of a standard size bar with six taps and a large seating area. Included in the 15 Euro tour fee were full pours (330ml) of any and all of the beer produced in their pilot brewery. Choices included, but were not limited to, a lager, bohemian pilsner, and of course two IPA’s. Gregor was both tour guide and bartender, pouring sample after sample as he shared his brewing and malting expertise.  It quickly became apparent that as long as we continued to drink, he would continue to pour. One beer in particular became a subject of conversation. Bamberger Hofbrau was purchased by a large Nurnberg based company and then subsequently closed 3 years later. In 2007 Weyermann purchased the Bamberger Hofbrau trademark, resuming production of the classic German pilsner, a testament to the importance of Weyermann to the Bamberg community.
In conclusion, I encourage anyone interested in beer or brewing to take the Weyermann tour. The process, facilities, and more importantly the people, make this one of the best tours I have taken. Where else can you sample as much beer as you want, served by none other than the Beer Pope of Slovenia!
Without malt there can be no beer
Until next time,

Sunday, August 13, 2017

German Craft Beer Scene-Going Nuclear

Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Plant,
Approaching my one year anniversary overseas I have a better sense of German craft beer, and the influence of the American craft beer explosion on German beer culture. While Berlin is considered the epicenter of the German craft beer scene however craft beer seeds are sprouting in other parts of the country. Enter Camba Brewery. With three locations Seon, Truchtlaching, and Gundelfingen Camba is definitely an up and comer in the German beer scene. With temperatures plummeting and autumn just around the corner I could think of no better excuse than a day trip to the Camba Old Factory in Gundelfingen.

 Approximately 100 km east of Stuttgart is the town of Gundelfingen, home of Camba Old Factory. As I soon discovered Gundelfingen is also home to the Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Plant, a mere 5km’s from Camba. Fortunately I wasn’t there for the water. We arrived at the Old Factory moments before their 1600hr opening ensuring we were the first customers. With rain in the forecast we bypassed the robust outdoor beer garden opting for the climate controlled inside seating.  As we entered the building I was awe struck at the sheer size of the building. Like a kid in a candy store I scurried to the nearby brewing equipment in what I can only describe as one of the most amazing tap room/beer gardens I have ever visited.  In addition to the brewing equipment, a bottling line, barrel room, restaurant, and beer store fill the cavernous factory.  Approaching the bar my eyes fell upon nearly 40 taps, the most I have seen since leaving the states. So many beers, so little time. 

Not knowing where to begin, and knowing I would have to drive home, I opted for their “Tasters” selecting two of the Camba IPA’s and one New England IPA, winner of last year’s Camba homebrew (Hobby Brauer) competition.  All three beers rivaled many of the American IPA’s I have tried. With ABV’s ranging from 6-9% I couldn’t help feeling I had found my new beer home away from home. Over the next two hours I sampled two more Camba IPA’s, barely scratching the surface of Camba beer offerings. Of course, what would a German beer garden be without food. Fresh baked pretzels, curry wurst, pulled pork, and schnitzel just to name a few.

Unlike many stateside tap rooms Camba Old Factory has a robust international beer offering including beer from France, Belgium, and of course the U.S.  In September Camba Old Factory will host its annual homebrew competition, a three day event featuring nearly 80 homebrewers and 100 beers. I'm not only planning to attend the event but I'm also participating, entering my award winning IPA in what promises to be an epic event.

In conclusion if Camba Brewing is indicative of the German craft beer scene then the future is not only bright, dare I say its “Radiant”. In the coming months I will not only return to the Camba Old Factory but also visit their other two locations, with any luck, as the winner of their homebrew competition.

Until next time,

Bleib Schlau!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Twisted Swisster

One of the biggest homebrew challenges facing me since arriving in Europe is securing proper brewing ingredients (See “Stress Brewing Part 2). On two occasions I have placed online orders with a homebrew supplier in the UK. While this is relatively timely German shipping companies are less than gentle, resulting in yours truly scraping ingredients from the bottom of the box.  On at least one other occasion a personal “courier”, risking deportation and other heinous acts by German customs officials, delivered desperately needed priming sugar. Sensing my frustration (probably the direct result of my incessant swearing) my “Navigator” of more than 30 years discovered an alternative. Switzerland?
It was a cold dreary February morning, like most European mid-winter mornings, when we struck off for Switzerland in search of a brick and mortar homebrew shop. My pulse quickened as I plugged the address into the Geo Positional Satellite thingy, affectionately dubbed Garmin B*tch. At long last I was going to an actual homebrew shop!  According to Garmin B*tch, my holy grail of homebrewing was only two hours away. Mother Nature had other plans. What started as rain quickly turned to snow, then rain again, preventing me from taking full advantage of the unrestricted sped on the Autobahn. Rain and/or snow be damned I would not be discouraged!
The Swiss town of Wald is approximately an hour’s drive from the German border, approximately 30 kilometers east of Zurich. Home to approximately 9,000 residents Wald is also the home of SIOS Homebrewing; if I knew nothing else about the town that would be enough. Pulling into the parking lot I immediately began questioning Garmin B*tch’s guidance. The building looked abandoned. My heart sank like a little boy who just lost his puppy. Struggling to keep my emotions in check I exited the car, opting to explore the building on foot. Walking around the corner of the building my jaw dropped and my knees trembled. A sign on the wall directed me to a door on the back side of the building. Opening the door my nostrils tingled with the greatest aroma any brewer can experience. MALT! My eyes fluttered as I took a deep cleansing malt filled breath. Nirvana.

SIOS Homebrewing is not unlike any homebrew store in the states with the standard brewing systems, homebrewing trinkets, bottling supplies, and of course malt. Bags and bags of malt. The staff is very knowledgeable and fluent in English. Like most other things in Switzerland SIOS prices are not for the faint of heart. I dropped the equivalent of 120 dollars for ingredients I would have payed half as much for in the states. The folks at SIOS are also fellow homebrewers and apparently if you drop enough coin they will give you a couple of complimentary bottles of their beer. The beer also came with an ominous warning. “Don’t try to cross the Austrian border”. “Germany good, Austria bad”. I have yet to discover why, but I will take their word for it.

Last weekend I returned to SIOS, purchasing ingredients for an IPA that I have affectionately dubbed “Twister Swisster”.  Not surprisingly the staff recognized me and remembered my name as I’m likely only one of a few American customers to have visited their shop.  Most of you are probably wondering why I would go to such great lengths to visit a homebrew shop instead of just ordering things “On the line”. The answer is simply human interaction.  While internet orders are convenient there is no substitute for talking to fellow beer lovers and homebrewers, sharing experiences and learning about their native beer culture.

United we brew, divided we fall.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Belgium: I’m Leuven It!

I would like to offer my apologies to my tens of followers as it has been far too long since my last post. Truth be told there has been little blog worthy beer activity during the long German winter. With daylight hours growing ever longer my desire for new and exciting beer venues is on the rise. My desire became so overwhelming (Still Referring to Beer) I took to the interwebs in search of a new beer adventure. After thousands of nanoseconds “On the Line” my eyes fell on the Zythos Beer Festival in Leuven, Belgium. Eureka! Leuven Belgium is a mere five or so hour trip as the Ford flies. Leuven is also home to largest University in Belgium where a friend of mine is currently studying philosophy. The pieces were falling in place nicely.  I hastily purchased tickets which included obligatory tasting glasses and eight tokens for beer samples. Only eight tokens for a festival with more than 80 booths and 500 beers!?!?!?!?  Challenge accepted

Leuven has a rich beer culture, being the birthplace of several beers such as (Cough) Stella Artois, Leuvense Tripel, Domus, and Keizersberg. Leuven is also home to the worldwide headquarters of Anheuser-Busch InBev…..Enough about them. My Navigator and I arrive in Leuven Friday evening, taking enough time to check into our centrally located hotel before striking off in search of food and of course beer. AB InBev aside Lueven is a magnificent town with picturesque buildings and churches dating back to 1400’s.
Town Hall

We arise at the crack of 1000 am, meeting the “Philosopher” at 1100 to catch the shuttle bus to the fest. It’s painfully obvious that the early worm may catch the worm, but he definitely didn’t catch the first bus as nearly a hundred people fight to board the complimentary city bus. Fortunately the organizers anticipated this and a mere seven minutes later another bus arrived, whisking us away to a date with beer destiny. We enter Brabenthall, barely, as hundreds of “Advanced” ticket holders anxiously await the high noon opening. Well, hundreds minus one. The Philosopher opted to purchase tickets at the door, propelling him to the FRONT of the cash only line with an eye popping three other people! Fortunately he is not only a scholar but a gentleman and quickly secured brewery swag while we slogged our way in. Once inside my Navigator quickly purchased not less than 30 additional beer tokens which she evenly distributed to the rest of us. That’s why she is the Navigator.  Now to the beer!

It goes without saying that ones first beer MUST be a traditional Belgian style. We quickly get a sample of Palm Belgian Amber, a run of the mill Tripel by Steinhaus Brewing. We then opt for a Viven Imperial IPA. I have sampled several European IPA’s and none could hold a candle to an American IPA. Much to my delight Viven is the exception. I could have just easily been drinking an IPA at beer fest in Virginia! For the rest of the afternoon we alternated between traditional Belgian beers and Belgian craft beers until finally both we, and our tokens were exhausted. In total we had sampled 18 beers (I managed two freebies) but could have easily sampled twice that many without scratching the surface. Beer was not the only thing on the menu as there were numerous food trucks serving up pizza, burgers, and of course, don’t call them “French” fries. One of my favorites was what I dubbed “Meat Fries”. Unlike Poutine which I enjoy very much these fries come with what can only be described as beef stew on top! If my calculations are correct, between food and beer, I consumed approximately 48000 calories! I may be exaggerating slightly.
"Meat Fries"
"High Noon"

Suffice to say I am looking forward to next years Zythos fest. Belgium is a beer country, more so than Germany, in my humble opinion. Beer shops abound in most every city we passed through. As of this writing I have more than 40 Belgian beers in my cellar with plans to double that number by the official start of summer. For anyone even remotely considering a trip to Belgium and the awesomeness that is the Zythos beer festival I can only say


Until next time,
Stay Crafty

Monday, January 2, 2017

Stress Brewing (Part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of “Stress Brewing”. As I stated in episode 1, brewing and drinking beer is my outlet. When all seems lost and I feel as if my head may explode I brew beer. Brewing a batch of beer became a QUEST. With the help of my wife I purchased a turkey fryer, which is easily converted to beer brewing, at least that’s what I thought.

Immediately after the purchasing my “New Equipment”, I started the process of securing ingredients. Reaching out to my ever expanding network of European homebrewers I learned that most homebrewers here order ingredients online, as there are few if any brick and mortar brew shops in Germany. After not less than six hours, and thousands of curse words later, I decide that German online shops are out of the question, opting for a UK supplier. In a matter of minutes I order all the ingredients for one of my award winning IPA’s (I only have one award to my credit but it sounds more impressive this way). The website states “Guaranteed Delivery in 48 hours”. YES, that’s for me! Apparently the 48 hour rule only applies to people within a one block radius. Who knew? Nearly two and half “48 hour blocks” (Five Days) later my wife calls me at work to inform that the “Shipment” has arrived, and some of the ingredients have exploded.I yell with joy, jumping in the air, much to the ire of my coworkers. (Apologies to the security folks) I tell my assistant brewer (AKA my Wife) to “Bag” whatever is loose in the box and I will deal with it when I get home. All of the pieces are finally in place. New “Equipment”, AND ingredients. This weekend I BREW!

There are many similarities between a turkey fryer and brewing equipment. Basically an open flame heating a big kettle is where the similarity ends. The packaging on my “Turkey Fryer/Beer Brewing Equipment” stated, some assembly required. “Assembly” is an understatement in any language. Unlike traditional brewing equipment this one comes with a “Safety Timer” because so many people have burned down their neighborhoods trying to cook thanksgiving dinner. Apparently the powers that be have determined that a 15 minute timer would prevent this from happening. Nay nay, where there is a will there is a way.

It’s a gorgeous day in Southern Germany, a rarity for the first week in December with temperatures rapidly approaching the mid-50’s. I hastily assemble my new brew equipment and gather all of the ingredients. Today is the day I relieve my stress!!! At least that’s what I thought. I place my ‘Equipment” on the patio as neighbors scuttle about, in a vain attempt to protect their “Kinder” from the American fool. I turn on the gas and flick my bic lighter near the burner…. Nothing. I flick my bic again and again but to no avail. Son of a !@$()!!!!!  A subtle hissing noise of gas emanates from the burner as the neighbor’s dog whimpers. I turn off the gas and reevaluate the situation, determining that the “Safety” timer is obviously the problem. I reset the timer and try again. KABLOOM! The burner ignites. Now I wait. In a matter of minutes the water in the pot begins to boil as thousands of BTU’S (British thermal unit) work their magic.
I am ecstatic, overcome with a feeling of euphoria as I am one step closer to “Destressing”! I add the malted grains, reduce the heat, open a beer, sit down and wait. My eyes begin to flutter in the warmth of the sun when suddenly, DING! The timer expires and the flame goes out. %#$!!!!!! I grab the lighter and try to light the burner. I hear and smell it before I feel it. “It” being the hair on my arms burning as they make contact with the burner frame. Over the next 90 minutes this process would be repeated several times, until my arms were as bald as my head.

Despite all of my trials and tribulations a magnificent IPA was born. Today, with a feeling of inspiration, and regrown arm hair, I ordered the ingredients for a chocolate Belgian quad. Delivery service and beer gods willing this weekend I will brew my first batch of 2017. There will be little fear for my safety as the temperatures are in the 20’s and more importantly the “Safety” timer will be removed.
Until next time

Safe brewing and prost!