Above: Beer kettles dominate the ground floor of Freiberg’s 250-seat Hausbrauerei Feierling.
TRIER, Germany – Located on the banks of the Moselle River, whose vineyards produce the grapes for Riesling, the No. 1 industry in ancient Trier is winemaking. Indeed, there are five vintners within city limits.
Thus, “It was difficult to open a brewery here” 18 years ago, recalls owner Klaus Tonkaboni. His Kraft Brau (brew) hotel and restaurant is in a building that was a winery until 1918.
“Now I think the city is proud to have its own craft breweries,’’ continues Tonkaboni. “We brew 12-15 kinds of beer during the year, have another 10 or 12 refrigerated beers from other German brewers.
“It is important to bring people to other beers. In the past 20 years … with the coming of microbreweries, the people want a local taste, not a huge beer.”
There are an estimated 1,340 breweries in Germany, more than 90 percent of them independent, small-batch operations. Typically they create relatively small amounts for consumption within their own city or region. Many breweries offer tours or tastings.
Brewers here and in other parts of the world are aware that 2016 is the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law. Meant to halt adulteration of the brewing liquid with herbs and plants – which had included the poisonous wolfs bane — the law holds that true beer is made from just three ingredients: water, barley and hops. Yeast was added in the late 1850s.
Emphasizing the purity law’s anniversary, the German National Tourism Organization organized multi-city/multi-brewery media tours that preceded the annual Germany Travel Mart.
Brewer Tonkaboni’s Kraft Brau is representative of the recent expansion of craft, or micro, breweries. Then there is Hausbrauerei Feierling, founded in 1877.
Located in Freiberg, 185 miles from Trier, the Hausbrauerei (brewery house) complex is a two-story, 250-seat restaurant wrapped around its ground-floor beer kettles. Across the street is its 700-seat beer garden.
For all these customers, Hausbrauerei produces about 92,500 gallons per year. But it doesn’t sell its beer off-premises.
The beers change seasonally, a chore for the brewers. “Our job is to keep the flavor in each type tasting the same, even though the malt and hops (which provide beer’s flavor) can change yearly, ” says apprentice brewer Phillip Heist, 28.
While many small breweries were created by families or by friends, Hausbrauerei has an atypical founding, as related by co-owner Wolfgang Feierling-Rombach:
“My wife (Martina) had family in brewing generations back, and she was always fascinated by it,” he said.
In 1989 he quit his work as an economist and banker to take over the business operations of their new brewery, while Mrs. Feierling-Rombach oversees the brewing done by a master brewer, brewer and apprentices.
As for his change in professions, Feierling-Rombach smiles as he declares, “There is no way I would go back to the bank — never, ever.”
A few minutes’ tram ride away, Brauerie Ganter has 16, 15,000-gallon tanks to hold its products. But to maintain quality and taste, the 151-year-old Ganter does not ship beer more than 65 miles from Freiburg.
This brewery creates up to eight beers simultaneously, beyond the capability of most craft breweries.
For instance, in Heidelberg, the 150-seat Vetter’s Alt Brauhaus (old brewhouse) restaurant will create 10-12 brews during a year but usually only four at a time. In that mix, says co-owner Michael Vetter: a popular smokey-flavor beer and a “double bock that you must drink slowly because it tastes a bit like cough syrup.’’
In addition, Vetters 33 has been honored by the Guinness Book of World Records as “the strongest beer made under the purity law’’ — 500 years old and limiting pure beer to being made with only water, hops and barley (yeast was added centuries later). Says Vetter of the strong 33: “Only one in 10 likes it during tastings.’’
Atypical of such microbreweries is Heidelberg’s Brauerie zum Klosterhoff:
/ It is located on the grounds of a monastery.
/ It was opened 7 years ago by partners with 30 years’ experience in brewing.
/ In those seven years it has created 28 beers and ales.
“We have a strong community of customers willing to try something new,’’ says manager Till Barucco. “None of our beer is filtered or pasteurized – the richest taste is before pasteurization.”
With a fulltime staff of just five plus college students learning the craft, this brewery produces about 92,500 gallons a year. “We easily work 10 hours a day – it’s like a free-will offering if we work 10 hours on the sixth day.’’
But in deference to their landlords, the monks, “We never work on Sunday.’’