By Robert N. Jenkins

A guide takes visitors past the 15,000-gallon tanks at Brauerie Ganter.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 microbreweries coming on, the people want a local taste, not a huge beer.''

An estimated 1,340 breweries thrive in Germany, many offering tours or tastings, and the vast majority creating small amounts for consumption within their own city or region. While Kraft Brau is representative of the recent expansion of craft, or micro, breweries, Hausbrauerei Feierling, 185 miles away in Freiberg, was founded in 1877.

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.

Beer kettles dominate the ground floor of Freiberg's 250-seat Hausbrauerei Feierling.

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.

Behind a flight of his restaurnat's beers, Michael Vetter relates the history of Vetter's Alt Brauhaus, in Heidelberg.This brewery creates up to eight beers simultaneously, beyond the capability of most craft breweries.

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.’’ Five hundred years old and limited pure beer is 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. Opened 7 years ago by partners with 30 years’ experience in brewing, 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 never work on Sunday.

Sidebar: About beer

Reinheitsgebot is the German Beer Purity Law, this year observing its 500th anniversary. Meant to halt adulteration of the brewing liquid with herbs and plants including 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.

More than 90 percent of the breweries in Germany are independent, small-batch operations.

Generally, there are two types of beer: those that are “top- fermented’’ are brewed by heating the water-based mix to between 54 and 72 degrees, which causes the yeast to rise. “Bottom-fermented’’ brewing, which yields the popular Pils, is heated to just between 41 and 54 degrees, and the yeast sinks.

Finished beer is about 90 percent water; the other ingredients bring to the beer:

  • Yeast blends with the watery liquid called maltose and releases CO 2. The CO2 prevents the introduction of taste-changing oxidation which is why many Germans prefer their beer served with at least 2 inches of head and left untouched for at least two minutes, as the foam helps retains the effervescence.
  • From the malted grain comes beer's sweetness.
  • The hops counter that sweetness to provide a bitter taste. Yet it is widely said that the hops also relaxes the drinker.
  • Once it has been heated and the solids removed, beer is typically kept in metal tanks for 2-12 weeks before being served. Some larger breweries prepare the beer so that it can be stored in cooled rooms for five or six months before being served.
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