Friday, May 21, 2010

Beer and Its Brewing Process--Part Two

We arrived at the Löwenbrauerei at 9 o'clock in the morning.  We had arranged with Johannes Dold, the owner and brew master, to have a tour of his brewery.  By then, the brewing had been in process for about three hours.  Herr Dold met us and spent the next hour showing us and explaining to us how they brew their beer and about some of the complicated machinery they use.

Johannes and Luzia Dold

This is an old family brewery, dating back to 1856.  The picture below right is from an early era, with the brewery Gasthaus on the upper, right side of the picture.

As mentioned in my last post, this brewery has remained in the same family for all 154 years and has won many prizes for their various beers over many of those years.  I will briefly explain the brewing method and though it may sound relatively simple, in fact it takes a lot of expertise and experience.

Brewing Process

1.  The beer brewing process begins in the brewing kettle, where barley malt is combined with water.  It is then heated to various temperature stages in order to break down the starch enzymes.

The brewing kettle

 Below, right, it shows the brewing  inside the kettle.  It will remain here for about four hours.

Herr Dold and Hans discussing the brewing stages

2.  After that process is completed, hops is added; in the case of the Löwenbrauerei, the traditional female hop cones are still added by hand in the proper proportions for different types of beer.  (Herr Dold does not use hop pellets, which are more commonly used in larger commercial breweries.)  It is then boiled for a specific time frame determined by the brew master.

Pictures of hops(decoration) hanging from the ceiling inside the retail store.

3.  After the brew master determines it is ready (it can take up to eight hours), the liquid is separated from the solids and cooled off.  That liquid is then transferred to large primary fermentation vats or vessels where the yeast is added, yeast being specific to two primary yeast types:  aerobic for top fermenting beers, such as ales and wheat beer; anaerobic for bottom fermenting beers, such as Pils and Export (in English, those are referred to as lager beers).

A picture of the primary fermenting vat, showing 4,050 liters of Export (lager beer)

 4.  After primary fermentation is completed (normally seven to eight days), the beer is then transferred into large--now generally stainless steel--tanks for the final fermentation process for a period of six to eight weeks.  This takes place at a very low temperature, about 2 Grad.  Aging at this low temperature allows the carbon dioxide to combine with the beer.   In the Elzacher Löwenbrauerei, as in most small breweries in Germany, natural carbonation takes place in the above fermenting process.  Excess carbon dioxide is released to the ambient air through pressure valves.

 Below, pictures of the final fermenting lager vats


5.  After the maturing process is completed, the brew master will then filter the beer.  Pasteurization as practiced in North America is normally not done in Germany as the pasteurizing process removes much of the typical beer flavour and aroma.

6.  After filtration, beer is then bottled or put into kegs as required.

Below, the cases of bottles on the right; the kegs shown are now used for special occasions, such as festivals. The modern stainless steel "keg" type is now utilized.


This is a simplified version of a complex beer brewing process, which starts with the malting of the brewing barley.

Below, a glass filled with barley, along with one of  the Löwenbrauerei's various types of beer glasses

The Elzacher Löwenbrauerei's Weizen (wheat) beer is still done in the traditional final bottle fermentation process very much like home brewing.

A case of Weizen beer is shown below in the fermenting stage in the bottles.  Note the guage at the back

Germany is rightfully proud of still adhering (by law) to the oldest food regulation in the world.  That is the Reinheitsgebot (purity law), which was passed by Herzog (Count) William IV in 1516 in Bayern (Bavaria).  The reason the count passed this law was that he was thoroughly fed up with drinking the often abominable brew that was offered to the nobility but also to the general public at that time.  The fine for brewers who did not adhere to the new law was that they had to drink 10 liters of their own beer (or swill!) in one sitting! A punishment that brought the point home!

The Reinheitsgebot law stipulates that beer can only be made from three ingredients:  water, barley malt and hops.  Yeast, of course, must be used to start fermentation.  As that had not been discovered at that time (1516), the fermentation process then had to depend on natural wild yeast which is found in ambient air.

In later years, wheat malt was also permitted but never any rice or cereal grain malt as frequently used in North America.  Also, the common usage of invert sugar in North America is verboten (forbidden) in Germany.  Herr Dold's hops come mostly  from Bavaria and his malt from Lahr.  As a matter of fact, the Lahr malt plant is one of the few in Baden-Württemberg.  For those of you who are familiar with Lahr, the malt is produced in the large brick building near the Bahnhof (train station). 

Beer tastes differently from brewery to brewery primarily due to using different malt or hops or water, as well as using different amounts of each from one brewery to another.  Needless to say, all breweries protect their recipes.

A Gasthaus usually carries the beers of only one brewery, which means that if you are a beer drinker, you will probably check for the beer sign outside the Gasthaus in order to see if it's a beer you like--or perhaps if it's one you have never tasted and wish to try.  When we are in an area of Germany not our own, Hans does just that.  Small private breweries don't ship outside their own area, and it's a chance to try another beer:  a new taste and a new experience as a beer drinker!

At left,  a rare pre-second- world-war brewery Gasthaus sign seen in our immediate area at the Gasthaus Waldlust.

The picture on the right does not show the name of the Gasthaus Pflug, but it does show the Elzacher Löwenbräu that it serves inside.

 The picture directly below is painted on the side of the Brauereigästätte in Elzach (Brewery Gasthaus)

The plaque below is attached to the side of that same Gasthaus.

A perfect Pils!  Prosit!

Both Hans and I took the pictures in my two blog posts on beer.  As well, all of the expertise is from Hans and from Herr Dold, both of whom I thank.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beer and Its Many Aspects--Part One

A well-presented beer!

I am not a beer drinker.  Hans, though, is a beer connoisseur and knows much about it and the industry.  He is my expert today.  Hans has been drinking that frothy beverage for years, but he also took a correspondence course in beer brewing for a while many years ago, read beer magazines over the years and anything else relating to it as he still does today--plus talking to anyone who makes, sells or serves beer!

Since I have known him, he changed from "only-a-beer" drinker to a wine drinker and connoisseur (particularly Bordeaux wines), making himself smart on that subject, too.  I'll use that expertise at a later time when I write about wine.  Today, though, it is all about a beverage that many love throughout the year and especially on a hot summer's day.

Below, Hans' brother-in-law, Günter, "prosting" with Hans (unseen except for the tip of his beer glass). 

The picture below right is of Hans in Sasbach under a chestnut tree just coming into leaf, at a beer garden beside the Rhine, with France just across the river.  Many beer gardens and Gasthäuser offer fresh pretzels, which go perfectly with beer.

The picture at left is of Hans in another beer garden in the countryside.  This was on a Sunday afternoon and the place was busy.  There were tables and people everywhere, but this was a quiet spot.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Hans bought his kegs of beer from Kälble Braurerei in Steinach.  When Kälble closed down their brewery--selling all their equipment, including copper brewing kettles, to someone in California--Hans began the search for another small brewery that would come up to the same standard.  That is when he discovered the Löwenbrauerei in Elzach.

The picture at left shows the area in front of the Löwenbrauerei with cases of bottles filled with beer to be delivered to some of  its customers.  You can see the copper brewing kettle inside with one of the brew masters working beside it. 

Hans has been buying his Pilsener-type beer at the Elzacher Löwenbrauerei for the last 15 years and swears it is the best Pils in the world!  Many agree with him.  Johannes Dold, the owner and brew master, has won gold medals in Germany every year for his various beers including this year:  2010.  He won the "best-of-the-best" in Germany in 2007 and many other awards since. The "best-of-best" goes to a brewery that has won 2 awards for their beer every year for 15 years.  A special prize indeed!  This is a small, private, family-run brewery, which means that it was a huge honour to receive such a prestigious dedicated award.

Some of  the Löwenbrauerei's awards shown on the wall inside their retail store.

Shown below is a brewery advertisement showing the gold medal won for best-of-the-best in 2007

The brewery celebrated its 150-year anniversary four years ago:  1856 - 2006.  Johannes Dold took it over from his father in 1995.  It has been in the same family for those 154 years.  That's not such an easy undertaking these days in the beer business as large brewing monopolies are usually waiting to take over these small breweries.  In fact, this is a negative development occurring in Germany and many other countries, including Canada and the United States.

Johannes and Luzia Dold (with Hans' hand talking!)

Approximately two decades ago there were far more breweries in our region than at present.  This holds true for all areas of Germany; however, the province of Bayern (Bavaria) still far exceeds the number of small breweries than anywhere else in the country.

We hope that Herr Dold's brewery will remain as a family enterprise, as hundreds of private breweries have closed or been taken over in the past number of years.  Herr Dold's wife, Luzia, looks after the administrative side.  His daughter is now studying the brewing business.  That is a positive side to their craft and will hopefully lend continuity to the family brewing heritage.

The sign at right is on the Brauereigaststätte (Brewery Gasthaus) in Elzach.  It is owned by Herr Dold of the Löwenbrauerei.  Most Gasthäuser show the name of the beer they carry on the Gasthaus name sign.

Elzach, where the brewery is located, about a 35-minute drive southeast of us, is a typical Black Forest town.  Several Gasthäuser and shops line the narrow and picturesque main street.  Fifteen minutes north of Elzach is the village of Biederbach and the Gasthaus Deutscher Hof, where we go frequently.  Herr Burger, the Wirt (inn keeper), for years had only Riegeler beer on tap.  He now also has Löwenbräu (mainly because of Hans, I should add!).

Another Gasthaus we know in Freiamt also now carries Löwenbräu and their customers are ordering more of Herr Dold's beer than the original beer they had been carrying.  The Elzacher Löwenbrauerei also supplies its beer to several other Gasthäuser in the area.  Herr Dold has a few employees working for him, including another brew master.  He also has a retail store directly beside the brewery where one can buy his various beers, by the keg or bottles, including numerous soft drink products.

The retail store beside the brewery, with me standing near the car

The picture at left shows signs with the cost for various cases of beer (20 half-liter bottles to a case, which equates to 71 Euro cents a bottle at Euro 14.20 a case--the most expensive beer offered; that's about 56 Canadian cents per 1/2 liter bottle--depending on the currency fluctuation rate).

We have a small beer fridge that will hold a 15-liter keg of beer.  Hans prefers Pils which he has on tap at home.  The story of his fridge goes back to 1980.  A friend of his, Ernst, who owned a Getränkemarkt (a store that sells all types of drinks:  beer, wine, Schnaps, soft drinks, mineral water), found the fridge on the side of the road on household bulk refuse day.  He picked it up and took it home, then called Hans to see if he was interested in it.  Hans was.  It cost him nothing.

The fridge was from the 1950s and didn't work.  A German acquaintance of Hans at the Canadian Forces Base in Lahr offered to fix it for him, which he did for a small token (a gift of a bottle of Canadian whisky!).  Hans then installed a beer tap and associated carbon monoxide delivery system, covered it with a solid piece of varnished wood and painted the fridge a more appropriate colour.  That same fridge is still going strong today, 30 years later, with a keg of Elzacher Löwenbräu Pils in it--as it usually has!

Below, pictures of the outside and inside of the fridge with the keg hooked up (and a bottle of Weissherbst beside the keg, my favourite wine!) Note the Elzacher Löwenbräu sign on top.

The three pictures below show Hans pouring a glass of Pils.  A Pils is topped up slowly, so that in the end a good "head" almost overflows the glass.  You press the tap once and then not again until the foam settles down.  Then you tap it again.  You do this until the beer is at the proper height in the glass and the frothy head is well above the rim of the glass.

The picture below, on the left, shows the foam after pressing the tap; the picture on the right shows the Pils to be nearly ready, with the foam or head now slightly above the rim.

Beer is a matter of taste, which means each person has his or her favourite type and brand of beer.  Pils is made with more hops and less malt than Export, thus it is slightly more bitter.  Hans says that when he first moved down to Lahr from northern Germany with the Canadian Forces in 1970, nearly everyone in this area drank Export.  It is still the most popular beer here.  Pils was not common in this area, though it was the most common type of beer in northern Germany.  Now, of course, nearly all Gasthäuser and restaurants serve all three:  Export, Pilsener and Weizen (wheat) beers.  The Elzacher Bräuererei brews all three, plus a Jubilium's beer in winter. They also brew a Kräusen Pils which is an unfiltered beer with a unique and very pleasant flavour.

Pils (a lager beer) takes its name from Pilsener, which was first brewed in Pilsen (Plzen), Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in the 1800s.  That is what Hans will usually have when at a Gasthaus and nearly always at home.  One exception to that:  when he is very thirsty and wants a quick beer, he orders an Export (also a lager beer but with less hop flavour).  A glass of Pils is topped up slowly and the old saying is that you wait seven minutes for it to be ready.  On a hot day, that seems like a long time for someone waiting to quench his or her thirst!  Hans, of course, when he orders an Export, also orders a  Pils at the same time--to have seven minutes later!

What can be better on a warm, sunny day for a beer drinker than such a Pils as shown below, ready for the first taste!

Zum Wohl!  Prosit!  Cheers!

A note:  I will be posting "Part Two" on beer in the next couple of days.  That will be about the brewing process itself and the ingredients used in Germany, with pictures from inside the brewery and the retail store. 

A reminder:  To see the pictures in a larger format, with more clarity, just click on the one you wish to look at.  Click on the arrow on the top left corner to return to the blog.