Monday, 24 September 2012

Brewpubs in Southern Germany

Article by Mikko Pludra
I grew up in Freiburg, a small city in the south-west of Germany. It is wedged between the Upper Rhine valley and the Black Forest, in an area chiefly known as wine country. Baden, as the region is also known, is known for cool-climate wines, not unlike the Yarra valley. A couple of hours’ drive to the east is Lake Constance with the hops growing region of Tettnang.
Due to the proximity to France (the French region of Alsace is just across the Rhine), the food and drink culture has a long tradition for the people of Baden. Thus it is not surprising that brewpubs and microbreweries have found their niche and are popular with locals and tourists alike.

As of 2010, there were 1325 breweries in Germany, of which 901 were considered small or micro-breweries with an annual output of 5000 hectolitres or less (Statistisches Bundesamt, Germany). As in other countries, microbreweries are on the rise, whereas medium and large breweries are in de-cline. The German Reinheitsgebot still provides strict regulations for the brewing industry, albeit in a more modernised version: the Bierverordnung, or Beer Act, of 2005. Today, breweries are allowed to brew top-fermenting beers with ingredients and processes previously banned, provided that they produce beer for export or obtain special permission. Bottom-fermenting beers (lagers) are still sa-cred and the only allowed ingredients are water, malted barley, hops and yeast. This regulation also excludes CO2, i.e. only CO2 collected from fermentation may be used to force-carbonate beer. He-feweizens are the only beers that are generally bottle-fermented.
On a recent trip to my hometown, we visited two brewpubs: Martin’s Bräu and Hausbrauerei Feierling.
 Martin’s Bräu brewpub from the outside; inside the polished copper brewing kettles (

Founded in 1989 on the premises of a former printing shop, Martin’s Bräu is Freiburg’s selftitled "first restaurant brewpub". It is located in a cellar underneath a covered market right in the historic centre of town, the Altstadt. In summer, there is a beer garden out front on the cobblestones. As you climb down the steps, there is an open kitchen with chefs busily preparing typical local fare such as homemade sausages or ox-tongue salad.
The restaurant area is set around the central bar area, with the large serving tanks for beer behind it. There are bar stools and tables as well as more stereotypical long benches with long solid timber ta-bles. As you sit down and order your first beer, you can see the large copper kettles on the rear wall, polished to a shiny perfection. The waitress marks your coaster with a tick so that at the end of the night you can remember how many you had (and have to pay).

Unfortunately, the brew master was not there on the day of our visit; the waitress told me he only brews once a fortnight in winter. There are two regular beers on tap: Martin’s Bräu Pils, a straw-coloured, unfiltered, moderately hoppy beer with a great sweet pilsner malt aroma and perfectly bal-anced bitterness; and Martin’s Bräu Dunkles Export, a slightly bitterer version of a Munich Dunkel,deep copper colour with lots of dark Munich malt character, moderate alcohol and bitterness but little hop flavour or aroma. There are seasonal beers: in spring and summer there is a classic Märzen and on a previous visit they had a bock beer on tap as well.

Sign hanging over the entrance to Feierling Brauerei; brass band playing for the traditional Bockbier-Anstich (
Now, the Feierling brewery is quite different, in a few ways. When Julius Feierling took over the restaurant and brewery "Zur Insel" in 1877, the brewery had been in operation in the same location for at least 400 years prior. After Feierling started brewing the first light-coloured beer in Freiburg, the brewery be-came so popular that only a few years later Julius had to move to a larger location, a few hundred metres down the road. The production brewery remained in operation until 1981, when urban growth and de-creased water quality from the house well made brewing unfeasible. Only 8 years later, great-granddaughter Martina Feierling, brewmaster and graduate of the famous brewing school at Weihen-stephan, revived the family tradition and opened up the brewpub in the original location as it stands to-day.
Hausbrauerei Feierling is also located in the historic town centre, on a cobblestone road next to two ca-nals. Across the road is the beer garden with its great chestnut trees, definitely one of the most popular places to be in the summer in Freiburg. Uni students and business people, families and tourists sit shoul-der to shoulder on the orange benches, sipping the liquid gold and snacking on a pretzel or sausage. As there is no kegging operation at Feierling, beer lines were installed underneath the road to transfer the beer straight from the serving tanks in the cellar to the draught taps in the beer garden.

Inside, the copper mash tun/kettle and lauter tun are prominently displayed behind the horseshoe-shaped bar. When the brewery is in operation, the wonderful smell of malt and hops permeates the three-storey restaurant. A note on the traditional two-vessel system used in German brewing: the mash is conducted in the boil kettle, as it is the only vessel that can be heated. After mash-out, the mash is pumped into the lauter tun, where the wort is separated from the grains by sparging with water heated in the boil kettle. The resulting sweet wort is then pumped back into the boil kettle.

Brewing system at Feierling; historic postcard of Feierling brewery (ca. 1920) (

The main product (and arguably Freiburg’s best beer!) at Feierling is the Inselhopf, an unfiltered Kellerbier style lager with great hop aroma and flavour. Sweet malt matches up perfectly with the fresh and floral Tettnanger hops, added late to the kettle. Even though it drinks sweet initially, it fin-ishes quite dry and leaves you longing for the next sip. Brewmaster Peter Egelseer told me that he only uses organic Pilsner malt grown in the region as well as hops from small growers in Tettnang. He was quite astonished to hear that homebrewing is popular in Australia, and was happy to talk about recipe details and his brewing philosophy.

Seasonal specialties at Feierling include a Dunkelweizen, a Doppelbock and an Oktoberfest beer. The Doppelbock, available in winter, is strong and rich, and it pours a dark copper colour with ruby highlights and a tan head. Downing a half litre of this will surely lift your spirits and warm you up. In summer, a popular drink in beer gardens all over Germany is Radler, a mix of Pilsner or Export beer with about 30% lemonade. It grows on you!

The food at Feierling is also classic southern German fare, from Weisswurst for breakfast to a hearty lunch of Schnitzel with Brägele (Badener style fried potatoes) or smoked pork shoulder with Sauer-kraut.

In the last decade or so, micro brewing has definitely become more popular in Germany, as sales fig-ures of so-called TV beers (nationally advertised beers) are in decline. This is by no means a new idea; back in the late 19th century, there were more than 10,000 breweries in Germany, the majority only producing for a small local market or even just for sale on premises. But the slow food move-ment also plays an important part in this shift, as local and organic produce becomes increasingly important to consumers.

Inselhopf recipe: 100% Pilsner malt to get to 13° Plato (SG 1.053). Peter Egelseer uses a classic German lager mash: four steps at 48°C (15 min) 52°C (15 min), 62°C (45 min) and 70°C (45 min) as well as a mash-out step at 76°C. Boil for 75 minutes. Add Tettnang for about 20 IBU after hot break; then add an equal quantity divided evenly at 15 minutes and at knockout. Note: Peter wouldn’t give me the exact amounts of hops so this is a little bit of guesswork on my part from what he would disclose. He did say that he whirlpools hot for about 20 minutes with hops added to the whirlpool so feel free to adjust your late hops ac-cordingly.
Cool to 7°C, pitch an appropriate amount of lager yeast. Let rise naturally to 9°C and fer-ment for approx. 14 days. Transfer to laagering vessel and lager at 0°C for 6 weeks.


booker_h said...

Great article Mikko. I'd be happy to write one about Belgium if the club would send me over there!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mikko,
es ist ganz witzig, von so weit weg über so nah hier zu lesen...
Grüsse aus Baden (und Württemberg) von einer alten Bekannten!

Bee Gerber

Unknown said...

I wrote a clone recipe to this beer.
Feel free to try it out!

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