When Brew Freedom Meets Brew Tradition:
A Case Study in Cross-Cultural Enrichment
By Horst Dornbusch
The North American craft brew movement is now in its fourth decade. Having lost its training wheels long ago, it now occupies a place of prominence among the other great beer cultures of the world—the British-Irish, the Belgian-French, and the German-Austrian-Czech-Scandinavian. While the North American outlook in the early years was understandably one of self-absorption, it is now becoming confidently international. These days, North American brewers create beer styles from all over the globe, made with both domestic and imported ingredients and equipment, and pile up international accolades and awards as a matter of course. Their burst onto the world brewing stage has been noticed even in Germany, a country with arguably the most traditional of beer meisters!
So when an American and a German get together to make some beer, the brew house quickly becomes a cross-cultural crucible. This is a story of two brewers, Cornelius Faust of the Faust Brewery in Miltenberg, Bavaria, and Tod Mott of the Portsmouth Brewery in Portsmouth, N.H., who worked together in each other’s breweries, on two continents, making each other’s beers. It is the story of a meeting between the wild and wooly ways of North American brewing and the disciplined and parsimonious ways of German brewing. It is a story of both contrast and synergy.
The collaboration between Faust and Mott started at Brauhaus Faust in Miltenberg, south of Frankfurt, on October 23, 2009, and continued at the Portsmouth Brewery on April 13, 2010. The two breweries are very different. The brew system at the Faust brewery is a fully automated, 70-hectoliter, two-vessel configuration with a mash-kettle and a lauter tun, set up for multi-step and decoction capabilities for lagers and hefeweizens. The brew system at Portsmouth, by comparison, is an unremarkable, 7-barrel, single-infusion, partially uninsulated, no-steam, no-agitator workhorse with a mash-lauter tun and a kettle-whirlpool as you might find in many brewpubs across the nation. It is used for making almost exclusively ales.
An American in Miltenberg
Mott’s first exposure to a German-style thin mash, with a water-to-grist ratio (by weight) of about 3.5:1, was when he and Faust made a Faust Schwarzviertler in Miltenberg (see recipe below). In this multi-step, single-decoction, dark lager mash, there is plenty of agitation during the temperature ramp-up as well as during the lautering phase at the mash-out temperature, when three distinct doses of brewing liquor, rather than a continuous sparge, flush out the remaining sugars. To Mott’s great surprise, Faust used a little bit of Sinamar® as a totally Reinheitsgebot-approved coloring aid to darken his beer without adding acrid notes.
A German in Portsmouth
Faust, in turn, was going to get a lesson in North American brewing during two brew days in Portsmouth. The first brew he made with Mott was 5-C Imperial IPA (see recipe below)—an extreme brew loaded with Centennial, Warrior, Simcoe, Cascade, Glacier, and Chinook in the kettle; Columbus in the whirlpool; and Columbus, Cascade, and Crystal in the hopback. Few breweries in Germany would store more than five hop varieties; even fewer would even think of using more than three in a single brew! In typical British fashion, the single-step mash remained thick and undisturbed at a water-to-grist ratio of about 2.6:1, and, after a beta-amylase rest at 148° F (64° C), the mash-out temperature was reached not before but through sparging. As far as Faust was concerned, that’s just not a way to make beer!
Mixing It Up a Bit
On the second brew day came the interesting part. The two brewers tackled the challenge of making Faust’s delicate, complex, multi-step Faust Pils in Mott’s simple, heat sink-like North American pub system, which, importantly, is notoriously resistant to temperature ramping. Who says reality shows only happen on television? The day started with a quick milling followed by a thick dough-in at a grist-to-water ratio of 1.84:1. The grist had to be stirred in manually for homogeneous hydration and proper beta-glucan degradation. The resulting mash-in temperature after this strenuous early morning workout was about 120° F (49° C), some 7° F (4° C) higher than planned.
Then the trouble started for real. The mash-lauter tun kept sucking heaps of thermal energy right out of the mash, but the hot liquor tank just would not yield water above 190° F (88° C). It became clear that there was no way of getting to the beta and alpha amylase rests at 149° F (65° C) and 154° F (68° C), respectively, without overflowing the mash tun. Because the mash temperature wouldn’t budge above 145° F (63° C), it was time for improvisation. The solution was a sort of “fake decoction,” with part of the wort drawn into the kettle, boiled there, pumped back on top of the mash, and then stirred in by hand...another sweaty workout! The result was an almost continuous temperature ramp to a mash-out at 169° F (76° C)…but at the cost of a slightly reduced extract efficiency, a slightly darker color, and a lower original gravity of 11.2 °P (approximate OG 1.045) instead of the desired 11.9 °P (OG 1.047). A taste test of the finished wort, however, confirmed that the beer was, indeed, a real Pils; and when it came on line at the pub in early June, it was gone in only nine days, twice as fast as the average batch served at the Portsmouth Brewery. The recipe is below.
American Brewing Through German Eyes
“No brewer in Germany would be willing to work with Tod’s system,” declared Faust later. “It simply lacks versatility. I could make any North American beer in my system but could not make my beers here on a regular production basis, at least not without enormous tricks and labor-intensive improvisations. A German mash is always of very low viscosity, because it needs to be pumped between vessels for step-heating. Thick, single-infusion mashes and continuous sparging during lautering are simply unknown to me. Instead, German brewers prefer to add their lauter liquor in several ‘Nachgüsse’ (‘after-pours’).”
Faust also pointed to a beer-cultural gap in his German brewer training. “At Weihenstephan University, I never learned to make the beer styles Tod brews. German brewers and thus German consumers are totally unfamiliar with non-German beers. My first real exposure to North American beer styles, for instance, was during my beer sommelier training at Doemens Academy.”
Consumer expectations, too, are very different in Germany. “North American beers would require some serious adjustments to make them marketable in Germany,” observed Faust. “The German consumer simply expects beer to have a strong head. The typical American Shaker pint glass, on the other hand, is always filled to the rim. It lacks a calibration mark etched on the side, above which the glass should not be filled. North American bartenders, instead, always tilt the glass to make sure that any foam simply floats off the side. Germans would find this beer presentation unacceptable. Even Irish breweries that sell their beers in Germany—and often have them brewed there under license—inject more CO2 than they do in their home market. As a general rule, the CO2 content in a German beer must be at least 5 grams (approximately 2.5 volumes) per liter to be acceptable. Even traditional gravity-poured beers are no longer truly dispensed by gravity in Germany. Instead, they are inoculated with at least 4 grams (2 volumes) of CO2. Germans simply associate CO2 and a tall head of foam with freshness, and the lack thereof, with the opposite. That’s why Germans seem to be fussier in matching beer with the right glass. North Americans put any beer into a pint glass; you rarely see proper Pils flutes, tulip glasses, or weissbier vases in North America.”
North Americans, however, are way ahead of Germans in the use of malt, hop, and yeast varieties. “It will be up to German brewers to revive the art of brewing and brewing creativity,” elaborates Faust. “While the quality beer market in Germany is essentially Pils-dominated, in North America, it is made up of a mosaic of dozens of niches. German beer drinkers just aren’t ready yet for North American-style beers. My consumers would not accept Tod’s beers. Apart from the CO2 issue, his beers are too hoppy, too fruity, and too alcoholic. In Germany most beers are below 5 percent alcohol. The North American craft drinker has different expectations. Here, beers are more hop-accented; while in Germany they are more malt accented. North American beers would need to be explained at great length to Germans—which is not something German brewers are good at. They think they are done educating their patrons once they put the word ‘Pils’ on the label. It will take lots of time to redefine the concept of beer quality for German consumers.
“The Germany tied system is another factor that makes the introduction of new beer styles difficult, because many on-premise retailers can carry only brews made by a single contract partner,” Faust continued. “If that packaging brewery is not creative, the publican cannot be either, and the patron will have no opportunity to experiment with new tastes. However, I am optimistic for my own beer culture, because there is now a boom in brewpubs. German brewpubs are not very experimental yet, but this may just be a matter of time. Even in North America it took decades before the craft brew movement had grown firm roots. I personally will certainly try my best to put the experiences I have gained here to good use in my brewery in Miltenberg. I am taking many impulses back with me to Germany and I hope to be able to make an IPA-like beer for my market in Miltenberg someday soon. However, I will have to modify the beer. I will use my brew process, but stick with American hop varieties which I find very intriguing; and for malt I will use specialty varieties from Weyermann®, which will be no change, because many North American craft breweries use these as well.”
German Brewing Through American Eyes
Mott, too, sees both the strengths and limitations of the two beer cultures. “I’ve had the awesome experience to actually brew with Cornelius,” he said, “and I have seen what the Germans do, which is usually an upward infusion in a mash-kettle; and the grain is slurry-pumped to the lauter tun. Brewing with a British-style single-temperature infusion system here at the Portsmouth Brewery is a little bit regressive, but we are able to accomplish quite a bit with it. We have even done sour beers. We have a problem with upward infusion, but we compensate for that deficiency by using the great malts that are available now. We are actually able to get beers out of our system that would otherwise not be possible to do. Until we get a new brew house, we’ll just have to continue to brew with what we’ve got and use our finesse, vigor, and perspicacity to produce variety. There is no limit to what we could brew if we had Cornelius’ system, which allows for acid rests, protein rests, beta rests, alpha rests, even decoction. With good malts, I can sneak what Cornelius makes into our serving tanks, but of course, my beers do not taste the same as they do over there. With his system, you can get a much rounder, maltier flavor. Both Cornelius and I rely on time and temperature, but he is able to manipulate both much better. Because our system has limitations, we are forced to be more inventive if we want to make a large variety of beer styles.
“Cornelius and I come from different worlds,” Mott continued. “While the traditional German brewer produces six or seven beers, we produce 30 to 40 different beer styles a year. We have made about 100 styles in this brewery. Though our drinkers would be totally enamored with the beer styles that Cornelius produces, I don’t think we could get away with producing just those few.” Mott sees historical reasons for this difference. “In my market, there is a radical difference between the beer drinker of today and the beer drinker of several decades ago. In Cornelius’ market, this seems not to be so. Our consumers are looking for variety, for extremes, while German consumers seem to be looking for the same…dependably so, at a high quality. We must—and do—cover every beer style we can think of, because our public would be unhappy if we didn’t. To me, different consumer expectations are a key difference between our two great beer cultures.
“Therefore, I can see a contract arrangement, whereby I would bring his beer styles to the United States, under license. The brews would be totally authentic—the recipes, the ingredients, the skills. We could proudly market these here. Of course, our brew system would need to be replaced to match the versatility of the system over there…that would be one of the coolest things we could do. But I agree with Cornelius, the same would not work in the reverse direction…at least not yet.”
A German-American Synthesis
The experiment in cooperative brewing between the Brauhaus Faust and the Portsmouth Brewery turned out to be a conversation, a meeting of two brew cultures, and a learning process on both sides—quite the opposite of a “clash of civilizations,” to borrow from the title of a 1996 book by Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. It seems North Americans make a much greater variety of brews with much less equipment versatility—and some beers they can make only by jumping through extreme hoops—while Germans use their almost infinite system versatility to make beers of much less variety, but to perfection. The agreement between the two brewers: they both would like to add the other beer culture’s strengths to their own strengths.
“I don’t see a downside to this international exchange,” said Mott. “We are so honored to have Cornelius here. In the long run, I am convinced that such cooperation is good for both of us. What I am pulling from this is both knowledge and camaraderie. I definitely plan to go back to Germany and brew with Cornelius again, and I hope he will come back and brew with me again.”
Beyond the professional benefits, adds Portsmouth Brewery owner Peter Egelston, this exchange was also about friendship and fun. “You can’t have too many friends in the beer business,” said Egelston. “The more friends we make, the better off we are individually, as a company, and as a community. And at the end of the day, if you are in the beer business and you can’t have fun, you are in the wrong business.”
And with so many international beer styles and so many breweries to explore, the amount of fun and learning as yet untapped seems endless.
Horst Dornbusch is a consultant in the international brew industry and a frequent contributor to brew magazines in Europe and North America.