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German brewers hop on to new fruity flavours

German growers are pushing into the craft beer market with new hops boasting exotic flavours that buck the trend of strong old favourites as AFP's Carolyn Beeler discovers.

German brewers hop on to new fruity flavours
Gisela Meinel-Hansen, brew-master of German family-owned Meinel Brewery and her sister Monika pose with a bottle of "Holladiebierfee" beer. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

In a microbrewery in a trendy Berlin neighbourhood, Thorsten Schoppe, one of a wave of beer-makers using new German ingredients to create non-traditional brews, pours hop pellets into a copper vat.

"We only use four ingredients, and that's one of them," said Schoppe, as the faintly sour scent of beer begins to emanate from the boiling water and malt, "so they're important".

German small-batch brewers like Schoppe have increasingly used so-called "flavour hops" to impart notes of orange, grapefruit or peach while still following the country's cherished 16th century purity law, which restricts other flavourings.

Until recently, Schoppe had to import special hops from the US, where craft brews have an established niche in the market.

This year, German growers, moving to capitalise on growing demand, harvested the country's first commercial-sized batch of newly developed flavour hop varieties.

"It really amazes people what kind of special flavours you can bring to a beer even within the Reinheitsgebot," the purity law, said Schoppe, who brews a double India pale ale with a citrus aroma under his Schoppe Braeu label.

"Some people don't believe you if you say this is all natural, they think you must have added some flavours," said Schoppe.

Sebastian Hiersick, 35, a cook in Berlin, is a whisky drinker who generally doesn't like "normal German beer".

"It's either too hoppy, too malty, or too carbonated," Hiersick said.

After starting to work at a restaurant that sells German craft beers, he developed a taste for those with fruity undertones.

"When it's hot out, or in the summer, they are really nice to drink. They are very drinkable, it's like juice or lemonade," Hiersick said.

Colleague Magdalen Reskin, 29, who likes chocolate bock, a dark brew, agrees.

"I like them because they don't taste like beer," she said.

Hops, fresh or dried and processed into pellets, traditionally gave beer its bitter taste.

Hop breeder Anton Lutz began developing the new German varieties in 2006, when he stopped throwing out seedlings with "fruity" aromas and started breeding them on purpose.

Working out of the Hop Research Centre in Huell, a tiny village 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Munich, Lutz pollinated female flowers from a popular US hop variety, called Cascade, with pollen from male plants from traditional German hops.

The idea, said Lutz, was to combine citrusy North American hop flavours with traditional local hops to create a flavour that is "hoppy and fruity, not only fruity".

"German beer drinkers expect beers that are not so extreme, so we needed something a little bit softer," Lutz said.

The four new breeds, including one called "Mandarina Bavaria", are described as having notes of "distinct honeydew melon" and "strong tangerine and citrus".

Local growers are starting cautiously: by the end of 2013, 150 hectares, less than one percent of Germany's hop fields, will be planted with the new varieties.

"We don't want the whole beer-drinking culture in Germany to change," Lutz said.

"We want to open up beer to new markets, not convince people to change their tastes."

Germany's beer purity law, introduced in Bavaria in 1516 and adopted nationwide in 1906, dictates that only water, malt, hops and yeast, and no flavourings or preservatives, may be used to make beer.

The law has contributed to a beer culture more heavily focused on tradition and quality than innovation, and the new hop varieties were initially met with scepticism.

"The classic German beer drinker was almost alarmed, they said 'We don't want juice, we want beer'," said Elisabeth Seigner, head of hop breeding research at the Bavarian State Research Centre for Agriculture.

Now, demand for the new hops exceeds supply, Seigner said.

With a local version of flavour hops available, larger, more traditional breweries are beginning to try them.

Meinel Brewery, in the small Bavarian town of Hof, has been family-owned since its founding in 1731.

About half of the beer brewed there is still Pilsner.

In 2010, however, brew-master Gisela Meinel-Hansen and three local women brewers started making two limited-edition seasonal versions of "Holladiebierfee", sold in champagne bottles.

"We have a goal, we want to bring women to beer. This beer is our ambassador," Meinel-Hansen said.

This winter's nut-brown chocolate porter, with flavours of coffee and red berry, uses the new "Mandarina Bavaria".

Even traditional Hofbraeu, whose Munich beer hall is a tourist favourite, now brews a beer with German flavour hops.

As beer consumption declines, the new varieties allow German hop growers to capitalise on brewers' experimentation.

"Three, four, five years ago it was a completely different opinion from brewer to brewer," said Lutz.

"Now, I think all brewers and hop growers think we need all the varieties."
 

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BEER

From ‘crisis beer’ to crowdfunding: How German small brewers are getting creative during the pandemic

Beer gardens are beginning to open up across Germany. Yet In order to make up for the losses they have faced over the past year, brewers have had to take matters into their own hands.

From ‘crisis beer’ to crowdfunding: How German small brewers are getting creative during the pandemic
The inside of the 'Kaiser Brewery'. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

Across Germany, brewers have been searching everywhere for inspiration during the coronavirus pandemic, from brewing ‘crisis beer’ to baking beer-infused bread, starting online businesses and even relying on crowdfunding.

This creativity has been a lifeline – the only way for some breweries to survive.

Standing next to a storage tank inside the Holzhauser Brewery, Dario Stieren – brewer extraordinaire and manager of the Munich Brew Mafia – takes a sip of his own freshly-brewed beer.

The months-long closure of restaurants and bars during the pandemic has hit the industry hard, and small breweries have really felt the impact. 

READ ALSO: Can Germany’s small breweries survive the coronavirus crisis?

Perhaps surprisingly, business is actually going better for the Munich Brew Mafia than before the pandemic, all thanks to the launch of their new line of beers named Impfstoff (vaccine) that they developed in response to the crisis. This novelty beer is available in ‘easy dosage’, ‘double dose’ and ‘overdose’. 

The brewers had not expected their ‘pandemic beer’ to fly off the shelves so quickly, but the first round of bottling sold out in just six hours. In June they will be bringing the fifth batch of their innovative creation to the market.

The pandemic has definitely not all been smooth-sailing for the Brew Mafia; the three brewers who produced the crisis beer have had to become much more flexible and creative over the pandemic, and each of them has had to work a separate job alongside the brewing.

‘We have to stand together’

The opening of beer gardens around Germany is undoubtedly an important step forward, but the Association of Private Brewers in Germany does not think that this alone can lift the brewers out of the difficulties brought by the pandemic. 

The Nuremberg Schanzenbräu brewery is a prime example of innovation under trying times. In a normal year, every weekend between the end of May and the start of September would be a celebration, for which the Schanzenbräu brewers would provide beer on draught. 

Last year the summer party season was basically non-existent, explains Stefan Stretz, the managing director of the brewery, and this year is not looking much better. 

Between 25 and 30 percent of the beers sold by Schanzenbräu come from the tap. Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis Stretz, like most brewers, has been trying to sell more and more bottles of beers. “The market is now pretty cut-throat”, says Stretz. 

READ ALSO: Why German beer day is celebrated on April 23rd

Along with his fellow brewers, Stretz developed and brewed a Zusammen Halbe beer. “The idea behind the beer is that, in a time of crisis, we have to stand together”. A full 40,000 bottles of the beer were produced, and most of these were snapped up pretty quickly.

Stretz will not reveal the extent of the losses suffered by his brewery during the pandemic, but he says there is no way the company’s new ventures can fully compensate. What the beer did do was bring attention to the brewery, which is hugely valuable given the competitiveness of the brewing industry in Germany. 

Somewhat surprisingly, some brewers are actually doing well in the crisis. The Störtebeker brewery in Stralsund has seen a rise in sales.

“With this rise we have been able to compensate for the losses caused by the closure of the restaurant industry”, says the brewery’s spokesperson Elisa Raus. Offering their products online has also played a part in the brewery’s increased sales, and helped to win over new customers. 

Like many other brewers, Christoph Kumpf, manager of the Kaiser Brewery in Geislingen, Baden-Württemberg, faced another problem dealt by the pandemic.

“The persistent lockdown of the restaurant industry meant that a lot of our draught beer was approaching its sell-by date”.

In order to avoid having to pour it all down the drain, Kumpf had to get creative, using the beer to make gin, installing a ‘beer drive-thru’ in front of the brewery and selling any remaining product to local bakers.  

‘Beer-saver bread’

Six bakeries in the region are now producing ‘beer-saver bread’, for which they replace the water in the dough with beer. According to Kumpf, 1,500 liters of draught beer have been used so far to make over 3,000 loaves of bread.

An employee of the Kiene bakery holds a Bierretter bread in her hands. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

Through these forward-thinking approaches, the brewery has at least been earning back the cost of producing the beer. Other breweries across the country have come up with similar ideas and you can now be on the lookout for Altbierbrot (old beer bread) in Düsseldorf. 

Kumpf is pleased with the success of his campaign, but he stresses that his brewery cannot survive without restaurant sales and private events. “The support from the state has been a real lifeline, no doubt, but the crisis has simply lasted too long”. 

A further problem of the pandemic is that breweries have no money to invest in their futures. The Viechtach community brewery in the Bavarian forest had to launch a crowdfunding campaign to counter this, from which they raised €500,000 within a week, according to the brewery’s manager Markus Grüsser. 

Grüsser, who comes from the Cologne area, took over the brewery at the end of 2018, at which time the business had an investment backlog of fifteen years.

He now wants to use the money raised by crowdfunding to invest in new refrigeration systems and increase the brewery’s social media presence. 

According to the German Association of Brewers, effective media campaigns like those in Nuremberg and Viechtach can help to alleviate the damage for their own individual brewing companies, but are not representative of the situation facing the majority of breweries. 

“What we are talking about here are a few exceptions”, says Holger Eichele, the association’s spokesperson.

The union’s surveys have shown that the future of one in four brewing companies in Germany is under threat. 

READ ALSO: ‘We thought we’d be closed for a month’: How Berlin’s bars are surviving the coronavirus shutdown

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