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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Evolution of Beer, Munich to Montana Edition

I am back into the interviews.  Today's comes from Jürgen Knöller, who is a Bavarian-born and -trained brewer who has for the last 25 years been making lagers at Bayern Brewing in Missoula.  Every summer I pick up Bayern's Pilsner, and every winter, I look for the Doppel Bock.  I called Jürgen to learn more about the bock and hear what it was like brewing in the US.  The background to that bock, it turns out, is quite interesting.

 “I worked for four different breweries in Germany; of those four three are no longer. The first one was Brauerei Schiff—‘Ship’—and we had a very traditional brewery. We are talking a four-vessel brewhouse with a falloff tank—whatever that is in English—it’s a fifth vessel. It had a cool ship, it was beautiful.
Jürgen Knöller (left).  Courtesy: Panamericana2012
I mean, that brewery did about a quarter-million hectoliters. And what happened was the owner died and the widow couldn’t run it and a brewery from Cologne bought it and they kind of ran it in the ground. The next brewery bought it up and I switched to that brewery and the next one bought this one up and I switched to that one.”

“The next brewery I worked for, it was also a very old brewery, they did a really good one, too. It was from the Roden Brauerei. At the Schiff Brauerei we had Pirator—like a pirate—so we called it Pirator Bock. Anyway, what I did, I took from those two breweries, their doppelbocks. When I was looking at the technology available that I had—basically, what kind of machines do I have and what can those things do? You cannot take a Harley and run Superbike with it. You have to run it like a Harley. So what I did was I looked at the—I still had the formulations and everything of both beers—[and looked at my equipment].”

Here, in the way conversation flows but which is confusing sometimes in transcripts, Jürgen used the example of the Schiff design to explain why he couldn't replicate the process at his new American brewery.
“Some American breweries have a hopjack. Well we had a copper tank, vertical, that had a screen bottom like a lauter tun. All we were using was flower hops—and trust me, I have baled those things, 220 pounds those things, some of them were even bigger—and that was on the fifth story. Oh, and by the way, the brewery was five stories up and five stories down into the cellars. That’s where you’re really lean and mean, running up and down stairs all the time, pushing, and lifting and shoveling all day long. So with all those flower hops, we ran the hot wort over that so the hot break would be on top of the flower hops. Then we were running from there into a [long conjunct German word], next open mash where we were separating out the cold break and cooling it down in the cool ship. Well, the next brewery didn’t have that, but it had some other interesting things.”

“So then I decided, huh, this is what I have to work with for machines, it’s a fixed parameter, how do I get it across that I come up with the same product with what I got to work with? That’s what we did.” 
One of the things I found most interesting was a comment he made at the start of our conversation, which related directly to his formulation of Bayern Doppel Bock:

“I started brewing beer in 1978 as an apprentice; I did my three years as apprentice and got my journeyman’s certificate. I was working for another almost four years and then I got my masters degree. Now, when we were brewing back in those days back in Germany, I mean the Germans have always been the world-champions in efficiency and over the years—well, put it this way: I’m still brewing the German lager beers from 1985. When you go to Germany you have some of the older breweries that still brew the same way, but the bigger ones certainly don’t do anymore. What’s different between our beers here in general is that they’re all probably a little bit stronger, a little bit darker, whereas in Germany they have gotten a lot lighter.”

This is a fascinating phenomenon, and one I've been thinking about in relation to another brewery--Boston Beer.  Jim Koch took his original Boston Lager recipe from an old family formulation that his great, great grandfather used in making Louis Koch Lager.  I hope to talk to Jim and discuss it a bit, but think about how Louis would have brewed, trying to create an amber lager in America akin to those made in Germany with different malts and hops.  It was German beer, sort of, but the shift to the US would have shifted the beer--different malts, different hops, different processes. I don't have any way to determine how closely Jim is able to get to his ancestor's recipe, but these are the kinds of stories that make the history of beer and the evolution of beer styles come alive.

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