|Grönwohlder and Zeugenbräu|
The one thing they almost all shared, apart from not being factory brewers, was an interest in challenging the conservative monoculture of mainstream German beer – the popular assumption that Beer=Pils/Helles, and is more for quaffing than tasting. I was particularly amused when Grönwohlder boss Torsten Schumacher said no to visitors asking for Pils, telling them he was presenting only his Dunkel and Landbier on draught. He told me afterwards that he makes Pils mostly for the supermarkets – he said his other beers are unfiltered and don't have the required shelf-life.
I suspect that people coming to a craft beer festival and looking for Pils shows that the German craft beer movement is sending out mixed messages. On the one hand, there are people pushing the historical, experimental and creative sides of brewing, while on the other are people using the term simply to mean local and non-industrial production of Pils and Weizen. Can the two co-exist? I guess we have to hope so, and that the latter will gradually shift towards the former.
|Ratsherrn and Ricklinger, getting busy|
As well as all the good beer, it was wonderful to meet and talk with some really creative German brewers. Perhaps the most experimental is Zeugenbräu's Boris Georgiev – his proud motto is "Guaranteed not brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot", as he creates new twists on ancient North German spiced and fruit beer traditions such as beer with mango or spiced with cardamom.
I also had a great chat with one of the event's organisers, Axel Ohm of Ratsherrn Brauerei. I have to confess I wasn't too impressed with Ratsherrn when it started out – it seemed to be taking a very cautious let's-not-frighten-the-horses approach, with a beer range led by yet another Pils and a decent but not inspired Pale Ale. More recently though it has struck out a bit, with Iggy Hop, which is a single-hopped Weizen using American Simcoe hops, and now a crisp Zwickel too. Axel confirmed that there has indeed been a policy shift, with the realisation that there really is a market for something a bit different. We also talked about how different it is compared to the south of Germany, where the dead hand of tradition is so cold and heavy that breweries are almost scared to innovate.
|Readying the bierstacheln|
|and mulling the beer|