All the way across Munich and eight beers into beer heaven – KAMPMANN HEUTE Editor Nils Naber visits the Paulaner Brewery.
I admit it – I do feel guilty, just a little! Being an editor on KAMPMANN HEUTE involves a lot of travelling – mostly to look at large, grey boxes in large, grey boxes (which can actually be very exciting) – but a trip from Oldenburg to Munich for the purposes of a beer tasting; that’s something special!
It was my idea. And it came to me when it was decided during a KAMPMANN HEUTE editorial meeting to use the Paulaner Brewery’s move to its new premises as the cover story. Readers of this magazine will know that our cover stories are only marginally about matters relating air-conditioning and that the people and stories behind the relevant projects are more important. Here was the opportunity to do a report on beer. BEER!
Beer isn’t simply something that the HVAC industry, in which mostly men work, has a great affinity towards but also something that I, who is really enjoying the current trend towards craft beers and who is even toying with the idea of brewing beer at home, am really interested in. Initial research into Paulaner beer revealed that the long-established brewery that’s based in Munich runs its own microbrewery at its Eiswerk location where craft beer is made. And it even arranges tastings! So I thought – it should be possible …
And that’s why I’m sitting on the train to Munich feeling a bit guilty. Wasn’t the idea a little too much? Am I not doing this just for my own sake? Drinking beer at KAMPMANN’s expense? And anyway: beer. It’s an intoxicant! People in Germany drink 106 litres of the stuff every year. That’s around one glass (0.3 litres) a day. But it’s reasonable to take children, teetotallers and other people who don’t drink out of the equation, which would make that figure even higher. It’s almost scary how much beer people drink. But beer is also something to enjoy. “It’s the dose that makes the poison.” That’s what Paracelsus already said in ancient times, and just as we should exercise restraint in the consumption of red meat because it’s known to be carcinogenic, we should also do the same with beer. So it’s a good thing that I’m travelling to Munich where it’s the custom to drink beer in measures, litre-sized ones at that.
A few men on the train to Munich (it’s a rainy Thursday afternoon in May) order a round of white beer at the next table. They’re not off to a football match or on a stag do. No, they’re apparently travelling on business. They’ve just enjoyed a meal and now they want something to wash it down with. They have only the one. That’s the way to do it.
HUGE COSMOPOLITAN VILLAGE
Geez – I haven’t been to Munich for ages! And so I take the opportunity of travelling to the Paulaner Brewery to also take in some of the Munich air and culture. The main railway station is located to the west of the city centre, my hotel and the Nockherberg, the Paulaner Brewery’s legendary headquarters, are to be found to the east. The city is vibrant and buzzing with energy, although it’s drizzling slightly, as I step out of the railway station. Munich is a huge cosmopolitan village. Tradition and modernity are intertwined here like in no other city. I cross the city centre on foot and a Babylonian babble of voices wraps itself around me. I rarely hear German, frequently Bavarian, but it’s mostly other languages that are reaching my ears. The Marienplatz is most impressive. The town hall that football fans will be familiar with from the annual celebrations of Bayern Munich players on its balcony dominates the square; it seems to me that it must be photographed millions of times every day – it’s an absolute magnet for tourists. I take out my camera to document this …
I'm having a little stroll on the Viktualienmarkt. Japanese tourists are taking photos of the fruit stands, which are also selling strawberries and asparagus that are now in season and which seem to be highly exotic to these visitors. A magnificent maypole dedicated to the Purity Law dominates the centre of the market. Yes, of course, we’re celebrating 500 years of the German Purity Law this year. But, hold on, no it’s not that! They’re marking the anniversary of Munich’s Purity Law which dates back to 1487 here. And not the world-famous German Purity Law that was decreed in 1516, which, in its anniversary year of all years, has become the subject of more criticism than ever before. Which is probably due to the trend towards craft beers. But more about that later.
A bin lorry wants to turn into a side street but a big silver car sporting a star on its bonnet is blocking the way: “JA, HIMMI HERRGOTT – SAKRAMENT! FAH ZUA! MAGST AUF DA KREIZING IBERNACHTEN? SCHLEICH DI, DU HOIBDEPP!“ The driver was genuinely shouting in capital letters. That was fun – it couldn't have been better if it had been staged. Until that moment I had thought that swearing in Bavarian was a cliché or folklore. There’s a lot of sounding of horns on the overcrowded streets, something that doesn’t happen in such urban settings as Hamburg in the north. So southern temperament starts just before you get to the Alps, I think to myself a little stupidly and then feel pretty provincial.
I had strategically chosen the location of my hotel so that it was only a short and easy walk from there to the Paulaner Brewery and back. But, of course, things don’t always work out the way you think. It’s still drizzling as I set off. I leave early to give me time to take in the sights at the Paulaner Brewery before the tasting commences. The Paulaner Brewery is one of the largest and best known breweries in Bavaria. Nockherberg was the centre of its operations until March 2016; now that part of the brewery has been shut down – and beer is produced at a brand new location in Langwied on the outskirts of Munich. But that doesn’t mean that the venerable Nockherberg has been abandoned – not at all. Brewing takes place in Langwied, the Nockherberg is the place for partying: naturally at the Paulaner Wirtshaus with its famous beer garden. But also at the brewery at the Eiswerk (Ice Works).
OF MONKS, PEOPLE AND MALT
The early time of the day and the bad weather are spoiling my beer-garden experience – the place is deserted. There’s hardly anything going on inside either. A rather grey day in the history of Nockherberg. Whereby the Paulaner story doesn’t start at or on the Nockherberg but at nearby Neudeck Monastery, where the Paulaner monks started making beer from 1634 and probably earlier. The portrait of Franz von Paola – the founder of the order – still adorns the Paulaner logo to this day. The monks initially started brewing for themselves. The Paulaner way of life is very ascetic and demanding – especially during Lent – so beer was made literally as ‘liquid bread’ to help the monks through the day. As time progressed, they started to sell their product to the poor as well. And it was not unusual at the time to give beer to children, too – it was considered a nutritious and inexpensive food, although it must be said that beer at that time didn’t yet have the alcohol content that it has today.
No, not yet. That is until the Paulaner monks started brewing a type of bock beer once a year, which they called ‘Sankt-Vater-Bier’ in honour of their father. Master brewer Valentin Stephan Still, called ‘Bruder Barnabas’, developed the famous ‘Salvator’ strong beer from this bock beer at the end of the 18th century. And that launched the Paulaner Brewery’s success story and quite soon also that of the Nockherberg.
The Salvator was brewed only once a year for Lent and the first barrel to be tapped was celebrated properly: this ‘Starkbierfest’ (Strong Beer Festival) is a Munich institution and was at times more popular than the Oktoberfest. The event has been taking place on the Nockherberg since 1861. Although there was an infamous exception to the festival’s otherwise peaceful history in 1888: for some unknown reason a scuffle developed which resulted in an artilleryman drawing his sabre, which did not calm down the situation, however, but escalated it even further and a mass brawl ensued that engulfed the entire area. The heavy clay measures that the guests were drinking from served as weapons for the brawlers; many people were injured. The quickly arriving police was unable to control the situation and it was only when 50 heavily armed soldiers from Munich’s contingent of cavalry entered the hall that the fighting ended. This event is known as the ‘Salvator Battle’. Some say it was caused by the price of beer being increased.
Standing here now, it’s difficult to imagine 50 cavalry storming the place. However, I can see in my mind’s eye that the annual strong-beer festival is a lively event – something that should be experienced for yourself. It’s just a pity that the ancient method of testing strong beer is no longer used. This was when the master brewer poured a measure of freshly brewed Salvator over an oak bench. Two or three lads in their Lederhosen would then have to sit on it and drink until their trousers had soaked everything up and dried again. The beer would be deemed to have passed the test if the bench stuck to their backsides when they tried to get up again because that would have meant that the master brewer had used sufficient malt and therefore sticky malt sugar to make the beer. That’s when, and only then, that the Salvator was released for sale.
Speaking of beer tasting – it’s about time. I descend the staircase at the Nockherberg that was built in 1904 and am now standing in front of the old Paulaner Brewery. There’s a lot of construction work going on because the brewery’s relocation to Langwied has left a huge wasteland behind. A series of urban development competitions were held before the move to put the 90,000 square metres of vacant space in a prominent Munich location to a new use – plenty of room for living and working. A total of 1,400 apartments along with office space, including a new administration building for the Paulaner Brewery, is being built. A separate competition was held for the brewery’s administration building, which the Munich-based firm of Hierl Architekten won. It was a particularly challenging task because it was specified that the listed Zacherlbau building had to be incorporated into the plans. The results were spectacular: the Zacherlbau, which was partially destroyed during World War II and which had since then remained derelict, has been restored and a new building added to it that is as modern as it is simple and that, at the same time, harmonises with the historic backdrop. The basement is the building’s jewel in the crown: it provides visitors with direct access to the central courtyard around which the restaurant and the banquet hall with its original cellar vault have been arranged. Trench-heating systems by Kampmann have been installed in front of the window façades that face the courtyard and around the vault’s massive brick columns to ensure perfect air-conditioning.
CRAFT BEER VERSUS ‘CRAFT BEER’
The Eiswerk, which is named for the ice machine that’s been here since 1881, is right next door. The Eiswerk allowed brewers to produce beer all year round. It used to be the case that brewers had to rely on naturally cool spaces, such as rock caverns, in summer when they didn’t have machines to make ice. If you didn’t have an ice-making machine, you couldn’t make beer. Catastrophic! The ice-making machine here was shut down in the 1960s. But it remains the oldest in the world still to be found in its original location. And here I am at my destination: the brewery in the Eiswerk – at last!
The microbrewery looks extremely inconspicuous from the outside. An impression that continues on the inside. The tasting room is plain and small; four rustic bar tables with matching stools and benches provide space for a total of 15 people. No self-aggrandisement of the brewery with advertising materials of any kind anywhere, only a few magazines to leaf through – many of which are dedicated to craft beer. It’s difficult to say whether this restraint is intentional or not. The brewery in the Eiswerk was actually the Paulaner’s training brewery, where future master brewers were able to practise their skills. But it has now been converted into a microbrewery in response to the craft beer trend. Production capacities are so low that some home brewers make more beer. The Eiswerk beers are correspondingly exclusive. The brewery sells its products every second Wednesday between 5.00 and 7.00 p.m. – there’s no on-line business, no distribution network and you can only buy the beer from here. Keeping the product scarce to artificially push up the prices? I don't think so. In contrast to other big beer brands, which are currently throwing ‘craft beers’ on to the market on such a grand scale that is making a nonsense of the very idea, the Paulaner Brewery is doing everything right with its brewery at the Eiswerk – perhaps unintentionally, I can’t say – but it’s obvious that beer is celebrated here. As the tasting, which is now starting, demonstrates.
Ten interested parties have arrived. I’m not the only guy from north Germany. Somebody from Hanover is sitting opposite me, but he’s been living in Munich for years. Two men from the USA have also turned up and, over the course of the evening, reveal how knowledgeable they really are. The craft-beer movement actually originated in the USA where home-brewing is also much more common. Lukas and Michi accompany us through the evening, the first is a master brewer graduate to be, the second is a beer sommelier. And why the hell didn't I come up with a career choice like that? A pale ale, which surprisingly doesn’t come from the brewery in the Eiswerk, but from the USA, is served after the informal greeting. That was really surprising because I’d expected to be served only beer that had been brewed in-house. But the concept works: eight beers are served within the next three and a half hours, three from the brewery in the Eiswerk and five international ones. So the first is a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that grabs you straight away. Soft and full-bodied, with the usual pale-ale bitter hop and grapefruit notes in the finish. Only the colour is irritating: a rich shade of amber beams out of the glass. It does look good. But ‘pale’ means ‘light’; so you’d imagine it would not be so dark. Pale ales and the even hoppier and more alcoholic version that is India Pale Ale (IPA) are currently very popular so that any hop-flavoured, top-fermented beer is often simply called a pale ale. Lukas has even seen a dark pale ale …
‘THE GERMAN PURITY LAW IS NOT ALWAYS A GOOD THING!’
One guest proffers the daring theory that international beers could never be as good as German ones and vaguely bases his argument on the German purity law. But Lukas’ response to that is as refreshing as the beer that’s standing right in front of us: “The purity law is not always a good thing!” Wonderful! The budding master brewer is attacking the law that many a German beer drinker would defend by force if necessary – or at least with a session of drinking out of loyalty. Let’s have a look at what the original document that dates to 1516 has to say:
“Wir wollen auch sonderlichen, das füran allenthalben in unnsern Steten, Märckten und auf dem Lannde, zu kainem Pier merer Stückh, dann allain Gersten, Hopffen unnd Wasser, genommen und gepraucht sollen werden.” (“We also want nothing else but barley, hops and water to be taken for making even special beers that are sold in our towns, at the markets and in the country.”)
But the document seems to have forgotten something. The yeast. The effect of yeast and how essential it is was not known in 1516. Furthermore, as time progressed, malting the barley became more widespread, i.e. malted grain was incorporated into the law because otherwise not even a wheat beer would have been legal. So: water, malt, hops and yeast. Nothing else is permitted in German beer. Which actually sounds very restrictive. But it does still allow thousands, rather, millions of different variations to be produced. That’s because there are hundreds of hop varieties, some with amazing aromas, that can be combined in any way you like. Dozens of types of yeast, a wide variety of cereals that can be malted in myriad of different ways. And, last but not least, the water used to brew the beer also plays a decisive role. Hard water, for example, can’t be used to brew bottom-fermented beers, such as Pils.
But what if I wanted to add chocolate to my beer like the British sometimes do with their stout? Or raspberries like brewers in Belgium do with their Framboise? Or herbs? Or chillies? These are quite high-quality and absolutely natural ingredients. The creative, experimental approach to brewing craft beer, which the Purity Law or the ‘Vorläufige Biergesetz’ (VorlBierG – ‘Provisional Beer Act’), as the regulation is officially called, then won’t allow to be called beer, is in this way being torpedoed. But, at the same time, the purity law does permit major breweries to add filtration agents because that stuff is subsequently removed again. So the question is whether the German Purity Law is still able to meet contemporary needs after 500 years.
But back to the tasting, we’re now focusing our attention on the beers made at the Eiswerk itself:
This beer is dedicated to the ice machine that was installed that very year and that allowed the company to brew beer in summer. The Eiswerk 1881 is a March beer - a summer beer typical of the time. Velvety soft with a clear touch of malt and fine tones of caramel.
This beer is also an homage. Specifically to Joseph Pschorr, a brewing pioneer from Munich and founder of the Hacker-Pschorr Brewery, which today is part of the Paulaner Group. Josephs Spezial is a revival of Pschorr’s famous brown beer with its malty aroma and smoky notes.
This is a beer in which the hop effect is very apparent. TNT is an aromatic hop that gives beer not only a pleasant bitterness but also nuances of wild berries and exotic fruits – this beer is spectacular!
The Cantillon, which is served to us after a hearty open sandwich, also deserves mention – it’s a Belgian spontaneously fermented Geuze beer. Whereby ‘spontaneous’ in this context doesn’t mean ‘fast’ – on the contrary. Just like in the early days of beer, no yeast is added – the brewer simply waits until yeasts floating in the air start the fermentation process. But, by the time that happens, the beer has turned sour. A taste experience that takes some getting used to – but an absolute treat for the two Americans. Because Geuze is as rare as it is expensive in the USA.
We buoyantly go our separate ways after the tasting. But I’m not returning to the hotel just yet. I ask Lukas and Michi where I can get a nice beer that extends beyond the rustic leather-trouser-slapping Munich ‘Gemütlichkeit’. They recommend the Tap-House to me. A 20-minute walk – so off I go!
IN BEER HEAVEN
Forty beers on tap. Two hundred more bottled beers. The Tap-House is the dream of every open-minded beer drinker. But what should I drink? You’re simply spoilt for choice. I start chatting to the manager who’s happy to help. In the end, I plumb for two varieties of IPA, a Pils, a Schlenkerla Rauchbier (smoked beer) but no Milk Stout. Milk Stout is an internationally recognised style of beer that offers a slightly milky aroma – but without the milk. Which is simply too much for lawmakers and the purity law in Germany. It’s not permitted to sell the beer here. The state authority for health and food safety even demands that it be destroyed because it confuses consumers and isn’t a beer as defined by the VorlBierG – which is, of course, nonsense. So, in order to still be able to sell Milk Stout, the brewery has deleted all reference to ‘beer’ from the label and has called it a ‘different type of fermented foaming beverage’. And since VorlBierG says it’s not beer, it should be exempt from beer tax. Great. But not for the lawmakers, who do identify the product as beer in the beer tax law. It’s just that it can’t be sold ...
Such complexity is a little too much for me and my tired, now slightly befuddled brain. I say thank you and take my leave to return to my hotel and am astonished to find a taste of home in the mini-bar: two bottles of Jever beer. Frisian-herb. I can’t resist and drink. With a clear conscience.