Happy New Year Beer & Travel Lovers!
In our last blog post – Italian Craft Beer - Now That's Amore! – we introduced the Italian craft brewing scene. This month, we have a few things to share:
1. Beto’s Bavarian Beer Diary – First, we’ll introduce Beto Zuniga who joined us on our August 2018 tour, and we’ll share the journal he kept of all the breweries he visited and beers he tried on our Munich & Bamberg Brewery Tour. If you’re curious about the brewery/beer experience in Bavaria (and Belgium) you'll like this section.
2. Beer History 101 – Next, we’ll share a brief history of beer from the “beginning of time” to modern day Bavaria, in Southern Germany, including a few surprises.
3. Blue Oak Brewing Company – Finally, we’ll introduce you to our favorite Bay Area craft brewery – Blue Oak Brewing – where founder Alex Porter offers an array of well-crafted beer styles for every taste.
BETO’S BAVARIAN BEER DIARY
Beto Zuniga is a beer expert, enthusiast and connoisseur, and a pretty interesting guy. He and his wife Anne accompanied us on our August 2018 Munich & Bamberg Brewery Tour and he posted his beer journal from this tour on his website, Secret Biere Society.
Beto began brewing after college while working as a research assistant at a biochemistry company in Houston. One of his jobs was to grow yeast, and to extract and purify a particular protein from that yeast. Around this time he started brewing with liquid malt extract. Eventually he joined one of Texas’ largest homebrew clubs (Foam Rangers Homebrew Club) and learned to brew all-grain with a 10-gallon HERMS system (Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash) system that he built himself.
Anne and Beto at Brauerei Grasser in Königsfeld, Germany
He eventually moved to Oregon where he joined one of the oldest homebrew clubs in the nation (Heart of the Valley Homebrewers) and at the encouragement of the club, become a BJCP Certified Judge.
After leaving Oregon, Beto started a journal to track his beer tasting adventures. Whenever he and Anne travel (including trips to Belgium and Germany) they always visit local brewpubs and breweries, and in 2018 he created a website to make it easier to keep track of all of his beer tasting.
Beto and Anne (right) at the Altes Hackerhaus in Munich
Beto now lives in Connecticut and occasionally lectures to an Ethnobotany class at the local college. Ethnobotany is the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious, and other uses. The focus of his lectures is on the impact beer has had on human civilization.
Finally, as an AHA member, each year he sponsors a “Learn to Brew Day” at his house. Learn to Brew Day is an annual AHA national event that takes place on the first Saturday of November.
We’re impressed with Beto’s brewing/beer knowledge, and we think you will be as well if you visit the Secret Biere Society!
BEER HISTORY 101
In the Beginning...
Until recently, historians thought that brewing dated back 5,000-6,000 years to ≈3,000-4,000 B.C., and that brewing originated in the area then known as Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia encompassed an area centered around the Tigris–Euphrates river system in modern day Iraq, and spreading out in all directions into Eastern Syria, Southern Turkey, Northern Kuwait, and Northern Saudi Arabia.
The development of brewing was generally equated to agricultural societies that first learned to grow grain, then how to bake bread, and then eventually stumble upon beer. No one knows for certain, but perhaps some grain was left in a vessel, somehow got wet and was inoculated by wild yeast ultimately resulting in the first beer. Archeological findings indicate that beer production and consumption eventually became wide-spread, and that beer was important enough that the Sumerians, who lived in southern Mesopotamia, even had their own patron Goddess of Brewing named Ninkasi.
Archeological findings also indicate the presence of an important brewing culture in ancient Egypt, occurring roughly at the same time as in Mesopotamia. In Egypt, beer was important enough that the royal court eventually levied taxes on brewing. Further evidence of beer’s importance to the Egyptians comes from beer containers that were buried with the dead and images of brewing and drinking activities on the walls of ancient tombs. The Egyptians also had a Goddess of Brewing and Beer named Tjenenet.
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Egyptian servant pouring beer for her master
But hold everything! Last year, a research team led by Li Liu, Professor of Chinese Archeology at Stanford, published findings that indicate brewing likely dates back to between 9,000 and 12,000 B.C. or about twice as long as previously thought.
Professor Liu’s team analyzed residues from 13,000-year-old stone mortars found in a cave near what is now Haifa, in northern Israel, and discovered evidence of extensive beer brewing. Their findings suggest that beer production actually came before the domestication of grains, and not vice versa as previously believed.
No doubt there will be further discoveries about early brewing, but suffice it to say that beer has held an important place in society throughout human history.
Fast Forward to Europe
During the Roman period, beer consumption became common throughout the empire and is thought to have been introduced to Northern Europe in the first century B.C. Although the Romans conquered most of Northern Europe, the Germans put up a good fight and the Romans were stopped west of the Rhine and south of the Danube River. So they only managed to conquer and inhabit the area roughly equating to modern day Bavaria.
The oldest known evidence of brewing in Germany comes from vessels found near the small town of Kulmbach (in northern Bavaria) that date back to around 800 B.C. Like bread baking, brewing in the early centuries was the work of women, and it wasn’t until sometime in the first millennium that monasteries took up the practice.
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Monk brewer checking the color & clarity of his beer
At this point, brewing transitioned from being home-based toward a more organized and commercial activity. The leaders of the pack were the Benedictine Monks for whom beer was an important part of their diet and had great spiritual value (duh!). It also helped them get through Lent (40-days of fasting leading up to Easter) as it was the only “food” they could consume during this period.
The Monks also understood that beer was popular outside the monastery and that by selling it, they could help support their monastic activities. This led to the birth of Kloisterschenken (taprooms) where Monks sold beer to go.
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Monks enjoying the fruit of their favorite “hobby”
Eventually the nobility of the day figured out that due to the popularity of beer it could be a lucrative source of tax income. As such, many heads of state banned monasteries from selling beer, and without the income, many monasteries could no longer survive.
Our favorite German monasteries (or former monasteries in the case of Weihenstephan) that continue to brew and sell beer are listed below. Please note that we visit, tour, eat and/or drink at all of these on our Munich & Bamberg Brewery Tours. All dates shown are A.D.
BLUE OAK BREWING
Blue Oak Brewing is a 7-barrel brewery located in San Carlos, California (a San Francisco suburb). Blue Oak is fairly unique in the craft beer industry in that instead of focusing on high IBUs, they focus on making well-balanced, true-to-style beers including Belgians, lagers and a wide variety of flavorful ales. In our opinion, Blue Oak is a model for other craft breweries in how to brew beers with character and depth that appeal to the broadest set of beer drinkers.
We recently had a chance to sit down with Alex Porter, founder and brewmaster at Blue Oak Brewing to ask him a few questions.
Alex Porter, founder and brewmaster at Blue Oak Brewing Company
Question: Are you still a "7-barrel" microbrewery as stated on your website?
ALEX: “Yes, we are still a 7-barrel brewery as this is dictated by the size of our brew house. However, we’ve added more fermentation tanks, which increased our overall capacity from ~200 barrels up to 400 barrels per year.”
Question: What got you into brewing and when did you start?
ALEX: “My early experience in fermentation science began while working at a biotechnology company in Palo Alto named Genencor. I first participated in their annual "Brew-Ha-Ha" back in 2001 and I've been hooked ever since. I went on to work at major pharmaceutical companies in process engineering and tech transfer roles, and worked with a variety of fermenters up to 20,000 liters.”
Blue Oak Brewing Company brewery and tasting room
Question: When did you open Blue Oak?
ALEX: “We started Blue Oak in 2014 after I attended a small business course for entrepreneurs through the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in San Francisco. They’re a non-profit organization that has helped thousands of small business owners organize and optimize their businesses, and also help them connect with the SBA and other sources of funding.
We then ran a successful crowd funding campaign in 2015 that helped us get off the ground (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/blue-oak-brewing-company). Unfortunately, we suffered a setback related to our lease, which caused about a ten-month delay. But we had beers on tap through guest taprooms back in November 2016, and were finally able to open our first tasting room in February 2017.”
Flight Time – IIPA, Belgian Dubbel, Stout, and Porter – Something for everybody!
Question: Can we assume that Belgian Ale is your favorite beer style?
ALEX: “My personal beer ethos is Belgian style beers. That region has a broad offering from classic old world open fermented clean ales to the lambic-gueze barrel primary fermented wild sour beers. My personal favorite is the Belgian golden strong ale (http://www.bjcp.org/style/2015/25/25C/belgian-golden-strong-ale/) for its classic flavor profile and the broad variety of the style depending on the region.”
Question: Which of your currently available beers is your favorite?
ALEX: “My favorite beer is always our newest on tap. Unfiltered beers have an amazing ability to change their character over time, from IPAs being the best right out of the carbonation tank, to lagers that have had a couple weeks to lager.”
Question: What are your goals for the next 12-24 months?
ALEX: “Our primary goal for the next 12-24 months is to reach our production capacity. This means more rigorous inventory management, production planning and scheduling, distribution logistics, hiring and training new staff, and achieving a steady state to reach our business goal of becoming self-sustaining.”
Offering everything from a Belgian Quad, to Imperial Stout, IPAs, Sours & German Lager!
Original Gravity Tours
We hope this article inspires you to plan your next beer adventure. We also hope you consider joining one of our Munich & Bamberg Brewery Tours this summer. For a virtual tour, crack open your favorite German beer and check out our Photos, Videos & Reviews page!
We tour the oldest breweries in the world, meet local craft brewers, enjoy the finest beer gardens, follow the Bamberg breweries trail, explore the 1,000 year-old cities of Munich & Bamberg, ferry the Danube River, and more!
ATTN: AHA Members! Save now through Feb. 28th on our July 29th – August 2nd tour! Look for our upcoming Member Deal email, or visit the AHA Website and look for our ad, or send us an email and we’ll share details.
Until next time, as Beto would say, “Great minds drink alike”!
Greetings! I'm a passionate beer and international travel lover. Other than craft beer, I mostly go for German & Belgian beers and if you share the same interests, you may enjoy my blog. Prost!