Greetings Beer & Travel Lovers!
In this article we’ll share a recent conversation with Dario Stieren, founder and brewmaster at Munich Brew Mafia. Munich Brew Mafia is part of the rapidly growing craft beer industry in Germany as a younger generation of brewers and beer drinkers look for creative alternatives to traditional German beer styles. In 2020, there were about 900 craft breweries in Germany, a country with a population of about 84 million (about half the number of craft breweries we have in the U.S., per capita). This is impressive in a country where, until recently, all breweries had been restricted to brewing with just four ingredients (water, grain, hops and yeast) for the past 500 years!
We first met Dario in April 2017 in our article about The Munich Craft Beer Scene. Our paths crossed again in August 2018 when he led a private beer tasting for one of our tour groups. We missed each other in 2019 (the last year before the pandemic) but when life returns to normal you can join us for a private tasting with Dario on one of our Munich & Bamberg Brewery Tours. Until then, sit back, crack open one of your favorite beers and read along with us!
Dario and his partners, Niklas and Alex
Q1: How and when did you first become interested in brewing?
“When I was 16 years old, I was ready to move out and become a brewer but my mother told me to stay in school and go to university. So, I stayed in school and eventually entered a Diplombraumeister (Master Brewer) program at the Technical University München which is closely associated with the Weihenstephan Brewery.”
Q2: What is the name of the school and/or program you completed at Technical University München and when did you graduate?
“There are actually two programs a person can complete:
1. The “big brewer" course which is a bachelor/master class in Brewing & Beverage Technology. This program teaches you how to brew as well as how to physically set up a brewery including the equipment for brewing all the way through to the bottling and packaging process.
2. The “small brewer" course offers a diploma with the degree Diplombraumeister (Brew Master). Both courses are related in content so you can switch from one to the other until a certain point in the program. However, I found that I was more interested in brewing than focusing on equipment so I graduated as a Braumeister in 2016.”
Q3: Did you begin your education at Weihenstephan with the intention of starting your own brewery, or did that idea come later?
“Back in 2011 I was still convinced that Munich Lager was the best beer in the world and that craft beer was not a thing in Germany. Luckily, my perspective changed and I became more and more interested in brewing creative beers at home. This is why I entered the program at Weihenstephan.”
Q4: What inspired you to start Munich Brew Mafia?
“It was a combination of my internship at a small brewery, my homebrewing experience and a side job I took at Tap-House Munich, a brewpub that serves craft beers from around the world. For the second anniversary of the Tap-House in 2015, a colleague and I brewed a small batch of Citra-Pils as a celebration beer. People loved the beer so much they asked us to brew more of it and that was when we decided to start our own brewery.”
The Munich Brew Mafia beer line-up
Q5: How did the name Munich Brew Mafia come about?
“Niklas, my homebrew buddy and partner in Munich Brew Mafia, and I sat together after a shift at the Tap-House and talked about opening our own brewery. We were convinced that the best ideas come while drinking beer and after a few pints it became clear we would open a brewery!
We wanted to be different; underground but still show that we’re from Munich. So, we put the origin of our beers (Munich) and what we do (Brew) in our name. Mafia refers to some kind of underground activities, breaking laws (thinking about brewing techniques that are not written in the Reinheitsgebot) and making fun of the big six breweries that often behave like the Mafia when it comes to not sharing the Munich beer market and Oktoberfest. Put it all together and you get Munich Brew Mafia.”
Q6: Do you brew exclusively within the restrictions of the Reinheitsgebot and achieve various flavors mainly from the creative use of yeasts and hops, or do you include other ingredients in some of your beers?
“Bavaria is the only state in the world where brewers are forced to comply with the Reinheitsgebot (German Purity Law of 1516). The Reinheitsgebot restricts the ingredients that are allowed in brewing beer to just four - water, grain, yeast and hops.
On one hand, this promotes creativity. On the other hand, it restricts you very much as a brewer. Of course, the Mafia interprets laws very generously and for two years now I’ve also brewed some beers with extra ingredients. Fruit beers, sours, vanilla stouts, milkshake IPAs and a gin & tonic inspired bock are some examples. But we can’t write the word “beer” on these bottles. Instead, we must label them as “specialty brews".”
Q7: Are you still using other brewing facilities to brew your beer or have you established your own brewing facilities?
“We’re still “gypsy brewers” using other companies’ brewing facilities, but I brew every batch myself. I’m also employed as a brew master at the Brauereigasthaus Holzhauser, a small brewery outside of Munich that has a brewpub and beer garden. I have four of my own 10-hectoliter tanks (about 1,000 gallons total) at Holzhauser which I use to brew and release up to three new Munich Brew Mafia brews every month plus one of our classics like Don Limone.”
Working on another batch!
Q8: What was your motivation to assume control of Die Bierothek München?
“Bierothek Munich is the flagship store of the Munich Brew Mafia brand and the most exclusive beer shop in Munich with a selection of about 450 different beers. Before the pandemic we had a presence at beer festivals such as Braukunst Live!, the most important craft beer festival in Bavaria, every second weekend on average. Since that was no longer possible, we had to think of new avenues for selling our beer. Bierothek is the perfect solution for showcasing our beers, living and promoting beer culture, and having an event location near the city center.
You can always find “la familia” in the store, have a little chat and enjoy some cold ones (to go right now, of course).”
Dario in front of Die Bierothek München
Q9: Can you describe your various business models for us?
“Today we have a three business models:
1. Distribution of our (criminally good) beers in bottle shops, beverage markets, supermarkets and bars.
2. Conducting events like brewing courses and tastings. At the moment we have to do all our events online.
3. Consulting. We offer a range of consulting services including helping small breweries develop new beer styles and recipes, connecting small brewers to larger breweries, facilitating gypsy brewing arrangements, logistics, filling and even some distribution and marketing. In addition, we do some international consulting; our last job was for Red Bull in Arizona!”
Q10: How has the pandemic impacted your business and how have you survived while beer sales have dropped in Germany over the past year?
“Of course, we were confronted with problems in the beginning. One third of our total sales had been through bars and restaurants which we lost, beer events dropped to zero and a lot of international jobs were cancelled. But the good part about being a small company is the flexibility. We reduced fix costs by firing ourselves and launching an online shop (for the first few months we offered free home delivery). We also developed new online events for companies and staged an online beer festival.”
At Braukunst Live! 2020 in Munich
Q11: You sell a variety of beers from different countries at Bierothek. What are a few of your favorites (other than your own) that you sell in your store? What is it about these beers that you enjoy?
“I love so many beers but there’s a focus in the store on regional beers, both craft and traditional. We have beautiful Franconian Lagers like Mönchsambacher, Bavarian IPAs like Hoppebräu, Yankee & Kraut and Frau Gruber and new-wave Helles styles like those from Tilmans Biere and Isarkindl.
I always enjoy Belgium Lambics like Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen or Trappists beers like La Trappe from Koningshoeven. At Bierothek we also have some exclusive brands from Greece, Netherlands, Lithuania and even Japan!
Every now and then we can get our hands on US brews Like Trillium, Other Half and Equilibrium. It’s interesting how different the hop expressions are in those beers. Maybe U.S. breweries can get other hop varieties or lots than we do in Europe. Yeast strains will do their part as well.”
Some of the 450+ beers waiting for you at Die Bierothek München
Q12: What are a few of your favorite traditional (not craft) German beers such as those from Weihenstephan or other respected breweries, or even from the “big 6” breweries (Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Spaten, Höfbräu, Löwenbräu and Paulaner)?
“In Germany we already had a lot of good beers before craft beer was a thing. That may be one reason why this market is growing slower than in other countries. I’m a big fan of the larger private brands like Schneider Weisse, Schönramer, Gutmann and Andechser. Also, there are many exceptional breweries in the Franconia region (northern Bavaria). Even if I’m brewing more modern beer styles, I still love the Bavarian beer culture with the beer gardens and Oktoberfest.”
Q13: In general, how has the Munich craft beer industry changed during the pandemic?
“Looking back at two years of pandemic I think we came through quite OK. People are still drinking beer at home, and maybe even more craft beer. Most bars and restaurants in Munich belong to the big 6 breweries and people are generally forced to drink whatever is offered there. So, the pandemic has mostly impacted the large breweries. But of course, craft beer spots and restaurants that serve craft beer have suffered and we hope most of them will recover.”
Q14: Is there anything else about the Munich craft beer scene that’s different from other countries, or even other parts within Germany, that might be of interest to craft and homebrewers here in the U.S.?
“Most Munich craft brewers are offering a “Modern Lager". It’s a mixture of traditional and new-wave beers. Our Das Kriminelle Helle is a good example for that - unfiltered, highly drinkable and loaded with a lot of whirlpool hops. We use traditional German hop varieties like Hersbrucker and Hallertau along with newer breeds like Calista and Mistral from France. Other brewers like Tilmans Biere are using US hops for their Lagers.”
Q15: What makes your work special for you?
“It’s the variety that counts! I like the creative work of brewing and the direct contact with customers. Of course, there’s also some administrative work which is not exciting. But at the end of the day, it’s the enjoyment of participating in trade shows, tastings and joint events and celebrating a common love of beer with our customers.”
Dario leading a private tasting for an Original Gravity Tours group
Q16: What is your current favorite of the Munich Brew Mafia beers?
“Right now my favorite beer is the Imperial Don Limone. For our fifth anniversary we made an Imperial Pilsner double dry-hopped with Citra hops and packaged in cans. I love New England style IPAs, hazy IPAs, and double and triple IPAs and brew them regularly. But our Imperial Don Limone is so clean, easily drinkable and just pure pleasure. It’s really something special with undetectable 7.5 % ABV.”
Q17: What is your passion?
“Enjoyment! Good beers and fine food in a cultivated ambience; there couldn't be anything better for me. Even though I like to travel to other countries, the beer garden remains a highlight of my leisure time. A nice snack and, ideally, craft beer make my heart beat faster.”
Q18: Finally, what does beer mean to you?
“It’s a way of life, a philosophy, a creative craft and a sensory diversity at the same time.
And it should also taste good and go down well.”
Yours truly with Dario after a private tasting of his beers
(And no, we're not dancing!)
Original Gravity Tours!
Join one of our Munich & Bamberg Tours and you’ll get to meet Dario for a private tasting of his award-winning craft beers. You’ll also get to visit several traditional breweries like Andechser (founded 1455), Schlenkerla (founded 1678), Schneider Weisse (founded 1872), Weihenstephan (founded 1040) and Weltenburger (founded 1050)!
For a virtual tour, pop open your favorite German beer and check out our Reviews, Photos & Videos page, and check out What Sets Us Apart from other German beer tour companies.
Thank you and Prost!
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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!