Greetings Beer & Travel Lovers!
Last month we took a look at Day 3 of our Munich & Bamberg Tour when we visit two breweries and ferry the Danube in Kelheim, Germany. This month we head in a different direction and take a look at Munich’s emerging craft beer scene.
Déjà Vu All Over Again?
Americans tend to take our craft beers for granted. After all, the U.S. craft beer industry has been around for more than 35 years since Sierra Nevada Brewing opened its doors in 1980. Today there are said to be more than 5,000 craft breweries in the U.S.
And creativity knows few bounds in the U.S. with all sorts of ingredients being added to craft beers to produce a variety of complimentary flavors. The result is offerings such as “Coffee & Cigarettes Smoked Porter” (Cellarmaker), “Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout” (Great Divide), and “Electric Peel Grapefruit IPA” (Magic Hat).
In Germany, however, it’s a very different story. Due to the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 (the Purity Law which originated in Bavaria) beer has been brewed pretty much the same way for the past 500 years. The Purity Law states that only water, hops, malt and yeast can be used to brew beer. However, the Germans are taking a page from our book as evidenced by the emerging craft beer scene over there.
According to Bloomberg News, “the number of micro-breweries in Germany has increased by 37% in the past decade (2005-2015)”, but “their output represents less than 1 percent of Germany’s total beer production.” By contrast, according to the U.S. Brewers Association, in the U.S. craft beer represented 16% of all beer sales in 2015 (see chart below).
But the writing is on the wall, and while the large German breweries haven’t publicly shown much interest to-date, some American craft brewers are getting into this nascent market while it’s still young. Stone Brewing, for example, opened a brewery in Berlin in June 2106 reflecting the perceived growth opportunity for craft beer in Germany (and the rest of the EU).
If Only It Was That Simple
Craft brewing in Bavaria is different than the rest of Germany in that Bavaria rigorously enforces the Reinheitsgebot. Bavarian authorities allow zero leeway for craft brewers in Bavaria to add anything to their beer besides the 4 basic ingredients stipulated in the law.
By contrast, in most other German states a brewer can request permission from the Reinheitsgebot authorities to brew and market beer with ingredients other than just water, hops, malt and yeast. While permission is generally granted, the resulting product cannot be labeled “beer”.
On top of that, being part of the European Union, Germany and must follow its conventions regarding cross-border trade. Therefore, if a beer is brewed in another country where its allowed to be called beer, regardless of the ingredients, then it can be imported and sold as "beer" in all German states, including in Bavaria.
Most German brewers, including craft brewers support the Reinheitsgebot, but the craft brewing industry would like to see a change in the law to allow for natural ingredients to be used in brewing. They can point to their neighbors in Belgium as a country with a proud tradition of producing natural, yet very creative, interesting and popular beers.
Introducing Munich’s “Gypsy Brewers”
To get a feel for the Munich craft beer scene, we spoke with four small craft brewers to learn how they see things on the ground. And when we say “small”, we mean small:
The cool thing about these craft/gypsy brewers is that they represent the cutting edge of Munich craft brewing, much like Sierra Nevada did in the U.S. back in the 80’s. So speaking with these brewers is like traveling back time!
Located in Munich, Hopfmeister was founded by Marc Gallo in 2014 and is a bit unique in that Marc doesn’t have a traditional brewing background. Instead, he was a graphic designer by trade who enjoyed craft beer and wanted to apply his creative skills to brewing and marketing his own beer.
Marc currently bottles four “Always” beers (available year-round):
Marc also produces seasonal beers most of which are collaboratively brewed outside of Bavaria to skirt the Reinheitsgebot. His current seasonal selection includes two that would be right at home in the U.S.:
Located about 20 miles northeast of Munich in Freising, Isarkindl was founded in 2014 by Simon Klur and Xaver Amler, ages 27 and 29. Simon and Xaver both graduated from the Brewing and Beverage Technology program at the renowned Weihenstephan Technical University, which is also in Freising.
Isarkindl currently bottles two year-round beers:
We asked Simon if the large German breweries (e.g., Bitburger, Paulaner, Spaten, etc.) have shown any interest in the craft beer market and he echoed the sentiment of others saying that they haven’t shown much interest to-date.
One of the few “large” breweries being creative is Schneider Weisse in Kelheim, which, in collaboration with the Brooklyn Brewery, and in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, created Meine Hopfenweisse. Meine Hopfenweisse is a relatively hoppy, strong wheat beer (8.2% ABV, 40 IBU) that is a creative departure from traditional Bavarian wheat beers.
MUNICH BREW MAFIA
Located in Munich and founded in 2016 by Dario Stieren and Niklas Zerhoch, Munich Brew Mafia has come on the scene very quickly. They currently offer two year-round beers, both of which are made in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot.
Dario, age 27, is also graduate of the Weihenstephan Technical University, and he and Niklas both find plenty to keep them busy. When they’re not brewing, bottling, marketing, or any one of the many things associated with their business they also work at the Tap-House which is one of the best places in Munich to find a very wide selection of domestic and imported craft beers.
Dario and Niklas have two additional year-round beers coming – a Porter and a Pale Ale. And like others, they’ve brewed collaboration beers outside of Bavaria including a Belgian-style Kölsch brewed in Naples, Italy that included lavender (definitely not Reinheitsgebot-friendly!). They have plans to open a tasting room, but for the time being you can find Munich Brew Mafia in select bars and restaurants throughout Munich and Germany, including the Tap-House.
Located in Munich, Tilmans Biere was founded in 2014 by Tilman Ludwig and he sold his first beer that same year. Like several of the others, Tilman is also a graduate of the Weihenstephan Technical University and he became interested in craft beer while studying at the TU through a couple student friends from America.
Today, Tilmans Bier offers 4 year-round beers:
To give you a sense for the seriousness with which the Reinheitsgebot authorities take their responsibilities, earlier this year Tilman brewed and bottled a couple specialty beers (including an oyster Stout) and printed on the label “Not a Beer”. Within 24 hours, he was contacted by the authorities who ordered him to pull the beer from the shelves. He was fortunate that he wasn’t also fined.
Original Gravity Tours
We think you’ll agree that Munich’s craft beer scene would be fun to explore. And one of the beauties of visiting Munich is that on the same day you can visit the oldest brewery in the world (Weihenstephaner, founded 1040) as well as one of the newest breweries!
If you’re able to join one of our Munich & Bamberg Tours this summer, we’ll introduce you to the old and new beer scenes and you’ll come home with some great experiences under your belt. But if that’s not possible, please consider sharing this newsletter with your beer-lover friends and following us on Facebook.
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!