MJ: Some Germans believe that nothing worth calling beer is brewed in any other
country. Even the rest of Germany is sometimes dismissed by Bavarians at
their most conservative. Franz-Josef is rightly proud of his state’s
traditions, but obviously also an outward-looking person. He has worked in
breweries of great renown, but wants to make great beer in the New World.
The training available to brewers in Germany is noted for its thoroughness
and depth. That is a great asset. In Bavaria, the famous university faculty
at Weihenstephan, near Munich, is the more academically oriented, and Doemens
arguably more practical and adventurous. Training in either (or at the VLB
school, in Berlin) produces graduates with an exremely thorough grounding in
brewing, and with an understanding of German techniques and styles. How well
they appreciate the practices of other countries is open to question.
My first tip: however good your education, keep on learning. Be adaptable.
I guess this applies in any job; it certainly does in brewing. German
materials and equipment are widely used elsewhere in the world, but so are
their counterparts from Belgium, the United Kingdom and the United States. In
Germany, most breweries have invested heavily in equipment: in many other
countries, the hardware varies from the space-age to the stone-age. A good
brewer can make great beer on the most improvised equipment. In a small
brewery in North America (to a lesser extent Japan), or Australia, the
frontier spirit survives. The rule is resourcefulness: jacket off, sleeves
up, hands on.
The idea that Germany is the greatest beer land is still accepted by many
older people elsewhere in the world, but this view is not widely held among
younger brewers and consumers. A German brewer will always be welcomed,
accorded initial respect, and asked questions about the beers of his country,
but he will also be expected to produce styles from other countries..
Brewpubs in the German-speaking world often offer just two beers: pale
and dark lagers, usually unfiltered, Perhaps there might be a third, a
top-fermenting wheat beer, or even the odd seasonal speciality. Small
breweries in some countries think nothing of producing ten or a dozen styles,
often extremely well-made.
While many German breweries are dropping minor styles, New World brewers
are adding them. While German brewers are making their beers lighter and
blander, the new generation in North America are seeking a return to
authenticity and tradition. A small brewery cannot compete with Budweiser or
Miller; its job is to service the growing number of consumers who decline to
join the mass-market or have tired of its offerings.
Some of the hoppiest Pilseners I have tasted, and many of the maltiest
Oktoberfest beers are made by American brewpubs or micro-breweries. I have
tasted wonderful American beers inspired by Bamberger Rauchbier, Kölsch,
English Bitter, Scottish Wee Heavy, Finnish Sahti, Russian Stout or India
Pale Ale, for example.
I have met Bavarian brewers whose understanding of some British or
American styles went no further than to accept reluctantly that they were
top-fermented. That is not enough. Germans, Belgians and British visiting the
U.S. have often been keen to show me American brewpubs or microbreweries that
make "bad" beers. Some of these "bad" beers turn out simply to be very
aggressively hopped: American enthusiasts like that (I do, too).. Some, on
the other hand, are very bland. Some are infected. Those wth defects should
not be used to damn the whole movement. The failures are not interesting; the
successes are the ones to be studied. Good beer alone is not enough to make a
successful business, especially if it is a brewpub.
Building his own brewpub may be far from Franz-Josef’s mind at this stage,
but scores have done so. I have met Germans who think that a Bavarian inn,
copied perfectly, down to the last Helles, pretzel and radish, will prove
irresistible to Australians or Americans. I know several cases where it
didn’t.. A half-hearted compromise, or obvious fake, will do even worse.
Before building the perfect copy, ask yourself: "Does this city, town or
neighbourhood need a Bavarian inn." If you think the answer is yes, will the
local people agree? If not, what efforts are you prepared to make to persuade
them? The restaurant industry is intensely competitive in the U.S. You will
have to create word-of-mouth. Good public relations can help, but advertising
is risk, expensive and of limited usefulness.
Authenticity? Yes, but that is not enough, Bavarian food is more filling
than exciting. A thoroughly Bavarian-based menu that is nonetheless more
flavorsome, varied and extensive would be my suggestion. Or forget Bavaria
and find a good chef to creat your own Australian or American beer foods. In
the U.S., Gordon Biersch is a good example of this approach.
The U.S. has far more breweries than any other country and a highly
developed culture of speciality brewing. I would recommend any European
brewer to take a look there before considering any other market. Don’t
restrict yourself to the East Coast. A visit to the Great American Beer
Festival, in October, is essential. So is a trip to the beer capitals of
Seattle and Portland, Oregon.