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A working prince who keeps a royal head on his beer

Perhaps because our Civil War was so early, royals have not played as big a part in our brewing industry as they have elsewhere. A king without a head can hardly enjoy a pint, and the restoration seems to have done less for breweries than for theatres.

Our neighbours in Scotland, of course, still have the brewery of Traquair in its Stuart castle.

As the people who granted licences to brew, aristocrats in several other countries sometimes went into the business themselves: Budweis and Munich are just two of the several cities with former "royal court" breweries. Or, as the owners of castles, aristocrats had their own home breweries along with bakeries, butcheries and kitchens.

Germany has breweries owned by the royal families Furstenberg, Thurn and Taxis, and Witteisbach. The latter family, the dynasty of Bavaria (with links to the Stuarts), is represented by the most extrovert of noble brewers, Prince Luitpold.

Even the most vehement republican (and I suppose I am a relatively mild one) would find it hard to cross swords with Prince Luitpold. He is known in Britain for his Kaltenberg "diet Pils" but in Germany for much more interesting brews, and he is a great propagandist, not only for his own manifold efforts but also for the Purity Law and for beer as one of life's pleasures.

Hamlet From Munich, it is a journey of only 30 miles, in a westerly direction, to the village of Geltendorf and the nearby hamlet of Kaltenberg ("Celtic Hill").

Its name suggests that Kaltenberg began as a Celtic settlement; in 1179 the hamlet was a monastic property; and in the 1200s a castle was built on the hill by Duke Rudolph of Bavaria.

Castles on this site were destroyed several times and rebuilt, and passed variously between religious, royal and secular hands. The present castle was built in 1670 and remodelled in neo-Gothic style around 1848.

Some of its later features were influenced by the nearby Neuschwanstein Castle, built by "Mad" King Ludwig II as a grand gesture at a time when Bavaria was being drawn into a unified Germany.

Neuschwanstein, partly modeled on scenes from Wagner, was subsequently an inspiration to Walt Disney. The architect of Neuschwanstein had an artist brother who lived at Kaltenberg.

Like any big house, Kaltenberg would always have had a brewery, but in the late 1800s it opened a tavern, and 1872 began to make beer for commercial sale.

The royal family Wittelsbach, which governed Bavaria from 1180 to World War I, has been deeply immersed in beer. Notes from 1260 record that Duke Ludwig had "a fine brewery" in his house The family's members have included Wilhelm IV, who ensured at the time of the Reformation that Bavaria remained Roman Catholic - and established the Beer Purity Law in 1516; Duke Albrecht, credited with establishing a Hofbrauhaus (Royal Court Brewery) and later Wilhelm V, cited as the founder of the present Hofbranhaus in 1859; and the Prince (later King Ludwig I) whose marriage in 1810 to Princess Theresia inspired the Munich Oktoberfest.

In a republic, Prince Luitpold clearly believes that royals should work for a living, and he is one of the most energetic of Germany's brewers.

The present Prince Luitpold, born in 1951, took over the Kaltenberg brewery in 1976. In a republic, Prince Luitpold clearly believes that royals should work for a living, and he is one of the most energetic of Germany's brewers. When he took over the brewery, he quickiy decided that it should haveaspeciality The range included a dark lager, and the Prince decided to develop that product. He refined it for two or three years, increasing the original gravity from 11.5 to 13.2-3 Plato, introducing krausening - mixing fermenting wort with the "green beer " - and dry hopping.

The beer is made from three malts, including an aromatic Belgian type; with triple decoction; and hopped three times in the kettle with Hallertau-Hersbruck and Tettnang. A yeast from the Weihenstephanbrewing school in Munich is used.

The dry hops are Tettnang. German brewers are often not keen on dry hopping, for fear of introducing oxidation or infection. Prince Luitpold immerses his dry hops in boiling water before adding them to the lagering vessel. Lagering is for five to six weeks.

The beer, called Konig Ludwig Dunkel, has a dense head, a tawny-to-dark colour of 40 EBC, a medium body, and 24-26 units of bitterness. It is intended to have a full flavour without being too full-bodied or sweet. To this end, it is quite well attenuated, to a fermentation of 79 per cent rather that the 70-65 of some dark lagers.

It has a fluffily malty palate, becoming rounded, and developing toward a dryish, coffee-with-figs, finish. The beer is filtered, but not pasteurised.

Prince Luitpold started with a brewhouse capable of making 25,000 hectolitres a year, and can now produce 85,000, with plans to expand to 120,000. This has been achieved without moving the brewhouse from the main fabric of the castle or the cellars from under the building and its courtyard.

The brewhouse still looks small and neat, in its copper and its pale-blue tiling. Because the castle is set into a steep hillside, the cellars are effectively caves, like those in which lager beers were first matured, They are reached by a long, steep, spiral staircase cut into the stone.

The brewery still has several dozen wooden lagering vessels, 50-hectolitre barrels, some of which are occasionally used for special beers. All but about 2 or 3 per cent of the Kaltenberg brewery' s output is the dark lager.

Kaltenberg owns a second, larger brewery at the nearby town of Furstenfeldbruck, making golden lagers, including the "diet Pils," and wheat beers.

The castle itself has a restaurant, the Brau Stuberl, a tavern called the Ritter Schwemme, and a beer garden that can accommodate 2,000 people.

On draught, the beer garden serves only dark beers: the Konig Ludwig Dunkel; during Lent, a dryish, but rich and malty, Ritter Bock; and a Dunkles Weissbier with a lightish, sherberty, but spicy palate.

"At first, some people were a bit grumpy about all the draught being dark, but it soon became something special," the Prince once told me. "People would say, 'that place is famous for its dark beer.' It was a way of making my dark beer famous." Because his principal beers are not made in Munich, the Prince is not permitted to offer them at that city's Oktoberfest. As an alternative attraction, earlier in the year, he began in the late 1970s to arrange annual jousting tournaments in a clearing in the grouids of the castle. The beer served is Konig Ludwig Dunkel.

There are now seven performances of the jousting each year, spread over three weekends in July.

The show is presented to a high level of professionalism, but with little to detract from the atmosphere set by the castle and its wooded grounds. The jousters, who normally work in circuses or as film stunt men, are skilled horsemen who do not mind being dismounted at high speed.

Their encounters are based on the rules of tournaments in the days of horseback warfare. In addition to the half-dozen jousters, each representing European countries, along with "Saladin" and a "Black Knight," there are brass and drum bands, marchers, jugglers, falconers, street musicians, a cast of about 1,000 There are also ox and pig-roasts, bakers, food vendors and 60 or 70 craft stalls, in unadorned huts of wood, straw and tile. As the drums begin to beat, and oxen to sizzle, the vendors and mummers to ply their trade, and the crowds to gather over the bare earth and straw, it is not difficult to imagine the atmosphere on the eve of medieval battle.

When I attended, this July, I needed a beer to calm my nerves. Prince Luitpold kept his head.

Published Online: SEPT 2, 1998
Published in Print: NOV 1, 1992
In: What's Brewing

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