Celebrating 500 years of Purity laws, Germany's Beer scene is anything but old. In the midst of a growth spurt, stalwart industrial breweries (Radeberger Gruppe, Anheuser-Busch, Bitburger Holding, Oettinger, and Krombacher) continue to thrive but the doors have been swung open by upstart Braumeisters experimenting with local and international beer styles, new flavors and ingredients.
The historic Purity laws from 1516 state that beer must consist of a recipe of water, barley and hops. Yeast was still unknown until Louis Pasteur's discovery some 150 years ago. While they continue to be respected in theory, the envelope is being pushed in some interesting and creative ways now days.
Just how did the Purity laws arise? Five hundred years ago, beer was the drink of the day - not just the night. Why? Because beer was cleaner than the water coming through the local wells and pipes. Babies were given beer when not drinking milk. In the earliest days, beer was not intoxicating! After a while, Germans were demanding more than carbonated soda, so to please the peoples desire for flavor and to cheapen the product, herbs and drugs of all kind were added to the brewages. A nice side effect was, that the imbibers were provided with a sense of euphoria. Belgians put schnapps in their beers. And who are we to judge? Urban legend has it that Coke put cocaine in its colas. To each his own.
According to Beer Sommelier Andrea Seeger: "Although according to German purity law, brewing is limited to the ingredients water, malt, hops and yeast, we can find an immense variety of ways to brew good beer. The brewers have around 170 different varieties of hops and 40 different malts available, and there are nearly 200 different yeast strains. Also the choice of the water used will affect the flavor of the beer. Not to mention the peculiarities during the brewing process. Considering all variants there exist more than 1 million different ways to brew a good beer within the purity law."
Go to Germany and you quickly learn that while the craft beer scene is growing, each state maintains a passionate loyalty to its favorites. Top brands include Becks, Warsteiner, Feldschlösschen, Krombacher, Kölsch, Pils, and Weizenbier. Devotees to each brand and style are convinced that their style and region's beer is king! (For example in Munich the saying is "Kölsch? I piss that beer." And not in a good way. Of course, Kölsch is the beer of choice in Cologne.)
Embraced by young IT men and women who subscribe to the 'maker' movement, craft beers take longer and are not as durable as their industrial brethren. The payoff is the creation of a unique brew that introduces beer lovers to a variety of tastes. Founded in late 2014 by David Schneider, Daniel Johari and Markus Gut craft beer brewery Decker Bier boldly asserts experimentation and please the local market with their new creations.
Although the craft beer scene started in Berlin, it has extended its reach into all areas of the country. Within the last ten years, the number of 1281 (2005) existing breweries rose by 107 to 1388 breweries nationwide. Around 50 percent of these plants are so-called "micro breweries" with an annual output of up to 1000 hectoliters each.
Germany's most southern city, Freiburg is situated on the western edge of the Black Forest and shares borders with France and Switzerland.
Decker Garage, the cities first craft beer pub run by Decker Bier, is down an unmarked path in a hipster corner of the freewheeling college town of Freiburg. A US invention, craft beers are being embraced by the young and the brazen. Added to the list of German Pilsners and Weizenbier are India Pale Ales, Stouts and other non-German brewing styles. Something akin to a revolution is brewing.
At Decker Garage we were treated to a tasting of the top four brews. Here's the scoop:
1: Weizenbier: "Banana Joe" by Decker Bier
Top fermented, this beer is light and flowery with a hint of banana, clove and smoke. Unfiltered, amber colored, wheat beer.
Refreshing, day drinkable.
2: Dry hopped Pils: "ØL" (spoken "oil" - remember the brewerys pub is called "Decker Garage.") by Decker Bier
Unfiltered, yellow in color, this beer was my favorite. Full body with a bit more carbonation, this brew was reminiscent of mandarins. Created with a combination of German and California hops, the brew is twice fermented.
3: IPA: "Dolly" by Braukollektiv
Named for the cloned sheep in Scotland this beer is a clone of German, French and Swiss hops and malts. An Indian Pale Ale and brewed in the Black Forest, the beer is scented with pineapple. The beer was inspired by the English who demand a higher alcohol beer.
4: Amber Lager: "Redneck" by Decker Bier
Roasted malt, rich brown color, very foamy this beer while imparting a deep flavor is easy going enough to be accompanied by a burger, or 'wurst.'
Decker Bier - on twitter @DeckerBier
Tastings on Fridays or by appointment
Biersommelière Andrea Seeger
Joan Gelfand is a member of Bay Area Travel Writers and The National Book Critics Circle. She is a published poet and award winning writer. Joan blogs for the Huffington Post and teaches in San Francisco. http://joangelfand.com