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Another sign of beer change in Germany

Look closely at the label for TAPX “Mein Nelson Sauvin” from Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn. Those are hops. And the hops that make TAPX something different aren’t from Germany, but from New Zealand.

In this video Schneider produced to promote the new beer, available in limited quantities in the U.S. (my local store got six of the 750ml bottles), brewmaster Han-Peter Drexler says what’s been mentioned here before. That the Reinheitsgebot needn’t limit German brewers and that change happens slowly when it comes to beer in Germany. If you haven’t clicked on the video yet, go ahead, and at least hang around to get a look at the open fermentation vessels at Schneider. In Brewing With Wheat I try to describe what it’s like to stand in the midst of those tanks.

On his left yeast climbs high in a tank full of wort on its way to being the strong wheat doppelbock called Aventinus. On his right fermentation only recently started on what will be a batch of Schneider Original. A small hole opens in the middle of the yeast blanket, briefly revealing the wort below before closing again. It is alive.

Now you can see for yourself.

As the beer’s name suggests, the hop star is Nelson Sauvin, a cultivar noteworthy because of compounds1 that give it exotic fruit-like and white wine-like flavors; a grapefruit and rhubarb aroma akin to sauvignon blanc wine.

In the video, Drexler is already talking about next year, the next beer. His boss, Georg Schneider IV, is a sixth generation owner and properly respectful of tradition. He’s also committed to change. “The German beer market is deadly boring,” he told Sylvia Kopp in 2008, for a story that appeared in All About Beer magazine. “It is all very much the same. The tendency towards sameness is encouraged, for example, by our domestic beer tests rating beer only by its typicality and flawlessness. Creativity is only acted on in the beer mix category.”

This was about the time his brewery did the collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery called Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse. Most of that first batch was shipped to the United States, with only 200 cases reserved for Germany. When we were in Kelheim that fall there was no Hopfen-Weisse to be found. Now when you visit the brewery restaurant you can order the beer. Small change, but a change.

“If you brew a beer that not everybody likes, you have the wonderful effect that people talk about it,” Schneider said in 2008. And Drexler added, “We’ve got to take people by the hand and lead them to new worlds of taste. Customers, as well as chefs, culinary staff and traders, are searching for innovations.”

The video concludes with Drexler laughing as he explains that TAPX creates a platform for something new every year. He obviously enjoys the thought. Perhaps not in 2012, but surely soon, he won’t have to look beyond Germany for a hop with aromas and flavors previously considered exotic and unhop-like (or should it be un-hop-like or unhoppy? – whatever tells you this isn’t what brewers meant by “hoppy” just a few years ago).

Brewers attending the giant industry trade show Brau Beviale 2011 in Nuremberg earlier this month got a chance to rub and sniff several new hop varieties being developed at the Hop Research Center in Hüll. These cultivars are just ready for their first brewing trials and have many more tests to pass in the field before they end up in any commercially brewed beer. They don’t even have names beyond their designation within the breeding program; for instance 2007/018/013 tastes of tangerine and 2009/001/718 of watermelon, with grapefruit-like notes and also the impression of honey.

It’s going to be hard for the German beer market to remain “deadly boring” with hops like these.

1 3-sulfanyl-4-methylpentan-1-ol and 3-sulfanyl-4-methylpentyl acetate for those of you scoring at home.

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15 Responses to Another sign of beer change in Germany

  1. Joe Stange November 22, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    “my local store got six of the 750ml bottles”

    Did you pull a McLeod and buy all six?

    Incidentally, I was able to order a Hopfen-Weisse at the Schneider Weisses Brauhas in Munich in 2007 and again in 2009 I think. As you can imagine, the handsome beermaids were absolutely thrilled about having to go back and ask about a beer they’d never heard of. But they had it.

    Was also at the brewery in Kelheim in ’07 but did the standard flight and didn’t think to ask about the Hopfen-Weisse.

  2. Stan Hieronymus November 22, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    I bought just one. At $18.99 restraint was not a problem. I have no doubt Harvest Dance is a better “deal.”

  3. Erik November 22, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Will homebrewers be able to get these hops?

  4. Alan November 22, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    If we review the evidence, Mr. McLeod bought 50% of the available stock and then reviewed the ethics of the matter.

  5. Roger A. Baylor November 22, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    I’ve been to Schneider twice for special tours, and the people there are as good as beer people get. Just lovely. The last time was in 2004, and predates the recent creative hoppy outbursts, but I’ll never forget chatting about hops with Herr Drexler in 2003. Informative and a gracious guy.

  6. Steve November 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    “The German beer market is deadly boring,”

    Oh no, here we go — I can’t wait until the BA contingent gets hold of that. Like they needed more ammo to disrespect German beer.

    “At $18.99 restraint was not a problem.”

    Eek — I’ll say. But 750ml? Competing with the wine aisle.

    • Stan Hieronymus November 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

      Steve – Important to remember that the American beer market is deadly boring unless you wander over into the rather small room off to the side.

  7. Stan Hieronymus November 22, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    Erik – Eventually. If you can get Saphir, for instance, then you should be able to get other hops that are released for German hop farmers to grow.

  8. Mike November 23, 2011 at 4:24 am #

    Stan, can I assume you are familiar with the expression “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”? What is it about German beer that is “broken”? I go to Germany several times a year and I have yet to see any pubs in Cologne, Düsseldorf or vast patches of Bavaria that sit empty or near empty. In fact, try going to Zum Ürige any afternoon and see if you can find a spare seat or two.

    The fact that this promotional film is in English tells the full story: the brewery is looking to increase exports to the US. The quote from the German brewery owner to “All About Beer” magazine simply adds evidence to this observation.

    For many Germans (as well as for me), it is the fact that the beer does not change that makes it so attractive.

  9. Steve November 23, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    “…unless you wander over into the rather small room off to the side.”

    Stan — it sounds like you’re talking about the video store of old! 😉

    But seriously, I guess the best fishermen know the right spot to catch fish. Even when I walk in to local groceries around me anymore, the beer selection is far from boring — and all in the same room.

    But I understand your point, grass is always greener I suppose.

  10. Steve November 23, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    “For many Germans (as well as for me), it is the fact that the beer does not change that makes it so attractive.”

    Mike, to me I think it’s the fact that the (majority of) German beer tastes so good when fresh makes it desirable, something that few who have never been to Germany understand.

    They scoff, even call it “deadly boring,” because they have never had a fresh Helles at the Augustiner Keller or a fresh Dunkel at the Hofbräuhaus.

    At least — I hope it’s still as good as I remember and I’m not romanticizing too much. The HB sanctioned pub in Chicago sure had some outstandingly fresh beer a couple years ago, maybe it’s time for a research update.

  11. Mike November 23, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    Steve, I don’t at all disagree with you. I think you make an excellent point. However, there may be more than one reason for this. For example, experimentation is considered one of the most important factors in the US beer geek community. Since the Germans stick with the old-fashioned way, to these geeks, it is “boring.”

    It is also that those who become accustomed to “hugely flavourful” beers find the simple, but delicious German beers somehow underwhelming.

    Having said that, I’m perfectly happy if the beer geeks stay away from Germany – it just means more beer for me!

  12. Stan Hieronymus November 23, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    Don’t want take the time to once again discuss the business aspect of German beer sales. But George Schneider did not say German beer was boring. He was talking about the market, and it is a cold hard fact that beer consumptiion has continued to tumble for how many years now?

    Just my opinion, but there’s room for traditional beers (meaning both “styles” and the way they are brewed) and new flavors (which these – for now, experimental – hops provide). It’s worth remembering that Schneider is the largest wheat beer brewery still “bothering” with open fermentation, decoction, etc.

  13. Steve November 23, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    I don’t know about that context, Stan:

    “The German beer market is deadly boring, It is all very much the same. The tendency towards sameness is encouraged, for example, by our domestic beer tests rating beer only by its typicality and flawlessness. Creativity is only acted on in the beer mix category.”

    Sounds to me like he’s equating the market to the beer.

    But to both your and Mike’s points, I’m feeling torn because I agree with both sides (wishy-washy, or iconoclastic?). How do we have our cake and eat it too? While I’d like to see the German beer culture sustained, I sure don’t want to lose the goodness of the traditional beers that are made.

    The thought that came into my head is how this is so turned upside down in England — they’re losing their Real Ale culture to the light lagers enjoyed by the youth, and the light lagers seem to be what’s “boring” in Germany. Yeah, grass seems to be greener!

  14. Mike November 23, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    Stan, your statement “it is a cold hard fact that beer consumptiion has continued to tumble for how many years now” is not only true of Germany, but virtually everywhere, including the US. It shows just how little effect the micro-brewers are having.

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