Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dear Mom and Dad. Part 1: Happy Mother's Day!

This will be a collection of pictures and thoughts from my time in Germany since February 2014. I chose Wolf Parade - I'll Believe in Anything for the tone because I think it's about exploring the world and taking risks that you normally wouldn't be able to take at home.

I don't really know where to begin with this post. So I'll just let the pictures I took tell the story.

This is the outside of the brewery I worked for, called Riedenburger Brauhaus. They were in the process of expanding so there was a lot of construction going on while I was there. I tried my hardest to be a valuable worker and be a part of the team, which was easy because of how welcoming and helpful all of my co-workers were.

My friend who helped facilitate my stay assured me that my inability to speak German wouldn't be a problem because most of my co-workers spoke English. This was true to a certain extent but not enough to be comfortable. It would be insensitive of me to expect everyone to speak English so initially there were a few awkward moments of me trying and failing miserably to communicate in German. Eventually people figured out it was easier for them to attempt to speak English than to attempt to understand my German. That didn't keep me from trying to speak German on a fairly regular basis.

I spent most of the beginning of my time working in the Fermentation Cellar. It was fun, hard work, and I learned a lot about open fermentation and yeast. After about 2 weeks they put me to work on my own so I could help fill in for people who were on vacation or needed elsewhere. I would work between 9 and 14 hours every day, and it was awesome. I felt useful and productive. A way I hadn't felt in a year.

Riedenburg is small but beautiful. It will be missed. More to come...

Saturday, March 22, 2014


First, the tone...

Last week a co-worker asked me to brew a beer on his homebrewing system. He wanted me to brew my favorite American style and since I don't really have a favorite I thought I would brew a stout, considering there are no stouts here in Bavaria.

Brewing is the same wherever you go. I was amazed that even though my friend speaks very little English and I speak very little German we could still have a good conversation about beer, meeting in the middle. This also translates into large scale brewing for the most part.

It was the first time I had come up with an all grain recipe in almost a year. And he made me come up with it on the spot. I used Bravo and EKG hops with London yeast. It will taste fantastic!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Cycling Tour

This weekend I decided to go on a short cycling tour to Kelheim, about 19 km along the Donau Canal, despite the terrible weather. It may or may not have gone EXACTLY like this:

Unfortunately I didn't meet Trotsky.

It was supposed to rain for part of the day but I decided to go out anyway considering I didn't have much to do. There is a very good brewery in Essing that I thought I would visit on the way home.

I started the ride listening to Run the Jewels. The album is fantastic but WAY too short. So I followed it by Del the Funky Homosapien and then the new Yuck album, which is not bad considering how awesome their debut was. Nice variety.

The ride was quite easy despite the cold. Only once on the way to Kelheim did I have to stop because of the rain, and it wasn't even bad. In fact it was a great time to relax and enjoy a beer.

The scenery was nice and it was really cool to see castles built on the hillsides all around me. And riding along the canal was beautiful.

Eventually I arrived in Kelheim. It's an pretty little town but the weather was becoming worse. After riding around for a few minutes I had to stop and find shelter. Unfortunately the closest place was a bust stop in front of a gas station and a McDonalds. Not exactly nice scenery. So as soon as the rain let up a little bit I took off towards the center of town where I could sit in a coffee shop or restaurant until the sun came out.

It takes courage to go into a shop or restaurant where I cannot speak the language. Bavarians also speak in a very specific dialect that is not taught in Duolingo or books. So even if I know what I want to say in German, my accent mixed with the fact that I'm not even speaking Bavarian German makes communication very difficult. Eventually I just point to what I want. 

So in this restaurant I decided to have a beer because they had Weltenburger Klosterbraueri beer, which is very nice. Three beers and a long chapter in my book later the rain had finally let up. So I promptly left and headed towards Reidenburg.

Unfortunately the rain and the cold made riding back fairly difficult. So I stopped every time there was shelter.

By the time I reached Essing where the brewery I wanted to visit was I was pretty soaked and cold. Even if I was up for having a half liter I was not even presentable to be in a nice restaurant. So I continued past until I reached home.

The cup of tea I had when I got there was unbelievable.

Friday, March 14, 2014

What am I Doing?

The short answer is I'm in Germany working at a friend's small organic brewery. I'll be back in New York in May.

My stay has been completely dominated by Mozart's Requiem.

The long answer is for you, the person who actually reads this, and my parents! I'm about halfway through my stay here in Riedenburg, Germany. With only 3 months in Bavaria and many things to do and see time is going by very quickly. I've seen Munich several times, Berlin, Dachau, Regensburg, Nuremburg, and a little bit of Ingolstadt. All of which are very interesting.

More importantly than the personal enlightenment that comes from traveling in a foreign country is the learning and experience I'm gaining from working in a German organic brewery. There is a law here that prohibits any brewery from making a beer with more than the four essential ingredients in beer: Water, Barley, Hops, and Yeast. It's called the Reinheitsgabot, or German Purity Law. This means that you cannot use any water treatment from sources that are not one of these things. You cannot add spices, clarifying agents, fermentation aids, or sugar. Since talking to my co-workers I have discovered that there are a few exceptions, such as you are allowed to use a malt other than barley, like Spelt, if you use a top fermenting yeast. The rules seem arbitrary and many brewers do not like the restrictions placed upon them. But many also believe it challenges them to make great beer because it's harder to cover up flaws. Only recently were they allowed to dry hop under the law. Americans would go nuts.

Every beer at this brewery uses the decoction method of brewing. This means that during the mash process a portion of the mash is removed, boiled, and put back in with the rest, which raises the overall temperature of the mash which can be necessary for certain flavor complexities. It's a very old and traditional way of brewing and it's not very common in America because it takes such a long time to do. Using this method of brewing means that one beer takes nearly 12 hours to brew, therefore we can only make two batches in one day. German breweries are not expanding as quickly as American breweries so having a large system that only brews a few times a week is very common.

All of the fermentation is done in a cellar that holds 8 open fermenters. Every day I work in this cellar I manually clean a few of them. Once empty they are refilled almost immediately. Brewing has changed a lot in the last 50 years for the Germans so using these old methods of cellaring can be quiet frustrating or them. It's a funny thing: We all want our jobs to be easier but as soon as it becomes too easy the passion can be lost.

That's all for now. I have completely fallen in love with brewing again. Never stop learning.