Arse-end of nowhere is a good way to describe the Bavarian Forest. During the Cold War, being stuck up against the mostly impenetrable Czech border wasn’t a great for the economy. Not that the area had been prosperous before. Judging by all the “Zimmer Frei” signs, tourism is a big source of revenue. Beautiful countryside is one commodity that isn’t in short supply. The landscape varies from lovely to stunning.
Regener Straße 9,
Tel: 09922 - 84660
Fax: 09922 - 846655
Zwiesel is a small but perfectly-formed town stretched out along a steep valley. Dampfbrauerei is built into a rocky cliff on one of the valley sides. At the moment it looks a bit of a mess due to rebuilding work. We were lucky to get a tour, as the brewery is officially closed to visitors while the Sudhaus is reshaped. They’re glazing one wall so the open fermenters can be observed without fear of infection.
The brewery’s main product is, unsurprisingly given the name, Dampfbier. It’s an amber, top-fermented, lightly-hopped beer. The story is that in the 19th century the region was so poor that could afford neither the ice necessary for bottom-fermentation nor large quantities of hops. Today, when such restrictions no longer apply, they also brew a wide range of bottom-fermenting beers.
As if to emphasise the new possibilities created by the opening of the Czech border, a delegation from Pilsen council arrives just after us. Oh, and the large wooden lagering vats in the beer garden came from Pilsner Urquell. They’re just for show, but do look good.
I ask loads of questions (as usual) but the brewer is showing the Czechs around. We get a standard tour guide. Not great for the type of questions I ask. Stuff like “What’s the pressure in the lagering tanks” gets a blank look in reply from non-technicians. They probably think I’m just being awkward. No, I really am interested in this crap. From the reactions I’ve had so far to the technical brewing details I‘ve posted, I’m not the only one. In fact, I’ve noticed that the more obscure points are the ones that garner the greatest interest.
Where was I? Questions and answers. That’s it. Here's what I found out:
- Mash tun and kettle capacity 82 hl. Annual production 16,000 hl. Beer is only distributed within 30 miles of the brewery, except for Dampfbier which is tributed further.
- The malt comes from Bamberg and Regensburg.
- Boil 1.5 hours. First addition of Hallertauer hop pellets after 20 minutes, 2nd addition after 40 minutes, 3rd addition after 75 minutes. They have a special machine that does this automatically.
- Pitching temperature - top-fermenting 18-20º C, bottom-fermenting 6-8º C. Primary fermentation lasts 7 days. Open fermenters are used.
- The beer is lagered in stainless steel tanks for 5 weeks at 0-2º C. No additional CO2 is added in the lagering tanks.
Jim, smooth-talker that he is, tells our friendly guide Angelica that he likes her hair. She could be his daughter, but he isn’t going to let that get in his way. He turns out to have quite an eye for the ladies as the week progresses. I hope I’m that sprightly when I’m his age (which won’t be all that long.)
At the end of the tour our guide offers us free beer. “Oh no, it’s far too early in the day.” I reply. Like hell I do. It’s never too early for free beer. Or paid-for beer, come to think of it. Not when you’re on holiday.
Dampfbier: amber colour, sweetish with caramel, vanilla and boiled sweets flavours. My score - 54 out of 100. It's a reasonable enough beer, sort of like a sweet Alt.
It’s a nice day, so we sit in the beer garden next to the Urquell vats, bathed in spring sunshine. This is the life. To my surprise, the day manages to get much better. But I’m getting ahead of myself. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out why.