(ALTBRAU / FREIGEIST / DE GARDE COLLABORATION)
Since 2013 AltBrau has been a really fulfilling and educational project. I've had the opportunity to work with some great people and learn from amazing beer industry experts. However... I knew there was an opportunity to go further. I wanted to dip into the international scene and experience brewing in an area of the world with a much longer beer tradition.
In August of 2016 I reached out to Freigeist Bierkulture in Germany. Known for keeping one foot in traditional brewing and the other exploring new methods and flavors, I had admired their work for years. They quickly responded and were interested from the start.
In February 2017 we left for Europe and met up with friends both new and old...
It's been a week since our return to the states and I'm still waiting for everything to sink in. Holy shit what an experience. We'd like to give a huge thanks to our amazing hosts Sebastian Sauer (Freigeist Bierkultur) and Christian Vormann (Vormann Brauerei). I'd also like to thank our fellow collaborators Linsey and Trevor Rogers (De Garde Brewing) and the staff at Craft Beer Corner Coeln for having us.
We currently have two beers sitting in barrels. Both will take 6-12+ months of aging and bottle conditioning before they are ready. We will have more information on these beers closer to their release.
We've summarized some of our trip into a few sections below. Thank you for reading and stay tuned. Cheers.
Brewing at Vormann Brauerei
An hour North-East of Cologne, outside the city of Hagen, exists a small village. In this tiny village lives a man named Christian Vormann. Christian is the 4th generation brewer and owner of Vormann Brauerei. The business was established in 1877 by Christian's Great-Grandfather, the property already having a brewery onsite. Nobody actually knows how long beer has been produced there.
Christian's knowledge, work ethic, and kindness has been invaluable to Sebastian at Freigeist and the relationship they have formed was inspiring.
Vormann uses a unique blend of old methods and modern equipment. The system is gravity fed with grain milled at the highest point in the building, fed into the automated brewhouse on the 2nd floor, then the wort is moved into the fermenters on the first floor, and finally lagered in horizontal tanks in the cellar before bottling.
Coolship Into Barrels
For both beers we utilized a beautiful old copper coolship that was recently installed in a newer building behind the main brewhouse at Vormann. Not having been used in many years, the coolship has found a new life thanks to Freigeist and their experiments.
For our second beer we utilized 5 year old hops from Tettnang. Aged hops impart less aromatics and bitterness than fresh hops, allowing fermentation characteristics from wild bacteria to come forward in the aroma and taste. We added them directly to the coolship and had them make contact with the hot wort as it was pumped in.
After spending the night in coolship and allowing it to be inoculated by wild yeast, the now cooled wort was moved into used red wine barrels from the Mosel region. We did as light of a cleaning as we could so as to preserve the wonderful aroma of the barrels.
We returned the next day and were happy to see primary fermentation had began. Once the fermentation slowed down they barrels were bunged and the process of long-term aging began.
Altbier in Düsseldorf
When you visit very old bars and breweries outside the U.S. you quickly realize the term "Craft Beer" and all the preconceived notions that come with it are a modern creation. The old bars of Düsseldorf, for example, don't follow current trends (serving IPAs, Bourbon Barrel Aged Stouts, and Sours). These bars all serve 1 style of beer (Altbier) and each of them brews their interpretation of it and serves it alongside traditional German food.
Altbier is a cool fermented brown ale that is then lagered (cellared). Each of the three locations we visited had variations on the style. I preferred the darker roasted malt character from Hausbrauerei Zum Schlüssel
Craft Beer Corner Coeln
Our friends from De Garde Brewing joined us on this adventure and so Sebastian saw an opportunity to introduce the German market to some of Trevor and Linsey's beers. The fine folks at Craft Beer Corner Coeln, a brand new beer bar in Cologne, were nice enough to set up an event.
The bar is beautiful and equal parts classic and modern (much like Freigeist and Vormann). The staff are all well trained and very enthusiastic about beer.
Belgian Beer Tour
As we said goodbye to our friends in Germany, we absolutely had to stop by Belgium and visit some of our favorite sour beer producers and famous bars of Brussels. We wouldn't, however, have been able to know our way around without the help of our friend Don Lowman from New Avenues for Youth and their annual rare beer auction Brews for New Avenues.
We had the pleasure of shaking hands with lambic legend Jean Van Roy (Cantillon) at his facility and drank some amazing fruited sours. We also had a great conversation with Armand Debelder (Drie Fonteinen) at their new taproom and barrel room in Beersel. We enjoyed a delicious bottle of 2012 3F Oude Geuze.
Our favorite brewery stop in Belgium was without a doubt Brasserie De La Senne. Cofounder/Brewer Yvan De Baets gave us an excellent tour. Known for their clean fermentations and dry and hoppy beers such as Taras Boulba, We truly admired his process and dedication to making great beers.
We finished our night at Moeder Lambic drinking the infamous Belgian Trappist beer Orval.
Thanks again to everyone who made this possible. We can't wait to try the finished beers.