Homebrewing is all the rage: Following the increasing popularity of craft beer, the homebrewing wave has now spilled over to Germany. However, unlike in English-speaking countries, where brewing kits and the necessary equipment and ingredients have been available in larger supermarkets for years, homebrewers in Germany have to rely on special providers or online shops. But that is not a major impediment – anyone who wants to brew their own beer can. We provide some tips to help you get your hobby off to a successful start.
Brewing beer is not a trivial matter, but it is definitely something that even beginners can do at home. Mashing, lautering, boiling the wort and fermentation can all be done in your cellar or kitchen at home.
How to get started
There are basically two options: If you are a beginner without any prior knowledge, it is best to start with a brewing kit. It contains everything you need to brew your first beer, all the mashing, lautering and fermenting equipment as well as the ingredients – malt, hops and yeast. Depending on the product, the malt comes as a liquid extract, powder or pre-ground. Those who are more adventurous or have some experience can put together everything they need by themselves. Various homebrewing shops offer a wide range of products and instruction books.
A creative hobby
Steffen Falk from BESTMALZ’s technical support may be a trained master brewer, but he started off brewing at home during his apprenticeship after discovering homebrewing kits for the first time in a supermarket on a trip to New Zealand, back in the days when they were completely unknown in Germany. He recommends: “Your first beer is more likely to be a success if you use a kit, and you should keep to the instructions to make sure you don’t forget a step.” Now a professional brewer, he naturally works with equipment he has put together himself and experiments with different recipes: “The appeal for me is trying out beers that do not necessarily have to comply with the German purity law.”
The garage brewers from Seven Mountain Brewery in Königswinter chose a different approach: Bianca and Stefan Hoppe, together with their neighbors Günther Hilger and Eugen Rötzel, first took part in a brewing course before they started making their own beer: “We basically brew everything there is and try out all kinds of beer. Around once a month, we meet and agree on a common brew. Sometimes one of us starts our own in between. It’s a great hobby that the four of us share.” And they have made quite a success of it! Last year, they spontaneously took part in BESTMALZ’s Best Brew Challenge – and ended up winning two prizes.
What can go wrong
Brewing can be a sticky business because, as we know from experience, something always spills or boils over. Steffen Falk and the Hoppes agree that fastidious cleanliness is a must! If residue gets left in the containers, the beer can quickly go off and turn sour. Then the whole effort and weeks of waiting are all for nothing. It’s important to concentrate on the task at hand, and beginners in particular should keep meticulously to the recipe and instructions so that nothing goes wrong. Time and patience are important ingredients. After all, everything takes longer the first time round. But even experienced brewers can mess up: “My worst beer was a whey beer,” Steffen Falk reports. “I had read up about historic brewing methods and found out that after the Second World War, when barley and wheat were scarce, people tried to make beer with other starches, such as whey. I used whey powder, which was probably a mistake. The beer tasted of cheese and I had to pour it all away.”
What else should home brewers bear in mind?
It may not be the first thing you think of, but alcohol is subject to tax in Germany! The good news is that making up to 200 liters per year and household for your own consumption are tax-free. However, you still have to register it, not at the tax and revenue office, but at customs. You can find all you need to know straight from the horse’s mouth here: www.zoll.de (in German only).
On the subject of rules, Germany’s purity law specifying that beer must be made from only water, hops, malt and yeast does not apply to private brewing. That means that if you want, you can experiment to your heart’s content with additional aromas, like Bianca Hoppe did: She won the creativity prize at the Best Brew Challenge 2016 for her “Oha!”, a dark ale enhanced with elderflower and orange peel. What gave her the idea of this combination of aromas? “I like to use things that are in front of my nose, such as herbs and fruit from our garden. I also particularly like red beer and ales. I picked some things from the garden and brewed them as tea to start with to find out which aromas go together. In the end I decided on elderflower and orange, which goes well with the red color.”
Has this inspired you to brew your own beer? You can order almost the whole BESTMALZ range of malts in small amounts and even ground, as well as the necessary accessories and other ingredients from www.amihopfen.de. The Hopfenhelden (hops heroes) offer instructions for home brewing, and we recommend homebrewtalk, a forum where you can swap your experience with other home brewers. Have fun!