GERMANS GET CRAFTY
The craft brewing revolution has gained such irresistible momentum that even the notoriously inflexible Germans have thrown up their hands and admitted the long-beards are on to something.
“Bier Professor” Dominic Dighton likes to think the Bavarians were the first craft brewers and he is probably right. Dighton has been a player in Australia’s German beer scene for many years. Sydney residents and visitors to The Rocks will be familiar with the iconic Lowenbrau Keller, where he has worked with founder John Szangolies for more than two decades. The keller has been serving pork knuckles and German beers since 1976. Back in the dark ages — before there was anything decent to drink in this country (aside from Coopers) — it was one of the few establishments where you could find interesting brews.
The Bavarian lagers were a tasty alternative to the slop served everywhere else, but the weissbiers (wheat beers), rauchbier (smoked beer) and dunkels were often people’s first radical break from the stifling monoculture of local brewing.
“I believe the success we have had with premium imported beer has helped clear the way to encourage the craft beer businesses to take the plunges we have,” Dighton says. “We helped people realise there was beer with more flavour and integrity than some of the humdrum stuff, but obviously the US market has led the way with contemporary craft beers.”
In recent times the local German beer business has expanded at a great rate. The first Bavarian Bier Cafe opened on Manly wharf in the mid-2000s and now has outlets across town, up in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast. Melbourne hasn’t been ignored either. The Munich Brauhaus opened down at South Wharf a few years back (a stylish, low-key extension of South Bank) and the 1000-seat bier hall has become something of a destination.
There are plans to double the number of cafes and put a Munich Brauhaus in Brisbane, and Lowenbrau Keller in The Rocks has rebranded under that name.
Bavarians are considered some of the world’s great brewers. Germans, with their reinheitsgebot (beer purity laws), set the standards for those craft brewers who wanted to get away from thin factory lagers and back to full malt, healthily hopped drinking. It is then something of a landmark moment in the evolution of drinking to find the Bavarians admitting they have been left behind and need to catch up with the new world.
It was the Germans who introduced brewing to America, but now we have come full circle, with the Bavarians planning to serve an American pale ale as part of a craft beer range in all establishments.
The Australian business has introduced four locally made craft beers into its establishments. Future plans include the possible purchase of a brewery and the installation of small breweries into the cafes.
“We are trying to appeal to a broader market,” Dighton says. “We are still concentrating on our Bavarian beers, but we are introducing some locally produced craft beer, some of it with German heritage, some not.
“In some ways the Bavarian beer scene is slightly restricted. It is beautiful weisse beers, great helles styles, malt accentuated beers and regional beers like Kolsch. Our customers are asking for more and with an injection of cash [under the new owners] it seemed like a logical step to brew our own. We have come up with four beers and so far the response has been good.”
While their Butcher’s Bride Pale Ale is an admission American pale ales now rule the world, the Germans have shown some patriotism with a wheat beer that uses a traditional yeast, and a Munich lager that is unfiltered and unpasteurised.
There is also a low-carb beer for the Lycra set.