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A brewery working on the open-source principle

Ever heard of open source? This will mostly be mentioned in connection with software – whenever the source code is released so that it can be used, viewed and upgraded by others. Sounds like a good idea, but you will probably be wondering now at the latest what this sort of information is doing on a craft beer blog?

Well, I can explain. Remember two old mates we had the privilege of interviewing just under three years ago? They managed to “up-brew” themselves to the status of runner-up at the German Hobby Brewer Championships in their Washroom Brewery, premises located in what used to be an animal feed factory in Regensburg. There Sven Wagner and Michael Eberhard still like to experiment with a most varied range of brews. But at present, unfortunately, the Washroom does not see them very often because the two of them, who used to be colleagues, have set up a “joint venture” – freibier.cc – a brewery based on the open-source concept.

Sven and Michael, we already got to know you here on the blog some time ago – but even so would you like to introduce yourselves briefly once again?

Sven Wagner (SW): Hi, I’m Sven Wagner. For quite a long time, I travelled the Krones world as a commissioning engineer for everything from breweries and to the syrup kitchen, most recently as an employee of Syskron. In the meantime, I’ve been working as a freelancer. As a sideline, Michael and I set up freibier.cc and under this name brew beer together.

Michael Eberhard (ME): Hi, my name is Michael Eberhard. I have been a member of the Krones family for almost 14 years now, first working for Krones AG, then for Syskron GmbH and since the beginning of this year for Triacos GmbH where I am part of the team responsible for selling SAP digitalisation solutions. Sven and I have known each other since we were students at Weihenstephan, we spent a lot of time in South Africa within the framework of a Krones project, that was in 2009 or thereabouts. And while we were both working for Syskron, we started our hobby brewery, the Washroom, in late 2016 more or less by accident, and subsequently expanded it.

I happen to recall that for you the Washroom has always been a place where you could enjoy your favourite passion – brewing. Now has this hobby grown into something bigger?

SW: We still separate hobby from work, even though our hobby was instrumental in setting up a commercial brewery. But you can definitely say that our hobby, and the abundant feedback we got from our friends, led us to launch freibier.cc.

Setting up your brewery, how did this come about?

SW: We’d already been toying with the idea of brewing beer for sale for quite a while. But one thing was clear: the Washroom Brewery would always remain our hobby. We’ve got one rule in the Washroom – not even a single litre of the beer we make there will ever be sold. We’ve often brewed beer there together with friends for birthdays, weddings and so on, but never taken a cent for it. We want our hobby to remain our hobby, we don’t want to worry about accounts and cost-efficiency. So obviously we had to find a different setting for our brewery. But we didn’t have a clue what to call it. Then last year our friend Tobi wanted to organise a developer conference about a Linux operating system in Regensburg. He had already brewed some beers together with us before and asked us whether we could brew a beer for this conference in our Washroom. Spontaneously, we said “Yes”. A few days later, he dropped the ultimately determinant idea on us: that the recipe for this beer had to be released under a free license, right in line with the conference’s spirit. And this was exactly the moment when the idea for freibier.cc was born. So the original plan was to present our beer at this conference, but unfortunately the year 2020 had its own ideas about this and the event was cancelled.

You’ve retained the principle of beers under a free license. On your website, you’re meanwhile publishing the recipes for your brews at regular intervals, is that right?

SW: Yes, exactly. As we’ve mentioned, it all began with the idea of brewing beer under a free license for a Linux conference. Since I have myself been using Linux and free software for more than 20 years now, I firmly believe in open-source thinking. And in the hobby brewer scene, we likewise deal frankly and openly with each other, nobody keeps his ideas to himself. At hobby brewer events, we exchange recipes, give valuable tips or help each other with problems. Since we log our brews for purposes of batch tracking anyway, publication does not entail significantly more work.

What’s behind the name freibier.cc?

SW: As Richard Stallmann – the procreator and pioneer of free software – once put it: you should here think of free like in free speech, not like in free beer. You see, our beer is not going to be available free of charge but everyone shall be free to brew to our recipes – and even to improve on them. People from the open-source community like to associate the “CC” at the end with the Creative Commons licenses: that’s a license system granting users many rights. Since it is impossible in Germany to obtain a license for recipes, we’ve only got two options: not to publish them at all, or to release them into the public domain. So now our recipes are under what is called the CC0 license, which does not leave any rights whatsoever to us. At the same time, we also understand the “frei” in our name to mean we are free in coming up with new recipes. For example, we brew beers in conformity with the German Purity Law, but also alcoholic malt-based drinks with divergent ingredients. We associate all of these aspects with the name freibier.cc.

Apart from recipes, what else will readers find on your website?

SW: Besides the recipes for our beers, we likewise publish articles on how we operate, we suggest what sort of meal you may want to serve together with our beers, and of course we publish any news to do with us and our beers.

ME: For us, our products definitely come first. We want to create exciting, top-quality beers (or also “alcoholic malt-based drinks/foods in our own distinctive style”). We want our website to offer our customers all the information they need, and maximally easy and barrier-free access to that information. In addition, as Sven mentioned earlier, there is also our blog where we write about things that in our view are an interesting supplement. And last but not least there’s a minimalistic shop as well. At present, it only offers to send our customers the beers they want against payment in advance. Oh yes, and there’s a small section “Who we are”. But as we’ve already pointed out: our beers and our customers are way more important to us than a dazzling website.

A website or a blog, and above all publication of your recipes, will invariably encourage people to tell you their views about it all. Is mutual feedback within the community important to you?

SW: Yes, exchanging views is important. We also appreciate any kind of critical feedback, like when there is something about our beers that people don’t like. Especially feedback from fellow brewers but also from beer-drinkers – I mean, at the end of the day we want them to say: “That beer tastes great!”

And what about your experience with your local craft beer scene in Regensburg?

SW: Thanks to Krones, there are very many home brewers in Regensburg, and likewise very many hobby brewers who have completed an apprenticeship or a degree course on the subject. There is also a home brewer group at Krones itself where people exchange their experiences and also pass on ingredients, like when someone’s got hold of a fabulous yeast or a rare hop variety. People like to visit each other for brewing beer together and for tasting the results, of course. Unfortunately, last year put a heavy damper on that, and we hope that this sort of normal exchange will soon be possible again.

ME: And there’s a brilliant home brewer scene in Regensburg, above and beyond those who are drawn to brewing by reason of their profession. It is really quite impressive to see with how much energy and meticulous attention to detail some home brewers go about setting up their kit and continually improving on it, and the sheer curiosity with which home brewers are prepared to give new raw materials and new (or old) processes a try.

What are the next targets you have set yourselves with freibier.cc?

SW: We would like to upgrade traceability of our beers even further. At present, we don’t have a “Comment” function, and the website is a relatively unidirectional communication medium. But we have in fact already received some feedback on our blog articles by email, which we then use as input for further articles. In this way, we already reach some people in our target group and also sell some of our beer through this channel. Generally, we want the website and the blog to be the central point of contact for our customers.

ME: Actually, our dream is to achieve complete transparency. But we still have a long way to go before we get there. Generally, our expectations weren’t that high when we started. Our target has always been small, we wanted to get going flexibly, without a big business plan and with minimum capital investment. In actual fact, start-up was planned for early 2020 but the coronavirus put a stop to that. Now, thanks to a small push from outside, we started with the two beer types “Alfons Crowley Ingwer Ale” (Alfons Crowley Ginger Ale) and “Porter Praetoria” in late 2020. We have been pleasantly surprised by how well the beer was accepted on the market. However, January and February were difficult months for us, and I bet not only for us. We’re currently planning the next brews, including a new beer type. Our most cherished dream has always been a brewery of our own, but for the time being we will continue brewing on our friends’ premises…

And last but not least I would like to know how many brews you’ve meanwhile created, and which of these are your favourites? 😊

SW: It should have been around 40 brews, I guess. My favourite is our Alfons Crowley Ingwer Ale (Alfons Crowley Ginger Ale), which we’re meanwhile offering for sale.

ME: Yes, depending on the year it’s about 10-14 brews per year. This year the figure was well below that. Out of the approximately 40 brews in total, the Alfons, by the way, was the only beer that we brewed more than once to roughly the same recipe (stress on “roughly” here because strictly speaking each of the Alfons Crowley brews was a one-off, too).


Thank you very much for your time! In my view, that all sounds like a really innovative concept. I wish you every success in your further endeavours with freibier.cc.

And if any among you, dear readers, now feels in definite need of a beer, you can have a look at freibier.cc and order the beers you fancy. If you happen to live in or around Regensburg, you can also drop in at Edeka Mehringer in Nittendorf or at the Bierothek in the old city centre. The Bierothek, by the way, is quite new in Regensburg – and since we’re on the subject: it’s possible that you will soon find out more here on the blog about the (relatively) new craft beer paradise in Regensburg. So “Cheers”! Don’t miss my next blog!

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