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Beer in consummate perfection

Although our blog already covers a pretty large bandwidth of highly disparate subjects related to beer, I’ve nevertheless got something entirely new (at least to me) for you. May I introduce: Cerevisium – a beer/sparkling-wine hybrid. Three students of brewing technology at Munich-Weihenstephan University of Applied Science – Donatus, Daniel and Stefan – boldly went where no one went before and founded a start-up. I wanted to find out more, so I simply asked the young entrepreneurs some questions:

What exactly is Cerevisium?

Cerevisium is the first beer that marries the two oldest production specifications for both beer and sparkling wine – a combination of the German Purity Law and the Méthode Traditionnelle. I’ll be pleased to explain precisely what’s involved.

At 54.90 euros a bottle, your product isn’t exactly a bargain, is it? I suspect that’s attributable to the production method – can you describe the amount of work this involves?

The amount of work that goes into every single bottle of Cerevisium is indisputably huge. For us as brewmasters, it begins, of course, with the actual brewing process in the brewhouse, where we go to the limits of the possible (and sometimes even beyond) when combining the three basic ingredients: water, barley malt and hops. With its original gravity of 24°P and a very high glucose content, which accounts for almost 30 % of the fermentable sugar, our Cerevisium has a highly unusual wort composition – which creates the basic precondition for its out-of-the-ordinary taste.

Primary fermentation is the task of a specially selected, bottom-fermenting beer yeast, and the result is our Cerevisium base beer. This is where the oenological part begins, which involves the greatest craft skill requirements – namely the Méthode Traditionnelle.

We top up the base beer with champagne yeast, and additional beer wort freshly brewed specifically for the purpose, in thick-walled bottles, and store these for secondary fermentation and maturation in our almost-two-hundred-years-old vaulted cellar. Simply storing one year’s entire production output takes several weeks, since we stack the bottles using a traditional method, which we adopted following a trip to Champagne. It involves stacking the loose bottles on top of each other by hand to a height of up to two metres, and stabilising them merely by oak battens between the layers. Crowns prevent them from rolling sideways. We then give every bottle at least nine months of maturation time. This period is not only mandatory under statute law for the Méthode Traditionnelle, but also expedient for sensory and technological reasons, since it’s only then that the bitter-tasting yeast trub can be optimally removed from the bottles. For this purpose, we place the matured bottles upside down in oak stands, and vibrate them very gently every day over a period of approximately six weeks, so that the yeast trub collects as a compact mass in the neck of the bottle. The bottles then leave our cellar upside down, and are in a final step disgorged by hand. This involves removing the yeast trub from the bottles, which in conclusion are manually corked, fitted with a wire cage, labelled and designated. To enable us to provide a continuous delivery capability, we already have more than 9,000 bottles stored in our cellar; for a self-financed start-up, of course, that’s a lot of capital tied up.

I hope that gives you a brief insight into why our Cerevisium costs a bit more than a conventionally produced beer that perhaps for visual reasons has been filled in a thick-walled sparkling-wine bottle. At any rate, what we’re doing with the funnel-shaped thick-walled bottles is precisely what they were originally developed for – we work with them in the cellar.

That sounds pretty complex – does something occasionally go wrong?

That is always possible, since the handling of already-filled bottles instead of tanks or casks is an additional workload and also a risk. If as a brewmaster you make a “mistake” here, or the process takes an unforeseen turn, you no longer have an opportunity to correct things. Some bottles in our cellar have involuntarily become long-term projects with an uncertain outcome, since the result after nine months was nowhere near what we were aiming for. Only time will tell if there is going to be an improvement. In the case of top-quality vintage champagne, you often have maturation times of more than eight years, which leads us to hope that maybe even these bottles will eventually turn out to be a success.

Was the idea of this beer around before your time, or are you the first and only ones to produce this type of beer?

The idea of refining a beer using the Méthode Traditionnelle is admittedly not new, and in Belgium, for example, is already proving a big success on the market. The brewers there, however, usually outsource the process of “sparklification” to service providers, who operate with additives that enable the process to be automated, thus increasing the yield and cutting costs. Under the German Purity Law, the whole thing looks a bit more difficult, which is why in Germany we’re the first to take on the challenge of lengthy in-bottle fermentation and maturation, with subsequent disgorgement.

I’ve already heard of about your Cerevisium pralines. Can we look forward to even more new ideas from you?

Yes the pralines are a brilliant collaborative project with Andreas Muschler, an internationally renowned chocolatier from Freising. We always stock the pralines in the cold months from November to about March. This winter, we’ve also developed a limited edition of 30 tasting kits, containing all the delicacies from our website in a gift box.

We’ve got plenty of other ideas, and we love experimenting on a small scale. But we’re not the sort of people to present something we regard as premature when the actual implementation hasn’t yet been 100 % clarified. We’ll let you know when we have anything to report on.

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