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Brewing in the washroom – successfully

Two colleagues participated in the German Championship of Hobby Brewers and it was quite exciting. But I do not want to reveal too much – I asked them about the competition and their plans:

Who are you, and how did you come to be brewers?

Sven Wagner (SW): My name is Sven Wagner. I’ve been working in the Krones environment since 2002, as a Botec commissioning engineer for everything conceivable in the process section, from breweries to the syrup kitchen. I’ve been working for Syskron since August 2016. I’m a qualified brewer and maltster, and a graduate brewmaster.

Michael Eberhard (ME): Sven and I have known each other since we were students at Weihenstephan. After being awarded my doctorate in 2006, I joined Krones, and since then I’ve likewise been working in the field of digitalisation. I’ve been with Syskron since 2016, and I’m meanwhile responsible for Business Consulting.

So you got to know each other through your enthusiasm for brewing. When did you brew together privately for the first time? And was there ever a specific plan to tackle a “major” project together, or did things just happen that way?

ME: Up to the beginning of last year, our shared experience was indeed restricted to tasting beers. Nor was there any specific plan for a shared brewing project. That came about spontaneously with the Washroom Brewery.

What’s the story behind the “Washroom Brewery”?

SW: At the end of the year before last, I was looking for a dry storeroom. When I went to inspect an offer, Michael came with me. It was the washroom of the former animal feed factory in Regensburg Harbour. When we were standing in the completely tiled room, with its walled-off shower basin, Michael commented: “This isn’t a storeroom, this is a brewery.” Within a few short days, everything had been settled with our life partners and the landlord. We then acquired the requisite equipment and started up the Washroom Brewery. One of our friends designed our brewery logo, based on the lettering on the washroom’s door.

Since then, you must have brewed quite a few beers. Do you have a fixed repertoire of “classics” that you brew again and again, or do you prefer trying out something new?

SW: With one exception, we’ve so far not brewed any of our beers twice. And even the two Wies beers (Wies is the term for an unfiltered Kölsch that hasn’t been brewed within sight of Cologne Cathedral) were significantly different. In the last eighteen months, we’ve brewed a good 20 beers. The only thing they had in common was that they were all top-fermented. Otherwise, they included not only various ales, but also some out-of-the-ordinary types like Basmati Perle (50 % basmati rice, hopped solely with Hallertauer Perle).

You recently entered the German Hobby Brewer Championships and didn’t do at all badly. Can you explain to our readers how the championships are organised, and who’s allowed to take part?

Basically, anyone can submit a beer that hasn’t been brewed in an official brewing facility. So as a hobby brewer it’s not possible to rent some capacity in a registered brewery and submit the beer you’ve brewed there. At the German Hobby Brewer Championships, there are two assessment procedures: a jury assessment and a public prize. This year, the beer style for the jury assessment was a Belgian Wit. You submit 3.5 l in bottles, which are then provided with an anonymous label. These beers are tasted anonymously and rated by a jury of experts – initially in a knockout procedure, and then through a quarter and semi-final to the actual final.

For the public prize, the hobby brewers participating could also bring along another “creative beer”. This was tasted and rated by the approximately 1,300 visitors. Each of the visitors received a special chip (a grey jeton), with which they could indicate their favourite. Besides our Wit, we also had a barrel of BEEr with us, for which we had added 2.5 kg of forest honey in the whirlpool. We also received a few jetons for it, but we didn’t manage a prize in competition with what were in some cases extremely creative beers.

Was that your first attempt there, or had you participated before?

SW: This was the first time that we had taken part in a competition of this kind.

ME: Even when we founded the Washroom Brewery, we had sworn that it would only ever be a hobby, without any commercial or other constraints. So up to then we had never thought about taking part in a competition.

How did you come up with this idea?

Michael: I was in professional contact with the Störtebeker Braumanufaktur last year as part of a consultancy project, which is when I heard about the championships. Unfortunately, last year the time was too short for us to enter for the first German Championships. This year, the timing was more convenient for Sven and me, and we brewed the competition beer in good time.

You had to deal with certain stipulations that the Belgian Wit had to meet as a jury beer. Can you explain what these were, and whether that was particularly challenging for you?

ME: In the run-up to the championships, there was indeed a vote to decide on the beer style. We would certainly have preferred an Altbier, for example.

SW: We had never brewed a Belgian Wit before, and in fact I had never even drunk one until the beer type had been specified. Then we researched it, both on the internet and down our throats. Fortunately, there’s a craft beer shop in Regensburg, called Birretta, where you can get beers of this kind that are quite rare in Germany.

A Belgian Wit is an effervescent, fresh, pale wheat beer, which in contrast to Bavarian wheat beer contains a proportion of unmalted wheat. It’s also characterised by hints of coriander and citrus. For this purpose, coriander seeds, plus orange and lemon peel are normally added.

ME: One of the challenges involved was milling the unmalted wheat grains: our grist mill is not designed for this, so we milled the wheat directly in the health food store. The light colour is always difficult for hobby brewers operating without water treatment, but with a measured colour of 5.7 EBC we managed that rather well. We additionally used very light Pilsner malt and a small quantity of wheat malt. The mashing work has to be adapted to cope with the high proportion of unmalted wheat, since this does not contribute any enzymes.

SW: Our coriander was a highly aromatised variety, which itself contributed some hints of citrus. We refrained from adding orange peel, and worked instead with lemon verbena. The coriander was added during the boiling process, and the lemon verbena then added cold after primary fermentation. For in-bottle fermentation, we then calculated the post-fermentation extract addition for a CO2 content of 6.5 g/l, in order to obtain a maximally effervescent beer in the bottle. We followed the warming phase of in-bottle fermentation with several weeks of cold maturation, so that the overall result can round off nicely. As yeast, by the way, we didn’t use a special Wit variety, but a traditional Bavarian wheat-beer yeast.

Are you satisfied with your result?

Both of us are more than satisfied with second place. Up there in Stralsund, we had an opportunity, and indeed a very pleasurable one, to try some other Wit beers from the other participants, and we must say that there were lots of very good beers in the competition.

Will we be seeing you more often at competitions like this?

ME: Let’s wait and see… That’s always going to depend on how much time we happen to have for our hobby. We’re certainly not going to rule it out.

SW: It’s also always going to depend on whether the type of beer concerned is what we like or not. At any rate, this competition led to us inventing our first brand, “Exceptional Wit” for the Washroom Brewery’s wheat beers. And we shall keep working on this, following the “Exceptional Wit”, with further wheat beer creations. Still purely as a hobby, of course, and not commercially…

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