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Did somebody here say tasting?

Early in the morning, together with two of my colleagues, I set off from Neutraubling on my way to the Steinecker Plant of Krones AG in Freising. Waiting for us are our colleagues from the Brew Center, plus eight students and their lecturer from Virginia Polytechnic University. The young people are studying food science and technology or biological systems engineering, and are on an exchange scheme with Munich University of Applied Science. They have been in Germany for three weeks already, and have visited the university’s Research Centre, for example. Today, they are getting a guided tour of the Steinecker Plant and will be brewing their own beer – and we were invited to join them.

Before we embark on the guided tour of the plant, we first initiate the brewing process. Camryn, one of the students from Virginia, is tasked with putting malt in the grist mill for grinding. Then the ground malt is mixed with water in the mash tun to make the mash. We want to brew a light-coloured wheat beer, so the mash is heated up for up 15 minutes at 52 degrees, for 45 minutes at 62 degrees, and for 30 minutes at 72 degrees, which means we have enough time to view the plant at our leisure.

Then Dr. Johannes Tippmann, a development engineer at Krones and a former lecturer in brewing and beverage technology at Munich University of Applied Science, tells us some interesting facts about the historical background of wheat beer, pointing out that it isn’t at all easy to produce – something that we shall also be noticing in the course of the day.

Now it’s time to choose the flavour of our wheat beer. This is determined by the hops we shall be adding later on. The Brew Center’s refrigerator is a veritable cornucopia: from fruity to spicy, there’s something here for everyone. Hops, you see, when vacuum-packed in aluminium, can be cold-stored for up to six years. The students headed by lecturer Bruce Herbert opt for hops with a lemony flavour. Jena, who’s studying biological systems engineering, opines:  “This sounds really interesting, I’ve never tried it.  Can we use that one?” No sooner said than done!

For some of the students, the brewing process is a real challenge. Others, by contrast, have already learned quite a lot during their studies, and even had to sit an exam on the relevant material. Which is why there are high expectations for the day – Jena’s, happily, are met: “That’s by a long way one of the most impressive systems we’ve ever seen!” Camryn, too, is happy to have had this experience, since she hadn’t known anything about Krones beforehand: “Now I know that you produce large high-tech machines for brewing.”

But back to our mash. The mixture is passed to the lauter tun, since here the spent grains are filtered out of the wort. The first few minutes are particularly critical here – the lautering process should preferably start off slowly and proceed faster towards the end. Fortunately, though, we did everything right. We sample the filtered liquid – the wort – and it tastes unexpectedly (at least for the novice brewers among us) sweet, somehow not at all like beer. But after all there’s a lot going to happen next.

And while we’re at it, we sample in the meantime some beers that our colleagues in Freising have already brewed.

“Did somebody here say tasting?” – Drew, one of the students, pricks up his ears and immediately grabs an assessment sheet. First of all, there’s a mango-flavoured light beer, then an IPA. We give it a critical and exhaustive appraisal, and rate it for appearance, fragrance and taste. Dr. Konrad Müller-Auffermann, Project Manager of the Steinecker Brew Center, told me before the tasting that preferences regarding beer are highly disparate. Men often prefer a rather tangy beer, whereas women mostly go for something sweeter. And in actual fact – the girls pull a bit of a face at the IPA, but the men like it. Drew concurs: “The mango was not so good, the other one was much better.” I myself liked the mango-flavoured one better, by the way. Cliché confirmed.

But we’ve got a long way to go yet. In the wort copper, the hops we chose earlier are now added to the liquid wort. In the meantime, the students from Virginia Tech take samples every ten minutes, in order to measure and analyse the pH value and the extract  – after all, we’re not here for fun.

After the mixture has been boiled, the remaining turbid matter is removed in the whirlpool. Since the subsequent fermentation takes five to seven days, we’re already sampling our lemony wheat beer now. Considering it isn’t quite finished yet, it doesn’t taste at all bad!

In the final step for today, Camryn adds the yeast. A few hours ago, we had already added the dry yeast to a water-wort mixture, so that it’s rehydrated and thus rendered “active” again, which saves time later on. Now the only thing to do is wait, since before it turns into beer it still needs about a week of fermentation and one month of storage.

We were thus able, in fact, to witness (almost) the entire brewing process live in our experimental brewery. And Jena, too, is enthusiastic about their day in the Brew Center: “It’s obvious that here they all love their jobs. No matter what I ask, everyone explains everything very clearly.” And what did the men like best? “Now I don’t want to be the one who says the tasting was the best bit” (laughs), says Benjamin – we can’t help wondering why.

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