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Peace, beer and expertise – an interview with the Beer Pope

When Conrad Seidl enters a room, he’s the centre of attention. Whether it’s due to the steampunk goggles or the courtly old-style Austrian manners – who else is going to kiss your hand nowadays? – is not something you can really put your finger on. One thing is certain: everyone, absolutely everyone in the German-speaking craft beer scene knows Conrad Seidl. He is the Beer Pope. At the Braukunst Live! in Munich, Conrad Seidl was a popular interviewee, although actually he himself is a journalist – and previously has mostly conducted the interviews himself. “I’ll be right with you in an hour,” says Conrad – and he keeps his word: after an hour we have a brief moment to talk amid the fair’s hustle and bustle. An audience at last. And finally I have the time to put the questions I’ve been itching to ask for so long: how does a publicist and political journalist become a Beer Pope – and how does he see the craft beer scene in the German-speaking nations?

You know, the book I’ve sold most copies of is called “The I Brand”. I identify very closely with it: in my opinion, journalists should also be experts, but never themselves actually do what they write about. Just like opera critics should never start to sing. That’s also a kind of freedom – not having to do it yourself!

Conrad Seidl has always accepted a responsibility for acquiring a certain amount of expertise on “his subjects” – on beer no less than on politics.

Becoming an expert on beer is rather a pleasant experience really.

It was thirty years ago that Conrad Seidl began to make a detailed study of beer and the art of brewing – this was at a time when Beer Sommelier courses, tasting glasses and elaborated beer menus had not even been dreamed of. In the late 1990s, Conrad Seidl was then already travelling as a speaker on the subject of beer. At the first Beer Sommelier courses and in training restaurant staff.

In Austria, we began at a very early stage to train teachers at vocational colleges – after all, they are mediators, who continually pass on their accumulated knowledge. Meanwhile, the beer culture in Austria is a highly sophisticated one, not least because it has acquired a fund of expert knowledge shared among the teachers it has trained. Because only if the beer is served to the guest properly will it be really appreciated.

I was imperative, he says, to treat the subject of beer with all due prominence in training courses for the catering trade, because Austria in Conrad’s view has a deserved tradition as a land of epicures – something that the native-born Viennese says not without a certain amount of national pride. This is a tradition that Conrad Seidl wanted to progress from very early on.

Everyone was always talking about wine and cheese, so I thought to myself, there must be something to tell about beer and cheese, surely!

Overall, Conrad Seidl sees it as an opportunity for the new creative brewing culture if in a particular country the beer culture has so far not been very vibrant.

In places where there are already lots of excellent beers, it’s difficult for new high-quality beers to gain a foothold on the market. In countries like France, Italy and Spain, the culture is more or less starting from scratch – whereas in Germany, even before craft beer emerged there was a rich and ancient beer scene, with superlative beers. Even what’s called “industrial beer” is in Germany often wonderful stuff – the term “Industrial beer” is always used disparagingly in common parlance, but I would plead for “peace”. For some beers, like pilsner, you definitely need very good lines, because otherwise there are plenty of things that can go wrong. Good kit very often means an outstanding pilsner, you see.

The Beer Pope is observing the growing levels of interest in the creative beer scene with watchful and satisfied eyes. And somewhere under the hat with the old steampunk goggles I also see a bit of pardonable pride – because without a doubt, with his flowery and captivating manners Conrad has also made his own contribution to the development of the scene (in its present-day form) in the German-speaking regions. And he is still unsurpassed at selling himself and his love of beer.

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