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Brauerei Gradl, Leups-Pegnitz

Pegnitz, Germany

In November 2014 I visited Brauerei Gradl in the tiny Upper Franconian village of Leups, to drink their superb unfiltered 4.9% Dunkel from gravity barrel. This beer, or something like it, has been in production for 331 years since the brewery opened in 1683. Today, beer making is in the hands of Stefan Wolfring, son of brewery owner Hans Wolfring. 20 hectoliters per batch on a modern system, this is old world beer made with new world precision.

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Served naturally, poured by force of gravity from cask, this is lager’s answer to Real Ale. Creamy natural carbonation, soft malt and vibrant mineral-strong carbonic acid gives this malty Dunkel near-perfect balance.

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This is not a photo of brewer Stefan, rather the bartender catching my photograph of his cask pouring.

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I managed to sneak a photo of the elder Herr Wolfring pouring himself a mug of beer. Who knows how long he will be around to oversee the brewery, but from the quality of the beer I can tell that the business is in good hands with Stefan.

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Seelmann Bräu, Zettmannsdorf

Schönbrunn im Steigerwald, Germany

Some breweries exist as their own museum. Seelmann Bräu has been in the hands of the Seelmann family since 1608, and the photographs hanging on the gastette wall act as a sort of historical exhibit for this 400 year-old family legacy. It’s a two hour journey by bus to Zettmannsdorf from Bamberg, and Seelmann does not observe regular hours, so it’s not a place you should spontaneously visit using public transportation. Visitors are advised to call or email in advance to arrange a sacheduled visit.

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Bräumeister Rudolf Seelmann and his family offer a kitchen, banquet hall, private rooms and outdoor camping facilities, in addition to beer. Such is life as a family business in Franconia, where brewers sometimes have to specialize in one or more other trades. Many brewers work as butchers, bakers, farmers, and inn-keepers; some work as brewing equipment engineers, others as general tradesmen.

It’s difficult to survive solely as a professional brewer in an economy that has left you largely ignored. Brewing is not a lucrative field, proof enough being that the cost of beer in Franconia is laughably low. Drinking beer is as commonplace as eating bread, and the Franconian public does not tolerate major increases in the cost of a Seidla. Price yourself too high and suddenly your competitors will begin receiving more phone calls. What’s more, young men and women understandably prefer the opportunities presented to them by post-secondary education and technical schools. Would-be next generation family brewers are instead leaving for the city to pursue more gainful employment. Unsurprisingly, Rudolf’s young daughter is not excited by the idea of taking over the brewery from dad, though she still has plenty of time to decide.

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The Brewery

Rudolf Seelmann operates a 300 hectoliter mechanical brewery, run without electronics. No bottles or kegs are filled, and no gravity barrels tapped on Friday night. Each batch is packaged and distributed in 5 liter mini-keg (Partyfass), sold from the brewery and through their Ebay store.

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Unfiltriertes Lagerbier

Seelmann Kellerbier, also known as Unfiltriertes Lagerbier, is hazy golden and pétillant in the Ungespundet way. It has a mineral-forward character with quiet Hallertau lemon oil hoppiness and subtle Pilsner malt toastiness, the body savory and crisp.

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Rudolf mentions that he used to brew a hoppier Lagerbier, only the locals rebuked its more aggressive bitterness, so the hop rate was reduced again. What can you do but try to please your customers? Some communities prefer bitter lagers, while others prefer to have a maltier, sweeter, sometimes darker beer on hand. There’s no pattern to who likes what, it’s more about how long a brewer has been established, how long they’ve been serving a consistent beer, good or bad, pale or dark. Consistency is key in Franconia.

We gave Rudolf encouragement to reintroduce a hoppier Lagerbier and perhaps change people’s minds by waiting out their acceptable, but given the already slim margin selling his Lagerbier online, I think he is comfortable with the way things are.

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A variety of beer was once made in house, covering a number of core German styles: Pilsner, Vollbier, Export Hell, Festbier, Märzen, and Doppelbock. Today only the Lagerbier remains in year-round production, with the Bockbier served once each year, beginning in early November.

The whole of what the family does, not just making beer, allows the Seelmann family to make a living. One of the reasons so many family breweries go out of business in Franconia, it’s not that the Family goes out of business, rather beer making is dropped from the family’s portfolio to concentrate effort on more profitable endeavours. In fact, Seelmann Bräu shut the doors in the past, and the very well could shut them in the future. Since reopening in 2006 with a restoration of the brewery, the current business model has kept the doors somewhat open. For now, they still exist as a brewery, but consider their status threatened and endangered.

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Au Baron – Gussignies

Bavay, France

The sleepy green L’Hogneau river valley is home to the village of Gussignies, literally meters from the Belgian border. This is the French border region of Bavay, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, home to Brasserie Au Baron, makers of the classic French pale Biere de Garde Cuvée des Jonquilles. In addition to the Jonquilles, bottles of the Medard Ambree and Medard Brune are available at the brasserie, for takeaway or to sit and enjoy streamside.

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Photos from a visit in August 2014

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Au Baron Reviews

beer nameabvmy score
Au Baron Cuvée des Jonquilles 7%
4/5
Au Baron Saison Saint Médard Ambrée7%
3.6/5
Au Baron Saison Saint Médard Brune7%
2.7/5

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The servers are young and take no care in pouring bottles, so if you prefer a clear pour and do not have a taste for paint in your beer, either be mindful of their handling or ask to pour for yourself.

Why Are There No Wheat Lagers?



Or rather, why is wheat not traditionally used in lager?

Before the Reinheitsgebot, the Munich city council decided that it would try to control brewing quality, and drafted laws that specified beer to only be made with barley, hops and water, not mentioning yeast. Prior to this, and before refrigeration, German beer made outside of winter was warm fermented, typically taking place in open vats that were spontaneously fermented. The source of fermentation was not well understood at the time, which explains how yeast went ignored in the original purity laws. The warm fermented beer made during the summer was inconsistent and did not keep as well as the bottom fermented beer made during the winter months. Summer brewing was even outlawed, limiting the spread of these ales. However, according to the Reinheitsgebot, the one style that was allowed to be brewed in the summer was wheat beer, and the specifics of the Reinheitsgebot allowed for wheat only as an ingredient in top fermented ale, not in lager. Hence bottom-fermented weizenbier never gained cultural footing in Germany, and to this day we still largely see all barley German styles throughout the world, with wheat still used almost exclusively in top-fermented Weizenbier.

Before the Reinheitsgebot was enacted in 1516, the brewing industry in Bavaria was buying up wheat in order to make beer, leaving other grains, such as spelt, oat, and barley, to the bakeries. The bakers and the population in general felt that bread made with these grains was less enjoyable and thus less in demand, and William IV, Duke of Bavaria, heard enough complaints that he addressed the problem in crafting the Reinheitsgebot. Beer making was to be limited to barley only, with the one exception allowing wheat in warm fermented summer beer.

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Brasserie De la Senne – Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

I’ll be upfront: I consider De la Senne my favorite brewery in Belgium, and I consider Yvan De Baets the best brewer in Belgium. Taras Boulba and Taras Runa, Crushable Saison (and the new 3.2% version), as well as ongoing series of hoppy Belgian pale ales, De la Senne shines where few others go: low strength, dry to off-dry, intensely hoppy Belgian ales with immense depth.

The understated minimalist character of the Brasserie de la Senne tap room is a testament to letting the product speak for itself. Tucked down a narrow business driveway with little signage or promotion, this bare bones taproom seems to have come about in response to increasing beer tourism rather than seeking such.

Case in point, we were told that the famed Taras Boulba was not available that day due to allocations reserved for area stores and restaurants. Though our loss on that day, the growing popularity of Boulba is a welcome idea in a world where people drink more well-marketed dull beer than anything else. Not even XX Bitter has attained this near-cult status in it’s home country. Boulba seems to draw people in with both aesthetics and drinkability, and most who drink it do not seem to think they are drinking a dry beer, but rather a hoppy beer, which is all fair and fine. The point is, young drinkers in Belgium are excited about an artisanal 4.5% dry and hoppy beer, which is heartening as long as the popularity does not get to a point where the beer becomes impossible to find.

Thankfully, there are still enough places in Brussels to find De la Senne, but if you have any concern for freshness and state, you know the right move is to buy from the source. Rather than take our chances at Brussels beer shops and cafes, we drove out to the brewery in west Brussels before heading south to the day’s destination in Hainaut. Brasserie De la Senne is not walkable from central Brussels, it’s not in a sexy location like Moeder, instead this place is all about the beer.

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Brasserie de la Senne

beer nameabvmy score
De la Senne Taras Runa4.8%
4.9/5
De la Senne Taras Boulba4.5%
4.5/5
De la Senne Jambe-de-Bois8%
4.4/5
De la Senne Zinnebir6%
4.3/5
De la Senne Crushable Saison5%
4.3/5
De la Senne Wadesda #46%
4.2/5
De la Senne Band of Brothers 4%
4/5
De la Senne Gray Jacket5.4%
3.7/5
De la Senne Brussels Calling6%
3.7/5
De la Senne Tripel Verschueren8%
3.7/5
De la Senne Stouterik4.5%
3.6/5
De la Senne Brusseleir Zwet IPA8%
3.5/5
De la Senne Black in Japan7.2%
3.5/5
De la Senne / Le Trou du Diable Schieve Tabarnak6.3%
3.4/5