„We have the highest density of breweries in the world!“ Michael, our guide, takes regional pride in the area’s beer culture. „Today there are around 1200 breweries in Germany, about half of them in Bavaria. And again 204 of these are located in the region of Upper Franconia.“ The small village of Aufseß alone, with a population of around 240, boasts 4 breweries. We are on a tour of Maisel’s brewery museum in Bayreuth. When the factory moved to new premises, the Maisel family decided to conserve the old production facilities as a museum for the public. Listed in the Guiness Book of Records as the most comprehensive brewery museum in the world, it shows the beer brewing process in goneby times.
We follow Michael through the malt drying room to the mashing and lautering facilities, where an aromatic liquid is produced. In the fermenting room, finally yeast is added to the mixture. It is the yeast that metabolizes the malt sugar into alcohol, thus creating a first, raw form of beer. “Better not drink it,” our guide grins: “The young beer induces very strong bowel movements…” The fermentation process also produces carbon dioxid, and thus brewing could be a dangerous business. Occasionally, workers have passed out from the toxic gases. „But I haven’t heard of anyone dying in the brewing process.“ Drinking, well, that’s a different matter.
The German law of beer
Like most German breweries, Maisel’s uses only the ingredients authorised by the „Purity Law.“ The famous regulation, which was first formulated in 1516 in Bavaria and applied until the 1980s, restricted the ingredients for beer brewing to water, malt, yeast and hop. The original sole use of barley was intended to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye. Later, however, wheat malt was also accepted as an ingredient. Nevertheless, there are countless variations on the exact mixture and ratio of ingredients and their processing. So even the strict obeyance of the beer law can still result in dozens of different beers.
Whereas some sort of grain (and often added sugar) were part of the brewing process since the earliest times of beer (around 3000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia), the hop was a later addition. It adds bitterness and flavour to the beer and became en vogue as a beer ingredient around the 14th century. Only the unpollinated female hop is suited for brewing. 30 grams of it are enough for flavouring about 38 litres of beer.
With the strong odour from the hop storage room still in our noses, we continue to the workshop. In the past, every brewery had its own barrel making facilities on the grounds. But the permeation of the flavour from the oak barrel into the liquid, so desirable for exquisite wines, should better not occur in the case of beer. The inside of the barrels was therefore clad with pitch. In fact, today all beer barrels are made from steel, even those that have wooden planks on the outside for the benefit of traditionalist Oktoberfest visitors.
Cheers to the Brewery Museum!
The last exhibition rooms show a wild mix of beer paraphernalia: 3,300 beer glasses and jugs and 400 rare enamel signs from various breweries and beer brands, as well as a collection of beer mats.
After 2 hours of beer theory we are glad to sit down in the tasting room and have a well-earned Maisel’s Hefeweizen. “Quite a twirl” a holidaymaker from the Rhineland region remarks appreciatively and starts a debate about Kölsch versus Hefeweizen. “Doesn’t a a top-fermenting Kölsch taste rather similar to a bottom-fermenting Pils? “Rubbish,” a beer afficionado sitting next to us exclaims, “that is such a difference in taste!”
NB: Our visit to the Bayreuth Brewery Museum was not sponsored in any way.