Going deep into German beer history, Franconia plays a big role. A region in northern Bavaria, it has the highest density of breweries in the world, with one for every 166 citizens. A tradition of beer so old that the craft is known to have existed for thousands of years.
And there, in this cluster of the breweries, you will find German Kraft’s origins in the city of Erlangen: Steinbach Bräu, currently owned by Christoph Gewalt and in his family since 1861. Hundreds of years ago, this small town was more famous than you think. Erlangen had something special and the upper hand compared to other cities regarding beer brewing.
Before the invention of the refrigerator was even in sight, these functioned as cellars with ice harvested from the local canal or lakes used to store beer barrels preventing them from getting too warm. This advantage helped Erlangen become a leading beer exporter in the mid 19th century, shipping even as far as America. If you wanted to drink a good quality beer you couldn’t go wrong with an “Erlanger Export”.
Every city with great beer needs a beer festival. Erlangen has one of the best and it’s called Bergkirchweih (hill festival). And as the name gives away, it takes place on that same hill. The tunnels are still well preserved and in use. During the year these are great for storage and over the festival the entrances work as a pick up point for your beer.
1755 was the first year of the Bergkirchweih which makes it older than Oktoberfest. Every year the festival grew with new artists, live bands and more attractions which made it so famous that these days over 1 million visitors come together from all around the world. Everyone enjoys their beer under massive oak, linden and chestnut trees which are perfect to shelter you from hot summer sun or unpredicted rainfall.
A special beer style gets brewed every year called festival beer. It’s a type of lager, just a bit darker in colour with stronger aromas of roasted malt. Traditionally it gets served in a Maß, which is a 1 litre beer mug and made out of stone. Some people even bring their own mugs, nicely decorated with historic scenes or their names on.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Erlangen had over 20 breweries, not bad for a city with 25,000 people at the time. Unfortunately that lead didn’t last, breweries had to close under the influence of unforeseen factors, the two world wars resulting into shortage of food, eventually fridges became a thing and times changed. Today only one of those original breweries has survived, Steinbach Bräu.
So if you want to drink Steinbach beer, you go to where they brew it, just like German Kraft. For centuries, people have come to Franconia’s breweries and enjoy how little their beer has travelled. It can be easy to forget that real craft is behind this manufacturing.
But in spring 2019 everything changed and this whole philosophy had to be adapted when Steinbach produced around 60,000 litres of their festival beer, but with Bergkirchweih cancelled, had nowhere to sell it. Steinbach took drastic action filling bottles with their beer for the first time in their history and locals were more than happy to help, resulting in them selling out in just a few weeks.
It’s not just branding, there is proof on the roof. On their website they have a stork cam where you can check in on these lovely birds and see how they’re doing.
If you are feeling adventurous, drop by their beer garden, which is located in front of the brew house. It looks like a big barn with a courtyard and a big oak tree in the middle decorated with lanterns. Over 400 years ago that same residence was already used as a brewery where they catered for travellers and couriers, it also held the city’s first post office and a stable for coach horses.
Today the horses changed to storks and you can still grab a seat and have a Maß. They keep it simple, offering only Lager and Wheat beer which are the most popular styles in Bavaria. Depending on the season you can also choose one of their specials, in the winter times darker stronger beers like a bock beer or black Lager and for the summer months beer with a lower alcohol percentage and refreshing hop aromas.
To achieve all those lovely flavour components you need malt, the second biggest part of beer after water. In 2012 as the demand for Steinbach malt grew, the brewery got a refurbishment and the factory could move out of the barn into a new location. It’s all family run with Christoph leading the brewery and his brother fully in charge of the relocated Steinbach Malt Factory. It manufactures over 200 different products ranging from brewing to baking to breakfast cereals. Their malt is such high quality and so versatile that we get it shipped directly from the factory and use it to brew our German Kraft Franconian beer, which you can drink fresh from the tank in all our venues in London.
Impressed by the ethos and passion of Steinbach in Erlangen, we wanted to bring that magic to London’s biggest beer garden and we love to see all those different generations come together on traditional beer benches enjoying their time along each other.
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