One of the world’s great sources of malted grains for making beer is found in the northern Bavarian city of Bamberg. It’s not a coincidence that for many experienced beer lovers, Bamberg is also considered to be the preeminent beer city in the world. I’ll save that full discussion for another post, but for now you can takeaway the fact that the region of Bamberg is home to the highest concentration of breweries found anywhere in the world.
So what is malt anyway and why care?
It is likely that man learned to brew beer before we learned to bake bread, so malting has been going on for a long time. Malt is basically germinated grain that has been dried and often carmelized or roasted to some degree. It is one of the four traditional ingredients used to make beer and is largely responsible for the color, body, and (along with hops) the flavor of a finished beer. Germination produces sugars important to flavoring and fermentation in the brewing process. The best known malted grain for beer production is barley although wheat. rye, rice, and other cereals are also used.
In the old days, breweries would often make their own malts by spreading the grain on a malting floor, moistening it, hand turning it, and letting it dry. Relatively few still do that given the development of modern malting methods and the economies of scale from mass production. Typically, a combination of multiple varieties of malts are used in a given beer with “base malts” being mostly about producing fermentation and “specialty malts” being more about contributing colors and flavorings.
The Weyermann Company in Bamberg
Since 1879 Bamberg has been a home to Weyermann Maltfabrik, arguably the world’s foremost producer of specialty malts. Rarely do I visit a brewery without observing Weyermann’s distinctive red and white grain sack somewhere in the brew house. Weyermann’s is a family operation still manged by a descendant of the founder and her husband.
I was arriving in Bamberg on a Wednesday, the only day of the week that factory tours are offered to individual visitors and a delayed train got me there a bit late for the 2PM start time. I chucked my duffel into a locker at the station and hustled into the city anyway. Fortunately, the Weyermann plant is pretty close to the station so I was only about 20 minutes late.
The people staffing the “Craft Beer Fan Shop” at the plant were welcoming, forgiving, and flexible. Akina Goto-Byalkov took me under her wing right away and became my guide to a solo tour of the facility. Akina is a Japanese immigrant who is married to one of Weyermann’s production engineers. She spoke very good English and patiently fielded my barrage of questions as we walked the plant. Photography was not allowed within the production areas, so I have relied on the company’s photographs for images of what it looks like inside the plant. The Fan Shop is an attractive, modern shop that sells Weyermann products as well as a selection of craft beers from around the world. In addition to tours, they also offer beer and brewing seminars.
Weyermann’s malthouse facility in Bamberg is recognized as an industrial monument in Germany and as you walk through it you can see the evidence of many modifications and additions over its long history. The campus also includes a cool looking family residence, a bakery, a brewery, and an employee canteen.
Akina led me through a labyrinth of walkways, hallways, stairways, and catwalks as we proceeded through production spaces, laboratories, and warehouses. Weyermann has been the originator of many malting technologies and industrial processes and you get a big taste of these on the tour.
A batch of malt takes about a week to produce and as you can imagine, there is an intense quality control and measurement regimen throughout the process. One key step in the process is time in the germination box – a place where they make a temperature and humidity controlled slurry of grain and water that is turned over and stirred to promote germination of the grain.
Another key step involves drying and kilning of the germinated grains – the more time and heat involved in these steps, the darker the malt ends up being. Caramelizing takes place in huge heated drums. I couldn’t decide whether they reminded me more of a coffee roasting drum or massive clothes dryers. There roar of these machines is deafening. Bamberg is famous for smoked beers and a different process is used to infuse wood smoke flavors into malts used in these recipes.
Weyermann’s uses the malthouse to produce more than 80 different varieties of malt for brewing beer and sells about 100,000 tons of malt product per year. The company has thousands of customers worldwide including thousands of breweries. They employ about 200 people — including trained brewers and engineers. Alina told me that the workforce is quite international – I think she said her husband comes from Bulgaria and that the head of their distillery operation is a woman from the U.S.A.
Weyermann’s In-house Brewery, Distillery, and Bakery
Our tour ended up back in the Fan Shop to taste some beers from the small brewery that the company operates in their facility. I would call it an artisan brewery that makes both a line of experimental brews as well as a line of traditional recipe beers. There is also a small distillery on site that makes gin and a variety of other spirits using Weyermann products. Their bakery supplies the employee canteen and provides some tasty treats to accompany the beer tasting.
The experimental beer line is bottled with labels that use simple numbers as designations for various recipes. Akina poured me the #17 first, a pilsner that uses their Eraclea Pilsener, CARAPILS, and one other malt. Eraclea is an Italian village where the barley for that malt comes from and the recipe uses Bobek and Aurora hops from Slovenia so there is a Mediterranean pedigree to this nice pilsner. Next up was #6, a brown rye beer they call Bamberg Rogg’t. I loved this creamy, bready beer and it went great together with nice hunks of dark bread from the bakery. The Rogg’t uses 5 different malts including a beech smoked barley malt to add just a hint of smokiness. The experimental line also includes a smoked beer, a double imperial black IPA, an IPA, a barleywine, a pumpernickel porter, a rye pale ale, a smoked hefeweizen, an imperial stout, a wheat wine, a witbier, and more.
The traditional line of beers are brewed with historical recipes from the Bamberger Hofbrau brewery which stopped brewing in Bamberg in 1977. This keeps a nice legacy going. The line includes a lager, a pilsner, a helles, a rauchbier, a schwarzbier, and a doppelbock. I tried the lager which is a nice one.
I got the sense that their brewers must have alot of fun. They experiment and collaborate in the interests of promoting Weyermann’s deep catalog of malts and as I understood it, are willing to entertain proposals for collaboration brews with breweries the world over.
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Photo Credits: Weyermann Maltzfabrik, Pierre-Alain Dorange
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