“You American People Can Be Proud”: Brauhaus Riegele and Sierra Nevada Collaborate

Harris King, August 05, 2015

After writing about Fort George Brewery and Burial Beer Co., this is the third post that was inspired by my attending the Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference, which took place from July 17-19 in Asheville, NC. In this installment, I will discuss the collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Augsburg, Germany’s Brauhaus Riegele.

The first day of the conference consisted of two welcoming sessions, and then the over 150 beer bloggers and writers loaded onto two buses for an excursion first to Oskar Blues in nearby Brevard and then to Sierra Nevada in Mills River just south of Asheville.

The trip to Oskar Blues with beer to taste and free swag was outstanding, but the visit to Sierra Nevada was even better. When the bus I was on pulled up to the front of the brewery, Brian Grossman was waiting to greet us and then to take us on a tour of the facility. The first bus was greeted by Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman, who along with his son had flown to North Carolina from California to greet us. Everybody was giddy at the unexpected surprise, and I was too after having confirmed my admiration for the Chico, CA brewery in a recent post here at BeerGraphs.

After shaking Brian’s hand after getting off the bus, I was met by four other people in the greeting line, who were most definitely German as they were all dressed in the traditional Bavarian garb that you might see at the Oktoberfest. Indeed, these were representatives from Brauhaus Riegele in Augsburg who were in town to complete the collaboration between the two breweries.

I had seen a couple of headlines about the collaboration and thankfully was able to remember that they were from Augsburg, which I was able to blurt out as I shook their hands. They seemed impressed, and I confirmed that I would get to see them after the tour in order to talk to them about the their partnership with Sierra Nevada as well as their thoughts on American craft beer. Plus, I would get to speak German with them.

After the tour through the impressive state of the art facility, we all made our way down to a wooded spot near a creek behind the brewery. They were feeding us dinner that evening and had created a mini Oktoberfest with a beer tent and buffet spread full of German sausages and the like. On tap was the Oktoberfest which hadn’t yet reached the public, meaning we were the first outsiders to try it, and the bottle selection was Riegele’s award-winning Commerzienrat Privat, a Helles Fest Beer that is pictured along with the Oktoberfest in the header photo.

After most everybody had a plate and a mug or (or both) in hand, the Grossmans along with Sebastian Priller-Riegele and Frank Müller addressed the gathering. As you can see in the picture, everybody was in a good mood, and we soon learned more about the German guests and the collaboration. 

Photo courtesy of Oliver Gray of Literature & Libation 

Riegele Brauhaus was founded in 1386, and we soon discovered that Priller-Riegele is a 27th generation brewer, as well as the reigning World Champion Beer Sommelier (Watch here to hear Priller-Riegele describe the accomplishment). As Brian Grossman noted, “I am very proud to call myself a second-generation brewer,” as he then described his first meeting with Müller at Riegele: “It was really fun walking into the laboratory at the Riegele brewery. I look over, and I see this giant of a man and he puts out his hand and says ‘I’m Frank, the brewmaster here.’ And I’m thinking ‘damn right you are.’”

Ken Grossman took over from there and explained that “Frank is a yeast expert, and we were very impressed. We were leaning on Frank for some insight. So when we got together we discussed what we should brew as the Oktoberfest style and went through the malt, the yeast and the fermentation profile of the hops …We were able to get some Steffi Malt, which is one of those old varieties …It doesn’t yield as much as modern malt, but it has a lot of character. And they were so kind to allow us to have some of their Steffi malt. We found some other malt available in Germany, and we bought all they had and shipped over many containers of this very distinctive German malt.”

Priller-Riegele continued by saying that “Germans have a great tradition on beer, and they have done a lot for the art of brewing and the technology of brewing but sometimes they have lacked the …modern spirit. And what I really like about our collaboration and the partnership is …how the philosophies [concerning quality] matched, and we are really thankful to be here.”

He also wanted to expand on Ken Grossman’s words about how important Müller is to both the collaboration and Brauhaus Riegele: “Frank became Germany’s craft brewer of the year. This actually what you have in your hands became Germany’s beer of the decade so this is really what we are into, and Frank, like the brewers here, has the same spirit. We always say a good beer is a puzzle with a thousand different parts and only if you take care of each single one do you make a great beer. And that is something I have experienced here the same way I have experienced at home and that’s just fantastic to see and even more fantastic to taste! Cheers!”

After the words of welcome, I made my way over to speak to the two German brewers to learn more about how the collaboration came about. Müller explained in German, “we discussed the recipe with Ken and Brian Grossman. The hops were from them, and the Steffimalz came from us. The recipe was good, collaborative work” that I soon learned came about fairly quickly. Priller-Riegele related that “it was the end of last year they called me up. And then they were at our place in March/April of this year.”  

Müller further explained what sort of brewery Brauhaus Riegele is and how it is ahead of the craft beer curve in Germany: “We have always been a specialty brewery, that is, we have the entire range of offerings from a light lager to alcohol free to a Weizen Doppelbock, Heller Bock and Dunkler Bock. We already have the entire line-up and beyond that we have the so-called brew specialties. We have a Porter, we have a Dubbel, we have an IPA (which he awesomely pronounced as ‘eye-pah’). They are brew specialties because they consist of natural ingredients that do not adhere to the Reinheitsgebot.”

A quick look at their website, you can find their impressive line-up of what we would call craft beer and they are required to call “brew specialties. There it is obvious that they are finding the common ground between centuries of German traditions and what Priller-Riegele described as the “modern spirit” of craft brewing. And as Müller noted, the customers “love it [because] we are completely open and tell them exactly what [the beer] is.”

Finally, I asked them their thoughts on American craft beer. Priller-Riegele began by recounting “I visited the States in 2000 and that was the beginning in my opinion of when the craft beer movement started. It was really interesting to see what was happening and now the spirit of the United States and the history and the art of brewing from Bavaria have merged. It is just awesome what the results are. I’m really impressed.” Muller emphasized his point with “I love it and you American people can be proud of this brewery.”

As we headed back to the hotel after our mini Oktoberfest, I realized it had been a unique opportunity for me to have met and talked to two German brewers about the ever growing craft beer scene in Germany and how it is influenced by American breweries and brewing techniques. In May of last year I wrote about “A Craft Beer Wake-up Call for Germany,”  and it seems to have arrived, especially among smaller, more flexible breweries like Brauhaus Riegele. I look forward to following the growing positive trend in the coming years.

Finally, while most of my fellow beer bloggers were talking to the Grossmans and having their photos made with American beer royalty, I had focused on the Germans, which led to my own photo-op. 

And when I discovered yesterday that the collaboration was already in the stores on August 3, I bought a 12-pack without hesitation and unapologetically. Prost! 

Note: all translations were done by me.

Harris now refers to IPAs exclusively as “eye-pahs” and can be found on Twitter @ohkiv where he is often the ornery, old guy talking (sometimes in German) about baseball, music and beer.