Tuesday 14th May 2013
Weyermann is the best known name in the world when it comes to speciality malts. They sell over 70 different varieties in around a 115 countries, exporting about 60% of the production and you'll find their distinctive white sacks in many a brewery. I was at their maltings with a party from the Brewery History Society on a visit to the Bamberg region. What makes a visit here so interesting is, not only do they malt grain, they also have a small brewery, which we visited later in our tour.
Our group was met at the main gate by Christian Kestel who is the company's Archivist and Historian, who guided us around the plant. So, it is appropriate that I firstly provide a bit of background history, mostly provided by him.
The company was founded in 1879 by Johann Baptist Weyermann. He operated a tiny drum for roasting malt which was turned by hand. This was sold as a substitute for coffee, which was taxed highly in Germany. The business took off and transferred in 1888 to the present site, which was rail-connected.
Around that time there were over 65 breweries in Bamberg and many were glad to get out of malting to concentrate on brewing alone. There are today two commercial maltsters in the city yet, even now, a few breweries still create their own malted barley.
After the relocation, the factory grew larger and larger, almost year on year. Even back then, the company was very innovative, using state-of-the-art equipment, mostly designed in-house, for which patents were acquired.
After the First World War, things took some time to settle down and the same occurred after the second global conflict. Only one bomb hit the premises and the city of Bamberg itself was barely touched because it had no major manufacturing industries. It was however, an important railway junction, and the stray bomb that hit the works was intended for the tracks alongside. During the four decades following the 1940s production settled down and concentrated on the domestic market.
In 1989 Sabine Weyermann, of the fourth generation, joined the company, after graduating from the famous brewing university of Weihenstephan, near Munich.
Thereafter there was a change over to the speciality malts that are the mainstay of the firm today. However, in 2001, they started producing more basic products such as Pilsner Malt after the acquisition of the maltings of Meissner & Sohn at Hassfurt in the Main valley, about twenty kilometres away. The reason for this, is that several customers wanted a "one stop shop" when it comes to malt purchasing hence the purchase of another premises to supply the more commonly used malts. After harvest the grain is stored at a facility in nearby Leesau, purchased in 2005.
The main plant continues to produce all the many specialities and there has been big investment at the factory. A new malt house was bought into use in 1993 with four drying barrels, more were added later. Operation of this was enhanced by having new computer control equipment installed in the 1994, the rest of the company's systems were computerised in 1999. Also in the 1990s the now distinctive white sacks with the logo imprinted in red were introduced, giving the company an easily recognised advertisement in every brewery.
Later, when we were walking around the brewery, it was noticeable how often we came across the logo on walls. In this case, it is red on yellow, to emphasise the red brick of the buildings and the yellow of the malt.
In 2007 a new logistics centre was opened on the opposite side of Brenner Strasse, connected to the main operation by a conveyor located inside a bridge. The sacks are filled on one side of the road and we observed the automatic stacking on pallets and shrink wrapping by robotic machinery. Unfortunately whilst being led around the site by Christian he informed us that because of commercial sensitivity we were not able to photograph the production processes. A pity because it was very interesting, especially the huge vessels where 60 tonnes of the barley is steeped and gradually turned by hidden Archimedes screws. This is definitely not your average traditional floor maltings!
Despite not being able to picture the actual barley being turned into malt, I was nevertheless able to photograph some fascinating sights. To enable us to be briefed and shown a film, Christian took us to what I can only describe as a hospitality room. The walls were covered with enamelled metal signs from the many breweries that are supplied by Weyermann. I have never seen so many. Many German, and Czech, pubs have displays in a similar vein but the sheer quantity displayed here was staggering. This room also contained a small bar.
After seeing the process and the logistics centre we visited the on-site brewery. At first the brewer wasn't there so we made a visit to the ballroom that was built for the 50th anniversary in 1929 as some of the members expressed an interest in viewing it. It is on the first floor above the room with the all the signs, and is accessed by an amazing double staircase in the deco style of the day. It was easy to imagine the scene at the grand ball that was part of those celebrations, once we'd seen those stairs.
We returned to the brewery and met Dominik Maldoner, the brewer. He explained that the equipment was installed in 2003 to brew experimental brews using the 80+ malts produced on site. The plant normally handled a brew of 2.5 hectolitres but this could be pushed to 3 hectolitres. After primary fermentation, beers were normally left for four to five weeks for maturation. Dominik explained that the Fan Shop (Gift Shop) on site normally held stock of 9 or 10 different beers from the plant, for sale to the public.
We tasted three beers, served from flip-top (Bügelflaschen) bottles and what an eclectic bunch they were! First up was Crazy Coriander, a Belgian-style wheat beer (3.5%). Whilst I'm not that keen on the industrial wheat beers, I quite liked this one as it didn't have a sweet background taste. This was followed by the consumption of Pumpernickel Porter (6.8%) which used 3% Pumpernickel bread as part of the fermentation. Well, I couldn't taste that, but it was a reasonable beer with a peppery taste. Dominick said it utilised Green Bullet hops from New Zealand.
The final tasting was of Schlotfergerla (5.2%), their take on the traditional Bamberg Rauchbier (Smoked Beer) style. It was made with 60% Münchner malt Type 1, 27% Rauch (Smoked) malt, 10% Caramünch malt Type 2 and 3% Carafa malt Type 2. The last two are registered brands made by the company. To this was added 280g Sinamar; for more details of this see below. It wasn't too smoky in taste and had a slightly sweet aftertaste.
Sinamar is another product registered and patented by the company as long ago as 1903. It is a liquid malt extract. It is made from de-husked grains and has no bitterness. Its use in brewing is to darken otherwise light-coloured beers and it permitted by the Reinheitsgebot as it is a pure malt product. Nowadays there is also an organic version. If you've ever had a cola drink or iced tea there is a fair chance that you've had it as some manufacturers use it in these products.
So as out visit drew to a close, we heartily thanked Christian and Dominik for what was a fascinating and comprehensive tour.
Weyermann's Malzerei, 17-19 Brennerstrasse, Bamberg
Our tour was a special arrangement, yet visits are possible by pre-booking, €15 per person for groups of 8 to 20 persons. Individuals can turn up at 14.00 on Wednesdays only and pay the same amount for the same tour which includes a sampling at the brewery and a certificate. However it is no problem to visit the Fan Shop which sells their beers and a lot of other merchandise. It is open from 10.00 to 12.00/13.00 to 16.00, Monday to Thursday and 10.00 to 12.00/13.00-15.00 Friday, holidays excepted.
To reach it from Bamberg Railway station, exit by the main city exit and turn right, turn right in to Kloster Strasse under the railway line, then turn left in to Brenner Strasse, you will find the maltings on the left. There is another way to get there from the station, especially if arriving on a train. From the station subway make for the new Brenner Strasse exit and turn left and keep walking until you see the entrance gates on the left.