Thursday 6th August 2015
I must admit to only just being aware of the existence of this brewery. The southern part of Hesse is not an area of the country I’ve done much travelling in. So when Steve, one of the fellow travellers on our odyssey around Germany, suggested we should its visit its brewery tap, I jumped at the chance. What’s more, we could get there on the train along a very short branch line that only opened in 2012.
Another surprise was the size of the brewery; it is huge. Pfungstädter is by far and away the biggest player in the Darmstadt area and they have been exporting for a very long time. Obviously not to the UK though, as if they did, my knowledge of them would be greater.
Nowadays the annual production is around 450,000hl and they brew many different beers including those of the Treiber (Ludwigshafen-Oggersheim), Köthener (Köthen, Sachsen-Anhalt) and Schöneberger (Gross Bieberau) lables. These are beers of breweries that Pfungstädter have taken over and closed.
We caught the hourly train service from Darmstadt Hbf (Main station). The journey took less than 20 minutes and the branch line that ends in Pfungstadt is only around 1 kilometre long. There must have been a railway in this town previously as opposite the pub was Bahnhofstrasse and I’m sure it didn’t get that name in 2012!
It was very hot when we arrived (41ºC in Munich that day!) so what was around a five minute walk took about ten because of the need to dodge from shade to shade, on the way passing a big maypole-type structure outside the offices of the brewery opposite the pub.
The brewery was founded in 1831 as Brauerei Zum Hirsch (Deer) by Justus Hildebrand in Hahn and has been in family ownership since.
It was located in Pfungstadt in 1833 and soon after the logo of the brewery was changed from a deer to a horseshoe.
Very soon beer was being brewed by bottom fermentation in the "Bairische lager" (Bavarian Lager) style. By 1846 the annual capacity was 480hl.
In 1855 Justus Ulrich joined the company and almost immediately went on a learning tour of breweries in Germany and Austria.On his return in 1857 there commenced a program of expansion. He married a daughter of Justus Hildebrand.
By 1867 the production was 13,000hl and they were already exporting abroad. This was a massive increase in production in little more than 20 years.
At this time their beer was exported throughout the globe (including the UK!). This beer was heavily hopped and called Pfungstädter Pilsener.
A fascinating story emerges when a full cask was returned from somewhere in South America by mistake.
It was over six months old when it was tapped back at the brewery and the result was a perfect beer. So it wasn’t just IPA that could survive long sea journeys.
By 1870 a malt house had been constructed and the brewery continued to expand production year on year. In 1882 Justus Hildebrand died.
1886 the brewery was finally connected by railway to the national system. 1896 brought steam propulsion to the brewery when an engine of 250hp was installed, taking over functions previously performed by hand or horse. This steam engine is still in situ and is classified as a national industrial monument.
1900 saw the death of Justus Ulrich who was so instrumental to bringing the brewery into the modern age. A new brew house was opened in 1908. During the First World War the horses used for deliveries were all requisitioned for use on the front and were replaced by oxen. After hostilities had ceased the country was in a great depression that continued to the mid-1930s. This was the first time that production had slumped. In 1934 a new bottle washing and filling plant was installed.
The brewery was bombed during the Second World War and the Malt House was destroyed. It was occupied by allied forces in 1945. Recovery was very difficult but by 1948 they were brewing around 12,000hl per annum but there were many shortages of raw materials. There was massive investment in the mid 1950s resulting in another brew house and greatly increased fermentation facilities. In fact it is true to say that it became a completely new brewery, even new wells were sunk.
They last used horses in regular transportation in 1969, although some were kept with decorative carts for promotional purposes, as many breweries have done. 1977 was the first year that annual production was over 200.000hl and 1990 was the first when 300,000hl was achieved.
The expansion continued and a number of speciality beers were brewed, mostly for the bottle. 2005 the 400,000hl barrier was broken and I think this is where the brewery’s production is at the time of writing. Apart from the speciality beers they also cover almost every German style of beer such as Weizen, Festbier, Märzen and many more.
After our roasting on the way from the station to the pub we were glad to get into the cool of the building. Going in we walked through the medium-sized biergarten. Now, August is biergarten time, yet there was only one person braving the heat even though it was under shade! Although I always head for the shade, I’ve never seen an empty biergarten at this time of year! I was with Steve, Russ, Rich and Trev and we waited inside until it had cooled down a bit, but not much, so four beers of many styles were consumed by each.
The pub is large and the predominant décor is varnished light pine furniture and wall panelling.
There are many plants that enhance the atmosphere. However we were disappointed to see that there were cloths on every table and they were all made up for meal service.
At first the waitress appeared to be a bit brusque but she soon sorted us out with a good table. Later on, she told me off for not drinking quickly enough!
The advantages of drinking in a brewery’s tap soon became apparent when the waitress reeled off the draught beers available. We had to ask her to repeat them, there were so many. We had a choice of Edelpils (4.9%), very hoppy; Urstoff (5.3%), a reproduction of an original unfiltered beer; Export (4.9%), in the Bavarian style; 1831 Schwarzbier (5.3%); a black beer made to an old recipe and Hell (4.9%), a standard lager.
Then there were the top-fermented wheat beers: Justus Weizen Hell (4.9%), the standard product; Justus Weizen Kristall (4.9%), a filtered clear version and Justus Weizen Dunkel (4.9%).
And there’s more as I haven’t yet mentioned the seasonal offerings: Festbier (5.8%) available in September and October.
Then St Nikolaus (6.9%), the Christmas beer available from October to December and finally Maibock (6.9%) which is consumed between February and May.
It’s a great list for such a large brewery and the consensus was that they were all true to their styles and were enjoyed by all. Obviously it is noted for its food and is an easy journey from Darmstadt Hbf (Main Station).
Pfungstädter Brauereigasthof, Mühlstrasse 1, 64319 Pfungstadt. Tel: 06157 955591
Open: Monday-Friday 11.00-15.00, 17.00-23.00;
Saturday 17.00-23.00; Sunday 11.00-15.00, 17.00-22.00
Kitchen: Monday-Friday 11.30-14.00, 17.30-22.00;
Saturday 17.30-22.00; Sunday 11.30-14.00, 17.30-21.00
There an hourly train service from Darmstadt Hbf; it takes less than 20 minutes. From the station, walk to the front of the train, exit left and walk across the car park to the main road. Once there turn right and you will see the pub on the other side at the next intersection.