I go on a lot of brewery tours, and it's a good part of my job. I love the rich, bready smell wafting in the air, the crisp piney scent of hops, and I love asking brewers about their efforts to make the beer that the rest of us drink. But I'll be honest: there's often not a lot to actually see on a brewery tour...wort looks like wort, steam looks like steam, big stainless steel fermenters look like big stainless steel fermenters.
So I was pumped to get a personal tour of the Trumer Pils brewery in Berkeley from Master Brewer Lars Larson—especially because my visit was on bottling day.
When it's fresh and crisp, served on draft from a well-maintained line, there's not much that can beat a pilsner on a hot day. But imported pilsners are often over the hill by the time they make it here. How many times have you heard someone who just got back from Europe say the beer tastes much better there? "Pilsner doesn't travel well," says Larson. "It's a delicate beer. And with the import process, it takes 4 or 6 months before you see an imported beer on the shelf."
Trumer's answer: they brew fresh pilsner in Berkeley, following the recipe and using the same base ingredients as the Trumer brewery in Austria, so you can drink it fresh. (As long as you're in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Texas, Illinois, or Colorado.) The German Pilsner malt is the same one used at the Austrian brewery—"the flavor profile is different from malts you'd get in North America, since weather patterns affect which varieties grow well there." It travels by ship—there's only about 20 miles of trucking necessary, so Larson claims that the carbon footprint is lower than malt trucked from the midwest to most breweries.) The hops and yeast are the same as the Austrian version as well.
One important ingredient that doesn't get shipped: the water. "95% of beer is water," Larson reminds us," and it's the water in Berkeley that drew them to the area. "The water here is from the Sierra Nevada Mountains," says Larson, "and it's very soft, perfect for making pilsner." In fact, the water in Berkeley requires less pre-brewing manipulation than the water at the sister brewery in Austria.
The team does blind side-by-side tastings and analytical work to make sure the two beers end up tasting the same. When asked if it's still exciting to brew the same beer over and over, Larson answers: "We focus on the process. As you might imagine, we're perfectionists."
Larson had a stint brewing at Bridgeport in Portland, Oregon, and also spent time working at Stroh Brewing Company in Long View, Texas, and Isenbeck in Argentina. He got his brewmaster's degree in Berlin, and is drawn to traditional German beer styles. "I like beers that are easy to drink, not aggressive," he notes. "I like German Kolsch and German-style wheat beers. The most important thing to me is that the beer is fresh and that it's clean." (He's also a fan of Irish whiskey, Scotch, and rye.)
Larson walked us through the brewery and let us peek at the bottling process, where 330 bottles a minute are filled, capped, and put in cartons. Check it all out in the slideshow above.
Tours of the brewery are offered Monday through Friday at 3:15 p.m. Reservations are recommended. Email [email protected] or call 510-526-1160 for reservations.
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