Who would have thought back in February that we would all urgently need a sip of ‘hoptimism’ by mid-November? In this crazy year, it is somehow fitting that an American Pale Ale called Hoptimism won the Home Brew Bayreuth competition. Home brewer Christoph Wolfrum was allowed to brew his winning beer at the 25 hl Maisel brewery at Liebesbier, Bayreuth, and present it at the BrauBeviale 2020 Special Edition which unfortunately will not take place physically as planned. We shadowed him while he was working on it...
On 10th September 2020, Christoph Wolfrum’s day of brewing began with a few obstacles: rail replacement transport made his journey from Nuremberg to Bayreuth more difficult. But Wolfrum didn’t let this spoil his day. In the best of moods, he’s standing in Liebesbier in Bayreuth at 9 in the morning. When asked how he’s feeling, he answers: “To say I’m nervous would be too strong... I’m joyfully excited!”
Adapting his recipe for a brewery
Wolfrum normally brews with a 20-litre mulled wine urn on his terrace, but today his dream – and the dream shared by many home brewers – is coming true, as he is being allowed to brew his recipe in a 25 hl brewery. It isn’t possible to recreate the home brewer's recipe exactly, because the Maisel brewery has completely different brewing characteristics than the mulled wine urn. “But we’re trying to get as close as possible to the original,” emphasises master brewer Markus Briemle. That's why the two of them are discussing the recipe to start with, and then adapting filling to the system. “For example, we’re not using Pale Ale malt as in the original recipe. Instead, we’re using a mixture of Pilsner malt and caramel malt,” explains Briemle.
Normally Christoph Wolfrum orders his malt pre-milled over the internet, but now he’s heaving 25 kg sacks of malt into the large malt mill. With a loud roar, the malt rattles into the mill, along pipes and into the mashing equipment, which is located in a glass room right next to the entrance of Liebesbier. “My wife probably won’t be thrilled if I start storing malt sacks everywhere in the future, but having my own malt mill is already on my wish list,” Wolfrum says with a laugh.
Back from producing the grist, master brewer Briemle explains which adjustments are necessary for the boiling time. “A combination brew of one hour at 65°C, as in the original recipe, would be far too long in a large system like this,” says Briemle. He has to adjust the timings so that a final fermentation level of 80% comes out at the end – similar to the mulled wine urn.
Home brewing for six years
Christoph Wolfrum never thought that he would win 1st place in the Home Brew Bayreuth competition with his very first entry. Although he has been brewing at home for about six years and has already worked on a special recipe for the expert jury of the competition, he still didn’t expect such a great success. Some of the home brewers from his circle of friends envy him for his day at Maisel, and he certainly has a lot to talk about whilst relaxing and enjoying a beer...
He taught himself home brewing using a homebrewing book, a few YouTube videos and a lot of tastings. “In the beginning, I did everything exactly as instructed, but with time you get a feel for it, so you do your own experiments and trials,” Wolfrum reports.
“First I look for a basic recipe for the style of beer I want to brew, and then I adjust the filling and modify the recipe according to my ideas,” says the home brewer from Nuremberg. I once made a chocolate stout with fleur de sel. “I see the appeal of the German Beer Purity Law and I find it totally exciting to see what flavours you can get out of it, but I also drink and brew beers outside of the German Beer Purity Law’s parameters,” Wolfrum reports. His American Pale Ale does still meet all the requirements for being sold as beer in Germany though.
Mashing – fully automatic, instead of by hand
Shortly after 11am the mashing process has started. Of course, this is conducted completely automatically using the Kaspar Schulz system at Maisel. “I can’t see any concrete parallels for home use here, as almost everything runs automatically, but I’m taking a lot of inspiration away with me and I would like to brew the next batch on my terrace tomorrow,” says Wolfrum. Between the individual steps in the process, Wolfrum and Briemle have enough time to talk about raw ingredients, technology and experience – so the home brewer can get valuable, professional tips. It’s all about water treatment, green beer sampling and favourite hop varieties, and you can literally see Wolfrum’s heart beating faster as he stands between the brewing tank and lautering tun. The iodine test is no different with the 25 hl system than at home on the patio, and Briemle and Wolfrum are satisfied with the result: everything is going according to plan. After lunch with a view of the brewing equipment and a NEIPA from the extensive beer menu, there is still time to discuss the final details regarding label design with the graphic designer from Maisel.
Hops advent calendar from BrauBeviale
The hops for his Hoptimism brew partly come from BrauBeviale 2019: “A friend of mine was out and about at the fair last year and came back with many different hop samples. He made me a hops advent calendar using the samples. And Sabro – one of the three hop varieties used for Hoptimism – was in this advent calendar,” Wolfrum says with a smile.
In the early afternoon, the hops are finally ready to be added! Taking a deep breath over the hop bag, Wolfrum takes in the aroma of the three US hop varieties that fill the whole brewhouse with their fragrance. At the start of boiling and at the end, Azacca and El Dorado are added up to a level of 40 IBU. Azacca, El Dorado and Sabro are then used again later for dry hopping.
A visit to the fermentation cellar
Before the boiling finishes, there is still time to visit the fermentation cellar at Maisel’s ‘Bier Erlebnis Welt’. From one of the large stainless steel tanks, the professional and the home brewer take a sample of fresh Pils. Then, Briemle shows Wolfrum the tank where his Hoptimism will mature – a special moment that will surely give any home brewer an adrenalin rush. “Please take a picture of me and my tank,” says Wolfrum with bright eyes.
Fermentis Safale US-05 is the yeast used. The American Pale Ale still has plenty of time to mature before its presentation in November 2020.
Hoptimism is good for everyone in times of Corona
“I wanted to brew an American Pale Ale that is classic in its aroma on the one hand, but which also has a modern twist. Therefore, I only used comparatively young hop varieties and dry hopped to quite a strong degree for an American Pale Ale. The result is a classic, amber-coloured malt body with a beautiful, fruity hop aroma and a relatively subtle bitterness,” says Wolfrum describing his Hoptimism brew. He’s also eager to see how close the result from the 25 hl brewery set-up is to the original home brew.
With his Hoptimism brew, Wolfrum wants to spread optimism. In the beginning, the idea for the name was based purely on the negative news coming out of the USA and he wanted to counter that with something positive – for example, celebrating the fact that great hop varieties come from the USA. In the meantime, this idea fits perfectly with 2020’s year of COVID-19, when a bit of ‘hoptimism’ is good for everyone.