Tastings School - Fresh and exciting (Veltins)

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Fresh and exciting (Veltins)

Our man takes a tour round one of Germany's great pilsener success stories

It is a story of a small country brewer ahead of its time that has made Veltins one of the most respected names of pilsener beer in Germany. This is no mean job in a country where there are some 1200 breweries producing 5000 beers. Most are bought and drank within a few miles of the brewery so you have to be doing something different to get your beer outside the cradle of the brew town.

Veltins prides itself on using the best natural ingredients, in accordance with the German Purity law of 1516 – only allowing the use of malt, hops, yeast and water in the brewing process.

The hops used in the process are taken from the Hallertau (Perle and Magnum varieties), Tettnang and the Czech Republic (Saaz). Veltins employs a permanent specialist in the Hallertau to monitor the hop crop, and has its own test gardens there.

The firm also places a great emphasis on its water source and the family’s traditional recipe to ensure a great tasting brew.

When you arrive at the sprawling brewery site in Grevenstein, at the heart of the Sauerland, a friendly welcome and attention to detail is just part of the giveaway that the firm has been owned by the same family for five generations.

Since 1824, the brewery has been serving customers from the gates, and also supplying many of the inns in the surrounding area.

Initially the brewery was located at the Becker Hotel in the heart of the village. The hotel still stands, and offers the beer, but as demand grew beyond the original 150 hectolitres a year, the family moved it to its present site on the edge of the town.

This gave the space for further expansion. At the time the brewery’s founder, Clemens Veltins, invested in what was the latest technology; he bought a steam engine and an ice machine, and even before 1900 the brewery was producing its own electricity.

In 1926, under Carl’s son (also Carl), Veltins had its brewing water analysed. The results showed that the water was especially soft so Carl decided to exclusively brew pilsener beer.

The water is drawn from the hills around Grevenstein and stored in massive underground tanks. So important are the sources that the company employs a series of rangers to protect the 10 springs. You can even look through a viewing porthole into this wondrous pale blue crystal clear pool tiled with stark white tiles.

The water is sampled and tested everyday, in fact the firm is often visited by the water companies in Germany because the standard of the water quality is so high.

The small brewery continued to grow, and by 1935 had reached 5,000 hectolitres. However the Second World War put a stop to the growth for a while as the essential raw material of hops and malt were not available.

After the end of the war the brewery began to flourish once again. In 1951, Carl bought the first manual bottling plant and a new icemaking machine. He also purchased three lorries and a car to make sure that deliveries could be made from the Ruhr District to the North Sea area.

By 1962 output had reached 80,000 hectolitres, and shortly after this time the traditional stopper and hinge design had to giver way to the modern crown cap.

Another Veltins innovation was the use of the ‘Steinie’ bottles. These were in use from about 1957 and the design remains a distinctive trademark of the brewery today. The broad-bellied bottle originally came from the USA, and was given the name ‘Steinie’ because of its shape – and translated means ‘little beer mug’.

Carl’s daughter, Rosemarie, took over in 1964 and a couple of years later an effluent treatment plant was built for the brewery, making it the first privately owned brewery in Europe to have one.

In her 30 years of management, Veltins’ output increased from 100,000 hectolitres to more than two million in 1994. This rapid growth meant more expansion, including blasting away several thousand cubic metres of rock to make way for new cellars, warehousings and a bottling plant. This bottling plant can process more than 150,000 bottles an hour and is one of the most up to date facilities in the world.

Inside the brewery, the stainless steel mashing vessels are the square type popular in the mid 1970s, and the boiling kettles, again stainless steel, are of a more traditional shape, but in the modern, angular style. These have a floor to themselves in a hall with a cobalt colour scheme.

The fermentation system begins with a continuous phase, albeit a very short one of 24 hours – a much older system than used by many brewers today, however Veltins says it will stick with it rather than risk changing the taste of the beer.

The rest of the fermentation and maturation is conventional: a sevenday primary in cylindrical containers; and three to four weeks’ lagering in a separate cellar.

The beer finally emerges with 4.8% alcohol by volume (ABV).

One thing to remember is that up until about 1993 Veltins was not exported to other European countries.

The fame of this family brewer was based in Germany where it was a wellknown name and amongst the five biggest brands sold.

Since 1994, Rosemarie’s daughter Susanne has been running the brewery and has expanded its export activities.

In 1999 Veltins sold 46,000 hectolitres abroad, mainly to European countries around the Mediterranean.

However the firm remains true to its Sauerland roots and is not interested in being brewed in other countries under licence.

Today Veltins is the fourth biggest brand for pilsener beer in Germany with an output of 2.43 million hectolitres.

Despite its size the brewery is an open and friendly place. More than 14,000 people make the pilgrimage every year to discover more about the beer.

Emphasis is also placed on recyclability–95 per cent of Veltins products are returnable.

With all this history the company has not rested on its laurels and has entered the beer mix market with much gusto.

With the product range ‘V+’ Veltins has caused a stir in the beer mix market with four different flavours: V+Lemon; V+Cola; V+Energy (a mix of Veltins and a soft drink with a splash of guarana) and V+Curuba (Veltins with a shot of tequila flavour introduced in 2006).

This modern looking quartet of beer mixes epitomises the forward looking attitude of this modern brewery.

A 35 per cent stake was recently acquired in the wheat beer brewer Maisel, adding a second style to Veltins’ portfolio in the taverns it serves.

Another area that Veltins has a high profile hand in is football. The firm has been the principal sponsor of FC Schalke since 1997. Also think back to the World Cup and the magnificent Veltins stadium.

Despite growing into a vast production site, Veltins has managed to keep true to its Grevenstein roots while mixing tradition and innovation making it a beer to seek out.

Tasting Notes
While many traditional pilsener-style beers can be fairly big with some maltiness to them, the Sauerland examples have tended to be hop-accented but well balanced.

Veltins Pilsener fits into that category, but with elements of its own.

There is some grassiness to the nose and one first taste the flavours are pretty robust, with some sweet maltiness and an underlying hop bitterness in the crisp elegant finish.

Those robust flavours include some fresh-bread maltiness, reminiscent of crusty bread fresh out of the oven.

There is also a good hit from the Tettnang hop, with its fragrant, vanilla-like, flavours.

Served the traditional way in lovely German glasses it makes for a beer for all occasions and can stand its ground throughout a meal.