LIQUID ASSETS: FROM NÜRNBERG TO NORTH TEXAS
Brewing Beer the German Way
Photos by Karen McCullough
A real German brewery only five minutes from where I live in McKinney, Texas? I couldn’t believe my ears.
When a German acquaintance in Plano mentioned that a professional brewer from Nürnberg, Germany had opened up shop practically in my own backyard (by a Texan’s reckoning of distance), I thought something must have been lost in translation.
But I’d heard right. Dennis Wehrmann, a brewmaster from the Franken (Franconia) region of Germany, had indeed begun making authentic German-style beers in McKinney. Not only does he brew them according to Germany’s famous “purity law”, but he does so in an environmentally friendly “green” building.
A native Texan, I lived in Germany for fifteen years, much of that time in the southern state of Bavaria, renowned for its brewing traditions and its annual Munich Oktoberfest, the largest beer festival in the world. I soon learned that Germany is a beer-lover’s paradise, with more than 1,200 breweries turning out 5,000 different kinds of beer every year.
Nearly half of Germany’s breweries are located in Bavaria, and Franconia, in the northern half, boasts more breweries per square kilometer than anywhere else on the globe. Aufsess, a tiny town in Franconia, is even a Guinness World Record holder (2001), with four breweries inside the city limits, one for every 375 inhabitants.
Having drunk a fair share of fine beers throughout Franconia myself— and having written about Franconian brews for several publications— I was delighted to discover that I can now get equally good beers, fresh from the keg, right here at home in North Texas. That certainly saves a lot of air fare to Deutschland!
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Transplanted to Texas six years ago, brewmaster Wehrmann has family roots in the Franconian beer business reaching all the way back to 1800.
“That’s my great-grandfather’s picture on our logo,” said Wehrmann, as he also proudly showed me one of his ancestor’s wooden beer barrels that’s over 200 years old. “My great-grandfather was a brewer in Franconia. My grandfather owned the Franken Bräu brewery in Tanna, Germany. My mother has a degree as a brewery lab technician, and three of my uncles worked in the brewing industry. So it runs in the family.”
Wehrmann was born in the historic city of Nürnberg, the regional capital of Franconia, and began working for local breweries there at the age of twelve. “I made my first batch of beer when I was twelve years old,” said Wehrmann, “and it was good!”
After finishing high school, he apprenticed at the Lammsbräu Brewery in Neumarkt. A family-owned business established in 1628, Neumarkter Lammsbräu pioneered organic brewing and sustainable production in the contemporary German beer industry. In 1986, Lammsbräu began setting the standards that are now followed by other organic brewers around the world, and today it ranks as Germany’s market leader in organic beers.
Wehrmann then worked for three years as a brewer and maltster in Nürnberg at the Hausbrauerei Altstadthof, Germany’s first postwar organic brewery, established in 1984. Eventually he went to Munich, the capital of beer-loving Bavaria, for a university degree that qualified him as a master brewer. “After I got my degree in 1999, I worked for a year as a consultant to the brewing industry,” he added, “and then worked for other breweries in Franconia.”
During this time, he met his future wife, Joline, who was born in Germany to a German mother and American father, and who lived in both Germany and North Texas during her childhood. They were married in Germany in 2001 and moved to Texas in 2003 when Wehrmann was hired by the TwoRows brewpub chain. “I started at the Addison site,” he said, “and handled the brewing side of the business at both the Addison and Dallas locations until 2007.”
By then, Wehrmann—a big, voluble man who looks like he’s enjoyed plenty of beer himself—was ready to branch out on his own. “I decided to keep up the family tradition. What they’d been doing in Germany since 1800, I wanted to do over here in the U. S.”
GREEN FROM THE GROUND UP
“I began planning this business at the start of 2007,” said Wehrmann, who decided to name it the Franconia Brewing Company in homage to the German region he comes from and the Franken Bräu brewery that his grandfather owned there. “Construction started in October of that year, and we brewed our first batch of beer in February 2008.”
Wehrmann lives in Allen and located the brewery in McKinney “Because it’s such a fast-growing city with a good business climate,” he said. “It’s a good location for a food business. And I wanted to stay in the Dallas area, because I wanted to be ‘the neighborhood brewer’ for Dallas and Fort Worth.”
Having learned his craft at two of Germany’s leading organic breweries, he also wanted to continue those practices at his own brewery in North Texas. “When I grew up in Germany in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, that’s when Europe started being environmentally aggressive,” said Wehrmann. “Germany is a small country, so we
needed to start taking care of our environment sooner than people in America realized they needed to do the same. That’s the time when the ‘Green Movement’ started growing in Germany.”
The “green” brewery that Wehrmann built in McKinney has none of the charm of an old German brew-house nestled in the foothills of the Alps. Don’t expect to see any shiny copper vats or rows of big wooden barrels. The Franconia Brewery is a purely functional building located in an industrial park near the intersection of Highway 5 and Highway 380. However, do expect to see an environmentally friendly operation, housed in a new building constructed to save energy. It’s so well insulated, from bottom to top, that it requires no heating or air-conditioning.
“Even in the summer, our electric bill is just over $700 a month,” said Wehrmann, who buys his electricity from Green Mountain Energy, a company that supplies wind-powered electricity to the grid. “We also reuse 85% of all the water that enters the building. And we don’t produce any extra waste. All of our leftover mash [barley and wheat by-products of the brewing process] goes to Koster Kattle Company in Texas, where it’s used as a high-protein cattle food. We don’t have a Dumpster or trash cans here, because we don’t produce anything that goes into a landfill.”
The Franconia Brewing Company does its own distribution using its own truck and selling its beer only in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, thereby decreasing its carbon footprint. In the American brewing industry, it’s classified as a “regional craft brewery,” meaning that it’s independently owned and produces more than 15,000, but fewer than 2 million, barrels of beer annually.
“As both the brewer and the distributor, we are able to control the quality of the product from the beginning of the brewing process almost until the glass of beer hits the table,” said Wehrmann, whose enthusiasm for his craft and whose Germanic sense of “doing things right” was obvious from the moment I met him.
TAPPING THE BREWS
Having done plenty of “on-site research” during my decade of living inn Bavaria, I know a good German beer when I taste one. And the beers from Franconia Brewing Company all get high marks from me. A couple of swigs of Wehrmann’s excellent wheat beer instantly brought back fond memories of sipping similar brews in Bavarian beer gardens on sunny summer afternoons, snacking on soft pretzels and getting my vitamins from those crunchy white “beer radishes” that Bavarians munch with their beers.
Working together with another brewer, Gavin Secchi, and Joline, who helps out on weekends, Wehrmann produces three distinct kinds of beer year round:
- Franconia Lager, a pale-golden beer with a light flavor of hops, aged at least six weeks in a cold room in the brewery.
- Franconia Dunkel, a dark lager beer that is heavier in flavor, made with three kinds of malted barley, German lager yeast, and hops from Germany’s famous Hallertau region.
- Franconia Wheat, a bubbly, unfiltered, Bavarian-style wheat beer with a naturally fruity flavor.
At different times of the year he also brews up classic seasonal beers that are popular in Germany. Maibock is a pale, premium-quality beer traditionally made to celebrate the beginning of spring while Kölsch, a light, dry, golden ale better suits the sweltering heat of a Texas summer. Märzen, a medium-strong malty lager is always drunk at Oktoberfest time, and Dark Bock, a stronger, heavier and somewhat sweeter lager is perfect for the winter months.
Although Wehrmann would like to make purely organic beers, “The problem in the U. S. is to get organic malted barley at a reasonable price,” he said. “But, although we aren’t using all organic ingredients right now, everything in our beers is still strictly natural, including the hops that come from Germany. Our beer is not pasteurized, and we
use no stabilizers or spices. The product you get is 100% natural beer.”
Wehrmann brews all of his beer according to the early 16th-century Reinheitsgebot, the Bavarian Purity Law, which specified that only barley, hops, and water could be used in making beer. (At that time, natural yeasts caused the fermentation, so yeast wasn’t recognized as a separate ingredient.) Later the law was amended to allow the use of
wheat, in addition to barley, and also commercially produced yeasts. Although the Reinheitsgebot is no longer an official German food regulatory law, many traditional brewers—including Wehrmann and many Bavarians—continue to adhere to its standards, some for philosophical reasons, others for marketing purposes.
Currently, all of Wehrmann’s beers are available only in aluminum kegs, not in bottles, a disappointment to those of us who’d like to pick up a case of Franconia Beer at our local liquor store. Wehrmann doesn’t have a bottling operation at his brewery, partly because in America (unlike in Germany) there is no system for returning beer bottles to retail store or bottling companies for re-use and using only new bottles fits neither his business plan nor his environmental sensibilities.
“A glass bottle can be re-used 300 times,” explained Wehrman. “It’s a crazy situation here in the U. S. where you don’t recycle bottles that way. Even sending them off to a recycling plant, with all your other recycled waste, is highly inefficient. Do you know how much energy it takes to separate and melt down all that glass and form it back into
bottles again? It’s much better to return the bottles for washing and re-use, like the Germans do.”
Even if you can’t pop a top on a bottle of Franconia Beer at home, you can enjoy it on tap at several locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (see sidebar). Wehrmann also sells his beers in a new kind of keg that makes tapping it at home much easier than in the past. The 3-gallon Franco kegs come ready to go, no tap needed and ready to
serve. Pick it up at locations noted in the sidebar.
Wehrmann offers public tours of the brewery every Saturday at 11:00a.m., for a $5 fee that includes a beer tasting. Call to make reservations in advance. Franconia Brewing Company, 495 McKinney Parkway (near the intersection of Highway 5 and Highway 380), McKinney, TX.
SHARON HUDGINS, a resident of McKinney, is the Food Columnist for German Life magazine, USA (www.germanlife.com) and the Food Editor for European Traveler website (www.europeantraveler.net).