The only thing that ought to surprise us about Urban Chestnut’s plan to open a brewery in Germany is that this sort of thing still surprises us.
Despite container ships full of evidence to the contrary, somehow our drinking minds remain mired in a modern world of beers easily categorized by nation.
Except that world never really existed, did it?
That beer is American. This beer is Belgian. That beer is German. And so on. Never mind that early American beers were first British and later German—long after chicha-like “native” beers bubbled up from the Southern Hemishere into the American West.
Belgian beers have long been influenced by foreign ones, contributing to the small country’s flavorful diversity—pale ales, stouts and “Scotch” ales are all entrenched institutions there, while American-style IPAs have more recently been influential. Vaguely Germanic pale lagers remain the most popular beers in Belgium, as around the world.
And what of German beer? Where do you suppose Pilsen is located, exactly?
Now, if you could time travel somewhere for a educational holiday, where would you go?
We could do a seafaring tour of pubs in Hanseatic cities in the 14th century. That should illustrate the point nicely—the shipping and swiping of beers and ideas across Northern Europe. We could sip funny wheat beers and proto-bocks. Or we could go further back, to watch Belgae and Frisians swap ideas for how to cook and ferment their cereal drinks.
Cultural borders have always been spongy, porous things.
Sometimes we say “postmodern” to describe the current situation, with beers and brewers and styles more or less unmoored from national identity. Postmodern works to illustrate a point—but maybe those boats were never moored in the first place.
Urban Chestnut, anyway, is based in St. Louis, but its brewmaster is Bavarian. Opening a brewery in Wolnzach will bring things full circle for Florian Kuplent, who started as an apprentice at Erhalting a mere 100 kilometers away. His later stops included Duvel Moortgat in Belgium, Meantime in London and Anheuser-Busch in Missouri, where he met co-founder David Wolfe. The two are familiar with global thinking in the beer world, even if they now pilot a more elegant machine.
In the news release last week, Urban Chestnut’s co-founder David Wolfe says that they want to bring the “U.S. craft beer model of ‘local'” to Germany.
Barry spoke up:
Well of course it is. The Germans, with 1,300 or so breweries, can still tell Americans a thing or two about local beer.
In that light, what is this “U.S. craft beer model”? Here is what Kuplent told me:
As we continuously implement ways to enhance the image and promote the beers of Urban Chestnut [in] any geography, operating a local brewery is one of the best ways to do so. tweet
Operating Urban Chestnut in Germany will make us a local brewery in Hallertau. tweet
That’s the U.S. craft beer model… leveraging local presence. Not implying that U.S. craft beer invented the idea of “local,” but “local” is certainly a competitive advantage in craft beer and one of the reasons craft brewers do so well in their local/home markets. Whether that be craft beer, cheese, sausage, coffee or [any] other consumer good. tweet
I don’t know if that idea of “local” is especially American. But we sure like to use that word to sell food and drink.
For the record, the best Berliner weisse I have had in Berlin is called Ku’Damm, named for the famous shopping street there. Urban Chestnut made it, in St. Louis. In Berlin, it’s not that hard to find Urban Chestnut beers in the trendy craft bars. Even when they are superbly done German-esque styles—the Zwickel is another—they come all the way from St. Louis, with the higher price tag that entails.
Now that beer will be made in Germany. It will be more local, there. But there is nothing especially American about that.
Just ask the Hanseatic League.