Brewmaster Thorsten Geuer keeps a thick book on his desk at Bayern Brewing in Missoula, Montana; it has an orange cover printed with a stark, grey-and-white illustration of a brew kettle. The book is Wolfgang Kunze’s “Technologie Brauer Und Mälzer,” the standard text for German students training to become brewers or maltsters. His edition is an early one, full of thin pages crammed with size-eight type and utilitarian graphics, acquired when he was in brewing school in Germany. His intern, Raven Fritscher, has the same textbook, albeit an updated, eighth edition.
This is partially the point of Bayern Brewing’s yearlong German brewer internship program: Young brewers-in-training come to Bayern and help keep the brewery’s German influence fresh and relevant. In the process, the interns learn about American brewing and culture, explore the U.S., and receive housing and a stipend for their work in the brewery. It’s a program Bayern has conducted officially for seven years.
“We have a pretty heavy German influence. But if you live in a foreign country, the German gets older and it’s not developing because you’re no longer submerged,” Geuer says. Raised in Dortmund, Germany, Geuer met Bayern’s Bavarian-born founder, Jürgen Knöller, in 1999 while still attending brewing school at VLB Berlin; he became brewmaster a few years later. Bayern brews primarily traditional German styles including a Helles, a doppelbock, a hefeweizen and pilsner. Geuer and Knöller travel back to Germany regularly, but still value the visiting brewers’ perspectives. “If we bring these interns over, it keeps us up with what’s going on in Germany.”
Breweries large and small are finding cultural exchange programs like this one useful at a time when beer is more global than ever. At Longmont, Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing, a brewer exchange program this winter swapped Left Hand‘s Henry Myers with Birrificio Italiano‘s Francesca Guzzetti for three months, each learning the ropes at the other’s brewery.
The hope is that the exchanges are mutually beneficial. The visiting brewers learn new technical skills, experience another country’s beer culture, immerse themselves in a language and ponder the American beer consumer’s perspective. The hosting American breweries, in turn, learn about someone else’s approach to brewing and about the perceptions of American beer abroad.
“Since our styles are so different, this meeting has not been a simple recipe exchange but gave us the opportunity to focus on all aspects [of brewing],” says Guzzetti, who has been at Left Hand since January. “Our breweries have very different sizes thus the technology is different, too. But we have a lot of things in common: pursuit of flavors, attention to detail, worship of the balance … It was so great to find so far the same search, passion and pride that also make Birrificio Italiano go on.”
But before all this feel-good learning can occur, there are practical matters to attend to, like visas and language barriers.
“The language was definitely the hardest part,” Guzzetti says. “But as Henry [Myers] has said, ‘We make beer, thus we know what we’re speaking about. We just have to find the way to do it in another language.’ … Both of us understand the explanation of the other one by having a look at the machinery rather than Google Translate.”
The brewhouse becomes the level playing field where the easiest way to communicate is through the equipment itself.
“Our brewery runs metric … so they don’t have to figure that one out,” Geuer says. “When I came here first, the brewery was my safe place. Everything looked familiar. It was bigger but I knew exactly what it was. The difficulty is in stress situations, choosing the right language. We speak really a mix in the back at times because some words are easier said in German.”
Bayern’s interns are in the U.S. on yearlong cultural exchange visas, rather than work visas, which are more difficult to obtain; thus, the interns spend a good portion of their time exploring America and traveling between states. For some interns, just adjusting to life outside Europe is the first hurdle.
Intern Raven Fritscher seemed to have adjusted perfectly during his internship; on the very last day of his time at Bayern, he spoke enthusiastically about his year in the U.S.
“My first thought when I came was ‘I’m going to America, Bud Light country.’ I came here and it was totally opposite, everyone is into craft beer,” he says. “A lot of people here love beer and are interested in it. I was flashed by that. … The first one or two weeks though was a little hard because my English wasn’t that good; I had basic school English. To get around, to meet people was hard. And it was weird for me because [when I started at Bayern] I was 20 years old. I had been drinking beer in Germany for four years and I couldn’t here. … But I met a lot of friends and got a lot of experience. I could totally imagine doing something like this for longer.”
But despite the program’s apparent benefits to both Bayern and Fritscher, it may be put on hold. Geuer says that there are two opposite forces at work in the German brewing world: an increasing awareness of American beer and breweries that sparks interest in traveling here (Stone Berlin made a big splash), and, at the same time, a scarcity of brewers in Germany that has led to more job opportunities and less incentive to leave.
“Now it becomes tricky because the brewing industry in Germany is doing better; for the first time, they didn’t have a beer consumption decline,” Geuer says. “There’s demand from smaller places that need a brewing hand and then as a generational change, a lot of brewers are retiring. … They’re now needing more people. For [our program], we no longer have 20 people applying, it’s getting less and less.”
But, Geuer says, America does have a card in its hand to attract brewers that Germany doesn’t: We think being a brewer is really cool.
“The interest in ‘Oh, you’re the brewer at Bayern?’ at festivals, that interest from customers is very different from Germany,” Geuer says. “There, it’s just a job you do.”
In a chair next to him, Fritscher nods and smiles.