After arriving back from San Diego last Sunday evening, with little sleep had on the return flight, one would think I'd just sleep the next day, which I had taken off work. Yeah, right. Instead, I was up at a reasonably early hour to make my way to Dortmund to meet up with Chris and Merideth from thebeergeek.com, and do a little exploring of Dortmund to sample the finest Export beer; Dortmund's famous contribution to the beer world. It's odd though. I live within 30 minutes of Dortmund (given the right train connection) and I had yet to visit the place. It seems impossible to find Export in Münster -- every time I order a DAB it turns out to be a Pils -- so I was really looking forward to walking the streets of Dortmund for the first time.
We had arranged to meet at Wenkers am Markt at 11am. It was of course easy to spot these two celebrities sitting outside sipping their Kronen Export. What I didn't realise at the time, is that legend credits the Wenker family as being the originators of the Export style, first adopting bottom fermenting techniques in their Kronen Brewery, under Heinrich Wenker, in 1843. That's pretty soon after Pilsener first appeared, so I wondered if the original was a little darker, although I understand the Export part came later, circa 1871. Of course, there are other stories that the Dortmunder Union Brauerei were in fact the first to brew Export, as we understand it today, in 1873, but I prefer the Kronen story. In any case, around that time, Dortmund was undergoing heavy industrialisation, and Dortmunder Export became the fuel of choice for the coal and steel workers. With such a big market, a lot of jostling for position appears to have gone on, resulting in a massive series of mergers. Kronen were clearly a player at one stage, purchasing the Stifts Brauerei in 1987 and the Thier Brauerei in 1992. Kronen, until now still a family-run business, was taken over by the Dortmunder Actien Brauerei (the famous DAB) in 1996, and the brand survives today as part of the massive portfolio of the Radeberger Group (itself part of the monstrous Oetker Group) which took over DAB in 2002.
So, Wenkers am Markt is certainly a piece of the brewing history of Dortmund, the original home of the Kronen Brauerei. While sitting at a table outside we were joined by Jörg Kemper, the manager of Wenkers, who had been smoking a cigarette outside and listening to us talking beer. I have to say, I had heard that the people of the Ruhrgebiet were friendly (mostly from, but not limited to people from the Ruhrgebiet itself), and Jörg proved to be the perfect host, treating us to a rack of Stösschen of the house unfiltered pale beer and schwarzbier, and, most surprisingly, a garden gnome with a wheelbarrow full of Kronen Export! You can get a bit more information on the Wenkers website, including listening to Jörg himself, and the odd shot of him entertaining the customers!
Jörg gave us some background on Wenkers, and revealed that they had stopped brewing on the premesis years before as they has no brewmaster, so brewing of the house beers were now carried out at the Hövels Hausbrauerei, a place I was eager to see as Hövels became one of my favourite regular beers to drink while out in Muenster. The Wenkers Naturtrüb is a naturally hazy beer with a grainy malt backbone and a decent hop profile. I found it a little husky, and preferred the Wenkers Schwarzbier which is smooth, and roasty with a lick of bitter coffee in the finish. And of course you can get Kronen Export.
I had arranged to meet with some of the staff of the Bergmann Brewery, and in fact had been trying to get to visit their new premises for ages. Unfortunately the owner, Thomas Rafael, was on holiday, but we were met by two of the clerical staff, Jonas and Mark, who very kindly collected us near their office, which I had thought was the location of the actual brewery. It would have been a long walk. I've written a little about Bergmann before, and it was great to see the premises of Dortmund's newest brewery. Until now, the Bergmann beers have been contract brewed by the nearby Vormann brewery in Hagen-Dahl and the Bosch brewery in Bad Laasphe, so while they have the Bergmann brand, technically they couldn't call it by its name of old, the Dortmunder Bergmann Breauerei. Hopefully that will change when they are up and running in the next couple of months. A bit of trivia: the German word Bergmann means miner, and the brand now makes use of a crossed hammer device that provides a link with Dortmund's industrial heritage, however, Bergmann also just happened to be the surname of the founders of the original brewery (or so we were told!). The original brewery closed in 1972 (the year I was born) after being taken over by the Dortmunder Ritter Brauerei, which itself was acquired by the Dortmunder Union Brauerei in 1994. Seeing a pattern here?
We has a few samplers of the Bergmann Export, Pils and Spezial II before Jonas and Mark took us to see the Bergmann Kiosk, a dedicated Bergmann outlet just on the edge of the inner city where beer and glasses are dispensed, very close to the Hoevels Hausbrauerei, our next stop.
Hövels is another brewery that belongs under the wing of the Radeberger (read Oetker) Group, and the Hövels Original (formerly Hövels Bitterbier) I had been drinking till now is brewed in the larger mother ship brewery. The original Hövels still brews the beer consumed on the premises, including some seasonal specials, and, most surprisingly, a Zwickel (smooth and citric) as well as contract brewing for Wenkers. We decided to eat here, and I convinced Chris he had to try the Hövels before the Zwickel. He asked if it was all I remembered it to be, and I was disappointed that Chris found it too sweet. On reflection, it was certainly less bitter, a tad less crisp than the bottled beers or draft I had been drinking back home, but it was close in flavour terms. Could it just be the difference in the scale of the brewing?
While we were finishing off, Jörg appeared as he had some business to look after in Hövels. That business included having a beer with us and then taking us on an unofficial tour into the bowels of the Hövels Hausbrauere, a veritable warren of chambers, pipes and vessels. Actually, an amazingly large set-up crammed into the two stories of cellars under the pub.
We trundled back to the city centre and tried to spot some other locations to get some Export, but it seems that even in the home town of Export, it's a dying style. Not even DAB Export was to be found through a casual search. We found ourselves back at Wenkers, with the Marktplatz now filled with drinkers enjoying a cool summer evening (at least the rain had stopped). We settled on stools under a large umbrella and settled in for the remainder of the evening. Jörg popped over again and introduced us to Gerhard, a local tour guide who was in the middle of leading a group around the town. They were on their way to Hövels where Gerhard invited us to meet them, but we were pretty tired at this stage so ended up staying where we were for about three more hours (I think) devouring a couple of Flammekueche in the process. Gerhard clearly knew Dortmund's beer history. He listed off a raft of breweries that had been amalgamated by Radeberger to which I appended "Hansa", earning me a sharp look like I had just insulted his mother, followed by a comment that "Hansa is a good beer, and there's a market for beer like that". Being the diplomat that I am, I swiftly agreed!
Shortly after 10pm I reckoned I'd better head trainwards, as I had missed the last of the quick trains and I wanted to get back at a reasonably civilised hour, and get some badly needed sleep (and hopefully not on the train). Although we didn't have the Export exposition we would have liked, I had a great time with Chris and Merideth, talking about life, as well as beer and their passion for beer travel. I'm not so sure they are beer geeks as much as brewery geeks with almost 500 brewery visits under their belts! I would have loved to continue with them to Düsseldorf for an Altbier crawl, but that will have to wait. As it is, I'll definitely make a return to Dortmund next time I have a free day to myself.
Chris and Merideth's account of our adventure is told on their blog.