Bavaria Brez’n Creates Authentic Pretzels for Bay Area Beer Fans

The history of American beer is primarily an immigrant’s story. Sure, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson made a few ales, but brewing really took off when guys like Eberhard Anheuser, Adolph Coors, Frederick Pabst and Joseph Schlitz arrived in the 19th century. They built their breweries around homesick immigrants who wanted lager with their schnitzel, bratwurst and pretzels.

This story has continued with every wave of immigrants. If they can’t find what mom or dad use to make in the Old Country, they perfect it themselves. That’s the case with Alan Zweig and Reinhard Breuning. After working all day as contractors, they’re turning a passion into a small business, making traditional Bavarian pretzels for restaurants, brewpubs and bars.

Reinhard Breuning and Alan Zweig

Breuning emigrated from Munich, Germany, in 1984, the heart of Bavaria, where pretzels can be served at any meal or special occasion. When he was sick as a child he fondly remembers his mom giving him pretzels in bed. Zweig was raised in a German household by parents who arrived after World War II. Together they would travel weekly to a German deli and bakery in Tacoma, WA, and back to Europe once a year where his uncle ran a gasthaus.

The two men recently crossed paths, in of all places, a meeting of alcoholics anonymous. According to Zweig, “We were both functioning alcoholics, but you get to a certain age where you can’t do what you use to do. Getting sober actually helped us achieve our goals.”

During that time they quickly bonded over heritage. One day Reinhard told Zweig about his authentic Bavarian pretzel recipe and they started making them for fun. Once they fine-tuned the ingredients and slowly perfected the process over 6 to 9 months, they started sharing the results with family and friends. Reinhard’s sister, who happened to be visiting from Germany, was shocked by the authenticity of the pretzels. She thought they tasted better than what she could find in Munich.

Positive reactions like that one piled up, which made them think about a greater goal. Zweig said, “People were telling us that it was the best pretzel they’ve ever had. During the wintertime it’s our off-season for carpentry and you sit around the campfire on a rainy day saying, ‘Maybe we should do something with the pretzels?’ I come from a business and sales background and told Reinhard, ‘Let’s take this to the street.’” This past winter they formed Bavaria Brez’n.

Bavarian pretzels are a far cry from the soft doughy versions you find at a ballpark or buy in a bag at a grocery store. They’re typically no larger than six inches, have a reddish orange color, a thin crunchy crust, and a flavorful nutritious interior. The shape is also very important. It can’t be oval or square, and the double twist of the dough has to be just right. For serious pretzel makers, aesthetics are critical.

As for the ingredients, the list is very straightforward: flour, water, yeast, salt and a little bit of butter. Once it’s all mixed into a blob of dough, the yeast starts to slowly rise and needs to rest several times between cutting, shaping, and placing the pretzels on non-stick perforated baking sheets.

Before baking they cool down in the fridge anywhere between 2 to 24 hours. This allows the dough to obtain a particular firmness so they can be dipped in a liquid containing 5% lye and 95% water, before salting and baking. The lye gives the pretzel its distinct color and crusty exterior. It becomes inert during the baking process.

Lye wasn’t always used in Germany to make pretzels. It came about in the 19th century during what you might call, a happy accident. According to historians, a bakery assistant accidentally dipped the pretzels into a cleaning solution containing lye. The pretzels were already in the oven when the mistake was discovered, so the head baker decided to wait and see what happened. Needless to say, they were pleased with the results.

Bruening and Zweig are faithful to this process and create their pretzels almost entirely by hand. The only exception is their use of an industrial mixer, which saves time, energy, and ensures everything coalesced in the dough. They work at small bakery in downtown San Anselmo in the evening, since they both work day jobs. While it’s convenient for their schedules and this stage of the business, it keeps them from working with clients who want early morning deliveries, like Andronico’s.

Traditional Bavarian pretzels are a product that should be ideally consumed within four to seven hours after baking. If pretzels sit around too long, they lose their crispy crust and the salt begins to melt. They still taste great, but it’s not optimal. Therefore, Bruening and Zweig are marketing their pretzels to the happy hour crowd at bars and restaurants. They get baked just after 4pm, and then get promptly delivered.

Their first client is Leopold’s in San Francisco, which brands itself as a traditional gasthaus serving food from the Alpine regions of Northern Italy, Austria and Bavaria. According to Zweig, “They immediately recognized the flavor as authentic and unique. They knew right away what we had. That initial enthusiasm really got us excited as we went to our next accounts.”

The duo has been primarily pitching to German restaurants and breweries throughout San Francisco and Marin. It was a logical first step, but they’re considering other venues as they carefully grow. Zweig said, “We did the math and figured out how many pretzels we would need to make. The business can run profitably at two to three hundred pretzels per day with employees, but we need to know the inside and out before we teach anyone.”

As their list of clients expand and they make more money during the evening shift, then they can start weaning themselves off their day jobs. Right now they’re letting the business slowly unfold and are cherishing the process. Zweig said, “The experimental aspect of developing and growing a cottage business is a great distraction from the regular daily rigors. My wife keeps asking me, ‘So when are you going to give this thing up?’ I’m not, this is my hobby and it’s also a second passion.”

If you would like to learn more about Bavaria Brez’n or acquire some pretzels, contact Alan Zweig at azweig1 (at) mac.com

First Look at Abbot’s Cellar, Food, Beer & Interior Photos

Last night Abbot’s Cellar opened it’s doors in San Francisco to the media and a select group of industry friends to try the food and experience the new space. The beer was flowing and Chef Adam Dulye was serving up small bite pairings. Everything seemed to be on point and ready for their long-awaited public opening next Wednesday, July 25. In the meantime, here’s a large dose of photos for your first mouth-watering impression.

 

The Space

 

The Details

 

The Food & Beer

Chef Adam Dulye

Beer Lands Experience Coming to the Outside Lands Music Festival

A good thing keeps getting better with today’s news that Outside Lands organizers will be unveiling a new Beer Lands component to the music festival this August 10-12. Although beer has always been available at the event, it’s never been featured with such prominence, since it began in 2008.

The music festival leaned on Dave McLean, owner and brewmaster at Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, to help them develop the concept. Together they’ve invited 16 breweries, primarily from California, to pour over 30 different beers.

I reached out to McLean earlier today for some perspective and here’s how he described the process and his selections:

“It was a challenging task, with so many amazing California craft breweries out there, to come up with a short list that represented a current snapshot of great beer in the state. The list tilts a little toward the Bay Area and Northern California, as it should for an SF festival, but we have beers from as far south as Orange County (The Bruery) and as far north as Humboldt (Mad River). Within that, there are the pioneers of the modern craft beer movement and also the smallest and newest up and coming torchbearers for California beer. Over a quarter of the participants are from San Francisco itself, keeping with the spirit of Outside Lands in promoting local art and culture. Each brewery will send two beers, with some sending the only beers they currently produce, while one, Sierra Nevada, is sending a special Outside Lands Saison just for the occasion.”

Beer Lands should be a nice addition to the festival, in case you needed another reason to attend. This Friday, July 20th, they’ll be releasing a limited amount of single day tickets at $95 per day for general audience and $210 per day for VIP. Here’s the most important part: “A significant portion of every ticket sold will directly benefit San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department.”

Here’s the list of attending breweries:

21st Amendment
Anchor Brewing
Bear Republic Brewery
Drake’s Brewing
Firestone Walker
Heineken USA
Iron Springs Brewery
Linden Street Brewery
Lost Coast Brewery
Mad River Brewing Company
Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery
North Coast Brewing Company
Pacific Brewing Laboratory
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
The Bruery

Beer Review: Oyster Stout from HenHouse Brewing

Photo © Dave McAvoy

One of the best aspects of Bay Area beer culture is that there are so many new breweries starting up, that it’s almost a full time job trying to keep track of them. Not that I am going to complain, since that also means that shelves of good craft beer stores will constantly have new and different beers to try.

One region of the Bay Area that seems to be exploding is the North Bay. Home to heavyweight Lagunitas, Petaluma is not new to the beer world, but there are some new kids on the block. HenHouse Brewing Company opened its doors fairly recently and three of their beers are being distributed around the North Bay, as well as San Francisco and Oakland. One of them is Oyster Stout.

Oysters and Stouts are a historic food and beer pairing, but using oysters in the brewing process only stretches back to the middle of the last century. For those who are intimidated by the thought of oysters in their beer, rest assured. Most Oyster Stouts only use the oyster shells and none of the meat makes it into the beer. Even if the meat is used, the vast majority of the shellfish flavor will be lost in the boil during the brewing process.

Starting off with a quick look at the bottle, the HenHouse labels are clean and attractive. The logo is simple and the label design is fairly minimal, which makes it easy to spot on the shelf.

The beer pours a very dark black color with a finger of frothy chocolate colored head forming atop. The head fades down fairly slowly leaving a nice ring of lace behind. The aroma is a mix of roasted milk chocolate with some light coffee and minerals. It is a fairly simple nose, but it’s clean and very appetizing.

The flavor starts off with some roasted chocolate malts, coffee and a bit of a mineral flavor. I should mention that mineral flavor is often considered an off-flavor in beer, but for this style it’s accepted and comes from the oyster shells, which add depth and a bit of body to the beer.

Through the middle, some sweeter milk chocolate flavors come through, with even a touch of lactose, and a bit more roastiness. The finish is a mix of roasted milk chocolate, light coffee, and a hint of dark fruit. The beer feels medium bodied with moderate carbonation. It is remarkably smooth and sessionable, and has a wonderful dry and roasty finish.

Weighing in at around 4.9% ABV, this is a stout that I could drink quite a bit of. The overall beer does not hit the palate too hard, but is very clean and has a great balance of flavors. Beyond Oysters, this could be paired with many other foods and works equally well as a great end of the day beer that will not leave you hung-over the next morning.

This is without a doubt a good start for HenHouse Brewing Company, and I highly recommend you give them a shot if you are lucky enough to come across their brews in your area.

 

The Northern California Craft Beer Guide, Behind the Book Interview

Anneliese Schmidt and Ken Weaver

Last month you may have read that Northern California finally has a craft beer guide. It’s a long overdue resource for Bay Area beer drinkers and thirsty tourists. The book was created by Ken Weaver and Anneliese Schmidt. Ken handled the writing, while Anneliese snapped the photos. Together they devised the concept and content in less than a year and a half, all while juggling day jobs.

Before they set off on a promotional tour at local breweries, bookstores and bottle shops near you (see calendar), I sat down with them to chat about their strategy, the book’s structure, challenges, and to get their perspective on what’s new and interesting about the region’s craft beer scene.

How did the book get started and what was your creative strategy for tackling something so big?

Ken: We were approached by Cameron + Company maybe a year and half ago, in the spring of 2011. During the first six months we spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we could do, how we wanted to package it a little bit differently, and how much work would go into it. Once things actually got started, probably around late July or early August of 2011, we had about four and half months to gather and write material. One of the biggest challenges was looking at our budget of vacations days. She was working full time and I was working part time right up until the last three weeks of the project. We started with the far away stuff so we could fit it into our schedules. For each region we figured out what we needed to do in terms of cursory research and what places we needed to visit. In some cases we would visit ten, fifteen or twenty places in a day. Most of the time we weren’t drinking.

That takes a lot of energy.

Anneliese: It’s a lot of driving from one place to another.

Ken: There’s no other way to do it. It’s nice when we did sample because you can leave beer on the table. We did maybe five breweries in a day, which if you talk about it in terms of wine, it’s nothing. We would start at eleven o’clock when places opened and then just cycle through stuff and hit up a lot of bottle shops and beer bars along the way since we didn’t have to drink there.

A lot of guidebooks follow a particular structure. What was your approach to organizing all the information?

Ken: So we basically divided it up into eight total regions. That was the structure for the chapters and then we knew we were going to have all the listings. They are the core of the book, but that doesn’t really encapsulate the beer scene. We knew we were going to have pictures, not necessarily how many, and some sidebars where we would be able to talk about things like Lagers, Moonlight Brewing and barrel aging beer. There were some things that just didn’t fit into the typical package. Then the other thing we wanted to do was address beer styles. Most beer books and guides have this weird section on styles that are usually three or four pages, its short, and no one reads it. So we wanted to repackage the style section. Living in the Bay Area, we have these archetypal beers that we can use and teach people with, like Anchor Steam and Pliny the Elder. That’s how we handled the beer style sidebars. That was the one additional thing we liked and thought was a bonus. The sidebars gave us a lot of flexibility in terms of layout, breaking up the text, and we could talk about anything, like bottle cap art or whatever.

Anneliese: We were able to talk about things that didn’t fit into the listings.

Ken: All the quirky things that fit into the beer culture worth highlighting. They’re things that aren’t necessarily a place, like food pairing. The maps and instructions were pretty much a given.

Anneliese: We wanted the layout and design of the book to be something we would buy, so we basically made it for ourselves and we’re actually looking forward to using it!

Did you go out and grab a bunch of other beer guidebooks for reference?

Ken: Our publisher picked up a ton of them and I had seen quite a few. Lisa Morrison’s book, Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest, was definitely one that we gravitated too. I think her book is pretty different than ours, but hers is very user friendly with a similar vibe in mind. It incorporates things beyond just the breweries. We wanted to include the larger brew scene.

How worried were you about trying to capture it all?

Ken: I’m still worried (laughs). I’ve been completely neurotic. I put my negative perfectionist tendencies to the test when doing something like this. There are 280 listings. I’ve updated them so many times and have been annoyed at finding changes. It’s a given that things are going to change and there will be things you can’t fix because it’s a print book. There’s new stuff that’s opened up, but it was a really exhaustive search to try and make sure we didn’t miss anything.

Anneliese: It was great because once people heard what we were doing, they would say, “Oh, have you heard of this place or that place.” Most of the time they were next on our list.

Ken: For instance, we’ve heard of Russian River Brewing. “We’ll get there eventually.” (laughs) People were happy to share that sort of stuff. It would be hard to do the research from afar. It’s great when you’re in the brewery and asking people what’s going on, trying to figure what beer bars just opened up, especially when you’re talking about stuff that’s outside the Bay Area.

Are you concerned at all about how people might interpret your work? Have you received any complaints?

Ken: I haven’t gotten any complaints yet, but I’ll certainly get them I’m sure. It’s generally a positive book, I mean it’s a very positive book throughout and I think where we needed to be honest to our readership has really drained me. It’s been an emotional burden in terms of just feeling bad we couldn’t say nicer things. That’s something that I struggled with. We wanted to include all the breweries and there are some who aren’t doing good stuff. Some of those have are already closed. We didn’t want someone to pick up the book, a regular at a place we didn’t like, and say, “Ken Weaver says your beer sucks, I’m not drinking here anymore.” I never wanted to do that and I think that’s why we handled it very delicately. You know whether or not we’re really fond of a place. You can’t take that sort of cut and dry approach to things, so our focus was trying to find the really good stuff and calling attention to it. I think we did that with the style sidebars.

What was it like to work on the book together?

Ken: It was good, it was easy and it was fun. It worked out perfectly.

Anneliese: We spent a lot of time travelling together so that was great.

Ken: We made it as fun as we could, but a lot of it was really fast paced travelling and I’m really glad I didn’t have to do that with anyone else. We tried to incorporate some of our friends, but it was too hard. We really tried hard to focus on the beer, atmosphere, and draw that out in the listings as much as we could. There wasn’t a lot of other time to do stuff. She was taking photos and I was reviewing beer, so we couldn’t incorporate visits with friends.

Did everyone welcome you with open arms during your travels?

Ken: We had very few problems, but we didn’t go out of our way to make our presence known, just because we tend to be quiet.

Anneliese: We wanted to see what the perspective is for the future guidebook owner.

Ken: We also just didn’t have time. If you have to do five breweries in a day, you can’t schedule more than one or two meetings, otherwise you would spend three hours there. We’re really looking forward to using the book ourselves and spending more time at the places we really enjoyed.

How did the Ken Grossman foreword come about?

Ken: I didn’t talk to Ken about it. It happened through our publisher. It’s one of those things that I didn’t have to do, but I suggested him. He ended up being the best fit. Ken’s still active and it just made sense. It’s the biggest brewery and it maintains all the necessary components of craft beer. For some reason he decided to do it. I think it was just easy to get people behind a project like this because it needed to be done. That’s what we found time and again.

Since you traveled so much and got a full perspective on brewing in Northern California, did you start seeing themes, regional identities, or other things you thought were unique to a particular area, such as styles or personalities?

Ken: That’s a good question. One nice thing about doing something like this, is that it gives you a perspective on a beer scene that you couldn’t possibly have otherwise. As for particular geographic regions, it’s hard for me to say. Sure, San Francisco had more food focused stuff, Oakland, the North Bay and San Francisco also have smaller nanobreweries opening up, whereas the larger outside regions are slower to adapt, but there’s also fewer people and things out there. I guess the biggest thing that was exciting to see was the breadth of approaches people are taking. It looks like everybody’s doing IPA and all these other hop focused beers, but it was nice to sort of see what was underneath that in certain places and see some non traditional things, like at Redwood Curtain in Arcata. They’re entirely focused on Belgian beers. You go to Oakland and see Dying Vines, and you find someone entirely focused on British styles. You see Strike Brewing in the South Bay and they started out doing small session beers. All these places give you a sense of how significantly varied Northern California actually is. If I look hard enough, I can find something that really scratches an itch that nobody else is really scratching now, whether it’s cask beer or something really assertive.

Anneliese: For me, each region had one place that kind of epitomized the area.

Ken: When you’re traveling in the Bay Area, I think there’s a tendency to forget how lucky we are. There’s so much good stuff. There’s a surplus of it. But when you go outside and see some of these other places, you’ll find even more people who are constantly trying to make great craft beer. If you have notebook, are asking questions, and you’re really excited about what you’re drinking, you get a reaction that’s one of the really fun parts about beer traveling. You can actually talk to the local folks in a more calm and relaxed manner. We’re in a city and it’s a very different feel compared to the breweries and beer bars farther out. It was calmer, less crowded, and people were excited that you cared about craft beer. In the Bay Area, over half the people coming in are hugely excited about craft beer. It just sort of encourages you to go beyond the suburbs. People are psyched to talk about it because they don’t normally do that in the middle of Central California, Mammoth Lakes, or Etna.

Were there any shockingly good surprises?

Ken: Dust Bowl Brewing.

Anneliese: We just didn’t know anything about them. There wasn’t much information available. Their taproom just recently opened a few months ago.

Ken: They opened maybe six weeks before we had gotten there.

Anneliese: There wasn’t any press about them. We knew they existed and that’s about it. They blew us away.

Where are they located?

Ken: Turlock.

Turlock? Where’s Turlock?

Anneliese: Between here and LA (laughs). Just south of Modesto on Highway 99.

Ken: That’s a good example of the benefit of going out to these places ourselves. From the Bay Area perspective you see one thing, their Hops of Wrath, which when I look at the numbers on RateBeer.com, is considered mediocre. Part of that is probably related to freshness and bottling issues that they had early on, which is misleading. When we were there they had maybe fourteen beers on tap. One was a barrel-aged blend, one was a phenomenal Helles- type Lager, and one was Hops of Wrath, fresh. They just had a tap list you wouldn’t expect driving down the I-5 and seeing all the other breweries out there. There’s no way to know about it because no one ever goes out there and does the reconnaissance. It was just amazing stuff across the board. The brewer, Don Oliver, won the Samuel Adams Longshot Homebrewing Competition back in 2006. There was an article maybe a year ago that featured some industry mavens who picked the next round of great American craft brewers. Jim Koch of Sam Adams picked Don Oliver at Dust Bowl as the one to watch. You don’t get that from the slightly stale IPA bottles.

Anneliese: The project gave us an opportunity to refocus on Northern California beers, especially since we spent so much time on the East Coast. There are beers I know I’ve had, but I wasn’t really paying attention. For the book we had to start paying attention again, and now all my favorites are locals. Now I’ve forgotten that there’s beer outside of Northern California.

Ken: It’s been hard to get out of that pattern.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the book that you wish you had space for?

I wish I had a time machine. That would have been awesome.

The Northern California Craft Beer Guide is now available in book stores and online.