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

Meet the Beer Revolution Curling Team

Photos © Brian Stechschulte

On a recent Friday night, as Beer Revolution was just starting to defuse the work week tension, a handful of patrons were preparing to face-off in a epic match. They talked a little trash, emptied a few pints, and then traveled to downtown Oakland where they spent two hours on a sheet of ice sliding rocks and swinging brooms to score points. Team Beer Revolution squared off against Team Mosswood. The winner would be crowned champion of the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club’s (SFBACC) Friday night league.

After work league sports are an American tradition. They divert our attention from crappy jobs, help us revisit our glorious youth, and might be considered exercise. If you don’t make a post game visit to the bar sponsoring your team.

Bar sponsorship of softball league teams is fairly ubiquitous. For curling it’s comparatively obscure. Americans are slowly gravitating to the game thanks to the Winter Olympics and outreach by curling clubs, but it’s pretty low on the sporting food chain. The SFBACC has been around since 1958 and regularly hosts learn to curl nights.

Curling’s first historical reference dates back to Scotland in 1541, when the game was played on frozen ponds. Game play is fairly straightforward. Four players constitute a team, who take turns sliding eight granite stones down a sheet of ice toward a circular target. Accumulating the most stones near the center of the target scores points.

Curling stones

Sounds simple right? Well, there’s a lot of strategy and technique. Stones can be placed as guards in front of the target to prevent opponents from scoring. They can be delivered with a slight rotation, or “curl,” so they curve around guards, and players use brooms to reduce ice friction so the shot travels further then it normally would.

Curling brooms

The complexity of the game is what attracted John Heylin, who learned to play during the SFBACC’s Friday night practice sessions. After he honed his skills for a few weeks, fellow-curling newbs Melissa Buck and Amy Cohen approached him about forming a team. Heylin agreed and they rounded out the group with Sean Owens, who also started playing at the same time.

From left to right: Sean Owens, Amy Cohen, John Heylin & Melissa Buck

Once the group was formed, the next task was a team name and sponsorship. The Trappist bar in Oakland already sponsored one team, so Heylin, an avid craft beer fan and fellow contributor to this website, thought another bar or brewery might be interested. That’s when nearby Beer Revolution came to mind.

Heylin was a regular customer and decided to approach Beer Revolution co-owner Rebecca Boyles. He said, “She loved the idea of sponsoring a curling team and I don’t think it’s because she’s Canadian, but because it’s such a weird sport for the Bay Area and it seemed like a silly thing to do.”

Boyles allowed the team to modify the Beer Revolution logo, which includes a hand holding a curling stone instead of a beer. It appears on the team’s monogrammed black hooded sweatshirts. She also threw them a fundraiser at the bar to help pay league fees. Each team pays around a $1000 per 10 game season.

The team has now played together for several seasons at the Oakland Ice Center, in the city’s downtown corridor. Two weeks ago they were in the championship match. After a typical warm up session at Beer Revolution, they proceeded to dominate Team Mosswood. The final score was 7 to 1.

You might think such a lopsided score would yield animosity, but the Friday night league is pretty loose and lighthearted. Any disappointment is diluted by two of the most important league rules enforced after a match. The first rule is the winners buy the losers their first beer, and the second rule requires the losers to buy the next round.

If you would like to learn more about curling or participate in one the SFBACC’s learn to curl sessions (there’s one scheduled this coming weekend), head over to their website or contact John Heylin at jheylin (at) gmail.com

John Casey Combines Art and Beer for The Trappist

Photos © Brian Stechschulte / Artwork © John Casey

Every time you walk into a bottle store, beer fights for your attention. Row after row of tasty options entice you with help from label artwork. Sure, you might have a taste for an IPA or the latest must have Imperial Stout, but more than you might want to admit, what’s wrapped around that bottle, has an influence on your buying habits, especially if it’s a new beer. Design and marketing play a key role on labels, t-shirts and any other trinket a brewery or bar decides to sell. Artists play a big role and often don’t get credit beyond a paycheck or free beer.

Shortly after The Trappist opened its doors in Oakland, artist John Casey wandered in and not only discovered the wider world of craft beer, but also developed a creative relationship with the owners, Aaron Porter and Chuck Stilphen. He’s designed several successful t-shirts for the bar and their collaboration beer label for Evil Twin’s Wet Dream.

Casey’s Oakland studio

Casey earned a Bachelors of Fine Art from MassArt in Boston and arrived in the Bay Area with his wife back in 1998 during the dot com bubble. They both worked in the tech industry and Casey’s been exhibiting his artwork around the region and in far-flung cities like Paris. He describes his work as, “Surrealistic, kind of fun and trippy.”

When he met Porter and Stilphen a few years ago, he was getting a little tired of the traditional West Coast IPA. According to Casey, “I was looking for something a little more interesting and malty. I went into The Trappist and started chatting with them about beer and just got more and more interested in what they were serving. After awhile, I gave Aaron and Chuck some stickers and they were intrigued by my work.”

For the most part Casey doesn’t do commercial work, but has made a few exceptions. His first t-shirt design for The Trappist featured a guy on a tricycle with hops bursting out of his head. The t-shirt sold out and the creative relationship continued when Porter and Stilphen asked him to design a label for their 2011 collaboration beer with Evil Twin called Wet Dream. It’s a brown IPA infused with espresso that debuted at the Copenhagen Beer Festival.

Casey’s first t-shirt design for The Trappist

Casey had never designed a beer label before, but was interested in the challenge, especially because he’s given a lot of creative leeway. For the Wet Dream label Casey considered several different options. He said, “I could have used some really obvious image connotations. Some early proofs had some splattering paint, but I decided to lean more towards dream because wet seemed so obvious. The challenge was combining the logos and three distinct fonts, while trying to follow Evil Twin’s previous label format.”

Proofs went back and forth between Casey and Evil Twin’s graphic designer before it was finalized. The label size changed multiple times and a few accommodations were made for the American market. In the end, Casey kept the label artwork and color pretty minimal. The design was featured on a t-shirt and logo glassware that you can still find at the bar.

Casey’s latest project for The Trappist went on sale back in March. It’s another playful t-shirt design featuring a torso less figure with hops flying out of his pants, the bar’s name resting on his forehead and gold teeth that spell Oakland. It’s the perfect representation of the hop crazed beer geek.

Casey’s latest t-shirt design for The Trappist

When asked if he works for free, money or beer, Casey said, “We come to a beer agreement and they’ve always been very good to me. They like the work, they’re pretty open to it, and if I meet them part way, it’s because I do want to promote the beer. It’s not just about the artwork.”

Two recent sculptures

HenHouse Brewing Embraces Petaluma, Plot Path Away From Hoppy Neighbor

From left to right: Scott Goynes, Shane Goepel & Colin McDonnell / Photos © Brian Stechschulte

Fermentation tanks are reshaping Petaluma’s skyline and chicken egg capital reputation thanks to Lagunitas Brewing. Their popularity and brewing capacity, which currently ranks ninth by volume among craft brewers in the Unites States, casts a long hoppy shadow over aspiring nanobreweries in the city. In spite of the challenge, HenHouse Brewing has begun to craft its own unique identity inside an old egg processing facility just blocks from downtown Petaluma.

“One of the biggest difficulties we have right now is explaining to people the size of our operation. If we’re lucky will do one hundred barrels of production this year, which is what Lagunitas does in four hours.” That’s what Colin McDonnell and his brewery partners, Scott Goyne and Shane Goepel, tell locals who think they’re going to be the next Lagunitas. It’s certainly possible, but they’re charting a different path.

HenHouse Brewing was incorporated in March of 2011 and started shipping beer to stores and bars around Petaluma this past January. They currently sublease space for brewing and storage inside Rogue Research, a firm known for producing dietary supplements, cosmetics and soap.

The facility is well equipped for brewing. Goepel and Goyne currently work for Rogue, which gave them an inside track on the brew space. They spent two years homebrewing there on weekends before teaming up with McDonnell, who’s been honing his skills for the same amount of time at the Beach Chalet, 21st Amendment and Devil’s Canyon, before recently accepting a position at Drake’s

The nanobrewery came to fruition after they approached Rogue about subleasing some space to go pro, who in turn offered them a very affordable lease. There are only a few workable drawbacks to the arrangement. They can only work on weekends. Their two-barrel mash tun, kettle and fermenters have to be wheeled in and out of the production space, then locked in cages at the end of the day to meet licensing requirements. Even after all that, according to McDonnell, “We would have been fools to not take this opportunity.”

Once they had a space to brew, settling on a brewery name was the next big decision. HenHouse Brewing pays homage to Petaluma’s agricultural heritage, but it wasn’t their first choice. McDonnell explained:

“When we were pulling together our corporate application we had all these brainstorming sessions and came up with all sorts of names, from Petaluma Brewing Company to a more pretentious name like Oak Hill Cellars. We eventually settled on a different name and when we were literally folding up the application and putting it in the envelope Shane said, ‘What do you guys think about HenHouse Brewing Company?’ And we were all like, ‘that’s way better!’ It was at the exact last second possible and it worked out great.”

Their mash tun’s former life was spent working as an essential oil extractor.

When it comes to making beer, all three partners bring a different sensibility to the table. Goyne is a certified herbalist and self-proclaimed mad scientist. He leans towards experimentation and sometimes goes to great lengths for ingredients, like kayaking off the Mendocino coast to gather sea salt on an island. Goepel is the tinkerer who dabbles in the minutiae of recipes and McDonnell said he keeps beer moving out the door.

Their first several batches of beer to hit the shelf include a bottle conditioned Saison, Belgian Golden and Oyster Stout for local distribution. They’re also filling a few kegs, but draft is not their primary focus. Petaluma Taps could easily serve every drop of beer on tap they make, but it doesn’t fit their strategy for growth. They would like to see it get in front of a larger cross section of people, so bottles made more sense.

What they decided to produce was carefully considered. They deliberately chose styles that were diverse and underrepresented in the marketplace. Although they’re currently playing with an IPA, they initially steered clear of the style to avoid a quick comparison with Lagunitas right out of the gate.

McDonnell said, “We’re trying to do something that’s interesting and different without being unnecessarily challenging and weird, which is the balance you want to strike. You don’t want to be weird for being weird’s sake. You want to be different and interesting for the sake of standing out in a very crowded marketplace.

Starters for their oyster stout brew day.

They’re next concept just might do the trick. Imagine a double IPA that smells and tastes like a double IPA, but doesn’t contain any hops. It would essentially be a gruit that relies on Goyne’s intimate knowledge of herbs to imitate the aroma, flavor and bitterness profile of the popular style. It includes yarrow, Douglas fir tips, grapefruit peel and juice. It’s an ambitious project that could yield intriguing results.

Their oyster stout currently on shelves only utilizes the shell, but their now experimenting with the meat.

So far Petaluma has welcomed HenHouse with open arms. They’re supplying a steady stream of beer to a few accounts around town and feedback from the community has been positive. According to McDonnell, “People are excited that something new is happening and the Lagunitas guys have actually been super stoked about us. They’ve been really supportive.”

If business keeps on going strong, HenHouse would like to expand next year into a ten or fifteen barrel brewhouse. Right now they’re having fun, but as McDonnell explained, “In this facility we will never make enough money to pay any of us. We’re essentially donating our time to the business. People ask us if we’re making money and I tell them we have great cost savings on labor!”