Yes, beer is considered food, at least in Bavaria it is. In this southern part of Germany, it has been officially so since 1516, the year that Duke Wilhelm IV wrote history by drafting the first food law in the world. A contemporary version of ‘Das Reinheitsgebot’ still regulates the purity of Bavarian beer until this day.
Beer and Bavaria go together like Bavarian Beer and Bratwurst with Sauerkraut, and not only Germans can enjoy it. Beer is exported from Bavaria to beer connoisseurs all over the world. Consequently, many new breweries emerged in Bavaria, but only a handful brands brew the traditional Bavarian Weissbier like the Schneider Weisse G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH brewery does: in the authentic traditional way, by adding the yeast to the wort in open tanks, and by letting the final fermentation stadium continue inside the closed bottle to make the beer even more tasteful and refreshing.
The impressive neoclassical Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), that commemorates the victory over Napoleon in 1815, dominates a hill above the town and oversees the picturesque village and the Danube river. The historic building of the Schneider Weisse brewery is situated at the central market square of Kelheim. In 1607, it was transformed into a wheat beer brewery by the Bavarian Dukes of Wittelsbacher. In 1928 the Schneider family, that had been brewing wheat beer since 1872 in Munich, continued brewing the legendary Schneider Weisse wheat beer here in Kelheim. After the 1970’s, the wheat beer market expanded and step-by-step the distribution spread out globally.
Brewing Master and Executive Director Technology & Logistics Hans-Peter Drexler: “The challenge was to keep the high quality level consistent while transitioning from a local to an globally distributed product. As a reaction to unexpected beer quality fluctuations and product callbacks in 2004, the brewery started a journey that would introduce modern hygienic engineering and design to the traditional brewery process, while simultaneously preserving our unique traditional brewing process.”
Controlling food safety and beer quality
Drexler was on site when the first problems arose, and recalls the events as they unfolded: “One of the hygiene challenges related to our traditional brewing process is that our brewing is done under relatively high processing temperatures and that we don’t apply pasteurisation techniques that would compromise the taste of the final product. We always test the quality of each batch in our in-house laboratory, and product faults have occurred before, but could always be corrected, . However, the microbiological balance within the process seemed more and more seriously disturbed and out of our control, resulting in a significant increase in product faults. Since we didn’t know what caused the fluctuations, we decided to systematically investigate all probable causes. But where to start?”
Drexler: “We suspected that the decline in product quality had to be related to some source of microbiological contamination, and together with the experts of GEA we started looking into those parts of the installation that were the most difficult to clean and replaced some couplings and valves, but that didn’t solve the problem. We started looking into the design of areas that were not initially conceived as being hazardous, like the whirlpool, where the wort that was cooked to a hundred degrees Celsius is rotated to secrete the turbid residues which are gathered at the bottom of the whirlpool while the remaining clear wort is pumped out from above. We found out that the drain valves within the whirlpool didn’t comply with the latest EHEDG Guidelines, so we replaced them by GEA valves that didn’t have any dead spaces. This intervention resulted in an instant improvement of the beer quality, but as it turned out, we weren’t quite there yet.”
Looking further down the road
As Schneider Weisse and the hygiene experts of GEA looked further into other areas of the process lines that could potentially have caused the problems, they turned their attention to other areas in the process. Drexler: “We discussed the cleaning circumstances of buffer tanks, that where situated between the fermentation and the bottling process, and discussed different possibilities to improve them, while at the same time also considering the effects of every intervention on the final taste of our beer. We had to go about very carefully, because obtaining a consistent beer quality was just one goal we wanted to achieve - the other was to preserve the original taste of Schneider Weisse wheat bier. That’s why our quality control system consists of three steps. We start off by analysing the chemical and technical properties of each batch of our beer production in our testing laboratory, like the amount of alcohol and flavouring and the CO2- and PH-levels. Then there is a microbiological analysis phase that analyses the amount and combinations of the microbiological components that strongly determine the flavour. The third testing stage is the tasting.”
Every week, a panel of professional beer tasters gathers in a special beer ‘Stube’ in the Schneider Weisse brewery to thoughtfully taste, judge and discuss even the slightest variations in the overall taste of the final products. Drexler: “Yes, that sounds like a dream job, but it’s actually very serious work, because in the brewery, we utilise the combined outcomes from all of these tests to adjust our settings, like the amount of hop we add to the process. Beer is a natural product, so there are always variations to adhere too, due to variations in the taste of the natural ingredients. To brew beer with a consistent taste and quality, we have to control all of these fluctuations by adjusting our process accordingly. Even in these modern times, where we use high-tech monitoring systems to analyse the DNA-structures of the microorganisms in the beer, the sophisticated taste buds of a professional Bavarian beer taster is still the ultimate reference for monitoring flavour consistency.”
Back to beer business
After replacing various process components by EHEDG certified materials, Schneider Weisse G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH decided to invest in a new brewery process line to produce a range of new Schneider Weisse beer variations, like alcohol free and clear (filtered) wheat beers. Drexler: “It was the sign of the times back then, and we made good use of the extra investment opportunities to further optimise all of our ongoing processes, because after initially having restored the consistency of our product quality by replacing the drainage valves in our whirlpool installations, we experienced an unexpected downturn. It was caused by the yeast accumulation installation, that turned out to contain a few completely hidden weak points. We solved that problem by replacing the complete installation.”
Schneider Weisse G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH consulted GEA again to develop a comprehensive hygiene concept that covered all separate installations in conjunction with all the relevant design criteria based on EHEDG Guidelines. Drexler: “Together with a team of Experts from GEA, led and conducted by Anton Ladenburger, we then improved the hygienic designs of the drainage system, the water and air conditioning, the mixing mechanics and the beer feeding system. Traditional Bavarian wheat beer needs to be feed with ‘Speise’ (unfermented wort) shortly before bottling. It is like feeding the yeast shortly before bottling to activate the final stage of fermentation inside the bottled product. This has to be done very precisely. If you put too little in, the carbonation and taste will be too flat, and if you put too much in, there will be too much CO2 causing the bottles to burst. Since this last addition enters the final product, this stage must be conducted in an extremely clean environment to prevent microbes to enter the bottle. one One could say that this last brewing stage is not only crucial to obtain the widely appreciated taste of Schneider Weisse white beer, but also to the food safety of the beer.”
When looking back on this period between 2004 and 2008, Drexler and his colleagues can safely say that the Schneider Weisse brewery has managed to safeguard the unique taste and quality as well as the food safety of their nutritious beer brands. Drexler: “We succeeded in gradually implementing hygienic engineering and design in an essentially very traditional brewing process, without compromising on food safety or taste. We did it step-by-step, without breaking the bank and without losing our identity and credibility as one of the best Bavarian brewing houses since 1872. And thanks to our commitment and the expertise of the professionals at GEA and EHEDG, we haven’t had any problems since 2008. We protect our strong legacy, our traditions including our Reinheitsgebot, and we guarantee the food safety of our beer. So why not give it a try and experience the real taste of our Bavarian beer brewing tradition? It’s all in there. After all, Schneider Weisse beer is more than just a beer beverage, it’s like healthy food, an honest nutrition for your body and spirit. Grüss Gott und Zum Wohl.”