Becoming A Brewmeisterin in Berlin

Rebecca Loyche gets an insider view on what it takes to be a (female) brewmeister in Berlin…

The VLB- Versuchs und Lehranstalt fuer Brauerei in Berlin has been teaching the art of crafting the perfect beer since 1883. The school offers a wide range of services and schooling, from setting up breweries worldwide to holding brewing conventions; their courses are even offered in both English and Russian.

I got the chance to meet with former student, now faculty member and  ‘Brewmeisterin’, Veronica Menzel. Veronica took me on a private tour of the school. We talked about the increasing role of women in the brewing industry, her time as a student, her future plans, and her desires to homebrew a “rogue” beer—according to German purity standards anyway…

What made you want to leave Brazil and move to Germany to study beer making?

Veronica Menzel: I worked for six years as a flight attendant, two in Germany and the last four in Brazil.  I was getting tired of that type of work and started checking out the beers and brewpubs in all the different countries I was traveling to. I bought brewing books and started to study. Because I have German family, I grew up drinking and appreciating beer; it interested me to explore the culture of it. The last three months of flying, I started an online course through the Siebel Institute in Chicago. After, I researched schools and found the VLB. Berlin is my favourite city in Germany and I have family here. I was ready for a change.

Were there any special requirements you had to fulfil before coming to the VLB Brewmaster course?

VM: It’s mandatory to have some experience in brewing before coming to the course. Therefore, I worked as an intern for three months at an all-women brewpub close to my town in Brazil. The woman who runs the brewery studied at the Technical University Munich – Weihenstephan. It was a great experience assisting her and learning the basics of brewing. After that I packed up and moved to Berlin so I could start the program.

Tell me more about the program here?

VM:  The VLB Brewmaster course is a six-month private international course that is taught in English. Classes are from morning to afternoon and intense—you cover lots of information in a short period of time. Most students are from the beer and beverage industry, but more and more outsider students are participating. The program started about nine years ago with four or five students and every year it has grown in size. When I was a student in 2011 there were 39 students. This year there are 50 students and the program is outgrowing its small classrooms. As early as 2014, the new institute and school building should be completed and open to accompany the growth. The program is very receptive to foreign students.

We spent a lot of time in lab and in the pilot brewery but also doing excursions. The VLB participates in many brewery conferences, and we attended their Spring Conference. We also visited other breweries, a keg company, a label-making factory and also an extract company (extract makes a malt base as opposed to an all-grain brew process; both processes make tasty beer though). Also, every Thursday after class everyone meets at “The Guild House,” an old wooden house that was once silage to store straw and hay to preserve it over the winter for the horses. It is here that everyone gets to meet up, exchange ideas, and sample all the beers being created on-site. We get to drink the beers for practical training and research.

After you completed the program what happened next?

VM: I finished the program and began an internship with VLB, working in the Brewing Beverage Science and Application department. Shortly after this, a position opened up, and I am now employed by them doing assisting, laboratory analysis, and accompanying research projects. I really enjoy having this work directly after completing the program, because I’m getting great hands-on experience here and crafting my brewing skills.

Will you stay in Berlin and try to open your own small brewery?

VM: Well, Berlin is not the most traditional place for beer—Bavaria is. Bamberg has the biggest amount of brewpubs. They even make a smoked beer which has an intense taste. Germany is beer saturated so it would be easier for me to open something of my own in Brazil. The idea of a more artisan approach to beer making is still developing in Brazil, but the German regulations and customs are a bit stricter on what is considered acceptable beer. The Americans have been doing a good job of ushering in the craft brewers’ movement. They have a big tradition of mixing aromas and special ingredients. This goes against the German ‘purity law’ of traditional brewing, but it makes for a more creative process and taste.

America leads the way in having the most beer styles and beer variety, I guess that is also because they dont have a long history of brewing and the burden of carrying on the standards and traditions. How is the craft brewing industry in Brazil?

VM: Back in Brazil people are just starting to take notice of smaller breweries and independently crafted beers. It was the Germans who brought brewing beer to Brazil so those methods are still heavily rooted. The larger, more commercial beer companies have a strong hold on the market, but I see an increase in craft brewing every time I go back and visit. More and more people are appreciating the quality and diversity of artisinally made beer.

You mentioned that, prior to coming to Berlin, you worked at a woman-owned and operated brewery in Brazil. Have you seen an increase in women brewmasters?

VM: In my class there were five women in a class of 39. I think this will only increase as women move away from their more traditional positions and into the more hands-on roles in brewing plants and labs. More and more students from the beer industry are enrolling in the program and an increasing number of them are women. It is still a male dominated field, especially in the larger commercial breweries, but I’m more interested in the smaller, crafted brewing; it’s more creative and experimental.

Do you make beers at home?

VM: Yes, I’m making small batches at home, because I need to learn, and I also like to have my own good quality beer to drink. What I really want to brew is a chilli beer, made from special chilli peppers from Brazil. I asked the master brewer at the pilot plant if he would help me work out a recipe, and he refused on the grounds of it being sacrilege. So, I have to make the beer myself and prove to him that it’s a worthy brew and maybe then he’ll consider brewing it on a larger scale.

I would like to spread the word of home brewing. My dream is making small batches of beer, packing it up in a van and driving around the countryside of Brazil. I would stop, set up a projector and show movies and introduce people to well-crafted, tasty beer. It would be nice to bring people together in this way, to bring the artistry of beer-making back home to Brazil.

Here are Veronicas tips for trying out some great beers on tap in Berlin

Brauhaus Lemke, Dircksenstrasse, S-Bahnbogen 143/144, 10178 Berlin

Privat Brauerei am Rollberg, Am Sudhaus 3, ehem. Werbellinstraße 50, 12053 Berlin

Brauhaus Südstern, Hasenheide 69, 10967 Berlin

Hops & Barley, Wühlischstraße 22-23, 10245 Berlin

Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt, Charlottenstrasse 55, 10117 Berlin

More information on the VLB- Versuchs und Lehranstalt fuer Brauerei here.