Mr. Strohmann worked in the brewing industry in Germany and Asia for over twenty years. He witnessed massive changes in the Asian beer industry, including the implementation of health regulations and the introduction of western innovations into the Asian systems of beer production. His contributions to the field include work in both brewing and engineering equipment. Mr. Strohmann passed away shortly after this interview with HOPS, and our thoughts are with his family.
What is the most romantic part of the brewing process, the part you look forward to the most? The most important part of brewing beer takes place in, you guessed it, the brew house. This is every brewer’s most beloved part. This is also the birthplace of the beer. Beer should be made with only the best ingredients like first-class malt and hops, and water, which should be of outstanding purity and the finest quality.
The experienced brew master will choose the malt and hops for the type of beer he wants to produce, e.g if the beer will be a pilsner he will choose a lighter type of malt, and a bitter hop to achieve the right taste. In addition, he will have a second kind of hops, which we call the aroma hops, to give the right flavor. The wort will have a sugar level of around 11° Plato.
During the mashing procedure the brew master has to adjust the temperature to achieve a good foam on the final product and of course to turn the starch, with the enzymes in the malt, into fermentable malt sugar. For this procedure knowledge and passion are required.
So far I haven’t had any romantic moments while beer brewing, but by enjoying the final product with good friends it could sometimes get very romantic.
As an international brewer, what can you say about the quality of ingredients in different regions and how they affect the final product? Beer is produced from malt, which is made from barley, hops and water. Of course the different breweries have different recipes. While you find stronger beers in the north of China, with a sugar content of 12° Plato, you will find lighter beer in the south with 7-8° Plato. The hops content is more or less alike in China, with the beer containing a bitterness of 14 to 16 BU (bitter units).
If I compare this to Germany, the beers there have at least 22 BU and may go up to 33 BU. German BU’s are not for the Chinese taste, and the Germans have to get used to the very low Chinese BU’s in the beer when coming to China. For some special beers, wheat malt is introduced to the brew, which gives the beer a different flavor and implements higher pressure during fermentation as well as a higher CO2 content.
Some breweries also use fruit flavors for their beer (pineapple, cherry, etc) or produce a drink called shandy, a mixture from beer and citrus lemonade. This fruit flavored drink is a very strange addition for a traditional German brew master.
Is passion for the art of brewing necessary to succeed in the business or has brewing become more of a business than an art? The developments during the last 15-20 years have shown that breweries in China are getting bigger and bigger, becoming more “big business” instead of an “art form.”
But even the big business aspect, to a certain extent, has to be done with passion, to maintain the beer quality you want to achieve and that your customers expect. The art of brewing can still be found in small-sized pub breweries, but here sometimes you miss the passion by seeing which ingredients were chosen and how the beer was brewed. From a brew master’s perspective, the beer quality is often very poor.
What beers do you recommend for fall? I do not recommend any special beer for autumn or winter. But I want to encourage people to continue drinking beer, even if the outside temperature drops down to minus. A good and decent Chinese meal taste better with a good Chinese beer, and even if you feel the beer is cold, it heats up your body very well and the heating stays for longer with beer than by drinking higher alcohols like Moutai.
What are the best beers currently being imported into China? I never drink imported beer in China because China has a wide variety of good beers and beer is a fresh product. Freshness is lost through shipping. In addition, many imported beers are kept fresh by using chemicals. Therefore, I drink a Beijing or Yanying beer in Beijing, a Snowflake in Liaoning, Harbin Beer in Helongjiang, Quingdao in Quingdao or Shanghai, Zujiang in Guangdong and all the other kinds of beers in other regions in China.
What experiences have you had in brewing in Asia and how do they compare to processes, methods and ideologies back home? I came to China in the mid 80s. At that time beer brewing was very strange for me, because most of the small breweries used equipment that was unknown in German breweries, like mild steel pipes, valves and tanks. At that time, many German breweries used hoses in their production line, especially in the fermentation area, hoses have been in use in Chinese breweries at that time too, but the quality used where different. In Germany we used hoses especially made for the brewing industry, in China I found simple plastic hoses. Another very important point, Chinese breweries in the early eighties where not the cleanest ones, but beer is food and production lines needs to be kept clean. This might be one of the reasons why it was not so easy at that time to find a good tasting beer (except Quingdao and Harbin beers). These are only some examples, you could find many of them by running through the smaller and older breweries in the early 80s.
Today’s modern breweries in China are on the same technical level and production standards as Germany. You are not finding hoses anymore (except in smaller pub breweries). The breweries are fully automated, completely build out of stainless steel equipment. The brew house process is monitored by one person. The fermentation and bright beer area is run by the most sophisticated valve systems, controlled by PC control filters and CIP plants alike. The only difference in beer production in China is that the German breweries are producing beer in accordance with the German purity law (Reinheitsgebot), which restricts the beer production to the use of Water, Malt, Hops and Yeast. Whereas in China many ingredients are allowed, for instance, almost all breweries in China use rice (about 30%) for their beer production. This requires the use of artificial enzymes at the brew house. They are allowed to dose special hop products direct into the filter lines or using ascorbic acid to reduce the oxygen in the final product and there are even more chemicals allowed to increase the shelf life of the beer.
Anything else you’d like to add? I have to admit, Chinese breweries are very enthusiastic when it comes to new technology and new beer products to be produced and introduced into the market. As soon as a new technology has been developed in another country or brewing institute (like the Weihenstephan beer university in Germany), some of China’s breweries are among the first to introduce those new technology and new equipment.
The training and education of beer brewers and brew masters in China is interesting. The central education venue is the Brewery Academy in Wuhan, with Chinese teachers trained at the most famous German brewery universities at Weihenstephan and Doemens, under the leadership of Mr. Xu Gong Yin. Presently 800 brewers and 100 brew masters are studying and getting trained in Wuhan. Within the Brewery Academy they are running a small brewery with modern brew house and fermentation facilities as well as a bottling and keg filling line to provide the students with a more comprehensive training and education, which is definitely needed for today’s modern breweries and most appreciated by the brewing industry.
Mr. Strohmann passed away shortly after this interview with Hops, and our thoughts are with his family.