Krebs brewery helps revive Polish beer

If you want to revive a rare Polish beer that has been commercially extinct for nearly 20 years, it helps to have the right people on your brew team.
by Nick Trougakos Published: April 18, 2012
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“For a time we thought about building a giant smokehouse out here to do it ourselves,” Scott said, chuckling.

Thankfully, Lalli has a solid relationship with the Weyermann malting company in Bamburg, Germany. The brewmaster emailed his contacts there with a request.

“As it happened, they were having a meeting about new product lines and things like that,” Scott said. “They replied right away, ‘Yeah, that's a great idea. It'll be on its way.'”

With yeast and malt in hand, the project was a full go.

“You can't do anything more to lend authenticity than get the yeast that's not available here in the states,” Scott said. “So we got the grain that's not available, the yeast's that's not available.”

Choc did not stop there. They profiled the water found in wells around the defunct brewery that produced Gratzer in the western Poland town of Grodzisk. (In the early 20th century, Grodzisk was referred to by the German name Gratz. The beer was called Gratzer, meaning “from Gratz.”)

As it turns out, Scott said, the water in Krebs is “relatively similar.” After a few small adjustments and mineral additions, Choc had the water.

The last of the four major beer ingredients, the hops, were a little easier to deal with. The traditional hop variety in Gratzer was called Nowotomyski. It was developed in the mid-1800s, but now “is not readily available on the world market,” Scott said. He selected Polish Lubliner hops based on their common ancestry and extended lineage.

The team even went so far as to meet Polish homebrewers after a brewing trade show in Germany. One of the homebrewers had interviewed an 85-year-old former Grodzisk brewery employee and was able to relay the production schedule for the beer. All that was left was actually brewing the Gratzer.

‘An unlikely scenario'

Watching Gratzer bubble and boil in a brew kettle, a thought occurs: If Gratzer's so great, why aren't they brewing it in Poland? Why is Choc doing it?

The answers are complicated and simple: The fall of the Iron Curtain, and it's just pretty cool to do something no one else is doing, respectively.

Scott combed over countless brewing texts and historical documents, translating from German to English to gain a complete understanding of the beer and its history.

“A hundred years ago, it was at the height of its fame,” he said. “It was exported to other countries and it was quite famous.

“After World War II, Poland fell into the Soviet sphere of influence,” Scott said. “After the wall fell … they associated the beer with the old regime. Everybody was looking forward and looking to things Western. The sales had been dropping down over some time, but that was sort of the final nail.”

In 1994, the Grodzisk brewery was bought by a competitor and closed.

Choc, meanwhile, is developing a reputation for reviving rare European beers. In 2011, they rolled out an obscure salty and tart German wheat beer called Gose (pronounce GOES-ah). Gratzer fit the profile of a unique challenge for the brew team.

“You can kind of get bogged down in your normal production routine,” Prichard, the brewery president, said. “So it's really important to try to create new beers, or try to revive beers, or just do different things that are a challenge for us technically — so we stay fresh and stay really interested in the process.”

Prichard said sales of the beer, which was released earlier this year, have been “great.”

“We are very pleased with the sales and quality,” he said. “If anything, it has exceeded our expectations.”

Lalli summed up the Gratzer mission succinctly.

“If you can put it together,” he said, “how can you not do stuff like that?”

Scott takes an altruistic view.

“We've inherited other rich brewing traditions,” he said. “It's been passed on by people whose names have been lost to history. A lot of those people have handed on and kept things for us to enjoy.

“So if you have the opportunity, why not do the same thing and pass it on to the next group of brewers and consumers.”

And what about the fact that a craft brewery in rural southeast Oklahoma could be responsible for the rebirth of a beer?

“It's an unlikely scenario,” Scott said. “But it doesn't really matter where, as long as it happens somewhere.”

by Nick Trougakos
Local Editor
Local Editor Nick Trougakos has been with The Oklahoman since 2002. Trougakos covered the military, federal agencies and courts before becoming an editor in 2005. Prior to joining The Oklahoman, Trougakos was a reporter for the Oklahoma City...
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