What’s the history of the Schlenkerla tavern and brewery?
The building dates back to 1405, so it’s a little more than 600 years old. At the time of its first recording, it was owned by coopers, people who make barrels. In Bamberg, coopers and brewers were united in one guild, so very often the coopers were brewers at the same time. Their vow, loosely translated, was to make good barrels and fill them with good beer.
America was discovered in 1492, 87 years after the Schlenkerla building was constructed. That same year, there was a beer purity law issued in Bamberg. At the time, Bamberg was under church rule by an archbishop. Amongst other things, he made food laws to protect his servants. The first German cities passed food laws in the 12th century—the city of Augsburg was one of the first—and Bamberg then followed in 1492. So the Bavarian purity law as we know it was preceded by the Bamberg purity law by about 20 years.
I’m the sixth generation of my family in the Schlenkerla Brewery Tavern. The official brewery name is not Schlenkerla, it’s Heller Brau or Brewery Heller. The name Heller dates back to the 17th century, and in that respect, I’m the 15th brewmaster of Heller.
You grew up in the Schlenkerla Tavern, didn’t you?
Right up stairs. All six generations were born there and lived there until old age. What generally happens is the older generation moves next door, or to another part of the building. So the family always kind of stays close to the brewery and the tavern, and the generation that runs the tavern stays right on top of it.
When did you step into this position?
I went through my normal school time, which in Germany goes up to age 19 or 20; then you have to do one year of military service, and then I went to university for business science and afterwards for brewing science. So I got both perspectives—making beer and selling it. In 2003, I was done with my studies and stepped into the business.
I was a part-time worker, so to say, for ten years before that, doing translations or computer work for my parents, helping out in the kitchen, helping out in the tavern tapping beer, or even up in the brewery filling barrels. But this was more like a holiday job.