Dennis Wehrmann brewed his first batch of beer at twelve years of age and never looked back. Many begin their brewing careers with a motley collection of pans, buckets, and hoses, and at a much older age at that. Not Wehrmann. He brewed his first batch on a thirty-barrel system.
That this should come to pass was, perhaps, preordained, for Wehrmann is the latest in a long line of brewers stretching back to the early nineteenth century in his native Franconia. His mother holds a degree in brewing sciences, and his uncles are still active in the Bavarian brewing scene. But Wehrmann, who apprenticed with Neumarkter Lammsbräu before taking over the reins of the Altstadthof brewpub in the castle district of Nürnberg, chafed under the burden of running both the food and beverage ends of the brewpub.
(On a personal note, long before I made Wehrmann’s acquaintance, I spent a relaxing evening at that very same Altstadthof after a long and taxing day conducting research for an entirely different project at the Documentation Center for the Nuremberg Rallies of the Nazi Party.)
Taking his leave of this timbered Franconian city famous as the birthplace of Albrecht Dürer and infamous for its unfortunate run-in with the history of the Third Reich, Wehrmann set off for the United States with his wife. And like so many Germans before him, he ended up in Texas. Even if Wehrmann is the first brewer in his family to fire up a brew kettle outside of Bavaria, though, his Texan beers are German-inspired through and through. No donut and bacon beers here.
Franconia Brewing Company maintains a relatively low profile on the Texas beer scene, but is worth a detour off the I-35 north of Dallas, especially if you identify with the kind of brewer who studiously avoids the latest fads in craft beer. Indeed, Wehrmann – a colourful character with an impish grin – is charmingly fanatic in his denunciation of high IBUs and the recent trend toward sour beer and barrel aging. High hop rates? “The easy way out!” exclaims Wehrmann. Barrel aging? “Bad beer in, good beer out. You can’t go wrong!” Sour beers? Don’t even get him started. He dismisses these good beers gone bad with an impatient wave of his hand: “We have to ask ourselves why this particular beer is sour.” Only sour beers “done right” – a Berliner Weisse, for example – pass muster.
Instead, Wehrmann and his cheerful band of brewers at Franconia Brewing Company choose to submit themselves to the rigours of the German Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law). If you’re like me and you have a soft spot for Hefeweizen, Munich Helles, Kölsch, Munich Dunkel, Rauchbier, Festbier, Bock, and Doppelbock, you are in luck. Even Franconia’s limited-edition beers – an Oatmeal Stout here, a Double IPA there – are brewed with German yeast and left to lager for a time. Patience is the name of the game at Franconia. As per Reinheitsgebot strictures, all of their beers are naturally carbonated – a leisurely step that adds another two weeks, on average, to the brewing schedule.
Catering to the drinking needs of northern Texas for the past six years now, Franconia was only the second craft brewery to open in the Dallas metroplex area after Rahr set up shop in Fort Worth. The brewery began bottling its year-round offerings six months ago, and has expanded its distribution throughout Texas. Its flagship beers include a Kölsch, a Hefeweizen (labeled simply as Franconia Wheat), and a Dunkel. The summery and crisp-finishing Kölsch presents spicy aromas reminiscent of coriander underneath fruity tones of stone fruit (peach) and floral lemon. White pepper and a pleasant minerality accentuate blanched almond and bready Pilsener malt flavours. Wheat comprises sixty percent of the Hefeweizen’s malt palette, lending a subtle pepperiness and citrusy orange tang to the mild banana, almond, and light brown sugar notes. Franconia’s ruby-brown Dunkel hews in the direction of a Schwarzbier, combining dark caramel and coffee notes with a hint of smoke. Creamy and mildly bitter, this malt-forward beer is surprisingly refreshing.
Other seasonals that Wehrmann poured for me included a Weizenbock as rich as dark banana bread but leavened by a green apple-like acidity. Another, a whimsical smoked Weizen, bore a resemblance to the year-round Hefeweizen, with an enhanced malt sweetness and a smokiness suggesting air-dried ham.
If Wehrmann’s adherence to the Reinheitsgebot and his aversion to contemporary trends in craft brewing might strike some observers as quaintly traditional, his approach to Franconia’s environmental impact is positively cutting-edge. Wehrmann is proud of his accomplishments, and with good reason. His days at Neumarkter Lammsbräu, a brewery at the forefront of organic and green brewing practices, made a deep impression on him. Right from the beginning, Franconia’s 6000 square-foot brewery was conceived with an eye toward green technology. Aside from bottles, the brewery is a waste-free facility. Like many craft breweries, Wehrmann hands off his spent grain to local farmers. And like a smaller number of craft breweries, Wehrmann strives to reuse as much water as possible – eighty-five percent, in Franconia’s case. But he surpasses most other craft breweries in his commitment to renewable energy resources, firing his brewhouse with solar energy, powering it with a bio-fuel electricity generation system, and capturing as much energy from the brewing process as possible for re-use. Wehrmann has been so successful in his endeavours that he is not only self-sufficient in terms of his energy needs, but also sells excess power back to the grid. Franconia Brewing Company is located about forty-five minutes north of Dallas in the town of McKinney, and is easy to find from I-35, Hwy 380, and Hwy 75. Two-hour tours of the facility take place every Saturday morning at 11:00. Tours cost $5, and include samples of the good stuff. No reservation necessary.
Altstadthof, Nürnberg: photo by F.D. Hofer
Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar: Wikipedia
Dennis Wehrmann, Owner and Master Brewer, Franconia Brewing Co.: photo by F.D. Hofer
Bottles of Franconia Beer: courtesy of Franconia’s Facebook page/www.examiner.com
Franconia’s green energy system: photo by F.D. Hofer
Franconia tour ad: courtesy of Franconia’s Facebook page