Brewing Heroes: Bierol (Interview)
We are finally back with one of our most loved series: #BrewingHeroes: International Edition No. 2. We had the chance to meet Christoph Bichler of Bierol Brewery (Tirol, #Austria) for an online Interview. Christoph is one of the protagonists of a recently released documentary about craft beer:
BEER: A Love Story. If you haven't seen it yet, we would totally recommend to do so as it as a fantastic production, with lots of information and amazing camera shots connected to beer. With Christoph we talked about the movie, brain farts and heavy metal music between foudres. So sit back, open a cold one and enjoy the interview.
Photo courtesy of Bierol
Zurich Beer Tour: Who are you and what’s your job at Bierol ?
Christoph: I am Christoph Bichler, Brewmaster and Co-Founder of Bierol Brewery.
What is your favorite hop variety at the moment?
At the moment I'm using more German hops, so #Hallertau Mittelfrüh is one of my favorites, we will soon release a single hop Pilsner using it. But for me it is boring to just pick one hop strain here, so I also want to mention Vic Secret plus my all time favorite: Mosaic.
What is your favorite yeast strain?
We do not us dry yeasts, only fresh #yeast cultures. We have a house yeast, which was originally an English strain, which is similar to S-04. I would say this is my favorite as it is the perfect all-rounder yeast. As a second one I love the French Saison strain, the fresh version from White Labs is totally awesome.
What was the most special beer you ever brewed?
We once brewed a beer called “Brain fart”. Which was a Session Ale, brewed with four different types of #Peppercorns and #chili. One of the ingredients we used was timut pepper from China, which has an extreme grapefruit aroma, which made this beer even more special. It was definitely the most special beer of Bierol, but I wouldn't say it was the best one we ever brewed. At the moment we are working on our first spontaneously fermented #coolship beer. The idea behind that is that we wanted the produce a beer only using ingredients coming from our farm and the only way to do that is, in my opinion, a spontaneously fermented beer using the wild yeasts from the surrounding area.
What would be a beer you always dreamed of brewing?
We kind of started this beer already with our first coolship beer I mentioned earlier. We recently started and will start growing different fruit and trees on our #farm. So we want to produce a fruit sour, for which everything from the grain to the fruit comes from our own farm. We even want to make the #barrels for fermenting and aging the beers out of the trees grown here, but this will take maybe 20 more years to be done. And also we would love to get all the energy used for this beer and then our whole company to be created onsite. That would be our dream.
What comes to you mind if you think about Switzerland and beer?
BFM? (laughs) Other than that, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about beer in Switzerland is the International Beer Bar in Zurich. I met the manager Aidan at a beer festival in Munich. We got along well from the first second, and so a month later we stood in Zurich to host our first Tap Takeover at the IBB. We have tried to host events like this in Austria and they were always fun. But those in the IBB were different, because at the end of the night all kegs were empty. Which for us was like: Boom, that's how an event like this should end.
Photo courtesy of Bierol
When was your brewery founded and how did you guys get interested in craft beer?
It started as a friendship project. We took over my fathers brewery that he had started in 2004, even though I used to think I will never go into the beer industry. But as you know, nothing in life is predictable. After finishing my apprenticeship in hospitality, I spent a year in the US. I was already a beer fan, but more of classic styles of the German-speaking area (Weissbier, Helles, Bock). So I thought that beer in the US is just #Budweiser and that was not really beer for me (and still isn't nowadays). Which was the reason I always ordered German-style import beers, a Franziskaner or a Stiegl for example. One day the barkeeper of our favorite bar asked me if I wanted to try something local, as I was the only one in our group not drinking Budweiser. And that beer totally convinced me to try more of the local craft beers. Especially trying a lot of those IPAs was confusing at first, I really thought “this isn't beer, that's some kind of fruit juice”. But I learned quickly that it was just the hops giving those amazing aromas to the beer. So when I came home I told my dad, that there is more to beer than what we were doing. So we started to brew the first IPAs, pale ales, stouts and so on. As a friend of mine, who was studying at that time learned about this, he joined our little project. And then, after 2 years of #experiments, we decided to found our own brewing company in 2014. Nowadays our team is: Marko, Co-Founder and Till our brewmaster, Lisa for communications and me.
Which is your flagship beer?
The Padawan, our American #PaleAle. About 60% of all beer we brew is the Padawan. It is actually a pretty simple beer, but it is still nourishing and intense. It’s also the beer which is the favorite of most people when we attend festivals or other events. And the cool thing with producing the same beer so many times is you can improve it with every batch.
How much beer do you produce per year?
About 2000hl (Pre-Covid)
What is the difference between your beer and mass produced beer?
I would say it that we can be more spontaneous and even go #crazy sometimes and develop new recipes more often. It is the fast moving nature of craft beer that allows us to work more experimental. In a large brewery everything is too big to have the opportunity to make fast changes, for example producing a new beer. We can create a new beer in 2 weeks. In a large brewery everyone has to be involved first, finances have to check if the beer is not too expensive then marketing has to set up a marketing campaign and so on.
Photo courtesy of Bierol
How did you get involved in “BEER: A Love Story”?
I knew Friedrich Moser, the producer and director of the movie for a while because he actually bought beer from us a lot of times. He lives partly in #Vienna but also has an apartment in #Innsbruck so it wasn't that far for him to visit us. I also knew he makes films, his last project before the beer movie was actually a documentary about the #NSA. One day he approached me with a new Idea. He told me he wanted to work with a co-producer from #Belgium and they had talked about a craft beer documentary and that there is nothing like this yet. He asked me to help him out with some contacts and other useful information. And suddenly there was a camera and we were filmed ourselves. We had a great time.
How long did it take to produce the documentary, and in what time period did filming take place?
Filming took over a year and was filmed in the years 2017 and 2018. We always changed locations, first we were filming here in Austria, then we went to the “Arrogant Sour” Festival in Italy and for us it ended with filming in the US.
You visited a lot of places for the movie, which was your favorite?
Seeing the #Yakima valley was very interesting. Even though it's only 1 hour drive for me to get to the Hallertau hop fields, Yakima was special as we were using American hops since the start of the brewery. It was nice to see the difference between the Hallertau and Yakima valley: The climate, the soil and how the farmers work. It was really impressive to see all of this, and the same goes for the breathtaking landscape. Even the drive from #Seattle to the Yakima valley was amazing. As you start the ride in Seattle everything is green as it is a coastal city, but as you enter the valley, you are suddenly driving through a desert. And all of that in only one hour car drive, that was beautiful.
Who or what impressed you the most?
Peter Bouckaert from New Belgium is an amazing person. And even though he's originally from Belgium, he has kind of adapted to this relaxed way of life we know from the Americans. And he has a fantastic know-how about beer, this guy knows everything. Also seeing New Belgiums “foudre forest” (The second biggest collection of foudre barrels in the whole world after Rodenbach) was absolutely amazing, it's something you always read about, but it's a different thing to actually see for yourself. The brewery is huge in general, but they are listening to heavy metal there while working and that gives you kind of a backyard brewery vibe. But then again you go up to the next floor and there they have a high-tech laboratory, comparable to one of a pharma company. And Peter Bouckaert has that typical “work hard, play hard” mentality, which also impressed me.
What is the difference between the beer scenes of the US and Europe in your opinion?
The American one is just more developed than the #European one, so a lot of craft breweries in the US have started in the 80s, when the whole movement started over there. Here in Europe, if a craft brewery like us started 10 years ago, that is already a lot. So in 40 years there is more time for development in different ways, development of the breweries, the beer drinkers and the beer market. For example there are breweries in the US, like Allagash or New Belgium, that specialize in brewing Belgian style beers only. Now imagine a brewery in Austria decides to only brew Belgian beers, that would not work in Europe. But a lot of trends from the US are now coming to Europe: DDH DIPAs, TIPAs, NEIPAs and so on. You have to stay up to date with your beer range, which leads to the fact that in Europe craft breweries are almost entirely producing these beers at the moment. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of really small brewpubs and #traditional breweries. And this is also a good point - what is considered craft beer in Europe? Small Swiss, Austrian or #Franconian breweries that produce more traditional styles are in my opinion also craft. So these breweries are often a lot older than those 40 years of craft beer in the US, we're talking centuries here. US and Europe are two different worlds, it is really hard to compare them. But the beer drinkers in the US are a lot more open-minded than in Europe, here people ask for their macro lager and they stay with that forever. The Americans like to try new things, for example having a Belgian beer, or one of the local #brewpub’s beers now and then.
In the film you speak very positively about the Brewers Association and the label for Independent US craft beer. Do you think that is needed in Europe too? Do you think something similar will emerge in the coming years?
It would definitely not be a bad thing. But Europe is not the US, here we have different countries, every country has their own laws, their own beer taxes for example. So it wouldn't be that easy to do that. We have thought about something similar here in #Austria, where small breweries support each other. It just failed because no one wanted to actively take the lead of the project. That was also because as soon as the person who leads this project is also working for a brewery, he or she is never going to be neutral. A project like this would need someone outside of the industry, someone who is #passionate about beer and wants to organise this.
Is there a plan for a sequel?
I know that Friedrich Moser was thinking about doing several #sequels and creating kind of a #series where the idea was that each episode would focus on a specific country or region. But that would not have anything to do with us, we already said everything we wanted to say.
Photos courtesy of Bierol
How was your brewery affected by the covid crisis?
For us it was extremely hard as we focused mostly on selling beers to #bars and #restaurants. We also have our own taproom/restaurant where we serve food which is also closed since October. In the first lockdown we started a temporary online shop, as we've never sold beer online before. And we already knew if there would be a second lockdown, we'd need a professional online shop to handle all the orders. This shop is now online and keeps the brewery alive.
Was there something that helped you overcome the crisis, new ways to sell beer for example?
As I said the online shop and also we sell the beers at the brewery for take-away, a so called ramp-sale. We also had the chance to concentrate on our farm a bit more because of the #lockdown, so we now have animals on the farm again, and we also started growing our own hops.
What’s next for Bierol? Any new projects or beer releases you can already tell us about?
We will work with a mobile canning service to sell some of our beers in cans, we will fill 2 classics and 2 new #releases. We've already put some beers in cans in 2018, but they just didn't work on the Austrian market. But at the moment we have some beers that have to get out of the tanks so we will try it again. A lot of them will also be sold for export.
Is there anything else you want to say?
Greetings to all readers of your blog. And also I totally love how easy it is to found and run a brewery in Switzerland, there is no other country in the world that I know about where this works so fuss-free. And this leads to #creative beer scene, so greetings also to the Swiss Government, well done guys.
Photo courtesy of Bierol
Thank you so much for your time Christoph, and all the best wishes to you and the whole team at #Bierol. We will visit the fantastic brewery and taproom as soon as it is possible again, and we recommend you out there to do the same.
Your Zurich Beer Tour Guides
(The interview was loosely translated from German)