Sebastian Sauer from Freigeist Bierkultur
Sebastian Sauer from Freigeist Bierkultur Sebastian Sauer from Freigeist Bierkultur Sebastian Sauer from Freigeist Bierkultur

Sebastian Sauer from Freigeist Bierkultur

In craft beer market you have to be flexible, to make short term plans and hope them to last

Sebastian Sauer is from Germany and he is among the first ever brewers to make craft beer in the country. He started his Freigeist Bierkultur 9 years ago and for this time has put out on the market many interesting beers flavor- and style-wise. Now we talk about his rare tap takeover appearances and about the short-term plans of a craft brewer from Germany.

13 years ago Germany is not the best place to be for a beer enthusiast. The country has centuries long tradition in brewing but for the last 500 years it goes mainly under The Reinheitsgebot - the German beer purity law and it is very conservative in that terms. Sebastian Sauer is only 17 years old when he finds out the vast diversity of beer flavors and having the luck to be living in the border triangle Netherlands-Belgium-Germany able to go to easy each of the countries, visit beer festivals and to taste all kinds of beers. Up until 2009 when he founds what appears to be the first craft beer brewery in Germany - Freigeist Bierkultur.

sebastian sauer image

What was the first beer you brewed?
It was a recreation of the historical style Lichtenhainer which was a sour smoked wheat beer which is a combination that I like a lot. I was 22. Back than there was no craft beer market in Germany, there were no bottle shops, no craft beer bars and so I had to find ways to show it to people and reach them. People were not really reacting much - more interest came from abroad.

How old were you when you entered the world of beer?
I was 17 and I explored the beers in the frame of my possibilities. So, I was catching trains to go to beer events in Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic and with the time I started to travel a lot more.

Why did you decide to start your own brewery?
I was reading a lot of literature on the subject. I teamed up with a friend who’s a brewer too, so he helped me a lot for the practical part. And it did help - I expected my first beer to be a horrible thing, but it turned out as a really nice one. Of course, I always do a lot of research and a lot of preparations before I use certain ingredients. It is really different if you use raspberries or lavender for example. You have to understand a lot about taste in order to be able to create certain things. This is also why I travel a lot - I eat at various restaurants, try different foods and see how the flavors work together and then I incorporate the things I learn in the beer-making.

How many styles and labels do you currently have?
It is always rotating a lot. It varies but most of the time I have about 15 different beers at a time. And I also brew beers for certain customers which don’t appear on my regular list, so it is hard to say.

Is it difficult to be a craft brewer in Germany which, we all know, is a bit conservative towards beer producing? Was it hard for you to find your place and start your business with Freigeist Bierkultur?
Oh, yes, sure! Now it is a different situation but the problem still stays. Back in 2009, when I started, I didn’t have any customers when I brought my beers to the shops. There is problem if you just put something on the shelf and think that it will sell by itself. No, it doesn’t work this way. Yes, probably someone will take a bottle home out of curiosity but without explanation you can’t expect that people are going to buy it again. You have to make sure that the customers will return for your product. The beer industry is a difficult market to work in.

How did you start promoting your beer to public and who was your first major client?
There is a bar in Franconia and they were having a lot of different beers from Franconia and the owner was interested in different things. It was in a small scale and it was not a huge delivery but just small DHL packages. But it was the beginning.

What were the main issues you had to face in the beginning?
The main problem with the mass beer consumer is that people think that they know everything about beer when they actually don’t. In Germany everyone thinks he’s an expert.

Here’s the same. Most of the people will say that German beer is the best beer in the world, when asked.
And the next person will say “No, it’s Czech beer!” (laughs). This is what people know. But with you it is good that you can find a place which is dedicated only to Czech beer or a place where you can find more German beers. Yet again Germany is only about German beer.

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How did the things start to change about craft beer in Germany?
It’s a slow process. There are always bigger companies jumping on the screen, trying to use the hype. In Germany it is Dr. Oetker. They own most of the brewing companies. Some big companies tried to impose different beers they were importing by giving them to bar owners but only under the condition they would take a whole fridge with their beers, expecting that someone will show interest. But it just doesn’t work this way.

Mark here (points to the man sitting next to us, working on his laptop) opened the first craft beer bar in Cologne and the whole state of North Rhine-Westphalia about a year ago. He has 15 drafts which is nice but not something overwhelming. Yet people are excited about it. It is a big step in the right direction. And it is the first place to have my beers on draft all the time. It’s good to know that there’s a place where you can go at any time and they will have some Freigeist beers on tap.

Do you often do these tap takeovers?
I used to do them more often in the past. But there’s this problem when you go to a place to present your beers, there’s an event put out but the people don’t care so much. People are a bit afraid of speaking to you, concerned that they will disturb you. And that is not true - that is why I am here - to talk to you (laughs). And if someone is not to coming to you to talk, it is a problem because I can’t show up to each and any table. Because it would be a bit embarrassing if two people are having a date and I stand next to them and yell: “Hey, should I tell you about the beers I am making?”. And they will be “Back off, sir, we are having a private conversation”, and I would go: “No, no, no, let’s talk about hops for a while!” (laughs). It is okay if you get the attention of the people and after presenting the beer, you give them the word to ask their questions. A quick introduction with microphone often is nice. For example a friend of mine who owns a bar announces on every half an hour “Okay, now we will present the next two beers” because he has a lot of draft beers. And then everyone pays attention. The most interesting events are when people are signing up for a guided tasting. But the main thing to know is that people could talk to the brewer. You are not disturbing me, don’t be shy, this is why I am here.

How did you start working with Kanaal?
I was on a Balkan trip last year and we checked out the beer places in every city I visited. So we were in Sofia as well and we ended up been here. And on our way out we met with Lyubo and we started a conversation and at the end we stayed for over an hour more here (laughs). Then we saw each other again at a beer festival in Netherlands and he volunteered to serve beers on our stand with us. And then we met again in De Molen. We talked about presenting the Freigeist beers in Bulgaria and finally it happened.

What kind of beers are you presenting now in Kanaal?
Oh, it is a full range of beers. I never liked focusing on only one style.

And what beers do you prefer?
I like a huge variety of beers. It is the same with music, I can’t listen to only one type of music. It depends on the selection - if you have a good stout, I’d love to try it. Or if they offer me a good West coast IPA or a great pilsner - it is perfect for me, as long it is a good version of the style of beer.

sebastian sauer image

You use a lot of fruits in your beers. Do you think that fruits are suitable for every style of beer?
No, not for every style. I love fruits. There are styles that have very small spectrum of what you can do with them - let’s say kölsch. If you go crazy with the hops or if you add some fruits, you’ll take away its kölsch character.  But I love fruits in beer - for example this sour porter which we are drinking now is brewed with cherries.

Since we are now entering the colder months, can you recommend what kinds of beer we should pair with the food we are eating now - the heavier and greasy meals?
Yes, sure. Definitely the stronger IPA is a good one with a stew or with a game meet. The same would work the sour porter but it is also good with chocolate desserts. Methusalem for sure will pair well with beef or with barbeque.

How do you come up with the recipes for the beers - let’s say for this Salzspeicher Cherry?
As you can see on the label, it has the salt storage warehouses from the city of Lübeck. It is historical city and it used to have more inhabitants compared to nowadays. In the past it was famous for its salt trading. There is a novel by Thomas Mann, called Buddenbrooks and it tells about a merchant family from Lübeck and during the book they drink porter. We made a research and found out that porters were brewed with a small amount of salt to balance the tastes. It is really easy food concept again - if you are making a dessert, you always add a pinch of salt which adds to the depth and the balance of the flavor. So, this beer is like a tribute to Lübeck in the old days, it is a porter with cherry and a pinch of salt. And it also comes in a version with raspberries.

What are you planning with Freigeist in the next years?
It’s more a short term planning. Nobody knows what the situation is going to be in 5 years. I have to be very flexible and up to changes because the beer market is very vibrant and very quickly changing. I just plan certain things for the close future and I hope it is going to last. Now we have a new Eisbock project which is ready and on the list.

You can find the beers of Freigeist Bierkultur in Kanaal, 100 Beers, Beera and Papa Beer

Text Ivaylo Alexandrov/ Photography Slaveya Yordanova


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