Fritz Wülfing is the prototype of the craft beer brewers: started as a homebrewer, his beer was praised, and he started a real company, Ale-Mania Brewery. On the side, mind you.
Soon enough we will talk about Fritz Wülfing. A quiet, friendly, clever, humble man from Bonn, who is without a doubt one of the biggest stars of the craft beer scene, though he himself would never ever admit it.
However, we start with Jimmy Carter. Because Jimmy Carter would have liked Fritz Wülfing. After all, when he kicked off the craft beer revolution in 1978 (or maybe not, but we will get to this controversial theory shortly), it was all about people like Fritz Wülfing.
When President Carter signed HR 1337, he was signing a law that allowed Americans to brew beer at home. Real beer. Since Prohibition, homebrewing beer with more than 0.5 % alcohol was forbidden. This action can be seen as the birth of the American homebrewing movement. And at least a part of the craft beer movement arose from that. (A second game-changing moment came when, in some states, the operation of “Brewpubs” was legalized. Carter didn’t have anything to do with that, so it wasn’t like Carter started everything by himself. But you’re allowed to, and should, mention him when talking about the history of craft beer).
It started harmlessly. As a hobby.
After Carter’s home brewing bill was passed, people such as Fritz Wülfing started to make beer. People that weren’t really professionals, but rather brewed for themselves and for a few friends in their kitchen or garage. People that initially just enjoyed brewing but at some point developed a certain ambition to constantly try and make better beer. They started to play around with different styles of beer, trying special ingredients and comparing notes with each other. But only in the evenings and on the weekends. During the day they had normal day jobs that had nothing to do with beer.
That’s exactly how it was for Fritz Wülfing. But about ten years ago, not in the 80s. And in Bonn, not in the Midwest. Partly by chance, partly inspired by a trip the USA, but above all because he was always a self-proclaimed “conscious beer drinker”, the engineer began to brew beer. As a hobby, on the side. His full-time job was as a process engineer at Deutsche Telekom. But then his hobby spun out of control, growing and growing. The more beer Wülfing brewed, the better it got. And the better the beer got, the more he brewed. Because friends and acquaintances asked him to, because it was just so damn delicious. At some point the home brewer began his search for a brewery outside his house, where he could brew his beer on a large scale – well, why not – and even sell it. He founded, still on the side, a beer brand that was at first called “Fritzale” and now goes by the name of Ale-Mania brewery.
But, at that time, Wülfing was what he would call a “cuckoo brewer”. In the USA they say gypsy brewer. Here, they say “Wanderbrauern” (wandering brewer). Wülfing stands by “cuckoo” – and it actually fits pretty well. It refers to the brewers that don’t have their own brewery, no brew kettle, no fermentation tank, no warehouse. Instead, they use someone else’s facilities, renting it bz the brew.
And the hobby became serious business. And Ale-Mania brewery.
It took a while for Wülfing to find his perfect nest. The provision of raw materials, brewing equipment, and most importantly the mindset of the brewer must be just right when you want to brew American beer in the middle of western Germany. The first “Fritzales” were pale ales and IPAs, but they also had an imperial IPA, an American IPA, and even a stout. Currently there’s a gose, and in the fall an imperial red ale will make an appearance. The hobby brewer found a suitable partner in the Vormann-Brauerei in Hagen Dahl. However, 100 kilometers away from Bonn. Each way. “The driving is a pretty big time suck,” he says. “The family suffers a bit because of it.” Sure, he could let the brewer there work on it by himself, but Wülfing responds, “I can’t delegate the brewing. I have to do it myself.”
As of this summer, in the fall at the latest and by the end of the year really at the latest, all of that will change. The former homebrewer will become a just-around-the-corner-from-homebrewer. Fritz Wülfing – and again while still working full-time as a process engineer – has founded his own company, Biersmarck GmbH. Derived from Bismarck. Otto von Bismarck. Actually, when you think about it, the German Jimmy Carter. Or at least a statesman who tended towards beer. Fritz Wülfing mainly alludes to the fact that Bismarck introduced the “Bierabend” (literally “Beer Evening”) to parliamentarians so that they could combine work and pleasure.
And with the founding of Biersmarck GmbH, Fritz Wülfing is also building his own nest in Bonn, opening an Ale-Mania brewery. “I can get there by bike,” he says. And he’s pleased about it. You can imagine that Jimmy Carter had such happy hobby-gets-serious-business-brewers in mind when he legalized homebrewing back in October 1978.
And Bismarck surely would have tried his beer during one of the long, hard, beer-filled late-night sessions in Parliament.
- Ale-Mania (aka Fritz Ale)
Fritz Wülfing, Bonn
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- most popular beer:
IPA Mania, Gose Mania, Imperial Red Ale