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Bitte, ein bit: Bitburger sells more draft than any other German brewer.

Sixty miles west of the Rhine River in Germany, heading towards the border with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, lays the Eifel region of the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz. This is a hilly area, criss-crossed by small streams and rivers and dotted with reservoirs. Moorlands and high plains plunge into valleys. Picturesque villages abound, and the remains of many medieval castles, some still inhabited, are found in the countryside.

The largest town in the southern Eifel is Bitburg. Settled over 2,000 years ago and since then ruled by Romans (who built a fortress on the site), Celts, Franconians, Luxembourgians, Burgundians, Spaniards, Dutch, French, Austrians and Prussians, Bitburg and the Eifel became a part of the unified Deutsches Reich in 1871. Today, Bitburg is a small, tidy, thriving city of about 15,000 people.

Besides being the center for hiking, bicycling, white water rafting and outer outdoor activities in the Eifel, Bitburg also has another claim to fame. The city is home to one of Germany's largest family-owned breweries, a brewery, in fact, that sells the most draft beer in the country--the Bitburger Braueri Th. Simon. As part of the Bitburger Beverage Group, the Bitburger Brewery is well known throughout Germany and abroad for its flagship beer, Bitburger Premium Pils.

Brewery History

The Bitburger Brewery traces its origins to 1817 when Johann Peter Wallenborn, then a 33-year-old brewer from the town of Kyllburg in the Eifel, left his father's brewery and struck out on his own, opening a brewery in Bitburg. Twenty-five years later, in 1842 (the same year that brewers in Pilsen, Bohemia, began brewing a clear, lagered pils) Ludwig Bertrand Simon married Elisabeth Wallenborn, the daughter of Johann Peter Wallenborn, who died in 1839. Through this marriage, Simon became the owner and director of his wife's father's brewery, thus establishing the Simon name in the German brewing world.

Simon's son, Theobald, took over the brewery in 1876 at the age of twenty-nine. His mother, Elisabeth, remained the landlady at the Simonbrau brewery pub located next to the brewery. This restaurant remains open to this day, serving Bitburger Premium Pils, of course.

The Bitburger beers in those times were similar to most beers brewed in Germany--dark ales or perhaps early predecessors of lagers, but always dark in color. In 1883, however, Simon brewed the first clear, golden pilsner-style lager at Bitburger. At that point, the rapidly advancing and technologically forward-looking German brewing developments occurring elsewhere in the country, as well as in other parts of Europe, established themselves in the Simon Brewery. Refrigeration came in 1896. In 1909 the brewery was connected to the railway, and Simon introduced refrigerated train cars to deliver his pils to nearby towns, replacing 30 horses which had previously pulled old-fashioned beer wagons.

A major legal development in German brewing, one in which the Bitburger Brewery was instrumental, took place in the second decade of the twentieth century. Starting in 1911 brewers in Pilsen had legally challenged the Bitburger Brewery's right to use the word "pilsener" in the name of its beer. At the time, the beer was called "Simonbrau Deutsch Pilsener." The Pilsen brewers argued that the term "pilsener" was proprietary to beers brewed in the town of Pilsen and could not be used by any other brewery. (Similar legal battles continue today; just think Budvar Budweiser from the Czech Republic v. Budweiser from St. Louis.) In 1913 a German Reich court in Leipzig ruled that the Bitburger Braueri Th. Simon could use the term "pilsener" in its beer's name. This ruling made the designations "pils," "pilsner" and "pilsener" legal in Germany. The rest of the world eventually followed suit.

The Bitburger Brewery's slogan, today famous throughout Germany and in many parts of the world, first appeared in 1937--"Bitte ein Bit" ("Please a Bit-burger) is today used as a handwritten slogan and logo in advertising and on beer glasses, beer mats and many other brewery gift items.

The Bitburger brewery, like most of the town of Bitburg, was almost completely destroyed in 1944 due to Allied bombing. Rebuilding began immediately after WWII, and by 1948, when the Berlin blockade ended, Bitburger Pils was the first West German beer to be sold in the divided city.

Bitburger added a neck foil and double label to the pils bottle in 1963, establishing Bitburger Pils as a premium beer. In 1992 two new beers were added to the brewery portfolio: Bitburger Light (2.8 percent alcohol by volume with 0.18 carbs/100ml) and Low Alcohol Bitburger Drive (0.5 percent alcohol by volume).

Bitburger Today

The sixth generation of the Simon family took control of the Bitburger Brewery in 1975. From 1973 to 1980 a new, modern brewery was built in the southern part of the city, and the old brewery became the site for administrative offices and a heavily frequented visitor's center. Over 50,000 people come to see the workings of the Bitburger Brewery each year.

The Bitburger Beverage Group sold about 12.4 million barrels of drinks products in 2003, which included approximately 4.3 million barrels of beer, for total sales of around 700 million. In addition to the Bitburger Brewery, the parent company also owns or has a controlling interest in three other breweries and one water company: Schultheis Brauerei; Kostricker Schwarzbierbraueri; Wernesgruner Braueri; and Gerlosteiner Brunnen (at 6.4 million barrels per year, the largest individual mineral water spring in Germany). Kostricker Schwarzbierbraueri, located in Bad Kostritz in Thuringia, is known for its black beer, Kostricker Schwarzbier, which with 372,400 barrels per year leads the German black beer market with a 32.5 percent market share. The brewery has also produced a beer mix since 2002 known as Kostritz Bibop. Wernesgruner Braueri, in the Vogtland region of Saxony, has been wholly owned since 2002 and brews 625,500 barrels per year.

The Bitburger Brewery, which sold 3.6 million barrels last year, leads the tap handle wars in the German beer market with a 6.3 percent market share and just under one million barrels sold per year. Thirty-four percent of Bitburger Premium Pils is packaged as a draft product. The beer is sold in 44,000 restaurants and 56 countries worldwide.

There are approximately 1,000 employees at the Bitburger Brewery. The modern, stainless steel brewhouse, which is in operation Monday through Thursday each week of the year, utilizes two mash tuns, two brewing kettles and two clarifying vessels to brew 1,300 barrel batches of beer. Bitburger Premium Pils undergoes a primary fermentation of seven to ten days in 3,400 barrel tanks, followed by a second fermentation of seven days and a two-and-a-half week lagering period. Only the canned product is pasteurized, and the lager is bottled in 33-cl, 50-cl and 12-oz bottles and 50-cl "wide mouth" plastic bottles. The product exported to the U.S. differs from the German beer only in the fact that it's slightly more filtered.

The Beer

Bitburger Premium Pils has an original gravity of 11.3-degrees Plato, and the brewery is noted for having led the way in lowering the original gravity of German pilsners. The alcohol level, 4.8 percent by volume, is standard for the style.

One-third of the barley used in Premium Pils comes from farms in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, and the remainder comes from other parts of Germany. Only spring barley is used. Wells over nine hundred feet deep on the brewery properties supply all the water needs. The proprietary yeast produces a fully fermented, dry, crisp beer that balances nicely with a soft, malty middle and a big hoppy finish.

Bitburger Premium Pils uses several hop additions of Northern Brewer (for bittering) and Perle, Hallertau Mittelfruh and Tettnang hops (for flavor and aroma). The lager has about 37 International Bittering Units. The bulk of the brewery's hops come from the German Hallertau region, but local Eifel hops are also used.

In the Holsthum region near Bitburg, there is a hop farm which takes credit for being the most northerly hop region in Germany. Hopfenanbaubetrieb Herbert Dick/Holsthumer Hopfentau is owned by Herbert Dick. He began hop farming in 1966 with six acres under cultivation. He now has almost 50 acres planted, enough to supply the hops for 426 barrels of beer. On his farm Herr Dick grows Perle, Hallertau Tradition, Splat Select, Magnum and Taurus hops, all sold exclusively to the Bitburger Brewery. He's currently testing three new hop varieties on his land: Orion, Target and Sapir. For nine of the past 12 years, the Hopfenanbaubetrieb Herbert Dick has won an award for Best Hops during the Green Week at the Berlin Expo.

Not Exactly Beer

Just as small artisanal brewers sprang up in Europe and the U.S. in the last two decades, a similar phenomenon developed in the Eifel region with schnapps makers. The region has many fruit and berry growers, a number of whom have made home-made schnapps. In 1991, eleven of these schnapps makers banded together and formed a co-operative effort which they named Der Eifel--Eifel Premium Brand. Packaged in tall, thin, elegant half-liter bottles, Der Eifel's eleven schnapps, all at 42 percent alcohol by volume, feature fruits and berries such as pear, apple, cherry and plum.

The Bitburger Brewery is led today by Peter Rikowski, Dr Axel Th. Simon (a member of the original Simon family) and Alfred Muller. As sales continue to grow and the German beer industry consolidates, Bitburger remains a player. As recently as last month a European press report stated that Bitburger and Carlsberg were planning a joint takeover of Germany's Holsten Brewery. Holsten later announced that they had not found a buyer for a majority stake in their brewery. Whatever the future holds for the Bitburger Brewery, the current management is dedicated to maintaining and increasing Bitburger's sales at home and abroad, while keeping an eye on the brewery's history. As Bitburger states in its marketing literature: "There is no contradiction between tradition and modernity."
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Title Annotation:Featured Brewery
Author:Glaser, Gregg
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jan 26, 2004
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