Trumer Brauerei, Berkeley CA
I’m a big fan of the European style of pilsner beers. Perhaps I shouldn’t share this, but there have been warm days in Germany that if I let myself have that second beer, I might have been found on the streets, still drinking the beer, two weeks later. The beer was that good and the line between a “normal” life and the streets was mighty thin at that moment. I’m still not sure I made the right decision.
Maybe it is fortunate that I just couldn’t find a beer in California that could evoke the same life-tilting dilemma. The American brewed pilsners varied from the sad distant relatives like Bud and Coors to quirky craft brews that seem to reinterpret the European pilsner style rather than reproduce it. Sudwerk in Davis produces one of the better American brewed examples that I’ve tried, but it still just isn’t quite the same (http://www.sudwerk.com/). Even the imported European beers that arrive on our local store’s shelves don’t have the fresh clean flavor that the beers have when served on the Continent. To get a truly good pilsner-style beer, my only option was to by a plane ticket. That was how it stood until I recently discovered Trumer Pils on draught and in the bottle at local Bay Area restaurants and markets. At first, I thought the beer was another European pilsner beer making inroads into the American market, but I was wrong. The Trumer Pils I had been drinking was brewed in nearby Berkeley, California.
So, on a rainy Monday, six of us headed to the Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley to learn more about Trumer’s beer. We happened to be on the last regularly scheduled full-length tour and tasting that the brewery planned on offering. (Shorter, more frequent tours are scheduled as a replacement.)
We learned on the tour that the original Austrian company, founded in 1601, does not own the Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley. Interestingly, a family owned company, Gambrinus, purchased the defunct Golden Pacific Brewery in Berkeley. Rather than create a new beer or set of beers, Gambrinus had the inspired idea to bring in the brand and the recipe from an old Austrian brewery, Trumer.
I had not noticed the Trumer brand on my European travels. Perhaps that is a key. Trumer, a relatively small brewery in the northern part of the Salzburg province of Austria, does not have a large global brand footprint. The family-to-family business deal and technology transfer was surely easier to work out without the international brand complications.
In Berkeley, the beer is made using essentially the same process with the identical hops and grain as the Austrian original. The water is different, of course, but at both breweries minerals and treatments are used to adjust the water before the brewing starts. Our guide told us that the water in Berkeley is a better starting point than the Austrian original though this makes little difference in the end.
The Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley is a small operation. All of the beer that is made starts in a single, moderately sized mash tun left over from the Golden Pacific days. This mash tun, where the milled malt is heated with water to break down the starches and release the sugars, sits at the beginning of the beer making process. There’s plenty of downstream capacity at the brewery. So, even with sales growing 20% year over year, this mash tun will be sufficient for years to come.
At the end of the tour, we headed to the tasting room. There I confirmed what I thought. The Trumer Brauerei makes a damn good pilsner. The taste of the cold, golden-clear beer is clean and fresh. Particularly coming from the breweries own keg, the malty flavor is strong with the hops biting in gently at the end. Is it better than the best I’ve had in Europe? That’s hard to say. I’d have to do a side-by-side comparison. It is, without a doubt, comparable to the many great beers I’ve had in Germany and throughout Europe. Gold medals in the last two World Beer Cup events where the competition included brewers from the Continent suggest that Trumer is producing some great beer on any standard. Ironically, it seems, the Berkeley version of pilsner has been faring better the competitions than the original Austrian product.
What makes Trumer Pils so good? There’s no doubt that having a brewing recipe that has been refined over the centuries helps. A long period of refinement is common to many European beers, though. Possibly more important for customers in California, the beer is fresh. A beer produced in Europe takes months to reach the shelves in California. And, sometimes, the beer is heat pasteurized at the end of the brewing process, changing the flavor and taste profile for the worst. With the Trumer Pils brewed in the states, the beer we drink is fresher and cold filtered. That has to help. I’m just happy that a good pilsner beer is being produced close to my home.
Is Trumer Pils the best American made Pilsner-style beer? I haven’t tried them all, so I can’t say. All I know, is that Trumer Pils is the only American made pilsner beer that I have tried that rivals the best I’ve had in Europe. I can live with that.
Trumer Brauerei Berkeley
1404 Fourth Street
Berkeley, California 94710