Touring the Rhine-Main Region's Oldest Private Brewery

"Next week, it smells like beer." These were the words brewmaster Stefan Simon uttered as he led me up a wooden staircase to the malt house at Privatbrauerei Glaab. It wasn't a particularly surprising statement. I've heard similar expressions from brewers before, just not in Seligenstadt, Germany. To be honest, I'd scarcely heard of the town itself until I arrived on a sunny afternoon in late August. But after several days of touring the state of Hesse on a trip sponsored by the Frankfurt Rhine-Main Region, I was excited to be anyplace where I could taste beer and talk shop. Fortunately, Mr. Simon had graciously agreed to show me around the historic brewery. 

Founded in 1744, Glaabsbräu grew steadily over time, reaching the point of producing more than one million barrels a year by 1970. And they remained independent into the 80s and 90s, as other nationally-known brands fell victim to mergers and buy-outs. More recently, the company has scaled back, currently kegging and bottling closer to 33,000 barrels annually. Even so, their footprint in this little town of half-timbered houses is considerable, seeming to occupy nearly as much real estate as the former Benedictine monastery on the banks of the Main River.

"The focus now is on quality," Simon explained in thickly-accented English. "And time for maturation is longer these days."

As he led the way back downstairs to the open fermentation cellar and then into the lagering cellar below, he told me that their Pilsener (4.9% ABV) is the top seller overall while Glaabsbräu Radler (2.6% ABV) is "popular with ladies." He also filled me in on Vitamalz, an alcohol-free malt beverage developed in 1930 that Simon described as healthier than Coke. I knew something about the beverage, having washed down boiled sheep's head with a can of Egils Malt in Iceland, so I didn't press him for more information. Besides, I was mostly there for the beer.

Which is why I especially enjoyed the conclusion of my tour, where we sampled four different beers and dined on food from the kitchen of Römischer Kaiser, the attached restaurant. Along with the Pilsener, I tried the crisp, dry Export (5.3% ABV), the smooth, effervescent Hefeweizen (5% ABV), and the maltier, medium-bodied Dunkles (5.3% ABV). I would have liked to sample the Glaabsbräu Doppel-Bock as well, but it's only available from October thru December and was still maturing at the time of my visit.

"The Doppel-Bock is special," Simon said. "A strong beer with eight percent alcohol but you don't have this heavy bock taste. You're not that full," he added.

With our drinks we had a creamy cheese soup served with a basket of freshly baked rolls and thick cut of roast pork in a dark beer sauce spiced with rosemary and cumin. Add a pair of plump potato dumplings plus a bacon and cabbage tart, and I was running out of room by the time our waitress returned to ask about the sweet course. Never being one to pass on dessert though, I timidly ordered the Vitamalz sorbet. Accompanied by two golden apple fritters dusted with powdered sugar, it arrived topped with an orange wheat mousse and a cherry. I'm glad I didn't skip it.

Privatbrauerei Glaab offers tours (in German) by appointment for small groups from Wednesday to Saturday for 7.50€ per person. Although I didn't ask, it might be possible for solo travelers to join a prearranged tour that isn't already full. Tours last two hours and include a beer tasting with pretzels and a small gift from the brewery shop. Either way, if you find yourself in the vicinity of Seligenstadt, make your way to Frankfurter Straße 9. Who knows, you might turn up on a week when it smells like beer.

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