5 am. A storm sweeps the clouds from the sky and the full moon casts a pale strip of light on the tiled floor of the Weltenburg brewery. The working day of Ludwig Mederer, aged 31 and master brewer in Weltenburg abbey brewery, began half an hour ago. Today the Barock Dunkel is being brewed. Ludwig Mederer climbs down into the historical rock cellar to the metre-high tanks, in which the beer is held to mature for six weeks. Hoses lie around on the wet ground like lethargic snakes. Everything is going perfectly. Just as well – it will be a long day. Groups of visitors have registered for tours. After all, the monastery is not just home to a brewery; you can also visit a jewel of baroque ecclesiastical architecture by the Asam Brothers, and one of the most picturesque beer gardens in Bavaria. As the agenda for the day ahead includes both church tours and visits to the brewery, there are ten different types of beer lined up ready for tasting.
The most popular beer from the Weltenburg range – the Barock Dunkel – is described by beer lovers as "a full-bodied, smooth, malty bitter with a touch of sweetness". This monastery beer has already won a multitude of awards, including the World Beer Cup three times – the world championship for the biggest international beer competition, which features just under 4,000 beers from 800 breweries, and takes place every two years in the USA. But no other participant can look back on such a long history.
The Weltenburg abbey brewery has existed since at least 1050. Beer production at Weltenburg has been taking place constantly since the first millennium until today, interrupted only by secularisation in 1803. It was, naturally, god's will that the monks restarted brewing in 1846. The Weltenburg abbey brewery is, therefore, the oldest abbey brewery in the world.
Brewing no longer dictates the life of the seven monks. A trained brewer has been managing the brewing process since there has been a lack of new blood in the monastery. The monks have leased out the brewery. Ludwig Mederer works together with an assistant and an apprentice. All three are employed by the Bischofshof brewery in Regensburg.
Needless to say, every brewer at the monastery adheres to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, which prescribes just four ingredients for beer. These are hops, malt, water and yeast. The latter demands Ludwig Mederer's special flair. The living yeast cultures ferment the green beer and transform the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, which causes the beer to foam so wonderfully later on. Everything must be perfect: the temperature, the consistency and the ratio of the four ingredients.
In the brewery, Ludwig Mederer carefully measures the temperature in the mash tun, where the mixture of milled malt and water is gradually heated. The foamy liquid splashes against the inside of the porthole window. It fizzes and bubbles like a potion in a witch's cauldron.
He then uses a sight glass with a long handle to take a sample and smells it, tastes it and focuses his eyes to see whether "the wort is running clear". He then reclimbs all the steps to regulate the temperature in the storage cellars.
The storm has now passed, the moon has long since disappeared and dawn has immersed the monastery in a pale twilight. There is a heavy sweet aroma in the air. This is the typical smell of brewing, comprising the yeast, hops and malted barley. Ludwig Mederer looks around satisfied. Around 10,000 litres of fresh beer bubbles in the metre-tall stainless steel tanks here on every brewing day. The two- to three-person operation uses it to produce the most quaffable beer that a thirsty church visitor could wish for.
For, as soon as the beer is ready to drink, it travels just one hundred metres to the beer garden bar and, from there, into the glasses of the guests. "You cannot get fresher than this!" laughs Ludwig Mederer. He then furrows his brow and runs his fingers through his blonde hair. Where did he put it? He is looking for the newspaper article about the performance of his monastery Bock beer at the European beer competition – the "European Beer Star", or the European Championships.
Everyone congratulated him – the proprietor of the beer garden, the abbot, the mayor. For, with the "Weltenburger Asam-Bock", he won another gold medal; this time for the best dark Bock beer. The awards ceremony took place at the largest brewing trade fair in the world in Nuremberg. Guests and regular customers gave him the newspaper article – until now, he had only briefly skim-read it.
Taking a break between two brewing processes, he now finally has the time to read the review in peace. "Malty and aromatic, pleasantly heavy, sweet, intensive in aroma and strong in flavour" say the words on the page. Ludwig Mederer smiles and laughter lines appear around his eyes. He is ready for the first group of visitors.