Anna Schwaeble is a passionate Bavarian brewmaster living in Bristol and working at The Bath Brew House. We first met in May during our interview with her boyfriend sculptor Joachim Seitfudem, when she told us that she works as a professional brewmaster in the heart of Bath’s city centre. Keen to find out more about her passion for brewing, we caught up with Anna on a cloudy November morning in Bristol’s Harbourside. From there, we journeyed to her workplace in Bath and spent a few hours in her company, taking in the science of beer-making and chatting about her journey into brewing, her travel bug and plans for the future.
How did you get into brewing?
After travelling through Australia for a few months at the age of 20 I started working for Löwenbräu Keller in Sydney. Of course there was lots of beer around and I saw how people from all over the world sat together and enjoyed drinking fine Lagers and Ales. At that time I did not like the taste of beer but I really liked the uniting factor that beer provides. Beer simply is a worldwide known beverage. Every nation brews its own beer styles and I saw that it made people from different places and backgrounds sit together, have a good time and clink glasses.
During my time in Australia I discovered my passion for travelling and I thought that by becoming a professional beer brewer I would be able to work where I want and to see the world. I think that for me this was the most important reason that got me into the science of beer-making. And my family really supported the idea. Especially my grandfather who still is my biggest fan. I told him about my life in Sydney and how exciting it was to work “around” beer and he just said: “Why don’t you become a brewer? If you study hard and work hard you will create your own recipes and brew your own beer one day.” Having that support was a big help too.
Could you walk us through your brewing process?
The brewing process starts with barley and malt, pre-milled and stored in sacks. The blend of malts or “grist load” required for a particular recipe is loaded into the mash kettle where it’s mixed with water. Darker malt leads to darker beer with stronger malty, cookie-like up to even toffee and liquorice-like flavours.This process is called ‘mashing in’ and the grist water mix is called ‘mash’. Over the course of a bit more than one hour at 68°C enzymes convert the starch in the malt into sugar.
At the end of the mashing procedure the wort gets transferred into the brew kettle. This is called “lautering”. The sweet liquid called “wort” is drawn off underneath the false bottom (lots of tiny slots in it) and first re-circulated into the mash tun until it runs clear and then pumped into the kettle (coffee filter principle). To get as much extract (sugar) as possible out of the mash, hot water is sprayed on the mash. This process is called “sparging”. It is important to find the balance between washing out as much extract as possible and diluting the already collected wort too much.
Once the brew kettle is filled with the right amount of wort, it’s brought to the boil while the spent grain gets drained and dried. After that it gets put back manually into the empty malt sacks. Bitter hops are added at the beginning of the boil, while hops used for flavouring and aroma are added towards the end or even after the boil because those aroma compounds are quite volatile and most likely to evaporate during boiling. Boiling usually takes slightly longer than one hour.
Reasons for boiling are:
- Sterilisation of the wort
- Evaporation of unfavourable aroma compounds
- Making bitter substances soluble
- Killing of the enzymes to avoid further activity
- Coagulation of proteins
- Building of aroma compounds
- Final adjusting of gravity.
To cool the wort down, it’s pumped through a heat exchanger into temperature controlled fermentation tanks. The accumulated hot water is stored in a tank and used for the next brew. In the tank, yeast is immediately added to the wort to induce “fermentation” during which the yeast cells ingest sugars in the wort to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Ales ferment at about 20°C within three to five days whereas fermentation of lagers is colder and slower (10 to 12°C for 10 to 14 days). After the yeast has eaten all the sugars the beer needs to be cooled down ASAP (to avoid that the yeast starts to starve and finally eats itself). Without metabolising the yeast settles down at the bottom of the tank.
Cold conditioning or lagering of the beers takes place in lager tanks or in our case casks or kegs. During this time the beer clarifies due to sedimentation of the yeast and small, haze causing particles. Fermentation byproducts such as headache causing esters are degraded and the aroma profile becomes smoother.
Do you have your own recipes? What are they called and what inspired you to brew them?
Yes, I do have my own recipes. Name giving (or remembering) is not my strongest suit. So in most cases the Bath Brew House team or our guests get creative and think of names for my beers.
The ideas for my recipes come from different sources like other beers I have tried and liked. If there is new hops on the market which I would like to try or if there is a special event coming up at the Bath Brew House and we need a themed beer just for that I create a new recipe. Then there are the seasonal beers like winter ales or refreshing summer ales I create recipes for. If I meet up with other brewers we discuss ideas and different ingredients which gets everyone inspired. And so on and so forth. I would say there is endless creativity and inspiration to create fine Ales and Lagers.
What would you pair your favourite own recipe with?
With a sunny day in a Bavarian beer garden and my friends and family.
In a previous conversation, you mentioned brewing in Australia. How would you compare the beers you encountered in different places in the world you have lived in so far?
I started to enjoy drinking beer after I had finished my degrees in brewing. So 3 years after Australia. I tried Aussie beers, which are mainly Lagers, here and there. All I can say is they always have been very cold and refreshing. Some of them were hopier than others but I can’t say that I particularly liked any beer at that time. Australian Cider however I really liked. This means that I have to go back one day to try more beer brewed in Australia.
In the UK you can find good Lagers and Ales too. I would say there are endless numbers of Alestyles to find. The traditional English Ale is very different from any beerstyle I have ever tried before.
In Japan I had the chance to try very good Lagers too. Our local tour guide knew the best regional Japanese beers so I was very lucky to try a few of them. Most of the beers I had there met my taste.
Do you have a favourite brewer? Is there anyone you admire in your industry?
I really love to meet other brewers and exchange ideas and experiences. If you want to be successful in your specific field it is crucial to have contact with skilled and talented colleagues. It helps to develop and to expand your own skills and knowledge. I admire and respect people who show experience, passion and expertise in their occupational area. But I personally think that if you want to be the best you should not just try to be like the best. You should do all you can to become better than them.
Have you ever entered a beer competition?
Yes, I have. One of my beers was declared Joint Winner in the CAMRA Beer of the Festival Competition at the Bristol Beer Festival 2012. I am still very proud of this particular Pale Ale. It still remains to this day one of my best creations.
Can you describe a day in your workplace?
A normal brewday starts around 5.30am. If everything runs smoothly the beer will be in the fermentation tanks about 7 hours later. In the meantime I will clean the fermenter and at about 7am I have time for one or two cups of tea and a little chat with our professional cleaners before I will go back to sudatory grain digging and mash tun scrubbing. After moving 200kg of wet malt with a wheelbarrow from the brewery to an outside area next to the pub I add the bittering hops to the boiling wort. Now the time has come to get one of the fermentation tanks on the first floor ready for transferring the wort, which had to boil for a total of 70 minutes. I add the aroma hops and 20 minutes later the wort pump starts to pump the finished wort into one of the 3 fermenters. I will climb up the stairs for what feels like the 50th time on that day to add the yeast to the wort. From this moment on it’s only about 2 more hours before the transfer is finished, the brew kettle is cleaned from the 3-5 kg of wet hop leaves and the brewery floor is scrubbed.
Then I usually prepare the brewery for the following day which usually is going to be another brewday. Or I start to clean casks for the next Ale that’s ready to get racked into casks. Then there is time to talk to some of the pub’s team members to hear about the latest news and gossip in and around Bath before I make my way to the train which takes me home to Bristol.
When you are not brewing, what do you usually do? Tell us about your hobbies, passions and dreams.
I would say that my biggest passion is to read about other countries. In my head I go to a few hundred places a day and that’s why I spend most of my “free” time with planning trips, excursions and holidays. I just wish I had more time to travel. One of my favourite places in Bristol is Stanfords on Corn Street. I can spend hours and hours in there looking into travel books. I dream about starting my own brewery and having so much success that it will give me the possibility to travel more.
Thank you, Anna for sharing your story with us!
*In 2017 Anna relocated to Germany.