Braumeister Syndrome

A friend told me recently about a conversation he had with some craft brewers that he met at a local brewery. My pal is a German Braumeister and introduced himself to his fellow industry colleagues as such. Apparently, they retorted with something along the lines of: “Braumeister is an outdated concept and we don’t like to use the term here.” Admittedly, this audacity of this remark shocked me. But it also got me thinking about the concept of a Braumeister and what this means in a modern context, both within Germany and further afield.

In Germany, the Braumeister title is clearly defined. It is characterised solely by professional training and education. Braumeister candidates can enroll at various brewing schools and universities, including TU Berlin, TUM Weihenstephan, Doemens Akademie and VLB Berlin, and are required to pass various exams. Matters are made more complicated by the two different types of Braumeister, namely Diplom Braumeister and Handwerksmeister. In fact, the Handwerksmeister is an umbrella term for the master level of numerous, traditional trades, such as a baker, a blacksmith and of course a brewer and maltster. The Brau- und Malzmeister exam can usually only be sat by those who have completed an apprenticeship in brewing and malting. It involves the theoretical and practical application of technical and scientific knowledge to advanced problems in the fields of brewing and malting. The course usually requires 12 months of study and the final exams are held by the local Handwerkskammer or Industrie- und Handelskammer (Chambers of Commerce).

The historical facade of the brewing campus at the TU Berlin

The second, arguably more prestigious route to becoming a Braumeister in Germany is the Diplom Braumeister. This academic route requires enrolment at either the TU Berlin or TUM Weihenstephan and usually takes between 2 and 4 years of study, depending upon previous qualifications. It can be expected that the emphasis upon scientific and engineering principles is increased in the academic course.

In the rest of the world, the definition of the brew master/master brewer is less stringent. Other institutions offering brew master level qualifications include the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, Siebel Academy and UC Davis, just to name a few. And then obviously, there is the unique category of self-proclaimed brew masters without professional qualifications or training but with decades practical brewing experience, and sometimes those without the latter.

So how does this all fit together? Well, it doesn’t really. A globally recognised definition of Braumeister does not exist. The concept of Braumeister was most likely exported to the USA along with the influx of German migrants in the 19th century. German Braumeister brought their technical know-how and shared this with the North American brewing industries. It is likely that the strict, German definition of Braumeister was not upheld during this time in the USA. At some point, the anglicised “brew master” emerged. Today, this term seems to be applied more liberally in the USA, which is likely due to the prevalence of the homebrewer-cum-professional brewer who does not necessarily have an educational background in brewing.

The internationally revered German Braumeister is not without its flaws either. It is possible that some newly qualified Braumeister (from both vocational and academic backgrounds) can potentially have zero to minimal practical brewing experience. Up until several years ago, it was mandatory that candidates admitted to the Braumeister (Handwerksmeister) examination had at least one year experience of working as a Geselle (journeyman) in a brewery or maltings in addition to a completed apprenticeship as a brewer and maltster. Since this journeyman requirement has been scrapped, some young German Braumeister are lacking in practical experience, yet they are somehow eligible to train the next generation of brewing and malting apprentices. Paradoxically, this less practically versed Braumeister does not completely fit into the modern, globalised version of the brew master, which can be tentatively defined as a brewer with an exceptional wealth of technical brewing skill and knowledge, particularly in practical application, but perhaps without academic or vocational brewing qualifications.

As an increasing number of brewing educational courses are being offered worldwide and the requirement for well trained staff is becoming more important, we may observe more and more budding brew masters enter the industry.  Or alternatively, the continued growth of the global craft beer segment and the, shall we say, progressive attitudes may eventually lead to the Braumeister title being considered antiquated and potentially cause its demise. But that is just wild speculation. Now don’t even get me started on graduates from MSc in Brewing and Distilling calling themselves a brew master…

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