Brauereigasthof Seelmann, Zettmannsdorf
Seelmann Bräu has been in the hands of the Braumeister and patriarch Rudolph Seelmann for the last few decades, but its family ownership dates back more than 400 years, since at least 1608. The photographs and adornments in side the gastette acts as a sort of historical exhibit for the Seelmann family legacy.
It's a two hour journey by bus to Zettmannsdorf from Bamberg, and Seelmann does not observe regular hours, so it's not a place you should spontaneously visit using public transportation. Visitors are advised to call or email in advance to arrange a scheduled visit.
Bräumeister Rudolf Seelmann and his family offer a kitchen, banquet hall, private rooms and outdoor camping facilities, in addition to beer. Such is life as a family business in Franconia, where brewers sometimes have to specialize in one or more other trades. Many brewers work as butchers, bakers, farmers, and inn-keepers; some work as brewing equipment engineers, others as general tradesmen.
It's difficult to survive solely as a professional brewer in an economy that has left you largely ignored. Brewing is not a lucrative field, proof enough being that the cost of beer in Franconia is laughably low. Drinking beer is as commonplace as eating bread, and the Franconian public does not tolerate major increases in the cost of a Seidla. Price yourself too high and suddenly your competitors will begin receiving more phone calls. What's more, young men and women understandably prefer the opportunities presented to them by post-secondary education and technical schools. Would-be next generation family brewers are instead leaving for the city to pursue more gainful employment. Unsurprisingly, Rudolf's young daughter is not excited by the idea of taking over the brewery from dad, though she still has plenty of time to decide.
The 300 hectoliter brewery is run mechanically and manually, without computerization and without electricity.
Seelmann's brewery is housed in a single room behind the gastette. Four meter ceilings allow for split-level access to the mash tun, sitting next to a brick-lined boiler, fed manually with wood. Nothing in the brewhouse is automated. It's a lot of work to manage in a day, especially if alone.
There is no time for one-off batches or experiments here. The only batch of beer other than the Lagerbier is a Bockbier made once per year, and served in November. After that it's back to the standard beer that the locals prefer.
Rudolf was kind enough to show the facilities to myself, Jeff Romain, and Manuele Colonna during out visit. Manuele joined us for a week of brewery visits and tasting sessions during this visit to Franconia, in preparation for the first FrankenBierFest in Rome.
Seelmann Unfiltriertes Lagerbier is hazy golden and pétillant in the Ungespundet way. It has a mineral-forward character with quiet Hallertau lemon oil hoppiness and subtle Pilsner malt toastiness, the body savory and crisp.
No bottles or kegs are filled, and no gravity barrels tapped on Friday night. Each batch is packaged and distributed in 5 liter mini-keg (Partyfass), sold from the brewery and through their Ebay store.
Rudolf used to brew a hoppier Lagerbier, only the locals rebuked its more aggressive bitterness and he did away with it entirely. What can you do but try to please your customers? Some villages proudly drink bitter lagers while others have no taste for hops, they could be two nearby cities with radically different ideas of what constitutes a palatable beer, largely depending on how long a brewer has been serving the same beer to locals. Consistently wins fans in Franconia.
For a place which largely makes a single beer, it's astonishing and sad the number of retired styles they've given up: Pilsner, Vollbier, Export Hell, Festbier, Märzen, and Doppelbock. Today only the Lagerbier is the only year-round beer being products, while the Bockbier is made and served each November.
The whole of what the family does, not just making beer, allows the Seelmann family to make a living. One of the reasons so many family breweries go out of business in Franconia, it's not that the Family goes out of business, rather beer making is dropped from the family's portfolio to concentrate effort on more profitable endeavours. In fact, Seelmann Bräu shut the doors in the past, and the very well could shut them in the future. Since reopening in 2006 with a restoration of the brewery, the current business model has kept the doors somewhat open. For now, they still exist as a brewery, but consider their status threatened and endangered.
Some breweries exist as their own museum. In this case consider Seelmann a living historical exhibit.
Get There By Bus
Does not keep regular hours, call ahead before visiting
Hauptstraße 18, Zettmannsdorf, Bavaria, Germany 96185