Bitburger Brewery Group

Bitburger Brewery Group                                                               by:  Chris Wise

Coming up on their bicentennial in a mere four years, the Bitburger Brewery has become one of the most important private brewery in Germany since it was founded in 1817. Seven generations of family ownership allowed Bitburger Brewery to be named number one draft beer in Germany in 1992, a position it holds to this day. The Bitburger Brewery pumps out around 100 million gallons of beer each year, and the brewery’s success has allowed the Bitburger Brewery Group to acquire and operate a number of the most historic breweries in Germany. From humble beginnings as a small rural brewery in Bitburg, Germany, to becoming one of the most important brewery groups in the world.

Founded in 1817 by Johann Peter Wallenborn in 1817, Bitburger Brewery started as a small, rural brewery in the German town of Bitburg. Bitburger Brewery would make a name for themselves in 1883 by brewing the first Pilsner outside the Bohemian town of Pilsen. The importance of this point was made further in 1913 when, after years of legal battles with a rival Czeck brewery, the supreme court of the German Reich in Leipzig to use the designation “Simonbräu Deutsch-Pilsener,” or roughly original German-pilsner. After developing the groundbreaking pils, Bitburger Brewery was able to reach new markets and expand their operation.

In 1886, Bitburger Brewery shipped its first case of Bitburger Pils outside of Germany, and seven years later, in 1893, Bitburger sent 1,000 liters of their pilsner to Chicago’s World Exhibition. Bitburger Premium Pils is now enjoyed in over 70 countries worldwide, and has become so popular for their continued history of innovation and excellence in brewing.

Striving for excellence in taste and purity, in 1909 Bitburger dug their first deep well, digging down over 100 meters to get the best tasting water. Bitburger continues the practice to this day, and currently the brewery is on its 8th well. In 1910, Bitburger began to transport their “precious cargo” using refrigerated railway cars to ensure the quality of the beer is maintained, even over long distances. Bitburger Brewery wasn’t immune to setbacks along their long history, though they always were able to overcome the hard times.

As WWI ravaged the continent of Europe, the town of Bitburg was not exempt from the fury of Allied bombardments. But it wasn’t until 1944 that Bitburger Brewery had to temporarily shutdown as the entire town, along with the brewery and all their wooden barrels of beer, were destroyed. However, Bitburger Brewery was able to begin producing beer again, and at a rate of around 1.5 million gallons a year, in 1949, a remarkably short rebuilding time. After getting back to making beer, Bitburger Brewery began to position itself as one of the top breweries in post-war Germany.

Capitalizing on emerging media outlets has always been a strong suit of Bitburger Brewery, ever since their first print ad in 1909. In 1929, they introduced the “Connoisseur,” who still guarantees the highest quality product to this day. Their slogan, one of the best known in the industry, was rolled out in 1951: “Bitte ein Bit!”, or simply “Please, a Bit!” This catchphrase was then broadcast around the globe in 1955 as Bitburger launched their first television and movie campaign.  Bitburger knew the best way to make their draught beer stand out was to give it a unique glass, the “Bitburger Cup.” A nicely-proportioned goblet on a hexagonal stem, the “Bitburger Cup”  emphasizes the character and uniqueness of Bitburger Premium Pils to this day.

Bitburger Brewery’s success has been built on the strength of their original Bitburger Premium Pils. Bright, fresh golden colors and a rich frothy head are what you first notice about this elegant Pilsner. The Bitburger well-water gives the beer a very clean, hoppy taste, with nutty flavors accompanying. The bitterness of the hops are balanced well with the mellow sweetness of the body of the beer. Bitburger Premium Pils comes in at 4.8% ABV and is available in 12 oz Bottles, 12 oz and 16 oz cans, 5 liter mini-kegs, 15, 30 and 50 liter kegs. A non-alcoholic variety, Bitburger Drive, is also available in 12 oz bottles.

Bitburger’s success with Bitburger Premium Pils has allowed them to branch out over the years, and today Bitburger Brewery Group produces 750 million liters of beer a year and employs around 1,700 people. They have been able to do this by purchasing a number of successful breweries in Germany, including König Pilsner, Wernesgrüner, Licher, Benediktiner, and Köstritzer.

The Köstritzer Brewery, founded in 1543, is one of the oldest breweries in all of Germany. Since that time, Köstritzer has become the most popular black lager beer in Germany today, and has made its way into over 50 different countries. Over the years, Köstritzer has won some important supporters, including Otto von Bismarck, who in a 1892 letter, wrote “Köstritzer holds a distinguished rank within the aristocracy of beers.” In 1991, Bitburger acquired Köstritzer Schwarzbierbrauerei, helping establish Bitburger as one of the leading brewery groups. Bitburger helped Köstritzer become the leading seller in the black lager beer market in Germany just in time for its 450-year anniversary in 1993, a position it enjoys to this day.

Köstritzer Black Lager has a beautiful mahogany color, and a lasting, cream-colored, finely pored head. Its expressive fragrance evokes a range of intense spicy aromas, including sage, roasted chestnuts, dark honey, bitter chocolate and licorice. With delicate bitter tones and malty sweetness, it finishes slowly on the palate. A complex beer that tastes lean and refreshing with its abundance of flavors, Köstritzer black lager is highly drinkable and highly enjoyable. Köstritzer black lager is available in 12 oz bottles, 16 oz cans, 5 liter mini-kegs, and 30 and 50 liter kegs and packs 4.8% ABV.

It might be hard to imagine a brewery could have a history that rivals both the Bitburger and Köstritzer breweries, but the history behind the Benediktiner Weissbier is perhaps more impressive. The story begins in 1330 when the Ettal Abbey was founded by Emporer Louis IV, known as the Bavarian. Through the 1400s and 1500s, the monastery had its own brewery in nearby village of Oberammergau in Upper Bavaria. The onsite brewery at the Ettal Abbey was built in 1609, and alongside agriculture, is the oldest enterprise run by the Benedictine abbey at Ettal. For over 400 years, the Ettal Abbey has continued to be the sole producer of Benediktiner Weissbier for Germany and Austria. For export markets, the beer is produced at the Licher Privatbrauerei under close supervision of the monastery.

The Ettal Benedictine monks, of the Benedictine order originally brought the craftsmanship of beer brewing to Germany, maintain the quality of Benediktiner Weissbier to this day.  Benediktiner Weissbier has a rich amber color with orange highlights throughout, and sparkles despite the cloudiness of the yeast. Its rich, white head is characterized by a good density and fine texture. Hints of honey, fruit and caramel come through, including bananas and raisins. A full body, with a harmonious balance of sweet and a discrete bitterness in the background, creates a smooth, creamy mouthfeel.  Benediktiner Weissbier comes in at 5.4% ABV, and is available in 12 oz bottles, 5 liter mini-keg and 15, 30 and 50 liter kegs.

Bitburger Brewery Group has a long, storied history, including some of the oldest breweries  and best-selling beers in Germany. Bitburger has maintained excellence for seven generations by constantly keeping an eye on innovation and marketing, trying to stay ahead of competitors. Offering a sampling of beers from around Germany, Bitburger Brwery Group certainly has something to offer any beer drinker. So next time you’re trying sort through all the emerging breweries clamoring for your attention, remember the long history of excellence at Bitburger Brewery.

Bitburger beers are proudly distributed locally by Galli Distributing.