There are three elements that separate the world’s great breweries from the merely good ones: a rich history, a unique mission, and top-notch beer. Edelbrau Brewing Company, which opened in Ann Arbor in March and serves traditional German and English beers, hits all the marks.
A commitment to Old-World brewing techniques inspired Edelbrau’s vision from the start. “[My partners and I] wanted to honor brewing tradition and beermakers of the past,” says owner and brewer Teo Watson-Ahlbrandt. “So we scoured German historical archives looking for names of breweries that used to exist. We found that the name Edelbrau has been used for centuries to describe the highest quality of beer. As we nailed down the concept of our place, the name seemed to fit perfectly as far as our high standards of creative beer making and our passion for history.”
Watson-Ahlbrandt studied two historical ways to brew. The British method was more flexible, allowing brewers to add whatever ingredients it took to achieve a certain result, while the German way focused on purity — brewers used only water, barley, and hops. “When I started homebrewing, I’d see recipes with all these additives, and it seemed that there was this older way of doing things that no one else was doing.”
Watson-Ahlbrandt, who majored in biochemistry at Eastern Michigan University, determines the type of flavor he wants — stouts, IPAs, bitters, and Helles, can all be imbibed at the brewery — and then tries to get there using traditional methods like decoction, which is a labor-intensive brew mashing technique. “Decoction allows the brewer to take back a bit of flavor control. It’s like when you cook onions for a meal — how long you leave them in the pan helps determine the ultimate flavor. Likewise, how long you boil the grains will determine the final taste of the beer.”
One example of this dedication to a historic craft can be found in Edelbrau’s Oat Malt Brown Ale, a replica of an 1850s recipe from Great Britain. Watson-Ahlbrandt, who sourced British barley and hops for the brew, was inspired to create it after reading about historic tax records of Great Britain. “Taxes were paid based on the amount of grain because beer was viewed as more of a vice than a loaf of bread. So, brewers were taxed differently than bakers,” he says. “This means the recipes for beer were left in these historical records.”
Places like Edelbrau mend the best of history with the promise of the future and in this case, create truly well-crafted beer along the way. “There has been a revival of interest in beer history such that even the Smithsonian hired a craft beer historian. People seem to be enjoying our beer as well as the history.”
Edelbrau Brewing Co., 719 W. Ellsworth Rd., No. 2, Ann Arbor; 734-926-5351; edelbraubrewingcompany.com