Published on March 3rd, 2015 | by Alastair Gilmour


Space to develop

A young Austrian brewer wanted to brew British ale in a small but progressive environment. He tells Alastair Gilmour why he plumped for Jarrow

You’re a teenager deciding on a career. Your father owns a small bakery. You enjoy a loaf or two but you’ve also discovered beer, so what about hedging your bets and following the path marked “liquid bread”?

Tobias Pumberger started working in the family-owned Brauerei Hofstetten, 20 km from his home near Linz in Upper Austria when he was just 15-years-old. Now 22, Tobias’ desire to brew British beer saw him reach for a catalogue of UK breweries to offer his services for a few weeks.

“I wanted to learn about real ale, ideally in a small family company, like the one I work in in Austria,” says Tobias. “In a small company it’s easier when you have a problem; you can ask a real person about it and you also see everything from beginning to end.

“I looked at different breweries and saw that Jarrow makes a lot of different real ales, while some of them I looked up made only two or three – a bitter and a stout. I emailed my request and Jess (McConnell) agreed to take me straight away.”

Jess and Alison McConnell started Jarrow Brewery in 2002, brewing at first at the Robin Hood pub in Jarrow, then when they outgrew that, transferred to The Maltings in South Shields. The inevitable happened when you brew great beer like Rivet Catcher and Westoe IPA – another expansion, this time into a 40-barrel plant on Bede Industrial Estate, Jarrow. The Maltings has been retained for small-batch production.

“I brewed at The Maltings and at Jarrow on the different size brewhouses,” says Tobias. “I’ve been brewing Rivet Catcher – it’s my favourite. It has a very clean smell and the aroma hop is very good. Some hops lie a bit too long on the palate and won’t go away.

“I’m not a normal Austrian brewer. I took all my annual holidays to come here but they were very happy at Brauerei Hofstetten for me to do that because when I get back I’ll be a better brewer with good experience.

“I’ve really learned a lot – everything is much quicker here. In Austria we need five weeks to finish a beer – here, real ale takes two weeks and still the product to come out is very good.”

Jarrow Brewery hasn’t been the enterprising young man’s only secondment – he was loaned out to a new Trappist brewery built at Engelszell Abbey – the only one in Austria – located near Engelhartszell an der Donau.

“The monks built it two years ago,” says Tobias, “and they asked our brewer for help. They are originally from Alsace and came to Austria before World War II when most of them were killed.”

On the day before he left Jarrow to return home, Tobias brewed a special dark wheat-style beer at The Maltings which, like his native beers, has been given a few weeks to mature in conditioning tanks. Pumberger IPA (5.0% abv) is now available at The Trent House in Newcastle and The Maltings in South Shields.

“I’m very happy with it – it’s nice to have my own real ale,” he says. “It’s all been part of my development plan; first seeing all the areas of brewing and on the final day doing this brew.

“I’d do it again as I’ve got different ideas and experience and it’s been good talking to people about the differences in brewing.

“We have a lot of wheat beers in Austria – from Bavaria or Saltzburg – and there’s always an Austrian lager beer available. Wheat beer from Bavaria is one of the best. Our pubs are different too. In Austria there are no pubs with handpulls like there are here.

“The area I come from looks a bit like here (the North East). I’ve also been to Edinburgh and York. I walk a lot and found that people here are very friendly and helpful, particularly if I have a problem. I like it that people come up and talk to you here. In the pub they also want to speak to me – especially once they know I’m Austrian.

“My dad has a small bakery and I was always told I’d work in a bakery – but making bread is very similar to making beer, it’s the same ingredients. We always had lots of bread in the house and no beer. But not now.”

And that bread-making upbringing has left its mark on Tobias – he simply loves the early hours of the morning when there’s time to think straight and play with ideas in his head.

“I like to start work early in the mornings,” he says. “Coming from a baker’s family means we’re used to early starts. I like it at four o’clock when it’s always quiet and you can get a lot of work done without any interruptions.

“If I start later and I get home at night my dad is asleep by seven and gets up at midnight, so it’s good to start early and finish early so I can see my family.”

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Alastair Gilmour

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