It's Not Just the Water 

An Austrian brewery picks Berkeley.

You're a four-hundred-year-old Austrian brewery. You're looking to open an American counterpart. Why settle in Berkeley? The water, of course. "The water in Berkeley is extremely soft, or low on mineral content, which makes it ideal for brewing a pilsner," says Lars Larson, master brewer of the new Trumer Brauerei on Fourth Street. "We don't need to do any water preparation other than basic filtration."

Larson, an American who trained to be a master brewer in Berlin, is in charge of the Austrian brewery, which began commercial production in October. The brewery represents a unique partnership between the Sigl family, which has owned the Trumer Brauerei just north of Salzburg since 1775, and the Texas-based Gambrinus Company. Gambrinus imports Corona and runs the BridgePort Brewing Company in Portland and the Spoetzl Brewery in Texas (maker of Shiner Bock). Last year, the partners took over the defunct Golden Pacific Brewing Company on Fourth Street near Gilman, and remodeled it extensively.

Although several major European brands such as Carlsberg, Guinness, and Foster's contract out their North American brewing to Canadians, most European breweries export their beer to the United States via container. Many weeks pass between the time the beer is bottled and when it arrives on the shelves, so freshness is no guarantee. And with a delicate pilsner like the Trumer Pils, freshness is everything. The water may come from the Mokulumne River, but Trumer imports its hops, malt, and yeast from Europe to duplicate the Austrian original as closely as possible.

I compared Trumer Pils against Pilsner Urquell, one of the best-known imported pilsners. The Czech beer has a full, caramelly aroma of malt, and leaves a sharp bitterness in its wake. The American Trumer, however, is much cleaner and sharper, with a champagne-like effervescence that would pair well with both seafood and barbecue. It meets the nose with the fresh, herbal aroma of hops and finishes softly, with very little bitterness.

The brewery's present capacity is sixty thousand barrels a year, but two months after launching it is currently running at a sixth of that. That's because Trumer Brauerei is handling its own distribution -- and starting small. By and large, you can find Trumer Pils only in the Berkeley-Oakland area, in smaller liquor stores and on tap at restaurants like Cafe Rouge, Cato's Alehouse in Oakland, Hopyard Ale House in Pleasanton, and of course, Alameda's Speisekammer, the East Bay temple for Germanic beer.

Truth be told, the water isn't the only reason Trumer picked Berkeley, says Brauerei sales manager Scott Varner. The opportunity to set up shop in a food-obsessed city with a reputation for quality and a devotion to local products was a strong selling point for the Austrian-American partnership. "It's a great place to seed the brand," he says.

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