Bitburg: Brewery’s doors always open to thirsty visitors
Plastered on car bumpers all over the country, “Bitte, ein Bit” may be the first German sentence Americans learn when they land in Germany.
“Bitte, ein Bit” translates to “One Bitburger, please,” and is an easy way to order beer produced by Germany’s largest, privately owned brewery, which annually produces around 3.6 million barrels — or some 110 million gallons.
It’s a good phrase to know, because as many people would agree, there is nothing quite like a cold beer after a long day of travel.
Bitburger has been in the beer business since 1817. Its brewery is open for tours for anyone interested in a firsthand look at how beer is made. Although English-language tours are available, it is best to call ahead because they are not regularly offered. The tour costs 5 euros a person and includes a pretzel and a glass of beer to wash it down at the end.
The tour begins at the visitor center on the north side of Bitburg — where the beer was brewed until the early 1980s. It starts with a film that provides a brief history of the company, owned by the Simon family for seven generations.
A guide then accompanies visitors via car or bus across town to the 54-acre south facility, where the beer has been brewed since 1983. Forty malt silos hold enough malt for seven brewing days. The brewery normally operates Monday through Thursday, with Fridays reserved for equipment cleaning and repair.
“All Bitburger in the world comes from this place,” said Bitburger guide Angela Thielen, adding that the beer is exported to 66 countries.
Once inside the facility, which sits next to the U.S. military housing area at Bitburg, visitors are taken to the brewhouse filled with stainless steel vessels overseen by a room of computers.
Here, brewers monitor the creation of Bitburger’s three beers from behind a line of computers, controlling just about every facet of the process with the click of a mouse.
“The whole brewing and all of the cleaning goes fully automatic these days,” Thielen said. “The brewer sits all day in front of a computer.”
Thielen says Bitburger strictly adheres to the German purity law of 1560, the Reinheitsgebot. The law states that beer must be made with malt, hops, yeast and water. Adding rice and corn or chemicals to get a longer expiration date is not allowed.
Beer fermentation takes roughly seven to 10 days, and after the beer is filtered it must be bottled or kegged immediately.
The enormous bottle-filling room follows the filtration room on the tour. There, 330,000 bottles of beer can be filled in one hour on several bottling lines.
The keg-filling facility follows, where kegs are cleaned and refilled. Thirty-four percent of Bitburger beer goes into kegs, helping to make Bitburger the largest brewery in Germany, surpassing Warsteiner and Krombacher.
On the QT
Directions: The two facilities for Bitburger Brewery are at the north and south ends of Bitburg. Tours begin in the visitors center at the north facility at Römermauer Strasse and Gueren Strasse. To reach Bitburg from Kaiserslautern, take Autobahn 6 west to Autobahn 62, and follow that toward Trier/Luxembourg. A-62, which becomes Autobahn 1, intersects with A-64. Go west to the exit for Bitburg, then follow Highway B51 toward Köln/Bitburg/Aachen into town. Make a right at the first traffic light onto Römermauer Strasse; the brewery’s north site is on the right. Parking is available inside the north facility on Gueren Strasse, and across from the Braustuebe on Römermauer.
Cost: Five euros covers the cost of the tour, a beer tasting and pretzel.
Time: English tours are not always available, so it is best to call to schedule a tour or register for an upcoming one. However, according to guide Angela Thielen the brewery is always willing to accommodate English-speaking visitors.
Food: Bitburger beer is served at restaurants all over Bitburg, including the Braustuebe, just outside the brewery’s north facility.
Information: For more information or to schedule a tour, call Marlies Rass at the brewery at (+49) (0)6561-14-2497.