Actually, Philip Vogel and Leonidas Lazaridis “just” wanted to write their bachelor’s thesis. Their subject: “Rebellion against boring beers”. But what began five and a half years ago with a thesis is nowadays a successful holistic concept with three taverns, a beer garden – and a brewery of their own.
To resuscitate the beer culture of Mainz, that was the declared goal of the dissertation written by Leonidas and Philip. Originally, the two friends were communication design students – and as such also engaged with the city’s history. And that was when they noticed that Mainz, despite an impressive size of over 200,000 inhabitants, no longer possessed one thing: a brewery of its own. “Mainz’s beer tradition used to be incredibly voluminous, but all its breweries were either bought up or had to close down because of competition from large breweries,” explains Leonidas. “When in 2013 we were pondering a subject for our bachelor’s thesis, we decided that Mainz needs its own brewery and its own beer culture again.”
And that was when Eulchen (Owlet) was born. That a holistic concept also necessarily includes actual beer-brewing, in addition to label design and marketing, was a matter of course for the two communication designers – and simultaneously quite a challenge as well: they devoured all the literature they could lay their hands on, exchanged views with other brewers and visited the Hallertau hop-growing region, so as to really immerse themselves in their chosen subject. They then sold their first 2,000 bottles, which they had filled with self-brewed Märzen, closed and labelled laboriously by hand, in a pop-up store in the middle of Mainz for a week. “It was downright incredible. We had a fixed quantity of beer for each day, which was always sold out. We even had to keep some beer back,” relates Philip.
Nocturnal and proud
“Animals used to be popular name-givers for breweries. We chose the owl – because it is, like most of the people who drink our beer, nocturnal and proud, which is absolutely apposite for our upmarket beer,” explains Philip. The choice of an owlet instead of a fully-grown owl is due to the 0.33-litre bottles in which the two of them fill their beer.
From the lecture hall to the brew-kettle
The huge demand continued unbroken even after the one week, and Eulchen got numerous inquiries, asking where you could buy that beer. So Philip and Leonidas eventually realised that Mainz was ready to have a brewery of its own – and they decided to venture a lateral entry into the beer business. In the brewhouse of a brewer friend, the two young entrepreneurs produced not only Märzen but Helles and wheat beer as well. And while always following classical recipes, they did make some changes when adding hops or malt, thus giving the beers their own personal note. The result was a delicious product that appealed to the taste buds not only of Philip and Leonidas but also of the people in the Rhine-Main region, because the Eulchen beers were an immediate hit. “The people from Mainz are quite generally always inclined to try something new. And it didn’t take them long to notice that ours was not just any old brew off the peg,” says Philip.
To get people drinking their beer, Eulchen opened a refreshment kiosk in an historical water house, followed one year later by their own beer garden at the Prince Elector’s Palace, and in 2018 finally their own tavern right in the middle of the old city. But it became clear very soon after they had become entrepreneurs that contract-brewing of Eulchen was not a viable option for the future. “We realised that to begin with it’s obviously more practical to do your brewing somewhere else, but in the long run the logistics start to get difficult,” explains Philip. “What’s more, it had been our goal right from the start to give Mainz a brewery of its own again.”
In 2015, Philip and Leonidas contacted Krones for the brewing kit. The fact that a start-up company opted for one of the world market leaders straight away when looking for its first brewhouse was owed to the entrepreneurs’ pragmatic mindset, as Leonidas recalls: “As totally lateral entrants, we had a look at the top vendors on the market. And this will inevitably lead you to Krones. More often than not, those big conglomerates don’t have anything suitable for us small players but we happened to choose the ideal moment: you see, that was just at the time when Krones had unveiled the MicroCube. And this was perfect for our requirements.”
Next stop: their own brewery
Since late 2018, the Eulchen brewery has been brewing its beers in what used to be the Kupferberg sekt winery right in the heart of Mainz. The two entrepreneurs have preserved the charm of the historical premises while harmoniously integrating the new stainless-steel elements: the space where a 100,000-litre wooden sekt vat used to be now accommodates tanks, though these are filled with Märzen, pilsner beer, Helles and wheat bear. “We’re currently brewing four different types, plus seasonal special brews. But Märzen and Helles are clearly the front-runners,” says Dominik Maldoner who has been Eulchen’s brewmaster for a good twelve months now.
The seven fermentation and storage tanks are located in the cellar, that’s true, but since this is in open design, the entire brewery is accommodated in one big room. A narrow spiral staircase leads up to the ground floor, with the MicroCube in its centre. The two-vessel brewhouse has a capacity of 10 hectolitres per brew and scores highly, with its immense flexibility as Philip describes: “When we started, we were brewing in breweries with 40- or 90-hectolitre brewhouses. But we wanted to get away from this order of magnitude, because the big batches render special brews or recipe improvements difficult. The MicroCube now enables us to intervene manually at every step. What we don’t do ourselves is handled by the control system. This is actually precisely the balancing act between manual and automatic operation that we’d been looking for.”
Brews like clockwork
The MicroCube has been up and running since early December. “We’d run extensive tests, during which we fine-tuned quite a lot of things. But now the MicroCube is performing superbly; given it’s so small it’s a really fine specimen. Our brewmaster, too, is very satisfied, the beer tastes just great, and after all, that’s the main thing,” says Philip with a laugh. He can’t complain about inadequate utilisation, because since it was started up the MicroCube has been running full throttle. “Of course, we had to top up our beer stocks that were gradually dwindling away, what with the move and all that. So in the first seven weeks, we produced about ten brews, i.e. 100 hectolitres,” says Dominik. Eulchen fills these into bottles, which are supplied to selected supermarkets and restaurants in a 50-kilometre radius around Mainz. This regional focus is deliberate “because we think that beer needs a homeland – and that it tastes best there,” explains Philip. In the summer months, most of the beer is filled in kegs, because Eulchen’s own catering outlets are veritable crowd-pullers.
Eulchen is satisfied not only with Krones’ technology, but also with the people behind it, says Leonidas. “We’re reassured to know that if any problem crops up we’re in safe hands. Because the response time is exceptionally fast.” From the very first contact, both of them felt they made the right choice of vendor. “Krones may be a huge corporation, but nonetheless it’s run like a family firm. We knew that we have a contact person available immediately for any question we might have,” says Philip, and Leinidas adds: “Measured by the size of our project, too, we were very pleasantly surprised by the amount of trouble the guys at Krones took to find an immediate solution to every problem. We’re really very satisfied.”
Eulchen’s goal is to run the MicroCube at its maximum capacity – which after all would be around 8,000 hectolitres a year. “We notice that we’ve been having very substantial growth in the last few years. And the initial plans are now actually almost outdated. In the near future, a few tanks will definitely follow. There’s enough space here on the premises,” comments Philip.
The buoyant demand and the undeniable success go to show: the good people of Mainz award Eulchen top marks – as, by the way, did Leonidas’ and Philip’s Professor five years ago: their bachelor’s thesis was graded (what else?) 1.0.
“As totally lateral entrants, we had a look at the top vendors. And this will inevitably lead you to Krones.”
“Krones may be a huge corporation, but nonetheless it’s run like a family firm. We knew that we have a contact person available immediately for any question we might have.”