Youth is no barrier to establishing great breweries, or having great ambition; Felix Bollen and his three partners at German Kraft are testimony to this. But where did it all start? Felix was born in Germany and every year went with his father to visit his grandparents in Franconia. He became very familiar with the idea of local beer served fresh and, when he was eighteen, ended up doing an internship at the town’s Steinbach Bräu brewery. Add to this a growing obsession with craft beer and you have the beginnings of German Kraft, which started while Felix was completing his studies in graphic and media design in London.
The first outlet was set up in 2017 in Mercato Metropolitano, an Italian food market at the Elephant and Castle. Initially, beer was brought in from Steinbach Bräu whilst the brewery was being built (the 2,000 litre kit came from Hungary). The first brew took place in the following February and the team were assisted by a Steinbach Bräu brewer. Felix said, “We did ask the brewery if they would like a joint venture but they declined, saying they wanted to keep their brewing local.”
The European theme is also reflected in Felix’s partners who are from Germany and Italy. Anton Borkman was at school with Felix and is a special design graduate and Michele Tieghi is a business graduate. After the first four months of operating, they were joined by Andreas Ferrario, another Italian but one who had been living in Australia. He had come over on holiday, helped out with the food at the first venue, lived on the couch for three months and never went back, becoming the fourth partner and providing restaurant and food expertise.
The second venue, which opened in February 2020, is also in a Mercato Metropolitano. It’s a stunning looking bar in an old church in Mayfair dating from 1825. Here, German Kraft has installed a mini 250 litre brew kit in the underground crypt which they use to brew speciality beers. They bring their mainstream beers in from Elephant and Castle. There are three beers in the core range, Herbert Pale Ale, Heike Blonde (Helles Lager) and Edel Weiss (wheat beer), alongside seasonal and collaborations.
The partners are very much into being green. “Our ethos is fresh beer from the tank; it’s all unfiltered and unpasteurised, so we don’t use cans or bottles and our kegs, when we use them, are refillable” said Felix, who added, “The carbon dioxide is artificially added to the tanks. We did look at recycling it from the brewing but we are too small at the moment to make it cost effective but we do re-use the carbon dioxide whenever we can.”
The knowledge of design and their green approach was put to good use at the new outlet. Their website explains, “We collected all the glasses that break at our brewery in Elephant & Castle. They were then melted in a 1200C oven and poured into a mould with colour pigments to form the bricks making up the altar bar. All 1,000 plus bricks were handmade by the boys of German Kraft over four months after learning about annealing points and resting times of the specific pint glass quality.”
Around the time of this bar’s opening, the partners started to plan for a third venue. This time, they had a new partner, Locke, which is an apartment-hotel chain. Situated in Dalston, and working with the partner, this outlet is modern with a small brewery, which, at 500 litres, is twice the size of the Mayfair brewery. Felix said, “We opened in December only to close again in days, thanks to the winter lockdown. But I am really excited about our new venue. It was different from the other two, which was very much DIY and we had to do everything ourselves. Dalston is very much design orientated and we worked with Locke’s designers to create it.”
Felix then reflected on the closure, “We had staff who weren’t eligible for furlough as they hadn’t been with us long enough. The directors have taken a percentage out of their salaries to give to them. It’s not a lot but it’s something.” During the first lockdown, German Kraft started to do some takeaways using five litre mini kegs and delivering them around the area. Felix said, “It was hard work and there were only two or three of us. When we reopened, we took more money in a few days than we did during the whole of the lockdown so when the next lockdown happened, we didn’t bother. And it also doesn’t fit with the idea of fresh beer. We have been spending the time fixing things, tweaking our brand and concentrating on cutting costs.”
Despite the impact of COVID and the current challenges, German Kraft has a clear vision of their future. “We want to grow large” explained Felix; “Our model relies on high footfall as the beer needs to be drunk fresh, so we are looking at cities.” Felix intimated the next outlet might be in a mainland European city but wouldn’t be drawn as to where. But, wherever it is, German Kraft’s partners have big ambitions and they could well be a name to look out for when we can finally get out for a beer again.
For more information on the brewery, see www.germankraftbeer.com.