Gaffel and Zappes bosses in an interview: “Didn’t want to brew the seventieth Kölsch”

Mr. Becker, Mr. Koeser, Mr. Lutz, give us an insight into the customs of the Cologne beer industry. Do you go have a beer together?
Nicholas Lutz: We only got to know each other today, but of course we’ve heard a lot from each other. But so far, also because of Corona, there has been no opportunity to meet and drink a beer together.
Henry PhilipBecker: Cologne is a manageable market, so of course we know what’s going on in the city. At least I’ve looked at your Instagram account and when you do that you sometimes think you know the people even though you’ve never met them (laughs).

Mr. Becker, as head of the Gaffel brewery, you have known the Cologne beer culture for a long time. What distinguishes them?

Becker: Cologne is an extremely communicative city. The density of pubs and little shops is higher than in almost any other city. There is this specific “drink-yourself-with” mentality here. And that manifests itself in Kölsch. The Kölsch is something like the transportable, liquid lifestyle of the city. If you will, the only language that you can also drink.

Zappes, on the other hand, is a very young brand that also brews a pilsner. Many people in Cologne could see that as a provocation.

Maximilian Koeser: Of course, when you think of Cologne, you first think of Kölsch. But the city is very open. Many people come here from the surrounding area, for example from the Sauerland, the Eifel or the Ruhr area. These are classic Pils regions. This is how the idea for our beer came about. When we sat together after the university with a beer after work, we realized: A Pilsner from Cologne is still missing. That’s why we founded Zappes.

Lutz: There has always been Pils in Cologne. It just didn’t come here from the city in the last few decades. That surprised us, because the capacity to brew one would be there, even with established brands like Gaffel. But of course we’ve already asked ourselves: are we going to get a shitstorm now? But when you’re small, the shitstorm stays small. That’s why we dared.

How do the people of Cologne react to your Pils?

Lutz: That depends a lot on the target group. The people who come to our pub are mostly between 20 and 30 and a bit more open when it comes to beer culture. Older people sometimes make comments along the lines of: “I’d rather drink a Kölsch. I’ve been doing this for thirty years and it’s good for my body!”

Becker: yes it does! (laughs)

Gaffel is also constantly bringing new varieties onto the market with new beers such as the “Wiess” or the “SonnenHopfen”. How can tradition and innovation be reconciled?

Becker: We have a tradition of more than a hundred years. For us, this is a huge pool that we use to offer modern and contemporary drinks. We mainly produce Kölsch, that remains the holy grail. But we also have a test brewery, where one or two brews are thrown on a week and around 500 liters of beer are produced for experimentation. (To Koeser and Lutz) You’re welcome to come and have a look. Such experiments are important to stay innovative. In any case, it has proven to be useful to date to keep expanding our range.

Then the question is legitimate. Your brewers could also come up with the idea of ​​brewing a Pils. Has that never been an issue for you?

Becker: In this respect we are very traditional. Top-fermenting and bottom-fermenting yeasts don’t particularly get along in the brewing process either. That’s why I have a hard time getting a bottom-fermenting yeast anywhere near our brewery.

Have you ever had a Zappes?

Becker: Naturally. We brew with passion. That’s why we try pretty much everything that’s on the market. If the beer has a Cologne sender, then even more so. That’s why I’ve been drinking Zappes.

And how did it taste?

Becker: For a pilsner it was alright. (laughs) As I said, I prefer to drink a top-fermented beer, but in the end it’s all about beer as a product. Brands like Zappes keep the beer culture interesting here, so I can only endorse what the guys are doing.

You’ve probably had a gaff at some point, haven’t you?

Koeser: Yes ready!

Lutz: We don’t just drink Pils. Whenever we go to the pub, we also look forward to a Gaffel Kölsch. We just didn’t want to brew the seventieth Kölsch.

Maximilian Koeser and Nicolas Lutz from Zappes Broi (from left).

How Corona hit and inspired the industry

The corona pandemic was also difficult for the beer industry. Zappes was founded in the middle of this period. How did that happen?

Lutz: In a way, we were almost a little lucky with Corona. At the time, we were working from home, so we had time to develop our idea as a hobby. As a trained mechanical engineer, I also found production technology very exciting. At some point we went looking for a place where we could brew our beer. In Hürth we found what we were looking for in a brewery that had free capacity anyway due to Corona. For our first batch we produced 500 liters of beer. For us it was huge amounts, we were afraid that we wouldn’t be able to get rid of them. But it was a great feeling to hold your own beer in your hand. Then in the summer of 2020, when more was possible again, we held a release party on the Rhine and suddenly the 500 liters were gone. So we moved on and decided to go about it professionally.

How did it go then?

Koeser: The four of us started, but when the decision was made to professionalize the whole thing, the other two decided to stick with their serious jobs. (laughs) So we continued Zappes as a couple. We also had a lot of support, especially in the early days, for example through a start-up grant.

How has Gaffel gotten through the pandemic so far? The failures in the catering trade must have hurt you.

Becker: Of course, we are the strongest gastronomic Kölsch brand. Our Gaffel am Dom and all the restaurants we supply were closed for seven months; that was a very intense exceptional situation. The state aid has helped our customers a lot during this time. When the lockdown was over, business picked up again in the summer, also because the people of Cologne naturally had some catching up to do. Of course, 2G+ and the general uncertainty are not making it any easier for us at the moment.

What are the next goals you have set for yourself at Zappes?

Lutz: We would just like to experience a completely normal year, run our pub as normal without being afraid that it will have to close or that there are three people too many in the shop. Then we can see where the journey is going. We also want to give something back to our supporters. With about a hundred people we are planning a trip to Portugal in September.

Becker: What I would be interested in: Do you actually want to found your own brewery?

Koeser: The engineer has to say that. (laughs)

Lutz: That was actually the goal from the start. But of course that is also a big investment and finding a suitable hall in Cologne is not easy. Nonetheless, if we find a perfect hall in a good location, we don’t say no.


Heinrich Philipp Becker, Managing Director of Gaffel.

What are Gaffel’s goals?

Becker: Our primary goal is to be successful again together with our customers after Corona and to get the catering business going again. Our second focus remains on innovation. In spring we will also be launching Gaffel Lemon in bottles. We focus primarily on the region. A beer needs a home and a Kölsch still tastes best in Cologne.

As a new brewery, what can you learn from a competitor like Gaffel?

Koeser: We’ve only been around for a year, while Gaffel has been around for 114 years. So it is clear that we, as beginners, can learn something in almost all areas.

And what can the traditional brewery learn from a young competitor like Zappes?

Becker: We didn’t eat wisdom with spoons either. I’m now in my mid-40s and with Zappes a new generation is growing up with a different perspective on things and new ideas. You can definitely learn a lot from this. I think we should go have a few beers and see what we can learn from each other.

Source: Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger – Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger by

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