Uli Schiefelbein went from homebrew in Iraq to brewing in Suffolk and now sells beer in Wapping
The tale of the Krafty Braumeister starts not in east London, but some distance away.
In fact the brewery, which sells its beer at Wapping Docklands Market every Saturday from 10am-4pm at Brussels Wharf, has its origins in Iraq and the desire for better refreshment.
“I was working for the European Union over there as a rule of law expert, having worked for the German police,” said Uli Schiefelbein, founder and head brewer at the Krafty Braumeister.
“We were over there training Iraqi police and prison governors in the rule of law – mainly criminal law – and I worked there for seven years.
“Now, I love beer – I can remember my grandfather taking me to a pub for the first time when I was 15.
“But the beer we could get in Baghdad was absolute crap.
“It was often kept out on the runway in containers in 40ºC heat – beer from big lager brands brewing under licence in Turkey, so it was not nice to start with.
“At that time we were living in rented accommodation at the British Embassy, where we also rented offices.
“So, a few of us decided to try brewing our own.
“Everyone was very keen on getting better beer, so soon people flying in were bringing hops and malt in their suitcases.
“Our first attempt was a total failure. The problem was the fermentation, because the weather was just so hot.
“We had no clue about brewing but we figured a few things out, got the hang of it and everybody liked the beer.
“From that experience, I thought that when I retired I would try to make a business out of it.
“The second thing that happened in Baghdad was I met my wife there and she is British.
“We had to decide whether to live in Germany or the UK, but she said she was tired of learning new languages, so I didn’t have a choice.
“That’s why we live in Suffolk, which I love because it’s a wonderful place – very quiet and rural – and that’s where this little brewery has been going now since April 2018.”
The couple moved to the UK in 2013, with Uli retiring in 2017 and immediately embarking on a series of professional brewing courses to take his hobby to the next level.
“Because I’m German, I thought I needed to do some German-style beers – that was my niche – and that’s what we did,” he said.
“All the beers we brew are natural – we don’t add any sugar or artificial flavours.
“I couldn’t really do American IPAs and the British brewers are much better than me at brewing their ales, so I stuck to what I knew.”
Perhaps appropriately for a former rule of law expert, Uli brews strictly in line with the Reinheitsgebot – a candidate for the oldest, still enforced food regulation in the world.
Also known as the German Purity Law, it was implemented by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in 1516 and states that only barley, hops and water can be used to produce beer.
This was subsequently modified to include a fourth ingredient, yeast, after its role in the fermentation process was discovered and has governed brewing in all of Germany since 1906 after it was gradually adopted by other states in the country.
So while Uli brews his beer in Leiston, close to the east coast, the link to the country of his birth is potent and his home town features in his beers too.
“I had to do a beer from my home town of Köln,” he said.
“Out Rut And Wiess is a Kölsch-style beer that’s like a hybrid between a pale ale and a lager. A lot of people order it from us because they know it from their time in Germany.
“In Köln, it’s drunk in small glasses and the waiters carry trays of beers.
“When yours is empty they replace it with a fresh one and will keep doing so until you put your beer mat on top of the glass.
“It’s one of the six beers in our core range.
“We do two traditional Bavarian wheat beers, one has banana and clove flavours, which comes from the yeast, a very refreshing summer beer.
“Both are quite fizzy and effervescent.
“The darker version is quite complex and has a lot of flavours. It has won us several awards, including a silver medal from the London Beer Competition.
“Then we do two lagers, one called Munich Helles, which has a sweet maltiness to it, and also a more traditional north German pilsner.
“As well as the Kölsch-style beer, we do a kind of brown ale inspired by beer from the town of Düsseldorf, which has a taste somewhere between a bitter or a porter.”
Examples of these beers and special editions are available at the market in draft and bottled formats, with Uli making the weekly trip down to London.
“For our business model, Wapping is a good way to sell directly to customers,” he said.
“For a small brewery like mine, it’s difficult to do distribution. We have some shops and some pubs where we sell the beer.
“But this puts us right in front of people – they seem to really like it and it works very well for us.
“We’re happy to be here – it’s such a nice atmosphere, with the community and people coming every Saturday, meeting their friends, having a drink and some food – I really enjoy it.
“When this market was first opened by Will Cutteridge, I knew the location and thought I should be here.
“Street food and live music is ideal for us and we’ve now been trading here for nearly two years.
“Running a business like this has been more challenging than I thought. I knew I could brew beer that people like, but all the other things that come with running a company – selling your product, merchandising, taxes – whatever is involved, is all so much more than you think.
“Even though I’m retired, I probably work more now.
“But I enjoy it very much indeed. It’s fantastic when people come back and tell me how much they enjoy what I have made.
“That’s why I like being at this market – we’ve found people in the community really enjoy what we’re doing, so it’s a mutual thing.
“One of the reasons we came to London in the first place was because of the pandemic – all the markets in Suffolk were closed but they were open in the city.
“So the only way for us to survive was to come to the capital – where we were allowed to sell glasses of beer – and we’re glad we did.
“As for the future, I should like to continue, grow a little bit and increase the profit if I can.
“However, it won’t be to a point where it’s too commercial or industrial and we can’t enjoy it any more.
“We want to be a nice size and we’re pretty busy, so I’d like to continue doing this for a few more years. If I get to a point where I’m too tired of doing it, then perhaps I’ll sell it then, if I can.”
Currywurst And Fries, £9.90 – The Austrian House
Asked for a pairing recommendation for his beer, Uli had no hesitation in picking out regular Wapping trader The Austrian House.
Like the Braumeister, this company makes its products in the UK, with ice-cooled blades to keep the pork in the bratwurst in top condition when it’s being sliced up.
Slathered with sauce and curry powder, its currywurst and skin-on fries are a rich fruity delight, best enjoyed with a glug or two of chilled beer…
- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via firstname.lastname@example.org