Hoppy IPAs, refreshing Belgian wits and imperial porters: who doesn’t love a good craft beer? Until just a few years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find any at all in Hamburg. Thankfully, times have changed — and we partly owe it to the founders of von Freude. At a time when beer in Germany was mostly limited to big brand pilsners, Natalie Warneke and Martin Schupeta started the craft-brewing trend —right here in Hamburg.
Four years later, von Freude (literally: of joy) has grown into one of Hamburg’s most popular local brews. One rainy, Thursday afternoon, we share more than a few beers and a chat with Natalie, originally from Aachen on the German border with the Netherlands and Belgium. I learn that before becoming a brewer, Natalie was building a career in the fashion industry.
From fashion to beer
“I never used to be a big beer drinker,” Natalie admits as she pops open a bottle of Von Freude Boulevard. “I liked the Belgian specialty beers, which were quite common in my hometown of Aachen. But regular, German pilsner … it wasn’t very exciting to me.” Instead, it was fashion which made her heart beat faster. She studied international fashion marketing in both Germany and Manchester.
“I got to work around large machines and see factories, it was really cool,” explains Natalie. Ten years ago, her first job brought Natalie to Hamburg, where she got the opportunity to help start up Tom Tailor Denim. “It was really the best first job I could’ve wished for,” she says, “because I discovered that I really enjoy innovating and moving forward.”
And move forward she did—but in a rather different direction. Besides fashion, Natalie’s biggest passion is food. Together with Martin — partner in both life and beer — Natalie started experimenting in the kitchen. “We baked our own bread, made our own sausages… One day, we looked up the famous German Purity Law, and found that most large breweries actually put a lot of junk into their recipes. So we figured, let’s just do it ourselves. Let’s make a beer without additives, all natural.”
The winning recipe
“We tried out several recipes at home, in our kitchen,” Natalie recounts. “Our first beer was a Düsseldorf Alt, which is a top fermenting beer that doesn’t need to be cooled, so it’s ideal for home brewing. That first beer had too little carbonation, but it had a nice aroma, so we decided to try again and it got better with every batch.”
After experimenting with new ingredients and techniques, Natalie and Martin developed a beer that they liked a lot. They poured it for friends and family, who urged them to brew more of the beer, and even sell it.
“At that point in time, Martin and I both felt restless in our jobs. We were craving something new,” says Natalie. So, in 2013, the couple left their jobs and started their brewing company: von Freude. Their beer adventure had begun. “Of course, it was a risk,” Natalie points out, “but I have an all or nothing attitude, so I’d rather start something now, than regret not having tried it later.”
Starting the craft beer trend
To produce their first beer, Natalie and Martin started gypsy brewing: renting a brewery in order to make your own recipe. “We contacted several big brewers,” Natalie remembers, “but because nobody knew about craft brewing at that time, we were turned down a lot. Fortunately, we found one brewer willing to do it, and so we produced our first batch of bottles: the Ale Primeur, a Pale Ale with exotic fruit aromas and notes of caramel.”
This was 2013, and looking back at it, Natalie says, they were probably a bit too early to start a new craft brewery. “The market for craft beer hadn’t quite developed yet in Germany, so we really had to personally visit bars, restaurants and shops to try and sell our beer.”
Today, von Freude sells its main beers, Das IPA, Ale Primeur and Boulevard, and several seasonal beers all over Germany and Europe. Right now, there is the Hygge Hibernation beer, a spin on the traditional Danish Julebryg with notes of cinnamon, and a Frischhopfen beer, which can only be brewed once a year with freshly picked hops that are still wet when manufactured.
Having produced so many successful brews, will von Freude invest in their own brewery in the future? “Actually, gypsy brewing works very well for us,” says Natalie. “It’s a win-win situation: beer consumption has gone down since the 1960s, so many of the larger brewers have cellars full of tanks that they never get to use. Renting out the space is a great solution for them, too.”
Beer for life
Looking back, was the career change worth it? “It was hard in the beginning, but we were able to grow,” says Natalie. “Now, we have a wonderful team, and they are the best ambassadors for von Freude.” And what about the fashion industry: is there any chance it will see Natalie return? “I don’t miss the fashion industry at all. Fashion, if you think about it, is not innovative,” Natalie explains. “Sure, trends change, but in the end you can’t radically change clothing. Craft beer is different: you can explore all kinds of flavours, and everybody seems to enjoy it!”
Cheers, Natalie! Good luck with your future von Freude brews, we can’t wait to taste them all.
von Freude beers are available online and in several shops in Hamburg, such as the Craft Beer Store in Sternschanze. Be sure to try the seasonal Hygge Hibernation and Frischhopfen beers before we’ve drunken it all!