Ask the Pros: Brewing a Revered German Pils with Rothaus

With its loyal following in Germany and cult status elsewhere, what is it about Rothaus Tannenzäpfle that resonates with so many connoisseurs as well as casual lager drinkers? We went there to find out.

Ryan Pachmayer May 13, 2024 - 10 min read

Ask the Pros: Brewing a Revered German Pils with Rothaus Primary Image

From left: Production manager Mario Allendoerfer pulls a glass off the tank (Photo: James Spaulding). The large cylindroconical fermenters of the Rothaus cellar (Photo: Ryan Pachmayer)

The fir cone and beer server on the label are fun, and the gold foil is a nice touch. But what it really comes down to is the beer itself: Rothaus Tannenzäpfle—brewed by the Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus, in Germany’s Black Forest—is clear enough you could read a book through it, previewing the focus of what’s to come. The beer itself is uncommonly soft for a German pilsner, yet the persistent bitterness, long and lean supporting malt, and dry, herbal, Noble-hop finish all integrate perfectly for a decidedly classic taste.

How do you make such a revered, unique beer? Let’s dive in.

Consistent Achievement

Head brewer and production manager Mario Allendoerfer says the goal when brewing this beer is to manage and balance the ever-changing raw materials to create a consistent, high-level finished product. “This is the secret of the beer,” he says. The customer expects the beer to taste the same, even if the ingredients are always changing. “This is our main task, and it is a difficult thing.”

A tasting panel of nine brewmasters—including Allendoerfer and his boss, the technical director—meets every Monday afternoon. They taste beer from every single tank—up to 67 vessels. Once per month, they also gather beers from around the region and taste them blindly. This is all in the name of quality, familiarity, and consistency.


The production team initially brews Tannenzäpfle to a higher strength, 5.6 percent ABV, before diluting it down to 5.1 percent ABV just after filtration. Allendoerfer says this is to better control the final product and to reduce the storage volume during fermentation and lagering. The stronger beer trades some of the focus of the final product for a more intense flavor, especially from the malt. It’s fantastic on its own, as akin to Tannenzäpfle as Augustiner Edelstoff is to Augustiner Hell.

However, Rothaus wasn’t always famous for its pilsner. Before the 1960s, the brewery was known for different styles of beer—notably a bock. “The older brewers tell us that during the wintertime,” Allendoerfer says, “the apprentices would clean the storage tanks to remove the evidence of how much bockbier the employees had drunk, before the brewmaster could see the markings on the tank.” Legend has it that one year, the employees consumed 15 hectoliters of a 150-hectoliter batch. Perhaps not coincidentally, Rothaus no longer produces the bock. Yet the rich tradition of employees consuming what they create lives on—each Rothaus employee can take home up to 90 liters of beer per month (or about three liters per day).

Today, Tannenzäpfle accounts for about 80 percent of the brewery’s more than 750,000 hectoliters (640,000 barrels). Along the way, the brewery uses 50,000 metric tons (55,000 U.S. tons) of grain every year, coming from seven different malt suppliers. “We look everywhere,” Allendoerfer says, “so that if one [supply] breaks down, we’ll still be able to continue production.”

The malt for Tannenzäpfle is 100 percent pilsner. Yet even compared to many other German pilsners of similar grist, the finished beer is noticeably a touch lighter.


From left: Foil-topped bottles await packing (Photo: Ryan Pachmayer). Fresh Tannenzäpfle (Photo: James Spaulding)

The Process at Rothaus

Allendoerfer says that Rothaus takes care to keep unwanted oxygen out of the hot side of the process, mostly by purging pipes with hot water. While other breweries go to greater lengths, he believes that for the size and specific setup at Rothaus, the hot-water purge is sufficient.

One of the few things that has changed over the years, as ingredients have changed, is the mash schedule. The brewery no longer uses a protein rest, with today’s malts being more modified. Rothaus still does a single decoction, however, before sending wort off to the brew kettle, which contains an internal calandria to more quickly bring the beer to boil.

Allendoerfer says the hop additions are “classic.” They boil for five minutes before adding the first hops—the timings are 55, 30, and 10 minutes before the end of the boil. The hops come from the Hallertau and Tettnang, includingPerle and Tettnanger. They also use T-90 and T-45 pellets, never hop extracts or syrups—which are technically allowed by the Reinheitsgebot and not uncommon at larger-scale breweries.

The brewery creates its own sauergut, an acidified wort, to adjust the pH levels. The water comes straight from wells on site, and it is incredibly soft—similar to the legendary water at Pilsner Urquell in Bohemia. To its own water, Rothaus adds only a bit of calcium chloride.


Fermentation and lagering are relatively straightforward. Tannenzäpfle ferments at about 50°F (10°C) until complete, before being slowly lowered to 32°F (0°C), where it lagers for at least six weeks. The brewery repitches its yeast for four to six generations, selling the excess slurry to a pharmaceutical company.

Freshness in a Beloved Bottle

Rothaus is a bit of an outlier when it comes to packaging dates. Many German breweries that export use a best-by date of one year after bottling—highly optimistic, even in the best storage conditions. Rothaus uses six months. This lets consumers halfway across the globe pick up a bottle of Tannenzäpfle and know that it is going to taste the way it should.

That striking label art has remained fairly consistent since its debut in 1956. The gold foil on the neck of the bottle remains, too. “It was popular at the time,” Allendoerfer says, adding that there was a hygienic aspect to it. Today, few breweries use the foil anymore, but it remains a critical point for many fans of Rothaus—and that is a big reason why it’s still there.

About 20 years ago, Rothaus tried to remove the printing on the bottle caps. That would have saved them about a cent per bottle, no small thing when you’re filling 55,000 bottles per hour. But many customers were outraged.


“One person accused us of being a poor brewery,” Allendoerfer says. Another asked how they would know what beer they were drinking once it was opened. Sometimes, it’s best to just leave well enough alone—especially when you’re making what many consider to be the perfect pilsner.

“I’m quite proud of the product that we produce, and I’m happy to share it with the people,” Allendoerfer says. “It’s one of the best beers in Germany.” When told that it’s actually one of the best beers in the world, he replies flatly: “That is the same thing.”

Photo: James Spaulding

Impressive Kit

The equipment in the Rothaus brewhouse is massive. The lauter tun is one of the largest in the world, Allendoerfer says—and he should know. He spent nearly two decades on the supply side of the business, visiting some of the largest breweries in the world.

Taking over as production manager in 2022 was a homecoming for Allendoerfer. Born and raised in the Black Forest, he originally did his apprenticeship at Rothaus in the late 1990s, as a trainee in the brewhouse. He then went to Doemens Academy to get his master brewer degree before working for Krones and Ziemann Holvrieka on the equipment side of the industry. “After 20 years, I’ve come back, and I can bring what I have learned back home,” he says.


The mill is an impressive Steinecker Variomill four-roller wet mill. It can grind 25 tons of grain per hour, with each roller running at 800 rpm. All the equipment you see in the brewhouse is shiny copper. Looks can be deceiving, however—Allendoerfer says the insides are all stainless steel. “The copper is only to show the tradition,” he says. Despite constantly upgrading to state-of-the-art tech, the brewery likes to stay traditional where it can. Rothaus spent roughly a million euros to keep the outsides of the kettles copper—not to mention the constant polishing to keep them at showpiece level.

The bottling line is no different—it is massive and advanced. As you’d expect, bottles are purged of oxygen, over-filled, then capped on foam—all in the name of keeping the beer fresher for longer.

Famously, the brewery is majority-owned by the state—one of three like that in Germany, along with Munich’s Hofbräuhaus and Freising’s Weihenstphaner. Allendoerfer says that the government is focused on the importance of the brewery to the community and the economy, notably via the jobs it provides. Therefore, squeezing profits out of every corner of the brewery is not the primary goal. Instead, Rothaus is continuously reinvesting in itself. This has allowed the brewery to weather downturns in production—it once produced nearly a million hectoliters—without the massive layoffs or complete shutdowns that happen at over-leveraged breweries.

Over time, meanwhile, Rothaus continues to upgrade to the latest technology, and it continues to expand throughout its expansive property on the edge of the Black Forest. (Few things change otherwise.)