Being married to a German has meant the introduction of German dishes to our table. One of our favorite meals is Wiener schnitzel served with a warm German potato salad or spätzle. We don’t fix this dinner too often, as it is labor-intensive in my mind. So it was with great anticipation that my husband Ed and I took a road trip to Missoula to check out the Edelweiss Bistro, located inside Montana’s only German brewery, Bayern Brewing.
Founded in 1987 by Trudy and Reinhard Schulte, Bayern Brewing is the oldest brewery in Montana. The Schultes migrated from Bavaria to Missoula, where they opened their brewery and restaurant. The name “Bayern” stems from the fact that Germans call Bavaria “Bayern,” so this was a logical choice for naming their facility. Upon opening, the Schultes hired Jürgen Knöller as their master brewer.
Jürgen, who grew up near the famous fairytale-like Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, brought with him a wealth of experience related to brewing technology. Knöller had graduated in 1987 from Doemens' Masterschool for Brewing and Soft Drink Technology in Munich after nine years of professional training. When the Schultes decided to sell the brewery and move back to Germany, Knöller bought the business in 1991, and to this day, continues to operate the very successful brewery and Bistro.
To meet the demands of an ever-expanding operation, Jürgen hired Master Brewer Thorsten Geuer. Thorsten received his formal training as an apprentice brewer and maltster between 1996-1999 at the "Hofbräu Früh" brewery in Cologne. After graduating, he interned at Bayern Brewing during the summer, then returned to Berlin, Germany, where he enrolled in the VLB Berlin Brewing College. He graduated in the summer of 2002 as a Diploma Masterbrewer with a Bachelor of Science degree. His heart was calling him back to Montana. When Jurgen offered him a position as brewmaster, his bags were packed, and he was off to Zootown.
While Ed and I had come for the food, good-natured Thorsten offered to give us a tour of the brewery. We had hoped to meet Jürgen, but we only caught a glimpse of him brewing up a batch. Bayern adheres to the German Laws of Purity (from 1516), meaning only malted barley, yeast, hops, and water can be used to brew beer. No additives, like fruit, can be introduced. As we made our way through the brewing area, I admitted to Thorsten that I wasn’t a beer drinker, with one exception. Without asking what that exception might be, he interjected, “We don’t have any Clamato here.” Thorsten had just read my mind.
Making strides in sustainability, Bayern has been recycling its glass bottles since 2010. An impressive bottle-washing machine was operating at full bore. Brewing waste is donated to local farmers to help feed their livestock. Their bottle cap says it all: Packaged with 60% Returned Bottles. Return. Refill. Rejoice.
Edelweiss Bistro opened in 2015, and is located upstairs above the tap room and brewing facilities. The Bistro’s ambiance is reminiscent of a German bierstube with its subdued lighting, rustic wood tables, and built-in wooden bench seating along some of the walls. The only thing missing was the staff dressed in lederhosen.
Both Jürgen and Thorsten brought with them not only superior knowledge in terms of German brewing, but a love of their homeland food, reflective in the Edelweiss menu. Mike Jacobsen has been the kitchen manager for seven years. I tell him I’ll be ordering the Wiener schnitzel, a favorite of mine. When I mention it’s a lot of work to prepare, Mike says, “Oh, I know about that. I’m in the kitchen pounding 30-40 lbs. of pork and chicken every day.”
Bayern imports mustards, pickles, condiments, and seasonings from Germany. Except for the rye bread, which comes from Le Petit Bakery in Missoula, all the bread, buns, and pretzels are made in-house. Jürgen’s recipe for sauerkraut is made daily. The pork is sourced from Superior Meats in Riverbend, just a short distance from the town of Superior. The smoked German sausage and bratwurst are products of Uli’s Famous Sausage in Seattle, handcrafted by German Master Butcher Uli Lengenberg.
My Wiener schnitzel came with a delicate and oh-so-tasty garlic sauce. Warm German potato salad with a hint of sweet vinegar was my side choice. Other side options include pommes frites, spätzle, sauerkraut, or grüner salat (green salad).
Chicken schnitzel, a schnitzel sandwich with either pork or chicken, and Jägerschnitzel served with mushroom gravy, are on the menu. Weisswurst starts with two poached white sausages served Bier Hall-style with a house-made pretzel and Händlmairs sweet mustard. Käsespätzle, a German-style mac & cheese uses gouda, Swiss, then the creamy mixture is topped with caramelized onions. On a future visit, I’ll try the obatzda appetizer, a soft and creamy beer cheese spread made with Camembert cheese, onions, and paprika, served with a house-made Bavarian pretzel.
New to me was frikadelle, a German pan-fried meatloaf patty, which the Bistro serves with a German pickle and hot mustard, or on a bun with lettuce, onion, mayo, and hot mustard. My German man selected the leberkäse sandwich, featuring thick sliced Bavarian meatloaf served on a house-made bun with hot German mustard. Ed opted for the Royal version, served with a fried egg, pepperoncini peppers, and fried onions. He also ordered Udo's Dragon Soup, which I sampled. This Hungarian-style beef stew simmers bacon and vegetables in a spicy broth made with Bayern’s Dragon's Breath Dark Hefeweizen.
As we prepared to leave, Thorsten met us at the door and asked, “You’ve had our beer and good German food…does it get any better than this?” I replied, “Well, it could be better.” Thorsten shot me that deer-in-the-headlights look as I continued. “We could be sitting in front of the Neuschwanstein Castle having this meal.” Quick with his response, Thorsten pointed to their outside patio. “In summer, you can sit on our deck and stare at our three chestnut trees.”