After visiting the brewery, located on Calle 50 (Colombia) #68-48 adjacent the salsa club El Suave, I realized the back story is just as intriguing as the product itself.
I admit, their current lack of sign above the door makes them slightly difficult to spot, but if you’re looking straight ahead at the salsa club, they’re right next door to the left.
The Story Behind Hellriegel
Stefan Hellriegel, the founder, wasn’t always the beer guru he is now.
He comes from a German family that moved to Venezuela before he was born. Speaking German in the house and Spanish everywhere else, his family developed a hybrid existence in a country that, at the time, was blossoming.
After working in a series of jobs (administration, mostly) his family moved to Chicago for a few years to work with the growing company Herbalife, adding one more country and one more language to his experience.
Soon after, Stefan pulled back to his roots, opening a German smoked ham family business in Venezuela that did exceptionally well. Some might say too well. Venezuela’s political situation was spiraling down, and a growing business meant danger.
He was appealing to all tastes in smoked meats. So much so, that Germans were going to get a taste of home. One of these nostalgic “tasters” turned out to be his brewery connoisseur/mentor.
And so, another business was born, parallel to the first.
The government kept a special eye on him and soon they were at risk for having their businesses taken away, something that wasn’t unusual.
So, in 2014, the ham business was declared closed, and Hellriegel Beer Company moved to Colombia. They have been open in Medellín since December.
“We chose Colombia over Germany, where we would have had no visa issues, because we couldn’t take our business to Germany. I had a smoked ham and brewery business. It would be like taking sand to the beach!”
The Brewing Process
The Hellriegel founder did not become an expert overnight. Like anything else, brewing beer has an intricate process.
“It was years of strong, thick, bitter beer that tasted more like cough syrup than anything else,” said Stefan, chuckling at the memory.
His mentor encouraged him to try new things; errors are the best learning material. More than one hundred beers were tasted, some thrown out, some improved.
Currently, four beers are on tap at Hellriegel. They also plan on offering seasonal beers for occasions such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Octoberfest.
Beers with Paisa Names
A while back, Pilsen, from Bavaria-the Colombian beer company that brews all Colombian brands from Águila to Club Colombia-played the “identity” card by printing hundreds of thousands of labels reading “Paisa” instead of the beer’s brand.
This led to the mass drawing of pueblos in Antioquia to feel identified. They even sold beers with the names of different towns of Antioquia on them.
This “Orgullosamente Paisa” (Proudly Paisa) advertising campaign worked to perfection. To Medellín and the rest of the country, Pilsen is the Paisa beer.
Hellriegel Beer Company, the newest handcrafted beer in Medellín, also caught on to the cultural identity of the public, naming three of their four beers after iconic elements of the paisa history.
This recipe wasn’t born in Medellín; it was brought from Venezuela-the first beer to be developed and maintained but was slightly modified on arrival. The name comes from the ingredients, paying tribute to the flower workers from Antioquia.
A silleta is what is so often seen carried on the backs of the campesinos (farmers) in Feria de Flores (Flower Festival) beautifully decorated with grass and flowers. So, given that the Silletera beer is made with herbal hops, the name was perfect.
- Taste: It has a Pilsen type malt and a sweeter, more caramel taste.
- Alcohol level: 5%
- Smell: Very aromatic
This red beer was created in honor of the chef who created the smoked ham recipes in Stefan’s family business, who passed away.
The name comes from the firewood toasted smell which inspired Stefan to think of the countryside, of cattle, and finally, of the Carriel-a traditional Paisa handbag made of cowhide.
- Taste: It has a Pilsen malt as well as a caramel malt. It has a slightly smoked note and a toasted taste. It is a bit sweeter, similar to an Irish Red.
- Alcohol level: 6.5%
La Luna Nueva
The name Luna Nueva comes from the phases of the moon. When there is a new moon, the moon isn’t visible, meaning the night is darker.
It took Stefan a while to try brewing darker beer because he had never liked the taste of the only dark beer he tried-Guinness. He said it tasted like soup, and he constantly hesitated when asked to brew a darker beer.
I’m glad he overcame his hesitation because this is my favorite, as well as the best-selling. It took five trials to get to the current recipe.
“This beer-says Stefan-is as dark as a night with no moon, with enough foam to mirror the glow from the stars. That’s why I couldn’t change the name when I arrived in Medellín.”
- Taste: All four barley types are used in this beer, the malt is chocolatey and coffee-like, toasted.
- Alcohol level: 7%
Verdolaga is the name used to reference the Atlético Nacional team in Medellín. When the team had one of its big triumphs, Stefan was watching the game here in Medellín. Having had a few drinks, he promised his friends that he would make a green beer commemorating the team.
It’s designed to refresh during a hot afternoon or evening at the stadium.
- Taste: citrus and herbal hops, to add to the refreshing taste.
- Alcohol level: 5.5%
Amazingly, no artificial coloring is added to the beer to make its green color.
If tasting all these beers works up your appetite, there’s a food menu offering a few options, including a sausage and a German-style chicken sandwich, both of which are served wit a side of potato chips.
Beer Brewing Classes
Hellriegel offers brewing classes in which you can make your own beer recipe. They take place once a month, from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the brewery and are limited to 10 students per course.
It costs 230,000 pesos ($89), and includes:
- Meals for the day
- Bibliographic material-brewing theory
- Three liters of your beer to take home
Hellriegel has shown it has a bright future in Medellín. Its inhabitants have welcomed the brewery and are open to new types of tastes and experiences.
Have you been to Hellriegel? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Photos by David Lee