Lillebräu from Kiel received a symbolic award as Germany’s 1500th. brewery at the German Beer Convention in 2018. What’s really special, however, is the brewery’s objective and the speed at which it has been pursued and put into practice so far. By 2022, founders and CEOs Florian Scheske and Max Kühl want their Lille to be the best known beer from and for Kiel and to take over the so-called “guest beer” tap in every local bar and restaurant. To achieve this, they are focussing on quality, regional partnerships, sustainability and on the student city of Kiel itself.
“Lille” is Danish and means ”little” and that’s just what the brewer was when it started in 2015: a little craft brewing project launched by Scheske and Kühl, at the time still students, out of their passion for brewing. It quickly established itself as Kiel’s local favourite. To begin with, Lille was brewed in other breweries, a so-called “cuckoo beer”, until October 2018, when its own facility was opened in Kiel. The demand on quality has remained, as has the philosophy. Today, however, the word “small” only stands for the scale on which procurement of raw materials and partners is carried out.
“Ecologically, it simply makes more sense to focus our main operations within a radius of 100 km around Kiel, also because we want to identify ourselves with Kiel. We want our beer to be from here and so we’re very grateful for the acceptance we’ve received in our home town. This confirms the bond that we feel,” says Scheske. “That’s why we’re aiming to become the region’s best known beer“, adds Kühl. “But we don’t want to block out other opportunities. You can buy Lille from premium retailers in the greater Kiel area and also in one or two craft beer stores in Berlin and Hamburg.”
Certainly an ambitious aim, considering Lille’s origins! The two partners met while studying Industrial Design and Communications Design. After prolonged excursions to Australia, the USA and Chile, Scheske’s and Kühl’s passion for craft beer intensified. Just for the fun of it, they decided to brew their first beer. “Lille wouldn’t exist today, if we hadn’t both had a soft spot for the good things in life. We’ve always had an interest in good food and sustainable, regional products. At that time, we even started our own cooking club and used to meet up with friends regularly to do some cooking, and of course enjoy the results”, Scheske remembers.
Their underlying intention at the time was to create a beer of their own with its own flavour, and not to set up a brewery. That idea came later. Regional products on the market were few and far between and other people liked their beer, too. So, the two hobby brewers saw the opportunity to conquer the market with a local product and spontaneously decided to found Lille. Kühl: “It’s something we often hear: oh yeah, two designers set up a brewery. That’s not about beer, but about brand awareness. Of course, some technical understanding and knowledge of product design comes with what we’ve studied, but the beer definitely does not come second. Quite the contrary. People only got to know Lille from recommendations. The design and the idea for professional marketing only came after we had already built up the customer structures that are still in place today.”
To make this dream of having their own brewery in Kiel actually come true, there then followed meetings with banks and a crowd funding initiative. On October 26th 2018, the brewery went into operation. One part of the brewery building is a taproom for beer tasting, guided tours and functions, with sufficient space for about 60 seats or 100 people. 10 taps then provide the guests with draught beer from KEGs. Kühl: “Our dispensing methods are completely open. For us, it was important to let people experience the brewing process fully transparently right where it happens. That underlines the passion we have for our craft.” Next to this, there’s a food truck which only serves local specialities. This is intended as another element in the drive to promote the unique flavour of Kiel.
It wasn’t without good reason that Lille received an award from the German brewing Association in 2018. “An award that doesn’t necessarily have to be given to southern German breweries only”, Scheske is pleased to say. But, even without such awards, the young brewers manage to get their beer to their fans anyway. At the annual festivities in Berlin to celebrate German reunification, they presented Lille as the beer of Schleswig-Holstein, a federal state of Germany which is about 350 km away from Berlin. And since 2018, they have also been partners of the Schleswig-Holstein Gourmet Festival, which has been well established for 30 years. It ran from September 2018 to March 2019, with the 17 participating restaurants and hotels organising a total of 34 events, including gala evenings with sophisticated cuisine and dining culture. This also involved combining high-quality culinary creations with beer.
The plan is to continue extending their regional presence by 2020 and further establish Lille in northern Germany and especially in Kiel. The goal for 2022 is even more ambitious. “Larger breweries, like Becks are often the first or main beer on tap. That’s OK, but there used to be 120 breweries in Kiel. We are the first new brewery to be set up since 1993. On behalf of the city, we want to revive the brewing culture of the past. With high-grade ingredients and a new attitude to flavour, we want to be the beer that sets the benchmark for quality and by 2022, Lillebräu will be the region’s leading ‘guest beer’”, declares Scheske.
Lille wouldn’t be Lille, if it didn’t represent the lifestyle of the region. In the City of Kiel, the focus is on sustainability. “Of Kiel’s roughly 250,000 inhabitants, about 35,000 are students. And everyone rides a bicycle. This environmental awareness reflects our own attitude. So, as far as that’s concerned,” says Kühl, alluding to sustainability, “we belong here, too. By building our own brewery, we have made the conscious decision to follow those business and ecological arguments that tell us to rely on our own stock of reusable KEGs. KEGs can be used again and again almost infinitely, for over 30 years, if used and maintained properly. There are no additional costs for things like labelling. This long-term repeated use means CO2 emissions are significantly lower than for the production of new, disposable containers. And when the end comes, these KEGS are 100% recyclable.”
Scheske continues: “But then the designer in us does come through a bit: reusable stainless steel KEGs are not just the only way to attract attention as a brewery with an ecologically sustainable approach, they actually help to promote our goal of extending our presence on the local pub and restaurant scene.” Lille has been cooperating with SCHÄFER Container Systems since September and has purchased 100 units each of the standard ECO KEGs and the slim-line versions, the so-called junior ECO KEGs, each with volumes of 20.5 or 30 litres. These reusable KEGs all have one major benefit in common: the great variety of branding possibilities. Kühl and Scheske have chosen the electrochemical signature for displaying their brand and logo, as this is a technique that doesn’t wear off, and so “you could even call that sustainable, as well,“ says Kühl with a laugh.