Friday, 3 July 2015

The Session #101 - The material culture of brewing

This month's Session is hosted by Jack at Deep Beer, who chose the topic “bottles, caps and other detritus”, a topic that seemed strangely apt for me, as Boak and Bailey kindly pointed out via Twitter, considering some of the stuff I had been tweeting about over June.

I'm not a collector by nature. At least I try not to be, despite a small weakness for beer glasses and bottle openers. When people hear you are a beer geek, they tend to dump their own junk on you, which is fair enough, and I can (and do) filter, and keep what I like, so the “collection” stays manageable.

However, last month, while visiting a garage sale, when I mentioned I was interested in beer glasses, the owner's daughter asked if I would be interested in a box of beer mats (coasters) from the 60s and 70s. Normally I would say no, but what a box! She said around 1,400 beer mats, and lying on top was a Double Diamond mat, so I said sure I'd take it! She offered to give it away for nothing, as her parents were trying to clean out before moving down to Lake Constance, but with her Dad looking on, I felt a bit bad about that, so offered a tenner for the lot plus a Distelhäuser Maß Krug. I promised to look after them well, and with that, we were off home.

The box was filled with bundles of mats wrapped in newspaper, mostly dating from 1964, which suggested we were dealing with slightly earlier mats than suggested. My wife, being the archaeologist with archiving experience, pretty much took over at this point, and has since sorted the collection into groupings by country then city/town. Of course, the majority are German, with a few hundred international examples, a large portion of which are from Alsace. But the total number was also higher than expected, with circa 2,200 mats, mostly from the late 1950s and early 60s.

But what to do with them? My son says this means I have to open a bar, though all agree at least a portion should be put on display somewhere, but for the moment, they will probably reside, neatly sorted, in old, stackable plastic mushroom boxes, waiting for their moment, however, the act of sorting and looking was already a fun excercise.

I said I was not a collector, but my wife is. I am a beer afficiando, my wife is not. But a collection like this overlaps both interests. I would stand, looking at these mats from breweries long gone, some of them quite local, wondering what  the beer was like. Meanwhile, my wife was constantly pulling up facts about the towns where the breweries were located, how many breweries they once had, when they shut down, when they became better known as another name, or when they got taken over. Real, living history, all laid out on our guest room floor.

There's lots of ways to filter and consider such collections. The obvious is of course the breweries themselves. Indulge me a moment, and we'll taker a look at a local example.

In the 19th century, my wife's home town of Mosbach had up to 13 breweries in operation. Now, it’s almost hard to believe, as there’s only one in operation now, and it’s a brewpub.

The biggest one was Brauerei Hübner, which began operation in 1878 when Heinrich Hübner bought out the former Brauerei Heller. In 1896 there were further consolidations, and they subsumed Brauerei Schifferdecker, to form the Mosbacher Actienbrauerei. With that latter takeover, the Deutscher Hof inn was added to their holdings. This building, which I believe was attached to the brewery complex proper, is the only part of the brewery that still exists, now as the restaurant/bar Ludwig, at the end of the pedestrian zone in Mosbach.

A set based on a road sign theme.
The fronts of the two series above.
One of the newspaper wrappings had a Hübner ad.
By the early 1900s, the Hübner family was clearly doing well. Between 1900 and 1902, they built a large sandstone villa overlooking the town, with large gardens behind it. In 1908, the massive malthouse was constructed. This remained in operation till the 1960s, when it was producing up to 4000 tonnes of malt annually.

20th Anniversary celebrations at Hübner. Heinrich Hübner is 2nd from left.
In 1928 they renamed back to Brauerei Hübner, and continued operation till 1983. After the closure of the brewery, the malthouse was abandoned, and since 1997, this protected structure has been used as a cultural and conference centre. The villa is still standing, although the gardens are now part of a shopping centre, and the brewery site has largely been replaced by a multi-story car park, apart from the Ludwig bar, as mentioned above.

Hübner is certainly not so long gone that it doesn’t survive in living memory. My wife has clear memories of them as a teen. But now, it’s just those memories, and the physical remnants. We've plenty of documentation to sieve through, so I hope to find out more about what they brewed, and how much of it.

Another way to filter the view on such a collection of beer mats was discovered when we unwrapped one particular bundle, where most of the mats were from the 1958 World Expo in Brussels. This little package was like a time capsule, capturing a distinct moment represented by several breweries and indeed other companies like Sebena Air, that were most likely all exhibiting at this world event. It was like a horizontal tasting of beer mats, as opposed to the vertical view given by a single brewery over time.

A bunch of mats from the 1958 World Expo in Brussels.
These mats – and the glasses and signs that still decorate bars around the world – all represent a material culture of breweries, many long gone. They have a permanency that the beer, the lifeblood of the breweries that they represent, could never have. Thinking about it this way, they are definitely worth keeping and documenting. If nothing else, it's just a wonderful way to learn the story of breweries, past and present, and it's down to individuals to help preserve the knowledge of their local breweries.

The next time you are sitting in a bar with the walls festooned with signs, labels and beer mats from old breweries, just consider the heritage that forged them, where they came from, and the giants upon whose shoulders our current beer culture stands.

Postcard beer mat from the 1958 World Expo

Another postcard beer mat.

*Addendum: the collection currently represents 501 breweries

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Artbrau 2015 - Part 2

I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so at this stage something was needed to act as a buffer. Outside, they had GrillGott serving up small plates of random grilled goodness, but we opted for Bratwurst in a bun at the cheaper stall.  We weren't that long outside, but the crowd had increased noticeably when we went back in. There was still plenty of space to move around in comfort, though.

The first stop was Faust, based in Miltenberg, a 45 minute drive north of where I live. I've had quite a few of the standard Faust range, not to mention a few of their more expensive limited edition brews, and it was to a few of these we were drawn. The Faust Eisbock sounded good, and at 11% ABV and a cost of two tokens (so two Euro) for the 100ml sample, I reckoned - or at least hoped - it had to be good.

It's massively fruity on the nose, mostly of the dried, sweet type, suggesting prunes, figs and sticky Pflaumenmus. It's not afraid to show off its alcohol either, with a definite warmth creeping behind a sherry-like foreground. It's got a firm fruity foundation to support it, all of the dried fruit complexities apparent in the aroma, with a slight apple-like acidity cutting through and lending a counter note. It's not without hops either, with a floral, perfumy bitterness, finishing off in the direction of pine needles. Licking sticky lips, I reckoned it was worth the extra token.

Faust Eisbock
Chris tried the Hochzeitbier, which is also a fruit and caramel bomb, but lacking the warmth and slight acidity, so a softer experience altogether.

Right next door was the Welde booth. I have to admit having mixed thoughts about Welde. Their Pils is really easy to recognise in the green, twisty bottle, and for the past few years they've brought out something like a pale ale with a single hop at the end of the year. But there's just something about their "Garden of delights" flyers that come in our door now and again that makes me think of them as all style and no substance. Imagine my shock to see them touting a Badisch Gose and a Bourbon Barrel Bock! I had to try them.

On ordering the Welde Badish Gose, the guy serving warned me that it was an unusual beer and not to everyone's taste Disclaimer duly noted, but I knew what I should be expecting. And boy, you could have knocked me down with a feather. Massive, juicy mandarin and lemon aroma, very appetising so far, but on the tongue, it's big time earthy lemon curd and seawater, finishing with a surprising tropical fruit edge. Saline and oily. Sounds dreadful when you see it described like that, but it worked very well. Checking the bottle after confirmed they do indeed use salt and coriander, not to mention saphir hops.

Welde Badisch Gose
There seems to be a generic sugary signature aroma to the vast majority of German bockbier, and Welde Bourbon Bock was no exception, despite having been barrel aged. But perhaps the flavours had a bit more than the generic stuff. Malty caramel, of course, with an edge of strawberry, raspberry and vanilla. The finish is somewhat dry, with a woody undertone and a hint of cherry. Not a bad effort, but not markedly different.

Welde Bourbon Barrel Bock
Staying within spitting distance of the table, a quick lurch over to the organic-looking Neuenstädter Bier Manufaktur.

The beer list looked respectably German, but of course, the stand-out appeared to be the Starker Peter IPA, with a quoted 65 IBU and some C-hops. After the bock, a hop injection sounded good. However, it was the first real disappointment of the day. A big Bazooka Joe bubblegum aroma served as a warning, and the flabby, fruity/malty mix of the flavour was a complete let down when expecting a big, bitter IPA. Band-wagoneering much? Probably. My notes say "Crap. Like Malzbier, but less tasty".

And so it was back over to Eichbaum, where the Spicy Oak was now available. The body language of the brewer should have warned me, as he seemed almost apologetic when telling me it was aged on oak chips And to be fair, he was probably right to be apologetic. Thin, woody, and like chewing on a toothpick too long. A shadow, compared to the Eichbaum beers tried earlier.

Third time lucky, I guessed, heading over to Braukunstkeller. I'm quite a fan of what they do here, and hadn't had any of their beers in close to a year, so the Braukunstkeller Mystery IPA on the board sounded intriguing. Mystery, because it's a new hop with no name yet, just a number, although I wasn't given the number either. This was the second beer that cost two Euro for 100ml, so when I was short-served, I felt I had to ask for the full 100ml. But what a disappointment. Another mess of bubblegum, strawberries, fatty, and hardly any discernible bitterness. A nearby brewer (actually, two) had a sip and also said "that's not an IPA". Things were really not looking good here! Three duds in a row! I had to get a rescue shot of Hopfenstopfer Incredible IPA to restore my faith in German IPAs!

Mystery IPA. It would have been better with a short measure.
After chin-wagging with some friends of a neighbour, who are in the industry, for probably too long, it was getting time to leave, and pick up my son. But time for just one more, to spend the last token. A quick run over to Riedenburger.

The temptation is always towards the IPA, but I opted for the Dolden Dark Porter. It was good!

And so, we headed off away from the growing crowd, past the steam engines, with a 90 minute train journey ahead.

I liked this festival. It might be a bit selfish to like the fact it was not overly crowded, like Braukunst Live seems to get, but I hoped that it got a decent showing later in the evening and on Sunday. There was plenty of chat, and despite a few duds, some really decent beers, some from unlikely sources, which is always a delight. If it's on again next year, I'll definitely return, sans son, and maybe overnight with the in-laws, to get the full experience.

After writing this, I found I had a bottle of Faust Eisbock in the cellar. 750ml of it! Oh my...

Monday, 27 April 2015

Artbrau 2015 - Part 1

I'd read about Artbrau a few months ago, the latest craft beer festival for the German beer calendar, this time in Heilbronn, an hour's train ride away. But in the stress of moving house earlier this year, I completely forgot about it till my brother-in-law, Chris, phoned me to invite me to it as a birthday present. Living in Heilbronn, he'd heard it mentioned on local radio, and thought it'd be right up my alley.

I have to admit, when I first read about it, the similarity to Braukunst Live really struck me. Artbrau - Braukunst, the names of both playing on the art of brewing, but both also located in transport museums? The finest form of flattery, I guessed.

Looking at the website, the lineup seemed small, but that's no bad thing. The usual suspects, or rather friends, were there, as well as a few surprises, which I'll come to later. Poking about the web in advance, it was also interesting to read that the whole thing was organised by a trio who come from the gastronomy side of things, and indeed, had Braukunst to thank as an influence, wanting to have something similar in Heilbronn. Well, living in Baden-Württemberg, I certainly wasn't going to complain!

There weren't exactly fights to get in...
So it was that we arrived at the Süddeutsches Eisenbahnmuseum, shortly after opening last Saturday afternoon. I had somehow expected lines of people, but the crowds were sparse. We picked up our festival glass (€4 deposit) and ticket with three tokens (€6), all at a reasonable price, I thought, and sauntered on past a line of old steam locomotives. Coming around the corner, the setting was also certainly impressive.

The outside part, where there were some food stalls and the Riegele booth, were beside a great big turntable beside a railway engine shed, where the main, inside part was. I'm not a railway buff, but seeing big steam locomotives actually running, which they were later on, was pretty cool, and definitely added to the atmosphere. Inside was cosy, yet spacious, with benches and tables dotted around the place, so you could sit and chat with your selected beers (take note, Braukunst Live!). Given that the crowds were not that big, it made for a relaxed setting, with plenty of time to have a chat with the brewers/sales people manning the stalls.

It seems to have become tradition that I'll stop by to say hello to Thomas at Hopfenstopfer first, to see if there's anything new to be had. Unfortunately, they were out of the new Monroe Pale Ale, so I settled for an old favourite, the classic Citra Pale Ale. While catching up a little, Thomas told us of some plans for a dry hopped Pils and Weizen, which I'm definitely looking forward to sampling this summer.

Thomas "Hopfenstopfer" Wachno hawking his wares.
Across the way, one of the surprises waited. Eichbaum, out of Mannheim. Eichbaum is incredibly popular in some of the circles I hang out with in the village I live in. Ur-Eich is ever-present at events run by the volunteer fire fighters, and a fellow home brewer in the village did an apprenticeship there. But I think it's pretty fair to say that Eichbaum has always been relatively... well, safe in what they do. So to see a list of what they describe as experimental brews was somewhat of a shock, albeit a pleasant one.

Barrel ageing seems to be their thing, with a couple varieties in Chardonnay casks, and one in a Tequila cask However, on probing deeper on the how and why they were doing this, it was a little saddening. It was clear that there are a handful in the brewery who love beer, and wanted to experiment. But having only a 50 litre test rig, meant that quantities were small (5x50 litre for one run). That, plus, I heard from other sources that they didn't seem to hold much hope of doing more with the ideas, as it was being treated as a marketing thing. But even so, the labels are quite attractive, but what about the beers?

Eichbaum Paradiso is a Zwickl aged in a Barrique Chardonnay. On the nose, it's all fruit: peaches, sweet lemon, and a vinous undertone. It wears it's cask heart on its sleeve, somewhat, with definite Chardonnay influences. Slightly thin, but leaving an oily feel, it's low bitterness enhances the nactarines, ripe peaches and stone fruit flavours. All in all, a decent experiment, but I would have loved to try that Zwickl before it was bunged in a Barrique.

Eichbaum Paradiso, Barrique Chardonnay.
I was fascinated with what they were doing, and wanted to try the Spicy Oak Bock, but it was warming in their van, so I opted for a stronger Chardonnay experience, the Chardonnay Bock, which was also dry hopped with mosaic. This was getting interesting. Really vinous, as one might expect, with big vanilla and tannic wood. A decent amount of residual sugars, but finishing dry all the same, making it terribly easy to drink. An amplified version of the Paradiso, if you like, but deeper too.

I'd seen Palmbräu on the list, and recalled with pleasure bottles of their Zornickel Doppelbock, which I haven't seen for probably 13 years. But what a surprise to see them with craft stout and pale ale, not to mention craft Märzen, on their list.

I was equally fascinated by what these guys are doing. Since April last year, they have produced a beer of the month that is changing constantly. It's now coming full circle. I opted for the Stout, being the good Irishman that I am, to be sure. Like Guinness, the man said, I assume in an attempt to be reassuring to someone who might not have a clue what stout is. I assured him it was not like Guinness, and that was to it's advantage as far as I was concerned. It's sweeter, for one, with a pleasing caramelly backbone, but redolent of blackberries, liquorice and milk chocolate. A pretty fair beer, and given other German stouts I've tried from non-craft breweries (and I would have put Palmbräu firmly  into the traditionalists tribe), a minor miracle in not being a mess of sugar.

Palmbräu produce 150HL of beer of the month, and as they seem to stay local, there's surely enough to go around. I was told I should be able to pick up crates and sixpacks from Rewe in Mosbach, 20km away. I'll be looking forward to going shopping soon!

In the next post, I'll finish off the beers tried, some excellent, and some serious disappointments, and a wrap up of my impression of Artbrau.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Stone Tap Room, San Diego (not Berlin)

My annual trip to San Diego had a new target this year, the new Stone Brewing Tap Room on 795 J Street, within spitting distance of Petco Park, and just beyond spitting distance of our hotel. Given that trips out to Escondido have never been on the cards (apart from last year's ill-fated visit), it was great to learn of this new venue close to the heart of San Diego, supporting the Liberty Station venue just to the north of San Diego city proper.

The Tap Room is set off the street, in a recently restored, attractive 1927 Simon Levi Company building, shared with a restaurant on the other side of the foyer. As with all Stone bars and restaurants, there's a slightly industrial feel, which I like. It's classy and understated, seemingly in contrast with their almost Messianic marketing, and the same goes for their two other locations I've visited. With just a few tables, a bar and a wall with merchandise, it's an intimate kind of surrounding, and had a chilled atmosphere.

Our small group arrived shortly after 8pm, with a bit of a hunger and thirst from working at a conference in the SDCC. First a beer! There's quite a choice, many of which are available in bottle form in Europe, so straight into the fray.

At a mere 4.5% ABV, Stone's Go To IPA is almost an oddity compared to the rest of their range. Intended to be a "session IPA" that delivers the hop levels we all know and love from Stone, but at a strength you can have two of. Well, not that strength has ever stopped me having two if I liked it!
Big, clean grapefruit and lemon aroma, backed up with freshly mown grass and herbs. Lovely fruity backbone, with notes of old-fashioned pear drop candy and sorbet kicks. It finishes with an assertive grapefruit sorbet finish, somehow gentle by stone standards, but nicely rounding it off. Certainly a beer one could have more than two of!

Stone Go To IPA
The menu here is thankfully short, looking a tad healthier than what we'd been eating to date in San Diego. Although having said that, the spicy Thai curry chicken flatbread that I ordered , which to my mind was a pizza, was quite large and definitely filled me up, as well as giving me a good sweat. Went well with the Go To too.

While pondering on what to drink next, the right side of the board was a real draw, featuring seasonals and one-off brews that's I'd have been stupid not to try.

The Stone Spotlight Series (auto-corrected on my phone to Schöne Spotlight Series) is a nice idea, allowing the creative juices to flow amongst Stone staff. The first winner and release from this internal competition is Spröcketbier (that's definitely a metal umlaut there), a Black Rye Kölsch-style beer using carafa malt to get the colour and more hops than a true Kölsch has any right to.

At 5.4% and 40 IBUs, it's by no means a monster, and indeed, the auto-correct had it right. Sehr schön. Roasted malt and light coffee aroma, backed with a sweetness suggesting dried fruits, prunes, and a touch of grass. I'm beginning to think Stone should be doing more of these sub-6%, "low" IBU beers, as Spröcket was a revelation of easy drinkability. Creamy, with dark caramel, a light roasty/toasty bite, meshed with a grassiness and a touch of spice that lightens it. It leans towards a porter, really, so I would not have been able to tell if it had been lagered, but whatever it is, it's a fine tasty beer, and another one I'd happily have had several of.

Stone Spröcketbier
Having recently brewed my own Saison for the first time, I had to try Stone's take. The Stone Saison comes in at 6.3%. It's got a light, sweet vinousness nose, reminiscent of a sweet dessert wine, like a Gewürztraminer. With a sweetish lemon and lime overtone, on top of a biscuit and fruity base redolent of lychee, and just a nip of grapefruit. An earthy, yeasty trace runs through all of this, delivering a satisfying, hearty beer. Another like from me.

Stone Saison
The main problem with this place on a week day, is that it closes at 10pm, which put a bit of pressure on the drinking pleasure. So with limited time, and not neing sure if we'd get back again, what with our overly full confernece schedule, it had to be the W00tStout 2.0. Our own Ian Bergin had mentioned this in a tween the week before I left for San Diego, and having looked at the Stone website, it said it would be available soon. That soon was now!

W00tStout 2.0 comes in at 13%. Bound to be a heavy hitter. First thought:  Woah! It exudes masses of dark fruits, molasses and vanilla. "Oily as f***", I wrote. As it goes down, it's like melted dark chocolate, with oak and vanilla. Long roasted bitterness, but predominantly heavy caramel, cut with an alcohol warmth. Really quite wonderful.

W00tStout 2.0
A couple of days after returning to Germany, they finally announced their Berlin location. I'm not sure what to make of it (especially the crowd-sourcing), but the selfish side of me is hopeful for beers like this fresh on my doorstep (or as close as be damned).

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

I don't exactly know how long I've had this bottle, but I'm pretty sure my mate Rüdiger brought it back from the US while I was still living in Münster, as I seem to recall it living in the cellar there for a while. That''d put it at over 4 years. At something like 18% ABV, I always left it to one side, thinking to have it for a special occasion. You know, the special occasion that never comes up, so the bottle gathers dust at the back of a cellar shelf.

At the prompting of TheBeerNut ("get it down ye", which I'd not heard in some time), I threw caution to the wind and popped it during my week of "holiday".

Despite it's age, hop aromas exuded as soon as the cap was popped. It poured a clear, deep garnet, with a thick tan foam, and exuded rich, fruity aromas, suggesting mango sorbet, candied pineapple and hot caramel sauce, dark touches of plum mousse and hints of ginger spice.

Every sip revealed something new. While it started off sweet and fruity, it gradually yielded spicy elements, a ginger warmth, a cinnamon sweetness, then red wine tannic notes with autumn apples starting to decay on the ground. Then the heat comes. More spice, peppery and alcohol warmth. There's a bitterness, like warmed up grapefruit juice, but tempered by a sticky sweetness. Or perhaps it was the other way around. The finish is long and sticky, as expected, like having Seville orange marmalade on buttered toast with a cup of milky tea beside a pine-log fire.

I'm really curious what this is like fresh, but I'm just as happy having tried this with a bit of age. Sumptuous and very enjoyable.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Not out of the woods yet

As a short appendix to my BrauKunst Live 2014 posts, there were a couple of beers that didn't fit into that series, being foreign and somewhat random, but worthy of mention. Kiesbye's, from Austria, had a booth doing a steady trade, with a rather interesting blackboard of beers on offer. I'd already read about them regarding the annual Waldbier (Woods beer) they brewed using Tanne (fir) in 2011, Zirbe (Swiss pine) in 2012 and Lärche (larch) in 2013. I went with the latter.

Kiesbye’s Waldbier 2013 (Lärche) has a soft, spicy aroma, (a mild curry came to mind!) with an underlying fruitiness that I found hard to define (honey melon?), with highlights of green apple skin and a gentle citrus element. While I'd been expecting something very resinous, it was instead a soft, cosy, pillowy kind of experience, with soft pine-ish warmth (I can't say I know what larch tastes like). A mild bite at the finish wraps it up nicely. An interesting beer, so much so, that I'm now looking for larch trees in my area to brew one of my own!

Over at the BrewFist booth, they had a beer that was probably my favourite beer name of the festival: Czech Norris Pils. At 6.7%, a bit more than a Pils, but what kind of punch did it pack? With a surprisingly delicate nose, suggesting lemon meringue and spices, not the tough guy beer you might expect, following that with a lovely, creamy mouthfeel, nutty, toasted bread, and summer fruit flavours, it's rather nice and well made, I thought.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Braufactum Progusta Harvest Edition 2012

When it comes to Braufactum, the craft beer branch of Radeberger Group, I am more than aware that I sometimes seem to have something against them. I don't like the "gourmet" pricing, yet I love the branding. I don't like that the backing of the company is not so transparent, but I guess I like that they can brew their beers in all sorts of places now owned by Radeberger (even if they don't always say where). But, credit where credit is due, they do some pretty mean beers. Case in point, the Braufactum Progusta Harvest Edition 2012, which I had last weekend, a beer brewed with green hops, within a couple of days of the harvest.

An inviting-looking, reddish amber with a rocky, off-white foam, probably helped along by the glugging induced by the long neck on that 750ml bottle. Although the aroma was not jumping out as much as I expected, perhaps due to the fact it had been in my cellar for about a year, is was deep and rich, with warm spices, earthy, tangerine all on a caramel digestive biscuit base. First impressions on tasting is the creamy mouthfeel. A really superb body. Front-loaded with dried apricots, creamy vanilla fudge and hints of marzipan that lead to  a lemon and mango sorbet finish, prickling on the tongue. There's a lasting bitterness, reminiscent of Seville orange marmalade and just a twist of pine resin to spice it up. A really lovely, luscious beer. I polished the bottle off easily, and would gladly have had another in the same sitting.