Monday, 29 December 2008

Bitten Bullet Barleywine #1

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It's been a busy week or so. My mother flew back to Dublin yesterday after what seemed like a very quick eleven days. Things are getting back to normal, in a way, so last night I bottled the amber ale I made two weeks ago. I can't wait to taste it carbonated, as it has a really unusual flavour; heaps of passion fruit, or grenadine. I'm not sure which. Certainly more hoppy in the flavour stakes than an amber ale should be, but that's because I got distracted and added the flavour hops too early. Maybe a good thing, who knows?

Today (spread out between familial tasks) I made a barleywine I'd been planning for ages, using yeast trub from the amber ale to get this monster off to a good start. It should finish out at about 10.5% alcohol, and the bitterness units are estimated to be around 106. I used heaps of American "C" hops; Chinook, Centennial and Cascade, all with wonderful citric, grapefruity aromas. My son really wanted to chew the pellets, but he had to settle for the malt and malt extract ("that's not enough Daddy! More!"). I tasted the wort and it was so hoppy it tasted like black pepper. I plan on maturing it on oak for three or more months before bottling (maybe longer) and to try and leave most of it till next Christmas. That's the plan anyway!

For the geeks, my full recipe can be found here.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas preparations

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I've been a bad blogger over the past week or so. Normally I have a stash of things ready to go, but between my mother being here, and my son having taken to waking up at extraordinarily early hours (six in the bloody morning!) I haven't even had time to read my favourite blogs.

Still, it's been nice to be off work and just getting stuff ready for Christmas. My mother and I have been to four out of the five Christmas markets in Münster. Today was the best as we popped in to the oldest and biggest one in the Rathaus courtyard (and beyond) and were able to relax, ramble, purchase some last minute items and have some currywurst and pommes with the rest of the rabble. Then I had to have a couple mugs of Gluhwein just so my mother and mother-in-law could get the nice red Muenster Glühwein mugs (my mother doesn't really drink, although I just sent her to bed with a hot whisky as she caught my cold). I know you can just buy the mugs empty, but where's the fun in that? As a result I only narrowly avoided buying a leather Australian-type hat that my mother thought really suited me, but I knew my wife would hate.

In terms of Christmas markets, yesterday was great. We popped over to Telgte, some 20 minutes (unless you take the shortest route though dirt tracks, thanks Tomtom) east of Münster, a place famous for it's Medieval festivals during the summer. This year was the first Medieval Christmas market, and boy was it fun. When we walked in I have to admit I thought of the John Boorman movie, Excalibur, and that scene where Parcival arrives at Camelot soon after it was built. Lots of stuff going on, Medieval music played on a stage somewhere, fires lit with benches crowded around them, people dressed up for the period with lots of furs and cosy looking cloaks. A paradise for Goths with all the leather goods and chainmail for sale, and just a wonderful relaxed atmosphere. I should have taken more photos, but it would have been hard to capture the smell of wood smoke and food. Oh, and it had the biggest ball pit I have ever seen made out of hay bales. It was like a swimming pool, and actually pretty deep. It screwed my back though. Not because I was playing in it (apart from maybe 30 seconds worth wwhere I had to dive in to save the boy), but because of the constant hauling my son out and throwing him back in amongst the thirty other insane children. My next physio appointment isn't till the 6th of January, so I have to rely on alcohol now to ease my suffering.

Speaking of which, I'm not sure what I'll be drinking on Christmas day. I hope to make it to the drink store tomorrow, otherwise I think I'll rely on my home brewed beer, and maybe a few doppelbocks. I did buy some fruit wine at the Medieval market though, in rather attractive earthenware bottles (1 litre, very authentic) which may come out at some stage.

So, what will you be supping with your Christmas dinner? Indeed, what will you be eating?

After agonising about what I should do, food-wise, I have settled on a traditional (in Irish terms at least) turkey with a cranberry and chestnut stuffing, and cider-glazed roast root vegetables as the main course. Oh, and my mother brought over the traditional spiced beef I asked for, so that'll be simmered in a dark beer soon. Mmm, love that cold, thinly sliced with fresh bread and globs of mustard.

For the homebrew geeks, my first all-grain is now at 1.010. I need to start thinking about making that barleywine soon

Friday, 19 December 2008

Things to avoid

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I have a cold. Two days after starting my holidays! I'm grumpy so, despite the chocolates my mother brought over with her yesterday. So, what better way to make myself feel better than describe two shitty beers. I have posted before about a few beers that I have found boring, bland and occasionally just awful, but this is the first time I'll just lump some together.

First up, Schwelmer Pils from Privatbrauerei Schwelm, which I just realised isn't a million miles away from me, being btween Düsseldorf and Dortmund. I found their amber beer ok, and although this one opened up with an interesting freshly cut wood, resin-like and floral aroma, the flavour was detergenty/soapy with an underlying saccharine sweetness. Just not nice at all.

The next one should probably have been mentioned first, but there ya go. The Hansa Pils made by the Dortmunder Actien Brauerei (DAB, along with DUB being one of the two big industrial era breweries of Dortmund, and the only one remaining) although originally from Dortmunder Hansa Brewery which was acquired by DAB in the early 70's. I know I've said before that beer in Germany is generally ridiculously cheap, but htis takes thie biscuit at 45c a bottle. I just had to try it! It's very pale, almost watery looking (well whaddaya know!) and a bit unappealing. It's quite sweet in a weak, malty way, and the hops seem to add a slight fruit note. It has a faint resiny aftertaste which I usually blame on the hop extract. Generally a pretty weak effort, but it's hardly surprising considering the price. Apparently it's very popular with the punk and skinhead scene here! I must stop shaving my head...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Christmas Party 2008

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Last night was the company Christmas party. I'm also now officially on leave for three weeks, and that's just as well as I really needed those extra couple of hours in bed this morning. Well, my son did still come in and chat at me for 30 minutes, and him sitting on my belly didn't produce any terrible side-effects, so I think I came out ok after the long night. And I thought I couldn't do 3am any more!

The party itself kicked off at 17:00, but due to a server ditching my work without warning (causing considerable swearing and undoing weeks of physiotherapy) I had to redo some stuff and didn't join till 18:00 (see how I'm getting into the German way of writing time?). There is a large terrace in the middle of our building, and this had been decked out with a couple of tents under which food was being served, and lots of standing tables to gather at for munching the fine food and get a few beers in. The beers on offer were Pott's Landbier and Krombacher (I have a soft spot for Krombacher actually, but usually in Summer). Inside was a bar, but the catering company had several people moving about taking orders and cleaning away empties. Music was provided by the resident DJ with lots of lighting and smoke machines. As Christmas parties go it was really great fun and relaxed. The last few hours flew by in a haze, but looking at all the photos, the late-shift crew that I was with clearly had a laugh. Despite that I do remember the cycle home, and I didn't wake my wife up crawling in at 3am and making a cheese sandwich.

Of course, the party was also an opportunity to test out the Christmas beer on some colleagues. My wife made a special delivery of two crates of home brew, one containing the Christmas beer in its three incarnations, the other was a mix of my most recent American-style pale ale, the last three bottles of my Muenster Mulligan Porter and a clutch of His Master's Vice, a dark, relatively hoppy beer that is in its second version (and one of my favourites). It still needs work though.

It was a bit like setting up shop in the kitchen, and trade was brisk. I was pleasently surprised at the reaction to the Christmas beer, but maybe the atmosphere of a Christmas party made it more accessible. Nevertheless, it was also gratifying that people could taste the differences between the unoaked and the two oaked versions, many comments mirroring my own. For some people it was a little sweeter then they were accustomed to, but they adjusted by the second glass. In fact, the lightly oaked one seemed to cut the sweetness with a little tannic edge noted by one colleague.

The pale ale was a real hit with many. It's a typically American-style affair with lots of grapefruity, citric aromas, and again a grapefruit-like dry bitterness on top of a reasonably malty backbone. Only one person didn't like it at all, pouring it out. It was strange, as this person (who does not work in the office) was picking out some very subtle flavours from the Christmas beer. I'm guessing he's a wine afficionado, but he described the aroma and taste of the pale ale as being like a train station in a busy city after midnight. Actually, very descriptive. If it was wine I bet he would have said catty though, and drank it. Actually, I just found out he was a customer!

Overall everything went down really well, and while there was a consistent group in the kitchen for nearly two hours drinking my beers, people outside were hearing about it and coming in asking for Christmas beer. Great fun! The CEO, a true gentleman in every sense, offered to pay for the costs of the beer. Of course I refused. Having a large group of people try your beers and give honest feedback is reward enough. Having them seem to genuinely enjoy them was great!

One outcome of all this is a potential team brewing day suggested by my team leader. A capital idea!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

My First All-Grain

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After years using dry malt extract as the base of my home brewing, today I finally used my home-made mash tun to do my first full batch all-grain brew. I decided to make an amber ale with pale ale, munich and crystal malt, and a hop I had never used before; glacier. Hence, I named the beer Glacial Amber. The recipe is here if you really want to know.

I'm not going to get all brew-geeky right now, but it was a long process. Exactly the reason I used extract till now, as it meant I could make a beer in three to four hours. Today took about eight or nine hours from start to finish. However the process is so slow with lots of waiting that I made a very tasty cottage pie in between as well as trying to clean the place up before my Mother arrives on Wednesday. I need to find a new place to put the fermenter actually...

Right now I'm sampling a bottle of my Christmas beer. Although only bottled a week ago, it has a light carbonation that I think improves it. Plus it's been in the fridge. Tomorrow is the office Christmas party, so I was considering bringing in a few bottles if it was any way condtioned. I'm tempted. It gives a nice spicey warmth. I don't know what beer will be on offer, but I fear a night of Becks or Veltins.

Next brew should be a barley wine. I can't wait!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Schwelmer Bernstein

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Schwelmer Bernstein, from Privatbrauerei Schwelm, means amber, and yes, it is exactly that. Having a strong and simple malty nose with a touch of freshly cut grass, this is another one of those gulper beers. It has a toffee-like, juicy maltiness that makes the mouth water and begs to be gulped down. There's a slight floral or perfumey flavour lurking in there too, and the grassy notes become more prominent as you go through a full glass of it. It's a little thin and verging towards being sugary, but it's easy to drink and will do adequately in a fix.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Christmas Beer Update #2

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Almost two months after my last update, where I had split the spiced up beer into three demijohns, it was about time I bottled this beer, or it'd be a New Year beer. I spent a good part of Sunday night washing bottles (see right, although I consoled myself with a Paulaner Salvator while doing so), and then a disgustingly long three hours actually bottling the stuff on Monday night, finishing well after midnight on a night when I wanted to go to bed early as I had to be up at 6:30 for another torture session with my physiotherapist/osteologist (actually, she's very good, but I always feel like I've been beaten up for a day after a session).
The fact that this beer was split into three portions just made life awkward, however, I was looking forward to seeing what difference, if any, the oak chips would make. Oh, and seeing if the recipe I created ended up tasting like shit or not!
On opening the first demijohn (with the light oak), the most prominent aroma was bananas. Intense, ripe bananas with touches of vanilla, almonds and a hint of all-spice or cloves. The next one, the dark-oaked one, also had alot of banana going on, but not near as intense, Cloves were more to the fore and there's was a gunpowdery, roasty whiff. I left the big one till last, the unoaked one, and strangely it seemed to have cloves much more to the fore. I left off tasting them until I had finished bottling so I could taste them side-by-side.
I should point out (for the brewing geeks) that after splitting the beer up I left it in a warmish room (19C) for a couple of weeks and then dropped them down to the cellar where the temp slowly dropped from about 17C to 13C over the past two months. I know it was still fermenting, very slowly, but the final gravity was 1.026. A little higher than I expected, but not to worry, 6.6% alcohol is respectable enough. As a result I expected a fuller mouthfeel, and yes, it does have a reasonable body, and of course a residual sweetness.
Flavour-wise, well the unoaked did have banana notes, but cloves and ginger came out very well. It was a little solventy with a touch of licorice. I'm hoping that some carbonation will lift it a bit. The light-oaked one didn't seem as solventy, and there was a nice touch of vanilla and almonds, as hinted by the aroma, so I was glad they came through the flavour too. The dark oak was subtly different, with the biggest difference being a roasty, more havy vanilla flavour. The cloves don't come out as much, and in fact, this was my wife's favourite. I'm torn between this and the light-oaked one. I'm not sure about the unoaked one yet.
Overall the flavours feel a little Belgian, and it quite warming. I didn't get the heavy spiciness I thought I might, but you can certainly discover the cloves, ginger and orange peel. I can't help wondering of the yeast gave it an additional kick into clove territory, as it certainly seems to have added banana in a Weissbier kind of way. Lets see how it conditions in the bottle (for two weeks!).
While this beer was finishing maturing my wife was very busy over the past couple of weeks baking up a storm. She never really liked cooking or baking, but the Christmas spirit is strong in this one (I typed that with a Darth Vader voice in my head. Odd.) so we have about a dozen tins each filled with different Christmas biscuits. Impressive. Most impressive (damn, it happened again!). I thought I should share her hard work with you too as they are delicious!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Brauerei Hummel, Merkendorf

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Another little collection, this time from the wonderfully named Hummel brewery from Merkendorf, also the home of Brauerei Wagner, the beers of which I mostly enjoyed, particularly their Märzen and Dunkel.

The Hummel Bräu Pils verges towards lemon yellow on the colour scale. It has a sweet, floral and slighly pineapple-like aroma, almost sherbety. The first thing I noticed on drinking this is the relatively low carbonation. There is a sourdough-like malt backbone which is sweet, but not overly so, as a gently citric hoppiness cuts it. I'm getting a sense that these are recurring attributes of Franken Pils, and I have to say I enjoy the combination. The body of this Pils is a little thin after a while, and this made it a little bit unsatisfying. Nevertheless, not a bad thirst quencher.

The Hummel Bräu Kellerbier has an orangey-yellow tone with a thin head despite a moderate carbonation. It has a swett orange aroma with a tough of light toffee. It has an alcohol warmth, or what feels like one, and a fullish mouthfeel with a finish heading towards dry. It has a decent hop bitterness that at one point I felt was in danger of heading towards that plastic/resin flavour I don't like, but in fact it built up to something akin to bitter orange peel.

I used to be a fan of Dunkel Weissbiers, so I was hoping the Hummel Bräu Weissbier Dunkel would bring me back to those innocent days. It didn't give me the trademark big fluffy head I was expecting. The bubbles seemed looser, so what head I did get didn't last long. This gave a faintly clovey aroma, but also hints of nutmeg, a bit of an all spice effect. The carbonation is quite low in fact, and the flavour a bit strange. A bit tangy, like the pith of an orange, but with a clove stuck into it. In fact, the more I drank of it the more like clove drops it got, with an up-front sweetness. I wrote cloves with chocolate orange. Interesting, but I'm not sure if I liked it.

The Hummel Bräu Märzen has a lovely deep amber colour with a slight haze. Worryingly, in this bottle at least, the haze has a kind of structure, like strands of haze in suspension. It brought to mind an explanation for the word "ropey" I read in Martyn Cornell's book; beer with a bacterial infection that left strings of jelly floating in it. It was precisely on the best before date, so I wasn't too worried about that. I have to admit though, my notes are very slim on this, and I only recorded that it has a firm malt backbone. I'll have to try it again with a clear head and hopefully without the stringy haze.

Another feature of these beers is that the labels all seem to be crooked.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Brauerei & Gaststätte Greifenklau

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Back to regular programming after the Ireland trip! A quicky this time before I go back to making lists of gifts I need to buy.

One of the last from my first Bamberg Box, the Brauerei & Gaststätte Greifenklau Lager poured a golden honey. At first I thought grassy, like having a bit of hay in your mouth. It's definitely got hops, but not much in the way of bitterness. They give the grassiness and a slight lemony hint. Underneath this is a pleasent earthiness and while the finish is ok, I didn't really find it thrilling. I guess I was missing the beer garden and wonderful view that Boak and Bailey reported!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

A visit to Scott's View

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It's been a busy couple of days, so I'm only getting around to mentioning the two bars I visited last weekend. The first was a bar i was brought to when the company I now work for was showing me around, really selling Münster as a place to live. Scott's View is talked about as a Scottish pub, and I believe the previous owner was certainly Scottish, and maybe the current owner also is. It was his night off, so I couldn't tell. I got in just after 8pm to meet a friend and the place was almost empty as they only open at 8pm. It's nice enough inside with a smallish bar, a raised area to one side with a mix of wooden kitchen, leather and club chairs, and a games room to the other side with a pool table, a very high tech looking darts board and a card table. This is also the smoking room, and a game of cards was in progress.

It's a curious mix of slightly modern clean lines with an older looking bar design and bits of bric-a-brac around the walls practically all of which has a Scottish theme. Beer-wise they had Belhaven Stout, Newcastle Brown Ale, Pilsner Urquell and Strongbow on draught, and Tannen Zapfle, Grolsch, various incarnations of Franziskaner Weissbier, Becks and Duvel (which was out of stock). Not a huge or fantastic selection, so I opted for a Newcastle Brown for old times sake.

They do have an impressive looking Whiskey menu though, with tasting notes included. A good number of Islands, Speyside, Highland and a couple of Lowland whiskies were represeented there.

As I was early I popped over to the James, the Yorkshire pub just down the road for one before returning. There I chose a Black Sheep Riggwelter (veinous, burnt dried fruits, slight woody notes, strong and very nice for the cold night it was!) from a fairly decent selection. Certainly the best selection of British beers I have seen since I moved here. I'll return to the James another time, but I'll just mention that I ended up chatting with a German chap at the bar who was drinking Rochefort 8 and who was a big fan of Belgian beer (he told me where I could find someon sale in Münster). We discussed the gebot and how it killed off local beer styles, and he knew a fair bit about Mumme. I was impressed! As he was a lawyer I was trying to find out if German brewers technically have to follow the gebot, but it was a bit unclear and I had to return to Scott's View.

I have to say I liked Scott's View last time I was there, and when I returned after my break down the road it had filled up and there was a nice hum of chat. Apparently they used to do fish and chips, but only do chips now, but the bar area stank of deep fat fryer for a while. A bit off-putting. I had a couple Belhaven Stout (sweet, chocolately in a fruit and nut way, quite flat and slightly boring) before heading off for a kebab (and chips I should add - the power of suggestion!) and nearly missing my bus. If my companion hadn't been avoiding the James (for personal reasons) I would have preferred to return there, but I'll give a run down of that place another time.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Bergmann Glühbier

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A couple of days ago I received an e-mail from Thomas, the man behind the revived Bergmann brewery in Dortmund, announcing that they will be serving Glühbier at their kiosk in Dortmund every Friday till Christmas. It seems that they have this kiosk in Dortmund where they open from 4pm to 8pm just selling their beers. Nothing else. Interesting outlet idea!

I asked Thomas if they had brewed a special beer for the holiday season or were they spicing up something like their Schwarzbier that I tasted before. It turns out it's exactly the latter, and they will be using fruit concentrate and spices to mull the beer. I'd love to know what combination of spices will be used. I wonder would the spices used for making Glühwine work? I like to think they were inspired by my Christmas beer, which I really should bottle soon, but I doubt it. :)

So, if you were making a mulled beer from a dark beer at home, what would you use to make it festive?

On an aside, the local TV station, WDR, is going to be running a program in January titled "How beer disappeared from Dortmund". An interesting title presumably reflecting how the breweries of Dortmund have either closed or been subsumed into larger holding companies. Bergmann represents the return of an old brand name and an independant brewery to Dortmund, a slight reversal of the trend, and the program makers have filmed in the new brewery last month. Always good news...

Monday, 24 November 2008

Back to normality

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My last few days in Dublin went by in a blur of beer and food. Geoff in the Bull and Castle was right, I did put a few pounds on (well, 2kg to be exact), but it wasn't all down to the Mammy's cooking. I think I had three Zaytoon mixed doner kebabs in the 11 days I was there. Simply savage stuff!

On Tuesday I took it easy during the day but was heading over to my old workplace to say hello. I had intended posting from the Porterhouse on the way over, but they were out of wireless access scratch cards, so I had to just sit and drink the BrewDog Hardcore IPA I had impulse purchased to tide me through a blog post. Pale and slightly hazy I found it had an intense, sweet yet dryish bitterness, very orange pithy. It only then I looked at the label and realised it was 9%. Oh, yes, that would explain the warmth that was beginning in my throat. It was quite gassy too. Once used to the bitterness (it never seems to take me long) I thought there wasn't too much depth to it though. Some nice toffee notes, but the bittersweetness was the dominant flavour. I'd have another. Now would be good actually.

Having gathered some of my former colleagues we popped accross the road to the Halfway House, where I had no choice but to have a couple of pints of Guinness, but after that it was back into town to the Bull and Castle for a steak sandwich, a few pints of Galway Hooker, O'Hara's Stout and a Clotworthy Dobbin.

Wednesday was a day shopping, again, and a quite few pints in a pub between where I grew up and where I leved before moving to Germany. This time it was a couple pint bottles of McArdle's followed by a pint bottle of Guinness Extra Stout off the shelf. All in a proper auld lad's bar.

Thursday was an event I was looking forward too. One of the monthly gatherings of ICB members in the Bull and Castle. I'm not going to go into the tasting notes of the homebrews tasted, but with an assortment of about 12 different beers including porter, stout, pale ales, IPAs, weissbiers and a couple of red ales, it was great fun. I had brought over three beers, and I had expected my darker ale to go down better than the pale ale, like it had here in Germany, but it was completely the opposite. When Thom mentioned my pale ale and Sierra Nevada in the same breath I thought it was high praise indeed! The darker one was descibed as having a lovely smell and body, but not much in the flavour stakes. As a brewer it's good to get honest opinions! How else can one learn? After trundling out of the B&C, Kieron, Séan (my fellow founder of ICB) and I somehow ended up in the Porterhouse drinking their Alt, although by this stage I really just needed a feed and a good sleep. Kieron and I did manage a kebab after. Sure it's only accross the street from the Porterhouse Temple Bar! We'd never have made it past!

Friday was even more shopping and a lads night in with two old mates, curry and a random selection of beers. I didn't take notes. But I remember the Bombardier Satanic Mills being kind of woody and roasty with hints of licorice. I didn't drink all that much as by this stage I was bloated, but I did finish the night on Kieron's fantastic IPA though. I'm getting too old for this shit.

Saturday was a very easy day with more shopping and more curry, but this time at home with my mother. With a 5am start on Sunday, I was happy to be in bed early, and even though even though I miss the craic of being out with my friends in Dublin, I was even happier to get back to Münster, my little family and normality.

Oh, and it snowed last night. My son was very excited. And I was told that it seldom snows in the Münsterland! A bit slippy cycling on it, and when I came out of work this evening there was ice covering my saddle and my rear gears were frozen. It's minus 3C now apparently. I would have settled in with a doppelbock, but I need to deflate. I could still eat a Zaytoon kebab though...

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

A tourist at home

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I'm not used to having so much time to myself. And I'm not used to being a tourist in my home town, but it's kinda nice. On Monday myself and TheBeernut met up in the pub (B&C again) with Velky Al of Fuggled fame, and Mrs. Velky Al, for a bite to eat and a couple of beers. Well, TBN and I had a couple of beers as he was working and I had to go shopping, but VA had to make the most of the oppertunity as they were heading for the airport that afternoon. I hope we didn't put undue pressure on his opinion of our favourite Irish beers! But having a Galway Hooker, and a Clotworthy Dobbin , broken by a London Pride, was enough to fuel me for a ramble about town at least. Oh, and Al brought a bottle of Primator Exkluziv 16% for each of us, so I look forward to sampling this properly at home.

Following lunch I collected my copy of the book I had worked on in my dark and distant past, picked up some small gifts for the family and stopped off to get some cheese in my favourite cheese shop in Dublin, Sheridans. This was a bit bizarre. I ordered some Ardrahan, Gubeen, Cratloe Hills and a french ewe's milk cheese that I can't remember the name of now, but when I asked if they delivered their hampers abroad and revealed that I lived in Germany she switched straight into German and we carried out the rest of the transaction in German. She was from Dortmund, not far from Muenster. Die Welt ist Klein. What was bizarre was that quite often in Muenster when I go shopping the younger shop assistants will switch to English, even though I initiate the transactions with German (I know I'm not good at it, but I have to try). The biggest insult was in the local small supermarket where I simply asked for 400g of minced beef, in perfect German, and the girl just kept replying in English. I just kept using German. I guss having a British base just across the road makes them expect to have to speak English, but come on! I was trying! Anyway, it gave me a giggle that this girl was so happy to have someone to speak German at, and I think I got through ok.

After all that I was killing time before heading to Mr Nut's for a steak dinner, so popped into the Porterhouse on Parliament Street (PH Temple Bar). This used to be my regular haunt. I was in there probably once a week for a few years, and any time anyone visited, this is where they'd be brought. I just loved the selection! But once I found the Bull and Castle and realised that it was just far more pleasent to sit in a bar without incredibly loud music and, frankly, quite rude bar staff who no longer cared about the beer, I hadn't been back in this branch of the PH for about two-and-a-half years. It wasn't so busy, being 5pm on a Monday, and the bar staff were having fun amongst themselves, so it was fun sitting at the bar. Apart from one chap who couldn't resist the odd dig at customers. Anyway, I was lucky that there was still some of the Porterhouse Hop Head left. ICB had been invited to a launch of the beer at the brewery, which I was really sad to have missed, but at least I'd get to try it now. My fried Kieron had told me he found it quite harsh, but I expect it had matured since then as I found it quite smooth (the same thing happened with the last IPA I made). It had a flavour like good vanilla ice cream with mango sorbet and a touch of those pineapple chunk boiled sweets at the back end. I couldn't say it was bitter, but it certainly had a lovely full hop flavour and aroma in a zesty, fruity way. Really quite a nice refreshing pint.

The menu still mentioned Vienna Dark as a special, and thinking that it was the right time of year for this seasonal special I asked if or when it was on. The bar man seemed to think that it would not be made this year as the Porterhouse Alt was going so well. So, I had an Alt before bussing it to the Nut House.

TheBeerNut produced a bottle of beer myself and Kieron had made a year and a half ago. It was a failed Old Peculiar clone that had ended up far too strong and far more Belgiany than it was intended, but looking at the recipe again it's not surprising. A sipping beer at 7.2%, I was amazed at how well preserved it was, as it was a beer that I hadn't been overly happy about when we made it. Well done TBN for foresight! This reinforces my desire to make a barley wine before the end of the year. Mmmmm...

This post was made courtesy of some neighbour of my Mother's, who must have turned their wireless router on again after a couple of days denying me web access. I'm a bad boy.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Belfast Beer Festival (Round 2)

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After getting fed on a cheese and onion burger and chips, which were actually all pretty tasty, it was back into the fray. By this time the hall was filling up and a couple of musicians were putting out a few tunes of the Irish kind. Despite being a long, cool hall, there was a nice friendly atmosphere in the place, so it would be easy to spend all night there. As it was, we only had a few more hours to make the most of, and I started back in with a beer I thought would give me the fuller flavours I wanted. The Copper Dragon Black Gold was another light beer at 3.7%, but it did have a nice mild coffee, chicory aroma, vegetal notes and an undertone reminiscent of prune juice. Although it was quite flat with little life in it, it fitted with the flavours and texture well, again bringing out a chicory kind of flavour. The blurb on the sheet of beers available said it was "quite bitter", but I didn't really think so. More a dark chocolately bitterness perhaps. Flavoursome at least.

I'd never had the Sharp's Doom Bar Bitter before, even though it's apparently a regular kind of ale. Not terribly challenging, I thought it was pleasent and quite drinkable with ginger, an orange pith-like bitterness and a caramel undertone.

Mr. BeerNut had an Atlas Latitude, and as a former surveyor I had to try it even on the name alone, and because it was marked as being a Pilsner. It had a slightly soapy thing going on with a good dollop of lemon verbena. Maybe a bit too much like a lemon scented washing up liquid, but interesting. Also quite possibly the weakest Pilsner I've ever had at 3.6%.

Moving up the flavour and strength scales, the RCH Old Slug Porter came next, weighing in at 4.5%. Dark chocolate dominates the flavour here, with a slightly veinous undertone, vanilla and a fresh hop bitterness. It's the coacoa that keeps this beer going though, with a roasty backdrop. Lovely, and actually my favourite beer tried that day.

At some point we went off to play some of the games on offer, and despite being really crap and careless with the shuffleboard (compared to Mr. BeerNut's failed measured approach) I got enough points to win a pint glass. After looking at them I asked if I could go down to the lower prizes, as really the glass selection was like the official tasting glasses. Mixed and generally of no interest. I opted for a Harviestoun BItter and Twisted pump clip and got a Young's pin into the bargain.

Staying in the black zone, the Houston Warlock Stout came next. This had more nice chocolatey aromas with a hint of almonds. I found it quite dry with a touch of dried fruits down deep. Not bad.

The Blindman's Eclipse Porter came next after having a sniff of Oblivious' glass. This has an intense, in your face chocloate aroma. The flavour is similar with a flavour like cheap chocolate (we reckoned chomp bars) and a nutty strand running through it. Oblivious seemed to think it would have aphrodisiac properties simply from the aroma, maybe like chocolate pheromones, but fortunately he didn't get to test out this hypothesis.

Time was beginning to run out, and having wanted to hit the heavy beers before leaving, all I could do was get a half of Orkney Skullsplitter and funnel it into an emty water bottle for the journey. Glass emptied, I then got a Whitewater Clotworthy Dobbin to knock back. This is one of my favourite beers from a bottle, so I wasn't sure what to expect from a cask. I prefer the bottle. It just seems to have a bit more going on, and a fuller, creamier mouthfeel that the cask just wasn't offering.

That done, it was time to rush accross to the Balmoral station to catch the train to Portadown. Half an hour later, with a few shared sips of Skullsplitter, we piled out onto the platform in Portadown and accross a car park to a bar that Mr. BeerNut insisted we try, as long as we kept our mouths shut. McConville's is a nice old world bar, a touch of victoriana I imagine. With it's little snugs all along one side, we jammed in and got a mix of pint bottles of Guinness Extra Stout and Smithwicks. I have to say I haven't had Smithwicks in a long long time (for obvious reasons), and this was the first time I'd ever seen a pint bottle of it. Having had our first drink we reckoned it'd be good to grab a few more bottles for the train. However the barman must have copped it, as when we emerged from our snug the wee man was standing in front of the door with his arms folded. He told me that we couldn't take the bottles out as the police were outside and it was a big no-no to be taking the open bottles out (we should have asked for them to be left closed). We of course complied and glugged back some shelf-warm Smithwicks before setting out accross the car park to the train station. As it happens, he was right. The police were outside and were watching our rag-tag group half-jogging towards the station where the train was waiting on the platform. Mr. Station Guy said we were very lucky to get it, as it pulled out as soon as we were on board.

An hour and a half later we pulled into Dublin Connolly and of course headed straight for a pint of Galway Hooker in the Bull and Castle. Possibly not the smartest thing to do, as that also led to a kebab in Zaytoon on Parliament Street. It's hard to walk past that place, really. I wouldn't mention it only I was so impressed with TheBeerNut's capacity for punishement as after he finished his large mixed doner he ate about a third of mine. Impressive, most impressive.

In hindsight, I quite enjoyed the festival for the craic and the atmosphere, but I was a bit disappointed with the beers. As I said before, I've only had cask beer on a few occasions, and I generally enjoyed those. I think I was expecting a cask festival to be like nectar of the Gods, but it made me feel that cask isn't all it's cracked up to be. It certainly doesn't make a mediocre beer good, but I suspect, in some cases at least, it made an ok beer mediocre, and there were certainly a couple of complete clangers in the mix. Of course it's the same in all the beer world. It's always the few that really stand out, and there were a handful of really ejoyable beers. It's the search for those that make it fun.

This post was made courtesy of my former employer, as the Porterhouse didn't have any web access scratch cards available. But it did mean I got a Brew Dog Hardcore IPA.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Belfast Beer Festival (Round 1)

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Saturday, day three of my trip back in Ireland, began with an early rise to get to Connolly Station with TheBeerNut and Kieron to get the train to Belfast, meeting up with Oblivious (another ICBer) and his friend at the station. Mr. BeerNut had made this journey before, so he had the journey planned to perfection. We arrived at the rather cool and slightly empty hall at the back of King's Hall about 12:30 with about seven hours to go for the sampling. With a choice of about 70 cask beers to choose from, it was going to be tough.

I've said before elsewhere that coming from Ireland, cask beers are a rarity. We simply have no living tradition of them, and I think the last time casks would have been seen regularly was the 60's (I'm open to correction on that), and these days the micro breweries that do make cask ales usually do so for export or festivals. So it was a bit of an oppertunity for me to get a chance to choose from so many, as the only other oppertunities I've had over the past few years were the odd trip to Aylesbury. Not exactly the bright centre of the Galaxy.

After getting a stack of tokens and the so called festival glass (it was a mixed bag of random glasses or leftovers from other fetivals it would appear) like everyone else in our group, I headed for the Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby, a strong throwback mild I have been informed. At 6% it's not one to be knocking back, and indeed the dark, dried fruits, light burnt toffee, warming alcohol and port-like undertone make this a complex ale ideal for sipping by a fire. I would have prefered more carbonation to be honest, but such is life.

Next up was the Triple FFF Alton Pride, voted Champion Beer of Britain 2008. I wasn't so impressed with this. It had quite a vegetal nose, verging on green cabbage, and this with green hops came through on the flavour, riding on top of a grainy caramel base. I had really hoped to be blown away by a champion beer, but that didn't happen. Maybe it was having an off day.

While drinking that I took a sample of Kieron's Bateman's Valiant which was most remarkable for how close the aroma was to a public toilet. It reeked of stale piss. Despite this it had a pleasent enough appley flavour. But only pleasent as long as you held your breath.

I had to try the Harviestoun Schiehallion, as I'd never had a cask lager. A very yellowy gold affair, this had apricots, green hops, pine and a slight citrus tone on top of a grainy backbone. I really didn't think was at all like a lagerbier at first, but a kind of hoppy dryness lingers which definitely made it feel more like a lager. Interesting, but I would like to know how long it had been lagered for, and how it got that slightly oily mouthfeel.

Being somewhat of a hop head (part time at least), I steered towards the Dark Star Hop Head. This had a really clean floral hop aroma with slight peach and floral notes. A light beer at 3.8%, it also tasted light, dominated by the hops with grassy, pineapple, grapefruit undertones. Something it shared with the Oakham Ales JHB, which gave me a bag of sherbety, grapefruit flavous. Not much else that I recorded about it though, apart from it being a light beer at 3.8%. I've never had so many beers under 4.5%!

I followed this with a Purple Moose Snowdonia Ale. This had a sulphury, eggy aroma. With a dry feel, the sulphury snatch came out inthe flavour too, but overall I found ti pretty weak and one-dimensional. I didn't bother finishing it, opting instead for a Mayfield's Auntie Myrtle's. With a sweet, toffee and veinous nose, this was quite promising. It had a toasty backdrop with slightly woody notes and on top of this a raiseny sweetness. Not much of a finish, but I quite liked the raisen thing going on. As with alot of the earlier beers I would have preferred a little more carbonation to lift the flavours up a bit.

At this point my stomach was rumbling, and having not brought a supply of scotch eggs as Mr. BeerNut had (this madeus fear the return journey in an enclosed carriage), a couple of us were forced out to the rather large chipper truck (not van!) to take on some soakage. I determined to stay dark for the second round, but we'll see. I've bored you enough already...

Friday, 14 November 2008

Triumphant Return

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It was a little strange being back in Dublin after eight months away, but it's easy to slip into old habits. I had originally planned to fly over tomorrow, but shortly after booking my flight I received an invitation to the launch of a book representing the final stage in an archaeological research project that I last worked on nine years ago, and in fact began working on in 1992. SO, I changed my flights and landed in Dublin on Wednesday night. It was great to see this book finally out, and a very proud moment for the director of the project. It was also great seeing alot of faces I hadn't seen in eight years, never mind eight months! Ah, but those were the days when i was young, fit from walking up and down mountains with surveying equipment every day, and had long flowing locks. It was also the period (the early 90's at least) where I drink quantities of Bud, Miller and Carlsberg, but there wasn't much choice in rural Ireland back then, so I'll continue to hide behind that excuse.

My old friend (hi Kieron!) who had also worked for the research institute came over to the event and later on we decided to head for a pint in my old haunt, the Bull and Castle, stopping off at Porterhouse Central on the way where I got to try the Porterhouse Alt. It was served very cold indeed, so I couldn't get all the flavours initially. In fact my first thought was that it tasted a bit home brewey (but not in the good sense). I found it a bit overly fruity and the hops a bit green, but I have to admit that as it warmed a bit I also warmed towards it, and the hops seemed to become a little more sherbety, the fruitiness a bit more balanced against a decent malt backdrop with a touch of butter. Quite a good interpretation actually and a nice beer in its own right, though perhaps not as clean as the German examples I have been trying.

We walked down Dame Street to the Bull and Castle, resisting popping into the Porterhouse on Parliament Street. Geoff, the manager of the B&C, immediately gave me "the usual", a pint of my beloved Galway Hooker. It's been so long since I had this it was like tasting it anew. In fact it was almost a shock to get that wonderful hop profile that I just haven't found in the German beers, with a mix of first gold, fuggles, saaz and cascade working together to create an interesting spicy mix. It's a cleaner tasting beer than I remember, but with a long finish that leaves your mouth coated with gentle hops. Getting to the end of the glass I realised I was hooked again.

We avoided German beers, but went to a neighbour for the next one with a Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin, a delicately spiced dubbel that, to be honest, had to fight the hop residue left over by the Hooker and the Alt. The label says it uses a "gruut" from Bruges, and I'd love to know exactly what is in it. I think I'll try it again with a cleaner palate to try to do it justice.

We were joined by another old frind (hi Brian) who steered us towards England with a Fuller's London Pride. It's been ages since I had Pride, and indeed ages since I has a classic English ale. I think having subsisted on German hopped beers for the past few months let me really taste the difference in the hop characters, and this was just wonderful. A great mildly toffee-like base with a strong, clean floral hop flavour. It tastes like hops smell. Really delicious. I want another now!

Before leaving, Geoff instructed the bar man to give us one more before we'd have to leave. As has been my habit, it was time to let loose the Goose; Goose Island IPA. Another hop dominated beer, and another example of how different hops can make a beer. It didn't have the body that I remembered either, but it's certainly one of my favourite beers. In fact, a six pack is winging it's way to Germany as I type (thanks Mike), so I think I will use these for a tasting session (as I had thought of doing before) with some German colleagues to see how they cope with the flavours.

Next time I'm out I'll be bringing my camera...

Monday, 10 November 2008

A trip to the old country

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I moved to Germany in March of this year, and haven't been home to see my family and friends in eight months now. Time really flies! That's about to be rectified as on Wednesday night I'm popping over to Dublin for an 11 day trip.

It's going to be weird. Not only will I get to see Ireland in recession after so long living with the "Tiger", best of all I'll be a tourist observing it in my native city, which I am kind of looking forward to. Nothing to do with Schadenfreude, but my brother told me things are starting to get cheaper, which is about time. As he said it, we'd only ourselves to blame for paying €5 for a cappucino. Well, I never did!
I reckon I'll have a fairly full calendar trying to meet up with people, and already have a few dates filled. First will be the launch of a book I worked on in a previous life that has taken nine years to get published. Now that's gonna be weird! Also planned is a day trip to the Belfast Beer and Cider Festival with TheBeerNut and a few more like-minded folk from Irish Craft Brewer. Most of all though, I'm looking forward to slipping into the Bull and Castle beside Christ Church Cathederal, probably several times, for a few pints of Galway Hooker and other delights. As well as meeting up with my old mates TBN and Thom and new blogger pal Velky Al in the B&C for lunch on Monday, on the 20th we're having a regular ICB brewers tasting evening where I'll get to see my oldest ICB mates and some new ICB faces. Well new since I left anyway. Such gatherings are always fun. Mmmmmm...
In the meantime, the few readers I have shouldn't expect too many posts as my poor Mother doesn't have the best Internet connection in the world. But I hear the Porterhouse does have free wireless access. Well fancy that

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Einbecker Ur-Bocks

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At the time of writing, my cellar has a disproportionate number of bocks and doppelbocks sitting on a shelf. I'm not that into this type of beer, but I like one now and again. I just happened to go mad the last time I was shopping for beer in the local drink market. Well, that time I also spotted the Einbecker label, and of course had to try the original bockbier.

The Einbecker Ur-Bock Hell didn't give alot of aroma to me (I did have a cold and it was one of the reasons for going for bocks), but I did get the impression of sweet almonds. It has a big malt flavour, and again, the marzipan cames out in the taste, with hints of orange peel. It has a full almost chewy mouthfeel and tastes more than its 6.5%. The finish is warming with a slightly spicy, black pepper tone, and a bitterness edging towards grapefruit. Sounds like alot going on, but after a while you get used to it and it begins to taste just like a very strong, sweet lager. Not bad though.

On to the Einbecker Ur-Bock Dunkel, a deep amber, heading to chestnut-brown. Like it's sister, this had a fairly thin head that didn't last. It has all the qualities of the Hell, but with a bit more substance, more toffee notes and a touch of vanilla. I have to admit my notes got a bit sketchy, but I made a comment that it was well drinkable. So there you go!

I drank both of these while baking lovely Bauernbrot at around midnight. Warm bread and this kind of beer just go great.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Dark Side of Jever

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My friendly neighbours were recently on a trip to the North Sea coastal area of Friesland, Lower Saxony, where they paid a visit to the Friesische Brauhaus in Jever, home of the beer of the same name. They even sent us a postcard telling us they had visited the brewery, andon return home one evening I found a bottle of beer outside our door. No ordinary Jever though, this was the sexy looking Jever Dark. Well ok, I just happen to like the colour combination on the label (although it looked better full).

Despite the appearance in the photo, Jever Dark is a deep chestnut/mahogany brown. It has quite a gentle nobel hop aroma and an alost marzipan-like touch of sweetness. It gives clean tasting chocolate malt with a hint of nuttiness and vegetal notes. As to be expected from Jever, it has a nice touch of hop bitterness. I also detected a slight saltiness, but this may have been after looking at photos of the surrounding area planting maritime suggestions in my head.

Overall, I found this to be a clean tasting, easy to drink beer, and I would have been happy if the bottles were larger than 330ml.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A silent bierclub.de

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Last week i was taking a poke around the website of bierclub.de, thinking that it might be nice to join the club and have a monthly supply of probably mostly new beers to try; 9 beers and newsletters delivered to my door for €18.90 a month. I was also wondering why, in their 10 year history, there hasn't been a single non-German beer in the beer of the month.

It prompted me to send a message via the contact form on their website, just to ask a couple of questions before I parted with my hard-earned cash and signed up, even though the events they organise look fun. My message to them included my observation that the German beer world tended to be inward looking, and wondering what their membership, of apparently over 5000, thought of the micro revolutions and the broad range of styles available elsewhere.

I suppose if their remit is to promote German beer then fair enough, but I still have not received an answer (after seven days), so they clearly aren't all that interested in having new members, despite having handed out fliers in Copenhagen as Mr BeerNut informed me. In fact, Mr BeerNut predicted that I would get no response. So much for efficiency.

If a relatively large beer club such as this isn't interested in the goings on in the beer world outside of the national borders, then is this a reflection of the nation as a whole, or simply a result of their business case, and perhaps nice marketing for the German brewers?

Monday, 3 November 2008

Riedenburger Export Weissbier

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I'm not exactly sure what an Export Weissbier is, but this is how this beer was listed in the menu at the Hotel Horger I stayed in a few weeks ago. As the hotel is a Bio-Hotel (read organic), they have a small list of organic beers. After the vile Viva Bavaria, I wasn't sure whether to risk this, but as I always say, you can't judge an entire subgroup of beer on one example.

The Riedenburger Export Weissbier is a cloudy amber with a loose-bubbled head and a constant stream of bubbles. Sparkling. It has a classic bubblegum with a hint of banana aroma. You get exactly the same in the flavour, with a faint toffee hint. Only a little mind, sitting under the gentle clove and almost juicy-fruit like flavours.

This is a pretty decent weissbier. Certainly darker than a regular weissbier, but not a dunkel. It doesn't have as an acidic edge as I find in some weissbiers, possibly because of the slight caramel flavours that bring a nice touch to the whole thing, and it has a dryish finish. If you think organic beers have to taste completely bland, try this, and it might change your mind.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Gampertbräu Förster Gold and Dunkel

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I got this pair in my second Franken box. I kinda liked the old geezer on the label, and it's nothing to do with the fact he looks like he's dressed up for a St. Patrick's Day parade. Probably more to do with the huge glass he's holding!

The Gampertbräu Förster Gold is, well, gold! I'm not sure what class of beer this is, as on the Gampertbräu website it just says it's a Spezialbier. Let's call it a Helles for now. The aroma is faint, with bready maltiness under a slight apple and citrus twist. The dominant feature for me was a quinine-like flavour. The body is quite light, so after a brief wash of bready malt, followed by quinine, there is a vague herb-like finish. At least it felt like tonic water mixed with beer. It's ok, but nothing to write home about (well, that's why I started a blog!).

I had better hopes for the Gampertbräu Förster Dunkel which was, well, dunkel! A slightly hazy red-tinged brown to be a little more exact. Initially it seemed a little over-sweet, but it also has a slightly vinous, tannic quality sitting in a medium body. This is a pleasent flavour, but is slightly spoilt by a saccharine-like finish. In fact, the finish is almost bock-like, in a thin diluted way.
Sorry Mr. Gampert, but I promise I will seek out your other beers for go at them.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Dortmunder Bergmann Brauerei

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The original Dortmunder Bergmann Brauerei, which was apparently founded in 1796, closed it's doors in 1972. But in 2005 the brand was bought by people who wanted to reintroduce it to Dortmund. From what I gather they are either renting brewing time or are getting the beers contract brewed in two breweries to the south of Dortmund, but are just about to open their own brewhouse right in Dortmund. It sounds like quite an investment, and I wish them luck. It has to be hard to establish a brewery in a former industrial powerhouse like Dortmund where beer fuelled the working men, even if the brand name is from the past. "Harte Arbeit, ehrlicher Lohn" as it says on the back of the bottles; a clear link to the industrial heritage of Dortmund.

As with most German breweries, there is a Pils, an Export, and a dark beer, this time a Schwarzbier and there is a Spezial. I can't help wondering why new breweries don't look outside of Germany at the micro revolution elsewhere, and which is no longer new, and consider bringing something different to the public. I know it might be risky with conservative drinkers, but it could also be a way of marking a brand out as different to the rest, and I'm beginning to suspect that at least a significant percentage of German drinkers may be open to change if it's made available to them.

Anyway, the reason these chaps came to my attention is that one of the people involved in this new Bergmann Brauerei happens to be a friend of a colleague at work. This said colleague, who has helped brew a beer in my kitchen (hi Markus!), brought a couple of bottles in for me to taste.
The Bergmann Pils is a rich golden yellow with a dense white head. The aroma initially seemed to lean towards sweet malts, but this gave way to a vegetal character with a hint of orange. The flavour is quite sharp at first, citric, almost metallic, and while a sharp edge stays throughout it is balanced with a fullish body. The hops are prominent, but for the first half I couldn't shake a slight plastic/resiny aftertaste that was very like what I got with some other brews. I now associate this taste with the use of hop extract, and until I taste a beer that has this resiny flavour but has not used extract, I will continue to believe this. Fortunately in this case this flavour seemed to be volatile, and halfway through the glass it wasn't noticable. The lasting flavours are more vegetal, slight almond and an interesting minty freshness to the finish. Overall, an easy drinking 4.8% beer with a little more body than a regular northern pils. It's a bit one-dimensional and I'd prefer to see a more complex hop character to balance the body. Maybe this will change when they have their own premesis.

The Bergmann Schwarzbier (pictured on top) is a really dark old-oak brown with an enticingly fruity/roasty aroma. The first thing that hits me is that the carbonation is quite low, at least in this bottle, giving it a silky smoothness. The next is the fruitiness. It's sweet in a fruit-like way, with heavy dried figs, vanilla and a touch of dark toffee. The finish is slightly peppery with a hint of coffee. Like most Schwarzbiers I've tried outside of Thuringia, it's not actually schwarz, and it hasn't the same level of dark roasted malts. Nevertheless, this is pretty dark compared to some from this area of Germany, and I have to say that I found this really juicy and moreish. It feels lighter than it's quoted 5.3%. A little more carbonation might help lift the flavours a bit more, but as I write this, I'm opening the second bottle I got.

I hope to try their Export soon, as to me this is Dortmund's primary contribution to the beer world, and I haven't had enough authentic examples.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 2007

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Although I said I'd be concentrating on the German beer tastings, I had a couple of bottles of other stuff that came with me from Ireland. One was a 2007 bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot.
This was given to me by Declan of the Bull and Castle, my favourite bar in Dublin, on the night they hosted a bit of a farewell tasting session before I moved to Germany. Since then, it has sat forgotten in my cellar, alongside another rather special bottle given to me by Mr BeerNut which I will open in the next month - because it says so on the best before label.
But back to the Bigfoot. This poured a beautiful ruby-tinged deep amber with a tight tan head. The vapours (it's more than aroma!) are of sweet, sweet toffee, plum jam, blackcurrent, chocolate and vanilla. Lots of vanilla. It's velvety, rich, thick and sweet. As well as the dark fruity flavours and lovely vanilla, there are hints of licorice, and something that reminds me of rosemary. There's a tingly bitterness that creeps up slowly. It gets a little solventy as it warms up, but this doesn't detract from the warming, sippable enjoyment. I've always understood the Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) to be intensely hoppy, so I can only assume that this has aged really nicely to produce the rounded and complex flavours I got out of it.
I would have liked to compare this to some notes of it in a younger state, but regardless, I wish I had another bottle! In fact, on the strength if this I am planning to make an American-style Barley Wine and see if I can resist my urges by maturing it for a year before I open a bottle. We'll see...

Friday, 24 October 2008

Fässla Bamberg: Three of the Dwarves

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Another little collection from Bamberg for your perusal, this time from Privatbrauerei Fässla Bamberg, Fässla meaning little cask, with their labels decorated with a little Zwerg (dwarf) rolling out the Fässla itself.

Their Gold Pils is a pale, straw-like yellow with a bready aroma that doesn't come out too strongly. It has a delicate bitter citric note, almost like mandarin oranges. There's a good not-too-sweet malt background supporting this, akin to fresh white sliced pan and a rather pleasent mouthfeel. This balance makes it very easy to drink. Incidently, the strapline on it translates, roughly, as "Guaranteed ripened/matured so it won't hurt your belly". At least that's my translation. Very considerate of them.

The Fässla Lagerbier is slightly hazy. In fact, the haze from my bottle looked like it had a stucture, almost in strands. This didn't put me off, and I wondered if it was chill haze beginning to form (rather than consider the less healthy alternatives). THe aroma is definitely towards the grain end of things compared to the Gold Pils, but there is a distinct grassy hoppiness there. Flavourwise this has a fair hoppy flavour, with slight apple tones, but not much bitterness. The mouthfeel is a little thin and flat. This is a nice enough beer, but it's not my kind of thing. I'd certainly drink another, but not all night.

Finally, the Zwergla. Little Dwarf. Awww. On first pouring this I thought it looked a bit dirty. Perhaps as a true Dwarf should be. On holding it to the light it can be seen to have a slightly hazy, rich chestnut brown. On the nose it's a little fruity, with a marzipan-like quality. There's loads of dried fruit going on in the mouth, and deep down, roasty, toffee notes finishing in a spiciness. This is all held together with a medium body that doesn't get too sticky. I like this. It's firmly malty but clean, despite the raisen hints. Mouthwatering!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Kaiserdom Weizenland Weissbier Dunkel

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Kaiserdom Weizenland Weissbier Dunkel. What a mouthful! Although the label makes it look like Weizenland is a sub-brand, I've given it its full title. This is the third Kaiserdom beer I have tried following the Pilsener and the Alt-Bamberg Dunkel (wonderful!).

This is an oaky-amber with the trademark Weissbier fluffy head. It is possibly one of the most clovey Weissbier aromas I have encountered, with a faintly fruity background. Banana flavours are there aplenty, but unfortunately the cloves don't come out so much in the taste. Underneath this is a slightly diluted maltiness. Sounds bad, but it's actually ok. Just ok mind!

This is a very easy drinking Weissbier, but it does get a bit sweet near the end, edging towards overripe bananas. When I visit Kaiserdom I'll be going for the Alt-Bamberg Dunkel.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Out in Freising: Schmankerl-Bräu

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My second night in Freising was spent alone, so I intended walking up to Weihenstephan. It was pissing rain, so I ducked into a pizzeria for something to eat. Something that didn't involve slabs of meat, dumplings and sauce. Fortified with a large pizza and an espresso I set off in the direction of Weihenstephan, meandering through the streets to see if I could spot a nice bar to break the trip. Half way there though my stomach started feeling a little dodgy (it was either the bacon and cheese baked thing or the out-of-date twix I had for lunch), so I made a hasty retreat to the hotel. Just as well...

On the way back though I spotted a little bar that had "Back und Brau" on the front, and a little sign stating that it was Freising's smallest brewery. Once I was feeling a better, half an hour later, I made my way back to see what this was all about.

Schmankerl-Bräu is definitely a small brewery. The brewing kit has a 250 litre capacity. The gentleman running the premesis, Alfons, or Fonsi, is a baker by profession, but he said that baking and brewing were very similar, and indeed, I've seen a few places that do both, Pott's of Oelde and myself included. There was plenty of bread to be had too.

Alfons makes two types of beer normally, a Helles and a Weissbier. He's making a Nicolas Bier for the 6th of December, and has made a Schwarzweissbier with the students of Weihenstephan, who apparently drop in with crazy ideas like making IPA. Although he seems open to experiments, he has to sell the stuff, and having been open for only 13 months, he needs to win over the more conservative Freisingers first. Apparently the premesis was a bit of a dodgy bar before, filled with gaming machines and in a part of town that most people didn't go to at night. Sounds a bit like my experiences of British pubs (well, the ones in Aylesbury anyway!). As it is now, it's a cosy spot with hops and bretzels hanging all over the bar. Thankfully the yodelling music wasn't on for too long, and the latin-american music was more relaxing.

Fonsi is a good host and showed me the temperature controlled fermentation and conditioning tanks in the cellar. Apparently the whole kit cost about €100,000. He and a friend set up the company as a concept that they hope to grow and spread around.

The Schmankerlbräu Helles, or at least the first one I had, is a cloudy amber, certainly darker than most helles you see Fonsi said he was trying to make it more like the beers they had in former times. It has clean malt flavours with a soft caramel, a touch of an orange-like zing, and a creamy mouthfeel. I was really enjoying this, and found it satisfying. Fonsi said that each brew is a little different (I'm not sure if that's intentional or not), and the second one I had, which came mostly from a new keg later in the night didn't have quite the same flavour. Enjoyable though.

Their Weissbier is similarly darker than a regular weissbier, being a rich brown with hints of amber. And it's not a dunkelweiss. I asked. This has pleanty of cloves and a kind of bready aroma and flavour, but I found it a bit soapy tasting for my liking. Should you visit, your mileage may vary as it's bound to be different next time.


Schmankerl-Bräu can be found on Wippenhauser Strasse, near the west end of the main street, and right beside the Corbin Fengshui Business Hotel. How come I didn't get to stay there?

Friday, 17 October 2008

Out in Freising: Weissbräu Huber

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I've just spent the last week back in Bayern, and although I really like the Biohotel Hörger where I stayed the week before, and the first couple of nights this past week, I wanted to get into a town to have a poke about in the evenings. With that, I guiltily checked out of the Hörger and got myself a room in the Bayerischer Hof in Freising. A very cheap hotel. I reckoned Hörger was pretty cheap, depite the really cool rooms and little comforts, but the reason I was allowed change was that the Bayerischer Hof was cheaper. And it felt it too with a 1960's feel to the room, particularly the bathroom, where the only nod to providing comforts were two bars of Hotel Basic Line soap. Still, the room was clean, the bed comfortable and it's right on the main shopping street, so is very central. Besides, I wasn't going to be spending alot of time in the room anyway.

I had done a bit of a search to find the smaller breweries, having been drinking the Hofbrauhaus Freising beers all week in Hotel Hörger and thinking it'd be nice to see that at least. I had spotted what I assumed to be a brewery on Google Earth, Gasthof Furtnerbrau, right on the main street, but when I got there it was clearly closed up for some time, with layers of dust coating the windows. Pity.

My next target was to be the Weissbräu Huber. I was already aware that this brand had been taken over by Hofbrauhaus Freising, but I wasn't sure if the beer was still being made on the premesis. I had also been told they did some pretty mean special meals, so it seemed like a good place to try. Huber is right off the east end of the main street, with tables outside and a nice old-fashioned looking interior. Lots of hop garlands hanging around too. This is clearly a very popular place, as there was a constant stream of customers, to the extent that some had to go elsewhere because the place was just full. It has a nice feel to it, and the crowd is very mixed; young and old, dyed purple hair and bald, local and tourist. I particularly liked the table full of old women chatting away and drinking 250ml glasses of Weissbier. I had a Huber Burger, which was on special for €5.95. It was massive, and you can have as many fries as you can eat with it. I left room for beer. Incidently, I was told that beer hadn't been made on the premesis for about 20 years. Hofbrauhaus Freising had bought Huber and kept it as seperate brand.

I had already tried most of the Hofbrauhaus Freising beers, but a new one for me was their Jägerbier Naturtrub, a pale orange-amber cloudy beer that was served very cold. This is a clean, almost tart beer with a classic nobel hop flavour and a touch of ginger. The finish is dry, and slightly acidic. I reckon it was a mistake to order this with a burger really, as it just didn't stand up to the burger and felt a bit weak in the flavour department. Might be a good summer beer.

I followed this up with a Schwarzbier, which I assumed to be another Hofbrauhas Freising beer, but I just checked their website and they don't list one! I'll have to find out what it was... Whatever it was it has a nice clean flavour, being a slightly less fruity, and a little more roasty than theHofbrauhaus Freising Dunkel. I imagine it is from them. I forgot to ask!
On an aside, beside me was a group of locals who were talking to an American tourist. Yet again I heard local people saying that the Weihenstephan beer wasn't very good. Sure, they were proud of the brewery, its heritage and the university, but preferred the beers from the smaller Hofbrauhaus Freising. In fact, walking around Freising the their beers are advertised everywhere! The fact that the symbol of the town is a bear and Huber have a polar bear as their logo may also help.

And my apologies for the lack of photos! I'll make up for it with my next post, where I visit the smallest brewery in Freising.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Alt Pott's Landbier

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Pott's is a smallish brewery not too far from Munster in a town called Oelde. They're based in a Naturpark area, and they market themselves as such, with their advertisements featuring the likes of a farmer with his prize winning pigs, and a horse that likes getting its belly rubbed (I think! Brace yourself if you click that link above!). Their "Old Pott's Country Beer" was one of the first local beers I had after moving here, at a lovely barbeque at a friends house out in the sticks, so I should really have posted a little tasting note earlier.

I posted before about a couple of Franken Landbiers that did not go down well. I tend to like this subclass of beer, so I was disappointed then, but this makes up for it and shows you can't write off an entire sub-group of beer on a couple of bad experiences. Alt Pott's Landbier has a fruity aroma of the dark, dried type, with a touch of orange zest and chocolate thrown in. The flavour is plummy, with a slight acdity that cleanses the palate. There are roasted malts in here in just enough quantity to give a chocolatey edge. Malt and that slight tartness means it takes a long time for the hops to show themselves, but when they do it's as a gentle, floral/herb-like bitterness. As the beer warms it does get a bit sticky, and the full flavour and warming sensation feels stronger than its 4.8%. Feels good and homely, like a country beer should. And no hop extract!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Amber, Gold and Black review

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Over on Irish Craft Brewer (a site a friend and I co-founded in early 2007, and which I still play an admin/editorial role in - isn't the Internet great!), we've just published my review of Amber, Gold and Black, Martyn Cornell's (Zythophile's) book about the history of Britain's beers. I won't repeat the review here, but suffice to say it's a fascinating read and well worth the small price.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Christmas Beer Update #1

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You can tell I am home alone by the increased frequency of posts. That'll end next week, as no sooner was I in the office this morning than I was told I'd be making another trip to Bayern next week. Every cloud though. I'll get to try the rest of the beers at that nice little biohotel.

My reason for posting however is that tonight I split the Christmas beer into three demijohns for secondary fermentation, something I don't generally bother with unless I'm leaving a beer for an extended period. The main reason this time is that I wanted to try maturing some of the beer on oak chips. I got two types, a light toast and a heavy toast which, even based on the smell, will give different characteristics. I hope good ones! In the picture below you'll see, from left to right, 10 litres plain, 5 litres with the lightly toasted oak chips and 5 litres on the heavily toasted chips. I used 20 grams of each, which is a tad more than the recommended maximum dosage of 15g on the packaging. I steamed the chips for 20 minutes to sanitise them, so my kitchen still smells like burnt wood!




The gravity is down to 1.030 from 1.072, so there's a way to go yet. And the taste? The bitter orange dominates actually, and it already has a "Belgiany" taste, probably thanks to the curacao peel and the T-58 yeast, which I have never used before. The ginger peeps its head out after a bit, but it's early days yet. I'll leave it in a 20C zone for a couple more weeks and then transfer it to the cellar for a month or so. Tomorrow is another brew day. Make hay and all that...

Thursday, 9 October 2008

A quick trip to Bayern

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I'm just back from a short trip to Bayern, where I and a group of super duper colleagues stayed in a little hamlet called Hohenbercha, about 28km north of Munich, while we attended a training course in a sister office close by. Unfortunately our busy schedule didn't leave time to look around which is a shame as it's been about 11 years since I was last in Munich. We were also close to Freising, home of Weihenstephan, but maybe I'll get there next time.

As it was, we were staying in the nice litle Gasthof Hörger, or to give it the full title, Hotel Hörger Biohotel und Tafernwirtschaft, a family-run hotel where all the food comes from certified organic sources and the owner is also the head chef. Very nice food it was too, all on a very Bavarian theme, which happens to appeal to me anyway, especially the likes of the wild boar (although maybe not the calf's head, though I was told the lips are a delicacy). Hohenbercha is a tiny place, but the restaurant seemed to do a good trade on both nights we stayed, so I got the impression that it is very well regarded locally. The hotel is mix of very traditional (with the old building and decor being pleasently old world) and very modern, with a new all-wood building in a very modern, minimalist style alongside an old orchard. It looked like we would be sleeping in large wooden boxes at first, but the details in the room were really cool. I don't know what the rooms are like in the older building.
With a couple of exceptions, the beers on offer were all from the Hofbrauhaus Freising (est. 1160). I didn't take very detailed notes as I was in company, but here a few notes.

Little cards on each table drew my attention to their Kirchweih Markt Fest Märzen, a light amber, low carbonated beer. This has a juicy sweet malt with toffee, dark bread and vegetable undertones and a slightly spicy finish. It's slightly chewy and rich, and quite satisfying. It was probably a mistake to start with this, but it had been a long day!

The Dunkel is a dark, dull, mahogany brown. It's sweet, but not overly so, leaning more towards fruit, figs, vanilla with a slight roasted accent. The finish is relatively dry considering the sweet fruity flavours. I wasn't sure if it was too fruity, but despite that it's reasonbably easy drinking. I managed a couple anyway!

The Hofbrauhaus Freising Graf Ignaz Pilsner, with its impressive whipped cream head that I can never get, is a bit more like the Pils of the north than the examples from Franken I have been trying recently, with a clean, prominent noble hop flavour, but with a mild bitterness. This is on top of a nice bready maltiness. A simple, refreshing beerwhich was a good palate cleanser.

The Helles, as I recall, is pretty much what you might expect from a Helles, with more prominence on the bready, biscuity malt flavours, but with a nice lemony twist. A good opener after another long day, and I could have had another couple but opted to return to the Dunkel for another test drive.

Being a biohotel they do of course offer eco-friendly beers. With the Bioland mark displayed on the bottle, in the same way as Pinkus Müller, the Viva Bavaria Festbier from Riedenburger was a flatish, dull, malty beer that I just couldn't take to. Sure, it started off ok (see the photo), but it quickly collapsed into a sweet watery soup. Maybe it was a dud bottle, as even a colleague commented that it looked more like cider, and it made no "pop" when the bottle was opened, but as it was, the flatness just made it too sticky and boring.

There were more beers on offer including the Hüber Weisse beers from Hofbrauhaus Freising (in Hell, Dunkel and alcohol free varieties), another fest beer, and a couple more alcohol free beers and radler.

Overall, a nice place to stay if you like it quiet and simple, and I look forward to my next visit. Oh, and I was told that there is an excellent beer shop in Kranzberg, where the office is. Another one for next time!