I'd been looking forward to attending this small festival, despite the fact that I couldn;t get anyone to go with me. I reckoned beer would oil the social processes, so decided to just get stuck in. Getting to the festival location was simplicity in itself, just a 5 minute train ride out from Cologne central station to the Köln-Ehrenfeld stop, then a 300 metre walk to the Ehrenfeld community centre, set off the side of a small park on what looks like a shopping street. I initially thought that only some of the breweries had turned up, but the festival was split between a few locations: the main hall, a tent out the back and 150m down the road at the Helios-Braustelle.
I arrived shortly before 1pm, not long after it had opened, so it was quiet enough, good for a short chat with the brewer at Freischem's, a friendly chap. Of course, I had to try the Piratengold Stout as mentioned by Boak and Bailey, or at least I assume it's the same one, but it could be a different recipe. Really black-looking, Pirtengold Stout has a lightly roasted and dried fruit aroma. I found it surprisingly light on the tongue, with an almost lemony freshness up front, followed swiftly by a thick caramel-chocolate, raisins and a white pepper spiciness. The lemony character came on a bit strong compared to the malts after a glassful, but I had another one later in the day and it went down a treat. As it happens, the brewer's mother is English, so it seemed like he wanted to make something that he'd enjoy drinking, considering he seemed to be a fan of the regular black stuff. Their Kölsch looks typical to the style, but the first impression is gives is a sweet, sugary one, like a flattened 7-Up. Lemon notes are dominant, and it has a slightly soapy feel, yet is oddly refreshing. Reminded me of Radler in a way. I have a voucher for a free beer, so there's a good enough reason for me to get back to Cologne!
Deciding to stick with the regular strength beers to begin with, I targeted the German breweries first. Alzeyer Volker-Bräu were next, offering a Roggenbier (rye beer) and a Haferbier (oat beer). The Roggenbier is really turbid-looking, I mean, really! Must be healthy! It has a light rose-like floral aroma with a pinch of grain. The flavour is quite "wheaty", with an acidity that seems to push the mildly spicy qualities of the rye. A nice fudgy sweetness at the back, but the finish is a little too soapy for my liking, reminding me of washing up liquid.
Nevertheless, the Volker-Bräu stand seemd quite busy (that's the cluster on the right of the photo above), so instead of trying their Haferbier I stepped to the left to try something from the Siegburger Abteibrauerei. They had brought along Michel, a Rheinisch, top fermenting (read similar to Kölsch) beer that I didn't try, and Siegburger, which was described to me as a hoppy, amber beer. And they weren't wrong. It has an almost candy-like flavour, without being sweet, heavy on tangarine up front, it has a light, easy drinking body. There are some other fruity elements, tomato sprang to mind at one stage, but overall it's a lovely beer, with a decent hop flavour and gentle bitterness. Later in the evening I blagged a sample (i.e. free glass) of their Monolith Gerstenwein (barley wine), a 8.9% beast hopped with Perle and Hersbrucker and aged in an oak cask for a number of months. This had me very interested, of course, as most barley wines that I love have distinct, powerful American hop characteristics. I'm pleased to say that the German hops work equally well, but in different ways. It has a light, fruity aroma with woody, vanilla highlights that really come out in the flavour. It's juicy, with a subdued hop action, delivering a flavour padded with warm, pillow-y orange and vanilla. A little flabby compared to some US example, perhaps, but it's warming and comforting.
I nipped over to Braustelle where, as well as being able to try the house beers, more of the line-up had set up shop in the bar room. On-line beer seller, Bierkompass, had a selection of German and imported beers on offer, a guy was selling Lambic from little plastic barrels and Italian brewery, Revelation Cat were there.
To honour the hosts, I got a glass of Rosemarie which, as the name suggests, has been brewed with rosemary. It certainly has a warming, spicy-herbal aroma, reminiscent of the clove drops I had as a kid. Not so suggestive of rosemary, but the flavour! Definitely Rosemary! Really a quite pronounced, clean flavour without being overpowering, it's actually lovely, sitting as it does on a candy-like backdrop which does make it feel like you've been sucking on a sweet from yesteryear. It's a simple beer really, but it works so well I'd gladly have had another if there wasn't so much more to go through. I determined that I'd return on a normal day to try the rest of their beers, as it's an interesting looking selection.
Bierkompass had a range of draught beers from Beck-Bräu, including the wonderful Affumicator. Unfortunately the likes of Quartor, which I really would have liked to try, were not on due to limited tap space, so I settled for a Beck-Bräu Zoigl, a slightly thin beer, but with an interesting set of flavours: a fragrant honeysuckle-like flavour right in the middle, black pepper with a carbonic nip, finishing with a light oregano-like herbal bitterness. Incidentally, despite having two failed attempts at a conversation (twice interrupted by "friends" and then ignored) with the Bierkompass guy to find out why they do what they do, and to try and get an impression of what kinds of people are buying these non-standard German beers , I was surprised to hear that the Beck-Bräu Quartor is considered to be outside of the Reinheitsgebot simply because it uses Dinkel (spelt) in the grain bill. So what, I thought. But it's the fact that it's bottom-fermenting that makes it in breach. If it was top fermenting it'd be fine. I just don't get the silly exceptions, but I'm glad people are breaking them.
The guys at Bierkompass certainly think beyond just selling interesting beer though, as they also had on tap a selection of beers under the Freigeist Bierkultur banner, a project, for want of a better word, between Peter Esser of Braustelle and Sebastian Sauer of Bierkompass. Freigeist Bierkultur Abraxas is an odd beer, being like a combination of rauchbier and Berliner Weisse. The aroma has a slight suggestion of bacon, but the flavour throws in lemon-orange citrus aplenty, almost sour, with a juicy-fruit bubblegum middle ground followed by a gentle, hammy smokiness. This mostly makes itself felt on the finish, and doesn't dominate, but the overall impression is of a lightly barbecued lemon. A lot nicer than it sounds, I can assure you. Freigeist Bierkultur Abraxxxas is a suped-up version at 6% compared to the 3.8 of the single X version. It's more of the same, in a way, but softer, and fuller-feeling. More satisfying perhaps. Both very nice.
I finally got a chance to try a Gose, in the form of Goedecke Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose. With a light, sourish nose, the flavour is lemony with a definite salty trace, leaving an almost drying sensation on the sides of the mouth.Interesting from a curiosity point of view, but i wouldn't be drinking it regularly. Actually, the cook from Braustelle was on a break and received a glass. He made the sour face, then proclaimed it tasted like fish. actually, the sour face featured strongly at this location, what with the lambics on offer, but that's for another day.
Last of the German beers I'll mention was the Himbeer Porter made by Weyermanns Maltings. 5.9%, aged in barrels, very raspberry, not bad! say my notes. Yeah, the evening was wearing on at that stage, and it was after being treated to some Beer Geek Breakfast and Brunch... More of that anon.
I'm a bad reporter. I had planned to talk to a few people at this festival about the home brewing association, the Kampagne für gutes Bier (KGB) and to interview the organiser as well as some of the shop owners, but when it came down to it, the beer, and the characters I met took over.