A bit of a disclosure first. Not long after posting about some of the new pale ales from German breweries, I received a mail from Reinhold Barta, the head honcho of Salzburg's Brauhaus Gusswerk. Knowing I came from Ireland, Reinhold mentioned that he had worked in University College Cork and Beamish while finishing his thesis, an experience he clearly enjoyed. So much so, it seems, that years later, after founding an organic brewery in Austria, he was compelled to make an Austrian stout. Intriguing. When the question comes "would you like some samples?", I'm wary. After a previous not-so-pleasant experience, I never ask for samples, but if they're offered, and they were already on my shopping list, well, I couldn't say no (with the caveat that I'd write my honest opinion). A short time later, a package of 10 bottles, two each of Brauhaus Gusswerk's main beers, arrived at the door. Many thanks to Reinhold, and here's my honest opinions.
Jakobsgold, a 4.9% Zwicklbier, has won 2nd place in the 2009 Austrian State Championships for small breweries. A burnished gold with an ever-so-slight haze, and what looks like a few tiny flakes floating about. Looked like hop debris. It has a pretty strong herbal aroma, redolent of rosemary, evergreen/pine sap and a touch catty on a biscuity base. Flavourwise, it's remarkably hop forward, in an Austro-Germanic way. Big, grassy fields, pine forests and a slight citric touch, all on a well-rounded, creamy-feeling, biscuity base. The hops really do have the final say here, with those herbal notes lending a pleasantly gentle peppery finish. It's a really smooth beer, and while not a grab you by the throat, shouty beer, it turns the flavour dial up enough to take is well beyond the average Zwicklbier. A rather good start!
Edelguss came in 1st in the 2009 State Championships, so had quite a bit to live up to. A crystal clear, light gold, it gives off a light candy, subtle pine and just a hint of fruit aroma, leaning towards orange. Like it's sister, it has a remarkable creamy mouthfeel, but with an added carbon bite. Freshly opened, this dominated a bit, making it difficult to get to the underlying flavours, but as that fades, it reveals a pleasant bready base with a layer of fresh-cut grass, a squirt of orange essence and a finish that suggests tart apples (or maybe carbonic apples). Refreshing and moreish, this is a good one for a hot summer day, or in my case, a hot spring day.
One I had been most looking forward to was the Austrian Amber Ale, or "AAA", named partially with reference to Austria losing its triple A credit rating (I think that was just last January?), and thus the beer being the only Triple A needed for Austria. Definitely a copper-amber colour, with a slight haze and a head that dissipates swiftly. Interesting aroma, suggesting salty fudge, digestive biscuits and strong mandarin peel, citric overtones. Again, what appears to be a signature creamy mouthfeel, laced with light toffee, a solid, pear-like fruitiness cut with a chewy orange pith bitterness. The whole effect is simply "juicy", and it begs to be gulped. It finishes long, with that pleasant pithiness coating the gums and a carbonic bite the cleanses the tongue. Despite the low head, it's quite gassy, and I'd love to see what a less-carbonated version would be like. Nevertheless, this fits firmly into my definition of süffig (as well as fitting into the American Amber stable quite well), and is rather easy to gulp down, despite the 5.6% ABV
Black Sheep Smooth Stout is the one that I had highest hopes in, as I'm intrigued by stouts or porters coming from the German-speaking world. Reinhold's experiences in Beamish were also adding a layer of expectation here. A cola-like brown, but opaque in volume, is also has a a sweetish aroma, quite similar to Malzbier, touched with lightly roasted elements and a sliver of apple. Described as a smooth stout, it certainly fits that description (again that creaminess! How does he do it?) with soft, roasted grains, a surprising fruitiness, nodding towards strawberries, with cream, of course and a dab of burnt sugar. The finish delivers a light fudge effect, sprinkled with light roast coffee, a grenadine-like background and a vaguely vegetal edge. Black Sheep is smooth and rounded, but to be honest, a little dulled around the edges to my tastes, with that vegetal thing in the background putting me in mind of some of my own stouts where the yeast choice didn't suit my tastes. Perhaps my expectations had been set too high, nevertheless, it's an unoffensive, easy-drinking stout.
And finally, to Black Betty. This is somewhat of an oddity, as it's brewed with what looks like a whole cabinet of herbs, including Wermutkraut (Wormwood), Gundelrebe (Ground ivy), Girsch (Ground elder) and Mädesüß (Meadowsweet). Despite that list, it's quite a subtle beer at 5.4%, with a fair degree of fruity and herbal elements. Blackcurrant flavours feature strongly, with a woodruff-like sweetness, a mild pepperiness and a hint of sage, all on a base of crystal malt graininess and rye bread. Odd, but agreeable. I'm not familiar with any of the herbs used, so can't say which have added what, but it's a restrained affair, all things considered. There's another 9.6% version containing horny goat weed, appropriately named Horny Betty, but I think I'd be a little afraid of that...
Addendum: I don't know how I missed it, but at the bottom of the box was a bottle of Horny Betty and a Weizen. I'll deal with them later :)