Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Braukunst Live! 2012 - The Master Classes

The inaugural Braukunst Live! 2012 festival opened it's doors on Friday the 20th of April. The brainchild of Frank Böer, who is responsible for the sister whisky festival, Finest Spirits, Frank realised there was somewhat of an opening for a large German festival focussing on variety in both the German and international beer scene. Sure, the excellent Festival der Bierkulturen (pdf) already fills a part of that large void, but on a smaller, more personal scale than something like the Great American Beer Festival, which was an inspiration for Frank. But how did it go?

Sadly, I could only make one of the three days, making my way by train to Munich in the excellent company of Thomas, the brewer at Häffner Bräu, Bad Rappenau, and the man behind the Hopfenstopfer range of beers (actually, I think he pioneered these types of beers in Germany, but better check that). We met up with Twitter-friends Gerrit and his partner Nina for a bite to eat before heading underground for the U-Bahn to Giesing, near the venue of the MVG Museum. A quick shuttle bus later, almost bang on the opening time of 2pm, and we handed over €20 for entry, getting a Teku festival glass and four beer vouchers in return, and €10 for twenty beer chips, the currency for the day.

Having seen photos from Friday's session, and hearing there was little in the way of general seating, it occured to me that this looked more like an exhibition than a festival. Bear in mind, my idea of a festival was coloured by events like the Belfast CAMRA festival, where there's basically a wall of casks and the rest is tables and seating. Braukunst Live! had over 30 breweries represented, ranging from the obscure to the rather well known, each with their own booth, and while I was ready to constructively criticise the format, actually, in hindsight, it's definitely a strength, as you really do get time to talk to the people from the brewery, if not the brewers themselves. It was a great pleasure to have a few words with the likes of Menno from De Molen, or Georg from Brauerei Rittermayer, not to mention beer evangelists with stands, like the guys at Bier-Index and author and Biersommelier, Sepp Wejwar.

Menno of De Molen fame.

Something new for me was the idea of the festival Master Classes, which were running through the whole day. These optional extras, from free open stage talks to paid tasting sessions an hour long, covered topics like malt, yeast, hops, of course, and more philosophical topics such as tradition versus innovation, presentations from brewers and an open forum to discuss the Reinheitsgebot. I'd have liked to see that one.

I'll return to the beers generally sampled in another post, but here, I'd like to take a closer look at two of the tasting sessions which we attended.

Beer and Chocolate Tasting
Run by Sebastian Sauer of Braustelle Köln, creators of some wonderful beers, this tasting session seemed like a bit of an oddity. I like chocolate, and I like beer, but if I'm pairing chocolate with an alcoholic drink, it's usually really dark chocolate and whisky. But with input from the Schokoladen Museum Köln, Sebastian came up with some really unusual pairings that literally amazed me, not to mention some chocolates that will make their way onto my shopping list!

Kicking off with a beer-chocolate combination in one glass, Sebastian presented Freigeist Bläck Bean Bätsch Schoko stout (note the use of metal umlauts! :)), which is brewed with cocoa powder. 6% ABV, with a light body and an acidic bite (strains of their Deutscher Porter) which contrasted interestingly with the clear coacoa influences. It delivers a cherry-cola-like sweetness in the mid-ground, but finishes with clean roasted grain notes and without any residual cloyingness that the cola reference might suggest. Rather enjoyable, and a fine balance.

Then comes the chocolates. The first pairing was Freigeist Bierkultur's Mac Heath's Murder Malt, specially brewed for the festival, with an orange creme-filled milk chocolate. Mac Heath's was a beer I'd had earlier in the day, 6% brewed with turf-smoked whisky malt. Turfy phenolics are to the fore on this, but it strikes a fine balance of flavour, supported by a cara-infused backdrop and a light grassy hop character. Perhaps a little thin, but eminently sinkable, which I did with little thought while chatting with Stefan and Kay from Bierzwerg earlier on (and very nice people they are too).

I have to admit, this pairing didn't appeal to my tastes. While I liked both separately, the combination was a little too competitive on my palate, but I can see what they were aiming at, and everyone else seemed to approve. Give a similar combination a try yourself, perhaps with a fuller-bodied whisky-barrel aged stout, if you can't get the Mac Heath.

FritzAle American IPA came next, presented by Fritz himself, this time paired with Mozartkugeln, those marzipan-filled balls you see in Austrian airports, but which I've never been tempted to buy. FrizAle American IPA is brewed with Citra and Simcoe hops, a variant on their, by now, classic India Pale Ale. It's loaded with big, chewy, sorbet-like citrus stylings, pillowy pithiness, generous tropical fruits and caramel sweetness. It's robust in the bitterness department too, and this is what really worked well with the marzipan and chocolate blend of the Mozartkugeln. Surprisingly good! Definitely try this. I know I'll be trying other marzipan chocolates with IPAs for the hell of it!

Freigeist Deutscher Porter is a beer I've had before (actually, I have four bottles still in the cellar) and really enjoyed, but what would the lads pair with it? My heart sank when I saw it was a white chocolate with licorice pieces. I'm not a big fan of licorice, but all in the name of science... Remarkably good was my conclusion. The sourness and saltiness of the Porter is somehow softened by the white chocolate, while the licorice complements the light roasted notes of the beer and indeed pairs stunningly well with the sourness. I reckon I could have continued with this combination for the rest of the evening! How could it get better?

Simple answer: Freigeist Caulfield - Mocha Flush with a banana-coconut-curry white chocolate. I mean, the chocolate itself is a bit of a revelation; I had no idea such a thing existed, but the combination of this rich, 10% oaky-vanilla imperial stout (made with 20% rye),  blends seamlessly with the spiced curry and coconut of the chocolate. On its own the beer is full-bodied, loaded with smooth roasted coffee flavours, vanilla, dark toffee, a slight funky edge and cut with a reasonable herbal hop edge, and just a hint of peppery spiciness. The chocolate, well, it tastes like banana-coconut curry. I'd never have thought this would work, but it was an inspired taste combination. I'm half tempted to make a curry-coconut-banana stout, but I'd probably fail miserably.

And finally, they presented a FritzAle Imperial Stout with banana chocolate. Yes please. That'll do as a description :)

I don't like gushing about beer and food pairings. A large part of me things most of it is a little over the top and a tad snobby, but like I said, I was really happy with these flavour combinations, as they opened up a different experience, and that has to be welcomed. Well done, and thanks for the ideas!

The Yeast Tour
Immediately following this was the next master class (this time one I'd signed up for) "Hefe: Welche Gier schmeckt Dir?", or  "Yeast: which flavour do you desire?" presented by Biersommelier, Birgit Reber. As a home brewer, of course yeast is always interesting, and this was a classic tour through the effects of yeast on the flavour of beer.

Girardin Gueuze Black Label was a palate-cleansing, almost shocking (for some) introduction to the world of yeast, and really, what better introduction to that topic than a wild yeast and bacteria-infused beer? Citrus-sour, with a wonderful barnyard character and fruity, caramel suggestions deep down, and a mildly spicy finish, showing touches of candied ginger, this is a fine, refreshing Gueuze.

Riegele Commerzienrat Privat is a beer I hadn't heard of before. While expecting some clean, bitter, pilsner type of thing as a classic example of clean bottom-fermenting beer, we got a Helles instead, and this was a lovely drop, with a sweet, honey aroma, pleasant bready flavours and a light nutty bite rounding it off.

Schneider Weisse Tap 7. What can you say? This ticks all the classic Weizen flavour boxes, with banana, light coves, a burst of bubblegum. Not much ore to say about this well-known beer, other than it proves the effect that yeast alone can have on the flavour profiles of a beer, and is a favourite summer beer of mine.

Another top-fermenting beer, the Camba Bavaria Truchtlinger Pale Ale is also a hoppy little bugger, so in all honesty, I felt the hops were the driving force here, pushing fruity, dried apricot and lemon notes to the fore, and wrapping up with a gentle pepper-infused, lightly bitter finish. Of course, some of those fruity notes could well be coming from the yeast, but in the end, it's the overall impression of the end product that counts.

Fullers Vintage Ale 2011 is one of those beers I like in small quantities. While I fully appreciate the wonders of Fullers yeast, and the rich, caramelly, fruity, figgy, floral stylings of the vintage ales, I do find them a little cloying in quantity. This one is quite boozy, to boot, and a little cloying, so probably best left in the cellar for a while.

Engelszell Gregorius Trappistenbier. See that? Trappistenbier. One that I was really looking forward to trying, the first brew from the world's 8th Trappist brewery, and one of only two not in Belgium, this one being in Austria. Engelszell Gregorius weighs in at 9.9%, and is a dark, dubbel-looking brew. It's really quite strong in the ripe banana aroma department, putting one in mind of a Weizenbock, like Aventinus, and this continued in the flavour. It's not off-putting, but it definitely dominates. Under this are are light band-aid and marzipan flavours, while thick, chewy caramel flavours abound. Sepp told me that the brewers agree the banana flavours are too strong, and it is likely the recipe or process will be adjusted. But hey, it's the first beer from a new TRAPPIST brewery, and that in itself is historic, so I can't complain. Actually, I would very much like to cellar a few bottles of this first brew to see how it develops, as this could have been a little young. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to seeing how the brewery develops, and if additional beers will be added to the range over time. Watch this space.

This was a well laid-out tasting order for exploring the effects of yeast, and some fine beers on their own, so many thanks to Birgit for running it.

So, quite a lot to fit in for just two of the three masterclasses I attended, and already blogspot is complaining about too many labels! In the next post, I'll do a quick roundup of the other beers I managed to try, or at least the ones I remembered to take notes for, as the chatting was more important.


The Beer Nut said...

Nice write-up. So, you paid an extra €5-10 for the talks and they took an hour each. Did you not feel your festival drinking time was being eaten into?

I've always thought that when people have paid into these things they're immediately on the clock to get their money's worth -- I know I am. When organising talks I've always kept them to 20mins tops for this reason. Just wondering if you feel you were missing out when you were at the tasting sessions?

Gerrit (@geo21481) said...

It's “Giesing”, Twitter-friend. :)

Other than that, my thoughts exactly, only more eloquent, as usual. Looking forward to following installments!

Barry Masterson said...

When I saw the list of talks, I was a little taken aback by the additional fees, and I think that might have kept some of the attendance low. But they were quite good, and I didn't feel my drinking time was being eaten into too much. There were five to six beers in these two session (and I only paid for one of them, being "invited" to the chocolate one), so there was enough to keep me ticking over.

I definitely missed some beers that I originally wanted to try, and I could blame losing three hours out of the nine hours I was there to the master classes, but I've only myself to blame :) Well, that and a lack of a complete festival beer list, but I understand it was difficult to get the brewers to submit lists.

Barry Masterson said...

Oops! Thanks, spell-check friend ;)

I guess you're upgraded since we met in person :D

The Beer Nut said...

I guess nine hours would be a lot of festivalling without having the, er, drinking breaks of the talks. List or no, it sounds very impressive for a first go.

Barry Masterson said...

Yes, very professional and well organised. I hope the breweries had a similar experience so that it can happen again next year, even bigger.

Robert said...

Rest assured it will happen next year again :).
It was an awesome experience for the brewers and a great opportunity to get to know a lot of nice and interesting people.

Barry Masterson said...

Yeah, I reckon it will :) Next time, I should plan on more than one day!

Frank said...

Hi everyone, this is Frank (= organizer Braukunst Live!)
@Barry: Thanks for the interesting post!!!!
This was a premier event....and we are very glad to have managed a "safe landing". Though there's a lot to think and work on now: We had excellent exhibitor- and visitor feedbacks - it was, I guess, a great success.

@ extra pay for Master Classes: The talks (Open Stage) were free, only the Tastings costed 5 - 10 EUR each. This was for three reasons:
1. Munich is very expensive. Events in Munich are very expensive - and (to cut it short) we can't do it "for free".
2. This was our premiere. We didn't know what kind of people we'd attract - beer in Bavaria usually has to do with mass consumption. Beer is often handed out for free. I wanted to signal: there is NO such thing like "Freibier" (beer for free) at this show.
3. Paying moderate (or even not so moderate) fees is totally accepted practice at e.g. whisky festivals. I want to signal - right from the start - that beer can (and should!) be presented on exactly that very same level....which indeed implies a certain risk.

Please bear in mind: Don't compare your beer culture with ours! You are far ahead. As to the specialty segment: Germany still is developing country: Most Germans don't even know that beers we saw last weekend even do EXIST. So we have to EDUCATE them (= most important mission of the show) which implies guided tastings at highest possible level....at which you get, what you pay for: 4 to 6 excellent beers in 45 minutes in an almost one on one situation with the guys who MAKE them.

But it's a road that develops as we walk it, detours and dead ends included. So thanks to everyone for the kind support. Last weekend, we gave birth to a little "beer baby". It's a healthy boy/girl....but still needs a lot of love and support from beer family and friends. Please tell everyone that some lunatics try to establish an international beer specialty festival in Munich....networking and advice among the international "scene" helps us ESSENTIALLY (!!!!) to get the baby grow and prosper.


Barry Masterson said...

Hi Frank, and thanks for commenting.

It was definitely a success! Well done for making a brave move.

I certainly don't expect free beer at a festival, and with most beers costing 50c for 100ml, I thought it was quite fair. Likewise, €5 for a guided tasting was, I felt, good value. The master classes add another aspect to the festival that I really enjoyed, and I'd love to see these continue next year! :)

I have to admit, although I know Germany as a fairly conservative beer nation (I'm generalising, of course), I was shocked to see the kinds of reactions in press, as you wrote about here. Those kind of people will never change their opinion, but I think with these kinds of events, that allow a broad, varied selection of beers to be tried under one roof, are a good step towards opening up minds and tastes to the variety of beers that are slowing spreading across Germany. Sure, we're "behind" trends in other parts of the world, but quality German beer has a quiet dignity (if that doesn't sound too strange) that serves us well, even though I for one welcome more choice and flavour experiences on my doorstep :D

The Beer Nut said...

Hi Frank,

Congratulations, first of all, on running such a great-sounding event.

I wasn't criticising the extra charge for the tasting sessions -- I was just curious about the amount of time they took and how customers reacted to it. I've been called on to arrange tasting sessions at festivals in the past and it's always good to see how someone else has chosen to do it, and what the customer thought.

The whiskey festival parallel is interesting, but one conclusion I'm rapidly coming to is that beer doesn't work the same way as wine or whiskey when it comes to paying for things other than the liquid. Wine and whiskey are expensive hobbies, and people appreciate guidance more. With beer, it seems to me, people are happier to just jump in, buy the stuff, and get their education that way. Maybe that will change. If you had a good turnout for your masterclasses, perhaps it's already that way in Bavaria.

I still think a comparison between our beer culture is very valid here. Ireland and Bavaria are both very new at providing the drinker with a beer perspective that's different from the standard styles from the big breweries. In both places you have to do your research if you want other-than-normal beer.

Anyway, well done again, and best of luck for future years!

Barry Masterson said...

Maybe just one more view on the idea of guided tastings, that could also apply to the average beer drinker in Ireland. Beer has a special place in the hearts and minds of a large part of the German public, and some of the more "esoteric" beers, from the average German beer drinker's perspective, can sometimes do with some sort of context, or risk summary dismissal. The guys from Bier-Index did one such masterclass, as an attempt to put some of these new beer styles in context, referring to the US beer world as a comparison. By the same token, one could say taste and be damned, but as we know, a bit of conversation helps in many cases, and that could be equally be from the brewers at a booth, but that's quite a lot to ask with lines of thirsty punters demanding a fill.

The other type of masterclass are those like the beer and chocolate one. I really enjoyed that, from an entertainment perspective if nothing else, as it was beyond the beer :D

Wolfgang said...

Went there on Saturday and enjoyed it tremendously.
However I think one shouldn´t overdo it with the Wine and Whisky comparison.
Berr is a lot more Straightforward Drink so having too much Sommelieres, special limited extra editions etc. will certainly chase off some of the public.
I Don´t mind paying 10Euro for an exeptional 0,75 ml Bottle but anything higher up is just too posh for me.

Katja said...

Having been to a few beer festivals, BKL was really good... especially for the first time. I can't believe you've never had beer and chocolate. The combo is amazing and far better than wine and chocolate. Most girls I know got into beer after having a stout and chocolate cake...

Barry Masterson said...

Wolfgang, I know where you're coming from. Beer is certainly more accessible, and is an everyman's drink. Having said that, it can also be enjoyed at different levels, i.e., savouring and thinking more about the flavours etc. or just simply enjoying it from the bottle. The former can be done easily with the vast majority of decently priced beer, but yeah, even beer aficionados run the risk of being a little too snobby :). I do have issue with some beers being way over-priced simply from an "exclusivity" perspective (some of the Braufactum beers come to mind, which are horrendously priced, but very bloody tasty), but a lot of that is marketing, and trying to break into the "gourmet" market. Great beers are for everyone, and indeed, there are lots of whiskys that are very well priced and delicious :D

Katja, yes, I hang my head in shame :D Beer and cheese is my go-to "pairing", in a very simple way. If I'm relaxing on an evening, I'll often cut slabs of different cheeses and gobble them with lashings of good beer (though I've had to cut down on the cheese recently). I'm not a big chocolate eater, but there's clearly a whole world of chocolate I've never explored! I'm doomed! :D I'm with you on the stout and chocolate cake thing. The Bull and Castle in Dublin used to do fantastic chocolate brownies paired with Young's Double Chocolate Stout. Death by chocolate! :)

Beeron said...

Bloody bloody bloody, wish they'd had this before I left Munich.

Barry Masterson said...

Well, there's another chance in March (8th to 10th) 2013 :)