Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Artbrau 2015 - Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 27 April 2015

Artbrau 2015 - Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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