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.


Tandleman said...

Very interesting stuff Barry.

Tandleman said...

Very interesting stuff Barry.