Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Artbrau 2016 - Part 1

It had been over a year since my last beer festival – due to bad planning on the behalf of the organisers, Braukunst Live yet again clashed with something else in my calendar – so I have to admit, it was with great anticipation that last Saturday, I headed off to the 2nd Artbrau festival, just an hour’s train ride away in Heilbronn.

In the same location as last year, and equally as small, Artbrau nevertheless offered a chance to sample the wares from breweries in our region, which is something that interests me greatly. I’ve commented before that I seem to live as far from the bright centres of the German brewing galaxy as it can possibly be, but I might well have been doing Baden-Württemberg and our bordering states a disservice. Sure, most of what you see in the beer press these days is coming from Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, but we’re also home to pioneers like Hopfenstopfer and, as I was to find, some new blood as well as more surprises.
First stop, as usual, was to say hello to Thomas at Hopfenstopfer, to see what was new, and have a bit of a chat. Thomas’s latest creation is Höllensud, described as a highly hoped pils. With a cutting, fresh lemon aroma, backed by an earthy, leaning towards catty tone, it begs further exploration. Planned to have 45 IBUs, but it ended up at 53, the bitterness is certainly noticeable, but crisp and clean, like one would expect a pils to be. But the choice of hops brings it beyond that. There are fruity tone, recalling pear drop candy, mango and tangerines, with the slight saltiness of digestive biscuits. At 4.8%, it marks a departure for his normal line of beer, and is eminently sinkable.

For those who don’t know, Thomas brews at Häfner Bräu in Bad Rappenau, and Hopfenstopfer was more or less a personal side project. However, it has gotten to the stage where demand means that the volume of Hopfenstopfer beers brewed is exceeding the standard stuff, and the beers are available further afield.
A few steps away was one of the newer breweries, or perhaps brands, in the region, Brewdudes out of Würzburg, an hour north of my home. Brewdudes is a collective of seven young guys, students mostly, who are homebrewers. Tired of the relatively boring beer scene in Würzburg, they made first stops to making their own commercial beer, Brewdudes Pale Ale in July last year. Contract brewed at Brauhaus Binkert to their own recipe, it was described to me as a “beginners pale ale”. Setting expectations low then! Admittedly, the aroma is not much to speak of, offering a hint of caramel and flowery notes. Flavour-wise, it’s more firmly on the malty spectrum, with a pop of juicy-fruit gum, and just a twist of orange peel. The hops are fairly Germanic, with Hercules and Perle, and finished with Cascade (German cascade, as I recall), so perhaps a German Pale Ale, without the baggage associated with what one tends to expect from a pale ale these days.

I’ll be watching what these guys do with interest. I couldn’t help but wonder if there might be a case of too many cooks, as someone commented to me, sometime two people working together on a beer can have enough disagreements, but seven is a lot. Still, they look like happy chaps, don’t they?

The guys were also serving a beer from Binkert, the Amber Spezial, a beer using only Fränkisch ingredients. Most definitely wearing its heart on its sleeve as a malty beer, with summer fruit flavours up front, evoking raspberry and strawberry jam, there’s a crisp bitterness that creeps up later. A solid enough thirst quencher, but not standing out from many others on the broader market.
As well as the young guns, there were breweries that it would be fair to say were more traditional. Haller Löwenbräu was one such, with a wide offering of very much traditional German beer styles. One that stood out, was Mohrenköpfle Landbier (which essentially translates as little carrot head). Looking more pale brown, the aroma certainly struck more of the German pils chords, with a crisp, herbal aroma. Up front, the taste hits a crème caramel button, backed with crisp, clean malts, cut by a grassy, herbal hop flavour. Actually, really a rather nice, solid beer for sucking back on a hot day. It wasn’t that hot in a train shed in early April, so it might have been served a tad too cold, but a good palate cleanser also.

Riedenburger had a booth again this year, and although I’ve had their beers several times, I stopped by to have a Doldensud. Maybe it was the gravitational pull of all the beards that seemed to have concentrated around the organic brewer. Doldensud is as fruity as it gets. Big tangerine aromas way up front. It’s soft, creamy, with an almost strawberry-cream candy like flavour. Bitterness is low, which pushes is slightly towards the sweet side of things, with a background of banana and bubblegum, but the overall effect is simply juicy, and somehow comforting. I recall trying their beers in 2008, before the craft beer “movement” hit Germany, and being impressed. It’s good to see they don’t just rely on an organic label to sell their beers, but they put effort into it too.

Needing something solid at this stage, I popped outside into the sun to check out the food stalls. Food offerings at Artbrau were similar to last year, with overpriced plates of cheese, and BBQ and grilled goods from “Grill Gott”. The cheaper option of Bratwurt and Pommes was replaced this year with “Healthy Wraps”. I opted for a breadroll with pulled port with Krautsalat, which seemed rather small for the €7.50 it cost, but it was tasty. In fact, I had a second one later in the evening, which brought the food bill almost in par with the beer bill, which is saying something, considering the beers I tried.

But, back into the fray, and to a completely new brewery for me: Kuehn Kunz Rosen, based in Mainz, so perhaps not so local. From what I gather, this brewery was formed in 2014 by two home brewers coming from the IT industry, which seems to be happening a lot recently. The blackboard looked very inviting, and I tweeted that I would probably have to try them all, which I did!

I started with the Kuehnes Blondes, a Belgian Wit at 4.9%, that was a picture-perfect hazy straw colour. The nose is all apple and fresh lemon zest, with the flavours suggesting almonds, or maybe a touch sweeter, towards marzipan, on a light spicy, biscuit base. The finish is a little flabby, though, with a lingering banana, and slightly soapy flavour, however, I rather liked it overall, and was pleasantly surprised, as other German interpretations of classic Belgian style have not worked too well for me in the past.

On to the Caspar Böhmisches Pils, at 5%. This opens up rather pungently, with a striking aroma that verges on spicy cheese, with elements of blackcurrent. Now don’t leave yet. It sounds dreadful, but actually, it seemed to draw me deeper, trying to figure it out. The flavour is considerably perfumy and spicy, with floral elements, like marigolds, and it has a rather interesting sorbet-like effect on the finish, which I found delightful. It turns out this is hopped 100% with Saazer, which I was amazed by. I don’t think I’ve ever had Saaz used in this quantity in a beer. The “stink” does dissipate as the beer gets some air, and the longer finish suggests more blackcurrent. I began to wonder if there was slight oxidation.

Their Mystique IPA seemed to be doing a fine trade while I was standing there, a 7% pale amber beer with a rich, deep aroma, filled with blackcurrent, mango and pine. On the tongue, it's earthy and oily, with a light fudgey sweetness, candied grapefruit and passion fruit, finishing with orange pith and pine resin. Really quite lush. Hopped with summit, cascade, amarillo and crystal.

And finally, Festland Tonka Bock, flavoured, as the name suggests, with tonka beans. But a carefully controlled amount, so the coumarin won't stop your heart! A crystal clear chestnut, it has an almost classic bock aroma: caramel, burnt sugar, with a whiff of herbs. But the flavour goes beyond that, with a light roast, suggesting American coffee, a solid vanilla backbone, lent by the tonka beans, and fruity elements, with dried and tropical fruits. Motueka hops, I was later informed.

The beers are actually brewed at Binkert, as was the Brewdudes beer, but it would seem with considerably more oversight, and perhaps experience, than our young friends from earlier. I was reasonably impressed by them all, and the Wit, flabby finish notwithstanding, was a standout for me.

Palmbräu impressed me last year with their dark beers, but having bought a six pack of their most recent Black Ale just a few weeks ago, and promptly giving three of them away as I found them way too sweet, I was hoping to be re-impressed with their strangely-named Fashion Pale Ale. Maybe they’re seeing through it all! The back label describes it as an IPA, however, though the aroma is more reminiscent of a conventional Exportbier, with vegetal notes. The flavour is sweet, candy-like, with sugary woodruff. I slinked away, disappointed, but there were plenty more fish in the sea.

And so endeth part one. Part two is pretty much going to be dedicated to one brewery, and some of the bigger surprises of this small festival. In the meantime, look at how happy the Hopfenstopfer team were with the evening trade.

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