Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Artbrau 2016 - Part 2: Eichbaum Experimentals

On my train ride to Heilbronn, I had tweeted something to the effect of wondering what Eichbaum would be bringing to the party this time. Last year, it was one of the bigger surprises. To reiterate, I know Eichbaum well. Based in Mannheim, they are probably our biggest regional brewery, and are independently owned, at least since a management buyout following bitter strikes in 2006. So their beer is everywhere to be seen here, a bit like Distelhäuser. Eichbaum Ureich is probably the most popular around here, and I'll buy a crate now and again if I've a bunch of pils drinkers coming over. Well, either that or Tannenzäpfle. But as I've said before, with their pils, export, weizen, kellerbier. --you get the idea -- they never rated high on my radar, other than the fact that their beer is colloquially referred to as Leichenwasser, or "corpse water", owing to the brewery's proximity to the main Mannheim graveyard! Last year changed that view a bit, but was a bit like peeping through a keyhole, or bunghole, if you will, catching a glimpse of odd things they were experimenting with. Odd, but in a rather good way! So I found myself at their stall again this year, where at first glance, the choice seemed similar to the year before, but oh how wrong I was.

One enigmatic entry on the blackboard was simply listed as Eichbaum Experimental, which turned out to be rotating all day. At the time I asked, it was a 7.5% beer aged on juniper wood, which was referred to as a "gin beer", and using the hop variety Relax, which the server told me was normally used in herbal teas. It had a powerful aroma, reminding me of pine-scented cleaning fluid (I want to say Jeyes, but my childhood memories are not what they were), and yes, gin aromatics, that reach right back into your sinus cavities. Somehting that strong can't help but be carried over into the flavour, and while being perhaps one of the more unusual beer flavours I've had (on a par with some of the unreleased prototypes from Gruthaus up in Münster), it's bloody fascinating. Woody, for sure, with a camphor-like effect gasping into the finish, but under all of this is a sweet, malty, fudgy base, with surprisingly delicate fruit flavours, evoking peach. I was surprised to be able to pick up anything like that after the aroma, but certainly a good experiment to try.

I thought a palate cleanser might be in order, so ordered a Eichbaum Enigma Zwickl, an 5% ABV, dry-hopped Kellerbier on draft, using Tettnanger Herkules and Czech Aurora in the kettle and dry hopped with Australian Enigma hops. A good solid beer this, with a honey-melon like flavour, a light vinous highlights, evoking summer berries. It was about this time that I got a bit distracted from the note-taking, as I began talking to the brewer, Tom Majorosi. One of my neighbours did his apprenticeship at Eichbaum, and it turned out is was under Tom, so we ended up having a great chat over quite a few of his experimental brews.

What was described as a Double IPA was pushed on me, brewed last year using a new, and as yet unnamed trial hop variety that I noted as 08/33 Tettnang. Big fruits on this one, with strawberry, raspberry and apricot  to the fore. I was amazed to find it has 13% ABV, which was incredibly well hidden, as was the 50 IBUs. It's more lush than bitter, and with a lingering vanilla finish, it put me more in mind of a barley wine than a double IPA, not that I was complaining!

During our chat, various bits of information were dropped that were at least new to me, like the fact Eichbaum brew Lidl's craft beer range (confirmed by a quick web search). I haven't even tried those, but I suspect I'll have my eyes peeled next time I'm in a Lidl.

For fans of wood, the bottled Cabernet Franc Bock probably ticks a lot of boxes, being a dark Doppelbock aged for 14 months in a Cabernet Franc cask. And it really is sublime. Massive vanilla with a smear of raspberry jam on the nose. And either the newer bocks being produced are more attenuated than the older, more traditional types, but the mouthfeel of this was more "spritzig" and light, than the sugary sticky that I often expect, and this served to lift up the barrow-load of flavours, with more raspberry, a bite of cherry, and a lick of tea-like tannins punctuating it. Apparently hopped with just Herkules hops (25 IBUs), the beer seems to be a vehicle for the barrel itself, and was one of my highlights of the festival.

After all these heavy-hitters, the next beer was somewhat of a surprise. Jean de Wit, named after Jean du Chaine, a Wallonian gentleman who founded "Zum Aichbaum" in 1679, is most certainly a nod to the Belgian Wit style, with 4.8% ABV and infused with coriander seed and orange peel. And it shows. It opens with a zippy, fresh mandarin and lemon sorbet aroma, following through to the flavour, which takes on an additional spicy note, with a sherbet zing. I noted lemon-barley water (does Robinson's lemon barley water still exist?), but also . A refreshing, summery, beer for sure.

Staying in the wheat zone, but more in the Germanic tradition, Equinox/Nelson Weisse was next. As the name suggests, a Hefeweizen dry hopped with US Equinox hops and Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand. Perhaps taking inspiration from Schneider's lovely Nelson Weisse. In effect, nothing like a traditional German Weizen, but juicy as hell with luscious fruity flavours and "super süffig", according to my notes.

And so back to the bigger beers, with Eichbaum Barrique Bock on draft, an 8 % Doppelbock dry hopped with Amarillo, Simcoe and Cascade. I'm well familiar with Eichbaum's Apostulator Bock, and while it's fine, it doesn't press so many of my buttons. But I hadn't realised that that was essentially the same beer, just bunged into a barrique and dry hopped. And really, it does alter the beer, to a stage where buttons were being pressed. Vanilla again comes to the fore on the aroma, with the barrel having a loud voice, but the added fruitiness of the hops, and perhaps also the tannin effect from the barrique itself, seems to result in a lower perceived residual sugar. That's just an awkward way of saying it felt drier than the regular bock, which is something i much prefer. Cherry, vanilla, and an oily mouthfeel all added to make a rather comforting drop.

By this time, my friend, Frank, from back home had arrived, and I did another round of the stalls with him, and stopped taking notes. But we did return to Tom and Eichbaum for one more. Eichbaum Lambexico is a Lambic beer with 8% ABV aged for 14 months in Tequila barrels. I think my little mind stopped working at this stage, so no more notes, just enjoying the last beers and some excellent three and five-year-old cheeses provided by Tom from (I think his friend) Lothar Müller, the Cheese Master at Käsemanufaktur Hockenheim, one of which was washed in in an Eichbaum Experimental. Many thanks to Tom for the hospitality!

And that's it for Artbrau. There were a few more beers had that I won't go into detail on, from Schneider and Welde, but my memory is not so reliable, other than the fact that I tweeted the Schneider Marie's Rendevous was an awful mess of sweetness. "Liquidised lollipops" was what I actually said.

I like this festival. It had a decent trade by the evening, but never got uncomfortable, and it had a nice atmosphere, making it easy to strike up conversation with random strangers. My only complaint would be on the food side, as the options were few, and pretty expensive. However, compared to other festivals, the entry cost was very reasonable, and the beer servings generous, so balance is restored. I'm certainly looking forward to next year.


The Beer Nut said...

Bring your own scotch eggs next year.

Barry Masterson said...

I'll have to make some first. But yes, next time I think I'll bring a packed lunch (and not forget my bottle of water).

I was thinking about you when trying that juniper-aged beer, actually. Thought it would be one for you.

The Beer Nut said...

Anything to wean me off the Jeyes fluid. *swigs*