Sunday 31 August 2008

North and South(west)

The past week seems to have been a week of parties. First the Sommerfest of the company I work for and then my father-in-law's 70th birthday, which was celebrated over two days.

The Sommerfest, apparently, generally follows the same format; coffee and cakes around 3pm and then the BBQ starts around 6pm, and the whole thing continues till late. As one of the newbies in the company I was automatically on the organising team. My suggestion of a pirate themed party went down well, especially as it meant treasure hunts for the kids, and as the party was being held in the companies boathouse on the River Werse, it seemed like a great excuse to dress up and harass boats on the river. My suggestion regarding sourcing beers from local breweries like Pinkus Müller and Potts didn't seem to go down so well with the rest of the organising team however. I had suggested this for a few reasons; supporting local businesses, keeping the carbon miles down for the event, and plain selfishness, as otherwise I expected it to be a night of Becks. Anyway, I was ignored, with the result that we had one type of beer for the event at which there were I think just over 60 adults and 20 children. That beer was Krombacher. Actually, I lie, there was also Krombacher Alkoholfrei and Krombacher Radler, a mix of Krombacher Pils and lemonade, basically a pre-made shandy as it would be called in my part of the world. Now I don't mind Krombacher all that much. It's a refreshing enough, non-challenging BBQ beer, but after a few bottles my mouth goes dead. I had hoped for at least one mixed case of something else to relieve the boredom. As it turns out, I didn't get much of a chance to drink as I was on BBQ duty for over two-and-a-half hours, trying to keep hungry colleagues at bay with a grill that was far too small for the task. Pretty stressful! I was grateful for the Krombacher after that! I managed to stay till 11pm as by that time I was pretty tired, but the cycle home took me an hour instead of the 25mins it took me to get there. Mainly because it was pitch black and I missed a turn, but it was probably just as well, as the way I came was through woods, and it might have been a bit dangerous after a few beers!

The next day, a Sunday, we hopped in the car for a 400km drive to my wife's home town. We are usually there for the last week in August as it is her father's, her sister's, her nephew's and her niece's birthdays all in the same week! For my father-in-law's event I am usually placed in charge of the beers, but it always seems to be Pils that people seem to bring along in those little 5 litre kegs, so I usually oblige by buying a couple of crates of Pils of some sort, and then an assortment of Weissbiers. This time I bought a crate of Radeberger Pilsner, a crate of Konig Pils, and a mix of König Ludwig Dunkel, König Ludwig Weissbier and König Ludwig Dunkel Weissbier, as well as a smattering of Schmucker Dunkel Doppel Bock and Schmucker Rosé Bock. As well as the wine they had organised, a pair of mini kegs of Rothaus Pils had been ordered by the in-laws.

Now, the interesting thig is how these other beers went down. The last party we had in her home town was the one following our wedding, and the Weissbiers didn't really get much takeup, but this time every single Dunkel, and every weissbier got snapped up, well before the Pils! The only non-Pils beers left were a few bottles of the Bocks. While the northerners seemed happy to just have Pils, down south west (I repeat, south west, near Heidelberg, not Bavaria) the swing was more towards malt than the hop.

This was mirrored in a small-scale but unintentional experiment I carried out between the two locations. A couple of weeks ago I brought a few bottles of homebrew into work to see how my colleagues would take to it. I had two types of beer, an American IPA (which I called Hansa IPA) and a Porter (Münster Mulligan). The IPA was stacked with Cascade hops, and has so far been the most bitter brew I have made. While at an estmated 63 bitterness units with 6% ABV, it felt like more, although had smoothed out considerably after six weeks in the bottle. The porter was a full on malt profile with a mix of malts including Special B, chocolate and Black malts.

My colleagues took to my beers better than I thought they would, and in particular, the IPA. I really didn't expect such a good reaction, and I don't think they were just being polite, as when I produced the bottles one wit told me that they had breweries for this kind of thing. So, in the main, the Münsterlanders preferred the seriously hopped up IPA over the Porter.

The friends and relations in Mosbach appreciated that the IPA was definitely something different to what they would normally get, and thought it was interesting, but too biter, while the Porter got a much better reception.

When I thought about it, it made sense that the IPA went down better than expected up north, as I think bitter Pils are preferred up there. But after that I expected the same reaction from the Mosbachers. This is something that needs to be explored a bit more, but I thought handing out a questionaire at a birthday party might be a bit much. Maybe next year!

Friday 22 August 2008

A virtual tasting for non-German-beer-aphobes


Those nice people over at (Boak and Bailey in not-other words!) have created a list of beers that they would suggest non-beer-lovers try as a means to introduce them to the wide and varied tastes available in the beer world. Boak suggested that I create a list for German beer lovers who don't have the inclination to extend their taste buds outside of their own country's brews, so I though, yeah, could be (difficult but) fun.

I guess my list would have to be varied geographically and stylistically, as I'd be wanting to break the notion that all non-German beer is muck, and that beers not brewed according the gebot must be poison. A colleague who works in Zurich, but who worked in the UK for many years, told me today that he had been told some English ales had fish tails in them! I wonder is English beer used as a kind of bogey man here? Anyway! On with the list...

Cantillon Kriek Lambic

I'm sorry, I just have to include this. For shock value and also because I am sick of being told that fruit doesn't belong in beer! I suspect that even if tasted I would be told that it wasn't beer, but I have to try! I think some people would be pleasantly surprised though, and with such a tradition, this style should be able to hold its head high. A great aperitif.

Galway Hooker

Billed as an Irish Pale Ale, this is one of my favourite Irish craft beers for a session, and in fairness, this would have alot to do with choosing it. But having introduced a few people to it, I think it's a great beer for showing what a nice spicy flavour you can get out of hops without overstressing hop-virgin taste buds. A gateway to hop-headedness if you will, but balanced by a malty sweetness. I recall my former manager trying it for the first time and making a face. I told him to have three more mouthfuls and then tell me. He had a few more pints of it that night and has had it many times since. I was pleased. This beer would break away from the Irish Guinness/Kilkenny stereotyping, and I suspect that the Northern Germans who like a bit of hop would appreciate this.

Goose Island IPA

Assuming they hadn't given up by now, I'd dose them with GIIPA. The aroma alone should impress, and I think the combination of the mass of hop flavours and full body are just so delicious that it would erase the notion that American beers are bland fizzy piss. I don't count this is an extreme beer, just a really tasty drop that I've seen many people convert to. "Let loose the Goose" as we used to say near the end of a night of beers in the Bull and Castle (maybe they still do, but I'm not there!).

Fullers ESB

I think it's hard to choose something to follow the Goose. Wanting to try and raise the maltometer a bit, perhaps with more "traditional" bitterness, I badly wanted to put a Stout in, but I think this would do the ticket. This is also hard as there is so much choice in English Ales, and I wanted something in here to blow away this misconception that seems to exist here that English beer is crap ("especially their lagers" is what I've been told several times). The fact that I like it has nothing to do with it.

Gouden Carolus Classic

I know I've already had a Belgian beer in, but I think this would redress the suspicion of things like fruit being added to beers in Belgium, a sturdy classic is needed to show how the next door neighbours can create beers of such sheer depth of flavour that are wonderful alternatives to Doppelbocks, and a great nightcap.


I think I'd have a Belgian Wit in reserve, probably Hoegaarden, but I didn't want the list to become a tour of Belgium though beer (I'd do that another day). I'd also keep Clotworthy Dobbin on the sideline, as I think the mix of flavours and that great chewy mouthfeel is so nice. Or maybe a 3 Monts Biere de Garde, just to have something french in there.

Making this list took longer than I thought. I'm so indecisive! On reflection, the end may be a bit heavy, and the choices a bit pedestrian, but they are all in contrast to the styles of beer that are most popular in the area where I now live, so I'll stop thinking too hard about it.

I think i will try to put this into practice in the next couple of months, but I suspect the choice will be completely different due to availability (except for the Belgians which I can get online easily). In fact, if I were to do this I'd be tempted to pick a single country and explore the tastes it has to offer while trying to hammer home the fact that brewing elsewhere has as long a tradition as in Germany. Stay tuned...

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Get your ass to Mahr's

Having read that the late Michael Jackson had been impressed by the Mahr's Bräu "Ungespundet-hefetrüb", I was pleased to see this and a couple of other Mahr's beers in my Bamberg box. I decided to start with the Mahr's Bräu Pilsner. This was a hazy golden hay colour with a very short lived head despite looking fairly spritzy. The aroma is fairly restrained grainishness with some slight citrusy notes. On drinking, the hop is certainly to the fore with an almost pineapple-lemony hit at the front of the tonge finishing off with a dryish bitterness at the back. There is an underlying sweetness to it all though, despite the slight acidity that seems dominant. Certainly a bit different to most of the Pils I've had, and a pretty pleasant, refreshing drink all round.

The Mahr's Bräu Hell popped as a bit of a gusher, so I though "hmm, highly carbonated", but the meagre head was very short lived despite a steady stream of bubbles rising though the glass. I hate to say it, but it reminded me of a pint of Bulmers, an impression enhanced by the orangey tint to the colour. The aroma is of light crystal malt toffee with a touch of orange. I was expecting flavours along the lines of a Munich Helles having recently been drinking Hacker-Pschorr Helles (meh!), but this is quite different. Sharper, more bitter, a touch sweeter but with none of that breadiness. The mouthfeel is a little oily, which is interesting. Definitely more flavour than I expected, and quite quaffable.

I left the Mahr's Bräu "Ungespundet-hefetrüb" till last, as I understood it to be a bit richer then the other two, and it was. A hazy copper-red, this also had a short lived head, but not near as dead looking as the Hell. I found it hard to identify aromas (but then I always do!), but on first sniff I though melon (the kind you get as a starter at Irish country weddings), but ended up with a kind of fresh vegetables meet caramel combination. The flavour is sweetish, and full, and almost like burnt toast that has been scraped and then buttered with salted butter, ending with a muted grapefruit-like bitterness, and apparent dryness. The mouthfeel is surprisingly effervescent considering that Ungespundet apparently means it has been "unplugged" during maturation so should be less carbonated, but maybe that applies only to cask serving. It seems to sparkle on the tongue. The finish is long and bitter-sweet. This certainly has more depth to it than either the Pils or the Hell, and is quite filling in a way, so it's slower going. It weighs in at 5.2% compared to the 4.9% of the other two. I think I was expecting something of a reveleation with this beer, but I guess I simply just like it. I certainly wouldn't say no to another of any of them!

(apologies for the dark photos. I think I need to drink during the day more often!)

Sunday 17 August 2008

Seal of (dis)approval

A kind of inofficial arrangement has developed over the past month or two with our next-door neighbours. It started off with them giving us a jar of home made jam (delicious!) and then me giving them some new beers to try, them reciprocating, and me giving them some of my home made beer, and them... well, suffice to say that we're frequently leaving little gifts outside each others door. All very neighbourly. For example, tonight I came in from town to find two bottles of Löwenbräu Oktoberfest waiting for me. I'm sure I've had this at the one ond only time I've been to Munich for the 'fest, but I can't remember. It was a while ago.

Anyway, one of the other gifts I received a couple of weeks ago - in exchange for a bottle of an IPA I had made - was a pair of Dortmunder Union Siegel Pils. I had been looking forward to trying this, as I wanted to try their Export, but haven't found it locally yet, so anything from DUB was welcomed. The Siegel Pils label looks very industrial or something. Maybe it's just me, but that big U with the bits on top of it make it look like the logo of a shipyard or something. But appearances can be deceiving. Once out of the bottle, this Pils is an attractive pale straw colour with lots of carbonation resulting in a thick fluffy white head. Decribed on the label as Feinherb Frisch, the aroma is distinctly fine hops. Delicate, but assertive at the same time. But this didn't come out too well in the taste. Although there is a bready maltiness, I can't help but think burnt plastic every time I swallow a mouthful. The bitterness builds up on the palate after a bit, but the sulphery, plasticy aftertaste ruined the whole experience for me. I have to admit that I had eaten a fair bit of onion shortly before tasting this, which I thought may have affected my perception, so I tried it again the next day, and although the plasticy taste didn't seem as pronounced, I still got it. So, not a Siegel of approval from me I'm afraid. I'll still be looking for their Export though.

Friday 15 August 2008

Bamberg in a Box


A couple of weeks ago I was searching online for somewhere within Germany, or at least close by, where I could order some not-German beers. I've had a grá for Goose Island IPA for some reason, but would have equally settled for a Bishop's Finger! While being bounced around the Interweb on my search I found posts on an ex-pats (I don't want to be classed as one!) forum about similar searches, and one which recommended Franconian beers if the sea of Pilsners and Helles (especially for those in Munich) was getting too much. As a result, I found myself at the door of Biershop Bamberg. The name speaks for itself really. The two chaps running it seem to have a nice little business running, supported by the town, and generally promoting the brewing heritage of Bamberg and Franconia. Well, Bamberg and Merkendorf certainly! On an aside, I couldn't help feeling disappointed that they had a copy of the Rheinheitsgebot on the site. I'm not sure why, so I think I need to explore this with my shrink another time.

The only Bamberger bier I have knowingly tried up to that point was the famous Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, and while that was two or three years ago, I still remember its smoked ham-like aroma, and surprisingly easy drinkability. The site offered a mixed case of twenty four Bamberger beers for €26.80, so I said screw it, even though I was still going through the five crates of beer I had bought only a few weeks before (more of that experience another time). I also topped it up with a six-pack of Brauerei Wagner's “Richard Wagner Dunkel” as they had it listed under the Top Secret section, so I just had to know!

A few days later a very well packed box arrived, full of smaller boxes each containing six beers, along with an assortment of beer mats, and a brocheure for Privaten Braugasthofen all over Germany. Not as many as I thought there would be, but a nice list with a huge concentration in the southern part of the country.

I'll be taking my time going through it, but I have sampled a couple at this stage. I thought I should get a Pilsners out of the way, as they are the ones I find most uninspiring, and I'd like my prejudices to be challenged!

The Kaiserdom Pilsner poured a bright and pale gold with a brilliant white creamy head. With a steady flow of bubbles, this certainly looked the part. Aroma-wise I got citrusy hints, and behind that what I can only describe as farmyard smells. Nice farmyard smells mind! Let's say earthy! With a sweet malt flavour balanced by a slight tartness and grass, this opened up pretty well, but as it got warmer I found the sweetness taking over a bit and becoming a little sticky, which was off-putting. In fairness, it wasn't terribly well chilled to begin with, and I think this beer would benefit from it as at the time it was about 28 degrees and horribly humid. Maybe I should have drank it quicker.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Eine kurze Einführung

I suppose an introduction is in order. A native of Dublin, Ireland, I moved to Muenster, Germany in March 2008 for a variety of reasons, but mainly because a change was needed, and an opportunity had knocked. I've been mailing people a bit about my experience, and posting occasional observations on the German beer culture on Irish Craft Brewer, but thought a blog might be a more appropriate outlet. ICB is a Website which I co-founded, so it's a bit ironic that I help found a community site that promotes Irish craft brewing, both professional and amateur, and then leave the bloody country a year later, just as things seem to be getting interesting! Still, I can't complain, as I still work on the site, and with projects like the Lost Breweries of Ireland, I'm probably even more interested in my brewing heritage than I would have been had I stayed in Dublin!

Although I have moved to a country which many people consider the spiritual home of beer, I don't fully subscribe to that idea. My wife is German, and having been a regular visitor to Germany for about 13 years before moving, I was all too aware of, how shall I say it, the limited choice that I knew would face me. That's not to say that there isn't a vast choice of beers in Germany, but it's a vast choice of German beers. I suppose coming from a small island that imports a lot of everything, I have been a little bit spoilt for choice (only a little mind!), while the Germans with such a huge brewing industry really consider themselves self sufficient so tend not to look to far outside their borders. But having a preference for the darker ales and the extreme hoppiness of an IPA, I found that amidst the sea of Pilsners and Helles, you have to look for the gems. As for finding non-German beer, so far it also seems hard to find bottled ales from the UK, impossible to find the likes of US microbrews, and surprisingly considering the location of Muenster, I have seen little choice in Belgian beers in the local drink markets. Offsetting this “problem” however is the fact that beer is so ridiculously cheap here compared to Ireland, and there's a lot of local specialties that I have yet to try!

Having read and agreed with Ron Pattinson's thoughts on the Rheinheitsgebot, and knowing how some of my extended German family think, I came to the conclusion that most, certainly not all, Germans are fairly conservative when it comes to their beers. One of my new personal challenges is to try and expose as many of my new colleagues and friends as I can to new tastes , while searching out excellent local and not-so-local beers to educate myself in the process.

This particular experiment has started well enough actually, and I found Ron's page on extinct German styles a great catalyst. In my first month in the new job I was chatting with some chaps about beer and mentioned Belgian fruit beers I was summarily told that these were not beers. Even one of the more open minded chaps who was interested in brewing his own beer said he was of the same opinion. However, after I showed him what was lost in northern Germany after the unification imposed the “gebot”, he simply said “there's so much I didn't know about German beer”, and he then suggested we should make a cherry beer using the cherries from his garden. I thought it was a great response! Of course, there's so much I don't know about German beer, I can't afford to preach!

So, this blog is not going to be charting the course of some experiment which is probably doomed to fail. This blog is intended to be an outlet for me to chart my experiences of life and beer in a new country, my own brewing, and my observations of the new (or is it old?) world in which I have chosen to live.