Wednesday 29 April 2009

Nørrebro Bryghus Red and Brown

I made my first trip to Denmark a couple of months ago, and while there had a quick lunchtime peek in a supermarket and grabbed a few bottles. Two of those, chosen at random, were from Nørrebro Bryghus. It's about time I got them out of the way so!

The King's Country Brown is a rich mahogany/chestnut brown with an aroma that gives a slight touch of cloves, cherry jam and cinnamon. It's equally interesting in the mouth, providing licks of plum jam and raisins. Quite fruity really, with a yeasty edge and something reminiscent of marzipan. The finish is slightly roasty with a dark chocolate bitterness. This is a strange and complex beer. There's a zestiness that sits oddly with the dark, dried fruitiness and bitter chocolate flavours. At the time of drinking, it reminded me a bit of Old Peculiar, but then I haven't had one of those in a couple of years. Despite not being sure where this was going, it was certainly moreish.

The other beer was the Ravnsborg Rød, a hazy and slightly orange-tinted amber. Considering this beer has amarillo hops in it, the aroma was more delicate than I expected, being a very light, biscuity base with a resinous hop aroma. Not like the grapefruity amarillo I know and sometimes love. The flavour has a pleasent soft carmel undertone and a slightly fruity zing, almost sorbet-like. The amarillo could be making a show in the finish with gentle grapefruit notes on the back of the tongue. This becomes more prominent as the glass goes down. Interesting combination of sparkly sweet going down with a dry bitter finish. Is there a slight chocolate flavour too? Not bad.

I think I'd like to try the other beers, and preferably on tap. Unfortunately we didn't win the contract that would have made me a regular visitor to Copenhagen, so I'll have to do it the hard way.

Monday 27 April 2009

A calculated risk?

Adam Riese Urtrunk, by Privates Brauhaus Ebensfeld is unlikely to have been the tipple of the famous mathematician, but it's nice that he's honoured in all sorts of ways.

An appealing-looking dark, chestnut brown with a firm off-white head and an an aroma that is an odd combination of malt, orange and chocolate, with a salty edge, almost like brine. The flavour is similar with an olive-like character up front reducing to a thin, raw malt flavour cut with cheap chocolate. Quite an odd flavour overall, but one gets used to it, and it's juicy in its own special way. If that thin, raw malt flavour wasn't so dominant I might consider it to be complex, but even so, it's a bit interesting.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Kloster-Gold Hell

Another beer forgotten in my little black book, the Kloster-Gold Hell from Kloster Scheyern provides a strong pine aroma with a touch of sulphur. I'm pretty sure the thoughts of a monastery and Hell together didn't lead me to make up brimstone aromas.

With quite a generous, silky mouthfeel, it's very bready with floral and slightly herbal undertones. It has an almost minty finish, which is rather odd, but it does become more classically bitter after half a bottle, in the gentle, not-terribly-bitter helles sense that is.

It's not a bad beer, but I guess helles just doesn't rock my boat.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Happy German Beer Day!

When I got home from work yesterday I spotted a photo of a beer on the cover of the free local paper that gets shoved in our letterbox every Wednesday. Of course I had to look (I don't normally) and it turns out today is Tag des Deutsches Bieres, celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Reinheitsgebot -- the Bavarian Purity Law -- by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in 1516. You all know the story. Implemented partially as a mechanism to stop brewers and bakers competing for wheat and rye, and partially to stop brewers using crazy stuff like poisonous and psychoactive mushrooms, the Reinheitsgebot was eventually forced upon the whole of Germany by the Bavarians in 1871 as they wouldn't play with the rest of the German states unless the Reinheitsgebot was applied to all the states that were unifying under the guidance of Otto von Bismarck (a Prussian should have known better). Actually, it was the formation of the German Empire with Wilhelm I, the Prussian King, at the helm with Bismarck as his Prime Minister.

Most people here don't seem to realise that it didn't apply to the vast majority of the German State till then, and indeed, it was rolled out gradually, so it didn't achieve total control till 1906 and became enshrined in the tax laws only by 1923. So, historically pretty recent for most of Germany, but very well embedded in the German beer-psyche by now thanks to marketing really. I know there are lots of people who realise that the Reinheitsbegot does not guarantee good tasting beer, and they make their choice every day to choose one brand over the other, with pretty much all beers made here proclaiming that they follow the gebot.

In 1987 the Rineheitsgebot was declared to be uncompetitive by the European Court of Justice, as it prevented beers that did not follow this law from being imported to Germany. The court decided that labelling laws were more than sufficient, and the purity law wasn't actually protecting consumers as such. The gebot was lifted as law, and the beer laws expanded to include anything that would normally be allowed in food. Of course, breweries can still follow the gebot and these beers are apparently protected as traditional food.

One thing I am not sure about though is whether you can really go ahead an just use anything you want and call it beer, as there have been cases where brewers have had to fight, for years in some cases, to have their beer officially recognised as beer because of an ingredient that was not in the Reinheitsgebot. It would seem not. However, it is also clear that things are not always as they seem on the label.

The original text of the Reinheitsgebot allowed barley, hops and water. I won't go into the yeast thing, because clearly they didn't know about it then, so fair enough. But they did not specify malted barley. This was added to later revisions. Wheat is also conspicuous by it's absence, and indeed, it should be absent, as this declaration was also keeping the bakers and brewers from competing for it. But it's allowed now for top fermenting beers. Sugar may also be added to top fermented beers in some states, but it's not allowed for bottom fermenting beers anywhere. Addititives like polyvinylpolypyrrolidone for clarifying beer can be used, but apparently it's ok as they get filtered out later. Oh, and you can always apply for special dispensation if you make a "special" beer, and I believe Gose falls under that category as it contains salt and coriander. I've also had beer that had E numbers and sweetners in it, Pupen-Schultzes Schwarzes, but they didn't quite say Bier on the label!

For me however, pretty much every day is German Beer Day -- I have little choice really-- and I don't have any particular desire to celebrate the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot. But, if it means there are events going on involving good beer and food, that's always a good thing.


I actually intended writing about a beer, but somehow it turned into a lecture of sorts. Sorry! For some interesting and entertaining reading, have a look at Ron Pattinson's guide to the Reinheitsbegot and extinct German beer styles, the latter of which is kind of sad reading, but great for showing to German colleagues.

Sunday 19 April 2009


It was my birthday yesterday and although we didn't do much, as I had a headache for much of the afternoon, I had recovered enough by the evening to start baking bread and breaking out the three bottles of Westvleteren I bought in Brussels a few weeks ago.

Before I start, I should note that the hype around these beers put me against them somewhat. I always reckoned the rarity of them alone would make the general community pump them beyond the actual flavour, but I was prepared to open my mind and let them wash over me while waiting on my Bauernbrot to rise.

First up, the Westvleteren Blonde, weighing in at 5.5%, the baby so to speak. A honey-gold colour with a large billowy head that just would not disappear as it was constantly fed from below by a stream of tiny bubbles; I thought I was going to need a spoon to break through it. It has an aroma of fresh, sweet yeast, clean, floral hops -- just like sticking your nose into a bag of the things -- and hints of mandarin orange. At first taste, the hops seemed to dominate, again like the raw product with a pleasant floral hit. But an orange pith flavour is present that builds up in intensity. The finish is a long lasting hop spiciness with an orange pith-like bitterness. An enjoyable beer, but not one I would reach for first given a choice. Well, it depends on the choices available I guess!

The Westvleteren 8 gushed on me when opened, really lifting chunks of yeast from the sediment into suspension. Not to worry. Yeast doesn't bother me, but it did kind of soak a table runner. The aroma is port-like with doses of chocolate, figs and dark fruitcake. On first taste, the flavour is remarkable chocolate-like, with a vinous, port-like character bringing up the rear. Across the middle of the tongue a fruitiness lingers, again suggestive of figs, raisins and fruitcake. A slightly roasted, woody note adds to the mix, but it's deep down. At 8%, this goes down pretty easily, probably aided by the low levels of carbonation, although much may have been lost in the initial gush. With a warming character, this was very nice indeed.

And so on to the Westvleteren 12. This bottle had almost 2cm of sediment, and I was dreading opening it in case it gushed like the 8. As it happens, it opened gently and I was able to decant a clear, rich, dark brown ale off the yeast. The head did not last long, unlike the blonde which now strikes me as being one of the most persistent heads I have ever seen. I have to say, I found the aroma wasn't as in your face as the 8, but it did share some similarities in having a fruity figginess, but less of the port-like qualities. What it does have is more carmelised sugar, and this also comes out in the flavour, partnered with oakey, vanilla-like notes and a warming alcohol that makes it a slow-sipping, chill-out beer. Very smooth, with a fruity warmth from the 10.2% that is very comforting. I like this.

Overall, I have to say that although I liked these beers, they weren't the revelation of taste that the hype would lead one to believe. The likes of Cosmos Porter are the ones, that for me at least, really make you stop and go "Wow!". It's the unexpected and the accidents in life that really count, but I'm glad I got to try these. If asked, I'd happily have the 8 and 12 again for the lovely, fruity complexity.

Friday 17 April 2009

A pair of Landbiers. Maybe.


More from my archive. And actually, I have five or six new Landbiers to try in my cellar as I type. But let's get these off my notes first.

First up, Hallerndorfer Landbier Hell, from Brauerei Rittmayer, the makers of the wonderfully odd Smokey George. The aroma reminds me of pineapple cubes, those old-fashioned boiled sweets my Dad used to bring home. He was a confectionery salesman! The flavour is very bready with a touch of candy floss (cotton candy to American readers), but not in the sweet sense. There is little in the way of hops, and the finish is dry. It's an ok beer, but the breadiness is a little too much without something else to balance it.

Ok, this next one probably isn't a Landbier, but whatcha gonna do? Huppendorfer Vollbier from Privatbrauerei Grasser is a lovely, clear amber with a tan-tinged head that settles to a thin foam on top. It has a slightly metallic aroma, hay and raw grain. The flavour is biscuity with a slightly sharp carbonic note and a hint of pears. Going down the glass, the carbonic note settles out. It may have been the carbonation, or it just needed to breath a bit. After this, it settles into a simple, grainy beer with that same pear-like fruitiness. Not complex by any means, but a nice simple beer.

Actually, I sometimes check Ratebeer to see what they classify a beer as, and they say it's a Zwickel/Keller/Landbier. I'm glad I'm not the only one confused :oP

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Now I know what skunked is

The other week, while meeting with Joe for a beer in Brussels, the topic of skunking was mentioned. Although I understand the chemistry of it, and why brown glass is preferable to green or clear glass, I had to admit that I wasn't sure exactly what that flavour was, and that from reading I imagined it to be something powerfully awful. Joe asked had I ever tasted Heineken. Well, yes, of course. But if it is all skunked, how would I know what to compare it to?

As fate would have it, two days later my neighbour left two bottles of Heineken outside my door. In the past the offerings have been more exciting, but actually, this was perfect timing. The sun was blazing over the long weekend, so I left one bottle out on the balcony for three days, and the other safely secured in the fridge. Last night, I opened them. Here's what happened:

Heineken isn't my favourite beer in the world, not by far, but if there's sod all choice, I'll take it. I've never thought about it much, but I suppose there's a perfumy hop thing going on, and a thin, sweeting malt base. It's probably not the worst beer in the world.

Sniffing the one that was in the sun for three days gave me a rather strong plastic aroma, with a touch of sulpher and perhaps a touch of stale urine. But in the mouth? I thought I was going to gag for a moment. Absolutely awful! If this is skunking, then I have never tasted it before. There has been alot of debate amongst ICB members about beers from Shepard Neame that come in clear bottles, and some people were quite sensitive to the beer being light struck. I have to admit I only occasionally got a sense of staleness, but nothing like this awful burnt plastic and piss flavour. I had to gargle with the unskunked Heineken to try to get the taste out of my gob. That didn't work. Neither did chocolate. Tortilla chips helped.

I was tempted to run this test again with some Jever, as it's definitely more hoppy than Heineken and should interact with the light more strongly. If that will only intensify the awful taste, I'm not sure I'm up to it!

My wife didn't believe me, so actually, I will do the Jever test!

Monday 13 April 2009

Should have left it there...

Original No. 1 - Museumsbier from Schussenrieder Erlebnisbrauerei. I saw this a few times in my local drink markt and was intrigued, so of course bought some. Apparently based on a recipe from 1183. You never know.

This had a rather unappealing appearance. I like unfiltered beers, but this looked a little unnatural. More like dirty lemon wash water. In fact it tasted a little watery too. It's a fairly malty beer, in the most basic sense, but to my mind there wasn't much else to it, although a slight bitterness managed to drag itself onto the tongue near the end, but not enough to warrent interest.

This should have been left in 1183. Meh...

Saturday 11 April 2009

Playboy of the Westerwald?

Westerwald, as in Westerwald Brauerei, the makers of Hachenburger Schwarze, the local brewery of my colleague Henning. Hi Henning!

I actually tasted this last October! This is what I meant by spring cleaning my notes. As with pretty much most Schwarzbiers, this is not actually black, but is a nice chestnut brown. The aroma carries slight roasted, toasty hints and touch of fruit too. The flavour is fullish, with raisens on a chocolate base. A little nutty too. There's a grassy hop character lurking in the background which begins to approach freshly cut hay as you near the end.

A reasonably well carbonated beer, I think this is just as well, as it leaves a slight slickness on the lips. Without that carbonation it might do the same on the tongue.

Not a Schwarzbier as I would think of it, but leaning more towards what I think of as being a Dunkel or Landbier. A simple but tasty beer.

Thursday 9 April 2009

She Caught the Katy

No, nothing to do with Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, but maybe a little bit of Blues. You see, I decided to give beer drinking a short break this week. Well, I've so far managed two evenings in a row without my evening tipples. But to make up for it, I went through my notes to do some spring cleaning, writing some posts about a few random beers that got forgotten in the cut and thrust that is my life. Hah!

So, the Katy in this instance is the St. Katharinen Spezial from Spitalbrauerei Regensburg, the oldest brewery in Regensburg, dating from 1226. I have to admit, I liked the look of this as soon as I got it. This pours a beautiful, clear dark amber with an almost pinkish hue. It has a delicate aroma suggesting toffee witha slight fruity hint, like pears. The flavour is also caramel-edged malt with a slow-building herby hoppiness and a vinous edge. It has a touch of vanilla but also a slight tartness to the dry finish. Actually, the hops leave a long finish and there's a roasty note that lingers. Very nice.

This was given to me by my colleague Reinhard. Thanks Reinhard!

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Andechser Bergbock Hell

Andechser Bergbock Hell, from Klosterbrauerei Andechs, has an earthy flavour, almost like the smell of fresh compost. I can't believe I wrote that, but it was months ago I tried it so I can't remember! I also noted that it was very smooth drinking, and although weighing in at 6.9%, it apparently didn't feel like it. Satisfying too, and not as overly sticky like some bocks can be.

I have a feeling it wasn't the first beer of the night when I wrote those notes. I may have to try it again...

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Salvation in a glass

After recent weeks of drinking alot of pale lagerbiers or pilsners, Salvator from Brauerei Paulaner seemed like a reset switch. Fizzing with life during the pour, this is a wonderfully rich amber-brown, but the life appears to disappear relatively quickly, leaving a thin scum of a head and occasional bubbles. The aroma speaks of heavy carmelisation, almost like burnt toffee apples. No doubt, this is a sweet. A burnt sugar sweetness, and actually, I like it. There are some nutty, salty flavours at the back, but dwarfed by that rich caramel. I thought I could detect a faint apple-like sweetness too, as hinted in the aroma. At 7.9% this is actually quite easy to drink, and not as sticky-sweet as some doppelbocks.

Went great with some medium cheddar by the way.

Friday 3 April 2009

Smoking Virgins

I'm a fan of Rauchbier and I have written before about my thoughts on Schlenkerla vs. Spezial on both the Maerzen and Lagerbier front as well as the rather uniquely intense peat-smoked Smokey George. For this months Session, hosted by Lew Bryson, I considered doing a blind tasting, at risk of repeating myself. However, as it appeared that my volunteers this time were mostly Rauchbier virgins, I decided to go easy and just do a serial tasting to bring them gently into the world of smoke. Most of all, I was hoping for shock and hopefully a little delight!

Although I live in Germany, I do seem to have to order it on-line to get a reasonable selection, and what better place than Fränkische Bierkultur. Almost directly from the source! As good as I can get before going to Bamberg itself. Some day...

The five Rauchbiers, and the order I set the tasting, went like this:
  • Spezial Weissbier
  • Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Weissbier
  • Spezial Rauchbier - Lagerbier
  • Weiherer Rauch
  • Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Märzen
Before I get to the results, ably assisted by TheBeerNut as the maths was getting to complex for my little brain, let's have a summary of the comments from the Versuchskaninchen:

Spezial Weissbier
"Not a Weissbier I would buy"
"Nothing special, tastes much like normal Weissbier"
"Watery" mentioned four times!
"Not smokey. Not good at all" This from Markus who already decided he didn't like rauchbier weeks before we began :)

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Weissbier
"I don't like it"
"Special, not bad. I don't think you could drink it too often."
"Smells more intense than it tastes, however quite typical for a Weissbier. I would prefer it to the previous one"

Spezial Rauchbier - Lagerbier
"Refreshing, maybe a bit too sweet. Prefer it to the Weissbiers."
"No smoke, no character."
"I don't like it."
"Not too good. I wouldn't buy it."

Weiherer Rauch
"Refreshing due to it's "herb" and slight bitterness. Definitely better than the previous three."
"Ok, still a bit too smokey."
"Tastes better the more you drink."
"One dimensional."
"Gut, süffig."

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
"The aroma is like Talisker whiskey. It's hoppy, slightly bitter and malty, very interesting."
"I don't like it at all. Give me more pale ale!"

I asked people to rank these beers in order of preference (and I have excluded myself from this round). The results are by no means conclusive at first glance, and using simple mean scores the Schlenkerla Weissbier, Spezial Lagerbier and Weiherer Rauch all drew the same score, the Schlenkerla Märzen came next and the Spezial Weissbier came last. However, I had a secret weapon in the form of TheBeerNut who recently finished the claculations for the Irish Craft Brewer Beer of the Year. As TBN has experience with proportional representation, he kindly took the raw votes and put them through the election machine. The final tally, in order of preference, looks like this:
  • Spezial Rauchbier - Lagerbier
  • Weiherer Rauch
  • Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Weissbier
  • Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Märzen
  • Spezial Weissbier
Clearly the more heavily smoked ones were dropping down the table, but the Spezial Weissbier fared worst of all. From my own perspective, the two Weissbiers and the Weiherer were new, so here's what I thought of them.

The Spezial Weissbier gave of almost classic weissbier aromas, cloves and a suble banana undertone. No real smoke evident. There was a little smoke in the flavour though, coming across in a more woody kind of flavour, and with a slight lemon hint. Thin, and not much smoke meant that this wasn't all that impressive to me.

The Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier - Weissbier was a dirty brown with a real hammy aroma. In fact, it was hard to detect that there was a weissbier under all that smoked ham. I liked this. It's certainly the real deal when it comes to the bacon-fan smokiness and with an underlying toffee effect. It's spritzy, but still has a reasonably satisfying body . An interesting beer

Finally, the Weiherer Rauch, a clear, dark gold beer that to my mind was very much in the mould of a Helles, with bready malt undertones, but with a slight fruitiness and a lingering, gentle, sweet smoke down the throat. Certainly not challenging in the smoke department, almost passing for a regular beer, but a decent thirst quencher.

So there you have it. My colleagues are not really smoke fans
, although there are a few potential acolytes of the smoke. I'll keep working on it...

Following the tasting, which went surprisingly fast, we all headed to the harbour area of Münster for a beer and a bite to eat. Last beer of the day, a huge glass of Frankenheim Alt. Not my favourite alt, but look at the size of it! Hi Rafael!

Many thanks to Markus R, Markus W, Richard, Matthias, Henning, Ingo, Christian S. Christian H., Rafael and Daniel for braving the smoke, and TheBeerNut for adding an officialdom to the final results, thereby letting me have a good nights sleep tonight.

I'm actually just back from Brussels, and didn't get the time to go beer shopping today, so as Lew demanded, I'm about to open a Rauchbier. The Schlenkerla Weissbier. Prost!