Tuesday 28 December 2010

A kind of Polish Christmas

Beer fans are great. A few weeks ago we hosted an event at work for business partners, many of whom came from all over Europe. While setting this up, one of my Polish contacts asked me about breweries in Muenster, and so we discovered we had a common interest. A swap ensued, where Pawel managed to get some interesting-looking beers despite the really hard weather they were having which disrupted distribution. My experience with Polish beer till now has been, well, mediocre, to be kind. I was looking forward to trying the beers Pawel gave to me, but managed to hold back till this past week.

Brackie Pale Ale, brewed by Bracki Browar Zamkowy W Cieszynie (please check my spelling!), part of the Carlsberg Group, is, apparently, based on a home brew recipe. The word Belgijskie written under the Pale Ale on the label intrigued me, as I wasn't sure if this was going to be a pale ale with a Belgian twist. It certainly looks good, pouring a copper-amber with a thick, fluffy head, but is disappointingly light on the aroma with just a hint of oregano-like herbal hoppiness (although in fairness I served it a tad too cold). While looking rich and malty, it's a really clean-tasting beer, with a light touch of caramel that is minor compared to the crisp, clean bitterness. To be honest, I'd probably have mistaken it for a decent pils in a blind taste, not that that's a bad thing. With some fruity notes coming out as it warms, and finishing with a lightly tannic dryness, it's an interesting one for sure.

Miodne Piwo Ciemne from Browar Kormoranhas a lovely label with bees and honeycomb, a clear indication of what one should expect: a honeyed beer. And boy, does the honey leap out in the aroma, coupled with a raspberry fruitiness. Honey is the dominant flavour, so much so that it nearly made me wince on first taste, but it's a pleasant enough floral honey flavour, with soft fruits (raspberries again) bringing up the rear. Underpinning this is a solid caramel base, as if it wasn't sweet enough. Overall, for me, it was far too sweet, but no doubt honey freaks, like my Father-in-law, would love it.

When I was asked what types of beers I generally like, I usually have a problem, as I like pretty much everything, but when thinking of that part of Europe, I always want to try more dark beers. So, my wish was fulfilled in two bottles. The first was the Cornelius Baltic Porter from Browar Cornelius. With a tarry appearance, this is like Christmas pudding in a glass, with an outpouring of vinous fruitiness, cherries, vanilla and, as one might expect, a touch of chocolate. It's big-flavoured and boozy, sweet with raisins, chocolate and dark toffee, but cut with that vinous edge that kept me coming back for more. Yeah, I like this one.

I kept the Grand Imperial Porter from Browar Amber till last because, well, it sounded so grand! With it's dark ruby highlights, it's pleasing on the eye, although quite fizzy-looking on the pour, leaving a loose head that dies away quickly. Chocolatey really does describe the aroma, with caramel, vanilla and... Terry's Chocolate Orange? Must be the ghost of Christmas past catching up on me. Luscious would suffice. It's a choco-assault on the tongue too, with a body and soft carbonation that only amplifies that perception. Dancing around the edges are dried fruits, generous, warming vanilla, and a fudginess. Sounds too sweet? It's not. The finish surprisingly dry with a dark chocolate bitterness that lingers. All of this hides the 8% rather well, but it's still a sipper, perfect for sitting beside the fire on a cold Winter's night. Really good.

Sunday 26 December 2010

To Hell or Schefflenz

It's been a busy few months since I began my self-imposed exile from the blogosphere. Beoir, the new beer consumers organisation in Ireland was finally launched, (or the website at least, two months behind schedule) which was a relief, but also a great pleasure to see how interest is growing in just a few short months. As TheBeerNut's recent post shows, things are looking good in the Irish craft beer scene, despite pretty much everything else looking crap. I get an odd pang of jealousy that I'm not there* to experience the new beers emerging there and then, but it's bloody great to see.

Of course, one of the main reasons for the long intermission was the biggest bullet bitten to date: buying a house. After years of renting, we're finally home owners, although still renting for now as we've bought a 200-year-old farmhouse that is in serious need of renovation and modernisation. It's going to be a long project, probably never-ending, but that'll be a subject for another blog. Suffice to say that as a home brewer who now owns a rather large barn, complete with cellars, there's all sorts of crazy pipe dreams going on in my head.

We moved from Muenster to Mittelschefflenz, a considerably smaller place (c. 1,100 people in our village, or 4,180 in the Schefflenz area**, compared to 275,000 in Münster), but there's a brewery, Brauerei Egolf, in Unterschefflenz, only 2km away. Little did I know when I described their Schefflenzer Haustrunk Pilsner back in April, that I'd end up living in the place. Strange to say, despite walking to the brewery a couple of time in the two-and-a-bit months we've lived here, it's never been open. Unterschefflenz was also the home of a larger brewery, Letzguss, which closed it's doors in 1992 after operating for 158 years. The former owners of the house we've bought kindly gave me some branded glasses from the brewery, and the buildings are still there, on Brauereistrasse, with the name still dominating the street, so I'll be trying to find out more about it.

Although the move itself was a little stressful, it did give me an excuse to clear the beer cellar a bit, on the pretence of "lightening the load". Not that there was any need really. Two of these were given to me by a Lithuanian colleague who drove them all the way to Rotterdam from Vilnius, not that that was the reason we met, of course. Vilniaus Šviesusis Nefiltruotas Alus is, as the name suggests, a non-filtered beer, and light in colour, as the label helpfully translates. And yes, it is light and hazy, with a mouthwatering, sweet, bready aroma with a twist of green apple. Flavour-wise, it's more of the same, leaving a lasting sweetness and a touch of ginger-like spiciness. It puts me in mind of a soft, fruity weissbier, despite the low carbonation. A little too sweet for my tastes, it's ever so easy to lower back all the same.

It's darker sister,Vilniaus Tamsusis su Žolelemis is described as Dark with Herbs on the label, which sounds promising. Herbs and spices are certainly dominant on the nose, with anise, or clove-like overtones, but it falls a bit on the flavour stakes. It's got a fair dose of caramel flavours, but also a watered-down port effect or, dare I say it, like thinned, cold Glühwein. It's an interesting combination, in a way, but not something I could drink all night.

My biggest mistake of the move was bringing the 240+ empty bottles I used for my homebrewing back to the drink store. I now have to start the bottle collecting from scratch, so have been unable to brew. And that's something I really want to get back in action again, as there's a whole new challenge as a brewer of ales in a small German village like this, but that's another story.

*I did make one quick trip back to the old sod in September, on the occasion of my Mother's 75th Birthday. I had one spare evening to meet up with TheBeerNut, Séan and old friends to do a quick Dublin tour and sample some Messrs Maguire, Pifko and Trouble Brewing Beers. And no, I was having too much fun to take proper notes.

**The Gemeinde, or local authority area, of Schefflenz is made up of Oberschefflenz, Mittelschefflenz and Unterschefflenz, oh, and Kelineichholzheim.

Note: Although the post title refers to words attributed to Cromwell, "to hell or Connaught", we did have a choice in moving to Schefflenz, and we're quite happy with that :)

Saturday 14 August 2010


It's clear that I've been distracted away from the blog for some time now, but I thought I should let both of my readers know what's going on. June and July were quite heavy with work travel, taking in Rotterdam and Stockholm and finishing with my annual trip to San Diego topping it off in mid-July. I have to admit, I was badly hit by jet-lag, by far more than I ever have been, and as a result had little appetite for beer. Well, I managed a few Stone IPAs and Pale Ales, both of which went down a lot better than last time, and a rather delicious Imperial Stout of some sort, but you know, I never took notes, and I can't remember what it was. That was on my last night there, when the memory of the night has been clouded (well, more like thick fog) by an excess of Cuba Libras. I was dancing, which in itself is an indicator of going too far.

Immediately after San Diego was three weeks "holiday". I say "holiday" as it was a house hunting expedition which yielded some promise, nothing 100%, and was pretty tiring. As well as test driving some Lagunitas Imperial Stout on my brother-in-law to-be (beautiful aroma: coffee, caramel, light roast with the same on the tongue: light toffee, mild roast, liquorice and a slightly lemony backdrop. Surprisingly smooth and light considering the 10% ABV, finishing dry with black pepper and anise), I drank quite a lot of Schefflenzer Pilsner, not least because this is from the village where we are thinking of moving to.

I'm pretty preoccupied with houses, mortgages, navigating the tax system and the rules of the Denkmalamt, as it turns out the house we are looking at is a protected structure, simultaneously a potential benefit and nightmare. Whatever happens, if we do take this house it'll be a lot of work to modernise it, but the barn and old half-timbered tobacco drying house/pigsty are great!

Spare time snatched from these preparations is being diverted to the rollout of the new Beoir website (Beoir being the new beer consumers organisation we announced in January), which is already a month behind planned launch, but we're nearly there.

So, I'm parking the blog for a while to concentrate on work, finding a home and fulfilling promises to the craft beer drinkers of Ireland. No doubt I'll throw some posts in as I empty my beer cellar prior to a move, but certainly not with my former regularity. Actually, I just realised The Bitten Bullet is exactly two years old! Not exactly an auspicious date for an intermission. :)

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Hinterländer Marburger Kräusen

A gift from a colleague who was on travels, I was told I'd probably enjoy Marburger Kräusen from the Hinterländer Brauhaus. Well, he said he enjoyed it, so who am I to argue?

With a pleasantly fudgy, grain-like sweetness, and a suggestion of banana, it opens up well enough. This then seems to evaporate on the tongue, leaving a powdery, floral flavour followed by an apple skin-like bitter dryness (you know that kind of apple) and an oddly spiced warmth at the back of the throat. And it's only 5% ABV!  It has elements of a decent, regular German lagerbier, but with hints of something hard to define - fruit, spice, yeast, a light carbonic edge and a really dry finish.

He was right, I did enjoy it.

Monday 5 July 2010

Oettinger Schwarzbier: surprisingly not awful

It's quite possible that this post will be adding insult to the injury being suffered by my poor, neglected blog, as I venture into the cheap world of beer that is Oettinger. Apparently nobody in Oettingen actually drinks it as they send it all away, but then the local beer snobs (probably Becks drinkers, hah! :P) would say that.

Oettinger Schwarzbier is properly schwarz, with just traces of oakey-brown highlights. It's a delicate old thing really, being a little reticent in giving up its aromas (to be fair, it was probably served far too cold) but it does suggest a touch of cherry and chocolate. Wasn't expecting that!

It's a touch thin, but has a pleasant light cara-sweetness with a dusting of roastiness and a cherry cola effect with a bit of a carbonic bite in the finish. It's actually not bad at all. People around here talk of Oettinger as if it's the lowest, but considering the price bracket, it's surprisingly not awful. In fact, on taste alone I'd prefer this to some of the so-called premium pilseners. I could have a few, I reckon, and if we buy a house soon, I'll probably have to!

Friday 25 June 2010

Dungarvan Brewing Company

One of the things I'm missing about my homeland is the relative slew of new beers, and breweries, that have appeared over the past year. In particular, I was really happy to see the two newest, Trouble Brewing and the Dungarvan Brewing Company, as I'd had the pleasure of meeting the brewers at the regular IrishCraftBrewer.com meet-ups. Little did I know, when I first met Cormac O'Dwyer in July 2007, that he'd be braving the Irish micro brewing scene, and how happy I am that he and his brother-in-law have embarked on this journey.

And how happy I was when they told me a package was on the way over, with one of each of their three beers! And how devastated I was when my wife called to say the DHL man had arrived with a dripping package, and what felt like a bag of shards. She refused to accept the package, thinking maybe we or the lads could claim back, but in the end, we agreed to salvage what we could, and the DHL man came back a week later with the package, less drippy by now, but still jingling somewhat. Happiness returned when I found that the one I most wanted to try, the Black Rock Stout, was still intact, along with the Copper Coast Red Ale. Helvick Gold was the tragic victim, as was the cloth bag with the Dungarvan Brewing logo, that went mouldy in the beer and heat mix of the postal depot in Greven.

But I had my goodies!

I have to say, I'm not exactly a big fan of the so-called Irish Red Ale. I mean, I'm not sure if it exists, and often think that it's been made up as a style by the BJCP and American craft brewers (though most likely influenced by the late Michael Jackson). Although I've probably been influenced by TheBeerNut and fellow ICBer Séan, the likes of Smithwicks and Caffrey's do not a style make. Nevertheless, it's probably true to say that there's a kind of reverse osmosis, and the fact that this gets bandied about as a style means that many of the Irish craft breweries will put a red ale on the portfolio. Can't (or won't) argue with that I suppose. So, how does Copper Coast stack up? Well, it's aptly named, with a red, burnished coppper look to it (though it's named after the famous Copper Coast Geopark in County Waterford), with a haze. The aroma suggests it's going to be a fruity, caramelly experience, perhaps with a fresh yeast twist, and that's pretty accurate. While there are certainly caramel goings on, as would be expected, the dominant flavours lean towards a dry fruitiness, slight apple, a touch of something that reminded me of honeydew melon (don't ask). It's quite yeasty, in a freshly made dough kind of way, and behind all this runs a grassy, floral bitterness that adds a balancing bite to the finish. At 4.3%, it's surprisingly well bodied, an impression enhanced by the light, natural carbonation. My only (hopefully constructive) criticism would be the level of yeast flavours that, to me, dulled the other aspects a little, but, compared to other red ales in the Irish market, including the likes of O'Hara's, this stands out for its breadth of flavour and soft, cushion-y lushness. Really nice.

Black Rock seems to have the Irish bloggers talking, and it's been hard avoiding reading anything about it before I could try one. It's another style of beer that an Irish brewery almost has to have in its artillery, and there are some good ones out there, with Porterhouse Wrasslers XXXX standing out. Funnily enough, I used to always recommend O'Hara's Stout, but the last few I bought seemed different; thinner and more ashy. So, what about the newest addition to the true Irish Stout family?

Almost totally opaque, with just a hint of creosote-brown around the edges, Black Rock exudes a melting chocolate aroma, with a dab of fudgy caramel and a hint of dark fruitiness. Dark toffee, a bite of dark chocolate on a creamy-smooth body, shutting down swiftly with a roasted bite. Gentle, mind, but robust, drying and satisfying. Like it's red sister, it's really quite luscious for a 4.3% beer, and it lingers with an almost rosemary-like herbal hop confection, melding with that dry roastiness. It does have hints of the yeasty undertones of the Copper Coast, but more subtle, or perhaps masked by the richer, dark flavours.
Very nice, and very easy to sink a pint of -- off the shelf of course!

I wish the guys the very best of luck with the brewery, and hope we get to see more of these on shelves around Ireland and beyond.

Disclaimer: I got these beers for free, as well as some dinky little bottle openers which I have now spread around the house so I'll never be left looking for one when needed. The above are my honest opinions, as I would expect from anyone tasting my homebrew.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

The beer of Kings (well, Princes)

Ever have in mind a beer that, to you, is the archetype for what that style* of beer should be? When it came to Dunkels, for me the benchmark was always König Ludwig Dunkel from Schloßbrauerei Kaltenberg, a brewery run by Prince Luitpold of Bavaria in his castle (apparently to pay the bills). I first encountered König Ludwig Dunkel about eight or nine years ago in my wife's home town. It was nice, sitting in the market place sinking back half litre mugs of the refreshing stuff, and it stuck in my head since. So too did the fact that the Prince has been refused access to the Oktoberfest on account of the brewery being outside of Munich, and despite the royal origins of the fest. What did they do instead? They run a Knight's Tournament. I bet they weren't drinking pints of Ritterbock before doing that though!

From the bottle, König Ludwig Dunkel is a clear, deep reddish brown with a lively head that looks the part. The aroma is redolent of dried fruits and caramelised sugars. Up front, it delivers a sweet, malt-driven hit with a woody tone in the background and finishing with a gentle roasty kick. There's a slight peppery edge, but it doesn't linger. The finish is dry, attesting to its apparently high attenuation, so it's definitely not as sweet as many German Dunkels can be. Nevertheless, it does leave a pleasantly sweet residue under the grassy dryness. To be honest, it's not as good as I recalled (a bit like Highlander and Mysterious Cities of Gold), but it is still moreish, and for that, I like it. Probably better from the tap while sitting in the sun. I shall try again next month.

*sorry, I hate using that word.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Splash of the Titans

Last February I bought a stash of US beers from the likes of Flying Dog, of which I still have to finish up the big dogs now that I think of it (Canis Major, you know), and some Left Hand Brewing ones. Perhaps stupidly, I only ordered a couple of beers from Great Divide, as I'd really enjoyed their Yeti at the opening of Beer Temple in Amsterdam last year. But, whatcha gonna do? The box would only hold so much.

One that I did get, was Great Divide Titan IPA, how can you resist a name like that, when you've grown up loving movies like Jason and the Argonauts (although that was some time before my birth!)? Titan is a slightly hazy copper-amber with bubbles moving slowly to feed a creamy, broken head. Looks like there's crystal malt in there. Great! It's got a rich, sweet aroma with lashings of hops: orange pith dominant with undertones that suggest strawberries and fresh pine. It's got a good chewy body and mouthfeel. I expected some sort of hop assault (not that I object to being harangued by hops), but while full of those really juicy hop flavours that are so apparent on the nose, the bitterness takes a moment to shine through. When it does, it's big, broad and chewy, if that can make sense for something that's bitter. The finish is long and dry, despite a lingering caramel sweetness, yet it feels strangely thin considering the big boldness of the main event, and after a while began to feel a little one dimensional. Still, a rather enjoyable, juicy, hop-driven beer.

Sunday 13 June 2010

Ulrichsbier (now mine) and Echt Veldensteiner Landbier

It's not Ulrichsbier, it's mine! Ahh, fond memories of Terry's Chocolate orange, for some reason. Haven't had one in ages! Ulrichsbier from Berg Brauerei Ulrich Zimmermann, down near Ehingen, is nothing like chocolate, or orange, however. It has a yeasty, fruity nose with a touch of caramel, and on first sip, delivers a really soft, creamy mouthfeel. It has a juicy malt-edged-fudge flavour, with toasted bread and some fruitiness, reminiscent of mild cherries. It has a gentle hop profile, giving just a hint of spicy bitterness. Quite like this really. Süffig!

Leaning a little more towards chocolate, perhaps, is Echt Veldensteiner Landbier from Kaiser Bräu, Neuhas an der Pegnitz, not too far from Nuremberg. Just a little, mind. I really like its richly, red-hued amber, topped with a creamy head, and the flavour lives up to what I expect from such a rich-coloured beer, with toffee, a slight plumminess up front, chocolate filling in the mid-ground and toasted edges. This comes on a little more in the finish, with a waft of burnt toast and a gentle, grassy bitterness. Combined with a soft mouthfeel, this combines for a rather tasty treat.

And yes, these are notes I'm dragging out of my dusty notebook. Plenty more where that came from!

Sunday 6 June 2010

Yarr! Störtebecker Pilsner!

Klaus Störtebecker sounds like he was a bit of a colourful character, as most pirates are, but given that his nickname "Störtebeker" meant "empty the mug in one gulp" in Old German (apparently he could empty a four-litre mug of beer in one gulp), I was wondering what he'd make of the beers bearing his name.

Störtebecker Pilsner, an almost green-tinged yellow pils that falls bang on the regulation standard of 4.9%, has been rated "Sehr Gut" in ÖKO-TEST magazine in 2008 and 2009, presumably because they use organic hops. Past experience with this magazine tells me that this ranking amounts to a hill of beans though.

With an aroma that suggests pine trees that have been dusted with a light powder coating of sulphur, the the first sip is surprisingly sweet, delivering a fruity, yeasty taste up front. This leads a sweet, bready charge, followed by a soft floral-infused bitterness. The finish is dry, while retaining those sweet elements, and has a lingering pine note. It's not a bad beer, but I got bored with it. I got the impression that it being "breadier" than most pilsners around these parts rounded it out a bit, but perhaps too much. Not quite Sehr Gut, in my humble opinion.

A combination of work, travel, fantastic weather, BBQs and beer consumption has left me little time, or desire for posting recently. I'm sure I'll be forgiven :)

Sunday 30 May 2010

Still Cheap: Wüllners Braumeister Landbier

After posting that little bit about Wüllners Braumeister Premium Pilsener a couple of days ago, imagine my delight when I spotted crates of their Landbier while beer shopping yesterday afternoon. Despite working out at about 40 cent for a 330ml bottle, I wasn't going to risk buying a whole crate, never mind how cheap it is!

A lovely reddish-amber, Wüllners Braumeister Landbier is at least more visually appealing than it's paler sister, but that's not what counts. The flavour if pretty grainy, with a touch of caramelised malts adding a pleasant sweetness. So far so pretty good. However, the hops bring up the rear guard with a resinous, slightly plasticky feel (I'm blaming the hop extract again!) and it finishes a little astringent, with a vaguely medicinal, or fennel-like note haunting the back of the throat. After a good start, it just falls over and doesn't appeal to my taste at all. Shoulda got some of those Pilseners!

Thursday 27 May 2010

Cheap: Wüllners Braumeister Premium Pilsener

My neighbour told me yesterday that he thinks 10 Euro is too much to pay for a crate of beer. Just so you know, he means a crate of 20 500ml bottles, so 10 litres. This in a land where I'm still amazed that I can buy 20 bottles of beer for 10 or 12 Euro that in Ireland probably would have cost over 30 Euro from an off-license. He's found a new one, which I think cost him 6 Euro for a full crate, but last summer it was all about Wüllners Braumeister Premium Pilsener. It's one of those beers that you don't know exactly who brews it, as it was contract brewed for a drinks wholesaler, a bit like Brau Wirt's Pilsner. As I recall, this one was going for 35c a bottle, but then it was only a 330ml bottle.

It's really pale. Almost like white gold, but somehow looking like something you'd give to your doctor. It's got a nice enough light nutty, malty aroma and a surprisingly refreshing flavour. Oddly, a slight hint of something akin to toasted sesame seeds, biscuity malts and a brush with floral hops. It finishes dry, grassy, and with a light bitterness, and as it warms a carbonic edge makes itself known.. It's a bit thin overall, but at 35c something has to give, I suppose. Certainly nothing great, but it ain't horrible. If you're tight on cash, and you don't have a neighbour who brews delicious beer involving hops from the far reaches of the planet, that probably cost more to make than this stuff, it's a grand drop for a hot day and a BBQ.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Festival der Bierkulturen 2010 - The other beers

There were a handful of non-German breweries present at the tiny festival, although non-German beers were fairly well represented by the likes of BierZwerg and Bierkompass. I didn’t linger around them as I can buy anything “foreign” they have any time.

Having sampled a fair few German beers, I toddled down to Braustelle as I wanted to find out what Revelation Cat was all about, but while reading their blackboard of offerings I was politely harassed by an older gentleman who was hocking Lambics from Boon and 3 Fonteinen (I think!). His chatter (he was actually American with Irish roots, as they all have, from famine times) made me cave in and in return I got an extra large serving of Boon Oude Lambik, a two-year-old pure lambic, served from a small plastic barrel. With an aroma suggesting dusty lemons, it really wasn’t as sour as I expected. Lime-like, with an earthy, composty feel pervading throughout. It really did feel like tasting old hops: the spirit was there, but rounded and dulled by time. It didn’t really do it for me, however, as I much prefer the sharpness of the likes of Cantillon Geueze.

Managing to sidestep to Revelation Cat, who were offering four single hop Lambix, I chose the Simcoe Lambix at random. Hazy, orange-hued, it has a powerful citric aroma, squeezing out lemons and grapefruit, laced with an almost anise spiciness. It has a gentle sourness, again suggesting fresh lemon, and with a crushed geranium leafiness in the background. Very refreshing, and dry as a bone, it left little in the finish however.

Before being abducted by a group of guys from Bonn I'd fallen in with, who were determined to go back to the main festival location, I squeezed in a Cat in a Barrel (a Mikkeller-Revelation Cat collaboration?), an 18% tiger aged in rum barrels. Really warming, with a big American hop hit on a thick, creamy-caramel base. Remarkably spicy, with pepper and ginger lingering. Really a lovely drinking experience. The Bonn chaps weren’t so impressed, but at least they tried it! I probably could have done with a little sit down, like TheBeerNut, but time was marching on.

Back at base, I was bought another Piratengold, which was probably good to reset the taste buds, and was then forced into getting some Biervision Monstein Wättergouge, despite Laurent Mousson’s warnings. This was a simple, malt-driven beer, grainy, with slightly fruity notes, but overall pretty regular. Their Huusbier tasted pretty much like Kölsch to me. Read into that what you will, but maybe my taste buds were dead to subtlety at this stage.

A CAMRA chap had advised me to try the IPAs from the Belgian Picobrouwerij Alvinne. For some reason I decided to buy a bottle of their Calvados-Barrel-Aged Melchior, and while negotiating was able to sample their black beer Alvinne Morpheus Dark. They explained that this was their own special yeast strain, incorporating wild beasties of some sort. I can see it shared some characteristics with Lambic, being sourish, and incredibly dry. Decent enough and a bit moreish, I thought. I struggled to control my face when trying the IPA though, but from the guy’s reaction I’m not sure I did it so well. Harshly bitter, with little in the way of body or malty goodness to support it, I felt it was way out of balance, and not something you could drink in normal quantities. At that point I stopped negotiating and took my bottle, which I really hope is not like the IPA.

Out back, under a tent, was a small stand from Mikkeller. I felt a bit guilty about leaving them till last, but at this stage of the evening the vouchers didn’t seem to count, and while chatting with the very friendly Thor, or at least that what it sounded like, I got thrown samples of Beer Geek Breakfast and Beer Geek Brunch Weasel. Lovely, lovely beers. That’s all I remember, and sure what else would anyone need to remember? Oh, I did say that the Weasel reminded me a lot of the De Molen Kopi Loewak, but was told that the gypsy brewers had done it first. Serves me right. I also just realised I forgot to ask for the 1000 IBU jobby, but was having far too much fun talking shit.

The festival was officially closed by now, and I’d missed my intended train, so when I was invited down to Braustelle to join the organiser and the guys from Mikkeller and Siegburger, I sadly had to decline. I’d probably still be there now, or on a bench in the park if I hadn’t…

Sunday 16 May 2010

Festival der Bierkulturen 2010 - The German beers

I'd been looking forward to attending this small festival, despite the fact that I couldn;t get anyone to go with me. I reckoned beer would oil the social processes, so decided to just get stuck in. Getting to the festival location was simplicity in itself, just a 5 minute train ride out from Cologne central station to the Köln-Ehrenfeld stop, then a 300 metre walk to the Ehrenfeld community centre, set off the side of a small park on what looks like a shopping street. I initially thought that only some of the breweries had turned up, but the festival was split between a few locations: the main hall, a tent out the back and 150m down the road at the Helios-Braustelle.

I arrived shortly before 1pm, not long after it had opened, so it was quiet enough, good for a short chat with the brewer at Freischem's, a friendly chap. Of course, I had to try the Piratengold Stout as mentioned by Boak and Bailey, or at least I assume it's the same one, but it could be a different recipe. Really black-looking, Pirtengold Stout has a lightly roasted and dried fruit aroma. I found it surprisingly light on the tongue, with an almost lemony freshness up front, followed swiftly by a thick caramel-chocolate, raisins and a white pepper spiciness. The lemony character came on a bit strong compared to the malts after a glassful, but I had another one later in the day and it went down a treat. As it happens, the brewer's mother is English, so it seemed like he wanted to make something that he'd enjoy drinking, considering he seemed to be a fan of the regular black stuff. Their Kölsch looks typical to the style, but the first impression is gives is a sweet, sugary one, like a flattened 7-Up. Lemon notes are dominant, and it has a slightly soapy feel, yet is oddly refreshing. Reminded me of Radler in a way. I have a voucher for a free beer, so there's a good enough reason for me to get back to Cologne!

Deciding to stick with the regular strength beers to begin with, I targeted the German breweries first. Alzeyer Volker-Bräu  were next, offering a Roggenbier (rye beer) and a Haferbier (oat beer). The Roggenbier is really turbid-looking, I mean, really! Must be healthy! It has a light rose-like floral aroma with a pinch of grain. The flavour is quite "wheaty", with an acidity that seems to push the mildly spicy qualities of the rye. A nice fudgy sweetness at the back, but the finish is a little too soapy for my liking, reminding me of washing up liquid.

Nevertheless, the Volker-Bräu stand seemd quite busy (that's the cluster on the right of the photo above), so instead of trying their Haferbier I stepped to the left to try something from the Siegburger Abteibrauerei. They had brought along Michel, a Rheinisch, top fermenting (read similar to Kölsch) beer that I didn't try, and Siegburger, which was described to me as a hoppy, amber beer. And they weren't wrong. It has an almost candy-like flavour, without being sweet, heavy on tangarine up front, it has a light, easy drinking body. There are some other fruity elements, tomato sprang to mind at one stage, but overall it's a lovely beer, with a decent hop flavour and gentle bitterness. Later in the evening I blagged a sample (i.e. free glass) of their Monolith Gerstenwein (barley wine), a 8.9% beast hopped with Perle and Hersbrucker and aged in an oak cask for a number of months. This had me very interested, of course, as most barley wines that I love have distinct, powerful American hop characteristics. I'm pleased to say that the German hops work equally well, but in different ways. It has a light, fruity aroma with woody, vanilla highlights that really come out in the flavour. It's juicy, with a subdued hop action, delivering a flavour padded with warm, pillow-y orange and vanilla. A little flabby compared to some US example, perhaps, but it's warming and comforting.

I nipped over to Braustelle where, as well as being able to try the house beers, more of the line-up had set up shop in the bar room. On-line beer seller, Bierkompass, had a selection of German and imported beers on offer, a guy was selling Lambic from little plastic barrels and Italian brewery, Revelation Cat were there.

To honour the hosts, I got a glass of Rosemarie which, as the name suggests, has been brewed with rosemary. It certainly has a warming, spicy-herbal aroma, reminiscent of the clove drops I had as a kid. Not so suggestive of rosemary, but the flavour! Definitely Rosemary! Really a quite pronounced, clean flavour without being overpowering, it's actually lovely, sitting as it does on a candy-like backdrop which does make it feel like you've been sucking on a sweet from yesteryear. It's a simple beer really, but it works so well I'd gladly have had another if there wasn't so much more to go through. I determined that I'd return on a normal day to try the rest of their beers, as it's an interesting looking selection.

Bierkompass had a range of draught beers from Beck-Bräu, including the wonderful Affumicator. Unfortunately the likes of Quartor, which I really would have liked to try, were not on due to limited tap space, so I settled for a Beck-Bräu Zoigl, a slightly thin beer, but with an interesting set of flavours: a fragrant honeysuckle-like flavour right in the middle, black pepper with a carbonic nip, finishing with a light oregano-like herbal bitterness. Incidentally, despite having two failed attempts at a conversation (twice interrupted by "friends" and then ignored) with the Bierkompass guy to find out why they do what they do, and to try and get an impression of what kinds of people are buying these non-standard German beers , I was surprised to hear that the Beck-Bräu Quartor is considered to be outside of the Reinheitsgebot simply because it uses Dinkel (spelt) in the grain bill. So what, I thought. But it's the fact that it's bottom-fermenting that makes it in breach. If it was top fermenting it'd be fine. I just don't get the silly exceptions, but I'm glad people are breaking them.

The guys at Bierkompass certainly think beyond just selling interesting beer though, as they also had on tap a selection of beers under the Freigeist Bierkultur banner, a project, for want of a better word, between Peter Esser of Braustelle and Sebastian Sauer of Bierkompass. Freigeist Bierkultur Abraxas is an odd beer, being like a combination of rauchbier and Berliner Weisse. The aroma has a slight suggestion of bacon, but the flavour throws in lemon-orange citrus aplenty, almost sour, with a juicy-fruit bubblegum middle ground followed by a gentle, hammy smokiness. This mostly makes itself felt on the finish, and doesn't dominate, but the overall impression is of a lightly barbecued lemon. A lot nicer than it sounds, I can assure you. Freigeist Bierkultur Abraxxxas is a suped-up version at 6% compared to the 3.8 of the single X version. It's more of the same, in a way, but softer, and fuller-feeling. More satisfying perhaps. Both very nice.

I finally got a chance to try a Gose, in the form of Goedecke Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose. With a light, sourish nose, the flavour is lemony with a definite salty trace, leaving an almost drying sensation on the sides of the mouth.Interesting from a curiosity point of view, but i wouldn't be drinking it regularly. Actually, the cook from Braustelle was on a break and received a glass. He made the sour face, then proclaimed it tasted like fish. actually, the sour face featured strongly at this location, what with the lambics on offer, but that's for another day.

Last of the German beers I'll mention was the Himbeer Porter made by Weyermanns Maltings. 5.9%, aged in barrels, very raspberry, not bad! say my notes. Yeah, the evening was wearing on at that stage, and it was after being treated to some Beer Geek Breakfast and Brunch... More of that anon.

I'm a bad reporter. I had planned to talk to a few people at this festival about the home brewing association, the Kampagne für gutes Bier (KGB) and to interview the organiser as well as some of the shop owners, but when it came down to it, the beer, and the characters I met took over.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

I've never met a nice South African...


It's a damning indication of how my young brain was influenced by TV in the 80s when I can't say "South Africa" without that bloody song coming into my head. Oh well! My colleague brought a few bottles back from SA for me to try, which was nice of her, so I owe it to her to post my thoughts. Or at least I promised I would.

Hansa Marzen [sic] Gold has a little strap-line saying "The glow of slow-roasted amber malt". Sounds attractive, doesn't it? Opened it, pffft! and instantly got a smell that made my brain think skunked. Underneath that is quite a forward hop aroma, certainly resinous in a classic German sense, with a floral and yeasty character that could be nice were it not for the skunk in the room. In fact, that aroma was wafting out and reaching me from close to a metre away. Despite the thinness, the flavour starts off well enough, with a clean sweetness and minty, resinous hops, but the finish ends up tasting remarkably like cornflakes. Now, I know there's maize in it, but I really didn't expect it to taste like the breakfasts of my youth. Actually, sugar puffs were my favourite, but not sure how that'd work in a beer. Anyway, I'm not sure I hold any hope for any beer with the word Hansa on the label at this stage.

Another colleague had been raving about Windhoek Lager, even trying to find places in Germany that sold it. So it had to be good! A pale gold, it's got a fairly grainy aroma with a lump of bread thrown in for good measure. Sweet, bready and with a creamy mouthfeel, it has a gentle, almost noble hop character with a light spiciness. Finishing with slight fruity notes, reminiscent of raspberries and blackberries, it suggests good things to come, but it it ends thin and left me wanting. And after all that, Mr. Skunk might have brushed off this bottle too.

And finally, Castle Lager. See above, plus carbonic, minus skunk. Spot the difference in the bottles, kids?

Sunday 9 May 2010

The Darling Suds of May

Having failed in my attempts to get seasonal beers over Easter, with the sole exception of the mad rabbit one, May brings plenty more opportunities to drink seasonal here in Germany, as breweries turn loose their Maibocks. I have to admit, I didn't even buy any of the below, as they were left as offerings at my door, and one on the lawnmower as a thanks for cutting the grass and getting one of my neighbours out of potential trouble with his significant other. It's nice having a reputation as a beer geek, sometimes.

Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock was the grass-cutting offering, and having read TheBeerNut's notes shortly before drinking it, I wasn't relishing the thought, but actually, I was pleasantly surprised. It's a crystal clear, orangey-amber with a fruit and toasted malt aroma, but little in the hop department. It fared better with me, as I liked the bready-caramel backbone and the herbal infusion of hops with a moderate spicy bitterness. There's definitely a classic German resinous touch that can crop up in some of the stronger beers that can often turn into a plasticky experience, but this didn't reach the levels that turn me off. It does, however, get a little sugary near the end. The finish lingers with a lick of honey sweetness and mild spice. It's comparable with the other two regular Ur-Bocks in a general sense, but I'd probably have to do a side-by-side with the Hell to see how it differs.

Haake Beck Maibock, which always puts me in mind of the old Shake 'n' Vac ads, is really quite pale with an almost greenish hue. It has a light, apple-like fruity aroma with a touch of caramel sweetness deep down, but it's certainly not the most aromatic beer in the world. Despite the 7.2% tag, it has a surprisingly light-touch, though havign a sweetness that put me in mind of a dessert wine, with light pear, apple and a touch of cinnamon. The lasting impression is also of a light spice with a brush of sourish hops. Not bad, actually, and I've got a few more taking up cellar space.

Herforder make a pretty grim Weihnachtsbier, so when this bottle landed on my doorstep, I wasn't expecting too much from it.  Despite being only 6.6%, Herforder Maibock delivers a hit of alcoholy booziness in the aroma, but that's about it, as it's pretty thin. It shares some of the flavour characteristics with the two previous examples, giving a light fruitiness, but to be honest, that's as far as it impacted on my little mind.

There's still plenty of May left, so let's see what else I can get my grubby paws on before the month is out.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Beyond the Reinheitsgebot

Ahh, festival time. While my friends and fellow ICBers are living the life in Copenhagen, financial, familial and temporal constraints made it impossible for me to join them, again! But there's some light at the end of the festival tunnel, as next week, May 15th and 16th, sees the first Festival der Bierkulturen in Cologne. A German beer festival might summon images of Oktoberfest-like bingefests, but this struck me as interesting, not least because it's strap-lined with the tag "Classic and innovative beer specialities beyond the Reinheitsgebot and Kölsch Convention". Now, like anyone, I like to have the occasional moan about the Reinheitsgebot, and love linking my German colleagues to Ron Pattinson's analysis of the gebot, and list of some extinct German beer styles, but unless I know there's a sympathetic ear, I won't waste my time; I reckon it's so deeply engrained in the beery subconscious of the average Josef Seife that it'd be pissing into the wind. So seeing a festival in the heart of Kölsch country that takes a trip outside of the norm for German beers, this has to be interesting!

The festival is being organised by Peter Esser, owner and Braumeister of Cologne's smallest brewery, Braustelle, who will be bringing along a Dunkel with Rosemary, an Imperial Stout with Rye as well as their regular range, and perhaps some of their monthly specials (a Triplebock and something called Pink Panther has been mentioned).

Highlights billed for the festival include Weyermann Maltings, who as well as presumably showcasing their malts, are bringing along a Rauchbier, Schlotfegerla, and a Raspberry Porter, brewed with East Kent Goldings and aged in bourbon casks for a year with raspberries from Franken, Definitely not Reinheitsgebot, and sounding strangely familiar.

Volker-Bräu, a resurrected brand from the 1930s, will be present with an oat and rye beer, both fermented with Kölsch yeasts. I have to say, I’ve not tried a proper German Roggenbier yet, so this might be a good opportunity, even if the yeast choice isn’t typical.
Swiss brewery, Biervision Monstein (warning, turn down your speakers before clicking that link!), will come down from their mountain, but no idea what they'll be bringing. Having mostly enjoyed the Swiss beers I had while visiting Brussels recently (yeah, I know) I'll be sure to give them a whizz.

A few of the interesting speciality beer shops from Cologne are listed, including Bier Zwerg which has a great selection for this part of the world, and Bierkompass which I will be browsing very shortly! I'll be taking a peek at whatever stand the Association of Home and Hobby Brewers of Germany, a 500-strong community, will have will have at the festival, mostly out of curiosity about what do German home brewers brew, and do they really use washing machines?

But of course, the highlight, or at least the one that I salivate about, is Mikkeller, listed as the special guest. 'nuff said.

Oddly enough, trying to get a posse to go to this gig is proving difficult, despite people saying they'd love to go. Family commitments make it tough for many, after all, it's not usual to take a 2 hour train ride at 10am on a Saturday just to get in 8 hours of drinking before turning back, or at least not for them. My wife has encouraged me to go all Saturday. She must be up to something... Anyway, if you're in the area, let me know :)

Festival der Bierkulturen
Location: Bürgerzentrum Köln-Ehrenfeld
Dates: Saturday 15th to Sunday 16th of May, 2010
Open from 12:00 to 20:00
Entry is 3.50 €, including a festival glass
Normal price for a beer:: 1 €/0.15 Liter
Speciality beers possibly more

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial Ale

Part of a small stash of strong beers in much-too-large bottles brought back from the States by a colleague, Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial Ale, from California, is a reddish amber with a touch of haziness provided by a thin layer of yeast in the bottom. Well, once there was room in my tiny UK pint glass again - this thing was 650ml of 9.2% beer, yeah, I should have shared.

It has a fantastically huge hop aroma: big grapefruit and bitter orange pithiness, a touch of pine needles, all on a sweet, malty foundation. And it's smooth. With a soft carbonation and a slightly oily mouthfeel, it coats the mouth  with a solid caramel malt base and toast. But yeah, it's the hops that are the stars of the show. All that pithiness in the aroma comes out in spades giving that classic grapefruit and orange sherbet effect that I associate with some of my favourite US IPAs. Then you swallow, and a spiciness washes down your throat, giving a ginger-like heat and more and more pine, grapefuit and spicy fruitiness. This leaves a long-lasting bitterness melding with a toasty malt backbone. Despite the huge hops (100+ IBUs apparently), and my poor description above, this is actually wonderfully balanced, and the 9.2% base holds the whole thing up just fine. I was glad I didn't share.

Thanks Rudiger! I'll get back to the German programme again...

Friday 30 April 2010

The Frankonian Empire strikes back

The news has been trickling out over the past few days that Schorschbräu has, once again, taken back the record for the World's Strongest Beer, with Schorschbock 43. Apparently it's a limited release of about 100 bottles,which will be available soon, and they are still experimenting with pushing the limit to a theoretical 50%.

They make a gentle dig at BrewDog with the Prussian-style helmet, so beloved of Bismarck, silencing the radioactive Pingu, not to mention the line "'cause Frankonian Men don't dress like girls". Oh dear :D

That's all, folks!

Thursday 29 April 2010

Schwaben Bräu Das Schwarze

Due to popular demand (yeah, that means you, Russ), and the fact I did say I'd come back to this, I suppose I'd better pop up some notes on a beer that used to be my regular tipple every time I visited the local dive bar* in my wife's home town: Schwaben Bräu Das Schwarze. Beautiful looking, isn't it? But how does it taste?

 The label tells us to expect it to be "Vollwürzig und hopfenherb zugleich", so spicy and hoppy-bitter at the same time, I guess.

It looks pitch-black in the glass, but it's actually a fairly clear ruby-red/brown. That light beige head has little staying power, and the aroma is hard to capture, what little there is suggesting a light roast and a touch of floral hops. The flavour is quite grainy, with a malty sweetness just like wort. It has toffee notes, too, on top of a gentle roastiness and a hint of cherry fruitiness at the back. The hops are there, as promised on the label, and they do in fact give a pleasant herbal spiciness to counter the malt-juice effect.

So, sweet and juicy going down, followed by a drying, slightly peppery bitterness and a toasted finish. Another one that won't blow you away, but it's certainly a nice one to have a few of on a night. I think I still like it.

*When I say dive bar, it is nowhere near the epically bad shitholes I visited last year. This is more like the kind of bars I drank in in my late teens/early 20s. Rock/metal music, and according to my wife, pretty much the same people have been propping up the tables for 20 years or more. What I liked about it on my first visit, in addition to the music and crowd, was the fact these long-haired louts (as I was then) were playing chess and cards in the pub. So, a civilised dive bar. Das Schwarze and Rothaus Pils were what I usually drank there, unless someone was trying to get me drunk on whisky, but that's not a story for this blog.

Tuesday 27 April 2010


Going back to beer from my wife's home region of Baden-Württemberg, one brand that makes a regular showing when we're down that way is Stuttgart's Dinkelacker, now part of Dinkelacker-Schwaben Bräu, apparently the largest brewery in that state. They do a few beers under this label, but I think I've only had the two shown below, and perhaps one of their festbiers, but they haven't left much of an impression on my memory, being the kind of beers that get brought to BBQs where the company is more important than analysing the beer. Nevertheless, here's a bit of analysis, otherwise I wouldn't be arsed writing this blog!

Dinkelacker CD-Pils (the CD standing for Charles Dinkelacker, the founder of the brewery in 1888) has a bready aroma with hints of lemony hops that I associate with decent German pils, but also an intriguing touch of sulphur, which put me in mind of burnt matches. Never noticed that before, and not sure if I would again, but I'll be sure to try. The flavour continues the theme with a light malt sweetness and reasonable noble hop flavours with a lemony edge dominating, all wrapped up in a soft mouthfeel. The finish delivers a gentle, slightly spicy bitterness, a light malt coating and is leaning towards dry, just about. A decent enough every-day pils.

Dinkelacker Privat Pils, the slightly bigger sister at 5.1%,  is a clear, pale gold and looks almost effervescent. The aroma suggests sweet malt with a touch of honey and a slightly yeasty backdrop. It has a soft malt body which has relatively sweet caramel-like tones, yet is clean-tasting. There are some traces of fruit notes, hinting of melon and peach, and the mild, spicy hops give a delicate peppery edge to the finish. The finish also has a carbonic touch, but overall it's reasonably long, sweetish and spicy. It's all done with a gentle touch, so don't go expecting a fruity, spicy overload. It's more a delicate balance that, for me, makes this a rather nice, drinkable pils.

Dinkelacker translates as spelt field, which is handy to know if you want to order spelt (the dinkel part!) bread. Who said beer wasn't edumacational?

Friday 23 April 2010

A quick stop in Brussels, again.

My recent (as in just returned an hour ago) trip to Brussels didn’t leave much time to do any major beer exploration, or purchasing for that matter, but Thursday evening gave me a couple of hours to get out, feed myself and visit a new beer destination.

I couldn’t resist a brief stop off at Poechenellekelder, as is my wont at this stage (well, third time there at any rate), as it’s got a decent beer selection and some simple food to munch on. As with all such extensive beer menus, it’s a bit of a pin the tail on the donkey, so I picked one of the lower ABV beers (5.8%), Martin’s Pale Ale (Scottish and Newcastle? Hey, I didn't know when I ordered it!), to go with my Double Croque Monsieur (and yes, I did ask the waiter “How big is your Croque, Monsieur” before I ordered the double, but he didn’t quite get the it).

Martin’s Pale Ale is a deep amber with a rocky-looking, foamy head and a beery, slightly fruity aroma. Up front, it has a thick, sweet flavour, like candy, with a pear and vaguely banana-esque fruitiness. An alcoholic warmth comes swiftly after, but the hops take their time coming in, building up to provide a mild, drying bitterness to the finish. A little too sweet, perhaps, for my tastes, but it does provide a robust pale ale experience.

As I was handed the bill before I finished the beer (maybe the Croque question sank in while I ate and drank), I headed on to the place I really wanted to visit: Moeder Lambic Fontaines. They boast a menu of 45 beers on tap, but on the night there was only 40. Only! I hadn’t heard of most of them, and as ABVs weren’t listed (although they were apparently grouped by strength), it was a bit of a lottery. I opted for the De Ranke XX Bitter on tap. It was one that I had before from the bottle, so I wanted to revisit it, just to remind myself. This is a lightly hazy gold with a dense white head. The aroma tells you it’s definitely hop-driven, and first sip delivers big wadges of hoppy bitterness, but rounded at the edges by a light, chewy maltiness. The hops aren’t just providing bitterness though. There’s a big floral and mandarin orange thing going on, and in copious amounts. The finish is sweetish, yet dry, with a lasting, pithy bitterness. Yep, still like it, although my notes are slightly different than before, I think they go in the same direction: yum!

Although I like to drink local when travelling, Moeder’s beers of the month were from two Swiss breweries: Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes (BFM) and Brasserie Trios Dames. As I’ve had pretty limited exposure to Swiss beer, how could I resist. The helpful waiter ran me through the list, and they did indeed sound tempting (one was a barrel-aged affair at 10% or so), but wanting to keep a clear head for the morning, I went for the Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes La Meule, which was decribed as very hoppy and interesting. Well, quite. The aroma was like being dunked into a vat of TCP (for American readers, read that as something very band-aidy and medicinal/hospital disinfectant).  Frankly, I found it off-putting. Unfortunately, the flavour was exactly the same. To be generous, I tried imagining aniseed, and peraps hints of ginger, but really, I found it unpleasant. The waiter seemed surprised I could only force two-thirds of it down my gullet before ordering something else, and some food to clear my palate. I later (like 5 minutes later, thanks to the power of Twitter) learned that it’s brewed with sage. And yeah, if I’d known that before I might have found it more interesting, but still, not one I’d return to in a hurry.

Reckoning on returning to more familiar ground, the Brasserie Trois Dames IPA came next. This delivers a good grapefruity aroma, with a slight vegetal undertone. It has a lightish body, initially feeling a bit thin on the malts (though there is a gentle caramel backbone), but that can be forgiven as a warming, pithy hop flavour washes over the tongue, followed by a light fruitiness, suggesting tinned peaches. It doesn’t feel big or bold, but the hops deliver an American brashness with a bit of European smoothness, ending in a dry finish. Really quite nice.

Their Bise Noir is a dark mahogany-brown, looking almost black in the glass. The aroma on this one is subtle, giving a delicate hint of chocolate and, again, a fruity note. First taste confirms a chocolate-caramel delight. Light really is the operative word, as the flavours have a light touch, giving a lovely balance between toffee and chocolate, with just a bite of dark chocolate-like bitterness. Noting to blow you away, but well constructed and enjoyable, like all beers should be. I reckon there’s some decent amount of hops hidden in there somewhere, though, as it made me sneeze, something only powerfully hopped beers tend to do! I was actually shocked to later see that it's 7.3%, as it certainly did not taste it! Very smooth.

On Moeder Lambic Fontaines itself, I had mixed opinions while I sat there. The staff are certainly good and attentive enough that you can get what you want, and can ask questions if needed. It strikes me as a great place for locals and regulars to meet (there was much male cheek-kissing going on) and it had a nice buzz as the evening went on. For the solo tourist, it felt a little soulless at times, but for the beer geek it’s a good stop on the Brussels beer circuit. Oh, but do eat somewhere else first, as the food offerings are thin and more snacky. Not bad for some impromptu beer-soakage though!

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Schefflenzer Haustrunk Pilsner

The bigger drink store near my wife's parents home has this corner where it looks like "special" beers normally get stacked. Over the years I've recognised that it tends to be the likes of Schmucker, Dachsenfranz, Köstritzer, Krušovice and, well, dark beers like Schwaben Bräu Das Schwarze (more on that anon). Not all that special, really, but now and again something I've never seen pops in. Kulmbacher EKU 28 was one, but I drank all six bottles over the holiday without taking a single note. At 11% they go great with a fine cigar though! Another crate that caught my eye was filled with little 33cl swingtops with a simple-looking black and gold label: Schefflenzer Haustrunk Pilsner. I get tired of Pilsners very quickly, but reckoned I'd buy one at least. Then I noticed the ingredients listed "fine yeast", and true enough, there was a thin layer of sediment in the bottom. There was nothing on the label to tell me if it was unfiltered or if it was added after filtration, but it did prompt me to buy a clutch of them, just in case.

Undisturbed, Schefflenzer Haustrunk Pilsner pours golden and lively. Poured gently, it comes out crystal clear with a steady stream of bubbles and a tight, lasting head. It has a sweetish aroma, with suggestions of citrus and light pine.

It's really quite malty, without being overly sweet, and that light, fresh pine hoppiness cuts through it, leaving a lingering, gentle-yet-assertive bitterness. Juicy and refreshing, it's certainly moreish.

With a bit of a shake, the yeast lifts up and gives the beer the expected haze of a Naturtrüb Bier, and the bubbles seem that little bit less lively. And it does change the flavour ever so slightly, adding what I felt was a slightly soapy feel, taking the assertiveness off the edge of the hops and perhaps somehow letting lemony flavours come out a little more. I could of course have been completely imagining this, but there you go.

Overall, I liked this a lot. A charming little beer, and very drinkable.

For some reason, I assumed this was from a Bavarian brewery at the time of purchase, and it wasn't till later that I realised it came from a small town (Schefflenz, duhhh) about 14km Northeast of my wife's home town. In fact, we'd driven through part of Schefflenz (it's split into three, Ober-, Mittel- and Unterschefflenz, with the farm brewery in the bottom one). Brauereihof Egolf's website leaves a lot to be desired, but it's also kind of charming to see they make ice cream, smoked ham, have a guest house and also sell insurance. If they had an undertakers it'd complete the set! Whichever of those I'll need, I'll be making a point of visiting next time we're down that way.

Their site also tells me that there are only five places selling their bottled beer, Getränke Oess, where I got mine, being one of them. Serendipity.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Rothaus Märzen Export

Rothaus really is in the bowels of the Black Forest and, from the air at least, the brewery dominates the little settlement there. It would have been nice to visit that area while we were on holiday in Baden-Württemberg the past two weeks, but it's a hell of a distance for a day trip. Luckily, their beer is pretty popular in Baden-Württemberg (and particularly in the former Baden part where my wife is from). I've had their Pils many times before, and wrote a little about it when I did a stupid blind tasting involving BrewDog 77 (yes, what was I thinking?), but till last week, I'd not had the pleasure of their Märzen. Or at least didn't think I had, as some sources indicate that this is the same as their Eis Zäpfle. I've had that one before, from the neck while building a table-tennis table, but I digress.

Rothaus Märzen Export pours paler than I expected, but is a decent gold-amber. It has a sweet, honey-like malt profile with a slightly oily hop feel. There are touches of candy floss, clean pine, resin and a strangely minty finish. Not sure where this fits in the Märzen gamut, but it is a decent, if unexciting, beer. Kinda charming, but that could be because of Birgit Kraft on the label giving me the glad eye.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Sierra Nevada Torpedo

Chris, The Beer Geek, told me this was his go-to beer, so how could I not get a few bottles when they became available in my now favourite beer shop in Cologne.

Sierra Nevada Torpedo pours an almost glowing orange-amber with a slight haze. It has an amazingly fruity nose. Sure, there's oodles of classic American hop goodness in there, but also a gentle melange of tropical fruit aromas. First sip reveals a solid soft-caramel malt profile, then the hops come marching in. There's a fresh pine hit, juicy-fruit gum, grapefruit, a twist of spice, thyme... this this is just loaded with lovely hop flavours. For all the 60+ IBUs it claims, it displays a great balance between a sweet, fullish malt body, a mass of hop flavours and a bitter bite that's just right for my tastes, leaving a lasting, spicy finish. It reminds me of Seville orange marmalade, in a way.

Actually, BrewDog Atlantic IPA, though different, also reminded me of Seville orange marmalade.

Sunday 11 April 2010

Schmucker revisited

When we were living in Ireland, most of our holidays over the past ten years were spent in my wife's home town of Mosbach, a small town on the south edge of the Odenwald, a mostly rural, rugged area that my wife would love to live in. Now that we live in Germany, nothing seems to have changed, and as I write, we're half way through a two-week stay with the in-laws, where I am steadily gaining weight. The Rhine-Neckar area is really wine country, and the Odenwald is considered an apfelwein-producing area, but there are local breweries to be found, though it feels like there's not as many as in some other parts of Germany. In fact, going on drives over the past week we stumbled across two, but they were both closed at the time. I'll try to make a return.

One brewery I did manage to visit, about three years ago, was the Schmucker brewery, Mossautal, right in the middle of the Odenwald. It's a small town, dominated by the not-so-small brewery. We ate there and sampled a small part of their seemingly large range. It was here that I first realised that not all Schwarzbiers are actually schwarz, having received one that was distinctly dark amber. On asking if this was the right beer, we were simply told that's the way it is. Fair enough. I learned something.

I've written a bit about two of the Schmucker Bocks before. No great shakes by any means, but not bad. The local drink store gave me a chance to try a few more

Schmucker Meister Pils is a clear, yellow-gold with a loose head. I have to say, the initial taste made me wince.  It's clean-tasting all right, but with a sweet edge, then the hops come in swiftly with a vaguely bile-like bitterness. It's a bit harsh, though not aggressively so, leaving an unpleasantly acrid finish. To be kind, i thought it might go better with some greasy food, but having another bottle with a BBQ a few days later it fared very badly with spicy, marinaded pork steaks. Not one I'd be in a hurry to try again.

The Schmucker Privat Export, weighing in at 5.2%, gives a bland sweetcorn and slightly orangey aroma. Like its sibling, it also has an unpleasantly astringent flavour, albeit more rounded. It's quite gassy, giving a fairly carbonic edge to burps. Overall, it's thin, with a suggestion of lemonade and a detergent-like bit to the finish. No thanks.

I was getting weary of the smiling face of Mr Schmucker on the label by the time I opened the Schmucker Märzen. It looks nice enough though, being a light amber with a light, short-lived head. The aroma suggests light caramel with a touch of fruit and it's the same in the flavour, really. It's smoother than its paler sisters, with a softer, less aggressive carbonation. The light touch of caramel and a juicy-fruit middle-ground makes it fairly chuggable. The finish is dry, with an ever-so-slight suggestion of toast in the background. No real character to mark it out, but its main attractiveness is that it's a lot better than the other two!

As an aside, we found a Gasthaus-Brauerei in nearby Eschelbronn. It looked closed, and we thought we'd make a return trip during the week. We later found that it was for sale, for 163,000 Euro. No idea if any actual brewing was done on site in recent years, but I'm tempted to call the agent to see if brewing equipment is also included!