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...