Saturday 22 December 2012

Aventinus Glühbier

Since seeing Evan Rail's article about mulled beer a month or so ago, it was in the back of my mind to try something like this for our second annual gathering of neighbours. So, when I received a newsletter from Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn (let's just say Schneider) with a recipe for an Aventinus-based Glühbier (Aventinus ranking as one of my favourite Doppelbocks), fate was sealed.

The original recipe provided by Schneider is as follows.

Original Ingredients: 
1 L Schneider Weisse TAP 6 Unser Aventinus
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch cardamom
3 cloves
½ Cinnamon stick
1 pinch cinnamon
9 cl lemon juice
1 Star-Anise
A sugar cube-sized piece of ginger
½ vanilla pod (Scrape out the insides and add both pod and seeds to pot)
14 cl brown rum
250 ml cherry juice
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1½ tablespoons spoon honey 
First, heat the Weizendoppelbock to about 60°C. Now put the ingredients in a spice bag. Leave everything at 60°C for 20 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the spice bag. If necessary, add more rum or cherry juice to taste.
I had to scale this up, so started with 4 litres of Aventinus, but while making it, I felt that the amount of sugar was a bit much, given that the Weizendoppelbock is already sweet enough. They specify "Esslöffel" as a spoon size for the sugar, which is a tablespoon, or 15ml volume. I dropped it from 6 per litre to 4, used lime juice instead of lemon juice, and used a tad less of both this and the rum. My adjusted and scaled-up recipe for 4 litres of beer is as follows:

My adjusted Ingredients:
4 L Schneider Weisse TAP 6 Unser Aventinus
4 pinches Nutmeg
4 pinches Cardamom
12 Cloves
2 Cinnamon sticks
4 pinches Cinnamon
200 ml Lime juice
3 Star-Anise
4 Sugar cube-sized piece of ginger
2 vanilla pods (Scrape out the insides and add both pod and seeds to pot)
500ml brown rum
1 L cherry juice
16 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons spoon honey

I put the powdered spices into a coffee filter and stapled it closed, so it acted like a big tea bag, then suspended the lot in a mesh. To be honest, I'm not sure why they should be removed after 15 minutes as, at least for the second batch I made, I just left them in and it didn't suffer any off-flavours - though perhaps the star anise came out a little more.

Everything in, waiting to hit 60C.
The fact I had to make a second batch attests to how tasty this really was! I had three litres of standard Glühwein sitting on the range (with another 4 on standby) as well as non-alcoholic punch for kids and the early risers having to work the next day, but the Glühwein was hardly touched (one bloody mug!), while everyone who tried the Glühbier pronounced it far better, less sweet, and easier on the stomach than Glühwein., A definite hit, and unlike Glühwein, it's actually not bad after it has cooled either!

A fine, pink-tinged head in the pot.
I think we've started on a new tradition. This year and last year we held it in the "wash kitchen" of the house we are renting. It's cosy, once the old range is fired up, the candles are lit, and it's crammed with bodies. Thankfully, the nineteen people (not counting the seven children) didn't all arrive at once, so there was a steady trade of Glühbier , Kinderpunch and Beef and Köstritzer stew (couldn't get Guinness). Next year, we hope to be living in our own house (assuming we finally get it to a livable standard by next Autumn), so we'll have to find a new place. Maybe the old pig sty or the barn, as long as we can get some heaters in!

Before the madness began.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Let the Wookey win

Having a bunch of beers stashed in the cellar that I really should just open, I decided to reward myself after a   long, but successful week of construction work, by opening the bottle of Firestone Walker Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA that Chris and Merideth brought over during the Summer.

Pretty much opaque and almost completely black, with hints of ruby highlights, the first thing to notice, just on popping the cap, is the remarkable aroma. I know it's a so-called Black IPA, but I wasn't expecting the onslaught of raspberry sorbet, candyfloss and masses of orange pith. Bang! Having never had a Black IPA, let alone a Black Rye IPA, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it's a rather good marriage, with the huge hop blast of a decent American IPA (think more sorbet, orange pith and a light lick of grapefruit towards the end), but with a deft touch of roasted grains, a breath of light coffee, a slight grassiness, all on a vanilla fudge backdrop. The finish is long, with a carbonic bite sharpening the roast and citric bitterness.

I don't care what it's classified as, but it worked for me! Thanks Chris and Merideth! There's another Firestone Walker bottle waiting for me...

Sunday 25 November 2012

Bitterbier blind tasting

Oh, hello blog. Yes, I know, you've been neglected, but frankly, I've had more important things to do. However, a blind tasting is always worth a write-up, even if it was as pointless as a broken pencil.

Having recently gone shopping on the Braufactum website, despite the horrendous prices, I'd acquired a few bottles of their Colonia, described as a top-fermenting bitterbier of the of "Rheinisches" type. The only bitterbier I've had the pleasure of drinking has been Hövels, a former regular beer when I lived up north in Muenster. Having figured out that Braufactum brews it's horrendously expensive Arrique barley wine in the Hövels brewpub, after seeing photos of a brewday on their facebook page, I wondered if Colonia was some sort of rebadging of Hövels, as both are part of the Radeberger Group. We'll see. Two glasses, poured by my wife, labelled A and B. I quickly realised they were not the same thing.

Beer A was a deep, burnished copper, while B was a definite rich gold. Aroma-wise, A delivered a good, strong, typical German beer-like hop aroma, with clean pine wood and a mild resinousness, as well as a slight touch of cat, or perhaps a touch of skunk, all on a vaugely fruity caramel base. B, on the other hand, was bursting with masses of fruitiness, with kiwi, manadarin orange and fresh-mown grass. Sumptuous  so it was already clear what was what.

B had a solid, workman-like flavour, with a straightforward toffee-infused maltiness, juicy and easy to knock back in a few gulps, finishing on a dry, slightly husky note, and leaving a lingering peppermint bitterness. B was much as it smelled. Big fruitiness up front, sweet manadarin/tangarine flesh, backed by an orange barley-sugar base (but not overly sweet, mind), all on a soft, lightly-carbonated body. It finished with a pleasing pithiness. not like a gum-shrinking American IPA, but a definite touch of fresh-chewed orange pith.

Clearly, A was Hövels and B was Braufactum Colonia. I could have saved time by reading the ingredients list, but where's the fun in that? Colonia uses only Saphir hops, and I guess I like them.

I have to admit, as much as I like Hövels, it was pretty hard returning to that glass after the Colonia. After that sweet, orange-infused treat, Hövels was left like a sack of malt dust, so I was glad of the tasting order.

Although I moan a lot about the way Braufactum markets as "gourmet", with pricing to match, I have to admit, of the 5 or so beers of theirs I've tried, they've all been excellent, and I've a few more in the cellar to go.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Braukunst Live! 2012 - The Master Classes

The inaugural Braukunst Live! 2012 festival opened it's doors on Friday the 20th of April. The brainchild of Frank Böer, who is responsible for the sister whisky festival, Finest Spirits, Frank realised there was somewhat of an opening for a large German festival focussing on variety in both the German and international beer scene. Sure, the excellent Festival der Bierkulturen (pdf) already fills a part of that large void, but on a smaller, more personal scale than something like the Great American Beer Festival, which was an inspiration for Frank. But how did it go?

Sadly, I could only make one of the three days, making my way by train to Munich in the excellent company of Thomas, the brewer at Häffner Bräu, Bad Rappenau, and the man behind the Hopfenstopfer range of beers (actually, I think he pioneered these types of beers in Germany, but better check that). We met up with Twitter-friends Gerrit and his partner Nina for a bite to eat before heading underground for the U-Bahn to Giesing, near the venue of the MVG Museum. A quick shuttle bus later, almost bang on the opening time of 2pm, and we handed over €20 for entry, getting a Teku festival glass and four beer vouchers in return, and €10 for twenty beer chips, the currency for the day.

Having seen photos from Friday's session, and hearing there was little in the way of general seating, it occured to me that this looked more like an exhibition than a festival. Bear in mind, my idea of a festival was coloured by events like the Belfast CAMRA festival, where there's basically a wall of casks and the rest is tables and seating. Braukunst Live! had over 30 breweries represented, ranging from the obscure to the rather well known, each with their own booth, and while I was ready to constructively criticise the format, actually, in hindsight, it's definitely a strength, as you really do get time to talk to the people from the brewery, if not the brewers themselves. It was a great pleasure to have a few words with the likes of Menno from De Molen, or Georg from Brauerei Rittermayer, not to mention beer evangelists with stands, like the guys at Bier-Index and author and Biersommelier, Sepp Wejwar.

Menno of De Molen fame.

Something new for me was the idea of the festival Master Classes, which were running through the whole day. These optional extras, from free open stage talks to paid tasting sessions an hour long, covered topics like malt, yeast, hops, of course, and more philosophical topics such as tradition versus innovation, presentations from brewers and an open forum to discuss the Reinheitsgebot. I'd have liked to see that one.

I'll return to the beers generally sampled in another post, but here, I'd like to take a closer look at two of the tasting sessions which we attended.

Beer and Chocolate Tasting
Run by Sebastian Sauer of Braustelle Köln, creators of some wonderful beers, this tasting session seemed like a bit of an oddity. I like chocolate, and I like beer, but if I'm pairing chocolate with an alcoholic drink, it's usually really dark chocolate and whisky. But with input from the Schokoladen Museum Köln, Sebastian came up with some really unusual pairings that literally amazed me, not to mention some chocolates that will make their way onto my shopping list!

Kicking off with a beer-chocolate combination in one glass, Sebastian presented Freigeist Bläck Bean Bätsch Schoko stout (note the use of metal umlauts! :)), which is brewed with cocoa powder. 6% ABV, with a light body and an acidic bite (strains of their Deutscher Porter) which contrasted interestingly with the clear coacoa influences. It delivers a cherry-cola-like sweetness in the mid-ground, but finishes with clean roasted grain notes and without any residual cloyingness that the cola reference might suggest. Rather enjoyable, and a fine balance.

Then comes the chocolates. The first pairing was Freigeist Bierkultur's Mac Heath's Murder Malt, specially brewed for the festival, with an orange creme-filled milk chocolate. Mac Heath's was a beer I'd had earlier in the day, 6% brewed with turf-smoked whisky malt. Turfy phenolics are to the fore on this, but it strikes a fine balance of flavour, supported by a cara-infused backdrop and a light grassy hop character. Perhaps a little thin, but eminently sinkable, which I did with little thought while chatting with Stefan and Kay from Bierzwerg earlier on (and very nice people they are too).

I have to admit, this pairing didn't appeal to my tastes. While I liked both separately, the combination was a little too competitive on my palate, but I can see what they were aiming at, and everyone else seemed to approve. Give a similar combination a try yourself, perhaps with a fuller-bodied whisky-barrel aged stout, if you can't get the Mac Heath.

FritzAle American IPA came next, presented by Fritz himself, this time paired with Mozartkugeln, those marzipan-filled balls you see in Austrian airports, but which I've never been tempted to buy. FrizAle American IPA is brewed with Citra and Simcoe hops, a variant on their, by now, classic India Pale Ale. It's loaded with big, chewy, sorbet-like citrus stylings, pillowy pithiness, generous tropical fruits and caramel sweetness. It's robust in the bitterness department too, and this is what really worked well with the marzipan and chocolate blend of the Mozartkugeln. Surprisingly good! Definitely try this. I know I'll be trying other marzipan chocolates with IPAs for the hell of it!

Freigeist Deutscher Porter is a beer I've had before (actually, I have four bottles still in the cellar) and really enjoyed, but what would the lads pair with it? My heart sank when I saw it was a white chocolate with licorice pieces. I'm not a big fan of licorice, but all in the name of science... Remarkably good was my conclusion. The sourness and saltiness of the Porter is somehow softened by the white chocolate, while the licorice complements the light roasted notes of the beer and indeed pairs stunningly well with the sourness. I reckon I could have continued with this combination for the rest of the evening! How could it get better?

Simple answer: Freigeist Caulfield - Mocha Flush with a banana-coconut-curry white chocolate. I mean, the chocolate itself is a bit of a revelation; I had no idea such a thing existed, but the combination of this rich, 10% oaky-vanilla imperial stout (made with 20% rye),  blends seamlessly with the spiced curry and coconut of the chocolate. On its own the beer is full-bodied, loaded with smooth roasted coffee flavours, vanilla, dark toffee, a slight funky edge and cut with a reasonable herbal hop edge, and just a hint of peppery spiciness. The chocolate, well, it tastes like banana-coconut curry. I'd never have thought this would work, but it was an inspired taste combination. I'm half tempted to make a curry-coconut-banana stout, but I'd probably fail miserably.

And finally, they presented a FritzAle Imperial Stout with banana chocolate. Yes please. That'll do as a description :)

I don't like gushing about beer and food pairings. A large part of me things most of it is a little over the top and a tad snobby, but like I said, I was really happy with these flavour combinations, as they opened up a different experience, and that has to be welcomed. Well done, and thanks for the ideas!

The Yeast Tour
Immediately following this was the next master class (this time one I'd signed up for) "Hefe: Welche Gier schmeckt Dir?", or  "Yeast: which flavour do you desire?" presented by Biersommelier, Birgit Reber. As a home brewer, of course yeast is always interesting, and this was a classic tour through the effects of yeast on the flavour of beer.

Girardin Gueuze Black Label was a palate-cleansing, almost shocking (for some) introduction to the world of yeast, and really, what better introduction to that topic than a wild yeast and bacteria-infused beer? Citrus-sour, with a wonderful barnyard character and fruity, caramel suggestions deep down, and a mildly spicy finish, showing touches of candied ginger, this is a fine, refreshing Gueuze.

Riegele Commerzienrat Privat is a beer I hadn't heard of before. While expecting some clean, bitter, pilsner type of thing as a classic example of clean bottom-fermenting beer, we got a Helles instead, and this was a lovely drop, with a sweet, honey aroma, pleasant bready flavours and a light nutty bite rounding it off.

Schneider Weisse Tap 7. What can you say? This ticks all the classic Weizen flavour boxes, with banana, light coves, a burst of bubblegum. Not much ore to say about this well-known beer, other than it proves the effect that yeast alone can have on the flavour profiles of a beer, and is a favourite summer beer of mine.

Another top-fermenting beer, the Camba Bavaria Truchtlinger Pale Ale is also a hoppy little bugger, so in all honesty, I felt the hops were the driving force here, pushing fruity, dried apricot and lemon notes to the fore, and wrapping up with a gentle pepper-infused, lightly bitter finish. Of course, some of those fruity notes could well be coming from the yeast, but in the end, it's the overall impression of the end product that counts.

Fullers Vintage Ale 2011 is one of those beers I like in small quantities. While I fully appreciate the wonders of Fullers yeast, and the rich, caramelly, fruity, figgy, floral stylings of the vintage ales, I do find them a little cloying in quantity. This one is quite boozy, to boot, and a little cloying, so probably best left in the cellar for a while.

Engelszell Gregorius Trappistenbier. See that? Trappistenbier. One that I was really looking forward to trying, the first brew from the world's 8th Trappist brewery, and one of only two not in Belgium, this one being in Austria. Engelszell Gregorius weighs in at 9.9%, and is a dark, dubbel-looking brew. It's really quite strong in the ripe banana aroma department, putting one in mind of a Weizenbock, like Aventinus, and this continued in the flavour. It's not off-putting, but it definitely dominates. Under this are are light band-aid and marzipan flavours, while thick, chewy caramel flavours abound. Sepp told me that the brewers agree the banana flavours are too strong, and it is likely the recipe or process will be adjusted. But hey, it's the first beer from a new TRAPPIST brewery, and that in itself is historic, so I can't complain. Actually, I would very much like to cellar a few bottles of this first brew to see how it develops, as this could have been a little young. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to seeing how the brewery develops, and if additional beers will be added to the range over time. Watch this space.

This was a well laid-out tasting order for exploring the effects of yeast, and some fine beers on their own, so many thanks to Birgit for running it.

So, quite a lot to fit in for just two of the three masterclasses I attended, and already blogspot is complaining about too many labels! In the next post, I'll do a quick roundup of the other beers I managed to try, or at least the ones I remembered to take notes for, as the chatting was more important.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Brauhaus Gusswerk

A bit of a disclosure first. Not long after posting about some of the new pale ales from German breweries, I received a mail from Reinhold Barta, the head honcho of Salzburg's Brauhaus Gusswerk. Knowing I came from Ireland, Reinhold mentioned that he had worked in University College Cork and Beamish while finishing his thesis, an experience he clearly enjoyed. So much so, it seems, that years later, after founding an organic brewery in Austria, he was compelled to make an Austrian stout. Intriguing. When the question comes "would you like some samples?", I'm wary. After a previous not-so-pleasant experience, I never ask for samples, but if they're offered, and they were already on my shopping list, well, I couldn't say no (with the caveat that I'd write my honest opinion). A short time later, a package of 10 bottles, two each of Brauhaus Gusswerk's main beers, arrived at the door. Many thanks to Reinhold, and here's my honest opinions.

Jakobsgold, a 4.9% Zwicklbier, has won 2nd place in the 2009 Austrian State Championships for small breweries. A burnished gold with an ever-so-slight haze, and what looks like a few tiny flakes floating about. Looked like hop debris. It has a pretty strong herbal aroma, redolent of rosemary, evergreen/pine sap and a touch catty on a biscuity base. Flavourwise, it's remarkably hop forward, in an Austro-Germanic way. Big, grassy fields, pine forests and a slight citric touch, all on a well-rounded, creamy-feeling, biscuity base. The hops really do have the final say here, with those herbal notes lending a pleasantly gentle peppery finish. It's a really smooth beer, and while not a grab you by the throat, shouty beer, it turns the flavour dial up enough to take is well beyond the average Zwicklbier. A rather good start!

Edelguss came in 1st in the 2009 State Championships, so had quite a bit to live up to. A crystal clear, light gold, it gives off a light candy, subtle pine and just a hint of fruit aroma, leaning towards orange. Like it's sister, it has a remarkable creamy mouthfeel, but with an added carbon bite. Freshly opened, this dominated a bit, making it difficult to get to the underlying flavours, but as that fades, it reveals a pleasant bready base with a layer of fresh-cut grass, a squirt of orange essence and a finish that suggests tart apples (or maybe carbonic apples). Refreshing and moreish, this is a good one for a hot summer day, or in my case, a hot spring day.

One I had been most looking forward to was the Austrian Amber Ale, or "AAA", named partially with reference to Austria losing its triple A credit rating (I think that was just last January?), and thus the beer being the only Triple A needed for Austria. Definitely a copper-amber colour, with a slight haze and a head that dissipates swiftly. Interesting aroma, suggesting salty fudge, digestive biscuits and strong mandarin peel, citric overtones. Again, what appears to be a signature creamy mouthfeel, laced with light toffee, a solid, pear-like fruitiness cut with  a chewy orange pith bitterness. The whole effect is simply "juicy", and it begs to be gulped. It finishes long, with that pleasant pithiness coating the gums and a carbonic bite the cleanses the tongue. Despite the low head, it's quite gassy, and I'd love to see what a less-carbonated version would be like. Nevertheless, this fits firmly into my definition of süffig (as well as fitting into the American Amber stable quite well), and is rather easy to gulp down, despite the 5.6% ABV

Black Sheep Smooth Stout is the one that I had highest hopes in, as I'm intrigued by stouts or porters coming from the German-speaking world. Reinhold's experiences in Beamish were also adding a layer of expectation here. A cola-like brown, but opaque in volume, is also has a a sweetish aroma, quite similar to Malzbier, touched with lightly roasted elements and a sliver of apple. Described as a smooth stout, it certainly fits that description (again that creaminess! How does he do it?) with soft, roasted grains, a surprising fruitiness, nodding towards strawberries, with cream, of course and a dab of burnt sugar. The finish delivers a light fudge effect, sprinkled with light roast coffee, a grenadine-like background and a vaguely vegetal edge. Black Sheep is smooth and rounded, but to be honest, a little dulled around the edges to my tastes, with that vegetal thing in the background putting me in mind of some of my own stouts where the  yeast choice didn't suit my tastes. Perhaps my expectations had been set too high, nevertheless, it's an unoffensive, easy-drinking stout.

And finally, to Black Betty. This is somewhat of an oddity, as it's brewed with what looks like a whole cabinet of herbs, including Wermutkraut (Wormwood), Gundelrebe (Ground ivy), Girsch (Ground elder) and Mädesüß (Meadowsweet). Despite that list, it's quite a subtle beer at 5.4%, with a fair degree of fruity and herbal elements. Blackcurrant flavours feature strongly, with a woodruff-like sweetness, a mild pepperiness and a hint of sage, all on a base of crystal malt graininess and rye bread. Odd, but agreeable. I'm not familiar with any of the herbs used, so can't say which have added what, but it's a restrained affair, all things considered. There's another 9.6% version containing horny goat weed, appropriately named Horny Betty, but I think I'd be a little afraid of that...

There's one thing I'll say about Brauhaus Gusswerk, and that's that they do things a little different, which is welcomed. My few Austrian beer experiences have been left wanting, but with a fairly solid standard line up as listed above (Jakobsgold and AAA are definitely up there in my list) and some rather interesting-looking specials, like the Dies Iræ barley wine and a beer-wine hybrid, Cerevinum, not to mention Horny Betty, there's a little bit of Querdenken coming out of Salzburg.

Addendum: I don't know how I missed it, but at the bottom of the box was a bottle of Horny Betty and a Weizen. I'll deal  with them later :)

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Visiting the local brewery

Strange to say, but I've been too busy to drink beer this past couple of weeks. Well, apart from visiting my local brewery, Brauerei Egolf*, for the first time last Saturday, taking a well-earned break from the house restoration. I can't really say much about it, other than the fact it was an enjoyable day from the social perspective, with 21 people signed up for a "course". I expected more brewing to be happening, but the mash was on when we arrived at 10am and the lautering seemed to be still going on when we left at around 5pm.
It's an interesting setup, apparently an own design and built in 1997, that involves what looks like a conical fermenter in cross-section, wrapped around with an insulating layer that fills with water during the mash. Oddly, this outer layer is drained and then doubles as the lautering tun, with the mash pumped into it. The inner section is then also used as the kettle and whirlpool. I've no idea how they clean it, but it might explain when they only do Naturtrübes Bier. We didn't see the fermenting vessels or any bottling plant, so the impression was of a very compact brewery! 20hl standing on a 4 square meter space as, essentially, all the brewing vessels from mash tun through kettle to whirlpool are in one. It's a fascinating idea, and we weren't sure why he hadn't patented it. Actually, one of their claims to fame is that they used to be listed in the Guinness Book of Records for being the smallest commercial brewery (I think it was 1988), but they've grown a little since then. 

Mr. Egolf gave a talk about the brewing process, with a heavy slant toward the Reinheitsgebot, even going further by more or less saying coloured malts are not pure, and implying, well, stating, that foreign beer was full of chemicals and colouring, using Guinness as an example. Now, I'm not exactly a friend of the company that brews Guinness, but I'm pretty sure that colour is from roasted barley! Certaily not gebot, as that part is unmalted, but no artificial colouring.

I've enjoyed Schefflenzer Haustrunk Pilsner in the past, before I knew where Schefflenz was, or even dreamed I'd end up living here, but it's certainly a variable beer. Egolf usually have a mobile bar at local events, and I'll always grab a bottle or two, but have noticed myself it's not always matching that first bottle I tried two years ago. Some people have told me it is sometimes contract brewed elsewhere, but I don't know the truth of that. We'll have an opportunity to return in four weeks to sample the beer brewed on the day we visited, so let's see.

On the day, I found the Pilsner (at least I think it was the Pilsner!) to be quite sweet, incredibly fruity, with little classic Pils bitterness. In fact, in the blind tasting they ran, I got 4 out of 6 right, mixing up the Pils and Export, as they were quite similar. The Weizen was spot on, ticking all the classic Weizen boxes of banana, cloves and bubblegum. Put it this way, we could pour our own beers at will, and I had more Weizen than the others.

But whatever grumbles I may have had about the content of the talk, we were incredibly well fed, with a Weisswurst breakfast at 11, Hochzeitssuppe at around 1pm followed swiftly by salad, roast pork, dumplings and noodles, then a set of slides on serving and looking after beer. Most of all, I enjoyed the craic, the chats, mangling the German language (though lubrication helps) and meeting some  like-minded people.

Well, seems I had something to say about the day after all!

* I just noticed their website has been totally revamped since I last saw it, and it looks good, though I am now confused as the Pilsner is described as a Helles. I thought they were two different things.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Bamberg 2011, Day 2


A slightly slow start to Saturday, for some, but a walk along the Regnitz cleared heads in time for a breakfast (or brunch) beer by 11 at Klosterbräu Bamberg. Reputedly the oldest brewery in Bamberg, being established in 1533, by chance, it was right next door to our hotel. The sun had come out from behind the clouds, making the outdoor seating area a must, though a poke about inside revealed really busy rooms where there seemed to be groups booking the place solid. There certainly seemed to be a constant stream of tourist groups being led into the place, so we were happy to enjoy the relative peace outside. Klosterbräu Braun's Weisse was the first to be ordered, a fairly classic looking Weizen with loads of soft banana and pear-like undertones. Not much spiciness in the classic sense, but an easy start with a rather sumptuous creme caramel base. Their Klosterbräu Pils is quite a refresher, being tart, with a sharp, perfumey hop blast, and a long-lasting, peppery finish. I can't remember what I ate, but clearly it called for something a bit darker, so a Klosterbräu Braunbier was ordered (I think they had no Schwärzla). Roasted highlights on an otherwise fruity core, with dried fruits - think prunes. A slightly thin body followed by a metallic finish, it didn't live up to the other two.

Bamberger Dom
Loins suitably girded, it was time to get some culture in, with a visit to Michaelsberg, and the brewing museum, by way of the Bamberger Dom. If you're interested in such things, the Cathedral is an impressive Romanesque structure, built between 1002 and 1012, featuring things like the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry II, the tomb of Pope Clement - the only pope to be buried in Germany (or outside of Italy or France for that matter) - the much photographed and apparently mysterious Bamberg Reiter, relics and all sorts of ecclesiastical goodies.

Michaelsberg could be seen on the opposite hill (I believe there's seven of them) and a slow march down and up again brought us to the grounds of the former Benedictine Monastery. The Fränkisches Brauereimuseum  is housed in one of the buildings on the south side of the perimeter, and has quite the collection of brewing and beer paraphernalia.There are guided tours, but we sauntered about at our leisure, ogling the huge, old mash tuns, casks, odd bottling contraptions and the old ice store down in the depths.

Following that, it was time for some sustenance, so we settled ourselves outside the Michaelsberg Cafe Restaurant, with Bamberg spread out below us. Food was wild boar goulash, with Spätzle and red cabbage. Absolutely delicious, served with a Mahr's Ungespundet and a Kapuziner Dunkel Hefeweizen. To be honest, my lazy ass would have been quite happy to stay there, stuffing my face (there's always room for cake in Germany), but it would have defeated the purpose of our visit. Next stop, Mahr's Bräu and Keesmann, about a 30 minute walk away (give or take).

That's one of the nice things about Bamberg. Many of the breweries seem to come in clusters, or at least pairs, so a bit of forward planning can make the most out of your time. Sadly, our planning didn't take into the account that Brauerei Keesmann was closed. This was a little disappointing, as I quite like their Herren Pils, but we had Mahr's Bräu just a stone's throw away to ease our pain.

Mahr's lives up to its address, Wunderburg 10; it really is a wonderful little place. Fronted by a small, cosy beer garden (empty when we arrived shortly before 4pm, and filled when we left about three hours later), the first sight upon entering the Wirtshaus is a long, wide corridor running the depth of the place. To the right is a traditional-looking tap room, all oak beams with wooden casks behind the bar. This was packed when we arrived. Just beyond the small bar is a bright, more modernly decorated room, that looked more suited to eating. That's where we had to go, and it was empty, but not for long, as parties with reservations filled it up. We had a really nice time here, and it embodied that feeling of Gemütlichkeit that so many other places just don't have. That corridor I mentioned even had it! People were standing there, drinking their beers, chatting, so it had way more than a simple connectivity function to the loos or the private party rooms.

A good sign that I loved Mahr's is the complete lack of notes in my notebook. I made some notes on the first beer, Mahr's Helles, which I think I hadn't had before. It was cleaner than most Helles, with a surprisingly sorbet-like hoppy/citrus thing on top of a bready, cream soda base, with a lick of butterscotch and a herbal bitterness bringing up the rear. I know we certainly had plenty of the Ungespundet, which is reason enough to visit the place.

We finished up with a couple of beers outside, to free up the table for those patrons who wanted to order the humongous plates of food, then finally toddled back towards the centre of town, and the brewery we managed to avoid on our first day, Brauerei Fässla, just across the road from Spezial.

I quite like Fässla beers, so hopes were high for the tap room. Sadly, it didn't quite meet the level we'd experienced till now (with the exception of the execrable Ambräusianum). The entry hall, much like Mahr's, is also a place to sit or stand and drink. As we entered,m there was a fairly loud, drunken crowd hogging one end of this area, so we popped into the main room. The decor reminded me more of a cafe, but it was bustling and welcoming. We managed to grab part of a table near the "bar". , where we began speculating on the generations of the people working there. It seemed that Grandma was overseeing from behind the bar, keeping a critical eye on everything, directing the bleach-blond young-fella pouring beers, or doing it herself when he disappeared. It seemed like her daughter  and grand-daughter were working there. I like this idea of generations working the brewery/pub. sitting beside the bar areas may have been unwise at this point in time, as we began discussing the glass washing procedure, and how we felt it was sub-standard, as still-soapy glasses were filled with beer. Not exactly beer-ready. Nevertheless, I apparently enjoyed the Fässla Lagerbeer. A lovely, bready backbone, slightly buttery, but at a level that works rather than disturbs, and remarkably fruity.
The "corridor", as we left, a little quieter.

As it was our last evening, there was only one more place that we really wanted to hit, and that was Café Abseits, about a 1.5km walk from Fassla, on the other side of the main station. From the little research I'd done, Abseits had popped up several times as a bar with an interesting selection of beers, not least the Weyermann's beers (sadly, we'd arrived too late on Friday to take the Weyermann's tour). I can confirm Abseits has an impressive beer menu, and not just from a German perspective. It might be unfair to say that is it's main redeeming feature, but on the night in question, the place stank. Badly. A kind of sweaty smell, and the toilets left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, it was well filled with locals.

I'd tried a couple of the Weyermann pilot brewery beers at a festival in the past, so was glad to get the opportunity to try a couple more, especially considering their rather limited scale.

Weyermann Schlotfegerla, 5.2%, mildly roasty, sweetish smoke, but well to the back, well balanced. That's what I wrote. I assume I enjoyed it.

What I do recall is the Weyermann Barley Wine, a heavy hitter at 11.5%. With a big sherry/port aroma, it delivered masses of vanilla and plum pudding. I summed it up as Christmas in a glass. Certainly sweet, but not overly so, almost light in residual sugars, all things considered. It exploded in a flash of liquidised raisins in sherry. That's as much of a description as I could muster, but sounds good, right?

I won't bore you with the details of the walk back to the hotel, the search for any place open for some scraps of food or the Irish black and white pudding shoved into the beer fridge in the hotel corridor, but suffice to say, I want to go back. Bamberg is a pretty town, with oodles of history, but if you're a beer tourist, it has to be one of the most compact and rewarding places to visit in Germany, if not on the planet. I'm looking forward to the next one!

Friday 9 March 2012

Bamberg 2011, Day 1.

Just before my self-imposed exile from the beer blogosphere last year, a couple of old mates and I spent a weekend in Bamberg. It's a place I'd always been eager to visit; a place that I considered almost a spiritual heart of German brewing. As we'd moved in late 2010 to a place only a couple of hours train ride away from Bamberg, my fate was sealed. Bear in mind, this was nearly a year ago, so some things may have changed, but the breweries, oh, the breweries, well, I'm quite sure they'll be around for a while longer.

Leaving home on Friday, 15th of April, I rendezvoused in Würzburg Hauptbahnhof with old mates Kieron and Brian, who had landed in Frankfurt that morning. From there, just under an hour by Regional Express to Bamberg. It seemed to be just the start of tourist season (or there was something on!), and we'd found it hard to find a hotel, but managed to get rooms in Altstadthotel Molitor, a small, slightly worn, but well-located hotel, right on the Regnitz and just on the southern edge of the old town. Of course, this meant a fair trundle from the station, providing us with a rather flimsy excuse to make a first stop at Brauerei Spezial.

Arriving at an odd hour, in a lull between lunch and the evening crowds, there were plenty of seats to choose from at the scrubbed pine tables. Drei Bier, bitte. Three Spezial Lagerbiers. €2.30 each. Lovely soft carbonation, light caramel and raisins and a waft of sweet smoke on the back. That does the job. Food. Kassler with a rather strong Sauerkraut and bread. Spot on. Spezial Märzen please. Plummy, more raisins, a nice toasty edge under the soft rauch notes. Nicer than the bottled version. Far too easy to drink. Spezial Ungespundetes, the only unsmoked beer they make? Remarkably fruity aroma, like a mix of bubblegum and pear drops. Comes across in the flavour too, like liquidised candy. Not so sure if I like it, but it's hard to follow the smoked beers. If you're there, and it's on, go for this first. Spezial is a nice place, and it seems we spent a couple of hours here, shooting the breeze, catching up and sipping delicious beer. But I bet it's a lot better in the evening with a full crowd.

Refueled, we dropped our stuff at the hotel and made a gesture towards more general tourist activities, taking in the Rathaus and the maze of streets before settling on Ambräusianum, the newest brewery/brewpub in Bamberg. Ambräusianum certainly feels more modern, and has lots of corners to hide in and greenery trailing down from the gallery where we found a seat. Regular beers included a Helles and a Dunkel, as one might expect. Ambräusianum Dunkel it is so. A reddish copper, with a light tan head and slight haze. Served super cold. Extremely malty, as in, just like chewing on a fistful of caramalz. A grainy, husky caramel, over-sweet, but with some redeeming blackcurrant fruitiness and a carbonic bite. €2.70, by the way. Not a great start. Hungry again. Can't go wrong with Spätzle mit Nürnberger Bratwurst. Or so I thought. Tasty, but incredibly salty. I needed a mouthful of beer for every bite (of either the noodles or sausages!), and eventually just could not take it. I complained to a waitress about the salt levels, which felt like the chef had tripped, spilling an entire bag into the pan. She shrugged, asked if I didn't want to eat it, and took it away. Kieron's Flammkuchen was every bit as salty, but Brian's pork medallions, wrapped in bacon, with fried potatoes and fresh vegetables were very nice. Double or nothing, let's try the Ambräusianum Hell. Like sugar water with essence of malt and lemon drops. Basically, tastes like a sweetened Radler. Kieron summed the whole experience up in one word: Brutal. No tip. Don't waste your time here.

The best thing about Ambräusianum is that it's pretty much next door to Schlenkerla. Now, this is more like it. Rooms filled with tables made to be shared, crammed with locals and tourists alike, a loud buzz of conversation, and all presided over by the commanding presence of the matronly woman carrying beers to and fro. Or at least that's how it felt. We grabbed part of a table in the Altes Lokal room. You know, I didn't make any notes. I was enjoying myself too much. There was the Märzen, of course, one of my old favourites, and being in the Lenten period, we were blessed with Aecht Schlenkerla Fastenbier, served into chunky handled glasses from barrels in the tiny bar area. Enough said. We spent till closing time in these convivial surroundings, and I heartily recommend you do the same if you get a chance. It has that feel that you imagine a proper German tavern should have. Next time, I'll eat here too.

We ended up in some small, late-opening bar. Crammed, loud crap music, but in a town like Bamberg, when even the dive-iest bars seem to sell the likes of Mahr's beers, it's manageable.

Three places (the fourth doesn't count) in the first half day. We'd have to step up the pace on Saturday, as there's a lot more breweries to visit.