Saturday, 18 February 2012

A proliferation of pale ales?

Every few weeks I seem to hear about yet another German brewery making a pale ale, and I have to admit, I'm probably jerking the knee a little by ordering them as I hear of them at this stage. Of the three described in this post, two in are fairly recent, and the third has been waiting in my cellar for an opportune moment, which happened to be last weekend. In order of drinking so (although I'm refreshing my memory as I write)!

Crew Pale Ale comes from a new two-man operation, Crew Alewerkstatt, based in Munich who are getting their recipe brewed at an undisclosed brewery. Of course, they have plans for their own plant, and I hope they make it. Felix, over at Lieblingsbier, has a good interview with Mario Hanel and Timm Schnigula, so I'm not going to do a von Guttenberg on it. Go read it and use Google Translate :)

Having a minimum order of a box of 20, I was really hoping this would be good, and with a hop list including Hercules, Chinook, Citra, Cascade and Nelson Sauvin, well, how couldn't it be? An unfiltered, pale amber brew. The aroma in one word: fruity. In a few more: well, gooseberries, mandarin, herbal and a little catty. It doesn't really hit hard on first sip, being somewhat lemonade-y, and a tad thin, but it has hop-driven flavours enough, with hay, soft thyme, white grapes and a lingering, lemony finish. At 40 IBUs, it's tastes surprisingly mild, with most of the hops apparantly delivering that melange of fruity flavours. I can't help thinking it would benefit from a little more malty backbone, and was a little underwhelmed on my first bottle. Where it really comes into its own is direct from the bottle after a days work. The lightness of body combined with the refreshing, fruity hop profiles makes it a real thirst quencher, and I'd happily have more. I'm looking forward  to seeing if the lads further develop this.

Propeller "Aufwind" Double IPA grabbed my attention in the Twitterverse, and within 30 minutes of seeing it mentioned, I'd ordered a mixed case of Propeller's Double IPA and Imperial Stout (more of that anon). See what I mean? My hop cravings continue unabated. Created by another duo, Hans-Christian Bosch, who as far as I can figure out is connected with Brauerei Bosch, and Sepp Wejwar, or "Biersepp", biersommelier and author, operating under Propeller Getränke.

There's not much technical info on their website, but a Double IPA is always music to my senses. However, not in this case. Expecting a Double IPA in  what seems to be the de facto American tradition, the aromas are quite muted, and I have to admit I transferred some to a snifter to try to concentrate them. What's there is pleasant, though, with a nose full of caramel, sweet mandarin peel, a pinch of nutmeg and floral undertones. On first taste, the body is is very pleasant, presenting a soft, chewy caramel base, cut with a lime-like freshness. The middle ground flies by rather swiftly (sorry!), flashing rounded pear, a little banana, to be replaced with a mildly sorbet-like finish that is sweet with long-lingering citrus notes and an edge of butterscotch. I have to admit, I was disappointed in not getting what I expected, but it's a decently-flavoured, moreish, easy-drinking beer.

Just on the topic of "what is this beer?", those who know me know that I'm not a style nazi, especially when brewing my own beers, and I dislike the idea of brewing by numbers, as Al over at Fuggled would put it. However, there's a certain value in a descriptive beer style from the consumer perspective, and although this is a fine, enjoyable beer, it is not, to my mind, a Double IPA. To me, it's an enjoyable, strong Pale Ale at 6.5% ABV. In fact, a German who had never had a DIPA before trying this, and liking it, would get a hell of a shock from the intensity of most other DIPAs. Funnily enough, there's a new addition to the beer description on the website since I last looked. I'll translate as best I can:

"AUFWIND is a Double IPA (Double India Pale Ale). Also when many bloggers don't want it to be true. For the category of Double IPA is non-binding. For some, "Double" means to double the alcohol levels or bitterness. For us, that would be too easy. Much more difficult is to produce "more" flavors and a "sea" of fruit."

Hmm... Yes. I have to admit, I don't get the "more" or the "sea", but perhaps in comparison to normal German beers, there is a "sea change" here. But please, lets not fracture the already apparently infinitesimally divided "beer style" list by creating a "German DIPA"!

And so, finally, to FritzAle IPA, a beer that was also recommended via Twitter. FritzAle is brewed at the Helios Braustelle in Cologne, presumably by Fritz renting time at the brewery, as are other beers like the Freigeist Bierkultur stuff. Having visited in the past, and liking what Braustelle do, I had high hopes for this, despite the daunting 750ml size. The garishly-coloured bottle lists Amarillo and Simcoe as hops of choice, bittered to a respectable 59 IBUs, and a regular 5.5% ABV. I'll cut to the chase. Brilliant. Big, fresh aroma, hitting classic American hop characteristics of piles of grapefruity, citrussy goodness. The flavour is certainly hop-forward and fresh, on a creamy fudge base, bready with the added bonus of pineapple sorbet, lashed with a luscious, yet drying pithy bitterness that goes on and on. Masses of flavour, wonderful balance, and the whole thing just works! Try it if you can.


Gerrit (@geo21481) said...

I believe the phrase is "coming into *its* own" (see, you do need the practice!) :)

Grammer (see what I did there?) Nazi-ism aside, I could not agree more, paragraph for paragraph, with the possible exception of your classification of the Fritz color scheme as "garish". Unusually vibrant, yes, but I rather like that about the label (Now, if you had attacked the choice of typeface, I would have been on board…).

The new batches of FritzAle, incidentally, are brewed at Abteibrauerei Siegburg, and the recipe has been changed slightly because Fritz (that really is the brewer's name) had to substitute Citra for Amarillo. Still brilliant, now called FritzAle American IPA. Get it if you can.

Another recommendation: Häffner Bräu's (you may not have to leave the Bundesland to get that…) Hopfenstopfer range, particularly their excellent Citra Ale.

gerrit (@geo21481) said...

also: rather cheeky of the Propeller guys! Which blogger do they have in mind, though? Felix is on record liking both the beer and the name -- who else is there?

Barry M said...

I left that there for TheBeerNut to find! (but thanks anyway) ;)

Regarding the FritzAle label, garish can be ok, too, but random might also apply :)

I'd really like to try his next one so. Didn't I see an Imperial Stout on the new festival list also?

Hopfenstopfer... Bad Rappenau, not too far from me at all. I actually mailed him some months ago for some info, but never got a reply. Would love to visit, but haven't bought anything of theirs yet. Must do!

And yes, the lady doth protest too much, methinks. Perhaps the Sepp was watching the Twitter conversation we three had last week. I thought Felix's live tasting was kind, but he did agree it's not a DIPA in the sense of what beer geeks might expect. I have to admit, I enjoyed the bottle I drank while writing this all the same.

Anonymous said...

Hey Barry,

here`s the Hopfenstopfer!
You mailed me? Please do it again info az If you wanna visit me, be welcome!
The Citra Ale will be botteled at Thu 23rd.
Best Regards Thomas

Barry M said...

Hi Thomas! I was sure I mailed (I thought via a Haefner e-mail address), but now I can't find it in my sent items :|

But yeah, it would have been about open hours and visiting during brewdays :D I'm not too far away and would love to stop by. Sadly, I have to work on Thursdays. In the meantime, I'll just have to order some online ;)

Mark Dredge said...

These sound great!

Are there any places in the big German cities to go to drink the craftier side of brewing? Any beer bars or similar?

Der Biersepp said...

Barry M said...

You know, Mark, I don't really know, but my feeling is that the kind of beer bar that you or I might want to see are few and far between in Germany. I felt lucky in Muenster to have a "Yorkshire" bar that stocked the likes of Black Sheep, Theakston, Fuller's and random other English and Scottish stuff and rarely, some Sierra Nevada.

Café Abseits in Bamberg probably fits the beer bar bill well, and is definitely worth a visit, even in the face of the magnificent breweries of that town. In fact, it's worth going there just to try some of the Weyermann Maltings pilot brewery stuff. In Cologne, the Helios Braustelle is a must, not only for their own range of interesting beers, but the ones brewed on premises by Freigeist Bierkultur and FritzAle. Certainly a crafty spot, but then with something like 1300+ breweries in Germany, there's a whole lot of crafting of beer going on, and it's worth diving into the "traditional" German beers on their home turf. I really have to do a proper Altbier trip in Duesseldorf!

To be honest, it's a big country, and I've seen little of the major cities even in the four years I've been living here. Now I'm in a tiny village, my local choice is dramatically reduced :)

I'll have to ask the real German experts where good spots are further afield. I could do with a shortlist myself! :D

Thanks for the mention, Mr. Sepp! :)

Gerrit (@geo21481) said...

Mark and Barry --

what was the definition of "craft beer" that we all agreed upon again? :D

One could (and indeed, I would) argue that the traditional breweries of Bamberg, Düsseldorf and even Cologne and Munich would meet any literal criteria for craft you could think of (Schlenkerla and Spezial in Bamberg still have their own maltings on site, for instance).

I second Barry's recommendations of Café Abseits and Helios Braustelle, and I also second his diagnosis of a lack of a "proper" beer bar in the Belgian, American, or (new) British sense. We can but dream, mostly.

Berlin looks like the city with the most active new brewery/brewpub scene currently, of which Brewbaker is probably the best known. I have yet to go to Berlin on "beer business" myself, though, so I can't offer any recommendations. The recent "Around Berlin in 80 Beers" guide book from Cogan & Mater appeared to list a lot of (more or less) traditional German pubs and (Eck-)Kneipen, though, which might give one the idea that the Hauptstadt still has a lot of room for beery improvement.

There's the brewpub mini-chain of Joh. Albrecht, which are alright, if usually a little safe, there's Gröninger in Hamburg which *looks* like a bit of tourist trap but actually serves a legitimately good, malty, sessionable beer.

And there's the Bayerischer Bahnhof in Leipzig, which holds a special place in my heart for brewing an idiosyncratic, almost extinct style called "Gose" in open defiance of the Reinheitsgebot (it's brewed with salt and coriander seed). You can't ask for a more refreshing drink!

And yes, Barry, FritzAle has made an Imperial Stout in the past (we still have one bottle of that somewhere), and I'm sure he will again, but I don't know if it's available at the moment. Also, what "new festival list"?

Barry M said...

When I said "new festival list", I meant the list for the 2012 Bierkultur festival. Though I'm sure there'll be some Imperial Stouts at the actually new festival, Braukunst Live.

Gerrit (@geo21481) said...

and where have you seen the list for the 2012 Festival der Bierkulturen? Last I checked they were stubbornly (and frustratingly) offline-only, more or less…

Barry M said...

Ehh, you sent it to me in an e-mail on 30.01.12 :) It included:
Fritz Ale mit Imperial Stout, Belgian IPA, Smoked Stout


Gerrit (@geo21481) said...

DUH! And here I thought I was too young for a senior moment… :)

I do remember sending you the list, but I'd forgotten it specified the beers, not just their brewers.

Still, it's a sad state of affairs that you'd have to quote *my* emails for even vaguely accurate info about a festival that I have no involvement in other than a satisfied repeat attendee…

Mark Dredge said...

Interesting! So I guess the next question is where can you drink these beers?

It's great to see them arriving but is there an outlet for the new when there's so much of the traditional?

Barry M said...

Good question, Mark. For some of the established brewpubs/breweries that are doing "interesting things" (Faust comes to mind, and I'll post about some of those soon), they may already have their own tap room, or at least local or regional distribution. In their case, I've seen their beers in pubs in Muenster, but then the owner came from the same town.

For the likes of Crew AleWerkstatt, from what I understand, they've been doing promotional tours, but I'm not sure whether this includes getting the beer into bars, and not just the few specialty beer shops.

Speaking of which, I think these latter outlets are more important than one might think in Germany, at least when it comes to the "special stuff", primarily due to the local/regional nature of beer consumption here (in general, so I know there's no way in hell I'll see anything other than Bitburger, Paulaner, Eichbam, Distelhaeuser etc in my local drink store). It's one way to get a variety of German and international beers (though the latter is quite limited, but improving), and Bierzwerg, Bierpost, Bier Kompass and others do a fairly good job.

Of course, this is just my impression, and is completely generalised, as there are always exceptions. I also get the feeling there are some inner circles for getting at the special stuff (reminds me of the League of Gentlemen) :D

Wolfgang said...

The Crew Ale ist brewed at Hohenthanner Schlossbrauerei, which ist located near Landshut. So even if it doesn´t qualify as Munich Beer its still a bavarian Product. Speaking of which, you should definitely try some of the Camba bavaria Ales (Pale, IPA and black IPA) they are all excellent.

Barry M said...

Danke für die zusätzliche Info, Wolfgang!

The Camba stuff is definitely on my radar! :)

Brian said...

Hi Barry,

I agree with pretty much yor whole review. However, I would like to put out there that maybe the Aufwind is more an English style DIPA. There was a massive maltiness I got out of my bottle, vs say an American DIPA where sometimes I feel I would have been better off liking a pine tree.

Barry M said...

Hi Brian,

You know, I don't think I've ever had an English DIPA, so you have a good point. When I think "double", I thinking "bigger" in the sense of both alcohol and hop stuff. It's a fine beer in any case, so I'll try again at the Braukunst Live 2012 next weekend :D

I'm curious what hop varieties are used, so maybe I'll find out.

Brian said...

There may not be such a thing as an English DIPA...seems to experimental for the posh. But that's just what I got out of it.

Matt said...

Hi, just came across this post when googleing "German Pale Ales". I'd like to add one to the selection: Störtebeker's "Atlantic Ale". It is dry hopped with Magnum, Saphir, Cascade, Amarillo and Citra and I enjoy it very much - it might even be too hoppy in the end.
They offer to ship a crate of samples for 25 Euro including shipping. Since they are in Stralsund, that might well be worth it...

Barry M said...

Hi Matt, sorry for the delay. I just noticed blogspot had shoved your comment into a spam folder :/

I've tried a good few of the Störtebeker range (thanks to a coleague bringing a treasure chest - 6 pack - back from holiday), but haven't seen the Atlantic Ale before, so thanks for the heads up!