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.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

A fistful of Faust

Brauhaus Faust Zu Miltenberg, in Bavaria, is only about a 50km drive from where I live (I'm in the Dreiländereck of Hessen Bayern Baden-Württemberg, so can hop between Federal States with ease!), but I first encountered one of their beers in my former home of Münster, up in North Rhine-Westphalia. It's probably no surprise that Faust Pils is served in one of my favourite pubs in Münster, The James, as the owner's mother is from Miltenberg. At the time, Axel had just gotten in Faust Pils, and was as pleased as punch, offering me and a mate a free glass to try it. I have to admit, although we gave murmurs of approval, there was something odd, yet interesting about it. Slightly sour, with a funky aroma I wasn't sure was supposed to be there. I subconsciously crossed Faust off my list, until a couple of months ago, when Axel showed me an empty bottle of a rather interesting-looking IPA from Faust. Looking at their shop, they've quite a few specialist beers, but before diving into them, I thought I'd give their standard fare a proper run.

Faust Export is extremely well-carbonated, with a seemingly perpetual head of foam constantly fed by a stream of bubbles. It has a surprisingly strong herbal aroma, with a mild spiciness and a candy-like undertone. Quite a fruity flavour up front, with hints of pear and pineapple on a white sliced pan base. The finish is mildly spicy, a little watery, but what spoils it for me is a vaguely plasticky aftertaste, that some might call resinous. I know I'm sensitive to that particular flavour profile, so try it yourself, as the rest gives an interesting, and quite possibly welcome variation on the Export theme.
I can't really say much about the Faust Pils, and not just from my previous experience of it. Certainly, it didn't have those funky flavours I described above, so I can only assume something went wrong on the way to Muenster. However, what it does have is a catty, grassy aroma, again with a mild resinous backdrop. The flavour is a little bit grainy, a little bit fruity, a little bit lemony... a little bit... Well, suffice to say, it's relatively unoffensive, but not something I'd return to in a hurry. Unless of course I visit the tap room, in which case I'll probably be ordering a freshly-poured glass to ponder on.

Faust Kräusen, subtitled Naturtrüb, didn't pour as hazy as expected. Perhaps a hint of haze. It delivers a zesty, lemony aroma cut with a thyme-like herbal highlight. Sweet, in a honey-like way. It said so on the label, actually, but I didn't expect it to be so remarkably strong, and certainly pleasant. A juicy-fruit quality slips in to the fore, and on the back, that herbal note suggested on the aroma comes in with a nice bitterness and a twist of black pepper, finishing with a long, resinous smack. Actually, this worked for me. It's certainly süffig and moreish, and feels like a bit of a mish-mash of beers. Despite my leanings away from resin flavours, I found this a charming beer, and one I'd gladly have several of.

Faust Schwarzviertler Dunkel is the one I was most looking forward to trying, as I have a soft spot for a nice Dunkel. The origins of Brauhaus Faust began in 1654, with a brewery founded in the Schwarzviertel area of Miltenberg, hence the name. This has a softer carbonation than the others, yielding a creamier, longer-lasting head on a clear, dark chestnut body. It has a mild aroma, mostly delivering caramelly malt and toasted bread. It has a soft mouthfeel, with a gentle prickling sensation, despite the apparent low carbonation, which serves to cut what could be an otherwise one-dimensional malty sweetness (think barley sugar sweets). Light fruit flavours bring up the rear, suggesting strawberries, a touch of blackberry and a just a whisper of wet cardboard in the finish. Despite a certain wateriness, I quite like the juiciness and that carbonic bite that rounds it off.

And finally, the Faust Doppelbock Dunkel. At regulation 7% ABV, this Doppelbock is an appealing, bright, red-hued chestnut. Aroma-wise, it's a tad grainy, with vegetal (raw cabbage) overtones. Not massively appealing, but on the first few mouthfuls, it sets things right with really juicy malts carrying a vanilla-edged, strong caramel flavour, cut sharply with a carbonic edge, much like the Schwarzviertler, but this time also with, dare I say it, a trace of tartness. This is more of a fruity tartness, akin to raspberries, rather than something gone sour. It has a generally fruity backdrop throughout, redolent of raisins and green apple skins. All of this combined with  a creamy mouthfeel makes this a rather moreish Doppelbock, devoid of the sticky sugariness that so often puts me off other members of this family. Served cold, it's immensely quaffable (did I just use that word?!), while a tad warmer, it's just as pleasant, but a certain huskiness appears.

Overall, I'm pleased with my Faust purchases (apart from the Pils), and at a little less than €1 a bottle why wouldn't I be? The rest of that order, though? Well, the specials are quite a bit more expensive, but we'll see if they're worth it soon...

Thursday 1 March 2012

Propeller Nachtflug Imperial Stout

The box of Propeller beers I ordered a few weeks ago consisted of nine bottles of their Aufwind IPA, and nine Imperial Stouts, going by the name of Nachtflug (Night Flight). Having drank five of these by now, I suppose I'm ready to give an opinion!

Propeller Nachtflug is properly dark and oily-looking, with a rocky brown head to match. Sumptuous-looking to be sure. The aroma is subtle, with raisins, raspberries, cocoa and just a touch of roasted grains and a slight vegetal note. It had a pleasantly smooth mouthfeel, and, for a 9.1% German beer, is remarkably non-sticky, and deceptively easy to knock back. Flavours include berries (cherries even!), dark chocolate and a surprising splash of citrus. There's a vague yeastiness in the background, adding an element of fresh bread dough. Where it really comes into it's own is on the swallow, with a long finish that is redolent of peppery dark chocolate, a bite of orange rind and a decidedly vinous feel. Lovely. In the gamut of Imperial Stouts, it leans towards the lighter end of the body scale, but it ticks plenty of boxes to keep the drinker interested, and it goes great with some strong cheese and home-made bratwurst. But then I say that about most beers I like!

I feel this is definitely better off the shelf, preferably near room temperature.