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 :)