Friday, 29 March 2013

The Munich Beer Hall Tour


The morning after we were at Braukunst Live, TheBeerNut, Kieron and myself ventured out to the Viktualienmarkt for a spot of breakfast, which of course had to be Weisswurst, however with coffee instead of Weissbier. Joined soon after by Brian (AKA Lazarus), Mark and Jon, we were set to go visit a long list of  beer halls. However, the sea of red football scarves around us in the Markt foretold trouble was ahead, as masses of Duesseldorfers descended on Munich for a match.

The calm before the storm?

We tried to get into the Schneider Weisses Brauhaus, but it was not to be, so we soldiered on to the rather upmarket-looking, and pretty empty Wirtshaus Ayingers. At least it was pretty much empty when we arrived, shortly after 11, but soon filled up. It's not so "traditional" looking as other hostelries, but still has lots of wood, in a more art deco kind of way. An apparent trainee tapping a barrel livened things up, resulting in some punters ducking behind the bar and a bollocking from the boss, and by the time we left it was well busy.

Beer-wise, I tried the Altbairishes Dunkel. Crystal clear, chestnut brown, sweet, light raisins on the nose, it had a proper malty, caramelly sweetness with a bite of burnt toffee and a huskiness bringing a snap to the finish. Raisins and a mild pepperiness lingered, but I can't say I was overly impressed. The Kellerbier, on the other hand, golden and hazy, was really refreshing. Dry, biscuity, lemon-soap. A good morning beer.

We reckoned that with the match due to begin around 3ish, it just wasn't worth trying to get into any of the popular central beer halls before then (though we did try), so we hopped on the S-Bahn out to Forschungsbrauerei, just a 15 minute ride from the city centre.

Forschungsbrauerei was well filled with locals, so they had to open the back room for the six of us to have a table. Being that time of year, they also had their St. Jakobus Blonder Bock on, and we were all encouraged to try it (narrowly avoiding a litre of the strong stuff). Served in a Krug, it seemed like a dirty, hazy thing, but smelled rather appealing, with honey to the fore and summer berries coming swiftly behind. Cream soda was my first thought on taking a mouthful, with sultanas, which works in my book. It has a gentle carbonic bite, providing a prickling finish, and a light herbal bitterness. Very nice, and masking a 7.6% ABV rather well.

Their Pilsissimus (which they said was an Exportbier), is also a fine beer. Light, grassy, herbal, with an earthy backbone, giving plenty to enjoy, and well sessionable. All very hard work, though, so a hearty meal (meat in most cases) was needed.

It's a nice spot, and at least the beers we tried were decent, so I could imagine spending a pleasant evening here. However, that was not to be, as we had a list, so back on the S-Bahn and into the central station, followed by a walk out to the Augustiner Keller.

Ideally, we should have been visiting here in high Summer, sitting out under the trees surrounded by thousands of beer drinkers. As it was, the tables were stored away, but there were people playing what looked like Eisstockschießen. The main building was of course open and comfortably filled. We grabbed a table occupied by one well-fed local, and did the only decent thing, ordering an Augustiner Edelstoff. Well, I did. I have to admit, I've had Edelstoff some years ago from the bottle, and just found it ok, if not a little boring. I had to correct my impressions after this. A pale white gold, light pine, resinous on a digestive biscuit base, I loved it. Could be as much to do with the convivial surroundings, as I'd have happily spent the rest of the day there. The Augustiner Dunkel was also rather good. Clean and malty, not at all cloying, with a lingering chocolately thing going on. Lovely.

Encouraged by Mark, next on our list was the Spaten Braustuberl, listed in the Good beer Guide to Germany as being on Marsstrasse. What we found was what looked like an Italian restaurant, with napkins neatly folded on the table, so, with much confusion (as seen in the photo below), we gave it a miss and had a forced march on to the city centre.

Our next target was Andechser am Dom, which we'd tried before heading to Forschungsbrauerei, but had to pass on as it was heaving with footie fans. Things hadn't changed when we got back, but we did find a table outside. It was pretty cold, so we had a fairly swift one, no notes, before heading to the Schneider Weisses Brauhaus for a second attempt (Mark was craving a Weisswurst).

The Weisses Brauhaus was also heaving, so we stood in the porch for a while before deciding to head up the road to the Hofbräuhaus. I have to admit, we must have been drunk, as this was the lowest on my list of Munich destinations, being the tourist hellhole that it is.

Still, on entering the cavernous, not least infamous beerhall (known in some circles as Hitler's local), it seemed like a good idea, till we realised there wasn't an inch of space free inside. We rambled about, loitered in the beer garden for a few minutes and then dived at a few seats that became free out there. We waited about 20 minutes without being served, then recognising the futility of it, at about 8:30 decided to take our chances back at the Weisses Brauhaus. We parked ourselves in the porch, endured the tongue lashing from the wicked witch of the east who was guarding the portal, before finally gaining entry.

I like the Weisses Brauhaus. The beer selection is great, if you like Weissbier, and even if you don't, the likes of Mein Hopfenweisse (Tap 5), Mein Grünes (Tap 4) or the classic Aventinus (Tap 6) mean there's plenty for all tastes, even though they are all Weizens. The food ain't half bad either, and we had a big feed of sausages, steak, sauerbraten and spaetzle. We spent the rest of the night here, sampling pretty much the whole range between us, including an Aventinus Liqueur (sweet, tasted like it was based on vodka with sugar and Aventinus, but was bloody good at the time). This, to me, is what the beer hall thing is all about. Good beer, good food and convivial company. An easy way to pass a few hours, which we did!
Kieron in full lecture mode, while Mark patiently bears it out.
It was a rather late hour by the time Kieron, Brian and I arrived back at the hotel, via a stop at the Hard Rock Cafe, the only place that seemed to be open by the time we left the Weisses Bräuhaus (don't ask). Still, they had Augustiner on tap, so there's something to be said about Munich (not a sign of Becks, Warsteiner, Bitburger etc).

Next day, we trundled over to the Augustiner Großgaststätten, which was also too busy to get into the day before, for another Weisswurst breakfast. Having been gently scolded by the overly hands-on server (I mean really, it was bordering on being groped at one stage) for drinking an Apfelsaftschorle, a Maximator had to be taken. Dark toffee, prunes, date-like sweetness and a husky backdrop closing things off. I guess it helped.

Last stop for me, the Lowenbraeu place near Viktualienmarkt, but the others struggled on after I ran for a train.

It had been a long time since I'd walked the streets of Munich proper. In my mind, I can't say it's the beer capital of Germany, at least in terms of the variety offered (with some notable exceptions), but what is there is generally of decent quality. Regardless of the beer variety, the surroundings of the beer halls and pubs, and the right company, make it a great place to eat, drink and above all, have a good time, and surely that's what the heart of beer is all about.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Braukunst Live! 2013

The second Braukunst Live! and it more or less doubled in size, with about 56 stands representing 88 Breweries and over 400 beers. At least that's as much as I counted! Despite being ill the previous two days, I girded my loins and took an early Friday morning train to Munich to rendezvous with old mates Kieron, Brian and TheBeerNut, mate from Münster (well, Recklinghausen) Rüdiger and special guest appearances from Mr. Dredge and Jon, for a weekend of beer and beer hall exploration.

Here we go again! Photo: Rüdiger Gartmann
Base camp 1. Photo: Rüdiger Gartmann
I have to admit, sometimes there is such a thing as too much choice, as clutching a printed list of the beers, it was a struggle to choose what to go for in such a limited time. I opted to stay German, where possible, and try beers I've not had before. We grabbed a table beside the catering area, as sadly there was no seating out near the action of the beer booths. This might not have been such a good idea, as it didn't have the same atmosphere, but it did mean we had a meeting point to bring beers back to as each went off hunting and gathering.

First up, at booth number 2, Ale Project from Erding, and their imaginatively-named Craft Ale. Bad start. Although the bananay, bubblegum aspects might make one think of a Weizen, this was just awful, with a husky, butterscotch thing riding all over it. Cheesy, as Brian put it. Rancid as I noted. I can only hope that this was a dodgy bottle, for their sake. Their unfiltered IPA was a considerable improvement (well, the guy at the booth did say it was better) with a decent fresh hop to the fore, although sweet and unfinished-tasting.

Needing to restore my faith in the new wave of German pale ales, my old favourite Hopfenstopfer had to be next (booth 3!), and their new Comet IPA. Oily, creamy, hop-forward and loaded with pine resin, a lick of mandarin, grass and, surprisingly, berries. Now we're talking! I liked this, and I'm pleased that they keep coming out with something new to try. Nevertheless, I couldn't resist a taster of one of my old favourites, the Citra IPA, which I just realised I've never posted about despite having bought a crate of the stuff!

As per last year, Camba Bavaria had a strong presence, so I used my free token, plus one, to give their Bourbon Barrel Doppelbock a test drive. With a strong vanilla aroma, this just screams berries galore, with blackberries taking pole position. Well rounded with a gentle chocolate character bringing up the rear, this is a rather good sipper, and as a Doppelbock, I was well impressed. A candidate for my beer of the festival.
The Camba Bavaria bar. Photo: Rüdiger Gartmann
Alongside Hopfenstopfer at booth 3 was BraukunstKeller, a brewery not a million miles away from me in the heart of the Odenwald. I quite like their new branding, but hadn't tried anything from their stable till now, opting for the Laguna IPA. Brewed with Chinook, Cascade and Centennial, on paper it looked a lot like my Klosteiner Pale Ale v2, so expectations were high. With a vaguely socky aroma giving reason to pause, I quite liked it as a pale ale, having a rounded bitterness, leaning more in a fruity direction, with strawberries and cream, light pine, just a touch of citrus and a candy-like backdrop. Not what I expected given the hop listing, but a decent pale ale that that I enjoyed and makes me wonder if perhaps there is such a thing as a German IPA. I should have tried their Mandarina IPA, which uses the relatively new Mandarina Bavaria hop variety, so I'll have to seek that out elsewhere.

Pax Bräu was another small brewery that grabbed my attention on the list. They make quite an eclectic mix of beers and wanting to give a German stout a go, I chose the Black Gold. Not to my taste, unfortunately, mainly due to the addition of licorice, which I can only take so much of, but under that lay a decently oily, well roasted, caramelly stout. Their Imperial Peppermint Stout sounded intriguing  but I needed a cleanser after the licorice.

And so for something completely different. I'd heard very good things about Schönramer last year, but somehow missed them in the rush. Several people had said I must try the Schönramer Grünhopfenpils, an unfiltered pils brewed with green hops.Well, yes, rather good! Light, clean, grassy, herbal, spicy and a touch of biscuit. I'll be looking for something like this in the hot summer months.

Despite intending to stay with the German breweries, a quick trip across the border to Austria was required, to retry the Engelszell Gregorious, which TheBeerNut had enjoyed recently, and which I had tried the very first version of a year ago, and by the sounds of it, they had much improved it. And indeed, Gregorius is much improved from the ripe banana mess it was a year ago, full with dried fruits, blackcurrants  slightly vinous, a mildly bilious bitterness, combined with a deft roasted touch.  Benno is the golden side of the two current Engelszell offerings, a sweetish, yeasty, zesty with a herbal finish. On balance, I prefer the Gregorius, for the depth and chewiness, but it's nice to see them doubling their range in the space of a year!

The brothers. Photo: Rüdiger Gartmann
Realising I had not yet fully recovered from my bout of illness, I'm afraid I could not match the number of samples I'd had last year, but managed to sneak a few more small tasters in. FritzAle's Milk Stout struck me as not being classically milk stout, not having the residual sweetness or body I expected, but was rather more dry, with a strong roasted grain element. I'll be sticking with their excellent Pale and India Pale Ales. Gerrit and Nina allowed me a slurp of their The Monarchy Son of a Batch Apple Wood Gose (mildly tart, sweet underbelly, light saltiness, touch of wood and faint apple, like applewood smoked cheese) and Klosterbrauerei Weißenohe Amrita Inwerbier (lovely freshly grated ginger on the nose, but harsh and thin on the tongue), while Mark finally helped me realise a dream, to try the Braufactum Arrique Barley Wine, a beer I've been curious about for a couple of years, but just could not bring myself to pay 18 Euro for 330ml. I'm glad I didn't, as I found it lacking. Riegele, on the other hand, had a pretty impressive Imperial Stout Riserve, a rich, chocolatey concoction for sipping by a blazing fire. Another brewery I have to try more from.

One day was definitely not enough to do Braukunst Live justice, and I can only imagine it's going to get bigger next year, so I'm already planning to dedicate more time to it in 2014. TheBeerNut did make a second foray on Sunday, while I was trundling home on the train, so expect a more extensive report from him soon.

It just remains to say congratulations to Frank Böer for pulling off another great event, gathering a broad spectrum from German brewing, with a large proportion of the smaller, more interesting breweries taking centre stage. Long may it continue!

Many thanks to Rüdiger for the photos, as my camera died from dust inhalation some weeks ago (hence the poorer quality ones taken with a BlackBerry) :|