Thursday 15 October 2015

Where do I start?

"Where do I start?" was exactly the question I put to my old friend, Kieron, after walking into 57 The Headline, early last September. It was my first time in a Dublin pub in three years, and there was no better place to head in order to get a decent cross section of the veritable explosion of new beers since my last visit to my home town. To be honest, I've lost count of how many breweries have opened since my last trip to Ireland, but there must be over 50 new breweries since I left for Germany almost 8 years ago, so one can imagine the mountain of new beers to try.

57 The Headline is run by Geoff Carty, who was formerly bar manager at my old haunt, the Bull and Castle, and in the three years since he took it over, I reckon they can be proud. It was midweek, fairly well crowded with a mix of all ages and types, and scanning the 20 taps on the bar, quite remarkable in that they had no Guinness, no Heineken, well, basically none of the big name brands. Instead, there was a hefty selection of beers from local (meaning Irish) micro breweries, the majority of which I had never tried. So, indeed, where should I start?

Something low ABV, perhaps. There seems to be a few session pale ales/IPAs on the market at the moment, so I thought I'd dip into a pint of Trouble Brewing's Graffiti, at 3.6%. A fresh lemon and grass aroma (as distinct from lemongrass). Light on the body, it's certainly hop-focussed, with plenty of lemony, pithy flavours, on a biscuity base, but also with a slight metallic bite. A long-lasting, dry bitterness, reminiscent of quinoa/tonic water, I have to admit I found it refreshing, though a tad thin.

I left the choice for the next round up to Kieron, and he returned from the bar with The Hurler, brewed at Trouble for Four Provinces, a 4.2% copper ale. Quite a detour after the previous hop-forward beer, The Hurler is packed with juicy malts, with a solid backbone of caramel, dried fruits, raisins, with a lick of hops to perk it up a tad. Despite all that fruitiness, it finishes dry, with a rather nice zesty, almost cola-like flavour, lingering. Moreish.

At this point, Geoff had spotted, via Twitter, that I was in the house, so he came out for a chat, and a break from the kitchen. Being the consummate host that he is, he kindly offered us a sampler rack with six random beers.

Although my goal this trip was to drink nothing but Irish beers, an English one slipped into the tasters in the form of Liquid Mistress from Siren. A big, fruity aroma, full of cherry. Chewy mouthfeel. Chocolate-flavoured caramel, dates and dark cherry. Finishes sweet and fudgy with a slight fruity bitterness. A lovely, comforting ale that would be a nice winter warmer.

Back to Ireland, and Blond, a German-style wheat beer from White Gypsy. If you don't notice the small print describing it as a Weissbier, you'd be quickly put straight by the massive banana aroma. And I really mean massive, like ripe, mashed bananas, with plenty of clovey spiciness. It ticks all the classic boxes, and these come though in the flavour too. Creamy banana weizen, with a shot of cardamom to spice it up. A decent effort, but a slight washing-up liquid, soapy aftertaste somewhat spoiled it for me

Trouble Graffiti got another showing in the sampler, alongside its (slightly) bigger brother, Sabotage IPA. I found it had quite a rich hop aroma, with plenty of tropical fruit and citrus, and altogether juicier and chewier, with a slightly sweet, caramel backbone, topped by a decent and lasting classic pithy, grapefruit bitterness.

There seems to have been a rise in Irish contract brewers in recent years, and  one company that provides the capacities and skills to such new beer brands,  Craftworks, have their own label: Postcard Brewery. The Spire India Pale Lager from Postcard was on the taster. Certainly lagery, with a spicy, fresh hay character, evoking Germany's noble hops. Compared to the big brand pils that I'm forced to drink at my village local, this is one I could sink several of quite easily.

I have to admit, the craic was taking over at this stage, so I wasn't so inclined to be taking notes while being regaled with storied from Geoff. If you go in, ask him why they finally decided not to have any of the big brands, it's worth hearing from the horses mouth!

As I digested the very tasty lamb kofta burger (and kept nibbling on the house-made pork scratchings), a few more proper pints were had. Black Donkey RyePA (decent!) and 5 Lamps Lager (ok), and I think there was another Trouble beer as a nightcap.

First night out in Dublin in three years, and only a fraction of a dent made on the list of beers to try. Luckily, there was another couple of nights out planned, with serious beer aficionados, to help reduce that list.

Saturday 18 July 2015

CRAFT Magazine – An embodiment of the German craft beer zeitgeist?

Meininger is a publishing house with a long-established pedigree in the wine industry, with several publications targetted at industry insiders as well as the consumer. CRAFT magazine represents their first foray into beer publications, but it would seem they have had their eye on beer for a while, as this year they already held their second MeiningersInternational Craft Beer Award (though most of the international entries seem to come from the list of imports from Radeberger’s craft label, Braufactum).

So what do Meininger say about their new baby? From their website, here is my poor translation:

“With Meiningers CRAFT, Meininger Publishing House devotes, for the first time, a standalone title devoted to the theme of beer culture. The magazine is published four times a year and is aimed at the entire beer community, so to the brewers and brewing artists, beer sommeliers, distributors, restaurateurs, beer keepers and beer enthusiasts and consumers interested in beer, pleasure and lifestyle.
Three editors take care of exciting content about beer. The focus is on large brewers, small brewers, exotic brewers, crazy brewers, brave brewers, contentious issues, opinions, success concepts, news, trends, events, the international scene and players, tastings, tips and tricks.
In short, it's about makers, markets and brands.”

Of course, as a beer consumer with a little experience behind me, and I hope a broad and open view of the beer world, when I see a beer magazine with CRAFT emblazon on the top, I have some sort of expectation on what this magazine might be about. And with craft beer being quite a hot topic here in Germany, even outside the boundary of the beer geek circle, it seems only natural that other parts of the community would take notice and contribute to the dialogue. I mean, the guy that lives behind our house, probably a couple of years older than me, and most definitely till recently a dedicated Pils drinker, recently confided to me that he likes trying these new craft beers. That in a village of 1400 souls in rural Germany is no mean feat of marketing, so it’s not just the buzz in places like Berlin and Hamburg, where most of the craft beer action seems to be centered.

CRAFT is a meaty-feeling publication, with 114 pages of thick, quality paper. The layout, images and styling are of a standard one might expect for a publisher over 100 years in the business. Plenty of style, but what of the substance?

I have to admit, on first leafing through it, what struck me most was the amount of full page glossy ads from large brewers, which also seemed to correspond to a number of articles or interviews with representatives from the very same organisations. There are ads from Veltins (using the Grevensteiner brand), Köstritzer (Bitburger Group), Erdinger, Monchshof (Kulmbacher) and Radeberger, each of which also have articles. Some, like the Radeberger piece, talk about the history of the brewery. The Erdinger piece talks about the traditional bottle conditioning they use, as well as an interesting sidebar where the Managing Director states that they “exclusively brew craft beer". The interview with the Veltins boss primarily talks about their marketing innovations, but has some rather telling answers on the topic of craft beer that could be indicative of the attitude the large German brewers have of the concept of craft beer. This needs a whole blog post of its own, but Dr. Kuhl basically says that craft brewers are not selling loads of beers, so they’re not interested. Fine by me. However, they’ll keep an eye on it to see if sales volumes start looking interesting. And that’s it in a nutshell. They’ll step into the market brand of craft beer to keep a stake if they can shift units, but it’s not so much about the beer at all, and that’s the big difference to me.

"Craft Beer"
However, I digress. This is a first issue, so I probably shouldn’t be too critical. They are bound to be seeking advertising to cover the costs, and I’m sure these are relationships that were long-existing, prior to this particular magazine.

The bulk of the content, I am happy to report, does focus on stories of brewers and brewing, perennial topics for the German beer industry, both craft and macro, and informative items that educate or entertain.

There’s a fascinating feature on Privatbrauerei am Rollberg, where brewer Wilko Bereit is brewing in the former Berliner Kindl brewery in Neukölln, Berlin. It’s fascinating as this seems to be a man who embodies a craft brewer. He wants to expand, but no more than 4000 HL a year, as he wants to stay micro. He uses only organic ingredients, but does not care for certification for his beers, as he just does it because he feels the beer tastes better, not to gain any marketing advantage. He and his partner talk to every one of their 70 customers selling their beers, as communication and partnership is key. But I do him a disservice. He don’t like using the craft label, at least in the German sense, as he considers it a term that is too, well, unthinking. He just wants to be a craftsman and brew good beer. I’d love to try his beer, but they only keg and sell it locally, so I’ll have to visit Berlin.

Other items cover topics such as a discussion between Oliver Wesseloh (Kehrwieder Kreativbrauerei, Hamburg) and Holger Eichle (Deutschen Brauer-Bundes) on the Reinheitsgebot, and what is it good for (resisting to break into Bruce Springsteen’s War here!), and general interest pieces such as that about the Köbes of Cologne, or one on a new craft beer shop chain, Bierothek, with branches in Bamberg, Nurnberg and soon Erlangen.

For those interested in the small, new brewers, there is a profile of the four women behind Holladiebierfee, a self-described “Frauenbier” (I don’t believe in assigning gender to any beer), an interview with the three behind BRLO, a beer brand based in Berlin currently contract brewing 80HL per month, a sadly short article on Johannes Heidenpeter, the man behind Heidenpeters, obvs, and a lovely write-up on Philipp Brokamp’s Hops and Barley Hausbrauerei, also in Berlin.

There are a few more “technical” pieces about raw ingredients: an insight on the effect of yeast strains on the finished product, and a spread on how the development of the craft beer market has led to a structural change in the German hop industry, as demand increase for more and new aroma hop varieties, as well as an article about canning beer and a fluff piece on correct glassware. I enjoyed a thought-provoking piece on Maibock by Sepp “Biersepp” Wejwar, and how it could undergo a renaissance with the craft beer movement (their words), breathing new life into a style that seems to be fading, and indeed, it is perhaps to beer styles like this that the craft brewers should be turning their attention, instead of making another IPA.

The Bierpabst
The magazine closes off with a wrap-up on Meiningers International Craft Beer Award 2015. 554 beers entered, 50 Biersommeliers and brewers judging and 216 medals awarded. Riegele was named as National Craft Brewer of the year and the Boston Beer Company as International Craft Brewer of the year. There’s a nice photo of the Bierpapst (beer pope), in character and presumably deep in tasting.

On balance, once I got past the big brands, there’s a lot of good content in this magazine, and plenty to read. There are factual pieces like those on ingredients, and interesting stories about the people who have thrown their hearts and souls into brewing stuff that they believe in. There is food for thought, along with fluff pieces that entertain. I’m far from fluent, but I found this easy to read, so that’s also a bonus, encouraging me to improve my language skills!

My only gripe is that by naming the magazine CRAFT, it is clear that Meininger are trying to tap into what has clearly become a live topic in the German beer industry. However, by having a relatively large proportion of articles, not to mention most of the ads, coming from very large producers, that are far from what even I can accept as craft breweries, they are further clouding the already contentious topic of what German craft beer is. It’s only about four years since this trend (some call it a movement) started in Germany, and I can see the struggle to define what exactly it is repeating, much as I have seen it happen in the UK and Ireland, not to mention the goalpost shifting, or as Mr. Curtis diplomatically put it, evolution of the US Brewers Association’s definition. The large brewers here have been well prepared, and are reacting quickly and decisively, while the number of small brewers proclaiming themselves craft seems to be rapidly expanding.

To answer my own question posed in the title, I think no, it's not currently a true representative of the German craft beer industry. Having said that, I am however very pleased with my subscription and the scope and variety of the articles, just not with the naming of the magazine. I'm looking forward to the second issue, sometime around September, to see what comes. But in the meantime, I will be keeping an eye out for other German publications that keep the conscientious beer consumer in mind.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Lucky for some

I've mentioned before on this blog, that I have a mixed relationship with our local, independent regional brewery, Distelhäuser. For as long as I have been visiting Germany, whenever there was a family gathering or other party, the beer shopping instruction was usually not to buy Distelhäuser Pils. At our local, people say don't try the Pils, but the Export is drinkable. High praise indeed. In fact, I do drink the Export when at the Stammtisch, but then the only other choices are Bitburger and Paulaner.

However, I fear I am at risk of becoming a Distel fan boy, at least since Spring 2014, when they were showing a stout, a porter and an IPA at Braukunst Live! For the best part of a year, I hadn't seen these beers again, but in the meantime I had begun buying Distel Blonde, a dry-hopped top-fermented golden affair that is now a permanent fixture in my beer cellar, and Spezial, an amber beer supposedly harking back to an old-fashioned recipe, but more on them another time.

So, having thought those three beers were more or less specials done for a beer festival, imagine my surprise earlier this year, when a friend sent me a photo asking "have you tried these beers?", picturing Lucky Hop IPA, Black Pearl Porter and Loch Ness Stout. And he'd bought from a large drinks market only 20km away! Well... what could I do? I went to our local and ordered a crate of each. A crate being the smallest unit of transaction that she'll do for out of the ordinary beers. A week later, two crates of Lucky Hop arrived (the other two were no longer available), and I was the talk of the village. As the crates sat in the drinks markt, waiting for me, people asked what they were, and were told the price. Just over €40 for a crate. I reckoned they thought I was either rich or stupid, or most likely both. I admit, I was a bit shocked, but felt I had to take both (in two installments). But at c. €1.80 a bottle, in hindsight, it wasn't so bad. It's just that people don't normally buy 48 bottles of this kind of stuff in one go!

So, I've had quite some time to consider Lucky Hop IPA from Distelhäuser. I even started sharing it, experimenting on neighbours, as is my wont. And then I met Jonas at Artbrau in Heilbornn last April. Jonas is a friend of a friend, lives nearby (said we met before at a Schlachtfest), and works at Distelhäuser. He told me to look out for a new, improved version of Lucky Hop coming soon. I was thinking, what the hell am I doing with a full crate of the old one!

Fast forward to early June. I'm working in the cellar, and this bloke appears at the cellar door, with bottles of beer in his hands. I welcome him in, but it's 10 seconds before I recognise him as Jonas! Well, of course I'd welcome in anyone standing at the door bearing beer! And what did he bring? The new Lucky Hop, now brewed on the main brewkit in Distelhäuser.

Lucky Hop, both the old and new version, is 7.7% ABV with 77 IBUs. Lucky number 7, I guess. But it "only" uses 5 hop varieties, Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, First Gold and Simcoe, with Pilsner, Munich and Caramel malts. Full marks for listing detailed ingredients. Though I was tempted to do a blind tasting, I opted to just got for a side-by-side comparison, and boy, that really did show differences.

The old Lucky Hop (of which I still have half a crate) is pretty straightforward on the aroma stakes. Classic US-influences worn on its sleeve, with a healthy dose of grapefruit and bitter orange on the nose. It's got a decent enough malty backbone, reminiscent of barley sugar, or perhaps orange barley, now that I think of it, but with a rather interesting tobacco - cedar wood undertone. The finish is uncompromisingly bitter, focussed on that orange pith effect, and long lasting indeed. But it has a rough, twiggy note, that began to grate after the first 20 bottles.

The new Lucky Hop is a tad less hazy than the old version, but with a less impressive head. The aroma is considerably fruitier than the old. It still has the same orangey foundation, but backed with sweeter elements, suggesting tropical fruits and soft caramel. The body is rounder, smoother. It's still got the orange barley thing going on, but with mango sorbet added on top. The overall effect is somehow more refined, and though the rough edges of the former version may have accentuated the bitterness while drinking, this one also maintains a long-lasting finish, with the pithy, gum drying back-end one might expect, but without the twiggy catch at the back of the throat.

Quite a decent effort, and although I really quite enjoyed the original Lucky Hop, twigs and all, this puts me more in mind of some of the classic US IPAs I had when first discovering them in what feels like a lifetime ago, which is no bad thing in my book. Now if only they would produce more stout and porter!

Friday 3 July 2015

The Session #101 - The material culture of brewing

This month's Session is hosted by Jack at Deep Beer, who chose the topic “bottles, caps and other detritus”, a topic that seemed strangely apt for me, as Boak and Bailey kindly pointed out via Twitter, considering some of the stuff I had been tweeting about over June.

I'm not a collector by nature. At least I try not to be, despite a small weakness for beer glasses and bottle openers. When people hear you are a beer geek, they tend to dump their own junk on you, which is fair enough, and I can (and do) filter, and keep what I like, so the “collection” stays manageable.

However, last month, while visiting a garage sale, when I mentioned I was interested in beer glasses, the owner's daughter asked if I would be interested in a box of beer mats (coasters) from the 60s and 70s. Normally I would say no, but what a box! She said around 1,400 beer mats, and lying on top was a Double Diamond mat, so I said sure I'd take it! She offered to give it away for nothing, as her parents were trying to clean out before moving down to Lake Constance, but with her Dad looking on, I felt a bit bad about that, so offered a tenner for the lot plus a Distelhäuser Maß Krug. I promised to look after them well, and with that, we were off home.

The box was filled with bundles of mats wrapped in newspaper, mostly dating from 1964, which suggested we were dealing with slightly earlier mats than suggested. My wife, being the archaeologist with archiving experience, pretty much took over at this point, and has since sorted the collection into groupings by country then city/town. Of course, the majority are German, with a few hundred international examples, a large portion of which are from Alsace. But the total number was also higher than expected, with circa 2,200 mats, mostly from the late 1950s and early 60s.

But what to do with them? My son says this means I have to open a bar, though all agree at least a portion should be put on display somewhere, but for the moment, they will probably reside, neatly sorted, in old, stackable plastic mushroom boxes, waiting for their moment, however, the act of sorting and looking was already a fun excercise.

I said I was not a collector, but my wife is. I am a beer afficiando, my wife is not. But a collection like this overlaps both interests. I would stand, looking at these mats from breweries long gone, some of them quite local, wondering what  the beer was like. Meanwhile, my wife was constantly pulling up facts about the towns where the breweries were located, how many breweries they once had, when they shut down, when they became better known as another name, or when they got taken over. Real, living history, all laid out on our guest room floor.

There's lots of ways to filter and consider such collections. The obvious is of course the breweries themselves. Indulge me a moment, and we'll taker a look at a local example.

In the 19th century, my wife's home town of Mosbach had up to 13 breweries in operation. Now, it’s almost hard to believe, as there’s only one in operation now, and it’s a brewpub.

The biggest one was Brauerei Hübner, which began operation in 1878 when Heinrich Hübner bought out the former Brauerei Heller. In 1896 there were further consolidations, and they subsumed Brauerei Schifferdecker, to form the Mosbacher Actienbrauerei. With that latter takeover, the Deutscher Hof inn was added to their holdings. This building, which I believe was attached to the brewery complex proper, is the only part of the brewery that still exists, now as the restaurant/bar Ludwig, at the end of the pedestrian zone in Mosbach.

A set based on a road sign theme.
The fronts of the two series above.
One of the newspaper wrappings had a Hübner ad.
By the early 1900s, the Hübner family was clearly doing well. Between 1900 and 1902, they built a large sandstone villa overlooking the town, with large gardens behind it. In 1908, the massive malthouse was constructed. This remained in operation till the 1960s, when it was producing up to 4000 tonnes of malt annually.

20th Anniversary celebrations at Hübner. Heinrich Hübner is 2nd from left.
In 1928 they renamed back to Brauerei Hübner, and continued operation till 1983. After the closure of the brewery, the malthouse was abandoned, and since 1997, this protected structure has been used as a cultural and conference centre. The villa is still standing, although the gardens are now part of a shopping centre, and the brewery site has largely been replaced by a multi-story car park, apart from the Ludwig bar, as mentioned above.

Hübner is certainly not so long gone that it doesn’t survive in living memory. My wife has clear memories of them as a teen. But now, it’s just those memories, and the physical remnants. We've plenty of documentation to sieve through, so I hope to find out more about what they brewed, and how much of it.

Another way to filter the view on such a collection of beer mats was discovered when we unwrapped one particular bundle, where most of the mats were from the 1958 World Expo in Brussels. This little package was like a time capsule, capturing a distinct moment represented by several breweries and indeed other companies like Sebena Air, that were most likely all exhibiting at this world event. It was like a horizontal tasting of beer mats, as opposed to the vertical view given by a single brewery over time.

A bunch of mats from the 1958 World Expo in Brussels.
These mats – and the glasses and signs that still decorate bars around the world – all represent a material culture of breweries, many long gone. They have a permanency that the beer, the lifeblood of the breweries that they represent, could never have. Thinking about it this way, they are definitely worth keeping and documenting. If nothing else, it's just a wonderful way to learn the story of breweries, past and present, and it's down to individuals to help preserve the knowledge of their local breweries.

The next time you are sitting in a bar with the walls festooned with signs, labels and beer mats from old breweries, just consider the heritage that forged them, where they came from, and the giants upon whose shoulders our current beer culture stands.

Postcard beer mat from the 1958 World Expo

Another postcard beer mat.

*Addendum: the collection currently represents 501 breweries

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Artbrau 2015 - Part 2

I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so at this stage something was needed to act as a buffer. Outside, they had GrillGott serving up small plates of random grilled goodness, but we opted for Bratwurst in a bun at the cheaper stall.  We weren't that long outside, but the crowd had increased noticeably when we went back in. There was still plenty of space to move around in comfort, though.

The first stop was Faust, based in Miltenberg, a 45 minute drive north of where I live. I've had quite a few of the standard Faust range, not to mention a few of their more expensive limited edition brews, and it was to a few of these we were drawn. The Faust Eisbock sounded good, and at 11% ABV and a cost of two tokens (so two Euro) for the 100ml sample, I reckoned - or at least hoped - it had to be good.

It's massively fruity on the nose, mostly of the dried, sweet type, suggesting prunes, figs and sticky Pflaumenmus. It's not afraid to show off its alcohol either, with a definite warmth creeping behind a sherry-like foreground. It's got a firm fruity foundation to support it, all of the dried fruit complexities apparent in the aroma, with a slight apple-like acidity cutting through and lending a counter note. It's not without hops either, with a floral, perfumy bitterness, finishing off in the direction of pine needles. Licking sticky lips, I reckoned it was worth the extra token.

Faust Eisbock
Chris tried the Hochzeitbier, which is also a fruit and caramel bomb, but lacking the warmth and slight acidity, so a softer experience altogether.

Right next door was the Welde booth. I have to admit having mixed thoughts about Welde. Their Pils is really easy to recognise in the green, twisty bottle, and for the past few years they've brought out something like a pale ale with a single hop at the end of the year. But there's just something about their "Garden of delights" flyers that come in our door now and again that makes me think of them as all style and no substance. Imagine my shock to see them touting a Badisch Gose and a Bourbon Barrel Bock! I had to try them.

On ordering the Welde Badish Gose, the guy serving warned me that it was an unusual beer and not to everyone's taste Disclaimer duly noted, but I knew what I should be expecting. And boy, you could have knocked me down with a feather. Massive, juicy mandarin and lemon aroma, very appetising so far, but on the tongue, it's big time earthy lemon curd and seawater, finishing with a surprising tropical fruit edge. Saline and oily. Sounds dreadful when you see it described like that, but it worked very well. Checking the bottle after confirmed they do indeed use salt and coriander, not to mention saphir hops.

Welde Badisch Gose
There seems to be a generic sugary signature aroma to the vast majority of German bockbier, and Welde Bourbon Bock was no exception, despite having been barrel aged. But perhaps the flavours had a bit more than the generic stuff. Malty caramel, of course, with an edge of strawberry, raspberry and vanilla. The finish is somewhat dry, with a woody undertone and a hint of cherry. Not a bad effort, but not markedly different.

Welde Bourbon Barrel Bock
Staying within spitting distance of the table, a quick lurch over to the organic-looking Neuenstädter Bier Manufaktur.

The beer list looked respectably German, but of course, the stand-out appeared to be the Starker Peter IPA, with a quoted 65 IBU and some C-hops. After the bock, a hop injection sounded good. However, it was the first real disappointment of the day. A big Bazooka Joe bubblegum aroma served as a warning, and the flabby, fruity/malty mix of the flavour was a complete let down when expecting a big, bitter IPA. Band-wagoneering much? Probably. My notes say "Crap. Like Malzbier, but less tasty".

And so it was back over to Eichbaum, where the Spicy Oak was now available. The body language of the brewer should have warned me, as he seemed almost apologetic when telling me it was aged on oak chips And to be fair, he was probably right to be apologetic. Thin, woody, and like chewing on a toothpick too long. A shadow, compared to the Eichbaum beers tried earlier.

Third time lucky, I guessed, heading over to Braukunstkeller. I'm quite a fan of what they do here, and hadn't had any of their beers in close to a year, so the Braukunstkeller Mystery IPA on the board sounded intriguing. Mystery, because it's a new hop with no name yet, just a number, although I wasn't given the number either. This was the second beer that cost two Euro for 100ml, so when I was short-served, I felt I had to ask for the full 100ml. But what a disappointment. Another mess of bubblegum, strawberries, fatty, and hardly any discernible bitterness. A nearby brewer (actually, two) had a sip and also said "that's not an IPA". Things were really not looking good here! Three duds in a row! I had to get a rescue shot of Hopfenstopfer Incredible IPA to restore my faith in German IPAs!

Mystery IPA. It would have been better with a short measure.
After chin-wagging with some friends of a neighbour, who are in the industry, for probably too long, it was getting time to leave, and pick up my son. But time for just one more, to spend the last token. A quick run over to Riedenburger.

The temptation is always towards the IPA, but I opted for the Dolden Dark Porter. It was good!

And so, we headed off away from the growing crowd, past the steam engines, with a 90 minute train journey ahead.

I liked this festival. It might be a bit selfish to like the fact it was not overly crowded, like Braukunst Live seems to get, but I hoped that it got a decent showing later in the evening and on Sunday. There was plenty of chat, and despite a few duds, some really decent beers, some from unlikely sources, which is always a delight. If it's on again next year, I'll definitely return, sans son, and maybe overnight with the in-laws, to get the full experience.

After writing this, I found I had a bottle of Faust Eisbock in the cellar. 750ml of it! Oh my...

Monday 27 April 2015

Artbrau 2015 - Part 1

I'd read about Artbrau a few months ago, the latest craft beer festival for the German beer calendar, this time in Heilbronn, an hour's train ride away. But in the stress of moving house earlier this year, I completely forgot about it till my brother-in-law, Chris, phoned me to invite me to it as a birthday present. Living in Heilbronn, he'd heard it mentioned on local radio, and thought it'd be right up my alley.

I have to admit, when I first read about it, the similarity to Braukunst Live really struck me. Artbrau - Braukunst, the names of both playing on the art of brewing, but both also located in transport museums? The finest form of flattery, I guessed.

Looking at the website, the lineup seemed small, but that's no bad thing. The usual suspects, or rather friends, were there, as well as a few surprises, which I'll come to later. Poking about the web in advance, it was also interesting to read that the whole thing was organised by a trio who come from the gastronomy side of things, and indeed, had Braukunst to thank as an influence, wanting to have something similar in Heilbronn. Well, living in Baden-Württemberg, I certainly wasn't going to complain!

There weren't exactly fights to get in...
So it was that we arrived at the Süddeutsches Eisenbahnmuseum, shortly after opening last Saturday afternoon. I had somehow expected lines of people, but the crowds were sparse. We picked up our festival glass (€4 deposit) and ticket with three tokens (€6), all at a reasonable price, I thought, and sauntered on past a line of old steam locomotives. Coming around the corner, the setting was also certainly impressive.

The outside part, where there were some food stalls and the Riegele booth, were beside a great big turntable beside a railway engine shed, where the main, inside part was. I'm not a railway buff, but seeing big steam locomotives actually running, which they were later on, was pretty cool, and definitely added to the atmosphere. Inside was cosy, yet spacious, with benches and tables dotted around the place, so you could sit and chat with your selected beers (take note, Braukunst Live!). Given that the crowds were not that big, it made for a relaxed setting, with plenty of time to have a chat with the brewers/sales people manning the stalls.

It seems to have become tradition that I'll stop by to say hello to Thomas at Hopfenstopfer first, to see if there's anything new to be had. Unfortunately, they were out of the new Monroe Pale Ale, so I settled for an old favourite, the classic Citra Pale Ale. While catching up a little, Thomas told us of some plans for a dry hopped Pils and Weizen, which I'm definitely looking forward to sampling this summer.

Thomas "Hopfenstopfer" Wachno hawking his wares.
Across the way, one of the surprises waited. Eichbaum, out of Mannheim. Eichbaum is incredibly popular in some of the circles I hang out with in the village I live in. Ur-Eich is ever-present at events run by the volunteer fire fighters, and a fellow home brewer in the village did an apprenticeship there. But I think it's pretty fair to say that Eichbaum has always been relatively... well, safe in what they do. So to see a list of what they describe as experimental brews was somewhat of a shock, albeit a pleasant one.

Barrel ageing seems to be their thing, with a couple varieties in Chardonnay casks, and one in a Tequila cask However, on probing deeper on the how and why they were doing this, it was a little saddening. It was clear that there are a handful in the brewery who love beer, and wanted to experiment. But having only a 50 litre test rig, meant that quantities were small (5x50 litre for one run). That, plus, I heard from other sources that they didn't seem to hold much hope of doing more with the ideas, as it was being treated as a marketing thing. But even so, the labels are quite attractive, but what about the beers?

Eichbaum Paradiso is a Zwickl aged in a Barrique Chardonnay. On the nose, it's all fruit: peaches, sweet lemon, and a vinous undertone. It wears it's cask heart on its sleeve, somewhat, with definite Chardonnay influences. Slightly thin, but leaving an oily feel, it's low bitterness enhances the nactarines, ripe peaches and stone fruit flavours. All in all, a decent experiment, but I would have loved to try that Zwickl before it was bunged in a Barrique.

Eichbaum Paradiso, Barrique Chardonnay.
I was fascinated with what they were doing, and wanted to try the Spicy Oak Bock, but it was warming in their van, so I opted for a stronger Chardonnay experience, the Chardonnay Bock, which was also dry hopped with mosaic. This was getting interesting. Really vinous, as one might expect, with big vanilla and tannic wood. A decent amount of residual sugars, but finishing dry all the same, making it terribly easy to drink. An amplified version of the Paradiso, if you like, but deeper too.

I'd seen Palmbräu on the list, and recalled with pleasure bottles of their Zornickel Doppelbock, which I haven't seen for probably 13 years. But what a surprise to see them with craft stout and pale ale, not to mention craft Märzen, on their list.

I was equally fascinated by what these guys are doing. Since April last year, they have produced a beer of the month that is changing constantly. It's now coming full circle. I opted for the Stout, being the good Irishman that I am, to be sure. Like Guinness, the man said, I assume in an attempt to be reassuring to someone who might not have a clue what stout is. I assured him it was not like Guinness, and that was to it's advantage as far as I was concerned. It's sweeter, for one, with a pleasing caramelly backbone, but redolent of blackberries, liquorice and milk chocolate. A pretty fair beer, and given other German stouts I've tried from non-craft breweries (and I would have put Palmbräu firmly  into the traditionalists tribe), a minor miracle in not being a mess of sugar.

Palmbräu produce 150HL of beer of the month, and as they seem to stay local, there's surely enough to go around. I was told I should be able to pick up crates and sixpacks from Rewe in Mosbach, 20km away. I'll be looking forward to going shopping soon!

In the next post, I'll finish off the beers tried, some excellent, and some serious disappointments, and a wrap up of my impression of Artbrau.