Tuesday 17 May 2016

Hops and Needles

It's that time of year again, where I am planning my third annual Fichtenbier (spruce beer) brewday, and it put me in mind of a beer I tried last year in the tasting room of the then relatively newly opened Braukunstwerk bottle shop in Münster. Hops and Needles from Brewcifer is rather aptly named, as Brewcifer (who I believe brew on Buddelship's kit in Hamburg) sourced spruce needles from Sonnenkiefer, who produce a range of  products from coniferous tree bits.

Described as an IPA with spruce tips, it's got quite a fruity aroma, with tangerine, passion fruit and a minty, lemon verbena note that felt familiar. Flavour-wise, it's slightly medicinal, but with peach and strawberry cream on top of a biscuity base, dried out with mandarin pith, and light tannins. It's a nice, juicy kind of beer, and I liked it a lot, but I couldn't help thinking that the spruce was playing second fiddle to the hops (Simcoe, Amarillo and Citra, by the way), especially as I know what more spruce tastes like. Nevertheless, it added a nice edge, and I guess that's the main point.

Friday 6 May 2016

The Session #111: Beer midlife crisis?

I'm about the right age for a midlife crises, if such a thing exists, but our host, Oliver, wants us to focus on the idea of a beer midlife crises, something that I can probably relate to in one sense or another.

If this blog, and the (in)frequency of posts over the past few years is anything to go by, it would sure look like I lost the zeal for good beer. But for many, and I would include myself in those ranks, blogging is just an aspect of a hobby, a means to engage with a broader, international community of beer lovers. For others, it is a means to establish a brand, to launch into something closer to a job in the industry, as many of the new, glossy-looking German blogs seem to be, riding on the wave of a new German beer (sub) culture.

Truth be told, I had more pressing things to be doing, renovating a house, taking care of my family, and fitting into the new social dynamics of a small German village. But I will admit that over this period, while my core love of beer smoldered away inside, I was quite content, in the main, to buy beers I liked by the crate-load, and simply enjoying them without analysing. My home brewing was taking a hit, too, with a low point in 2012 of brewing only once in the entire year! And apart from the highlights of attending a festival or two each year, I had neither the time nor the money to be investing in what can be an expensive hobby. At least when trying to keep up with the new, usually dearer, specialty brews from new and old breweries here, while there were pretty decent "normal" beers to be had at very reasonable prices. So my broader explorations slowed, and I had to become more selective.

This period also saw a boom in what I suppose can be described the craft beer movement here in Germany. With my lack of time and money, to a degree it felt like watching from the outside, as the choices for lovers of interesting beer expanded, and the idea of craft finally came to Germany. However, observing an apparent swell of "me too" breweries, or often just brands opening up in the trendy parts of Germany, as well as large breweries co-opting the "movement", I think I probably reached, well, not a crises, but a kind of cynicism that is not really the way I like to see the world.

And that is probably as close to a crises that I will get in my beer life. The pleasure of experiencing a new beer, for brewing, for sharing and for actually being part of a community with a common interest, well, that never went away.

In the past 14 months, since moving into our house, my home brewing has increased pace again, and brew days have become more like a social occasion, as people usually pop around for a bite to eat and some beer tasting. I'm also planning on giving the home brewery a more permanent home in the barn, one of the many projects on my endless to-do list. Last August I completed a dedicated beer cellar, and plan to start cellaring certain beers properly, with a view to having vertical tastings in a few years, so the way I see it, beer has been incorporated into the very fabric of our home.

The social aspects of beer are also too important to forget. For me, beer has been like an "in", as a foreigner in a small village. Stammtisch people now introduce me as "the Irish brewer", if someone new pops in, giving two topics to immediately talk about. But more recently, my passion for all things beery has been re-awoken due to being around more people with similar interests, either home brewers, professional brewers, or simply neighbours of all ages just happy to objectively taste something new. Beer is ultimately a social thing, and it needs people to make it any way interesting at all.

I won't promise that this blog will suddenly be seeing more regular posting, nor am I ready to close its eyes and draw a blanket over it, as TheBeerNut put it. I will continue to occasionally post about things that grab my fancy, or that I feel need a bit of thought and exploration (purely for my own sake), or simply giving readers a view into what is happening in the German beer scene. But my personal interest in beer? That won't lessen any time soon. It's simply too much fun!

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Reinheit celebration brews

A few weeks ago, my wife returned from the local drinks store with a six-pack of a new beer from Distelhäuser, Jubiläumshopfen, a dry-hopped pils brewed in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Bavarian Rienheitsgebot. On the back label, it lists Citra and Cascade as the hops used to dry hop, and a swirl of the bottle shows plenty of hop debris (pellets, presumably) left over from the dry hopping process. A careful pour leaves these behind.

Fruity, with masses of passion fruit and mango, but also with a pungent, kind of crushed tomato leaf-marigold background that eases off a bit as the beer breathes, revealing a more delicate shade of mandarin and lime pith. It doesn't eel at all like a pils, in the classic sense, and given I'm not a huge fan of Distel Pils, I found this to be a relief. It's creamy and oily at first, though it does have a snap to the finish, offering a lightly tannic dryness. But the main act is the big fruit bomb, carrying the mango and passion fruit over from the aroma, with bitter mandarin in the mix to sharpen things up. All in all, a rather juicy drop. 

Having a contact in the brewery, I was curious about the hops used in the boil, and it's a rather long list, consisting of Northern Brewer, Perle, Tettnanger, Smaragd, Saphir and Centennial, plus the Citra and Cascade for dry hopping, as previously mentioned. Apparently the regular Pils also uses six hop varieties, though I am guessing more traditional types.

The second celebration beer came from an unlikely source, considering the trial that Camba Bavaria have been going through, taking their Milk Stout, Coffee Porter and other beers off the market, as the Bavarian rules won't let them cal them either beers, Brew Specialities, or even "mixed drinks". I received the bottle free from Camba as they saw on Twitter it was my birthday, and offered a drink on them, which was very kind.

I have to admit, I wasn't sure what to expect here. Would they be sticking it to the man, or playing it straight, but in a way, it was somewhere in between. The aroma wasn't standout, reminding me a little of hay in a dry, dusty field, with grassy highlights. This belies the fruit-forward flavour of this Helles. Where the Distel was bright and sharp, this contrasts by being earthy and deep, with strawberry, melon and tropical fruits, ending on a mineral, chalky, herbal note. Both have their merits!

Wednesday 27 April 2016

With a little help from my friends

The occasion of #OpenIt a couple of weeks ago happened to coincide with a small, pre-birthday gathering, at which I had already planned to open a selection of bottles, some of which had been languishing in my cellar for a few years. Ever the one for experimenting on my friends and neighbours, I thought it would be a chance to share some big bottles, and get some feedback in the form of a casual tasting.

After filling bellies with chili and a selection of my own humble beer offerings of porter, pale ale and saison -- people always seem to go for the homebrew before the commercial stuff, which is endearing -- we had, at the end, five volunteers, plus a few backseat drivers, for a tasting. I gave them sheets to write down their thoughts, as it wasn't a free lunch!

The first beer opened was Jeff's Bavarian Ale from Maisel & Friends. This was only in the cellar only a few weeks, as I had bought the rather well-priced big bottle on a whim, while waiting for a physio session in nearby Mosbach. I had avoided reading anything about it, but was not surprised to later learn it's based on Weißbier, as the aroma is distinctly fruity, with banana and bready yeast overtones. It is, however, quite a bit richer than the average Weißbier, leaning more towards a Weizen Doppelbock (well, yes, it would at 7.1% ABV), with plenty of vanilla, fruity elements recalling summer berries, and a sweetish, crème caramel base. The finish is sweet and oily, leaving a warm, spicy feel. Words used by the group to describe it included: blackcurrant, fruity and mild, liquer-like.

I was a little hesitant about opening the Chimay Bleue Grande Réserve 2008, that I bought in some newsagents in Münster in 2009. It had been moving about with us, so has seen four difference "cellars" over the past seven years, and the amount of gooey-looking sediment at the bottom of the bottle gave me pause. I decided it was best to decant it, and we got a lovely clear beer for serving. It had a gorgeous, rich, sherry and port-like nose, and a flavour laden with raisins, dates, vanilla and toffee. And all of this on a silky-smooth, creamy body that masked the 9% well. It certainly wore its age well, and everybody seemed to enjoy it. Words used to describe it included vanilla, honey, chestnuts, nutty. Quite perceptive, this bunch.

Maisel & Friends was chosen by the group for the third round, as they all liked the sound of Marc's Chocolate Bock, a  7.5% creation that the blurb says is his interpretation of an Irish stout... eh, ya wha? Rich and fruity, with dried fruits, dates, and yes, a suggestion of chocolate. It has a lovely velvety texture, with vanilla, caramel and chocolate mousse. All rather nice in the mouth, but although the finish was certainly chocolaty, that in itself a great feat, it was of a type that didn't appeal to me. The team described this beer as dark caramel, bitter chocolate and a bitter, burnt aftertaste.

The final beer we shared was Bergmann Adam.  Bergmann is a Dortmund brewery I've covered before, but I'm not sure if they are yet brewing at their own facilities by now. This was a beer I had been greatly anticipating, as there was some personal interest in how it turned out. Back in 2010, I had irregular mail correspondence with the owner -- in 2009, I'd arranged a visit to the brewery with the The Beer Geeks, Chris and Merideth -- and he'd told me of his intention to remake an Adambier, which originally came from Dortmund. Out of curiousity, I contacted Ron Pattinson to see what insights he had on the original Adambier, and he kindly given me some info that I passed on to Dr. Raphael:
Dortmunder Adambier was a strong, sourish top-fermenting beer. Wahl & Henius ("American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades", 1902) has an analysis of the beer performed in 1889. It was around 18º Balling, 7.38% alc. by weight (9.4% ABV) and a lactic acid content about half that of a contemporary lambiek. In contrast to sour beers such as Gose and Berliner Weisse, Adambier, also called Dortmunder Altbier, was heavily hopped. It acquired its sourness much like Porter - through a long secondary fermentation. Bacteria in the lagering vessels slowly changed the beer's character. It needed to be stored for at least a year for this process to take place. At the end of the primary fermentation the beer it was not sour at all. Another beer of this type was Münsterländer Altbier - stilll brewed by Pinkus Müller in Münster today. (Source: "Jahrbuch der Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei in Berlin, 1911", p.522)

Now, they didn't want to introduce lactobacillus, as they were contract brewing, but said they would use lactic acid to add sourness. Nevertheless, it was something I was eager to try. However, getting a bottle seemed to be difficult, as it sold out quick every time it was made, and it wasn't till I think last year that my colleague Markus generously gave me a bottle. Needless to say, I was excited to be trying this for the first time!

A respectable 7.8% ABV, Adam was not what I expected. On the nose, I found it fruity, with soft, ripe berries to the fore, with a soft, yeasty edge. Expecting to pucker up, the flavour was also more in the direction of fruit, with a slight bite of cranberry drying up what would otherwise be sweet caramel, and just a hint of a roasty edge. Maybe the cranberry dryness was a hint of the lactic acid, but then, maybe I've been desensitised, as it was nowhere near "lactic acid content about half that of a contemporary lambiek". Not that it's a bad beer in its own right, but its wasn't lagered for a year with bacteria doing interesting things to it. The group however said they did pick up a sourness, and along with the Chimay, this rated highly. Malty explosion, mildly sour and smokey were descriptors used by the victims volunteers.

It was a fun evening capped off by this tasting, and those who remained for it all said it was great fun. There's plenty more waiting in the cellar!

Saturday 23 April 2016

The Reinheitsgebot - A Personal Voyage

Yes, it's that time of year when German Beer Day comes around, but as everyone knows, a special year, with today being the 500th anniversary of the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot.

I'm not going to go into the arguments for and against it. They have been done to death already this year, and most of the arguments are ones I've seen repeated frequently over the past three to four years, especially since the rise of the Craft Beer Scene in Germany. I've attended talks at the likes of Braukunst Live, have read plenty of the new wave of German beer blogs, seen interviews with prominent members of the growing craft brewing community, and enough YouTube recordings of panel discussions to be well versed in the main points against the Reinheitsgebot. At least they are consistent, and indeed, they are arguments that I've used myself, after moving here in 2008 and starting this much-neglected blog soon after. I've also seen enough of the marketing from the Deutsche Brauerbund to know what the pro argument sounds like. So this is more about my own perception of the gebot, and how views seem to be shifting.

At the time I left Ireland, it was a country seeing a surge of interest in good beer from small, local breweries, and I admit, I missed it when I came over here. Not that I wasn't prepared in some way for the relative conservatism, but in a way, I had to retrain my expectations, hitting the reset button if you will, and came to realise that there was plenty to enjoy from the rich German brewing traditions, if you knew where to look.

Sure, I railed against the gebot often enough, while at the same time thoroughly enjoying fantastic German beers, with the odd Belgian, US or English import to add a spark and remind me what I was missing. Then. in 2010, the first Festival der Bierkulturen happened, which was billed as going "beyond the Reinheitsgebot". This was a first peek at a small section of the brewing community doing something different, and I loved it.

But after three years living here, I began to rail less against the instrument of the gebot itself, as it was simply a marketing tool, and instead, more or less concluded it was the German drinkers on the whole that were stultifying German beer culture. What I meant by this was that on the whole, and certainly at that point in time, it was fair to say that the general populace were happy with the status quo. And given that most were happy that way, and with what the Reinheitsgebot appeared to promise, then the impetus for change would simply not happen, the Reinheitsgebot would go unchallenged, and we'd continue ad nauseum.

But I hadn't realised that things really were already starting to change. Hopfenstopfer had started brewing a single hopped pale ale that year, the now classic Citra Ale. Braufactum appeared with incredibly different beers, beautifully marketed. Online stored were increasing their foreign offerings. Something was stirring. And then, in 2012, Braukunst Live started. In a way, this felt like a shift, as it was a big festival in the most conservative of brewing cities, and there was a huge focus on "craft", with the accompanying debates on the limitations of the Reinheitsgebot.

The growth of the craft beer sector has continued unabated since then. In many ways, it mirrors what I saw happening in Ireland, and indeed the UK, also with the eventual existential crisis about what exactly is craft beer? Berlin and Hamburg are thriving centres for this new "movement", and there are new breweries and contract brands, popping up regularly, as more and more want to be part of the action. In the 5 years since I moved to south Germany, two new breweries have opened in my former home town of Münster, one by a friend who has an avid interest in pre-Reinheitsgebot beers. And the arguments against it get louder.

It has now gotten to a stage where my 50-year-old neighbour turns around to me and says "I like that craft beer stuff. I've been buying all sorts of new beers to try. Have you tried this"? The older people at our Stammtisch are no stranger to my own beer creations, often featuring spruce tips, or eldar flowers, and although they sometimes mischievously ask if a given beer is Reinheitsgebot, I know full well they don't give a shit if it is not, and they enjoy it for what it is. There are now two glossy beer magazines on the market that feature the words Craft in their titles. Mainstream much?

Thinking back to that piece I wrote five years ago, and just getting a feel for the mood in the beer community, and articles in even regional newspapers over recent weeks, I get the impression that regular drinkers -- beyond the feedback loop of the craft beer circles -- are on to the Reinheitsgebot. They are beginning to understand that it is not necessarily an assurance of good-tasting beer. They are beginning to experiment and buy that odd bottle that has appeared on the Getränkemarkt shelf. They are lifting their heads above the parapet, just a little mind, but enough to make me think that now might be the time for some practical change..

I wouldn't say throw the Reinheitsgebot away completely. It's too valuable as a marketing tool, and sure, it has historical and cultural significancef. But let's not be stupid by saying this means other fermented beverages based on malted barley, but perhaps with some coffee added, are not allowed to be called beer. Let those who brew according the gebot use it as a seal of sorts, and extend the actual brewing rules laid out in the Vorläufiges Biergesetz (1993) to allow anything brewed with natural ingredients to be called beer. It surely must be that simple!

But for me, the real tipping point is the negative marketing, bordering on propaganda from the Deutscher Brauerbund. That alone is what makes me rail against the Reinheitsgebot. Skip to 2:10 on this video below, published by the Brauerbund. In my poor translation, they say "So, no artificial ingredients, enzymes, colouring or aromas. Brewing beer is therefore more demanding and complex than in most foreign breweries". Reading between the very wide-spaced lines, they are essentially tarring most foreign beers as being riddled with chemicals and being generally awful. And this messaging transferrs to those German beers influenced by foreign styles that are currently in vogue. This is exactly this kind of crap that tips my opinion enough to say I don't like what the Reinheitsgebot represents. With that kind of propoganda, it's no wonder it has taken this long for the blinkers to be shed. Let the brewing traditions of Germany open and grow, to give the beer-drinking public what they want, and see a rejuvenation of  German beer culture at a time when the trend has been away from beer.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Artbrau 2016 - Part 2: Eichbaum Experimentals

On my train ride to Heilbronn, I had tweeted something to the effect of wondering what Eichbaum would be bringing to the party this time. Last year, it was one of the bigger surprises. To reiterate, I know Eichbaum well. Based in Mannheim, they are probably our biggest regional brewery, and are independently owned, at least since a management buyout following bitter strikes in 2006. So their beer is everywhere to be seen here, a bit like Distelhäuser. Eichbaum Ureich is probably the most popular around here, and I'll buy a crate now and again if I've a bunch of pils drinkers coming over. Well, either that or Tannenzäpfle. But as I've said before, with their pils, export, weizen, kellerbier. --you get the idea -- they never rated high on my radar, other than the fact that their beer is colloquially referred to as Leichenwasser, or "corpse water", owing to the brewery's proximity to the main Mannheim graveyard! Last year changed that view a bit, but was a bit like peeping through a keyhole, or bunghole, if you will, catching a glimpse of odd things they were experimenting with. Odd, but in a rather good way! So I found myself at their stall again this year, where at first glance, the choice seemed similar to the year before, but oh how wrong I was.

One enigmatic entry on the blackboard was simply listed as Eichbaum Experimental, which turned out to be rotating all day. At the time I asked, it was a 7.5% beer aged on juniper wood, which was referred to as a "gin beer", and using the hop variety Relax, which the server told me was normally used in herbal teas. It had a powerful aroma, reminding me of pine-scented cleaning fluid (I want to say Jeyes, but my childhood memories are not what they were), and yes, gin aromatics, that reach right back into your sinus cavities. Somehting that strong can't help but be carried over into the flavour, and while being perhaps one of the more unusual beer flavours I've had (on a par with some of the unreleased prototypes from Gruthaus up in Münster), it's bloody fascinating. Woody, for sure, with a camphor-like effect gasping into the finish, but under all of this is a sweet, malty, fudgy base, with surprisingly delicate fruit flavours, evoking peach. I was surprised to be able to pick up anything like that after the aroma, but certainly a good experiment to try.

I thought a palate cleanser might be in order, so ordered a Eichbaum Enigma Zwickl, an 5% ABV, dry-hopped Kellerbier on draft, using Tettnanger Herkules and Czech Aurora in the kettle and dry hopped with Australian Enigma hops. A good solid beer this, with a honey-melon like flavour, a light vinous highlights, evoking summer berries. It was about this time that I got a bit distracted from the note-taking, as I began talking to the brewer, Tom Majorosi. One of my neighbours did his apprenticeship at Eichbaum, and it turned out is was under Tom, so we ended up having a great chat over quite a few of his experimental brews.

What was described as a Double IPA was pushed on me, brewed last year using a new, and as yet unnamed trial hop variety that I noted as 08/33 Tettnang. Big fruits on this one, with strawberry, raspberry and apricot  to the fore. I was amazed to find it has 13% ABV, which was incredibly well hidden, as was the 50 IBUs. It's more lush than bitter, and with a lingering vanilla finish, it put me more in mind of a barley wine than a double IPA, not that I was complaining!

During our chat, various bits of information were dropped that were at least new to me, like the fact Eichbaum brew Lidl's craft beer range (confirmed by a quick web search). I haven't even tried those, but I suspect I'll have my eyes peeled next time I'm in a Lidl.

For fans of wood, the bottled Cabernet Franc Bock probably ticks a lot of boxes, being a dark Doppelbock aged for 14 months in a Cabernet Franc cask. And it really is sublime. Massive vanilla with a smear of raspberry jam on the nose. And either the newer bocks being produced are more attenuated than the older, more traditional types, but the mouthfeel of this was more "spritzig" and light, than the sugary sticky that I often expect, and this served to lift up the barrow-load of flavours, with more raspberry, a bite of cherry, and a lick of tea-like tannins punctuating it. Apparently hopped with just Herkules hops (25 IBUs), the beer seems to be a vehicle for the barrel itself, and was one of my highlights of the festival.

After all these heavy-hitters, the next beer was somewhat of a surprise. Jean de Wit, named after Jean du Chaine, a Wallonian gentleman who founded "Zum Aichbaum" in 1679, is most certainly a nod to the Belgian Wit style, with 4.8% ABV and infused with coriander seed and orange peel. And it shows. It opens with a zippy, fresh mandarin and lemon sorbet aroma, following through to the flavour, which takes on an additional spicy note, with a sherbet zing. I noted lemon-barley water (does Robinson's lemon barley water still exist?), but also . A refreshing, summery, beer for sure.

Staying in the wheat zone, but more in the Germanic tradition, Equinox/Nelson Weisse was next. As the name suggests, a Hefeweizen dry hopped with US Equinox hops and Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand. Perhaps taking inspiration from Schneider's lovely Nelson Weisse. In effect, nothing like a traditional German Weizen, but juicy as hell with luscious fruity flavours and "super süffig", according to my notes.

And so back to the bigger beers, with Eichbaum Barrique Bock on draft, an 8 % Doppelbock dry hopped with Amarillo, Simcoe and Cascade. I'm well familiar with Eichbaum's Apostulator Bock, and while it's fine, it doesn't press so many of my buttons. But I hadn't realised that that was essentially the same beer, just bunged into a barrique and dry hopped. And really, it does alter the beer, to a stage where buttons were being pressed. Vanilla again comes to the fore on the aroma, with the barrel having a loud voice, but the added fruitiness of the hops, and perhaps also the tannin effect from the barrique itself, seems to result in a lower perceived residual sugar. That's just an awkward way of saying it felt drier than the regular bock, which is something i much prefer. Cherry, vanilla, and an oily mouthfeel all added to make a rather comforting drop.

By this time, my friend, Frank, from back home had arrived, and I did another round of the stalls with him, and stopped taking notes. But we did return to Tom and Eichbaum for one more. Eichbaum Lambexico is a Lambic beer with 8% ABV aged for 14 months in Tequila barrels. I think my little mind stopped working at this stage, so no more notes, just enjoying the last beers and some excellent three and five-year-old cheeses provided by Tom from (I think his friend) Lothar Müller, the Cheese Master at Käsemanufaktur Hockenheim, one of which was washed in in an Eichbaum Experimental. Many thanks to Tom for the hospitality!

And that's it for Artbrau. There were a few more beers had that I won't go into detail on, from Schneider and Welde, but my memory is not so reliable, other than the fact that I tweeted the Schneider Marie's Rendevous was an awful mess of sweetness. "Liquidised lollipops" was what I actually said.

I like this festival. It had a decent trade by the evening, but never got uncomfortable, and it had a nice atmosphere, making it easy to strike up conversation with random strangers. My only complaint would be on the food side, as the options were few, and pretty expensive. However, compared to other festivals, the entry cost was very reasonable, and the beer servings generous, so balance is restored. I'm certainly looking forward to next year.

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Artbrau 2016 - Part 1

It had been over a year since my last beer festival – due to bad planning on the behalf of the organisers, Braukunst Live yet again clashed with something else in my calendar – so I have to admit, it was with great anticipation that last Saturday, I headed off to the 2nd Artbrau festival, just an hour’s train ride away in Heilbronn.

In the same location as last year, and equally as small, Artbrau nevertheless offered a chance to sample the wares from breweries in our region, which is something that interests me greatly. I’ve commented before that I seem to live as far from the bright centres of the German brewing galaxy as it can possibly be, but I might well have been doing Baden-Württemberg and our bordering states a disservice. Sure, most of what you see in the beer press these days is coming from Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, but we’re also home to pioneers like Hopfenstopfer and, as I was to find, some new blood as well as more surprises.
First stop, as usual, was to say hello to Thomas at Hopfenstopfer, to see what was new, and have a bit of a chat. Thomas’s latest creation is Höllensud, described as a highly hoped pils. With a cutting, fresh lemon aroma, backed by an earthy, leaning towards catty tone, it begs further exploration. Planned to have 45 IBUs, but it ended up at 53, the bitterness is certainly noticeable, but crisp and clean, like one would expect a pils to be. But the choice of hops brings it beyond that. There are fruity tone, recalling pear drop candy, mango and tangerines, with the slight saltiness of digestive biscuits. At 4.8%, it marks a departure for his normal line of beer, and is eminently sinkable.

For those who don’t know, Thomas brews at Häfner Bräu in Bad Rappenau, and Hopfenstopfer was more or less a personal side project. However, it has gotten to the stage where demand means that the volume of Hopfenstopfer beers brewed is exceeding the standard stuff, and the beers are available further afield.
A few steps away was one of the newer breweries, or perhaps brands, in the region, Brewdudes out of Würzburg, an hour north of my home. Brewdudes is a collective of seven young guys, students mostly, who are homebrewers. Tired of the relatively boring beer scene in Würzburg, they made first stops to making their own commercial beer, Brewdudes Pale Ale in July last year. Contract brewed at Brauhaus Binkert to their own recipe, it was described to me as a “beginners pale ale”. Setting expectations low then! Admittedly, the aroma is not much to speak of, offering a hint of caramel and flowery notes. Flavour-wise, it’s more firmly on the malty spectrum, with a pop of juicy-fruit gum, and just a twist of orange peel. The hops are fairly Germanic, with Hercules and Perle, and finished with Cascade (German cascade, as I recall), so perhaps a German Pale Ale, without the baggage associated with what one tends to expect from a pale ale these days.

I’ll be watching what these guys do with interest. I couldn’t help but wonder if there might be a case of too many cooks, as someone commented to me, sometime two people working together on a beer can have enough disagreements, but seven is a lot. Still, they look like happy chaps, don’t they?

The guys were also serving a beer from Binkert, the Amber Spezial, a beer using only Fränkisch ingredients. Most definitely wearing its heart on its sleeve as a malty beer, with summer fruit flavours up front, evoking raspberry and strawberry jam, there’s a crisp bitterness that creeps up later. A solid enough thirst quencher, but not standing out from many others on the broader market.
As well as the young guns, there were breweries that it would be fair to say were more traditional. Haller Löwenbräu was one such, with a wide offering of very much traditional German beer styles. One that stood out, was Mohrenköpfle Landbier (which essentially translates as little carrot head). Looking more pale brown, the aroma certainly struck more of the German pils chords, with a crisp, herbal aroma. Up front, the taste hits a crème caramel button, backed with crisp, clean malts, cut by a grassy, herbal hop flavour. Actually, really a rather nice, solid beer for sucking back on a hot day. It wasn’t that hot in a train shed in early April, so it might have been served a tad too cold, but a good palate cleanser also.

Riedenburger had a booth again this year, and although I’ve had their beers several times, I stopped by to have a Doldensud. Maybe it was the gravitational pull of all the beards that seemed to have concentrated around the organic brewer. Doldensud is as fruity as it gets. Big tangerine aromas way up front. It’s soft, creamy, with an almost strawberry-cream candy like flavour. Bitterness is low, which pushes is slightly towards the sweet side of things, with a background of banana and bubblegum, but the overall effect is simply juicy, and somehow comforting. I recall trying their beers in 2008, before the craft beer “movement” hit Germany, and being impressed. It’s good to see they don’t just rely on an organic label to sell their beers, but they put effort into it too.

Needing something solid at this stage, I popped outside into the sun to check out the food stalls. Food offerings at Artbrau were similar to last year, with overpriced plates of cheese, and BBQ and grilled goods from “Grill Gott”. The cheaper option of Bratwurt and Pommes was replaced this year with “Healthy Wraps”. I opted for a breadroll with pulled port with Krautsalat, which seemed rather small for the €7.50 it cost, but it was tasty. In fact, I had a second one later in the evening, which brought the food bill almost in par with the beer bill, which is saying something, considering the beers I tried.

But, back into the fray, and to a completely new brewery for me: Kuehn Kunz Rosen, based in Mainz, so perhaps not so local. From what I gather, this brewery was formed in 2014 by two home brewers coming from the IT industry, which seems to be happening a lot recently. The blackboard looked very inviting, and I tweeted that I would probably have to try them all, which I did!

I started with the Kuehnes Blondes, a Belgian Wit at 4.9%, that was a picture-perfect hazy straw colour. The nose is all apple and fresh lemon zest, with the flavours suggesting almonds, or maybe a touch sweeter, towards marzipan, on a light spicy, biscuit base. The finish is a little flabby, though, with a lingering banana, and slightly soapy flavour, however, I rather liked it overall, and was pleasantly surprised, as other German interpretations of classic Belgian style have not worked too well for me in the past.

On to the Caspar Böhmisches Pils, at 5%. This opens up rather pungently, with a striking aroma that verges on spicy cheese, with elements of blackcurrent. Now don’t leave yet. It sounds dreadful, but actually, it seemed to draw me deeper, trying to figure it out. The flavour is considerably perfumy and spicy, with floral elements, like marigolds, and it has a rather interesting sorbet-like effect on the finish, which I found delightful. It turns out this is hopped 100% with Saazer, which I was amazed by. I don’t think I’ve ever had Saaz used in this quantity in a beer. The “stink” does dissipate as the beer gets some air, and the longer finish suggests more blackcurrent. I began to wonder if there was slight oxidation.

Their Mystique IPA seemed to be doing a fine trade while I was standing there, a 7% pale amber beer with a rich, deep aroma, filled with blackcurrent, mango and pine. On the tongue, it's earthy and oily, with a light fudgey sweetness, candied grapefruit and passion fruit, finishing with orange pith and pine resin. Really quite lush. Hopped with summit, cascade, amarillo and crystal.

And finally, Festland Tonka Bock, flavoured, as the name suggests, with tonka beans. But a carefully controlled amount, so the coumarin won't stop your heart! A crystal clear chestnut, it has an almost classic bock aroma: caramel, burnt sugar, with a whiff of herbs. But the flavour goes beyond that, with a light roast, suggesting American coffee, a solid vanilla backbone, lent by the tonka beans, and fruity elements, with dried and tropical fruits. Motueka hops, I was later informed.

The beers are actually brewed at Binkert, as was the Brewdudes beer, but it would seem with considerably more oversight, and perhaps experience, than our young friends from earlier. I was reasonably impressed by them all, and the Wit, flabby finish notwithstanding, was a standout for me.

Palmbräu impressed me last year with their dark beers, but having bought a six pack of their most recent Black Ale just a few weeks ago, and promptly giving three of them away as I found them way too sweet, I was hoping to be re-impressed with their strangely-named Fashion Pale Ale. Maybe they’re seeing through it all! The back label describes it as an IPA, however, though the aroma is more reminiscent of a conventional Exportbier, with vegetal notes. The flavour is sweet, candy-like, with sugary woodruff. I slinked away, disappointed, but there were plenty more fish in the sea.

And so endeth part one. Part two is pretty much going to be dedicated to one brewery, and some of the bigger surprises of this small festival. In the meantime, look at how happy the Hopfenstopfer team were with the evening trade.