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!