Saturday, 28 February 2009

Lübzer Urkraft

Lübzer Urkraft, another beer from the former East, this time from Lübz, way up in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and another brewery in the Calrsberg stable. The first thing you notice is, of course, the clear bottle, and the ever so cool font for the Urkraft bit. The beer itself is a pale amber leaning towards a slight orange tint. The other thing you notice is how prominent the 6.0% is on the front of the label, not at all like most German labels where it's usually somewhere 'round the back. I was immediately thinking that they are aiming for the type of person who wants a quick blast of alcohol, and doesn't want to be wasting time turning the bottles around in the shop.
On tasting it, I thought it was leaning towards a bock in some respects. A sweety malt thing going on, but less sugary than some bocks. It's quite full-bodied and has a slightly oily texture. There's a citric-edged hop flavour with a hint of nutmeg that fades a little too quickly. A little bit nutty in the background.
This was alot better than I expected, if judging by the cover at least. Still in the mold of a classic German beer, it's not mind-blowing, but surprisingly drinkable.
I just now checked their website, and here's the official description from Carlsberg:
A beer with a special degree of Lübzer taste. A unique combination of zesty flavour and an enriched alcohol content of 6% result in a one and only taste experience. A balanced bottom-fermented beer.
Lübzer Urkraft has a full-bodied, distinctive taste. The glass bottle is transparent, highlighting its contemporary design, and it lets the beer’s amber colour sparkle through.
I'd never have thought of it as being a Pilsner!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Gessner Premium Pils

Staying with the former East, here's a little pils from Privatbrauerei Gessner, their Gessner Premium Pils, brewed, according to the label, after the Thuringian style. With a faintly bready aroma, backed with a grassy and mildly spicy hop note, this pils has a soft and fullish feel. It has a strong malt backbone, leaning towards sweet, with a grassy and slightly citric hop character that lingers a short while. The sweetness sticks to the lips a bit. There's certainly more to it than the two pilsners from Feldschlößchen, but I expect it would get a tad too sweet after a skinfull. Not very pilsner-like really. I do like the label though. I'm easily pleased.

Happy birthday to my son, who is four today!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Some Dresdner Beers

When I think Dresden and beer, I generally think Radeberger, a fairly popular and easy to get Pilsner brewed just outside Dresden, in Radeberg naturally. I'm actually drinking one as I type, mainly to make room in the fridge I might add. It's bright gold, with a bright foamy head a faintly sweet malt nose with a light touch of spicey hops. Light is the operative word in the hop department as a few swigs will testify, and it's a little thin, but in summer, when it's 30+, it's one of those, well, lawnmower beers I guess.

Strangely, this is a bit of a common thread for my drinking this past few days, and totally inappropriate for the weather we're having. My sister-in-law's boyfrond very kindly gave me a box of beers from former East Germany for Christmas. He's originally from Frankfurt an der Oder, right next to the Polish border, and assembled a bunch of beers while visiting family. Bloody brilliant. The next three beers are all brewed by Feldschlößchen, part of the Carlsberg group (via Holsten).

Feldschlößchen Pilsner has a citric and slight fresh pine aroma. It had a bready maltiness ona soft body. Bitterness is there, but is subtle and creeping, again with a fresh pine note, and not resiny. There's a slight grapefruit hint and a mastching dryish finish. A little thin, and not at all challenging, another summer beer really. Incidently, the chirpy chappy on the label, the Pich-männel, is apparently named after the men who used to line barrels with pitch. Pech being the German for pitch, and the Pich-männel presumably being Sächsisch for a person doing a pitch job. They say it's from a legend, but weren't pitch lined casks used at some stage?

Dresdner Felsenkeller Pilsner is very similar to it's sister brew. A little more carbonic, a little more bite and actually little sweeter, but not terribly exciting.

It's sibling, the Dresdner Felsenkeller Urhell is another golden beer. It has a grainy and slightly metallic aroma with a grassy hop presence. Like the Feldschlößchen Pilsner it has a really soft mouthfeel, with a high level of carbonation. Almost a creamy texture. It's actually quite nice. It has a bit of a zing to it, going between a slight metallic hint and a fresh citric hop action that is mor than I expected. The malts are there, but in an undefinable way, lurking in the background. It's a little acidic perhaps, and certainly not deeply layered, but a reasonable thirst-quencher.

It feels like I'm in training for TheBeerNut's forthcoming Session topic, but that'll take a different tack.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Bottling Hell

I'm tired of bottling beer. For the past three weeks I've bottled a beer every weekend. First the Smoking Gun Stout, then last week the MmmAlt, and tonight the Pale Rye Ale. On the good side it means I've gone from a handfull of bottles of home brewed beer to six crates. Although I did start dipping into the stout last week, and yesterday I popped an Alt after just one week in the bottle. Not bad. The real test will be the Duesseldorfers in the office. The Pale Rye Ale is interesting. Floral, perfumey and spicey. Not sure if I like it yet, but then it has a little way to go.

I keep thinking about getting some corny kegs, but I do like the convenience of having bottles to throw in a bag and give to people, if not the inconvenience of two hours work sanitising, priming and filling about 40 bottles...

Oh, I didn't tell you about the Alt? It looked like this for 21 litres:
  • 2kg Pilsner Malt
  • 2.1kg Munich Malt
  • 75g Black Malt
  • 23g Hallertauer Perle (9.3%) boiled 60 min
  • 25g Saaz (3.8%) boiled 20 min
  • 1 tsp Irish Moss boiled 15 min
  • 25g Saaz (3.8%) boiled 3 min
  • German Ale K-97
It's certainly malty, not sure about the alty part yet.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

BrewPub København

Day two in Copenhagen started a bit early, considering the amount of sleep I had, but a short train ride brought me to an office in Charlottenlund where I had a meeting to attend. A very good and enjoyable meeting a I might add. Nice people, and an interesting project that we hope to win together.

After seeing Knut's comment on an earlier post about the chances of Ølbutikken being open on a Monday evening being rather slim, I made a quick foray into a nearby supermarket while out for a smoke, rather than risking arriving at Ølbutikken and finding it closed. Even the supermarket was a mini Nirvana compared to the supermarkets here in Germany, with a load of British and Belgian beers that are simply not available here. I resisted temptation and stuck with Danish brews. Although I had been tipped off to look out for Mikkeller, Amager and Djævlebryg beers (thanks BeerNut), there were none on offer in this place. I contented myself with a couple from Nørrebro, as I knew I would not make it there later in the evening, and a couple from Svaneke Bryghus.

I worked a bit later than anticipated -- in fact I was one of the last to leave their office -- so hopped on the train back to the city centre, dropped my bottles off in my bag safely stored in the hotel, and marched (carefully I might add, because of the snow) to BrewPub København to pass an hour or so before I had to head to the airport.

For those who haven't been, I found this to be a rather cosy little spot, passing through a small courtyard and then down steps to the bar and restaurant in a half-cellar. The room with the bar is simple, with a small bar and a few small tables, and one long table at which there was a group of people already sitting. Off this is a long room with laid out tables for diners. I sat at the bar. There seemed to be a pretty big choice of, I don't know how many, of their own beers, and a couple from Mikkeller and Great Divide (Hibernation and Hercules) on draught, and several more bottled beers, including Bigfoot, which I was sorely tempted by.

As it was, I began with their Atlantic IPA, a nice amber beer with a soft caramel undertone and an assertivly, distinctly cascade influenced hop bitterness and flavour. I had to ask, and indeed, it's made with challenger and cascade, hence the Atlantic moniker. I really enjoyed this beer, and the almost peppery effect it had. In fact, I could taste the hops long after I left the place. I should have left it till last perhaps.

Next I chose the Ludwig Wittgenstein, a Belgian-influenced wit beer, being a hazy golden colour with a dense white head. I would have assumed it was German with that name, but it definitely leaned towards the Belgian camp. Although not as tartly refreshing as most Belgian wits I've tried, it had a nice fresh lemony citric aroma, and in the mouth this also came out, with a soft touch of warming, earthy spiciness. It did have a slight vegetal edge, but that actually worked well with it. I found it quite fullish and satisfying and would happily have another.

Running out of time I asked the barman to pick one, and he chose the Doonesbury Pale Ale. This was really malty, in the sense of freshly crushed grains, but definitely not sweet. It was light on the tongue and easy drinking with the juicy malts being the focus, and little in the biterness department. Well, I could still taste the Alantic I think! I liked this for it's malty simplicity, but it was overshadowed by the previous two.

Finally, I got a generous taster of their Coltrane Imperial Stout after seeing other customers try before they buy. Why didn't I think of that earlier! This had a lovely, rich, roasty aroma, and despite being 8.1% and a full on roasted malt flavour, it was beautifully light and wonderfully balanced. I'll be back for more.

Unfortunately I had to leg it for the train, although I did have to turn back after realising I didn't have my hat and gloves. And they weren't on the bar where I left them either. Hmmm. A quick look around revealed that an oldish lady had them on a chair beside her, beside her own hat and gloves. Strange. I retreived them while she mumbled in Danish, and scarpered.

A couple of people have told me that Nørrebro is far better than Apollo or Brewpub. Well, Apollo was worth a punt because I like to try stuff out myself, and it was within staggering distance of my hotel of course, but I wouldn't go back. But I really enjoyed my hour and fifteen minutes in Brewpub. I would have happily sat there all night sampling their wares. The barmen were also friendly and willing to talk, and weren't all "certainly Sir" like in Apollo.

If Nørrebro is so superior, I expect to have an orgasm on my first sip of their beer. Crap! I just remembered I bought a couple of their bottles... Might be time to experiment so.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Apollo Greed

Last Sunday I headed to Copenhagen; actually a long trip from Münster as you have to get two trains to Düsseldorf airport, which just drags even though it only takes an hour and a half. We arrived in Copenhagen on schedule, but the bags took a long time to come out -- about 50 minutes -- eating seriously into my drinking time. I guess the timing was bad as it was the end of a week long holiday period in Denmark, so the airport was packed. It's a nice airport mind you. At least the bits that look like a shopping mall are nice to walk around, but man things are slow there!

I finally got to my hotel, the Grand Hotel on Vesterbrogade, right beside the central railway station. How come hotels with the word Grand in it are always like beers with the word Premium in them? The room was small and a little worn, but I must say the location was excellent, and they had free Internet. More of that please.

I had originally intended to make a beeline for Nørrebro Bryghus, based on the experiences of my friends, but as it was well after nine at this point, I just wanted to head to the nearest decent drinking hole and get a beer and some food into me. The nearest place was the Hard Rock Cafe, but I easily dodged that to the next one, Bryggeriet Apollo, just beside the Tivoli ticket office.

First of all, to be fair, bear in mind what I said about this being the last day of a weeks holiday in Denmark. People were clearly tired or had no money to spend, because the place was empty. Arriving in a bar in the centre of a European capital at 9:30pm to find about 6 people in the place isn't great. As no staff were around to direct me to a table I ignored the "please wait here" sign and grabbed a seat where I could have a good gawk around. I then had to get up and ask someone if I could actually get food and drink. I could.

I thought the place felt a bit soulless, even with it's pale wood, glass bits, coppers on display and a fairly relaxed layout to it. But then it was dead, and the service was slow, making things drag out. I imagine it's much nicer on a summer afternoon with a bit of a crowd.

I started with their Pilsner, rather dark for a pilsner, edging towards a pale amber. Quite appealing looking actually. It had a fresh, fruity nose, with strawberry and citrus notes. The head was almost creamy, and the mouthfeel was soft, with low carbonation. I was wondering it there was nitro involved, or was it a bit more natural. The flavour mirrored the aroma, with the addition of a sweet, fresh bread base. A reasonably strong hop flavour kicks in after a few swallows, slightly fruity, but enjoyable.

I liked the look of the Agger Bajer, despite it being named after a footballer, a dark mahogany brown top-fermented beer with cascade hops. The aroma on this was slightly yeasty, with a caramel-like backdrop. Unfortunatley the flavour just didn't live up to my expectations, being more like drinking detergent. The slight chocoloate notes that managed to emeerge from behind this unpleasent taste just couldn't make up for it. Maybe it was the strong mustard on my Nürnberger Würstchen, but I bloody doubt it.

I hoped the Dark Ale, which was on special, would bring me back to happy beer land. The aroma was certainly interesting, sweet and chocolately, like cheap kids chocolate candy, and a nutty note running through it. Flavourwise it was about the same; a candy-like, smooth caramel and very slight rasted edge coming in at the end. An unusual beer that tasted like those gold foil-wrapped chocolate-toffee coins in liquid form. Actually, that's exactly what it tasted like. Curiously enjoyable, but in a strange way.

At this point I had enough of the slow service and determined to head across the sqaure to Brewpub, the next closest... well... brewpub, I suppose. It's only today that I realised how much I was paying for everything, much to Mr. BeerNut's enjoyment I think. Man is this city expensive for beer, but I digress. At this point it was 10:45, and the place was shut. In fact it had been shut all day, but I guess I hadn't done enough research. Again, I just don't understand that pubs might close on a Sunday in a European capital.

I reckoned it was a sign, and headed back towards the hotel with the intention of preparing for my meeting the following morning, but could I make it past the Hard Rock Cafe? Not this time. I had to go in on the off-chance that there might be something interesting amongst the Carlsberg and Tuborg taps. Not really, but I settled for a bottle of Leffe Bruin and put up with the cooler than cool bar staff. This fuelled me the last 50 metres to the hotel where I did get some prep work done, and then watched crap TV for too long. Even then I couldn't get to sleep because of the marauding band of kids sweeping the corridors. Luckily they stopped before I made the final transition into a grumpy old man. I'm not even middle-aged, I swear!

Actually, I probably am...

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Bock Bock

It's been one of those weeks. Just when I have things in shape more distractions arrive that make me feel like I'm fighting a rear-guard action. Still, I don't mind having to do some work over the weekend, as long as it gets out of what's left of my hair. So, after a stressful day stripping wallpaper and then preparing pain-in-the-ass documents for a potential customer, what better way to relax than a couple of bockbiers? Well, that was the plan...

First up was the Mönchshof Bockbier, 6.9% with a beautiful, rich amber with a healthy foaming head. The aroma is definitely malty with an edge that reminds me of old apples down in the cellar, and a faint rasty, toffee hint. Initially, I found it alot mor ebitter than I expected, with a slight pine resin note. By the same token, it wasn't as sweet as I expected either, and although there's lots of dark bready and malty flavours going on, it finished relatively dry. It's a fine beer, but personally I'd prefer a little less resin. Yet again, I blame this on the use of hop extract, and guessed it was used before i read it on the label. I have to admit though that as it warmed up it seemed to shed some of the bitterness and it became a bit more rounded.

I followed this up with the slightly heavier (7.1%) Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel, a striking reddish-brown beer wth a sugary-sweet nose and a slightly fruity undertone, like strawbwerries or maybe strawberry candyfloss. The thing that most stood out for me with this beer was the smoothness. It does not feel like 7.1%, and goes down very easily. It's very malty-sweet, but thankfully not cloying, and has a long malt finish. I hate to use the word malty so much, but that's pretty much describes this beer. A bit one dimensional perhaps, and I was a little disappointed. Only a little, mind.
In an hour or so I'm setting off for Copenhagen, via the office. Looking forward to a tasty drop or two tonight so, and to not being woken up by my son at 6am. What is it with him recently? He comes in and, after looking at my bedside clock, proclaims loudly "Daddy, it's six-oh-three", followed a short while later by "Daddy, it's six-oh-four" and so on, ad nauseum, until I give up and get out of the scratcher.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Copenhagen, here I come.

I got my marching orders today. I'm off to Copenhagen on Sunday evening to make a meeting on Monday. And my flight back is later than I would like -- from a getting home before midnight perspective -- but that does mean that I'll have a bit of time to be a tourist for a change. My friend Mr. BeerNut has already tipped me off about Ølbutikken for shoping and Nørrebro Bryghus, Brewpub and Apollo for drinking, and I hope food too. I want a nice spot to drop into on Sunday night for a feed of food and beer. Thanks to I've got some idea of where to head, but as yet, no idea where to stay.

If things go well over the next month or so, Copenhagen could become a regular spot for short tips for me. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Bad Beer Tourist

I'm not a good beer tourist. I just don't have the determination. Having done a little research on breweries in Turin, I fully intended to walk to either the Birrificio Torino or Il Birrificio "La Piazza", despite a relatively late arrival in the city on Thursday night. However, the persistant rain put me right off. It was pretty miserable, so the arcaded walkways of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele looked very dry and attractive. The path of least resistance being laid out before me, I set off to find somewhere to have food, and possibly some interesting beer. Everything seemed closed until I spotted something I normally avoid when not in England. An English pub. The 1870 Huntsman Pub to be exact. Still, my stomach was complaining. The board outside advertised imported beers, but it was a strange mix, including Amstel, Caffery's, Guinness and McFarland Red, despite all the Tetley's signage inside. Oh well. The burgers were pretty good, the servers were nice, and the crowd was young and happy. Actually, I quite liked the McFarland Red too.

I meandered back to the hotel hoping to find another outlet, but this so-called 4-star hotel was pretty dismal and soulless, and the only beer available was Peroni Nastro Azzurro.

It was an early start the next day, and a long day as I didn't get home till after midnight. One tip: if travelling from Turin make sure you eat before going through to the departure area. Nice shops, but crap food selection.

Next time (I hope there's a next time in Turin) I'll try to get more than a couple of hours tourism time in.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Hetzelsdorfer Bier

This bottle of Hetzelsdorfer Bier, a Frankisches Vollbier from Brauerei Penning in Hetzelsdorf, was given to me by a colleague who comes from that area (Hi Richard). Although it was described as a helles by said colleague, this looks so much more than that, having a beautiful, rich amber. The aroma delivers slightly sulpherous and pine resin notes with a heavy floral component to the fore. I know this is going to sound really unimaginative, but it tastes like malt. Plain and simple. It's like taking some crystal malt and chewing it. Actually, this is something I do every time I make a beer, although not as much as my son. There is a very slight roastiness to it, maybe a little like slightly overdone toast or digestive biscuits. It is sweet, but the graininess makes it feel drier. The hint of pine from the aroma also shows itself in the flavour, and the finish gives a gentle bitterness.

I was afraid the heavy floral notes would put me off, but the simplicity of the malt flavours make this quite a pleasant beer. I was wondering was it more a landbier, but who cares about boxes?

I'm heading to Turin this evening, but am returning tomorrow night (late!). How stupid am I? I should have brought the family and stayed for the weekend. That way I might have gotten time to check out a couple of the brew pubs. Next time...

Monday, 2 February 2009

Pale Rye Ale

As my darling wife was still away yesterday, I took the opportunity to do another brew. It's not often that I brew two weekends in a row. I had toyed with the idea of doing a Roggenbier as I had bought 5kg of malted rye, but as rye has a reputation for being incredibly sticky in a mash, I decided I'd wait till I had some rice hulls to keep it loose. So, that's for another day. What I did do, with the moral support of a few friends from work, was a pale ale with a healthy dose of rye, just to see what it'd bring to the party.

It looked a bit like this:
  • 3.2 kg Pale Ale Malt
  • 0.9 kg Rye Malt
  • 0.5 kg CaraCrystal
  • 20 g Challenger (5.8%) - 60 min
  • 20 g Challenger (5.8%) - 30 min
  • 20 g Challenger (5.8%) - 5 min
  • Fermentis Safale US-05

I ended up with 22 litres of wort at 1.051 (crazy high efficiencies I'm getting), so we're looking at something about 5% with an estimated IBU of 29. Not the bitterest beer I've made (that would be around 106), but that's fine, as I wanted to see what the rye would add.

We also bottled the smoking gun stout. Pretty black stuff. Thom wondered if I overdid it on the roasted malts, and I have a feeling I may have, but more on the fact that the roastiness may obliterate the rauchmalz. A couple of my colleagues did comment on being able to pick out smoked ham flavours though. The gravity didn't drop below 1.018, so it feels rich allright, but I'm afraid the heavy roasts will scare some people away. Time will tell. It may be a different beast when it's conditioned a bit. Still, it's fun to experiment on my colleagues

So, my wife arrived home this afternoon after visiting her parents, and with her she brought a box of beers as a gift from her sister's boyfriend who grew up in east Germany. A selection box of 15 beers from that area, and I only know one of them; Köstritzer. Thanks Chris!

Even with 20% rye the mash was well sticky. A bit like wallpaper paste I thought, but the guys seemed to like the taste of it. Rye porridge. Yum.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

A visit to The James

I mentioned, in a previous post, a Yorkshire-themed bar here in Münster called The James. I'd only popped in once before for a swift Riggwelter, but as my wife and son are away, leaving me to my own devices, I found myself waiting outside for their doors to open. Well, they open at 5:30pm, and I had spent a little time in Pinkus Müller (more about Pinkus another time) before that recovering from a very short shopping spree, so I don't think I was starting too early.

I'm not the type to go for ex-pat kind of bars. I haven't been tempted by the Irish bar in Muenster at all, for example, preferring to "integrate" as much as possible. The James however has been recommended by some colleagues as a nice place to sit for a beer and a chat. And they were right. It has a good mix of clientele, and a very chatty barman/owner who is clearly in love with all things ale, and in particular Yorkshire. He makes regular trips over to ship in bottled beer from Theakstons and Black Sheep, and while he also stocks the likes of Caledonian 80/- and Newkie Brown on draught, he reckons they're going to be unavailable because of all the shenanigans in the brewery ownsership world, with Callie 80/- being left for the local market instead of export. I have no idea, but that's what he said. He had a similar situation with Beamish of course. Anyway, Axel is also a member of CAMRA, so I was able to flick through some CAMRA publications while sitting at the bar. He'd really like to get some cask beer in (I'm avoiding calling it real ale, as I still don't know exactly what that term really means) and pointed out that Germany does have such a tradition still alive and well in parts of Franken and indeed in Düsseldorf's altbier breweries like Füchschen.

I asked him how the locals liked the British beers he had on, and he thought that the most common comment was that "there are no bubbles". I'll have to extend my own research.

Anyway, I passed a pleasent evening in The James and struck up a conversation with a Scottish chap, a former military man, who said he'd spent more of his life in Germany than in Scotland at this stage. I had a Callie -/80 for old times sake, followed by a Theakston's XB to have with my ham and cheese sandwich (pity it wasn't toasted). I found the XB a little bland, although with a slightly spicey, gingery backdrop to its otherwise fairly plain malt-juice body. Mr. BeerNut had it recently and perhaps thought better of it than I did.

Axel had one bottle of Franken beer in stock, from Brauhaus Faust zu Miltenberg; their Schwarzviertler Dunkel. A really dark amber (at least in the dim light of the pub), this had an interesting sweet and slight roasty aroma. The flavour is very much malt, just like chewing a mouthful of the grain. While I really appreciate malt as a fine ingredient, I generally expect to find more complex flavours in the beer it was used to make. This one verges towards Malzbier flavour (think maltesers), and although Axel said it had a balancing bitterness, I just didn't detect hop bitterness at all (or hop extract I should say, according to the label). I'm not painiting a very nice picture of this beer, unless you really love malt flavours, but in fact it wasn't overly sweet. Pity the roasty hints from the aroma didn't come out to play in my mouth.

I finished up the evening with an Affligem Triple, just to get something Belgian into me after so long without. Oh matron!

Now, I have to go prepare a beef stew for my visitors. Today is brew day, and something involving malted rye will be produced this evening.

Yesterday I was told to go and buy a lottery ticket as the jackpot was standing at 35 million Euro. Lotto mania struck, with stupidly long queues for the lotto desk in the local newsagents. How can a nation with a reputation for orderliness not know how to stand in line and take their bloody turn in a civilised manner? Needless to say, I have not won 35 million Yoyo.