Friday, 30 April 2010

The Frankonian Empire strikes back

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The news has been trickling out over the past few days that Schorschbräu has, once again, taken back the record for the World's Strongest Beer, with Schorschbock 43. Apparently it's a limited release of about 100 bottles,which will be available soon, and they are still experimenting with pushing the limit to a theoretical 50%.

They make a gentle dig at BrewDog with the Prussian-style helmet, so beloved of Bismarck, silencing the radioactive Pingu, not to mention the line "'cause Frankonian Men don't dress like girls". Oh dear :D

That's all, folks!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Schwaben Bräu Das Schwarze

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Due to popular demand (yeah, that means you, Russ), and the fact I did say I'd come back to this, I suppose I'd better pop up some notes on a beer that used to be my regular tipple every time I visited the local dive bar* in my wife's home town: Schwaben Bräu Das Schwarze. Beautiful looking, isn't it? But how does it taste?

 The label tells us to expect it to be "Vollwürzig und hopfenherb zugleich", so spicy and hoppy-bitter at the same time, I guess.

It looks pitch-black in the glass, but it's actually a fairly clear ruby-red/brown. That light beige head has little staying power, and the aroma is hard to capture, what little there is suggesting a light roast and a touch of floral hops. The flavour is quite grainy, with a malty sweetness just like wort. It has toffee notes, too, on top of a gentle roastiness and a hint of cherry fruitiness at the back. The hops are there, as promised on the label, and they do in fact give a pleasant herbal spiciness to counter the malt-juice effect.

So, sweet and juicy going down, followed by a drying, slightly peppery bitterness and a toasted finish. Another one that won't blow you away, but it's certainly a nice one to have a few of on a night. I think I still like it.

*When I say dive bar, it is nowhere near the epically bad shitholes I visited last year. This is more like the kind of bars I drank in in my late teens/early 20s. Rock/metal music, and according to my wife, pretty much the same people have been propping up the tables for 20 years or more. What I liked about it on my first visit, in addition to the music and crowd, was the fact these long-haired louts (as I was then) were playing chess and cards in the pub. So, a civilised dive bar. Das Schwarze and Rothaus Pils were what I usually drank there, unless someone was trying to get me drunk on whisky, but that's not a story for this blog.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Dinkelacker

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Going back to beer from my wife's home region of Baden-Württemberg, one brand that makes a regular showing when we're down that way is Stuttgart's Dinkelacker, now part of Dinkelacker-Schwaben Bräu, apparently the largest brewery in that state. They do a few beers under this label, but I think I've only had the two shown below, and perhaps one of their festbiers, but they haven't left much of an impression on my memory, being the kind of beers that get brought to BBQs where the company is more important than analysing the beer. Nevertheless, here's a bit of analysis, otherwise I wouldn't be arsed writing this blog!

Dinkelacker CD-Pils (the CD standing for Charles Dinkelacker, the founder of the brewery in 1888) has a bready aroma with hints of lemony hops that I associate with decent German pils, but also an intriguing touch of sulphur, which put me in mind of burnt matches. Never noticed that before, and not sure if I would again, but I'll be sure to try. The flavour continues the theme with a light malt sweetness and reasonable noble hop flavours with a lemony edge dominating, all wrapped up in a soft mouthfeel. The finish delivers a gentle, slightly spicy bitterness, a light malt coating and is leaning towards dry, just about. A decent enough every-day pils.

Dinkelacker Privat Pils, the slightly bigger sister at 5.1%,  is a clear, pale gold and looks almost effervescent. The aroma suggests sweet malt with a touch of honey and a slightly yeasty backdrop. It has a soft malt body which has relatively sweet caramel-like tones, yet is clean-tasting. There are some traces of fruit notes, hinting of melon and peach, and the mild, spicy hops give a delicate peppery edge to the finish. The finish also has a carbonic touch, but overall it's reasonably long, sweetish and spicy. It's all done with a gentle touch, so don't go expecting a fruity, spicy overload. It's more a delicate balance that, for me, makes this a rather nice, drinkable pils.

Dinkelacker translates as spelt field, which is handy to know if you want to order spelt (the dinkel part!) bread. Who said beer wasn't edumacational?

Friday, 23 April 2010

A quick stop in Brussels, again.

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My recent (as in just returned an hour ago) trip to Brussels didn’t leave much time to do any major beer exploration, or purchasing for that matter, but Thursday evening gave me a couple of hours to get out, feed myself and visit a new beer destination.

I couldn’t resist a brief stop off at Poechenellekelder, as is my wont at this stage (well, third time there at any rate), as it’s got a decent beer selection and some simple food to munch on. As with all such extensive beer menus, it’s a bit of a pin the tail on the donkey, so I picked one of the lower ABV beers (5.8%), Martin’s Pale Ale (Scottish and Newcastle? Hey, I didn't know when I ordered it!), to go with my Double Croque Monsieur (and yes, I did ask the waiter “How big is your Croque, Monsieur” before I ordered the double, but he didn’t quite get the it).

Martin’s Pale Ale is a deep amber with a rocky-looking, foamy head and a beery, slightly fruity aroma. Up front, it has a thick, sweet flavour, like candy, with a pear and vaguely banana-esque fruitiness. An alcoholic warmth comes swiftly after, but the hops take their time coming in, building up to provide a mild, drying bitterness to the finish. A little too sweet, perhaps, for my tastes, but it does provide a robust pale ale experience.

As I was handed the bill before I finished the beer (maybe the Croque question sank in while I ate and drank), I headed on to the place I really wanted to visit: Moeder Lambic Fontaines. They boast a menu of 45 beers on tap, but on the night there was only 40. Only! I hadn’t heard of most of them, and as ABVs weren’t listed (although they were apparently grouped by strength), it was a bit of a lottery. I opted for the De Ranke XX Bitter on tap. It was one that I had before from the bottle, so I wanted to revisit it, just to remind myself. This is a lightly hazy gold with a dense white head. The aroma tells you it’s definitely hop-driven, and first sip delivers big wadges of hoppy bitterness, but rounded at the edges by a light, chewy maltiness. The hops aren’t just providing bitterness though. There’s a big floral and mandarin orange thing going on, and in copious amounts. The finish is sweetish, yet dry, with a lasting, pithy bitterness. Yep, still like it, although my notes are slightly different than before, I think they go in the same direction: yum!

Although I like to drink local when travelling, Moeder’s beers of the month were from two Swiss breweries: Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes (BFM) and Brasserie Trios Dames. As I’ve had pretty limited exposure to Swiss beer, how could I resist. The helpful waiter ran me through the list, and they did indeed sound tempting (one was a barrel-aged affair at 10% or so), but wanting to keep a clear head for the morning, I went for the Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes La Meule, which was decribed as very hoppy and interesting. Well, quite. The aroma was like being dunked into a vat of TCP (for American readers, read that as something very band-aidy and medicinal/hospital disinfectant).  Frankly, I found it off-putting. Unfortunately, the flavour was exactly the same. To be generous, I tried imagining aniseed, and peraps hints of ginger, but really, I found it unpleasant. The waiter seemed surprised I could only force two-thirds of it down my gullet before ordering something else, and some food to clear my palate. I later (like 5 minutes later, thanks to the power of Twitter) learned that it’s brewed with sage. And yeah, if I’d known that before I might have found it more interesting, but still, not one I’d return to in a hurry.

Reckoning on returning to more familiar ground, the Brasserie Trois Dames IPA came next. This delivers a good grapefruity aroma, with a slight vegetal undertone. It has a lightish body, initially feeling a bit thin on the malts (though there is a gentle caramel backbone), but that can be forgiven as a warming, pithy hop flavour washes over the tongue, followed by a light fruitiness, suggesting tinned peaches. It doesn’t feel big or bold, but the hops deliver an American brashness with a bit of European smoothness, ending in a dry finish. Really quite nice.

Their Bise Noir is a dark mahogany-brown, looking almost black in the glass. The aroma on this one is subtle, giving a delicate hint of chocolate and, again, a fruity note. First taste confirms a chocolate-caramel delight. Light really is the operative word, as the flavours have a light touch, giving a lovely balance between toffee and chocolate, with just a bite of dark chocolate-like bitterness. Noting to blow you away, but well constructed and enjoyable, like all beers should be. I reckon there’s some decent amount of hops hidden in there somewhere, though, as it made me sneeze, something only powerfully hopped beers tend to do! I was actually shocked to later see that it's 7.3%, as it certainly did not taste it! Very smooth.

On Moeder Lambic Fontaines itself, I had mixed opinions while I sat there. The staff are certainly good and attentive enough that you can get what you want, and can ask questions if needed. It strikes me as a great place for locals and regulars to meet (there was much male cheek-kissing going on) and it had a nice buzz as the evening went on. For the solo tourist, it felt a little soulless at times, but for the beer geek it’s a good stop on the Brussels beer circuit. Oh, but do eat somewhere else first, as the food offerings are thin and more snacky. Not bad for some impromptu beer-soakage though!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Schefflenzer Haustrunk Pilsner

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The bigger drink store near my wife's parents home has this corner where it looks like "special" beers normally get stacked. Over the years I've recognised that it tends to be the likes of Schmucker, Dachsenfranz, Köstritzer, Krušovice and, well, dark beers like Schwaben Bräu Das Schwarze (more on that anon). Not all that special, really, but now and again something I've never seen pops in. Kulmbacher EKU 28 was one, but I drank all six bottles over the holiday without taking a single note. At 11% they go great with a fine cigar though! Another crate that caught my eye was filled with little 33cl swingtops with a simple-looking black and gold label: Schefflenzer Haustrunk Pilsner. I get tired of Pilsners very quickly, but reckoned I'd buy one at least. Then I noticed the ingredients listed "fine yeast", and true enough, there was a thin layer of sediment in the bottom. There was nothing on the label to tell me if it was unfiltered or if it was added after filtration, but it did prompt me to buy a clutch of them, just in case.

Undisturbed, Schefflenzer Haustrunk Pilsner pours golden and lively. Poured gently, it comes out crystal clear with a steady stream of bubbles and a tight, lasting head. It has a sweetish aroma, with suggestions of citrus and light pine.

It's really quite malty, without being overly sweet, and that light, fresh pine hoppiness cuts through it, leaving a lingering, gentle-yet-assertive bitterness. Juicy and refreshing, it's certainly moreish.

With a bit of a shake, the yeast lifts up and gives the beer the expected haze of a Naturtrüb Bier, and the bubbles seem that little bit less lively. And it does change the flavour ever so slightly, adding what I felt was a slightly soapy feel, taking the assertiveness off the edge of the hops and perhaps somehow letting lemony flavours come out a little more. I could of course have been completely imagining this, but there you go.

Overall, I liked this a lot. A charming little beer, and very drinkable.

For some reason, I assumed this was from a Bavarian brewery at the time of purchase, and it wasn't till later that I realised it came from a small town (Schefflenz, duhhh) about 14km Northeast of my wife's home town. In fact, we'd driven through part of Schefflenz (it's split into three, Ober-, Mittel- and Unterschefflenz, with the farm brewery in the bottom one). Brauereihof Egolf's website leaves a lot to be desired, but it's also kind of charming to see they make ice cream, smoked ham, have a guest house and also sell insurance. If they had an undertakers it'd complete the set! Whichever of those I'll need, I'll be making a point of visiting next time we're down that way.

Their site also tells me that there are only five places selling their bottled beer, Getränke Oess, where I got mine, being one of them. Serendipity.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Rothaus Märzen Export

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Rothaus really is in the bowels of the Black Forest and, from the air at least, the brewery dominates the little settlement there. It would have been nice to visit that area while we were on holiday in Baden-Württemberg the past two weeks, but it's a hell of a distance for a day trip. Luckily, their beer is pretty popular in Baden-Württemberg (and particularly in the former Baden part where my wife is from). I've had their Pils many times before, and wrote a little about it when I did a stupid blind tasting involving BrewDog 77 (yes, what was I thinking?), but till last week, I'd not had the pleasure of their Märzen. Or at least didn't think I had, as some sources indicate that this is the same as their Eis Zäpfle. I've had that one before, from the neck while building a table-tennis table, but I digress.

Rothaus Märzen Export pours paler than I expected, but is a decent gold-amber. It has a sweet, honey-like malt profile with a slightly oily hop feel. There are touches of candy floss, clean pine, resin and a strangely minty finish. Not sure where this fits in the Märzen gamut, but it is a decent, if unexciting, beer. Kinda charming, but that could be because of Birgit Kraft on the label giving me the glad eye.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Sierra Nevada Torpedo

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Chris, The Beer Geek, told me this was his go-to beer, so how could I not get a few bottles when they became available in my now favourite beer shop in Cologne.

Sierra Nevada Torpedo pours an almost glowing orange-amber with a slight haze. It has an amazingly fruity nose. Sure, there's oodles of classic American hop goodness in there, but also a gentle melange of tropical fruit aromas. First sip reveals a solid soft-caramel malt profile, then the hops come marching in. There's a fresh pine hit, juicy-fruit gum, grapefruit, a twist of spice, thyme... this this is just loaded with lovely hop flavours. For all the 60+ IBUs it claims, it displays a great balance between a sweet, fullish malt body, a mass of hop flavours and a bitter bite that's just right for my tastes, leaving a lasting, spicy finish. It reminds me of Seville orange marmalade, in a way.

Actually, BrewDog Atlantic IPA, though different, also reminded me of Seville orange marmalade.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Schmucker revisited

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When we were living in Ireland, most of our holidays over the past ten years were spent in my wife's home town of Mosbach, a small town on the south edge of the Odenwald, a mostly rural, rugged area that my wife would love to live in. Now that we live in Germany, nothing seems to have changed, and as I write, we're half way through a two-week stay with the in-laws, where I am steadily gaining weight. The Rhine-Neckar area is really wine country, and the Odenwald is considered an apfelwein-producing area, but there are local breweries to be found, though it feels like there's not as many as in some other parts of Germany. In fact, going on drives over the past week we stumbled across two, but they were both closed at the time. I'll try to make a return.

One brewery I did manage to visit, about three years ago, was the Schmucker brewery, Mossautal, right in the middle of the Odenwald. It's a small town, dominated by the not-so-small brewery. We ate there and sampled a small part of their seemingly large range. It was here that I first realised that not all Schwarzbiers are actually schwarz, having received one that was distinctly dark amber. On asking if this was the right beer, we were simply told that's the way it is. Fair enough. I learned something.

I've written a bit about two of the Schmucker Bocks before. No great shakes by any means, but not bad. The local drink store gave me a chance to try a few more

Schmucker Meister Pils is a clear, yellow-gold with a loose head. I have to say, the initial taste made me wince.  It's clean-tasting all right, but with a sweet edge, then the hops come in swiftly with a vaguely bile-like bitterness. It's a bit harsh, though not aggressively so, leaving an unpleasantly acrid finish. To be kind, i thought it might go better with some greasy food, but having another bottle with a BBQ a few days later it fared very badly with spicy, marinaded pork steaks. Not one I'd be in a hurry to try again.

The Schmucker Privat Export, weighing in at 5.2%, gives a bland sweetcorn and slightly orangey aroma. Like its sibling, it also has an unpleasantly astringent flavour, albeit more rounded. It's quite gassy, giving a fairly carbonic edge to burps. Overall, it's thin, with a suggestion of lemonade and a detergent-like bit to the finish. No thanks.

I was getting weary of the smiling face of Mr Schmucker on the label by the time I opened the Schmucker Märzen. It looks nice enough though, being a light amber with a light, short-lived head. The aroma suggests light caramel with a touch of fruit and it's the same in the flavour, really. It's smoother than its paler sisters, with a softer, less aggressive carbonation. The light touch of caramel and a juicy-fruit middle-ground makes it fairly chuggable. The finish is dry, with an ever-so-slight suggestion of toast in the background. No real character to mark it out, but its main attractiveness is that it's a lot better than the other two!

As an aside, we found a Gasthaus-Brauerei in nearby Eschelbronn. It looked closed, and we thought we'd make a return trip during the week. We later found that it was for sale, for 163,000 Euro. No idea if any actual brewing was done on site in recent years, but I'm tempted to call the agent to see if brewing equipment is also included!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Hasen-Bräu Oster-Festbier

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For the time of year that's in it. Hasen-Bräu Oster-Festbier has a spicy and somewhat vegetal aroma with a hint of something that reminds me of nothing more than stewed rhubarb. It has quite a medley of subtle flavours. Again, a spiciness, with a faintly cinnamon-like touch. Running behind this comes some fruity tones: hints of banana and apple. The malt profile is crisper than I normally expect from a festbier, which often lean towards very sweet, chewy malts, and this is ok with me. It does certainly have a light caramel sweetness. The finish is lightly carbonic and there's a pepperiness adding to the spicy effect. Not a long finish by any means, but it it leaves a good enough impression going down.

The Germans are great for their seasonal festbiers, but although I'm told there's lots of Easter beers, I haven't been able to find any. This was given to me by my neighbour. I kinda like the fact the the brewery has an appropriate, modern-day Easter-themed name, and their logo just needs a bit of tweaking to turn it into a proper Easter bunny!

Looking forward to May, as I've a small stash of Mai-Bocks lined up.