Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A kind of Polish Christmas

Beer fans are great. A few weeks ago we hosted an event at work for business partners, many of whom came from all over Europe. While setting this up, one of my Polish contacts asked me about breweries in Muenster, and so we discovered we had a common interest. A swap ensued, where Pawel managed to get some interesting-looking beers despite the really hard weather they were having which disrupted distribution. My experience with Polish beer till now has been, well, mediocre, to be kind. I was looking forward to trying the beers Pawel gave to me, but managed to hold back till this past week.

Brackie Pale Ale, brewed by Bracki Browar Zamkowy W Cieszynie (please check my spelling!), part of the Carlsberg Group, is, apparently, based on a home brew recipe. The word Belgijskie written under the Pale Ale on the label intrigued me, as I wasn't sure if this was going to be a pale ale with a Belgian twist. It certainly looks good, pouring a copper-amber with a thick, fluffy head, but is disappointingly light on the aroma with just a hint of oregano-like herbal hoppiness (although in fairness I served it a tad too cold). While looking rich and malty, it's a really clean-tasting beer, with a light touch of caramel that is minor compared to the crisp, clean bitterness. To be honest, I'd probably have mistaken it for a decent pils in a blind taste, not that that's a bad thing. With some fruity notes coming out as it warms, and finishing with a lightly tannic dryness, it's an interesting one for sure.

Miodne Piwo Ciemne from Browar Kormoranhas a lovely label with bees and honeycomb, a clear indication of what one should expect: a honeyed beer. And boy, does the honey leap out in the aroma, coupled with a raspberry fruitiness. Honey is the dominant flavour, so much so that it nearly made me wince on first taste, but it's a pleasant enough floral honey flavour, with soft fruits (raspberries again) bringing up the rear. Underpinning this is a solid caramel base, as if it wasn't sweet enough. Overall, for me, it was far too sweet, but no doubt honey freaks, like my Father-in-law, would love it.

When I was asked what types of beers I generally like, I usually have a problem, as I like pretty much everything, but when thinking of that part of Europe, I always want to try more dark beers. So, my wish was fulfilled in two bottles. The first was the Cornelius Baltic Porter from Browar Cornelius. With a tarry appearance, this is like Christmas pudding in a glass, with an outpouring of vinous fruitiness, cherries, vanilla and, as one might expect, a touch of chocolate. It's big-flavoured and boozy, sweet with raisins, chocolate and dark toffee, but cut with that vinous edge that kept me coming back for more. Yeah, I like this one.

I kept the Grand Imperial Porter from Browar Amber till last because, well, it sounded so grand! With it's dark ruby highlights, it's pleasing on the eye, although quite fizzy-looking on the pour, leaving a loose head that dies away quickly. Chocolatey really does describe the aroma, with caramel, vanilla and... Terry's Chocolate Orange? Must be the ghost of Christmas past catching up on me. Luscious would suffice. It's a choco-assault on the tongue too, with a body and soft carbonation that only amplifies that perception. Dancing around the edges are dried fruits, generous, warming vanilla, and a fudginess. Sounds too sweet? It's not. The finish surprisingly dry with a dark chocolate bitterness that lingers. All of this hides the 8% rather well, but it's still a sipper, perfect for sitting beside the fire on a cold Winter's night. Really good.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

To Hell or Schefflenz

It's been a busy few months since I began my self-imposed exile from the blogosphere. Beoir, the new beer consumers organisation in Ireland was finally launched, (or the website at least, two months behind schedule) which was a relief, but also a great pleasure to see how interest is growing in just a few short months. As TheBeerNut's recent post shows, things are looking good in the Irish craft beer scene, despite pretty much everything else looking crap. I get an odd pang of jealousy that I'm not there* to experience the new beers emerging there and then, but it's bloody great to see.

Of course, one of the main reasons for the long intermission was the biggest bullet bitten to date: buying a house. After years of renting, we're finally home owners, although still renting for now as we've bought a 200-year-old farmhouse that is in serious need of renovation and modernisation. It's going to be a long project, probably never-ending, but that'll be a subject for another blog. Suffice to say that as a home brewer who now owns a rather large barn, complete with cellars, there's all sorts of crazy pipe dreams going on in my head.

We moved from Muenster to Mittelschefflenz, a considerably smaller place (c. 1,100 people in our village, or 4,180 in the Schefflenz area**, compared to 275,000 in Münster), but there's a brewery, Brauerei Egolf, in Unterschefflenz, only 2km away. Little did I know when I described their Schefflenzer Haustrunk Pilsner back in April, that I'd end up living in the place. Strange to say, despite walking to the brewery a couple of time in the two-and-a-bit months we've lived here, it's never been open. Unterschefflenz was also the home of a larger brewery, Letzguss, which closed it's doors in 1992 after operating for 158 years. The former owners of the house we've bought kindly gave me some branded glasses from the brewery, and the buildings are still there, on Brauereistrasse, with the name still dominating the street, so I'll be trying to find out more about it.

Although the move itself was a little stressful, it did give me an excuse to clear the beer cellar a bit, on the pretence of "lightening the load". Not that there was any need really. Two of these were given to me by a Lithuanian colleague who drove them all the way to Rotterdam from Vilnius, not that that was the reason we met, of course. Vilniaus Šviesusis Nefiltruotas Alus is, as the name suggests, a non-filtered beer, and light in colour, as the label helpfully translates. And yes, it is light and hazy, with a mouthwatering, sweet, bready aroma with a twist of green apple. Flavour-wise, it's more of the same, leaving a lasting sweetness and a touch of ginger-like spiciness. It puts me in mind of a soft, fruity weissbier, despite the low carbonation. A little too sweet for my tastes, it's ever so easy to lower back all the same.

It's darker sister,Vilniaus Tamsusis su Žolelemis is described as Dark with Herbs on the label, which sounds promising. Herbs and spices are certainly dominant on the nose, with anise, or clove-like overtones, but it falls a bit on the flavour stakes. It's got a fair dose of caramel flavours, but also a watered-down port effect or, dare I say it, like thinned, cold Glühwein. It's an interesting combination, in a way, but not something I could drink all night.

My biggest mistake of the move was bringing the 240+ empty bottles I used for my homebrewing back to the drink store. I now have to start the bottle collecting from scratch, so have been unable to brew. And that's something I really want to get back in action again, as there's a whole new challenge as a brewer of ales in a small German village like this, but that's another story.

*I did make one quick trip back to the old sod in September, on the occasion of my Mother's 75th Birthday. I had one spare evening to meet up with TheBeerNut, Séan and old friends to do a quick Dublin tour and sample some Messrs Maguire, Pifko and Trouble Brewing Beers. And no, I was having too much fun to take proper notes.

**The Gemeinde, or local authority area, of Schefflenz is made up of Oberschefflenz, Mittelschefflenz and Unterschefflenz, oh, and Kelineichholzheim.

Note: Although the post title refers to words attributed to Cromwell, "to hell or Connaught", we did have a choice in moving to Schefflenz, and we're quite happy with that :)