Monday, 30 December 2013

The last days of Advent

0 comments
I soldiered through the last of the advent beer calendar last week, so here's a final push of the last lot. Sorry, this is going to be quite a lot in one go! :)

Door 15 hid a Schönramer Bayrisch Pale Ale, one that i was eager to try, given the Schönramer beers I'd tried at BaruKunst Live 2013. A pleasingly sweet aroma, cut with pineapple cubes candy and a touch of grapefruit pith. Quite light on the body, verging on thin, with a grapefruit-like bitterness hitting right on the first sip. It's full of zesty fruit flavours. Pineapple, light raspberry, apples, all on a clean rye bread base. The finish is dry, reminiscent of tonic water, with a long orange pithiness remaining. Light (even at 5.5%) and refreshing, but would love to try it with a tad more body.


Day 16 was a pack of beer-related cards. Well, cartoony, and would have been nice apart from the crap sexual innuendo jokes on some of them, otherwie my son would have got them.

17 Was Zötler Gold. Looking like standard fare, aroma-wise it delivered pretty much simple pale malt aroma, with a touch of sulpher and a mildly vegetal underbelly.  Nutty, salty, a little cabbagey, grainy and watery. Enough said so.


18 was a nice surprise. I've had a metal Schlappeseppel sign, given to me by my Father-in-law, for years, but had never tried their beers, so seeing a Schlappeseppel Kellerbier, was quite welcome.  Pale and hazy with a good strong head, this had a decently crisp noble hop aroma, all pine, grass and softly herbal. Surprisingly creamy-textured, with a lemony bite, not far from lemon meringue pie, and biscuity to boot. A tasty drop!


Maxlrainer Zwickl Max was the delight for day 19, a helles with a light haze and short-lived head. Aroma-wise, is suggested nothing more than apple juice, which may not be a bad thing. Sweet and fruity, with a candy-like edge, tempered by a zesty cut. Slightly sharp on the finish, verging on acidic, but with a lingering grassy and digestive biscuit flavour. Overall, a nice combination, and another hit as far as I was concerned.


Day 20 was Hofbräuhaus Traunstein Weißbier, a hazy orange affair, with  a fine-pored, creamy head. This has a lovely, highly spiced aroma, with classic Weißbier cloves abundant, ripe pears and banana. A little thin and tinny, yet has a pleasing creamy/cream soda flavour, mild banana and a surprising pithiness that sharpens the finish. Overall, a fine summer refreshed, I'd say.


21 was a Tegernseer Hell. I don't know what it is about this beer, but I just fond it boring, so I didn't even bother making notes.


Day 2 was the biggest surprise, mostly because I didn't expect to find a Distelhäuser Winterbock in a Bavarian beer calendar. Distelhäuser is not far from where I live, and although a mere 10 kilometres from the Bavarian border, is most definitely from Baden-Württemberg. Having said that, my "local" regional brewer is one that I have a mixed relationship with, but some of their newer offerings have certainly sparked my interest. Their Winterbock has a muted aroma, gently candy-like and nutty, with soft caramel. On the tongue, it's grainy, with burnt caramel, a touch of dried fruits and bitter almond. Despite a creamy texture supporting all of this, it nevertheless feels somewhat threadbare.


The penultimate beer was a Karmeliten Brocardus 1844. It's rather fancy-looking, what with that red foil on the neck, and certainly fit the festive season. As did the lovely rich amber of the beer itself. Not much aroma to speak of, however it did give caramel, strawberries, blackberries and a touch of old straw on the flavour. The finish is sweetish, yet dry, with hints of honey and a very mild herbal bitterness. Ultimately, it looked better than it tasted.


And so to the final door, with much anticipation. Did they leave the best till last?

I like proper Märzen, so the sounds of Brauerei Irlbach's Goaßkopf Halbe Original Ur-Märzen, which the label says was almost a forgotten style, really was right up my ally. A sliughtly hazy old gold with a persistant head, this Märzen had a sweetish, floral aroma with dried grass. Certainly malt-driven, it has a clean caramel backbone with some fruity highlights suggesting sweet apples, but predominantly a dusty old hay and grass flavour. With a fullish mouthfeel, it's not so bad, so wile a little dull, it's almost comforting.


And there we are! At times, i was thinking i was glad i didn't buy this beer calendar, having won it and all, but there were quite a few decent beers in the box, and the vast majority were completely new to me, so it was absolutely ideal in that regard. They do have some other variants, and I think I'd quite like to try the general German one, as there's sure to be some nice surprises in there.

Thanks again to Felix for running the competition!


Friday, 20 December 2013

Advent bier catch-up

0 comments
Having been away for most of last week, a glut of advent beers from the Kalea calendar had built up, so it was only proper to make a dent in the supplies.

Number 8 was a Schwarzbräu Schneeböckchen Doppelbock. Sadly, I just deleted the photo of the bottle, and can't claw it back, but you can get an idea of it here. A deep, clear amber, Schneeböckchen is redolent of raisins, burnt sugar, autumnal apples lying on the ground, grass and mild spices. On the tongue, it's more raisins, a touch of oaky vanilla, an ever-so-slight hint of coffee roast, and at the back, a cinnamon-like spice. It's fruity-sweet, with a background of brown sugar, but not cloying. In fact, the body is rich, yet clean, and almost sharp at the finish, all the while leaving the lips slightly sticky. On the finish, it suggests caramel with a touch of nuttiness, a mild pepperiness and green grass. Certainly one of the better Doppelbocks I've had!

Door 9 yielded a beer glass, sadly chipped, with door 10 revealing the beer to go with it, Unser Bürgerbräu Alpen Stoff. Pale gold with a short-lived, tight foam, Alpen Stoff delivers a sweet malty aroma with highlights of marzipan and apple. It's rather fruity, almost like juicyfruit gum, with green apple and strawberry. A most odd beer, with unexpected flavours, but I think I liked it.


Beer 11 made me cringe on opening the door, mostly because of the clear glass bottle, which I dislike, but also because the label said to "serve icecold for max:taste". Leibinger Max Fünf Comma 2. My immediate reaction is that anything that needs to be served ice cold for maximum taste probably doesn't taste of much at all. Anyway, it had to be taken. The aroma is surprising, being fruity, with dried mango, passion fruit and light bubblegum, but it fails badly on the flavour-test. Cardboard, cornflakes, a hint of summer berries, but just a flash, mind, and not enough to rescue it. Dry, soapy finish, with lingering mandarin peel and baking soda. Unpleasant.


Door 12 was a bit more traditional-looking, with a Bayreuther Hell. A buttery-gold with a magnificent foamy head that didn't want to leave. A fresh, yet bready aroma, with sparks of green apple peel and citrus. Similar elements in the flavour. While sinking back mouthfuls, it's refreshing, doughy, malty, and then there's a kick of that green apple, freshly mown grass and a pinch of herbs. Quite gassy, with a little carbonic bite. Perhaps not an astounding beer, but a perfectly enjoyable drop, which is all that I could ask for.


13. Unlucky for some, and if you judge a book by the cover, unlucky for me. Another clear glass bottle, with an upside-down label to boot, but Brauhaus Schweinfurt's Alpha would get the benefit of the doubt. AGain, a beer with an aroma that surprised me, with hints of chocolate orange on a mildly herbal background. But the flavour... Lemony, sugary, soapy, cardboard. It's not often I can say this, but I didn't finish it, managing about three quarters before I dumped it.


However, rescue was on the way in the form of the classic Ayinger Celebrator, minus the little plastic goat you often get hanging from these bottles.The notes got sparse with this one, not because there isn't much to say about it, but rather because it's a nice distraction from note-taking. Chestnut coloured, with ruby highlights, and a densly packed, tan head, it has an almost porty aroma, with dark toffee and dried fruits. Christmas pud! Oily-textured, with cream soda, prunes, a lick of licorice and bitter chocolate, it's a fine beer for a cold winter evening, so I let it do what it does best, and seduce me. Prost!




Sunday, 8 December 2013

San Diego 2013: The redemption - Green Flash

0 comments
Following the disappointment of Stone Brewing, we needed something to redeem the plan we'd made, so we set the GPS to guide us to Green Flash. Now this place was hopping. We could already see there were a lot of people here, siting outside in the fenced off area, with a food truck keeping them fuelled, and a pair of large bouncers by the entrance. IDs shown, we made our way to the humming tap area of the brewery, with the full brew kit stretching out behind. There was a lot of choice, and limited time, so the taster glasses were the order of the day. Well, for me. Poor Rüdiger was the driver, so was being sensible, but I felt the need to dive right in.



Starting with pale and hoppy, I want straight for the Citra Session IPA and the Village Pilsner. The Citra Session (4.3% ABV, left in the photo below) has a green, catty pine aroma, which carries through to the flavour. It has a refreshing sorbet-like thing going on, but with a slightly chalky mouthfeel. A strong lemon zest and pithy orange finish wraps it up nicely.

The Village Pilsner (5.3%) is surprisingly Pilsner-like, something I didn't expect, given our location. If I had to guess, I'd say classic noble hops, and it stood up to any decent German Pils I've had, with a clean floral and resinous aroma, soft bready malts and a pine resin bitterness. The finish lets it down a tad, being a bit flabby, with a bubblegum note taking off the edge, and a drop of butterscotch in there too. Still, decent enough.


Staying in the pale zone, the Green Flash Belgian Blonde (6%). Effervescent sorbet, combining with mildly fruity elements (mango, strawberry, grapefruit, of course) and fresh, green hop flavours. Rather good!

Time to step up the alcohol and the shade, with the Green Flash Double Stout (8.8%), a big beer, redolant with coffee, molasses, dark chocolate. Soft and silky, it also kicks in with a gentle vinous flavour, backed with chocolate syrup. It somehow reminded my of After 8 mints, with a fresh hop hit on the finish. Decent.

I've not had enough rye-based beers, other than a couple I've made myself, so was eager to try the Imperial Red Rye (8.5%). Another fruity number, suggesting dark berries, and mildly spicy, with pepper, and hay. It finishes with a gum-tingling bitterness. Big and fluffy, a nice closer on an all too short visit.



We eventually had to leave. It wasn't so much fun, I guess, for Rüdiger, watching me enjoying myself, and our boss was sending text messages from San Diego, wondering when we were going to arrive, so we had to make tracks. A thoroughly enjoyable visit, complete with t-shirt purchase, and some really nice beers.

Later that evening, we went to Karl Strauss in San Diego. I can't say there was much to write home about. The food was ok, the beer was ok, but it didn't have quite the atmosphere. Still, our plan was redeemed!

Advent beers 5-7: old friends, and new

0 comments
Day 5 of the Kalea Bavarian Beer Advents Calendar revealed an old friend, Schneider Weisse Tap 7, Unser Original. I've always had a soft spot for Schneider, even more so after spending a brilliant night in their Weisses Brauhaus in Munich last March. Tap 7 is somewhat of a classic, in my book, ticking all the boxes one might expect from a Weißbier. The banana, bubblegum and cloves are all there, but also an apple pie with shortcrust pastry, fudge and a finish that sharpens with a bite of green apple peel. Lovely beer.


Day 6 brought another old friend, but one I had not seen in about four-and-a-half years: Erdinger Urweisse. Compared to my tasting notes from back then, this seems somewhat dumbed down. Either that or my tastes have changed in the intervening years, or it just wasn't wise to drink it after the Schneider. At least it didn't seem as intense as back then, but for all that, an enjoyable sup, with caramel notes, light cloves and baked apple.

A nice touch from Kalea was the little Santa hat on the beer, to mark Nikolaustag. Though my wife pointed out that really, it should have been a mitre... But I liked it!



Müllerbräu Neuöttinger Pils was today's beer, another new one for me. A sweet bread dough aroma, showing highlights of grass and hay, this follows through to the flavour, being bready, in a nice way, with soft grassy hops and a light citrus kick at the back.  It finishes with a lingering malty sweetness and a gentle herbal bitterness. I'm getting the impression that most Bavarian Pils don't really do hops that well, but having said that, while this wasn't an amazing experience, it was a perfectly enjoyable drop, and I can't ask for more than that. (definitely better than day 1 and 2!).


I'm off to Ghent for a couple of days this coming week, followed by time in Münster, so there'll be some catching up to do on the calendar when I return. But I'm sure to find something in Ghent to keep me going!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Advent Beers 2-4: a mixed bag

0 comments
Day 2 brought Meckatzer Weiss-Gold, which at least does what it says on the bottle insofar as it's a nice buttery gold. Aroma-wise, it shared some traits with day one's beer, with honey notes, but with added natural rubber and grass. Disappointing on the flavour-stakes, being dull and flabby. Held in the mouth, it's grainy and sweet, and it only releases a spark of life just on the swallow, with a flash of citrus which quickly devolves into something resembling washing up liquid. The finish is unpleasant. Sadly, I had been expecting more from this, as the back label declared it to be an "independent beer type in the premium class". Well, OK, I guess I got what I deserved if I believed that kind of marketing.


Day 3 was a nice surprise. Riegele's Augsburger Herren Pils.. I'd had only one experience with a Riegele beer at BrauKunst Live! 2013, but had heard many good things about them in general. Another golden beer, with a long-lasting, rocky head. A bready, mildly spicy aroma is followed up with a grassy, lightly fruity )pears came to mind) flavour. Despite that, the word crisp came to mind. It finishes long, with an assertive, clean bitterness and a warming pepperiness. A touch metallic, perhaps, but that didn't detract from a well-made, properly refreshing beer experience. I've said it before, I have to try more from this brewery.


And on to the 4th of December, and Weltenburger Kloster Asam Bock. With a back label swathed in several languages, all of which make a big deal of it being a Bayerisches Bier )and of course the obligatory Reinheitsgebot proclamation), I'm guessing they export a lot. A deep mahogany with ruby highlights, it's an attractive beer for a cold December evening. Fruity (Pflaumenmus, blackberries), dark toffee, husky and a touch vegetal, the aroma both pleased and worried me, but the huskiness was at least muted on the flavour. Predominantly tasting of burnt sugar, or maybe golden syrup, caramel, dried fruits and a bit woody. The finish suggests demerara sugar, with a pinch of cinnamon, which all sounds like a wonderful Christmas treat. I have to admit, I liked it fine, but it got a bit dull and monotone, with the sweetness creeping up a bit, like many (but I stress, not all!) German Bockbiers do.


So a mixed bag indeed for the past three days, but in balance good! 20 more to go!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

San Diego 2013: The best laid plans...

1 comments
Note: this post is from the notebook archive, as it should have been written and posted last July! :)

I've been a fairly regular visitor to San Diego for the past 11 years, having attended a large, annual conference there probably 8 or 9 times in that period. Busy conferences, being as they are, has always meant that the group I was with stayed relatively local to the San Diego Convention Center, and the hotels, which essentially means the Gaslamp District. Not that I should complain, as despite Gaslamp seeming like a tourist hellhole, there's always plenty of places to find decent beer anywhere in San Diego, and a few breweries within spitting distance. But it was always with a pang of guilt that I never made it a bit further north, to the likes of the Escondido or Miramar areas, which on the map, seem like veritable hubs of brewing activity, even ignoring some of the most talked-about breweries on the west coast.

So it was, earlier this year, that my friend and colleague, Rüdiger, and I began to plan this years trip. Instead of the usual flight to LAX or Houston, followed by a flight directly into San Diego, we planned to rent a car at LAX and drive down to Escondido, to stay there overnight, visit The Brewery most associated with that location, and continue our drive to San Diego the next day.  We'd checked everything online. Should we reserve a table or not? Their booking system suggested it was busy, but not at the times we hoped we'd be there by, so we decided to take a chance.

Thursday, the 4th of July, we arrived at LAX, wrecked after a 9000 kilometer flight. Well, I was, but Rüdiger possesses that rare skill of being able to sleep in a giant cigar tube. Pleasant drive down to Escondido. Checked into Holiday Inn, got some supplies, then off to get cash and take the bus. FIrst problem. I had a few dollars in cash already. Rüdiger had none. The ATM refused both our cards, whether our regular bank cards of credit cards. Shit! No cash! Just enough to get the bus and back, so no problem, we can pay for everything else with credit card.

We got the right bus and, not long after, were standing outside the HQ of the Stone Brewing Company. Finally, after all these years! But it seemed awfully quiet. We snaked our way around to the main entrance, guided by an employee who was having problems getting his swipe card to let him in a side entrance. Nice place. Stone walls guiding us to a leafy entrance, an entrance hall, off of which was the closed store, and then into the main room, with glass walls showing the heart of the brewery on one side, and the other being open to the Stone Gardens. The hostess welcomed us and told us that the Bistro was closed today and that the bar would close at 8pm, with last orders at 7:30. It was 7:15. You might think, dear reader, that we'd made a stupid mistake, visiting such a place on the US national holiday, but nowhere on the website, or their booking system, had it given any such warning. "SHIT!" was my first reaction, followed swiftly by "how many beers should I order in 15 minutes?". Of course, we had to to take the situation as it was, though desperately disappointed. We planted ourselves at the bar, where a handful of punters, or possibly staff, were finishing off beers, and trawled the menu. Despite being a few minutes away from closing down for an early evening, the bar tender was friendly, offering gentle guidance when posed a few questions. We both went for the Smoked Porter.

The main room, complete with gargoyle.
Part of the brewery.
I quite liked the Stone Smoked Porter. Rüdiger did not. A decent level of smoke, with a pronounced bitterness made it interesting for me, but for Rüdiger, it clashed. Perhaps not finely balanced in that regard, but the fullness, the underlying caramel and dark chocolate bite, was hitting the spot for me. Although in fairness, after the journey we'd had, a hell of a lot of beers would have been like the nectar of the Gods!

Stone Smoked Porter.
On to a next round before last orders! Being torn between Cali-Belgique and a RuinTen, the bartender sensibly told us that we could get the Cali anywhere, and the RuinTen on tap was the thing to go for. I duly did so. A big beer in a smaller glass, Stone RuinTen IPA wears its heart on its sleeve. Pineapple chunks (the old sweets/candy from my childhood), pine resin, heavy duty Seville orange marmalade. That's it, as far as I'm concerned, and it worked.

Stone RuinTen IPA.
 And that was it! All our planning to be able to order two beers at the Stone Bistro. But there was always tomorrow. The bartender told us about the brewery tours, and recommended we should get there early, as on a holiday weekend, t could book up quickly. We took it on board, and set off to find something to eat, with about $4 in my pocket. I won't bore you with the details, but it involved one bus ride, a sit at a fastfood restaurant with a view of some pretty crap fireworks, followed by a loooong walk through tramp-infested streets, till we crashed at the hotel.

Next morning, awake bright an early, despite all efforts to sleep longer, we had a large breakfast and drove to Stone again, determined to salvage something from the previous day's disaster. We got there shortly before 10am, and already the tours were full till 1pm. We thought we'd do a little shopping in their store, but due to some power issues, it was not open, resulting in a line of growler-owners seeking refills being let in one at a time. We had a drive ahead of us, so were not inclined to just sit and skull back pints of beer, so we had to settle for a walk though the gardens, before bidding good riddance to the Stone experience. Maybe next time...

The Stone Store. You shall not pass!
Part of Stone Gardens
Bye bye!
Our next appointment, at an outlet mall, was considerably more successful, what with the holiday sales on. I'm not a keen shopper, but that was just great. So, all there was left to do was point the car towards San Diego, where we'd have to start work the next day at 8am. But there was still a list of potential breweries on the way. We had to at least pick one...

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Advent Beer 1: Käuzle

0 comments
Last week the postman struggled to hand over a package, once he realised what was in it. Thanks to a competition run by Felix over on Lieblingsbier, I was the lucky winner of a Kalea Bieradventskalender! 24 doors hiding Bavarian beer stuff (I got the Bavarian edition, but I have to say, their Bad Santa edition sounds very intriguing!). Free beer! And free beer surprises! Needless to say, I was well chuffed.


This morning, my son was super-excited to be opening his Advent calendar, so much so, that he wanted to share the excitement at shortly before 8am, by opening my beer calendar and bringing a bottle in to my bedroom (unopened, I hasten to add!).With bottle number one comes a leaflet about how to assess beer, and a sheet for putting down your own ratings, with an address on the other side to send it as feedback to Kalea.


Kauzen Bräu Käuzle was beer number one, a Pils-style beer described as a cult beer on the label, and as a Szenegetränk (a "scene" drink), on their website. Pouring a pale straw shade, with a fine, but short-lived head, Käuzle has a sweet nose, suggesting marzipan (hey, it's getting near Christmas), white bread, a twist of pepper, mandarin peel and a vaguely vegetal undertone. I have to admit, the first sip registered disappointment, being predominantly grainy, with  a honey-like sweetness dominating. The hops bring a mild citrus, mandarin edge which cuts the honey sweetness, and it the finish is mildly peppery, in quite a pleasant way. Quite an easy beer to just knock back, rather swiftly, but a touch dull around the edges for a Pils.

The beer blog has been dormant for a while due to other pressure, but I hope to at least blog the entire calendar, as a way to get back into training. Probably not every day, but at least every beer!