Friday, 28 February 2014

Braukunst Live! 2014 - The Traditionalists

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? How do the long-standing, traditionalist breweries react to new trends in the German market? I sampled a couple at BrauKunst Live! 2014.

Schlossbrauerei Au has been around since 1590, so I think it's safe to say that it has a long tradition, and still with a Baron Freiherr at the helm. So it was interesting to see their beer list with a few oddities. First up, the Schlossbrauerei Au Grätzer. At 4.4% (12,2° Stammwürze), Gerrit and I were not sure if it was "to style", but frankly, neither of us really gave a crap. What it is, however, is an unfiltered dark straw, with a big, pillowy, banana aroma and a light clove touch. Same on the flavour, but cut with a delicate sourness, like a squeeze of lemon, finishing dry and long. The ingredients listed Weizenmalz, Rauchmalz and Spitzmalz, but there can't have been much in the Rauchmalz department, as that was quite subtle. Have to say, though, I quite liked it!

What I had visited the booth for, however, was to try the Schlossbrauerei Au Eiskeller Rotweinfaß, aged, as the name suggests, in red wine casks. Pretty much a Doppelbock that was either going wrong or out of date (I'm not great with that dialect), they decided to experiment and put it into Italian oak wine casks for 12 months of aging. The result is quite remarkable. Big aroma, redolent of red berries, oak and vanilla, likewise, the flavour is bold, with raisins, raspberries, cherries, vanilla, with a gentle woody touch in the background. A sweet, marzipan-like finish wraps it up nicely. With only 1600 bottles made, I'd be quite hoping they try it again!

And on to Fürst Wallerstein. No simlpe Barons here, but a proper Prince! Presented at the BierTraum booth, I asked to try the 1598 Fürst Wallerstein Edition Privée. I was told that this beer was expensive and that, normally, they'd ask for 10 tokens for a 100ml  sample (that's €5, I think), but they made a deal with the brewery to let it go at just 5. It normally retails at €90 a bottle. I wish he hadn't told me all that before trying it, as that set expectations high. Though I'm glad I didn't read the description on the 1598 website either, or I would surely have felt unworthy to request a sample. Be that as it may, I got my sample and retreated to a safe distance, clutching business cards of the reseller and the Fürst Wallerstein sales manager, which I felt obliged to accept.

Clear amber, with not a trace of carbonation, it has a pleasant cherry, caramel and bitter almond aroma. Flavour-wise, well, rather dull, given the price tag. Slightly syrupy, with sweet caramel, soft fruits and a taint of cardboard hovering at the edges. Shame, really.

And so to an old hand at the game, both in traditional and not-so-traditional brews, our friends at Schneider Weisse. I have to admit, I love Schneider beers, and spent several happy hours in the Weisses Brauhaus last year, not to mention them being regularly on my cellar shelves. And looking below, you'll see they are well loved by the crowds at BKL.

There was only one beer that needed sampling, and that was the new Schneider Tap X, Meine Porter Weisse. With an aroma that hinted rather heavily at the Weissbier components, there wasn't much portery going on, apart from a hint of milk chocolate. Neither was much in the way of dark malt roastiness to the flavour, but there was certainly lots of tasty dark berry things going on, mixing well with the juicy, Weizenbock-like flavours. I have to wonder why bother calling it a porter weisse, when it nods vigerously in the direction of a Weizen Doppelbock (and oh, how they do that so well). I'll be sticking to the Aventinus, which is also more suited to my price range.

Next up, craft or crafty in Deutschland? Or do we really care?

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Braukunst Live! 2014 - The Brewpubs

I had fully intended to sample broadly from the smaller German breweries at Braukunst Live! that I'd not heard of before, but somehow got waylaid. But at least I tried!

Maxbrauerei Biermanufaktur is a small inn and brewery, opened in 2010 in a renovated stables in Altenstadt, Oberbayern. What I found interesting about these guys, is that as well as their regular range of two, they have a monthly beer, that they have planned a year in advance. The 2014 calendar features beers like a Russian Imperial Stout (December), a Saphir Weizen (November), a Rogger Ale (June), and so on.

At Braukunst Live, they had the January and February offerings. January's was Maxbrauerei Böhmisch Dunkel, brewed with Saaz hops. Reminiscent of rye bread and toast, with a pinch of graininess and a green apple edge. Nothing to shout about, but fairly drinkable.

Their most recent offering was the Maxbrauerei Indian Pale Ale (their Indian), a yeasty, amber affair, with fruity overtones, the expected citric bite, but suffering from a butteriness that left it flat. Shame, but then there's something else coming next month!

Just an observation on the name of the brewery including the "Manufaktur" element. This seemed to be a bit of a trend, as there were at least a handful of breweries now sporting this moniker, leaving me wondering if they were trying to take a leaf out of the Braufactum handbook, using Manufaktur as an indicator of something crafted by hand. Let's see.

And speaking of playing the craft card, the next beers were from Kraft Bräu, from Trier, way over by the Luxembourg border. These guys, based in the Hotel Restaurant Blesius Garten, have been around since 1998, but I can't say if they had the name Kraft Bräu, or the sub-title 1. Trierer Hausbrauerei first. No matter, it's the beers that count.
Can't avoid the Lederhosen around here.
Starting with Kraft Bräu Seb's Pale Ale, served by Seb himself, I tried to ignore the questionable label and concentrate on the contents. I was told they wanted to aim for drinkability, and model this more towards an English style, rather than the fashionable American Pale Ales, despite being brewed with Willamette and Cascade. And you know, I think they succeeded. Balance is the name of the game, with sweet, fudgy malts, floral, herbal hops, and a light, orange-tinted bitterness. Unoffensive (at least the beer was) and decently sinkable, so I can't complain too much.

I said I'd like to try another of their "normal" beers, and was offered the Kraft Bräu Helles Saphir, which, as the name suggests, was dry-hopped with Saphir. I can't say I'd call it normal, in the sense of a German Helles, what with the big floral, resiny nose, and a lovely honey/melon flavour in the midground, and a  light carbonic bite cutting through to passion fruit and a soft, chalky dryness. Really refreshing and one I could happily drink all day.

Moving up the scale to the Kraft Bräu Edition IPA, at 7.5% ABV. Creamy, soft citrus notes, solid caramel base and a full body, I think this was another winner, and a far classier label.

On a separate board, they had a barrel-ages Kraft Bräu Treverer Porter. Lots of berries with lashings of vanilla, a deft touch of sourness, mild chocolate and roasted edge, and a lingering raspberry and chocolate finish. I was starting to like these guys, but thought I should be moving on.

Well, just one more. The Kraft Bräu Bourbon Chocolate Stout. With a port-like, vinous notes, vanilla chocolate, mild coffee and toffee, and deceptively light and creamy for a 9% imperial stout. Very good.

I'd like to find out more about Kraft Bräu, and what is behind the brewery, and how a hotel brewery (albeit quite a fancy-looking hotel and spa) can take the risks to make such a range of beers, and I wish Max & Co. luck with their ongoing project, as I like their ideas and guts starting something like that.

Next up, a look at a few breweries I would call "traditionalist", or certainly with what seems like a long pedigree, and a fair few "vons" in their history!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Braukunst Live! 2014 - The New School

A year in the German beer calendar seems to have gone by very quickly, with Braukunst Live! creeping up almost unexpectedly. After a fairly slow festival last year, from a personal perspective, this year I decided that two days was needed to do it any sort of justice. The final published, and most certainly incomplete, beer list for this year listed 431 beers from nine countries, 252 from Germany alone, so there was a lot to bite off.

While the general format remained unchanged, being somewhat of a mix between beer festival and the feel of a trade show, it felt to me like there was a certain maturity to how everything was presented. At least the presentation at the booths was of a generally higher standard compared to even last year, feeling somewhat more polished and professional, while retaining the character of each brewery presenting. However, there was a lot to cram into the MVG Museum, and Saturday got particularly crowded both out on the floor, and definitely at the woefully inadequate toilet facilities, despite the addition of portaloos outside the venue. If they continue to expand and attract the growing attention, I'm really hoping they choose a bigger venue (also with more seating and better catering facilities) for next year.

But, on to the more important aspects, the beer! I had an unwritten agreement with myself to try and focus on the German breweries, and beers I had not tried before, but of course failed on both counts, not that I'm complaining. So first, beers I tried from what I might loosely describe as the new school of brewers, ranging from some relatively new, to those with a longer brewing heritage, that took the leap to Craft several years ago.

The gang of six
First stop, straight to see Thomas at Hopfenstopfer, to see what new creations he'd brought. Taking a departure from the excellent pale ales I'm used to seeing from Hopfenstopfer, he had a red ale, Hopfenstopfer Dark Red Temptation, on offer. An unfiltered amber, Dark Red Temptation has a banana-y, fruity nose, with bready, doughy malts in the back. The 9% alcohol comes through with a warming sensation, complemented by a soft, chewy body. Lots of toffee, a slight graininess, and a strawberry, minty-hop finish. Quite heavy after a while, but it does finish relatively dry, though a little floppy.

Hopfenstopfer were at a joint bar with a collective of independent small brewers, including Braukunstkeller, Paxbräu, Kehwieder, Schoppebräe and Ale Mania, formerly known as FritzAle. So, it was a quick step to the left to sample from Hamburg's Kehrwieder, of who I'd heard good things. Their new single hop IPA Kehrwieder Hüll Melon showcased the hop of the same name. Remarkably fruity on the nose, it shouts strawberry jam. Loudly. Less so on the flavour, but it's a tour-de-force of exotic fruit flavours, coupled with light honey notes, grassiness, and a bunch of other stuff to keep you chewing over. Lovely stuff, that is dangerously deceptive, given the 7.5% ABV tag.

Kehrwieder Prototyp is not quite a prototype, being their first commercial beer produced over a year ago, which kept its moniker. A dry-hopped lager, using Northern Brewer in the mash, Perle in the kettle and Simcoe and Saaz for the dry hopping, Prototyp is juicy-fruit all the way, with a deft touch of fudge for good measure, and a drying smack of grapefruit to the finish. Very pleasant and refreshing, and a safe 5.3%

I'm not such a fan of the name of Kehwieder Feuchter Traum (wet dream), but it's named so on account of it using undried, fresh "wet hops", namely German cascade. A clear, pale amber with a fudgy, mandarin aroma, it has a wonderfully light fruity flavour, bitter orange and toffee, with a sudden, dry finish, almost chalky and lingering orange pith.

I'd been informed that all six of the breweries listed above had made a collaboration brew for the event, something they did via a FaceBook group they set up after last year's Braukunst Live. Triple Nipple (or maybe Tripel Nippel?) might have been a case of too many cooks spoil the broth. I found the aroma muted, with just a touch of grapefruit pith, but then it was served too cold. A little more came out when heated in the hand. But still, a bit of a one-trick pony, being all about the orange and grapefruit, and not much else for me.

Later in the night, I returned to Hopfenstopfer to hit the rest button with a Hopfenstopfer Comet IPA, which I noted on last year. Still a great beer, and the best rated beer (and best rated brewer!) out of Baden-Württemberg on ratebeer!

There's one thing I'll say about this little group. While they don't appear to have the marketing budget of some of the other newer German craft breweries, who seem to spend a lot of time advertising their dedication to the craft beer cause, living the craft beer life and looking more like it's a lifestyle than a drink, these guys just quietly go and brew great beers, and I've a lot of respect for that. Actually, respect, and lack of in some cases, was a recurring thought through my two days at Braukunst Live.

But moving along to another old hand, up the other end of the hall, whose beers I've certainly enjoyed in the past, Sebastian Sauer, and Freigeist Bierkultur. I have to admit, the randomness of the selection available gave me pause, but the Freigeist Dark Jester (or was it The Monarchy Dark Jester? I'm not sure now), with juniper berries and bay leaves sounded intriguing. Sour and a little band-aidy, the latter left me a tad undecided, and while I enjoyed the herbal elements, and the sour bite, it hit so many buttons. A brewer, who shall remain unnamed, gave me his opinion that most of these beers were random creations with crazy stuff just to sell in the US. He might say that, but I couldn't possibly comment. However, I can say I've immensely enjoyed pretty much everything I've tried from Freigeist up till this point.

And so, close by, to Maisel and Friends. I've put them in this post, because I saw them last year, and I think I even tried the Bock. While they might not rate as particularly "new school", given that they have the same selection of three core beers as last time, they are at least on trend, and their beers in 750ml bottles are fairly priced, which is more than I can say for some out there. Jeff's Bavarian Ale was the choice, a 7.1% wheat beer with a strong fruity aroma, dishing out blackberries galore. Quite decent on the swallow too, with a mildly solventy alcohol hit, but creams, with more dark berries and mild clove spiciness.

That'll do for this post. Coming next, some brewpubs doing something different. In the meantime, some shots of post-Braukunst Live beers at Camba Bavaria's Tap House. No note-taking here!

And the post-post-BrauKunst Live beers in the hotel lobby!

BKL2014 Part 2: The Brewpubs
BKL2014 Part 3: The Traditionalists