19 January 2009

Kraut and about

I held off mentioning a couple of German beers I had in Zürich, aware that I had some German stuff at home to write about in the near future and I may as well lump them in together. As it turned out, the common ground is merely geographical as each of the following beers are very different from each other, which is refreshingly odd for a nation which seems to delight in brewing an awful lot of very samey beers.

We'll start in the south with a bottle of Hofbräu Schwarz Weisse, consumed in Zeughauskeller. I liked this "black white" beer, which is actually a gorgeous shade of chestnut brown. The banana and clove flavours are laid on thick and accentuated by a heavy, chewy, caramel sweetness. It's streets ahead of most any dark weissbier I know.

I mentioned the interesting Swiss beer I had in Bar Andorra here. We were there for a while, idly picking through the menu. I had a bottle of Jever Pils, a beer I've not tasted in donkeys' years. It's not as pungently bitter as I remember it, being remarkably smooth up front and saving the bitterness for just a pleasant gentle kick at the end. I'd be up for more but it seems to have disappeared from the Irish market. Still in Bar Andorra, I'll stray briefly from the Fatherland to mention Staropramen Dark, in its decidedly funky glass. I loved the smoky caramel character of this lager from one of the Czech giants. It's flavoursome but with a light enough touch to slip down easily. Just a shame I was paying nearly €5 for 330mls of it.

Back home again, then, and a couple of beers brought to me by Adeptus from his corner of north-west Germany. First up is Boltens Ur-Alt -- that's like "Old2", isn't it? It pours a cloudy brown from the swingtop with a stiff head reminding me a lot of a dunkel weiss. There's no aroma to speak of and I started getting a little worried about the fact that its drink-by date had passed a month or so previously. But it tasted fine and is unquestionably an alt: very dry, to the point of being almost sulphurous. This is followed by a powerful dose of that alt sourness, big enough to remind me of a Flemish red. And then, strangest of all, there's a final subtle aftertaste of roasted coffee, putting me in mind of nothing so much as an English mild. None of these complex flavours are particularly bold, and it makes you work to pick them out, but that's part of the fun of drinking it.

The other alt he gave me was from his local brewery in Münster: Pinkus Müller. All-organic Pinkus Original, says the label, is a (or "the"?) Münstersch Alt. Stand by for regional variation. The first surprise was the colour: it is remarkably pale, the hazy yellow of a witbier. The aroma has all the grassiness of a pils. The taste is mostly sour -- the mouth-watering lambic variety, though a little less intense. At the end I get the rounded fruity bitterness of a blonde ale. For all that going on, it's extremely easy to drink and moreish. Personally I'd love to have this as my local speciality. And the lesson is that if it looks like a wit, smells like a pils and tastes somewhere between a lambic and a blonde ale, then it's probably an alt. Simple.


  1. Pinkus Alt is indeed the last and only Münster Alt, a beer of the extremely rare type 2 German sour beers. That id beers not soured through the addition of lactic acid bacteria at fermentation time but through long lagering in infected barrels.

  2. The Staropramen glass is certainly very cool - can't say I have tried their dark though.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the two alts :)

    I find all the Pinkus beers quite delicate, and they nearly all seem to share that refreshing sourness. None are particularly robust, but they make fine thirst-quenching summer drinks. My colleagues from Düsseldorf of course say it's not a real alt, but I try to point out that it is the last example of a Münster Alt. Their Classic Lager is another interesting one that I really should post about.

    The Boltens is probably better fresher, but I also like the build-up of flavours and the roasty hints. The Ur-Alt seems to have a touch more than their regular Alt, but both are tasty drops. I must get more.

  4. The Pinkus beers have some national distribution, unlike most interesting German beers. They are organic, so you might find them among all the lentils and spelt crackers in the Ôkologische supermarkets.

  5. Like (luckily) all the rest, I haven't had Staropramen dark for quite a long time. Even when I liked some of the brews from Smíchov, the tmavé never quite made it. Looks good in the picture, though.

  6. Staropramen Dark is one of those beers the late Michael Jackson includes in his 500 book, but which I've never seen on sale -- even in the Czech Republic.

    We tried the Pinkus alt, and loved it. I think we found it in an organic hippy deli somewhere in London. Like you, we're usually a bit sceptical about organic beer, but those hippy shops sometimes have interesting things stashed at the back. Our local one sells Pitfield's beers, for example, which you don't see about that much.