31 August 2012

The Baltic to Bavaria

Even though there was plenty of representation from the big international German beer brands at the Berlin Beer Festival, one of the headline sponsors was Störtebeker, a regional brand from Straslund on the Baltic coast due north of the capital. Having never heard of them I made a point of visiting their stand where two very jolly barmen were dishing out a pils and a schwarz.  

Störtebeker Pils is magnificent: a sharp bitter kick gets it going and the middle is smooth and creamy. It's almost in the same league as Keesmann Herren Pils, a beer which I searched vainly for during my festival visits but which didn't seem to be on sale anywhere.

It was a tough act to follow and Störtebeker Schwarz didn't quite manage it. This is a nasty-looking murky brown with big loud chocolate flavours followed quickly by dry roast. As good as many a schwarzbier on sale at the festival, but by no means a stand-out.

Always a sucker for novelty I couldn't pass by the Köstritzer bar without having a go of their helles. I mean, pale Köstritzer? Kerr-azy! The name is Köstritzer Edel and it's a very pale yellow indeed. In an otherwise non-descript lager I swear I was able to detect some of the back-of-the-throat crisp dryness that is the hallmark of normal dark Köstritzer, but I'm well aware of how powerful suggestion can be when tasting beer and I wasn't going to stop to carry out a blind taste.

Of course there was a big showing by Schneider, who had a couple bars on the go. We made a few return visits there: Aventinus Eisbock at €1.50 a glass will do that. But in the calmer hours I took the time to try Schneider Weisse Blonde, simply because it's a beer from one of my favourite breweries which I've never tasted. It presents like weissbier from a normal brewery: pale orange-yellow and hazy. There's the classic clove flavour you get with good weissbier and only the lack of any dark malt complexity marks it out as different from Schneider's flagship product. Not something I'd go rushing back to (unlike the Eisbock) but I'm glad I tried it.

While we're in Bavaria we may as well pay a visit to Andechs. The cheeky monks were ignoring the festival pricing so it was a whole €2 for a sample of their beer. Andechs Hell is a textbook Bavarian Helles: purest pale gold, silkily smooth and just lightly bitter. Andechs Dunkel is less well put together, blaring coffee and slightly sickly toffee but with just enough dryness on the finish to make it work.

A doppelbock was of course necessary at some point and Riegele Doppelbock was the first I spotted and was just what I was after: a clear mahogany, it's properly filling and the flavour dashes between liquorice, caramel, lavender and rosewater. There's almost a barley wine heat and complexity to it.

So we come to the last beer of the post and you'll doubtless all be shocked by the complete lack of rauchbier in my German trip notes. As it happens I only met the one, from a brewery in Franconia which claims to be the smallest brewer of smoked beer in the region.

Fischer Rauchbier is a clear brown colour and exudes massive smoked salmon and bacon flavours which I loved. Backbone is provided by a certain amount of caramel, but it's mostly light and quaffable all the way through.

And that's it from Berlin. It's a city that makes you work hard to find anything different from the orthodox beer styles, even when it's running a huge international beer festival. But what's there, by and large, is pretty good.

Play us out, Hans:

29 August 2012

Und was ist das?

There was a vague attempt at themed zones at the Berlin Beer Festival, with different sections marked out for different regions of Germany or foreign countries. It didn't really work on the ground, however, and the arrangement of bars appeared more or less arbitrary. Quite early on on the Friday we happened across a stall selling beers from the Williams Brothers brewery in Scotland, and on cask no less. It was my first chance to try their summer seasonal Birds & Bees, a cloudy blonde ale brewed with elderflower and lemon zest. The latter combines with the generous hopping to give a powerful citric bitterness that's wonderfully refreshing.

Czech brewery Opat had two beers available, badged for the local crowd as pils and dunkel, but I'm taking a punt at guessing their Czech names. So, Opat Svetlý is a smooth and sinkable dry lager laced with some nice stonefruit tartness: peach, plum and the like. Opat Tmavý is a very dark brown-black with big treacle notes up front fading quickly and not leaving much behind other than water and a slight metallic tang. Drinkers of the standard German styles wouldn't have found much to shock them in these two. I suspect they'd have been impressed by Skalák Tmavé 13°, however, presented here simply as "Rohozec Schwarzbier". This was beautifully presented: a clear mahogany red. Smooth and lightly sweet it balances fruit and chocolate against a cheeky bitter hop bite. Lovely.

Finally a few German beers billing themselves as porters. Bräugold Porter starts with a major sticky caramel thing but balances it with some lovely bitter liquorice in the finish. It started getting cloying as it warmed so is best consumed cold for maximum enjoyment. Just as well I was drinking 200ml measures. Lausitzer Porter is paler: more dark amber than black. It's sweet and sugary but only lightly carbonated so highly quaffable. A few flavoured versions exist and I went for the Lausitzer Kirschporter which smelled for all the world like a Belgian kriek. In the flavour the cherry syrup is laid on a bit thick and its a bit of a struggle to get through, but it does leave a pleasant cherry aftertaste once its gone. More a novelty than something I'd make my regular tipple.

One more post to come, and I've been saving up the highlights.