09 April 2013

Beer speed dating

Although I've been to bigger festivals, BrauKunst Live! in Munich was among the most daunting. Even setting aside the familiar breweries -- headline locals like Schneider and ubiquitous festival fixtures like De Molen -- there was so much I had no clue about and it was really difficult trying to figure out where to start. Fortunately the standard beer measure was only 100ml so at least picking any given beer wasn't much of a commitment.

Happily also, admission came with four tokens for specific stands, one of which was Camba Bavaria from Truchtlaching, east of Munich towards Salzburg. They had a helpful plasma screen above the stand to tell punters what was available, so I kicked off with their Pale Ale. It was terrible and reeked of piss. Surely this can't be typical of the new wave of American-influenced German ale brewing? Over to BrauKunstKeller to try their Laguna IPA. Awful again: brown, and sticky with an unpleasant mix of stale sweat and sugar. You're letting me down here, Germany. The modestly monikered Bavarias Best IPA by Schönramer was rather better. Closest to an English IPA with its gentle marmalade hopping it also presents a strange, but not unpleasant, lagerish grain element too.

What was required here was a bit of direction, and Barry's recommendation was to try Hopfenstopfer. This is a side project by the brewmaster at the otherwise traditional Häffner Bräu brewery in north-west Baden-Württemberg. The beers would be instantly recognisable to anyone who has been keeping even half an eye on what the likes of Mikkeller and BrewDog have been up to over the last five years, though still seem to be in the early "Yay! Hops are great!" phase. So take Hopfenstopfer Citra, for example: 5.1% ABV and a hazy yellow-amber. It's lightly carbonated and provides an ideal platform for lots of herbal, slightly spicy, Citra flavours to come bursting out. There's something similar going on in Incredible Ale only this uses a cocktail of Cascade, Nelson Sauvin and more besides. It's very dank and funky but just at the right level: strong, but not overpowering, which is how I like my dank. For an altogether calmer, more balanced experience there's Jahrgangsbier, a pilsner using local ingredients and eschewing the pale ale bitterness for a light and crisp mineral character. The highlight of the Hopfenstopfer range for me was Comet, a 6.8% ABV IPA utilising Comet, of course, plus German varieties Taurus and Saphir. There's a bit of an acid burn in the foretaste but that fades leaving a lovely balance of citrus and dank, sharpness and funk. This combination of German ingredients and methods with foreign recipe influences was much more what I was hoping to see at the festival, and Comet was one of the few beers that left me wishing I could sit down with a pint of it.

I struck gold again over at the Weihenstephaner bar which was being manned by the students of Bavaria's state-owned brewing research institute. What had first caught my eye was Infinium, the collaboration with Boston Brewing in its very fancy 75cl bottle. 10.5% ABV and using classic German Tettnanger, Mittelfrüh, Spalt and Hersbrucker hops. Though a gorgeous shade of clear dark amber this is all mouth and no lederhosen, being quite a dull but hot beer with not much going on in it at all. However, the students' pride of place wasn't given to this, or one of the long-established heritage beers, but to Banx, a hazy golden pale ale they had made with Topaz plus new German variety Mandarina. It hits that precise sweet spot between US-style citrus and German herbal hop flavours. Beautiful.

One of the very few beer brands I'd heard of before the festival was Propeller. They had a double IPA on tap on their stand, called Aufwind. It wasn't quite on the money for me: a mere 6.5% ABV and much more about the crystal malt toffee flavours than any big hop effects. Nachtflug imperial stout was much better: sweet and smooth and oddly reminiscent of a quality doppelbock, with that silky caramel sensation they do so well.

Sticking with the German stouts, there was the rather pleasant Fritz Ale Milk Stout which completely missed the babyish sweetness that normally comes with the label and instead packed in the dry roastiness, Irish style. I wasn't complaining. Over at Pax, an operation where the cool t-shirts and biker moustaches are more prominent than the beers, there was Black Gold, an extremely dry oatmeal stout with added liquorice. It's 5.3% ABV and very full-bodied. Enjoyable to drink but quite hard work.

Two from the more outré side of things to finish. BraufactuM are a subsidiary of German food and drink giant Dr Oetker, specialising in expensive strongish beers for the "gourmet" market. They had a vast sprawling stall by the entrance of BrauKunst Live! and weren't shy about charging a premium for their tasters. The two I tried were Roog, a nicely balanced 6.6% ABV smoked beer, one which allows the sweet dark malts to come through the smoke and making the most of both elements; and Arrique, a Rioja-aged barley wine, 13.5% ABV with quite a big vino tinto character and some nice woodiness, but overall rather tame for the stack of beer tokens they were demanding in exchange for a sample. Thankfully