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 Mr Dredge's press pass spared us the need to splash out -- cheers Mark!

The very existence of BraufactuM shows that there's definitely a change in the air with German brewing, though personally I'd like to see the Hopfenstopfer model become the more common template for the way forward. Later in the week I'll have a look at how the more traditional German beer styles -- which don't seem to be in any jeopardy from the new wave of craft -- have been given a progressive twist by some of the brewers, but before that let's have a look at the foreign beers on sale at the festival.

28 comments:

  1. "It was terrible and reeked of piss."

    But what did you *really* think of it, &c...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wasn't going to waste notebook space providing more detail. What I wrote was all I needed to know about it.

      And not all beers that reek of piss are terrible. Bateman's Valiant. 2008. The landlord's name was Adrian.

      Delete
  2. So what is this? A beer festival? A trade show? How does it all work? What's it all cost?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, I didn't link to the festival website for the benefit of my health. It's a beer festival.

      Delete
  3. Yet more copies of American IPAs. Just what the world needs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By and large they weren't: not many had the masses of toffee malt, for one thing. Plenty of them used German hops. I would hazard that the citric IPA is no more an American thing now than pils is a Czech one.

      Delete
    2. IPA has become the Pils of modern beer. Ubiquitous and dull. Why aren't German brewers making something more interesting, like, say, Dark Mild?

      Delete
    3. Sounds like a gap in the market all right.

      Delete
    4. Or AK - why don't they try that. I must have a word with Sebastian about brewing a German Mild.

      Delete
    5. Simple Answer: IPA is what the market needs and wants at the moment. In our beer geek world we're almost bored with yet another American IPA, but in Germany nobody knows what beer can do at all.
      Most of the German consumers hearing the word "beer" really think of "standard German Pils (or Helles, depending on where they come from)".

      And Brewers are impressed right now with what comes over from the American Craft Beer Movement. So they brew IPA. That's by far not all going on here, but if it takes a straight forward punch of Citra-Grapefruit to make people say: "Holy shit, that's beer?" and to push craft beer out of it's geek / elitist state in Germany, I'm not complaining about anybody doing that.

      As I said that's the short answer, the long version is way more complex and would take too much time now ;).

      Away from that: Good luck finding a good American IPA in Germany, so why not let some people brew that here?

      Delete
    6. As an Irishman who missed the more recent developments in the Irish brewing world, I can only welcome our new IPA overlords in Germany :)

      But as Robert says, there are other things going on, if one looks hard enough. What Ron has done with Sebastian and the Deutscher Porter is just one small example.

      Although there does seem to be a trend towards barrel-aging now, so still catching up on the US trends.

      Delete
  4. OK Smartarse. The site answers the festival question. The rest? I'll ask someone else I suppose.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'd also like to see more following the Hopfenstopfer model. Decent beers at a decent price. And I think there are more leaning in this direction, though some of the bigger ones still seem to think decent or "different" means "gourmet", and the ratcheted-up price tag that seems to imply.

    Tandleman, it's a beer festival, but with elements of trade show, in that they also had some hop producers with booths. The organiser was inspired by thr Great American Beer Festival and the Swedish Beer and WHisky Festival, and has a long history of running Finest Spirits, a Whisky thing in the same venue. I found the format a bit odd when I attended the first one last year, but really enjoyed it (and the side event masterclasses). Really, it's a start of a showcase for some of the more non-conformist breweries, but does still have plenty of the bigger ones.

    You can search my blog for impressions from last year (and a bit about this year)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hop producers? Did I miss the opportunity to take away a baggie of Mandarina?

      Delete
    2. Brian8:00 am

      There were some samples available. I think I picked up some Mandarina and Comet.

      Delete
    3. Well that's good to know...
      /kicks self

      Delete
  6. Possibly! Although not sure they were giving out samples. Must ask my neighbour in Weihenstephan if he can get some samples!

    They also had booths for organisations like Barley's Angels, Bier Sommeliers, magazines, etc... but I guess the beer was distracting enough :)

    ReplyDelete