11 April 2013

The shape of things to come

German IPAs and imperial stouts are one side of the changes being wrought in teutonic brewing these days, but arguably of more interest is how the native styles are being altered, played with, by brewers who want to give the drinkers something a little bit different. The BrauKunst Live! festival in Munch last month afforded the opportunity to try some of these innovations first hand.

Sometimes it's no more than the name. Camba Bavaria's Fire Beer sounds intriguing but really it's nothing more interesting than a solid, caramel and chocolate-driven doppelbock. A Bourbon Doppelbock is much more like it, and it works remarkably well. The barrel imparts no whisky heat but instead there's all the wood and sherry and dark fruit added to the rich doppelbock flavour profile. The end result is warming, vinous and with a long lingering aftertaste.

Monarchy of Musselland from Cologne had given the wood-aged treatment to their dark gose, making Son of a Batch: Apple, matured on apple wood. It's 5.2% ABV and a barley wine-ish dark red colour. The texture is thin, suggesting the high attenuation typical of gose, and the carbonation is gentle. There's a beautiful summer fruit tartness to it and almost no sappy wood, which is a bonus.

While we're on old-fashioned German beer styles, Weissenohe brought Gruit, although the staffer insisted that they had to add some hops to it or it wouldn't have had a shelf-life. Our subsequent discussion on the antiseptic properties of various herbs was hampered by a failure of botanical vocabulary in each other's languages. Weissenohe has never been one of my favourite breweries, largely because of the overwhelming green noble hop character of their beers, and there's no escaping that, even with this gruit. There's a vague herbal sweetness going on, but nowhere near enough to counter the nettles in what's an otherwise rather dull beer. Still, I walked away heartened to know that gruit lives on in Germany, even if they're not sure about leaving the hops out as yet.

Bavarian weissbier giant Schneider is no stranger to innovation, having produced some ground-breaking hop-forward beers in recent years. Downing pints of Hopfenweisse late into the night at the Weisses Bräuhaus was one of the highlights of this trip and I've never been happier that the experiment became a regular beer. At BrauKunst they launched the second in their Tap X series, replacing the Nelson Sauvin wheat beer from a couple of years ago. Sommer Weisse is the new one, a cloudy blonde with grass and liquorice in the aroma, turning towards more herbal eucalyptus on tasting. It's smooth, light and very quaffable, though lacks the big wow factor which I suspect punters shelling out for a big bottle will be seeking. Definitely built for al fresco drinking in Munich this summer, however.

Schneider wasn't the only behemoth launching a new beer. State-owned Hofbräu -- a by-word for staid Bavarian traditionalism -- had a new Festbier to show off. Sure, there are other German breweries making something called festbier: there's nothing radical about the name. But someone has raided the hop store for this one: sharp lemon rind opens proceedings and the malt gives it a sort of lemon meringue pie effect. Quite delicious and very surprising.

There's less mucking about going on on the pils front but I can't finish up without a quick shout-out for Schönram's Grünhopfenpils. The only innovation here is that the Hersbruckers have been thrown in straight off the bine adding a wonderful pepperiness and really making it stand out from most German pilsners.

And that brings us down to the wire, and the last brewery of the trip. I'd made a second, solo trip out to the festival on the Sunday afternoon, flitting from stall to stall trying to cover as much as possible without missing my plane (which I very nearly did). I'd walked past the Riegele stand a few times and this time actually stopped to read the blackboards. Riegele were at the Berlin Beer Festival last summer and I had a very tasty doppelbock from them. But while very few breweries brought anything innovative to Berlin for fear of scaring the Prussians, there was a definite playfulness apparent in their offerings at BrauKunst. I started with their weizenbock, Augustus: 8% ABV but could pass for half that, being very smooth and drinkable with lots of ripe banana. And then they also had a Simcoe Kellerbier, as one does. I've some nasty things to say about Simcoe in a future post, but this was just stunning: an uncompromising blast of heavy funky hops, unencumbered by any interference from malt or yeast and covering the tongue in a long-lasting oily hop slick. Perhaps lager is where Simcoe really belongs.

And with a mouth full of resinous Simcoe, my weekend ended. BrauKunst Live! is highly recommended as a festival for taking the temperature of progressive German brewing. Having the wonderfully beery city of Munich as a backdrop is just a bonus. Thanks to Barry for making the arrangements.


  1. It looks like there's a chance that Germany can evolve the beer industry and offer more varieties of beer. You get pretty tired of Bock and Weissbier after a while.
    I found a nice APA when I was there last time:

    1. I liked the Störtebeker beers I had at the Berlin festival, where they were a headline sponsor, but it was just a pils and schwarz.

  2. On the simcoe and lagerbier, a neighbour brewed a Keller Pils with Simcoe as the main hop (with a little Northern Brewer). H e made 200 litres for a party, and everyone loved it.

    I'm sorry I didn't get to try the new Hofbräu one. I thought it was brewed specifically for the Bierfest, so not sure if it will be part of the regular lineup.

    But yeah, plenty of things going on here to be trying :)

    1. Ooooh. *That* kind of Festbier. Well that's disappointing.

  3. Chris5:38 pm

    German IPAs and imperial stouts? I really hope that the world's not going to be taken over by the same old "craft" styles. Why are there so many imperial stouts anyway?

    1. Are there? Seems to be quite a lot more pilsners around to me.

  4. Gary Gillman1:50 pm

    Good report, thanks. Changes being heralded in the land of great beer and brewing history: it's win-win.

    Curious on your take on German-made, American-style pale ales/IPAs. Did these seem similar to internationally known examples, or do you see them cutting a swath? What did the German people around you say when you sampled these? The profile seems far outside anything in the traditional repertoire, but did they like the taste? Could some not abide it?


    1. It was a bit of both, Gary: some could have been rebadged Mikkeller or BrewDog; others had something distinctively German about them. No idea what the German punters made of them, but the people showing up to the festival in the first place would probably have been pretty open to begin with.