13 October 2014

Big in Nuremberg

Last month's bimble through Bavaria began in Nuremberg. The Dublin-Munich flight arrives nice and early, so you can be in the Franconian capital in time for a late lunch.

The big local brewery is Tucher, an outpost of the enormous Dr Oetker food and drink company, yet the brand is nowhere near as all-pervading as I expected. In fact, in the corner of the medieval city where I stayed, two of the pubs were flying the flag for Augustiner of Munich and the rest were non-aligned, offering a variety of Franconian beers. The railway station, on the journey back south, was the only place where I found Tucher to drink. Tucher Helles is appropriately smooth for the style but smelled powerfully of sweet apples, and there was even an appley aspect to the otherwise bland flavour. Weird, and not what I was expecting from the big boys. Tucher Pilsener was less flawed, though also fairly boring, with lots of heavy breadiness in the aroma followed by golden syrup in the flavour, but none of the livening hops I'd expect when switching from helles to pils. And it's the same story again with Tucher Urfrankische Dunkel: a hint of roasted malts, but otherwise a very plain cola-red lager. On this showing I was very glad not to have Tucher in my face at every turn.

The preferred outlet for any ticker arriving in Nuremberg is Hütt'n: a pub and restaurant unusual not only for being free of tie to any brewery, but also for having a separate bar for drinking in. The guilt I often feel in central Europe for taking up valuable dining space with my paltry pints is thus neatly avoided. There is a range of house-branded beers, presumably re-badges of something local. Hütt'n Hausbräu Helles is cloudy like a witbier (Ratebeer suggests it's normally sold as a Zwickl) and is deliciously lemony fresh, with perhaps some peach overtones. It's served cold as a thirst-quencher and fills the role perfectly. Hütt'n Hausbräu Dunkel is rather pale for the purported style, more orange than brown, with lots of weissbier-like fruit esters in the aroma alongside sharper green apple notes, and a taste profile that's low on roast but big on lip-smacking orange sherbet. A fun beer though not for dunkel purists. No style worries when it comes to Hütt'n Das Pils: this is the pure green-gold of classic German pils and kicks off with an invigorating bitterness, all crunchy cabbage leaf and fresh spinach. Its brashness is tempered only slightly by soft honey malt flavours, but that's enough to bring the whole thing into balance, albeit a very noble-hop-forward sort of balance.

We did a fair bit of  random picking from the selection at Nuremberg's pubs. This turned up Friedmann Hell from Gräfenberg, a lovely spicy, grassy example of the style, like a smoother more honeyish version of Pilsner Urquell. On the dark side there was the same brewery's Ritter von Wirnt dunkel which featured lots of lovely rich chocolate and toffee, plus a slight smoky bite, while also staying perfectly clean and smooth; and Simon Spezial, a chestnut brown "vollbier" offering a delicate blend of burnt caramel and mixed herbs. I've often seen vollbier misleadingly translated as "stout", but it sort-of works for this one.

And speaking of stout/dunkel crossover, Herrngiersdorf's Publiner had to be tried, if only for the weirdness of its blurb. But for all the proclaimed "Irish character" it's actually a very straightforward dunkel, red-brown in colour with lots of caramel in the aroma and a sweet liquorice-allsorts flavour. The carbonation was very low which I think might make it a bit difficult to drink in any quantity, and while it was fun for one, there were plenty of much better examples of the same style on the menu.

What really drew my eye to the Hütt'n beerlist -- before I left Dublin, truth be told -- was Rittmayer's Smokey George. Barry had written about this peated dark lager six years ago, though I never thought I'd get to try it. Poured from the keg it arrived an innocent amber-gold colour but the aroma immediately brings to mind heavily peated Scotch whisky. Unsurprisingly that continues on tasting in a big big way: a one-dimensional turf explosion, enhanced rather than balanced by a generous dose of brown sugar sweetness, and with an aftertaste that goes on for 500 miles and then 500 more. Yet despite this at no point does it get cloying: the base beer is a clean and simple lager and this stands to the finished product's drinkability. As long as you're OK