20 October 2014


That was a lot of lager and weissbier last week, eh? What about this wave of foreign styles that's destroying traditional German brewing and replacing it with the same sort of beer you get everywhere else these days? I could have told you before I left the house that no such thing is actually happening, but that's not to say that there aren't plenty of German breweries offering something different. You just need to put a bit of work in to find it.

One such outlet is Café Abseits in Bamberg. I mentioned it last week as the main place to find beer from the Weyermann maltery's pilot brewery. There's an impressive menu of other speciality beers as well. I'd spotted Weithaler Hoptimum Pale Ale on the menu of Hütt'n in Nuremberg but it was out of stock then. Happily here it was in Bamberg and it's a cracker. There's a classic lagery golden syrup malt base balancing a serious teeth-squeaking, jaw-pinching bitterness. The aroma is all pithy spritzy jaffa and the flavour blends in herbs and sandalwood spices. At €3 for a 33cl bottle in the pub I could see this being a regular beer for me if I didn't live 1,000 miles away.

Hamberg's Kreativbrauerei, meanwhile, have a 7.5% ABV IPA, single hopped with new high-alpha German variety Polaris. The brewery claims SHIPA Polaris has mint or menthol aromas but I didn't get that, just lots of weedy dank and perhaps a light apricot fruitiness. It's dark, rich and sweet, reminding me of BrewDog's 5am Saint in particular, and it got to be tough drinking after the first few mouthfuls. Not a candidate for my go-to German ale, then.

From Berlin comes Schoppe Bräu XPA, another strong dark one, this time using all American hops. Even though it was a few days past date, the aroma was still excellent, all orange sherbet. It was somewhat  lacking in flavour, however, just a mild kind of jaffa cake orange and chocolate thing and hardly any bitterness.

Top pick at Café Abseits was Backbone Splitter by Bavarian rockstar brewer Hans Müller, released on his Hanscraft label and described as a "West Coast IPA". Bet you didn't know Bavaria even had a west coast. 6.6% ABV, 60 IBUs and utilising Simcoe, Amarillo, Centennial and Horizon -- all helpfully set out on the label. There's a stylistically spot-on aroma of grapefruit and sharper pine resin while the flavour is perfectly balanced between refreshing mandarin juice and a tougher, chewier oiliness, sprinkled generously with jasmine perfume. Beautifully put together, all-in-all.

The last leg of the journey brought us to Munich where, as well as a few old favourites, top of my hitlist was the new Camba Bavaria pub Tap House. In keeping with modern craft beer bar chic this place is kitted out in Nordic industrial style, all rough-hewn wood, riveted metal and concrete. A long bar with 40 numbered taps leads up a large bottle fridge at the top of the room. The draft selection was mostly German, with a few token Belgian and American offerings. And, of course, lots of beer from Camba Bavaria itself. To put even more distance between themselves and local custom, most beers arrive in either an American shaker pint or a teku-esque stemmed glass.

The only guest German beer I drank was Ratsherrn Pale Ale, a 5.6% ABV job with a vaguely weedy aroma and not much hop action in the flavour either: some orange barley candy fruit flavour but  it's otherwise dominated by sweet malt. Camba IPA is pictured next to it, a dark red-gold colour and smelling of sherbet and sweat. It's another malt-forward one, but this time the sweetness is better balanced by spicy resinous incense and candied citrus fruit. It's a little bit Christmassy, with touches of lemon drizzle cake, but good fun to drink.

I probably should have realised that Camba Amber Ale was going to be even sweeter. It even smells sticky and toffee dominates the flavour, with just a tiny bit of hop complexity, adding notes of red apple and strawberry for something closer to an Irish red than an amber ale.

Matters improved when I moved on to Camba Saison, all of 8% ABV but hiding that extremely well. It's a clear gold colour and has a lovely funky sour aroma. The flavour mixes wheaty grain and banana esters with a sour candy green-apple chew kind of oddness. Deliciously stimulating, if somewhat different to your typical saison.

Staying funky, Camba Nelson Weisse is a pale wheat beer that smells of grape must and has a beautiful rounded white wine flavour, with notes of cantaloupe, kiwi and flint. Traditional weissbier flavours are almost absent but I didn't really miss them, though the base beer provides a great full-bodied base for the hops. I'm glad they serve this by the half litre.

Two strong and dark ones to finish. Camba Imperial Stout is a huge 9.8% ABV with a very dry, burnt aroma plus traces of coffee. It tastes harshly phenolic in a marker pen sort of way with just a trace of dark chocolate. It's a beer that demands much of the drinker but has little to offer in return.

And then there was Camba Imperial Black IPA. It's the same inky black as the stout and 8.5% ABV. The aroma mixes thick molasses with piquant orange sherbet and the texture is every bit as heavy as the smell suggests. I was really not prepared for the taste: a palate-shaking blast of lavender, rosewater, tar and green cabbage, finishing with a waft of well-hopped booze up the back of the nose. It's an intense and very grown up beer: you'd need to like big bitterness without so much of the hoppy fruit. It turns out I do. Who knew?

Obviously the new wave of foreign-influenced German beers are a mixed bunch, as you would expect. But there's plenty of absolute gold in there. Long live diversity!


  1. While in the UK, it's now almost impossible to find a pint of traditional brown bitter, thanks to the sinister machinations of the crafterati. Bastards.

    1. First they came for the Abbot drinkers...

  2. Try Marble Best. Traditionally brown, full of crystal malt and not that good really. But it is both craft and there.

  3. I seem to spend three-quarters of my drinking time looking down bars muttering American amber, IPA, IPA, IPA... liquorice stout, orange saison, cabbage porter, lavender meringue... why can't they ever put on something ordinary? The other quarter of the time I'm in strange pubs, looking down the bar and muttering brown, brown, yellow, yellow, yellow... wish they'd put something interesting on...

    1. East coast or west coast cabbage porter?