I got these Distelhäuser beers from Barry a shamefully long time ago and they were at the front of the queue when I began an overdue clear-out of my beer fridge recently.
Starting with Distel Blond, a 5.1%-er with the unusual distinction of being a top-fermented German ale. Unkonventionell, as the label helpfully puts it. It's a very pale gold in the glass, topped by a happy and bright blanket of froth. The aroma speaks of moist white fruit: pear, lychee and white peach -- juicy but with a sterner note of acetone or gasoline. The texture is light, verging on watery, with the space filled by carbonic fizz. But the fruit still pokes through on the flavour, with the malt adding a tasty burst of sherbet to it, finishing on a sauvignon-blanc-like light citrus. National stereotypes being what they are, I had expected something serious and husky here, but it's not. It's a joyous celebration of malts and hops which I'd say makes for ideal summer drinking. And much as I love quality lager I'm sure this makes a welcome change from them.
Suitably impressed I move on to the next one: an IPA with a cavalcade of top hops: Amarillo! Centennial! Cascade! Simcoe! And, er, First Gold, which was presumably on special offer. Lucky Hop is rose-gold and there's more of that lychee-and-petrol effect in the aroma, as well as an eye-watering marker-pen burn from a very obvious 7.7% ABV. It tastes quite plain to begin with but after a second the hops arrive bringing a heat with the bitterness. It's as thick as the foregoing beer is thin, rather syrupy in fact, and mixing that up with the green acid hop burn makes for an intense, but not necessarily enjoyable, experience. It calms down on the finish and you get your lychees back, which is nice. But this scores low on the drinkability scale. All those hops and I don't think any are lucky. Next!
Back down to earth with 5.5% ABV Black Pearl porter. Proper black, with a brown trim when held up to a strong light, and smelling pleasingly liquoricey. Liquorice in the taste as well, but much more besides: luxurious high-cocoa chocolate, exotic smoke, even more exotic gunpowder, vanilla, rosewater, zinc and wrapping up on a dry burnt note. Phwoar! The texture is that of a much stronger beer: not quite syrup but distinctly unctuous. I'm very impressed by this. Maybe I'd like a bit more sweet floral character, and the metallic burnt bit upsets an otherwise perfect smoothness, but if more breweries were turning out medium-strength porters like this we'd all be drinking them.
A tough act to follow for the big finish: Loch Ness stout is the same strength and more or less the same colour, though the head is darker, greyer even. Its aroma is a sweet and bready fudge cake and the texture lovely and smooth, mouth-coating velvet like some sort of platonic ideal of stout. The flavour is a lot simpler, however. Sweet chocolate is the bulk of it, backed by a yeast kick that's almost Belgian in its spiciness. It's another very well made beer, even if it doesn't have half the bells and whistles of the porter.
I'm thoroughly impressed by this showing from Distelhäuser, the IPA notwithstanding. You can bleat all you want about the craft movement trying to tear down what makes German beer great, but the quality of these ones, and the dark ones in particular, is equal to the best of classic Belgian and British brewing. They deserve a wider audience, if any importers reading have a gap in their portfolio for German porter and stout.
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