10 July 2017

Move over Mozart

I almost deleted the email. Stiegl isn't exactly one of the world's most inspiring beer brands -- Austria's mainstream beers don't command the same sort of reverence that those of neighbouring Bavaria or the Czech Republic do. I was about to consign the message to the same place as the ones I get about Peroni and Tennents when I noticed it came from the Carlow Brewing team. OK then. The event was to mark the beginning of Carlow's tenure as Stiegl's Irish distributor, it was happening upstairs in Café en Seine and, crucially for the purposes of this here blog, it mentioned that there'd be a few more out-of-the-ordinary beers on show, beyond plain old Stiegl lager.

It was a rather jolly event, as it transpired. A slew of bloggers and other commentariat, plus Michael, Stiegl's export director. There was even a surprise to start with, in the form of Stiegl Weisse. Though only 5.1% ABV this is much more substantial than a typical weizen, full of heavy melanoidin biscuit flavours and a large dollop of toffee with the banana. I was a little concerned that it might get a bit difficult to chomp through after a while, but having subsequently taken a full half-litre for a spin I can confirm that it's smooth enough with sufficient crispness to be easy-going. It's not a world-changing weissbier, but is a rather decent one.

To follow, a taster of Stiegl Goldbräu, the flagship lager and the beer responsible for my dim outlook on the brand. It still tastes quite nasty, in the very typical cheap-lager way. There's a sharp metallic bite, an off-putting sour tang and an unpleasant graininess. Herr Direktor told us that this 4.9%-er is in the Märzen style, and far be it from me to argue the technicalities of that. But it really doesn't taste like Märzen to me, and is far too thin to feel like one. Nope. Pass. Next.

A palate-cleansing Stiegl Radler was next. Apparently this is particularly popular in the US where it goes toe-to-toe with Schöfferhofer's, both being grapefruit-based. It tasted more of lemon to me, though still an invigorating citrus flavour which I found extremely refreshing. At just 2% ABV it delivers exactly what one wants from a radler, and it's not so sweet that it can only be consumed in small quantities. We're painfully short of radler in this country and those of us who can't be bothered putting the work in to formulate our own would appreciate this one. I hope Carlow will consider adding it to the line-up.

Stolid old Stiegl, churning out beer to the burghers of Salzburg since 1492 has not been immune to the gnawing insistence of craft beer. The brewery has both a small-batch experimental operation, and a yoof-oriented modern-labelled sub-range. We got to try a selection of what these were offering.

To start, the grandiloquent Sonnen König III, a  plum brandy barrel-aged double chocolate oatmeal porter, because why not put all your craft beer ideas into one bottle? That's Austrian efficiency, that is. It's 12% ABV and a pale muddy brown colour. The aroma is unappetising, a funk that's as dirty as the beer looks. The fruit comes to the rescue in the flavour, however, and there's a cheery plum and raisin foretaste, boozy and dessertish. The sweeter chocolate and oatmeal cereal swing in behind this and don't really help out, adding what they probably think is complexity but just turns the whole concoction into a busy mess. I would hypothesis that a couple of years of maturation would help integrate the flavours rather better. I'm not sure I'd take the risk of buying one just to find out, however.

Also in a large-format bottle is Gipfelstürmer, a wheat beer which uses spelt instead of barley. I'm not sure why. But no matter, because the recipe works really well. It smells like a typical weissbier but the flavour has this fantastic white grape flavour, like a blonde ale gently flavoured with the best bits of Nelson Sauvin hops. It's lovely fresh and summery drinking and packs a decent amount of complexity into 5.2% ABV.