01 September 2017

Die übersüß

Session logo His Royal Lageriness Velky Al is hosting The Session this month and the theme is Oktoberfestbier. 'Tis the season, after all. Once upon a time, the myriad range of German lager styles were a source of great interest for the under-stimulated Irish beer geek. In the specialist beer shops we cut our teeth on helles and export and doppelbock, learning as we go. And of course the annual influx of Oktoberfestbier from the six great houses of Munich was part of that.

And then the excitement died away. I guess the explosion of local craft beer and the greater availability of more thrilling offerings from more hyped brands meant there was no longer room for the Germans: a generation of beer enthusiasts grew up who never knew an Irish beer scene without Mikkeller or BrewDog in it. These days, the half-litre bottles of German beer, looking clumsy and old-fashioned, cluster together on the bottom shelves in the supermarket. I felt sorry enough for them to rescue a couple.

In keeping with the Session theme, I offer a festbier first. Eichbaum Festbier didn't come in a half-litre bottle, but an Oktoberfest-compliant 950ml can inside a complimentary Maßkrug, a fiver the lot in Dunnes: bargain! I'm used to German Oktoberfestbier being golden so was surprised when this one poured an amber colour that's almost mahogany. It's only 5.5% ABV and I suspect that reflects a high finishing gravity as it's very thick and syrupy as it sloshes out. There's a roasty element in the aroma but the flavour is very full-on Märzen: thick and bready. The darkness gives it a touch of caramel and liquorice, as well as a little jammy bramble fruit. The nettley noble hops wait until the end to make their presence felt but do so only briefly.

Though I can see how this has been designed for September evenings with the first chill of autumn in the air, it's not the Oktoberfestbier I'm looking for. Yes, the crisp and golden variety from the big brewers may be a recent affectation in line with popular tastes, but you can colour my taste popular here.

Looking for that golden cleanness, I switched to a helles next, Adlerkönig Urtyp Hell from Privatbrauerei Höss, funnily enough imported by Four Corners, who also bring in BrewDog and Mikkeller. It's a light and approachable 4.7% ABV and perfectly pale gold, but once again I'm let down by sweetness. The flavour is a jolting mix of candyfloss and caramel wafers, and hop balance appears to be far down its list of priorities, coming in at the end but tasting harsh and plasticky. The sum total of all this is a sickly and artificial-tasting beer, completely lacking in the smooth cleanness of good helles, and reminding me of the worty flavour commonly found in non-alcoholic weissbier.

Both of these styles are allowed to place malt sweetness at the centre of their flavour profile, but these two examples have gone way overboard with that and the beers (and the drinker) have suffered as a result. I'd trade either in for the Spaten or Paulaner equivalent without pause.

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