Showing posts with label german beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label german beer. Show all posts

Friday, November 22, 2019

Och Ayinger

One of my pet annoyances is lager being displayed in the store, whether supermarket or independent bottle shop, on a shelf at room temperature. More so at the independent bottle shop than the supermarket admittedly as supermarkets rarely prattle on about being "passionate about craft beer", but that's a rant for a different post.

That pet annoyance was one of the reasons I hadn't drunk anything from the Privatbrauerei Ayinger until this year when I took a punt on their Oktoberfest-M?rzen for my massive Oktoberfest taste off earlier this year, I had never seen them in a fridge. Said beer was still not in a fridge, but I figured it was a seasonal beer and thus more likely to still be in a decentish condition.


It was so different from the other Oktoberfest branded beers I had in September and October, richer, more characterful, and with so many more nuances that it ran Sierra Nevada's collaboration with Bitburger close in terms of volume consumed. I knew I needed to try more, and so I did...


The only other Ayinger beers at our local Wegmans are the Jahrhundertbier, a malty pale lager that was first brewed to mark the brewery's 100th anniversary, obviously, and the Br?uWeisse, a classic hefeweizen. As ever I wasn't bothering unduly with notes, I have found that they add little to my enjoyment or otherwise of a beer and so I have largely given that Sisyphean exercise up. Both are lovely beers, though as I noted in my post about Munich Airport, I rarely drink weizen, so the Br?uWeisse has not made an appearance in the fridge since I tried it, the Jahrhundertbier though is another story. Most Saturday evenings in the last month or so have seen a half litre bottle poured into one of my German style glasses (more beer should be in half litre bottles in my world) and indulged in.

Kind of on a whim one Friday afternoon I wandered into Beer Run's back room where they keep the European beers, and behold there were more Ayingers to try, happy days...


First a minor gripe, pilsner in 33cl bottles? That's just taking the piss. Bloody nice beer though, but you knew I'd say that right? Of course you did, you know I love pilsner in both its German and Bohemian styles. Seriously though, this gives Rothaus a run for its money in my opinion, especially given the delightful floral aroma and flavour, like drinking a summer Alpine meadow.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I don't think I have enjoyed a dunkel in the last few years anywhere as much as I did the Altbairisch Dunkel, lovely smooth drop, with traces of dark roast coffee and just enough hop bite to balance it out. Apparently Michael Jackson, no not the singer you plum, was a fan, yeah he was right. Again, it has become a regular in the fridge.

Looking at the bottles of Urweisse in Beer Run I wondered to myself why they would have more than one hefeweizen, yeah I did a poor job of reading the label. Richly amber rather than pale, but with all the spiced bananas you kind of expect, but with more of a malt richness than a regular hefeweizen, this was almost nutty and toothsome. I like, but you know that weizen thing I mentioned earlier, yeah it still applies here, maybe if I saw it on tap I'd have a rethink, but until then...

I don't have a picture, but on the strength of the outstanding quality of the Ayinger beers I had tried, I got myself a four pack of Celebrator, their doppelbock. Doppelbock is not something I drink very often, though I do have a soft spot for Trader Joe's Winter Lager. Goodness me what a divine beer Celebrator is! Later this year I am going to buy as many doppelbocks as I can find in my usual beery haunts and do another comparative tasting, it inspired me that much. The night after I polished of a couple of bottles the temperature hit -8°C (that's teens in °F), there was a hard frost, and it felt like winter was well on its way, a happy thought.

So yes, I am fan of Ayinger now, actually going through something of a kick as I cling tenaciously to my time in central Europe...

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Munich - Flying Visit

When I flew to central Europe back in October, I landed firstly in Frankfurt before heading on to Prague. For my flight back I had a choice, either fly from Hannover back to Frankfurt or to Munich and then on to Washington DC. The difference in price was negligible and the flight from Munich would actually get me back to Mrs V and my boys earlier than the Frankfurt flight....oh and Munich has its own brewpub, Airbr?u, it seemed like a sign.

The day of my flights though Munich was fog bound and everything was delayed, so I got to spend an extra 45 minutes in Hannover airport. Because the boards at Munich said the flight to DC was on time I headed straight to the gate, through document check, into a barren wasteland where the "limited shopping and restaurant options" amounted to 3 vending machines with soda and snack foods. Bugger.

Eventually though came an announcement that there would be an announcement about how long the flight would be delayed and if people wanted to leave the secure area they could do so, on the understanding that returning would mean going through document check again. Very few people moved, but if Airbr?u was close by then you bet your life I was going somewhere more comfortable and with something better than fizzy water to drink. Oh joy of joys, the restaurant was just a five minute walk and so I left the secure area with a decided spring in my step.


Other than a couple of ladies sitting at a table, the place was empty, perfect. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a Fliegerquell helles, again relying on my dodgy German, which a few days of bumbling over like the perennial reserved Brit was actually improving again. The barman asked if I wanted a "kleines", "gro?es", or a "ma?", yeah you know what I ordered...


Just what the doctor ordered, and as good a helles as I can remember having. Fresh, unfiltered, unpasteurised, groaning with bready malt flavour and a lemony tinge in the hops that made me think of Tettnang. I was a happy chap again, so the litre disappeared in about 6 mouthfuls, and the barman was shocked when he returned to find I had polished off the ma? so quickly. Same again? I genuinely pondered it, but settled for a half litre of their 1918 m?rzen.


Again a perfectly good beer, but not up there in the same league as the helles, by this point the barman and I were talking about brewing and all that good stuff, and the prospect of a 9 hour flight didn't seem so terrible, I am not a fan of flying really. The m?rzen had more of a crusty bread thing going on that the helles did, a subtle honeyed sweetness that balanced nicely with the hops, it was just a bit flabby round the edges to warrant a second, so I did something I rarely do.


I ordered Kumulus, their hefeweizen, and it was as lovely an expression of hefeweizen as I have had in many a year, all those clove and banana aromas you expect from the style, but completely missing the bubble gum character that screams out bad fermentation control. As I say I rarely get a hefeweizen these days, admittedly it is not one of my favourite styles but done well, and presented properly as it was here, it can be a refreshing change of pace. There was just one more beer available that needed to be tried, the Jetstream Pilsner.


Sure the glass says Fliegerquell, but the liquid was the Jetstream, and again it was a solid, thoroughly to style, and thoroughly satisfying German pilsner, with all the wonderful hop bitterness and clean crackery lager bite that involves. German beer and me just seem to get along like a house on fire, and once again I thought to myself that it really is no surprise that the likes of Stone can't make a go of US style craft beer in Germany. When the native beers are so well made, so tasty, and are such perfect companions to the communion of the stammtisch why bother with the wacky stuff?

Having spent an hour sitting at the bar it was time to wander back to the secure area, where it had been announced that boarding was about to begin. And soon I was on a Lufthansa plane, speeding its way back across the Atlantic Ocean to Virginia, and I promised myself it will not be 11 years before I go to Germany again. Next time I hope I will have the family with me as places I love are just so much better with the people I love.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Hannover - Brauhaus Ernst August

I have probably mentioned this several times but I am a total Germanophile, much of which stems from having lived in ye Olde West Germany back before the Wall came down. My father was in the British Army and we were posted to the town of Celle a couple of times before my 10th birthday. I don't remember much of the first posting, I wasn't even a year old when we moved there, but the second time I was about 8 years old and so I have some recollections.

Another reason for my Germanophilia is that my great-great-great grandfather was German. Much beyond that fact we aren't 100% sure of, though there is a group of descendants from this guy who have claimed he was from Minden. My own great-uncle in his research had him coming from Hannover in Niedersachsen, just a few miles from Celle, and the birthplace of my little brother.

When I was in New Orleans for a conference last year it was mentioned that the next instance of the conference was to be in Hannover, and so I knew if possible I wanted to get there, and get there I did. As usual I did a bit of research into the breweries in the area, and discovered that Brauhaus Ernst August was just around the corner from my hotel, and so I knew where I would be going on the one night where I didn't have dinner plans with other attendees of the conference.


I actually went to "the Brauhaus", as the German conference hosts referred to it, a couple of times. The first time was after a dinner that included the most immense currywurst I have ever had, and then on the night before I was due to fly back to the US.

On both occasions they only had 2 beers on tap, Pilsener and Bernstein, a m?rzen. I have to admit that I was not particularly taken by the Bernstein, not that it was bad, it just didn't grab my attention, I found it just underwhelming, perhaps being a 12.5° beer with an ABV of 5.2% makes it too dry and lacking in body for my tastes. Using the old ABV times 2.5 to approximate the starting gravity, maybe the extra 0.5° to make it 13° would have made all the difference, especially as most m?rzens I have had have a fuller body.


Anyway, on my second trip I stuck to the Pilsener (their spelling), a 4.8%, 11.5°, pale lager hopped with Hallertauer Tradition and Smaragd. As I recall, again I wasn't taking notes, this was a solid, tasty German style pilsner, yes drier than you would get in the Czech Republic, but pretty close to something like Rothaus Pils or K?nig Pils. With Tradition and Smaragd in the mix there was a lovely grassy and spicy hop character to the beer that offset the crackery malt nicely, making it a dangerously easy beer to just knock back several of, so I did.


Having polished off my currywurst dinner, I think I ate currywurst about 4 times in a week while I was in Germany, I decided to treat myself to a digestif and ordered a shot of , which is made with 45 wild herbs and accompanied another glass of the Pilsener just about perfectly.

It might seem that a bar with just a couple of beers would be disappointing, but I actually loved my time at Brauhaus Ernst August for that very reason, when the beer is good, fresh, and clearly well made then I am happy to just sit, enjoy the beer and the atmosphere.


Talking about the atmosphere, for a Wednesday night the place was pretty busy, not entirely full but with enough people to generate a buzz of people out enjoying company with good beer, and really want else do you want from a brewpub. When I next get back to Hannover, hopefully not in 35 years, I look forward to going to Brauhaus Ernst August again.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Bamberg - Spezial, Swaying, and Stumbling

When I learnt that I was going to central Europe for a couple of conferences with a weekend between them, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to visit somewhere new.

One of my great regrets from my decade in Prague was that I had never taken advantage of its proximity to Germany to take weekends drinking legendary beer. When there is so much great beer at home why bother?

My options were legion. I could go to Zoigl country, Munich, Regensburg, or Berlin and get my fill of great beer. Then there was Bamberg...

I well remember my first ever beer from Bamberg, and by extension my first ever rauchbier. It was the m?rzen from Schlenkerla. On one of my many forays into Pivovarsky klub, then barman Ambroz told me that they had purloined 50 bottles of smoke beer from Germany, suitably intrigued I had one, and then another, and another. Of the 50 bottles it is entirely possible that my friends and I demolished about 40 of them, it became something of a go to beer for the few weeks it was available. Thus my love affair with rauchbier was born. And so with 24 hours to spare between leaving Prague and needing to be in Hannover, I went to Bamberg.

I say I had 24 hours to spare, in reality after travelling to Bamberg via Nuremburg I actually had only about 18, and given my train to Hannover was leaving at 11am the next morning, I really only had 6 or so for drinking. 6 hours in a city with probably more renowned breweries than any other in Germany? This time the decision was go broad and shallow or go narrow and deep? I went for the latter option and picked the two breweries I wanted to visit more than any of the others, Schlenkerla, naturally, and Brauerei Spezial, mainly at the recommendation of Evan.

First though I took a wander around the centre of the city, discovered that Hegel had lived for a year in Bamberg, and it was on these wanders that I noticed brass plaques embedded in the pavements. Finding Schlenkerla was pretty easy, yay Google Maps, and there were crowds of folks outside downing their beers. Now, this may come as something of a surprise, but I am a raging introvert, and painfully shy, particularly when it comes to going into pubs, cafes, and restaurants that I have never been into before and I am by myself. I walked past the front door two or three times before actually entering the building. Thankfully there was an empty table in the Dominikerklause and so I parked my self conscious arse down and revelled in the vaulted ceiling of this most beautiful of rooms dedicated to beer drinking.

A menu came and I soon realised that while my reading comprehension of German is still pretty good, my listening and speaking skills have gone somewhat awry, but stammer on I did - pet hate is people that assume everyone speaks English and doesn't at least even try the basics of "ein m?rzen bitte", at this point I was actively worrying about what I would have for dinner. Anyway, the m?rzen.


Now, I drink this beer in bottles regularly, as in at least a couple of litres a month regularly, but on tap at the brewery it shattered my every preconception of rauchbier. The only way I can think to describe it is fuller, deeper, rounder, perhaps there is less carbonation, less prickliness to highlight the smoke? Whatever was going on, that first half litre of Schlenkerla m?rzen in the brewery itself was almost a religious experience, communion with a beech smoked, dark, divine, and it wasn't cold, being just slightly cooler than a well kept real ale in the UK. It was over far too quickly, thankfully being in the brewery itself, I had another, though I drank the second somewhat more circumspectly, savouring the nuances and interplay of the malt and hops, yes there were actually hop things happening that were noticeable, but guess what, no notes.


Also on tap that day was the Ur-bock, only available on draft in autumn, and absolutely necessary drinking. Everything I just said about the m?rzen applies here as well. I drink Ur-bock pretty often, though not as often as the m?rzen, but on tap it was a much fuller experience. At only €3.50ish a half litre I could have happily sat here all afternoon and evening getting merrily preserved by the smoke to then crawl back to my hotel, but Evan's praise of Spezial Brauerei had been effusive, so I took myself off for another decent length, head clearing, walk.

As I walked I came back to the main street leading to and from the railway station. This time there were riot police walking down the street, and again I spied the brass plaques, but it was the police that had my attention. A protest was in full swing, the local Kurdish community was out in force protesting the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. I stood and watched the procession wend its way to the river and looked down at my feet, I was almost right on top of a clutch of brass plaques, so I took a moment to read, and then photographed them.


They were Stolpersteine, "stumbling blocks", memorials to victims of the Holocaust, placed, as I would later learn, at the last known willing address of the people they memorialise. In this case the memorial was to the Walter family, who were deported the nearly 1600 miles to Riga in Latvia, to be murdered for the crime of not being Aryan. Having never heard of the Stolpersteine project before, I was taken aback by the stark, even callous, beauty of these memorials. If I'd have had a stone handy I would have laid it on the Stolpersteine as my own personal mitzvah to victims of fascism. Never again, for in forgetting we deny.

Sobered, emotionally if not necessarily physically, I wandered with my thoughts to the Brauerei Spezial, again taking a few reccies of the space before walking in, found myself a seat at an empty table, in the corner of a side room, and made myself comfortable. On my stroll I had identified the place I would be going to have my dinner, but there was beer to drink first, and first up was their ungespundetes lager as recommended by Evan. Ungespundetes is basically an unfiltered beer that is served from a wooden barrel by gravity, sound a lot like some kinds of real ale really.


One thing that I had definitely not been expecting in Bamberg was for Schlenkerla to be usurped as my preferred Bamberg brewery, but here I was revelling in the ungespendetes lager and feeling distinctly conflicted about my loyalties. So I ordered the regular lagerbier.


Yeah done deal, I was very much in the Spezial camp my the end of my first half litre of this sublime beer, and still not taking notes, but every mouthful was relished, especially as the clean lager bite that I love so much was in full attendance. At this point I was wondering if I could persuade Mrs V that we needed to move to Germany and make Spezial our new local. Following the lagerbier with their m?rzen I thought I was about to break into song at the glories of the beer I was drinking, thank goodness for my innate British reserve that had me merely smiling broadly in my corner, as I engaged in a little people watching to pass the time.


The couple in that picture below sat for about an hour, hardly speaking yet perfectly content in each other's company, a state where noise would ruin the perfection. I hope one day to sit like this with Mrs V in whenever our local pub at the time is, happy in the security of being with my best friend, confidant, and completer of my world.


I had another morning train, and so again I didn't want to get myself blootered on superb beer. I paid my bill, and allowed my legs to carry me to a snackbar where the promise of a doppel currywurst awaited, just what the doctor ordered.


I loved my time in Bamberg and hope one day to go back with Mrs V and the boys to enjoy more of the many delights the city has to offer.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

When Big Brewing Comes to Town

Friend and fellow homebrewer Jamey Barlow sent me a link yesterday to an article in the Charlotte Observer about plans from the German brewer Gilde to open a brewery in Charlotte.

Gilde is a brewery from Hannover, a city that has a certain amount of resonance for me as when I was a kid it was near Hannover that my family lived. My father was in the British Army and he was posted to nearby Celle, and my little brother was actually born in Hannover. Recently while investigating our ancestry it seems likely that my dad's family came from Minden, again not too far from Hannover. Oh and I am going to Hannover in October for a few days with work, so that's fun eh?

According to the article, the brewery, which is part of the TCB Beverages group, Europe's largest contract brewer, will start with a 5000 sq. ft. facility they are calling The Embassy. The Embassy will seemingly be the first step toward a large production facility in a few years time, capacity is said to be half a million barrels a year in the production brewery - for context, that is about 40% of Sierra Nevada's current annual production at 2 breweries.

While it is exciting that a German brewery is setting up on this side of the Pond, I have to say that some of the quotes from Gilde CEO Karsten Uhlmann smack of an incredible arrogance toward the Charlotte brewing scene. One such quote is:
“We believe that obviously Queen Charlotte forgot to bring her beer (here) ... and we’re trying our best to correct this mistake”
Ignoring the fact that the queen consort to 'Mad' King George (the third of that ilk) never once stepped foot on colonial soil, it is also dismissive of the decade of German brewing that Olde Mecklenburg Brewing have been doing in the city.

Uhlmann also trots out the old canard about recipes having not changed for hundreds of years, to which I happily respond with a hearty "Quatsch mit So?e!". Gilde's current product range has the usual suspects, helles, pilsner, radler, usw, usw. Now, given pilsner was invented in 1842 and the first Munich helles was produced by Spaten in 1894, we're not exactly talking beers that date back to Gilde's 1546 establishment now are we?

I do however like the fact that Gilde intend to use their US brewery as a training ground in German brewing techniques, which I assume will mean decoction mashing, extended lagering, CO2 capture, natural carbonation through krausening, and a commitment to the highest of quality control processes, both in terms of ingredients and systems.

I have to admit that I don't buy into the shit that a rising tide floats all boats (seriously only a landlubber with a duck pond for aquatic adventures could believe that tosh). The economies of scale available to a half million barrel brewery will allow Gilde to undercut some of the smaller breweries in the Charlotte area, likely sinking rather than floating them.

My main hope is that Gilde's presence will further inflame an interest in central European beer styles, and that the likes of Olde Mecklenburg will see a boost from Gilde being around. I guess it also means that hunting out Gilde's beers while I am in Hannover is a must.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Echt!

It used to take about six and a half hours to drive from Central Virginia to Columbia, South Carolina whenever Mrs V and I would head down to her parents'. Since the advent of the twins, now 20 months old, it often takes about eight with all the additional stops to change diapers, feed, etc, etc, etc...

We've been making the trip down US Route 29, I-85, then I-77 for almost 10 years. I am fairly sure I have some kind of muscle memory for the road, and for the longest time our single stop on the trip was at a place called Eden, very close to where the 29 crosses the Virginia/North Carolina state line. There is pretty much nothing at the rest area other than well cleaned toilets, drip coffee, and vending machine soda. This weekend though we eschewed the delights of the Eden rest area and pushed on the ninety minutes to Charlotte for our break.


I don't recall the first beer from the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery that I ever had. I feel confident it was the Copper, an absolutely on point altbier, but as to where I had it, I don't remember. What is true though is that whenever the family and I head south, or in-laws/friends come north, I make sure to stock up on Olde Meck beer, usually the Copper and their, on a par with Rothaus, Captain Jack Pilsner. I had long held ambitions to pop into the brewery some time, but just assumed it would need to be part of a longer trip to Charlotte.

For nearly ten years, as Mrs V and I were making the road trip to and from Central Virginia we were unwittingly driving within a couple of blocks of the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and their eight acre biergarten, yeah you read that right, an eight acre biergarten right in the heart of Charlotte, just off the I-77. How that knowledge was not in my head sooner is a mystery to me, you live and learn, and having learnt, we jumped off the interstate, parked up and headed into the brewery's beer hall and biergarten...


Once through the hefty wooden doors it was delightfully cool and to be honest had Mrs V and the bairns not been with me, I would have parked at the bar and never bothered with the biergarten itself, the South and I don't agree with each other when it comes to suitable summer weather. The interior is everything you expect from a central European beer hall, dark wood, benches, and a bar with banks of taps.


The boys both needed changing so Mrs V took one at a time, while I kept tabs on the other and ordered myself a flight of the 4 beers I have not tried before:
  • Mecklenberger Helles
  • Southside Weiss Ale
  • Hornet's Nest Hefeweizen
  • Fat Boy Baltic Porter
No notes were taken, but the Fat Boy will make an appearance or two in the fridge this autumn and winter, to go head to head with Port City's divine Porter, and the other three were perfectly lovely beers.


The boys suitably refreshed, and thankfully cheerful despite 4 hours cooped up in a car, with the dog in his flexi crate between them, Mrs V ordered a pilsner and I got to have my first Olde Mecklenburg Copper on draft. Naturally in the excitement of having a properly brewed altbier served in a proper altbier glass I forgot to take a picture, so take my word for it that it was superb, and looked the part to boot. With beers and bairns in hand, we headed out in the sunshine to take a place among the benches of the biergarten.


It was pretty quiet when we were there, so we took a place on a bench near the children's play area, tied the dog up to a heavy bench so he could nose around, and waited for our food buzzer to go off. Mrs V was being very responsible and had a Cobb salad that she has raved about to all our friends since, and I had the currywurst...


It was perfect. Everything about Olde Mecklenburg was perfect. The biergarten was actually a garden, you know with trees, lots of shade, and the cool air that brings. The food was bang on, the service exemplary, and the beer, oh the beer. I love Copper, but when I wandered back to the bar to get a second, I knew it was Captain Jack Pilsner that I wanted, and having inquired about the possibility of getting a litre it was back to the table to sit in the shade with my little family.


If we hadn't had another ninety odd miles to go to get to Columbia, we would have sat all afternoon, enjoying the very chill vibe, and letting the boys run off some pent up energy. It is though now a given that we will be breaking our journey at Olde Mecklenburg as a matter of course, especially as I got a couple of their one litre growlers and they have a system akin to getting propane at the hardware store where you swap the empties for filled ones at a superbly reasonable price (finally it seems someone is taking the pricing side of Reinheitsgebot as seriously as the ingredients).

The presence of a place with the ethos of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery gives me hope that the future of craft beer is not all "wacky flavors, cheap ingredients, or added colors", that there are breweries out there who share my ideal of the perfect beer experience, and who deserve to thrive because of their commitment to quality and not taking shortcuts, heck they don't even sell to retailers that will not commit to keeping their beer in a refrigerated environment!

With all that said, I think I will be filling my Olde Mecklenburg branded altbier glass with Copper from a growler when the boys go to bed tonight.

Every prospect pleases.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Cleveland in dem Haus

Last week I was in Cleveland, Ohio, for a conference. Having admitted in several posts that I am a terrible beer tourist, I have determined that whenever I am away on a business trip I am going to try and change that narrative. Naturally I had done some research on Cleveland and had a list of breweries whose wares I at least wanted to try, time can often be at a premium on these conference trips and so I usually find a well regarded pub with a decent local selection so I can at least try a few new things.

Then I saw the magic words "Hofbr?uhaus Cleveland" and knew without a shadow of any doubt that if time allowed then I would be going. Inspired by the thought of Bavarian style booze and food, I checked Google Maps and discovered it was 0.4 miles from my hotel...yeah, you know I was going there. Thus it was having landed in a much colder than Virginia Cleveland, and spent the afternoon getting set up for the conference exhibition, I took a stroll and allowed my mind to wander back to central Europe...


It being a Wednesday night, the Hofbr?uhaus was not exactly busy and so I strode past the classic bench tables of a bierhalle, headed straight for my favourite place to drink, the bar itself.


Behind the bar stands the heartbeat of any brewpub, the coppers, and in this case actually copper, or at least copper clad, shining brightly. I was actually thrilled when I saw them, I knew their beers would be brewed in the US rather than shipped from Germany, but for some reason I hadn't expected them to be brewed in house. The thought of fresh, brewed in situ, Hofbr?uhaus lagers filled my heart with joy. Yeah, I am a sucker for pretty much all beer and food related Teutonic things, I would say "German" but let's not leave out the Austrians shall we?


When in Rome and all that jazz, I started out with a half litre (yes!!) of the Hofbr?uhaus Original...


Original is a Helles that is clean, crisp, with a nice noble hop bite and enough malt body to make it wonderfully easy drinking without dissipating into wateriness. It was a lovely beer with which to stare in bafflement at the food menu - how exactly does an avowed teutonophile decide between schnitzel and wurst? With a half litre of dunkel perhaps?


As I said it was cold in Cleveland, about 30°F when I arrived and there it had stayed in anticipation of warmer times, and so the dunkel just seemed more like cold weather drinking. This was lovely, rich, spicy, gently warming, touches of cocoa, tobacco, and that light cinnamon thing that you get with German hops. With a decision made on the food front, j?gerschnitzel, another half litre was duly ordered as I had found my beery muse for the night.

I am fairly sure that Hofbr?uhaus Cleveland will not win many friends among the punks and illuminati of the craft beer world, but for those of us who love a well made, classic, German style lager, it is a great place and one that if ever life takes me to Cleveland again will be due another visit.

Thinking about it in light of the news that Stone had sold their Berlin brewery to BrewDog, maybe the problem was craft beer's attitude to Germany rather than Germany's attitude to craft beer, after all Bavaria basically invented "traditional ingredients". Perhaps in the beer drinking heartlands of the world, there is less demand for beers "with a twist", and perhaps craft beer largely fails to understand that for the normal German drinker something like a helles, pilsner, or dunkel is as good as they want it to get?

And who is to say they are wrong? Not this guy, that's for sure.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hail to the K?nig!

There are times when I peruse the beer aisles in the various supermarkets and bottle shops I frequent that I wonder how some prices for 6 packs are justifiable. Most locally brewed beers are north of $10 a six pack when you include sales tax. it is one of the reasons I am an unashamed fan of Trader Joe's and their contract brewing program that puts well made beer on the shelf for about 30% less than name brands. I am sorry all you awesome craft brewers out there, most of your products are simply not worth the money when Traders has something I can rely on for far less, add to that list K?nig Pilsener.

Brewed in Duisburg-Beeck in Nordrhein-Westfalen (the part of Germany that one collection of my ancestors came to the UK from), the K?nig brewery is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bitburger, a family owned brewing group that according to their website produces a little over 6 million barrels of beer a year. K?nig themselves make about 950,000 of those barrels, and thus the entire Bitburger group would qualify as craft beer according to the Brewers Association's eminently maleable definition. K?nig Pilsener retails at my local Wegman's for about $7 for four half litre cans and really it would be remiss of me not to buy a four pack and see if it is only 70% as good as the more expensive local beer that hasn't crossed an ocean to get here.

Enough with the snidery about meaningless definitions of who gets to be in the gang and who doesn't, what about the liquid in the can....the classy can that tells us in suitably curly fonts that the beer is brewed to the strictures of the defunct Reinheitsgebot.


Well it pours a rather fetching straw colour, it is a pilsner after all, topped off with a healthy 2.5 centimetres of bright white foam that gently recedes to leave a 1cm cap that just kind of sits there for the duration, streaking itself down the glass.


Breaking their way through the lovely head of foam were aromas that are just classic pilsner; that crackery malt character, floral hops, touches of hay in the background, and even the occasional wisp of honey. In the drinking again we are in solid German pilsner territory, water biscuits, that light honey sweetness floating around, and a lemony citric bite from the hops that cuts the malt leaving the mouth refreshed and ready for more...more...more.


In lots of ways K?nig Pilsener reminded me of probably my favourite American made pilsner, Sierra Nevada Nooner. It is sufficiently complex so as not to be dull, but deeply uncomplicated, the kind of beer that demands at least a half litre rather than a mere 12oz. The kind of beer that conjures images of spring time in beer gardens, scoffing bratwurst with mustard, and hanging out with good friends as the sunlight dapples through the leaves. As it is, my back porch will have to suffice, but thankfully good friends are available, as are bratwurst similar to the ones I grew up on in Germany, and good quality senf from Düsseldorf. At $7 for 2 litres the beer will be K?nig Pilsener.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Kindling Old Flames

I am sure all of us have beers that the first pint of are etched in our memories, and in some small way changed our beer drinking lives forever. I remember well my first pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord, my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and my first Wrasslers XXXX. Another beer permanently inscribed on my tastebuds is Schlenkerla M?rzen.


Back in 2008 I found myself, as was my wont, in Pivovarsky klub. It was my local at the time, my Cheers. I had a fairly regular perch at both the upstairs and downstairs bar, everybody knew my name, and I in return knew everybody's name. I could ask one of the bar staff to just pick something for me confident that they would bring something good, and when they saw Mrs V coming through the door, her Primátor English Pale Ale was poured and ready before she had her coat off. Up to that point I had never touched a rauchbier, but they had got some in from Bamberg and I was eager to try...

Wow, just wow. None of your faint traces of smoke that bring bacon to mind, this was like being smacked upside the head with an entire side of pig. I loved it. Poured from a bottle with a label that just screamed Germany to this utter Germanophile, the colour was a shocking deep mahogany, it was beautiful. If I remember rightly myself and my friends drank the vast majority of their stock, and I was hooked on Schlenkerla beer for life.

As yesterday was St Valentine's Day, I martyred Mrs V by beheading her. No wait, no I didn't, we went to a delightful harpsichord concert in Staunton, had a couple of drinks at a wine bar, and then headed into the gathering snowstorm to try out Edelweiss German Restaurant. I have mentioned my own Germanophilia, thankfully Mrs V is also a devotee of Mitteleuropa life so it was an easy choice really, even though previous visits to German restaurants have had us wondering why the sauerkraut was more sü? than sauer.

Sat on a log cabin, with snow falling outside, the accordianist and guitarist playing their greatest hits, including Ring of Fire (somewhat apt after Liverpool spanked Villa 6-0), everything was looking good and then I looked at the beer list. There was Schlenkerla M?rzen, Weizen, and Helles - the good became great. I knew immediately what I was drinking, and it was everything I have always loved about this beer. It left me wondering why I don't drink it more often.

What a great way to spend the evening, plates of wurst, kraut, and sp?tzle, washed down with mugs of rauchbier, then rounded off with a hulking great slice of k?se tort, all in the company of the inestimable Mrs V.

If you should find yourself on the I-81 near Staunton and in need of a feed, head to junction 213A, find Edelweiss, and just enjoy. Mrs V and I will be back there soon for more.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In Praise of Sample Trays

Think about sampler trays for a moment, if you will. When do you normally order a sampler tray? Yes, when you are in a place for the first time and you want to try a little of each of the beers available before ordering a full pint of the one you fancy most. I never once thought that a sampler tray would become something to look forward to in and of itself, an end rather than simply the means to an end. Such are the joys of being on blood thinners (I hate to mention it all the time at the moment, but it is surprising how much it influences every tiny detail of life).

The Bavarian Chef is a restaurant some 25 miles from Mrs Velkyal and I's flat here in Charlottesville, and we had reservations for Saturday night. Neither of us bother much with Valentine's Day, so this was to be our special dinner out, but without having to deal with couples going all gooey eyed at each other over their wiener schnitzel. One of the attractions for us was the fact that Bavarian food is very similar to Czech and we have been feeling nostalgic of late - I blame Anthony Bourdain and this clip. While making the reservation I asked what beers they had on tap, the reply came back: Spaten, Paulaner Oktoberfest and Hefeweizen, Ettal Dunkel and Schneider Aventinus, so I was intent on my one beer for the day being the Aventinus. Then I saw the sampler tray, so the decision was easy really. 

The Spaten lager was a nice pale lager, Ettal Dunkel is lovely and received the Mrs V seal of approval, Aventinus was everything I remember. For some reason though I find Paulaner beers leave me cold, the hefeweizen lacked the sparkling zing I have come to expect from weizens while the Oktoberfest reminded me of cardboard. A quick word about the food, very nice, huge portions but some things were just a bit on the sweet side for our tastes.

Of course Saturday was the brewing day for the International Homebrew Project, and I now have an American Pale Ale fermenting happily in my primary, and plans to use the remaining Centennial, Amarillo and Cascade hops in a big American style IPA to be called Hopbomination. 

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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