Monday, 28 March 2011

Who Gose There

And now Goslar, home of everyone's favourite reanimated beer style...

But how authentic is the modern version? A wheat beer flavoured with coriander and salt sticks two fingers very nicely into the nostrils of the 'gebot, but how similar it really tastes to its ancestor of course we'll never really know. But it's great that styles are being revived; any chance of a Broyhan any time soon maybe?
First up the dark version, from a cafe in the main square:

This reminded me in roughly equal parts of a standard German Weissbier, a Belgian Witbier, and a lambic. There was a sourness there, though quite mild, and the coriander and salt gave it an edge without being individually noticeable. Very drinkable, and a blessed relief from the smelly 'gebot.
The five second walk across the road took me to the Goslar Brauhaus, and the light version:

In appearance and taste this was much closer to a Belgian Witbier. We can only hope that these zombie beers catch on because Germany desperately needs beers like this. There were an encouraging number of people drinking it around Goslar, so fingers crossed.
The Brauhaus also makes its own pils, which I didn't want bringing me down after the euphoria of a non-gebot beer, and also a seasonal beer. Unfortunately I'd just missed their Altbier, so had to settle instead for the Marzen:

It made the frequent mistake of the extra maltiness being unbalanced, giving a sickly sort of sweetness I don't care much for.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Cough Syrup

Störtebeker is a brewery I'd heard of from seeing their beers on an online retailer, and I'd been meaning to give them a try. Imagine my delight when I saw a six pack assortment in Penny Markt in Wernigerode. Why the buggery can't the Penny Markt in Munich sell stuff like this? Here's their take on a Porter, "Hanse Porter".

I'm no beer historian but I vaguely understand that when Porter was brewed in the Baltic area, at some point during the Pils revolution which swept across Europe like the Black Death, Porter there became a bottom fermented beer. I would like to postulate another event which I feel contributed to the history of this beer, which is hitherto unknown: there was once an accident at a storage depot involving a lorry load of Hanse-Porter and a lorry load of sugar. The containers were ruptured and the contents of each mixed. Afterwards nobody realised it wasn't supposed to be that sweet, and carried on brewing it with equal parts malt and sugar.
The resemblance to cough medicine is uncanny: I suggest the label should be changed to show a stern matronly figure holding out a spoon, with an exhortation to "drink it all up now, it's good for you."
Perhaps the Penny Markt in Munich knew something I didn't.

Saturday, 26 March 2011


"Who lives in that castle?"
"What castle, I don't see no castle..."
"That's because you're not looking, idiot."

If you're a Hammer Horror geek you'll recognise this classic dialogue from "Dracula Prince of Darkness". All the best Hammer films feature a castle, which the locals refuse to talk about or acknowledge, towards which destiny inexorably draws the protagonists. This one is just begging to have a certain Count resident there. But you don't need ghostly unmanned coach and horses to carry you there. This yellow fella will wisk you there without making you stay the night and join the undead, unless you miss the last one back that is.

More evidence that North Germany has a more interesting beer scene than Bavaria was presented with the presence of an Altbier on the menu of a Chinese restaurant: Diebels Alt.

The two previous Altbiers I'd tried, Um Uerige and Pinkus, made a very favourable impression. Unfortunately this one didn't: I renamed it Diebels Cola. Too much carbonation, too little flavour and too sweet.

They drank too much Diebels Alt

At last I got to try a Berliner Weisse... I resisted the urge to drink it with a cocked little finger. Is the straw how they drink it in Berlin?

This is with the raspberry syrup option... it tasted a bit like a sparkling wine spritzer.  I'll reserve judgment on the beer until I can try it without the raspberry, as I could only detect a very faint sourness.

Sheetakoo, Sheetakoo

Back when I was a lad Ivor The Engine was the children's TV train of choice, none of this johnny-come-lately Thomas the Tank Engine stuff. "Jones the Steam"... awesome stuff it was. The major towns of the Harz tourist region are connected by HSB, which on some routes uses real live steam trains.
Now there's a real train...

Hope that logging is legal...

What better way to remove the fumes from your throat than a special steam train beer...

"Traktion & Tradion"... touché.


Next stop was Quedlinberg, featuring another funky Altstadt and a couple of castle-like fellas.

Of course much more interesting than any of this Unesco world heritage nonesense are brewpubs, and Quedlinberg features Lüdde-Bräu.

 A spankingly smart place with helpful staff, it was virtually empty when I walked in but fairly heaving half an hour later. First up was the Schwarzbier:

Nothing much to distinguish it from other instances of this style, but at least it was a change from the dreaded Helles. Next was the Pils:

If you're making a cheap supermarket Pils, then I can understand why you would tone down the hops: the majority of casual drinkers just don't go for bitterness in a big way. But if you're a brewpub, wouldn't you want to make something a bit closer to the original style? If not, why are people supposed to go out of their way to drink your beers? Disappointingly unlike a genuine Czech Pilsner. So far A for effort but C for attainment.

I was beginning to get a slight sense of Deja-Vu by now: whereas in Bavaria the "triad" consists of a Helles, a Dunkels, and a Weissbier, up here the bog standard offerings seem to be a Schwarzes and a Pils. But to Lüdde-Bräu's eternal credit they do brew one other beer, Pubarschknall, a 1% top fermented brown beer:

Why do blokes on beer labels all have to be holding up one gammy finger they've just picked their nose with?
Despelling that thought I took a four pack back to the hotel to quaff as I had an early train to catch and didn't want to feel groggy. I'm glad to report that it's a very decent brew, the sweetness you often get with low ABV beers not in any way overpowering. At only one percent the remaining bottle made a nice breakfast beer as well.

Friday, 25 March 2011

What's up Duck

Many blokes get all hot and sweaty at the thought of Angelina Jolie. Personally I find that very confusing, but I suppose you have to envy such people as all they need to do to achieve gratification is to hang around ponds and lakes, where they will see many other creatures that resemble, and indeed are, ducks.
But there is one duck like creature that did get me excited when I saw it: Duckstein.

Duckstein Angelina

This is made by the Carlsberg group but is apparently a resurrection of a 15th century North German beer style. I'd been meaning to try it for ages, but of course it's totally unavailable in any shops in Munich. Cor blimey gov'ner, we don't want any of that bladdy northern muck here, no we don't not never.

This looks and tastes like a genuine red ale, none of this "top fermented but cold matured so it tastes like a lager" stuff. If someone had told me it was Hobgoblin I would have believed them. At about 1:60 euros a bottle it's twice as expensive as a normal supermarket beer, so I would imagine they don't shift much of it.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


The eastern side of the Harz mountains area is an orgy of Disney style Olde Germanie kitsch: three towns with perfectly preserved Altstadts connected by a set of steam railway lines. But breathing in coal fumes and looking at half-timbred houses was only a subplot of my main quest: to find out if the depressingly tedious beer scene in Bavaria (except Franconia) is replicated in the rest of Germany.
First a stop on the way north: Erfurt has a few decent looking streets, a cathedral and a fortress overlooking the town.

We're well into Krombacher territory here...

Not a patch on a Schneidder, seemed to lack any fruitiness... maybe I should lay off the Weissbiers up this next of the woods.

Kostritzer also seems have a strong following here.
I've tried many times to like their Schwarzbier, I feel like I ought to like it, but I find it distinctly unexciting. Maybe it's the Gebot preventing it from having any sort of taste you could vaguely describe as black. Having said that, a cold glass on draft did wonders for my dusty throat.
The Erfurter Brauhaus mentioned in Ron Pattinson's guide has unfortunately long since passed away. I wonder if the owners ever said to themselves: "Hey, rather than brewing exactly the same beer styles as all the other brew pubs round here, why don't we try brewing something different? Maybe one of the beer styles which are proving extremely popular in other brewpubs around the world? Then there might be something to differentiate us from the competition, we might even kick start a beer revolution in Germany and become rich and famous?!?! Nah, let's not bother, let's just brew what everyone else is." 

Monday, 21 March 2011

My Mate Unimate

The Starkbier season is slowly poking itself into life, and "-ators" are appearing everywhere.
First stop was the Unionsbrau in Haidhausen, one of Munich's better brewpubs.

Their "ator" is called Unimator...

This was like drinking a cream bun. The extra sweetness wasn't as sickly as you get in something like the disgusting Leffe (which ages ago put me off Belgian beers until I found out it wasn't at all representative), but it was still a bit too cloying for my tastes. I drank it rapidly in deliberate defiance of the exhortation on the menu to drink it slowly. Am I a rebel or what.

Next stop was the Paulaner brewhouse just off Marientplatz. Paulaner's name is mud in Munich, drinkers here preferring Augustiner. But their "ator" offering, the well known Salvator, was much more to my taste.
Very malty, but disguises the sweetness well. A wicked bite to it, and I could have drunk ten of these. I don't normally eat at these brewpubs, preferring to eat bogies to the revolting lumps of gristle that they dish up, but today I spotted something intriguing.

 Biramisu surely they could have called it? Or they should have made it with Salvator and called it Biramisator.
I'm sure they could have found a more appropriately sized plate. I could just about detect the Weissbier.

Saturday, 19 March 2011


The Reinheitsgebot has been called everything from the world's oldest consumer protection law to a load of bollocks. It's fair to say that the vast majority of German beer drinkers would side with the former, and a considerable number of foreign beer geeks in Germany would side with the latter. It's been said that it's the Gebot that is one of the principal causes of the retarded nature of the German beer scene - but is it really deserving of the stick it gets?
One good thing about the Gebot is that, when you get a beer in Germany, by and large you know what's going to be inside it. It's been said that what's really required is just a law forcing breweries to list the ingredients on the bottle, but that wouldn't do you much good if you walked in a pub, were confronted with ten taps, and then had to quiz the barmaid in intimate detail about the presence or absence of adjuncts in each beer. She might not know, might think you're a freak, or even bite you on the chin. And would there also have to be a law forcing all restaurants and bars to list each beer's ingredients on menus? What if you can't see the beer you're ordering?
There are very few truly awful beers in Germany. There are many, many dull ones, but very few that can even remotely compare with vile putrescent filth such as 'extra smooth', 'cream flow', 'smooth flow', jiz flow and all the disgustingly repulsive chemical piss that often passes for beer in the UK. Although it annoys the hell out of me, when Germans say that British beer is shit it's easy to see why they've ended up thinking that.
If you're a German tourist visiting London, say, unless by luck you go in a pub with cask conditioned ale, and unless you happen to know that, instead of a brand you recognise you're supposed to order the one called Olde Flatulence Smelly Cock or something, then chances are you'll drink something shit. Have a beer on a train or in a hotel or somewhere and they'll probably end up drinking piss. The fact is that, wherever you are in Germany, in a zoo, a Vietnamese restaurant, a cinema, a park, a museum, or a kebab shop, you can get a beer which, although it might not be very exciting, is going to be of a certain basic standard. Would it be like that without the Gebot? I wonder. I remember once at a station in Italy I picked up a German beer from a brewery I hadn't heard of in the expectation that it would be adjunct free. When it tasted like water I checked the ingredients and guess what - adjunct city. Let them loose from the Gebot, and see what they get up to.
For sure, being limited to the ingredients dictated by the Gebot is restrictive, and there are many fantastic beers and beer styles that can't be done under it, but there are also a hell of a lot that can, and if German beer covered all those styles there would be no problem. What's to stop a German brewery doing a Gebot-compliant IPA? Absolutely nothing, apart from the small fact that German drinkers wouldn't drink it. Churn out the usual suspects of a Helles, a Dunkels, a Pils and a Weissbier and they'll lap it up.
The Gebot can be a pain in the arse, it's true, and lends German beer a mystique it doesn't remotely deserve, but is it really as guilty as it's made out to be? I don't think so.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Cooking Weissbier

When I was a doley in Sheffield with bugger all cash, I used to shop exclusively at Netto, and from Netto I would drink exclusively Viking Bitter - nothing else was good enough. About two and a half percent ABV and less than 20p a can - but this was way before the modern era of cheap booze from Tescos and the like. Many times did I wonder which ingredient the Viking had contributed, and from which gland it had flowed, but it was cheap and that was the main point.
Penny Markt is a German equivalent, and a very fine place it is too, pile it high and price it low. I was curious to see what their beer was like, so grabbed an Adelskronen Weissbier. Only 33 cents, which is scarcely more than the 25 cents deposit you pay on the plastic bottle. Three for a Euro, can't be bad.
Yes I know you don't drink Weissbier from a pint glass but I haven't nicked a Weissbier glass yet and I got that free from Gaz at the British shop when I bought some Cotleigh beers from him.
That picture was taken about 10 seconds after it was poured, but even if I'd have been quicker I wouldn't have caught the head, so feeble was it and so quick to disappear. At least if you were gagging for it you wouldn't have to wait impatiently for it to go like you do with many Weissbiers. Just about smelled like a Weissbier if you sucked in with your nostrils really hard.
A bit watery and a bit lacking in the clovey banana thing, a bit on the sour side compared with some others, but overall perfectly drinkable.
Thilo Sarrazin's son should start drinking this every day to set an example and get back in Daddy's good books.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Super Bio-Test 85

"Bio" stuff in Germany is even more popular than moustaches, and there is a Bio-shop I walk past every day, without ever having had the slightest inclination to go inside. Today for some reason a mysterious force sucked me in, and to my surprise I found a large range of interesting looking beers.
Due to the limited range of bio ingredients, particularly hops, bio-beers are rarely popular, but my eyes were drawn to one, Pinkus Alt, by the word "obergarig" splashed across it . It's top-fermented Jim, but not as we know it - in Germany it's nearly always accompanied by a cold maturation, which can often lead to it being scarcely distinguishable from a lager.
I'd only drunk one Altbier before, the divine Uerige-Sticke, which those splendid fellows at Bierkompass can sometimes get their mits on. As I paid the Biocashier the pleasingly low 99 cents and scratched my Bioscrotum I pondered on whether the bio nature of the bier would prove much of a drag factor.
The first suprise was the colour - for some reason I'd got the idea in my head that all Altbiers were dark. Still, it had a nice frothy head while it lasted and a nice golden colour.
By this stage I wasn't surprised that it tasted towards the lager range of the spectrum, but that didn't matter a hoot because it was damned nice, combining the crispness of a good lager with some nice yeasty bready fruity type stuff.
The number of German beers I try that I intend to repurchase can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but if other Pinkus beers are like this I may have to become a deformed freak.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

How bloody much

The price of a beer is so rarely mentioned in beer reviews you'd almost think it was irrelevant, and mentioning such matters of trade would be coarse. Well some of us are scrooges and count every euro cent. Although I'm always keen to try out anything by a German brewer trying something different, my curiousity has limits.
Whilst perusing Galeria, my eyes were diverted from the usual crappy Helles by this handsome looking fella
I eagerly reached for a bottle until I noticed
At that per litre price it's well over four times what I could get the same amount of Rochefort 12 for from Bierkompass, my guide price beer. I checked the website later and it's full of bollocks about what wonderful malt, hops and yeast it's got in it, but are they claiming it's four to five times better than what those Monks are using?
So did I buy one? Did I bloody buggery.
And how does it taste? I don't know.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Acceptable face of the Church

Check out this Monk geezer. You can just tell that he never once told anyone that condoms gave you Aids, touched up some poor little tyke, told same tyke that he'd be damned if he had a quick one off the wrist, tried to make people feel guilty for something they haven't done, told school kids that the kids at the school down the road weren't like them, genocided some natives with fire and sword... nobody who wasn't pure of thought could brew anything this good. I haven't tried the twelve yet but I mean to.
Maybe all clergy should be required to take up homebrew. They've got loads of storage space and a crypt would be a great place for lagering. Thought for the Day could be about sparging wort and the like.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Mönchshof Helles

One of the few German beers available in Munich supermarkets which I occasionally buy is Mönchshof Kellerbier. It's got a nice orangey colour and tastes almost syrupy. So when I spotted this fella I had to give it a try:
Many times I have tried a Helles in the forlorn hope that I would one day find one that was more interesting than listening to Coldplay, and each time have vowed never again to waste my time or euros. In this case though I didn't: although it's nothing outstanding, it was noticeably more hoppy than a standard Munich Helles and was far superior to most I've tried. It didn't particularly leave me wanting to rush out and get another, but neither did it leave me wanting to poke my own eyes out in bitter regret at having wasted my beer tokens.


My mission today: investigate Hopfen-Weisse. This is the collaboration between Brooklyn breweries and Schneider, much written about in the US but not so much here. I'd trawled Munich's supermarkets for this and never once spotted the bugger, so the place to go was clearly the Schneider pub near the centre of Munich. I once tried coming here on a Sunday morning at 11:30, and the place was heaving without a seat to be had. Sound.

Given Bavarian drinkers' notorious conservatism, introducing a beer which is heavily dry hopped, albeit with local Hallertauer hops, seems a brave move. By all accounts it hadn't caught on, so I was interested to see if I would be the only person drinking it.
It's a fairly typically designed Munich beer hall on the inside, a similar sort of demographic with a mixture of over 50s locals and some tourists. It is far less touristed and the staff infinitely more pleasant though than the truly obnoxious Hofbrauhaus.
A quick perusal of the menu showed that I wouldn't be disappointed: there it stood alongside Schneider's other beers.

And.... voila. Presumably because of the higher ABV they give you a dinky 33cl glass to drink it out of instead of the regular Weissbier glass.

So the hops... they're there alright, and if I didn't know better I might have guessed they were American, so unusual is it for Hallertauers to be remotely prominent in a German beer. They're definitely not overpowering though, far less in your face than any American IPA I've ever had. It still had the nice fruity / clovey / whatever flavour of their standard Weissebier.
So who else was drinking it? I did a quick tour of the fairly packed pub and tried to count the number of other people drinking out of this style of glass. The total? Zero. Oh well, nice try folks. As I said, you can't seem to buy this in any of the local supermarkets, not even the up-market Galeria, but I've no idea whether that's because Schneider didn't even bother trying, or they tried and nobody bought it.
From past experience of trying to introduce German drinkers to slightly different beer styles, I suspect that were I to walk round the pub with a cattle prod, forcing everyone to drink this beer, the overwhelming response I would get, from the male drinkers anyway, would be "Women's beer". This would sorely tempt me to insert the cattle prob into their cortex via their ear.
Whilst I supped, the entertainment was provided mercifully not by an Oompah-band, but by a table of Chinese tourists, one Lady of whom was attempting to engage the waitress in conversation using Shenyang-dialect Chinese. There was not a hint of expectation on the Lady's face that she would not be understood. After the waitress and two of her colleagues had given up, I twigged what it was she wanted and wrote "Baileys" on a piece of paper and gave it to her, to spare the misery of waitresses elsewhere on her itinerary.
As I left I congratulated myself on not having written, "Please milk my flabby breasts."

Friday, 11 March 2011

Smoked Weiss

Smoked Beer in Germany seems to me like the wrong answer to the right question, the question being: How can we make tedious predictable German beer more interesting. I dare say the good burghers of Dusseldorf have never once begged Um Uerige to start churning out a smoked altbier, because it's already so bloody good.
I'd tried the various standard smoked beers that are available in Bamberg on my previous trips, but last time from Schlenkerla I took away with me a few bottles of their smoked Weissbier to see how that combination would work. Would it be like Chris Sutton and Blackburn Rovers, or Chris Sutton and Chelsea?
You would never guess it was anything other than the standard Schlenkerla Rauchbier from looking at it, and it didn't have the blossoming persistent head you normally get from a Weissbier. The smoked flavour was less noticeable in this than the standard Rauchbiers, which I thought was A Good Thing, but there again I didn't really get any of the fruity / clove / blah blah flavours that you do from a decent Weissbier. Miss.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Beer Artwork

When we buy a CD, DVD, or book, we're used to the artwork on the cover being one way they try to rope us in. The best thing about a few Yes / ELP albums are the covers. Yet all too often a beer bottle will just have a fairly bland label which tells us information about the beer and not much else. Of course it doesn't make bugger all difference to the beer inside, but it's just curious that it tends to be newer breweries who try to come up with interesting labels, and older ones who are happy to go for something staid.
Tocallmatto for example:

 Although of course we shouldn't judge a beer by its cover, in this case the quality of the beer inside matches the artwork outside. In the case of "Skizoid", knowing that the Tocallmatto geezers shared my musical taste as well as my beer taste helped me enjoy the beer.


Hobgoblin is a beer that really puts itself around; those Wychwood geezers must employ some decent marketing types. Tokyo even has four pubs dedicated to it. Here in Munich Hobgoblin, Newky Brown and Old Speckled Hen are the only English beers available at the main Irish Pub, which is something I've found in many places in Germany. It's a decent enough red ale which makes a good "stock" beer.
Of course many people don't like the "dungeons and dragons" image that they make for themselves, but it seems to work for them.
Because it's reasonably unchallenging and a similar ABV to most German beers, I often use it with my German and Indian colleagues to introduce them to British beer. All the ones who say it's "women's beer" get their names written in a little book, the purpose of which will become apparent to them on the day I leave.

The Cranberry Experiment

I'd previously bought a bottle of Cranberry syrup to accompany some Wöllnitzer Weißbier, a Jena beer in the style of a Berlin weiss. I know you're supposed to drink them with Raspberry syrup but I couldn't find any so Cranberry it was. The syrup certainly took a bit of the edge off the sourness of this beer. Upon trying it au natural, I've seen peoples' faces turn as if they've just seen Sadako.
Being tight and not wanting to waste the rest, but unable to think any other practical use for it, I thought I'd try an experiment to see if it did anything to improve a six month old bottle of Geuze I had sitting underneath my bed in my overheated bedroom in my rabbit hutch in Munich's inner city haven of TV stars.
And so the experiment began... two glasses, one without syrup, one with, and a judge...
The first thing to be noticed was that the "plain" Geuze was not as sour as I remembered from the last time I'd had one from the same consignment six months ago. Whether six months under my bed was really long enough to do that to the beer I don't know; I find "beer memory" can be very misleading.
The cranberry syrup in the other one complemented the natural taste of the Geuze quite well; it added a fruity side without totally masking the sourness.
In future though I'm going to drink my Geuzes plain, but only after they've been sitting around somewhere sweaty for six months.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Not Fasching

Today was Munich's Fasching, so I got the afternoon off work. Some have called this "state sponsored fun". It reminds me of the poster in Robert Harris' Fatherland which says "Anyone not having fun will be shot."
The only way to bare it is to get completely rat arsed like everyone else, which I did last year. This year I was determined not to, so instead I just had a quick peek on the way to the shops. There was the usual collection of transvestites and people wearing animal costumes, with Europop thumping out of the speakers. Fun to do once.
So I very wisely decided to celebrate Fasching at home, with a bottle of the as always impeccable St Bernadus 6, and these jokers:
A whopping 12%, and you can tell. It had a very warming, burnt taste, and went down a treat while I watched Arsenal commit collective Seppuku against Barcelona. Not a single shot on goal all night. Don't blame the bloody ref.
But was it worth the 6.59 Euros I paid for it? Well considering a) I'm a tight bastard and b) I can get a bottle of the orgasmic Trappistes Rochefort 10 from the same site for the giveaway price of 2.09, I couldn't really justify coughing up that much for it.
Here lies the problem: those Rocheforts are so superb that every time I finish a bottle of Danish / Italian / US "craft" which I've forked out EUR 6+ for, I can't help thinking: Is it 3 times as good as a Rochefort? No. Is it 1.25 times as good? Very rarely. Is it 0.75 times as good? Not often. Those monk geezers have my undying admiration for churning out awesome beer and flogging it dirt cheap.