20 October 2014

Craftwork

That was a lot of lager and weissbier last week, eh? What about this wave of foreign styles that's destroying traditional German brewing and replacing it with the same sort of beer you get everywhere else these days? I could have told you before I left the house that no such thing is actually happening, but that's not to say that there aren't plenty of German breweries offering something different. You just need to put a bit of work in to find it.

One such outlet is Café Abseits in Bamberg. I mentioned it last week as the main place to find beer from the Weyermann maltery's pilot brewery. There's an impressive menu of other speciality beers as well. I'd spotted Weithaler Hoptimum Pale Ale on the menu of Hütt'n in Nuremberg but it was out of stock then. Happily here it was in Bamberg and it's a cracker. There's a classic lagery golden syrup malt base balancing a serious teeth-squeaking, jaw-pinching bitterness. The aroma is all pithy spritzy jaffa and the flavour blends in herbs and sandalwood spices. At €3 for a 33cl bottle in the pub I could see this being a regular beer for me if I didn't live 1,000 miles away.

Hamberg's Kreativbrauerei, meanwhile, have a 7.5% ABV IPA, single hopped with new high-alpha German variety Polaris. The brewery claims SHIPA Polaris has mint or menthol aromas but I didn't get that, just lots of weedy dank and perhaps a light apricot fruitiness. It's dark, rich and sweet, reminding me of BrewDog's 5am Saint in particular, and it got to be tough drinking after the first few mouthfuls. Not a candidate for my go-to German ale, then.

From Berlin comes Schoppe Bräu XPA, another strong dark one, this time using all American hops. Even though it was a few days past date, the aroma was still excellent, all orange sherbet. It was somewhat  lacking in flavour, however, just a mild kind of jaffa cake orange and chocolate thing and hardly any bitterness.

Top pick at Café Abseits was Backbone Splitter by Bavarian rockstar brewer Hans Müller, released on his Hanscraft label and described as a "West Coast IPA". Bet you didn't know Bavaria even had a west coast. 6.6% ABV, 60 IBUs and utilising Simcoe, Amarillo, Centennial and Horizon -- all helpfully set out on the label. There's a stylistically spot-on aroma of grapefruit and sharper pine resin while the flavour is perfectly balanced between refreshing mandarin juice and a tougher, chewier oiliness, sprinkled generously with jasmine perfume. Beautifully put together, all-in-all.

The last leg of the journey brought us to Munich where, as well as a few old favourites, top of my hitlist was the new Camba Bavaria pub Tap House. In keeping with modern craft beer bar chic this place is kitted out in Nordic industrial style, all rough-hewn wood, riveted metal and concrete. A long bar with 40 numbered taps leads up a large bottle fridge at the top of the room. The draft selection was mostly German, with a few token Belgian and American offerings. And, of course, lots of beer from Camba Bavaria itself. To put even more distance between themselves and local custom, most beers arrive in either an American shaker pint or a teku-esque stemmed glass.

The only guest German beer I drank was Ratsherrn Pale Ale, a 5.6% ABV job with a vaguely weedy aroma and not much hop action in the flavour either: some orange barley candy fruit flavour but  it's otherwise dominated by sweet malt. Camba IPA is pictured next to it, a dark red-gold colour and smelling of sherbet and sweat. It's another malt-forward one, but this time the sweetness is better balanced by spicy resinous incense and candied citrus fruit. It's a little bit Christmassy, with touches of lemon drizzle cake, but good fun to drink.

I probably should have realised that Camba Amber Ale was going to be even sweeter. It even smells sticky and toffee dominates the flavour, with just a tiny bit of hop complexity, adding notes of red apple and strawberry for something closer to an Irish red than an amber ale.

Matters improved when I moved on to Camba Saison, all of 8% ABV but hiding that extremely well. It's a clear gold colour and has a lovely funky sour aroma. The flavour mixes wheaty grain and banana esters with a sour candy green-apple chew kind of oddness. Deliciously stimulating, if somewhat different to your typical saison.

Staying funky, Camba Nelson Weisse is a pale wheat beer that smells of grape must and has a beautiful rounded white wine flavour, with notes of cantaloupe, kiwi and flint. Traditional weissbier flavours are almost absent but I didn't really miss them, though the base beer provides a great full-bodied base for the hops. I'm glad they serve this by the half litre.

Two strong and dark ones to finish. Camba Imperial Stout is a huge 9.8% ABV with a very dry, burnt aroma plus traces of coffee. It tastes harshly phenolic in a marker pen sort of way with just a trace of dark chocolate. It's a beer that demands much of the drinker but has little to offer in return.

And then there was Camba Imperial Black IPA. It's the same inky black as the stout and 8.5% ABV. The aroma mixes thick molasses with piquant orange sherbet and the texture is every bit as heavy as the smell suggests. I was really not prepared for the taste: a palate-shaking blast of lavender, rosewater, tar and green cabbage, finishing with a waft of well-hopped booze up the back of the nose. It's an intense and very grown up beer: you'd need to like big bitterness without so much of the hoppy fruit. It turns out I do. Who knew?

Obviously the new wave of foreign-influenced German beers are a mixed bunch, as you would expect. But there's plenty of absolute gold in there. Long live diversity!

17 October 2014

Into the forest

I left you yesterday in the pleasant surrounds of the Achhörnla brewpub in Forchheim, choking down their massively less-than-pleasant lager. We're staying in Forchheim today to see what the town offers that's actually worth drinking.

It was a quiet Monday afternoon when we strolled into the pretty village marketplace. Not much was happening on the streets but there was plenty of buzz in the front parlour of Brauerei Neder. It's one of those community-centre-style pubs, a hub for the retired and unemployed to share scandal, weather predictions and opinions on FC Nuremberg over beers. We got clay mugs of Neder Fassbier; most people had theirs from their personal glass, kept in a cupboard above the bar. Nothing so gauche as custom engraving, of course -- the majority looked like they came straight from the FC Nuremberg fan shop. The beer is one of those ones I enjoy massively but are really annoying when it comes to sitting down in front of a blank screen to write about. Honey, bread, smoothness. That's it. That's all there is to say about it. It's not one to sip and consider, it's one to chug down over a chat about something else, then set your mug on its side so the server can see you're ready for another.

I first heard of Forchheim via Ron's accounts of Annafest, the town's annual festival held in late July and early August each year. On my visit it was hard to imagine what the place is like when thronged with visitors. All the Annafestbier was gone but I did find Neder's year-round Schwarze Anna back in Nuremberg. It's another simple beer, a 5.2% ABV cola-coloured lager with lots of lovely fresh herbal hops and barely tastes dark at all. Good though.

Drinking at Neder was something of a beery Dian Fossey experience, where you quickly realise you're observing something you're not really a part of. I left a paltry €4 to cover the two beers and a tip and we moved on. We had a destination, after all.

But before that (and after lunch in the Forchheim establishment I mentioned yesterday), we stopped in at Greif-Bräu. After several days of drinking in inns that happen to have a brewery somewhere out back, it was very strange to arrive at a brewery that happens to have an inn up front. Amid the crates and kegs of the yard we sat down with a couple of halbes of Greif-Bräu, er, Bier. It was served beautifully clear from the oak barrel propped up at a serving hatch between a corridor and the brewery offices. It's a plain simple beer but, annoyingly again, nothing like the sublime Fassbier at Neder. The hop levels are low and there's a tiny trace of diacetyl, but it's really more boring than flawed, a lesser sin.

The main reason for coming to Forchheim was the Kellerwald, a hilly forest park rearing up behind the town with two dozen beer gardens of various sizes nestled between the trees. In contrast to Annafest, and probably any Sunday during the summer, it was quiet this Monday, and very atmospheric. Almost all of the establishments were shuttered up, though the brewery banners and party posters still hung from the trees, visual echoes of what this part of nature is normally for.

There was a small crowd gathered in the Glocken-Keller near the summit of the hill, perched on the bench under the eaves of the tiny shack which serves as a kitchen, office and rainy-day saloon. The beer garden tables occupy what must be a rare level surface and at the far end is the keller itself. Down a few steps the spritely old kellermeister pours Wolfshöher lager from wooden barrels into clay mugs. When I went down to take a picture of the arrangement he invited me in to see the rest rest of the cellar, tunnels stretching hundreds of metres deep into the rock, packed with kegs and casks and crates of beer, all at the perfect serving temperature, whatever the weather.

Wolfshöher itself is an extremely nettley beer and not without a dash of butter, but the two just manage to hold each other in check. The noble greenness is perhaps just a little too intense for comfortable drinking, resulting in something that bit too close to cabbage water, but that it's packed with authentic German flavour is not up for debate.

We stopped at another establishment on the way back down the hill, the multilevel Hebendanz-Keller. It had passed from afternoon into evening and a few families were beginning to file in for their evening meal. In the Hebendanz-Keller there is Hebendanz Kellerbier to drink: a surprisingly spicy, fruity, Christmas cake of a beer, yet not heavy or even especially sweet. One of those lagers you can enjoy as a casual quencher and a complex sensory experience simultaneously. We stayed for another before heading back to the station.

I'm sure Bavaria is packed with unspoilt little towns like Forchheim, serving amazing beer costing buttons in beautiful surrounds. I'm happy just to have seen one of them.

16 October 2014

The Lesser Houses

The biggest surprise about Franconia, the thing that nobody tells you before you go, is that a fair bit of the beer is awful.

Bamberg taught me this quite quickly. We were staying on the doorstep of the oldest brewery in town, Klosterbräu, so wandered in there not long after checking in. I started with the Klosterbräu Pils, an approachable 4.9% ABV and the classic gold of most any eurolager you care to name. I should have just stayed looking at it, then paid and left, but my bad habit of wanting to taste the beer got in the way. A double slam of acrid bitterness and cloying slippery butter was the reward for my curiosity. There's no description for this lager other than "poorly made". As I languished in my own bottom-fermented hell, the wife wasn't having much better luck with Klosterbräu Brunbier. This is red-gold in colour and smells immediately of butterscotch, like being haunted by a bag of Werthers Originals. As it's a darker beer, one could be charitable and say it displays interesting toffee notes but, coupled with the pils, all it really shows is a bad flaw in the way Klosterbräu makes beer.

A few days later, Klosterbräu came up in conversation with a couple of local tablemates as we sat drinking in Spezial.
"But the dark beer," they told us, "Everyone goes to Klosterbräu for their dark beer."
So back we dutifully trooped and asked for some Klosterbräu Schwarzla -- the use of Franconian dialect means it must be special, right? It's not, but it's also not ruined. What you get is quite a dry and liquorice-filled dark red lager with not much going on. If you must tick your way around Bamberg, stick to the Schwarzla in Klosterbräu, but otherwise don't bother with the place.

The other disasterbräu in Bamberg was Ambräusianum, a couple of doors down from Schlenkerla so presumably making a handsome living on its spillover. It's the youngest of the Bamberg breweries, established in 2004, and has much more of the feel of a large modern German brewpub hall, showing off the brewkit instead of hiding it all out back.

A hell and a dunkel was the order. Ambräusianum Hell is a lemony yellow colour and very fizzy. I'm used to brewpub lager, and German brewpub lager in particular, tasting grainy, but this takes the biscuit. The soggy, mouldy, bottom-of-the-tin, fall-apart biscuit. There's maybe a trace of nice celery and asparagus, but not nearly enough to rescue the beer. Colourblind Ambräusianum Dunkel is a golden hue and started with a waft of vinegar in its aroma. From tasting, the base beer seems to be a kind of orange chocolate biscuit number, which would be perfectly acceptable were it not for the layer of brown malt vinegar sitting merrily on top of it pretending everything is fine. Regardless of how packed and loud Schlenkerla got, the phrase "Let's just go to Ambräusianum instead" was not employed at any stage.

We took one beery side-trip during our stay in Bamberg, to the little town of Forchheim, and I'll cover that more fully in tomorrow's post. But one of its breweries is definitely a soulmate of the Bamberg establishments described above. Achhörnla is a homely little place, all '70s-style pale wood panelling, a friendly welcome and down-home cooking. Its two beers, Achhörnla Pils and Achhörnla Vollbier, are almost identical, the latter just a slight shade darker than the former. I don't how the Franconian dialect would render the phrase "Butterscotch and Sick", but they should have it emblazoned over the entrance in nice gothic lettering. Two massively sweet beers, almost literally oozing with diacetyl: the Pils with a slight but distinct acridity, the Vollbier absolutely reeking of puke, though not tasting of it, mercifully. We were the only customers in the place: they needn't have rushed their lager on our account.

Before moving on, just a reminder that, of course, it's perfectly possible that we were unlucky with these. Bad batches happen. Recipes change. Reputation-killing brewers get sacked. Your mileage may vary a lot when you're in Bamberg (Doerthe's certainly did). My point is just this: don't expect it to be all sweetness and light when you go drinking in Franconia. Overly sweet and overly light are distinct possibilities.

15 October 2014

The Great Houses

Bamberg! The Franconian city that had been top of my I Really Want To Go There And Drink Beer list for an embarassingly long time. It was raining when we arrived, raining as we made the long trek from the station to our hotel in the innenstadt, and still raining when I ventured out again to start working through the city's long list of brewery-inns. Top of my hitlist was Keesmann, brewer of my all-time favourite pilsner. Perhaps I wouldn't get to tick a new beer but the prospect of Herren Pils at the source was not to be passed up. Unfortunately, the innkeepers of Keesmann had opted to take longer holidays than me so I arrived to soggy disappointment that the grand building was all shuttered up. But Bamberg taketh away and Bamberg giveth: across the road the gates of Mahr's were wide open so I got my ass to there.

The lunchtime service had just ended. A scattered handful of punters were sitting in front of empty plates and glasses trying to catch the eye of the harried waitress while the barman sat down to his own lunch. In the absence of a beer list and the presence of a waitress who didn't look like she could be bothered with touristy gimmicks such as choice, I asked for "ein bier". My order duly passed to the serving area at the other end of the room, the barman left his pile of pork and dumplings long enough to draw a half litre of Mahr's Helles from the wooden barrel, swiftly delivered by Grumbly the Waitress. My word. What a beer. A burst of honey kicks the flavour off but is followed rapidly by a huge luscious mossy greenness, fresh as the wafts from Tinkerbell's laundry room. One gulp emptied two thirds of the glass, that low-carbonation helles smoothness helping it on its way. I called for another straight away.

I sat a little longer over the second mug of Mahr's Helles. I guess the place was getting set for the evening service as a second oak barrel was heaved onto the counter and pierced with a brass tap. A few of the all-day regulars' heads lifted at the sound and within minutes half the room was drinking copper coloured beer from the new cask. My neighbour at the next table asked what I was dying to ask, and was told it's the Mahr's Ungespundet. He wasn't fussed, but that was what I was having next. It's not nearly as complex as the Helles, being instead all about rich and warming fruitcake, with a nuts-and-raisins aroma not dissimilar to brown English bitter. Some husky roast finished it off. It's a pleasant change from the Helles, but definitely rather rougher round the edges.

Mahr's does make other beers, so where were they? At this point a stag party of Swedes arrived in and cheerily worked through a round of Ungespundet, but not everyone was up for a second.
"Do you have a beer menu?" one of them asked the waitress. I only flinched a little.
"A beer menu?" she replied, à la Mr Bumble, then over her shoulder at the barman, "Have we a beer menu?"
He came out from behind the counter and stalked towards the table.
"Yes! I am the beer menu!"

The other Mahr's beers, it turns out, are available bottled, and a mixed crate was duly dragged up from the cellar for my fussy Swedish friends. Obviously I was far too terrified to order something from the barman's rote list, but later I did encounter Mahr's dunkel, ETA Hoffmann, named after one of Bamberg's most famous residents. Poor old Hegel gets no such honour. Though an appropriate limpid dark ruby, it's a lot less sweet than your typical Bavarian dunkel, piling on the liquorice, tempering it only with a little milky coffee. All very dark and dramatic, as befits the name.

Schlenkerla, of course, was high on the agenda for the trip. It was a couple of days before we made it in, however. Though huge and rambling, the Schlenkerla premises is bang in the middle of the old town, attracting every passing curious meandering coach party and determined boisterous pisshead. Many are happy to just stand and drink in the street. When I eventually secured a table (afternoon lull to the rescue once again) I found service to be all rather brisk and ill-tempered. It's just as well that half-litres of fresh Schlenkerla Märzen at €2.60 a throw make it worthwhile. Oddly, the second barrel at the bar was pouring Weizen, not a style you'd normally expect to find dispensed this way. So that was Schlenkerla: not the rauchbier paradise I was hoping for, but I'm happy to have spent a few hours there drinking it in.

For Bamberg's other rauchbier specialist you need to leave the old town and head for the main commercial district. We arrived at Spezial at noon on Sunday, the same time as every single family in Bamberg, so we left and returned later. Dare I say that Spezial Märzen is better than Schlenkerla's? I daren't, but it was much more what I was in the mood for when in Bamberg. It's a paler, lighter, crisper, more sessionable sort of bacon experience, as against the soupy weight you get with Schlenkerla. The expertly made lager is much more visible behind the smoke novelty.

According to the website, Spezial Ungespundet is their only unsmoked beer. It was quite popular around the room, served in its distinctive barrel-shaped glass mug, clearer and paler than kellerbier normally is. There's little by way of aroma, just a simple dry lager graininess. Another high quality easy quaffer, then. And if the website is correct then there's some smoked malt in Spezial Weissbier but I'm damned if I could taste it. There's not much by way of signature weissbier flavour either, just lots of dry crisp wheat and strange overtones of apple. Perfectly drinkable, but no superstar like the Märzen.

Across the street from Spezial is Fässla, where they had two beers on offer. Regular Fässla Lager is a dark reddish gold, strong at 5.5% ABV and heavy with it. The classic German nettles 'n' veg noble hop thing is backed by sugary caramel and honey. The aroma is a little sickly as a result, but the whole is saved by a firm bitter kick at the end of the flavour. It's a beer to take time over, unless you're thirsty.

Fässla Pils piles on the fresh-cut grass in its aroma and has a very complex flavour mixing up all kinds of herbs and salads. Again there's a sharp invigorating bitterness, but tempered by a lovely French-pastry sweetness. There may only be two beers, but with a considered sipper and a hoppy thirst-quencher Fässla has something to suit every drinking occasion.

There's room for just one more Bamberg brewpub in this post so I'm going to include Greifenklau, one that rarely gets mentioned in coverage of Bamberg's beer scene. On walking in I thought it was a vast beer hall but closer inspection reveals the rear section to be an open courtyard, with covered tables at the edges. Two beers again: Greifenklau Lager is an understated, lacklustre affair: watery, vaguely sweet and with a low level acid bitterness. Greifenklau Weizen is much better: a bright and cheery orange-yellow, a spot-on fresh banana aroma and lots of lip-smacking bubblegum and clove rock. The sweetness quotient is raised by some extra brown sugar notes, but otherwise it's pretty spot-on. Ten points to Griffinclaw House!

Our last Bamberg brewery for now lurks back behind the railway station and isn't really a brewery at all. The Weyermann factory broods at the city's edge, like the mountain stronghold of the gloomy king of malt, while its bright yellow trucks send the world famous grain all across the globe. The onsite pilot brewery is mostly a marketing arrangement, to demonstrate the potential of Weyermann malt. As such, it produces some of the most different and interesting beers Bamberg has to offer. I caught up with one of them in Café Abseits (about which more in a future post), the city's main outlet for Weyermann brews.

Schlotfergla is a 5.2% ABV dark rauchbier. It's closest to a smoked porter I'd say -- not madly smoky and with bonus features of milk chocolate and rosewater, with just a mild ashen dryness finishing it off. I liked it and would have liked to try more, but the popularity of Weyermann beer at Café Abseits appears to outstrip the supply and their cupboard was otherwise bare.

And so back to the city centre for more Bamberg brewpubs next.

14 October 2014

The brewers about town

There are two breweries inside the walls of Nuremberg, both of which have pubs attached. Barfüsser occupies a very traditional-style cellar in the more commercial lower part of the city. The shining copper brewkit takes pride of place in the middle of the floor while windows behind it reveal the more modern, hygienic, tiles-and-steel side of the operation, including the foaming open-top fermenters. Barfüsser Blonde is the pale lager, a hazy yellow with lots of busy fizz and a slightly unsettling vinegary aroma. I could detect no trace of infection on tasting, however, or much else really. There's a vague noble hop grass and pepper thing, but otherwise it's a chug-and-forget number, probably by design. Murky brown Barfüsser Schwarze is much the same, though the flavour is a little more interesting with the addition of liquorice notes, as well as a heavier, almost sticky, texture. Solid but ultimately rather boring beers tend to be par for the course in German brewpubs. Perhaps we'd have better luck up near the castle.

Altstadthof is a massively grand project in the upper city. From the street it looks like it's just a pub and giftshop but go through to the courtyard and you'll find a large restaurant, a specialist beer off licence, a brewery, a distillery, and the glass-fronted room full of maturing casks of their organic single malt whisky. It doesn't stop there either: Nuremberg's soft sandstone geology has made it ideal for digging vast networks of cellars and Altstadthof offers a variety of tours exploring the passages beneath the city. Ours included an unadvertised visit to the brewery and distillery at the end - the first time I've ever gone on a brewery tour inadvertently.

To the beers, then. Altstadthof Rotbier is the flagship, arriving a clear garnet red colour. It starts with some jolly chocolate and caramel but these are quickly overtaken by a nasty nettle greenness that doesn't work at all well with it. While rustic and wholesome, it does come across more like something you drink because it's good for you than because it tastes good. Meanwhile Altstadthof Schwarzbier is properly black, with just some red highlights at the edges. It delivers most of what you'd want from a schwarzbier. Well, most of what I'd want from a schwarzbier as there's no liquorice, just clean, crisp dark roast and a sprinkling of sweet chocolate for afters. Very nice, but we still left the rest of the selection, figuring we'd probably do better elsewhere.

In the south-west of Nuremberg, beyond the city walls, sits the Schanzenbräu microbrewery. A few doors down the quiet backstreet from the brewery is its tap, Schanzenbräu Schankwirtschaft. With the elderly décor and formica-topped tables it has a rather bohemian vibe, attracting a mixed crowd of locals to eat, drink, play cards and just hang out. There were three beers on offer: Schanzenbräu Hell is one of those understated but perfect medium-sweet pale lagers, playfully tossing in some peach and pineapple with a stricter grassy bitterness. Schanzenbräu Schwarz is less enjoyable: sticky like a dunkel with bags of liquorice and treacle. It takes a bit of wading to get through. And finally Schanzenbräu Rot, a cloudy orange-amber kellerbier-style offering with lots of rustic husky porridgey cereal flavours, plus extra golden syrup and milk chocolate. Brimming with tradition I'm sure, but lacking finesse. Straight back to the hell for me.

Not far away, and a short stroll from Nuremberg's famous courthouse, is the Lederer KulturBrauerei. It looks impressive from the street: huge copper brewing vessels gleaming through the plate glass. Only when we were inside did it become clear that something was up. This 500-seater Victorian beerhall has a number of large rooms for eating and drinking in (as well as seating for another 1000 or so in the enormous garden), and one of them is the brewhouse. It turns out that the brewery was decommissioned in 1995 following a takeover by the Dr Oetker Group, so the Lederer beer is now brewed at their Tucher plant on Nuremberg's outskirts. Still, the work to transform the brewing floor into a restaurant was done thoughtfully and minimally, giving the impression of a live brewery furnished merely for a special party, and that the burly men will be back with their grainsacks and malt shovels tomorrow morning.

Lederer Premium Pils is another one of those big grassy fellas, 5.1% ABV and clear gold, tinged slightly with green. It did a fantastic number on my thirst, the intense herbal bitterness lending it superb refreshment power. The house ungespundet kellerbier is called Kroko after Lederer's totemic crocodile. It's a hazy gold colour and smells like a neglected fruitbowl, all heady sweet esters. It's rather drier to the taste, with maybe a little green banana sharpness. Unflawed as a kellerbier, but like so many of the style, not especially interesting to drink.

Nuremberg is a truly fascinating city, historically, architecturally, and geologically. It's a manageable size and packed with eating and drinking opportunities I'd happily spend more time exploring. But my meticulously planned itinerary had to be observed and after three days it was time to head further north, to Bamberg, to find out what they drink there. The answer may shock you.

13 October 2014

Big in Nuremberg

Last month's bimble through Bavaria began in Nuremberg. The Dublin-Munich flight arrives nice and early, so you can be in the Franconian capital in time for a late lunch.

The big local brewery is Tucher, an outpost of the enormous Dr Oetker food and drink company, yet the brand is nowhere near as all-pervading as I expected. In fact, in the corner of the medieval city where I stayed, two of the pubs were flying the flag for Augustiner of Munich and the rest were non-aligned, offering a variety of Franconian beers. The railway station, on the journey back south, was the only place where I found Tucher to drink. Tucher Helles is appropriately smooth for the style but smelled powerfully of sweet apples, and there was even an appley aspect to the otherwise bland flavour. Weird, and not what I was expecting from the big boys. Tucher Pilsener was less flawed, though also fairly boring, with lots of heavy breadiness in the aroma followed by golden syrup in the flavour, but none of the livening hops I'd expect when switching from helles to pils. And it's the same story again with Tucher Urfrankische Dunkel: a hint of roasted malts, but otherwise a very plain cola-red lager. On this showing I was very glad not to have Tucher in my face at every turn.


The preferred outlet for any ticker arriving in Nuremberg is Hütt'n: a pub and restaurant unusual not only for being free of tie to any brewery, but also for having a separate bar for drinking in. The guilt I often feel in central Europe for taking up valuable dining space with my paltry pints is thus neatly avoided. There is a range of house-branded beers, presumably re-badges of something local. Hütt'n Hausbräu Helles is cloudy like a witbier (Ratebeer suggests it's normally sold as a Zwickl) and is deliciously lemony fresh, with perhaps some peach overtones. It's served cold as a thirst-quencher and fills the role perfectly. Hütt'n Hausbräu Dunkel is rather pale for the purported style, more orange than brown, with lots of weissbier-like fruit esters in the aroma alongside sharper green apple notes, and a taste profile that's low on roast but big on lip-smacking orange sherbet. A fun beer though not for dunkel purists. No style worries when it comes to Hütt'n Das Pils: this is the pure green-gold of classic German pils and kicks off with an invigorating bitterness, all crunchy cabbage leaf and fresh spinach. Its brashness is tempered only slightly by soft honey malt flavours, but that's enough to bring the whole thing into balance, albeit a very noble-hop-forward sort of balance.

We did a fair bit of  random picking from the selection at Nuremberg's pubs. This turned up Friedmann Hell from Gräfenberg, a lovely spicy, grassy example of the style, like a smoother more honeyish version of Pilsner Urquell. On the dark side there was the same brewery's Ritter von Wirnt dunkel which featured lots of lovely rich chocolate and toffee, plus a slight smoky bite, while also staying perfectly clean and smooth; and Simon Spezial, a chestnut brown "vollbier" offering a delicate blend of burnt caramel and mixed herbs. I've often seen vollbier misleadingly translated as "stout", but it sort-of works for this one.

And speaking of stout/dunkel crossover, Herrngiersdorf's Publiner had to be tried, if only for the weirdness of its blurb. But for all the proclaimed "Irish character" it's actually a very straightforward dunkel, red-brown in colour with lots of caramel in the aroma and a sweet liquorice-allsorts flavour. The carbonation was very low which I think might make it a bit difficult to drink in any quantity, and while it was fun for one, there were plenty of much better examples of the same style on the menu.

What really drew my eye to the Hütt'n beerlist -- before I left Dublin, truth be told -- was Rittmayer's Smokey George. Barry had written about this peated dark lager six years ago, though I never thought I'd get to try it. Poured from the keg it arrived an innocent amber-gold colour but the aroma immediately brings to mind heavily peated Scotch whisky. Unsurprisingly that continues on tasting in a big big way: a one-dimensional turf explosion, enhanced rather than balanced by a generous dose of brown sugar sweetness, and with an aftertaste that goes on for 500 miles and then 500 more. Yet despite this at no point does it get cloying: the base beer is a clean and simple lager and this stands to the finished product's drinkability. As long as you're OK with the big peaty flavours you'll have no trouble sinking a half litre of this 5%-er. There's probably not much point in drinking anything else for a while after it, mind.

We'll find out what else is brewing in Nuremberg in the next post.

10 October 2014

Just for the one

My guilty final post covers all the exhibitors at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival from whom I only took the time to try one beer, even though all had plenty on offer.

An exciting new beer from the excitingly relocated Galway Hooker Brewery first. Bán is another special created for Tigh Neachtain in Galway City. A 4% ABV wheat beer doesn't sound terribly exciting, but this was one of my festival highlights. I reckon celery; Steve reckoned asparagus, but either way there's a gorgeous fresh and crunchy vegetable thing going on here that I loved. A touch of pepper and it would be perfection.

Staying pale and interesting, Kinnegar had a new saison, called Swingletree. The aroma is powerfully, deliciously, cider-like, and while it's definitely beer on sipping it has a similar cleanness to a certain type of pale cider. It's one of those palate-reset beers so important to have at a festival like this.

Whitewater were showing off a new lager: St Donard. Bit of a butterscotch bomb here and not in the same league as their Cloughmore Granite at all. I had better luck with Barrelhead Blonde, a modest 4.5% ABV but single-hopped very generously with Centennial. The aroma is worth the price of admission alone: billows of floral meadowy perfume. There's more of that on tasting, as well as a cheeky squirt of lemon zest, for balance of a sort. A classic, and hopefully we'll be seeing more of it.

Brasserie Castelain had a footprint at the festival as a prospective importer tested the water. I missed the chance to drink my favourite-named beer of the weekend: their pomegranate-infused Jade Grenade, but did get to try plain Jade, a 4.5% ABV blonde ale which wasn't very impressive, showing bursts of butter and nail varnish remover. Some fruit would definitely have improved it. Or an actual grenade.

We'll go out on a stout, and Connemara's Independent Brewing had one of the very few barrel-aged stouts on offer. Remember when they were all the rage? Independent Whiskey Stout has been aged in Bushmills ex-Madeira casks but still retains a luscious chocolate and coffee stout flavour. Pleasingly there's loads of whiskey to it as well: honeyish, plus the sweet boozy fruit traces left behind by the fortified wine. A beer to sip while wandering off into the night at the end of another successful festival.

Cheers to Bruce, Seamus, Carly, Andrew and all the volunteers who put the whole thing together, and the brewers and their crews for giving us a reason to be there. Every year the question is asked "how will it continue?"

Never mind. It will continue. It has to. See you next September!