A Hit and Miss Cult Brand

Rothaus beers in a line.

We’ve long had a soft spot for Rothaus but mostly for reasons unrelated to the quality of the beer.

First, Rothaus is wholly owned by the state of Baden-Württemberg, which seems to contribute to its cult status. Perhaps public ownership, combined with a general German tendency to conservatism, is behind our second favourite feature: ‘retro’ labels that remind us of illustrations from 1970s books for children.

Which is not to say that we haven’t found draught Tannenzäpfle (aka ‘Pils’) pleasant enough when we’ve come across it in the UK, especially when it’s been served with an appropriate mousse-like head in one of those pleasingly chunky handled mugs.

But what is the rest of their range like? And how does it bear up in bottles? Black Forest beers, Rothaus’s UK distributor, gave us the chance to find out when they sent us a selection of 330ml bottles.

Alkoholfrei (0.5% ABV)

We’re frequently asked to recommend an alcohol free beer and have not previously been able to do so with clear consciences. Boak tasted this very pale yellow example ‘blind’ (she didn’t know it was alcohol free) and, though she didn’t find it delicious, declared it better than Budweiser. It has the usual slightly salty, vegetal, corny finish of boozeless brews, but really wasn’t bad. Considering.

Tannenzäpfle (aka Pils, 5.1% ABV)

For a moment, we thought there might be some strawberry essence in this, the flagship beer, but realised the aroma was one we’re beginning to associate with Tettnang hops. The taste, however, was rather metallic. “Like licking jam off an old crowbar,” we imagined Jilly Goolden might say. The body was both creamy and light — it would make a good down-to-earth substitute for champagne — and, by the end, we were convinced we could detect a grape-y, German white wine character. We’re not going to rush to order a case, but there is nothing at all wrong with this beer, and plenty of depth if you’re in the mood to look for it.

Zäpfle (aka Hefe Weizen, 5.4% ABV)

A huge banana aroma and bright traffic-light orange glow made a good first impression. The first sip made us say ‘Wow!’ And then it went downhill. The beer is actually rather light on flavour and body, tasting almost as if it has been watered down. Trying really hard, we detected some suggestions of mango and passion fruit, but just barely. We’d rank it above Erdinger, but below many others. It’s fine.

Eis Zäpfle (aka Märzen Export, 5.6% ABV)

We expected this brassy, golden beer to taste something like the Pils but with the accent on malt; unfortunately, we found it rather rough, sweet, and sugary. Instead of bread-crust and cereal, there was something like brandy-soaked baked apple. This beer was apparently designed for the drinker who needs to get where they’re going with maximum efficiency.  “This is going to give me a headache,” said Bailey, which is as good a summary as any.

Those in the trade can order direct from Black Forest Beers and consumers from the Beer Boutique.

7 thoughts on “A Hit and Miss Cult Brand”

  1. In my local Getränkemarkt, when faced with the choice of Eichbaum, Distelhäuser, Becks or Bitburger PIls, I’ll always choose a crate of Tannenzäpfle. Strangely, most people around here will go for Eichbaum, which I like even less, now that they seem to have stopped using actual hops.

    So, I love Tannenzäpfle, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with living in Baden-Württemberg 🙂 The rest, well, as you say, they are ok.

  2. Pils is always better on draught than in bottles but Tannenzaepfle is a perfectly good Pils.
    Better, though, if you’re in the area (especially the Black Forest) is Waldhaus, which (on draught) has a really beautiful floral/pine/spicy German noble hop character.

  3. Seems like fair enough comments to me though in situ I’ve only ever had the pils and the hefe weizen. One thing though. Pils should never be sold in a thick walled chunky glass. Its delicate nature requires a thin walled glass to show it at its best. In my opinion of course.

    1. Generally speaking, we’d agree with you, but this is really one of those beers they *call* Pils that we’d probably describe simply as ‘lager’ in the UK. It’s not especially delicate or pungent. The glasses we’re thinking of are the ones they serve(d?) it in in the Craft Beer Co pubs — really nice to drink out of.

  4. Bailey – you’re getting dangerously close to “not true to style” there. Germany is a big country, and Pils is a broad style. Many examples, especially in the South, don’t have the fine hoppiness that I think you’re referring to. That’s one reason why I recommended Waldhaus – unusually fine hop character for a Pils in this region (Southwest).

  5. I holidayed in the Hochschwarzwald a couple of years ago where Rothaus was the local brew. Mainly I drank the Pils “frisch vom Fass” (which is different from Tannenzäpfle, although the same strength) and it was excellent. Only bettered perhaps by Waldhaus ohne filter. Rothaus also sponsored a running race I was doing – giant inflatable beer bottles and beer a plenty – the Germans really know how to put on an event. Prizewinners were given mini-kegs.

    (And then I went to Würzburg and drank the above mentioned Distelhäuser, which was fine.)

Comments are closed.