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.