Duesseldorf part two – Im Fuechsen Alt

fuchschen1.jpgFollowing our drinks in Uerige, we tried to get into Brauerei im Fuechschen, but just couldn’t squeeze our way in. So we went back the next day for lunch. If you want to try altbiers in the old town in slightly more “relaxed” circumstances (i.e. seats, more than an inch of personal space) then a meal is definitely the way forward.

The alt here was quite different from Uerige — lighter in colour, and less bitter, although there was still a good hop kick. With slight orangey notes, it reminded us of London Pride, although the alt is more bitter. We also tried the weizen, Silber Fuechschen. It’s always interesting to have a German wheat-beer that isn’t from Bavaria (or at least doesn’t have that banana yeast in it), and this was very pleasant and refreshing. Like one of the more interesting Belgian wheatbeers, such as St Bernardus. But we still preferred the alt, by nine drinks to one.

As for the food, well, if you like traditional German food, you won’t be disappointed. Big joints of meat with knives stuck in ’em. Luvverly.

Duesseldorf is obviously a bit of a party town. Even in January in the pouring rain, people were sitting outside drinking away, and a few were even… shouting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such “rowdiness” in Germany — although, to be fair, the shouters were getting dirty looks from most of the locals. We also saw some youths drinking bottles of Frankenheim Blue (don’t know, didn’t ask…) in the street and then carefully hunting around for a recycling bin. You don’t see that in Leicester Square.

Duesseldorf part one — Uerige

uerige1.jpgUntil Friday night, our only encounters with altbier had been one bottle of Diebels in London, and a bottle of something else (maybe Gatzweiler?) in Aachen. We’d found it pleasant enough, but not especially remarkable.

Our first 250 millilitres of Uerige Alt came, therefore, as something of a shock. It was intensely bitter — the comparison that sprang to mind was Sam Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, only drier.

The beauty of a beer so dry and bitter is that it simultaneously quenches and intensifies your thirst, and it was hard to say no to the waiter who appeared, as if by magic, with fresh glasses every time ours were nearly empty.

There was standing room only — Duesseldorf isn’t exactly a tourist town, but it’s busy all year round — however, our spot by the bar was fantastic. We watched the impressively moustachioed Bismarck-alike behind the bar filling glass after glass from the wooden barrel, each one nothing but two-thirds of foam at first, but settling out into a perfect serving, brown at the bottom and cream at the top, every time.

He didn’t stop except to prop the barrel on a piece of wood when it reached the end. The space behind the bar was his — no-one else dared invade it. The glass-washer stood on the other side with the customers, dunking and rinsing glasses as frantically as the barman could fill them.

So, we were off to a good start. As we walked back to our hotel, we noticed something we’d never seen in Germany before: people in the streets being ever so slightly drunk and rowdy. More on that tomorrow.

Shepherd Neame Porter

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The White Horse and Bower on Horseferry Road in London is a pretty decent pub. When I was there last night, I was very impressed by the incredibly friendly and helpful staff, the cosy atmosphere and the condition of the beer.

The main event for me, though, was drinking Shepherd Neame Porter for the first time in about three years.

It’s a completely different beast to Fuller’s London Porter*. SN’s Porter is lighter bodied and, despite the “Winter Hop Ale” tag, I was hardly aware of any hops at all. It’s distinctly mild-like, in fact, although at 4.8%, stronger than it tastes.

If I was feeling less charitable, I might say it was a little bland, but I can honestly say I enjoyed every sip, and wasn’t even remotely tempted to try anything else all night.

It’s great that there are now pubs in London where you can drink dark beer other than Guinness. Now it would just be great if all those Young’s pubs would get the Oatmeal stout on the pumps, or at least back in bottles behind the bar.

* We had Fuller’s London Porter at the Plough in Walthamstow on Monday night. It was supposed to disappear at the end of December, but the landlord has a bit left in his cellar and assured me that Fuller’s also have more in their warehouse, which he’s going to try to get his hands on. It’s tasting very nice now it’s matured a bit more!

More winter warmers

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Service update: no internet in the Boak and Bailey household, so updates will be intermittent until it’s sorted. Virginmedia’s service and customer service is terrible. 

Just because Christmas is over doesn’t mean the winter warmers stop coming. Here are some of the good ones we’ve had in the past month or so.

Meantime Winter Warmer

Finally got hold of this one in a Sainsbury’s on the outskirts of London. Worth the trouble, as it’s very pleasant and packed full of flavours – smoke, hints of chocolate, some fruitiness. We thought it was like a smoother, milkier version of their London Porter. Bottled conditioned and 5.4%.

If you want more poetical and detailed descriptions, the Beernut has reviewed it here, and Zythophile has reviewed it here.

Anchor “Our Special Ale” 2007

This is brewed to a different recipe each winter, according to the Anchor website. The 2007 version is 5.5% and very tasty. It’s a red-black colour, with excellent head retention and full body. The aroma reminded us of pine trees and candyfloss. We noted burnt gingerbread flavours (that’s a good thing!), with some spices that were difficult to identify – possibly allspice? Nutmeg? There was also some fruitiness – a little bit like peaches. We wouldn’t be surprised if there were cranberries in it.

It had a bitter dry finish – almost certainly C-hops, but the citrus isn’t particularly pronounced.

All fantastic examples of how lots of flavour can be achieved with a *relatively* low ABV.

Baltic porter round-up

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A long time ago, we bemoaned the lack of Baltic porters in London — dark, stout-like beers from Poland, Lithuania, Russia and other Baltic states. Light fizzy beers from these countries are now amply represented in cornershops throughout this fair city, but not a hint of the dark stuff.

We’ve always been intrigued by the history of these kinds of beers. They appear to have evolved as a hybrid of Russian Imperial Stouts and “local” (i.e. lager-brewing) traditions. I wonder why the Porter name, then? Did they also owe something to 19th century porters?

The Beer Judge Certification Progamme (BJCP) Style Guidelines identify Baltic Porter as a style, and say:

Baltic Porter often has the malt flavors reminiscent of an English brown porter and the restrained roast of a schwarzbier, but with a higher OG and alcohol content than either. Very complex, with multi-layered flavors.

It also reckons the style derives “from English porters but influenced by Russian Imperial Stout”. So let’s see.

Thanks to the Great British Beer Festival in August, and the Pig’s Ear festival in December, we finally got our paws on some proper baltic porters. Well, dark beers from that part of the world. We thought that by comparing and contrasting we might understand better if there is a unified style or not.

Utenos Porter – 6.8%

Utenos, from Lithuania, are very popular both over there and in cornershops in East London. Although it’s a different brand from Svyturys, it’s actually part of the same company, owned via Baltic Beverages. We weren’t overly impressed with their normal lager (a Helles type), but the Porter was much more tasty. Then again, at 6.8% it should be. It was a brown-red colour, with a treacly- toasted caramel flavour – and not a huge amount else. Not very complex at all, but nice enough.

Black Boss Porter, from Browar Witnica, Poland – 8.5%

Again, sweet-treacle flavours and not a lot else. Quite a heavy body, and reminded us a bit of Guiness Foreign Extra but without the bitterness. Not terribly exciting, and we’d expect a lot more for 8.5%. However, we would recommend the “Kozlak” (bock) from the same brewer. This is a *mere* 5.8% but packs in much more flavour. As well as the hints of treacle, there are liquorice, chocolate and coffee notes — and it’s not cloyingly sweet!

Huvila Porter – 5.5%

The labels on the bottle are all in Finnish, but the brewery helpfully provides explanations of the beer on its website here. The Porter is made with British ale yeast (I suspect the other beers above are lagers). We thought that it had a sticky but light body, without much aroma. It tasted very roasted, with hints of liquorice. Pleasant enough, and I’m quite intrigued by the brewery and their other English-style beers.

Well, that’s all the baltic porters to date. There are more to go, but no more in our cellar — we still haven’t seen Okocim Porter for donkey’s years, and have never seen Zywiec Porter in London. (I had it on tap once in Poland and thought it absolutely horrid, but that was a long time ago and I reckon it had been sitting in the barrel for about three years.) So far, the Baltic porters we’ve had are sweet and not particularly complex.

I think I like the idea of a Baltic porter better than I actually like any of the Baltic porters we’ve had so far. I wonder if today’s incarnations bear any resemblance to the 19th century originals?

PS: Not a *Baltic* porter, but while we’re on the porter topic; we did pick up a”Hazelnoot Porter” from the Klein Duimpje brewery in the Netherlands, which we rather enjoyed. I remember that the hazelnut flavour was definitely present, but very subtle, and blended beautifully with the malt and hops. I’d happily drink this one again.

Boak