Category Archives: Germany

Neu Alt?

Modern Alt Bier.

We broadly agree with the sentiment expressed here: it would be a shame if ‘craft beer’ in Germany amounted to nothing more than mediocre imitations of American styles.

At the same time, we don’t demand that other beer cultures remain unchanged as a theme park for visiting beer geeks — we enjoy the fruits of fifty years of increasing diversity in UK brewing, so why would German beer geeks be any different?

What we would like to see, alongside properly traditional styles, is German brewers riffing upon their own brewing heritage, just as US and UK brewers have upon the idea of India Pale Ale and porter.

What, for example, would a modern take on Alt look like?

Perhaps it might have some or most of of its bittering hops reallocated to the late aroma stage, showcasing Perle and other traditional varieties: a change in process, not a change in ingredients.

It might use American hops while retaining the traditional colour, ABV and yeast character. (That would not make it an India Alt, by the way.)

Or maybe it could just be stronger, paler and more bitter? (Yes, we know about Sticke.)

An example of where something like this is already happening is the ‘Hopfen Weisse’ from venerable wheat beer brewer Schneider.

Schneider Hopfen Weisse in its original packaging.

We haven’t conducted a thorough survey of German craft beer and we’re quite out of touch, so there may be many other examples of distinctly German beers which are also ‘modern’. Let us know below, especially if we can get our hands on them here in the UK.

All of the posts in Barm’s recent serial German travelogue are worth a read 1 | 2 | 3  ).

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.

Counterfeit Grätzer, c.1881

“At the brewery where I washed bottles during my last year of school, beer that had come in kegs was put into bottles, marked with counterfeit labels of brands like Pilsener and Grätzer, and sold as genuine bottles of these beers… I could give examples of dozens of such tricks and prove by them how even poor people are cheated.”

Franz Bergg (1866-1913), originally in Ein Proletarierleben, 1913, translated in The German Worker, ed. Alfred Kelly, 1987.

Kölsch as a Test of Mettle

Thornbridge beer bottle caps.

Kölsch, the native beer style of the city of Cologne, is subtle at best, and bland at its worst.

One of our earliest self-imposed challenges back in 2007 was trying to perceive any difference between Kölsch and other pale German ‘lagers’, and to identify any differences between the various brands. (Excuse our naive references to ‘ale’…)

We were interested to hear, therefore, that London brewery Meantime uses Cologne as a proving ground for their beer-sommeliers-in-training. This is an excellent idea, and makes perfect sense for a brewery which specialises in rather tasteful German-style beers.

Until recently, we would have said that there was no point in drinking Kölsch anywhere but on its home turf. On the way to the UK in kegs or bottles, it generally seems to lose whatever slight magic makes it worth drinking, especially when dumped into a pint glass.

Thornbridge Tzara has changed our minds. Having enjoyed it by the pint at the Craft Beer Company in Brixton on a hot summer evening last year, we didn’t hesitate to order a case during the Derbyshire brewery’s recent free shipping spree (12 bottles for £23.80). We dug out a couple of dainty 200ml glasses and have demolished most of that case in the last fortnight.

If we’d been mugged by Tzara, our description wouldn’t help the police at all: it has no especially distinguishing features that would, on paper, set it apart from most other decent, balanced lager beers. It is a pale yellow, hinting at green, and has a fluffy white head. There are some bubbles. If we try really hard, we can perhaps detect some fresh herb (mint?) and soft-fruit (strawberry) aroma, and also maybe a reminder of crisp pizza dough.

What it is is completely, perfectly, gleaming clean; and as fresh-tasting as if it had just been hoisted up in a barrel from the cellar of a wood-panelled beer hall in the shadow of the Kölner Dom. All the ‘hints’ and ‘notes’ in the world can’t beat that.

Kölsch, then, is a test for the palate, a challenge for the technically minded brewer, and yet, at the same time, a rather uncomplicated beer that can be enjoyed for £2 a bottle. What’s not to like?