News, Nuggets & Longreads for 30 July 2016: Belgians, Bark, Berlin

Here’s all the beer and pub news, opinion and pondering from the last week that’s made us sit up and take notice, from eccentric Belgians to Berliner Weisse.

For Draft magazine Kate Bernot has taken an in-depth look (1,700 wds) into the use of roots, bark and other bits of tree in the outer limits of brewing experimentation:

Wood is not uncommon in a brewhouse; beers aged on fresh oak or made with spruce tips are familiar. But brewers, especially those in arborous domains, have recently begun to eye entire trees—bark, leaves, sap, needles and all—as ingredients. Juniper, cedar, birch, Ponderosa pine, white fir and other timbers all confer their own distinct flavors, from vanilla to citrus to herbs. More than that, brewers say the final beers express the rusticity of their surroundings, that desirable sense of place that has led to a revival in foraging and local sourcing.


Dany Prignon portrait.
By Breandán Kearney from Belgian Smaak.

At Belgian Smaak British Guild of Beer Writers’ Beer Writer of the Year Breandán Kearney has profiled the enigmatic Dany Prignon of Brasserie Fantôme. It’s an interesting long read (2,000 wds) altogether but it was this bit that really made us spit out our cocoa:

And it’s odd that as the owner and production manager of a brewery, he doesn’t even drink beer. “I don’t like it,” he says, as if this assertion were completely normal. “I taste it, but I prefer soft drinks.”

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Magical Mystery Pour #8: Aus Bayern

Magical Mystery Pour logo.We finally found time to sit down and enjoy the final batch of beers suggested to us by Joe Stange, all three of which are from Bavaria, and two of which we’ve had before in one form or another.

We bought them from Beers of Europe and they were all in 500ml bottles:

  • Keesman Herren Pils, Bamberg, 4.8% ABV, £2.09
  • Ayinger Jahrhundertbier, Aying, 5.5%, £2.39
  • Weltenburger Asam Bock, Weltenburg, 6.9%, £2.69

Glass of pale golden beer. Of Herren Pils Joe says:

Repeat visitors to Bamberg typically go through their Rauchbier and Ungespundet phases before they emerge from their pupas as beautiful Herren-swilling butterflies. (And then, weirdly, the phases start over again.) There are times when I drink this and decide it’s my favorite beer in Germany.

We poured it into one of our favourite Pilsner Urquell mugs (Boak’s proudest moment is mangling Polish into Czech to negotiate the purchase in a pub in Prague) where it looked very pretty and very pale. The head, as you can see from the picture above, was very well behaved.

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QUICK ONE: Reinheitsgebot as Flashpoint

We expected the 500th anniversary of the German beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot, to generate lots of coverage but we hadn’t expected it to be so testy.

It turns out that this has become another flashpoint in the battle between two vague, fuzzy-edged groups within the world of beer.

The Reinheitsgebot stifles innovation!’ say the cavaliers; ‘“Innovation” my arse!’cry the roundheads.

And the Campaign for Real Ale’s Revitalisation project (consultation closes on Saturday, by the way) seems to have caused a flare up in another stretch of the previously fairly calm demilitarised border area.

POSTER: Captain America: Civil War

As we say, the edges are fuzzy, but it seems to be more or less the same groups bickering over clarity vs. haze, cask vs. keg, strong vs. session, boring vs. balanced, weird additives vs. malt, hipsters vs. squares, craft vs. ‘craft’, Simcoe vs. Fuggles, and so on.

The division feels weird to us — on both sides, more about attitudes, feelings, personalities, grudges and prejudices than anything concrete. It’s tribal, even almost religious.

Meanwhile, in the real world (as we Tweeted yesterday) Cascade hops and dark lager are still regarded as exotic, and we couldn’t buy a hazy beer in Penzance if we wanted to.

Porter for Breakfast, 1924

Bottle of stout w. glass.

The following passages, for obvious reasons, grabbed my attention in the opening pages of Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel The Magic Mountain, about a young Hamburg man exiled to an Alpine sanatorium before World War I:

So he grew up; in wretched weather, in the teeth of the wind and mist, grew up, so to say, in a yellow mackintosh, and, generally speaking, he throve. A little anaemic he had always been, so Dr. Heidekind said, and had him take a good glass of porter after third breakfast every day, when he came home from school. This, as everyone knows, is a hearty drink — Dr. Heidekind considered it a blood-maker — and certainly Hans Castorp found it most soothing on his spirits and encouraging to a propensity of his, which his Uncle Tienappel called ‘dozing’: namely, sitting staring into space, with his jaw dropped and his thoughts fixed on nothing at all.

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BrewDog Dü Altbier

We were pleased to hear BrewDog had attempted an Altbier given recent evidence of their knack for brewing textbook examples of classic styles. Is it a beer worth shouting about?

When we were in the very earliest days of learning about beer, using Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide as our manual, we were desperate to try Altbier, the speciality of the north-western German city of Düsseldorf.

Then, in 2008, when we’d been blogging less than a year, we finally made the pilgrimage, and did little but drink Alt for several days. We had a great time — the city is fascinating, the pubs are great, and there’s an irresistible charm to almost any regional speciality with its own persistent culture.

The beer itself, however, seemed to us rather like heavily chilled, bog-standard British bitter, saved only from blandness by super-freshness and context.

Candy Kaiser (we paid £2.75 for 330ml from Beer Ritz; it’s available for £1.80 direct from BrewDog) was first brewed in 2014 under the name ‘Amber Alt’. In this latest iteration it tastes (if our seven-year-old memories can be trusted) almost as good as, and pretty similar to, the real thing.

Which is to say, despite a characteristically overblown BrewDog blurb (‘a full throttle attack on your taste buds’) it is accurately unexciting.

It is suitably conker-brown, has an appropriate hard-toffee, brown sugar sweetness, a touch of dark roastiness, and — its saving grace — plenty of serious, unsmiling, business-like bitterness. Other than that, there was little else to latch on to, which is true to style — Alt is for drinking in volume with your pals, not chatting about — but makes it hard to recommend as a beer in its own right.

It doesn’t capture the magic of drinking Alt at source but it does come closer than most bottled versions, so if you’re curious about can’t make it to Düsseldorf, it’s probably the best substitute on the UK market this side of a cold bottle of St Austell HSD.