MINI TASTE-OFF: British Takes on German Wheat Beer

‘Why aren’t more British breweries tackling German-style wheat beers?’ Adrian Tierney-Jones has asked more than once. Intrigued by that question, we rounded up a few and gave it some thought.

Now, clearly, this isn’t one of our full-on, semi-comprehensive taste-offs — we didn’t have the time, inclination or, frankly, budget to get hold of a bottle of every Weizen currently being made by a UK brewery. One notable omission, for example, is Top Out Schmankerl, recommended to us by Dave S, which we couldn’t easily get hold of.

But we reckon, for starters, six is enough to get a bit of a handle on what’s going on, and perhaps to make a recommendation. We say ‘perhaps’ because the underlying question is this: why would anyone ever buy a British Weizen when the real thing can be picked up almost anywhere for two or three quid a bottle? The most exciting German wheat beer we’ve tasted recently was a bottle of Tucher in our local branch of Wetherspoon — perfectly engineered, bright and lemony, and £2.49 to drink in. How does anyone compete with that?

We drank the following in no particular order over a couple of nights, using proper German wheat beer vases of the appropriate size. What we were looking for was cloudiness, banana and/or bubblegum and/or cloves, a huge fluffy head and, finally, a certain chewiness of texture. That and basic likeability, of course.

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Moor’s Bristol Takeover

Last weekend, to break the journey back from Yorkshire to Cornwall, we stopped over in Bristol and spent an evening accidentally immersed (not literally) in Moor Beer.

When we interviewed Justin Hawke for Brew Britannia, the brewery was based on the sleepy Somerset levels, where its shiny metal and US punk attitude seemed rather out of place.  Last year, however, it relocated to Bristol, which is sometimes called the Capital of the West Country, and which is certainly the heart of the South West’s ‘craft beer revolution’.

We say ‘accidentally’ above because we went out on the town with no fixed plans other than to have a half of something exotic in BrewDog but, a few steps along the waterside from there, we came across the Three Brothers burger restaurant which was proudly displaying to the street a line of shiny keg fonts, most of them bearing Moor’s logo.

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General brilliance, specific problems

Moor Illusion black IPA

By Bailey

My little brother lives in Bristol, a city increasingly awash with interesting beer. Though he’s teetotal, he’s geek enough by nature to have absorbed a certain amount of knowledge about beer from us and from friends, which is why, when he saw a selection of bottles from Moor in a butcher’s shop, an alarm bell rang and he decided to grab one of each available as a Christmas gift for me. (At considerable expense, I gather.)

On opening the package, I beamed. Just as with Butcombe, I can’t help feeling warm towards a brewery from the Shire; and we’ve generally found Moor’s beers to be exciting and interesting, if not always consistent.

Merlin’s Magic (4.7%), a super-hoppy ‘take’ on best bitter, saw me through the helping-Mum-get-things-down-from-high-shelves, pre-dinner milling about phase of Christmas Day. It had zing beyond zing, cutting through the effects of a morning nibbling chocolate with lemon-rind, herbal dryness. As the extended family turned up, everyone insisted on a taste. “Too bitter!” they all said, before layers of complexity hit them and their eyebrows rose upward. “Ooh… nice though.”

Illusion (4.7%) came towards the end of the meal, before desert. It still doesn’t help explain how black IPA is distinct from other types of beer (a hoppy porter, in this case, I think) but did march confidently over duck fat, gravy and English mustard. More zing. Fireworks, in fact. My beer-hating Auntie liked it, too, much to everyone’s amazement. I wanted several more.

Finally, however, a dud: Moor Amoor (also 4.7%, I think, though the website disagrees). A murky, reddish brown rather than the black I’d been expecting from the word porter on the label, its smell was really offputting: I Couldn’t Believe It Wasn’t Butter. Though there was something nutty to enjoy in the taste, overall, I’d rather, honestly, have had a can of Bass or bottle of Guinness. Quality control problems?

At any rate, from our perspective, that last beer is the answer to this question from Simon Johnson:

Or, indeed, to a similar question we asked ourselves back in 2008, when we were only little, and enjoyed an earlier iteration of Amoor under the name Peat Porter.

Hop Smoke Tickling the Brain

Detail from the label of Oakham's Green Devil IPA.

We’re as tired of the fetishisation of hops as much as the next blogger but, despite that, the two beers that have made us sit up and take notice lately have both been showcases for bold hopping.

A couple of weeks ago, we spent a happy afternoon in the back room of the Star Inn, Crowlas, helping Darren ‘Beer Today’ Norbury work through his stash of free beer. The stand out of that session was Oakham’s Green Devil IPA (6%).

When we opened it, a wisp of vapour appeared at the neck, and then the aroma hit us, like smelling salts. If it had been a cartoon, there’d have been green tendrils in the air, curling their way into our noses and throats. Dave, who Darren mentions in his post, isn’t totally convinced by either super hoppy beers or by ‘tasting’ as a pursuit, but even he couldn’t stop himself exclaiming, wide-eyed: “Nettles! Freshly cut grass! Herbs!”

Those cartoon pong trails made a second appearance at the beer festival at the First and Last in Sennen, near Land’s End, last weekend, when we bought our first pints of Moor Nor’Hop (4.1%). Even with a gale blowing; in typical headless festival condition; and from a plastic cup, the fantastic aroma of the beer reached us long before we lifted it to our lips. Can we measure aroma by height? Nor’Hop’s was a towering 75cm or so.

Nor’Hop is also unfined, making it the first such beer we’ve consumed in the wild. Its cloudiness didn’t put us off and might have contributed to a sense we had of its ‘juiciness’; but we think it would probably have tasted just as nice clear. Once we’d found it, we stuck with it, and drank nothing else until it was time to get a bus home through the fog.

Moor Half and Half with the Old Man

The George at Middlezoy is the country pub I’ve been trying to find for some time, not least because it’s one of the few pubs in Somerset I’ve come across that actually sells beer from the Moor Brewery at Ashcott.

On Boxing Day, it was lively and cosy. The landlord and landlady went out of their way to make us feel welcome — there was none of the Slaughtered Lamb atmosphere I’ve become used to in Somerset village pubs. There was some quiet live music and a huge stack of boardgames to keep us entertained. If they hadn’t closed at 4pm, we’d have stayed all day.

Tip: Old Freddie Walker makes a cracking half-and-half with Butcombe Bitter!

Warning: JJJ IPA (9%) is too strong to drink by the pint. Hurgh.

Bailey