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.

7 thoughts on “A Hit and Miss Cult Brand”

  1. In my local Getränke­markt, when faced with the choice of Eich­baum, Dis­tel­häuser, Becks or Bit­burg­er PIls, I’ll always choose a crate of Tan­nen­zäpfle. Strange­ly, most peo­ple around here will go for Eich­baum, which I like even less, now that they seem to have stopped using actu­al hops.

    So, I love Tan­nen­zäpfle, and I’m sure it has noth­ing to do with liv­ing in Baden-Würt­tem­berg 🙂 The rest, well, as you say, they are ok.

  2. Pils is always bet­ter on draught than in bot­tles but Tan­nen­za­epfle is a per­fect­ly good Pils.
    Bet­ter, though, if you’re in the area (espe­cial­ly the Black For­est) is Wald­haus, which (on draught) has a real­ly beau­ti­ful floral/pine/spicy Ger­man noble hop char­ac­ter.

  3. Seems like fair enough com­ments to me though in situ I’ve only ever had the pils and the hefe weizen. One thing though. Pils should nev­er be sold in a thick walled chunky glass. Its del­i­cate nature requires a thin walled glass to show it at its best. In my opin­ion of course.

    1. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, we’d agree with you, but this is real­ly one of those beers they *call* Pils that we’d prob­a­bly describe sim­ply as ‘lager’ in the UK. It’s not espe­cial­ly del­i­cate or pun­gent. The glass­es we’re think­ing of are the ones they serve(d?) it in in the Craft Beer Co pubs – real­ly nice to drink out of.

  4. Bai­ley – you’re get­ting dan­ger­ous­ly close to “not true to style” there. Ger­many is a big coun­try, and Pils is a broad style. Many exam­ples, espe­cial­ly in the South, don’t have the fine hop­pi­ness that I think you’re refer­ring to. That’s one rea­son why I rec­om­mend­ed Wald­haus – unusu­al­ly fine hop char­ac­ter for a Pils in this region (South­west).

  5. I hol­i­dayed in the Hochschwarzwald a cou­ple of years ago where Rothaus was the local brew. Main­ly I drank the Pils “frisch vom Fass” (which is dif­fer­ent from Tan­nen­zäpfle, although the same strength) and it was excel­lent. Only bet­tered per­haps by Wald­haus ohne fil­ter. Rothaus also spon­sored a run­ning race I was doing – giant inflat­able beer bot­tles and beer a plen­ty – the Ger­mans real­ly know how to put on an event. Prizewin­ners were giv­en mini-kegs.

    (And then I went to Würzburg and drank the above men­tioned Dis­tel­häuser, which was fine.)

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