Baltic mild? Ochakovo premium dark (light)

We thought we might have dis­cov­ered a new beer style yes­ter­day – one not cov­ered by the Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­vals 75 (75!) cat­e­gori­sa­tions. This style is “Baltic mild” and we dis­cov­ered it by drink­ing “Ochako­vo pre­mi­um dark” yes­ter­day.

On our nev­er-end­ing quest for Baltic porter in Lon­don, we had exam­ined a bot­tle of this in Uto­beer (the excel­lent beer shop in Bor­ough Mar­ket, fea­tured in this blog a cou­ple of weeks ago). How­ev­er, from what we could deci­pher of the bot­tle (it’s all in Russ­ian), it didn’t seem like it would be a porter, par­tic­u­lar­ly at 3.9%. So we put it back and went for some­thing else. We may have even madeOchakovo dark premium some unfair assump­tions, along the lines of “it’ll only be anoth­er taste­less dark lager”.

How­ev­er, we then went to the Rake bar, Utobeer’s “sis­ter” pub round the cor­ner. What start­ed as a swift half or two rapid­ly became a ses­sion. (A table came free. It was a sign)

We noticed the Ochako­vo in there and asked the knowl­edge­able bar­man about it. He hadn’t tried it either and wasn’t sure what style it would be. We tried to deci­pher the label but there were no obvi­ous clues. So we gave it a go.

It looked good – very dark-brown colour with burnt meringue head. The aro­ma was very tempt­ing too – dark sug­ar and slight choco­late notes.

As for the taste – it ini­tial­ly tast­ed strong­ly of molasses; sweet, but not over­ly so. It was hard­ly bit­ter at all, and not par­tic­u­lar­ly fizzy for a dark lager. The bot­tle didn’t say whether it was top or bot­tom fer­ment­ed, but we assumed bot­tom. A medi­um-full body – pret­ty good for some­thing that’s only 3.9%. It was very drink­able – could def­i­nite­ly have drunk a lot more of these.

The seem­ing­ly-con­tra­dic­to­ry “light” ref­er­ence in the title comes from the Russ­ian descrip­tion on the label and is pre­sum­ably a ref­er­ence to its “weak” strength. At the risk of mak­ing gross gen­er­al­i­sa­tions, it’s rare to find good East­ern Euro­pean beers under 5% (at least in the UK), and cer­tain­ly rare to find one this tasty.

So: dark colour, weak strength, low bit­ter­ness, strong malt flavour, prob­a­bly lagered – ladies and gen­tle­men, I give you Baltic Mild.

Of course, on sober reflec­tion the next day, I think this prob­a­bly falls fair­ly and square­ly into the cat­e­go­ry of “Schwarz­bier”;

These very dark brown to black beers have a mild roast­ed malt char­ac­ter with­out the asso­ci­at­ed bit­ter­ness. This is not a full-bod­ied beer, but rather a mod­er­ate body gen­tly enhances malt fla­vor and aro­ma with low to mod­er­ate lev­els of sweet­ness. Hop bit­ter­ness is low to medi­um in char­ac­ter. ”

But if the good folks behind the Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­val can define a new style on the basis of one or two beers, then so can I.

Boak

Notes

  1. The Rake is at 14 Win­ches­ter Walk, Lon­don SE1 9AG (near Lon­don Bridge). It’s an excel­lent but tiny pub / bar, set up by the peo­ple at Uto­beer. They have around 10 beers on taps, in dif­fer­ent styles, and prob­a­bly a hun­dred in bot­tles. Friend­ly staff too. Beers cost around £3 – £3.50 a bot­tle. They do not appear to have a web­site, hence no link – will hap­pi­ly add one if some­one can pro­vide!
  2. Inter­net search­es have revealed that Ochako­vo are based in Moscow and are one of Russia’s biggest beer pro­duc­ers, but exports so far seem to be lim­it­ed to the ex-Sovi­et Union. Haven’t had any of their oth­er stuff, but I note that they were exper­i­ment­ing with an unfil­tered, unpas­teurised beer that lasts no more than 14 days. So per­haps we can add Baltic “real” ale / lager to the list too? You can cur­rent­ly get Ochako­vo pre­mi­um dark from Uto­beer and the Rake bar, togeth­er with anoth­er pale beer they do.
  3. The beer clas­si­fi­ca­tions comes from the Great Amer­i­can Beer Festival’s list­ing, which I found here. There was a good debate on Lew Bryson’s blog (Seen through a Glass) about the US v UK approach to cat­e­goris­ing beer. Per­son­al­ly, I’m not too both­ered about styles when I’m drink­ing beer, but I find it use­ful to read about more detailed clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tems when try­ing to brew the stuff.

Brew Wharf – interesting idea, poorly executed

Hav­ing bought a load of fan­tas­tic beers from Uto­beer (see pre­vi­ous post), we popped over the road to Brew Wharf to see what the fuss was about.

Brew Wharf opened in Octo­ber 2005 as part of the Vinop­o­lis empire at Lon­don Bridge. This is a brewpub/restaurant with a cou­ple of house brews and some of the Mean­time range on tap and around 30 bot­tled beers from around the world. Sounds good?

Many oth­ers don’t think so. It is pret­ty much uni­ver­sal­ly panned on Beerintheevening.com and fancyapint.com for bad ser­vice and expen­sive drinks. It doesn’t seem to be pop­u­lar for its food either; the mag­a­zine Time Out called it “a bad restau­rant with very good beer”.

I have very mixed feel­ings about it – there are some strong pros and cons.

Pros

Goose Island IPA

  1. One of the Wharf brews (I didn’t get which one, but it was either Wharf Best or Cen­tu­ry Ale) was very fresh and tasty. A pub with its own beer is shock­ing­ly rare in Lon­don, so this in itself is a plus point.
  2. Some­one had obvi­ous­ly put a lot of thought into the bot­tled beer list; there was a good range of styles, and some absolute crack­ers on the list. As well as Mean­time Choco­late and Cof­fee, they stock the excel­lent Goose Island IPAfrom Chica­go
  3. They have a good range of glass­es to match the beers. This may sound like a minor point, but we believe that the look of a beer con­tributes enor­mous­ly to the over­all enjoy­ment, and we’re always impressed when peo­ple make the effort to serve the beer in the right glass.

Cons

  1. The ser­vice is pret­ty poor; a cou­ple sat down next to us and then left after 10 min­utes of try­ing to get served at the bar. One of the bar staff tried to take my drink away before I’d fin­ished.
  2. The prices! They were charg­ing £5.65 for a bot­tle of Schlenker­la Rauch­bier. Now this is a nice beer, and per­haps used to be rare, but it’s not that dif­fi­cult to get hold of these days. The Pem­bury Tav­ern in Hack­ney does it for half the price charged here.
  3. I could see what the review­ers meant when they said it was soul­less. There was quite a nice atmos­phere on the ter­race but the pub itself would be pret­ty dread­ful with­out it.

Is this the way to get peo­ple into beer? Not sure. Despite the fact it was a brew­pub with a large beer list, I didn’t get the impres­sion they were out to con­vert peo­ple. Most of the cus­tomers seemed to be drink­ing wine or Bud­var. Per­haps descrip­tions of the beers would help? This could poten­tial­ly be a good place to bring some­one you were try­ing to con­vert – but the Green­wich Union is much cosier and has a sim­i­lar (if not the same) range of bot­tled beers.

So would I go back? I can’t imag­ine hav­ing a cosy pint there, but it’s quite a good place on a week­end after­noon to pre­tend you’re on hol­i­day – pre­tend the prices are in Euros and that the ser­vice is just down to mis­un­der­stand­ing…

Boak

I hate hi-ball glasses

tumbler1.jpgThe Green­wich Union – Mean­time Brewing’s “brew­ery tap” – serves half pints in clean, sim­ple, “tulip” stem glass­es. Fuller’s recent­ly intro­duced sim­i­lar­ly ele­gant glass­es for Dis­cov­ery and Hon­ey Dew. They serve every­thing else in tall, fair­ly nar­row tum­blers, with room for a head. The Pem­bury Tav­ern in Hack­ney Downs, again, used taller than nor­mal half-pint glass­es, with room for a head.

Not all pubs are doing this kind of thing.

I’m real­ly get­ting fed up of order­ing a half and get­ting what looks like a tooth glass, full to the brim, with a grey scum instead of a head. The pints in these pubs look fine, so it’s not the beer, or the tech­nique – just the glass.

I’m kind of used to that with ale, but last night I was served a half of Meantime’s Helles lager in a straight, short, half pint tum­bler, with no head. It tast­ed fine, but looked dread­ful. Like urine, frankly.

This wasn’t a dodgy pub next to a rail­way sta­tion, with fly-blown win­dows and an inci­dent board out­side: it’s in the good pub guide.

Land­lords – get nicer glass­es!

Pho­to from glass­ware sup­pli­er barmans.com

Meantime Extra Dry Stout

Publicity photo of meantime coffee stout

After a vis­it to the Green­wich Union, I can con­firm that Mean­time’s sea­son­al “Extra Dry Stout” isn’t all that excit­ing, as Stonch has already said. It was too fizzy on the tongue, and a lit­tle thin-bod­ied.

I fol­lowed it up with a bot­tle of cof­fee stout, which has always been, and remains, incred­i­ble. They’d run out of choco­late stout, but there were enough choco­late flavours in this to do the job for me. Smooth, chewy, bit­ter.… just per­fect. And Cooper’s Aus­tralian “Best Extra Stout” was just slight­ly bet­ter again. The extra 1.5/2% alco­hol – they’re both just over 6%, while the dry stout is 4.5% – and the extra body real­ly makes a dif­fer­ence in their impact.

But I trust Alas­tair Hook to get it right. I think we can expect to see the recipe tin­kered with for some time to come. Meantime’s wheat beer was pret­ty dull at first, but has evolved into a thing of beau­ty (espe­cial­ly in its strong 6.5% grand cru incar­na­tion).

I also sus­pect that we’ll see a “Taste the Dif­fer­ence” stout in Sainsbury’s in the next year or so, based on this recipe.

Nice places to drink in Regensburg, East Bavaria

Kneitinger Bock

Regens­burg is one of my favourite cities. It’s beau­ti­ful (a medieval bridge and town cen­tre span­ning the Danube) with an odd­ly “Latin” feel. Appar­ent­ly it’s known as “the north­ern­most city of Italy”, which could be because of the mild cli­mate, the Ital­ian-style archi­tec­ture, or per­haps the hun­dreds of Ital­ian restau­rants and ice-cream cafes.

One thing that is res­olute­ly Ger­man, how­ev­er, is the avail­abil­i­ty of fan­tas­tic beer. There are three brew­eries in town – Spi­tal, Bishof­shof and Kneitinger – plus lots of local pro­duc­ers with out­lets in town. There are hun­dreds, if not thou­sands of places to drink, so these sug­ges­tions are not sup­posed to be exhaus­tive – just enough for a taster. See link below for a Google map of the area.

Spi­tal­gar­ten

A large beer gar­den on one of Regensburg’s islands, serv­ing, unsur­pris­ing­ly, Spi­tal­brau. Helles and Weizen very nice, but the pils is out­stand­ing – very dis­tinct hop flavour and aro­ma, which dis­tin­guish­es it from oth­er beers of this style.

There’s anoth­er beer gar­den, “Alte Linde”, slight­ly clos­er to the town cen­tre, which all the guide­books rate. They serve Kneitinger.

Kneitinger

The brew­ery and pub are con­nect­ed; the pub itself has sev­er­al sec­tions, from a rough and ready beer hall to a more upmar­ket restau­rant area. It’s an inter­est­ing build­ing – pre­sum­ably it was once a sta­ble or some­thing sim­i­lar, as the floor of the “beer hall” bit is cob­bles. Kneitinger do an Edelpils, a Dunkel, and a Bock.

The Bock is some­thing spe­cial – it’s dark, rich and choco­latey, and they’re jus­ti­fi­ably proud of it. It’s fea­tured in Michael “The Beer­hunter” Jackson’s Great Beer Guide. Ama­zon link

Bishof­shof

You can drink Bishof­shof with­in the Bishof­shof (Bishop’s Palace) itself. We also found a love­ly qui­et beer gar­den just round the cor­ner from Kneitinger which had the full Bischof­shof range togeth­er with Wel­tenberg­er Kloster­brau (the two brew­eries are relat­ed, though I don’t know who owns who). Wel­tenberg­er Barock-Dunkel and Dun­kle-Weiss both make it into Michael Jackson’s 500.

Fuer­stlich­es Brauhaus

This seems to be a spin-off from Thurn und Taxis, a brew­ery which used to be based in Regens­burg. They brew their own on the premis­es and also stock the full T&T range. Nice airey beer hall, with a pic­turesque beer gar­den set in the T&T cas­tle grounds.

Zum Augustin­er

A beer hall and gar­den stock­ing Thurn & Taxis.

Links

Google Map of Regens­burg with these pubs marked

Spi­tal, includ­ing cheesy pic­ture from Spi­tal beer gar­den – check out the vir­tu­al brew­ery tour!

Kneitinger (in Ger­man)

Bischof­shof (in Ger­man)

Wel­tenburg­er Kloster (in Ger­man)

 

Wik­i­trav­el – Regens­burg

Boak