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.

Dark beer in Dortmund

Dort­mund is one of those places whose name is famous amongst beer geeks, but  where it’s hard to find any very excit­ing beer.

We did track down Hoevel’s Orig­i­nal, though, which we found inter­est­ing. It’s anoth­er one of those Ger­man local brands which has its own town sewn up but which you don’t see any­where else. Every build­ing, bus stop and bill­board in town has one of their glossy adverts fea­tur­ing a seduc­tive nymph.

Their brew­ery tap (see Ron’s pub guide for details) dish­es up the beer in per­fect nick. It’s served in a cus­tom glass (we love cus­tom glass­es) which they call a ‘Vic­to­ria’ – tall, and the shape of a trum­pet bell. To all intents and pur­pos­es, it’s an alt bier, being brown, nut­ty, fruity and alto­geth­er very like a smooth, tasty best bit­ter. Not real­ly worth going out of your way for – the alts in Dues­sel­dorf are bet­ter – but, as they say in Ger­man adverts, “Mmm­m­mm.… leck­er.” That is, tasty.  There’s also a cloudy ‘zwickl’, which was a bit home-brewy.

In con­trast, we also tried one of the local ‘pre­mi­um pil­sners’ which, in the case of most Ger­man brands, is a euphemism for ‘very bland lager’. Brinkhof­f’s No 1 is prob­a­bly the most bor­ing beer we’ve ever had. It had less flavour and body than tap water. Worse than Cruz­cam­po. Sheesh.

Our hol­i­day arrange­ments were pret­ty chaot­ic this time so we stu­pid­ly failed to pick up on Bergmann as rec­om­mend­ed by Adep­tus. If you are going to Dortmund/Muenster or any­where in that region, make sure you check his blog before you go!

Porterhouse Oktoberfest

A pint of porter at the Porterhouse (photo by 1gl, from Flickr Creative Commons)
A pint of porter at the Porter­house (pho­to by 1gl, from Flickr Cre­ative Com­mons)

The Porter­house in Covent Gar­den is a fun­ny place.

On the one hand, it sets itself up as a beer-lovers par­adise, with an exten­sive beer menu con­tain­ing pages and pages of text about the integri­ty, com­mit­ment and pas­sion of its founders.

On the oth­er hand, from the time it opens at mid­day, it starts to fill up with stag-dos, par­ties of posh peo­ple, ex-pats from Cana­da, New Zealand, Aus­tralia and South Africa, and con­fused look­ing mid­dle-aged tourists. Most of the clien­tele – and we were look­ing – seem to drink wine, Mag­n­ers, Coro­na or Porter­house Chiller. Chiller, by the brew­ers’ own admis­sion, is the least chal­leng­ing of their beers (viz, it is very cold and fair­ly light in flavour).

So, it’s a beer-cen­tred venue which could sur­vive per­fect­ly well if it did­n’t both­er dish­ing up any decent beer at all.

We’ve got a lit­tle soft-spot for the place, though, as it was here that we first tried Paulan­er Sal­va­tor and some oth­er beers that helped to open our eyes a few years ago. This par­tic­u­lar trip was prompt­ed by the Beer Nut, who told us that the Porter­house­’s own Ger­man-style alt­bier was on its way, and by his review of said alt.

We weren’t dis­ap­point­ed by the alt – it more than mea­sured up the real thing, which we got to know and love ear­li­er this year, and sat­is­fied our per­sis­tent crav­ings. It was on the bit­ter, fruity side, sim­i­lar to the out­put of the well-respect­ed Dues­sel­dorf brew­pubs, and bore no resem­blance to the rather burnt-sug­ar-like com­mer­cial alt from Schloess­er which we see fair­ly often in Lon­don these days.

While we were there, and being for­tu­nate enough to have a qui­et cor­ner to our­selves, we decid­ed to reap­praise the rest of the Porter­house­’s home-grown beers. Weird nitro-keg shav­ing-foam heads aside, the stouts are all pret­ty impres­sive com­pared to Guin­ness. And that, after all, is the man­age­men­t’s entire focus: beat Guin­ness. Bai­ley pre­ferred the deeply bit­ter Wrassler’s; Boak liked the soft­er, malti­er Oys­ter Stout. None of the oth­er beers are mind-blow­ing, but it’s good to see such a range, includ­ing three lagers.

Maybe the chaps in charge could turn this venue over to the par­ty peo­ple and open anoth­er some­where qui­eter, where we can appre­ci­ate their hard work in the brew­ery? Per­haps next door to the Green­wich Union?

Pho­to from 1gl’s pho­to­stream at Flickr, under a Cre­ative Com­mons license. Thanks, 1gl!

Help – altbier in London?

Frankenheim altbier, sweating on a Duesseldorf pub table
Franken­heim alt­bier, sweat­ing on a Dues­sel­dorf pub table

Now that Zeit­geist is sat­is­fy­ing our occa­sion­al crav­ings for Koelsch, I find myself ask­ing: is there hon­est­ly nowhere in Lon­don I can get a decent alt­bier on tap? I mean, where I can get any­thing oth­er than Schloess­er or Diebels from a bot­tle?

The land­la­dy of Zeit­geist, who is from Cologne and there­fore oblig­ed to pre­tend to hate alt­bier, admit­ted that they had want­ed it on tap, but had been told that no-one was import­ing it because it’s too like British ale.

With that sim­i­lar­i­ty in mind, when I get the urge to drink alt, I’m hav­ing to chill Lon­don Pride half to death in the fridge, slop it care­less­ly into an alt­bier glass to form a huge head, and use my imag­i­na­tion. Not bad, but not ide­al.

The Session #19 – German beer

The cap from a bottle of Rothaus Tanen Zapfle
The cap from a bot­tle of Rothaus Tan­nen-Zaepfle beer

This mon­th’s Ses­sion has been set by Loot­corp 3.0 and is on the sub­ject of Ger­man beer.

…the goal is to dig a lit­tle deep­er and write about how Ger­man beers and beer cul­ture have worked their way into your life (and hearts)…

We’ve already blogged about this – our con­ver­sion to good beer took place in Ger­many, so it’s a pret­ty key part of our beer-drink­ing lives. We try to go there at least once a year, and I’ve even start­ed learn­ing Ger­man so I can have all those fas­ci­nat­ing con­ver­sa­tions with Fran­con­ian brew­ers about their mash­ing sched­ules.

It’s a bit eas­i­er to get a reg­u­lar dose of Ger­man beer cul­ture in Lon­don, now that Zeit­geist has opened up. So to cel­e­brate this mon­th’s ses­sion, so we popped along there.

Zeit­geist is aimed at home­sick Ger­mans, so the beer list reflects what Ger­mans actu­al­ly drink. There­fore most of what’s on offer is the usu­al mass-pro­duced, nation­al­ly avail­able lagers – Bit­burg­er, Warstein­er, Koenig Pils etc. In a shrewd move, reflect­ing the ten­den­cy of Ger­mans to boast about their local beer, they also offer a num­ber of big “region­als” – eg Gaffel Koelsch (on tap), Schloess­er Alt and Tan­nen-Zaepfle, by the Baden-Wuert­ten­berg state-owned brew­ery.

Last night, we had a lit­tle vir­tu­al tour round Ger­many. We start­ed in the for­mer DDR, with Wer­nes­gruen­er, before mov­ing to the far north-east west for some Jev­er (seri­ous­ly cheesy web­site, BTW). I don’t think we’ve actu­al­ly blogged about this before, which is sur­pris­ing, giv­en how much we drink it. There’s just some­thing about its bit­ter kick that makes us come back for more. Tastes a bit like hay, in a good way.

Gaffel Koelsch went down well. While it’s not our favourite koelsch, we pre­fer drink­ing this one fresh out of the bar­rel than drink­ing a tired bot­tle of a bet­ter one. It’s always refresh­ing, and drink­ing it next to Wer­nes­gruen­er and Jev­er brings out the malty, fruity flavours.

Then down to Baden-Wuert­ten­burg, where we sam­pled Eich­baum and Rothaus Tan­nen-Zaepfle. The Eich­baum was pret­ty dull (too much hopfenek­strakt and no hops?) and the TZ was OK. When we were on hol­i­day in Hei­del­berg, we drank it there and not­ed that it’s a lot fruiti­er than oth­er pils. It’s drink­able enough, but real­ly not ter­ri­bly excit­ing, unless you’re from the area and feel­ing home­sick.

Final­ly, into Bavaria for Schlenker­la Maerzen. Mmm­mm. Fraz­zles and fruit. Does it for me every time.