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beer reviews

Beers of the Year

An irrelevant photo of an old Guinness marketing gewgaw in Clapham, South London
An irrelevant photo of an old Guinness marketing gewgaw in Clapham, South London

This year, we’ve been all over the place, including almost a full month in Germany, so we’ve had plenty of opportunity to stretch our palates (corrective surgery scheduled for the New Year). After some bickering in the pub, and in no particular order, here are the 10 beers we’ve tried and enjoyed the most in 2008.

  1. Uerige Alt — like a British ale, but not, thanks to some subtle, intangible quality of the yeast and the wonderful, alien manners and customs of the Duesseldorf pub scene.
  2. Oakham Hawse Buckler — dark, strong, heavy, hoppy as Hell, with that combination of chocolate orange/coffee and grapefruit people either love or hate.
  3. Zywiec Porter — was this sticky, treacly Baltic porter as good as we thought, or were we just delighted to finally get our hands on it after a couple of years hunting?
  4. Brewdog Punk IPA — smart marketing means we’ll be seeing this being swigged from the bottle by trendy types all over the country by next Christmas. And a good thing too, as it’s full of flavour and full of life.
  5. SternBrau-Scheubel dunkel-rauch — the highlight of the first Zeitgeist beer festival, organised by Stonch and Biermania, was this smoky, amber wonder which was so good, we drank them dry.
  6. Mahrs Brau Ungespundete — our return trip to Bamberg was a bit of ticking session but this is one beer of which we wanted second-helpings: dark, cloudy, spicy and liquorice-like.
  7. Vollbier, Brauerei Meister, Unterszaunsbach — this dark, ale-like dark German beer tasted great, although that might have been something to do with the fact we’d trekked over most of Franconia to get to it, and because the lady in the pub was nice to us…
  8. U Fleku, Prague — treacly sweet and fruity sour, the black beer here is a wonder; shame the pub’s such a world-class hole.
  9. Kout na Sumave desitka, Prague — we’d never have found this one ourselves — Velky Al recently described is as the best lager in the Czech republic.  Haven’t had enough Czech beers to compare (can one ever?) but this was a beautiful easy-drinker with an impressive hop flavour.
  10. Frueh Koelsch (but not out of a bottle) — we weren’t that impressed when we first tried Frueh at the brewery tap in Cologne, but have now been back twice — it’s so subtle and so perfect that it’s become our favourite whenever we’re passing through Cologne.

Velky Al has been rounding up his beers of the year, which is where we nicked the idea what inspired us.

Categories
buying beer london

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.

Categories
beer festivals beer reviews Franconia london pubs Snacks to beer

German beer festival at Zeitgeist

What better use of a day’s holiday than to pretend you’re in Germany? And how much easier when someone has gone and laid on a German beer festival for you, complete with many beers dispensed Franconian-style out of little wooden barrels.

This excellent little festival was brought to us by Zeitgeist, a great German pub in Vauxhall, Stonch’s beer blog, and Bier-Mania, who organise beer trips to Belgium, Germany and beyond.

This won’t be a detailed review, as we drank too much to remember many details — as did everyone else, by the sound of it … there are now no more festival beers left.

We remember a large range of beer from the Bolten-Brauerei from outside Duesseldorf, with their Alt being particularly nice. Hofmann Export Dunkel Lagerbier was a great example of the complexity that Franconian Dunkels can deliver. Our stand-out favourite was a Dunkel-Rauch by SternBrau-Scheubel which had a gorgeous Maerzen-like malt flavour and amber colour, with a hefty hoppiness and a subtle but complex smoke taste.

We thought the mix of people and the atmosphere was great – some tickers, some trendies, some locals, but everyone getting into it. It was the kind of place you could bring non-beer geeks to (we did) without worrying about whether they’d have a good time.

Also, the excellent range of Brotzeit really helped line the stomach – Obatzda is an acquired taste, but I love the stuff, and they make it well here.

This was easily one of my favourite festivals of all time. Do it again, chaps!

Boak

For another perspective, see Allyson’s write-up on her Impy Malting blog.

Ron Pattinson blogged about Hofmann here.

Categories
beer reviews breweries Generalisations about beer culture Germany pubs

Duesseldorf part five – Frankenheim and further pontification on the nature of Alt

frankenheim2.jpgWe’re almost there. We ended up having Frankenheim twice. First, on Saturday night, after Schumacher and Schloesser, in a restaurant / pub called Brauerei Zum Schiffchen. It’s allegedly Duesseldorf’s oldest, going back to 1628. It doesn’t brew its own now, stocking Frankenheim instead.

Frankenheim was OK – good malt flavour with hints of chocolate, not much bitterness. Sufficiently decent to make us decide to visit their enormous brewery tap, which is about 20 minutes walk from the old town on Wielandstrasse. This place was considerably quieter than the old town pubs, possibly because of the distance, and possibly because it was Sunday afternoon, and even the Duesseldorf party animals have to rest some time. We also committed some kind of faux pas by sitting on a regular’s table. (Why else would they have sat on our table when the pub was two-thirds empty?)

So those were all the alts we got to try. There are a few others that we didn’t try – Diebels, Gatzweiler and Rhenania, to mention a few. Enormous thanks to Ron Pattinson for bothering to put together his Duesseldorf pub guide, as it certainly saved us considerable effort in planning this trip.

So, some conclusions. As a “style”, alt is very varied — the beers we tried had different bitterness levels, different malt flavours, different bodies. It’s certainly more varied than various Koelsches (more on that soon). Our favourites from the trip were Schumacher and Zum Schluessel, but this didn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the others.

We’re looking forward to a return trip, particularly as Duesseldorf is well-placed to get to other beer destinations (Muenster, Cologne, Dortmund). Plus there’s the draw of the “Sticke” — the stronger version, produced and sold on two days a year. See this article on Ron Pattinson’s Duesseldorf pages for more.

But, and this is perhaps the sacreligious part — the alt itself would not be the key draw. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy it enormously, but you can get similar beers in the UK.* It’s the atmosphere, the tradition and the liveliness. We’d happily move to Duesseldorf for a year or two to call some of these places our locals.

———-

*To recreate the Alt effect at home: Get a nice brown bitter that you like, chill it for a couple of hours, and pour it carelessly into a 250ml tumbler so that it eventually settles down to half beer, half head. We tried it — it works. A good alt is very like a cold, super bitter English ale. In our humble opinion, this better recreates the alt experience than buying a tired bottle of boring Diebels from your local specialist beer emporium.

Categories
beer reviews breweries Germany

Duesseldorf part four (oops) — Brauerei Zum Schluessel

schluessel2.jpgOn Saturday night, we couldn’t get through the door of Brauerei Zum Schluessel. The pub was packed to the rafters and the street outside was crammed with football supporters celebrating a win. We cut our losses and came back for lunch on Sunday.

Duesseldorf’s pubs are arguably not as atmospheric at lunchtime. In the evenings, there’s a real buzz — they’re full of people of all ages crammed close together talking and laughing. Duesseldorf is a very touchy-feely place by German (or British) standards. But at lunchtime, they seem to be colonised, in the main, by middle-aged couples. There is a murmur of conversation, rather than the roar of jolly bacchanalia. This is still a pleasant atmosphere, but hardly exciting. A necessary compromise, though, which allowed us to sit down, eat and stroke our chins in nerdish appreciation of the beer.

Schluessel’s alt is a beauty. Ron isn’t kidding when he says it’s hard to choose between them — they all have their charms. This one was on the dry/bitter side, partly from hops and partly from some burnt sugar flavours. It also seemed to have a fuller body than some of its competitors.

But enough waffle — look at this:

schluessel3.jpg

Hmm. That’s made us thirsty. We’re off to the pub. More tomorrow.