Memorable Beers #5: Hasselbacher Pils

We’d underestimated both the temperature and the distance when we set out to walk the banks of the Ilz from Passau in the summer of 2012 2010. After several hours, we reached our destination, only to find the beer garden closed

We nearly gave up but, consulting our maps, decided to push on.

We got redder in the face, sweatier and wobblier on our legs, until we were almost delirious. Eventually, even the sheltering trees disappeared and we found ourselves on a plain in the midday sun. The only thing that kept us going were worn-looking signs every few hundred metres: “Biergarten.”

What we found at the end of the trail was a village with chickens in the road and no sign of life. The signs directed us to what looked like the back of a residential property where there were two patio tables under the washing line. Sure enough, though, an old lady in a pinny appeared and we gasped our order: “Zwei Pils, bitte!”

Can you imagine how good the beer in the picture above tasted?

You might start to notice a theme emerging here: that the most memorable beers are often not, in themselves, especially distinguished. Time and place and all that…

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If we send one person to Unterzaunsbach…

We note there’s been a fair bit of introspection recently in the blogoshire.

A comment on one of our recent posts reminds us of one reason why we do it.

Mike004 doesn’t say in his comment whether he went to Unterzaunsbach because we recommended it, but we do like the fact that, if you Google it, we’re on the first page of results.

Equally, our recent series of posts on Passau may not have set the world on fire in terms of comments, but, before we went on holiday, we struggled find much online to guide us. Hopefully, we’ve done something to help fill that gap and map (sort of) unknown territory for future beer explorers.

Mike004 also pointed out that Peschl stopped brewing in 2008. What on Earth were we drinking if not Peschl? We are confused and would be grateful for any intelligence.


The Austro-Bavarian Beerlands

Schaerding is definitely worth a visit. It’s 12 minutes on the train from Passau, or a nice 15km bike ride along the banks of the Inn. It claims to be Austria’s prettiest baroque town. As it’s the only Austrian town we’ve ever been to, we can’t confirm the superlative, but it’s certainly pretty.

There are two breweries in town, handily located opposite each other on the way into town from the station. As in Bamberg, the air was heavy with the smells of brewing: first, malt and then the exact green, tea-like smell you get when you dump hops into the boil. This boded well.

We sampled Baumgartner in the hilariously named Wirtshaus zur Bums’n, apparently a staple of the local Good Beer Guide. We started on the zwickl, which seemed to be the only beer advertised, and it was a stunner — really bitter with a very subtle sourness.  We asked what else they had, and in the babble of Austrian German that followed we discerned “the normal maerzen and dunkles”. Both were extremely good. The maerzen was heady and sweet, and the dark actually tasted dark (as opposed to tasting like the helles with brown food colouring in it, as with so many). It was like treacle, in the best sense.

Then onto Kapsreiter. First up, hearty “landbier” helles and dunkles. The helles was almost chewable — sourdough bread? It would certainly have passed for a pils in much of Germany. The dunkles meanwhile had a lovely deep caramel aroma and an absurdly high, rocky head. Boak thought it lacked a bit in the aftertaste but Bailey thought it was as good as the Baumgartner.

We approached the Bio-bier with caution, having found in the past that organic beers are usually much ado about nothing, but this one was as good if not better than the helles, with a little spicy note at the end (almost a little gingery). Their wheatbeer was also a little spicy, making it more interesting than the others we’d had over the holiday, while ticking all the right banana clove notes as well. Finally their pils (only available in bottles) was more aromatic, paler and sparklier version of the Helles.

Which brewery was better? Hard to say but, on this evidence, we’d say a little local competition is healthy thing.

And so, in conclusion, the best brewery in Passau is actually in Austria…

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Passau: we have a winner (for now)

We put off visiting Innstadt‘s biergarten because, from the outside, it looked a bit fake, like something from Disneyland. Nor were we expecting much from the beer. A big company, slick but boring branding… surely it would be another Hacklberg or Lowenbrau?

What a surprise. For starters, the helles was subtle rather than bland, as hoppy as the beers some other breweries in town were labelling as pilsners. Lovely.

The range was more varied, too. As well as the holy trinity (pils, helles, weizen) there was a zwickl with a very pleasing hint of sherbet and its own elaborate porcelain krug and several interesting looking bottles.

From the bottled range, we tried Edelsud, which (as they announced on the menu, and reiterated proudly when we ordered it) came in a swingtop bottle (“bugelflasche!!!”). It is described as an Export but, at 5.3%, and with a satisfying, heavy, toffee-ish body, it could have passed for a 6% festbier. It was really excellent — liquid bread. The hop aroma made us think briefly of Brooklyn Lager, too, which was a nice surprise in a German beer.

We didn’t get round to trying the last brewery in town, Andorfer, because we decided to spend our last day across the border in Austria. We’ve since heard that the locals consider it the best of the bunch. Bloody typical. Then again, Austria was not a wasted trip…

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Now we're getting somewhere: Peschl

Thank you, Peschl or Passau. We hadn’t dared let ourselves hope that all that folksy branding and ‘family brewery’ rhetoric might actually mean interesting beer but were over the moon to be proved wrong.

The benefit to all the local breweries offering similar ranges is the ease with which they can be compared. Straight off, we could tell that Peschl’s helles and pils had more zing than the respective offerings from Hacklberg and Lowenbrau. They weren’t transcendent, but we certainly found them interesting and agreed that, if we could never drink anything but these again, we’d probably be happy.

Even the hefe-weizens were interesting, being perhaps a little more grainy-tasting (more wheat in the mix?) and a touch sour.

So, we thought we’d found the best beer in Passau, and began to feel a little more cheerful.

Nächste halt: Innstadt.