Friday, December 13, 2013

German Real Ales

For the last few months some of us have been pissing and whining about the lack of real ales, or beer with much flavour or hops, in Germany. This is only slightly paradoxical: yes, Germany is the ancestral home of good, clean lagers, pilsners, wheat beers, Schwarzbier, and the like, but as a result it's very hard to track down any craft ales of the kind popular in Belgium or Britain anywhere in the Fatherland. It may seem parochial to lust after your local beverages when you're visiting a land with great drinking traditions of its own, and I can enjoy a Franziskaner or a Köstritzer while travelling, or happily experiment with a Bock or a Göse, but for our friends recently moved to Germany, it's a bit harder.

Luckily, we recently tracked down the Berlin Bier Shop run by Rainer Wallisser, on Kirchstrasse near Bellevue station (business card to right). An unassuming little shop, I forgot to take a photo even though I planned to blog about it, but you can't see much from outside anyway: shutters on the street and a sign that we missed three times while passing in the car. There is a generous section (pretty much a whole wall) of British beers, a large fridge full of American ales, a respectable Belgian section, and stacks of specialist wines, traditional German regional brews, and other drinks in racks and cases around the store.

The thing I was looking for, though, is a small rack to be found just to the left of the main counter: the section displaying German-manufactured microbrews; IPAs, stouts and other real ale staples, made by and for the German market. The tastes are slightly different (like the Americans they tend toward IPAs, but in contrast the German brews are someone under-hopped), which is what you'd expect for a different market; these are not just carbon copies of US and UK brews (which are just as easy to import as to duplicate locally). I wouldn't want to see these "modern styles" supplant the traditional German lagers, but I'm personally very happy that a wider range of tastes is catered for with specialist importers and collectors like Rainer. Please support this store if you possibly can: I want it still to be there next time I visit Berlin!

I bought six bottles on my first visit, and can report directly on my tasting of three of them:

I inadvertently bought one beer that was not locally brewed: Heather Ale Ltd's ALBA Scots Pine Ale, brewed by Williams Brothers Brewing near Stirling in Scotland, imported to the US and thence to Berlin. This is the kind of beer that Americans call "Scottish", and clearly brewed for the tastes of that export market. It's an orangey-amber with a fair, lagery head, sweet pithy aroma with both pine and fresh-cut grass, and a nice floury first taste, like a tangy Belgian. It's a bit fruity, with apply and chewy sour cherry sweetness in the mouth, with a much more tart swallow but not much lingering bitterness. This is okay, but it's obviously targeted at the American market, and doesn't add to my experience of German local brewing.

More interestingly, BrauKunstkeller's Pale Ale, brewed in Odenwald with German and Austrian malts and American-style hops, is a cloudy light amber beer with a frothy head, and a smell like a forest after rain, hints of pine and peat. The first touch is fresh, zesty and tart on the tip of the tongue; there's wheat, apple and yeast further back in the mouth. An intense swallow brings almost lambic levels of sourness, with lingering cold lime and grapefruit pith hanging around long after the beer has gone down. A really lovely balance of flavours, complex and subtle, with quite a satisfactory kick by any standards. A German winner.

Also impressive is the Phoebe Caulfield Rye Imperial Stout, brewed by Freigeist Bierkultur, a Göller brewery in Zeil am Main. A strong ale, at 8% ABV, this utterly pitch black beer has a light lagery foam that dissipates quickly, and a bubbly aroma of light hops with deeper roasted malt underlying. Sweet and fruity on the tip of the tongue, with ripe berries fresh from the forest, and a sour and cloying mouth-feel that any winter ale could be proud of. The syrupy smokiness of strong Turkish coffee and maple hit on the swallow, with a texture of gritty charcoal. It's very coarse and intense as it goes down, with an almost brandy-strength aftertaste. It was a bit too heavy-going to go with food, but it might finish off an evening by the fire very nicely.

The other three bottles I gave away, and I'll post reviews here when and if I receive them:
  • Camba Bavaria, Ei Pi Ai (I'm a sucker for an polyglot pun!).
  • Hopfenstopfer, Citra Ale (brewed in Bad Rappenau).
  • Schönramer, Imperial Stout (brewed in the Bavarian border area between Munich and Salzburg).

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