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Friday, 19 September 2014

Heavenly Brew - Part One

Kloster Weltenburg's spectacular setting, on the Danube

Whenever there is talk of monastery brewing, one country always springs to mind, especially in the minds of beer lovers. Belgium of course, has a rich tradition of monastic brewing, particularly as the country is home to six of the seven Trappist monasteries. It is also a country where so-called “Abbey Ales” (beers produced in a secular brewery under licence from a monastery), are relatively common. However, neighbouring Germany also has a heritage of monastic brewing which, despite being less well known, in many cases pre-dates that of Belgium.

During my travels in southern Germany over the past 10 years I have come across quite a number of largely unknown breweries either directly attached to a monastery or with still visible former links to one. Their relative obscurity may well be due to the fact that they haven’t marketed themselves as vigorously as their Trappist brethren; with most of their production destined mainly  local consumption, and precious little in the way of bottles finding their way into overseas export markets. Also, unlike the Trappist Breweries in the Low Countries, there is no umbrella organisation to look after their interests, fight their corner or to promote their wares as a whole. This however, makes tracking them down all the more exciting and rewarding.

A glass of monastery-brewed beer
One fairly obvious clue when it comes to looking for monastery breweries in Germany is the use of the word “Kloster” in the brewery name. Similar to the English word "cloister” the word means monastery or convent. However, as in Belgium, there are quite a number of breweries which style themselves as “Kloster”, but closer inspection reveals either a very tenuous link with a monastery or abbey, or even a link which may have existed in the past, but which is no longer there. Most surviving monasteries whether brewing or not, are located within the state of Bavaria. This is hardly surprising when one considers that this part of Germany is a staunchly Catholic region. However, even here many monasteries were secularised during the early 19th Century, partly as a result of the Napoleonic wars and the determination of Bonaparte to stamp his authority on territories that he’d conquered. Even when these institutions were handed back to their rightful owners, any tradition of brewing which may had existed had often been lost during the intervening years, and in many cases  did not resume.

For the purpose of this post though I am including all those German breweries which use the name “Kloster” in their title, as in the vast majority of cases brewing still takes place in the original monastery buildings irrespective of whether there are monks, or nuns, living there now!

The Bräustüberl at Kloster Andechs
Kloster Andechs is almost certainly the best known and most widely available German monastic brewery, and to anyone who has been to Munich requires little in the way of introduction. Having undergone considerable expansion in recent years, Andechs beers are now available in other parts of Germany – they have a flagship pub in Nuremberg and I have drunk them in Berlin. Their website states they are now available in the United States. 

Andechs brew a wide range of pretty decent beers, but to me they never taste as good as they do at the monastery itself, on top of the Holy Mountain, over-looking the Ammersee Lake, just outside the town of Herrsching. My first visit there, back in 2005 was the most memorable, probably because it was all new to me and I didn’t know what to expect. The ride out from central Munich to the end of the S-5 Line was pleasant enough, but apart from reading that there was a footpath up to Andechs, I had no idea of where it started from.  Fortunately the local Tourist Information office put me on the right track, providing me with a photo-copied map, and before long I was leaving the town behind and heading up through the woods to the Holy Mountain. The walk, which was steadily uphill for most of the way, took around an hour, and I was certainly building up a thirst. On the way I had passed a few other walkers, but hadn’t really seen that many other people. When I arrived at Andechs though I just couldn’t believe how busy it was; where had all these other thirsty punters come from?
Enjoying a beer in the sun at Kloster Andechs

The answer of course, was they came by road; either by bus or car, and since that first trip all subsequent visits we have made to Andechs have also been by bus. However, to get that true monastery experience and to really feel like a pilgrim, make the journey on foot so that you really appreciate your beer!

If journeying by foot appeals to the pilgrim within you, then how about arriving at a monastery by boat? This is exactly how my son and I arrived at the next monastic brewery on the list. Kloster Weltenburg is sited on a bend on the gorge carved by the River Danube as it makes is way north towards the ancient city of Regensburg. The setting for this centuries old monastery must rank amongst the most spectacular in the world, and given this water-side setting journeying here by boat makes perfect sense. Pleasure boats cruise down to Weltenburg along the Danube on a daily basis; certainly in summer when there are several return services each day. 

Sailing down the Danube Gorge towards Kloster Weltenburg
The boats depart from the small town of Kelheim, home to the world-famous wheat beer brewers, Georg Schneider & Co. In order to make the trip, Matt and I travelled to Kelheim, from where we were staying in Regensburg, via train and then bus and, after locating the waterside departure point, booked ourselves a return ticket. The boats which ply up and down the river are similar to the ones on the Thames. Being a pleasant June day, we sat outside on the top deck in order to make the most of the scenery which we would soon be passing through. This being Germany, we could have had a beer or two as we travelled down, but it was rather too early in the morning for me and, besides, we’d had a pretty heavy session the night before! Our journey took us past the  impressive Walhalla Monument, before we approached the entrance to the steep-sided Danube Gorge. The boat made slow, but steady progress against the fast flowing river, and before long we were surrounded on both sides by high limestone cliffs, topped with trees. It wasn’t quite the “Lost World” but it certainly felt like we were cut off from civilisation. 

We witnessed some rather rash local youths jumping off the rocks and then swimming back to shore; it all looked rather risky given the swiftly moving current, but presumably they knew what they were doing. Then, as we rounded a bend we could see Kloster Weltenburg ahead on the left-hand bank. The ship’s captain slowed our vessel down to enable us to approach the landing stage and moorings, which were a few hundred yards away from the monastery, and a five minute walk. Making a careful note of the departure times, we made our way to the monastery which sits on a spit of land made up of fine white pebbles, which juts out into the river. Being sited in such a picturesque setting is not without perils though, as was demonstrated in 2005 when the monastery was inundated by the disastrous floods which occurred on the Danube that autumn. Weltenburg's flood defences were also severely tested in 2011.

Monastery church - Kloster Weltenburg
The monastery itself is constructed in Baroque style, but there has been a monastic community based here since the 11thCentury, and a continuous tradition of brewing ever since In fact Kloster Weltenburg lays claim to being the oldest monastery brewery in the world. These days, in order to meet increased demand, the brewing of Weltenburg’s paler beers is contracted out to the Bischofshof Brewery in nearby Regensburg, and the company also provide technical and sales assistance to the brothers. Weltenburg’s darker beers though, such as Barock Dunkles and Anno 1050 are still brewed at the monastery. We were able to sample a few of their draught offerings in the shaded, courtyard beer garden, where we joined quite a throng of people enjoying their lunch. We sat and chatted over our lunch of Leberkaas and potato salad, with a group of cyclists who had travelled all the way from Bonn.
Beer garden - Kloster Weltenburg

Afterwards I had a brief look inside the impressive monastery church, which has ceiling frescoes painted by the renowned Asam Brothers, before catching the mid-afternoon boat back to Kelheim. The return journey took half the time of the outward one, as we were now travelling with the swiftly moving current; rather than fighting against it.

To be continued....................

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Old Family Brewers of Britain. Part Six - Timothy Taylor & Co. of Keighley.

Timothy Taylor's Championship Beers

Timothy Taylor’s are an old-established regional brewer, based in the West Yorkshire town of Keighley. The company was founded in 1858 by Timothy Taylor, at Cook Lane, Keighley, but moved to larger premises in 1863 at Knowle Spring, where they remain to this day. The company operates 28 tied pubs, mainly within a tightly confined area of West Yorkshire, but over the last couple of decades have expanded into the free trade in a big way.

This expansion has been largely driven by their premium bitter, draught Landlord; a full-flavoured and well-hopped pale ale which had won a proverbial "barrel full" of medals, and caught the public imagination in a big way. At one stage Landlord was reported to be singer, Madonna’s favourite beer, back in the day when she was still married to film maker, Guy Ritchie and enthralled with all things English.

Five to ten years ago Timothy Taylor’s Landlord was one of the most widely available cask beers in the country, and was stocked by several pubs in my home town of Tonbridge, along with many others in the surrounding area. Since then the brewery seem to have pulled back somewhat, perhaps stung by criticism that Landlord had lost some of is character, and had changed from the beautifully balanced, delectably hopped, multi-faceted ale it once was to a much more one-dimensional beer, albeit still a “must stock” brand for many pubs.

Despite this recent apparent retraction, it is hard to believe that the company’s prize-winning, "Championship Beers" were at one stage confined to a small area of West Yorkshire. As proof of this, during the mid 1970’s, when I was a student living in Greater Manchester, just 40 miles away from Taylor’s home town of Keighley, their beers were unobtainable. It was therefore necessary to travel across the Pennines in order to sample these excellent beers; a journey which I undertook on a couple of occasions.

My introduction to Timothy Taylor's took place in 1975, and followed a recommendation to visit a pub called the Hare and Hounds at Lanes End, Chisley, high up in the Pennine Hills overlooking the town of Hebden Bridge. The recommendation came from a student friend and fellow housemate. Nick was a keen cyclist and used his bike as a means of transport to and from the university. He also enjoyed exploring further a field, and on one such expedition had visited the Hare and Hounds. Nick returned from his trip, enthusing about this wonderful pub, miles from anywhere, which sold superb Timothy Taylor's beer. He even brought me back a bottle of Landlord to prove his point

According to the 1975 Good Beer Guide, the Hare and Hounds was the sole outlet for draught Landlord. This was a “premium strength” Best Bitter, normally available only as a bottled beer. I personally have my doubts regarding that GBG statement, as I find it hard to believe that a brewery would go to the trouble of making a beer available in cask form for just one pub. Checking back through my collection of GBG’s, I noted that the following year, a number of pubs were listed as selling Landlord on draught; a fact which I feel proves my point.

According to the map, the Hare and Hounds was just about the nearest Timothy Taylor's pub to Manchester, and the opportunity for me to visit it arose a few months later when Nick and I, together with a group of fellow beer enthusiasts, organised a trip to the pub. For transport we made use of one of the students’ union mini-buses, and having found ourselves a driver for the evening, and bribed him to remain sober, we collected sufficient interested people and money to fill and pay for the mini-bus.

It was quite a journey to Hebden Bridge; our journey took us via the M62 and along the winding A6033, via Littleborough and Todmorden. By the time we reached Hebden Bridge it was just starting to get dark, but fortunately Nick remembered the way and after turning onto a narrow, twisting road we began to climb high into the Pennine Hills. Forty years is a long time, but I can still recall the spectacular view we had of the town of Hebden Bridge, far below us, lit up by the last rays of the sun as it disappeared behind one of the looming peaks, away to our west. By the time we arrived at the pub it was more or less dark.

First taste of  Taylor's beers at the Hare & Hounds, 1975
When one has been used to living in a big city for any length of time, one starts to get used to the noise of the traffic. This applies even to folk, such as me, brought up in the peace and quiet of a small village. It therefore came as something of a shock (albeit a pleasant one!) to arrive at this unspoilt pub, miles from anywhere, where the only sounds were those of our own voices. It was much more of a shock though, to discover that the pub was closed!

We knocked on the door and waited, but nothing happened. We peered through the windows but could see no signs of life. Deciding that we had perhaps arrived too early, we went for a short stroll up the road. By the time we got back the pub was just opening its doors, much to our relief.

The inside of the pub was both comfortable and cosy; the decor being of a style that was fairly typical of north-country pubs of the time. So far as the beer was concerned, the Hare and Hounds had three Timothy Taylor’s beers on tap, namely Golden Best (a light mild), Best Bitter and the beer we were all itching to try, Landlord. Most of us did the sensible thing and worked our way up, starting off with the Golden Best and ending up on Landlord. I can safely say that all the beers were superb.

The guvnor made us feel very welcome, whilst his wife was quite happy to provide us with pie and peas. The latter acted as welcome solid sustenance to soak up the excellent ale. The beer though was beginning to slip down just a shade too well, and even those of us who had tried to pace our drinking were caught out by the fact that mine host did not call time at the allotted hour. As our driver had no objections to stopping a while longer, we somewhat foolishly decided to carry on drinking. When we did eventually manage to drag ourselves away, I regret that the cold night air had an unfortunate effect on several members of the party, so it was perhaps just as well that we did not make any return visits to the Hare and Hounds!

Long-haired layabouts at the Hare & Hounds. Can you spot your's truly?
It was to be a long time before I drank Timothy Taylor’s ales again. I vaguely remember sampling one of their beers at a beer festival in Blackpool, but it was not until I attended the 1982 CAMRA AGM, held that particular year in Bradford, that I had the opportunity of enjoying the company's excellent beers once more.

Again a trip out to Taylor’s home territory was necessary, but fortunately this time it only involved a short bus ride. Myself, plus two fellow delegates from Kent, caught the bus from Bradford to Keighley for an evening's drinking, having spent the day listening to various and rather tedious, AGM motions being discussed. We had arranged to meet our respective wives and girlfriends there; the ladies having had more sense than to spend the day sitting in a stuffy hall day listening to a load of boring debates! Instead they had spent the day visiting Howarth, with its Bronte Museum, and had also been for a ride on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.

We visited several pubs in Keighley that night but, unfortunately to my mind at least, none of them sold Landlord. The Golden Best and Best Bitter that they did sell though were extremely palatable, and we spent a very pleasant evening sampling these beers, before catching the bus back to Bradford.

During the late 1980's and early 1990’s Timothy Taylor’s ales began to make a somewhat infrequent, but nevertheless very welcome appearance as guest ales in the south-east. Certainly in Tonbridge Taylor’s Landlord was seen, and enjoyed, quite a few times in Uncle Tom's Cabin, (now known as the New Drum). Soon after this another Tonbridge pub, The Stag’s Head, began selling Timothy Taylor's on a regular basis. Somewhat unusually, the beer on offer at this former market pub was the Best Bitter, rather than the Landlord which hitherto had been the only one of the company's beers to feature in the free trade. For the best part of a decade the Stag’s Head continued to offer Taylor's Best, but following the relocation of the Saturday market to the other end of town, the pub lost a lot of its trade, and sadly closed a few years later.

As I stated at the beginning of this post, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord was quite widely available in West Kent, but now I can only think of a couple of local pubs that still sell it. However, the company have been back in the news recently, after their Boltmaker was crowned Champion Beer of Britain at this year’s CAMRA Great British Beer Festival, held at Olympia, London. This is the fifth time that Timothy Taylor’s have been awarded the champion beer title; the previous four awards having been for landlord.

Boltmaker is Taylor’s Best Biter re-badged. It is similar in style and taste to Landlord, but at 4.0% is slightly weaker in strength. Following last month’s award, the brewery expects to be running at full capacity to keep up with demand for the beer, so watch out for it in pubs and bars locally.

Before finishing, mention should be made of  Taylor’s Havercake Ale. Normally a bottled beer, I enjoyed this robust 4.7% Yorkshire Ale on draught last year, at the Punch & Judy in Tonbridge.  It was originally brewed to honour the soldiers of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, affectionately nicknamed 'The Havercake Lads'. The name is derived from the oatmeal breadcake that was the staple food of the Yorkshire Pennine towns and villages where most of the soldiers lived.

I feel quite privileged to have discovered Taylor’s Landlord all those years ago, and despite its recent perceived loss of character, am still proud to regard it as one of my all time favourite beers.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

What We Did on Our Holidays

First beer of the day at Kloster Andechs
We did a fair bit of travelling around whilst we were in Munich last month. I have already described our trip into the Bavarian Alps, visiting Kloster Ettal and Mittenwald, but we also did some exploring closer to the city centre. These more local trips took full advantage of Munich’s excellent integrated public transport system, and of the real value-for-money group tickets which the local public transport authority (MVV) has available. An ordinary day ticket or Tageskarte, is value enough in itself, but the authority also issues a Partnertageskarte which, as its name suggests, allows more than one person to travel on the same ticket. In fact up to five adults can use the ticket, providing of course they all travel together. In addition a number of children can also travel on the ticket.

Lunch option at Kloster Andechs
We visited some favourite out of town destinations, such as Aying, Kloster Andechs and Forschungsbrauerei, but also used the Inner Ring ticket to search out some more unusual places closer to the city centre. Kloster Andechs of course, needs little in the way of introduction to regular visitors to Munich, with the monastery and Bräustüberl perched on top of the Holy Mountain, over-looking the Ammersee and the brewery just below. A train trip to Herrsching, right at the end of S-Bahn 5, followed by either a 10 minutes bus ride, or an hour’s walk up through the woods, takes you to this popular, and at times heaving watering hole. Because of its popularity, Kloster Andechs is best visited mid-week. The sun was shining when we arrived, so we sat enjoying our first beer of the day in the small beer garden, about two thirds of the way up the hill, before adjourning to the sheltered terraced behind the Bräustüberl. Both the Helles and the Doppelbock Dunkles were in fine form, but given how crowded the place was, even for a Tuesday, we decided to eat elsewhere. 

Steamer setting off from Seehof
We caught the 14.20 bus back down into Herrsching and made for Seehof; a largish restaurant over-looking the lake, with a separate self-service beer garden area complete with tables set right at the water’s edge. With a glass or two of Hofbräu Original, a plate each of O'bazda and a ringside view of the calm and serene Ammersee against the backdrop of the surrounding hills, I can think of few better places to spend a sunny afternoon. We watched the steamers coming and going from the adjoining jetty, and got chatting to a lady who lived the other side of the lake, but who had cycled right round to Herrsching. After a glass of Hofbräu, and a bite to eat, she was planning to return back by ferry with her bicycle. We had an interesting chat, primarily in English because she wanted to practice her language skills; but what a nice lady, and what a fantastic way to spend your day, cycling around the shore of a beautiful and scenic lake, stopping for lunch at a beer garden over-looking said lake, and then taking the ferry home!

Ayingerbräu, who brew in the village of Aying, a 35 minute train journey to the south of Munich, like to promote themselves as “Munich’s favourite country brewery”. It is well worth making the 30 minute S-Bahn trip out to Aying and then walking up to the village centre and the brewery inn and guest house, known as Liebhards. Previous visits have been evening ones, but this time we made the trip at lunchtime. It was our first full day in Munich and the grey-leaden skies were pouring with rain like it was never going to stop. We got soaked just walking up to the pub from the station, but once inside the rustically furnished, but surprisingly large inn, and with a half-litre mug or two of Ayingerbräu’s excellent, unfiltered Kellerbier in front of us, all thoughts of the inclement weather outside vanished.

We arrived at around 12.30pm and the pub was quite quiet, but not long. After we has sat down and ordered our drinks, several parties of mainly elderly people came in. Like us, they seemed glad to escape from the rain, and like us they ordered some food to go with their beer. Actually we only ordered some soup, as we were planning on eating something more substantial in the evening, but the chicken noodle soup and the dense, dark local Landbrot that went with it, were just right for lunchtime.

If you don’t want to make the trip right out to Aying, the company’s beers can be found in several outlets in Munich itself; including the Ayinger am Platzl, opposite the Hofbräuhaus, right in the city centre. The latter is run by a member of the Inselkammer family, who also own and run the brewery.

Liquid refreshment at Bräustüberl Tegernsee
Two days later, under equally wet conditions, we took a trip out on the BOB train to Bräustüberl Tegernsee, right on the shores of the Tegernsee itself. Like at Kloster Andechs the previous day, the beer hall was packed, but we were able to sit outside in the dry under the extensive canopies in front of the Bräustüberl. Just feet from where we sat the rain cascaded down in biblical proportions, obscuring our view of the lake, but we were fine as we quaffed our Brauhaus Tegernsee Helles and Dunkles, and got stuck into our lunch of potato cakes with sauerkraut.  It was fortunate that we arrived early, as the number of spare places under the canopies began to steadily diminish. It really is amazing where all the people come from, but I expect the excellence of the beer and the food, coupled with the attractive lakeside setting have a lot to do with it.

Hinterbruhl Gasthof
We had set aside Friday for shopping, but had forgotten that August 15th  is a public holiday in Catholic Bavaria, celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Consequently all major shops and most small ones were closed, so shopping went out of the window. Instead we did some more exploring of pubs and Biergartens within Munich’s inner zone, starting with trip by underground to Thalkirchen, the stop for the city’s zoo. A short bus ride, followed by a walk through the trees along the banks of the Isar River, brought us to Hinterbruhl, an impressive looking Gasthof built in the style of an Alpine chalet.

We sat out on the terraced, self-service beer garden which overlooks the river, hoping that the earlier intermittent rain was finally clearing. Fortunately it was, so we got stuck into a half litre each of Hacker-Pschorr, before heading off elsewhere. This was our second visit to Hinterbruhl, but on neither occasion have we ventured inside. For the history buffs amongst us it is worth recording that this guest house was used, from time to time, as a convenient and tucked-away, out-of-town meeting place by senior Nazi officials during the early days of World War II. The likes of Goering, Goebbels, Himmler and even Hitler himself would gather here on occasion, away from prying eyes and ears. I wonder if they bothered to sign the guest book!

Re-tracing our journey back to Thalkirchen, we headed west by underground and then due south by S-Bahn to Höllriegelskreuth, where by following the directions and map in The Beer Drinkers Guide to Munich, we managed to find our way to our lunchtime stop of Brückenwirt. The map took us through some woods and we then followed a series of steeply descending concrete steps down towards the river, and then to Brückenwirt pub, right on the river bank, just below the impressive, high-level road bridge across the Isar valley.

Löwenbräu was the beer here, and I have to report their Urtyp Hell was very good. By the time we sat down in the small beer garden at the side of the pub, the sun was shining so it was off with the fleece and on with the sunglasses! There were several Floß, or rafting parties moored up; we had heard the noise from their on-board Oompah band whilst we were still high up in the woods, but one by one these large rafts, and their parties of itinerant drinkers, cast off their moorings and set off to float down the canalised section of the Isar, down towards the city. 

Floß party setting off from Brückenwirt
For those interested, the Floß trips start at Wolfratshausen and end at Thalkirchen, close in fact to Hinterbruhl where we had been earlier. The total journey is around 30 kilometres (18 miles). The rafts weigh around 22 tonnes, and can hold up to 60 people apiece. These float trips are not cheap, but the price includes pick-up from, and return to central Munich, lunch and beer en route at somewhere like Brückenwirt, and also beer on the raft. They certainly seem very popular, and with a good crowd, and some decent dry weather, I imagine the whole thing could be a hoot.

Our final outing was on our last evening in Munich and took us to the village of Perlach; home to the well-respected Forschungsbrauerei. This was our third visit to Forschungs, and I have to report it has changed somewhat. Actually it had changed on our previous visit two years ago, but not as profoundly. Forschungs is unusual; the name Forschungsbrauerei translates literally as “experimental brewery” and that is how the company started out.

Forschungsbrauerei, Perlach

It was founded by Gottfried Jakob in 1930. Gottfried had trained at the world renowned Weihenstephan Brewery, and had started out making beer on a small 44-gallon brewery, trying out various recipes on family members and close friends. His efforts met with approval, and encouraged by this success, Gottfried started a commercial venture, by building a brewery with a capacity of 500 gallons, along with a small restaurant. He deliberately kept the operation at this size, as his aim was to develop new brewing processes without compromising the quality of his existing products, whilst at the same time keeping the whole operation manageable and within the capabilities of his family. 

After his death in 1958, his son Heinrich took over the business, helped by his father-in-law, Sigmund. For many years the pub was only open between March and October, as during the winter months the pair concentrated their skills on brewing research for other companies. Heinrich’s son, Stefan continued this tradition, helped by his uncle and other family members, but in October 2010, Stefan Jakob terminated the lease and for a while the future of the brewery, and the adjoining pub, looked uncertain. Fortunately new owners took over the business in August 2011 and made several improvements.

The pub is now open year-round, 7 days a week, and the beer range has been revamped. Long-time brewery mainstay Pilsissimus Export is available year-round, as is a new Dunkles (dark) beer.  The excellent flagship brew St. Jakobus Blonder Bock (7.5% alcohol), is now only available some of the time, (not at the time of our visit, unfortunately). In addition, a new, slightly weaker summer Helles is available from May to October. Finally, there is a special Weizenbock (strong wheat) and Christmas edition dark lager available in limited batches during the Christmas season. Beer is now available in half-litres as well as traditional litre mugs, (it was litres only in the pub and beer garden after 4pm; not always a wise move with the 7.5% Bock!). Finally, there are weekday lunch specials, and regular evening entertainment.

Finally, one other pub with a beer garden attached that is worthy of a visit, is Waldgaststätte Bienenheim which, as the first part of its name suggests is in the middle of a forest. The second part of the name translates as “bees’ home”. Situated just outside the suburb of Lochhausen, Waldgaststätte Bienenheim is two bus stops, plus a short walk away from Lochhausen S-Bahn station. Its main attraction for the beer lover is the beers from Maisacherbräu; a local brew from a company based in the village of Maisach, a few stops further down the line. 
Entrance to Waldgaststätte Bienenheim

The pub is simply furnished and quite rustic in nature, and the beer garden itself is quite small. Don’t make the mistake that we did of following the waitress’s recommendation to try the “spicy, full beer”. It was very nice, but turned out to be an unfiltered 6.3% pale Bock; not the beer to be starting an evening’s drinking on! The unfiltered Maisacher Kellerbier was a more sensible, but equally good tasting alternative.

There are of course, many other interesting places to drink in and around Munich, and lots of interesting beers to enjoy as well.

What We Did on Our Holidays is the second album release by the band Fairport Convention and was the first to feature Sandy Denny. The album showed a move towards the folk rock for which they later became noted.

Sunday, 31 August 2014 - again

One of the freebies I received for attending the European Beer Bloggers Conference at the end of June was an eight bottle case of “craft beers” from This is actually the second such case I’ve received; the first one being back in February. were one of the conference  sponsors. More about sponsorship at the bottom of the article, together with various disclosures relating to this.

As before, I promised Siobhan at Beer52 that I would post a review of the beers, once I had drunk them all. So, a little later than planned here are my thoughts on the eight beers. By the way, if you fancy giving the company a try, click on the link here to their website. Then enter code BAILEYBEER10, which will get you £10 off your first box, making it £14 instead of £24 for the 8 beers, a new magazine & free delivery. 

The Hop Studio Gold 4.5% - described as a “Contemporary Fine Ale”, this full flavoured beer has a base of Maris Otter Pale Malt and Caramalt, and is hopped with a mixture of Challenger hops (for bitterness) and Motueka hops for citrus and tropical fruit flavours.

Brewed at The Hop Studio in York, this contemporary pale ale is both easy drinking and refreshing, and is one of the best new bottled beers I have tasted in a long time.

The Celt Experience Golden Age Crafted Ale 4.2% - A really zesty and citrus-like, highly hopped, golden ale. The high degree of hopping is evidenced by a bitterness level of 46 IBU’s., making this a real thirst-quencher of a beer. This beer would definitely pair well with curries, or other spiced food.

Crafty Dan 13 Guns 5.5% - Daniel Thwaites’ recently launched American IPA, brewed as a salute to the original 13 states of America. Claiming to have an intense hit of hops, the beer certainly uses plenty of hops in its make up; including Centenniel, Citra, Amarillo, Apollo, Chinook and Kohatu. I believe that most, if not all of these are North American varieties.

The hops add tropical fruit aromas and taste along with bitterness, laid over a base of Pale Ale, Munich, and Caramalts, along with a touch of rye. All in all a very interesting and satisfying beer, and one I will look out for in the shops.

Founders All Day IPA – Session Ale 4.7% - I enjoyed this beer on draught, at The Brew Dock whilst in Dublin for the EBBC,  and have to say it’s every bit as good in bottled form. Some might say (there’s a song three somewhere!), that 4.7% is on the strong side for a session beer, but given the high gravities of many of the new wave of American IPA’s, 4.7% is probably quite moderate.

Whatever the strength argument, this well-hopped amber ale slips down a treat, and is certainly a beer I would be happy to drink all day. "Brewed by Founders Brewing Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan."

Brouwerij deMolen Op & Top 4.5% - described on the label as “American Biter-ish”, this is an aggressively bitter beer with a hopping rate of 42 EBU. Bottle-conditioned, with quite a yeasty-kick to add to the bitterness, I have to say this is not a beer I would actively seek out, despite its undoubted reputation.

Not undrinkable, but not especially enjoyable either, so I’m rather relieved that it comes packaged in a 33cl bottle, although the beer did grow on me after a while!

ELB (East London Brewing Company) Pale Ale 4.0% - Attractively packaged with a minimalist label. The beer is described as “A crisp, lighter ale. Hoppy but not over-powering, with a subtle bitterness. It’s a pleasant session beer.”

Unfortunately there was nothing pleasant about my bottle, as the contents were infected, with a sharp, lactic- woody taste. This beer is bottle-conditioned – need I say more!

Anarchy Brew Co. Citra Star 4.1% - A hoppy blonde beer with obvious citrus notes and flavours from the Citra hops used in its production. A nice crisp and refreshing beer, and at 4.1% just the right strength for a good session’s drinking.

Hardnott Continuum 4.0% _ Hardnott’s esoteric take on an American-style pale ale, loaded with West Coast American hops such as Cascade, Centennail, Citra and Willamette. These combine to create citrus and other fruit flavours which balance the juicy sweet malt. Again a beer brewed at the right strength for a decent session.


I don’t get sent that many freebies, but all such items will be gratefully received. If you do send me beers to review, please be aware that I will give a totally honest opinion of your product. If I like it, then great, but if for some reason I don’t, then I will say so.

If the beer is not to my taste, but has been brewed correctly, and is not suffering from off-flavours, then I will again be honest. I will probably say that the beer in question is a good example of the style in question, but it just doesn’t float my boat! You can’t say fairer than that!

As an attendee of the European Beer Bloggers Conference I was privileged to enjoy various beers and food, most of which were provided by the conference sponsors. I am not going to list all the sponsors of this food and drink, although I would obviously like to thank them. I will, however, single out major conference sponsor, Molson Coors, who provided a stipend for the first 60 “citizen Bloggers” who registered for the conference. The stipend took the form of a refund of our conference fee, on the proviso that recipients wrote at least two blog posts about the conference. I wrote eight, so I think I earned my stipend, but I would have written around this number anyway, regardless of sponsorship.

I have a small pension with Molson Coors, which hopefully will have matured nicely by the time I retire.


Saturday, 30 August 2014

Upstairs at the Hofbräuhaus

The Hofbräuhaus, just after opening

My last trip to Munich a couple of weeks ago means I have now clocked up five visits to the Bavarian capital. On each and every one of those visits I have made a point of calling in at the Hofbräuhaus, the city’s most famous watering hole and sinking the odd Maß or two of beer, whilst soaking up the atmosphere of what must be the best known pub in the world.

Some might describe the Hofbräuhaus as a “tourist trap”, but whilst a stop for a beer there is undoubtedly on the agenda of most visitors to the city, and coach load after coach load of tourists are bussed into the place on a daily basis, this venerable beer hall still manages to attract its own bunch of regulars, and has several Stammtisch (tables set aside for regulars),  dotted around its bustling ground floor Schwemme.

Upstairs at the Hofbräuhaus
As I said earlier I have made at least five visits to the Hofbräuhaus, (some trips to Munich involved several sessions here), but until August this year I have never ventured upstairs. I was aware of the upstairs banqueting hall after watching the late Michael Jackson’s seminal Channel Four series “The Beer Hunter”. In the second episode our intrepid Beer Hunter is invited to join Munich’s elite with the tapping of the Maibock. Unfortunately, You Tube have blocked all episodes of the Beer Hunter from being viewed on their UK site, so there is no point in me posting a link to this clip. (Bastards!)

Marking one of the high points in the beer-lover's calendar, this springtime beer is tapped each year in the last week of April at the  Hofbräuhaus. Invitations to this social occasion are sent out by the Bavarian Finance Minister, and anyone who's anything in politics, business or culture makes sure they attend.  While the tapping of the first barrel of Maibock is naturally a cause for celebration, those expecting a congenial atmosphere alone had better watch out, as it is also a time for derision, paying back old slights and making fun of bigwigs, all in line with time-honoured tradition.   

The setting for the ceremony looked impressive, but I wasn’t sure if “upstairs” at the Hofbräuhaus was off-limits to ordinary folk. The upstairs is a right rabbit-warren of a place, as son Matthew and I discovered when we took a look for ourselves. Not only did we find that that the impressive banqueting hall is accessible to ordinary mortals, but there are also several side rooms up there where one can enjoy a drink, and perhaps a bite to eat, in peace and quiet away from the noise and bustle of the downstairs Schwemm. Have a look at the photos and see for yourselves

The upstairs banqueting hall
The Hofbräuhaus am Platzl, was founded in 1589 by the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V, and is one of Munich's oldest beer halls. It began life as the brew-house for the royal court; hence the name Hofbräuhaus. Twenty or so years later the Hofbräuhaus was brewing beer for common folk as well, after gaining a reputation for the high quality of its beer. It moved to its present site in 1828, and was rebuilt in something approaching its current style in 1897. I say “something approaching its current style”, because it was badly damaged during Allied bombing raids in World War Two, and was not completely re-built until the late 1950’s.

Of course the has had its unsavoury moments, as it was one of the beer halls used by the to fledgling Nazi party declare policies and hold functions in the years following Germany’s defeat in the First World War. These meetings culminated on 24th February 1920, with a proclamation by Adolf  Hitler on National Socialism in front of around 2000 people at the Hofbräuhaus. The proclamation reconstituted the German Workers' Party as the National Socialist German Workers' Party; commonly referred to as the Nazi Party. However, the description of the Hofbräuhaus as “Hitler’s local”, by one or two sensation seeking journalists is nonsensical, especially when one considers that as Hitler did not drink alcohol, eat red meat, or smoke, the beer hall was hardly his scene.

Anyway, that’s enough about the past; like I said earlier the Hofbräuhaus is almost certainly the most famous pub in the world and everyone who stops by there wants a piece of the action. Today, it is owned by the state of Bavaria, in a way that could only be possible in a beer-loving country like Germany. If you find yourself in Munich then do call in; I promise you won’t regret it!

Monday, 25 August 2014

A Day in the Bavarian Alps

Street scene, Mittenwald
Just over half way through our stay in Munich we took advantage of the efficient German Rail System to journey south for the day, into the Bavarian mountains. Our destination was the small town of Mittenwald; one of the highest towns on Germany and being almost right on the border with neighbouring Austria, just about as far south as one can go and still be in the Federal Republic.

Comfortable and fast Regional trains depart from Munich’s Hauptbahnhof hourly, with a journey time of just under two hours. En route the line skirts the Starnberger See, the biggest of several to the south of Munich, before heading off in a south-westerly direction towards the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen; home to many winter sporting events as well as the 1936 Winter Olympics.

As our train sped south, the scenery became more and more spectacular, with the mountains steadily growing in the distance as we approached them. We had other plans first though, as we wanted to pay a brief visit to the monastic brewery of Kloster Ettal. Some homework prior to our departure for Germany  revealed that Ettal is just a 10 minute bus ride way from the railway station at Oberau. What was even better was the fact our train ticket was valid on the bus which, like many services in the region, is operated by Deutsche Bahn.

Alighting at Oberau and walking the short distance to the bus stop, it appeared we weren’t the only thirsty pilgrims heading to the monastery that day. Around half a dozen others were making the same journey, although most must have stayed for longer than we did, as only one other couple shared the journey back with us.

Almost as soon as we left the station and crossed the busy north-south highway, our comfortable coach-style bus began to climb, and soon the road was snaking its way up into the mountains, with pine forests on one sideband steep ravines on the other. Before long we reached our destination, the small settlement which has grown up around the imposing abbey church of Kloster Ettal. We left the bus and crossed the road to the monastery entrance.

I had read briefly about Kloster Ettal and its monastic brews, but wasn’t quite prepared for just how close the monastery is to the mountains. Dating back to the early 1600’s, the imposing abbey church was rebuilt in Baroque style following a fire in 1744. Today, the complex functions as a Benedictine abbey with a community of 50 monks, and as well as its own brewery operates a distillery, a bookstore, an art publishing house, a hotel, and a cheese factory. The distillery produces Ettaler Kloster Liqueur, a herbal liqueur which comes in both a sweet yellow and a more herbal green varieties.

Klosterhotel Ludwig der Bayer
There was building work going on outside the church, so we skipped a visit there and instead made for the Kloster shop. There I bought some bottles of Kloster Ettal beer and a few post cards. We them retraced our footsteps back across the road to the Klosterhotel “Ludwig der Bayer”, which is owned by the abbey. As the adjacent photograph shows, the hotel is quite an imposing building and is obviously a popular stop-over place for people visiting this picturesque part of the Ammergauer Alps.  It seemed quite up-market as well, but the waitress didn’t mind us sitting in the Braustüberl just having a drink (Klosterbräu Ettal Helles). 

We then caught the 12.19 bus back to Oberau station, and after a short wait boarded the 12.45 train to Mittenwald, some two hours after our original train. The train divided at Garmisch, with only the front portion continuing on to Mittenwald. The single track line climbed steeply up through a wooded valley towards out destination, and some 20 minutes later we alighted at quite a large station over-looking the valley of the River Isar; the same river which flows through Munich.

Mittenwalder beer
Despite the sunshine, it felt decidedly chilly as we walked the short distance from the railway station into the centre of town. We called in briefly at the tourist information office, primarily to pick up a map, but seeing as it was lunchtime and that we hadn’t eaten since breakfast we decided to go in search of some food and drink. Like most towns in Bavaria, Mittenwald has its own brewery, and Mittenwalder Privatbrauerei claims, with some justification, to be the highest in Germany.    

Beer garden, Gasthof  Stern
As might be expected, the brewery has several outlets in the centre of town, and the one we chose, Gasthof Stern was very good. Despite the chill, we sat out in the partially covered beer garden at the rear of the pub, from where we had an excellent view of the imposing mountains, just across the valley. We enjoyed a glass each of the very pale-coloured Mittenwalder Helles, along with a traditional Bavarian favourite of Leberkas mit Spiegel Ei und Kartoffelsalat. (Baked, finely-ground pork and beef loaf, topped with a fried egg and accompanied by potato salad).

Leberkas mit Spiegel Ei
After that we had a look around the town which was larger than it first appeared. It is a picture-postcard sort of place, with unbelievably pretty, flower-bedecked Alpine houses and shops. Needless to say it was crowded with tourists, including some from Birmingham if the accents were anything to go by. We found a supermarket where I was able to buy a couple of bottles of Mittenwalder beer to take back with me, (my rucksack was getting rather heavy at this point!)

There is a cable car cross the valley which runs up to restaurant and viewing area, high up one of the mountains. We toyed with the idea of taking a ride up the mountain, but unfortunately the peaks were shrouded in clouds, so we would not have seen much had we gone up. Time was getting on by now anyway, and although the last train back to Munich doesn’t leave until10.30pm, we made our way back towards the station to check on the times.

Close to the station was a wooden cabin café, with several groups of people sitting outside at tables, chatting over a beer or two or a glass of Schnapps. We decided to join them and enjoyed a further glass of Mittenwalder Helles, before catching the 4.30pm train back to Munich. The journey back was every bit as scenic as the outward one, and the countryside looked even more attractive now that the sun was shining.

I can certainly recommend a visit to this attractive part of southern Bavaria, especially to anyone who appreciates spectacular scenery. Beer wise there is much to offer as well, and whilst this part of Bavaria, know as Oberbayern doesn’t have the same large concentration of breweries as say Franconia in the

Tourists in Mittenwald

north, the combination of mountain scenery, picturesque old inns and decent beer is a winning one in my book. Well known beer writer Des de Moor wrote a piece about brewing in nearby Murnau, and a while back, writing in CAMRA’s Beer Magazine, he described a beer and hiking holiday in the region. Now given my enjoyment of walking in the countryside, coupled with my passion for good beer that for me would be a holiday which would come close to heaven!

I believe this is the company referred to in Des’s Beer Magazine article.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

That Magic Headache Ingredient

Thirty years or so ago during the early 1980’s, when I was living in Maidstone, a friend who was older, and much wiser than me came out with a statement that was pertinent then, and still holds true today. He was describing the morning after a night spent drinking Shepherd Neame beers, back in the day when the company’s beers were worth drinking, and when they also had a considerable presence in Kent’s county town.

“What is that magic headache ingredient in Shepherd Neame beers?” my friend asked. Of course neither of us knew the answer, but we both knew what he was talking about, as even a moderate session on Sheps invariably led to a sore head the following morning. This was in sharp contrast to the other readily available cask beer in West Kent at the time; Fremlins Bitter. You could drink a gallon of the stuff and still feel OK the next day!

I’ve pondered this question over the years, but never arrived at a satisfactory answer. One thing I have noticed though is that the next day headache is NOT related to the alcohol content of the beer. I was reminded of this fact last Friday morning, having attended a CAMRA meeting the night before. The meeting took place at a pub in Tunbridge Wells.  I had arrived late, the pub was an old one and it was quite dark in the bar. The pub was tied to Greene King, but like several others locally the licensee is allowed to stock several guest beers.

A beer called Swordfish from Wadworth caught my eye, and I have to say it was rather good. I have never been a huge fan of the company’s flagship beer, 6X. There’s nothing wrong per se with the beer, it’s just that a heavily malt-driven ale is not to my taste. If anything Swordfish was even maltier than 6X, but after eight days in Bavaria, drinking predominantly hop-driven, light-coloured beers, it slipped down rather well; so much so that I ordered another. It was only after a friend pointed out the beer was 5% that I thought it perhaps prudent to switch to something lighter for the final beer of the evening.

The next morning I had the headache from hell, and it was then that I decided my discomfort must be due to something in the beer, rather than just its strength. After all, a few days previously I had been drinking Bavarian beers of a similar strength, and in greater quantity, with nothing worse than a dry mouth the following morning. Without a doubt, this new beer from Wadworth had that infamous “magic headache ingredient” but what could it be?

Research shows that classic hangover symptoms are not due solely to excess alcohol (ethanol), although if one has obviously over-indulged, rather than just having had a few pints, then the high levels of alcohol in your system will make you feel rough regardless. Drinking an alcoholic beverage that contains impurities or preservatives can give you a hangover, even if you only have one drink.

 Some of these impurities may be other alcohols besides ethanol. Other hangover-causing chemicals are congeners, which are by-products of the fermentation process. These “higher alcohols” and congeners are more likely to be formed when fermentation takes place at higher temperatures, which would explain why the beers  I was drinking in Munich the other week did not have this effect; having been fermented and matured at a lower temperature than traditional English ale.

So in the interests of further research, and as something of a project to list out beers to watch out for if you don’t want too much of that “morning after feeling”, which beers, in your experience, have that avoid at all costs, “magic headache ingredient”?