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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Beer52.com - 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 Beer52.com. This is actually the second such case I’ve received; the first one being back in February. Beer52.com 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.



Disclosure:  

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 fast and 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 minks, 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.

Mittenwald
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”?

Friday, 22 August 2014

Something in the Air

Straight out of the terminal
Airport bars are renowned for stocking a limited range of over-priced “international” beer brands, and are not normally the sort of places to attract the seasoned beer hunter. In the UK, the appearance of Wetherspoons at various airport terminals, has been a welcome addition in terms of choice of beers, but most of these outlets are like darkened cabins, shoe-horned into the terminal building, with little to distinguish them from other airport watering holes. The beer may be good, but drinking it is not such a pleasant experience, with all the queueing and jostling for space associated with many JDW city outlets.

Travellers passing through Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss International Airport though have the choice of stopping off for a tasty glass or two of house-brewed beer at Airbräu; a large brew-pub situated in the open concourse area, called the Munich Airport Centre, or MAC, between Terminals One and Two. Opened in 2008, Airbräu has been a favourite stop off of mine when either arriving, or departing from Munich. What I particularly like is the large outdoor beer garden which takes up part of the concourse. As the concourse is covered by a large flexi-glass roof, one can still enjoy a beer during rainy weather.
The tasty, house-brewed Helles

Airbräu offers three standard brews, plus seasonal beers which change throughout the year. All the beers are unfiltered and very tasty to boot, and what’s more they are cheap. On our recent visit we paid €2.75 for a half litre of Fliegerquell (their standard unfiltered Helles), and €2.45 for their Jetstream Pilsner.

The combination of good beers and keen prices ensures a steady stream of customers, but unlike the JDW outlets at UK airports, where the service is frenetic and the place rammed, sitting out in the beer garden at Airbräu is a much more relaxed and pleasant experience. Although I haven’t eaten there, the food offerings at Airbräu look good and, judging by the number of people dining last Monday, they appear very popular as well.
Enjoying a beer before the flight

A visit to Airbräu is a good start to a holiday or any other trip to Munich, as well as a good place to end a break on. We have made a point of calling in there now on our last three trips to the Bavarian capital, and if you are heading that way, and have sufficient time to do so, then I strongly recommend you do the same.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Who Would be a Wirt?

As mentioned in the previous post, we experienced a few days of inclement weather in Munich. After sitting in the Bräustüberl, or restaurant section of a couple of beer gardens, and watching the rain pouring down outside, I was left pondering what happens to the myriad of staff who would normally be employed serving and generally looking after the running of the beer garden?

This is not such a dumb question as it might at first seem, as even the self-service areas (Selbstbedienung) require staff to man the serving hatches (both the food and the drink ones), people to man the tills at the exits, and staff to go round collecting up the empty glasses and plates. In addition, extra waiting staff are needed to look after those areas which are not self-service.

So, what happens when it rains? What do the management do with all these extra people? Are they sent home without pay? Or are they employed on a casual basis anyway, where they only get paid for those days/sessions they actually work? Also, how does the management cater for the decreased demand? Beer is probably not too much of a problem, but perishable items, such as meat and vegetables almost certainly are, and when the demand is not there, what happens to all those knuckles of pork and roast chickens?

Then there is also the financial aspect of decreased turnover. Again, most establishments will be able to cope with the odd rainy day or two, but what if the wet spell is prolonged? This must be of particular concern to the larger beer gardens; places such as Hirschgarten or Chinesischer Turm which, at their peak, can cater for upwards of 8,000 drinkers? Knowing the Germans and their legendary reputation for efficiency, I expect they are more than able to cope with these sorts of situations, but as an outside observer who is involved in allocation of work duties on a day to day basis, I was just wondering how it all works out.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Not Exactly Beer Garden Weather!


Under cover at Tegernsee

I was beginning to think that weather-wise, our trip to Munich was cursed from the start. Just prior to the weekend we flew out, a weather presenter announced that the “Jet Stream” had suddenly moved south, which meant the summer weather would be coming to an end. On top of that the remains of tropical storm “Bertha” would be due to hit the UK on the day we were due to fly out to Germany.

A brief respite from the rain.
Sure enough we drove up to Stansted through some torrential downpours, but on landing in Munich and walking off the plane into 28 degrees of heat our spirits rose and thoughts of depressions and “Atlantic Lows” quickly vanished. Cue the following morning though and we were greeted by leaden-grey skies and persistent rain. I seriously thought the “Curse of Tandleman” had caught up with us, and we were in for a wet week! (For an explanation, click here.).

As things turned out we had a “mixed bag” weather-wise, although by mid week the temperatures in the balmy high twenties had disappeared, and the mercury was hovering around the mid teens. Not the beer garden weather we had been anticipating, but we still managed to make the most of our time in the Bavarian capital, visiting some fine establishments, enjoying some excellent local beers; combined with a couple of trips out into scenic countryside around Munich and further a field.

Umbrellas were definitely the order of the day.
Things seemed pretty rosy on the beer front, and from a beer hunting point of view there have been several positive developments with the welcome appearance of beers from out of town providing some much needed relief from the monopoly of Munich’s “Big Six” mega-brewers. There is also a small, but growing “craft beer” movement within the city, and I was able to pick up a couple of bottles from one of these – Giesinger Bräu.

For the benefit of the curious, there will be several posts on our visit to follow, in due course.