Sunday, 20 May 2018

Forchheim re-visited

On the Sunday, which was the first full day of our stay in Bamberg, our party visited the town of Forchheim. This small Franconian town lies to the south of Bamberg and is approximately 15 minutes away by rail.

For the majority of the group, this was their first visit to a town which boasts four breweries, but for Matthew and I it was second time around. We spent a week in this pleasant little town, back in July 2013, in order to experience Annafest; a beer festival of legendary proportions, but we also took the opportunity of visiting a few other places in the area as well.

Annafest is held over a 10 day period around the 26th July; the feast of St Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary. It  takes place at the Kellerwald, a wooded hillside on the edge of Forchheim, where there are a series of natural rock cellars cut into the hillside. The cellars were originally constructed for the storage and maturation of beer, in the days before refrigeration. Today there are two dozen such “Kellers”, the majority of which are just open for Annafest, although a handful remain open all year. 

During the summer evenings the Kellerwald is the perfect location for a cool beer in the shady woods. The local Forchheim breweries Hebendanz, Greif, Eichhorn and Neder all brew a strong beer especially for this festival, the so-called Annafestbier, and a number of other local breweries also supply brews of their own as well.

As well as plenty of beer drinking there are other attractions such as fairground rides, various stalls, plus six stages which feature a wide range of different musical acts. With seating for about 30.000 people, the Kellerwald provides sufficient accommodation for the 450,000 – 500,000 visitors who come each year over the course of the festival.

During our stay we found it quite difficult to get a drink plus an evening meal in Forchheim itself. The trouble is most pubs and restaurants close early whilst Annafest is on, with some not bothering to open at all, as it seems everyone in the town it seems wants a piece of the action up on the Kellerwald. The landlord of our rented holiday apartment had warned us about this on our first evening in the town, but we did manage to find a few places open.

Five years on, we met up with the rest of the group at Bamberg station shortly after 1.30pm. We had all spent the morning doing a spot of sight-seeing, which for Matthew and I involved a look around the cathedral area and the Old Bridge. With the Rathaus, or town hall, hanging precariously over the River Regnitz, on a pier of the bridge, this is by far and away the most photographed building in Bamberg. We took a few of our own, just for completeness, before making our way back to the station.

Our tour leader had bought a group ticket for us all, so once we were all assembled we walked under the subway and boarded our train to Forchheim. The station has been enlarged since our last visit, with a couple of new platforms installed. This is because a new high-speed rail line has been built alongside the original tracks. This will enable high-speed trains to complete the journey between Munich and Berlin in under four hours.

Although it is a relatively short walk from the station, into the centre of Forchheim, we waited for a bus as one member of our group is partially disabled, as the result of a particularly nasty motor-bike accident, and finds walking both difficult and painful. Our rail tickets were valid on the bus, which is the beauty of public transport in this part of Germany.

Our bus dropped us close to Brauerei Eichhorn, which was our first port of call. Eichhorn is the smallest of Forchheim’s four breweries, and uses a squirrel as its emblem. This was my visit to their actual pub, as the place had been closed during Annafest.  We sat inside, due to the onset of a thunderstorm, and had the place virtually to ourselves.

The landlady looked slightly bemused as all 13 of us filed in, but brought us our beer in a friendly and efficient manner. Vollbier Hells was the offering on tap, a pleasant enough dark golden lager, but spoilt by being rather gassy. One member of our party resorted to giving his beer a good stirring with a fork, in order to dispel some of the CO2!

We decided to move on to the Brauerei Neder, the next brew-pub situated a short walk away in the town’s main square. Matthew and I had definitely been there before, recognising it as the place we drank a toast to Prince George, with several rather inebriated locals. (Our arrival in Forchheim five years previously, had coincided with the birth of William and Kate’s first child).

The beer in Neder was much more to everyone’s liking; in fact some people thought it the best beer of the entire trip. Served direct from a cask, perched up on the bar, and dispensed into stoneware Krugs, Neder Kellerbier certainly took some beating, and I could quite happily have stayed for another mug.

Onward and upwards though, and just a couple of doors away was Brauerei Hebendanz. Like Eichhorn, this brew-pub had also been closed during Annafest. It was an old-fashioned looking place, and for some reason we sat out in the corridor to begin with, before moving into the front bar. We tried the Dunkles, but most of us found it rather disappointing; I couldn’t even find the beer listed on the Hebendanz website.

Because of its location, outside the town centre, we gave Brauerei Greiff, Forchheim’s fourth brew-pub, a miss. I’m pretty certain that  the bus we caught into town earlier would have taken us there, had we not decided to alight at Brauerei Eichhorn, but no matter, as Matthew and I had consumed plenty of Greiff beer at Annafest five year’s previously.

On leaving Brauerei Hebendanz, we caught the bus to the station, and then a train back to Bamberg. It had been something of a whistle-stop tour of Forchheim’s pubs, and with hindsight I would have preferred to have spent a little longer in the town. The fact that this rather fleeting visit brought back memories of Annafest, has persuaded me that a return trip to Forchheim should be planned to coincide with that event, so maybe next year?

Friday, 18 May 2018

Five days in Bamberg

Well I’m sure as anyone who has read the previous post will have gathered, I’ve been away in foreign parts, and from my comments on other blogs,  particularly Retired Martin’s page,  Germany was the destination for this year’s spring break.

The base for our five day short holiday, was the lovely city of Bamberg; a real gem of a place which fortunately managed to escape the attentions of Arthur "Bomber" Harris, an obsessive man who considered it his mission to pound as many beautiful and historic German cities into rubble.

Bamberg is a well known destination for British beer lovers, given its nine or ten breweries, and its distinctive beers; the most famous of which is Rauchbier – literally “smoke beer.” The importance of the latter is perhaps over-stated, given that only two of the city’s breweries produce it on a regular basis but, Schenkerla, who produce the most distinctive and widely known Rauchbier are custodians of not only a world classic beer, but are also guardians of one of the most unspoilt taverns in which to drink it.

I travelled there with son Matthew, leaving Mrs PBT’s to spend a few days down at her sister’s in Bexhill. She is recovering well, but decided a spell at the seaside would be more beneficial than a trip abroad. This was undoubtedly a wise move on her part, as Matt and I formed part of a group of beer enthusiasts, most of whom were from Maidstone CAMRA. This was the same bunch of individuals who we visited Düsseldorf with, last year.

The main part of the group travelled over by train (Eurostar plus Deutsche Bahn), but as our travel arrangements were rather more last minute (due to Eileen’s earlier illness), we flew into Munich and then took the train.  Flying into Nuremberg is undoubtedly the quickest way of getting to Bamberg, but Ryan Air are now the only airline offering direct flights between this handy little airport and the UK. Easy Jet, on the other hand, operate three flights daily, each way between Gatwick and Munich, and by making use of a Bayern Ticket, it was possible to make the onward trip to Bamberg at a very reasonable price.

The train journey is quite lengthy, but our early morning flight, allowed plenty of options, so after landing at Munich, we took the bus to nearby Freising. From there we boarded one of Deutsche Bahn’s double-decker, Regional Express trains, and from the upper deck we enjoyed a comfortable journey to Nuremberg, as our train sped through the picturesque Bavarian countryside.

A quick change of trains, saw us arriving in Bamberg shortly before 3.30pm, and five minutes later we were checking in to our recently-built, stylish hotel, close to the station. The rest of the group were also staying at the same hotel, although I hadn’t realised this when I first booked it.

Our itinerary allowed for two days in Bamberg plus a trip out to nearby Forchheim and its four breweries. Matt and I stayed on an extra day, so we decided to do the cultural thing by spending a day in Würzburg. Harris unfortunately managed to virtually destroy that city, and seven decades later the scars are still visible, but the magnificent Würzburg Rezidenz has been painstakingly reconstructed, along with a number of other historic monuments.

I will be writing about our experiences at these various places, later on, but for now I will just say that we had a really good time. The weather was fine, apart from the last day, the pubs were splendid, the beer was magnificent– along with the prices (around €2.80 for a half litre), and the company was excellent.

Matt and I got back in the early hours of Friday, and have spent the day unpacking, washing, tidying things away along with some shopping. Tomorrow, there is a street party taking place at the bottom of our road, as apparently two people are getting married. I’m not an ardent royalist, but the party will be a good excuse to get to know some of the new people who have moved into our road, and to catch up with those neighbours who we wish to catch up with.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Some pre-holiday ramblings

I haven’t had much time for writing this week as there’s been rather a lot happening, both at work as well as on the home front. The two things coincide, but as there never seems to be a “best” time, events have conspired to produce an extremely busy and rather hectic week.

The lad and I are off to foreign parts on Saturday; I won’t say much more at present, but I’m sure many of you will have guessed beer will feature quite highly on the trip. As if getting everything ready was not enough, we’ve an important quality audit coming up at work, which happens to take place the week I’m back.

I’m not one of  the major players in this event, but I’ve still got an important role to play. Making sure procedures, instructions and other quality-related documents are up to date is quite a task at the best of times, but when you’re being assessed on this, and your continuing certification is potentially at risk, it does tend to focus minds extremely sharply.

We’ve also had some visitors over from our parent company in Japan, and the night before last we took them out for a meal, plus a few drinks. As our guests were staying in Tunbridge Wells we met at a place called The Barn, which is just a short hop from the town’s main railway station.

As the name might suggest, The Barn is an old farm building, which has been re-constructed using some of the original bricks and beams. The place functions as both a bar and a restaurant, and whilst I have drunk in the ground-floor “pub” section on several occasions, the other night was the first time I have ventured upstairs to the restaurant.

It wasn’t particularly crowded which meant we had the full attention of the waiter, The food was rather good, and seeing as the firm was paying, we opted for the fixed price three-course menu. I stuck with fish for both starter and main course, but my Japanese colleagues braved some of the meat dishes, (steak and  duck).

We were asked which wine we would like, but all opted for beer, as we know from experience that our visitors enjoy a glass or two of beer. Harvey’s Sussex Best was the only cask ale available, but it was pretty average. It wasn’t off, but it was definitely a bit tired, so I only gave it a 2.0 NBSS. I switched afterwards to Cinque; a 5.0% lager from the Shepherd Neame stable, which is brewed using five different grains.

It was a good evening and whilst some of the talk was obviously work-related, a fair chunk of it was not. We know that our colleagues from head office relish their visits to the UK, as alongside the opportunities afforded by inter-company cooperation, it gives them a break from the insanely long hours which  many of then work.

Companies in Japan, as well as the Japanese government are finally waking up to the problem of workers putting in far too many hours. The country is faced with an increasingly elderly population because of a rapidly declining  birth-rate. With the crazy hours put in by many Japanese workers, (one of our colleagues regularly works a 15 hour day), people are too tired to form meaningful relationships with the opposite sex, and even when they do, there is little time for procreation and raising a family.

This is obviously a cultural phenomenon which is beyond the scope of this blog, but it is easy to see why there is no shortage of volunteers from our parent company, to come over to England. and work on various research projects in the pleasant rural setting of our factory.

Leaving these and other issues aside, our colleagues could have picked a better week to visit, given the audit preparations which are going on.  For me though, it was fortunate that the project they had come to oversee, involves mainly production staff, although they did insist on using my laboratory for their in-process testing !

Wikimedia Commons
So with one more day to go, and the suitcase almost packed, I thought I’d knock out this quick blog post just to keep things up to date. There are several interesting developments occurring in the world of brewing, not least of which is the news that the monks of Grimbergen Abbey in Belgium, are looking to start brewing their own beer again, after a gap of well over 200 years.

Blogger Matt Thompson, over at “When My Feet Go Through The Door”, covers the story in much greater detail, but it seems more and more people are realising the value of “provenance” for their products, and the holy fathers of Grimbergen Abbey are no exception.

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,
A related story is that of the Leeds Brewery taking on the brewing of a number of historic Tetley brands. Industry watchers will be aware that brand owners Carlsberg-Tetley,  closed the iconic Tetley Brewery, in the Hunslet district of Leeds, back in 2011. Now the Leeds Brewery, which only commenced brewing in 2007, is to take over the production of a number of Tetley beers based on recipes found in the company archives. This article, from the Yorkshire Evening Post, again goes into far greater detail than I’ve got time to relate, at present.

Well that’s all for now folks, but there will be plenty to read about when I return from my travels next weekend

Monday, 7 May 2018

The Beer Bucket List - Mark Dredge

One of  the last articles I wrote in 2017, was a post called "Follow your dreams". As the title suggests the post was inspired by the idea of a "bucket list"; all those things you'd like to do before you shuffle off this mortal coil (kick the bucket).  As I said then,"Having a bucket list, is to have a life and utilise it fully before it's knocked off from under your feet."

The gist of the article was, whilst I don't have a Bucket List as such, there are places and activities which I keep in the back of my mind, with the aim that one day they will surface so I can take action to bring them into reality. I have achieved many of these desires over the past few decades, and am regularly adding new ones.

Whilst many of the desires on my "virtual list" are naturally beer-related, there are plenty of others which are not, but the concept of a beer only "bucket list" does sound an interesting one, and one which could definitely work.

Enter Mark Dredge; one of the UK's most enthusiastic beer writers. I have followed Mark's journey from keen and innovative beer blogger, to today's well-regarded beer writer and connoisseur. With his latest book, entitled "The Beer Bucket List,” Mark has taken the idea outlined above and really ran with it, adding in touches of his own along the way. In doing so he has created a masterpiece of a book, which is a real joy to read.

Described as a “Collection of over 150 unmissable beer experiences, featuring the world’s greatest beer, bar, breweries and events: it’s the ultimate bucket list for every beer lover.” The description ends by saying, “This is any beer lover’s must-read book about the most essential beer experiences on the planet.”

I know Mark Dredge personally, but I won't claim we see each other often, or even go out for a drink together. Our paths cross from time to time, primarily at beer-related events, but given Mark’s rather hectic schedule, even these meeting are led frequent nowadays. Apart from researching and writing books, conducting beer presentations, tastings and other related events, Mark’s career has included working for Camden Town Brewery and managing online content for Pilsner Urquell.

He lived and worked for a while, in my adopted home town of Tonbridge, before moving up to London. Mark first made his presence known amongst the world of beer writers, with his blog, "Pencil & Spoon." The blog was always a good read, but sadly, Mark’s other commitments mean it is rarely updated these days; although an exception was made recently  to promote The Beer Bucket List.”

This is Mark’s 5th book, and he has posted about it on his blog. He says, he was inspired by thinking about where in the world he'd most like to drink a beer. And then by thinking about where he'd suggest others go to drink. The list included the places that any beer lover really should go, plus all those many oddities and idiosyncrasies that make beer – and travelling for beer – so great.

I wouldn’t argue with that, and because the book’s publishers Dog ‘n’ Bone, kindly sent me a copy to review, I was able to discover exactly what Mark is banging on about.

Before delving deeper it’s fun just browsing through the book and seeing how many, or quite often, how few of these beer experiences you have under your own belt. I am lucky to have have experienced quite a few, but then I’m probably twice Mark’s age, so this is not totally unexpected.

From a personal point of view, my beer experiences in Britain and Europe compare pretty well with those Mark describes, but I’ve only scratched the surface of North America. Further afield, with the honourable exception of Japan, South America, the Antipodes and the Far East are unknown entities, as far as I am concerned, but they certainly look exciting destinations for any beer lover, and places to add to ones own bucket list.

And there lies the beauty of this book, for a beer bucket list is something which will never be finished. There will always be some new, hitherto undiscovered gem of a place, just waiting to be explored, and by the same token, new and exciting beers are appearing all the time and not just in the usual places.

I’m not going to spoil things for you by listing too many of Mark’s choices, as the publishers and I obviously want you to buy your own copy but as a bit of a taster, visiting the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, rates pretty highly on my list, as it does on Mark’s, along with going to Oktoberfest for the first time.

This was another amazing experience, and it’s interesting to note that like me, Mark had been putting off going to this event for a number of years, primarily because of preconceptions which turned out to be unfounded. As expected there are quite a few classic breweries described in the book, and whilst I have visited several of these, Mark has the upper hand here, particularly with regard to some of the legendary North American establishments (Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Russian River Brewing etc).

Great beer-drinking destinations feature highly, but so do other slightly more “off-beat” experiences such as London’s famed Bermondsey Beer Mile, drinking in some of the capital’s Historic Pubs, along with a comparison between two of the UK’s finest cask ales, with a definite north-south divide coming to the fore.

In summary, “The Beer Bucket List” is a real labour of love, in which the author’s enthusiasm for his subject really shines through. If you are planning your own beer voyage of discovery or, like me, looking for inspiration for your next beer destination, then this publication really should be on your bookshelf.

I could go on, but having whetted your appetite you will need to buy a copy, if you want to know more. “The Beer Bucket List” is a hardback publication, which runs to 225 pages. It is well illustrated and is nicely laid out, following a geographical pattern. The book is published by Dog ‘n’ Bone, who are an imprint of Ryland Peters & Small Ltd.

For all bibliophiles out there, the book's identification number is ISBN: 978 1 911026 27 3. Available from all good bookshops, price £16.99, although I’m sure a well-known on-line retailer may offer it at a lower price. Before going down that road though, please consider your local, independent book-seller, as it’s not just pubs which are disappearing from our towns!

 Disclaimer: I have reviewed this book on behalf of the publishers Dog ‘n’ Bone.  For doing so I received a complimentary copy, but did not allow this to influence my review in any way.

With the exception of the front cover, the photos are my own. They all relate in one way or another, to the book.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Sausage and mash with Firebird, at the Bean

Yesterday night’s “meet the brewer” session got of to a slow start. There were, I would guess, around 30 of us sitting at a number of specially reserved tables at the Humphrey Bean, when Simon, the pub’s manager announced that the brewer, was going to be a little late. The cause of this delay was said brewer filling his van up with the wrong fuel. One or two jokers in the group came out with the quip, as long as he hasn’t filled the wrong beer into the casks, we would be alright!

We didn’t have too long to wait before Firebird’s Richard Peters arrived, but the delay at least gave us the chance to sample several of the Firebird beers on tap at the Humphrey Bean. The wait also allowed us to enjoy our pre-ordered meal of sausage and mash, which formed part of the admission charge for  the event. Also included was a 25% discount on any of the Firebird beers on tap in the pub that evening.

The beers were, in order of ascending gravity:

Two Horses Pale Ale 3.8%; Heritage Sussex Best 4.0%; Citra Single Hop Ale 4.1%; Mandarin Vit 4.8% and Pale Face APA 5.2%.  I sampled them all over the course of the evening; my favourite being the Pale Face, followed by the Citra.

Richard eventually arrived, and somewhat hurriedly set up his stall. He apologised for being late and informed us that filling petrol into his diesel engine van was the reason for the delay. He’d brought a small P.A. system along with him, but didn’t’ use it (probably because of having to trail power cables across the floor). Instead he went for table to table, telling us about the brewery and how Bill King and him, who were old friends from brewing school, went about setting up Firebird.

I won’t repeat the story, but you can read it in the previous post, should you desire. He did say that  "subtlety", rather than in-your-face aggression, was the philosophy behind Firebird beers, and having sampled some of them yesterday, I think this was an apt description.

Peter had brought with him a number of bottles and cans for the assembled company to sample, but things got a little messy around the table, due to the mêlée of people who made a beeline for the “free” samples. I did manage to taste a very good canned,  Coffee Porter, plus an excellent single-hop beer brewed using Pacific Gem hops from New Zealand.

It was clear from listening to him, that Peter knows his craft, and so he should, given the number of beers he’s spent in the brewing industry, but one particularly valid question cropped up. This was how come most of us had never seen Firebird beers on sale in West Kent, with quite a few of us not having heard of the brewery either.

Peter mentioned the rather crowded nature of the brewing industry, in this part of the world, telling us that Sussex had gone from having just Harvey’s, plus the odd micro, a couple of decades ago, to the situation today where there are nearly 60 breweries in the county. I didn’t comment on that, but  can’t help thinking this number is unsustainable, given a beer market which is shrinking, as are the number of genuine free-houses and other outlets which might stock the beer.

All in all it was a good evening. I enjoyed all the beers I sampled, and I will certainly look out for Firebird Brewing on my travels. It was a good night for socialising as well, as not only was there a good turn-out from the local CAMRA contingent, but I met up with a couple who were customers at our former off-licence. Simon has run several of these evenings at the Humphrey Bean, along with a number of brewery trips, so it is good to see a local Wetherspoon’s manger taking this sort of initiative.

I left just after 10pm, along with a friend. Somewhat unwisely we called in at Fuggles, where the Moor Brewing “tap takeover” was just drawing to an end. We were still in time though to meet Moor Brewing owner Justin Hawke; the introduction being made by Fuggles owner, Alex Greig. The crowds had thinned out by that time, leaving the pub nice and quiet.

I enjoyed a half of  So’ Hop 4.1% , plus a couple of tastings of Moor Fusion, the brewery's celebrated Old Freddy Walker Ale, matured in oak casks (cider and brandy, depending on the year). Justin had brought these down specially, and with a few bottles already opened, Alex generously left them with us to finish off.

I wisely allowed my companion drink the lion’s share of them as, unlike me, he didn’t have to go into work this morning!

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

A bit of a mix-up

I’ve never been in the habit of keeping a diary, and now that I’m in my early sixties, this is unlikely to change. Normally I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, and whilst none of my immediate family have what could be described as a hectic social life, we still seem to manage keeping track of things.

We do have a calendar hanging up in the kitchen on which, by mutual agreement, we’re supposed to write important engagements, but apart from holidays, dental appointments, plus the occasional rock concert, none of us are particularly good at adhering to this. My wife is better than me, and I’m OK when I remember, or when I can find a pen. (I’m sure our household can’t be the only one where there’s dozens of pens lying about, but none of them seem to work!)

Well my laziness has well and truly caught up with me, as  tomorrow night I am double-booked. I’m not  actually committed to attend both events, Vicar of Dibley Christmas Dinner fashion, as one function has had to go to the wall, but if nothing else, this mix-up has taught me a lesson, and from now on I will be writing things down. (Actually there’s a calendar on my phone, which is pretty good for noting appointments . I’ve used it in the past, so must get back into the habit of using it again).

So what two events have I double-booked, and why did this come about? Well the first is the much vaunted, and eagerly anticipated tap-takeover by Moor Brewing, at Fuggles in Tonbridge. I wrote about this a while back, in my article about Moor Brewing’s “tap-room” opening,  in Bermondsey. 

You may recall me saying how much I was looking forward to the event, which is why it is so frustrating that, without double checking the date, I accepted a friend’s invite to a “meet the brewer” session at the Humphrey Bean, our local Wetherspoon's,  on the same evening.

The brewer in question at JDW is Firebird Brewing; a company I have not come across before, but after looking at their website, I noticed that Bill King was involved with this concern. Older readers may remember that Bill was one of the family owners of the late, and much lamented King & Barnes, of Horsham. K&B sold out to Dorset brewers Hall & Woodhouse, back in 2000, after which Bill King set up his own small brewery, W.J. King, which was also based in Horsham.

In 2013 W.J. King found itself with new owners, and now trades as King Beer. Enter Firebird Brewing Company, which was formed by Bill King and Richard Peters, who as well as both being  qualified Master Brewers, were old friends. Their friendship began at The University of Birmingham's Brewing School, where both studied for an M.Sc in Brewing Science and Technology.

On completion of their studies,  both went their separate ways; Bill to join and eventually run his family firm, King and Barnes,  and Richard to continue his career with Courage. After re-establishing contact in 2012, they decided to start a joint venture in brewing, and  acquired a site in an old converted brickwork's in Rudgwick. Their first commercial beer Heritage XX was sold at the end of June 2013, and five years later Firebird produces a wide range of beers, so why hadn't I heard of them until the other week?

No doubt all will be revealed tomorrow, when I pop along to the session at the Humphrey Bean, but before going any further the reason why I'm going to the Firebird session, rather than the Moor Brewing event' is the former is a ticket only event, and my friend had already purchased the tickets.

The price of the ticket includes a meal, as well as a 20% discount off the price of the Firebird beers, so it’s not all bad. There are also several other friends going along; some of whom I haven’t seen for some time. It will be good to catch up, and I’m certain our local JDW will be far less crowded than Fuggles, and also less noisy.

Perhaps I am just saying this to myself in order to make up for the disappointment of missing the Moor beers, but whatever the case, I will in future pay a lot more attention to the calendar, and my phone, before accepting future invitations.

A full report about the "meet the brewer" session and Firebird Brewing's beers, will follow, in due course.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

The Italian Job

After four posts centred on CAMRA, it's high time for a break from those who spend their time "campaigning" for a certain type of beer, and get back to the real world. So moving on to a beer which is probably as far away as it's possible to be from the world of cask conditioned ale and hand-pumped beer, we take a look at a well-known international lager brand, and its attempt to create a more artisan image for itself.

The beer brand I am talking about is Birra Moretti; originally a family-owned Italian brewery, but now part of the multi-national  Heineken group. Birra Moretti is an instantly recognisable brand, thanks to the image of the moustached man in the hat, enjoying a tankard of the company's beer.

Until very recently, Italy was not known as a beer drinking nation, mainly because the country produces some excellent wines, which Italians tend to prefer to beer. Prior to the advent of the now flourishing “craft beer” scene, Italian beer was almost exclusively of the light lager type.

During the last decade, brands such as "Peroni" and "Nastro Azzuro" have established a growing foothold in the UK beer market, and they have now been joined on the bar by Moretti, which seems to be the "go to" beer for the younger generation. I have two technicians working for me; both are in their early 30's, and both swear by the beer. It’s expensive on draught, selling in some outlets at over £5 a pint. Bottles are much cheaper of course, and as well as the usual 330ml size, the beer is available in a 660ml, “quaffing"  bottles.  I don't mind the occasional glass myself, although my lager of choice is the world-classic, Pilsner Urquell.

The company was founded in 1859 by Luigi Moretti in the north-eastern Italian city of Udine, as the "Beer and Ice Factory", with the first bottles going on sale in 1860. The brewery was initially producing around 2,500 hectoliters of beer per year, enough to meet the provincial market, but this was soon exceeded.

The company remained in the hands of the Moretti family until 1989, before being acquired by a number of different beer companies. In 1996 the group, and its famous trademark, was bought by Heineken. The original brewery in Udine was closed in 1992, and production transferred to the nearby town of San Giorgio di Nogaro.

As mentioned above, the main Birra Moretti brand has been available in Britain for some time, but recently a couple of beers inspired by the culinary traditions of Italy’s many regions have found their way into the UK market. I managed to pick them up in my local Waitrose, a couple of weeks ago, and here is what I thought of them.

Birra Moretti – Alla Toscana 5.5%. As the name indicates, this beer is inspired by the Italian region of Tuscany, and is brewed using malted barley from Marema and Tuscan Spelt. According to the label on the back of the bottle, these cereals impart a full flavour to the beer, along with a pleasant bitterness and notes of aromatic herbs.

This combined with the rich honey colour of the beer, makes it the perfect accompaniment to dishes such as pasta or, just a very pleasant beer to drink on its own. I would certainly agree with that description, as the beer is very enjoyable; albeit a little unusual.

“Spelt" is an ancient type of wheat that's native to southern Europe, where it's been used for thousands of years. It has a mellow nutty flavour and is easily digestible”. The “nutty” flavour certainly comes through  into the taste of the beer.

Birra Moretti – Alla Siciliana 5.8%. No prizes for guessing that this beer is inspired by Sicily, and incorporates Zagara orange blossom in its make up. This Sicilian flower gives the beer a rich, soft and full flavour with an orange aroma.  The beer is described as a great accompaniment to fish dishes, but is also good enough to be enjoyed on its own.

I didn’t think this beer was anywhere near as good as its Tuscan counterpart, (I’ve tried similar orange-flavoured beers, and they just don’t work for me), but it’s still good to see a large brewing group  indulging in a spot of experimentation.

So what about the main beer Birra Moretti – L’Autentica 4.6%.  Birra Moretti is still brewed to the recipe that was created by Luigi Moretti. It is a smooth, full bodied beer, brewed with a blend of high quality hops, to create a satisfying beer with a full malt base, balanced by some delicate citrus notes.

In short, it is a “quaffing beer”, and one which I am not at all averse to enjoying from time to time.

Moretti, also import their La Rossa beer into the UK, although apart from in specialised beer shops, I haven’t seen it on sale in the nation’s supermarkets. La Rossa is a 7.5% “Bock-style” beer, although Moretti refer to it as a “double malt” beer. As its name might suggest, it is a reddish-amber colour, which comes about from the use of roasted malts.

Before ending, it’s worth noting that Moretti, also produce four other “regional” beers. Like the two described above, these four are influenced by some of Italy’s other provinces. Like the others as well, the beers incorporate ingredients which are associated with the regions they are named after. The beers are as follows: 

Birra Moretti alla Friulana 5.9%. A light, straw-coloured lager, incorporating apples from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

Birra Moretti alla Piemontese 5.5%.  A pale, amber-coloured lager beer, with blueberries, from the Piedmont region.

Birra Moretti alla Pugliese 5.6%.  A golden yellow coloured lager beer, containing roasted wheat and, somewhat unusually, prickly pear. From the Puglia region of southern Italy.

Birra Moretti alla Lucana 5.8%. An amber coloured lager, containing laurel. From the Lucan region.

It’s worth remembering that with no real tradition of beer brewing, particularly in southern Italy, these “regional” Moretti beers are all contrived, but are nevertheless an attempt to move away from the easy-drinking, light-lager style normally associated with the country.