A new Berlin brewery, a new beer: SPENT Brewers Collective – Red Oat Ale

 

SPENT Red Oat Ale

SPENT Red Oat Ale

 

SPENT Brewers Collective

It’s an exciting time to be a beer enthusiast in Berlin. Beer projects appear to be launching every month. The latest to come to the table are Dan Frye and Sören Hars with their ‘SPENT Brewers Collective’ contract brewery.

The first beer that they are releasing to thirsty Berlin is their ‘Red Oat Ale’, brewed in partnership with Schoppe Bräu.

It’s a brave move from the duo. Neither a hop-head-friendly IPA, nor a mass-market-friendly lager hybrid, they have taken a new approach and improvised with the British Bitter as their main inspiration, dry-hopped with US Amarillo and Citra.

 

Red Oat Ale

In appearance, this ale is a beautiful hue of ruby red, with a mild foam head.

In the nose, this beer has a dual Malty-Hoppy aroma, with hints of orange marmalade, even notes of blueberries; instantly reminiscent of an English Bitter/Pale Ale, rather than an American pale ale.

The body is round, full and pleasantly malty. It has a very smooth, silky mouthfeel, thanks to the oats, with a relatively clean yeast profile. Very smooth finish, with a hint of marmalade tang well-balanced with a British hop finish (Styrian Goldings were used for bittering, the Slovenian version of Fuggles).

 

Conclusion

Overall, I’m delighted to find this highly original beer on the German market. At the moment, this is likely the closest you will get to a British Bitter, brewed right here in Berlin.

I look forward to see what this duo come up with next and wish them the best of luck with their crowd-funding campaign to build their own brewery.

 

SPENTredoatale2

The German Industrial Pils Reputation – only half-true?

Background

We all know the story by this stage. The ‘Craft Beer’ moniker was formulated in the U.S. in the 1980s to distinguish beers from new, small microbreweries from the lager beer being brewed at an industrial scale by the three large breweries.

That large breweries cannot produce anything but an inferior product has become a mantra of the craft beer movement. This has also become an accepted truth amongst beer-enthusiasts in Germany, where many large brands dominate in the market, often at the expense of many smaller regional brewers. Due to competition for the German pils market, the mass-produced pils is often sold at staggering low prices (e.g. €0.24 for a 0.5L bottle). All of this contributes to the reputation of these macro-brewed beers: that they are all inferior – some with defects – and that any pils from a smaller brewery is always an improvement.

Berlin, represented both large and small

Berlin, represented both large and small

 

Blind Tasting

In order to put this thesis to the test, last Friday, Ludger Berges and I co-hosted a German Pils blind tasting evening at his German speciality beer store Hopfen und Malz. Around the table were twelve experienced beer enthusiasts, who were willing to put their palates to the test, including brewers, home-brewers and other beer professionals.

In total, eight German pilsners were tested, all poured from the bottle. Four from large breweries (three of the national best-sellers and one from Berlin) and four from smaller regional breweries of different sizes (including one from Berlin). None of the participants knew in what order the beers would be served, so there was no safety net.

Eight German Pils

Eight German Pils

 

Group Results

The following are the combined group results from all twelve participants, using the German scoring system (1=very good, 6=very bad). When the beers were unveiled at the end of the tasting, there was a gasp. It’s safe to say that everyone was surprised:

  1. Flessa Bräu Pils  (average score: 1,7)
  2. Oettinger Pils  (average score: 2,25)
  3. Waldhaus Diplom Pils  (average score: 2,4)
  4. Krombacher Pils  (average score: 3,1)
  5. Wagner-Bräu Kemmern Pils  (average score: 3,8)
  6. Hummel-Bräu Pils  (average score: 3,9)
  7. Becks Pils  (average score: 4,2)
  8. Berliner Pilsner  (average score: 4,3)

 

Personal Results

My own results broadly aligned with the averages:

  1. Waldhaus & Flessa Bräu (both scored 2)
  2. Oettinger, Krombacher, Becks & Berliner Pilser (all scores of 3)
  3. Wagner Pils (4)
  4. Hummel Pils (5)

 

Conclusion

This was a very interesting exercise. What I cannot emphasise enough is just how difficult it is to identify these beers or tell them apart when you don’t have the bottle in front of you.

What I found most interesting about the group results is how consistent they were and how the most despised beer prior to the tasting (Oettinger) became one of the group favourites when the brand wasn’t known. Of the industrial beers, Oettinger and Krombacher were preferred to Becks and Berliner Pilsner, that were considered the worst by most participants (scores of 4,2 and 4,3 respectively).

From my own results, my favourites were the Waldhaus Diplom Pils (a delicious peppery spiciness in the nose, dry and crisp body, with a wonderful malty finish) and the Flessa Bräu (well balanced, hints of lemon and a nice bitter finish). All four industrial/macro-beers all came in the middle positions. None of the four was a good example of a German pils; however, none was flawed either; all four were quite bland and innocuous with minor variations in terms of sweetness or bitterness in the finish. For me, the worst beers of the evening – by far – were the Hummel Pils (5) and the Wagner Pils (4); both were insipid and had unpleasant aftertastes.

So, the best beers were produced by small breweries working by hand. The worst beers were also produced by small breweries, without the palates or the quality control. In my opinion, the reputation of the mass-produced German Pils is only half-true.

Thanks to Ludger for hosting and to the participants for contributing their palates.

 

……. and do try this at home!

Braukunst Live! (München) – the litmus test for Craft Beer in Germany

Now in its third year, the Braukust Live! festival 2014 took place in München from 21-23 February and (unsurprisingly) was the most well attended so far. Braukunst has quickly established itself as the key German festival for craft beer enthusiasts, but it also serves a second role as a trade convention for the brewing industry, especially smaller brewers wishing to find their market. Seeing the rapid rise in interest in this festival – taking place in the most traditional beer region in the world – is a reassuring sign of changes taking place in the German brewing industry.

German Craft Brewers stand

Rather than bore readers with my long and detailed beer notes, I hope a few short highlights will be more useful in summarising the event.

 

My personal highlights of Braukunst 2014:

  • Most interesting new German beer: Schwarzwald-Gold ‘Coco d’Or‘ Bier-Sec (Weizen Sekt). In a world of high IBUs and super-malty imperial stouts, sometimes the most difficult thing to do is to create a balanced, nuanced beer that still does something new. The most interesting German beer for me at the festival was this ‘Weizen-Sekt’ from Schwarzwald-Gold. Brewed with three different yeasts (including a Weizen and a champagne yeast), this delicious new beer defies any style. Yeast-derived notes of banana, dry white grape and a hint of apple are all balanced in a beer that will pair excellently with food. Seek this beer out.
  • Most interesting new Hop: Hüll Melon. Kreativbrauerei Kehrwieder SHIPA Hüll Melon showed this hop off particularly well. It has a huge aroma of wild strawberries/peaches and is a welcome new direction from the hop breeding program at Hüll. German hop growers have a few tricks up their sleeves and I look forward to German brewers being the first to showcase the results.
  • Best Lager Bier (still): Pilsner Urquell (unfiltered version). If you can resist the trite knee-jerk reaction to the size of this brewery and their owners (SABMiller) and taste the beer being served in the glass, this is a wonderful beer. Every time I have this beer I am reminded of how far away the German industrial pils has wandered…! The filtered, but unpasteurised version of Urquell Tankbier is now available from the in Berlin at Zum böhmischen Dorf.

Urquell & Food pairing

  • Best tasting event:  Nøgne ø. For those lucky enough to seek our this tasting (oddly, the event was only half-full), founder and head-brewer Kjetil Jikiun presented a huge spread of seven beers from this Norwegian brewery, that continues to innovate and punch way above its size. With some concerns that the majority acquisition by Hansa Borg Bryggerier a few months ago could tie their hands, there are certainly no signs of innovation slowing down.
  • Craziest ‘WTF’ moment: In the discussion between the innovative German microbreweries and the larger brewers, the CEO of Bitburger Braugruppe GmbH, Jan Niewodniczanski, proposed that the research facilities of larger breweries were useful in innovations in brewing, including investigating the potential health risks with new beer styles and brewing methods. As an example, he planted the seed that it is possible, that some dry-hopped IPAs could end up being pulled from the market, due to failing health & safety restrictions on nitrate levels. (Bonkers and malicious. I would love to have attended the meeting where that nugget was formed).

David versus Goliath

 

I am already looking forward to Braukunst Live! 2015. Since the interest in craft beer will only grow in the next 12 months, I can only hope that the organisers are already searching for a new venue. Considering the queue of people waiting outside for hours by 16:00 on the Saturday, the MVG Museum cannot cope with the inevitable larger crowd next year.

As for the festival that just wrapped up – thanks to all the brewers for their time and patience. While some of us got to mingle freely, taste wonderful beers and ask nosey questions about recipe formulation, they were the ones who manned their forts, collected chips and made sure we had fresh glasses, etc. Brewers, I salute you!

Aroma Hops on display

Berlin gets an own (bottled) stout: Schoppe Bräu – Black Flag Imperial Stout

In spite of a growing selection of Pale Ales and IPAs being brewed in Berlin, beer enthusiasts have only rarely been treated to a Berlin stout and only as special/seasonal brews on tap in some of the more adventurous microbreweries in this city. The quality, (as well as adherence to style!), has varied widely. To this day, there is a dearth of bottled stouts in Berlin and Germany as a whole. (As an aside, most German beer bottles claiming to contain ‘porter’ are best left on the shelf…).

With its roots in the porter family tree in London 300 years ago, stouts are unquestionably a British invention, although a famous Dublin brewery dominated global stout supply with a dry “Irish” styles for most of the 20th century. The craft beer movements across the globe have revived the many stout styles and have allowed beer lovers to rediscover stronger, higher alcohol stouts with a focus on complex, comforting flavours of roasted malts.

Schoppe Bräu is the first Berlin brewery to throw its hat into the ring with Black Flag Imperial Stout – a stout that will be available in the regular output from the brewery.

 

Tasting Notes for Schoppe Bräu – Black Flag Imperial Stout

Tasted at 15˚C

Dark Black, completely opaque with a nice dark tan head. 

Aromas of burnt caramel, mild roast malted barley, dark fruits and a pleasant hint of tart sourness, reminiscent of older stouts in the Extra Stout style, but missing from many of the modern Imperial Stout interpretations. The nose is clean and sweet – the malt bill is more ‘continental’ in its use of speciality grains. (Absent are the strong coffee and chocolate notes that are often pronounced in British and the new US interpretations of the Imperial Stout style).

Schoppe Bräu - Black Flag Imperial Stout

Schoppe Bräu – Black Flag Imperial Stout

 

Very round in its body. A clean, roasty sweetness, that gradually subsides to a balanced bitter finish (60 IBU).

As the stout warms up in the glass, the aromas and the bitter finish do become more pronounced, so it is worth spending some time with this beer to allow the complexity come through.

It’s exciting to have a bottled stout brewed with care in Berlin. The icing on the cake is that Thorsten Schoppe has pulled no punches and has gone straight for the Imperial Stout style (“wenn schon… denn schon…”).

I look forward to more stouts by the new wave of German craft breweries.

Riegele BierManufaktur Brauspezialitäten

Introduction:

My first encounter with Riegele BierManufaktur was at the Braukunst Live 2013 craft beer festival, where the brewery had one of the most polished displays at the event. Although well-known and well-regarded in Bavaria for their traditional German beer styles, they were very dedicated to showcasing their range of craft beers at this particular festival.  On offer were imperial stouts, porters, Belgian-style ales and IPAs. I was particularly impressed with the Imperial Stout, but the high price-point (€15 for a large bottle at the time) was a little too high for me to bring any bottles back to Berlin.

Nine months later and Riegele BierManufaktur has relaunched their craft beer selection in a new format under the banner of ‘Brauspezialitäten’. The craft beer selection, put together by Biersommelier Sebastian Priller-Riegele and brewmaster Frank Müller, now covers an even wider range, has a completely new design, and importantly, now retails at a new lower price (can be found on retail for around €4.00 – €5.00 for a 660ml bottle).

Eight new beers from a brewery serious about the art of brewing, with the subtitle “aus dem Hause der Weltmeisters der Biersommeliers” was a ready-made line-up for a dedicated vertical tasting. With the help of some eager volunteers from the Berlin Craft Beer group, I set about putting these beers to the test. What follows are my own notes from two separate sittings.

 

Riegele Selektion 1

Riegele BierManufaktur Brauspezialitäten – Selektion 1

  

AUGUSTUS 8

  • Style: Modern variation of a German Weizenbock
  • ABV: 8%
  • Title explained: Augustus from the founder of the city where the brewery is situated; 8 from the ABV
  • Tasting Notes: The first of the tasting line-up, this beer had huge soft banana nose, followed by a delicious butter toffee aroma. Big flavours of toffee and sweet butterscotch and some Munich malt, with a very smooth finish. This is a wonderful beer to start the tasting and a magnificent modern variant on the Weizenbock. The soft, round toffee and banana make this an even more drinkable Weizenbock than say,  Schneider Aventinus, another wonderful example of the style.

 

AURIS 19

  • Style: Doppelbock (Hell)
  • ABV: 9%
  • Title explained: Auris from Latin for gold; 19 from the density of the beer wort (19˚P)
  • Tasting Notes: Aroma of apricots with hints of some cooked vegetable / green bean notes. In the taste, the beer starts quite sweet on the tongue, but abruptly turns to a overt bitterness that is not balanced to the sweetness. Definitely not a conventional Doppelbock (a traditional malt type “Steffi” was used in the brew), but the balance needs some refining.

 

ROBUSTUS 6

  • Style: Porter
  • ABV: 5.0%
  • Title explained: Robustus from “robust porter”; 6 from the six malt types used
  • Tasting Notes: This porter has a big malty nose with a notes of coffee and a hint of sourness. It tastes like a real English porter (a top-fermenting Irish ale yeast was used), is a nice drinker and very smooth, but the body is marginally too thin and it has a slightly metallic finish. Nice to see a decent mid-strength English style porter being brewed in Germany.

 

AMARIS 50

  • Style: Hoppy Lager with a German twist
  • ABV: 5.0%
  • Title: From the latin for bitter; 50 from IBU content
  • Tasting Notes: This well-hopped lager is brewed with the Riegele lager yeast strain, but is closer in style to a bitter pale ale. It has a big spicey nose, with hints of red pepper and wonderful sweet bouquet. Tastes of pale malts – you can taste the barley – but beautifully blended. Appropriate bitter finish (for the low-alcohol). This is a uniquely German take on the American pale ales and one I will be returning to again.

 

ATOR 20

  • Style: Doppelbock (Dark)
  • ABV: 7,5%
  • Title: ‘Ator’ is the suffix usually given to Doppelbocks; 20 from the density of the beer wort (20˚P)
  • Tasting Notes: Burned caramel in colour, this beer has a promising aroma of sweet caramel, molasses and a hint of liquorice. It has a wonderful body, with hints of fruity esters that one associates more with a Belgian dubbel. The smooth malt complexity is balanced by a perfect hop bitterness. Although the doppelbock is one of my least favourite beer styles, this is without doubt the finest example of the style I have tasted, perfectly balanced and avoiding the all-too-common cloying sweetness. Although presented as the dark companion to the light Auris 19, this beer is superior in every way. My complements to the brewmaster – this is a world class beer!

 

SIMCO 3

  • Style: Pale Ale
  • ABV: 5.0%
  • Title: Simco from Simcoe hops; 3 from the three hops used (Perle, Opal and Simcoe)
  • Tasting Notes: Dark honey in colour, this is the aromatic companion to Amaris 50 and is fermented with a top-fermenting yeast. In the aroma, it has a spicey, woody hop character, with hints of mango. The body is quite light, but has a good balance between flavour hops and malt sweetness. The bitterness is lacking – it could benefit more from more hops in the early kettle additions.

 

DULCIS 12

  • Style: Belgian Tripel (variation)
  • ABV: 11%
  • Title: ‘Dulcis’ from Latin for sweet; 12 from the 12 months of secondary fermentation with Trappist yeast
  • Tasting Notes: This beer is still cloudy from the yeast used in secondary fermentation. Aromas of honey, candied apples with hints of vanilla. Unlike the Belgian originals, this beer is big in its body with a complex, evolving flavour profile including toffee, woody and vanilla characters. There is a wonderful mix of spices that only the Belgian yeast can provide. Perfect bitter finish at the end. A wonderful example of a German Tripel.
  • Notes on the pamphlet: The pamphlet bravely recommends drinking at 14˚C. I concur. However, the pamphlet also (mistakingly?) makes numerous mentions of the Belgian Dubbel style – this is distracting, as the much darker Dubbel style plays up the dark fruits and sweet esters more.

 

NOCTUS 100

  • Style: Imperial Stout
  • ABV: 10%
  • Title: ‘Noctus’ from Latin for night; 100 for the black colour (±100 EBC)
  • Tasting Notes: Aroma is sweet and malty, with a hint of liquorice and Belgian Dubbel. Unusual for the style, there is an absence of chocolate or coffee in the nose, that one can expect from these malts (both pale chocolate and dark chocolate malts contributed to the wort). The flavour starts with dark fruits, plums and raisins, before an abrupt finish. Overall, the beer tasted balanced – but quite young. Although an Irish Ale yeast was used to ferment the wort, this Imperial Stout has more of a Belgian character to it than the dry roasted characters (chocolate and coffee) one generally expects from this style. Could this stout benefit from further ripening? I will be revisiting this beer again in the future, with an aged version.

 

Conclusion:

This wonderful selection of carefully crafted beers from Riegele is worth your attention. The range is ambitious in its scope: each beer has been tailored to its specific style and overall there are many more hits than misses in the line-up.

The highlight for me was the ATOR 20. This is a world-class beer, if that expression is to have any meaning at all. The AUGUSTUS 8 is a wonderful Weizenbock and one that I have already chosen to revisit, in this case to pair with my Christmas dinner (goose & red cabbage). DULCIS 12 is promising for a German use of Trappist yeast and taking this abbey style seriously.

AURIS 19 still needs some fine-tuning, but this is a minor criticism in the overall line-up of eight beers demonstrate Riegele’s dedication to the craft of brewing.