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Blind German Pils Tasting #3 – In the Land of the Blind…

Introduction

This report is the third of a series of blind German Pils tastings that have taken place at Hopfen & Malz, the beer specialist store in Wedding, Berlin, with the widest selection of Pilsner beers that you are likely to find north of the Main river.

As always, tasting pils in this way once more proved to be an extremely difficult excercise, with breweries producing beer within an extremely narrow range of flavour profiles – most of them technically well-brewed – but failing to inspire gushing praise.

For the results of the previous tastings, please refer to the following pages:

Blind Pils Tasting

On Saturday, 9th April 2016, eleven experienced beer lovers once again sat down at Hopfen & Malz in order to sample a total of nine different German Pilsners. The participants included brewers, home-brewers and other beer professionals. As in previous tastings, participants had no knowledge of the breweries involved in the tasting and all samples were poured out of view.

 

Blind Tasting – Group Results

The following results are the average from the combined group results from all eleven participants, using the German scoring system (1=very good, 6=very bad):

1. Gampert Förster-Pils (average score: 2,14)
2. Veltins Pils (average score: 2,85)
3. Krug Pils (average score: 3,02)
4. Schönramer Pils (average score: 3,07)
5a. Debringer Pils (average score: 3,17)
5b. Hummel-Pil (average score: 3,17)
7. Oettinger Pils (average score: 3,25)
8. Heidenpeters PILZ (average score: 3,67)
9.
Wildwuchs Fastmoker (average score: 4.53)

tastingresultatGerman Pils ranking from the combined group results from this tasting

Blind Tasting – Personal Results

My own results broadly aligned with the averages, but with a preference for the fresh maltier samples from breweries in Franken.

1a. Krug Pils (my score: 2,0)
1b. Debringer Pils (my score: 2,0)
3a. Gampert Förster-Pils (my score: 2,5)
3b. Hummel-Pils (my score: 2,5)
4. Schönramer Pils (my score: 3,5)
5a. Veltins Pils (my score: 4,0)
5b. Oettinger Pils (my score: 4,0)
7. Heidenpeters PILZ (my score: 4,5)
9. Wildwuchs Fastmoker (my score: 5,0)

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Conclusions

The Good

The group results showed a strong preference from all participants for Gampert Förster-Pils, a deserving winner. This light, malty pils had less hop bitterness than most of the other samples and had a crisp finish.

My own four favourites were all brewed in small breweries in Franken. These pilsners tended towards the malty side, with the cereal malty component still present in the finished beer. These examples also tend to have more body and a balanced finish.

My overall favourite was Krug Pils. Of all nine beers sampled in the tasting, this one beer had a remarkable buttery note in the aroma – unmistakably from diacetyl. Although  experienced German palates will always write off diacetyl as an off-flavour in a bottom fermented beer, I enjoyed the complexity this brought to Krug Pils and look forward to trying this again.

The Bad

Technically well-brewed, the next three pilsners that took places 4, 5a and 5b, were all from  breweries with larger outputs – ranging from the (award-winning) modest Schönramer brewery (Bavaria) to the gigantic Veltins (Sauerland) and Oettinger (everywhere).

In the blind tasting, I ranked these (as-yet-unknown-to-me) beers lower due to their thin bodies, and flat, simple character.

I suspect that these beers all suffer from the bottling and pasteurisation process. From personal experience, I know that Schönramer – and to a much lesser extent Veltins can have an interesting hop aroma when poured from a fresh keg.

The Ugly

Pilsner is difficult to brew, as there is nowhere to hide the defects. Unfortunately, this beer style did show up two beers that were brewed by dedicated craftsmen, but that suffered from the risks that one sees in smaller breweries.

Both the Heidenpeters PILZ (Berlin) and the Wildwuchs Fastmoker (Hamburg) had noticeable flaws, that impacted their scores. Both were brewed in small batches by hand, with fresh malts and hops. Both were had significant hop aromas – likely from dry-hopping. Unfortunatley, but suffered during their time in the bottle, with both beers showing signs of sourness, in particular the Wildwuchs Fastmoker.

I have had the opportunity to try the Heidenpeter’s PILZ fresh from the keg at the brewery bar and can attest that the beer is an enjoyable modern spin on the pilsner. However, this sample from the bottled version was not the same beer.

 

Final words

Brewing a pils is not easy. Industrial brewers have spent decades attempting to make one beer style as cheaply as possible, measuring their market at every step of the way.

On the other end of the spectrum, new “craft” brewers should be encouraged for their bravery, particularly in a country where changing this staple beer style is frowned upon.

However – in my view – both extremes on this spectrum are still trumped by the smaller breweries around Franken, who take the time, chose the ingredients and rely on generations of experience to brew a fresher-tasting pils.

 

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2nd Annual Berlin Homebrewing Competition launched!

2. Berlin Homebrewing Competition

Berlin Craft Beer and UBREW Berlin would like to announce the launch of the Berlin Homebrewing Competition 2016. After the success of the first annual homebrewing competition in 2015 and the growing number of new homebrewers in Berlin & Brandenburg, we have expanded the scope of the competition and expect twice as many entries this year.

Traditional German beer styles remain at the forefront of the competition in the first two categories. The popular Pale Ale / IPA category from last year has been split, due to the large number of entries expected. Additionally, we are launching a special category each year, to put the spotlight on regional brewing styles. For 2016, this special category is Belgian Ales.

All homebrewers in Berlin and Brandenburg are encouraged to start brewing and register their best beers by the 21.05.2016. Good luck!

 


 

2. Berlin Homebrewing Wettbewerb 2016

Berlin Craft Beer und UBREW Berlin freuen sich den diesjährigen Berlin Homebrewing Wettbewerb anzukündigen. Nach dem großen Erfolg des ersten Hobbybrau-Wettbewerbs im Jahr 2015 und angesichts der wachsenden Zahl von neuen Hobbybrauern in Berlin & Brandenburg, haben wir den Rahmen des Wettbewerbs erweitert und erwarten in diesem Jahr doppelt so viele Teilnehmer.

Traditionelle deutsche Biersorten stehen an der Spitze des Wettbewerbs und sind in den ersten beiden Kategorien vertreten. Die beliebte Pale Ale / IPA Kategorie aus dem letzten Jahr wurde aufgeteilt aufgrund der zu erwartenden hohen Anzahl von Eingängen hier. Darüber hinaus starten wir eine spezielle Kategorie jedes Jahr, um regionale Braustile in den Blickpunkt zu rücken. Für 2016 ist diese besondere Kategorie Belgische Ales.

Wir ermutigen alle Hobbybrauer in Berlin und Brandenburg, mit dem Brauen zu beginnen und ihre besten Biere bis zum 21.Mai 2016 zu registrieren. Viel Glück!


 

Organisers/Organisatoren

Competition Organizer: Christian Glaeser, UBREW Berlin
Head Competition Judge. Rory Lawton, Berlin Craft Beer

Further Info/Informationen

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Lager Lager: Fresh kegged beer – to take home…

Fresh kegged beer to take away

A new beer store has opened on Pflügerstrasse 68, Neukölln. Although numerous speciality bottles shops have opened around Berlin over the last three years, what makes this new store unique is the facility to sell kegged beer, for customers to take home in reusable growlers or PET bottles.

Lager Lager has two dedicated counter-flow filling stations, each with four beers on tap. It is possible to fill containers from regular pub taps, but beer loses carbonation, oxidises quickly and will only really be suitable for drinking for a few days after tapping. Counter-flow filling systems are a step up and mean that beer stays fresher and retains carbonation for longer.

 

Counter-flow filling station

 

How Does A Counter Flow Filler Work?

A counter-flow filling station fills bottles in a similar fashion to what happens at the brewery:

  • A growler is inserted into the filling station
  • The growler is purged with CO2, displacing the air (and harmful oxygen)
  • The selected beer is then slowly filled into the bottle from the bottom up, retaining the carbonation
  • The bottle is sealed with cap and is ready to take home

 

Lager Lager currently provide three sizes:

  • Growlers
    • 1.89L (US 64 ounce size)
    • 0.75L
  • PET Bottles
    • 1.0L


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Bottles

Along with the kegged beer offering, the owners Andre and Robyn provide a wide selection of beer bottles from around the globe and a selection from local brewers in Berlin. Spotted on the shelves were beers from Berlin (Heidenpeters, Schoppe Bräu, Brewbaker, Bierfabrik), from De Molen (NL), Nøgne Ø (NO), To Øl (DK), Bevog (AT/SI) and a well-curated selection of Belgian ales.

 

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Tasting Room

At the moment, growlers and bottles are for take-away only. However, once the permits come through (imminently, I have been assured), Lager Lager will also act as a tasting room, where glasses of the kegged beers and a selection of refrigerated beers will be available to drink on the premises.

Best of luck to Andre and Robyn…

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Blind Oktoberfestbier Tasting – Munich breweries on top!

Background

Nothing shakes preconceived notions about beer quite like a blind tasting. To coincide with the Oktoberfest on the Wies’n in Munich last week (and the countless copycat events around Germany…), the Berlin specialist beer store, Hopfen & Malz hosted a blind tasting of the Oktoberfestbier/Märzen being brewed for this time of year.

The aim was specifically to pit four ‘genuine’ Munich Oktoberfestbiers (those that are allowed to use this on the label) against beers brewed in the Festbier/Märzen style from breweries in other regions (Thüringen, Franken and the Schwarzwald).

 

Style Note: idealised BJCP versus German reality

Many brewers outside of Germany, particularly those closely adhering to the BJCP style guidelines, have an ideal of the Oktoberfestbier/Märzen stlye as being a stronger, amber version of a German lager, with a pronounced malty character. The reality is that in Germany, the Oktoberfestbier demarcation only indicates strength of the beer (e.g. original gravity > 13.5%/ ABV > 5.4%). It is entirely up to the brewer if they brew with 100% pilsner malt or add significant amounts of Münchner malt or any caramel malts. In the last decades, Munich breweries in particular have tended to brew paler versions exclusively with pilsner malt.

 

Group Results

The following are the combined group results from all five participants, using the German scoring system (1=very good, 6=very bad):

  1. Spaten Oktoberfestbier (ABV 5,9%) – average score: 2,6
  2. Augustiner Oktoberfestbier (ABV 6,0%) – average score: 2,7
  3. Loffelder Märzen (ABV 5,5%) – average score:  2,8
  4. Ur-Saalfelder (ABV 5,6%) – average score:  2,9
  5. Paulaner Oktoberfestbier (ABV 6,0%) – average score:  3,1
  6. Alpirsbacher Klosterstoff (ABV 5,9%) – average score:  3,6
  7. Hummel Festbier (ABV 5,6%) – average score:  3,7
  8. Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfestbier (ABV 5,8%) – average score:  3,9

 

Personal Results

My own results only aligned very broadly with the averages. Deviations include my strong preference for Paulaner (1st instead of 5th place) and lower ranking of the winning Spaten (to 5th place).

  1. Paulaner Oktoberfestbier (ABV 6,0%) – my score: 2,0
  2. Augustiner Oktoberfestbier (ABV 6,0%) – my score: 2,5
  3. Ur-Saalfelder (ABV 5,6%) – my score: 2,5
  4. Hummel Festbier (ABV 5,6%) – my score: 2,5
  5. Spaten Oktoberfestbier (ABV 5,9%) – my score: 3,0
  6. Loffelder Märzen (ABV 5,5%) – my score: 3,5
  7. Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfestbier (ABV 5,8%) – my score: 4,0
  8. Alpirsbacher Klosterstoff (ABV 5,9%) – my score: 4,5

Analysis & Conclusions

Comments on the Group Results

All of the scores averages are in a narrow range between 2,6 points and 3,9 points. This also reflects the feedback from the small tasting group throughout the tasting, that this is not a type of beer that the participants would drink regularly. None of the beers was praised highly and three of the beers were generally judged of a lower quality than the others (Alpirsbacher, Hummel and Hacker-Pschorr).

First and second place go to two Munich breweries: Spaten and Augustiner. Both of these beers are very pale straw colour and crystal clear – visually indistinguishable from a Helles. Neither have any pronounced malt complexity, with only pilsner malt detectable.

The participants all agreed that the Hacker-Pschorr was unpleasant to drink. More heavy-bodied, with a pronounced bitter finish, it would be difficult to imagine finishing a 1.0L Mass of this beer.

 

Comments on my Personal Results

Although it ended up in 5th place in the group results, the Paulaner was my personal favourite. This beer had a hint of vanilla in the nose, medium body, with a hint of butter and a superbly balanced finish.

The Ur-Saalfelder was noteworthy as it was the only beer with a pronounced malt complexity – reminiscent of a nutty brown ale. Again, this is the brewers formulation, neither more or less appropriate for a German Märzen. For anyone looking for a Festbier with a difference, I would recommend tracking this down.

I rated the Alpirsbacher Kloster-Stoff poorly (4.5 points), as I detected flaws that were entirely absent in the other seven beers: DMS and esters upset the balance and it had an unpleasant acidic finish.

 

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Berlin Craft Beer moves away from meetup.com to blog/Facebook/Twitter

Dear members of the Berlin Craft Beer group,

The beer scene in Berlin has progressed significantly since the Berlin Craft Beer group was formed over three years ago. This is a message to inform you about the changes taking place this week and why the group will dissolve shortly on meetup.com.

 

History of the Group:

Although I have been tracking all interesting beer locations in the Berlin Craft Beer map since 2008, I founded the group on meetup.com in May 2012 in order to have a place for beer enthusiasts to meet and explore the microbreweries around Berlin. Remember: at this time, not a single Berlin brewery had a continuous Pale Ale, IPA or Stout in their regular lineup and ‘craft beer’ was pretty much an unused expression in Berlin. How much has changed in the last three years!

In 2013, I was invited to give tutored tastings of British ales at Hudson’s Café in Kreuzberg (now closed). The interest in these sessions led to more tastings throughout 2014, many at Szimpla and Getränkefeinkost Berlin, with several more technical sessions, deep dives, brewing lessons, the founding of Berlin Homebrewers and eventually Berlin’s first annual Homebrewing Competitition earlier this year.

Since Berlin now has numerous dedicated beer bars and a thriving community, with regular events being organised on Facebook and other platforms, meetup.com is no longer suitable for dedicated beer events. You will have noticed that there have been no unique events posted to the meetup.com group in the last six months, as there simply have been so many beer events taking place every week.

 

Changes:

  1. The Berlin Craft Beer blog will continue to be updated at www.berlincraftbeer.com
  2. Berlin Craft Beer updates on Twitter here: LINK
  3. Join the Berlin Craft Beer community on Facebook here: LINK
  4. …. but the meetup.com group will be closed permanently at the end of this week

 

And finally…. thank you for your support

Thank you for all the support, interest and laughs over the last few years! I have met several hundred beer lovers, made many friends through the community and swapped many experiences with other beer enthusiasts.

 

Best regards & Prost!

/Rory