What an awful photo. The colours are all over the place, the bottles are not straight and I am not even sure that it is in focus. This is sort of how I feel about my understanding of German and German-style beers. I am not a fan and I base that primarily on ignorance. Fortunately I have the Good Beer Guide Germany by Steve Thomas, published by CAMRA, to fall back upon for actual information about some of these beers. Note that we have two with the word alt in the name, two with edel, three with bock and three that say organic. One is even Canadian and I must admit some pleasure in having a Bamberger Ungespundet. You know, it must get very difficult late in the evening to even order "eine Bamberger Ungespundet, bitte."
So what is it I do not love or, rather, do not daydream about when it comes to German beers? On one hand, there is the ubiquitousness of the bastard children of German beers - the American macrocrap which has been recently celebrated, sometimes in somewhat strained fashion. Its inexcellence speaks for itself. On the other hand, more importantly, there is the thing itself - lager. Lagering developed in part as an effort to overcome nature so that strong beers stored in caves could be served in a season when it should not have been available. In addition to the miracle of great beer in an off season, it also produced roundness. Its wonder, like that of German wine, includes a cheery conviviality translated through the ease at which it presents itself. Trouble for me is I like the harsher realities - blue cheese, the innards of animals, wild mushrooms, whole grain bread, raw oysters. I like things that have a pong, an edge and the potential that I am eating something I should not. Accordingly, I like ale, especially when it has a layer of strong tangy yeast at its base. So I approach lagers warily, somewhat concerned that a spoonful of sugar is making a medicine go down when all the time I want instead the rawer truth, unadorned and unabridged.
- Organic Hefe-Weizen: from Brauerei Pinkus Müller of Munster. It is not fair to say that I know nothing of German beer. Not to me. Not to you. We have reviewed many hefeweizens (perhaps best thought of as "the anti-lager") here, here,here,here,here and here and maybe some more hidden in other places...I really have to index this place one day. This one pours a clouded creamy aged pine colour with a fine frothed foam and rim. Not a lot of nose at this temperature, in the mouth there is plenty of raw wheat, both grainy and creamy, some passion fruit with banana and allspice, twiggy hop at the swallow and sort of rough pumperknickle in the finish. A really nice succession of quickly evolving flavours all near but not quite achieving citrus. Not a heavyweight of the hefe world but a middleweight. The 14% disapproval from BAers mystifies.
- Maibock: from Holsten. I don't know if "German Speciality 7%" is the same as 7% but that is what it is. The beer is the colour of where straw meets amber and the head is a very billowy off white that falls back to a reasonable foaminess. Very round with a sort of ungrainy pale malt sweetness in the middle. But rich enough. Some rough rather than metallic hop. Very hard to say there is any particular fruit - and a bit musty. The alcohol kinda stands out a little like that bottle of Molson Brador I had in in 1981. A dullish ending that could certainly be enlivened with the slightest nod to a finishing hop. Two-thirds of BAers reject this one. Probably a bit of an unfair representation of the quality but with so many better brews out there why pick up this one?
- Festbock: from Holsten - again with the "German Speciality 7%". A fine tan head over beer the colour of mahogany cola...which, yes, is the colour of cola, ok? A similarly unremarkable brew. Caramel adding the taste of caramel to an unremarkable roundness of round-o-sity. Sort of a black cherry soda pop thing happening with a slight notch of nutmeg maybe. Again roughish hops in the finish. Surprisingly, only 12% of BAers turn up their noses at this one - surprisingly as it is sort of like the other beer plus a certain note of cough syrup. Funny to note most BAers reviewing are Canadian. [I fully realize this post so far is an unfair argument for or against German beer at this point as these are macro-imports-making-an-effort-but-failing. I wanted to get through these.]
- Bamberger Ungespundet-hefetrüb: From Mahr's Bräu. Perhaps the beer that changes my view of light coloured lagers. Light amber beer under white rim and lace. Odd to say but it smells something like a fresh seashore. OK, a fresh seashore with a biscuit bakery down the way. In the mouth, biscuity malt with apple fruit peeking through. Cream yeast tempering green grass, steel and twig in the hops. With the swirl, the brew goes hazy - a bit light brown gravyish, the creaminess enriched. BAers ask a lot of good questions and also approve unanimously. Apparently a kellerbier which the BAers describe here and about which Steve Thomas in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide Germany says the following:
unfiltered and generally dry and hoppy, Kellerbier is commonly produced in the area around Bamburg...often copper-coloured, Kellerbier is usually lightly carbonated compared to most German beers due to the bleeding off of carbon dioxide during conditioning.Taylor also defines ungespundet as "unbunged" again describing how it is fermented without tight barrelling.
Rather soft and yum. Reminds me a bit of Poperings Hommel Ale in the dryness.
- Celebrator Doppelbock: From Ayinger. A double bock, eh? I suppose I have had a few bocks like Salvator, the wheat doppelbock Aventinus and both the maibocks of Rogue and Harpoon - not to mention the S'muttonator from Smuttynose. But that hardly makes for much of a dent in this style. This beer pours a darkish chestnut under a rich dark tan head. In the mouth there is a hint of smoke, plum and black cherry. You could also rearrange the tastes for molasses and raisin as well...but that leave a note of radial tire not accounted for. Hey, I quite like this. I think I have quite liked the other bocks noting something profound like "hey, I really like this." A lot of them seem to have that touch of smoke and cherry thing according to my notes. Sort of cream sherry-ish but for that whole burnt treacle thing that might also be smoked black cherry. Hundreds of BAers flock to tell you of their love of this beer. And, at 6.7%, about two-thirds the strength of S'muttonator.
- EdelHell: From Hacker-Pschorr of Munich. Checking up on my German, the prefix edel- is an intensifier like "fine," "generous" or "great". Hell means "bright" but also "clear" and "fine" and even "blond". So this is a glass of great-fine before me. Steve Thomas in Good Beer Guide Germany says you can expect any sort of pale beer now in Germany under this style but they should be "a light, slightly malty beer with some hoppiness."
This one smells sort of like taking a loaf of french bread dipped in lemon juice and left in a gym bag for 30 minutes for a little funky richness. The beer pours a light straw with a fine whipped egg white of a head. In the mouth it reminds me of half the beers I bought when I was working in Poland in 1991, bootlegged in the trunk of some guy's Trabant, not sharp and tooth-enamel-strippingly stark like a pilsner but round and malty with enough green-metallic hops just to temper the cloy. Not a big bomb in any sense - just a grainy richness that could be cut with, say, sauerkraut or pickled herring or stinky cheese. All but 3% of BAers like this, many noting the general lack of access to good hell or helles in North America. I'd buy it regularly if I had access to it.
- Wiesen Edel-Weisse: by G. Schneider & Sohn. Actually the label reads "Organic Gerog Schneider's Weisen Edel-Weisse." There is a nice USDA organic logo on the front.This ale pours clear, not cloudy like Schneider's regular hefe-weizen, though there is cloudiness after a fairly aggressive swirl leaving caramel cream under a white billowy head. In the mouth there is semi-sweet banana and clove but also some white pepper, lemon and green grass with a nice light astringency from the hops. Chalky creamy yeast enhanced by the cream o'wheat smoothness demanded by the style. Very nice. It doesn't seem to be listed in Steve Thomas's book and I am not sure if this beer and this one are the same. I like it a lot but there are few hefe-weizens I dislike.
- Traditional Altbier: by Magnotta of Vaughan, Ontario outside of Toronto. I could do without the twist-off but still this beer makes me as how many alt beers have I had, the ale of Dussledorf? I think exactly none. The style is defined by the output of three or four long standing brewpubs in the old city or altstadt of Dussledorf. Horst Dornbusch in his 1998 book AltBier (in the Classic Beer Style Series from Brewer's Publications) describes it as between a brown and a dark, full bodied, nutty and slightly sweet with upfront bitterness. This one pours a very attractive deep copper or reddish chestnut under a lace leaving tan head. It has a minerally quality from the hopping with rich nuttiness, earthy underneath. There is a hint of smokey caramel in there as well as a decent level of graininess. But for all its niceness, it is a bit dull (as opposed to poorly made) with the sort of metallic ending that I do not care for even though it is part of the German noble hop pantheon. Dornbusch points out that many alts craft brewed in North America get labeled as "amber" which seems about right. Only 12 BAers rate this one which leaves it a bit prone to statistical error and also leaves me unclear as to how it matches up to German versions of the style.
- Organic Münster Alt: by from Brauerei Pinkus Müller of Munster. Very pale clouded straw with frothy lace-leaving snow white foam. On the nose there is a bringht wild berry tihng like blackcurrent or elderberry. In the mouth extremely moreish - more of the blackcurrent or elderberry with notes of honey, fresh french bread and a slight mustiness like a good used book store. A less-than-bone-dry finish with a note of lime. Elegant. A beer I would hunt out again and again. The 15% of BAers who do not like this defy understanding. No doubt blinded by stupified style worship.