O’ zafpt is! Oktoberfest 2016

Most every beer enthusiast I know has his or her mythical geography of the beer world, a mental landscape dotted with legendary breweries and drink-before-you-die beers. This topography might also consist of wild yeasts residing in the rafters of old farmhouses, or historic hop kilns concealed along country back roads. Cities themselves stand out like beacons: Munich, Portland, Bamberg, Brussels. A large part of what sustains this mental geography is the excitement of the quest. Sometimes we manage to satisfy of our desires relatively quickly; sometimes the quest may take years.

For me, lover of German beer that I am, it took twenty-five years to make it to Oktoberfest.

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I’ve written about my conversion to good beer elsewhere, and I’ve also written about my first visit to a beer garden and my first winter Glühwein. All of these happened way back during my first study year abroad. But why was it so difficult to get myself to Oktoberfest? Well, you see, I thought that Oktoberfest happened in October.

It was the autumn of 1991. I had my bags packed and ready to go. The kindly woman who tended to international exchange students asked what my plans were for that particular weekend, the second in October. “Oktoberfest!” I responded. She slowly shook her head. “Oktoberfest ended last weekend.”

If you, too, happen to be traveling around Europe and are blithely planning a trip to Oktoberfest in mid-October, keep in mind that it ends on 3 October this year.

Which brings us to about ten days ago. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of my disappointment, I headed out not just for Oktoberfest, but for the opening ceremony itself.

The morning dawned gray and wet. Over coffee I read yet another newspaper article about how heightened precautions such as a perimeter fence and security check had all but overshadowed the perennial talk of increasing prices for a Maß (1 liter) of beer.img_0258 But the sheer crush of lederhosen and dirndls on my train from Freising to Munich spoke volumes against the anxiety expressed in certain quarters. Neither the vague threat of terrorism nor the minor deluge seemed capable of holding back the throngs of people streaming from all sides toward the Theresienwiese.

I threaded my way through the crowd and asked a few folks where the opening ceremony would take place. By 11:00 am I had found my way to the Spaten Schottenhamel Festhalle beer tent.

Anticipation grew as the clock approached noon. Screens around the edge of the tent flashed images of the horse-drawn wagons decked out for the occasion and laden with this year’s beer. The procession drew nearer. And then the grand entrance! A marching band, the Münchener Kindl, symbol of the city dressed in traditional brown and yellow-gold, the Bavarian state premier, and the mayor of Munich. The crowd surged forward as the entourage made its way to where the ceremonial wooden kegs had been set up.

Even if you don’t know much German beyond lager and bier, chances are you’ve heard or read the phrase that marks the official beginning of Oktoberfest.img_0244 After the mayor exchanged a few words with the MC, it was game on. Two, maybe three blows with the wooden mallet, and the words everyone had been waiting for: O’ zapft is!

And so, I raise my stein: Ein Prosit, not only to Gemütlichkeit, but also to another place in my beer geography that has gotten that much less mythical, even if Oktoberfest itself remains legendary.

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From now until the end of Oktoberfest, I’ll be posting a series of short pieces that paints a picture of the history and culture of Oktoberfest. Some questions I’ll seek to answer for you include:

  • How did an annual horse race that first took place in 1810 become the largest beer festival in the world? And why the heck is Oktoberfest celebrated mainly in September?
  • When did all the huge beer tents appear, and what did they replace? (Hint: beer castles!)
  • When did the annual tradition of tapping the keg begin? Where did all the Märzen go?
  • How does Oktoberfest fit into Munich’s rich calendar of beer festivals? How many people show up in any given year, and just how much Festbier do they drink?

Related Tempest Articles

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant

Hefeweizen: A Beer for All Seasons

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Eat Drink Finger Lakes: A Late Summer Smorgasbord of Food and Beer

It’s that time of year. Thousands of you have just moved halfway across the continent and are settling in at one of the universities or colleges in the Finger Lakes region. Even more of you live in one of the large urban areas within three or four hours of the Finger Lakes. Perhaps you’re thinking of getting out to enjoy the setting summer, or maybe you’re just passing through the region. Whatever the case, you might find yourself in need of a drink at some point. And probably some food too.IMG_3586

Shifting gears for a moment: It’s been a busy summer hiking, cycling, and riding trains around Austria. No complaints, but no matter how hard I try, I rarely manage to write posts while on the road. I’m on the road again –– this time in rural Pennsylvania after a conference in Philadelphia and a short visit to Pittsburgh. Since I’m only a few mountains and rivers from the Finger Lakes, why not finish up something I was working on last summer before I head back to Vienna? The piece below complements the various articles I have written about the region over the years. Taken together, they give you a comprehensive introduction to craft beverages and good eats in the Finger Lakes.

New York’s Finger Lakes Region: A Back-Road Craft Beer Tour

Serving Up a New Tradition at the Finger Lakes Cider House

Gorges and Good Beer in Ithaca, NY: Vol.1

Ithaca is Craft Beer

The Barn and the Brewery: A Touch of Tradition and a Dash of Creativity at Abandon

Cultural Archeology, Hopshire Style: The Revival of Hop Cultivation in New York

If you’re looking for something to do during those late summer and early autumn weekends before the frosts hit, read on! And since it’s an ongoing story, let us know in the comments about some of your favourite places that I haven’t written about here.

Skaneateles

Wine has long been a Finger Lakes staple, and the notion of good beer no longer raises eyebrows at the communal table. Add cider and the occasional artisanal distillery, and your glass will never be half empty.IMG_3499 You won’t go hungry either with the abundance of local fruit, bread, meat, and cheese.

And fish ’n chips –– or, as they call it in the region, fish fry. The most famous of them all is Doug’s Fish Fry, a local pilgrimage site and seafood shrine in Skaneateles. With its stately boulevard and lakeside mansions, Skaneateles is also one of the most beautiful of the Finger Lakes towns. Finger Lakes on Tap hadn’t yet opened when I was in Skaneateles in 2015, but now you can find roughly 60 breweries represented, ranging from Southern Tier in the west and Ommegang in the east to help you digest your visit to Doug’s Fish Fry.

Auburn

Travel fifteen minutes west along U.S. Route 20 and the undulating green farmland gives way to the shady lanes of Auburn, home of famed abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, and William H. Seward of Alaska Purchase fame. Like many towns in Upstate New York, Auburn was once home to several breweries before the combined blight of consolidation and Prohibition knocked the total to zero. But the aroma of mashed grain and hopped wort is in the air once again. Tucked away at the back of a small commercial building, Garrett of The Good Shepherds brews his beer on a nano setup about the size of a large homebrewing rig. Open since 2014, his rotating roster of brews was heading in the right direction when we visited in the summer of 2015, especially his Raz Brown and Sour Irish Red.IMG_3546 Check the website to see what’s on tap now.

Auburn is not just home to famous historical personages. It’s also the site of the maximum-security Auburn Correctional Facility. The latter inspires the jail-themed beers at Prison City Pub and Brewery, with names like Escape from Alca’razz. The impressive Blaubeere, an “American Sour Berliner Weisse aged with wild Maine blueberries and all-Brett yeast” makes up for an ambitious if slightly uneven food menu. Beers change regularly, so you might have an entirely different gustatory experience.

Rochester

If you’re a photography or film buff, Rochester’s Eastman Museum is well worth a detour from your craft beer itinerary. Time was short after the museum visit, so we opted for one of the newer breweries generating plenty of buzz in the Rochester area: Swiftwater Brewing Company. Located in the gentrifying South Wedge area of Rochester, Swiftwater is attracting a young and stylish set in droves. The beers: Belgian? American? German? Experimental?IMG_3702 All of the above, and none of the above at this urban farmhouse brewery.

Then there’s the venerable Genesee. Founded in 1878, Genesee is one of the oldest continually running breweries in the U.S. Recently they began to brew sound but cautious Scotch ales, black IPAs, and English-style brown ales under the Genesee name. At $3 for a flight of 4, it’s probably one of the best deals around. Skip the rather pedestrian tour of their 7-barrel pilot system and spend your time in their well-appointed gift shop/museum learning about the history of brewing in Rochester.

Ithaca Area

Perched on a ridge overlooking the western shores of Cayuga Lake outside of Ithaca, Bellwether has been producing hard ciders among the wineries for well over a decade. Bellwether has since been joined by a growing chorus of cider producers, including Eve’s Cidery, Black Diamond Cidery, Redbyrd Orchard Cider, Good Life Cider, and South Hill Cider. The latter five cideries peddle their wares at the Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm in Interlaken, NY, a farmhouse surrounded by bucolic meadows. Ciders range from still to sparkling, and bone-dry to lusciously sweet, with the occasional fortified cider and ice cider thrown in.

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Hopshire, built to resemble a historic hop kiln.

Heading out of Ithaca in the other direction, Dryden’s Hopshire Farm and Brewery continues to pump out a range of solid beers emphasizing local ingredients. Among the additions to their lineup when I last visited are Dragon Ash, a rich porter with fruit and chocolate notes, and Abbey Normale, a majestic Belgian dark strong ale with a spicy caramel-plum-raisin character. If these beers aren’t on tap when you visit, chances are you’ll see them when the season’s right.

Last but least, the old standby: Ithaca Beer Company. The burgers have inched up in price, and they’ve switched up the selection, but the quality is as high as ever. That’s not surprising, given that they source their meat from Autumn’s Harvest Farms in nearby Romulus, NY. (If you’re in the area long enough, give them a call and head out for a tour of their farm.IMG_3563 Their pork products are superb.) Over a few sessions with friends, I had the Cheddar Burger and the Smokehouse Burger, both accompanied by fries with homemade ketchup and herbed mayonnaise dipping sauces. The great food and solid beer isn’t the only reason to stop by for lunch or dinner; the brewery and restaurant setting is stunning at all times of the day –– a bit like Switzerland minus the snow-capped peaks. Try the perennial favourite, Flower Power IPA, or opt for a one-off in the taproom. (I had a compelling golden amber-coloured coffee beer during my last visit.) It seems like just yesterday that the Ithaca Beer Company opened up their new brewery and restaurant amid the rolling hills and verdant pastures, but even that space wasn’t large enough to meet the double-digit increase in demand. When you visit, lift a glass of one of their experimental Excelsior series ales to celebrate all that the Finger Lakes has to offer.

Postscript: Madison County Hop Fest

Before plant diseases began the job of devastating Central New York’s hop crop and Prohibition finished it, Madison County was the center of hop production in North America. Just a few steps beyond the Finger Lakes proper, the region merits a visit both for its beer history and its contemporary embrace of hop production and local malting. With a bit of luck and the help of a local, the intrepid hop head can find nineteenth-century hop kilns tucked away in hollows or hidden in the shadows of hillocks and knolls along sleepy back roads. Though some structures have succumbed to the ravages of time in the decade since this map was produced, you can still use it to put together a fascinating day trip. For those who don’t want to venture out into the back of beyond, twenty-first century hop yards have sprung up in conspicuous locations along well-traveled country thoroughfares within the past several years. (See my Cultural Archeology, Hopshire Style: The Revival of Hop Cultivation in New York if you want to read more about why that’s the case today.)

For over two decades now, the Madison County Historical Society has been helping locals and visitors celebrate all things lupulin at the Madison County Hop Fest. Mark your calendars: this year’s edition takes place between 16 September and 18 September.

While you’re in the region, be sure to check out Good Nature Brewing in Hamilton and Henneberg Brewing Company in Cazenovia. And for a quick sip of the cultural history of hop production in the region, check out my oh-so creatively titled Madison County Hop Fest.

Ithaca Brewing Company

Ithaca Brewing Company

All images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Of Coolships, Cobwebs, and Cantillon

Cantillon needs no introduction. Even if you’re not yet a convinced imbiber of wild-fermented beers, chances are you’ve at least heard of Cantillon, that legendary Brussels brewery of mythic proportions and mystical imaginings. If lambic and gueuze producers in Flemish Brabant merit pilgrimages, Cantillon is the holy grail.IMG_7968Cantillon’s sterling reputation rests on its charm, and has as much to do with its defense of tradition as it does with what’s in the bottle. Pulley-and-gear-driven mash tuns, shallow cool ships in the attic with louvers to control the airflow and temperature, a hop-aging room smelling of old hay and cheese, cobwebs stretched between the rafters, a barrel fermentation room with its characteristic musty-woody smell, and row upon row of aging racks downstairs: The brewery stands as a testament to how beer was brewed at a time when Paul Cantillon set up shop in the Anderlecht district of Brussels at the turn of the twentieth century.IMG_7904 Unlike many other lambic and gueuze producers that have updated their facilities, the dark, timbered, and cobwebbed Cantillon brewery is like a trip back in time.

In Defense of Tradition

Back when Cantillon started slaking the thirst of Anderlecht’s workers, Brussels was home to over a hundred breweries. Today, only two remain: Bellevue, an InBev entity that caters to mass tastes with its sweetened gueuze-like and kriek-like beers, and Cantillon. As the Cantillon brochure pointedly puts it, nowadays “the world of Lambic is dominated by big business and its centuries-old name has been tarnished by large-scale industrial production.”

Up early, we hit the bikes and headed in the direction of Anderlecht, arriving at Cantillon well before noon. Wary of leaving our bikes on the street, we asked the elderly woman selling tickets in the brewery if we could bring our bikes inside. As it turns out, she’s the last living Cantillon, wife of Jean-Pierre Van Roy, the gent who took up the reins of the brewery in the 1960s. And there she was, working in the family business on a Saturday morning, selling 7-euro tickets for the self-guided tour and tasting to follow.

A brewery dominated by the dictates of big business Cantillon is not. The spiders in the rafters upstairs bear witness to the fact. (More on those spiders later.)

Turning Wheat and Barley into Lambic and Gueuze

Cantillon does things in a manner reminiscent of days when artisans were aided by the labour-saving devices of early industrialism. Cranks and pulleys drive a mash tun that looks like a museum piece, and wood’s the word when it comes to fermentation.IMG_7913

Once the wort has finished its boil, it spends the night cooling in a shallow copper vessel tucked among the rafters of the attic. This vessel, known as a coolship, is designed to expose as much of the wort as possible to the evening breezes regulated by wooden louvers that open out into the cool night. Microorganisms resident in the attic and evening air inoculate the wort during this early stage of the fermentation process. An ambient temperature between 3 and 8 degrees Celsius is crucial; too warm, and undesirable yeast and bacteria gain the upper hand. This is why the brewing season typically lasts from October through April only, although recent global warming trends may eventually spell an even shorter brewing season.IMG_7920Bright and early the next morning the brewers set to work transferring the wort into oak or chestnut barrels, where fermentation can take up to three years. During this time, the microbes that inoculated the wort overnight, together with the organisms that inhabit the barrel, produce the astounding array of aromas characteristic of lambic.

Now it’s just a matter of patience. Here’s where the spiders and cobwebs come in. Insects just can’t seem to resist the fermenting beer and the summer deliveries of fresh fruit that Cantillon uses to make its kriek and other fruit beers. Cantillon uses 150 kg of fruit for every 500 liters of two-year-old lambic, so it’s no wonder that the insects are drawn to the brewery. Rather than risk having insecticides seep into the casks, the brewers leave the job of insect control to the spiders.

A word on the barrels: the type of wood used to make the barrels is not as important for lambic makers as it is for winemakers. Rather, lambic brewers prefer barrels already used by winemakers and, to a lesser extent, Cognac producers.IMG_7933 New barrels impart too much tannin and oak character, while used barrels lend that beguiling suggestion of wine. Over repeated use, each barrel develops a character unto itself as the diverse microflora take up residence.

Patience Rewarded

After the lambic reaches a certain point in the fermentation and maturation process, it’s ready to drink straight from the barrel. More often than not, though, the lambics are blended to make gueuze. Gueuze is made from a blend of one-, two-, and three-year-old lambics originating, in Cantillon’s case, from as many as eight barrels. The oldest portion of the blend provides the character, and the youngest portion of the blend initiates a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The result: a dry and tart ale with a dense and frothy foam cap.

Lambics and gueuzes are sometimes described as vinous or cidery, and have a distinctive sour quality. Aromas and flavours range from fruity (citrus, green apples, tart cherry) to phenolic-spicy, from earthy and leathery to oaky with hints of vanilla. And then there’s all that funk: horse blanket, barnyard, cheese, hay.

Not your father’s BudMillerCoors.

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Now that we’ve spent the past half hour or so wandering through the brewery on our self-guided tour, it’s time to put those tasting tokens to work.

The lambic exhibits a solidly tannic note from the wood, some fresh meadow scent, and a slight tartness. As for the gueuze? Scents of tropical fruit, aged hops with a distinctive cheese quality, pungent flowers, barnyard, ghee, and green apple. On the palate it was creamy, tannic, and with a pleasant lemon-funk rounded out by green apple and a touch of slate-like minerality.

*Of note: The Cantillon lambics and gueuzes that I tasted at the brewery and elsewhere in the Brussels region in May 2016 had an interesting cheese-like pungency on the nose when young –– not overpowering, but clearly present. Later, in June 2016, I tasted a gueuze that was bottled in June 2014. The aged version had developed plenty of additional complexity, and the “cheese” character had aged out into hay, horse/horse blanket, pineapple brett, and gooseberry.IMG_7944

Rosé de Gambrinus is made in the same way as kriek, but with raspberries instead of cherries. Thanks to the skills of the good brewers of Cantillon, the raspberry shines through bright and fresh, as if it has just been picked. The star of the show, though, was a bottle of Foufoune (apricot gueuze-lambic). The subtle yet intense apricot aromas and flavours were exquisite.

Alas, much as we would have liked to taste our way through all of Cantillon’s intriguing offerings, we had made previous arrangements to take a bicycle tour of Brussels. Needless to say, it’s just a matter of time before I head back to Cantillon.

If you’ve had a chance to try the Vigneronne, the Cuvée Saint-Gilloise, the Saint-Lamvinus, the Iris, or any of the Lou Pépé bottlings, let us know how they tasted.

Related Tempest Articles

For more on the differences between lambic, gueuze, and kriek, and for tips on where you can find all the Belgian beer you’d ever want to drink, see my Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant.

A Twist of Sour: New Belgium’s 2013 La Folie and Verhaeghe’s Duchesse de Bourgogne

Three Vintages of Goose Island’s Sofie

A Rodenbach Grand Cru in the Fridge, or a Six-Pack of Lesser Beer in the Fridge?

Sources

On the technical and aesthetic aspects of lambic brewing, including turbid mashes, hop aging, and characteristic ester and phenolic profiles of various yeast and bacteria strains, see Jeff Sparrow, Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewers’ Yeast (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 2005).

“Brewery Cantillon: Traditional Family-Run Brewery,” (Brussels, n.d.).

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All images by F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant

Skimming place names on a map of Belgium is like going into a prodigiously stocked bottle shop. Where do you start in a country with a beer heritage as rich as it is in Belgium? Trappist beers, witbier, saison, Flanders red, oud bruin? What about all those famous towns like Chimay, Roeselare, Poperinge, and Westvleteren –– to say nothing of urban beer havens such as Antwerp and Leuven?

For me, the choice was relatively easy: I had never had the opportunity to taste lambic, those Belgian ales discussed in hushed and reverent tones among adepts of the zymurgical arts, beers that rarely make it beyond the immediate vicinity of Brussels.IMG_7820

Lambic had become something of a holy grail for me.

So when I found out that an old friend had moved to Brussels for work, it was only a matter of time before I made the pilgrimage. My friend got things off the ground the right way, greeting me upon my arrival from the airport with gueuze and kriek from Oude Beersel. Things only got better from there.

Scratching the Surface of Brussels’ Beerscape

Before venturing out into the countryside around Brussels, why not an evening of aperitifs to set the stage? Brussels –– capital of one of the most fascinating beer countries in the world –– doesn’t disappoint on this score.

Our first stop was À la Mort Subite, a classic Belgian beer café dating from the prime of the post-Great War years before the Depression. Cream-coloured walls, wooden brasserie-style tables and chairs, small globe lights casting a soft light over the cafe, brown bench seating built in along the periphery walls, rows of painted metal art-nouveau columns, an arched threshold with wood-framed doors, and a floor-to-ceiling showcase window perfect for watching the world drift by. Blink and you might think you’d been transported back to the 1920s.IMG_7798 I ordered up a Mort Subite Witte Lambic, which sounded interesting on the surface of things. It turned out to be a sweet and apricot-fruity beer –– refreshing and approachable, but with little in the way acidity and no wild-fermented complexity. Fortunately, though, this mild ordering fail did nothing to detract from the atmosphere of the place. And besides, there’s plenty more on the menu.

From there, we made our way to Moeder Lambic via the Galeries Royales St-Hubert and the Grand Place, which was actually quite grand. Tastefully lit at night, it’s the kind of place that has the power to stop even seasoned Euro travelers in their tracks. If you’re there during the day, check out the brewing museum in the Brewers’ Guildhall (L’Arbre d’Or).IMG_7808

Moeder Lambic on Place Fontainas serves up lambic, gueuze, and other styles aplenty. Their expansive menu makes for some interesting reading. Cantillon’s wares feature prominently, and rare bottlings from other lambic/gueuze producers abound as well –– some selling for as high as 200 euros per bottle. If you want to keep it simple but still be able to try something you won’t find far beyond the Brussels region, opt for a Gueuze Tilquin on draft.

Lambic, Gueuze, and Kriek in Flemish Brabant

The next day dawned all golden sunshine, auguring well for our planned cycling tour of the fabled valley where the wild-fermented beers are.

The Senne/Zenne rises north of Brussels and once flowed through the city before it was covered over in the nineteenth century as part of an ambitious urban works project that dramatically reshaped city. Today, the river reemerges to the southwest and continues on its gentle way through the rolling hills of the Payottenland.IMG_7856 As late as the turn of the twentieth century, some three hundred lambic brewers lined the Senne and spread out into the surrounding hills and farmland. Now the region is home to just over a dozen lambic brewers and blenders, with only one –– perhaps the most famous one –– located within the Brussels city limits.

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After a walk through the monumental and rather monolithic Parc du Cinquantenaire, we boarded a train from Gare Bruxelles-Schuman to Hal/Halle. The short train ride leaves just the right amount of time to talk about those enchanting and enigmatic ales that brought me here. I realize that unless you’re an avowed beer enthusiast or “beer geek,” you might not know what a lambic is –– and that’s just fine. It took me some time as well to disentangle lambics from gueuzes and krieks, and Flemish red ales from oud bruins.

A lambic is a spontaneously fermented ale made from Pilsener malt and anywhere between thirty to forty percent unmalted wheat. This sets lambic apart from German or American wheat beers, which use malted wheat. Lambic gets its minimal hop charge from Belgian or Central European varieties that have been aged for up to three years.IMG_7919 Process-wise, the wort is set out to cool overnight in a large shallow vessel called a coolship often located in the attic of the brewery before being transferred to barrels for fermentation. During the months and years the beer spends in the barrel, the microbes that inoculated the wort overnight join forces with the organisms that inhabit the barrel to work their magic. The resulting array of aromas and flavours might, at first blush, strike anyone unfamiliar with spontaneously fermented beers as downright odd, if not repulsive. Sometimes described as vinous or cidery, lambics typically exhibit lactic, citric, or malic (apple) sourness, and they can be tart and tannic when young. Notably, lambic brewers aim for a level of acidity similar to that of a zippy white wine. Balance is key. More does not necessarily mean better.

The same goes for the “funk” level in the aromatics and flavours. Sure, the Saccharomyces, Pediococcus, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and other organisms combine to impart aromas at times reminiscent of barnyard, hay, horse, horse blanket, and washed rind cheese. But the concentrations should be “pleasant.” Admittedly, like durian or pungent cheese, it’s an acquired taste, but worth the effort.

Sound appetizing so far? Depending on the various yeast and bacteria strains, lambics may also recall pineapple, tart cherry, oak, and even honey as the beer ages. Whether you’re a fan of sour/wild-fermented beers or not, what might strike you most about lambics is the (virtual) absence of carbonation. Like most wines, lambics are still. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see any trace of a head on your beer. That’s entirely normal.IMG_7864

Comprised of one-, two-, and three-year-old lambics, gueuze showcases the skills of the seasoned blender. Highly effervescent, gueuze is to Champagne what lambic is to wine. Under optimal cellaring conditions a gueuze will continue to evolve for years. Dry, tart, and with a dense and frothy foam cap, gueuzes run the gamut from fruity (citrus, green apples, tart cherry) to phenolic-spicy, from earthy and leathery to oaky with hints of vanilla, and from fresh-cut hay to barnyard and horse blanket.

IMG_7872Kriek is a younger lambic to which cherries have been added. But don’t expect a well-brewed traditional kriek to be sweet. Wild yeasts thrive on the sugars present in the fruit, leaving behind an intense fruit character with no residual sweetness. If you have a kriek that tastes sweet and syrupy, it has been back-sweetened. Best bet: look for a bottle that has “oude” in front of the word kriek. Cantillon adds 150 kg of Schaerbeek sour cherries per 500 liters of two-year-old lambic and leaves the cherries to macerate for five to six months before adding a quantity of young lambic –– one third of the volume of the kriek for anyone who wants to try this at home –– to kickstart secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Biking for Beer in Lambic Land

Chances are, you didn’t bring a bike with you to Belgium. No worries. You can rent a passable bicycle for 10 euros per day near the Halle train station. Exit on the east side and return along the tracks in the direction of Brussels and you’ll find the rental place. Before venturing out for that ride through the countryside, keep in mind that Flemish Brabant is not flat. In exchange for a few hills, though, you get pastoral scenery that inspired the likes of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and some room in your belly for beer.IMG_7825

We jumped on our bikes, took a slightly round-about route through farmers’ fields and small villages to Beersel via Huizingen and Lot, stopped briefly at the Kasteel Beersel to learn about the lambic and gueuze possibilities in the area from one of the castle attendants, and then braced ourselves for the hill to Drie Fonteinen.

After talking with one of the brewers who works on the barrels, we made our way to to Drie Foneinen’s restaurant for –– finally!! –– my first-ever sip of lambic.IMG_7823 Wonderful stuff! Worth the journey to Brussels, the train ride to Halle, and the ride up the steep hill to the Beersel town square. Absolutely still with a few errant bubbles skirting the surface of the beer, darker than I expected (amber-hued, an indicator of some barrel age), and slightly hazy. Refined, with a subdued tartness and a meadow-like scent of hay. The Oude Gueuze was lively, with plenty of juicy lemon and green apple along with an oak/tart cherry character from the wood. Hungry after all that riding around, we tucked into a generous portion of Stoofkarbonaden, a rich rabbit stew that was an ideal foil for the Oude Gueuze’s acidity.

Slightly down the other side of the hillock you’ll find Oude Beersel. Everything was locked up tight when we arrived, but I rang the bell anyway. Just as we were about to give up and move on, the door swung open and one of the brewers invited us in for more lambic and an animated conversation about larger versus smaller lambic producers. If you show up on a Saturday between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm, you won’t have to ring the bell. Oude Beersel runs English-language tours at 12:30 on the first and third Saturday of the month.IMG_7892

Then down the hill we went, and back up a hill, and back down, till finally we landed back in Halle, where we returned the bikes and took a bus to Lembeek in search of Boon. Just our luck. It, too, was closed. So I rang the bell again and waited until someone poked his head out of a second-story window and arranged a fabulous personalized tour for us with one of the brewers.IMG_7853

Frank Boon, a driving force behind the gueuze and lambic revival, opened his brewery on a site that was once a seventeenth-century farmhouse brewery and distillery. Boon’s brewers still brew on their old system, but they have also installed a shiny new brewery around and adjacent to the old one. Though some of the initial fermentation now takes place in stainless steel tanks, Boon still maintains a large cellar stacked with barrels for aging.

Not far from the gates of the brewery and just off Lembeek’s small town square you’ll find De Kring, a cozy café with an excellent selection of Boon beverages. We rewarded ourselves for a day well spent –– there’s something wholesome about biking for your beer –– with bottles of Oude Gueuze Boon and Kriek Mariage Parfait, which was stunning it its crystalline expression of cherry flavour. De Kring evokes a bygone era when locals of all ages gathered in the local tavern for a drink, sometimes with the kids in tow. With its wood paneling and diffused light, this classic café feels like a trip back in time.IMG_7862 Go there before time catches up to it.

Brussels Reprised

What better way to cap a day of riding around the Payottenland countryside in search of lambic and gueuze than to head out for the exact same thing in the big city?

With a pleasant glow, we stepped into the evening sunshine and made our way back to Brussels for dinner at Bier Circus Bruxelles, another renowned Brussels watering hole, for a Girardin lambic and Gueuze Girardin 1882, both of which exhibited a distinctively round, mildly lactic buttery note. Pair them with the Waterzooi, a Flemish specialty made from fish, chicken, or veal. I had the fish version, an excellent fit with the beers we had.

Coffees done, we headed over to L’Ultime Atome, a cool bar in the Ixelles neighbourhood with funky Japanese-influenced lighting fixtures, floor-to-ceiling windows, and plenty of hazelnut-coloured wood for one last round before calling it a night.

Tomorrow, Cantillon.

________________

Odds and Ends

I didn’t get around to visiting the Bezoekercentrum De Lambiek (Lambic Visitor Center) in Alsemberg near Beersel. Simply too much to do and see. By all accounts, this museum and tasting facility provides a prime opportunity to sample most of the region’s gueuzes, lambics, and krieks in one place. Next time.

Related Tempest Articles

A Twist of Sour: New Belgium’s 2013 La Folie and Verhaeghe’s Duchesse de Bourgogne

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips

A Rodenbach Grand Cru in the Fridge, or a Six-Pack of Lesser Beer in the Fridge?

Sources

Jeff Sparrow, Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewers’ Yeast (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 2005).

“Brewery Cantillon: Traditional Family-Run Brewery,” (Brussels, n.d.).

Gregg Glaser, “In Search of Lambic,” All About Beer Magazine (July 1, 2001).

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Vienna, City of Beer Gardens

Not a cloud in the sky and the streets are starting to radiate the heat of the late afternoon. So much to see in Vienna. But I could use a cool drink right about now.IMG_4050 Perfect time to head to a beer garden.

“A beer garden?” some of my Viennese friends ask, usually with slightly raised eyebrow. In writing this series on beer gardens, I’ve come to learn that many in Vienna don’t refer to beer gardens as beer gardens. The preferred term is “Gastgarten” (guest garden), while “Biergarten” has a distinctively southern German ring to it. I’ll revisit this fascinating semantic world of Gasthäuser, Wirtshäuser, Beiseln, and Gastgärten at a later date. For now, though, it’s probably a safe bet for us English speakers to just call the drinking establishments in this series “beer gardens.”

Now you have a topic for your next beer garden conversation in Austria –– guaranteed to touch off a lively discussion about these aspects of Austrian culinary and cultural history.

A Gasthaus, a Beisl, or some guy named Franz?

A Gasthaus, a Beisl, a Wirtshaus, or some guy named Franz? Maybe they have a Gastgarten out back …

Where were we?

In Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens, we headed out to Vienna’s iconic Prater for some Czech Budweiser and roasted pork knuckle. After that, we hiked through the Vienna woods and capped it with an Augustiner beer fresh from Salzburg at the Bamkraxler (A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country). Time for another one of those epic tram rides –– this time to the western corner of the city.

Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz”

Tucked away amid the largest expanse of urban gardens (Schrebergärten) in Europe, the Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz” is one of those true gems that should be on the itinerary of every beer garden aficionado. Founded in 1920, today’s Schutzhaus may not have the largest selection of beers –– Czech Budweiser, a Zwickl from Ottakringer, a Paulaner Hefeweizen, and a few others –– but beer’s not the only reason you should visit. Peter Eickhoff, author of 111 Orte in Wien, die man gesehen haben muss, writes that the person who doesn’t know of the Schmelz “doesn’t know Vienna” (Eickhoff, 2015, 180). Even so, when you wander past the tidy urban gardens and enter the Schutzhaus beer garden, you’ll feel like you’ve been let in on a secret that not every Viennese has heard.IMG_7669

Sipping your beer surrounded by so much soothing greenery, it may take a moment to conjure up the rich history of the area. Auf der Schmelz has seen many incarnations, but its name still recalls its origin as an iron-smelting works that stood here up until the time of the second Ottoman siege in 1683. The Friedhof der Schmelz (cemetery) replaced the smelting works and held the remains of the victims of the 1848 Revolution until everyone was up and moved to the Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery) some years later. From 1857 this strip of land was used as an exercise ground for the imperial cavalry, and was the staging ground for the magnificent military parade held annually for Kaiser Franz Joseph.

After the turn of the twentieth century the area was slated for an ambitious redevelopment that would have shifted the artistic and cultural focus of Vienna considerably westward. This “blank slate” devoid of established buildings appealed to the architects of the day, including Otto Wagner, who submitted intriguing plans for the Kaiser Franz Josef Stadtmuseum (currently the Wien Museum on Karlsplatz).

***

The Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz” is, to paraphrase Peter Eickhoff, not only the heart but also the belly of the Schmelz –– and the portions are, indeed, ample. It was “Spargelzeit” when I first went, that glorious time of year in Central Europe when menus feature all things white asparagus. I tucked into an “asparagus cordon bleu” (white asparagus spears wrapped in cheese and ham, then breaded and fried like a schnitzel), but you wouldn’t go wrong with one of their classics such as Schweinsbraten (roast pork) or goulash. If you arrive between June and August, you’ll be in for a treat: a weekly menu that features different menu variations using chanterelle mushrooms. (Look for any menu item with “Eierschwammerl.”)IMG_7676

  • Address: Auf der Schmelz, 1150 Wien
  • Getting there: Take the U3 in the direction of Ottakring as far as Johnstrasse, transfer to Bus 10A in the direction of Heiligenstadt, and get off at the “Auf der Schmelz” stop. You can also do the trip entirely above ground by taking the Tram 46 toward Joachimsthalerplatz as far as Schumeierplatz, transfer to Bus 10A in the direction of Niederhofstrasse, and get of at “Auf der Schmelz.”

Wirtshaus Zattl

You’ve been out to the Prater in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district, you’ve sipped beer in the shadow of Nußdorf’s vineyards, and you’ve ventured out to the leafy Auf der Schmelz garden district in western Vienna. What’s left in terms of beer gardens and shaded courtyards attached to lively taverns? Plenty. But we’ll leave off with one spot in the center of town should you be pressed for time during your visit.

As far as pub interiors go, the Zattl certainly wouldn’t make any “top ten” lists of Europe’s best taverns. I’ve heard the place described as “rustic modern,” but it’s a polished rusticity with much of the historical character sanded out.IMG_9098 We’re here for something different, though. On the opposite side of Zattl’s Herrengasse storefront, you’ll find a bustling beer garden hidden just off the Freyung market square and right in the courtyard of the Schottenstift (Scottish Abbey). On any given evening when the weather’s warm, you’ll find the beer garden abuzz with a mix of students, people on their way home from work, and fashionably dressed older folks taking a break from the city around them.

Considering its location, the food and drinks are reasonably priced, with a 500 mL mug of beer running at 4.30 euros. Classic Austrian tavern fare such as Wiener Schnitzel, Fiaker Goulasch, and Zwiebelrostbraten (a delicious roast beef dish served in an onion sauce with crisped onions) begins around 12 euros. The Zattl receives its beer tanked in fresh from the Pilsener Urquell brewery a few hundred kilometers away in Bohemia.IMG_9101 The 2000-liter refrigerated delivery (subsequently divided into 500-liter tanks in Zattl’s cellar) is unpasteurized and naturally carbonated, making for a softer, rounder Pils Urquell than you’d get in the bottle. In addition to Pilsener Urquell, Zattl serves a variety of Stiegl beers, along with wine offerings from the Wachau, Kremstal, and Neusiedlersee regions.

Even if the Zattl’s sleek interior design runs short on Viennese charm, I share the oft-expressed sentiment among food and beverage writers in Vienna that the Zattl beer garden is among the prettiest inner-city beer gardens in Austria.

Or maybe it’s not a Biergarten after all, but a Gastgarten …

Drink up!IMG_9111

Sources

Peter Eickhoff, 111 Orte in Wien, die man gesehen haben muss (Emons Verlag, 2015).

August Sarnitz, Otto Wagner: Wegbereiter der modernen Architektur (Köln: Taschen, 2005).

“Schmelz,” Wien Geschichte Wiki.

Related Tempest Articles

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country

Last time we met I was drinking a Czech Budweiser under the chestnut canopy in the Alsergrund section of the Schweizerhaus. Today we’re going to head to the village-like atmosphere in the north of the city where the Vienna Woods begin. In Part III we’ll swing west to one of the city’s garden districts before capping the evening in a beer garden hidden right in the middle of the historic old town.IMG_7776

Excursus: Vienna’s public transportation system

Spend even a few hours in Vienna and you’ll realize that its public transportation system is second to none. When you went to the Schweizerhaus after reading Part I, you probably arrived via tram, train, or subway at the Praterstern station. Maybe you hopped the Tram 1 from somewhere along the Ringstrasse, disembarked at the terminus nestled in the woods of the Prater, and then strolled along the tree-lined Hauptallee on your way to the Schweizerhaus.

Trams pass within half a kilometer of every beer garden in this spotlight series, and some of the rides can be truly epic. IMG_5620

Take, for example Tram D, which will get you to the Bamkraxler (see below). Tram D begins its journey in the new glass and steel development to the east of Vienna’s recently-completed Hauptbahnhof before trundling past the Belvedere (home of Klimt’s Kiss) en route to the city center. From the monumental Schwarzenberg Platz (named for the general who led Austrian and Bohemian troops in the Battle of Leipzig during the Napleonic Wars), the tram banks left along the Ringstrasse showcase of nineteenth century historicism. The tram’s arc takes in the Opera and the Hofburg palace facing the twin structures housing the Kunsthistorisches Museum (art) and the Naturhistorisches Museum (natural history). From there, the tram passes the Parliament, the Rathaus (city hall), the University of Vienna, and the Votivskirche before entering the haute-bourgeois Porzellangasse. As Tram D traverses the Ninth District, elegant facades abruptly give way to a grittier neighbourhood, a contact point between two worlds described at length in Heimito von Doederer’s Die Strudelhofstiege.

A few major intersections beyond Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s colourful Fernwärme (incinerator), Tram D begins its glide along the entirety of the Karl-Marx-Hof. Over a kilometer in length, the Karl-Marx-Hof is not only the longest residential building in the world. It also stands as testament to the social democratic housing initiatives of the “Red Vienna” period immediately following the Great War.

And then, as if by some sort of magic, Tram D leaves the bustling twentieth-century boulevard to enter Nußdorf, one of those slices of Vienna that still retains the village-like charm that appealed to one-time resident, Ludwig van Beethoven.

Bamkraxler

Nußdorf is one of those rare places that offers the best of both worlds: world-class wine grown within the city limits, and cask-conditioned Salzburger Augustiner beer served up in a century-old chestnut grove. The forests and hills around Nußdorf also make for pleasant hiking –– a perfect way to build up a thirst.

Not far beyond Tram D’s terminus, the hiking trail rises gently at first, and then more steeply through woods and terraced vineyards. Atop the Kahnlenberg is a church with a plaque dedicated to John III Sobieski, Polish king and grand duke of Lithuania. Sobieski’s timely arrival and strategic sweep down from the mountains decisively turned the tide against the Ottomans at the gates in 1683.IMG_7761With the most strenuous part of the hike behind you and a view of the city unfolding at your feet, it’s time for a few Grüner Veltliner and Gemischter Satz wines at the various Heuriger dotting the hillside. Refreshing as these wines are, you’ll likely be thirsty again by the time you reach the village below. A few twists and turns through the alleys and cobble-stoned streets of Nußdorf and voilà! The tell-tale signs of a beer garden.

Open since 1997, the Bamkraxler is a relative newcomer on the beer garden scene. When the owners set eyes on this erstwhile Heuriger, they knew what to do, turning the hundred-year-old stand of chestnuts and maples into a cozy 250-seat island in this sea of wine.IMG_7783 A small gazebo-like structure provides shelter for the occasional downpour that breaches the defenses of the leafy canopy, and the former wine tavern with its yellow walls and brown trim provides warmth during cooler evenings.

If the name evokes a beloved Viennese toy figure, the Augustiner beer hails from further afield. For those who have had their fill of this refreshing cask-conditioned Märzen brewed up by the good monks at Salzburg-Mülln’s Augustine Monastery, Bamkraxler also taps the crisp Grieskirchner Pils, Ottakringer’s Zwickl Rot (one of Ottakringer’s better offerings), and Kozel’s dark lager. Bottled offerings include beers from Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Hirter, and Murauer.

As far as I know, Bamkraxler is the only place outside of Salzburg that serves the infinitely quaffable Augustiner, the beer that I had during my first-ever visit to a beer garden.IMG_4483 Happily, the Bamkraxler is no mere knock-off of this Salzburger classic, but a beer garden worth seeking out in its own right. If you have friends who prefer wine, split the difference. Spend half the day at a Heuriger, and the other half at Bamkraxler.

Address: Kahlenberger Str. 17, 1190 Vienna

Getting there: Take Tram D in the direction of Nußdorf to its terminus from anywhere along its route. Tram 37 to Hohe Warte is another option.

Check back in a few days for Part III!

____________________________________

Related Tempest Articles

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

All images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

Vienna, city of music. Home to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Mahler. Vienna, a showcase of architectural styles from the soaring Gothic-era Stephansdom to the Baroque opulence of the Karlskirche, and from elegant Ringstrasse historicism to the fin-de-siècle modernism of Otto Wagner. Vienna’s pastries rival those of Paris, as does its coffeehouse culture. Chocolate? Plenty of that, too.IMG_5580

But Vienna, city of beer? Not since the nineteenth century, nascent interest in craft beer notwithstanding.

***

Nothing says summer more than the crunch of gravel underfoot and the shade overhead as I carry my stein of beer back to my spot under the leafy canopy of the chestnut grove. I’ve repeated the ritual for years now.IMG_8563 The cool breeze, the buzz of conversation, the heavy clink of beer mugs, the solid and slightly awkward metal chairs or benches bedecked with wooden slats, the chestnut blossoms covering the tables in late spring and early summer, the plates of sausage, pork knuckle, and sauerkraut –– it’s a scene that never loses its charm.

Even if the glory days of Vienna lager are a thing of the past, Vienna can still lay claim to a rich but understated beer garden tradition. Here’s the first of four shaded oases sure to inspire visitors and locals alike out to check out different parts of the city.

Schweizerhaus

A few steps from the iconic Riesenrad (giant Ferris wheel), and tucked between the lively commotion of the Würstel Prater amusement park and the stately tree-lined Hauptallee, the Schweizerhaus serves up its beer with a shot of Viennese history on the side.IMG_6754 If you visit before the Schweizerhaus closes for the season on 31 October, you’ll be able to raise a stein to Joseph II, the reform-minded Habsburg monarch who opened up the imperial hunting grounds to the general public. Since his proclamation 250 years ago, the broad natural expanse on the edge of the city has become tightly woven into the cultural fabric of the city.

The Prater has been many things to many people over the ages –– meadows, woodlands, amusement park, den of iniquity. Some commentators have even gone so far as to claim that the Prater is an “anarchic space” in which different levels of society could mix and mingle more or less unconstrained by the social norms operative in the city. Countless Austrian literary figures have written fondly of the Prater, and even Goethe, who never visited Vienna, was aware of its reputation. The Prater has also appeared in motion pictures, perhaps most indelibly in the 1949 classic, The Third Man, featuring a diabolical Orson Welles on the run from Joseph Cotten and a Vienna laid low by the war.

***

Food and drink has long been a highlight of a visit to the Prater. Early on, lemonade stands, snack booths, guest houses, and coffee houses emerged as fixtures along the Hauptallee. Taverns soon followed, including the storied Schweizerhaus.

The Schweizerhaus opened in 1868, and is one of the few great Prater drinking establishments to have survived both world wars. Nowadays the Schweizerhaus exudes tradition, but at one time it stood at the forefront of innovation.IMG_4531 Following the example of tavern owners in Munich and the United States, the proprietors had a giant ice cellar installed. “Thanks to this,” wrote one contemporary enthusiast, “patrons can now […] enjoy every glass of Pils or Schwechater beer fresh from the ice cellar while they must be content with lukewarm refreshment at best in many Prater restaurants, especially at the height of summer” (Hachleitner, 2014, 132). When the owner passed away unexpectedly in 1920, Johann Kolarik, a butcher and Prater regular, stepped in. Kolarik switched to Czech Budweiser and introduced a meat dish that soon became synonymous with the Schweizerhaus: the Schweizerhaus Stelze, or roasted pork knuckle.

The establishment remains in the Kolarik family to this day, and now has space for 1700 lucky imbibers in the shaded garden. Keep an eye out for the signs on the lampposts that divide the beer garden into Vienna’s twenty-three districts. You’ll find me in the 9th District enjoying my Budweiser.

Prost!IMG_4533

Check back soon for the second installment covering the remaining beer gardens.

Sources

Bernhard Hachleitner, The Prater Book (Vienna: Bohmann Verlag, 2014).

For a brief history of how the beer garden came into being, see Tempest’s In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden.

Also related:Plakat_In_den_Prater

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

*If you’re visiting Vienna this summer and want to learn more about the cultural history of the Prater, don’t miss the Wien Museum’s informative and entertaining exhibition, Meet Me at the Prater! Viennese Pleasures since 1766.

With the exception of the placard for the Wien Museum’s Prater exhibition, all images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Smoked Beer Sauerkraut

Get out your Rauchbier, folks! It’s smoked beer sauerkraut time!

Not long ago I was in Oklahoma getting ready for a backyard grillfest with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. We decided to keep it relatively simple. Plenty of bratwurst from Siegi’s Sausage Factory in Tulsa would do the trick fine.

We also just so happened to have some homemade sauerkraut in the fridge. What could be better with bratwurst than a nice, smoky sauerkraut?IMG_1574 I was just about slice up some bacon and get the pork hocks out when my partner in crime reminded me that we had a few vegetarian guests coming. She suggested I make a vegetarian sauerkraut. But … but … I want a nice, smoky sauerkraut, I protested. And besides, we had some hearty grain salads at the ready.

***

I’ve made sauerkraut with wine, I’ve made it with hefty wheat wines and Weizenbocks, I’ve made it with gueuze. I’ve even made it vegetarian. But how would I satisfy my craving on this particular day for a deeply rich and smoky sauerkraut without the meat? A light bulb went off in my head, triggered by the Aecht Schlenkerla I spied in the fridge earlier in the day.IMG_5163

So far so good. But adding Rauchbier alone wasn’t going to do the trick. I needed to get that depth of flavour in there somehow. Enter caramelized onions. Lots of them! And lots of butter. Both help round out the beer’s contribution to the dish.

***

Unlike my light and zesty Choucroute à la Gueuze recipe I shared a few years back, this sauerkraut is Central European through and through: butter in place of the bacon, duck, or goose fat, and cooked for several hours. Spice amounts are approximate. As far as the sauerkraut goes, use fresh sauerkraut from the deli. Better yet, make your own. All you need is some advanced planning and enough time to let the critters do their thing –– not unlike homebrewing, really. (Details follow the recipe).

Smoked beer sauerkraut is a perfect side dish during grilling season, but it’s also suitable as a main course to help warm those dark days of winter. Even if the base for this recipe is vegetarian, nothing’s stopping you from adding some of those bratwurst fresh from the grill. Whatever the season, pour yourself a Rauchbier and raise your glass in the general direction of Bamberg.IMG_5086

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. fresh sauerkraut, rinsed
  • ¼ cup butter, slowly browned in a saucepan before using in the main dish
  • 4 onions, cut in half and sliced relatively thinly (too thinly and they’ll burn)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • About ½ a bottle of Aecht Schlenkerla Ur-Märzen (I use Aecht Schlenkerla because it’s one of the more intense Rauchbiers out there. Grätzer/Grodziskie, for example, would be too subtle for this dish.)
  • 1 tbsp juniper berries, lightly crushed with the back of a knife
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp celery seeds
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sea salt or kosher salt to taste. The amount you use will depend on how briny your sauerkraut is. Careful that you don’t over salt.
  • Cheesecloth and cooking twine
  • Accompaniments (boiled young potatoes, or sausages for your carnivorous friends)

Directions

Rinse the sauerkraut according to personal preference. Tie the juniper, cloves, coriander, fennel, celery seeds, and bay leaves in cheesecloth to make a spice bag.

Now crack yourself a beer and start browning your butter over low heat. In the meantime, set a heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-low heat and cover with a fine layer of vegetable oil (you’ll add your browned butter later so that it doesn’t burn). To truly caramelize your onions, you’ll need a good forty-five minutes. Add about a third of the onions to start, and keep adding as the onions reduce down.

If patience isn’t your thing, you can get by with about twenty minutes at a slightly higher heat and still get some richness into your sauerkraut, but going the distance will add that much more depth. When you’ve gotten the onions to where you want them, swirl in your browned butter, add the garlic and cook till it’s aromatic.

Raise heat slightly, deglaze the casserole with your Rauchbier, add the sauerkraut and spice bag, and let everything come to a gentle boil. Check salt and add if necessary, then cover the casserole and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for the next two to three hours.IMG_4932

Beer pairing: Any smoked beer. Porters and stouts would also go well with this dish, and I’m willing to bet that a dunkles Hefeweizen, a Weizenbock, or a dunkles Bock would work as well.

Turning Cabbage into Sauerkraut

Find a dense cabbage, remove the outer leaves, core it, and then slice it thinly. For every five pounds of cabbage you’ll need about 3.5 tablespoons of salt (roughly 2-3% of the weight of the cabbage).

If you don’t own a crock, the fermenting fabrication in Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation works just as well: two food-grade containers of equal size. Just fill the bottom container with alternating layers of cabbage and salt, then fill the top one with water to weigh it down. Top it off with a clean pillow case to keep the bugs out, store the container in a cool, dry place, wait about three to five weeks, and Bob’s your uncle.IMG_5046

Endnotes:

A deli and German-style restaurant in one, Siegi’s Sausage Factory in Tulsa is one of the best places in the U.S. to get German-style sausages. Look them up if you’re passing through Oklahoma on the I-44 some day (8104 S. Sheridan Rd., Tulsa, OK, 74133).

Related Tempest Articles:

Dining Down the Holiday Stretch: Choucroute à la Gueuze

Down the Rabbit Hole: Doppelbock-Braised Rabbit

The Fonduementals of Beer and Cider: Recipes to Warm Your Weekend

Bourbon Squared: Maple-Glazed Pork Belly Meets Barrel-Aged Beer

Images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Beer Travel Off the Beaten Track: Austria’s Innviertel

When you think of beer destinations in Central Europe, certain cities and regions stand out as iconic.

Rauchbier from Bamberg. Budweiser from Budweis. Kölsch from Cologne. Pilsener from Pilsen. Altbier from Düsseldorf. Berliner Weisse. Gose from Leipzig. Light and dark lagers from Munich. And the beer riches of Bavaria in general.

Austria? Vienna Lager may well be a thing again as we celebrate the 175th anniversary of Anton Dreher’s brewing virtuoso this year. But even as the tide of “craft beer” slowly engulfs the Tyrol, Carinthia, Styria, Salzburg, and even Vienna, the country is still, largely, a patchwork of Gösser green, Ottakringer yellow, Puntigamer blue, and Stiegl red. Few beer enthusiasts beyond Austria’s borders think of it as a beer destination.

For the intrepid beer traveler, though, the Innviertel of Upper Austria is a gem of bucolic scenery, colourful towns, and top-notch breweries that don’t see wide distribution. In many ways, the Innviertel’s status as one of the few bona fide beer regions is not surprising, given its proximity to Bavaria. Indeed, the region was a part of Bavaria until it briefly became part of the Habsburg realms in 1779 and then continuously part of what would eventually become the Austria we know today in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. Today, the brewing tradition of the region pays tribute to these historical connections with beers that would not be out of place in any Franconian tavern.IMG_7092

The Innviertel is roughly equidistant between Vienna and Munich, and a mere stone’s throw from Salzburg, but it’s off the major train lines. In fact, the diesel-driven train that runs between Neumarkt and Braunau am Inn is naught more than a bus on rails. If you want to stop at one of the smaller towns along a line, you have to push a button to alert the engineer. As you get further from Linz, the industrial center of Upper Austria, the landscape starts to undulate, and the houses take on a more rustic character. Verdant rolling fields spread out northward across the Inn and into Bavaria, and the tops of snow-capped peaks loom up above the hilltop forest stands to the south.

***

My first stop is Ried im Innkreis, the administrative center of the Innviertel region and the largest market town in Austria in the mid-nineteenth century.IMG_6887

With a town square awash in colour and charming alleys radiating in every direction, Ried invites visitors to spend some time on the many terraces sipping a coffee, eating ice cream, or … drinking a beer.IMG_6880

Ried was once home to a handful of breweries, but since the Kellerbrauerei cooled its kettles in 2013, Rieder Bier is now the sole hometown hero.

The best place by far to hoist a tankard of the local brew and much else besides is the Biergasthof Riedberg. Karl Zuser, the sommelier-owner, is something of a local celebrity, criss-crossing the region offering and promoting his well-stocked cellar broad in brand selection and deep in vintage verticals.IMG_6829

Riedberg’s head server, Susanne Schimpf, is also a trained beer sommelier. She set me up not only with superb beers, but also a hop soft drink (Hopster Hopfenlimo) that I’m sure we’ll see at some point in Kreuzkölln or Brooklyn. IMG_6863

Schnaitl, one of the region’s innovative breweries. Zuser sells his beers by the bottle, but also offers reasonably-priced flights of anything on tap –– a rarity in Austria and southern Germany.

Schnaitl, one of the region’s innovative breweries. Zuser sells his beers by the bottle, but also offers reasonably-priced flights of anything on tap –– a rarity in Austria and southern Germany.

The hop schnapps Susanne served at the end of the meal cut through the rich and delicious regional fare perfectly.

Local beef cooked in beer, smothered in a Bärlauch cream sauce, and topped with white asparagus. Bärlauch grows wild in the foothills of the Alps and in the woods ringing Vienna, and is closest to the garlic scapes of eastern North America.

Local beef cooked in beer, smothered in a Bärlauch cream sauce, and topped with white asparagus. Bärlauch grows wild in the foothills of the Alps and in the woods ringing Vienna, and is closest to the garlic scapes of eastern North America.

***

After a leisurely Easter Sunday buffet breakfast at Biergasthof Riedberg, I made my way to the train station to get the semi-regular train to Braunau am Inn, a pretty town that bears the unfortunate distinction of being the place where Adolf Hitler was born. As someone who has done a fair amount of work on the Holocaust and National Socialism, and who has traversed Europe to do research on the concentration camps, extermination camps, transit camps, forced labour camps, and the memorial sites that have sprung up as a witness to and warning against the murder of Europe’s Jews, I felt a certain ambivalence about heading to this particular town in search of beer on Easter Sunday. I’ll leave those thoughts open … They certainly refused to be bracketed as I tasted my way through Brauhaus Bogner’s stellar beer offerings.

Something on the lighter side ...

Something on the lighter side …

Be it the stellar Hefeweizen, the unique Fastenbier dark Bock brewed for Lent, the Frühlingsmärzen pulled straight from the lagering tanks before the rest of it goes down for the longer haul over the summer, or the dazzling Zwickl with its subtle aromas of pear, blossoms, artisanal bread, butter pecan, and fresh-cut meadows, Bogner knocks it out of the park.IMG_6938

Bogner is one of the smallest breweries in Austria, so you’ll need to journey to the source. It’s well worth the effort, though –– a real treat for fans of lagers and Weissbier.IMG_6942

Since the weekend was already winding down, I didn’t have time to linger in Braunau am Inn before retracing my steps in the direction of Schärding, a vibrant town perched on the banks of the Inn River.IMG_7085

For those who have been reading along since the early days of Tempest, you might remember a piece I wrote about Kapsreiter Landbier on the occasion of Craft Lager Day. Unfortunately, the owners of this much-beloved regional brewery also had money tied up in real estate, and are said to have been done in by the effects of the financial crash. The brewery and its inn were bought by Baumgartner, the brewery just across the street, but the legacy of Kapsreiter lives on.IMG_7040

IMG_7047Though Kapsreiter may be gone, Baumgartner is doing an excellent job of keeping the brew kettles stoked in Schärding. You can get their beer in just about any inn or tavern in town, but why not go straight to the source? The Baumgartner Stadtwirt Schärding (formerly Kapsreiter, as the barrels out front and stamped benches within attest) is conveniently located right across from the brewery, and the food is on point as well.IMG_6981

It’s early Monday afternoon, I don’t need to be in Vienna until nighttime, and I’ve already tasted my way through Schärding. I hadn’t thought of it while planning my weekend, but Passau is a mere fifteen minutes away on one of the main train lines out of Vienna into Germany via Linz. And a train happens to be leaving in half an hour.IMG_7100

Since it lies at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz, and Danube Rivers, it’s the perfect way to end my exploration of beers and breweries along the eastern portion of the Inn River. The Veste Oberhaus, erstwhile fortress of the Bishop of Passau, overlooks an Altstadt strewn with Gothic and Baroque architectural jewels and teeming with lively terraces.IMG_7113

Passau is also a university town, and it’s not long until I feel the pull of the inns and taverns at every street corner and in every square.

A beer with a view.

A beer with a view.

Satiated, I clamber I up to the fortress dominating the ridge overlooking the town, dip my toe in the water where the Inn and Danube come together, and stroll along the banks of the Inn back to the train station, just in time for my train back to Vienna. I barely scratched the surface of Passau, but in the immortal words of a certain Austrian from Graz, I’ll be back.

Related Tempest Articles

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

Endnote: Due to spotty bus and train connections to Engelhartszell, I missed out on Austria’s only Trappist brewery this time around. Now that I have my international driver’s permit, I’ll rent a car one of these weekends and let you know more about the town and the abbey.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

A World of Stouts for Your Weekend

The Lucky Seven Selection

Blame Guinness for declaring St. Patrick’s Weekend. Not that I’m complaining. Stouts of all stripes are among my favourite beers, after all. Guinness has also given me an excuse to bundle my occasional Saturday Six-Pack Series together with the commemoration of a saint who drove snakes out of a country that has never seen a snake. IMG_6648We’ll leave that to naturalists and hagiographers to debate while we tuck into a few stout beers.

Stouts, though. Not exactly a clear-cut style. Case in point: the marked proliferation of sub-styles in the 2015 edition of the BJCP Style Guidelines compared with the 2008 edition –– proof positive that style categories are anything but static. And then we have all those legends worthy of St. Patrick, guaranteed to keep self-styled beer historians debating till the wee hours. Though I’m not (yet) what I’d call a historian of beer, I know enough about the shifting sands of beer styles to say that you’re not alone if you’ve ever confused a porter with a stout. And don’t even get started with Russian Stouts. Or do. Interesting stories of icy sea journeys and opulent courts abound, along with no shortage of confusion over nomenclature. For now, I’m content to let the legends be. If nothing else, the heated debates and sedulous myth-busting make for entertaining reading.

Fine-grained differences between stouts and the family resemblance with porters aside, just what is it about stouts that keep us coming back for more, century after century? It’s worth quoting Ray Daniels, one of the more lucid writers on homebrewing caught up in an alliterative moment:

Perhaps it is the blinding blackness of the brew as it sits in the glass – a sort of barroom black hole so intense that it might absorb everything around it.

He continues:

Those who finish their first glass often become converts, swearing allegiance and setting off on a sybaritic search for the perfect pint.

Twenty years after Daniels wrote those words, our love affair with stouts shows no sign of abating. Bourbon County Brand Stout, anyone? Or how about Dark Lord Day – which, incidentally, has its very own website?

***

For this edition of your “Lucky Seven” Saturday Six-Pack, I’m going to leave the emerald isles to their celebrations and sample what lies beyond the traditional Anglo-Irish homeland of stouts. Much as I love plenty of American stouts, enough has been written about these justifiably sought-after beers, so I’ll save a sixer of those for another day.

Regardless of which version of the history of the style you read, one element of the story stands out in all versions: Stout is an eminently international beverage, with examples from just about every continent. The stouts I talk about below are, for the most part, available in any well-stocked North American bottle shop. As for the Austrian and Czech examples? Whether you live in Los Angeles or Latvia, you’ll need to get a little closer to the source. Never a bad thing, exploring new beer regions.

***

Rasputin (Brouwerij de Molen, Netherlands). Why not start off with a beer that tips its hat to that infamous lover of the Russian Queen? The lightest-hued stout in this mixed pack, Rasputin is no black knight, but also no lightweight at 23º Plato and 10.4% alcohol. Translation: plenty of malt, and more than enough octane to go the distance.Brouwerij de Molen website (03-bierografiebanner) And like any wise master of intrigue, it hides its claws. Cocoa-dusted ganache, dark cherry, chocolate milk, and plenty of rich Ovaltine-like malt herald a palate of bitter black coffee, prune, and earthy-anise licorice. Café au lait and bourbon vanilla bean linger in the background of this medicinally bitter beer. The beer was bottled in August 2015 and carries a balsy best-by date of 2040, so I’d suggest giving this beer a few years to round out. Brouwerij de Molen has created a tidy little niche for itself with its big beers. You can also check out my extended review of their Hel & Verdoemenis Imperial Stout.

Espresso Stout (Hitachino Nest, Japan). You may be familiar with the little red owl adorning Hitachino Nest’s beer labels, but what you might not know is that this spectacularly successful brand started as a side-project of a saké kura in the Tohoku region of Japan.IMG_6654 Kiuchi Brewery knows a thing or two about the art of fermentation, and it shows in their beers. Even if the Espresso Stout’s coffee notes are a touch too “jalapeno green” for my taste, it nonetheless delivers a satisfying cup of espresso spiked with dark chocolate, mocha, and chocolate liqueur. Black cherry and prune lurk in the depths, and an earthy herbal-spiciness evoking sassafras lends intrigue to this export-strength stout (7% ABV).

Morrigan Dry Stout (Pivovar Raven, Plzeň, Czech Republic). A stout isn’t the first beer you’d expect to come across in the town where a particularly ubiquitous beer style was born. Echoing the understated brewing tradition of western Bohemia, Raven’s Morrigan is the kind of stout that doesn’t rely on barrels or tonnes of malt to win over its admirers. As impenetrable as the Bohemian Forest at night, Morrigan offers up dark notes of earthy cocoa powder and an ever-so-slight smokiness from the roasted malts.IMG_6464 Mocha and dark cherry brighten up the beer’s countenance, with café au lait and a touch of milk caramel adding a suggestion of sweetness to this elegantly austere, tautly balanced dry stout. One Tankard.

Imperial Stout, (Nøgne Ø, Norway). Nøgne Ø prides itself on its uncompromising approach to quality, an approach reflected not only in its beers. The brewery’s name pays homage to the famous Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, who used the poetic term, “naked island,” to describe “the stark, barren, outcroppings that are visible in the rough seas off Norway’s southern coast.” Nøgne Ø’s rich and unctuous imperial stout forms the perfect antipode to images of steel-hued coastlines ravaged by waves. Lyric aromas of espresso, prune, molasses, dark bread, vanilla, cookie dough, walnut, and a touch of salted caramel cascade forth from this jet-black beer –– a dreamy complexity that retains its harmoniousness throughout. Chocolate notes take center stage on the moderately sweet and rounded palate. Cocoa-dusted prune mingles with milk chocolate-coated pecans; baking spice hop notes intertwine with artisanal dark bread and a smooth, understated bitterness. Note: This example was bottled in October 2012 and consumed in March 2016. File under cellar-worthy, and take Nøgne Ø’s advice regarding serving temperature (12ºC). Two Tankards.

Lion Stout (The Ceylon Brewery, Carlsberg Group, Sri Lanka). Formerly grouped under the Foreign Extra Stout category in the BJCP Style Guidelines, Tropical Stout is now a category of its own (16C, for anyone interested). If you’re new to the style, expect a sweet, fruity stout with a smooth roast character –– somewhere between a stepped-up milk stout and a restrained imperial stout. Opaque ruby-violet black with a brooding brown foam cap concealing 8.8 percent of alcohol, Lion Stout is not for the faint of heart. Fruit aromas of currants, burnt raisin, and prune combine with a vinous character not unlike a tart-cherry Chianti. Underneath it all lurks a smoky-roasty bass note that keeps company with licorice, acidic dark chocolate, and mocha. The dark chocolate and vinous acidity carries over onto the palate, balanced by creamy mocha and velvety alcohol. Rum-soaked cherries strike a pose with earthy licorice, while mild notes of roast-smoke intertwine with cocoa-dusted milk chocolate and dried currants. Surprisingly buoyant for its alcohol and malt heft, this is one dangerously drinkable beer. One Tankard.

Royal Dark (Biermanufaktur Loncium, Austria). What would a “lucky seven 6-pack” of stouts be without an entry from the lands known more for their lagers and wheat beers? Even if Austria isn’t legally bound by the Reinheitsgebot, many Austrian brewers proudly proclaim their allegiance to these strictures governing beer purity.Loncium - Mtn Toast Not a bad thing, but more often than not, adherence to the Reinheitsgebot translates into a limited selection of beer styles in Austria. Up until recently, home-grown stouts and porters were rare birds indeed. Enter Loncium, a pioneering brewery hailing from the southern province of Carinthia noted for its dramatic Alpine scenery. Loncium’s pleasant milk stout features a dusting of cocoa powder, a dollop of caramel, a touch of dark cherry, and a hint of bread crust. Scents of fresh-ground coffee, mocha, and a suggestion of smoke from the roasted malts round out the aromas. Coffee with cream gives way to baking spice and dark berry notes on the palate. Smooth, off-dry, and with the mildest bitterness, you could almost call this beer a café-au-lait stout.

Imperial Stout (Midtfyns Bryghus, Denmark). Overture: Onyx, with tinges of ruby. Waves of malt and a judicious hand with the oak. Act I: Toasted toffee, crème caramel, and smoky dark chocolate opening out onto cookie dough, bourbon vanilla bean, cocoa-spiked molasses, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and Vollkornbrot.Vollkornbrot (www-quora-net) Intermission: Full-bodied and silky –– right on the border between whole milk and light cream. Act II and aria: Black Forest cherry cake and a buttery pecan nuttiness countered by a splash of rum. Curtain call: Off-dry and fruity-jammy, with raisin and juicy prune lingering well into the sunset. Expansive and stellar. Three Tankards.

With that I say cheers! And vive la sybaritic search for la perfect pint of stout!

Further Reading:

Ron Pattinson, “What’s the Difference between Porters and Stouts?All About Beer (August 27, 2015).

Martyn Cornell, “Imperial Stouts: Russian or Irish?” posted on his Zytophile blog (26 June 2011).

Ray Daniels, Designing Great Beers (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1996).

For a fleeting hint at the colonial history behind stouts in places like Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Jamaica, see Jenny Pfäfflin, “Chicagoist’s Beer of the Week: Lion Stout,” Chicagoist (July 10, 2015).

Consult the links contained in the text above for more information on the individual breweries.

Images

Brouwerij de Molen banner: http://brouwerijdemolen.nl/beers/

Loncium brewers in the Alps: www.loncium.at

Vollkornbrot: https://www.quora.com/

All other images: F.D. Hofer

Related Tempest Articles

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie, Goose Island, Victory

The Curiosity Cabinet: Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée

Bourbon Squared: Maple-Glazed Pork Belly Meets Barrel-Aged Beer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.