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Brown Beers (Still) Get No Luvin’

Brown beer has an image problem.

Joe Tindall over at The Fatal Glass of Beer (host of this month’s “The Session: Beer Blogging Friday”) sums it up well: “The unglamorous brown middle ground is consistently neglected.”

I wrote about this very same topic a few years back, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to cite some of that article here. For that piece, I cobbled together a 6-pack of brown beers that are still worth your time, so check ’em out. This time around, I’m going to give you the view from Continental Europe.

Though decidedly brown in colour, Scottish ales don’t languish under the same stigma as their counterparts south of the border.

But first I have to admit that I haven’t had too many beers that announce themselves as “brown beer/ale” since I’ve been in Vienna. For the most part, they’re just not that widely available. Most new’ish European brewers stick to styles that have stood the test of crowd-rated time, so to speak. IPAs and pale ales abound among Euro craft brewers, as do stouts, porters, and the occasional sour or barrel-aged beer. Beers that have “brown beer/ale” on the label? Not so much. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of amber/copper/brown beers that you should check out in Europe or in the Euro aisle of your favourite bottle shop. There are. But these Bocks, Märzens, Dubbels, and Quads manage to avoid that never-land between Nacht und Nebel, night and dawn. (Ever heard of Aventinus getting dissed for being a brown beer? Me neither.)

So today I’m going to head out to my favourite bottle shop, BeerLovers, to see how brown beers are doing in Vienna’s vibrant craft beer community. While I’m doing that, here’s what I wrote a few years back:

Brown beers get no luvin’. And that’s a crying shame.

Maybe it’s our infatuation with IPAs and IBUs. Maybe it’s brown beer’s vaguely middle-of-the-road status: Brown ale has precious little in common with a lager, Pils, cream ale or Kölsch, and doesn’t quite match the intensity of most porters and stouts. Brown ale ranges in colour from dark amber to chestnut to copper-brown, sometimes even dark brown. But other beers that aren’t subject to the brown beer stigma share these characteristics as well, like some pale ales and old ales.

Some English bitters flirt with the outer edges of brown––no less brown than a Sam Smith Nut Brown, which is actually of the dark amber persuasion. Many barleywines exhibit varying hues of brown as well, and guess what? They don’t suffer from any image problems. And then there’s all those lighter-coloured and less intensely-hued porters. Doing just fine too. Brown beer loses out because it’s called Brown Beer. I mean, can you really call a beer “Back in Brown,” or “Fade to Brown,” or “All Cats at Night Are Brown”? No. “My Brown Cardigan” might be as good as it gets. If that fails, name the beer after your (brown) dog.

But is this a mere hue and cry over colour? It’s more than that, I think. The colour spectrum of brown beer shades over into a hybridity of aroma and flavour as well: not quite pale ale, not quite porter. We’re at a loss when confronted with a brown beer. Are brown beers malty or hoppy? Full-flavoured or a well-choreographed ballet of moderate levels of malt and hops? Sessionable? Dry or slightly sweet? All of the above? Brown beers may well be the quintessential “undecidable” beer style. Which is, perhaps, why we decide against it when the choices at our local bottle shop or taproom are so vast.

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*The Newcastle Brown Ale website suggests a serving temperature of 38-40F (3-4C), but in my experience these beers do much better at cellar temperature. If you drink them cool or cold, you won’t get any of the subtle malt characteristics that only come into their own around 50F (10C) or higher.

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Now for those beers I rustled up at BeerLovers. Notably, Austria’s Bierol (rhymes with Tirol, where they’re from) suggests a serving temperature of 10C for its entry into the rather barren field of Continental European brown beer, so we’ll start our 2017 six-pack of brown beer here.

Going Hazelnuts (Bierol, Austria, 5.7%). As the name suggests, this beer has been finished with hazelnuts –– organic, no less. Going Hazelnuts exhibits none of the extract character that plagues so many browns ales featuring nuts. Toasty caramel, mocha, chocolate almonds, dried cherry, a hint of char, and earthy hop-spice round out the distinctive coffee/chocolate and roasted barley aromas, while creamy carbonation adds richness on the palate. Nut liqueur (Frangelico), and bitter chocolate set the stage for a mild floral-spicy hop note mid-palate that shades into licorice root and dark cherry near the off-dry finish. A classic brown ale that hits all the chocolate, coffee, and nut notes –– helped along by a well-integrated charge of hazelnuts.

Jackie Brown (Mikkeller, Denmark/Product of Belgium, 6%). The colour of milk chocolate, Mikkeller charts compelling new territory with a beer that uses American hops without hitting you over the head with them. Jackie Brown is also the kind of beer that highlights how much brown beer can have in common with barley wine. It starts off with malt aplenty: Ovaltine, toast, caramel, and black tea hinting at mugi-cha.* Earthy with some licorice, the aromas are also reminiscent of cherries and cinnamon-spiked cocoa. Give the beer some time to open up and you’ll be rewarded with another cascade of aromas and flavours: fir tree, caramelized orange zest, dates, Oloroso-like nut notes, a sassafras/root beer spiciness, and even some Japanese-style brown sugar (kuro-sato). Jackie Brown is no wall flower, with a clean bitterness that lends the beer a certain levity in the face of all that rich caramel. Intensely flavoured yet elegant, with a long, herbal-bitter finish accented by fruit and nuts. One Tankard

*Mugi-cha is a refreshing cold barley tea brewed up in Japan to combat the summer heat and humidity. It has a distinctive quality reminiscent of roasted barley, bran, and brown malt.

Imperial Brown Ale (Nøgne Ø, Norway, 7.5%). Nøgne Ø notes that what makes their IBA unique is their blend of English malts and predominantly American hops. In this case, claims of uniqueness bear themselves out. From the moment the beer hits the glass, its opalescent dark amber-bronze colour with orange hues clearly states that brown beers can look mighty fine. The “woodsiest” beer of the bunch, Nøgne Ø’s IBA exudes aromas of forest floor mixed with dark forest berries such as black berry and wild raspberry. Fir needles and caramelized orange zest meet rich brown sugar and toasty biscuit/cookie malt notes, and a dusting of baking spice adds depth. The beer’s a riot of flavours, but a contained one. American-style hops are clearly present in the high end of the mix, balanced by a hint of molasses and brooding toast-toffee-anise bass notes. A digestif-like bitterness contributes additional layers of complexity to the beguiling residual sweetness, while dried apricots linger in the aftertaste. Pleasantly warming alcohol makes this the perfect beer to cap a day in the snow. Cellar-worthy. Two Tankards

Mochaccino Messiah, Coffee Brown Ale (To Øl, Denmark, 7%). It seems that Scandanvians like their brown ales, nomenclature be damned. To Øl’s entry into the field makes use of flaked oats, lactose, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Mochaccino Messiah is slightly darker than milk chocolate, with a foam cap reminiscent of the crema atop an espresso. The aromatics are distinctly coffee-driven: roasted coffee beans with that green/jalapeno “bite” common to many coffee beers, and with an interesting top note that flirts with cassis. Hints of fir emerge from behind the coffee screen along with a suggestion of baking spice and vanilla. Carbonation is lively, uniting with the bitterness to create an uplifting peppery effervescence. Bittersweet chocolate makes a cameo appearance, along with cocoa and a hint of cinnamon/cardamom. As the beer warms, it takes on a wine-like character that gestures toward toasty-oak Cabernet Franc with raspberry-jalapeno-pepper. But in the end, it’s all about the coffee, perhaps too much so.

Northumberland Brown Ale (Austmann Bryggeri, Norway, 5.5%). Rounding out the Nordic entries in this 6-pack is Austmann’s tribute to dark mild ale. Inky dark chocolate brown in colour, Northumberland looks like a porter. Expect plenty of freshly ground dark-roast coffee along with fruity chocolate notes that fold in raspberry, boysenberry and plum-cherry yeast aromatics. Firmly bittered and slightly acrid, the beer offers up licorice root and dark-roasted coffee, with plenty of bitter chocolate, a dash of chocolate liqueur, raspberry, and hazelnuts. The effervescent carbonation borders on prickly, making for a bracingly taut beer –– the liquid analogue of dark berry compote over toast with your morning coffee on the side.

2015 Wildshuter Männerschokolade (Stiegl, Austria, 5.5%). Bookending our 6-pack of Continental brown ales is a fine beer from one of Austria’s regional breweries. Ales aren’t the first thing that come to mind if you’re familiar with this brewery whose majestic beer garden overlooks the old town of Salzburg. But Stiegl recognized that there was something to this whole craft beer thing, and started a line of 750-mL releases under their Stieglgut Wildshut label. The brewers make astute use of alpine peacock barley, chocolate wheat malt, and black oats to create this chestnut brown ale that delivers luscious malt aromas and textured flavours in spades. Ovaltine, mugi-cha, cocoa, dark chocolate, brown sugar, black cherry, roasted nuts, and salted caramel make up a malt palette that recalls Baltic porter at times. Dates, raisins, and figs contribute to the dried-fruit complexity, while a hint of alpine meadows from the Central European hops carries over onto the palate. Cola-sassafras and a subtle mid-palate pepper-herbaceousness add a playful bright note to the crème caramel-like malt richness. Despite all the chocolate, mocha, and dark cherry malt character, Männerschokolade finishes dry with just the slightest suggestion of chocolate cake-like sweetness. A smooth, flavourful, and extremely drinkable beer that won’t knock you to the floor after a few glasses. Two Tankards

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If you’re in Europe, grab a six-pack of these under-rated beers to sip over the weekend! If you’re in North America, ask your favourite bottle shop to check availability with its distributors. Enjoy!

Related Tempest Articles

A World of Stouts for Your Weekend

Brown Beers Get No Luvin’: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.2)

Say No to Style Loyalty

The Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments: A Warming Beer for Winter Evenings

Further Reading

Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, Brewing Classic Styles (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 2007).

Michael Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

BJCP Style Guidelines, 2008 and 2015 editions.

Images

With the exception of the Session Friday logo and the logos and labels from brewery and bottle shop websites (Mikkeller, Nøgne Ø, Stiegl, BeerLovers), images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

The Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments: A Warming Beer for Winter Evenings

The last autumn leaves cling to the trees, holding out against the onslaught of wind and the first snowflakes of the season. A dense fog shrouds Vienna’s church spires in mystery. Night has descended, and the last faint warmth of the day has long since faded. I cut through the park and pause at the side of a partially frozen pond where a few ducks seem to be wishing they had followed the geese south. Spring is a long way off, I think to myself, and make for home where a warming drink of malty goodness awaits.

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The Lost Abbey brews just the kind of hearty, Belgian-inspired beer that is the perfect antidote to a frosty early winter’s eve. As the story goes, Vince Marsaglia, owner of Pizza Port Brewing and co-founder of The Lost Abbey, took a shine to the divinely rich abbey beers of Belgium but lacked an abbey in which to brew (as most of us do). Thus was born the notion of the “lost” abbey. But the concept was destined to wander endlessly in the wilderness for wont of a brewer who could conjure up these otherworldly Belgian-style elixirs. Enter Tomme Arthur, one of North America’s more famous brewers. After several years with Pizza Port, Arthur set to work with Marsaglia in 2006 to lay the metaphorical foundation stones of The Lost Abbey in a facility that Stone Brewing Company had outgrown.

The results of their efforts lean heavily in the direction of malt-forward, age-worthy beers fit for evenings of contemplation or good cheer. Avowed malthead that I am, it’s rather fitting that I’m celebrating three years of Tempest with a beer from a brewery that is celebrating a decade since opening.

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Back in late September I stopped off at one of Vienna’s best-stocked beer shops, BeerLovers, to pick up a nice bottle in anticipation of Tempest’s three years. After my customary conversation with a few of the staff members, it was past closing time. To my pleasant surprise, I spied something from The Lost Abbey: a 2014 vintage of 10 Commandments. I gathered it up with the rest of my hastily selected beers for the weekend, and headed off into the evening.

At 12% ABV, Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments is a prodigious farmhouse-style ale brewed with honey, raisins, and rosemary. Tomme Arthur notes that orange peel makes a cameo appearance, as does a splash of Brettanomyces at packaging. Not only that: the raisins get the flame treatment to further caramelize the sugars.

Darkly hued, this copper libation with mahogany highlights hints at the tapestry of malt spread out beneath the dark pecan-brown collar of foam. And then comes the cascade of aromas and flavours: a pleasant jumble of sensory associations wrapped up with memories of getting to know good beer with good friends. A swirl of Ovaltine, Swiss milk caramel, and caramelized brown sugar welcomes the Slivovitz plum fairy bringing gifts of Belgian chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Fresh chocolate-spiked cream melding seamlessly with chocolate almonds, cocoa-dusted ganache, caramilk chocolate, and bourbon vanilla bean. Chocolate liqueur that’s been aged in a rum barrel. And rum-raisin to spare, with hints of hazelnut and Black Forest cherry cake.

Those are just my first impressions.

I’m transported back in time to a Nepalese tea hut on the crest of a mountain pass in the Annapurna region, warming myself by the fire after the long day’s trek. Winter nights spent sheltering from the wind and snow, with something to lift my spirits. “Spiritual,” even if the beer’s warming alcohol isn’t yet in spirit territory.

Licorice rounds out a touch of earthiness reminiscent of aged saké. Dried fruit, but elegantly so––perhaps even with a hint of earthy “leather” that I find so beguiling in certain red wines. Plum on the nose, but also prune in the finish. Honeyed dried Calmyra figs meet rum-soaked plums. Warming alcohol, but never hot. Creamy, full-bodied, and richly complex. In short, something new with each sniff and each sip. And worth every penny. Three Tankards

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With two years of age on The Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments, the rosemary is more of a suggestion than anything else. (In fact, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that it was there if it weren’t written on the label.) That’s just fine: It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had a beer brewed with rosemary in which this assertive herb overpowers everything else. The Brettanomyces is also very subdued, expressing itself, I’d hazard to guess, in the beer’s earthy notes.

As for the “10 Commandments” listed on the back of the bottle? They read more like a cross between a credo and a set of maxims rather than a series of imperatives and prohibitions. But earnest maxims they are, with integrity, honesty, passion, and inspiration prominent on the list. Number 4 is particularly salient in our contemporary craft beer moment that fetishizes freshness above all else: “Fresh beer is great. Aged beer is better.” I’ll drink to that.

Related Tempest Articles

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips

The MaltHead Manifesto

Winter Nights and Warming Barleywines from Sussex, Texas, and Québec

Images

Vienna City Hall by F.D. Hofer, 10 Commandments bottle from The Lost Abbey website, and BeerLovers logo from their website.

*If you visit Vienna, be sure to check out BeerLovers’ exceptional selection of beers.

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

Tankards Everywhere: Tempest’s Beerscapes of 2016

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Fermentation in progress, Weihenstephan

I was at Schloss Belvedere a few days back, the famous Viennese museum that houses the even more famous Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Alongside some of his other iconic works such as Judith und Holofernes hung several paintings dating from the year of Klimt’s death in 1918, all containing the word “unvollendet” (incomplete) somewhere in the title. Like Schubert’s 8th Symphony –– Die Unvollendete –– Klimt’s incomplete works gesture tantalizingly toward what would have been.

The same cannot be said for my growing stack of paper and metaphorically bulging computer file filled with work in various stages of incompletion: inchoate thoughts on everything from the German Purity Laws to the perennial debates about canning and canons of taste; travelogues that set out on a journey with no end; and the myriad attempts to turn aroma and flavour sensations into transcriptions of my imbibing pleasures.

One aspect of my attempts to put pen to paper on a regular basis has remained relatively constant since I arrived in Vienna: I get side-tracked too easily by all there is to see and do in Vienna, in Austria, in Central Europe, and elsewhere on this continent. The desire to post regularly has remained just that. I have to admit that I considered putting Tempest on ice on more than a few occasions, but the sheer enjoyment of writing about all things fermentable keeps drawing me back to the keyboard.

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The Speyside Way in the Scottish Highlands

Almost every one of my trips over the past three years has involved the cultural history and contemporary moment of drinking up. This year alone I walked 15 km from one distillery in Aberlour to another in Ballindalloch along Scotland’s Speyside Way.

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Kloster Andechs. I suspect that most of the visitors aren’t here to attend mass.

I followed in the footsteps of thirsty pilgrims in search of spiritual and corporeal solace at Kloster Andechs.

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A local beer from Carinthia’s Loncium at the Dolomitenhütte

I hiked up a mountain for a view of the Austrian Dolomites and a much-deserved local beer at the top, and cycled with friends along the Danube in Austria’s Wachau region during the height of the grape harvest.

And that’s not all. As I began to gather my thoughts for this piece on the occasion of Tempest’s third trip around the orange orb, I realized that it’s been quite the ride since this time last year.

České Budějovice (Budweis), Plzeń (Pilsen).

Polished coppers at Pilsner Urquell

Polished coppers at Pilsner Urquell

Austria’s Innviertel.

Bogner, makers of some of the best Hefeweizen in Austria

Bogner, makers of some of the best Hefeweizen in Austria

Brussels and Flemish Brabant.

You really can't go wrong with a wheel of lambics.

You really can’t go wrong with a wheel of lambics.

Munich, with its expansive beer gardens and lively beer halls, and Ayinger a half hour away. img_8346

A top-notch hop museum in the Hallertau and several museum exhibitions in Munich commemorating the 500th anniversary of the German Purity Laws (Reinheitsgebot).

The German Hop Museum in Wolnzach (Hallertau)

The German Hop Museum in Wolnzach (Hallertau)

Oktoberfest in Munich, and a hop harvest festival in Freising, home of Germany’s oldest brewery.

You won't go hungry in Bavaria.

You won’t go hungry in Bavaria.

And Scotland! Edinburgh’s majestic pubs.img_0722

The search for a 60 Shilling ale which proved about as fruitless as trying to sight the Loch Ness Monster. And drams of whisky to chase whatever Scottish ale I did find.img_0902

So here we are. Some of the notes and fragments detailing my adventures will see the light of day in due time, but in the meantime I offer you a few words’ worth of images, a visual down payment on writing to come.

Cheers to you, my fellow imbiber, for accompanying me on my journey these past three years! It’s you who keeps me writing.

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Check back in a few days for my write-up about the outstanding beer I cracked to celebrate three years.

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

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Tempest’s Beer and Travel Highlights from 2015-2016

So much to do, so little time. With all those beers I’m sure you’ve been searching out and drinking over the course of the year, one or two Tempest articles may have slipped you by. Not to worry! On the occasion of Tempest’s third year traveling to far-flung places to bring you the best beer experiences, here’s a short round-up of highlights.img_1258

(Click here for the updated version of my ongoing Index of articles and posts over the years.)

Occasionally I’d manage to find a small sliver of time between friends coming to visit and excursions to far-flung parts of Europe combining hiking, cycling, and the pursuit of all things zymurgical. The result? Much of what I wrote between November 2015 and now came out in bursts and took the form of series. I did set down a handful of stand-alone pieces, a few of which I’ll list before introducing the highlights of the serial articles I wrote:

A World of Stouts for Your Weekend is an exploration of stouts beyond the British Isles that’ll keep you warm on any non-summer night. Rich brews from Japan, Norway, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Sri Lanka.

Beer Travel off the Beaten Track: Austria’s Innviertel. Few might think otherwise, but the Central European beer scene encompasses more than Bavaria and Bohemia.img_6917 For the intrepid beer traveler, the Innviertel of Upper Austria is a gem of bucolic scenery, colourful towns, and top-notch breweries that don’t see wide distribution.

Say No to Style Loyalty. We live in an era of unprecedented beer selection, yet a number of venerable styles currently on the books are on the verge of extinction. Mild Ale, anyone? Perhaps the most salient piece I wrote all year. Pour yourself a glass of a beer you’ve never had and give it a read.

Wild-Fermented Beer in Belgium

Of Coolships, Cobwebs, and Cantillon––Need I say more about this iconic brewery? Maybe just one thing: go there at least once in your life. This post was by far my most popular post of 2016, but be sure to check out all the other fermented delights that Belgium has to offer while you’re there. And the chocolate.

Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant––Rent a bike just outside of Brussels and follow along to breweries such as Drie Fonteinen, Oud Beersel, and Boon. “Where the Wild Beers Are” also has plenty of suggestions about where to get your sour funk in Brussels when you’re done with your ride.img_7928

The Oktoberfest Series

O’ zapft is! These may well be the only three words of German you need to know beyond bier and prost, but you might also be wondering about the rich history of the world’s largest beer festival. “O’ zapft is!” sets the stage.oktoberfest-hofbrautent-fdh

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810––Did you know that Oktoberfest started its two-hundred year history as a horse race in honour of a royal wedding? It wasn’t until the latter half of the nineteenth century that Oktoberfest started to resemble the festival we all know and love today. Learn more about how beer tents supplanted “beer castles,” and how the golden Festbier eventually replaced Märzen on the Theresienwiese in these two articles:

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

Autumn in a Glass: Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager

The Vienna Beer Garden Series

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens––Vienna: city of classical music, café culture, and stunning architecture. Vienna is also home to a rich but understated beer garden scene. Learn about the history of Vienna’s beloved Prater before heading to the Schweizerhaus for a beer and roasted pork knuckle.

Vienna, City of Beer Gardens––When you’re done with all the museums and sights that Vienna has to offer, hop on Vienna’s superb public transportation network and head out in search of Vienna’s vibrant shades of green.

Up next: Tempest’s Beerscapes of 2016.

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

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Autumn in a Glass: Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager

As the leaves in the beer gardens begin to don their autumnal attire and the evenings hint of the harvest, my beer preferences turn to the kinds of beers whose colour reflects my surroundings. These gold, amber, and russet beers of autumn also have just enough added alcoholic warmth to stave off the evening chill –– the perfect transit point between the lighter beers of summer and the heftier beers of winter.img_0609

In Germany, autumn means amber Märzen and the deep gold Festbier served at Munich’s Oktoberfest. In North America, when it’s not a question of the ubiquitous love-it-or-loathe-it pumpkin beers, autumn beers conjure up images of pretzels, beer steins, lederhosen, bratwurst, beer tents, and oompah bands.

Back to the title for a moment: Aren’t Märzen and Oktoberfest beer the same thing? No. And yes. The difference between a Märzen and an Oktoberfest beer depends on where you are and when. Anyone familiar with the development of porter, stout, or IPA won’t be surprised to learn that Märzen and Oktoberfest beer, too, have undergone shifts not only in taste but in meaning over the decades.

The beer served on Munich’s Theresienwiese was, at one point, Märzen –– specifically, a kind of Märzen brewed in 1872 by Gabriel Sedlmayr of Spaten for Oktoberfest. The beer that Sedlmayr developed had much in common with the wildly popular Vienna Lager first brewed by Sedlmayr’s friend and colleague, Anton Dreher, in 1841. Sedlmayr’s new Oktoberfest beer –– a few shades lighter in hue than the brown beer hitherto served at the festival and less weighty –– swept the festival like a tsunami and soon became synonymous with Oktoberfest. But only until 1953, when Augustiner developed an even lighter Festbier, which every brewery soon offered alongside the more traditional Märzen all the way down through the late 1980s. From the early 1990s, Oktoberfest beer served on Munich’s Theresienwiese during Oktoberfest came to mean one thing: the burnished golden, malty Festbier first brewed by Augustiner.img_0631

But uncertainty in North America about what Oktoberfest beer is in Munich and other parts of Bavaria has not been aided by the Bavarian breweries themselves, many of whom export Märzen to our shores labeled as “Oktoberfest Märzen.” Beyond that, several North American breweries who brew a beer in honour of Oktoberfest brew a Märzen. (No complaints here –– I love the style!) As for the BJCP Style Guidelines, earlier versions were less than clear on the differences between the German beers of autumn. It wasn’t until they released their 2015 Style Guidelines that they introduced distinctions between Märzen and the Oktoberfestbier served during Oktoberfest. (The 2015 BJCP Guidelines label it simply “Festbier,” since the term Oktoberfest Bier has been trademarked. Curiously, this hasn’t stopped anyone in North America from calling their beers Kölsch, even though that, too, is a protected designation. But that’s another story.) On top of it all, Beeradvocate still has the following description on its site:

“The common Munich Oktoberfest beer served at Wies’n (the location at which Munich celebrates its Oktoberfest) contains roughly 5.0-6.0% alcohol by volume, is dark/copper in color, has a mild hop profile and is typically labeled as a Bavarian Märzenbier in style” (October 2016).

Confused? I was until relatively recently, too. Who’s to blame you if you haven’t been to Oktoberfest in Bavaria and have thought all along that today’s Oktoberfest beer is a Märzen? More to the point, why should you care? Well, if you’re really into the Oktoberfest Märzen beers that turn up in North America, I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed when you go to Munich for Oktoberfest and end up with a beer that isn’t a Märzen. But that’s not to say that Festbier isn’t any less worthy of your attention. It’s just a much different beast.

And so, to clear up any confusion for early twenty-first century fans of Germanic beer and folks judging these styles at homebrew competitions in North America, here’s a quick run-down of Germany’s beers of autumn, along with a few styles related either by taste and aroma profile (Vienna Lager), or by name (Austrian Märzen).

Click here for tasting notes

Oktoberfestbier (or, simply, Festbier): The golden-hued, malty, slightly honey-sweet, and dangerously quaffable beer served in Munich during the Oktoberfest. Other Bavarian breweries (Weihenstephaner, for example) may also brew a beer in the same style for sale in autumn, but since they aren’t part of the “Munich 6,” you won’t see their beers on the Theresienwiese during Oktoberfest.img_0314

Oktoberfest Märzen: Beer brewed by Bavarian breweries for export to North America during the autumn months. May also refer to any North American example of autumn amber lager brewed in the Märzen style that reigned supreme on the Theresienwiese between 1872 and 1953. The style is no longer served at Oktoberfest in Munich (though I wouldn’t complain if the Munich brewers were to bring the style back).

Märzen: Historically, a shape-shifter, ranging in colour from orange-hued amber to dark brown. In the days before refrigeration, various proclamations and decrees in the wake of the Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Laws) of 1516 prohibited brewing between the feasts of St. George on 23 April and St. Michael on 29 September as a means of preventing both fires and summer beer spoilage. So-called Sommerbier (summer beer, later rechristened Märzen) was brewed to a higher strength in March so that supplies of drinkable beer would last through the summer. Since the time of Sedlmayr’s release of a Märzen in 1872, the beer has become associated with autumn. (NB: I’m making the latter assumption in the absence of any evidence I have yet to turn up pointing to this semantic shift.)

Vienna Lager: Even though Märzen and Vienna Lager are fairly distinct at second glance, it’s easy enough to confuse the two styles, especially if the latter isn’t named Dos Equis Amber. Interestingly, the BJCP put the style on their watch list in 2015, suggesting that it might be time to rescue the classic style from its mass-produced pale reflection by moving it to the historical category.img_0460 Those worries may have been somewhat premature, for a key anniversary has spurred the re-emergence of Vienna Lager in its native land: the 175th anniversary of Dreher’s first batch brewed at the Schwechat brewery just outside Vienna. Today, Gusswerk in Salzburg, Loncium in the mountains of Carinthia, Ottakringer and Brew Age in Vienna, and even the granddaddy of them all, Schwechater, have released excellent Vienna Lagers in the past few years. Vive la Vienna Lager!

The takeaway: Sedlmayr’s Märzen brewed for the 1872 Oktoberfest may well have been identical to the Vienna Lager being brewed in the Habsburg Empire at the time, but the two styles diverged over the next century. Nowadays, Märzen is a delectably malty beer that showcases toasty aromatics and melanoidin richness. Vienna Lager is also malty, but it has more pronounced hop aromas, flavours, and bitterness. In many ways, you could consider it the hoppy cousin of the slightly sweeter contemporary Märzen.

Austrian Märzen: I will touch only briefly on the Austrian version of a Märzen here, a year-round beer that has little in common with the autumnal Märzens of Bavaria and North America. If anything, an Austrian Märzen is more like a cross between what, in Germany, goes by the name of Export Bier and a helles lager. The beer is yellow-gold and crystal-clear, with a clean malt expression and slightly more of a hop presence than a helles lager, but not approaching Pilsner territory.

Now all you need to do is go out and grab a few of these fine beers for those afternoons when it’s still just barely warm enough to sit on the front porch or for those smoky evenings when the wind is rustling the leaves still holding out against winter.

Click here for tasting notes

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Related Tempest Articles:

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

The Colour of Fall Leaves: Tasting Notes on Märzen, Oktoberfestbier, and Vienna Lager

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

Featured Beer: Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe “Bonator”

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

Sources:

BJCP Style Guidelines, 2008 and 2015.

Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer, Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 2007).

Beeradvocate, “Märzen/Oktoberfest,” https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/style/29/ (accessed 11 October 2016).

Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016.

1516 Ingolstadt: http://www.1516-ingolstadt.de/geschichte/geschichte-bier/

Horst Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1997).

Images: F.D. Hofer

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

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The Colour of Fall Leaves: Tasting Notes on Märzen, Oktoberfestbier, and Vienna Lager

Wondering about the differences between Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager? Check out “Autumn in a Glass: Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager” before cracking open your first beer in this four-pack of Central European beers.img_0599

a) Märzen

Märzen is a malt-lover’s dream. Depending on the brewer, the malt character can run the gamut from toast and what I’d describe as a “Munich malt fruit” character (dark cherry-like) to dates, dried figs, autumn honey, malted milk, malt balls, and Swiss milk caramel.* My partner in crime nailed the style: It’s like a Rolo, she said.

*Swiss milk caramel is a descriptor I use often for beers like this, and requires some explanation. When I was a kid, my grandma used to send us a parcel at Christmas that had all kinds of chocolates and sweets that we never saw in Canada. She always sent along a box of caramels that were quite a bit different than the ones we used to get while out trick-or-treating at Halloween. They were much lighter in colour and had a pronounced creamy taste that brought the caramel flavour down a notch. So when I mention Swiss milk caramel, think of a very light caramel aroma and flavour with fresh cream.

Weissenoher Monk’s Fest Traditional Märzen, Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe (5.4%)

Weissenohe’s Märzen is unfiltered and gloriously caramel-amber, with all the fresh milk, bread, toast, and Swiss milk caramel a malt lover could want.Monks Fest USAnew A touch of floral hops and a suggestion of green apple from the yeast only adds to the complexity. The beer is lightly sweet, with plenty of malted milk, toffee, dates, and dried figs swirled together with Munich “malt fruit” (dark fruit/black cherry). A slate-like fermentation character keeps this filling beer on the refreshing side. This one’s almost in Bock territory in terms of hearty richness. A monument to decoction mashing. And just what the doctor ordered for the maltheads in the crowd. Three Tankards

b) Oktoberfestbier

Burnished gold in colour, Oktoberfestbier boasts exquisite honeyed malt and fresh country bread with a touch of light toast, a dash of herbal or spicy hop aroma sometimes reminiscent of lemon tea or cinnamon, and a crisp mineral fermentation character. On the palate, these medium-bodied beers are round, unctuous, and clean. A hint of residual (white nougat) sweetness mingles with just a trace of hop bitterness accented by honey, toast, and even roasted nuts. Drinkability is a hallmark of the style –– dangerously so.

Löwenbräu Oktoberfestbier (6.1%)

But for its lingering cap of pearl-hued foam, Löwenbräu’s Oktoberfestbier looks like effervescent golden apple juice bubbling away contentedly in its Maß (1-liter stein).loewenbraeu-oktoberfestbier-flasche An intriguing slate-mineral medley opens the show, joined quickly by a chorus of fruit suggestive of golden apples sprinkled with cinnamon, green grapes with a dash of cardamom, and white peach. Acacia honey, marzipan, and a dusting of light brown sugar sweetness rounds out the ensemble. None of these aromas overpowers the other in this oh-so-slightly malt-forward beer: subtle complexity’s the word. With its moderate but tingly carbonation, Löwenbräu’s Oktoberfestbier is a playful beer that seemingly floats on the palate. Spicy and elegant hop leaf with a touch of musk come together with intriguing flavours of white grape, white peach, and fresh-cut artisanal bread with honey drizzled over it. An unassuming bitter note in the background ensures that this slightly off-dry beer finishes crisply before its lingering aftertaste of white peach and baking spice takes over. Complex enough to contemplate; balanced and refreshing enough to drink for hours. (And yes, Löwenbräu is owned by AB-InBev. But rest assured, Munich breweries like Spaten and Löwenbräu don’t mess around with their Oktoberfest Bier, lest they get laughed off the Weisn.) One Tankard

c) Vienna Lager

Expect a solid bedrock of toast, melanoidin, a touch of bread crust, and light Swiss milk caramel malt supporting spicy hop aromas and flavours heading in the direction of Bohemia.

Ottakringer Wiener Original, Vienna, Austria (5.3%)

Luminescent light amber with orange hues, Ottakringer’s crystal-clear Vienna Lager is a fine-looking beer. Aroma-wise, the Ottakringer is not quite as intense as some of the other Vienna Lagers that have appeared in the past few years, but it delivers complexity to spare. ottakringer_wiener_original_flascheHerbal-pepper-floral hop notes open out onto subtle toast and caramel, and the yeast/fermentation character imparts a note of mineral-peach that gives the beer a certain levity. Ottakringer is slightly fruity on the palate, combining peach, marzipan, toast, and a hint of light caramel. A lighter body compared with many other contemporary Vienna Lagers adds to the perception of bitterness, and the beer finishes slightly drier and more austere than many of its compatriots. But Ottakringer’s offering is still Vienna Lager through and through, and not only because it’s brewed in the heart of Vienna’s sixteenth district. It’s also classically Central European, with a profile melding leafy hops, a hint of pepper, a whisper of sulfur, and a touch of what I’d describe as an earthy cellar note.

d) Austrian Märzen

Austrian Märzen has almost nothing in common with its Bavarian namesake. Occupying the territory between an Export Bier and a Bavarian helles lager, Austrian Märzen is yellow-gold and crystal-clear, with a clean malt expression and slightly more of a hop presence than a helles lager.

Gösser Märzen, Styria, Austria (5.2%)

Gösser’s Märzen looks like a Tuscan countryside in summer. Fruity-floral hop notes and a hint of mineral and stone fruit preside over a bed of white nougat-like bready malt.goesser_sorten_maerzen_6er Pleasant but not intense, Gösser tips the scale in the direction of hops, with a yeasty bread dough note leavened by freshly crushed grains and a touch of grassiness. Gösser starts off on the palate like artisanal white raisin bread, with herbal-fruity hops lending a touch of spice. Light brown sugar mingles with stone fruit and an interesting noble hop spiciness mid-palate (the combination of which is reminiscent of spiced white raisins or spiced peach), and a firm bitterness ensures that the beer finishes crisply and refreshingly. Fairly high levels of carbonation cut through the honeyed malt, which also makes for a slightly prickly and zingy mouthfeel. Not nearly as complex the Budweiser Budvar and Stiegl Pils that share shelf space with Gösser at my local Billa supermarket, it’s still a bracingly refreshing beer that doesn’t require loads of concentration while drinking.

Related Tempest Articles:

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

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

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Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

Nearly 40,000 people headed out to the horse race just beyond the Munich gates on that first Oktoberfest day in 1810. Families and groups of friends staked out places to sit on the meadowland heights surrounding the track and began tucking into their bread, sausage, and beer as the races began. The mood was festive at this Olympic-style race, and the event was a resounding success. After all, Munich at the time numbered 40,638 souls, and most of them came out to enjoy the race (Eymold, 327). It wasn’t long before plans were laid to repeat the event annually on what soon became known as the Theresienwiese (Therese’s meadow), named in honour of Crown Prince Ludwig’s bride, Therese Charlotte Louise von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Try saying that even once after you’ve had a few Maß of beer on today’s Theresienwiese.

From Modest Beer Stall to Opulent Beer Castle to Massive Beer Tent –– Or, How to Keep Tens of Thousands from Going Thirsty

If the horse race was the main attraction during the early years of the festival, the merriment soon spread out along the margins of the track. Bowling was popular, as were wheelbarrow races, swings, shooting galleries, and the first carousel that graced the Wiesn in 1818. Looking back briefly to 1814, the German poet, Achim von Arnim, noted that thirsty travelers could find ample Bretterbuden (simply appointed wooden stalls) in which Munich’s tavern keepers slung beer in half-liter tin-lidded tankards (Dornbusch, 49). At first, the guests sat on benches at tables under the open air. Soon, though, the Bretterbuden expanded to offer indoor seating.oktoberfest-postcard-munchenkindlstein As the festival began to extend over several days, provisioning all the attendees became a necessity, in particular since Oktoberfest had begun attracting festival-goers from all over Bavaria. The Bretterbuden proliferated.

With the enormous rise in prestige of the Munich breweries from the 1880s, their presence at the festival began to grow as well. In 1895, the now-defunct Thomasbrauerei built the first Bierburg (“beer castle”), a hall large enough to accommodate 800 thirsty patrons. A 1907 decision to do away with the Wirtsbudenring (a ring of 18 tavern stalls) fundamentally altered the complexion of the Wiesn, opening the door for other breweries to compete with the splendour of Thomasbrauerei’s beer castle. By 1910, all of Munich’s largest breweries had commissioned leading architects to design impressive festival halls that cited decorative elements from the Baroque and Biedermeier eras.

But even those structures weren’t large enough to accommodate the droves of imbibers who descended upon Munich each year. Breweries soon turned to massive tents to simplify the challenge of seating increasingly large numbers of patrons. In 1913, the last year before the First World War broke out, the Pschorr Brewery erected a tent so large that it could hold 12,000 stein-hoisters –– the largest beer structure that has ever stood on the Oktoberfest grounds. It wasn’t long before the beer tent replaced the beer castle, transforming the physical appearance of the Theresienwiese and shaping our contemporary imagination of Oktoberfest in the process. As of 2005, the entire festival grounds offered seating for 100,000 festival-goers; the largest fest hall is the Hofbräu tent and garden, with 10,000 seats.oktoberfest-hofbrautent-fdh

Roll Out the Barrels! The Changing Fortunes of Oktoberfest Beer Styles

Ever headed to Munich during Oktoberfest and been surprised to see that they serve one beer only –– a burnished golden beer at that? Isn’t Oktoberfest beer supposed to be an amber-coloured and richly malt Märzen beer, you might be thinking? If you’re Central European, you’ve probably never been caught up in this confusion. To many Canadian and American beer enthusiasts, though, Oktoberfest remains synonymous with Märzen.

In case you’re wondering where all the Märzen went, here’s a short explanation.

During the first several decades of the Oktoberfest, breweries brought whatever they had on hand to the festival –– usually some sort of forerunner of today’s Munich Dunkel. It wasn’t until 1872 that Spaten’s Gabriel Sedlmayr began brewing a beer specially for Oktoberfest –– a Märzen beer based loosely on the Vienna Lager first brewed by Sedlmayr’s colleague, Anton Dreher, in 1841. This amber beer was a shade or two lighter than the dark beer typically available in the Bretterbuden, and that much easier to knock back. Märzenbier soon conquered the festival.

Fun facts:

Dial “M” for Märzen: After Sedlmayr introduced the drinking world to his particular brand of Märzen in 1872, the barrels that arrived at Oktoberfest bore an “M” insignia. Each cask –– known as a “Hirsch,” or stag –– contained 200 liters and weighed around 300 kilos (Eymold, 328).

Horses and wagons: Breweries used horse-drawn carts to deliver their casks of beer not only to Oktoberfest, but to the inns and taverns of Munich right down into the 1950s (Eymold, 328).

Parades! The first parade was held in 1835 on the occasion of the silver anniversary of King Ludwig I’s marriage to Queen Therese. The parade was a spectacle of decorated wagons and inhabitants from across Bavaria decked out in the Tracht (lederhosen and dirndl) of their respective regions –– the origins of today’s Trachten- und Schützenzug procession that takes place on the second day of Oktoberfest. Back in the day, the festival parade was meant as an impressive demonstration of Bavaria’s “national” character. Festive parades were also held on the occasion of the 100th and 125th anniversary of Oktoberfest. Since 1949, the festival parade starting in Munich’s center and winding its way through the city to the Theresienwiese has been an annual opening-day tradition.

But even the reign of Märzen would prove to be temporary. In 1953, an even lighter Festbier –– Augustiner’s Wiesnedelstoff –– entered the festival ring. Soon all the major breweries had followed Augustiner’s lead, and began serving this eminently quaffable Wiesn beer alongside their Märzen. Wiesnbier displaced Märzen entirely by the late 1980s, becoming simply Oktoberfestbier.

Nowadays, Oktoberfest is about one beer, and one beer only. And only by the Maß. Which is just fine –– it eliminates the need for ordering so you can concentrate on the festivities.oktoberfest-postcard-augustiner-wiesnedelstoff The servers bring armfulls of 1-liter tankards right to your table. Take one, pay up, and Bob’s your uncle.

Here’s what you can expect:

Brewed to 13.5-14 degrees Plato and lagered for eight weeks at minus one degree Celsius, Oktoberfestbier is now a protected trademark of the Munich breweries. The result is a beer somewhere between a helles Bock and a helles Lager that clocks in somewhere between 6% and 6.3% ABV. Burnished gold in colour, the beer exudes aromas of fresh bread, honeyed malt with a touch of light toast, and a mild herbal or spicy hop fragrance depending on the brewer. Medium- to full-bodied on the palate, Oktoberfestbier has a mild residual (honey nougat) sweetness, flavours of lightly toasted bread, and just a hint of hop bitterness. The beer is reminiscent of Alpine meadows, with a refreshing mineral character. Round, supple, and clean. And the epitome of what German speakers call süffig (quaffable).

Darauf ein Oktoberfestbier!

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Related Tempest Articles:

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

The MaltHead Manifesto

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

Sources:

Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016.

Bier- und Oktoberfest Museum, Munich (visited 17 September 2016).

Astrid Assél and Christian Huber, München und das Bier: Auf großer Biertour durch 850 Jahre Braugeschichte (München: Volk Verlag, 2009).

Horst Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1997).

Image Credits:

“Münchner Kindl mit Bierkrug,” Paul Otto Engelhard/München, 1913 (postcard image).

“Augustiner Edelstoff,” Holzfurtner, Plakat, Offsetdruck, 1976 (postcard image).

Hofbräuhaus tent, Theresienwiese, Munich (F.D. Hofer).

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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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

Wooded hillsides, a hundred lakes mirroring the fleeting afternoon sunlight, emerald green pastures with the occasional dusting of snow. Stately Renaissance facades watching over magnificent squares and Gothic spires reaching skyward. Dimly lit train stations redolent of times past. Castle towns that drew artists like Egon Schiele away from the bustle of Vienna. The Vlatava (Moldau) winding its way languidly through České Budějovice (Budweis) and Český Krumlov.

And, of course, cities that have given their names to beer styles and brands renowned the world over.

Pictures at a Czech beer exhibition.

Gallery 1: České Budějovice: home of the real Budweiser

IMG_5655Twilight over the old town’s Black Tower signals the shift from exploring the narrow streets radiating off the main square to settling into taverns for hearty Bohemian food and beer.

IMG_5693

The Dominican Monastery gardens. I’m sure these folks drank plenty of beer in their time.

U Tří Sedláků (At the Three Yeoman) once catered to merchants and officers, and to the rafters driving wood along the river. During the Communist era it was annexed to a nearby restaurant called Masné Krámy (Meat Shops).

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On its own again since 2005, it now serves Pilsener Urquell, while the neighbouring Masné Krámy deals in Budweiser Budvar.

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By the time night falls, the Masné Krámy, with its Renaissance façade and basilica-style layout dating back to the sixteenth century, transforms itself into a classically raucous drinking establishment. Forget about trying to find a table.

IMG_5678

The city hall

The previous night’s revelry now the stuff of dreams, it’s time for some culture in the form of a brewery tour.

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The real deal.

The Pivovar Budějovický Budvar (Budweiser Budvar Brewery) was founded in 1895, and has been engaged in a protracted trademark dispute with a certain Annheuser-Busch.

IMG_5709The dispute takes center stage in a tongue-and-cheek short film that forms part of the exhibit in the visitor center. Spend some time checking out the rest of the exhibits if you arrive early for your tour.

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Those midday tours really help you work up an appetite. If the samples on the tour weren’t enough, you can head next door to the Budvar Brewpub.

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Relatively light fare as far as Bohemian cuisine goes.

České Budějovice isn’t all Budweiser Budvar and Pilsener Urquell. You’ll find the occasional gem tucked away here and there. Krajinská is one such spot. Great food, too. (Of note: The micro/craft breweries we visited depart from the stock repertoire of delicious but hefty Bohemian cuisine, offering lighter fare with an “artisanal” touch.)

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Minipivovar Krajinská

Keep your eyes open for Beeranek as well – closed in late December when we visited. Thanks to Tomáš Hasík for the tips.

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Off to Pilsen two hours away.

Historical note: The train line connecting České Budějovice to Linz is the second-oldest train line in the world.

Gallery 2: Plzeń/Pilsen

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The Great Synagogue, built in 1893, is the second-largest synagogue in Europe.

Plzeń is the birthplace of that most famous of beer styles, the Pilsener, first brewed in 1842 by Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll.

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St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, located on Republic Square.

Pilsener Urquell (now under the auspices of SABMiller) is ubiquitous, as are the taverns and hotels affiliated with the company.

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Not a microbrewery.

English tours depart on a regular basis throughout the day. We showed up about 10 minutes after one had started. No worries. You can get a combo ticket for the tour and for the Brewery Museum.

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Malting bed plus crucifix and uncanny wax figure.

The informative museum of brewing history –– complete with an intricate model of a brewery that took eighteen years to build –– is also affiliated with the Pils Urquell folks.

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Apparently this contraption can even brew a small volume of beer.

Back to Pilsener Urquell we go. The tour of the biggest brewing operation in town is a fairly straightforward affair augmented by high-tech multi-media displays and a trip to the bottling and canning line.

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Can’t get enough of them copper kettle photos.

But that all changes with the labyrinthine lagering cellars dating to 1839 –– worth the price of admission alone.

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The cellars are also home to small-batch open-fermented beer that subsequently spends time in pitched aging casks.

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Note the date: 28.12. Brewed the day before we arrived.

If only Pils Urquell and similarly large breweries would distribute this kind of tradition beyond their cellars. Vastly better than any bottled or draught Pils Urquell.

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U Pašáka

Pilsen is also home to a nascent craft beer scene.

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One particularly vibrant craft beer bar, Na Čepu (no good pix, unfortunately –– blame it on the good beer) has set up shop in the shadow of the Brewery Museum. Co-owner Jaroslav Jakeš is a wealth of information on the local and Czech-wide beer scene.

And so we head out the next morning, skies blazing blue, memories of Czech-style stouts and white IPAs sustaining us, in the direction of Český Krumlov.

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Gallery 3: Český Krumlov

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If the Eggenberg beer hasn’t grabbed your attention yet, the tower rising up from the castle precincts will. Try scaling those rocks after a few beer.

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View of St. Vitus, straight up.

Český Krumlov suffered neglect during the communist era, but its splendid Renaissance and Baroque buildings were restored in the early 1990s, earning the town a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992.

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Cue up Smetana.

After all that Pilsener Urquell and Budweiser Budvar, Eggenberg Brewery (not to be confused with the Schloss Eggenberg brewery, brewers of the famous Samichlaus, in Austria’s Salzkammergut) provided us with a refreshing change of pace.

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A classic beer hall.

Their Nakouřený Švihák, a Rauchbier with very subtle maple-syrup-accented wood smoke, was one of the highlights of the trip. A much different Rauchbier than, say, Bamberg’s Aecht Schlenkerla.

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Duck with purple cabbage and two kinds of traditional Bohemian dumplings.

I don’t know about you, but these photographic reminiscences have made me hungry and maybe a little bit thirsty. Time for dinner and a beer.

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Filtered/unfiltered.

Na zdraví!

Related Tempest Articles:

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

Say No to Style Loyalty

All images by F.D. Hofer

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

Say No to Style Loyalty in 2016

Ninety-nine styles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine styles of beer …

Your Saturday Six-Pack Series is back.IMG_9876

***

Coke or Pepsi. Bud, Miller, or Coors. Many a craft beer aficionado has railed against brand loyalty, criticizing the consumption of advertising over what’s in the bottle. And rightly so.

But a specter haunts the craft beer world –– the specter of style loyalty. A chicken in every pot and an IPA in every fridge is one thing. Entire lineups of IPAs, though?

Hops: Not a bad thing.

Hops: Not a bad thing.

That’s something altogether different. Double IPAs! Triple IPAs! (Session IPAs!) Fruit-infused IPAs! Enjoy-by IPAs! And just plain old IPAs! Hopheads, rejoice. Ah, America. The land of choice.

Lost in the figurative and sometimes very literal buzz(feed): the craft beer mosaic is comprised of over a hundred styles of beer.

***

Is your beer diet heavy on the hops? (I know – we all need our veggies.) Here’s a little throw-down for the next time you’re at your favourite bottle shop. Make it a point to try a style you’ve never had before –– lest they all disappear from shelves in the not-so-distant future, subsumed by a rising tide of IPA and a few other beer styles surfing shotgun.IMG_0899Go ahead, go for that cream ale! No one’s looking. While you’re at it, grab that Rodney Dangerfield of beers, the lowly brown ale. Like Mikey in the Life cereal commercials of yore, you might just like it.

By now you’re probably feeling an overwhelming urge to toss a few IPAs into your cart, and maybe a bourbon barrel-aged stout because, you know, it’s so damn cold out there. But resist and pick up a Pils instead.

Czech style

Czech style

Still a few more to go. Craft beer drinkers cannot live on barley alone. Variety is the spice of life, and wheat beers are the spice of the zymurgical arts – which is just another way of saying life. Take your pick: Belgian Wit, American wheat beer, and Weissbier, which itself comes in all sorts of different varieties.

Word on the street is that porters, too, are now underrated. We need to remedy that situation forthwith. As homebrew meister Jamil Zainasheff once quipped, “Who’s your Taddy?” If you don’t know, there’s another bottle for your cart.

So that’s five beer styles toward your Saturday six-pack. Venture out of your geographical comfort zone with that last beer. Japan is famous for its saké, so it’s no surprise to find beers containing that otherwise-disdained adjunct, rice. Like gin? Try Finland’s contribution to the wonderful world of beer styles, Sahti, the mash of which is filtered through a bed of juniper twigs. (Sorry to get your hopes up, gin lovers. Sahti tastes nothing like gin. All the more reason to try it.)

***

That still leaves over a hundred different styles of beer. What are some of your favourite underrated beer styles?

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Related Tempest Articles:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Your Saturday Six-Pack, Vol.5): Saisons

Augurs of Spring: Wheat Beers Belgian, German, and American

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

A Taste of Oklahoma in Six Glasses

Brown Beers Get No Luvin’: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.2)

Images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 A Tempest in a Tankard and F.D. Hofer. All Rights Reserved.