Tag Archives: Franconia

Of Whisky Casks and Doppelbocks: The New Wave of German Brewing

It was only a matter of time until a new generation of German brewers started heeding the siren call of hops, spice, and everything nice, even as they continue to craft their beers within the relative confines of the 500-year-old Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Laws).

David Hertl is one such representative of this new wave of brewers leavening tradition with innovation. The resident beer sommelier at Bamberg’s main craft beer emporium, Hertl also happens to be a young brewer who hails from a family of Franconian winemakers.IMG_5084Setting the stage: Bamberg is hilly medieval city in Franconia, famous as much for its Altes Rathaus straddling the River Regnitz as it is for its smoky Rauchbier. Franconia is part of Bavaria, and Bavarian beer is synonymous with the Reinheitsgebot.Reinheitsgebot - Briefmark (Wiki-de)

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As I made my way back to my hotel after a satisfying evening of Bamberg-style imbibing at Mahr’s, Aecht Schlenkerla, and Fässla, something caught my eye: a tastefully decorated storefront in a stone building with rounded arches. Bierothek.

Bierothek is where I made David Hertl’s acquaintance the following day after a long hike toward a mirage-like castle that kept receding beyond the southern horizon. Hertl was about to close up shop for the night, but let me in to browse Bierothek’s 300-strong selection in search of beers to bring back to Vienna.IMG_5047

We got to talking about the Reinheitsgebot, and the difficulties inherent in translating not so much the word “craft beer” into German as introducing it as a concept to German beer drinkers. Consolidation may well have left its mark on the German brewing industry in recent decades, but much of what Germans drink still fits the Brewers’ Association’s definition of craft beer, disputed and relatively elastic as this term may: “small, independent, traditional.”

When concepts take flight, though, the act of translation is never merely a one-to-one exchange, but rather an exercise in interpretation. As Hertl points out, for many German beer drinkers, “craft beer” has become virtually synonymous with American-style pale ales, IPAs, and imperial stouts. Hertl faces the occasional challenge in convincing German consumers that German beer actually is craft beer avant la lettre –– and that the novel tidal wave of American beer, exciting as it may be, isn’t necessarily better, just different from typically streamlined German beers.

This tension between tradition and innovation is one that I find fascinating, especially as it is currently playing itself out in Germany. Hertl and I return to the topic of the Reinheitsgebot in relation to a North American approach more influenced by Belgium than by Germany, and talk at length about the discipline imposed by German tradition.Hertl Braumanufaktur - David Hertl (Facebook) At this point in the conversation, Hertl waxes poetic about the sublimity of a well-crafted helles lager. Lover of lagers that I am, I cannot help but agree, even if I’m no stranger to homebrewing and drinking well beyond the Reinheitsgebot.

As I’m topping up my basket of beer, I notice a foil-wrapped stoneware bottle of Doppelbock aged six months in Islay whisky barrels. And a fortuitous coincidence at that. Up to that point, I hadn’t yet asked Hertl his name, but when I picked up the bottle, he proudly proclaimed that he had brewed it.

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The details: Hertl Braumanufaktur, *Torfig Rauchiger Whiskydoppelbock (Aged 6 months in Scottish Islay whisky casks). 11.3%. 9.60 Euros (~$11 USD). *Torfig means peated.

The first thing that strikes me about this beer is that it isn’t quite what I was expecting of a Doppelbock. Suffice it to say, this is a beer that defies stylistic preconceptions, starting from the moment you pour it into the glass. “Hazy orange-amber hued and the colour of light caramel” isn’t exactly the classic description of a Doppelbock. But that’s fine. We’re talking innovation meets tradition here.

And one more thing: It’s a beer to which you’ll want to give some breathing space, not only because it chocks up a hefty 11.3% ABV. This is a unique Doppelbock that expresses different moods over the time it takes to enjoy it.

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Curtain call. A heady mix of fruit and caramel hints at things to come. Classic Doppelbock-like melanoidin notes brood like Fafner in the depths of his cave. The fruit is berry-like, expressing itself in brightly acidic flavours that blend tart cherries and cranberries.

Not to be outdone, stone fruit contributes a brightness to the aroma and palate as well. Like a Wagnerian motif, this hint of peach sour carries through to the end. A bit of a social butterfly, the peach sour note pairs, by turns, with suggestions of orange zest-spiked shortbread and the occasional trill of yellow plum. Later, the stone fruit strikes up a harmony with a kaleidoscope of darker-toned notes reminiscent of Oloroso sherry before shifting key into a perfumed almond-like character more reminiscent of Amaretto. Hops even make a cameo appearance in this opera of aromas and flavours, giving voice to the kind of spicy mandarin orange peel fragrance that blends citrus and fir needles.

As for the peat? It’s the viola of the orchestra –– rather surprising, considering the beer is brewed with peated malt and then rested in whisky barrels.

What makes the beer unique, though, is the slightly tart-acidic contribution of the Islay whisky casks. This is both a blessing and a slight distraction. On the one hand, the Scotch weaving its melodies in the background contributes the stone fruit complexity and honeyed nuttiness that separates this Doppelbock from its peers. On the other, this diamond-like acidic note cuts through the richness of the Doppelbock’s maltiness a little too zealously, leaving the autumn honey and fruit cake malt duo cowering in the corner. That said, this zingy-tart Doppelbock is nothing if not fruity, and this saves the beer. Fir needle-scented brown sugar and candied orange peel appear as the curtain falls on the performance, leaving behind dried apricot in the tart-dry and fruity finish.

All in all, like many a whisky barrel-aged beer I’ve had of late that isn’t of the bourbon barrel-aged variety, I find myself craving a bit more body and residual sweetness to counter the fruity tartness. A barrel thing that underscores the nature of different spirits? I don’t have enough homebrewing experience to say one way or the other, aside from what I’ve read about the subject. But here’s a closing thought. Perhaps Hertl could propel future iterations of this beer from the terrestrial realm of “unique and compelling experiment” into an other-worldly Valhalla by blending a barrel-aged batch of his Doppelbock with a fresh batch of Doppelbock. I’m not sure if this is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Reinheitsgebot, but the practice seems to help the folks in Flanders introduce a bit more body and sweetness back into their Oud Bruins and Flemish reds.

These are fairly minor concerns. As a man of many zymurgical talents and a mere twenty-five years young, Hertl’s brewing future looks bright.IMG_5091

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Not Your Average Wheat Beer: Schneider’s Porter Weisse

Images

David Hertl raising a glass (Hertl Braumanufaktur Facebook page)

All other images by F.D. Hofer

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

A Bavarian in Texas: Franconia Brewing Company

Dennis Wehrmann brewed his first batch of beer at twelve years of age and never looked back. Many begin their brewing careers with a motley collection of pans, buckets, and hoses, and at a much older age at that. Not Wehrmann. He brewed his first batch on a thirty-barrel system.

That this should come to pass was, perhaps, preordained, for Wehrmann is the latest in a long line of brewers stretching back to the early nineteenth century in his native Franconia.100-2890_IMG His mother holds a degree in brewing sciences, and his uncles are still active in the Bavarian brewing scene. But Wehrmann, who apprenticed with Neumarkter Lammsbräu before taking over the reins of the Altstadthof brewpub in the castle district of Nürnberg, chafed under the burden of running both the food and beverage ends of the brewpub.

(On a personal note, long before I made Wehrmann’s acquaintance, I spent a relaxing evening at that very same Altstadthof after a long and taxing day conducting research for an entirely different project at the Documentation Center for the Nuremberg Rallies of the Nazi Party.)

Taking his leave of this timbered Franconian city famous as the birthplace of Albrecht Dürer and infamous for its unfortunate run-in with the history of the Third Reich,Albrecht Duerer - Selfporitrait (Wiki) Wehrmann set off for the United States with his wife. And like so many Germans before him, he ended up in Texas. Even if Wehrmann is the first brewer in his family to fire up a brew kettle outside of Bavaria, though, his Texan beers are German-inspired through and through. No donut and bacon beers here.

Franconia Brewing Company maintains a relatively low profile on the Texas beer scene, but is worth a detour off the I-35 north of Dallas, especially if you identify with the kind of brewer who studiously avoids the latest fads in craft beer. Indeed, Wehrmann – a colourful character with an impish grin – is charmingly fanatic in his denunciation of high IBUs and the recent trend toward sour beer and barrel aging.IMG_0072 High hop rates? “The easy way out!” exclaims Wehrmann. Barrel aging? “Bad beer in, good beer out. You can’t go wrong!” Sour beers? Don’t even get him started. He dismisses these good beers gone bad with an impatient wave of his hand: “We have to ask ourselves why this particular beer is sour.” Only sour beers “done right” – a Berliner Weisse, for example – pass muster.

Instead, Wehrmann and his cheerful band of brewers at Franconia Brewing Company choose to submit themselves to the rigours of the German Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law). If you’re like me and you have a soft spot for Hefeweizen, Munich Helles, Kölsch, Munich Dunkel, Rauchbier, Festbier, Bock, and Doppelbock, you are in luck. Even Franconia’s limited-edition beers – an Oatmeal Stout here, a Double IPA there – are brewed with German yeast and left to lager for a time. Patience is the name of the game at Franconia. As per Reinheitsgebot strictures, all of their beers are naturally carbonated – a leisurely step that adds another two weeks, on average, to the brewing schedule.

Catering to the drinking needs of northern Texas for the past six years now, Franconia was only the second craft brewery to open in the Dallas metroplex area after Rahr set up shop in Fort Worth.Franconia Beers (Examiner-FB) The brewery began bottling its year-round offerings six months ago, and has expanded its distribution throughout Texas. Its flagship beers include a Kölsch, a Hefeweizen (labeled simply as Franconia Wheat), and a Dunkel. The summery and crisp-finishing Kölsch presents spicy aromas reminiscent of coriander underneath fruity tones of stone fruit (peach) and floral lemon. White pepper and a pleasant minerality accentuate blanched almond and bready Pilsener malt flavours. Wheat comprises sixty percent of the Hefeweizen’s malt palette, lending a subtle pepperiness and citrusy orange tang to the mild banana, almond, and light brown sugar notes. Franconia’s ruby-brown Dunkel hews in the direction of a Schwarzbier, combining dark caramel and coffee notes with a hint of smoke. Creamy and mildly bitter, this malt-forward beer is surprisingly refreshing.

Other seasonals that Wehrmann poured for me included a Weizenbock as rich as dark banana bread but leavened by a green apple-like acidity. Another, a whimsical smoked Weizen, bore a resemblance to the year-round Hefeweizen, with an enhanced malt sweetness and a smokiness suggesting air-dried ham.

If Wehrmann’s adherence to the Reinheitsgebot and his aversion to contemporary trends in craft brewing might strike some observers as quaintly traditional, his approach to Franconia’s environmental impact is positively cutting-edge.IMG_0074 Wehrmann is proud of his accomplishments, and with good reason. His days at Neumarkter Lammsbräu, a brewery at the forefront of organic and green brewing practices, made a deep impression on him. Right from the beginning, Franconia’s 6000 square-foot brewery was conceived with an eye toward green technology. Aside from bottles, the brewery is a waste-free facility. Like many craft breweries, Wehrmann hands off his spent grain to local farmers. And like a smaller number of craft breweries, Wehrmann strives to reuse as much water as possible – eighty-five percent, in Franconia’s case. But he surpasses most other craft breweries in his commitment to renewable energy resources, firing his brewhouse with solar energy, powering it with a bio-fuel electricity generation system, and capturing as much energy from the brewing process as possible for re-use. Wehrmann has been so successful in his endeavours that he is not only self-sufficient in terms of his energy needs, but also sells excess power back to the grid.  Franconia TourFranconia Brewing Company is located about forty-five minutes north of Dallas in the town of McKinney, and is easy to find from I-35, Hwy 380, and Hwy 75. Two-hour tours of the facility take place every Saturday morning at 11:00. Tours cost $5, and include samples of the good stuff. No reservation necessary.

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Images:

Altstadthof, Nürnberg: photo by F.D. Hofer

Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar: Wikipedia

Dennis Wehrmann, Owner and Master Brewer, Franconia Brewing Co.: photo by F.D. Hofer

Bottles of Franconia Beer: courtesy of Franconia’s Facebook page/www.examiner.com

Franconia’s green energy system: photo by F.D. Hofer

Franconia tour ad: courtesy of Franconia’s Facebook page

Featured Beer: Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe “Bonator”

Today’s featured beer is brought to you by the letter G for Germany. It’s also brought to you by a date: November 9, a rather infamous date in Germany’s often turbulent twentieth-century history.

Many remember this date as the evening when an unexpected event ushered in the end of the Cold War. During one of his regular press conferences in the heady autumn days of 1989, the East German Politburo spokesperson, Gunter Schabowski, discussed regulations that signaled an easing of travel restrictions for East Germans. The ink had barely dried on the text of the regulations, and Schabowski had not been fully briefed about the timeline of their implementation. A reporter asked when the regulations would come into effect. Caught off guard, Schabowski hesitated for a moment. His improvised answer: “Sofort. Unverzüglich.” (Effective immediately, without delay). West German media outlets – whose signal was transmitted into most of East Germany as well – broadcasted this stunning news on their evening programs. Crowds began amassing at the Berlin border crossings within minutes, and as the evening wore on, the vastly outnumbered border guards opened the flood gates to the tide of humanity that would swell back and forth across what was only recently a deadly boundary.

Though many in Berlin and Germany will celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, other November 9ths have etched themselves, sometimes more dimly, into German collective memory. Ninety-five years ago today, deputy chairperson of the Social Democratic Party, Philipp Scheidemann, stepped out onto a balcony of the Reichstag and proclaimed the establishment of a republic. With this proclamation, Scheidemann put paid to the German monarchy. Within days, the First World War was over. Five years later, a failed artist and lance corporal from Austria who bore a striking resemblance to Charlie Chaplin, led his SA men in what has come to be known as the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. But this man was no comedian. By 1933 his Nazi party was firmly entrenched in power; on the evening of November 9, 1938, he succeeded in unleashing an anti-Semitic frenzy in Germany. Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, witnessed an intensification of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.

Some of these November 9ths lend themselves eminently to celebration; others, to reflection. Tonight I raise my glass to the fall of the Berlin Wall while remembering other events of German history that were not so festive.

On the evening when the wall came down, I’d hazard to guess that not many were drinking Doppelbock. Sekt (German bubbly) was more likely the beverage of choice. Since I have none of what Napoleon called “the Champagne of the North” (Berliner Weisse) on hand, it’s only fitting to drink a bottle of Bonator, a beer that recalls Germany’s patron saint, Boniface.

Bonator

Brewed by one of the oldest breweries in the Bavarian region of Franconia, Bonator pays tribute to the first archbishop of Mainz and founder of the Franconian diocese of Würzburg. As Weissenohe traces its roots to the local Benedictine monastery, it’s no surprise that they brew a Doppelbock, the rich and hearty beer that got many a monk through Lenten fasts.

Copper-brown with garnet-mahogany highlights, Bonator issues forth from a swing-top bottle bearing aromas of fresh country bread, toasted malt, cocoa, and milk caramel, with just a hint of licorice and aniseed. Woody and earthy hop aromas are subtle but present in the depths, reminiscent of tea with lemon. The beer is a meal in itself, with a complex and richly malt-forward palate that mingles black cherry and plum with chocolate cake. Unsurprisingly, at a hefty 8.2% ABV, the beer is sweet; but the subtle earthy-citrus hops meld with the bready, toasty, fruity milk chocolate malt, assuring that the beer stays this side of cloying, finishing on a pleasant apricot-peach preserve note.

As with any Doppelbock, don’t drink it even remotely chilled. (Trust me. Use the force on this). Crack it at cellar temperature, and then let it warm as you drink it. And don’t drink too many, lest you need to go in search of a Salvator the next day.

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© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.