Tag Archives: Kölsch

Reflections and Resolutions

So here we are again. One more turn around this mortal coil, drinking to forget the follies of an old year and toasting the auspiciousness of the new. For me 2017 has been extremely enjoyable, uncanny parallels between the 1930s and the present notwithstanding. I hope it has been the same for you.

Enjoyable but busy — which is why you haven’t heard too much from me in 2017. Fortunately, life hasn’t been all work and no play. And you’ll hear more about all of the play in 2018. See under: Resolutions (below).

For now, I’m going to do something rather out of character as we sail into the sunset of 2017. Any long-time reader of Tempest knows that I’m not a fan of “best-of” lists, but since I’m already hearing the siren call of New Year’s Eve festivities, I’ll make an exception of sorts. Following is a list (in no particular order) of five beers I drank for the first time this year and found particularly impressive. I’m picking more or less at random here, but they’re all beers worth searching out. Three Tankards, if you will. Along with these five beers, I’m including a list of five stellar beer-related places I visited for the first time this year. All are places that you’ll want to put on your travel bucket list for 2018 or further in the future.

Reflections I: Beers

Birra Baladin, Elixir. My first beer of 2017, Baladin’s Elixir set quite the tone for the year. This beer is a malthead’s dream: honeyed malt sweetness to spare, rum-soaked dark cherries, lush caramel, and Calimynra figs mingling with vanilla and toasted coconut. Demarara sugar and high-end milk chocolate (Italian or Belgian, take your pick) follow the initial crescendo of aromas and flavours, all accented by a “Belgian” yeast character that’ll bring plum, baking spice, and overripe banana to mind. If you’ve ever eaten Spanish fig chocolate cake, you’ll love this beer.

Brouwerij ’t Verzet, Oud Bruin. I had visited Cantillon for my second time in as many years the day before, and I could just as easily have listed their superb 2013 Lou Pépé Framboise or their 2016 Saint Lamvinus Grand Cru (featuring Merlot grapes) here. But fortunately we took the word of a woman who has been leading tours of a famous brewery in nearby Bruges for years now. When she’s not regaling beer tourists with stories of her well-respected brewery, she’s singing the praises of up-and-coming younger brewers in the region. And the folks at ’t Verzet are on to something. This copper-garnet beer offers up aromas and flavours you’d usually expect to find in an Oud Bruin, but with a twist: liquid caramel with a dusting of sea salt, chocolate reminiscent of the filling in a Belgian truffle, and a bright balsamic character that heads in the direction of cherry-like Chianti wine. The beer is sour but full-flavoured — a difficult feat to pull off. A green apple/apple cider-like acidity rounds out a subtle earthiness that shades into Amontillado sherry and aged saké.

pFriem Family Brewers, Frambozen. You know what, I didn’t take any notes on this beer. But it has stuck with me. A wonderful mix of fresh raspberry and wild-fermentation funk reminiscent of horse blanket, elegant Band-aid (if ever there were an elegant Band-aid … ), and fresh-cut meadows. North America doesn’t get much closer to Belgium than this.

Fremont Brewing, 2017 B-Bomb (Coconut Edition). I’m a huge fan of just about any imperial stout but tend to gravitate, firstly, toward barrel-aged versions, and, secondly, toward less austere and more rounded expressions of the style. Freemont’s 2017 version starts out as a fine example of blending virtuosity: a mix of their 9-, 12-, and 24-month Winter Ale aged in 12-year-old American Oak bourbon barrels. Add in some toasted coconut and you end up with an exquisite blend of milk chocolate, vanilla, cacao, dates, toasty malt, mocha, and, yes, a clearly present but well integrated aroma and taste of toasted coconut guaranteed to make you bolt in the opposite direction from that next “coconut stout/porter” spiked with extract you’ll probably encounter this year.

U Trí Růží, Tmavý Speciál. Czech dark lager doesn’t get much press back at home, but it has, at least, achieved minor fame as a BJCP beer style in the 2015 guidelines. And long overdue at that, considering the pedigree of a place like U Fleků, that Prague institution that brews and serves one beer and one beer only. And do make the trek to U Fleků for a night on the town singing Czech folk songs with suitably inebriated patrons, one and all quaffing the urban brewery’s signature dark lager. Assuming you likely will (or have) visited U Fleků, here’s another spot that lies a mere hundred meters from the hustle and bustle of Charles Bridge and all the congested pubs in the vicinity. This is the beer that inspired me to take a crack at brewing the style a month back. Needless to say, mine’s but a pale reflection of this stellar beer that features rich cocoa, dark chocolate, freshly ground coffee, and just a touch of dark cherry. Wondering what the difference is between a Czech dark lager and a Munich dunkles Bier? All I can say without getting into too much detail is that they’re similar but o-so-different: like twin cousins.

Reflections II: Places

I don’t want to spoil anything for 2018 (see under: Resolutions), so I’ll operate here under the assumption that a photo is worth a cliché’s worth of words.

‘t Brugs Beertje, Bruges. A classic Belgian watering hole. And a stellar selection of western Flanders beers that’ll help you make sense of the tile patterns on the floor.

Kloster Weltenburg, eastern Bavaria. Serves up one of Germany’s best Doppelbocks named after two of Bavaria’s best Baroque architects, the Assam brothers. Should you tire of the beer on offer (heaven forfend!), you can admire the surrounding monastic architecture to which the aforementioned Doppelbock pays tribute. I’m leaving out a whole lotta Bavaria here, including Nürnberger Bratwurst Glöckl am Dom, a Munich gem hidden in plain sight serving up superb Bratwurst accompanied by Augustiner Helles fresh from the barrel. But that’s fine. The beer, the architecture, and the scenic voyage through the stunning Donaudurchbruch (Danube Gorge) is worth the trip from Kehlheim of Schneider Weisse fame. Make it a two-for-one.

Zum Uerige, Düsseldorf. All the trappings of a classic Altbier tavern and then some. It’s everything you’ve heard about the place. Some claim that the Altbier is better in other taverns. It may well be. And I could certainly give you recommendations for more “off the beaten track” Altbier breweries. But this warren of dark rooms, dimly lit Ausschank areas (where they roll out the barrels), and convivial spaces where the whole family gathers after church in the half-light of stained-glass windows is one of those iconic Euro beer spots that every beer enthusiast should visit at least once.

Päffgen, Cologne. You’ve stepped out of the train station and stood in awe of the cathedral. As a beer drinker, you’ve probably already realized that it’s about a 30-second walk from the train station to the Gaffel shrine to Kölsch. Maybe you have decided to see another 5-minutes’ worth of the town before succumbing to the temptation of checking out what the Köbes (Cologne’s famous Kölsch servers) are up to at Früh. No one will judge you for either of these choices, least of all me. But if you spend a few more days and peel back the proverbial layers, you might find yourself in the Friesenviertel. Some say Päffgen’s is the best Kölsch in town. Whatever the case may be, it is, without doubt, one of the most traditional places to find a Kölsch. (I could have put “traditional” in scare quotes, but I’ll save that for another year. Hint: Kölsch ain’t all that old as a style. Suffice it to day, though, this place has all the requisite “X-factor” stuff going on when compared to the other places.)

Letná beer garden, Prague. Pilsener Urquell and Kozel Černý in plastic cups. Forget everything I’ve ever written about proper glassware and just enjoy the stellar view.

Resolutions:

Write more in 2018.

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All the best for 2018, everyone!

Further Tempest reading:

A Pivo Pilgrimage to Pilsen

Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant

Of Coolships, Cobwebs, and Cantillon

How Paulaner’s Salvator Doppelbock Got Its Name

A Season for Strong Beer

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

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

All images by F.D. Hofer

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

The Beer Gallery: Highlights from Belgium, Bavaria, and Bohemia

Cologne, Sunday, 11:30 in the morning. The server, called a Köbes in Cologne, brings me my second glass of Kölsch and makes another mark on my beer mat. I’m not the only one here. Around me sit a mix of regulars populating the area around the bar, elderly couples who have come to sip on a few beers after mass, a family stopping in for a light snack and a beer before their afternoon outing, and a handful of English-speaking beer enthusiasts at a nearby table who, like me, are here for the Kölsch. It’s a scene that plays itself out endlessly in the traditional taverns of Cologne and Düsseldorf.

Regensburg, Monday, 2:30 p.m. It’s almost too cold on this late spring day to sit out in a beer garden, but we’re rewarded with a magical view of Regensburg’s gothic cathedral and medieval town center on the opposite bank of the Danube. The Steinerne Brücke dates from the middle of the twelfth century, and was the only bridge across the Danube when it was built. Regensburg may not be Munich, but the beer’s just fine and it’s an ideal base from which to visit two of Bavaria’s more iconic breweries: Schneider Weisse in Kelheim and Kloster Weltenburg a half an hour from there by boat.

Kloster Weltenburg, Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. We made it to Kelheim in time for the first sailing along the Danube in the direction of the Donau Durchbruch, the stunning gorge that serves as a gateway to the equally marvelous Kloster Weltenburg. The Assam brothers designed the opulent church and monastery; Kloster Weltenburg brews a Doppelbock in their honour. It’s one of my favourite Doppelbocks, but it tastes even better underneath the chestnut trees of Kloster Weltenburg’s beer garden, rain be damned.

Goes great with Spargel

Prague, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. From the terrace in the shadow of the Strahov Monastery the Malá Strana and Staré Město districts spread out beyond a stretch of urban orchards and vineyards. Once we’ve imbibed the view, we head off to rub shoulders with the early evening drinking crowd at the Pivnice u Černého Vola, one of many traditional Prague pubs. Fortunately, you’ll still find plenty of these gems amid the deluge of tourists and the bars that cater to them.

Prague: more than just pivo

Bruges, Thursday, 4:00 p.m. We walk past the place where I first encountered Belgian beer, way back on a misty late-autumn eveing in 1991. The beer looked like the pilseners and lagers I had just learned to appreciate in Germany, but something was just a little different. I downed it and ordered another. I drank this one a few seconds more slowly and noticed that the beer had a certain richness and residual sweetness to it. Not long into my third beer I noticed something else – a bit of an unexpected kick. This time around I discover a nice twist on this beer they call Tripel: Cuvée Soeur’is, an oak-aged triple kriek from Brouwerij de Leite served up in the dimly lit surroundings of ’t Brugs Biertje.

De Halve Maan brewery in the background

Bellegem, Friday, 8:30 a.m. After a night exploring the beer cafes of Brussels, I head out with an old friend to western Flanders. We were there for the Flemish red ale, and for a tour of Brouwerij Omer Vander Ghiste. Neither disappointed. And I made a new friend named Le Fort Tripel.

Foeder room, Omer Vander Ghiste

Munich, Saturday, mid-morning. The weather has finally turned the corner, and the Aumeister beer garden in the northern reaches of the Englische Garten is just the perfect place to be. It appears we’ve beaten the crowds this morning, but it won’t be long before we’re joined by three thousand like-minded folks on this balmy summer day.

Tea for two

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This itinerary combines four different beer-related journeys upon which I’ve been lucky enough to embark over the past few months. Now that the “field research” is behind me (somebody’s gotta do it, right?), I’ll have time over the summer to put pen to paper and round out these sketches of life in Europe’s beer centers.

Here’s to hoping that you, too, will be able to dust off your travel gear and head out somewhere – anywhere! – in search of good beer. Prost!

Related Tempest articles:

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)

Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant

All images by F.D. Hofer.

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

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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