Tag Archives: Rauchbier

Smoked Beer Sauerkraut

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

Turning Cabbage into Sauerkraut

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

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

Endnotes:

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

Related Tempest Articles:

Dining Down the Holiday Stretch: Choucroute à la Gueuze

Down the Rabbit Hole: Doppelbock-Braised Rabbit

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

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

Images: F.D. Hofer

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

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)

***

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.

***

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.

***

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

Related Tempest Articles

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

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Bourbon in Michigan: Barrel-Aged Beer along the Great Lakes

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie’s Pirate Bomb, Goose Island’s Bourbon County, Victory’s Dark Intrigue

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.

Returning for Another Sip of Terroir

I pause from reading the newspaper to take another sip of my coffee. A melange –– a Viennese classic coffee that goes by a French name sans the accent. A true mix: no single-origin beans here. This evening I’m experiencing a mélange as well: a mixture of the beloved Viennese pastime of wiling away the afternoon in an elegant setting with a coffee whose very name blurs its origins.IMG_4688

Place, authenticity, experience ––food for thought to accompany my various forms of liquid sustenance.

Tomorrow I head off on a pilgrimage of sorts: Bamberg. Extending over seven hills in the Franconian region of northern Bavaria and renowned for its medieval old town spanning the river Regnitz, Bamberg is also famous for its uniquely smoky beer. Rauchbier, a beer very much tied to a particular place.

****

It’s coming on two years now since I penned the following words:

“Rather than understanding beer as an ‘expression’ or even a ‘sense’ of place, I propose, instead, something more modest: that we consider beer as a reflection of the environment, circumstances, and processes surrounding its production –– in short, that we consider beer as a reflection of place, but dimly.”

In that series of articles, I promised to reconsider the notion of place decoupled from terroir so as to redeem a “place” for place in our discussions of craft beer. But by the time that I had critiqued the ideological underpinnings of the “buy local” movement in my “Romancing the Local,” I found that I had argued myself into a corner. These things happen. I didn’t expect that it would take me this long to get around to arguing myself out of that corner. But drinking that melange in Vienna’s Cafe Central helped turn on a few light bulbs.

Before I catch my train, here are a few propositions and questions. I’ll add some colour to this outline in the days and weeks after contemplating the smoky essence of Bamberg’s beer.

  1. In a July 2015 article for Draft, Joe Stange quotes Tim Beaumont on terroir: “Beer has terroir not for the soil in which the hops or grain are grown, but for the people in the area for whom the beer is brewed, who shape by their cultural expectations how that beer will be.” Much as I appreciate the sentiment, the statement represents a case of putting the cart before the horse. Responding, I think rightly, to Stan Hieronymus’ calls for more narratives about the people who make the beer, some craft beer writers confuse the people –– who indeed come from “a place” somewhere –– with terroir.
  1. I laud the attempts of those who resist mass-produced food and drink in the name of terroir, but I find the effort misplaced when it comes to beer. Elastic as the notion of “terroir” may be, it is not so empty a vessel that we can fill it with any content whatsoever.
  1. Consider this: Back in the day, much beer was stamped with a sense of place due to a number of factors largely beyond the control of local brewers. Nowadays, brewers in Austin are creating beers that taste just like those in Munich, and that’s a fine thing indeed for this lover of lager.

But herein lies the problem in linking craft beer and terroir: How can a well-crafted “Munich Helles” from Austin and a helles Bier from München express “unique” terroirs when they can taste virtually the same in the hands of skilled brewers in different countries?

Not a Munich Helles.

Not a Munich Helles.

  1. Here’s a two-part formulation that, I hope, will invite discussion.

Part I: Beer is not the expression of a single terroir, but rather, by the very nature of its ingredients and production processes, a mélange of terroirs. This mixture reflects the regions, climates, and topographies from which the hops and grains come from. It also reflects the philosophies of those who turn the barley, wheat, and other grains into malt, sometimes quite far from where the grains were grown. As for yeast? When it comes to wild fermentations, yeast (and their symbiotic bacteria) may well present a qualified expression of terroir. In most other cases, though, the yeast has been transposed from its original setting and reproduced in sophisticated labs for use in breweries anywhere.

The question, then, is this: What happens to terroir once the grain and hops have been mashed and boiled with water that may or may not be “of” the region and then fermented in, say, Wisconsin with a Belgian saison yeast? Does the mélange of terroirs do so much to blur any sense of individual terroir as to make the concept meaningless?

Part II: Even if we decide, ultimately, that terroir is a red herring for brewers, drinkers, and writers, the issue of craft beer and its relationship to place is still worthy of debate, as complex an issue as it is. What constitutes an “expression of place”? What are we to make of those creative brewers whose beers aren’t expressions of their own particular locale, but otherwise represent the melding of artistic brilliance with technical acumen?

Memories and experiences: Another way to think of place.

Memories and experiences: Another way to think of place.

The answer, I think, lies in the sense of a shared ethos; in other words, a shared sensibility, a shared knowledge, a shared inspiration, a local synergy.

As Ron Extract of Jester King put it when I asked him a few years back to consider claims that you can taste the “Hill Country terroir” in local favourites such as Jester King beers and Argus ciders, his response was telling: “Any similarity in taste has less to do with terroir than with a similar approach to producing our beverages.”

What is by now a transnational artisanal ethos shared by brewers from coast to coast and beyond nonetheless grounds itself in particular places. The regional stylistic variations that have emerged across North America bear this out. But this has much less to do with the soil and surrounding environment than it does with the people behind the brewing processes: the people who reinterpret existent styles, sometimes with a local twist, the people who create new styles that reflect the beer’s place of origin. A reflection of place, sure. But one that has little to do with terroir.

__________

Keep an eye out on Facebook and Instagram for photos from my trip to Bamberg.

Sources

Erika Bolden, “Can Craft Beer Truly Express a Sense of Place?” Punch (July 9, 2015).

Joe Stange, “Smell Your Beer: Does It Reek of Gimmickry? More Musings on Sincere Beer,” Draft (July 15, 2015).

Photos by F.D. Hofer

Related Tempest Articles

The MaltHead Manifesto

Pinning Down Place

Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine

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