Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Give Beer!

When Mr Wort Hog & I got married, some of my coworkers pitched in & bought us a six-month "beer of the month" subscription. We got a box each month containing eight bottles of beer - two bottles each of four varieties. While many of the brews weren't life-changing, many of them were beers we can't get here in the KC metro, and some were beers we'd never heard of. All of them were decent, and many of them were quite good. We enjoyed the gift and now that the holidays are approaching, it might be a good gift idea for a burgeoning beer nerd you know.

This is the club we were gifted. With each box, you got a newsletter that described each beer & brewery, and you could get more info on their website as well. You can see the current selections with each membership type on their site as well.

There are several other beer clubs out there; someone's put together a list of quite a few, providing summaries on each.

Happy gifting!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Finding Treasure in Tulsa & Springfield

A homebrew competition in Tulsa set us out on the road again this weekend. The Fellowship of Oklahoma Ale Makers (FOAM) held their 19th annual homebrew competition at Marshall Brewing Company, Tulsa's first production brewery since before WWII. The master brewer, Eric Marshall, studied in Germany for a couple of years and worked at Victory Brewing before returning home to Tulsa to open up shop.

Tanks @ Marshall Brewing
And his experience shows. They had a Best Bitter, a Robust Porter, an American Wheat with orange peel and coriander, and an India Black Ale on tap there at the brewery for us to sample. All four were fantastic, but the porter & black ale really stood out. The black ale is the first in their "El Cucuy" series and is a great take on this recently-popular style, with notable roasted malt character and both floral & citrus American hop flavor & aroma. Delicious and hard to resist.

Unfortunately, you won't find their brews in KS or MO since they don't yet distribute outside Oklahoma. However, they're working on changing that; keep your eye out for these guys.

In the meantime, if you find yourself in Tulsa, their beers are on tap all over town. We had a bad experience with the bitter & IPA on beer engine at McNellie's, but that shouldn't stop you from ordering a Marshall beer on tap. Or from buying it in the bottle.

As a side note, OK has one of the stranger liquor laws I've come across. Like KS, grocery stores cannot sell beer over 3.2% ABW. Liquor stores can, of course, sell beer over 3.2% ABW - but this is where it gets weird: it must be sold at room temperature. So much for proper storage of IPAs.

Public photo from TripAdvisor
On our way home, we took a detour to Springfield, MO for a visit to Springfield Brewing Company. It wasn't too far out of the way, and its master brewer is Ashton Lewis - also known as Mr Wizard to BYO readers. We each got a sampler, which contained an American Wheat, German Helles, Marzen (their seasonal), Pale ale, Stout (their black sheep offering), and IPA.

Sampler Tray at Springfield Brewing Co
All were enjoyable, but the Wheat & Helles (which they simply called "lager") really stood out. The wheat was hoppier than is typical with American wheats around here, and Mr Wort Hog suspected it was lagered due to a light sulphuric aroma. You'd be missing out on a great American Wheat if you passed this one up.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Part 2: Kulmbach

Since we had three full days in Bamberg, we decided to take a day trip to Kulmbach, which is about 45 minutes north of Bamberg. We went primarily for the Beer & Bread museum, which is also adjacent to the Mönchshof brewery & biergarten. The Mönchshof line was originally brewed by the Mönchshof-Bräu brewery until the early 80s, when it was bought by Kulmbacher Brauerei (who also owns the EKU brand).  We get their Schwarzbier here in the states, and I was anxious to try it fresh off the tap to see how it compared to our boat-aged bottled version we get here.

The beer museum was definitely worth visiting. The bread museum wasn’t really that interesting and, as a result, was completely empty save for a couple of unknowing American tourists. We probably spent a good 1-2 hours in the beer museum, though, marveling over all the old brewing and bottling equipment. 

Old bottling system

Cool ship

The museum brews its own beer (and bakes its own bread), using open fermentation tanks. At the end of the tour, you get “Museumbier” and some museum bread to accompany it.
Open fermentation at the museum

Museum bread in solid & liquid states

After our educational lessons on brewing & baking, we settled in to the beer garden for a midday brew. There was a live band playing on one side of the biergarten, entertaining a few dozen Germans there for the afternoon. In typical fest form, they all had interlocked arms and were swaying back & forth while singing along to some traditional drinking songs.

While taking in the sights & sounds, I thoroughly enjoyed my much-anticipated Mönchshof Schwarzbier. This style can be deceptive due to its appearance; it's not rich or creamy, it doesn’t have sharp roastiness, and - as with other German lagers - you won't find fruity esters from the yeast. The version from Mönchshof was lightly roasty, only mildly sweet, and wonderfully dry. It had just enough hop bittering to balance the roast and malt, with a faint hop aroma or flavor (too much would have been unwelcome). Perfect for a beautiful fall day.

The difference between having this beer on tap in Germany vs. from a bottle (or even a mini-keg) in the US was noticeable, but not dramatic. You can find their Schwarzbier in a lot of stores that carry a broad selection of imports.

Or, you can try a similar but more fresh & vibrant version on tap at Gordon Biersch. Put some traditional German drinking songs on your MP3 player, don your headphones, and pretend you're in Northern Bavaria. Eins, zwei, zuffa!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Part 1: Bamberg (again)

We spent 3 days in Bamberg, so it goes to reason that I'd do more than 1 post about it. My last post focused on world-famous Schlenkerla's annual release of their delicious Urbock.This time, let's take a look at some of Bamberg's other offerings.

Ask a beer lover to name two breweries from Bamberg, and they'll probably name Schlenkerla and Spezial. To no surprise, those were two of our primary destinations.
Spezial Märzen
I ordered the märzen at Spezial, which is less smoky than Schlenkerla's and reminded me of bratwurst:  lightly smoky, a little spice (nutmeg, allspice), and minimal hop flavor with subtle bitterness to round out the smoked malt. Mr Wort Hog ordered their lager, which I actually preferred over the märzen. It, too, is smoked, and has a subtle grassy, lightly sulphuric aroma. The fresh pils malt flavor and noble hop flavor were perfectly balanced, as most German lagers tend to be. With a clean, bitter finish, their smoked lager ended up becoming one of my favorite beers we had in Bamberg.

Both Schlenkerla and Spezial malt and smoke their own barley, using aged beechwood logs to obtain the smoke character in their beers. Schlenkerla malts year-round, while Spezial malts only in the winter. Since the smoke character of the malt deteriorates as it ages, blending different batches is key to maintaining consistency in the flavor of their beers. Weyermann in Bamberg is one of the most well-known providers of smoked malt and also uses aged beechwood to make its smoked malt.

Not every brewery in Bamberg makes rauchbier, however. Across the street from Spezial is Fässla. We didn't stop in there, but had earlier tried a couple of their beers at a little pub in the city center. I had their Pils and Mr 'Hog got a dunkel. Their pils was fabulous - spicy, floral noble hop flavor with moderately-high carbonation and moderate body. It was very crisp and refreshing, with a lightly sweet grainy pils sweetness at the end. When you're ready for a break from rauchbier, Fässla is definitely worth a visit.

We made two separate visits to Bamberg's oldest brewery, Klosterbräu (äu is pronounced "oi"). It was founded in 1533 and has been owned by the same family since 1851. I ordered their "Braun" beer, thinking it must be some sort of German brown lager I'd never heard of. (since braun means brown, that seems reasonable, right?) Nope, turns out the place was the "Prince Bishop Braun Bier Haus" from 1533-1790 and the beer's a dunkel. It had a sweet, toasty Munich malt character with no hop aroma and low hop bitterness. It was perfect with my traditional Franconian dinner.
My super-awesome dinner at Klosterbräu - ham hock, potato dumpling, kraut, and a dark lager.

An interesting characteristic we found in Bamberg's brewpubs is the large hallway at the large front entrance, called a "schwemm" (shvem). The pathway typically separated the building into halves, with doors going to different dining/bar rooms on each side. Additionally, nearly all of them had a little window where you could walk up and order a beer right from the barrel. Rarely was there ever a line, so it typically took under a minute to get a full half-liter glass of fresh beer.
Window for beer orders at Mahr's
Drinking in the Schwemm

We tried to make it over to Keesman, but they were closed. So, we crossed the street to Mahr's for a beer or two.

We noticed that most of the breweries in Bamberg also made their own schnapps, most of which were distilled from their rauchbier. I bought a couple shots one night at Schlenkerla, and we were quite disappointed that the schnapps had no smoke character at all. I bought a small bottle of the schnapps anyway, as a novelty to bring home. We cracked that baby open one evening and were surprised at how smoky it was! Proof that drinking rauchbier is a complete palate-wrecker. 

One of our final stops in Bamberg was Greifenklau, a brewery restaurant situated high up on one of Bamberg's many hills. The dining room was, like most of the places we went to, hotter than hell. I swear, these places had to be at least 75 degrees inside, if not warmer. Perhaps they keep it that way so you aren't too cold to drink beer.

That reminds me. Since our return, I have had about 4 or 5 people ask me, in some form, how I liked the warm beer in Germany. I have no idea why people think German beer is served warm; my best guess is that it's not served as cold as a typical macro lager, and therefore "warm". Most of what we were served was cellar temp, so probably around 50F. Far from warm, and a perfect temp for getting full aroma and flavor from the beers.

Lest you think all we did was hop from bar to bar, here are some other pictures of Bamberg I took while we wandered through town.

Walking up one of Bamberg's many hills
Bamberg Cathedral
Most of the buildings in the city center were half-timbered, and the streets were cobblestone.

More half-timbering

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Hoppy Halloween Indeed

We drove to Fargo last weekend for the Prairie Homebrewing Companions' 13th annual homebrew competition. Their main speaker was Jamil Zainasheff, a homebrewer known for co-authoring 2 books (Brewing Classic Styles and Yeast: the Practical Guide to Fermentation) and for The Jamil Show, a radio podcast on TheBrewingNetwork.com

Chip from Northern Brewer's BrewingTV was there to capture the weekend, and here's the episode he put together. It's just shy of 1/2 hour and a good overview of what a competition is like. There are a few highlights, including:
  • Jamil announces that he's opening a brewery in the east bay next year
  • The PHC's club yeast bank
  • Our friends Tom & Nancy won the ProAm and get to brew at Summit Brewing in Minneapolis
  • We won best of show for our Classic Rauchbier!
Check it out.

Brewing TV - Episode 23: Hoppy Halloween & Jamil Zainasheff from Brewing TV on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Part 1: Bamberg

As I mentioned earlier, Mr Wort Hog and I spent about 10 days in October traveling around Germany and the Czech Republic.We went to cities that have historical significance in beer and were able to try several examples of prominent styles. So, here's the first of several recollections of our trip...

We arrived in Frankfurt on a Thursday morning. It wasn’t long before we were in our rental car and on our way to Bamberg, about 3 hours east of the Frankfurt airport in Northern Bavaria. It was only after booking our trip that we found out Schlenkerla would be releasing their Urbock our first night of arrival. During lunch we learned that tapping would start at 5pm, so we made plans to walk around town until 4:30 or so then head down to the brewery for the tapping.

We ended up arriving around 4pm so we could avoid the crowd rush... As it turns out, all we needed to do was show up some time before 8pm. Before then, the beer garden was relatively empty - entirely different from our experience with brewery special releases in the States. Around 9pm or so, the biergarten was so full, you had to pull your way through the crowd just to move from one place to the next. Bamberg's a university town, and we introduced ourselves to a group of graduate astronomy students who were speaking English... Talking physics and solar flares is quite a feat after about 2 liters of bock.
Biergarten at Schlenkerla
Fresh Schlenkerla urbock is a distant relative of the old stuff we get here. It tasted fresh and smoky without being "meaty"; less like bacon and more like warm campfire. Imagine drinking a lightly sweet bock while hanging out with friends at a bonfire. That's Schlenkerla Urbock.
Fresh Urbock
They tapped keg after keg after keg...
Yeah, he tapped that
October & November mark the release of bock beers throughout Germany. Several months ago, I found a website that listed the dates of dozens of bock releases in the country. I can't find it now, but if you're a Google Master, please send me a link if you find it.

Next up - the other breweries of Bamberg.