Friday, 17 August 2012

Same Again. And Again

I have mentioned from time to time the moribund state of German brewing. I think probably the first time was in 2008 in this article, where the author I quote scathingly remarked that most German brewers can't even identify their own pils in a blind tasting, so alike have they become.

So what would it be like with dozens to hundreds of German brewers all in a row?  The Berlin Bier Festival gave me a chance to find out. Would they rise to the occasion or would we sink in sea of samey beer?  I think you can guess the result. What we used to get is the unholy trinity of pils or (helles), dunkel beer and a wheat beer.  Now we have added to that miserable mix, a special. This special will nearly always be called "zwickel" and will often be the pils, but unfiltered, while purporting to be a keller bier.  Well it might be, but it will likely be even less hoppy than the pils, whatever it is and you will never find out for sure, but they'll tell you anything.  Sometimes the dunkel will be replaced by a blacker beer - schwarzbier - and these can be quite good.  There might even be a stronger beer too, but you will have to ask for it. Franconian breweries will likely offer a kellerbier, but these will be a shadow of the wonderful country beers that you may be thinking of.

Of course, this being an international festival, you could avoid the native beer altogether.  There was beer from Williams Bros served by handpump, but re-racked. There was Belgian, though mostly mainstream, but you could get La Trappe and Chimay. You could also get Leffe and HoegaardenGuinness too and Smithwicks, Fullers, Greene King, beers from Poland, the Czech Republic, the Caribbean, South East Asia, Africa and more.  There was in fact something for everyone, though some of the foreign stuff was a lot more pricey.  All in all though you would be pretty fussy not to find something.  Unless you are a fan of the hop of course. Then you'd be in deep shit. Humulus Lupulus was hiding its light well under a bushel.  In fact it had pulled another bushel onto the one that it was hiding its light under and burrowed deeply underneath.

We stuck to German stuff mostly as we wanted to do some direct comparing.  First of all there is glassware and we tried to find decent glasses to drink out of.  Pils just doesn't taste as good in a thick walled glass, so we chose some stands on the quality of their glassware.  It does help. Now you can roughly chop it up as follows: Pils and Helles will be often be sweet, under hopped and underwhelming, though there will be exceptions of enjoyable poise and balance. Dunkel will be sweet, under hopped and underwhelmimg. You may just get one that has something about it, but it will be a long search.  Schwarzbier at its best will be like a really good dark mild. Or it will be like the dunkel.  Weizenbier will be competent, tick most of the relevant wheat beer boxes and will be cool and refreshing. If you like that sort of thing, you rarely get a bad one. Frankly, choosing a stand by its seating, people watching potential and standard of glassware is as good a plan as any. Unless you are some kind of demented ticker of course. Then you have hit the mother lode.

But we weren't here for the beer as such. It was the atmosphere, the people watching and the sense of gemutlichkeit and that was there in abundance. The sun shone like a shiny thing and we divided our time between stalls with a decent view and a stage with Deutsche Blasmusik - that folksy and innocent stuff you hear in the background a lot in Germany - for which we are both suckers and just wandering around doing more of the same.  We joined in the singing later on, watched the dancing, scoffed bratties, talked to Dutch people, fought our way into the Baltika Stand where there was a huge throng intent on cheap and strong beer, fought our way out and back in again for the deposit - no mean feat I assure you - drank loads of pils, wheat, schwarz and dunkel beer, seeking out some old favourites from our many German holidays. We also drank Muhlen and Reissedorf Koelsch and  some awful Czech beer - but the guy from the brewery was really nice so we didn't tell him. We queued for toilets, hopping from one leg to the other and I got misunderstood at the Schneider stall, not once, but twice, by the same guy.  Both times ending up with an extra beer.  Avoiding him,  I did manage to finish unwisely with a Schneider Hopfen Weisse, which wasn't visibly on display, but  a bottle of which was produced with a flourish by the dirndled barmaid and drank far too quickly by me.  Thus hoppily satisfied, we staggered off to a taxi.  Neither of us fancied walking.  We'd stayed far longer than intended, drank far more than intended and sat in the sun longer than advisable too. We'd had a great time, great beer or not.

I felt a bit rough next day, but we did go back.  Much more modestly.  Well it started out that way. It's the atmosphere you know - it gets to you.  Don't worry about the beer - just have a good time.

The next night was less of the same, punctuated by a leisurely Greek meal.  The place was jumping and again the sun beat down.  Some events may have taken place that night. It's hard to recall exactly which was which.


Erlangernick said...

So was the Williams in decent shape, assuming you tried it? Not really sure I follow what "re-racked" means. Racking is clear, cask-conditioned I understand, and keg run through a handpump is part of my Yankee heritage.

And did you find the Kloster Kreuzberg from the extreme northern bit of Franconia???

Tandleman said...

No I didn't try it. Re-racked - racked bright - same idea.

No didn't come across them, but there was such a lot to go at.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Sounds like you had great fun.
" Went there,got pissed " is a blog I can understand.
But just one question - how did an old fart like you ever get to pull a babe like that ?
Wahaay !

Tandleman said...

I wasn't an old fart when I pulled her!

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Good man yourself.
I tell you what though, from the looks of that picture she's got some swallow on her.
I always reckon you can't go wrong in married life if the missus keeps up with you for at least some of the way.
And then makes sure you get home in one piece.
It's a simple old game when you think about it.

Anonymous said...

i went to the Fest last year for my second and probably last time.the beer range changes from year to year but last year i hardly found anything worth drinking.the brewpubs were good the atmosphere at the fest is worth going for but it amazes me that the Germans put up with the quality of the beers.cheers john

Paul Bailey said...

Despite your concerns about the sameness of the beer, it certainly looked like a fun event. As you point out the atmosphere and gemutlichkeit can often make up for the lack of great tasting beer.

The festival website itself looked interesting, but in relation to your comments regarding German beer, you may remember seeing this post from Barm, a few months back.

I re-read your post from 2008, linked into the current one, and have to say it rings true with what Barm is saying, and with my own experiences.

To counter this, I am hoping to go to Annafest next summer, to sample some decent Franconian beers.

ps. That bottle of KREECHR strong lager, you kindly gave me at GBBF was anything but bland. The label states "craft brewed in Bavaria"; it would be interesting to know where, and by whom? (Full review to follow).

Leigh said...

Great stuff - a nice account of a great night, in good company, enjoying your break. Thanks for posting, Tand. I've enjoyed these Berlin posts. NExt time I see you , I need to pick your brain about 'the moribund state of German Brewing'....

Tandleman said...

Anon John - Indeed

Paul: Yes Annafest. Much more like it but watch out for mozzies. I have one of those bottles too. It's n London though

Leigh: Thanks. Pick away. It is one of my little hobby horses.