It's all about the beer and finding your way to it

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bamberg: Beer Country

Earlier this month was a trip to Bamberg. If there is a beer city, this is it. 10 breweries in town and most with their own taverns. We visited Spezial, Fassla, Keesmans, Mahrs, & Schlenkerla.

All were excellent but Spezial and Mahrs stand out for me. Spezial had a wonderful smoked lager and marzen while Mahrs had their Ungespundet or U-bier. As the late Michael Jackson described it: Ungespundet "means 'unbunged', indicating that the maturation was in a vessel open to the atmsphere (ie not controlled by a pressure valve). This makes for a lesser carbonation. With a diminished gassiness, there is less carbonic "bite" on he tongue, so the drinker is more sensitive to the flavours in the beer". In Mahrs they serve it from a gravity barrel (see below in the photo).

The smoked beers from Spezial were also a real treat as they are more lightly smoked than the more well known  Schlenkerla brands. I enjoyed the subtleness that came with them. Overall Bamberg is a place that they beer lover must see.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Beer in Italy

A recent trip to Italy has helped to revise my opinion of Italian beer quite a bit. Recent years have seen a growth in Italian craft brewing as brewers try to take the Italian reputation for fine quality ingredients into the realm of beer. Last year I tried a couple different Italian beers in NYC but was left underwhelmed by them. They either tried to imitate existing styles, like Belgian tripels, or come up with their own, most often by making a chestnut beer (Italy grows a wide variety of chestnut types). Prices for these beers were quite high (~$15/glass) and I did not see how it was justified when I could, for example, get a much better actual Belgian tripel at a less cost. Similarly, the chestnut beer I tried tasted like some sort of chestnut juice drink and not a proper beer.

Visiting Rome changed that. We went to both Bir & Fud beer restaurant (only serving Italian beers) and the Domus Birrae beer store while there and every beer we had was quite good. There was an excellent chestnut ale from Birra Amiata that came across as a rich brown ale with a teasing hint of chestnut. Another one was the Orso Verde Rebelde a beer that uses american hops to create a very drinkable and refreshing american pale ale. Great one for a summer day. Probably my favorite was Magut, a crisp hoppy pilsener from Lambrate. It was really spot on with its hop character and body.

So I will revise my opinion and readily say that I was impressed with the quality of craft brewed Italian beer. Try it out if you see some of it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Open Breweries

The last Sunday in April was the 2nd annual Open Brewery Day in Belgium. Many breweries that do not normally give tours open their doors to the public and most include a free beer. Most of these were pretty big brewing companies and even included ones owned by multinationals (AB Inbev did not open its massive factory in Leuven but they did open the Hoegaarden brewery).

Mechelen's Het Anker brewery and Kobbegem's Mort Subite were on my schedule for the day. Het Anker, makers of the excellent Gouden Carolus brand, is a privately owned brewery in a small but rambling complex of old buildings on the ring road west of the city. They have some beautiful old copper kettles as well as a state of the art bottling line that pumps out 3000 bottles an hour.

The (mostly sweet) lambic producer Mort Subite is in the rural town of Kobbegem just northeast of Brussels. While it is now owned by Heineken it is still an old brewery a lovely brewhouse. Most of their output is syrupy sweet lambics like Kriek Xtreme where, if there even is any, the spontaneous fermentation comes from air pumped in rather than traditional open fermentation, any fruit flavor comes from syrup, and it is aged in steel. Still they do produce some traditional oude gueuze and kriek in their old wooden barrels that is not half bad.