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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Weisse guys

(l to r) Tom, Arnie Meltzer, Steve Frank
click for more photos from tastingPeripatetic!

Thursday I was in Boone, North Carolina, hosting a Cask Ale Dinner.

Friday morning I was in Norfolk, Virginia, conducting a beer training for manager Wayne Cole and his staff at Phillips Restaurant in the airport. (Clipper City Brewing produces draft Phillips Amber Ale exclusively for the restaurant chain.)

Then, Friday evening, it was back to Bethesda, Maryland to taste Berliner Weisse with the Brews Brothers: research for their upcoming Mid-Atlantic Brewing News article.

Brews Brothers Arnie Meltzer and Steve Frank have weekly Friday evening tastings at their respective houses. Sometimes it's informal, just with friends. Sometimes they invite a beer demiurge. So for this tasting, they invited me to join with them and their friends Bob and Elias.

We began with the classic: Berliner Kindl Weisse. It's a style of wheat beer fermented with yeast and lactic-acid bacteria, and brewed very low in alcohol. In fact, Berliner Kindl Weisse is very low in alcohol - only 2.5% alcohol by volume! (As a comparison, Budweiser is approximately 5%.)

The Kindl brewery has been purchased by the Binding conglomerate which recently ceased exportation of the Kindl to the US. As a result, our samples were a bit old.
click for more photos from tasting
I did note a champagne-like toasty nose with hints of honey and green apple. The finish was similar to the malolactic character found in many chardonnays - just not nearly as creamy or full-bodied. In fact the beer is very light-bodied. It's pale-straw in color and very light-bodied. It is sour, but like a soft lemony sourness, and, thus, refreshing. Have this on a hot summer day; have it for brunch!

Unfortunately, our bottles' age did show in a lack of carbonation and a slight cardboardy finish.

The Germans, justly proud of their Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law) often will pollute (my opinion!) their beers, after the fact, with soda pop and flavorings. With Berliner Weisse, it's raspberry syrup and woodruff. The latter is bright green; when poured in the beer it turns a drab olive-green. It tastes like a combination of vanilla cream soda and cough syrup. Any melon flavor seems to be more a trick of the eye, considering the Midori look of the syrup. In the beer? Yuck!

But the raspberry syrup, although sweet, made for a much tastier cocktail when blended into the Berliner Weisse. In fact, if you poured only a dash - the Germans would call that a Schuss - it tasted almost like raspberry seltzer. (For our 'research', Arnie was pouring at 1 1/2 ounces syrup per 4 ounces of beer.)

click for more photos from tastingI purchased the syrups at the German Gourmet of northern Virginia. And the 2 bottles were as peripatetic as I, traveling from there to Boone, North Carolina, then on to Norfolk, Virginia, and finally to rest in Bethesda, Maryland for our Berliner Weisse evening!

The Berliner weisse style of beer, once brewed by many breweries in Berlin, is fast disappearing in its native home. The only other producer - Schultheiss - has itself closed. (One of my bartenders at Sisson's Brewpub had the last name of Schultheiss. He was a distant American cousin to the operating family.)

But there is a new Berliner-weisse style beer just now being brought into the US. It's called 1809 - named for the year in which Napoleon Bonaparte entered Berlin and declared the Berliner weisse "champagne du nord" - the champagne of the north.

1809 is not brewed in Berlin but at Weihenstephan in Bavaria. From the bottle:

Created by Dr. Fritz Briem of Doemens Institute, brewed by Weihenstephan & Doemens, “1809” is a very traditional interpretation of the “Berliner Style” Weisse with an intense blend of lactic tartness and complex fruitiness. It is bottle-conditioned, unfiltered and unpasteurized. “1809” is fermented in traditional open fermenters and horizontal lager tanks. The wort is not boiled but only heated up to boiling temperature and then transferred to the open fermenters and pitched with yeast and lactic acid bacteria.

It's more full-bodied, and at 5% abv more alcoholic, than the Kindl Weisse. Somewhat out-of-whack in terms of balance of flavors, it was nonetheless delicious - and with its tartness, refreshing. The nose was of freshly ground nutmeg (really!), grapefruit pith, and an almost lambic-like wet goat fur (again, really!). The flavor followed suit but added a limeade finish. It poured much hazier than did the Kindl, and with a moussy head. We did NOT mix it with the syrups!

The final three beers were not of the Berliner Weisse style, but they brought counterpoint to the evening.

Cantillon's Cuvee des Champions 2003-2004
Named for a winning soccer (er, football) team, it poured with a slight veil. (Although Arnie poured out the dregs into each glass which muddled everything!) I found it thin in flavor at least in comparison to other Cantillon beers... or maybe Ishould say softer. There were the classic lambic/gueuze flavor components: baby powder, bandaid, rhubarb, green apple skins, lactic and acetic sourness, and a hint of Thai lemongrass.

Then for something completely different, we tasted a 750-ml bottle of Raspberry Tart from New Glarus Brewing. The brewery is located not too far from Madison, Wisconsin. (My younger brother is a nationally ranked hanglider pilot and flies often in the Madison area. He was kind enough to surprise me recently with a couple of bottles.)

Only 4% abv, it tastes much, much bigger. It pours with a gorgeous red color and a thick pink head. There are waves of raspberry flavor - not candied or artificial - but true raspberry. There's a lush tartness, a sparkling wine-like character, and, as above, a malolactic creaminess, and lots of it. The brewery says that it employs spontaneous fermentation in large oak tuns. I detected an olive like fruitiness, which may come from that. Serve this with brie cheese!

We finished the evening with sips of 2004 vintage Worldwide Stout from Dogfish Head Brewing from Delaware. This 24% abv(!) stout had nothing whatsoever in common with what we had tasted earlier. But it served as our nightcap.

The rest of the panel liked it: flavors of cough syrup, prune, plum, and bakers chocolate, with a BIG alcoholic finish. I cared for it less than the others ... but I did appreciate it, nonetheless, as a remarkable creation. De gustibus non disputandum!

By the way, this was a tasting. We tasted, rather than drank! More photos

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