Saturday 16 March 2013

Discovering beer culture around Hamburg

When we moved to Lüneburg I wasn't too worried by the absence of any local "beer scene" – I figured we'd be close enough to Hamburg, and surely there would be something in the Big City. How wrong I was.

The brewery in the Gröninger Braukeller
Sure, Hamburg has a few brewpubs, such as Gröninger Braukeller and a branch of the Brauhaus Joh. Albrecht chain, both of which are worth visiting, but none of them is really pushing the envelope.

Indeed, most German brewpubs play it fairly safe – there will be something gold and Saaz-hoppy, such as a Pils and/or a Weizen, maybe a Dunkel, and maybe a seasonal. Probably just two beers available at any one time, and nothing that might frighten the horses. (In my view, most German brewers don't pay enough attention to flavour-hops. It's typically malt for flavour and hops only for bittering and aroma, which is like brewing with one hand tied behind your back.)

In fact, in many ways Lüneburg's two brewpubs are doing a better job – Nolte's recent seasonals were very good, and Mälzer, which I had also put into the "playing it safe" category, seems to have upped its game of late with a couple of excellent specials. Well done to both!

The shortage of interesting and/or varied beer on draught has been partly compensated for by finding good stuff in bottles. There's a couple of good places in Lüneburg – a deli-type supermarket called Sand Passage right in the centre which stocks some foreign beers as well as some less common German ones, and a branch of the Hol'Ab! drinks chain, which alongside the usual Pils by the crate, has a fair selection of other German beers, especially Bavarians.

For real variety, and a few more unusual foreign beers – most places here will have Czech and maybe Polish lagers, plus Guinness and Heineken, and that's about it – I have to go to Hamburg, and the wonderfully eclectic Bierland. Meandering corridors link two or three tiny shopfronts that offer unusual German beers, including micro and craft brews I'd never heard of, plus a shifting foreign range including Italian and American.

Altes Mädchen - it was a bit busier when I was there!
But still, I do miss a bit of beer culture. This may yet change – a new bar recently opened in Hamburg as the brewery-tap of the refounded Ratsherrn Brewery. It's called Altes Mädchen Braugasthaus, it's self-consciously "craft beer", and it definitely has promise. There is only German beer on tap (so far) but there's an impressive list of domestic and foreign bottles. My one visit so far was during the opening week, so it was rammed and service was correspondingly slow.

I'll be going there again, and I will write more about it soon. I just hope that next time it'll be less full and there won't be engineering work all over the public transport system – it ought to be 75 minutes door to door, but it took two hours to get there and nearly four to get home, via a late night rail-replacement bus.

1 comment:

  1. I've also found a third good bottle shop - RSB (, on the north side of town up by the autobahn junction. It has another interesting selection of Bavarians, plus a few rarer local beers.