Wednesday 29 May 2013

Fuller's Frontier keg lager

Fuller's is dipping its toes back into the lager pond, with the launch of a new keg beer called Frontier. Described by head brewer John Keeling on Twitter as "a new wave lager", Frontier is already available in the Mawsons Arms next to the brewery in Chiswick. It is going into 50 pubs to test consumer reaction, he added.

The Frontier launch is being supported by London-based marketing specialist Boutique Beer Brands which also represent the likes of Timmermanns and Blanche de Namur, presumably to help Fuller's reach out to a new market segment.

It's not the first time Fuller's has brewed a lager of course – in the early 1980s it produced one called K2. This didn't last all that long but you can still see K2 Lager memorabilia in the Hock Cellar at the brewery (left).

And more recently some of its ales have been actively targeted at lager drinkers, most notably Discovery and Honey Dew – Discovery was subsequently switched from a normal cellar temperature ale to being served only chilled, at 8-10C.

When the Fuller's Fine Ale club asked members last year whether the brewery should produce a lager, the responses were divided. Some said it would be an unnecessary distraction, others pointed out that British breweries – most notably Harviestoun, with Schiehallion – already made good cask or craft lagers, so why not?

And of course since then we've been the continued rise of craft beer, including some very fine London lagers from the likes of Camden Town Brewery and Meantime, so it is not too surprising that Fuller's might decide to join in.

Indeed, given its interest in historical beers for its Past Masters range and the fact that lagers have been brewed in London for well over a century (and elsewhere in Britain for even longer), perhaps a Past Masters-style dark Munich lager is in order.

Being out of the country for a while longer, I won't be able to taste Frontier any time soon, but if you get the chance, please do let me know what you think!

Monday 20 May 2013

Willemoes: when is a Stout Porter not a Stout?

Willemoes Porter & Stout
I'd not come across Vestfyen Brewery's Willemoes brand before our recent trip to Denmark, although it turns out I had tried a beer from Vestfyen before, but it was a naff and forgettable Eurolager, Vestfyen Classic.

Thankfully, the Willemoes stuff – there's now five regular Willemoes ales, plus seasonals – is a very different (brew)kettle of fish. As well as these two, a 6.5% Stout and a 9.8% Porter, I also picked up a bottle of their very nice 200 år ('200 years'), a rich 6.5% Dunkelbock.

All were good, the Porter especially so: it poured a deep red-brown, with a rich treacley nose with touches of chocolate, coffee and tobacco leaf. The body was full and drying and slightly sour, yet balanced with sweet notes. Flavours I picked up included black treacle, burnt prunes, liquorice, and something pleasantly reminiscent of old leather and aged port.

The deep black-red Stout was notably lighter bodied, some might even call it a bit thin. It still had a good flavour though, with faint aromas of toasted bread and malt followed by dry fruit and wine notes in the body.

It's tempting to look at these two beers though and think that someone on West Funen (Vestfyn) has missed the point. After all, historically "stout" meant "strong" and in beer terms was a contraction of Stout Porter, so shouldn't a brewery's Stout be stronger than its regular Porter?

Some would say not. This pair do match the BJCP Style Guidelines for Baltic Porter and Dry Stout pretty well, and according to that guide, and to many modern brewers, historical differentiation by strength is gone now, leaving distinctively different beer styles with their own characteristics. That's even before we add Imperial and Double (and Double Imperial!) versions into the mix...

Willemoes 200 år
I'm not so sure though. These are historically-inspired beers, after all, complete with old wood-cut style labels and a historical name. Vestfyen's "speciality series", it's named after local hero Peter Willemoes, who distinguished himself as commander of a floating gun-battery in the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen, in which Nelson's ships destroyed a Danish-Norwegian fleet - that's the battle where Nelson was supposedly ordered to withdraw, but put the telescope to his blind eye, saying "I see no signal!" (It wasn't quite like that, but that's another story.)

Indeed, the 200 år bock was first brewed in 2008 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Peter Willemoes' death in another naval battle, at the age of just 24. (Yes, as a 2nd Lieutenant a month short of his 18th birthday, he had been put in command of 129 men and 20 cannon. Different times...)

So it would be nice in a way if the beers followed 19th century norms, rather than 21st century. But whatever, Willemoes is a name I will be looking out for in the future.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Brauereifest, doubled!

One of the nice things about this part of the world is the attachment to festivals. Pretty much every community seems to have its village fair, summer festival or autumn fête, with its line-up of local voluntary groups, almost always including the volunteer fire brigade of course, plus entertainment for the children, maybe music for the adults, and stalls selling cakes, coffees, and bratwurst.

Enjoying the music at Klindworths
A more recent addition to the roster – as far as I can tell, anyhow – is the brauereifest, or brewery festival. It seems to be part of a rekindled interest in localism, local businesses and local produce. Even the big boys have got into the act, with Carlsberg-owned Holsten promoting its third annual brauereifest back in April under the slogan "Hamburg is Holsten and Holsten is Hamburg".

I couldn't get to the Holsten one, but last weekend we visited not one but two rather smaller brauereifests, the first at the Klindworths brewpub in the countryside southwest of Hamburg, and the other at the tiny village of Sommerbeck to the east of Lüneburg, where the Sommerbecker Dachs (Dachs=Badger) microbrewery is based.

Fun & games in Sommerbeck
The basic format for all three events was pretty much as you'd expect: a family fun-day, with live music, beer and food. It's not so much about the brewery itself, although tours are sometimes on offer, as it is about asserting its connection with the locality. For example, as the village pub for some 350 years, Klindworths invited all the locals to come and be photographed for a village project.

Both the brauereifests we went to were good fun, though they were noticeably different. Klindworths was very local, yet friendly to us non-locals. The afternoon music – pub-rock covers – was excellent and lively, the beer garden was roomy and sufficiently sunny, and Niko's beer was as excellent and characterful as ever. As well as the regular Landbier Pils, on tap were the frisky 2013 Maibock, with citrus and gingery hops, and the rich and slightly chocolatey brown Stout. I was tipped off too that if I went inside, the Weizenbock was on, which was delicious and Cascade hoppy (that's the brewer's hand you can see in the photo below, pouring the next one).

Tasty Weizenbock
They did a really great job of entertaining the kids too. Among other things, there was a superb balloon artist – Roric went back time and again, coming back first with not only a balloon sword but a balloon swordbelt for it, and then later with a complete balloon aeroplane and pilot – plus a pile of hay with sweeties hidden in it, and a raffle-type game.

Where Dachs scored was the variety of food stalls around. As well as the inevitable (and good) sausages, there was a specialist chips and fried potato (bratkartoffel) van, and a cake stall. The beers – their regular Pils and Marzen, plus an Oktoberfest called Okti, and Schwatt which is apparently dialect for schwartz – are very nice in a crafted mainstream way. The kids certainly appreciated the bouncy-castle and football games, at least until the rain started. Sommerbeck was also more crowded, even before the rain forced everyone undercover and made it worse. I think they had publicised it more widely – there certainly looked to be a good few Hamburg yuppies present.

With the summer fair season only just getting going now, we are looking forward more events of the kind!

Friday 17 May 2013

1. Hannoversches Bier Fest

Today (Friday) was the opening day – or late afternoon at least, as it didn't start until 4pm – of the first Hannover Bier Fest. We were promised an international line-up, which is still something of a novelty in a country where many people believe foreign beer isn't worth drinking, served from stalls in the old market square – as with their beer gardens, Germans love doing stuff al fresco.

In hindsight, deciding to drive down on Friday afternoon might have been a mistake, given that it's a holiday weekend here and half the bloody country seemed to be on the road. We hoped to be in the city well before 3 but didn't actually arrive until 4, so missed the official opening, if indeed there was one.

So things were well under way, with many of the tables filling up, by the time I took a tour around to see what was on offer. The answer was, as I had suspected, many of the "usual suspects" – plenty of nationally-distributed German brands, such as Lausitzer Porter, König Ludwig, Erdinger and Krombacher, plus the local Hannover breweries and the big AB-InBev names, including Franziskaner, Löwenbräu, Spaten and of course Becks. Many of these were on what was claimed as the longest bar in Northern Germany, with 40 taps in 30 metres (above). Prices varied from €2.50 to €4 for a 25cl measure - not cheap.

Zischke Dunkel
Where it started to get interesting was rarer names such as Zischke and Allerheim, plus some of the new wave of internationally-inspired young brewers, notably Propeller and FritzAle.

The foreign country with the widest range was Belgium. However, as well as Kwak, Delerium Tremens, Grimbergen and Tongerlo on tap, this also included AB-InBev pap such as Stella and the yucky (well, the boy liked it, but he's 2 and also likes chocolate milk) Hoegaarden Rosé.

Actually, looking at it again there were probably as many British beers present as Belgian, but the organisers broke those up into England, which was mostly Fullers (though Boddies and Newky Brown were also listed) and Scotland, represented by a certain bunch of canines... Actually, given enough time I would have visited the latter tent, badged as Brewdog & Friends, as it was also supposedly serving Harviestoun Ola Dubh, Boruvka Cerna Hora from Czechia, and Sierra Nevada. The latter's Pale Ale is remarkably popular here, by the way: I guess it is a perfect stepping stone for a Pilsner drinker who wants to expand their flavour horizons.

Sadly I didn't have time to check out the African tent properly either, to see if the South African, Tanzanian, Kenyan, Namibian and Ghanaian beers listed in the programme were anything more than generic international lagers. (I did spot a couple of groups necking Castle from the bottle, and that's pretty generic in my book.)

Where we sat was opposite the Chilean bar, though – and just up from the cheese stall, which had an excellent range of potent delicacies. All around were young Germans, again necking from the bottle, but this time it was varied non-lager from a microbrewery in Chile – and yes it was the real thing, not a licensed copy made in Europe like some of the 'African' beer.

The only one dancing!
There was also good live music, with more promised, plus of course a choice of eats, including sausages, grill-kebabs and filled crêpes. It would have been nice to stay longer, but we were already a bit frazzled from the drive down and my designated driver was not looking forward to a repeat experience on the way back. Plus the Chileans were happy to sell me a couple of takeaways for later...

I'm going to try scanning the programme and dropping it in below for anyone who's thinking of going along – the festival is open from noon on Saturday and from 11 on Sunday. The programme includes a reasonably accurate beer list, which the festival website does not.

Monday 6 May 2013

Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2013

By all accounts, it looks like going to Copenhagen for CBC rather than London for London's Brewing might have been the right choice – although on arriving at the venue, just up the street from the Copenhagen FC stadium, it wasn't entirely clear that this would be the case...

Aptly named: Mine Is Bigger Than Yours
Let's just say the venue appeared pretty basic. From the outside it looked like a building site with extra portaloos, while on the inside it resembled a disused tube station with no rails (or platforms) but with less charm. Most of the bars were just tables with tall keg tap-boxes mounted on them. Those around the walls at least had a space to put up a poster or something, while those on the centre 'island' just backed onto an open area with chairs, tables and luggage strewn around. It was also rather noisy, with little to deaden the sound apart from some industrial carpet and a few hundred bodies.

BrewDog's Berliner Weisse
And yet it was great! There were tables and benches for the early arrivals – or those with all-session tickets – a friendly atmosphere, and plenty of beer. Mostly keg but there was some in cask, from Siren Craft Brewing which has feet in both Britain and Denmark – it was set up in Berkshire, England, by the former head brewer of Denmark's Fanø Brewery, who just to confuse things is American. Anyway, I digress – which I try to do less of in writing than I do in person...

The crowd, as I'd guessed from seeing both photos of the Friday sessions and what the Copenhagen craft beer scene's like anyway, was pretty hipsterish. I spotted several sideburns, a Mohican and even a couple of those Amish/Salafist-like moustacheless beards. 

Chinese Imperial Stout
Although the Danish language predominated, there was a lot of English spoken - not least perhaps because half of the breweries present were US. The rest were a world-wide selection, with (I think) one each from Australia, Brazil, Japan, mainland China, the Netherlands, Norway and New Zealand. Just four Danish breweries were present, the same number as from the UK.

Westbrook Mexican Cake
The idea was roughly this: 30-odd (actually 29) breweries bring nine beers each, and present three at each of the three sessions. In theory each session had a completely different beer list, but in practice several breweries ran one or more beers over multiple sessions. So there may have been more than 90 on when we arrived.  

But 90 beers for a five-hour session?! Even if you didn't take any time out to eat or go to the loo – the latter meaning a trip outside to the portaloos – that's still one every three minutes. Service was generally fast, and servings varied from 50-100ml, so around a tenth of a UK pint, but still...

Argh! My deMolen Rotting Carcass!
I think I managed to taste about two dozen – my notetaking got a bit wobbly as things progressed – so I did at least cover most of the breweries. They varied from the deliciously refreshing Kernel's London Sour (a Berliner Weisse) at 2.3% to a rich and warming 11% Cigar City Hunahpu's 2012. Sadly, I missed out on Three Floyd's Vanilla Bean Dark Lord (14%) and Mikkeller's X Big Tony 2006 (15%). My notes will gradually make their way onto Ratebeer as time allows.

Almost the complete range of beer styles was represented. Lots of IPAs and Pale Ales of course, and also lots of Porter and Stout – there is definitely a huge interest in Denmark in dark beer at the moment, even supermarkets have shelves full of locally-brewed examples. There were also sour Lambic types with and without fruit, spice and veg beers, coffee and tea beers (Siren's Chai Love You a Latté was good though well-odd) and of course lots of high strength Double or Imperial versions of the above. The only thing I can think of that was absent was Mild. (That's Denmark's loss, mind you.)

A T-Rex among cheeses
And it wasn't just beer – a local coffee roastery was offering sample brews, as was a Danish maker of very tasty cherry wine. There was food too, with my favourite being the cheese merchant. You know how there's Stout, then Imperial Stout, then Double Imperial Stout? Well, this deliquescent scoopable gem is Double Imperial Danish Blue cheese...

Would I recommend it? Absolutely! (That's the beer festival as well as the cheese...) Admittedly it's a bit of a sensory overload, and the signposting of who's where could have been better, but the range and quality were excellent.  There was even free WiFi, though fortunately I'd a local SIM card in my phone by then, and the 3G signal was fine. 

Many many thanks to Martin for sourcing me a ticket, and to him, Marty and Conny for being good drinking company...

Saturday 4 May 2013

Sunny Danish mornings

We had quite a light night of it yesterday - just four beers shared two or three ways. Mind you, all were fairly rare, and a couple were pretty seriously aged by beer standards, most notably the 1996 Campbells Christmas Ale from Belgium - Ratebeer lists this as an English strong ale, but I'm pretty sure it's actually a Scotch ale, a type that's still popular with Belgian brewers. It had oxidised quite a bit, but not too badly, and there was still enough treacley hoppy goodness underneath to make it well worth drinking.

The plan for today is to hit one or two of the specialist beer shops in town, then get some dinner ahead of tonight's blue session at Copenhagen Beer Celebration. The beer list for tonight is really quite something - I know the brewery names, but almost all the beers are complete unknowns. Should be fun!

Thursday 2 May 2013

Going a-Viking, in reverse

We're in Denmark this week, it's sort of a holiday so we spent three days soaking up the early medieval atmosphere while living in a repro 9th century house at Ribe Viking Centre where the annual Spring market is underway. Now we're visiting friends just outside Copenhagen and assaulting their beer cellar - Martin has a large collection, large enough that I don't think we even made a dent in it last night with this little lot:

That's not all Danish (and there's two rows of bottles there!) but the variety and quality of modern Danish craft beer is astonishing. And there is still more to discover - today we've sampled Jacob's Chili-Lakrids øl, brewed on the island of Fyn at Refsvendinge, one of the few surviving Danish "farmhouse breweries", though these days its brewing kit is a bit more substantial than a farm one! And now it's a cloudy spicy Dubbel from Verdes Bryghus, called Sankt Jacobi - I sense a theme here...