Sunday 18 August 2013

Craft beer in the Big City

It was off to Hamburg on Friday, for a taste of craft beer culture. Yes, there's Pilsner chauvinists everywhere, but there are also interesting beers too if you know where to look...

The starting point was the weekly Friday evening Open Tap session at the Craft Beer Store, a short walk from Sternshanze U & S-bahn station. I was a bit early for the 6pm start though so walked across the courtyard to Altes Mädchen for a quick drink. Well, maybe it would have been quick if I'd sat inside by the bar instead of being ignored out on the terrace, I might also have avoided being overcharged by a fast-departing server – only €1, but it was annoying. Still, my Schanzenbräu Rot from Nuremburg was pleasant enough in an unassuming way.

Open Tap at the Craft Beer Store
Things changed dramatically once I headed into the shop and was passed a taster of their current tap beer: Rogue Yellow Snow IPA. This massively hopped corker of a beer knocked my tastebuds out for several minutes, I reckon.

I'd not been to Open Tap before, but as I understand it, the format is they open three or four bottled beers for tasting and also have one more on tap. They explain the beers (in German, but they're all English speakers too) and then afterwards you have the option to take a €12 tour of the next-door Ratsherrn Brewery; this ends up in the brewery tasting room where you get to sample the Ratsherrn beers. The brewery really is worth a visit – it's very high-tech and impressive, but I toured it a few weeks ago so I stayed in the shop.

The bottled beers were all from Camba Bavaria. This five-year-old brewery is highly adventurous for traditionalist Bavaria, because it produces a wide range of craft lagers and ales, many of them in styles that are not only non-Bavarian but non-German.

Our first sample was Camba Pale Ale. With exotic fruit notes and only a light bitter edge, this unfiltered beer made me think not of Pale Ale but of a hoppy Weiss. Rather more impressive were Camba Amber Ale, a rich, honeyed and faintly fruity beer, and Camba Milk Stout, a delicious example of the style with lots of coffee and roast malt notes, and just enough lactose to make it smooth with a dry-sweet body.

Lastly we tasted the Camba IPA, bursting with grapefruit and passionfruit notes, strongly bitter, and wonderfully balanced between hoppy and malty fruitiness. I actually preferred this one to the Rogue, which was flavoursome but didn't have the same depth as the Camba.

Once the tourers had departed, and I'd helped pillage what was left in the Camba bottles, it was time to stroll over to the evening's other attraction: the official launch at a small bar in St Pauli of SHIPAA, the third in a series of Single Hop IPAs by local gypsy brewers* Kehrwieder Kreativbrauerei who currently brew at Fanø Brewery just over the border in Denmark.

Olli pulls another SHIPAA
Hopped at seven different stages in the brewing process with Amarillo, SHIPAA follows SHIPAS (Simcoe) and SHIPAC (Cascade) and turned out to have an earthy hoppiness with touches of citrus and bramble, and a fairly hard-edged bitter finish.

In order to let the hops shine through and allow for comparison, the brewers have made no attempts to adjust the recipe to each different hop – it's the same grain bill each time, "mainly Vienna malt with some pale," said brewer Olli Wesseloh. He added that the one change was "the first time we tasted [SHIPAA], it wasn't all there, so we added another five kilos of dry hops" to the 20hl batch.

He said they are already rebrewing SHIPAS due to demand, though "SHIPAC we'll have to see – some people love it but others hate it." Hops are funny like that...

What with meeting several beer-friends along the way, it was a fine evening out. Along with not allowing quite enough time for the U-bahn and missing my (once-hourly) train by three minutes, it reminded me just how much I miss big city culture. Roll on London next month!

*I say gypsy, but they do have plans to set up their own brewery, once they find a suitable home for their brewkit.

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