Beer on Tour: Bonn

We’ve been at Beethoven’s birthplace playing all of his symphonies this week, Bonn is a very pretty little town and it’s been lovely to have the time to enjoy it.

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The brewery of choice has been Bönnsch, a small outfit in the centre of town with all its copper on display. As well as making a local version of Kölsch there was a Weizen and a Saison, all intentionally cloudy.

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The Weizen was bready and dry with a hint of spice, a little sweet but a bit different from the Bavarian version. The Saison I really enjoyed. It had a reddish colour, a fuller body and was a little fruity, perhaps even with a hint of sourness. Great to find a German brewery doing things a little differently.

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Beer on Tour: Luzern

Final stop this time has been beautiful Luzern, lying on it’s lake surrounded by Alps. This is always a nice place to visit as the town is so lovely and the concert hall fantastic.

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The normal watering hole is the Rathaus Brauerei, in the old town down on the lakefront. We started our evening here and I enjoyed some of their Weizen which is quite subtle and nicely dry with a decent bit of spicyness. After a short while however, we strayed off the normal course of a beer blog, going to the cocktail bar at the National Hotel.

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This is further up the lake in a quieter area, next to the glamorous looking casino, and is very classy. The cocktail menu is impressive and we were given an education in these by our barman, Marc. We tried Mojitos, Pina Colladas, Moscow Mules, Martinis and I finished with a Gin and Tonic after being talked through, and given a snifter of, a number of interesting bottles. Everything tasted fantastic and if you are ever in the area and like your spirits and cocktails you should definitely check it out.

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Beer on Tour: St Pölten

We’ve spent the last couple of days playing at the beautiful Grafenegg Castle, near Vienna and staying in St Pölten.

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Standard fare post concert has been Schneider Weisse which is excellent but not very local. I did manage to find an Eggenberg Urbock, however, which is a very interesting beer. At 9.6% it’s pretty big, amber in colour and while that high abv dominates with a rich maltiness there’s also a decent amount of bittering, more so than in many of the German Bocks that I’ve tried.

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Beer on Tour: Villach

Villach is a beautiful little southern Austrian alpine town. When I reached my hotel room I looked out of my window and saw the Villacher brewery!

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Before our concert I had an awesome schnitzel at the adjoining Brauhof, then tried the local beers afterwards. The House Beer is a tan coloured lager which is  sweetish but quite subtle, very drinkable. The Zwickl is also sweet but more floral and cloudy. Tasty. Finally I tried the Dunkel which is also sweetish with dark malty flavours, all are very nice.

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Beer on Tour: Munich

Munich is a great place for a beer fan to end up and I was very fortunate to have a free day to enjoy the local fare. Having recently read Stan Heironymus’ excellent ‘Brewing with Wheat’ I was particularly keen to visit Schneider’s Weisses Brauhaus in Tal, the site of their original 1863 Brewery. We just made it after our concert with a little time before closing and were mightily impressed. I’ve come across the Original and Aventinus in Britain but the menu here had nine Different weisses… Most of the group went for an Aventinus, a rich, plummy, 8% Weiss Bock which I had talked up a bit but I tried the Hopfenweiss which was a revelation. A deep cloudy yellow, it was a fascinating blend of hop flavours and weiss character with no banana or clove but loads of fresh citrus combined with massive smoothness and a certain breadiness. There’s also a kind of green hop taste. Wonderful.

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I then tried the Aventinus Eisbock, 12% and a bit like a thick banoffee bread pudding. Gorgeous but not for the faint hearted, the alcohol taste was also quite present. I think the standard Aventinus may be more rounded.

After a nice sleep on our free day we then visited the Hofbrauhaus. Complete with an awesome Oompah band and refusing to sell beer in anything less than a litre this place is a classic Munich beer hall. I had one huge dunkel which was a refreshing dark lager, not massively interesting but very clean, good for drinking in litres! We also had some fantastic food, I had a Braumeistersteak, pork with something close to potato dauphinois but a few people had the epic pork knuckle, a huge joint of tender meat.

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Following this we headed back to Schneider to try more of their line up. I had a ‘Grunes’, a 6.2% organic blonde weiss, heavy with clove and very smooth, this is probably the closest I’ve had to a ‘normal’ Schneider weiss and was very lovely though I think my favourites remain Aventinus and Hopfenweiss. Adam, a total weiss addict, tried the Kristall which looked like a pilsner but had the most amazing fruity and spicy flavour. It would be a good choice for someone who wanted to try a nice weiss but didn’t like their beers cloudy.

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Beer on Tour: Vienna

Vienna is always a great place to visit,  the city is very beautiful, everything is walking distance and the Musikverein  is an unbelievably historic and gorgeous place to play.

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With Toby in the Musikverein

After the first concert we headed to the Beerreiter around the corner from the hall. This is very popular with travelling musicians due to it’s location, friendly atmosphere, great traditional food and local beer. I had an Ottakringer Dunkles which is a nice light lager with a little bit of interest from it’s darker, perhaps slightly toasty malts.

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Stephansdom

We had a bit more free time on the second day which was spent mooching around the centre and, naturally, eating Schnitzel. Following another excellent concert we tried a bar nearer the hotel which promisingly advertised itself as “Haus der 100 Biere”. As well as some great Bavarian beers like Schneider Weiss and Schlenkerla Rauchbier there were a considerable line up of local Austrian beers which I’d never come across before. With some helpful suggestions from the friendly staff I tried a Bier Teufl Zwickl and a Weitra Brau Helle along with an excellent Farmer’s Toast- huge cheese on toast with ham, egg and tomato.

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Farmer's Toast

The Weitra Brau was a very nice traditional clean tasting Helle- a bit sweeter and perhaps with a marginally fuller body than a classic Pilsner while the Zwickl was very interesting. Apparently Zwickls are all unfiltered to provide a bit more interest and this was a hazy light red beer, again on the sweet side but with nice hints of fruit and perhaps a tiny bit of spice from the yeast. That description reads a little like a rich Belgian Blond or Tripel but it’s nothing like as full on, remaining essentially a very drinkable, refreshing lager but with a tiny bit of extra interest for if you, like me, get slightly bored of all the ultra clean Pilsners and Helles.

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Beer on Tour: Paris

This tour has kicked off with Paris. There’s fabulous sun, free public transport thanks to pollution levels and we have a bit of time to enjoy it; this is what touring should be like.

Since beer isn’t really a French speciality we decided to head to a friendly bar that sells a couple of nice Belgian Blondes on the first night. Round the corner from Gare de l’est and with a great, slightly old fashioned brasserie atmosphere I’d highly recommend it though unfortunately I forgot to write down the name. ..

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Toby with Chouffes

We drank a couple of La Chouffes which are great yeasty blondes with a bit of hop in there too then called it a night. Today we had a free afternoon so headed down to the picturesque islands in the Seine. A bit touristy but there’s a lovely relaxed feeling here, highlights are the incredible flower market, Notre Dame and just over the river, Place des Voges. A thick steak and an ice cream rounded off an excellent afternoon.

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Notre Dame through spring leaves

This evening we were back at our bar, drinking Grimbergen as we finished the Chouffe last night. This is a sweet, fruity blonde with hints of coriander seed that remind me of Tripel Karmeliet though it’s cleaner tasting and perhaps less interesting for that. In fact we soon finished this as well so it was then onto the 1664. This seems to taste an awful lot better than the stuff we get fobbed off with at home, it’s 0.5% stronger too.

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Stouts for an Empire

It’s been a fairly dry start to the year, hence this is the first post since Christmas. I have, however, been brewing and since Jess and I jointly brewed our very own Imperial Stout I’ve been keeping an eye out for others to try.

We are big fans of a couple of Belgian examples, Hercule, named after Jess’s favourite Belgian detective and Black Albert from Struise, named after the last King of Belgium. I’ve also always been intrigued by Brewdog’s offerings in this area, though have never tried any, so visited their Birmingham bar to pick up a couple of bottles. Incredibly they have a line up of five, ranging in price from £11 to a lot! I chose two from the lower part of the range, their ‘historic’ version and the Arran whisky aged Paradox.

Unfortunately we couldn’t get an Hercule into the test as we’d, er, drunk all of our stock, it was in last year’s stout test here though. So, we decided to put in our own Queen of the Night to see how it compared, lining up against the two Brewdog bottles and a Black Albert. This still represented quite a lot of alcohol as the beers were 9.5, 11, 13 and 15% so we invited Moritz round to help out. As a big Struise fan he was only too happy to oblige, Black Alberts are hard to get hold of round these parts!

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Jess took care of pouring duties so the test was blind for Moritz and myself then we settled round the fire with four glasses of absolute blackness, all with deep brown heads of varying sizes. I started with one which tasted pretty much of just strong stout- roasted barley flavours with a thick body, an alcoholic warmth and a hint of smokyness which Moritz pointed out. Fairly full on but smooth enough, I liked this quite a bit.

Next I tried the glass with the least head, this rather gave away which beer it was but more of that later, here the flavour was not quite so bright but deeper with some hints of dark fruits, more of an alcohol presence and an even thicker body. Again interesting and enjoyable.

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My third sample was subler, first giving away very smooth roasted stout flavours then developing some interesting candied citrus peel and spice flavours. The mouth feel was certainly of quite a thick beer but also an incredibly velvety smooth drink helped by a lightness from the full, but not in any way harsh, carbonation. Unlike all the others this beer seemed, rather than to jump in your face with flavour, to be a bit more laid back and wait for you to discover it’s intricacies. Very lovely though I ended up thinking it wasn’t massively stouty.

My last sample gave itself away immediately with a massive sweet aroma of whisky. This one is very intense, very sweet and totally dominated by that whisky taste which actually becomes almost like honey in the mouth and leaves a lingering sweetness that made it almost impossible to taste anything else after. Moritz quite enjoyed this one at first, he’s a fan of big sweet beers like double bocks, etc, but even he eventually found, as Jess and I had immediately, it’s a bit too much, a bit cloying.

The last was obviously the Paradox and a bit of a disappointment. The third was Black Albert which surprised us with it’s subtlety. My pick of the bunch, it had fascinating complexity and was all the better for not punching you in the face. The second was our Queen of the Night which we’re tentatively happy with but need to improve carbonation on and the first was Brewdog’s historic IS. This went down well with everyone with it’s strong but rounded character and proved for us less can be more.

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Festive Treat: Fantôme de Noel

This was a recommendation from Paddy at the Post Office Vaults, I’ve never tried any Fantôme beers before. My Belgian beer education started with Trappist and Abbey beers and while it’s growing there are still so many breweries, even styles that I’m yet to try. Fantôme beers are apparently all Saisons which are sour farmyard ales, think Orval but less sweet, made with herbs and spices. Fantôme de Noel is the strongest at 10% though most others seem to be 8 so they’re all fairly serious beers.
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The first thing we notice is the massive, lingering fluffy head; even with two glasses poured the bubbles start erupting from what’s left in the bottle after a couple of minutes. This head sits on top of an orangey red beer which has a rich, slightly tangy aroma.
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I haven’t much experience with sours so this feels like a bit of an adventure though Jess has really taken to them since discovering them in Belgium. The taste is spicy and rich, perhaps in a Tawny Portish sort of way, then quite bitter and sour. It has a distinctly thin body for something so strong. In the mix is some woodiness and a certain earthiness which Jess describes as bitter cocoa. There are also some hop flavours, maybe some pine, while the best way that we can think of describing the sourness is like a sharp cooking plum or a very dry cherry liquor. This never overwhelms the other flavours, however, it’s more dominant in other sours we’ve tried.

It’s an interesting experience, pushing my taste boundaries in an enjoyable way and we’re definitely going to look out for more Fantômes!

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Festive Treat: Leffe Biere Noel

While on holiday in Belgium this summer we were given this bottle by the local bar on our last night as I had given them a load of empties I wasn’t able to return. Leffe isn’t the most exciting beer to come out of Belgium but it was nonetheless a lovely gesture and we were quite excited to try the ‘Noel’ for the first time come the festive season.
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The beer pours a dark tawny colour with a good light head. There’s not a massive aroma but there’s lots of interest in the taste with a complex fruity, spicy flavour with hints of rum giving way to a small amount of bitterness and even a hint of sourness. The body is lightish, similar to other Leffe offerings, as is the strength at 6.6%, however I think there’s a good deal more depth here, it’s my favourite Leffe so far.

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