I have a good friend from Bamberg, Germany, who I often talk about beer with and a few months ago he told me his parents would be visiting soon, would I like to try a couple of the local beers? I learned that Bamberg has a huge number of breweries and a great history of brewing, producing a variety of beers including a smoked brew that Moritz described as “bacon beer”. Naturally I was intrigued and anyway thought it would be impolite to decline… A week ago Moritz told me his parents were arriving but said his dad had got a bit carried away, I began to get rather excited and when I drove round to say hello and collect the beer I was amazed to find he had brought thirty different beers for me to try as well as a book about Bamberg breweries and a huge folder of recipes. I couldn’t believe his kindness and thought this was an excellent opportunity for a big tasting session. To increase the number of beers we could try I invited a couple of guest tasters, Toby and, naturally, Moritz and we made an evening of it.
Jess has been wanting to do some beer cooking for a while now and she put out an incredible spread of light snacks, highlights were Schnitzel bites and real ale Welsh Rarebit. She’s going to do a separate post with recipes so I won’t go into too much detail but they went down a storm! We had some discussion about what kinds of beer we would try as Toby really likes his light beers and Moritz prefers dark but eventually agreed on four to try which were darkish in colour but not too heavy (Moritz was a useful sommelier) and included the famous “bacon beer”. Its real name is Rauchbier (smoked beer), produced by Schlenkerla, the others were Schlotfegerla (chimney sweep) by Weyermann, Bamberger Braunbier (brown) and Bamberger Schwaerzla (Black) Bier, both by Klosterbraeu.
I started with the Bamberger Braunbier, it’s a rich amber colour and had a smallish head as did all of these beers. It has a wonderful honeyish aroma with some floral hints and a bit of fruit, Moritz described it as apple strudel, but tastes a little more subtle. It’s possibly a bit sweet for my taste but is still very refreshing and would be lovely on a hot summer’s day, Jess enjoyed it’s simplicity.
Next up for me was the Bamberger Schwaerzla Bier which I felt had some shared characteristics with its fellow Klosterbraeu brew but added a few layers. It has a lovely reddy-black colour, a similar head and an aroma that is still honeyish and fruity but more subtle and with hints of caramel. Here the sweet flavours are accompanied by a refreshing slightly bitter hoppyness and there’s also more interest from the malts to enjoy, Jess picked up a slight smoked taste. The body is still light, however, comparable to an English bitter despite the colour.
I then reached the Rauchbier. I had built up quite an image of this from Moritz’s descriptions and it didn’t disappoint, the scent is quite unlike anything I’ve come across before- very smoky but in a complex, oaky way. I was thinking along the lines of very posh bacon but Jess thought it smelled of a whole barbeque! The colour is very dark but the perception changes when you take a sip, Toby found it “much lighter than expected, smokey, but with a good aftertaste” and Jess found good malty flavours underneath. Contrary to expectations it’s a really nice light refreshing drink, if you can get past the smokey smell!
Last of these was the Schlotfegerla. Apparently Weyermann are a huge supplier of malt to the brewing industry but have only recently started a small scale, slightly experimental, brewing operation of their own. In my selection are quite a few unusual brews from them and, excitingly, all the recipes to make them, including wierd things like a four grain liquorice beer and a raspberry stout. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect here but this is actually quite a classic beer, similar in style to the Bamberger Schwaerzla Bier but quite different in execution. It’s very black in colour but again very drinkable and after its sweet malty aroma you get a lovely rich mix of malt flavours, some a bit roasted, some maybe a bit smoked.
After we had all tried each beer it was time to argue about who got to finish which bottle. Moritz went his own way with the Bamberger Braunbier. Apparently it’s been a lifelong favourite so he happily sipped away whilst causing much hilarity by his puzzlement at a pork pie.
The rest of us all wanted the Schlotfegerla, Toby was most surprised at liking the darkest beer and he got it as he was the guest. Jess finished the Bamberger Schwaerzla Bier and I had the Rauchbier, a really interesting drink but perhaps an acquired taste. At this point we also had a bit of a discussion about what kind of beers to try next, Toby originally wanted lagers, I suggested Weissbiers but both were overruled as Jess and Moritz wanted to try the porters and stouts. Round two therefore turned into an all Weyermann session with these beers: Pumpernickel Porter, Imperial Stout, London Porter Bamberg style and their Oatmeal Stout.
I started with the London Porter. Like all the other beers here it’s pretty black though if you hold it up to the light you get a nice amber colour. This one had very little head which is a bit surprising for the style, it has rich fruity and roasted flavour, mostly what you’d expect from a stout but very sweet and intense. I wondered if it might have improved, toned down a bit and built up head if I’d left it in the cupboard for a few months. Jess found it a too intense and Moritz damningly thought it tasted of cola! I will try another bottle of this if I get the chance to see if it was a dud.
Next up was the Imperial Stout- at 8.7% this is true to its name and surprised me by being the most hoppy beer of the night. The hops make it into the aroma which is otherwise rich and malty but they’re even stronger in the mouth, slightly reminiscent of the Brooklyn stout in our stout test. It’s a subtler beer though and in my opinion a bit better for it though it’s still a little thick for me. Moritz enjoyed the thick brown head and some nutty, chocolate flavours, he described it as a full meal in a glass with the dessert included!
My next taste was the Oatmeal Stout. It was slightly lighter in colour than the others with a good head and had quite a balanced hop and malt aroma. It’s a bit weaker than the others too and I found it less thick and more drinkable. Jess thought it tasted a bit like burnt porridge with some fruit thrown in, I really enjoyed its smooth balance of hops and classic stout roasted flavours. Last up was the Pumpernickel Porter, black like the others but with red hints and another good head.
We all found this pretty straightforward and one-dimensional, I described the smell and taste as “burnt caramelised sugar”, Moritz described both smell and taste as “burnt sugar”, Jess described it as “bitter caramel” and Toby had got past writing by this stage… However, it’s still a really nice beer, a little thick for my taste perhaps, I’m not really a stout person, but an excellent drink, it’s just very upfront and doesn’t hide anything.
Again three of us went for one beer while Moritz went his own way, he fell for the hoppy Imperial Stout while the rest of us liked the Oatmeal Stout the most. Even Toby who was really out of his comfort zone with these beers loved it. The Pumpernickel Porter was enjoyed by everyone but didn’t quite have enough to be a favourite and the London Porter was a definite wooden spoon, I was left to finish off the bottle and convinced myself that it was that bad, I’m still planning to try a different bottle next time I have the chance.