Germany

Fundamentals #44 — Zehendner Mönchsambacher Lager

The winking monk on the label of Brauerei Zehendner’s Mönchsambacher lager knows something you don’t. I’m convinced that little halo his silhouette casts on the wall behind him belies his true intentions. He may appear to be an innocent man of the cloth but he knows you’re about to get into something unexpected, something devilishly good, and I am powerless to resist his charms.

In any case, that’s certainly the impression I took after my first taste of this beguiling Franconian lager. Hailing from the town of Mönchsambach, a few miles south west of Bamberg, this is the first time I’ve come across anything from Zehendner. When HB&B’s Jen sent me an enthusiastic email singing the beer’s praises, I just had to try it. When she pointed out its rarity in this country, I became doubly interested in securing a bottle.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about German import lagers. From holding the chunky 500ml bottle in your hand (which I’m convinced are going to come back in a big way over the next year or so) to noticing the little things like the worn ridges of the many-times-recycled bottle and the small nicks on the label indicating its best before date.

Plus you get plenty of beer to enjoy. Take my advice and try building up a big head of foam in your glass with a slow pour. Don’t pour down the side of the glass, pour slow and straight, filling the glass about a third of the way up. After leaving it for a moment add another third, allowing it to settle once more, then topping up the glass, hopefully leaving you with a moussey white head of foam an inch or more thick.

What this does is release some carbonation and laces that foam with hop oils, giving this beer a wonderfully herbal bouquet of German noble hops. However, the hops are barely half the story here, as this is a Franconian lager, and the real story is about the rich, almost juicy malt character that gives Mönchsambacher a sweetness that rings like a church bell, our friend the winking monk no doubt on ringing duty.

It’s a big beer for its style at 5.5%, but it drinks easy and as such won’t last you long. And as the brewers give this beer a best before date of just six weeks, make sure you drink this fresh.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis. Such has been the overwhelming demand for this beer - and the brevity of its mandated freshness - that we’re completely sold out. Sorry- but keep your eyes peeled for next time…

Natural Wine Killers: 2Naturkinder Bacchus Pet Nat 2017

Wine text books are littered with French terms which somehow have avoided translation, forming an internationally understood vocabulary among wine geeks. From household names like brut or demi-sec to my personal favourite, millerandage (Google it). None of these are quite as en vogue as pétillant naturel.

Pétillant in French simply means lightly sparkling. At some point in recent history, pétillant naturel received a Sam Cam-style truncation to make it more media-friendly, morphing into Pet Nat. It’s a term which is especially popular in the natural wine hotbed that is the Loire, but has spread much further afield (this one coming from the undervalued German wine region of Franken).

Truth be told, there is nothing modern about the Pet Nat. Winemakers though the ages have discovered, sometimes to their dismay, that if you leave a bit of residual sugar in the bottle, the wine may start refermenting and go fizzy. The first sparkling wines were of course made this way. Long before Dom Perignon got hold of a pupitre, the winemakers of Limoux, down in the Pyrenees, were making methode ancestrale – a sparkling wine where sugar is left in the bottle to referment, and create a lightly fizzy, cloudy wine.

Locals of Limoux claim to have been making sparkling wines this way since the 1500s, so like many natural wines, Pet Nat really is taking it back to the old school. Which brings us to 2NaturKinder’s Bacchus Pet Nat 2017. It’s made by Melanie Drese and Michael Völker, two Germans who developed a passion for natural wines in London (sounds familiar) and moved back home to create a revolution in Michael’s parents’ winery. The winery is now certified organic, and the wines are made with minimal intervention – nothing is added or taken away.

This Pet Nat is made by leaving about 15g/l residual sugar in the wine, sealing it to re-ferment and retain the fizz, then roughly disgorging so most of the dead yeasts are removed, but finishing cloudy. According to Mel and Mike, this vintage is a bit more colourful than previous, but benefits from a more intense perlage (no more French wine terms, I promise).

It has a hazy lemon colour and looks and smells a bit like a natural lemonade, with aromas of saucisson, ginger and gooseberry (Bacchus is an aromatic grape, not commonly used in sparkling wines). It’s gently frothy, and has a long, Bramley apple finish. And at only 11% ABV, it goes down dangerously easily.

Claire Bullen’s food pairing: Pair with lemon orzo with prawns and fresh herbs or scallop, grapefruit, and avocado ceviche

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. This wine featured in our November Natural Wine Killers box. To bet on board, head here.

Fundamentals #32 — Schöfferhofer Grapefruit Wheat Beer Mix

You’ve probably been reminded by your parents a few times this summer that it’s been the hottest since ‘76. And yes Mum, it has been quite a summer. Not only because of the seemingly unyielding heatwave, but due to an astonishing England World Cup run along with what I like to call “the redemption of Gareth Southgate”, it’s been a very pleasant season indeed. Perfect beer drinking weather, in fact.

So, as fate would dictate, the moment a can of shandy lands on my desk to review, it starts tipping it down with rain. Typical. Well, technically the beer isn’t quite a shandy, but
a radler.

Coming from the German word for cyclist, the radler is typically a German-style wheat beer blended with fruit juice as opposed to lemonade. In the case of this effort from Frankfurt’s Schöfferhofer, this beverage is a 50/50 blend of its classic Hefeweizen with grapefruit juice. And it’s delicious.

It feels a little silly reviewing this beer, considering some of the other absolute corkers we’ve had on over the past few months. But it’s no less deserving of the same praise, purely because it so effortlessly fills a low-ABV gap when so many similar efforts often leave me feeling a little hollow. It’s the perfect beer for when you don’t need a beer, but you absolutely want a beer. Whether you’re basking in the hot sun or fancy swapping out your mimosa for something beer related over brunch, the radler is there for you.

In Germany the radler is celebrated for its isotonic properties (hence the name being derived from the word for cyclist), so it found its place in my life after a particularly strenuous run (OK, I won’t lie, they’re all strenuous). The one advantage of the rain bringing some cooler temperatures was the chance to enjoy some light exercise without fear of sweating out my own pelvis. And what better restorative than to crush a beverage such as this to celebrate crushing a few kms — straight from the can of course.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a can of The Schoff in store or online any time of the year.

Fundamentals #27 — Fuerst Wiacek A Quick One IPA

Citra and Mosaic are my homeboys, I like hanging out with them often. I also enjoy it when they’re accompanied by pals like El Dorado, Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin and even Simcoe (although the latter sometimes feels like he may be trying a little too hard to roll with the cool kids these days). They are fundamental to the modern, hoppy, hazy pales I have spent much of my recent time obsessing over.

There’s an argument that a lot these modern beers, with their juice dialled up and the bitterness muted, are very similar in character. On the surface that much is true. But the more I delve into them, the more subtle variances I detect between them. That might be something as simple as a beer's mouthfeel, or how that beer’s specific yeast has added its own character - for better or worse.

Drinking a modern beer hopped with Citra and Mosaic can be as exciting for me as it can be refreshing, because I can still be surprised by how the flavours in that beer present themselves - be they through citrus or tropical fruits, through peach and apricot driven esters or through heady, dank, onion, pine and wild garlic. Yes I like that too.

Fuerst Wiacek - a brewery based out of Berlin, Germany, but currently with no production facility of its own - is a new one to me. The brewery describes its beers as modern and balanced and my first impression of its New England style IPA A Quick One would indicate that this statement holds true.

That depends of course on your definition of balance. If a beer with a fruit basket of tropical notes from papaya to mango to lychee that’s wrapped up in a soft, yet featherlight body with a delicate, dry yet ever-so-slightly bitter finish is your idea of balance, then this beer will almost certainly be right up your avenue.

This is an excellent modern IPA, and an exemplary use of my good friends Citra and Mosaic. I look forward to spending some more time with them should they show up in a Fuerst Wiacek beer once more.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up A Quick One in store or online.

#HBBAdvent Beer 9: Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock (Germany)

Ayinger says: A beer that has a dominant malty taste. This beer’s origins in a monk’s recipe are reflected in its heartiness. The Pope of Beers, Conrad Seidl, describes it as: “Almost black with a very slight red tone, a sensational, festive foam and truly extraordinary fragrance that at first summons up visions of greaves lard. The first taste is of mild fullness with an accompanying coffee tone, which becomes more dominant with the aftertaste. There is very little of the sweetness that is frequently to be tasted with doppelbock beer.” The Ayinger Celebrator has been ranked among the best beers of the world by the Chicago Testing Institute several times and has won numerous medals.

We say: Ratebeer users score this beer as the best of its style in the world and you know what? They're bloody well right. Our food writer Claire Bullen describes this beer as "a brooding, opaque, deliriously malty German style"; we'd simply describe it as sublime.

If you can bear to wait to drink it, Claire recommends pairing it with roast grouse (get her mouth-wateringly delicious recipe here). If not, we don't blame you. We're not sure you could find a more perfect beverage for this chilly Saturday. - Jen

#HBBAdvent Beer 2: Augustiner Lagerbier Hell (Germany)

Augustiner says: A particularly mild, sparkling, long stored beer, refreshing and easily digestible at the same time. Uniquely in its taste, a benefit for each beer connoisseur.

We say: The name is hell but you're in beer heaven...

I've been advised that I can't describe it as "the king of beers" as that is copyright infringement, but without a doubt Augustiner is lager royalty. Our 5th best selling beer of 2017 - but always number one in my heart.

Pours golden straw with medium size white head, moderate hopped, floral notes. Lively carbonation.... Go to hell, Ratebeer. - Lewis

The Beer Lover's Table: Roast Grouse and Potimarron Squash with French Lentils and Ayinger Celebrator

It’s hard to believe that, a few short weeks ago, we were eating peaches and tomatoes by the bushel. But now that it’s October, there’s a whole new seasonal bounty to be had.

If you ever find yourself playing a game of autumnal bingo, this dish might well give you the winning edge. It's got chestnuts, and mace—a highly aromatic spice that's reminiscent of nutmeg and allspice. It's got the tangerine-hued potimarron squash—also known as hokkaido or red kuri squash—which resembles a pumpkin but is less sweet, more nutty
and earthy. It's got grouse, pink of breast and deeply meaty, only available in butchers for a few months of the year.

The only thing that possibly doesn't quite fit this seasonal picture? The beer.

Doppelbock is a brooding, opaque, deliriously malty German style that's most associated with the springtime. First brewed by monks in Munich, the filling beer was released in time for Lent and its associated fasts, when it could serve as a liquid meal replacement. You can often spot a doppelbock by the prancing goats on its label, which are another
springtime signifier; Ayinger's Celebrator—a superlative example of the style—even comes with a plastic goat charm slung around the bottleneck.

Even if doppelbocks are traditionally released in spring, the style's rich flavour profile, molasses-like mouthfeel and heady strength make it ideal to consume during the colder months - especially during Oktoberfest.

Call me a rule-breaker, but I think the beer has never been better used than as a pairing partner for this supremely autumnal plate.

Roast Grouse and Potimarron Squash with French Lentils and Mace Brown Butter

For the lentils:
200g dried puy lentils
3 tbs olive oil
1 medium-large carrot, very finely diced
2 large echalion shallots, very finely diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
300ml vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 small bunch thyme, tied together
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
150g peeled, roasted chestnuts, sliced in half

Fill a bowl with cold water and add the lentils. Rinse by swishing around in the water, and pick through for any stones. Drain and set aside.

Add the olive oil to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the carrot, shallots, and garlic, and, stirring frequently, cook for 5-6 minutes, or until softened and shallots have gone translucent. 

Next, add the rinsed lentils, the vegetable stock, bay leaves, thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Once the mixture has come to a boil, turn the heat down to low and allow to simmer for approximately 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and the broth has mostly been absorbed. Add the chestnuts and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Drain any excess liquid, and season further to taste. Remove the thyme and bay leaves and discard.

For the grouse and squash:
1 potimarron squash, around 1 kilo
4 tbs olive oil, divided
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 tsp fresh thyme, roughly chopped
2 whole grouse, cleaned and trussed

Preheat oven to 180 C. 

Prepare the squash. Wash off any dirt off and pat dry. With a very sharp knife, slice off the stem and then slice it in half, carefully (no peeling necessary). Scoop out the seeds and gunk from the cavity and discard (alternatively, you can keep the seeds and roast them later, as you would pumpkin seeds). Slice the squash into approximately inch-thick crescents.

Arrange the squash slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle over 2 tbs olive oil and season to taste generously with cracked black pepper and flaky sea salt. Add the thyme. With your hands, lightly toss the squash pieces to ensure they're evenly coated.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tbs olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Your grouse should have come from the butcher with streaky bacon or pork fat covering the breast; remove and set aside.

Once the pan is hot, add the grouse, using tongs to brown the birds on each side, approximately 2-4 minutes total. Return the pork fat or bacon to the grouse, and add the birds to the tray with the squash, breast-side up. Season the grouse generally with salt and pepper inside and out. If you have more squash than can fit on the tray—you want it in a single layer, not piled up—move the excess to a second parchment-lined tray.

Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, after which the grouse will still be beautifully pink within and your squash should be tender.

For the mace brown butter:
50g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp ground mace

While the grouse and squash roast, prepare the mace brown butter. In a small frying pan over medium-high heat, melt 50g butter. Let it cook for approximately 4-5 minutes; it will bubble up and will begin to smell toasty and nutty as it cooks. Butter browns quickly, so watch it attentively; as soon as it starts to darken, add the mace and stir to incorporate. Remove from the heat after 30 seconds and allow to cool slightly.

To serve, plate up your grouse, your squash and your lentils, and drizzle the mace brown butter over the whole lot.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen, and pick up a bottle of Ayinger Celebrator while stocks last.

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes XIII – Früh Kölsch

Recently, after a particularly strenuous day, I headed in to Hop Burns & Black for a couple of beers, as you do. Choosing one beer when presented with a breadth of quality as in a shop such as this can be tough – but not on this occasion. I was hypnotised, almost instantly, by the red and white spirals that wrap themselves around a can of Früh Kölsch.

Kölsch as a beer style is often criminally overlooked, for me at least. I’m pleased to see that UK brewers such as Thornbridge and Orbit are having a crack at producing their own interpretations of the style though.

I love the concept of Kölsch: a light bodied beer, fermented like an ale but then conditioned as a lager. It’s perhaps closer to the latter in terms of body and flavour, but something about the fermentation method allows the yeast to come to the fore. Subtle notes of red berries and stone fruit mixed with crushed grain and just the faintest hint of bitterness are the hallmarks of a good Kölsch.

The style originates from the German city of Cologne and there’s probably no place better to enjoy a Kölsch than at its origin point. It’s a style that’s also found a lot of favour in the US, being a staple on the taps at pretty much any brewpub you decide to rock up to. A lot of these never quite hits the mark like a Kölsch really can, though. I think Früh is perhaps my favourite example of the style, wherever I happen to find it – be it at a street side Cologne bar, or in the fridge at my local bottle shop.

With this year being the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot – the German beer purity law of 1516 - there will surely be a lot of discussion centered around the German classics. There’ll also be a chance to dwell on the beers that exist as a direct result of this law, such as this superb Kölsch. However in my opinion these beers were never meant to be dwelled upon, so I’d just get on with drinking it.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. 

The Beer Lover’s Table: Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen and Smoky Pork Chipotle Stew

What do you crave in November? If you’re like me, lately you’ve been longing for stews, braised meats and a bit of chili heat. (Seven hours of daylight has a way of making comfort food into a necessity.)

And drink-wise? Few things go down smoother in November than beer that tastes like a bonfire. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen may not be the newest or hottest brew on the block – it’s been made since the 15th-century, after all – but its beguiling combination of smoky savouriness, rich malt, and an ever-so-subtle touch of menthol captivates me anew each autumn.

For those who haven’t tried it before, this is a beer that still has the power to shock. I’ve seen more than a few people splutter after their first sip: “It tastes like bacon!” (Not a bad thing, for the record.) Considered the standard-bearer of German rauchbiers, this smoke bomb gets that distinctively kindled taste from the malt, or rauchmalz, that Schlenkerla roasts in the traditional way – over roaring beechwood fires, that is.

Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen is also a profoundly food-friendly beer, with its minimal bitterness, moderate booziness, mellow carbonation and sweet-savoury flavour profile. That brings me back to those braised meats. Pairing like with like is a solid strategy for food and beer matching, and pork chipotle stew here makes for a very happy partnership.

An adaptation of New Mexico’s more intensely spiced carne adovada, this stew marries the moderate heat and smoke of chipotle chillies with melting pieces of pork. A couple of surprising ingredients here serve to really round out the flavour: raisins add a subtle sweetness while a dash of Asian fish sauce lends savoury depth. And then there’s the beer itself – if you can bear to spare it, a slosh of rauchbier is the perfect way to finish this stew off. The end result is belly-filling, rib-sticking, cold-vanquishing goodness.

(P.S. Craving dessert? It might sound surprising, but a peppermint chocolate mousse is the perfect way to conclude the feast. You’re welcome.)

Smoky Chipotle Pork Stew

Adapted from Serious Eats

  • 950ml chicken broth
  • 50g raisins
  • 3-4 tbs chipotle chilies in adobo sauce (depending on your spice tolerance)
  • 390g carton chopped tomatoes in juice
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 1.5k boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and skin, cut into 5 cm cubes
  • 2 tbs canola oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbs ground cumin
  • 120ml Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
  • 3 bay leaves, fresh or dried
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

To a large pot (or your most colourful Dutch oven), add the first five ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium heat, allowing the mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until raisins are soft and plump. With an immersion blender, carefully blend the liquid until smooth. (This can also be done with a tabletop blender or food processor, but be sure to let the mixture cool slightly if using.) Set aside.

Season pork with salt and pepper. In your Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the pork and cook, turning, until browned on all sides but not cooked through (you may have to do this in several batches to ensure the pot isn’t overly crowded). Once browned, set aside.

To your Dutch oven, add the onions, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and stir frequently until softened, about five minutes. Add your minced garlic and continue to cook until lightly browned, approximately five minutes more. Add oregano and cumin and cook for an additional minute, or until fragrant. Deglaze with your trusty Rauchbier.

Now, return the blended chipotle liquid to the pot and stir to combine. Add the browned pork pieces and any accumulated juices. Add bay leaves. Keep the heat high until the mixture has come to a boil, before reducing to medium-low heat for a gentle simmer.

Cover and stir occasionally so the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom, allowing the pork to braise for at least two hours – you want your meat to start falling apart after the merest pressure from a spoon. The sauce should be quite thick; if not, reduce uncovered for a few more minutes. If you’re feeling extra beery, you can add in another splash of Rauchbier at this point.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve alongside a freshly poured Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen. Cheers!

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and all-around lover of tasty things. When she's not cracking open a cold one, she's probably cooking up roasted lamb with hummus. Or chicken laksa. Or pumpkin bread. You can follow her at @clairembullen.

Matthew Curtis's Unsung Heroes #2: Augustiner Lagerbier Hell

I don’t want to put a downer on your day but it’s time we faced facts – summer is almost over. Chin up, there’s no need to be glum. I know the deluge of the last few days probably has you reaching into the back of your cupboard for darker beers but I’m confident we can still squeeze out a few more warm days and nights before autumn sets in good and proper.

In order to sustain the Great British Summer for as long as possible, I implore you to drink lots of lager. Yes, lager. I’m not talking about the mass produced, adjunct-laden lager you used to drink when you went clubbing in the late 90s though. There’s a brilliant lager revolution happening all around us. More and more brewers are discovering the beauty in the subtlety of the world’s most popular beer style.

Although some of the most popular brewers in the UK and US are having a crack at imitating the best German Helles and Czech Pilsners around, it’s important to never forget the classics. One of my favourites is the indomitable Lagerbier Hell from Munich’s Augustiner-Bräu.

When you pour this straw-pale beer, make sure you give yourself at least an inch of foam at the top of your glass. This will allow the beer to release its grassy, lemon pith aroma. When you taste it there’s an initial note of freshly baked white bread, which is soon snapped away by a rasping, herbal bitterness.

For me, this beer encapsulates summer. In fact I’d suggest if it’s still pouring with rain outside, that you pour yourself one of these, close your eyes and imagine you’re sat in a sun-drenched Bavarian beer garden, soaking up the last of the summer sun.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis.