Monday, December 31, 2012

Kloster Weltenburg on the Donau


Known as Donau, in Germanic languages, Danube is the second longest river in Europe, after Volga in Russia. From its source in Schwarzwald (the Black Forest), in south-west Germany, it winds its way eastward for 2860 kilometers before emptying out into the Black Sea. Its historical importance as a border between the Roman empire to the south and the "barbarian" nations to the north and, later, for trade and traffic is obvious from the many famous cities founded on its banks - such as Vienna in Austria, Bratislava in Slovakia, Budapest in Hungary and Belgrade in Serbia. Along its upper reaches a number of old monasteries can be found too, including Stift Engeszell in Austria and Kloster Weltenburg in Bavaria. The latter is home to the second oldest brewery in the world, Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg, and is the topic of this post.

First view of the Weltenburg Abbey from a Donau ferry. 

Kloster Weltenburg
Located 440 km downstream from the source of Danube, near the Donaudurchbruch bei Weltenburg or Danube gorge by Weltenburg, lies the Benedictine abbey of Weltenburg. This the oldest monastery in Bavaria, founded by Irish or Scottish monks in about 620 CE. The abbey has brewed its own beer since at least 1050, which has been taken as the official foundation date for the modern brewery, making it just ten years younger than the Weihenstephan brewery in Freising and thus the second oldest brewery in Bavaria and in the world!

The simplest, most relaxing and scenic way of getting to the abbey is to park your car on the large car parking by the river in old town Kelheim and take one of the Altmühltal ferries going from Kelheim to Weltenburg, some 5 km upstream. During the summmer months (April-September) the ferries leave Kelheim every 45 minutes, between 10 am and 3:30 pm, taking 40 minutes going upstream and half that time going back down.

Weltenburg abbey - the oldest in Bavaria.

On the way to Weltenburg you get treated to some great views of old town Kelheim, the Befreiungshalle on Mount Michelsberg, riverside houses and gardens and of the narrow gorge, with its steep walls, that the ferry passes through just before the beautiful abbey comes into view on a small peninsula on the left bank of the river. The ferry landing is just under the walls of the abbey, a short walk from the main entrance. Some people also opt to walk the riverside trail from Kelheim to Weltenburg, so if you feel sporty that is also a nice way of getting there, and it adds the extra attraction of crossing the rapid river in an unmotored cable ferry - propelled forward by the force of the river water only.

Most of the buildings seen at the abbey today are from the 18th century. The baroque church was built 1716-1751 by the architect brothers Cosmas Damian Asam and Aegid Quirin Asam, who have been immortalized with their own Asam Bock beer at the abbey. Because of the turbulent times in Europe, with wars and conflicts, the abbey was surrounded by a protective stone wall along the river (the other side is protected by a hill) and a large gate at the front.

Like other abbeys in Bavaria, Weltenburg was forced to close and the monks dispelled during the secularization of Bavaria in 1803. However, fourty years later some Benedictine monks were allowed to settle here and re-found the Weltenburg abbey, which is still today operated by the Benedictine order.

The beer garden in the courtyard at Weltenburg abbey.

Today, the Weltenburg abbey provides visitors with a nice beer garden at the main square, art galleries, shops selling religious artifacts and a museum. And the abbey also offers guided tours of its old brewery.

The Klosterbrauerei
You can book a brewery tour by filling out a form on the www.stadtmaus.de website, or you can just stop by the abbey museum and sign up for the first available tour - they're usually not full anyway, but you may end up on a German speaking tour (like I did).

The brewery is located in the building on the south-west side of the central courtyard, just a few steps from the tables of the beer garden. The brewhouse is located on the first and second floor and the grist mill on the third floor, so that gravity can be used to transport the ground malt into the mash tun and from there the wort down into the brew kettle.

The building housing the Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg.

In 1973, the last brewmaster at Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg retired and the abbey brewery went into a "Personalunion" with Brauerei Bischofshof in the city of Regensburg. Personalunion means "shared staff", so in effect the abbey brewery is now operated by brewers from the Regensburg brewery and not by the monks of Weltenburg. Today all the Weltenburger Kloster beers are bottled at Brauerei Bischofshof and several are brewed there too, but the classics - such as Barock Dunkel and Asam Bock - are still brewed at Weltenburg.

The deal with Brauerei Bischofshof was not made just to take the workload off the monks at Weltenburg but also because the old abbey brewery badly needed an upgrade, which was duly done in the mid 1970s - meaning that the modern Klosterbrauerei is a fairly modern brewery. It has a capacity of 100 hl per batch and produces 400 hl per week or 2 million liter beer per year.

According to the tour guide, Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg only uses hops from the Hallertau region and local malts in their beer. The hops are added in the form of pellets, usually 20 kg per batch. When I was there, in late September, hop harvest had just ended in Hallertau and the museum at Weltenburg had been decorated with fresh, deliciously smelling hop bines along the walls and under the ceiling. I couldn't help myself but squeeze and smell a hop cone ... hmmmm, euphoric!

Mash tun at the Weltenburg abbey brewery.

Another interesting piece of information from the tour was that the Weltenburg beers are now also brewed in Brazil, a country where beer seems to grow rapidly in popularity (I ran into a group of Brazilians at Weihenstephan a week earlier).

After touring the brewhouse, we were taken up to the third floor exhibition / tasting room, with windows overlooking the courtyard and beer garden. There we were given tastings of the various Weltenburg Kloster beers while the guide described the styles.

Because Weltenburg is a working monastery it closes its gates early, at 6 pm, and the last ferry returns to Kelheim at 4:15 pm so you've basically just got time for lunch in the beer garden before leaving. But it's well worth the trip, since the food is tasty and the draft beer world class. On my visit I enjoyed a dish of wild boar in porcino mushroom sauce accompanied by Barock Dunkel from draft before ending the visit with an Asam Bock from draft in a beautiful ceramic mug.

Asam Bock on draft at the Weltenburger abbey.

More photos can be found in this Flickr set.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Austrian trappist and castle beers

Austria is one of those old world beer countries that has dropped below the radar in the craft beer crazed America and western Europe. While beer connoisseurs flock to the Czech Republic - hunting the source of pilsner, to Bamberg - exploring rauchbiers, or to Belgium - for everything else, what happens east of Bavaria seems hidden behind a modern day iron carpet. Thus, on a recent trip to Bavaria I took a day off to cross the border and visit Upper Austria (Oberösterreich) in search of good beer.

Hop trellis at Eggenberg Castle near Vorchdorf, Austria.

The beer culture in Austria is probably as old as the one in Germany, but less famous and these days more of a local scene. But Austria has set its mark on the world beer map, primarily through the lager that Anton Dreher developed at the Schwechater brewery in 1841. Now known as Vienna Style Lager, this copper colored type of lager has an elegant malt profile, often with a sweet touch and roasted notes. Reminiscent of the Märzen style from Bavaria, this beer combined English malting techniques with bottom-fermenting lager yeasts and became very popular in Europe in the mid 19th century. Today it's mainly brewed in Mexico.

For my day in Upper Austria I had picked out three very different places to visit. The first stop was in Engelhartszell on the Danube, just across the border from Bavaria, where the only Trappist abbey in Austria can be found. From there I drove to Vorchdorf, for a brewery tour at Schloss Eggenberg, before ending up in Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and home to Augustinerbräu.

Stift Engelszell
Stift Engelszel is an old abbey in the village of Engelhartszell an der Donau which, as its name implies, is located on the banks of the Danube river - two kilometer downstream from the border with Bavaria and Germany.

The abbey church at Stift Engelszell in Austria.
The history of this abbey goes back to 1293 when Cistercian monks settled here. The brothers remained for half a millennium, until 1786 when the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II, confiscated the property and expelled the brotherhood.

For the next 150 years the property was used as a factory and living quarters, but fell out of use after World War I. In 1925 the Trappist abbey in Oelenberg, Alsace, was forced to shut down and its monks to move. They found a welcoming home in Engelhartszell and settled at the old abbey, making it the first Trappist abbey in Austria.

Today, Stift Engelszell is a thriving Trappist abbey which makes a living by selling their own products. Until recently that consisted of a series of different liqueurs, but in 2011-12 the monks constructed a brewery at the abbey and on June 1st, 2012, Engelszeller Klosterbräu launched their first beer, Gregorius, described as a 9.7% abv dunkles trippel. My curiosity was piqued, would Engelszeller Klosterbräu become the first new member of the exclusive Trappistenbier family since Achel in 1998?

On the day of my visit, in mid September 2012, autumn was well under way in the Danube river valley but the sun was out and warming well. The 76 meter tall tower of the abbey church made the abbey easy to spot once I got to Engelhartszell. I had sent an email in advance asking about visiting the brewery, but it went unanswered and I found no signs pointing the way so I guess Stift Engelszell, like most other Trappist abbeys, prefer to keep their brewery operations away from the public attention.

Engelszeller Klosterbräu Gregorius
- with a taste of honey and nuts.
As far as I could tell there was no place near the abbey where I could sit down to enjoy their beer either, so I settled for the next best option and bought some bottles at the abbey for later tasting.

The entrance to the abbey shop was right next to the church and the shop is open on all weekdays, but not on Saturdays or Sundays. Inside the small shop you'll find religious effects for sale, such as booklets and small icon paintings, in addition to the many types of liqueurs they make. And now also beer, but so far only one type.

When I later tasted the Gregorius I was pleasantly surprised to find a smooth and well balanced dark beer not like any of the other Trappist beers. Instead I got a wonderful honey and nuts character, both in the aroma and the taste. It concealed its 9.7% abv really well and was fairly balanced overall, with a mild roasted character. A promising start for this new brewery.

When I visited Stift Engelszell their brewery had not yet received the approval to use the "Authentic Trappist Product" logo for their beers, so my bottles came without. But a month later, on October 15, 2012, the Trappist newsletter reported that Engelszeller Klosterbräu had been granted the right to use the ATP logo. It is now a fully fledged Trappist brewery, the first one in Austria and number 8 in the world.

Congratulations to Stift Engelszell and Austria!

Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg
Half a millennium ago Austria was famous for its many water castles, which were castles surrounded by natural water or man made moats for protection. This was a necessary precaution at a time when Europe was teeming with war and the Ottoman empire laid siege to Vienna.

One of those old water castles is Schloss Eggenberg, located near the modern town of Vorchdorf, just off the A1 motorway between Vienna and Salzburg. Though it's no longer surrounded by water it certainly is  connected with the wet element in a very important way, it uses large amounts of it for brewing beer!

Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg near Vorchdorf, Austria.

Apparently beer has been brewed at the Eggenberg castle since the 14th century but it wasn't until Michael Weismann bought the property from the Benedictine Kremsmünster abbey in 1680 that the beers became available to the general public. Weismann had a new brewery installed and in 1681 started brewing beer for public sale. Since 1803, the castle and its brewery have been in the capable hands of the Forstinger-Stöhr family.

Today the surrounding water is gone, replaced by lush, green fields and beautiful views of the distant Alps. And the old castle has become home to the modern Castle Brewery Eggenberg (Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg), perhaps the best known Austrian brewery.

The brewery's claim to fame is a strong beer that didn't originate there but in Switzerland. In the early 20th century, Swiss brewer Albert Hürlimann spent twenty years researching different yeast strains at his family brewery in Zürich. There he discovered a particular strain of lager yeast, now known as Hürlimann-yeast, which tolerated surprisingly high levels of alcohol. He used this strain to create several potent lagers at the Hürlimann brewery, before he passed away in 1934.

However, the strongest beer was yet to come. In 1979, the brewers at Hürlimann pushed the yeast to its limit creating the strongest beer the world had ever seen - a doppelbock at 14% alcohol by volume! It was brewed on Saint Nicholas Day (December 6), aged for ten months and given the name Samichlaus in honor of the saint. Samichlaus became an instant classic and was brewed every year until 1997, when the Hürlimann brewery closed. Schloss Eggenberg took over the recipe and the exceptional yeast strain from Hürlimann and has brewed this strong beer every December 6th since 2000.

On my visit in September 2012 I was given a tour of the castle brewery together with a group of Austrian pensioners. This didn't turn out so well, because the group was really loud, talking all the time, which made it difficult to hear the guide, Alfred, unless you were standing right next to him. Other than that it turned out to be a nice and very informative tour, where we got to see the insides of the old castle as well as the modern brewery.

Brew kettle #1 at Eggenberg Castle Brewery.
The brewhouse is the oldest part of the brewery, sporting two large 2-story brew kettles in shiny copper from 1967. Both kettles have a capacity of 280 hl, resulting in an annual production of around 60 million liter beer.

Because they make lager beer, which must be matured - some of it for months, Eggenberg has a number of large storage tanks, the largest are three 650 hl and six 1000 hl tanks! Those tanks are too large to fit inside the brewery, so they've been erected out in the back. In order to tolerate the Alpine climate they are insulated to tolerate temperatures in the -35 C to +35 C range!

The last stage of the brewery tour included a visit to the bottling plant at the back of the castle, which is a modern, fully automated plant. We were told that the brewery currently has 12 beers and a radler in their lineup:

- Hopfenköning (5.1% pilsener)
- Classic Märzen (4.9% märzen)
- Gold (5.3% helles lager)
- Naturtrüb (5.2% kellerbier - unfiltered lager)
- Sommerfrisch! (5% pale lager)
- Hopfenköning Medium (2.9% pilsener)
- Birell (0.35% low alcohol lager)
- Festbock (7.1% bock)
- Urbock 23° (9.6% doppelbock)
- Samichlaus Classic (14% doppelbock)
- Samichlaus Helles (14% helles bock)
- Nessie (4.9% vienna)
- Salzkammergut-Radler (2.5%, beer wixed with lemonade)

Some of these beers can be sampled at the Braugasthof Pesendorfer just across the road from the brewery, there you'll also be treated to some excellent local food in a cozy, rural setting.

Salzburg
The city of Salzburg is located about 80 km west of Vorchdorf, a 1-hour drive along the A1 highway, on the banks of the Salzach River. It's the 4th largest city in Austria and famous for being the birthplace of 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Old town Salzburg is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one of the largest medieval castles in Europe, Festung Hohensalzburg.

Old town Salzburg by the Salzach river.

In addition to music and history, Salzburg is also known for its beer scene. The city can boast of the largest beer garden in Austria and of a popular brewery in a former abbey: Augustinerbräu.

The history of Augustinerbräu dates back to the early 17th century when Archbishop of Salzburg, Wolf Dietrich, invited Augustinian monks from Bavaria to settle in Mülln on the northern slopes of the Mönchsberg hill in Salzburg. A monastery was built for the Augustinians between 1607 and 1614, and in 1621 the monks started brewing as well. Augustinerbräu was born.

When the Augustinians died out in Salzburg in the 19th century, Emperor Ferdinand the Kind handed over the monastery to the Benedictines from Michaelbeuern. Represented by Abbot Nicolaus Wagner, the Benedictines still own 50% of Augustinerbräu while Maria Gabriella Barth and Dr. Heinrich Dieter Kiener controls 25% each.

Augustinerbräu is often called Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln or just Klosterbrauerei Mülln to avoid confusion with the more famous Augustiner Bräu in Munich.

In connection with the brewery there is also the Augustiner Bräustübl, which opened up in 1890. With a working area of over 5,000 m² and an additional 1,500 seats in the shady biergarten outside, this is the largest beer tavern in Austria and a pleasant alternative to the more hectic biergartens of Munich. The Augustiner Bräustübl is a traditional self-catering tavern where you can buy food from a number of stalls in a Delicatessen arcade, offering a variety of hot and cold dishes, from grilled chicken, sausages or fish to cheese and ham plates.

Located in Augustinergasse 4 in Mülln, Augustiner Bräustübl is a 20 minute walk from the main train station in Salzburg, just across the river. If you're walking along the river you can cross the Müllner Steg bridge, if you're on the east side, and walk up the slopes of Mönchsberg hill where you should encounter the bräustüberl. Opening hours are 15:00-23:00 on weekdays and 14:30-23:00 during weekends and public holidays.

When I entered the unassuming front door I was immediately impressed by the grand interior with classical murals, chandeliers from the ceiling and marble staircases. It was like walking into a palace! But once you get into the food arcade or one of the many beer halls, the atmosphere lightens up.

Before you can order beer at Augustinerbräu, pick a stein mug.

It took me a few minutes to get my bearings straight and figure out how to order the beer, as there was no sign telling me. It turns out that at Augustiner Bräustübl, unless you order from a waiter at your table, you need to go to a special store where you select the stein mug you want, you can either go for a large 1-liter mug (known as a maß) or the small half-liter mug. You pay for the mug, which cost €6 for the big ones, and then take it to a special washing fountain where you rinse the mug before taking it to the beer filling station. There you hand over the receipt and your mug, which gets filled up with beer from a large wooden cask.

The beer of choice on cask, during my September visit, was the Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln Märzen, a 4.6% abv märzen style lager that is very popular during the Oktoberfest season in September and October. It's on the sweet side for a märzen, with a strong caramel character. Still, it made for a nice evening drink with a fairly light body and a mild bitter finish.

I took one beer out in the biergarten, just after the sun had set, but it was a bit chilly so I headed inside for the warmer atmosphere of the beer halls. Inside, Augustiner Bräustübl have several large beer halls with a total seating space for 1,400 guests, so there's usually vacant spaces to be found. But make sure you don't sit down at a stammtisch, usually found along the walls, as such tables are reserved for regulars. I almost made that mistake once and got some pretty angry looks from the regulars at a neighboring table.

Enjoying the cold and hot dishes from the Delicatessen arcade, while drinking fresh Augustinerbräu beer in a large stein mug, is a great way to end a day of exploration in Austria. I'd really like to come back in the summer though, to be able to sit outside under the shady chestnut tress. For now I'll cherish the memories of the warm and cozy atmosphere of the Stockhammer room.

The Stockhammer room at Augustinerbräu Bierstüberl.

More photos from my day in Austria can be found at Flickr.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Weihenstephan - world's oldest brewery

During a recent road trip through Germany, I spent a few nights in the town of Freising in Bavaria, about 40 km north of Munich. The plan was to use Freising as a base for taking daytrips into Munich, it made more sense this way because most Munich hotels were fully booked due to Oktoberfest. But Freising itself also has something unique to offer: The oldest existing brewery in the world - Weihenstephan.

The modern bar in the tasting room at Weihenstephan
- the oldest existing brewery in the world.

Freising and Weihenstephan
The history of the town of Freising is intertwined with the history of the Weihenstephan brewery and predates the founding of nearby Munich by many centuries. According to the chronicles of Bishop Arbeo (723-784), Pope Gregory II had sent out the Frankish monk Corbinian, ordained a Bishop, to evangelize Bavaria. In 724 the future Saint settled on a berg (a small mountain) in what is now Freising, where there already was a shrine. Here he established a monastery and a school.

While crossing the Alps from Rome, or so the myth goes, a bear had killed Corbinian's pack horse, but Corbinian knew how to solve this problem: He made the bear carry his luggage the rest of the way to Bavaria! The saddled bear has become a popular Bavarian legend and is today displayed in the coat of arms of Freising.

When Corbinian died in 730, his brother Erembert took over the governing of the monastery and school and in 738, when Saint Boniface regulated the ecclesial structure in the Duchy of Bavaria by creating four dioceses to be governed by the archbishop of Mainz, Erembert was chosen the first Bishop of Freising. From then on Freising became an important religious center in Bavaria.

The symbol of Freising, a saddled brown bear,
this one by the Weihenstephan brewery.
In 996 Freising received city rights from Emperor Otto III of the Holy Roman Empire and a couple of decades later, in 1020, a group of Benedictine monks settled on the Weihenstephaner Berg in the south of Freising. Here they built a Benedictine monastery and started brewing beer.

In 1040 the City of Freising gave the Benedictine monastery license to brew beer for sale to the public, which is why that year has been claimed as the foundation date by the Weihenstephan brewery, making it the oldest existing brewery in the world. But only ten years older than another Bavarian brewery, Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg.

For the next hundred years Freising remained an important city in Bavaria. In 1158, after having destroyed the episcopal bridge, custom houses, mint and salt works in Freising, Duke Henry the Lion moved the custom house and erected a new bridge in the village of Munich, which he had just founded. From then on Freising started to lose its economic significance while Munich grew to become the most important city in Bavaria.

With the rise of the French republic, which by definition was against all established religions, monasteries were closed all over Europe. First in France and Belgium, but in 1803 monasteries were closed in Bavaria too. Thus, after almost 800 years the Benedictine monastery on Weihenstephaner Berg closed and its buildings were taken over by the Bavarian state.

The brewery, which had been run by the monks, now became the property of the Bavarian state but it continued to make the Weihenstephaner beers. In 1865 a technical brewing school was established at Weihenstephan and since 1923 the brewery has been known as Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan or Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan, operated in conjunction with the Technical University of Munich as both a state-of-the-art production facility and a centre for learning.

The Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan.

Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan
Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan is located in the buildings of the old Benedictine monastery on top of the Weihenstephaner Berg in the south of Freising. It facilitates a research laboratory for the study of yeast and other beer related topics, as well as an educational program for new brewmasters. The brewery is open for public tours and tastings, and about a dozen types of beer are brewed here.

I joined a tour in September and was guided around the brewery by future brewmaster Daniel. Each tour starts in the tasting room, watching a short movie about the history of Weihenstephan. Then the visitors put on orange vests, to make them stand out, and are then led into the brewery proper, to see the large mash tuns and brewing kettles - all fully automated and run by computers from the control room.

We were told that Weihenstephan will brew around 320,000 hectolitre (hl) of beer in 2012, which is small by international standards but still sufficient for export to many countries in Europe and America.

The large 300 hl mash tuns at Weihenstephan.
A typical batch at Weihenstephan is made from 5,000 kg malt, which is mixed with 250 hl water in the large mashing tuns to create the wort used for brewing most of their beers (though I assume the stronger bocks have a different ratio of malt and water).

Our guide informed us that Weihenstephan currently brew 13 types of beer - including both top and bottom fermented beers.

Their top fermented beers, mostly wheat beers, ferment at 20 degrees Celsius for a couple of days and is lagered for five weeks before they are ready for consumption. Their bottom fermented beers ferment at 7-8 degrees Celsius for a week and are lagered for 7-8 weeks before kegging or bottling. We were also told that the brewers reuse the yeast many times, the bottom fermenting yeast 3-4 times and the top fermenting yeast up to 20 times.

Like most German breweries, Weihenstephan prefer German or Czech noble hops - more precisely Tettnanger, Hallertau and Saaz. The hops are mainly used in the form of pellets but the brewery also uses hop extract when brewing beer. To keep the full flavor, none of their beers are pasteurized or filtered (with the exception of the Kristall which is filtered).

The last stop on the tour, before returning to the tasting room, was in the large and very modern bottling plant where a robot handled the kegging of beer and another machine bottled up to 36,000 bottles per hour. To save the environment, the brewery reuses a bottle up to 60 times before it gets recycled.

After the tour of the brewery and bottling facility we were led back to the tasting room where we were given tasters of several types of beer - from their low alcohol alternatives and weissbiers to their high gravity bocks, including the delicious Korbinian doppelbock, named after the Saint mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. It was a nice way to end a great brewery tour.

The tasting of Weihenstephaner Korbinian
- a delicious 7.4% abv doppelbock.

Weihenstephan bräustüberl and biergarten
After a visit to the brewery, I highly recommend making a stop in their biergarten - if it's a warm and sunny day - or in the cozy bräustüberl. Both are located right next to the brewery, on top of Weihenstephaner Berg, sharing a very good Bavarian kitchen and offering the freshest Weihenstephaner beer found on tap anywhere.

Bräustüberl Weihenstephan is separated into several charming beer halls and rooms. The largest room is the Stephanskeller, on the ground floor, where up to 230 guests can be seated on heavy wooden furniture under the old, vaulted brick ceiling. You can almost feel the ghosts of long gone monks pass by your table.

The food at the Bräustüberl is top notch, on my visit I enjoyed the very tasty and filling Brewmaker's Frying Pan - with medallions of pork and beef in a rich mushroom sauce. The service was fairly quick and good, despite several large groups being served at the same time. The downside is the acoustics, it can get a bit noisy when Stephanskeller fills up.

A big attraction at the Bräustüberl, if you're into beer, is the unfiltered Weihenstephan Edel-Pils which is served only at this location. And draft only. You really don't need any other reasons for a visit, this is a smooth and very tasty pilsener.

The Stephanskeller beer hall in Bräustüberl Weihenstephan.

The biergarten is located at the back of the Bräustüberl building. About 500 guests can be seated under the open sky, enjoying the view of Freising and its green surroundings while indulging in good local beer and food.

At the end of September, not many of the tables in the biergarten were taken. But the sun was out so I decided to enjoy the view and a couple of beers outside. The schänke offered hot brezn, leberkäze, chicken and other food stuffs. And, of course, several beers on draft - including:

* Weihenstephaner Original Hell (5.1%)
* Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier (5.4%)
* Weihenstephaner Tradition Bayrisch Dunkel (5.2%)

On bottle I could also order their two bock beers, the 7.7% abv Vitus weizenbock and the 7.4% Korbinian doppelbock. The biergarten is small by Bavarian standards but has a lovely view and is absolutely worth a visit if you should happen to be in Freising.

The 5.1% Weihenstephaner Edel-Pils Unfiltriert
- only sold at Bräustüberl Weihenstephan

More photos from the Weihenstephan visit can be found at Flickr.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Oslo Beer City - a follow up

Back in June I wrote a piece on Oslo Beer City, looking back at its rapid development and the current state of a vibrant beer scene. Four months later feels like an eternity, when I look back at all that has happened in Oslo this fall, so to do justice to the original post, here is a follow-up with the most recent events.

Beer Palace
Address: Holmens Gate 3
Re-opens: November 14, 2012
Type: Beer bar
Taps: 30

At the beginning of August 2012, the Beer Palace pub on Aker Brygge closed its doors for some serious renovations. The bar upstairs and several rooms were rebuilt and a new cooling room with extra tap lines have been constructed. From what I've been told, the new bars will have more than thirty tap lines - making Beer Palace one of the best stocked draft beer pubs in Oslo.

The bar is scheduled to re-open on November 14th.

Soon-to-open Crowbar & Bryggeri in Torggata.

Crowbar & Bryggeri
Address: Torggata 32
Opens: Late 2012 / early 2013
Type: Brewpub
Taps: 5-6

This is a brand new brewpub that will open up in Torggata 32, where the old Greek restaurant Zorbas used to be and, more recently, the short-lived Closer Café & Bar. Erk Potur, who also owns Café Laundromat, has put 10 million kroner into renovating the place and buying a brand new 5 hl microbrewery from Flecks in Austria. Brewmaster Dave Gardonio, formerly of Ægir Bryggeri, has been employed to design and brew a range of new beers.

Beer writer Espen Smith, who also helped planning the brewpubs Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri in Oslo and Sundbytunet at Jessheim, has helped to plan the style and look of Crowbar - which will be "rougher" than the other brewpubs with a focus on meat and beer.

No opening date has been published, but the micro brewery should be operational in November.

Grünerløkka Brygghus
Address: Thorvald Meyers Gate 30 B
Opens: "Sometime" 2013
Type: Brewpub
Taps: Unknown

After more than two years as a gastropub, this place is set to live up to its name ("brygghus" means "brew house" in Norwegian) by starting its own micro brewery sometime in 2013, making it the 5th brewpub in Oslo (unless beaten to the finish line by someone else).

No date has been posted yet, but it seems that the daily manager, Kjetil "Kjell Pop" Johnsen, has picked up some brewing skills and will act as the inhouse brewer at Grünerløkka Brygghus.

Mathallen
Address: Maridalsveien 17
Opened: October 2012

This indoor food mart opened up at the old iron works property Vulkan by the Akerselva river in Oslo in October 2012. In addition to stalls selling short traveled, small producer food - from cheese and cured meat to fresh seafood and vegetables - the place also sports som really nice beer places.

  • Øltorget: This is a small but well stocked beer pub, run by the people behind Ølakademiet and Akersberget restaurant in Oslo. The pub offers ten beers on tap, but have around 20 tap lines for future expansion. The place also plans to have about 300 types of beer on bottle.
  • Grünerløkka Brygghus: This is a satellite of the pub at Grünerløkka, offering 8 different beers on draft and serving warm food made behind the bar.

Smelteverket
Address: Maridalsveien 17 (below Mathallen)
Opened: October 5, 2012
Type: Bar
Taps: 6

About 50 meter long and only 5 meter wide, with space for 200-250 guests, Smelteverket has opened up in the cellar underneath Mathallen at Vulkan. It's the perfect place to go when you're feeling overwhelmed by the crowds upstairs. Its claim for fame is the 25 meter long bar, surely the longest in Norway, and the twenty iron cast windows, along the outer wall, providing great views of the Akerselva river just outside.

Smelteverket with its 25 meter long bar.
There are four "filling stations" along the long bar, where guests can order 6 different beers on tap, usually some industrial lagers but also a couple of craft beers. On my first visit to Smelteverket they had Ægir IPA and Kinn Thorvald's Red Ale on draft. Smelteverket has the same owner as Grünerløkka Brygghus, Jan Vardøen, so the two pubs will most likely share many draft beers.

After only a few weeks Smelteverket has turned into a commercial success, it's usually packed at night, so make sure to be there early to get a seat. Because Smelteverket also has an entrance from the bridge at Nedre Foss its opening hours are independent of Mathallen.

BRU: Vulkan Pub
Address: Maridalsveien 13 (next to Mathallen)
Opens: November 2012
Type: Beer pub
Taps: Unknown

Located in Maridalsveien 13, right next to Mathallen and just a few steps away from the old bridge factory at Vulkan, BRU: Vulkan Pub will be one of the smallest in Oslo with a floor space of just 19 square meters.

The pub is owned and will be operated by the people behind Ølakademiet, who also run the Øltorget pub in Mathallen and the old Akersberget resturant just up the hill. The pub is scheduled to open in November and is closely associated with a new micro brewery, Vulkan Brygghus, that is located at the same address and will brew beer for Vulkan Pub, Øltorget and the Akersberget restaurant.

Smalhans
Address: Waldemar Thranesgate 10, entrance from Ullevålsveien (St Hanshaugen)
Opens: November 9, 2012
Type: Restaurant with draft beer
Taps: Unknown

Smalhans is a new restaurant opening up in Waldemar Thranesgate 10 at St Hanshaugen on November 9th. This location has been used as a restaurant since 1921, but the Smalhans concept is a new one with focus on reasonable prices and good rustic food. The place will also offer Norwegian craftbeer an draft, including beer from HaandBryggeriet, Schouskjelleren and Ægir.


Oslo Beer City keeps getting better ... 2013 should be an amazing year!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Munich Oktoberfest 2012

For a number of years I've thought about visiting the famous Oktoberfest in Munich, the world's largest beer festival. This year I finally got the chance as I had already planned a road trip through Germany in the right time period, but before delving into my own impressions of the 2012 festival I'll say a few words about its history and current status.

Welcome to the Oktoberfest 2012.

The Oktoberfest history
The origins of the Oktoberfest goes back to October 12th, 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig - the future king Ludwig I of Bavaria - married his beloved Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. At this time, the state of Bavaria had existed for only four years so the people in Munich were jubilant and proud to celebrate the marriage of their own future king and queen. And celebrate they did!

The wedding celebrations lasted five days and took place on the meadows in front of the city gates, where people could watch horse races while indulging in beer and food. The horse races and celebrations proved so popular that they were repeated at the same place the next year, giving rise to the tradition of the Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest has been held almost every year since 1810, it has only been canceled 24 times - because of either Cholera outbreaks (in 1854 and 1873) or war (the Franco-Prussian War and the two world wars).

While the original Oktoberfest started out as a relatively short and small, local festival, for and by the citizens of Munich, it has now expanded into a 16 days long beer and food extravaganza, with more than 6 million visitors annually - from all over the world. It has become the biggest tourist attraction in Munich, bringing in close to half a billion euro to the city's coffers every year.

The Ochsenbraterei tent, famous for its grilled oxen.
- Sponsored by one of the Big Six.
Despite all the tourists and the cheap souvenir stands, the festival is still very much a Munich festival - rooted in the local beer and food culture. The big tents are all sponsored by the original "Big Six" Munich breweries; Augustiner-Bräu, Hofbräuhaus, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner and Spaten. Late arrivals, such as the world famous Schneider Weisse brewery - established in 1872, are not found on the Oktoberfest bill.

Today the meadow where the Oktoberfest is still held lies safely within the city of Munich, just a kilometer south west of the Hauptbahnhof main railway station, and it has been named after Ludwig's young bride: Theresienwiese or Theresa's meadow, often just called the Wiesn.

For the 2012 Oktoberfest, which started September 22 and ended October 7, there were 14 large tents and a number of smaller with a total seating capacity of about 100,000. The larger tents can typically seat from 5,000 to 8,000 guests and they usually feature an oompa ensemble, playing traditional Bavarian drinking songs. The smaller tents are more focused on either entertainment or speciality food, such as the famous Fischer-Vroni tent which has been selling all kinds of grilled fish (and more recently sushi) since opening up in 1948.

The how and when
Despite being a big city of 1.4 million, the massive influx of visitors to the Oktoberfest - in the millions - means that the Munich hotels will get swamped and turn up their prices. Many of the hotels will be fully booked long before the festival starts, so even if you're willing to spend big bucks for a room in central Munich you may not be able to find any.

It's both cheaper and easier to find vacant rooms outside the city, and transport is not a big problem since the metropolitan area has a very efficient railway system which can take you from the outlying districts to the heart of Munich in less than 45 minutes.

Because of this, and for reasons which will become apparent in a future post, I decided to stay in Freising, a town some 40 km north east of Munich, not far from the international airport. From Freising you can take the fast commuter train, which departs a couple of times every hour and run all day long. This train takes less than 30 minutes to München Hauptbahnhof, in the heart of the city, which is just a short walk from the Theresienwiese or from Marienplatz for that matter.

Ein, swei, drei - prost!
At a quarter to 10 on a sunny Monday morning in September I went in through the main gate at the Wiesn, ready for my first Oktoberfest. Many other visitors had already arrived and were walking around between the tents, taking photographs or just enjoying the fine weather while waiting for the festival tents to open.

A long queue of several hundred kurt lederhosen clad men had already formed in front of the Hacker-Pschorr tent, but that was fine by me as I had no intention of going in there.

Augustiner Festhalle with an oompa band on stage.
My tent of choice was Augustiner Festhalle, sponsored by the oldest brewery in Munich,  Augustiner-Bräu. This brewery has made beer in Munich since 1328!

Not only is Augustiner-Bräu the oldest brewery in Munich, but they make the beer that many locals claim to be the best - the Augustiner Edelstoff Helles. And, finally, the Augustiner Festhalle is the only tent at Oktoberfest where the beer is served like in the old days, straight from large, 200 liter woodens casks, only assisted by gravity. Thus, for me the choice was rather simple.

Inside the Augustiner Festhalle there was still plenty of space at 10 am, roughly half the tables were free while the other half were reserved. It turned out that most of the free tables had been taken by the time I noticed them, but since many of the reserved tables were reserved from 4 or 5 pm, probably for groups of people coming straight from work, I sat down by a table that was free for the next seven hours. That was plenty of time to enjoy the beer, food and atmosphere in this tent.

As I'd never been to Oktoberfest before I was uncertain about how to order beer and first tried asking a man standing by the large wooden cask in one of the four schänkes (a schänke is basically a filling station for beer), but he pointed at the girls running around with large beer mugs so I sat down again and finally managed to attract the attention of one service lady. Two minutes later she was back with a Maß - a 1 liter beer mug - of the 5.6% strong Augustiner Edelstoff Helles.

I had worried it would be tough to empty the large mugs of beer, before the beer went flat, but it turned out to be no problem at all. The Edelstoff is such a tasty, refreshing and drinkable beer that before I knew it I was looking down into the wide glass at a small puddle of golden liquid far down there at the bottom.

Drinking large volumes of beer was also helped / promoted by the many girls walking down the aisles in the tent, offering freshly baked, warm and salty brezn from big baskets. Brezn is better known as brezel in the rest of Germany or pretzel in the US. This salty delicacy is a match made in heaven with German helles beer, take my word for it.

Schänke number 2 (out of 4) in the Augustiner Festhalle
- serving Edelstoff Helles straight from the cask.

The first couple of hours, the large tent remained fairly quiet and relaxing, but around noon just about all the seating space had been occupied and I noticed people standing along the sides, waiting for someone to leave or for their reservation to kick in. It was getting harder to move around, both for the beer mug carrying girls and for those guests needing to go to the toilets, as a large number of standing guests blocked the aisles.

Around noon the stakes were raised when an oompa band entered the raised stage in the middle of the tent and launched into a series of drinking songs of which I just caught the omnious "ein, zwei, drei - prost!" upon which the band leader raised his own Maß and toasted together with the audience before swallowing a good mouthfull.

It was about this time that I realized it was time to move on if I wanted to see some of the other tents, as the Augustiner Festhalle was now approaching a very packed condition. So after two nice hours and three Maß of Edelstoff I left the tent to take a look outside the tent.

The horse drawn Augustiner-Bräu Faßwagen from 1901
- still used for transporting wooden beer kegs.
Outside things had become a lot more chaotic than when I arrived, it seemed that several tents were so full that bouncers had been posted to stop more guests from entering - so instead people roamed around between bratwürst stalls and the smaller tents.

When I looked up towards the main gate I saw a continous stream of people entering, so it was obvious it would just get more cramped at the Oktoberfest. Thus, after pushing my way through the crowds for a few minutes and taking photographs of the Augustiner-Bräu Faßwagen, a beautiful horse drawn wagon from 1901 which came with more wooden beer casks for the Augustiner Festhalle, I extricated myself from the crowd and left the Wiesn for a quiet biergarten in Munich.

Concluding remarks
The Oktoberfest is a strange mixture of circus, carnival and Bavarian holiday, you'll see all kinds of people from all walks of life. The party factor is high and probably grows as day turns into night, so if you're up for that and a bit cramped space the Oktoberfest should be rigth up your alley.

As for myself, it was worth making the effort and I did enjoy the short spell in Augustiner Festhalle before it started getting rowdy in there. This was a once in a lifetime event for me, I will certainly return to the lovely biergartens and cozy bierstüberls of Munich, but not during Oktoberfest.

A Maß of Augustiner-Bräu Edelstoff Helles
- my best memory from Oktoberfest.

More photos from the 2012 Oktoberfest can be found in this Flickr set.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Leipzig beer or so the story Gose

During my September 2012 road trip through Germany I made a stop in Leipizg, the historical city in Saxony where matemathician and Newton's nemesis Gottfried Leibniz was born, to check out its current beer scene and in particular to locate and taste the almost extinct beer style known as Gose.

The Altes Rathaus or Old City Hall in Leipzig.

So the story Gose
You may never have heard of this style of beer before and it was a close call that few of us would have, because in the 1960s Gose went extinct! Fortunately, with the growing interest in old beer styles, the Gose has been revived and is now growing in popularity both in Germany and in America.

Gose belongs to the famliy of sour wheat beers which once was brewed across much of northern Germany and the low countries (today Belgium and the Netherlands), of which Berliner Weisse and Geuze are two other remaining examples. Common among these beers were the low alcohol, usually from 3-5% abv, and high attenuation, making them dry and less sweet than many other styles. This made for a refreshing, everyday beer that could be drunk in large quantities.

Goedeker's Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose
- the original since 1824.
The style gets its name from the town of Goslar, in Lower Saxony, where it was first brewed in the early 18th century. In those early days, Gose was a spontaneously fermented beer, but when brewing science improved in the 1880s the brewers in Leipzig turned to top fermenting ale yeast and added lactic acid bacteria to recreate the sourness of the wild fermentation.

Gose is brewed with at least 50% malted wheat, and because it's also brewed with coriander and cooking salt it doesn't comply with the strict Reinheitsgebot - the Bavarian purity law. But that offense was not at all uncommon in the north of Germany, where local brewing traditions held sway until the pilsner craze arrived in the mid 19th century.

By the end of the 19th century, the city of Leipzig had adopted Gose as its own beer and a number of local breweries were making it. The beer was so popular that dedicated Gose bars, called Gosenschenke - "Gose tavern", appeared all over the city.

However, the popularity of Gose took a nosedive at the start of the 20th century, and at the outbreak of World War Two only one brewery - Rittergutsbrauerei Döllnitz - brewed it. When that brewery folded in 1945, one of its brewers - Friedrich Wurzler - took the Gose knowledge with him and started his own Friedrich Wurzler Brauerei.

The Friedrich Wurzler Brauerei continued making Gose, even after Wurzler died, but in 1966 this last gosebrauerei closed too. The Gose had gone extinct. And it would probably have remained so, if not for the opening of the Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken in 1986, an event I'll return to a bit later in this post.

Where to try it?
There are several places in or near Leipzig that now goes under the term Gosenschenke, selling fresh Gose from draft or in the famous long neck bottles. For this visit I decided to stay in Leipzig proper, which ruled out some remote places and breweries, but at least I was able to visit the place where Gose was revived as well as a proper Gosebrauerei.

The old Bayerischer Bahnhof railway station in Leipzig.

In the south of Leipzig, at Bayerischer platz, tourists can marvel at the beautiful portico and architecture of the oldest, preserved railway station in Germany: The Bayerischer Bahnhof or Bavaria Station.

This railway station first opened up in 1842, taking passengers to Bavaria and beyond. By the 1870s more than a million passengers left from this station every year and it had several golden decades, around the turn of the century, with long distance trains stopping here to pick up passengers for Rome or Naples.

However, the two world wars slowed down the long distance traveling and in 1943 the station was heavily damaged by Allied bombs. After the war, in East Germany, there was little money to restore the ruined buildings, so the station was left in disrepair. Fortunately, talk of demolishing the building never went any further and in 1975 the Bayerischer Bahnhof was declared a National Monument. Thanks to Bavarian railway enthusiasts the old portico was later reconstructed the way it had been before the war.

In 1999, the owner of Schneider Bräu in Weißenburg, Thomas Schneider, made a deal with the national railway company, Deutsche Bahn, who owned the old railway building, that he would renovate and restore the building to its former glory but with the addition of a brewpub. A brewpub that would make the old Leipzig speciality, Gose.

Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof in Leipzig.

After 14 months of renovations and construction, Gasthaus & Gosebraueri Bayerischer Bahnhof opened up on July 19, 2000, in the old railway building, with a modern brewhouse constructed by Kaspar Schulz in Bamberg. An adjoining biergarten was also added, allowing guests to sit outside, under shady trees, on warm summer days.

During my visit, Bayerischer Bahnhof was fenced in due to construction work so I had to walk around the back and enter through the biergarten. This construction work, by the wat, has been ongoing for several years and is related to the new Leipzig City-Tunnel, which will link Bayerischer Bahnhof to the Hauptbahnhof, 2 km to the north.

The biergarten was really quiet and cozy, with a couple of dozen tables in the shade of the leafy trees and a schenke which served cold beer and warm brezel (i.e. pretzels). With the railway building on one side and a quiet residential area on the other, I couldn't hear any city traffic so it felt like being in the country!

The schenke offered four different draft beers, one of which was their Gose:

  1. Original Leipziger Gose (4.6%)
  2. Schaffner - Bayerischer Bahnhof Naturtrübes Pils (5%)
  3. Kuppler  - Bayerischer Bahnhof Weisse (5.2%)
  4. Heizer  - Bayerischer Bahnhof Schwarzbier (5.3%)

The Gose poured a hazy golden color with a big, white head. It sported a mild sour fruit aroma and had a mild salty mouthfeel with a tart lemon flavor. Fairly refreshing and good. Other than the Gose I only tried the schwarzbier, which combined a good roasted malt character and dark chocolate really well.

I wouldn't mind spending more afternoons here, with a cold Gose and a fresh Brezel.

Bayerischer Bahnhof Original Leipziger Gose
@ Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken

Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken
Ohne Bedenken, which means "without concern", has played an important role in the revival of Gose and the history of this Gose tavern goes back to the heydays of Gose. In 1899 the Cajeri family moved to Gohlis, back then a little village just north of Leipzig, in Hauptstraße 38 (now Menckestr 5 in Leipzig). Here they opened the Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken. A few years later, in 1905, a large biergarten was added too.

Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken stayed in business, under several different owners, until the dark days of World War Two. In 1943, the biergarten and the houses surrounding it was completely destroyed by Allied bombs, and after the war the place struggled to stay afloat until it closed without a notice in 1958. Eight years later, the last Gosebrauerei in Leipzig and the world closed down. The Gose tradition of Leipzig was gone.

Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken in Leipzig
- where Gose was revived.
For twenty years nobody drank Gose or hardly talked about it, until one Lothar Goldhahn bought the old property of Ohne Bedenken and decided to renovate the Gosenschenke. Naturally, he wanted to make it as authentic as possible, which meant serving Gose. But where could he get that?

Goldhahn talked to several old timers, who still remembered how the beer had looked and tasted, to piece together an idea of what the Gose had been like. He then asked several local breweries if they would like to brew this beer for Ohne Bedenken, but none of them dared to brew the strange beer. In the end Goldhahn managed to convince Schultheiss Berliner-Weisse Brauerei in Berlin to brew Gose for him. In 1986, Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken re-opened and could proudly serve Gose to its guests.

In 1990, the current owner Dr. Hartmut Hennebach bought the Gosenschenke and has faithfully maintained it ever since, helping to spread the gospel of Gose and revive an almost lost beer style. Today, Ohne Bedenken has a thriving biergarten where locals as well as beer turists can sit down under shady trees and enjoy a fresh Gose from draft.

During my visit, the Gose on draft was the Original Leipziger made by Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof, which I had already tasted at the brewpub, so that was a bit disappointing. The only other Gose available was a bottled version called Original Ritterguts Gose, which was actually very good - more salty and sour than the one from Bayerischer Bahnhof.

In addition to Ohne Bedenken and the Bayerischer Bahnhof I also tried out Brauhaus an der Thomaskirche, mainly because of its central location in old town Leipzig. Located on the square by the St Thomas Church, this brewpub offers regular German lager beers but no Gose.

Even though the pub seemed a bit touristy I thought the beer menu looked decent, as they offered both an unfiltered (naturtrüb) pilsner and a bockbier on draft, so I sat down for lunch.

The Thomaskirche Pils poured a hazy, golden color with a large white head. It smelled of fresh grass and had a light mouthfeel with a very lively carbonation. It had a nice malt character with a mild floral hop flavor, but the strong carbonation probably hid some of the taste. Still a pretty tasty pilsner.

The Bockbier also turned out to be highly carbonated, with an almost acidic bite to it, but I still got some ripe fruit notes and sweet caramel in the flavor, so it seems to be a good bockbier.

Overall, I found the Thomaskirche beers good, but a little less carbonation would have brought out more of the subtle malt and hop flavors and caused a better review from me.

The Brauhaus an der Thomaskirche in Leipzig makes no Gose.

More photos from my visit to Leipzig can be found in this Flickr set.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

One night in Rostock

In September 2012 I went on a 2-week long road trip across much of Germany and Austria, in search of good beer, or should I say bier, cozy bierstübls and lively biergartens. This adventurous trip will probably spawn a series of future blog posts, in this first post I will focus on the first stop in Germany - the old Hanseatic League city of Rostock.

Rostock harbor is not as busy as it once was.

Rostock
The city of Rostock has a long and illustrious history, going back to the 11th century when Polabian Slavs established a settlement named Roztoc - meaning broadening of river - on the lower Warnow river. After being burned to the ground by the troops of Danish king Valdemar I, in 1161, the place was resettled by German traders who Germanized the name to Rostock. 

In the 14th century Rostock joined the Hanseatic league and quickly became one of the most important trade ports on the Baltic sea, sending out ships as far north as Bergen on the west coast of Norway. By the end of the 15th century the dukes of Mecklenburg had managed to enforce their rule on Rostock, and the city lost its independent status.

Because of its strategic location at the mouth of the Baltic sea, across the strait between Denmark and Sweden, Rostock was repeatedly taken during the Thirty Years War (1618-48), both by Danes and Swedes, and later also by the troops of Napoleon.

In the early 20th century Rostock became an important centre for airplane manufacturing, with large factories located in Warnemünde. The first jet plane was actually tested in Rostock. Towards the end of World War Two, Rostock was badly damaged by allied bombing. When the war ended Rostock found itself in the newly formed East Germany, where it got a prominent position as the main port on the Baltic sea. Most of old town was faithfully rebuilt to its pre-war look.

The German reunification in 1990 was the start of a slow decline for Rostock, it lost its importance as a port and trade city to the larger ports in the former West Germany and many people moved west to find jobs. The population in Rostock has fallen from 260,000 in 1986 to about 200,000 today.

Where to go in Rostock
Because I only spent one night in Rostock I didn't get that much time to explore the city or its pubs, but I did visit two lovely places.

View inside Zum Alten Fritz in Rostock.

Down by the old harbor, at Warnowufer 65, one is greeted by a sign pointing the way to "Störtebeker's kneipe", which turns out to be the pub section of Braugasthaus Zum Alten Fritz.

The "Old Fritz" is a charming public house from around the turn of the last millennium, with its own biergarten - seating 200 persons, a large outdoor terrace, the aforementioned pub and a restaurant section seating 173 persons. As I felt for eating something, I sat down in the restaurant. Shiny copper ventilation pipes passes under the vaulted ceiling and low walls, made of red brick stone, section the room into smaller enclaves. A central bar looks like part of a brewery, with shiny copper "kettles" used for decoration in the back.

To my great relief, an inside smoking ban has been in effect at Zum Alten Fritz since January 2012, so it was a joy to smell the food and beer inside, with no distracting smoke. During my visit, they offered five lager beers on draft and six types on bottle - all of them brewed by Störtebeker Braumanufaktur (formerly known as Stralsunder Brauerei) in nearby Stralsund.

The five draft beers:
  1. Pilsener-Bier: This is a 4.9% German pilsener, with a nice hop aroma and a dry, refreshing taste. Quite good actually.
  2. Stralsunder Pils: Another 4.9% pilsener, this one less aromatic and more ordinary.
  3. Schwarz-Bier: This is a 5% schwarzbier, with an elegant malt character. Fairly typical of the style.
  4. Zwickelfritz Hell Naturtrüb: This is a 4.9% unfiltered helles, with fresh, floral hops, a smooth mouthfeel and nice fruit and grass notes in the taste. Very good. 
  5. Zwickelfritz Dunkel Naturtrüb: This is a 5% unfiltered dunkel, with nice sweet and roasted malt notes.
The Zwickelfritz Hell was the most impressive of the draft beers.

Störtebeker Keller-Bier 1402, delicious!

On bottle they had a larger variation in styles, offering both ales and lagers. This is what they had on the menu when I was there:

  1. Bernstein-Weizen: This is a 5.3% German hefeweizen. Fairly ordinary, with banana and spicy yeast flavors.
  2. Roggen-Weizen: This is a 5.4% dunkel hefeweizen brewed with rye, which resulted in a very interesting aroma of fruits and rye bread, but there was a weird phenolic note in the taste.
  3. Stark-Bier: This is a 7.5% baltic porter, smooth, rich and tasty with notes of dark fruits, fresh coffee and chocolate. Yummy.
  4. Keller-Bier 1402: This is a 4.8% kellerbier with a nice floral aroma and flavor of hay, grass and farmyard. Absolutely lovely.
  5. Atlantik-Bier: This is a 5.1% top fermented pale ale, with a lovely American hop character (citra, amarillo). It was just a couple of weeks old, really fresh and tasty.
  6. Hanse-Porter: Supposedly a Baltic porter, but at only 4% it was way too sweet.

Thus, I found much of interest at Zum Alten Fritz and some really enjoyable beers, in particular the Atlantik-Bier and the prize winning Keller-Bier which won Gold at the World Beer Cup 2010 (see pdf). The service was quick and excellent and the food tasty and filling, so I had a great time at the braugasthaus.

Only after returning to Norway did I learn that Zum Alten Fritz is actually a chain of pubs, associated with the Störtebeker brewery, which started up in 1998 and now can be found at four locations across the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Still, the pub in Rostock is worth seeking out if you're spending a night in old town.

This place was actually recommended to us by the friendly bartender at Zum Alten Fritz, when I asked for other places to try good local brews. Brauhaus Trotzenburg is located a bit south west of old town, near the old city zoo, so I ended up taking a taxi - about 10 minutes drive - to Tiergartenalle 6, to check out this place.

The bar area at Brauhaus Trotzenburg in Rostock.

The name "Trotzenburg" is a bit misleading since there never was a burg, German for castle, here. What we know is that an older homestead was turned into a simple tavern in 1839 which slowly turned into a popular restaurant, made even more popular with the opening of a biergarten in 1899. In 1913 the restaurant took the name Trotzenburg, which it kept for the rest of the century. By the end of the 1980s it had fell into disrepair and was in danger of getting demolished, but in 1998 it was purchased by a local investor working together with the Ostsee Brauhaus and in 2001 the place reopened as the Brauhaus Trotzenburg - a modern brewpub.

The interior of the brewpub feels very spacy, with large open rooms under a high ceiling. The furniture and decoration is simple, rustic and solid - with wooden tables, chairs and benches. Old German sayings have been painted in Gothic type on the bare walls, and a few beer posters and banners have been put up for decoration.

The inhouse brewery has a capacity of 1200 L and is in the capable hands of brewmaster Alexander Schreiber, who brews two regular beers for the pub and several seasonals - including Maibock in the spring, Hefeweizen in the summer, a märzen Festbier in the fall and a Weinachtsbier for Christmas.

During my visit, they had the following beers on draft:

  1. Original Helles: This is a 4.9% helles, with aroma of fresh cereal, a smooth mouthfeel and a good cereal and malt flavor.
  2. Spezial: This is a 4.9% Vienna style lager, with a red tinged golden brown color. Elegant malt character but a bit mild.
  3. Festbier: This is a 5.2% bock, brewed for oktoberfest. Malty aroma, smooth mouthfeel and a sweet caramel malt flavor with some ripe fruit notes. A nice festbier but a tad too sweet for me.
Like the place itself, the food was also rustic and local. I received my meal in a metal pan, steaming hot, it was hearty and good - with pork chops in a brown mushroom sauce and potatoes in the form of croquettes.

Rustic eating at Brauhaus Trotzenburg.

Though I had a more interesting beer experience at the "Old Fritz" I really enjoyed my visit to the "Trotzenburg", the main downside is that you really need a ride to get here, as it's some ways off if you're in old town Rostock.


Photos from my visit to Rostock can be found in this Flickr set.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Visit to Larvik Mikrobryggeri

On a sunny Friday in September 2012, I made a short daytrip to the town of Larvik in Vestfold, Norway. Larvik is situated between the mouths of the rivers Numedalslågen and Farriselva with a long waterfront and a big harbor on the Oslo fjord. Besides its harbor, with daily ferries to Denmark, Larvik is known for its old ironworks and wood industry at Fritzøe Verk, for being the hometown of explorer Thor Heyerdahl and ship builder Colin Archer and for its mineral water Farris. Perhaps, one day, it will also be known for its brand new brewpub - Larvik Mikrobryggeri.

The gates to Fritzøe Verk and Larvik Mikrobryggeri.

Assuming you're in Oslo, the quickest and easiest way to get to Larvik Mikrobryggeri is to come by train. Trains depart hourly from Oslo Central Station and takes about 2 hours to Larvik, the only downside is that the last train back to Oslo leaves Larvik at 21:33. From Larvik railway station walk northwest, along the waterfront, past the new Fritzøe Brygge complex. Follow the signs to Fritzøe Verk. The brewpub is located in the buildings of Larvik Museum in Nedre Fritzøegate 2.

The idea to start a brewpub in Larvik came to Terje Henriksen one day in 2009 and he brought it up with two friends from Larvik Beer Club, Roy Dahl and Jørn Einar Gjertsen. They liked the idea too, and the three of them spent the next couple of years visiting brewpubs in and outside Norway to learn as much as possible about running a brewpub.

Late 2010, they heard about a pub closure in Larkollen near Moss and bought the furniture and bar from the owners of the closed pub. In January 2011, with a group of volunteers, they drove to Østfold, dismantled the pub and brought all the stuff back to Larvik.

With the equipment of a proper pub at their disposal they now needed a location and found one, in an old brick building from 1854 in Nedre Verksgård at Fritzøe Verk. The building was no longer used for industry but had been taken over by Larvik Museum. The town council thought it would be great to have a brewpub there, and allowed Larvik Mikrobryggeri to start constructing their pub and brewery there.

The bar at Larvik Mikrobryggeri.
While renovating the old building, Larvik Mikrobryggeri opened up a shareholder program and signed up 133 local shareholders in the spring of 2011. With the financial situation taken care of, brewmaster Terje Henriksen ordered a 500 litre micro brewery from Leif Stana in Bratberg Produkter, who has custom built micro breweries for a number of Norwegian breweries.

The pub officially opened its doors to the thirsty public on 3 December 2011, but the micro brewery had not been installed yet, so to give the pub an edge they offered two "house beers" on draft that was contract brewed for them at Lillehammer Bryggeri - Larvik Bødker Pilsner and Larvik Weissbier. In addition to the draft beer, the pub also offered a good selection of bottled beer from Belgium, England, USA, Germany and Norway.

In May 2012 the micro brewery finally arrived from Hardanger and was quickly installed in a room next to the bar. The first beer brewed on the micro brewery was a German-style Kölsch, named Svenner Skum, which was put on draft on June 8, 2012, finally making Larvik Mikrobryggeri a fully fledged brewpub.

Some 46 years after Larvik Bryggeri closed in 1963, the town of Larvik finally had a working brewery again!

Since June, Larvik Mikrobryggeri has brewed two other types of beer - an English Bitter and most recently a German-style Oktoberfest beer called Festival. This latter beer was labeled "a topped bayer" on their Facebook page, and Oktoberfest / Märzen on RateBeer.

The 500 L micro brewery at Larvik Mikrobryggeri.
Unknown to me, brewmaster Terje Henriksen has been ill for a while, so the micro brewery had been inactive for so long that the pub had run out of their Bitter when I paid my visit on September 7. The Oktoberfest beer was also close to empty, in fact I got the very last glass of their Festival beer before the tank ran dry! Still, the few hours I spent at the brewpub was worth the trip.

Larvik Mikrobryggeri is a cozy and quiet pub, even on a Friday night, and in the summer season it's great to sit outside in the historical surroundings of Fritzøe Verk. The draft beer selection wasn't that impressive, despite the seven tap lines. They offered two light and tasteless lagers from Union Bryggeri in Skien and the even less tasty Arctic Ice from Mack. Larvik Bødker Pilsner was ok and their own Svenner Skum kölsch decent, but with two empty tap lines this meant I had to go for bottles after just a couple of draft beers.

But the bottle menu was decent, offering beers such as Tripel Karmeliet, Wye Valley Wholesome Stout, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, Anchor Porter and Kulmbacher Mönchshof Bockbier. I had no problems stretching the time for my train ride home.

Another thing I missed was some good pub grub, since Larvik Mikrobryggeri is located some distance outside downtown Larvik. But this can be solved by calling one of the local pizza shops and have them deliver food at the pub.

Before she left, I had a short conversation with Elin Svendsen, the daily manager of Larvik Mikrobryggeri (who has just resigned because of health issues). She mentioned that Terje Henriksen is planning to brew more interesting beers in the fall, including a porter and a Christmas beer, so I will certainly consider making a second visit to Larvik Mikrobryggeri later this year.

In the meantime, I hope they get the micro brewery up to speed to keep their currently empty tap lines flowing with fresh beer.

Larvik Svenner Skum - a decent Kölsch

The complete set of photos from this visit can be found at Flickr.