Written by Oakes
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Oakes Weekly - July 2, 2009
An unwanted intruder in my Franconian lagerJuly 2, 2009
Vancouver, CANADA -
Don’t get me wrong, I love Franconia. Beer wise, it has been amazing. In addition to the usual German styles and the famous rauchbier (actually hard to come by outside of Schlenkerla) there is one major type of beer. On Ratebeer we call it Zwickel/Keller/Landbier but it could well be called Zwickel/Keller/Land/Ungespundets/Zoigl. Add Lager and Vollbier into the mix, too, if you want. Zwickel is unfiltered beer, no particular style but usually pale and balanced. Kellerbier is similar but hoppier. Landbier basically means “country beer” and thus can mean whatever the brewer wants it to mean. But that usually means something similar to a Zwickel, unless it’s a dark Landbier. Ungespundet is basically another name of Kellerbier (literally, in the case of Mahr’s). Zoigl may mean beer from a communal brewery, but sometimes it just is another reference to country beer. It’s all quite confusing, until you realize that these are relative shades of difference and the beer could in English at least be described as Franconian country lager.
The breweries that make this type of beer are generally small, old and traditional. They often serve just their home village and maybe the surrounding areas. There are parts of this area where a one-day bike ride of maybe 20km would yield three or four days worth of breweries. But behind this paradise is something that greatly concerns me. It’s an old enemy of mine. And it tastes like butter.
The first few times I encountered my nemesis on the Bavarian Summer Tour I felt it was an isolated incident – a brewery here, a beer there. No worries. Recent events have, however, instilled the fear of butter in me. The first was last week, when we walked up to the Mahr’s Keller on Stephansburg. We have long since visited the Mahr’s brewery tap, a killer spot where the barrels of Ungespundet flow freely. The food is great, the crowd vibrant and mixed, the beer fan-freakin-tastic. But it’s in suburbia, which means that not only is it in a boring part of town but it is also a long walk. The Keller, on the other hand, is just ten minutes from our flat in the Altstadt. They serve the U from the barrel, the only place besides the brewery to do so. We were pretty excited. Until the krugs were set down in front of us and the foul stench arose from the foam.
We’re really close to Klosterbrau, maybe five minutes if we walk slow. So we’ve been there a few times and although I probably like the Pils the best I’m not always in a Pils mood. So today I wanted a Braunbier, probably the third time I’ve done that lately. It was completely undrinkable. I took out my notebook (you can’t leave home without it in Franconia) and none of my previous notes mentioned the vile chemical intrusion I was now smelling. And tasting, of course, with the requisite ropey slick mouthfeel. I’d rather suck back a big pint of Regnitz than take another pull from that mug. Same thing happened with the Ottobier at Stilbruch, too.
Now I’m wondering what the hell is going on. Are these breweries simply lacking in proper sanitation? Even so, they should be testing their product. I think this is it, though. You don’t get this character from busy places at busy times. It seems only when business is slow. This must allow whatever infection is taking place to get hold of the beer and work its evil. Plus, at that point it has been taken out of the hands of brewers. And there is some sort of cultural stigma against sending a beer back. I know German beer is good, but it would be kind of dumb to get a big hubris about it. Plus, it seems like nobody else notices. That’s the thing that knocks me out. At Kloster, everybody was drinking the Braunbier. The customers seem to be genetically immune to drinking movie theater squirt butter.
I’m trying to think of other possibilities. They could all be using the same yeast strain, and just not aging certain batches long enough. I’m not convinced of this, though. These breweries are centuries old. They might have some strain similarity but I would be amazed if they are all the same. We could have a situation, though, where one genetic similarity could show if the same error – such as too much repitching – is repeated often enough, even independently.
But all I have are theories, and probably not even good ones since I’m not a brewer. What I need are answers. Why is Franconian beer either amazing or a butterbomb, with little in between? More specifically, how the heck can the same beer be amazing one week and unfit for human consumption the next? I’m playing Russian roulette over here and it should simply not be that way.
Next week: Some of my flavour favourites.
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