Friday, 31 August 2007

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson changed my life. I'm sure I'm not the only one. His books educated and inspired not one, but several generations of beer lovers and writers. No-one will ever have the same impact on the beer world.

I can't claim to have known him personally, though we did once exchange a few words. I was always reluctant to pester him when our paths did cross. The last time that happened was at the British Guild of Beer Writers dinner in 2006. Michael Jackson was on our table. He sat next to John White, who was as excited and nervous as a teenage girl meeting her boy band heroes. John spent the whole evening talking to Michael. It seemed rude to interrupt. Later, when the great man had left, John told me it was one of the highlights of his life.

A mere nine months later and both John and Michael are gone. The world is a lesser place for their passing.

I would write more, but, as usual, Michael has made a much better job of it than I ever could. His final columno is a poignant and funny exploration of his own mortality. A fitting epitaph for a truly great man and a wonderful human being.

A review of Stout by Michael J. Lewis

I've already told you that I have a huge collection of books on beer-related topics. Some of them I've even read. I tend to avoid modern general books about beer, because I either already know what they say or disagree with it violently. Brewery histories and brewing manuals are much better for my eductaion and my blood pressure.

This week I ordered another dozen books: "Tijdschrift voor Brouwerij en Mouterij 1939-1940", "Münchens bryggeri 1855-1910", "The Manual of British and Foreign Brewery Companies, 1947", "Manbre & Garton Limited 1855-1955: A Hundred Years of Progress", to name just a few. I don't know why I'm telling you this. That list's putting even me to sleep.

Why have I written a review of "Stout"? A couple of reasons. Firstly, because there are so many ludicrous assertions in it. Secondly, because I've seen it quoted as a source several times. It scares me that anyone could take this book seriously, much less use as a starting point for further study. I hope the following will explain why.

Stout by Michael J. Lewis
The Classic Beer Style Series is a noble attempt to document the world's classic types. Its volumes have covered the most widespread British, German and Belgian styles. Designed with the homebrewer in mind, they discuss recipes and brewing techniques along with the history and characteristics ogf each beer.

I own most of the series and there isn't one from which I haven't picked up some useful snippets of information. Even Michael Lewis's "Stout", which at times had me frothing at the mouth.

The book is divided into six chapters: 1. Introduction, 2. The Origin of Stouts, 3. Commercial Brewing of Stouts, 4. A Taste of Stout, 5. Our Survey of Stout Brewers, 6. Brewing Stouts at Home. It would love to report that they were all of equal merit, but that is sadly not the case.

The good bits
Let's start with the positive. As you might expect from an academic with decades of experience in teaching brewing science, the author is very strong on the technical aspects. The chapter on commercial brewing has some interesting detail about London and Dublin water. The description of the brewing process, though effectively limited to a description of Guinness in Dublin, also provides some useful insights.

The most interesting original material comes from the survey responses of breweries from around the world in Chapter 5. The survey covers the following topics: raw materials, mashing practices, kettle boiling, fermentation and conditioning, package and dispense, physical and chemical analysis. Nowhere else have I ever seen such detailed information about commercial brewing practices from. The breweries who responded are a very diverse bunch both in size and geographical location: SAB (South Africa), Banks (Barbados), Carlton (Australia), Castlemaine (Australia), Desnoe abd Geddes (Jamaica), Kirin (Japan), Beamish & Crawford (Ireland), Asia-Pacific Breweries (Singapore), Hales Ales, Marin Brewing and Pike Place (all USA). For me, the book is worth buying for this chapter alone.

As an unashamed numbers junkie, the tables of analyses of various stouts (detailing OG, ABV, colour, calories) are also fascinating. They cover both modern and historical beers. It's difficult to complain about the quality and quantity of raw information packed into the 171 pages.

The less good bits
What had me chewing the carpet were the discussions of the history, characteristics and stylistic variations of stout. The opinions expressed on these topics range from the bizarre to the ridiculous.

Chapter 2. The Origin of Stouts
Lewis is convinced that stouts have always been black:

the idea that stouts were not black beers, as today, again begs the question,
Who says so? The implication is that such beers were somehow impossible. But
this cannot be. . . . Coffee roasting and grain roasting are exactly parallel
technologies and it wouldn't surprise me if some clever brewer hadn't thought to
compete with coffee by using roasted grains
.” (p.7)

This is a wonderful piece of revisionism, arbitrarily moving the invention of patent malt back a century, without any hard evidence and purely for the convenience of the author. Its main purpose is to rewrite history in such a way so as to allow Stout to be a black beer, predating porter and quite distinct from it. Let's consider the reasons why it's total crap:

  1. That the first stouts weren't black is sort of given away by their original name: Brown Stout.
  2. Until around 1800, when brewers started to use pale malt in Porter, it was a 100% brown malt brew and there was no need for anything extra to colour it.
  3. The roasting of grains - patent malt - was, as the name hints, a new idea when it was invented in 1817. That's why a patent was granted. There were very specific circumstances - the prohibition in 1816 of any colouring agent in beer other than malt - which led to the invention of patent malt. Brewers desperately needed an alternative colouring material.
Though he acknowledges Stout's origin in London, Lewis seems to be under the illusion that most English breweries copied the style from Ireland. He asserts on page 22:

Although I earlier argued the case for stout preceding porter, there is clear
evidence that commercial brewing of stout in England grew out of the wide
popularity of porter in London and elsewhere. The ever increasing importation of
Guinness to the English market during the mid- to late nineteenth century surely
drove many English brewers to emulate the Irish style. For the most part,
however, the stouts made in England and Scotland during this time were not dry
like Irish stout but sweet, many containing portions of milk sugar

Let me get this straight, the popularity of Guinness prompted English brewers to make a stout, but they made it in a totally different style? “People seem to like that Guinness. I know - I'll brew a Stout totally unlike it. It''s bound to sell sell like hot cakes.” they must have thought. The reality was somewhat different. Throughout the 1800's most English brewers produced a range of three or four Porters and Stouts. Were these all imitating Guinness?

Here's a typical example of a brewery's range of draught beers:

Bradley & Co, Soho Brewery Sheffield 1870
Mild X Ale
Mild XX Ale
Mild XXX Ale
Mild XXXX Ale
No.3 Australian Strong Ale
Pale India Ale
Stout Porter
XX Stout Porter
Strong Brown Stout

Guinness, like Bass, was a premium bottled product, sold in pubs tied to other breweries. This situation existed up until at least WW I, as this article demonstrates. Sweet stout, a low-gravity beer laced with unfermentable lactose, didn't appear until Edwardian times. Even then, English brewers continued to make London-style draught stouts, which were part of the standard range in pubs. London breweries were brewing one, and sometimes two, draught Stouts until at least WW II. In 1936 Barclay Perkins brewed a Porter and seven different Stouts, at strengths varying from 4.4% to 9% ABV. If he had bothered to do even the most rudimentary research he wouldn't come up with such total crap. Strangely enough, I would expect someone writing a book on the subject to have consulted some original documents. The brewing logs of three of the great London Porter/Stout breweries - Whitbread, Barclay Perkins, Truman, Hanbury and Buxton - survive for the period 1805 - 1970. More than enough hard facts for anyone who can be arsed to look for them. But why bother when guesswork and third-hand stories will do?

Lewis seems unaware that, in the period he refers to, Guinness Extra Stout was completely different to the beer that bears the same name today. In 1896 it had a gravity of over 1070º, now it's around 1042º. Despite the fact that these figures appear in the book (pages 35 and 121). "Irish Dry Stout", as style nazis like to call it, didn't appear until after WW I. Before 1917 it would have tasted much like Guinness Foreign Extra Stout - a totally different beast.

The plain crazy

Chapter 4. A Taste of Stout
Here it becomes clear why Lewis was determined to make early London Stouts, in defiance of the known facts, black. This is how he categorises a Stout on page 66:

to conclude, it was not difficult for us to decide that a stout is simply a
black beer called a stout by the brewer who made it
Now there's a useful definition! I'll expand later on precisely why it's of no use to anyone. I first want to observe that the only distinctive feature of a Stout, in his opinion, is its black colour. No wonder he was so keen on making the early London beers black - if they hadn't been, then they wouldn't have been Stouts, would they?

Why does he propose such a vague formula? Ostensibly, it is the result of a systematic tasting of stouts by a panel. Analysis of the flavour profiles produced by the tastings failed to show any discernible patterns which would identify subtypes. So, that's it proved then. There's only one type of Stout. How stupid I've been all these years thinking that Draught Guinness and Courage Russian Stout were different subtypes!

But hang on a moment, this doesn't agree with my own, admittedly subjective, observations. I am able to identify patterns in the characteristics of Stouts and even - god forbid - substyles. Why was Lewis unable to find them? Some comments earlier in the book hint at the reasons. P.33:

I'm a lumper and my tasting experience tells me some stouts are sweet tasting
(including some milk, cream and oatmeal stouts) and others are not (dry stouts).
Further classification does not help me much
A cynic will be tempted to think that he didn't identify any substyles because he started his experiment convinced of that fact. Subconsciously constructing experiments so that they produce the result you want or expect is a known phenomenon. A closer examination of Lewis's tastings reveal why they were never going to provide evidence of subtypes.

23 beers were tasted, broken down by these regions of origin: USA 10, Australia 4, Jamaica 1, UK 7, Japan 1. The following subtypes were claimed by the names of the beers: Stout 11, Oatmeal 3, Cream 2, Imperial 2, Porter 2, Extra 1, Triple 1, Black Beer 1.

Does a huge flaw start to become apparent? The sample size of 23 is way too small to draw any meaningful conclusions. With no more than 3 examples of any single subtype, it's farcical to claim to have proved their non-existence.

Yet the ridiculously small number of beers analysed isn't my biggest problem with the experiment. The concept behind it - to find universally applicable definitions - is even more ludicrous. What has been the result? A statement classifying Stout that could scarcely be more vague, yet which still manages to exclude the original beers in the style! It demonstrates perfectly the intrinsic futility of the endeavour.

There is one set of figures Lewis employs which do show a definte pattern grouping beers together. It doesn't come from his own tastings, but from information provided by Guinness. This data - and Lewis's dismissal of it - illustrated to me what was wrong with his whole approach. It's an analysis of the properties of the draught Irish stouts. They aren't identified, but I think that we can safely assume they are Guinness, Murphy's and Beamish. He recognises the similarities, but remarks (p.81):

Since these three stouts compete head to head in the same market for the same
consumers, some similarities among them might well be anticipated
He doesn't realise it, but he's stumbled upon the only meaningful method of classifying beers - based on their context.

Let me explain what I mean by this. There are several factors which influence the nature of beers in a particular place at a particular time - taxation, legislation, local tastes, raw materials, climate.These factors are not constant over time and location. Thus a style, for example Stout, cannot be expected to be the same everywhere in the worlld.

Here's a good example. Carnegie Porter was first brewed in Sweden as an imitation of a British Imperial Stout. It must have originally been at least 8% alcohol. In the 20th century the strict and sometimes bizarre alcohol legislation in Sweden forced it down to 5.6%. Rather than just drop the beer, the brewer made a spirited attempt to retain as much Imperial Stout character as was possible. Now if you compare it to Courage Russian Stout, there are some pretty obvious major differences, yet it is not wholly dissimilar.

Using Lewis's approach, this would demonstrate the meaningless of the category Imperial Stout. I see it in a completely different way: it highlights the inadequacy of seeking single a definition to cover beers existing in very different legal and social environments. lf we admit that the characteristics of a style will change over time and that this change will be driven by local circumstances, then the heterogenous nature of Stouts today should not come as any surprise. Porter and Stout were the first international styles and have been brewed outside the UK (for example, in the USA) for more than 200 years. Is it reasonable to expect that a modern American Stout would display the same features as either an 18th century London Stout or a modern Irish Stout?. Of course not. No more than we would anticipate the accent of a Londoner to be the same as that of a New Yorker or a Dubliner. Yet it doesn't mean that they aren't all speaking English.

Taking “context” into account - limiting definitions to a particular time and place - then it is possible to identify subtypes, as Lewis himself was able to do with draught Irish Stouts. Taking a random sample of widely differing types of Stout from around the world and trying to find clear patterns is so obviously stupid, that you wonder why anyone would want do it. If he hadn't rewritten history, Lewis would have been forced to coin an even looser definition, namely that “Stout is a black or brown beer called a Stout”.

In a way, I'm surprised that there are any beer styles at all in Lewis's world. His methodology, if strictly applied, would lead to just pale, amber, brown and black beer. Universally applicable but - for both consumers and brewers - totally useless classifications.

The length and detail with which he describes his extremely unscientific and pointless experiment (23 pages compared to just 32 on the whole history of Stout) are a clear indication of how important the topic of non-style is to him. You might expect a book dedicated to Stout to describe its many variations, rather than taking so much trouble to prove that they don't exist.

Despite my reservations about some chapters, this is still a useful book. It's great strength is the sheer volume of information in contains. This compensates for the dodgy analysis of the author. But the historical sections are pure fantasy with no basis in fact. It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that people use this book as a serious reference work. Try not to be too distractred by some of his more dubious arguments and use the data to draw your own conclusions.

Stout (Classic Beer Style Series)
Michael J. Lewis
Brewers Publications,U.S
ISBN 0-937381-44-6

    Thursday, 30 August 2007

    The Price of Beer Yesterday

    This article was published in the Weekly Dispatch on April 8th 1917, just as new government
    came into force limiting the amount of beer produced and drastically rasing duty. You'll see how much discord it aroused.

    There are a few snippets of social history in it that amused me. The importance placed on the workman's "the morning pint" may sound odd to us, but it demonstrates just how different British drinking culture was before WW 1. Whereas regular drinking of spirits was recognised as a vice, even by publicans.

    We're also given a rare glimpse of what beers London pubs were selling, through the landlord's price fixing agreement. Worth noting is the absence of porter from the draught beers and the presence of lager in the bottled ones. You might have expected three years of bitter fighting with the Germans would have killed the demand for lager. A WW I pub's draught beer choice has genuine variety - Mild, Bitter, Stout, Burton - each has a very different character. Give me that rather than half a dozen bitters with only a few tenths of a per cent alcohol difference between them.

    "There is a feeling that the present prices for beer will come down before the end of this month." No sign of it yet. Patience. Maybe next millennium.

    The Price of Beer Yesterday.


    Threatened Strike of Publicans.




    Weekly Dispatch, April 8th 1917

    There were some remarkable fluctuations in the price of beer in London yesterday, with a tendency to go back to the old prices.

    At the Black Dog in Shoe Lane, London, bitter was only 3d a half pint - 2d. less that the price fixed by the Licensed Victuallers' Central Protection Society London: at the Temple in Tudor Street the charge had also gone down to 3d.; at the Mail Coach in Farringdon Street it was still at 5d.; at Gatti's Restaurant in the Strand it was 4.5d.; at the Wellington Restaurant, Fleet Street, 5d.

    In South London, in Camberwell and Peckham, there has been a battle of the publicans ever since Monday last. At a meeting it was agreed to put up the prices, but when the time came a minority did not do so. The news spread quickly and the old-price houses were beseiged. Another was held and again an agreement to raise the price was reached, but this time a few of the publicans had a vendetta against the men who played the trick on Monday. One man in Peckham Road put outside his house a notice stating that as other publicans in the desitrict had been disloyal the old prices would be charged until further notice. Many others are doing the same. Yesterday in these old-price houses, it was fighting room only. In Manchester a boycott of formidable character is taking place.

    In Manchester and Salford yesterday pickets were stationed near many beerhouses in the industrial areas, and the takings of hundreds of licensees decreased by over 50 per cent.

    In Liverpool the boycott also continues. There has been a great drop in the trade and, contrary to expectation, the workmen have shown no sign of buying beer at the new price. At Sunderland the premises of one publican who declined to advance the prices and charged 4d. a pint were crowded to the doors, while people intending to enter premises charging 6d. and 7d. were assailed with cries of "Come out, you blacklegs" from pickets.

    A strike was threatened by publicans in Chatham and Rochester yesterday. The licensed victuallers and beerhouse keepers there have decided to accept no further supplies of malt liquors from the brewery until they reduce their rates to the prices prevailing in the greater part of the county of Kent. According to present arrangements the public is henceforth to pay 10d. a quart for its mild ales and 1s. 6d. a quart for bitter ales.


    "It's prohibition by price - so far as beer is concerned." said a London publican yesterday. He said that his sale had dropped by 50 per cent since the prices were increased in his establishment last Tuesday.

    An old man walked in and asked for "a pint of bitter" and when told the price had been raised to tenpence walked out without touching the drink - a remarkable example of self-denial but typical of the kind of protest the British workman will always make when he feels, rightly or wrongly, that he is being badly imposed upon.

    The new rise in the price of beer in a consequence of the war, which to many men is a more startling fact than the inflation in the prices of foodstuffs or luxuries. Twopence on on tobacco was serious, but as one ounce lasts the average smoker two or three days he did not feel the call on his pocket so much. But tenpence for the morning pint every morning has come as a brutal shock. Mild ale is only 7d., but to a man accustomed to bitter the change is extremely distasteful.


    But the consequence of the prohibitive price would not be serious if it simply compelled a man to become a total abstainer.

    The truth is that beer drinkers are not becoming total abstainers; they are becoming addicted to spirits.

    The other day a man walked into a well-known buffet in Fleet Street and ordered a small bottle of Bass. At the same time the man standing next to him asked for a Scotch whisky. For the Bass the barmaid demanded the new price, 7d.; for the whisky she turned to the other customer and said, "Fourpence, please."

    The beer drinker hesitated, then looking at the whisky, said: "Will you change the Bass for a Scotch?" The barmaid said that she could not do that, and the convert to whisky grunted, "Well, this is the last bottle of beer I'm going to buy. I shall save threepence by drinking spirits." At the same place a customer had two glasses of mixed vermouth and they did not cost him any more than a pint of beer.

    A manager who controls many public-houses, both in the City and the East End, said yesterday that there had been a very sharp rise in the consumption of whisky.

    "Several men I know," he said' "who for years have had a pint of beer every morning, which was their only intoxicating drink for the day, and never touched spirits, now call for a 'double Scotch.' It costs them twopence less than the beer."

    He says that the same habit is also growing among the dockers.

    The publican, of course, refuses to condemn these customers for giving way to what is a bad habit merely because the country's food peril makes it imperative that the brewing of beer should be drastically cut down. The publican's attitude is that beer is a very important food to a numerous body of workers, whose constitutions have become so habituated to the drink that they feel ill without it.


    A curious situation created by the new prices is that many public-houses which have large cellars and a considerable supply of barrels bought at the old price have not yet raised their charges. The result has been a migration, temporary, of customers from a new-price house to an old-price house close by.

    The new scale of prices as fixed by the Licensed Victuallers' Central Protection Society of London is:

    Mild ale
    half pint 3.5d.
    Glass -

    half pint 5d.
    Glass 4d.

    half pint 5d.
    Glass 5d.

    half pint 6d.
    Glass 5d.

    Mild and Bitter
    half pint 4.5d.
    Glass 3.5d .

    Stout and Mild
    half pint 5d.
    Glass 4d.

    Mild and Burton
    half pint 5d.
    Glass 4d.

    Other prices: Bass 7d.; Guinness 8d.; London stout (screws) 5d.; pale ale (screws) 5d.; barley wine nips 6d.; lager, light or dark, 8d.

    It has been pointed out on behalf of the brewers that the existing large stocks of malted barley, sufficient to brew the 10,000,000 barrels of beer authorised for this year, are useless for any other purpose.

    This has been denied by Dr. Saleeby, who says that malt cake is an admirable food for cattle, and can be turned directly into meat an milk, and that if the cakes were supplied to farmers they would release for food the unmalted barley, oats, and sedes now being used as food for cattle.

    In any case the public have got to make up their mind that, high price or low price, there is not enough beer to supply the old demand, or anything like it, and a good many people have got to do without it.

    It is stated that a dozen or more metropolitan brewers have decided to offer their customers (or "tied" houses) the old "four ale" at 90s. a barrel and a trade discount, which will enable the publicans to sell at 3d. a half-pint and make a reasonable profit. These brewers have always maintained that 100s. per barrel, the present price, was more than the circumstances warranted. There is a feeling that the present prices for beer will come down before the end of this month.



    Burton was a type of strong brown ale, one of the standard draught beers in a 1917 London pub. Wahl & Henius, describing the beer in 1902, defined it as being 1064-1069º OG and hopped at a rate of 2 to 3 pounds per American barrel. As a comparison, Burton Pale Ale is also 1064-1069º OG, with a hopping rate of 2.5 to 3 pounds per American barrel. Mild Ale was 1053-1058º OG hopped at 1.25 to 1.5 pounds per American barrel. As Burton's price was the highest per barrel in 1917, we can infer it was the strongest draught beer.
    Burton had a long history, being mentioned by Combrune in "Theory and Practice of Brewing" in 1762. Its journey from ubiquity to obscurity is a lesson in the fickle nature of public taste. It finally died out in the 1970's, when Fuller's was replaced by ESB and Youngs renamed theirs Winter Warmer. Though, Youngs did recently brew a seasonal beer called Burton. Ballantine - the USA's largest ale brewery for decades - also produced a beer called Burton Ale, as documented in this article by Ed Kelley.

    Bitter was, as today, part of the standard pub draught range. Wahl & Henius describe London Pale Bitter Ale in 1902 as having an OG of 1055-1058º hopped at a rate of 1.5 to 2 pounds per American barrel. By 1914 the gravity had aleady dropped to around 1050º.

    Mild was one of the most popular draught beers. Always cheaper than Bitter, it wasn't necessarily weaker before 1914. Wahl & Henius describe London Four Ale (Mild) in 1902 as having an OG of 1053-1058º hopped at a rate of 1 to 1.25 pounds per American barrel. It dropped from an average OG of 1048º in 1914 to 1032º (about the same as today) in 1919. It bore the brunt of the cuts needed to get the average gravity for all beer down to 1030º. At the height of the wartime restrictions in 1918 it sank to 1024º, 1027º or lower and barely counted as intoxicating. Mild has remained a low-alcohol drink ever since.

    Porter, long a London favourite, was stumbling uncertainly, even before 1914. The war gave it a final kick in the bollocks when it was already lying in a pool of its own wee. The weakest of the Porter/Stout style beers, it was elbowed out of its strength slot by Stout. Wahl & Henius describe Porter as having an OG of 1050-1061º hopped at a rate of 0.75 to 1.5 pounds per American barrel.

    Stout remained a popular draught beer. It was the second-strongest draught, after Burton. Wahl & Henius describe Single Stout as 1064-1075º OG, hopped at a rate of 1.5 to 2 pounds per American barrel. Bottled stouts were stronger, with gravities as high as 1110º pre-war.

    Lager is a surprising inclusion in the price fixing agreements. Finding someone who knew how to make it was a major headache for Britain's few lager breweries. Lager has a surprisingly long history in Britain. The first to try bottom-fermentation was John Muir of Edinburgh in 1835. The legendary Munich brewer Gabriel Sedlmayr had visited Muir's brewery whilst on a study trip to Britain in the early 1830's. Sedlmayr sent some Bavarian yeast to Scotland on Muir's request. Despite being impressed with the results, Muir abandonned his attempts when he was unable to propagate the yeast successfully.
    The Wrexham Lager Beer Company was founded in 1878 and, despite a takeover by Ind Coope in 1949, only closed in 2000.
    Tennent's of Glasgow first brewed lager in 1885 and built a new dedicated
    brewhouse for its production in 1891.

    Guinness was one of the strongest beers on sale in pubs. On April 1st 1917 Guinness Extra Stout was still 1074º OG (its pre-war strength), dropping in July the same year to 1062º. Guinness did not drop in strength as much as its English rivals because different rules applied in Ireland. By April 1st Guinness Extra Stout was down to 1049º (still higher than today - bottled Extra Stout is currently 1042º), but the average gravity in England by then was just 1030º.

    Bass, like Guinness, was widely sold in bottled form, also in pubs tied to other brewers. It's gravity averaged 1062º in the 1800's. By 1919, it had dropped to 1044º. It later recovered a little in strength, getting up to 1046º in the 1950's.

    Beerhouse - a pub with a licence to sell only beer, not wine or spirits. They were the smallest and most basic type of pub. During the course of the 20th century beerhouses mostly either closed or obtained full licences. I can remember drinking in pubs with beer-only licences as late as the 1980's (The Roscoe in Leeds) and there may still be a couple left.

    For those of you unused to pre-decimal currency
    d. = penny
    s. = shilling
    12 pence (pennies) = 1 shilling = 5p (modern money)
    20 shillngs = £1

    lb = pound = 454 grams
    barrel = 36 UK gallons = 163.7 litres
    gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints = 4.546 litres

    Wednesday, 29 August 2007

    Weird old beer styles

    Collecting strange, extinct beer styles is one of my hobbies. Probably not to everyone's (or even anyone else's) taste, but I thought I would share a few with you. I have to write about something now I'm done with Franconia.

    Merseburger Bier

    Merseburger, a very famous, good-tasting and healthy brown beer, called Heidecker, which is widely exported. It has a somewhat burnt taste because, during its preparation, the malt, laid on hair drying cloths raised to shoe height, is not turned until it is dry enough, and the ovens have curved heaters, so heat, together with smoke, goes through side openings through the malt. Its bitterness strengthen the stomach, and aids digestion; its excitement of the intestines maintains the opening of the body; and since it also accelerates the flow of blood, it helps the passing of urine and perspiration very noticeably.

    Oekonomische Encyklopädie (1773) von J. G. Krünitz, p 5, 30.

    Merseburg is in Sachsen-Anhalt, just south of Halle. My wife Dolores went to university there. Lovely town, with a huge chemical works to the North and an even huger chemical works to the South. I've been there once, in 1986. All I can remember about it is a statue of Lenin in his famous taxi-hailing pose.


    Geithayner beer. The manner in which this is brewed is almost the same as in other cities, since both use 1 bushel barley, and a little more, and have the malt thoroughly prepared, to brew one Viertel [quarter, a liquid quantity]. Except that for their Lagerbier, which is brewed in March, they use Bohemian hops. After that, however, it differs completely from others. Because, as soon as the beer has been brewed, they carry it, still warm, from the brewhouse to their houses, and pour it into cooling barrels, whose height is 3 spans [1 span = approx 15 cm], but which are somewhat greater in width, into which scarcely 1 tun, or a little more, can fit. When it has stood, depending on the air temperature, 15, 20, sometimes even 24 hours, they test if it has cooled enough by dipping in their fingers, since they then pour it lukewarm together into two large barrels which are somewhat broader at the bottom than at the top, and hold about 5 quarters [Viertel] when full; however they pour only 4 quarters of beer into each, so that almost a third of the vessel remains empty during fermentation. After it has stood like this for a couple of days, it begins to ferment by itself (i.e. spontaneously), so that it throws up a froth (which they call Krausen) of 1/2 elle [half cubit, or approx. 31 cm] high or more. During this fermentation it is wonderfully drinkable, and particularly strong, so that one cannot manage much of it, when they drink and sell it at this stage. After the passing of 11 to 14, occasionally even more, days, depending on the weather, the foam collapses, and becomes brownish, blackish, and the beer flat. Then they take bundles of birch twigs, whip the beer, as one beats egg whites, for 1 to 2 hours, or perhaps less; then it is absolutely flat; whereupon they fill it immediately into quarters or tuns, which they take sealed to mountain cellars, and lay down to lager. It is now left lying until they make it drinkable by opening it up, and they don´t have to do anything else, except to diligently wipe and keep the barrels clean. If it is now to become drinkable, the following method is to be observed. Eight days before, break open the barrel, and fill it twice daily from the top with pure spring water, and wipe it down to keep it clean, after 4, 6 or 8 days it begins to discharge foam through the bung hole; nevertheless they continue to top it for a few more days, so that a Wasserkanne, or even more, of water is filled into some quarters [Viertel]. Then it is an excellent drink. However, if it does not begin to froth over by itself after 6 or 8 days, then they mix a little wheat flour in spring water, and add in it; then it soon begins to foam. And in this way they keep their beer fresh, pure and good until Michaelis.

    Oekonomische Encyklopädie (1773) von J. G. Krünitz, p 5, 23.

    Geithain (as the name is now spelled) is in Saxony, about halfway between Leipzig and Chemnitz.

    You can probably guess from their crappiness that the translations are mine.

    Tuesday, 28 August 2007

    Bamberg (part four)

    Today's a momentous day. What seems like several years of posting about Franconia is at last finished. Hopefully, some of you have found it interesting. I'm not sure I would have. I hate reading about other people drinking. Living vicariously just isn't me.

    Obere Königsstrasse 19-21,
    96052 Bamberg.
    Tel. 0951 - 26516
    Fax: 0951 - 201989

    After crossing the tracks from Abseits, I still had a little time before we met for an evening meal. As our hotel was just around the corner from Fässla, it seemed daft not to drop by.

    Andy isn't keen on Fässla. "Full of alkies" was his comment. I decided to brave it anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to find it relatively quiet and with customers perfectly capable of walking unaided.

    Fässla's layout - a taproom on one side and a drinking corridor on the other - has always reminded me of Yorkshire pubs. The dark wood lends it a genuinely aged air. My only criticism is that the barrels dispensing beer are now fake, concealing normal pressure pumps. On my first visit, they were still real.

    I tried their Lagerbier, a deep golden beer of 4.8% ABV. "not bad at all" I recorded. Like most Franconian beers, it has a healthy dose of hops that balance out nicely its rich, malty fruitiness.

    Obere Brücke 3,
    96047 Bamberg.
    Tel: 0951 - 208 0890
    Fax: 0951 - 208 0890

    Rathausschänke is located just over the bridge from the stunning town hall. Hence the name. It's as much a restaurant as a pub, though, sitting as we were outside, we didn't really notice. Another plus point, as well as the wonderful view.

    Steve was well settled in before anyone else arrived. I suspect he may have been sitting there all afternoon.

    My notes say that I drank Moraner Schwarzbier. But I can't find that anywhere on the web. I think my notes have failed me here. As I recall it was drinkable, though nothing special. [It must have been Meranier Schwarzbier from Kaiserdom, as anonymous was so kind to point out.]

    Curry House

    For our final meal (of the tour, I mean), we had a curry. The first non-German food I'd had for the whole trip. It would have been really nice, if we hadn't had to wait two hours for our main courses. Steve got find up and left about an hour before the food finally arrived on the table.

    It could have been worse. We had the very decent Maisel Export to occupy us during the wait. No notes for this one, but I can't remember any complaints about its quality.

    Obere Königsstrasse 10,
    96052 Bamberg.
    Tel. 0951 - 24304
    Fax: 0951 - 26330

    We rounded off the tour with a final drink in Spezial. Everyone had enjoyed the beer and atmosphere on our visit earlier in the day. If anything the beer garden was even more pleasant at night.

    Andy had a vague arrangement to meet Dan Shelton to discuss something or other. He didn't show, but we were much later than we expected after the long wait for our curry.

    We'd had much discussion about beer warming devices throughout the tour. Andy managed to spot them in most of the pubs we visited. Little immersion heaters that are stuck in your pint to heat it by a few degrees. He was determined to see one in use. I volunteered to be the guinea pig. It was only fair. I had been banging on about liking my beer as warm as possible. The heater was duly bunged into my glass and left there for 10 seconds or so. I can't say that I particularly noticed any difference. Maybe it needs a minute or two to get up to room temperature. The process seemed to amuse Andy, who videoed it.

    What was my final beer? The excellent Spezial Lagerbier, which I've already described in a earlier post. Oh, and a couple of Bierschnaps. Don't know when I'll be able to get that again (apart from the tiny 100 ml bottle I bought in Schlenkerla to go with the Schlenkerla schnapps glass).


    And that was it. Just one more breakfast and a drive to Nuremberg airport to drop off Steve, Paul and Stonch. Then the long journey with Andy and Evi in the minibus back to Kaldenkirchen.

    I hope that I've been able to capture some of the magic in these posts. It was undoubtedly one of the bests holidays I've ever had, full of laughter, beer and, beautiful scenery and friendly village pubs. I can't wait to go again.

    More photos (including some I've borrowed) from Andy, who possesses a far better camera than me. Or maybe is just a better photographer.

    Monday, 27 August 2007

    Christmas pudding recipe

    My Barclay Perkins KK should finally be ready soon. It seems a few lifetimes ago that I commissioned it. So a good time to post the recipes for Christmas pudding - using KK - printed in The November 1936 issue of Barclay Perkins' Anchor magazine.

    Bamberg (part 3)

    Obere Mühlbrücke 1-3,
    96049 Bamberg.
    Tel. 0951 - 57722
    Fax 0951 - 59294

    I've always had a soft spot for Klosterbräu. Maybe it was their willingness to provide my son Andrew with a meal that wasn't on the menu (sausage and chips). Or it could be the downhome folksy charm of their Stube. Then again, their Schwärzla and Maibock are both cracking beers. Two years in a row I stuck mostly to their beer at the Amsterdam Maibock Festival. (This year I didn't, because I got the day of the festival wrong. I assumed it was going to be on a Sunday, as previous years. They fooled me by switching to Saturday. I felt a bit of a tit missing it, especially as it's the closest festival to my home.)

    Rambling again. How else can I fill my blog every day. If I kept to the point I'd only write two sentences a day. I like Klosterbräu and its beer. Which is why it was so disappointing that the beers we tried all tasted weird. This is what my notes say about Schwärzla: "crap, tasted like industrial cleaner". The waitress apologised and said something about some new equipment in the brewery. Let's hope it was a one-off.

    We quickly reappraised our lunch plans. Who wants to drink crap beer with their meal? Schlenkerla, our next scheduled stop, seemed a logical choice. Everyone left their glasses nearly full. Except me. I hate wasting beer, even if it does taste funny.

    Dominikanerstrasse 6,
    96049 Bamberg.
    Tel. 0951 - 56060
    Fax 0951 - 54019

    Despite visiting Schlenkerla several times, I'd never been in the Dominikanerklause before. I've always stuck to the taproom, where you can keep a good eye on the wooden barrels dispensing Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, as it's so pithilly named. Really rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? The Dominikanerklause is larger and has an impressive vaulted ceiling. It was built in 1310 as a monastery chapel and certainly looks the part. A more secular kind of worship now takes place there.

    This time the beer wasn't a disappointment. I realise that for some the boldness of the smokiness in the Schlenkerla beer can be intimidating. Personally, I love it. Their Urbock is the best German beer I've tasted:

    "Dark brown with a fine-beaded pale tan head; bacon, smoke, raisin, malt, pepper, ginger and fig aroma; sweetish/bitterish taste with bacon, treacle, pepper, fruit and smoke aromas; very bitter finish with burnt, treacle, resin, pepper, smoke and bacon aromas.

    This beer combines wonderfully dark malt, fruit, hop and smoke flavours - there's something for everyone. It must be very heavily hopped for the hops to be able to compete with everything else that's going on. One of the best beers in the world."

    But that wasn't what we were drinking. The pub only sells a single beer, Märzen. This is what I wrote in my notebook: "Aggressively smoky but slips down the throat."

    Andy, continuing his grab-a-ganny tendencies, got chatting to an old dear. She was happily slurping away at a half litre of Märzen like everyone else. She swore by the stuff (not at it as many first-time drinkers do, unprepared for the smoky bacon experience).

    Café Abseits
    Pödeldorfer Str. 39,
    96052 Bamberg.
    Tel. 0951 - 303422
    Fax: 0951 - 9371091

    After lunch, we had another couple of hours of free time. An opportunity to visit some of the town's other breweries or climb Michaelsberg to suss out some of its beergardens. My plans were different.

    Most of Bamberg's pubs are effectively tied houses, selling beer from a single brewery. An exception is Abseits. It describes itself as Bamberg's Ältestes Studentencafé & Bierspezialausschank (Oldest student café and special beer pub). It offers a changing range of 6 draught and 30 bottled beers, all from Bamberg and the neighbouring area.

    The easy availability of maps via the web mean I rarely wander blindly around looking for places any more. But I hadn't printed out a map of Bamberg before setting off. I knew Abseits was on the other side of the railway tracks from the town, but wasn't sure of its precise location. Luckily, the first person I asked knew where it was.

    The "student pub" bit is a pretty big hint that you won't find any rustic kitsch. And I didn't. It reminded me very much of a trendy Amsterdam pub, except with better-quality draught beer and without the smell of weed.

    It was not long after opening time when I arrived and me and the crusty barmaid were the only living things in sight. I had a Huppendorfer Vollbier. This is the point where my notes start letting me down. "pretty nice" doesn't really tell you very much, does it? After all the trouble I went to (20 minutes walking) getting there, it seemed silly not to have a second. Hummel Kellerbier, it was. Also quite nice.

    I loved their breakfast menu which included such classics as "Yuppie breakfast" and Polish breakfast". The latter included a vodka. How's that for racial stereotyping?

    Tomorrow our ordeal is finally over. Only three more pubs and a curry house to go. I'm sure that you'll be as relieved as me.

    Saturday, 25 August 2007

    Franconia Tour Map

    Someone suggested I make a map so you can see where the hell all the small villages I've been rattling on about are located. Good idea. So that's what I've done.

    You can find the map here.

    Not that I've finished my interminable holiday tales yet. I reckon there will be two more installments. Then I'll have to start thinking up something new every day. What a scary thought.

    Friday, 24 August 2007


    I'm having a day off Franconia. Instead I'm going to talk about another of my obsessions: Gose. For years it was the beer style I most wanted to try. When I finally did get my hands on it, I wasn't disappointed.

    What is Gose?
    Leipziger Gose is one of the world's most obscure beer styles, an isolated remainder of northern Germany's pre-lager traditions. About the only similar beer still brewed in Germany is Berliner Weisse, though Gose seems to have at least as much in common with sour Belgian wheat beers.

    It's a pale, top-fermenting wheat beer, flavoured with coriander and salt. There's a hefty lactic acid content and was probably once spontaneously-fermented. A description in 1740 stated "Die Gose stellt sich selber ohne Zutuung Hefe oder Gest" ("Gose ferments itself without the addition of yeast"). I've always suspected some sort of link with the gueuze of Brussels, though not because of the similarity of the names. That, I'm sure is pure coincidence.

    A source from 1927 says the following: "Gose is a Leipzig speciality. It is similar to Berliner Weisse, but sourer and not to everyone's taste. (Pour the bottle slowly.)" Now, Berliner Weisse can be mouth-puckeringly sour and most modern drinkers can't stomach it straight. I think that gives you an idea of just how sour Gose must have been.

    There was once a whole family of sour wheat beers, brewed right across the North of Germany and the Low Countries, from Brussels to Berlin and beyond. In Germany you had Broyhan, Berliner Weisse, Gose, Grätzer. They were classified as Säuerliche Bier by Professor Franz Schönfeld in 1904. Broyhan, in particular, was brewed over a wide area and for a considerable length of time: for at least 300 years after its birth in 1526, from Hannover to Thüringen. In Belgium, there were Lambiek and several variations on the Witbier theme.

    The precise method of brewing Gose was a matter of great secerecy in the 18th and 19th centuries. The beer's popularity (and the premium price that it commanded) made it an attractive proposition for any brewery. Naturally, those already in the business of making it weren't too keen on their rivals getting in on the act. The tricky part was getting the addition of the lactic acid bacteria right. Sometime during the boil, the precise moment was of great importance, a powder was added to the wort (according to a source of 1872).

    Another important characteristic of Gose that makes it very different from other German beer of the 19th century is the method of conditioning. There was no long period of lagering at the brewery. Gose was delivered, still fermenting quite vigourously, in barrels to the Schänke. It was stored in the cellar with the tap bung closed but the shive hole left open, so that the still-active yeast could escape. Only when the fermentation had slowed to a point where no yeast was emerging from the shive hole, was the Gose ready to bottle. The barrel was emptied into a tank, from whence it was filled into the characteristic long-necked bottles. These were not closed with a cap or cork, but with a plug of yeast which naturally rose up the neck as the secondary fermentation continued.

    How long this conditioning lasted depended upon a number of factors, most importantly the temperature outside. In the Summer an unlucky landlord could see his whole supply turn to vinegar. The minimum period for a bottle to mature was around a week. In warm weather a Gose would be considered undrinkable after about three weeks. The trick for the landlord was in serving his Gose at just the right degree of maturity. Some went so far as to have stocks of beer of different ages, so regular customers could have their beer just as they liked it.

    You could consider this method as a sort of combination of the British tradition of cask-conditioning in the pub cellar and the Belgian tradition of lambic blending and bottling by pub landlords. The taste of the final product was determined as much by what happened in the pub as in the brewery.

    The History of Gose
    Gose has an odd history, having moved home several times in the 250 years it has been around. It was first brewed in the early 18th century in the town of Goslar, from which its name derives. The beer became popular in Leipzig, so popular in fact that the local breweries started to make it themselves. By the end of the 1800's it was considered to be the local style of Leipzig and there were countless Gosenschänke in the city.

    A big contribution to the legend of Gose was made by Johann Philipp Ledermann. In 1824 he started brewing Gose at Rittergut Döllnitz, a country estate between Merseburg and Halle. He had been a brewer in Goslar, but was lured by Johann Gottlieb Goedecke, the owner of the estate, to come and brew for him. Goedecke's own attempts to brew the financially lucrative Gose in the estate's small brewery had not been a great success. After Ledermann died in 1852, his wife took over supervision of the brewing process until her own death in 1883. By this time the brewery had managed to build up a virtual monopoly in the supply of Gose to Leipzig.

    Unlike most of their modern counterparts, the Rittergutsbrauerei Döllnitz were happy to put a limit on the expansion of their business. For most of the second half of the 19th century they were producing "around a million bottles" of Gose a year. I make this an annual output of between 7,500 and 10,000 hl (I'm not sure how big the bottles were); not exactly mass production. To put this figure in its historical context, around 1890 the largest Munich breweries were pushing half a million hl a year, and even the smallest could manage 20,000 hl.

    The constant supply, but heavy demand, meant that the brewery effectively rationed the supply of Gose. It was seen as a great favour if they agreed to deliver to a new client. Each pub was allowed a specific quantity of Gose, based upon their average number of customers. This policy was, most likely, at least partly based upon the nature of the beer. A bit like British cask beer, it was a living product with a limited shelf-life. Only pubs with a steady stream of drinkers could turn over enough of the beer to ensure that it was always in good condition. It appears that although the beer was synonymous with the city, it was never really the everyday drink of the masses. The majority of pubs never sold it and it was more expensive than other beers.

    The Decline of Gose
    During the Second World War production of Gose, like all other beer, ceased for a while. Worse was to come in 1945, when the Rittergutsbrauerei Döllnitz was confiscated and closed. It appears that, at the time, it was the last remaining Gose brewery. Only in 1949 did before Gose make a return, brewed in the tiny Friedrich Wurzler Brauerei at Arthur-Hoffmann-Straße 94 in Leipzig. At this time there were a mere 18 pubs taking the beer.

    Friedrich Wurzler had worked before the war in the Döllnitzer Rittergutsbrauerei. After landing in Leipzig during the war, he was able to start his own brewery, mostly based on the handwritten notebook in his possession, which explained the secret of brewing Gose. Before his death in the late 1950's, he handed on the secret to his stepson, Guido Pfnister. Brewing of Gose continued in the small private brewery, though there appears to have been little demand. By the 1960's there were no more than a couple of pubs in Leipzig and possibly one in Halle that were still selling it.

    Gose struggled along until 1966, when, while working in his garden, Guido Pfnister had a heart attack and died. The local nationalised group, VEB Sachsenbräu, had no interest in taking over the small run-down Wurzler brewery and so it was closed. Another small private brewery, Brauerei Ermisch, considered continuing the production of Gose and took possession of Pfnister's brewing book. Their enthsiasm didn't last long and not only was no Gose produced, but the notebook also appeared to have been accidentally destroyed.

    The last Gose was served in Hotel Fröhlich at Wintergartenstraße 14. Here they still carried on the tradition of buying barrels from the brewery and bottling the beer themselves. The final barrel was delivered on 31 March 1966. When the last of the bottles had been drunk, the customers had to make do with Berliner Weiße.The hotel was never to see real Gose again, being closed and then blown up in 1968.

    Gose's Revival
    That would have been the end of the story and Gose would have become another lost curiosity. In a strange parallel with Belgian witbier, the devotion and determination of one man led to its rebirth. An enthusiastic publican, Lothar Goldhahn, had decided to restore one of Leipzig's most famous old Gosenschenke, Ohne Bedenken, to its former glory. He though that it was only fitting that the revived pub should sell Gose. Goldhahn was determined to resurrect the style and interviewed many old leipzigers to ascertain its precise taste. More importantly, he was able to track down a former employee of the Wurzler Brauerei who had at least some of Pfnister's notes in his possession. The Getränke-kombinat Leipzig developed a "Werkstandard zur Herstellung von Leipziger Gose" ("work standard for the production of Leipziger Gose") based upon this recipe.

    Goldhahn's intentions to have his beer brewed locally in Leipzig were soon frustrated. None of the local breweries had either the technology or the inclination to brew such an odd top-fermenting beer, so he had to look further afield for a producer. Eventually, a test batch of Gose was brewed in 1985, at the Schultheiss Berliner-Weisse-Brauerei in East Berlin. At a tasting held in Goldhahn's flat, a group of experienced Gose drinkers came to the conclusion that it was a "real" Gose. The first production batch followed in 1986 and Leipzig had Gose once more, if only in a single pub.

    Since then, Gose has once more been on its travels. In 1988 the Schultheiss Berliner-Weisse-Brauerei decided that it couldn't be bothered brewing the tiny quantities of Gose any more. For a while Ohne Bedenken had to resort to serving Berliner Weisse again.

    The third postwar Gose-free period ended in 1991, when Goldhahn bought the small Löwenbrauerei in Dahlen. He now had total control of brewing his own Gose. Sadly, the demand for Gose proved too limited even to keep a small brewery fully occupied. Goldhahn was forced to sell it in 1995 and look elsewhere for someone to contract brew for him. The Andreas Schneider brewery in Weissenburg (Bavaria) duly obliged.

    Gose Today
    For the first time since before 1939 there is more than one brewery currently making a Gose, two in Leipzig itself. It's still easier to find Kölsch in the city, so Gose hasn't been restored to its former popularity, but the style is more secure today than it has been for any time in the last 50 years.

    In 1999 a new brewpub opened in central Leipzig, which places great emphasis on the Gose it brews. It's so committed, to the style that it's even part of its name:Gasthaus
    & Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof
    . This now supplies Ohne Bedenken and a few other pubs in the city. Obviously the Andreas Schneider brewery got bitten by the Gose bug whilst brewing for Goldhahn, because it is the owner of the brewpub. Maybe it's just me, but I find it very amusing for a Bavarian-owned brewery to be brewing a non-Reinheitsgebot beer.

    The good news just keeps coming: another Leipzig brewery, Ernst Bauer, started brewing a Gose in 2002. The beer is being brewed under contract for Adolf Goedecke, a descendant of the owners of the Rittergut Döllnitz. According to a text from 1824, it was in the Rittergut that the only real Gose was brewed. This beer is also available in Ohne Bedenken and a few other outlets.

    Brauhaus Goslar (in Goslar, unsuprsingly) brews not one but two Goses, a pale and a dark version.

    Gose Links
    These are a couple of links to articles by Michael Jackson about Gose:

    Article about new Gose brewpub.
    General article about Gose.

    For those of you who can read German, here are some more Gose links:

    Der Gose-Wanderweg von Leipzig nach Halle. A very interesting guide to walks between Leipzig and Halle. It's underlying theme is Gose and it lists an impressive number of (mostly) country pubs serving the beer.

    Leipziger Gose A site dedicated to this very special beer.

    Thursday, 23 August 2007

    Bamberg (part two)

    Bamberger Weissbierhaus
    Obere Königstrasse 38,
    96052 Bamberg.
    Tel. 0951 - 25503

    After checking into our hotel (it was only just about 11:00) we were given an hour or so free by Andy. Whoppee! It gave me chance to do something I'd been longing to for years. No, it wasn't skateboarding naked down Michaelsberg. Or whitewater rafting down the Regnitz. My ambitions are far more modest than that.

    On the drive to our hotel took us along Obere Königsstrasse, past the Bamberger Weissbierhaus. I've peered through the window a couple of times, but I'd never caught it open before. The hotel was conveniently just around the corner. I knew what I'd be using that spare hour for.

    "But it isn't a brewery" I know. It does sell Maisel beer, however. I saw it as a good substitute for the closed brewery tap, which, as I recall, is quite spartan in any case.

    I didn't expect Stonch to accept my invitation to come along. He mostly used gaps in the schedule for a nap. Somehow I managed to persuade him. In the end, I think he was glad I did.

    Weissbierhaus is a much, much, much darker version of Bavarian rustic: panelling that is near black, pine tables with a patina of age and very low lighting. It took a bit of getting used to the gloom after the sunshine outside. (Not quite as bad as one pub in Krakow, where it was so dark inside it took five minutes before I could make out where the bar was.)

    While I was ordering our beer - Dunkles for me, girly glass of Weizen for Stonch (thanks for reminding me about that Stonch) - Stonch went off to investigate. I thought he'd just gone to the bogs. No, he's just a nosy git. When he returned he dragged me from me seat saying "You've got to see this, it's brilliant".

    What was it that had impressed him so much? A charming little courtyard beer garden with a gallery along one side. Beautiful, quiet and empty. You know my low opinion of my descriptive powers. A good excuse to let a photograph do all the work.

    I almost forgot about the beer. Maisel Pils, Dunkles and Weizen are on draught. No prizes for guessing I chose the Dunkles (a proper half litre measure). Toffee, nuts, chocolate, roast and cream flavours I picked out. "An interestingly chewy and malty dark lager" my notes say.

    A cracking little pub. I'm so glad I made the effort.

    Brauerei Spezial
    Obere Königsstrasse 10,
    96052 Bamberg.
    Tel. 0951 - 24304
    Fax: 0951 - 26330

    We had arranged to all meet in Spezial for an aperitif. What a street Obere Königsstrasse is. Two breweries - Spezial and Fässla - plus Bamberger Weissbierhaus. That's more excellent pubs that many cities can manage.

    Time for another confession. I've drunk in Spezial many times, but never noticed there was a beergarden at the back. With its galleries, there's a striking resemblance to the Weissbierhaus garden. Except at Spezial there's a brewery on one side. I peeked through the window, but there wasn't a lot going on.

    For those who know little of Bamberg, Spezial is one of the town's two Rauchbier (smoked beer) specialists. On draught they have Rauchbier Märzen, Rauchbier Lager and Ungespundetes - an filtered and unsmoked pale lager.

    I kicked off with a Lagerbier. "Subtly smoky and very drinkable". The speed with which two half litres dissappeared stomachwards confirmed the drinkable bit. So quickly that I still had time for another before lunch. For a little variety, I tried the Ungespundetes. "Lightly carbonated, cloudy". I can't remember much more. Look, it was barely midday and I was already on beer number six. How much attention would you have been paying by then?

    Andy met someone he recognised. It turned out to be Dan Shelton and his wife. He was making a documentary about Bamberg or something. I wasn't concentrating that much on the conversation. I was in my beer zone. Feeling the warm glow of contentment that comes after a morning's drinking. Very tall. I can remember that. Dan Shelton's very tall. And annoyingly skinny for someone who works with beer.

    The plan was to eat in Klosterbräu. It didn't quite work out. I'll explain why tomorrow.

    Wednesday, 22 August 2007


    You must have heard of Bamberg. "Wahre Hauptstadt des Bieres" as it's deservedly called. We arrived their with a mixture of excitement and relief. Just one more day to go then our livers could relax. Mine needed a fortnight in the Caribbean. At least.

    How many of the breweries would we manage? All ten? (Is that even the right number? Isn't eleven now? Or twelve?) One - Kaiserdom - could be crossed off the list immediately: big, uninteresting and out of the way. That left just Mahrs, Keesman, Spezial, Maisel, Fässla, Klosterbräu, Schlenkerla, Greifenklau, Ambräusianum and the two secret ones - Weyermann and Wilde Rose. I make that eleven.

    Brennerstrasse 17-19
    96052 Bamberg
    Tel: 0951 - 932 200
    Fax 0951 - 9322 0970

    We started at one of the secret breweries. Weyermann is a specialist maltster that supplies breweries in Franconia and far beyond. They're renowned for their Rauchmalz and Sinamar, a Farbbier, that is a colouring agent that conforms to the Reinheitsgebot. They've been making it for quite a while, as this advert from 1911 demonstrates. There were containers of it, varying in format from quart milk bottles to aircraft luggage containers, piled all over the yard.

    The buildings are in the robust red-brick style popular in the late 19th century. Quite reminiscent of the old Maisel brewery in Bayreuth. They seem pretty laidback about visitors and let us wander around the site taking the obligatory photos. (I took hundreds on the trip. My computer barely had room for them all.)

    I'd been longing to visit since the late John White told be about their brewery and the beers they brew. Finally I was able to get hold of some. By the entrance is a small shop, selling a whole range of Weyermann memorabilia, from T-shirts to samples of malt. Only the beer interested me.

    The small pilot brewery is used to demonstrate to potential customers the versatility of their malts. That means that they brew not just German styles but British ones, too. The day we were there, the following beers were on sale: Kölsch, Dark Ale, IPA and the one regular, Stofferla, a Rauchbier. I bought two bottles of each. So far I've only tried the Dark Ale. Rather bitter for a beer of its type, it reminded me more of a Franconian Dunkles than any Ale I've drunk.

    Mahrs Bräu
    Wunderburg 10,
    96050 Bamberg.
    Tel. 0951 - 91517-19
    Fax 0951 - 91517-30

    Mahrs brewery tap has always been a favourite of mine. The cosy, oddly-shaped rooms with their worn wooden boards and ancient panelling are a delight. A green-tiled stove dominates the room. And of course there's a barrel (sadly no longer wooden) sitting on the bar, full of lovely unfiltered beer. I was eagerly anticipating the first pint of the day. Drooling almost. Mmmmm . . . beer.

    Being a sunny day (one of the few while we were in Franconia) while the beergarden was quite full, inside was deserted. All the more room for us, then. I've spent my whole life avoiding the sun. I'm not going to change now, even

    In the Ungespundet I can detect vanilla, butter, caramel and pepper."Quite subtle, but with a pleasantly bitter finish" my notes say. Refreshing and a great start to the day is another way of putting it. I would have loved to linger langourously lapping up more. But there were many, many more breweries to visit that day. I'd have to make do with just the one.

    Brauerei Keesmann
    Wunderburg 5,
    96050 Bamberg.
    Tel. 0951 - 26646
    Fax: 0951 - 28486

    Keesmann is very much as I remember it: bland in comparison to Mahr's. It's still early-70's pine overload in the bar. I noticed quite a few blokes having their morning pint, which is a good sign (link the 1917 article). Rather like Hebendanz, but without the entertaining craziness. So I'm not too upset when we decide to sit in the beergarden at the rear.

    Beergarden is a light exaggeration: there are no plants. It's effectively in the brewery yard, hemmed in by buildings on each side. The bottling line is only a few metres from the tables. Very atmospheric.

    On draught, they've got Lagerbier, Pils and Weizen. As there's no Dunkles, I opted for Keesmann Sternla Lager. "A pleasant, easy-drinking, sweetish lager."
    Pepper, resin, butter and vanilla flavours were in there somewhere. Being honest, I enjoyed it much more than I expected. Maybe because it was only beer number two and I hadn't yet quenched my morning thirst. Another unfiltered pale lager, it's quite similar to the Mahrs.

    Brauerei Maisel
    Moosstrasse 32,
    96050 Bamberg.
    Tel. 0951 - 14975

    Despite being closed, I was glad that we dropped by Maisel. My pub guide to Bamberg has a picture of their brewery tap that's so gloomy you can only just about discern the building. I've wanted to replace iot for years. Now I finally can. But what about Maisel's beer? Didn't I miss that? As a matter of fact, no. My very next beer (after checking in to our hotel) was Maisel's Dunkel. But you'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear about that.

    You can find more photos of the tour here, courtesy of Andy. The ones above of the interior of Mahr's and the exterior of Keesmann are his.

    Tuesday, 21 August 2007


    Stublang is another jaw-droppingly beautiful Franconian village. There's not a lot to it: a couple of dozen houses, a miniature church, pig farm and two breweries. It hasn't even got a shop. Just two breweries. No wonder everyone looks so happy.

    Through the village runs a narrow stream. Above it swallows swoop like fighters on strafing runs, hoovering up mosquitos. A group of children playing in the street are called back for tea by their mother. How more idyllic can it get?

    Andy had arranged for us to stay in Brauerei Dinkel. Good choice, Andy.

    Löwenbräu Hennemann
    Am Dorfbrunnen 13,
    96231 Stublang.
    Tel: 09573 - 961 00
    Fax: 09573 - 961 055

    After checking in we had a couple of hours free. I decided to go for a walk. To admire the lovely village with its half-timbered houses and crucifixes. (Near lifesize crucifixes are all over this part of Franconia. In front gardens, at road junctions, even on the walls of pubs.) If I just happened to walk by the other brewery that maybe I'd drop in, purely for research purposes, of course.

    What a surprise - I stumbled upon the pub. Admittedly after scouring the whole village, a task that took all of 3 minutes. Inside you can experience full-on Bavarian rustic. There's more pine than IKEA. Bits of dead animals and photos of dead relatives hang on the walls. Not forgetting the religious statues, too.

    I ordered their single beer and settled down for a few moments of quiet reflection (and frantic note-taking). Just as I'm wondering why they're playing a Thuringian radio station Andy turns up. After a day's driving, he has quite a thirst on him. He's soon followed by Steve, who always has a thirst - he started the tour with a litre in Spitalgarten. So much for peaceful contemplation.

    Löwenbräu Vollbier isn't one of my favourites. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, I've just been spoiled by a series of outstanding beers. That's why I limited myself to just two.

    Brauerei Dinkel
    Frauendorfer Str. 18,
    96231 Stublang.
    Phone: 09573 - 6424

    Chunky pine furniture always reminds me of Prague pubs that had been kitted out in the 1970's. By the time I got there, a decade of wear had comfied it up a treat. Dinkel reminds me of them very much. Much more sparse than Löwenbräu, I preferred it. Like Franconian beer, it's uncomplicated, straightforward and comforting.

    The rigours of the tour were starting to take their toll. I couldn't be arsed to write anything more and handed my notebook to Stonch. Having spent the afternoon in bed rather than the other pub, he didn't mind doing the honours on Dinkel Dunkles. This is what he had to say: "Pepper, dark fruit, caramel, spice cinnamon, hop". That's how I interpret his writing. He could have written "Ron is a fat, fascist bastard and I refuse to submit to his anal beer apraisals." It didn't look like that, but I couldn't, hand on heart, claim to understand every word he wrote. His handwriting is, to be honest, more legible than mine. I often have to guess what I've written. An explanation for my erratic prose style: I misread much.

    The tour really was beginning to have an impact on all of us. Everyone was in their room by 20:30. Perhaps partly in aticipation of the next day, when we had Bamberg and its 10 breweries to contend with. I'll tell you how we got on tomorrow.

    Monday, 20 August 2007

    Brauerei Will and Brauerei Trunk

    Brauerei Will
    Haus Nr. 19,
    96187 Stadelhofen / Schederndorf.
    Tel: 09504 - 262

    Most breweries have one day off a week. Monday is the favourite choice, though some pick Sunday. Will, just to be awkward, it would seem, closes on Tuesday.

    The more observant amongst you might remember that I'm up to Tuesday lunchtime. I was most upset we trolled up and the doors of the pub were locked tight. Bugger. Andy had been talking up the Will beer all week. Now it looked like we were going to miss out.

    Andy's German, though somewhat eccentric is very effective. Good enough to persuade the brewer pour us a half litre each. I'm so pleased he did. It was the best beer of the trip. They only have one regular beer, a Dunkles, but what a beer. A huge depth of dark malt flavours intertwined with a firm bitterness. Complex but eminently drinkable. Basil, liquorice, roast and pepper are the flavours I noted down. It's a shame we could only have the one. I would have happily sat in the beer garden all afternoon sinking pint after pint.

    The brewer, obviously warming to us, showed us around his brewery. It's tiny, as is the village in which it's located. Yet in total contrast to the other village breweries we visited it's brand spanking new and high-tech, all stainless steel and computer controls. But the fermenters are still open. Primary fermentation is at 9 C, after which there's 6 weeks lagering at 2 C. At periods of high demand in the summer, this may be cut back to just 5 weeks. Just two malts are used, pils malt and farb malz.

    There were many positives from the visit. That we got to taste the beer at all. I was impressed that even such a tiny enterprise was committed enough to brewing to have bought a brand new plant. Most of all, the way the shiny kit was used had a great impact on me: to brew a deeply traditional beer, a big-hearted Dunkles.

    Brauerei Trunk Vierzehnheiligen
    Vierzehnheiligen 3,
    96231 Bad Staffelstein.
    Telefon: 09573 - 3488

    Vierzehnheiligen is a heart-stoppingly beautiful barock church that was once part of a monastery. Before Napoleon turned up and put an end to the monking business in these parts. Around the back, rather incongrously, sits a perfect little tower brewery. On the ground floor there's a pub.

    The pub is decorated in the slightly kitsch rustic style so beloved in Bavaria. This one looks like it was last renovated around 1957. Long pine tables and benches make for a sociable atmosphere as you (literally) rub elbows with your neighbours.

    While we were there our neighbours were mostly pensioners. Andy must have been thrilled to see so many grannies in one place. I suppose after lunch they would be browsing the tacky religious nick-nack stalls next to the church. I got a few funny looks when I started taking photos, but, Franconia being a civilised place no-one shouted or threw any punches.

    Trunk brews a range of beers, of which three are available on draught in the taproom: Vierzehnheiligen Nothelfer Urdunkel Export, Nothelfer Pils and Nothelfer Lagerbier. You won't have any trouble guessing my choice: Dunkles. I'm so predicatable. Bread, chicory, nuts, coffee and dates I could pick out. "Very different to the last beer [Will Dunkles] - sweeter, roastier and less hoppy - but still good."