Taking English ales to Germany
Then rounding off a day of diverse tastes in the local pubs
"I'm calling from the Transuranium Institute," said the man on the phone. "Trans Uranium?" I asked. "Yes. Radioactive elements beyond uranium," he crackled. "Beyond?" Perhaps this was a silly question. "You know: Plutonium, neptunium, mercurium, that sort of thing."
I asked him what the institute did with these sinister-sounding items. "Well, they are used in everything from cancer treatments to power generation, and we monitor safety, disposal and suchlike."
This all sounded very interesting, but what did it have to do with me? "We operate under the aegis of the European Commission. To mark the end of the British Presidency, we would like you to present a tutored tasting of English ales and Scottish whiskies." I begged his pardon. "You are going to spend a few hours tasting our fine alcohols, then start playing with plutonium?" There was a moment's embarrassed silence. "No, after the tasting, we are going to watch the soccer World Cup on television. It will be a Friday afternoon, you understand."
That is how I found myself being picked up at Frankfurt airport are being driven to Hardtwald, in an area of asparagus, tobacco and gladioli cultivation, not to mention carp-fishing, on the flood-plain of the Rhine. Hardtwald is between the old river port of Leopoldshafen and Eggenstein, north of Karlsruhe, in the province of Baden-Wčrttemberg.
The last city was the giveaway. I had been to Karlsruhe for the first time earlier this year, to give a tutored tasting at the Hoepfner brewery. At a late and beery stage of that evening, I had met CAMRA member Steve Heathman. Hadn't he mentioned to me that he was a scientist for some European Commission establishment? Yes he had. He works at the Transuranium Institute.
That is how I came to approach its high, barbed-wire fences, surrender my passport; pass through double doors like the airlock in in spaceship; cast a dubious eye at various domed reactors; don a lab coat and plastic overshoes; carry a pen-like radiation counter; and find myself being conducted past rooms with concrete walls three or four feet thick, lined with stainless steel. From the outside of one these "hot cells," I was given the opportunity to operate robot arms rather like one of those cranes in an amusement arcade. There was talk of "manipulators," decontamination cells and a reference to something or other being nebulised. There were also technical terms such as "nasties." In a prominent position on one wall as a handbill for the Great British Beer Festival.
At the appointed hour, the Director of the Institute, a Netherlander from beer country in Brabant, gathered together staff from a variety of European Union regions, including Britain, Belgium and Bavaria, and the serious work of the day began.
It was thus that some of the finest scientific minds in the European Union encountered Friggin' in the Rigging (4.7abv), brewed from floor-malted Maris Otter and hopped with Sussex Progress and Goldings.
CAMRA member Steve had persuaded an old college buddy, Peter Nicholls, a Medway member, to drive over with two casks from the Flagship brewery, of Chatham, Kent. It was thus that some of the finest scientific minds in the European Union encountered Friggin' in the Rigging (4.7abv), brewed from floor-malted Maris Otter and hopped with Sussex Progress and Goldings. Those who could handle that were also treated to Futtock (5.2abv), a roastier ruby-coloured brew along the lines of an Old Ale.
The rest of the tasting, intended to demonstrate a variety of styles, included Fuller's London Pride, Newcastle Brown, Young's Double Chocolate Stout and Thomas Hardy's Ale. This list may not seem especially exotic to a British devotee, but most of these styles were a revelation to the tasters from some of the other European Union nations. British brewers who might benefit from foreign sales still have some missionary work to do elsewhere in Europe.
For those whose interest in malt extends to the distilled version, the Scotches were Glenkinchie, The Glenlivet, Cragganmore, Glenmorangie and Lagavulin, provided by your man from the Six Counties: Neil Davison, who has a shop called Celtic Connections, in Karlsruhe.
Feeling mildly radiated, Steve, Peter and I retired to a local brewpub, the Erste Leopoldshafener Gasthausbrauerei. The beers at this establishment are sold under the name Andreas Bräu. The two partners in the business are both called Andreas, with the surnames Philipp and Bogner. Both of the brew, and each formerly worked as a maltster in Karlsruhe. Andreas Philipp told me they had known each other for 20 years, and had since the beginning of this decade been thinking about a brewpub. They finally fired their kettles a couple of years ago.
The brewpub, in a shopping precinct at 71a Donau Ring, is in Leopoldshafen but just across a main road road from the town centre of Eggenstein. It is close to the Leopoldshafen stop on the tram route from Karlsruhe.
In the style typical of the new generation of German brewpubs, this one has gleaming, copper-clad, kettles in the public area, but it otherwise looks a little like a coffee-shop, with its open snack-counter (serving local and Bavarian dishes) and candy-striped blinds.
In the style typical of the new generation of German brewpubs, this one has gleaming, copper-clad, kettles in the public area, but it otherwise looks a little like a coffee-shop, with its open snack-counter (serving local and Bavarian dishes) and candy-striped blinds. Though it does not look particularly large, it has 120 seats and a further 300 in its garden.
There are two regular beers, an unfiltered Pils and a Hefeweizen.
The Pils starts with a clean, pronouncedly dry, maltiness. This softens and rounds, but only slightly, as the beer warms in the glass. The local Hoepfner brewery, which has its own maltings, provides the grains (Pilsener and Cara-Hell). Essentially, the Andreas Pils is a crisp, dry, beer, very well attenuated (1048; 5.4abv). Its finish is very bitter indeed, late and lingering, in a more North German style (38 IBU, though it tastes drier than that to me). The hops are Hallertau Tradition, added twice.
The Hefeweizen has a hazy orange colour; a slightly oily body; and a malty, butterscotch, banana aroma and flavour. There have also been seasonals such as an Oktoberfest, a November Black Beer; a Christmas Bock and a Doppel for Ash Wednesday, a Märzenbier and a Maibock.
Much as enjoyed the Andreas Bräu beers, especially the bitter Pils, I cannot mention the Karlsruhe area without a reminder of the pioneering work of Rudi Vogel. More than a decade ago, on a CAMRA trip based in Strasbourg, I missed a trip to his brewpub in Karlsruhe because I allowed the duty to research to be outweighed by the requirement to stay in my hotel and write an on-deadline article for What's Brewing. I have regretted the choice ever since.
Earlier this year, I finally visited the brewpub, Der Kleine Vogel ("The Little Bird," a play on his name; the pub is decorated with cartoons featuring birds). Derk Kleine Vogel is in shop-like premises on a main street of the old part of Karlsruhe (50 Kapellen Strasse). It is a popular spot for local students, with its cosy front room, longer bar inside and beer garden. Again, local and Bavarian dishes are offered - with warm noodles for breakfast.
Der Vogelbräu Pils has a relatively high gravity for the style (1050-ish), and is again unfiltered. It is a very lively beer, with a smooth, firm, maltiness, and lots of hop flavour in its late, bitter finish. It is hopped three times, with Perle, Tettnang and Hallertau varieties, and is said to have a hefty 47 units of bitterness (it tasted marginally less to me).
I also enjoyed a Bock at 1066, with a very creamy head, a smooth body and an expressive maltiness. The sweetness of the malt was balanced by a dusting of yeast sediment as well as the hop bitterness. Rudi mentioned to me that he had in a cold winter month made a Porter, again at 1066, with 55 units of bitterness. His various seasonal specials, particularly a Rauchbier, win good reports from Steve Heathman, who runs a very informative web site listing 30-odd beers, breweries and pubs in Baden-Wčrttemberg and adjoining areas of the Rhineland Palatinate.
With Peter, Steve and several inceasingly radiant colleagues, I rounded off my day with a visit to the extraordinary pub and restaurant Loewen Thor, in the village of Gondelsheim (4 Bruchsaler Strasse. Tel for reservations 07252-6676. Fax 78202). This baroque coaching inn is roughly equidistant from Karlsruhe, Heidelberg and Stuttgart. Sitting in the courtyard, and eating at a long table, I had a sense of the 1700s. In part, it was the influence of the alcohol at the end of a long day of diverse experiences, but the sense of times past was heightened by the antiquity of the beer styles. Patron Albert Mčller risks the wrath of the Reinheitspolizei by specialising in Belgian beers. Yes...Lambic at the Loewen. Or Boon comes to Baden.
Published Online: SEPT 18, 1999
Published in Print: SEPT 1, 1998
In: What's Brewing
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