Monday, June 29, 2015

MAKIN' THE GERMAN BEER SCENE, PT. 1: ALTES MÄDCHEN BRAUGASTHAUS

So it was that I found myself in Germany this past week, and in need of a good beer. I swapped my job with a Norway-based company for one based in Hamburg, Germany – and so now when I travel for work, dollars to donuts it’s most likely going to be to Alemania, Tyskland, Deutschland – whatever you call it where you’re from. Last time I was in Hamburg, a mere four weeks ago, my beer excursions were limited to the odd hefeweizen at dinner. I aimed to change that this go-round, and set my sights on a place I researched online: the ALTES MÄDCHEN BRAUGASTHAUS, or “old girl beer & food house”. It was so good I went there twice.

First of all, unless you’ve been livin' under a bratwurst, you know that craft beer is exploding not just in the US of A but all over the first and second worlds as well. Even Germany, the land of the uber-restrictive reinheitsgebrot, is not immune from the charms of the American-style double IPA, the tripel and the pumpkin peach ale. They’re loving it all over here, and Altes Madchen appears to be ground zero in the large Northern city of Hamburg. It has a great craft beer store right out in front, called CRAFT BEER STORE if you can believe it, and then the lovely patio and high-ceilinged beer/restaurant Altes Madchen on the inside. It appears to be the place to party down in Hamburg on the weeknights, but responsibly. No crowds of drunk German oafs singing St. Pauli or Bayern Munich fight songs; rather, many couples, groups of friends, older people (like, older than me!) and the odd collection of glass-clinking bros.

I’ll say up front that the food here's not much to write home about, but I’ll also admit that I feel this way just about everywhere I go in Northern Europe. If it’s not fish-based, Asian-run, or some awesome sausage place (stay tuned for an upcoming post on our trip to Berlin), then dinner north of France/Italy is probably some undifferentiated, potato-filled pile of mediocrity. Maybe that’s a little harsh and unfair. OK, it is. (I feel the same way about Spanish food, by the way, minus the potatoes). The beer, however, is a blast and a half. The German craft beer scene!! It’s on. Let’s have a look:

RATSHERRN - “ZWICKEL"Ratsherrn actually owns this place. I probably should have

mentioned that up front. They’re Hamburg’s most popular craft brewer, from the looks of things – and their beers are the majority of those on draft here. Their zwickle? Well, first you need to read up on what they are here. I’m not sure I’d ever had one before. This is creamy and super-smooth, and tastes almost like a pale ale that’s been shorn of hops. I wanted another one, but pressed onward. 8/10.

RATSHERRN - “ROTBIER" – Well, you can’t win ‘em all. This red ale was crisp, mild, also creamy. And also flat and exceptionally uninteresting. 6/10.

HOPFENSTOPFER - "CITRA ALE" – Says “American pale ale” right there on the bottle. You like us, you really like us! Soapy, golden yellow, aspirin-tasting hoppy ale. Germany, if you’re gonna ape our styles you need to at least meet us halfway. 6/10.

RATSHERRN - "MOBY WIT” - Frothy and nearly white witbier. Light tartness and a really refreshing zing. Smooth and satisfying, definitely one to dial up next time I’m back here. 7.5/10.
 
SCHNEIDER WEISS - “TAP 6 UNSER AVENTINUS” - A weizenbock that rings in at 9% ABV. Fruity (plums) and boozy as hell. I couldn’t deal. I’ve struggled with this style of beer in the past and this is no exception. 5.5/10.

BREWERS AND UNION - “SUNDAY IPA” - I’d never heard of them before, but from the looks of things they’re a gypsy brewer focused on bringing great craft beer to Germany. This one’s mediocre but it’ll do. A very simple and smooth IPA, light like a pale and milder than that. Also got a little aspirin-ish toward the end. Oooh, I hate that. 6/10.

Stay tuned for our coverage of our trip to Berlin this past weekend. And if you’re up for a trip to Hamburg anytime soon, Beer Samizdat recommends ALTES MÄDCHEN BRAUGASTHAUS without reservation. Experiment a little and maybe you’ll wade through some middling beers like I did, but that’ll happen anywhere, am I right?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

WHAT I DRANK IN 2014-2015

As mentioned in my last post, I kinda took the “year off” from documenting any and all beer-related foibles, starting around July 2014 and ending right about now. The mania hath returned. And while I don’t exactly have good notes from a year’s worth of quiet beer exploration lying around – since I didn’t take any – I do remember a few highlights from 12 months of steady, solid, stealthy beer studies:

HAANDBRYGGERIET (all) - I moved to Oslo, Norway in May 2014 and soon thereafter quit this blog. I didn’t get to tell you about how Haandbryggeriet beers, brewed in nearby Drammen, are part and parcel of every quality bar, restaurant and even grocery store across the whole of Norway. Thanks the nordic godz for that, right? It’s one of my favorite breweries anywhere, and even the low-ABV stuff you buy at the grocery store before 8pm (Humlesus, India Saison, Pale Ale) are bursting with flavor and complexity. These, plus the knockouts Norwegian Wood, Dark Force and Fyr og Flamme were my go-to beers for four months.

TIM WENDELBOE’S COFFEE RED ALE – It’s a little unfair listing this one, since I think it may only exist on draft at one beer bar in the world: The Grunnerlokka Brygghus in Oslo, which just happened to be around the corner from my apartment. What a treat it was to have big, frothing pints of it repeatedly all summer, though. It’s a classic smooth reddish/amber ale flavored with coffee from another local institution, the Tim Wendelboe’s Café, also in the Grunnerlokka neighborhood. I was skeptical at first sip, but it’s such a knockout ale that I had it every single time I went to that bar during my time in Oslo. Look for it next time you’re on Thorvald Meyers Gate.


TAHOE MOUNTAIN BREWING - “BARREL-AGED SMOKED MAIBOCK” - Wow, totally took a flyer on this one and was stunned by it, just a few weeks ago. Tahoe Mountain started up in 2012 in Tahoe City, CA. We drove by the place a couple months back but I couldn’t convince the family to let me stop there for a pint, seeing as it was, like, 1 in the afternoon. So I found this bottle at City Beer Store in San Francisco and dug in. I didn’t take “tasting notes”, but I remember thinking it was pretty much the best non-IPA beer I’d had in all of 2015 so far. 


HEADLANDS BREWING - “HILL 88” - When I tired a bit of all the xtreme beer hunting I’d been doing, this became my fallback beer. I’ve probably had well over fifteen cans of it since this blog was last active. An nearly-perfect double IPA, with hopping that hurts just a little and it then smoothed out by one of the most robust, thirst-quencing citrus/pine combos I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a few double IPAs in my time. This is one of the kingpins of the style.


SANTA CLARA VALLEY BREWING - “VALLEY SURPRISE DOUBLE IPA” and HUMBOLDT BREWING - “500 BC DOUBLE IPA” - Two more Double IPAs among many tried over the last year that vaulted well above the pack. I can’t remember why, and damn it, both seem to be seasonal and hard to find, but they were amazing. Godspeed to you in finding both. I hope to get a line on some and will let you know if I do.

From here on I’ll proceed to be present-tense or nearly present-tense in my reportage. I have a few recent conquests to tell you about in forthcoming installments.

Monday, June 22, 2015

THE RETURN, YET AGAIN, OF BEER SAMIZDAT

In my now nearly thirteen years of writing tossed-off and purple prose crafted under the dubious banner of “blogging”, I’ve started – and then quit – many a blog. I started HEDONIST BEER JIVE back in 2006, and retired it at least once before shuttering it for good in 2010. I’ve jettisoned a trail of music-based blogs over the years: Agony Shorthand, Detailed Twang, High Water Everywhere and the only-somewhat dead Final Sounds; two film blogs; a generalist blog; a political blog and perhaps some others I’ve even forgotten.

BEER SAMIZDAT was my cure for the beer-centric itch that had spread across my cranium once I’d been away from Hedonist Beer Jive for a year or so. I’ve already quit it twice – and, as you can see now, am attempting to resuscitate to the best of my abilities. "Why now, Jay"?, you ask. “Jay, weren’t you the clown who said that the beer revolution had already been won, and that your voice was therefore no longer needed?”, you beckon. I hear you. Indeed I was. I reposte: Was my voice ever needed? Was it ever even heard? My 2013 blog stats said no, by and large, outside of several dozen true believers.

Was there ever any true psychic gain to be made from writing about a topic as thoroughly inane and juvenile as craft beer? Jeez, I don’t even know how to answer that. Obviously cataloging and documenting my forays into good-to-great beer has meant something to me, or else I wouldn’t be doing it, nor would I feel the need to return to the excitement of hunting down, collecting, drinking and documenting what remains to this day my favorite beverage. I enjoy the simple act of making sense out of a brewer’s creation. Even more so, I enjoy jabbing as many holes as I can into the stupidity, sanctimoniousness and general absurdity inherent in both the “craft beer scene” and the act of writing about it. I’ll keep trying to do so here.

Moreover, Beer Samizdat will try and round up the many good guys & gals holding forth in the world of beer, and grill them on what they do that makes them stand above the herd. I’ve done so here, here, here and here earlier in this blog, and once I get a handle on what I’ve been missing the last year or so, and therefore who’s still standing, you’ll start seeing interviews with ‘em pop up on the blog.

Yeah, so about the last year. It was refreshing. I stopped taking notes on what I was drinking, and just drank it. I cut down to about 2-3 beers per week for the most part (it wasn’t a far drop from the 4-6 beers/week I’d been shoveling into my piehole beforehand, but still). As you can see from this post, I moved to Norway for nearly 4 months in May 2014, and once I was there, I focused more on my work, my family and traveling Europe than I did putting every beer-related jot & titter onto paper. Once I returned, I got super lazy, beer-wise. IPAs, Double IPAs, and more Double IPAs. My beer fridge became a monument to hops, and little else.

It’s only coming out of that “phase”, if that’s what you wanna call it, that’s re-made me the curious and hungry beer dork I once was before mid-last year. I truly dig that sort of excitement, and feed off of it. Reading beer blogs, beer magazines, perusing beer stores; trading with like-minded brethren around the world; hunting rare beer game, 22 ounces at a time; discovering new styles; traveling for my job and hitting the domestic or foreign city’s best beer haunts and then stuffing my suitcase with their best local beers; and so on. 


Who knows how long it will last this time, but I’ll endeavor to keep Beer Samizdat going until we’re all old and pickled. Thanks for letting me back into your life, my friends. I will try not to disappoint you.