German beer: not a review

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION This post isn’t “my views on German beer”; I’m aware that I’ve only tried a tiny proportion of the beers produced in Germany (although it is quite a large proportion of the German beers widely available in the UK). The question I originally intended to ask by trying these beers was what’s distinctive about German beers, even the supermarket variety? The question ended up being how deep do I have to dig to get to the good stuff? And the answer was “further than I thought”.

 

I wrote a while back about my experiences with beer in (north-eastern) Germany. The beer I tried – and I tried a few – were best described as ‘good but not spectacular’; a bottled Bock (Rostock) and a Kellerbier on tap in a restaurant in Berlin (Memminger) were the only beers I had which came anywhere near knocking my socks off. I remember tasting the Memminger and thinking here we are! – it had the kind of herbal aroma and complex, almost challenging flavours that you expect from a good pale ale over here, on a hazy, yeasty base. Everything else… well, the Köstritzer Dunkel was nice, in a dark way; the Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen was nice, in a yeasty sort of way; and all the pale beers I had were fine, in a ‘clean-tasting and a bit lacking in complexity’ sort of way.

On getting home I decided to further my education in German beer by buying everything German I could find in a supermarket (I came by a few others along the way). The original plan was to review the lot of them, in the hope that my palate would tune in to what was good about them. Unfortunately I didn’t get any more from them than I did from the beers I had over there, so my mental notes fall well short of amounting to a review. My palate remains resolutely untuned.

I did make a few discoveries, though, and here they are.

Not all Hefeweizens are equal. I had the usual supermarket selection – an Erdinger plus a Franziskaner – plus Something Imported from Aldi. I was quite excited about the third one, particularly when I looked at the label (which was in German and everything) and discovered it was made with actual hops only. It wasn’t that great, though. The Erdinger didn’t knock me out either, slightly to my surprise (although it was better than the Erdinger Dunkelweizen). Franziskaner is the first Hefeweizen I ever had (at a sausage restaurant in Barcelona) and it’s still pretty much my favourite – although I do like the Schöfferhofer.

Hefeweizen is nicer than the clear stuff. I had a Warsteiner, a Bitburger, Something Else Imported from Aldi, a Schlenkerla and a couple of others. With only one exception, they failed to impress; if anything, they bored me, I’m afraid. The best of them (that one exception apart) was only as enjoyable as the worst of the Hefeweizen. Thinking back to the yeasty flavours of that Kellerbier, I wondered if – for the less adventurous German brewers – ‘putting a bit more flavour in’ equated to ‘leaving a bit more yeast in’.

Bitburger is nicer than Warsteiner. I drank them one after the other to see if I could spot any differences. I could: one of them’s nicer than the other.

As for Oktoberfestbier… I should be tasting something, surely? Is it me? I supplemented the main test with three different bottles of Oktoberfestbier, all clear and pale, all around 6%… and all rather samey and uninteresting. There was a Hofbräu, a Spaten and a Schneider. The Hofbräu was the most interesting of the three, for what it’s worth.

But it’s not all bad news. My final finding was that

Schlenkerla Helles is very nice indeed. Lots going on there – proper beer (says my un-tuned English palate). If they all tasted like that, I’d be raving about all of them.

Next week on Mine’s A Pint Of Bitter: Belgian beer – monks, myths and marketing!

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6 Comments

  1. pubcurmudgeon
    Posted 23 December, 2015 at 9:21 am | Permalink | Reply

    I think you’ve made the point before that the *average* lager you will get in a German pub is much better than the equivalent in a British pub.

    Also, almost by definition, lagers intended for everyday consumption tend to avoid highly distinctive flavours. There’s far more variation in British ordinary bitters than in cooking lagers.

  2. Posted 23 December, 2015 at 9:48 am | Permalink | Reply

    Apart from Schlenkerla, all of those are mass-market German beers. Some, like Erdinger, are pretty crappy mass-market German beers. You’vre really been drinking the German equivalents of John Smiths Smooth or Carling. You need to get to Franconia to see just how exciting and varied Lager can be. A lot of the smaller breweries don’t even claim a style for their beer.

  3. Posted 23 December, 2015 at 1:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Ron’s right – the majority of the small, family village breweries in Franconia brew characterful beers, though some don’t seem to recognise when they’ve got procedural problems leading to vegetal and/or butterscotch or oxidation effects.

    And the Münchner Oktoberfest are as bad as you say: bland, sweetish, alcohol delivery vehicles designed to part tourists from their senses and money.

  4. Posted 23 December, 2015 at 6:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I must admit I haven’t had much luck with German beer. Looks like I need to go to Franconia!

    • Ron Pattinson
      Posted 23 December, 2015 at 7:06 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Ed, every beer lover needs to spend at least a week in Franconia once in their life. If I had to drink one beer in one pub for the rest of my life it would be Neder Export in their brewery tap.

      • Posted 24 December, 2015 at 12:10 am | Permalink

        Looks like I’ve got a bucket list now!

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