Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year, New Beer Glass, Three New Reviews!

Hope you all had a delighfully splendiferous holiday break, and the most joyous of tidings for the New Year!   2011 is shaping up to be a fine year for beer, but then again, whenever you choose to devote yourself to the epicurean pursuit of malted goodness, every year is a fine year indeed.  I also hope that some of you were able to get your hands on some new brews over the holidays, because there were a lot of goodies to be had this season.   I'm not going to lie, I think I did pretty well for myself this year - four new beer and brewing books, two sample packs with accompanying glassware, a few rarer/limited individual bottles and a few old favorites.   A great little Christmas haul, if I do say so myself. 

First, a bit of housekeeping.  This year for 2011, I've decided to increase the frequency of my postings, in order to provide a greater sampling of the brews I've encountered in my travels.   What this will hopefully mean is that there will be more 'shorter' posts in the form of a quick review, with less-frequent 'big' posts about whatever beer-related topic on which I feel like going into exhaustive depth.  Previously, I've been saving up my postings to cover a lot of ground in one big post, which tended to be a bit too infrequent and, frankly, harder to write.   Hopefully with this new approach, there will be a greater chance that there will be a new post on the blog for you to check out, rather than only every week or so. 

So, now that I've set up a new blogging rule, allow me the pleasure to immediately break it!

Don't worry, I'll make a better start with this next time round.  First, however, here's a three pack review of my gift pack from HirschBrau that the lovely Michelle bought me for Christmas.  Since I've been nursing these brews over the course of the past week and a half, I can give them a go in one fell swoop.    Allons-y!

Der HirschBrau (Privatbrauerei Hoess) is located in the Alpine town of Sonthofen, Bavaria, which happens to be the most-southern town in all of Germany.   Seriously, you could huck a rock from their city hall and there's a good chance that it will land in Austria (citation needed).   Many of their brew names refer to the surrounding region of Allgäu, nestled right between Swabia and Bavaria.  This is seriously lovely alpine country, so much so that "Mad" King Ludwig II decided to build his crowning jewel, Neuschwanstein Castle, smack dab in the middle of it - and only a few miles away from the HirschBrau brewery.   Neuschwanstein is really the mother of all castles, renowed around the world for it's impressive design; its Romantic feel, featuring huge spires and towers inspired Walt Disney to build similar castles at his resorts.   Having a castle such as this in their backyard, coupled with the surrounding Alpine countryside means that HirschBrau is definitely a brewery one should make a visit to someday.   The gift pack included three brews - two weizen and a Munich lager - along with a tall, narrow glass emblazoned with the bottle design from the lager, Neuschwansteiner.  Naturally, there's a lovely image of the castle on the front.  ("Das Echte" is, as I'm told, German for 'the genuine/real')   As I tend to do with bottles from gift set, I used the same glass (a 'stange' glass, for those interested) for all three brews. 

Beer: Weisser Hirsch
Type: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5.2%

First off is their hefeweizen, a brewing style I absolutely love coming back to.  Even though hefe's taste their best on a hot summer's day, I'll happily drink one every day of the year.  Though I should probably pour this into a weizen glass, I'm enjoying using my Neuschwansteiner stange too much.

Because of the size of the glass compared to the volume of the bottle, lots of top-up pours were necessary.  A pale, cloudy golden brew, left behind a sturdy, foamy head.  Surprisingly good retention, lots of lacing to boot.  Not too shabby at all.  Some reviewers have noticed very little head, if any at all; fortunately, mine turned out alright.  Hefes are definitely a style with which I like to see a big billowing pile of foam on the top of my glass.   The glass may not have done it justice, but at least it was there.

The nose is mild, but pleasant.  Notes of citrus, wheat malt, clove, a bit of coriander.  Some floral aromas and bubblegum as well, hiding in the back.

Weisser Hirsch proves to be a decent-tasting weissbier, citrussy and refreshing.  The malt character is surprisingly potent here; each sip yields a slightly nutty flavor to the finish.  Thinner in flavor towards the end.  There isn't as much substance to this brew as can be found in the great German wheat beers, but certainly enough to be pleasing to drink. 

Mouthfeel is a bit watery, but the carbonation is about right, maybe just a touch low. Because of the head's retention, there's a creamy texture to it as well.

No complaints here - refreshing and easy to quaff.  It won't earn a spot among my all-time top hefeweizen list, but it goes down well, has some good flavors and pretty much does what it sets out to do. Not going to argue with that!  (Grade: B)

Beer: Dunkler Hirsch
Type: Dunkelweizen
ABV: 5.2%

(Sorry for the poor photo, folks.  I sampled this one late at night and the lighting wouldn't cooperate...)

Dunkelweizens are very similar to their 'hefe' counterparts, but the particular yeast and malting process yields a darker, maltier, nuttier brew than the citric, light hefeweizen.   Many breweries that specialize in wheat beers will feature both styles in their lineup.

Mahogany chestnut in colour, with brilliant orange-golden around the edges.  Cloudy, nearly opaque.  Several attempts at swirling the bottle failed to produce much in the way of head, though - anything gained quickly dissolved into the thinnest of rings.  A bit surprising, not what I like to see in a dunkel, but at least the colour is nice.  (At this point, I began to wonder about whether the brews in the giftpacks sent to Ontario didn't hold up as well as they should have.  Sometimes exporting can be a bitch, I guess...)

Nose is hazelnut, malted wheat, chocolate, sweet lemon (lemon candy), spice. Not much in the way of yeast, but overall the usual dunkel notes are all there.
Like the Weisser, the Dunkler Hirsch is smooth, and easy to drink.  Surprisingly meaty to the finish. Malty, with milt notes of banana, spice and chocolate.  An occasional hit of bubblegum now and again. Sweet, but enjoyable; paired well with some sesame peanut chicken.

"The Dunkler!!"

Mouthfeel was a touch under-carbonated, but surprisingly silky. Pinpoint carbonation. Creamy.

The Dunkler proved to be my favorite of the three (the others being a hefe and Munich helles), flavorful and enjoyable to drink.  Not near the standards set by the giants of German weizen brewing, but still this one is worth a go.  (Grade: B)

Beer: Neuschwansteiner
Type: Munich Helles Lager
ABV: 4.7%

Munich Helles lagers are a bit of a 'reactionary' brew, as they were designed to represent a German challenge the massive popularity of the new Czech Pilsner.  Helles lagers are thus light, floral, malty, and with a nice little hop character as well.

This was the last of the gift set, and the inspiration behind the choice of glassware included in the pack.   Unfortunately, I can't really say this brew was worthy of sporting the world's most famous castle on it's chest...

Poured a deep golden, slightly opaque, leaves behind a thin head with some flecks of lacing.  I must say this is a rather limp looking brew, nothing zippy or exciting about it.   In order for any head to appear in the picture, I had to vigorously swirl the bottle, pour out enough to make the head, then hope the camera was ready in time - it left that quickly.  Little visible carbonation, pours a bit soupy.  Sadly, this already looks flat.  Another swirl to fill the glass a second time did little to spring some life into things. 

Nose is decidedly more pleasant, with lemon, herbal hops, Munich malts, a nice grainy, farmland feel to it.

Tastes like a sweet German pilsner, with the emphasis on a solid malt profile and lemon/herbal hops.  A bit too sweet for my tastes, but there is certainly nothing artificial to this brew.   However, the whole thing feels rather flat and watery, not really doing it for me.  A classic example of a flavorful brew that gets killed by a lacklustre mouthfeel.  The carbonation provides the occasional zip of flavor, but generally it feels flat and lifeless.  I'm actually wondering if the brew's gone a bit past its prime, but it's only been in the fridge for a day or two and the gift set was a recent purchase, with the hefeweizen and dunkelweizen tasting and feeling just fine the night before.  So I'm not really sure that's the problem. But, since I'm obligated to base my review on what I have in front of me, rather than what I think it should have been, I have to say this one missed the mark.

I really have to stress that this was not a poor-tasting brew. It's quite flavorful and has most of the things I'm looking for in a Munich helles.  However, the poor appearance and lifeless body reveal one of two things: that Neuschwansteiner doesn't ship well to Ontario (and hopefully tastes better in its native Southern Germany), or this beer is simply not among the brewery's best.  Since I so enjoyed their bock and hefeweizen imports, I'm going to lean towards the latter.  (Grade: C+)

To really give this brew justice, I might just have to make a trip to southern Germany to sample it fresh on tap.   With the lovely Bavarian countryside, the mighty Allgauer Alps, and one of the world's great castles all within sight, I'm sure making a trip to the brewery will not be an unpleasant experience whatsoever.  In the meantime, I'll keep using my HirschBrau glass, look at the image of Neuschwanstein, and dream...

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