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Joys from the black stuff

When the Berlin Wall came down, beer lovers kept asking me what interesting brews lay behind it.

My recent ruminations on Leipziger Gose were part of the answer. So was an earlier ramble through the Schwarz (Black) Bier of Bad Kostritz, in Thuringia. My worry, as always, was: will these styles survive?

For Leipziger Gose, it is too early to say, but the news on black beer is good. Not only is the Kostritzer version doing well, but other brewers are taking up the style.

St. Arnold, the patron of brewers.

While in Leipzig, I was very taken with the Schwarzes Bier as rendered by the city's small (35,000-hectolitre) Bauer Brewery.

This beer has a purply colour so dark as to be almost slatey; a malty aroma; and solid flavours reminiscent of liquorice toffee. Despite its bigness, it slipped down easily. Its original gravity is 1046-7 and alcohol 4.8.

The Bauer Brewery was established in 1881, and its founder's great-great grandson continued to work there during Communist rule. In 1990, the family regained control, and the following year the black beer was introduced as a speciality, in a range that also includes a Helles (pale lager), a hoppier Pils and a Bock. This year, Bauer hopes to open a brewery tap.

Confusingly, I was recently in a pub called the Schwarze Bauer, in another city, Nuremberg. Bauer simply means farmer, and this one gave his name to a small pub adjoining the Altstadthof (Old Town Courtyard) micro-brewery in Nuremberg.

A reader wrote to me not long ago, complaining he had found only a pale beer here and not the Dunkel (Dark) about which I had once been so enthusiastic. I was happy to find the Helles was full of dry, flowery, hoppiness and the Dunkel metamorphosed into a Schwarzbier.

The Dunkel/Schwarz had, again, an almost purply colour, and its intense, lingering flavours reminded me of crunching into treacle toffee. (1050; 5.2ABV). I also tasted a Bock (1066; 7.0). with a deep amber-red colour and very creamy flavours.

None of the beers is filtered; the brewery was established as something of a working antique, though compromises have had to be made. I was sorry to see the open cooler had been abandoned as just too awkward. Wood was still being used for fermentation, but not for lagering.

The Altstadthof is in a courtyard dating from at least the 1600s, near the Tiergartner Tor, a gate in the city wall. Under the brewery is a cellar bar called Schmelztiegel (Melting Pot).

The Altstadthof is in a courtyard dating from at least the 1600s, near the Tiergartner Tor, a gate in the city wall. Under the brewery is a cellar bar called Schmelztiegel (Melting Pot).

Beneath that are galleries of cellars dating from the 1300s cut into the red sandstone. These accommodated ice and casks of lagering beer in the days when every tavern in the town made its own beer. In World War II, they accommodated shelters, command posts and art treasures. Now, they can be visited by tourists.

The Altstadhof Brewery was set up in 1983/4, and was one of the first new-generation micros in Germany.

"I wanted to put a brewery on a historic site," I was told by owner Franz Ehrnsperger, who also runs the Lammsbrau Brewery, in Neumarkt, 25-30 miles south-east.

At the time he set up Altstadthof, Dr Ehrnsperger was approaching the point where he would succeed his father at Lammsbrau, which the family have owned since 1800. That brewery dates from at least 1628.

Neumarkt, in a wooded valley, is known for the Eberhard-Faber pencil factory, but it also has three breweries. The Ehrnspergers efforts to make the best beer in town have been based on using organic barley and hops. This began in 1980, when Franz was a partner with his father.

Franz argues that the pure beer of the Reinheitsgebot must begin with the farmer, no artificial fertilisers, herbicides or fungicides. He believes organic malt is cleaner tasting and the hops more aromatic. A hundred farmers were persuaded to grow barley on a crop-rotation basis, and five to cultivate hops organically.

"It took them two or three years to switch and four or five to achieve good quality," he told me. The brewery began organic production in 1987, and had completely converted by 1995.

Lammbrau still has a cellar from 1898, but most of the buildings are modern, steel-skin structures. It has its own maltings, a 1960s copper brewhouse and horizontal lagering tanks. The beers are not pasteurised.

I found all of them very good but not exceptional. A Helles with a very fresh malt aroma and a spicy hop charac. ter, a herbal-tasting, dryish Pils, a lightly creamy Dunkel, a Weisse with nice touches of banana and clove, a maltier Kristall and a malty, complex, slightly smoky Schwarze Dunkles Weizen. On reflection, I did like that last one: Black Beer Meets Dark Wheat.

I found another Black Beer in the wheat beer town of Freising. I visited the town's first new-generation brewpub. It even bills itself as such -Erste Freisinger Gasthaus Brauerei - it also calls itself simply Bruuhaus Freising.

It is a pleasant building, in the commercial district of Lerchenfeld. The proprietors are the Gritz family.

Father Karl has a day job as sales manager for the Kaltenberg Brewery, and that company provided the hardware.

Son Andreas, 29, is the brewer; his brother Erdmann, 34, helped plan the project, especially the interior.

I sampled a lightly malty Helles and a rosewood coloured Schwarzbier full of mocha and Bourbon flavours (1050-plus/ 4.8).

The family were also keen that I enjoy their obatzer snack - a Camembert and onion fritter, well-spiced, with lots of paprika. This tasty thirst-maker is said to have been invented at the nearby Weihenstephan brewery's tap.

My last black beer was in the country near the old Munich airport, at the FliegerBrau brewpub, a former potato-schnapps distillery with a beaten-copper brewhouse. I enjoyed a lightly fruity Weisse; an aley bitter. called Salonbier; and a mahogany-to-black Schwarzbier (4.52ABV) with good espresso and dark-chocolate flavours.

Published Online: SEPT 2, 1998
Published in Print: MAR 1, 1997
In: What's Brewing

Brew Travel - Beer Review - Beer Styles

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