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Hoepfner Porter

Every town had its own way of making beer before the development of steam power changed the scale of brewing from craft to industry. The first industrial revolution was in Britain, and the first beer-style to be produced nationally was Porter. It was made from dark-brown malts, and probably had a woody dryness. Porter was produced in a variety of strengths, and later gave rise to sweeter styles like Mild Ale and roastier, bigger, brews such as Stout. For a time, Porter vanished in Britain, overtaken by styles like those, not to mention Pale Ale and Bitter. With the increasing interest in speciality styles, it has been revived, but as a lighter-bodied brother to Stout.

Elsewhere, it lurks, a darkly mysterious survivor from more romantic times.

A steam-powered brewery was able to make more beer than it could easily distribute in the days before railroads, highways or trucks. The answer was to export by steamship. London's breweries were typically on the river Thames, and much of their Porter was shipped across the North Sea to the port cities of continental Europe. This trade was especially with the cold, Northern, cities along the Baltic. Later, the local brewers began to make their own "British-style" Porters and "Russian Imperial" Stouts. These variations are still associated with cold cities like St Petersburg, Helsinki, Gothenburg and Copenhagen.

In the German port city of Bremen (home of Beck's), a Porter was made by the Dressler brewery until the 1960s or even 1970s. When that brewery closed, customers for this beer were supplied with a similar product made far inland, at the Hoepfner brewery, in the city of Karlsruhe, capital of the old region of Baden, and a gateway to the Black Forest.

Hoepfner is a surname, one of those that derive from an occupation. The family were hop farmers, though a member who was a priest founded the brewery, in 1798. The present brewery buildings date from 1898.

I heard about this in the early 1980s, and excitedly made inquiries, only to be told that production has just ceased. Apparently demand had fallen to a point where the beer was going stale on the shelves.

The brewery, on the eastern edge of the city-centre, is set in parkland of lime trees, chestnuts and oaks. The buildings, of red sandstone. are spectacular in their Gothic/Renaissance Revival battlements, turrets and towers. Adjoining them is the 1904 Vienna Secession house of the owner. Around the time the present brewery was built, the company was making what it called a Deutsche Porter. I heard about this in the early 1980s, and excitedly made inquiries, only to be told that production has just ceased. Apparently demand had fallen to a point where the beer was going stale on the shelves.

There have been two significant developments since then. One is that the sixth generation of Hoepfners has taken over the running of the company. The other is that, with the reunification of Germany, the rediscovery of Eastern "black" lagers has created a new fashion. If it is possible for people to enjoy a Schwarzbier, how about a Porter?

In 1998, Dr Friedrich Georg Hoepfner reintroduced Porter to the brewery's range. The beer has an original gravity of just above1065; is produced from three malts (dark Munich, crystal and black; providing a colour of 120 EBC); hopped with Tettnangers and Saazers (47 IBU); and emerges with an alcohol content of 5.8 per cent by volume.

At the brewery, I tasted an experimental version made with a top-fermenting Altbier yeast. This was textured and toffeeish, with notes of vanilla and licorice. Surprisingly, a bottom-fermented interpretation seemed more burnt-tasting and smoky, especially in the finish. The latter version, matured for about a month, was subsequently put on the market.

Apparently the original Hoepfner Deutsche Porter was slightly stronger, smoother and less smoky. How did a German brewery so far inland ever come to make a porter in the first place?

When I asked Dr Hoepfner this question, I had forgotten some of his other specialities. There was a beer made with smoked malts and produced, on the advice of an astrologer, "only when Jupiter was in Venus". The brewery's fine Pilsener was served at a beer dinner with a lacing of the aperitif bitters Amer Picon, from across the nearby French frontier. An Export infused with peaches was served as a Cervoise (French for beer). Under the German Purity Law, it could not be called a Bier. A "Sumerian-style" brew was flavoured with wormwood, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.

"It's a tradition to be a little strange in this brewery," was as good an explanation as Dr Hoepfner could muster.

TASTING NOTE: Mahogany to black color; smooth, toffeeish, palate; powerful "burnt" character enwrapped in a rounded finish.

FOOD PAIRINGS: Baked ham with a sugary, caramelised glaze. (The Porter could be used in the glaze). Steak and oyster pie. Goulash. Pecan pie.

Published: DEC 30, 2000
In: Beer Hunter Online

Beer Review - Brewery Review

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