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Das feine Hofmark Pilsener

From the city of Pilsen, where the world's first golden beer was brewed in 1842, it is less than 50 miles, along roads lined with cherry trees, through rural Bohemia to the border between the Czech Republic and Germany. The frontier is in a valley among hills that roll away to the Bohemian forest. On the Czech side is the old brewing town of Domazlice; on the German side Furth-im-Wald.

Another 15 miles into Germany is the town of Cham (population 15,000) and village of Loifling (700). The name has the same root as the English word "lovely".

Historically, there is a strong Bohemian influence in this easterly part of the Upper Palatinate of Bavaria, even though it has long been in Germany. Continue West, and the road leads to Nuremberg.

From Pilsen to Loifling, all these towns and villages take their soft water from the same quartz-limestone bed. It is excellent brewing water. In Loifling, in 1572, the local aristocrat established his "royal court" brewery. "Court" in this sense is Hof in German. Das feine Hofmark indicates the "fine" beer bearing the seal of the royal court.

The business was bought by a local brewing family, the Härings, seven generations ago, and still run by them: mother, father, son, daughter and daughter-in-law. For 250 years, every male member of the family but one has been a brewer. The exception wanted to be a physician, hardly a dishonorable ambition, but the family insisted he change his name. Between brothers and cousins, the family once owned five breweries.

Having first visited the Härings to write about their brewery, I have now known them for 15 years, during which been invited to family celebrations, and received regular news of their lives. While filming my Beer Hunter series for The Discovery Channel, I was bold enough to ask Paul Häring senior how he would have felt had his son not wished to be a brewer. Mr Häring's face fell with dismay. I had suggested something so incomprehensibly bad that he could scarcely gather his thoughts to reply. He looked at me as though I had ventilated a topic beyond the bounds of polite society. Fortunately, his son did wish to be a brewer. There is now also a grandson, who at little more than two years old, has reportedly developed a "beer-friendly" face.

A few generations ago, the brewery probably made a dark, top-fermenting beer. In living memory, its flagship products have been lagers in the Czech style. "Our water, and our historic influences, are those of Budweis and Pilsen, says Mr Häring.

An outcrop of the quartz-limestone from which the water rises is visible from the modern brewhouse, through a screen of cherry, apple and pear trees. Two-row summer barley malt is bought in Franconia. The original gravity of the Pilsener is 12.4, and a double decoction mash is used. The brew is hopped three times, with the Hallertau-Hersbrucker, Tettnang and Saaz varieties, organically grown and used as blossoms. The brew is end-fermented, then kräusened. Hofmark is one of the few breweries where I have seen beechwood aging (apart from Anheuser-Busch). The beer is very thoroughly filtered, but not pasteurised. It emerges with 5.2v (4.2w), and is packaged in swing-top bottles. The company claims to have been a pioneer is promoting this type of bottle.

Tasting note: The brewery produces two Pilsener-style beers under the name Das Feine Hofmark. Both are firm, smooth, impeccably balanced and complex. Würzig Mild is beautifully flowery, with a lightly malt-accented palate and a gently perfumy dryness. The version available to members of the Real Beer Tour is Würzig Herb (meaning "dry" or "bitter"). It has yet more hop character, in both nose and firm finish, with a depth of malty flavors in the middle.

Food pairings: As an aperitif, or with fish. Goes especially well with river or lake fish such as trout. The more adventurous might enjoy it with carp, bread dumplings or croutons, and red cabbage. Or quenelles of pike, perhaps? Served with crisp, lightly cooked green cabbage, or even asparagus in season.

Published: MAY 22, 2001
In: Beer Hunter Online

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