The Mash Tun is back! This regular series is my little mish mash of beer experiences, thoughts, and other tidbits. It is named after, of course, the large brewing vessel used to mix brewing grains with hot water kicking off all sorts of pleasant reactions that make beer what it is. It seems appropriate then that this segment contains some of those various odds and ends that continue to catalyze my facsination with beer. For this renewed edition, I’ll be sharing one particular resource that has fueled my curiosity recently as well as share a tasting of a brew from one of the most storied breweries in Germany. Let’s do this!
Beer As Art
One of the quirks of my personality is that I tend to get very excited to the point of obsession over topics that interest me. Many years ago, I started following the Beautiful Game, that is, soccer. I couldn’t content myself with simply picking a team, learning some of the rudimentary rules, and then simply enjoying the game. I spent months devouring everything I could get my hands on that illuminated every angle of the sport–players, leagues, personalities, history, tactics, and more. I couldn’t get enough. In much the same way, when I dove head long into my beer exploration back in 2010, I consumed whatever new information or knowledge about beer and brewing I could find. In fact, this blog is a result to that obsession.
Much of my earlier obsessive curiosity has resurfaced the past couple of months, and I have found myself once again seeking out whatever insight into beer I can get my hands on. One such resource that I’ve recently come across is the wonderful and informative book by Randy Mosher call Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. Randy’s book is about the best thing I’ve ever read that paints a comprehensive picture of the multifaceted experience that is beer. He touches on just about every area including grain brewing’s rich history, beers intimate role within culture, as well as all of the nitty gritty about methods, styles, presentation, and tasting.
What fascinates me most about this volume though is Mosher’s obvious passion for beer. Throughout the book, he poetic waxes about the beauty, transcendence, and eloquence of the fermented drink. You get the impression as you read that this is his love letter to brewing. At one point he writes:
Beer is democratic. It does not depend on the finest real estate or limited geographical designations. The many choices made by the maltster and brewer create aromas, flavors, textures, and colors, transforming a few simple commodities into exquisite works of art. Anyone with skill, passion, and creativity can learn to make great beer. As a taster, each glance, each telltale whiff and studied sip of beer can be like peering into the soul of the man or woman who brewed it. This dependence on a human rather than a heavenly touch is one of beer’s great delights. (Mosher, 2)
He succeeds in educating on the various aspects of the beer world while at the same time passing his deep appreciation on to his reader as well. I’m not even finished with the book yet, and I can already say that he has given me enormous amounts of fodder to feed my deepening passion.
But, the book has also had a humbling effect. I’m reminded once again of how much of an amateur I am when it comes to beer. There are a lot of people out there who know so much more and have had a wider range of experiences than I. I’m still trying to develop even a basic ability to discern and fully appreciate what I’m tasting when I drink a beer. This realization is far from discouraging though. In fact, it has inspired an even greater inquisitiveness.
An Evening with Weihenstephaner
Nowadays I don’t get much opportunity to enjoy high quality German brews. This is a far cry from the last time I was writing on this blog when every trip to the grocery store yielded a different sampling of the German tradition. Living in Germany certainly had its advantages. That’s not to say that every bottle I bought at the market was the dark and malty deliciousness we tend to associate with Germany. The same industrialization that watered down American and British brewing with its weak Pilsners and pale lagers has had similar effects in Deutschland. Consolidation in recent decades has led to many of the traditional Starkbiers going the way of the dodo. A hand full of traditional breweries are still doing their thing, and fortunately for us many of these outstanding beers are available here in the US. One of these pillars of traditional German beer is also known as the oldest brewery in the world: Weihenstephaner.
Founded in 1040 as part of the Benedictine abbey of Freising in Bavaria, the original brewery catered mostly to the resident monks and the occasional aristocrat. Since the brewery was secularized in 1803 (in the 20th century, it became known as the Bavarian State Brewery), its traditional beers have been enjoyed by an increasingly wider and appreciative audience. In addition to the German mainstays like Pilsner, Helles and a nice Hefeweizen, Weihenstephaner brews a renowned Doppelbock known as Korbinian as well as a hefty Weizenbock, the Vitus, which I recently was able to get my hand on.
Weizenbock is one of my favorite styles. As a Weizen, it exhibits mosts of the familiar attributes of German wheat ale–fruity and phenolic aromas, bready malts, unfiltered appearance, and ridiculous amounts of creamy head. But, a higher gravity and darker grain bill give them their more robust caramel flavors and higher ABV. It’s a perfect beer for those long, dark winter days warming the heart and the belly.
Weihenstephaner’s Vitus falls right into this profile. Poured out of the bottle into a tall, tapering Weizen glass, a dense, tan head quickly fills its container releasing a wonderful banana and clove aroma into the room. As the carbonation begins to settle, the beautifully hazy, amber color becomes evident. Once in the mouth, the caramel sweetness takes over and is tempered only by a mild toasty flavor and the slightest Noble hop bitterness. This is a nice full-bodied but very drinkable beer that has a lively and sweet mouthfeel. While not as good as Schneider’s version of the Weizenbock, the Vitus has reminded me why I love this style so much.
I enjoy these moments that I get to relive some of my German beer memories. In a land like the US dominated by hopped-up malt bombs and crazy experimental brews, it’s nice to sometimes delight in one of the classics.