In the Wild Frontier 3/11/16

blog1Whilst in Brussels I had no choice but to add Brasserie Cantillon to the itinerary and see if I couldn’t pick up a little history on wild fermentations. Cantillon is a small family brewery with an extensive barrel cellar, the first thing of which to set the 116 year old brewery apart is the use of a cool ship. Where modern breweries use heat exchangers, Lambic breweries pump wort into a shallow vessel for cooling by open atmosphere, which in turn inoculates the wort with the local wild yeast or Brettanomyces, present in the air. To deter the growth of other micro organisms, such as lactics, brewing takes place in the cooler months, and large editions of “old” hops are utilised for their antiseptic properties without imparting great bitterness. Brettanomyces, or “Brett”, is fondly  remarked as having a horse blanket character, which I personally liken more to old socks. The very dry, often acidic finish and extensive cellaring in oak barrels of various vintages also contribute tart and vinous qualities to the overall complexities of these beers.

 

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Secondly, Cantillon offers a self guided tour through their old fashioned premises and Lambic museum, after a short introduction you are set loose to peruse the brewing, cooling and barrel facilities. Following that a tasting of young 1 year old unblended Lambic, then a choice of straight Gueuze blend (young and 2-3 old Lambic), and to better accentuate the sourness, a fruit blend of either Kriek (cherry) or Framboise (raspberry). A number of other blends are available for take away or consumption on premise, bottles are served in cute little blanketed baskets for those that can find a table in the intimate bar area.

 

After such a refreshing start to the city, it was on to Moeder Lambic, a speciality beer bar with a few more Cantillon beers amongst others on the menu and, I’m calling it, the best cheese board I’ve ever had. This is my favourite food beer combo, a selection of cheeses, crusty bread, pickles, mustard and cured meats, they also serve a small bowl of malt to snack on for every table, I find these simple foods best compliment the more complex styles. I had very much wanted to try some farmhouse styles in Belgium, but unfortunately, there is only so much beer I could drink before journeying to Germany. 

 

I had heard Berlin was a cultural hub but wasn’t expecting to step off the train and be greeted by a string quartet busking below the overpass of the station. Every Sunday, there is a massive flea market at Mauer Park, here people can walk around with beers in hand or sit on the grass with their families friends and dogs, listening to one of the many bands and buskers, enjoying a curry wurst and pilsener combo.

 

Of course one of the attractions I came for was Berliner Weiss, much like Kolsch is from Cologne,  Berliner Weiss is from Berlin, this light bodied, low alcohol beer is wheat beer fermented with lactic bacteria as well as brewers yeast. The result is an assertive acidity with clean sourness and a refreshing finish that reminded me of my first taste of Watermelon Warhead, a beverage though I first found to be too challenging, opened me up to the world of sours. I’ve often been told that a bread like character, is also desirable, something I thought better suited the surprising subtleties of the Leipziger Gose, soft and fruity, slight sourness, zesty lime notes with a hint of salt, a far cry from the delicious yet more challenging Anderson Valley Gose. I sampled this at the Gosebrauerei in Leipzig, its modern home, fitted out into a beautiful old train station, this is the only brewery left in Germany that specialises in the style. Similar to the Berliner Weiss traditionally served with raspberry or woodruff syrup, Gose can be served with an elderflower syrup, while intended to combat the tartness, I find it to be overly sweet, masking the true character of the beer.

 

blog4In a change of pace from wild ferments, on the road to Munich, we visited Schweiger Brauhauis in Markt Schwaben for roast pork in a dark beer (dunkel weizen, maybe?) sauce, with a Munich Dunkel then Andechs Monastery in southern Bavaria for hilltop views with a Dopplebock, pork knuckle and pretzel, seemingly in preparation for Oktoberfest. For someone not fond of crowds, the atmosphere of the infamous festival is very welcoming, much like the markets in Berlin, there’s a definite family vibe and age diversity. With no entry fee to the grounds, you are free to explore many food vendors, find a seat in a crowded beer tent to quench your thirst, or regret spending 8 euro on that ghost train ride . Each tent, more like permanent structures, have a central stage for traditional bands, are covered in ornate decorations, streamers, hops. The famous Hackerzelt has its roof decorated like blue skies and clouds. All 6 breweries sell relatively the same beer, a Helles or Marzen, German amber lagers brewed specifically for the festival, the latter a bit more malt forward with a moderate bitterness, light biscuit aromas and higher ABV, for a flavoursome yet super easy drinker, not too dissimilar from the Beerland Marzen currently on tap at NBC. After a sunny afternoon with a few steins and pretzels I can say Oktoberfest definitely merits a visit to soak up the happy vibes and culture.

 

The number one lesson I take away from this trip in regards to beer, is that despite the quality of beer styles at their source, in my opinion brewers in Australia do a damn fine job of celebrating them.

 

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