Beers of Franconia
Last night I had the fortunate experience of meeting up with a friend who had a special stock of beers from Franconia. This region of Germany in northern Bavaria has one of the highest ratios of breweries in the world, most are very small serving only the local area. Few such as the much either much loved or hated smoked beers from Bamburg are included in this area and are exported to the states, as well as the Monchoff and EKU beers to name a few but we had tasted and experienced those. The beers we were tasting last night, might never have been experienced without a ticket to Germany had it not been for a slow moving container that missed it's destination and ended up at a few of the more well know beer bars in the northeast. I have to give a big thanks to Jerry from the Dirty Truth Beer Hall for this journey and experience in these very little known breweries.
While I am not going to go down the line and list and name each beer, they all enjoyed a lot of the same characteristics with each other and even other German lagers I have experienced in their clean, consistent, simplicity. Each of these beers was wonderfully balanced, most were clear almost to the point of filtration however this was more likely a result of being correctly brewed and lagered with the methodical technique that makes the beers from Germans revered as they have been throughout history. Some were past their prime, still enjoyable although it was very apparent that they were not meant to be held on to for any length of time but rather meant to be drank fresh soon after bottling.
My personal favorite was the Mönchsambacher Lagerbier Naturtrüb made by Brauerei Zehendner, this was an unfiltered, very hoppy lager with significant notes of citrus from the hops and a slight sulfuric flavor probably from the yeast present in the bottle but it was not offensive.
Another notable was a Beck Brau Lisberger Lager from Brauerei Beck Brau which had a bready maltiness and a slight very balanced hop bitterness. The name throws you off but it is not made by the much larger brewery that exports millions of cases to the US every year, this is a very small brewery. I am told that Beck is a popular moniker for breweries throughout Germany but as of the time of writing this I could not find why in my research so I will continue to try to find the answers and share them with you at a later date. If you are reading this and already know why or can shed some light on the subject let me know!
I think part of what charmed me about these beers was taking me back to being in Switzerland and their unfiltered lager beers I found when visiting. This is one style I do not see much here in the US, probably because of the care and time in the tanks involved with making such a beer. Most small breweries in the US need to get the beer in and out of the tanks to keep the overhead down, and while there are some really great lagers out there made in the states none have compared save the beers made at Hopper's a closed brewpub chain here in Tampa Bay that I used to work at as an assistant brewer. The Austrian brew master whom I worked for did 2 things very well, formulate recipes for those wonderful lager and pilsner beers, and make a complete mess of the brewery at the end of our brew days.. Needless to say I learned very well in my past experience there as to how to keep a brewery clean but I also learned quite a bit about lager beers and perhaps why they are not brewed so much by these small breweries. They take quite a bit of care, and there is little place for mistakes. In a big complex, higher gravity, heavier hopped beer (ale or lager) there is room to hide the mistakes or lesser characteristics that can arise. In a clean light lager or pilsner the flavor must be clean and precise or you have not made a perfect beer. These beers must have balance for just a few too heavy a hand with either the malt or hops and you have missed the boat. They must be fermented cold and slow and be allowed to lager for an extended period of time so that the crisp, clean, flavors dominate whether filtered or not.
These beers are not always on the top of the modern day beer "geek's" list, but for any true beer aficionado they are to be experienced and appreciated for their place in the world of beer. Germans brew with traditional methods that have changed little throughout the centuries, with all of the new thoughts and ideas that are flooding the beer industry I find this traditional approach as refreshing as many of the beers they produce, and I feel very lucky to have experienced these little breweries beers in the bottle at least until I can get close enough to enjoy them fresh where they are made.