The Session #45 – Wheat Beer Availability in Cambridge Supermarkets

The title makes this post sound like it’s a thesis or something, it’s not, it’s my first post for The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday. If you’re not familiar with The Session, then head off here to learn more:

The SessionThis months topic is, Wheat Beers, which just happen to be one of my favourite styles of beer. When I first moved to Cambridge, I drink an obscene amounts of Hoegaarden, it was about £3.20 a pint, almost twice as expensive as all the cask ale on offer at the local Hogshead. I thought I was being cool and trendy, in reality I was being royally ripped off by InterBrew, for what is essentially an average beer.

I don’t get to the pub much these days, so the majority of my wheat beer drinking is confined to the couch. While it’s not as social as the pub, I can at least drink what I want, up to a point. While I’m not constrained by whatever the publican has in stock, I am constrained by what I can buy locally, which for the majority of people, means the supermarket.

Cambridge isn’t particularly blessed when it comes to supermarket choice, we have far, far too many Tesco stores. Of the big four supermarkets, that would be Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, we have all but a Morrisons in Cambridge, the nearest one is 20 minutes drive to the West, not really practical if you’re on Shanks’ Pony or a bike. By far the best supermarket in town, in my opinion, is Waitrose, the quality of the food is better, as is the extensive range of beer. So how do these supermarkets rank as far as wheat beer availability goes?

Tesco
Hoegaarden Witbier
Tesco Finest* Belgian Wheat Beer
Erdinger Weißbier
Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier
Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier
ASDA
Hoegaarden Witbier
Erdinger Weißbier
Sainsbury’s
Erdinger Weißbier
Schneider Weisse TAP7 Unser Original
Grolsch Weizen
Edelweisse Wheat Beer
Hoegaarden Witbier
Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier
Waitrose
Hoegaarden Witbier
Erdinger Weißbier
Witrose Bavarian Weissbier
Witrose Bavarian Dunkel Weissbier

Sainsbury’s has the largest selection, but as you can see, there is quite a bit of duplication going on, if you’re a fan of Hoegaarden or Erdinger, then you’re in luck no matter where you shop. It’s interesting to note how few Belgian wheat beers there are, they’re mostly German style, which is a shame as I’m quite partial to a Belgian Wit.

Of course, you could just shop locally and avoid the supermarket like the plague. The Bacchanalia on Mill Road is one of the best beer shops in the country and has an amazing selection of beer from around the world. The selection changes as deliveries come and go, but there is always a great selection of wheat beers from the UK and abroad.

Oktoberfest: Round-Up

I quite enjoyed trying the six Munich breweries Oktoberfest beers last week. However, I’m in no real hurry to try them again any time soon, they didn’t contain enough hops. This is a short post to summarise what I learned and to place the six beers into some sort of preference order.

  • One brewery serves their beer from individual wooden casks at the Oktoberfest: Augustiner Bräu

Most importantly, doing this reinforced my dislike for sweet, pale and no very bitter lagers. You only get one life and to be honest, I’d rather be drinking some over the top US West Coast IPA than a Maßkrug of Spaten. If I did find myself at the Oktoberfest, here’s my order of preference:

  1. Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier
  2. Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier
  3. Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen
  4. Hofbräuhaus Oktoberfestbier
  5. Löwenbräu Oktoberfestbier
  6. Augustiner Bräu Oktoberfest Bier
  7. Spaten Oktoberfestbier

As you can see, I’d rather drink weißbier than I would the seasonal Oktoberfest bier’s. Which puts me in an interesting position as it’s the 4th Cambridge CAMRA Octoberfest this weekend and I’m working all day Saturday. I’m just hoping the Oktoberfest style beers from the UK brewers are more interesting and to my taste than their original German counterparts.

Oktoberfest: Hacker-Pschorr

As we found out in the second article in this series, Hacker-Pschorr merged with Paulaner and are now part owned by Heineken NV. The story of Hacker-Pschorr starts way back in 1417 thought, with the founding of the Hacker brewery. There doesn’t seem to be much information online about the brewery’s history, until 1793.

Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest MärzenIt was at this time that Joseph Pschorr, married Maria Theresia Hacker, the brewer’s daughter. Joseph bought the Hacker brewery from is father in-law and shortly there after purchased a second brewery, to which he gave his name. When he died, his sons took over a brewery each, with Matthias became the owner of Hacker and Georg became the owner of Pschorr.

By the mid 19th century, both breweries were doing well, with one exporting beer to Brazil and the other exporting kegs in refrigerated ships to the US. Both world wars took a toll on the breweries and they struggled for many years after. Eventually in 1972, they merged and became Hacker-Pschorr and as we know, in 1985 the were merged into Paulaner.

As you can see from the photo, this beer is a different colour to the four previous ones I’ve tried, it’s a nice brown copper colour. The white fluffy head formed easily and dropped to a very patchy covering, this is the least head there has been so far. The nose smelt of fresh grassy hops with maybe a hint of caramel lurking at the edges.

It was quite full bodied, but not overly so. It wasn’t sweet like the other beers, but it’s strange as it’s almost like it’s a bit watery, but it’s not, it’s hard to describe. There was a pleasant bitterness, but not much, a tad more wouldn’t have gone amiss. There was maybe a hint of caramel in there too, to it was hard to pin down. Like the other beers, it wasn’t overly conditioned, however, it did feel quite rough in the mouth, which was a bit off putting.

Oktoberfest: Hofbräu

Hofbräu, not to be confused with Hofmeister, is a state owned brewery that can trace it’s history back to the 16th century. It was created by Wilhelm V., the Duke of Bavaria to slake the thirst of his royal household and started off life by brewing a strong brown ale. Evidently Wilhelm’s son, Duke Maximilian I, didn’t like heavy brown ale, so banned everyone else form producing wheat beer and made his ducal Hofbräuhaus into a wheat beer producing monopoly.

Hofbräu OktoberfestbierIn 1607, to accommodate the enormous demand for it’s beer, the Hofbräuhaus moved to a larger premises, the current incarnation of the brewery is still in the same spot. In 1806 the duchy of Bavaria became a kingdom, the Hofbräuhaus became the royal Hofbräuhaus. After many complaints by private brewers and innkeepers, King Ludwig I, issued a decree that opened up the Hofbräuhaus to everyone and not just the royal servants.

Not only did he open up the brewery, he also slashed the price of beer so that "the working class and military can afford a healthy and affordable drink". This meant that beer sales rocketed and the brewery couldn’t keep up with demand, resulting in it shutting down occasionally due to a lack of beer. Slashing the price of beer had the unfortunate effect of putting other private brewers and inn keepers out of business, so King Maximilian II decided to privatise the brewery, much to the public’s disgust. Eventually the State of Bavaria became the owners, which was an acceptable solution to all.

In 1896, the brewery was too small to cope with demand and with no room to expand, the brewery was moved out of the Hofbräuhaus to a new location, leaving the restaurant portion behind. Shortly after, the old Hofbräuhaus was torn down and a new beer hall, which is still there, was built on the site.

There is evidently a song about the Hofbräuhaus, their website and Wikipedia differ slightly in the translation, but essentially it’s the same: In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus – oans, zwoa, g’suffa! In Munich there’s a Hofbräuhaus – one, two, drink or down the hatch, depending.

The Hofbräuhaus glosses over it’s history with the Nazi Party, merely stating that the building was mostly destroyed by air raids. Wikipedia claims that Hitler himself spoke in the venue and evidently had some art work on display. By 1958 the renovation of the building was finished with the reopening of the festival hall, just in time for Munich’s 800th anniversary.

In the late eighties, the state government moved the brewery to a suburb on the edge of Munich. With a massive capacity, the new brewery was one of the modernist in Europe. Only seven years after being opened, the brewery was further extended to keep up with demand. Since then, the Hofbräuhaus brand has expanded with brewpubs in Hong Kong and in the US, that brew the Hofbräu beer under license.

The Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier poured a pale golden yellow colour, very similar to the Löwenbräu. A large fluffy white head was easily formed, but like the previous three beers, it eventually dropped to a blotchy covering. There was some grassy hops evident during the pour and the nose was fresh with hints of grassy hop and malt.

This beer has a higher level of carbonation than the other three I’ve tried so far, there were a lot more bubbles in the glass. It didn’t feel as sweet as the previous three, but there was a sweetness to it. There was also a nice level of bitterness, it wasn’t overpowering, but enough to hid most of the sweetness. The bitterness also had a certain fruitiness to it, in a similar way to the Paulaner. However, I thought that the carbonation at the end was quite rough and distracting though, which ultimately let this beer down.

Oktoberfest: Löwenbräu

What do I know about Löwenbräu…? It was big in the eighties and we found out the other day that it’s now owned by AB InBev, but other than that I don’t really know that much about it. I can remember seeing it quite a bit of the Löwenbräu Original lager when I was younger, but I can’t say that ever tried or, or that I’ve seen any lately.

Löwenbräu OktoberfestbierLöwenbräu‘s history starts in the 14th century with some sort of beer being dispensed from a pub called Zum Löwen (The Lion’s Inn), according to Wikipedia. The Löwenbräu website just mentions a Löwenbrauerei from this period, but does mention that in the 16th century the first written documentation of a brewer in that part of Munich.

We have to wait until the 18th century for the first mention of the name, Löwenbräu, though. Evidently it appeared in the Biersudverzeichnis of Munich, I have no idea what the Biersudverzeichnis is and neither does Google translate, but I’m assuming it’s a list of breweries or something.

In the early 19th century a George Brey acquires the brewery and his between him and his descendants, they run it for fifty odd years until it’s turned into a public company. During this time, the brewery is quite successful it get bigger and moves to a new home. They also get permission to brew a Bock during this time, evidently they were pioneers in the strong beer sector.

According to Wikipedia the brewery site is flattened by an Ailed air raid during World War II. The Löwenbräu website only mentions that raw ingredients were limited during World War I and thus the original gravity of the beer dropped, there is no mention of World War II.

It’s during the early seventies that Löwenbräu strikes out for global domination, with beer being exported and brewed under license in the US and the UK amongst other places. Their website says that all licensed brewing was carried out in accordance to the Reinheitsgebot, but the Wikipedia article states that in the US there was corn in the grain bill and thus a noticeable difference in taste.

As I stated at the start, Löwenbräu merged with Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu in 1997 and are now part of the AB InBev behemoth. They have also supplied beer to the Oktoberfest, every year since 1810, which is pretty cool.

The Oktoberfestbier poured a really insipid yellow, this is the colour I was expecting them all to be and for my tastes, it’s not really a particularly inviting colour. A big white fluffy head was easily formed during the pour, although it dropped to a blotchy covering fairly quickly. It didn’t smell of much that I could detect. There was maybe a hint of maltiness hiding at the edges, but overall the smell was pretty bland.

Taste wise, I didn’t feel it was as full bodied as the Spaten or the Paulaner, which I found surprising as it’s marginally the strongest we’ve had so far. While it might not have felt so big, it was just as sweet. There was a bit of bitterness that came through, but it faded and the after taste was mainly sweet. It’s certainly got more bitterness than the Spaten, but definitely less than the Paulaner.

Overall I thought this one was a bit thin and lacking, I’d rather drink the Paulaner and possibly even the Spaten over this.

Oktoberfest: Paulaner

Paulaner Oktoberfest BierYesterday’s Oktoberfest beers come from the Paulaner Brauerei, which is part of Brau Holding International AG, more on that later. The first recorded mention of the Paulaner brewery come in the form of a letter from Munich private breweries to the town council. They are complaining about the competition from the monks at the Neudeck ob der Au monastery. The Paulaner website claims this is the first official documentation of the brewery.

In 1799 the Neudeck ob der Au monastery is dissolved and the brewery is briefly leased to the state. Franz Xaver Zacherl acquires the brewery in 1806 and modernises and expands it. In 1921 the brewery acquires share holdings in three local breweries and in 1928 merges with Gebrüder Thomas Brauerei to form Paulaner Salvator Thomasbräu.

In 1985 more companies are merged, including Hacker-Pschorr Bräu and Auerbräu AG Rosenheim (one of the companies they took a shareholding in earlier). So this means that along with Spaten and Löwenbräu being owned by the same corporation, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr are owned by the same corporation. So while I was expecting six individual brewing companies, after two beers I find that four of the beers are shared between two.

This is not the end of the name changing and merging though, in 1994 they change name from Paulaner Salvator Thomasbräu to Paulaner Brauerei AG. They then expand again in 1996 by acquiring Furstliche Brauerei Thurn un Taxis Regensburg and form the Thurn un Taxis Vertriebsgesellschaft mbH. I’m not sure what happens between then and 1999, but according to the Paulaner website, they change names again from Paulaner Aktiengesellschaft to Paulaner GmbH und Co. KG. Wikipedia also thinks they acquired the Kulmbacher Brauerei group in 1994, either way, it’s a lot of merging and renaming and it’s still not finished.

Paulaner Hefe-WeißbierBoth the Paulaner website and Wikipedia now have the Paulaner brand as being owned by Brau Holding International AG, which is a joint venture with Heineken NV. The Paulaner website doesn’t say who the other party is in the joint venture, so you have to assume that’s Paulaner GmbH und Co. KG, but Wikipedia says that it’s Schörghuber Ventures, who ever they are. So the upshot is that another two of Munich’s six Oktoberfest beers are, at least in part, owned by one of the largest brewery groups in the world. I know I shouldn’t be surprised after finding out that Spaten are owned by AB InBev, but it’s still a tad depressing.

I was hoping that the Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier would be different enough from the Spaten Oktoberfest and I wasn’t disappointed. It poured a light golden colour, with a large fluffy head that dropped fairly quickly to a blotchy covering. I’m beginning to think that this look might be the same between all six beers, but we’ll wait and see.

Similarly to the Spaten, it smelt fresh, but unlike the Spaten there were hints of grass and a caramel sweetness that was just lurking in the shadows. In all a much better olfactory experience than the Spaten..

Initially I thought the taste was similar to the Spaten, it’s quite full bodied with a sweetness that lingers. However, the Paulaner has quite a bit of extra bitterness that manages to keep the majority of the sweetness in check. There was also a certain fruitiness that was quite mouth watering and refreshing the further I got through the bottle. Again it’s wasn’t particularly fizzy, the carbonation was relatively low, meaning it was quite smooth.

Special Oktoberfest beer isn’t all you get on the Wiesn, in the Weinzelt tent, at least according to Wikipedia, you can also get wine and Paulaner Weißbier. So I decided I’d have to have a bottle of Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier as well, if I’m to do this properly.

It poured a cloudy orange amber colour with a large fluffy head, as you’d expect from a cloudy wheat beer, the head soon dropped to a good covering though. The nose was all banana bread and yeast, there could be cloves in there, but I’m suffering from a slightly blocked nose at the moment. Taste wise, it’s quite light and refreshing, almost too light though, if you were being mean you could almost say watery. Again the main flavours are of banana bread and cloves with a yeastiness that lingers long into the after taste.

I have to say that I was very impressed with the Oktoberfest Bier, I could drink far more of it that I could of the Spaten. Having said that, I could drink the Hefe-Weißbier all day and all night, it’s seriously refreshing and right up my street.

Oktoberfest

When I was younger, I can remember being regaled with tales of the Munich Oktoberfest by people who’d been. They painted it as some near legendary beer festival where everyone got smashed drinking litres of lager out of Maßkrug, which were served by buxom wenches dressed in Dirndl.

I have to confess that it doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, I’m not a lager drinker and the thought of sitting down with 100,000 others on benches at narrow tables in a multitude of tents, isn’t my idea of fun. Having said that, Pete Brown makes it sound like a must visit event in his book Three Sheets To The Wind: One Man’s Quest For The Meaning Of Beer.

Since it isn’t a good thing to have a fixed mindset and be closed to new experiences, I’ve decided to embrace the Oktoberfest this year. It might be something to do with it being the 200th anniversary of the Munich Oktoberfest, or it might just be me needing an idea for some blog articles…

Last week I popped into The Bacchanalia and picked up a bottle of Octoberfest beer from each of the six Munich breweries, they would be Augustiner Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräuhaus, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu. Since today is the last day of the Munich Oktoberfest, I’m going to drink one bottle each night of this week and blog a bit about the brewery and my thoughts on the beer.

On Saturday the 16th of this month, I’ll also be working at the 4th Cambridge CAMRA Octoberfest, which will be at the University Social Club on Mill Lane. It’ll be the first time I’ve managed to make this festival, so it’ll be interesting to see what beer the UK breweries send.

You can read more about the Munich Oktoberfest on their official website, or there is quite a good article on Wikipedia. Details of the 4th Cambridge CAMRA Octoberfest can be found on the Cambridge CAMRA beer festivals website.

Upcoming Cambridge Beer Festivals

There appears to be a few beer festivals happening in Cambridge next month. While in The Cambridge Blue last Friday I noticed a poster advertising their Octoberfest, which runs from Thursday the 7th to Sunday the 10th. There will be around 70 odd German ans 20 odd British "German Style" beers on offer, plus German food.

Cambridge CAMRA are holding their fourth Octoberfest on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th at the University Social Club on Mill Lane. They hope to have all five* of the 2010 Munich Octoberfest beers from Augustiner Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu. Plus local breweries Cambridge Moonshine and Milton are evidently providing Octoberfest style ales. Finally:

Hopshackle is hoping to produce us a Hacker-Pschorr style Octoberfest beer, this harks more back to the days when Octoberfest beers were darker than the blond versions of today.

Which sounds pretty awesome! I’m hoping to work all day Saturday, so if you’re around pop in and say hello.

Finally, I was walking past The Pickerel on Saturday and noticed that they has a poster up advertising their second Courtyard Ale Festival, which is running between Wednesday the 13th and Sunday the 17th, so it clashes a bit with the CAMRA festival. I just hope that it’s not too cold for them and thus the beer is in better condition than their last festival.

*There is no mention of any beer from the sixth Munich brewery Hofbräuhaus.