Sunday, 11 December 2016

English-style ales from the heart of Bavaria

I wrote a piece about Regensburg’s Spital Brauerei at the beginning of October, singing the praises of its beer garden, and its lovely setting overlooking the River Danube. During our stay in the city, the family and I spent a couple of hours in this idyllic garden enjoying a spot of lunch along with a few of the beers, which are brewed next door,

What I didn’t mention was that after our visit, I popped round to the brewery in order to pick up a few bottles of some of Spital’s more unusual beers. Several of these brews are English-style beers, such as Pale Ale, India Pale Ale and Chocolate Stout. For a German brewery, this is really stepping outside your comfort zone, and for a company with the boast that it is the oldest brewery in Regensburg; this definitely is pushing the envelope.

The beers are packaged in attractive-looking, long-necked 330ml bottles with a definite “craft” look to them, and are sold under the Regensburger Spital Manufaktur brand. There are six of these beers in total; but the Pils and the seasonal Märzen are also packaged in this style of bottle. I came back with four of them (including the Pils), missing out on the Maibock, Märzen, Summer Ale, Chocolate Stout and Weizenbock (I’m not a huge fan of wheat beers).

According to the Spital website, there is a shop attached to the brewery, so having briefly parted company with my wife and son, leaving them to go off and get an ice-cream, I wandered round to the rear of the brewery to find it and make my purchases.

It’s a good job I can speak German, as after walking around for a while, with no obvious signs of a shop, I strolled into the brewery yard, where a group of workers were busy loading a dray, to enquire further. It turned out the “shop” was sited in a warehouse at the back of the yard, and was more like a desk and a couple of computer screens for what was obviously the "goods-out" area of the brewery. Fine if you are in the know, but if, like me, you are a casual caller, not so good. Having found the shop my linguistic skills were again put to the test, as the two members of staff there, also spoke no English.

Most local customers, of course, would turn up by car and buy their beers by the 20 bottle case-load, but the staff were quite happy to sell me a selection of individual bottles, placing them in a handy cardboard carrier. I’m sure that visitors from UK are few and far between, so me turning up and showing an interest in the brewery and its products must have been a relatively rare experience.

Whatever the case, the staff seemed genuinely pleased to assist me. As I said earlier, the Chocolate Stout and Maibock were not available; the former being a winter beer and the latter a spring one, but I was pleased with what I’d bought and departed to meet back up with my family.

The beers I purchased were:       Pils 5.5%

Pale Ale 6.5%

                                                India Pale Ale 8.0%

                                                Strong Ale 9.9%

All the beers are on the strong side; even the Pils, and all are attractively packaged, with stylish and modern-looking foil labels. I’ve only sampled the India Pale Ale so far, and can report that it’s very much in the English tradition, rather than the more modern American interpretation of the style. It’s an attractive amber colour and pours with a nice frothy head which remains in the glass. It’s also a very malt driven beer, with a nice hoppy aroma and sufficient bitterness to counter some of the sweetness derived from the malt. After writing that, I’m looking forward to trying the other beers.

This IPA is probably not the sort of beer to be drunk under the chestnut trees in Spital’s lovely beer garden, overlooking the Danube. I would describe it as much more a late autumn or early winter beer to be enjoyed in a small and intimate bar, tucked away in one of Regensburg’s narrow medieval streets.

I suppose imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it’s still very unusual to see a German brewery knocking out Pale Ale, IPA and Stout, particularly when the brewery is as traditional and as old as Spital Brauerei.

As far as I know none of the Spital Brauerei beers are available in the UK, which means that in order to enjoy them you will have to make the journey to Regensburg. However, a visit to this lovely unspoilt medieval city, with its picturesque setting on the banks of the Danube, is one which is well worth making, and what’s more there are the products of two other breweries, plus two brew-pubs to enjoy there as well.

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