Wednesday 10 December 2014

The old and the new

Neu star: a creditable take
on an old style
Brought to you by Ian

Well, it was bound to happen given my advancing years and beer-addled brain. And so it has. On the day sponsored by Ian, I have Sam coming round to sample today's calendar beer with me.

Not that it's really an issue. But first of all, on behalf of Ian, I'd like to wish Anne Palionis a very happy 89th birthday. Hope you've had a lovely day. If I get anywhere near that age, I'll consider it good innings.

Fitting, then, that today's beer is an Alt Bier ('old beer'), a style that's been neglected for some time but appears to be undergoing something of a resurgence.

I first tried it some years ago while on a romantic trip to the Hanseatic port of Lübeck in northern Germany. To tell the truth, I didn't really care for it much – too malty and sweet for my tastes even then – but it provided a welcome alternative to the ubiquitous lager.

The trip itself was more memorable than the beer. Our Ryanair flight from Stansted took a heavy landing – I genuinely feared for my life – and the passengers burst into spontaneous applause when they realised they weren't going to die either.

We disembarked to discover Lübeck was experiencing something of a second Ice Age. I believe it was minus 10 degrees; so cold the river Trave had frozen over. Neither of us had bargained for this, though quite why given it was February on the Baltic is anyone's guess.

On arrival at the hotel, I discovered I had lost all capacity to speak German and made up something that I thought sounded vaguely like: “I have a reservation,” but probably came out as: “Who won the 1966 World Cup?” judging by the look the receptionist shot me.

By the time we'd checked into our room and put on enough clothes to deal with the freezing temperatures, all the restaurants had closed, so we sat in a bar drinking cold lager and eating pretzels.

The next day was even colder, so fittingly we argued about whether or not to visit the Thomas Mann museum or go on a river cruise. We eventually did both; neither was much good. Later that evening we had a stand-up row in a restaurant that was open and, for good measure, I ended up losing the hat I'd bought that day.

Thankfully, the remainder of the trip passed off relatively peacefully, till I realised I'd left my passport in the hotel room when we were halfway to the airport. Cue insane levels of hecticness and a huge amount of dirty looks headed my way from my then fiancée. Should have taken it as a sign of things to come, but sadly I failed to learn.

But back to the beer. I indulged again the next time I visited Germany, tucking into a fine example of Altbier in a wood-pannelled old man's pub just off the Reperbahn in Hamburg. The pub was dire, though, so we left to drink lager at the Pudel, a techno haus on the banks of the Elbe.

And now I'm presented with another opportunity to see whether I can handle the malt in the form of Orbit Beer's Neu offering (I see what they did there). I picked it out mainly due to its similarity to a Krautrock band and because it has a record centre emblem on the cap.

I expect it's a new take on an old style of beer, but what they can have done with it, I'm not sure. Fortunately, I have Sam to help me out with it should it prove too sickly.

Beer: Orbit Beers Neu Altbier
Strength: A half-hearted 4.7%
Smell: Watery bread and PVC loose-leafed folders
Tasting notes: What promised so much sweetness at the outset, like a great many things, ends up leaving a sour taste in the mouth and a general sensation of prolonged bitterness. Actually it's not that bad. I'm mildly surprised at the smokiness up front – didn't expect it to feel as if I'd put a fag out in it – but that offsets the cloying maltiness quite nicely. I've a feeling they've over-hopped it too as it's quite sharp around the edges, but that's no bad thing. I actually quite like what they've done with this – a much more interesting Altbier than I was expecting. Sam reckons it's a nicer version of Pelforth Brune and I can see what he means. It's certainly a lot nicer than the ones I had in Germany.
Session factor: Sam says he might stretch to two if there was nothing else at the bar. Like my 'romantic' trips to Lübeck, I'm tempted to leave it at one, but on reflection, I think I might want to go back for another taste.
Arbitrary score: 13,202
Sponsor: Ian

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