Category Archives: Europe

Wrapped up in Mumme bier

This past weekend, my son and I had the good sense to work our way through the Beau’s 2016 Oktoberfest Mix Pack. Although the Vienna Lager was my favourite (such a nice one), I was most intrigued by Return of the Mumme.

vienna-lager
Beau’s Vienna-style Lager, from the 2016 Oktoberfest Mix Pack

A few years ago, when I started developing an interest in historical brewing, I came across Mom (or Mum, or Mumme) as a style once popular in The Netherlands and England.

Originally from Brunswick (Braunschweig), in the German state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), it’s a style of ale that most likely dates back to the 14th century. The earliest known record, from 1390, refers to Mumm being provided for a local feast.

Predictably, the style not only varied from one brewer to the next, but also evolved over time. The traits that seemed to be consistent however, were its dark brown appearance, the addition of hops, and a sugary, malt-forward character, sometimes to the point of being syrupy sweet. Old German records speak of a lovely and pure beer, suggesting no additives. English records, as well as later German ones, list off different ingredients being added, from spices like cloves, cardamon or cinnamon, to more surprising additions like birch, pine, beans or even eggs.

Mumme beer became the city’s most lucrative export, which was a pretty big deal considering Brunswick was part of the Hanseatic League, a network of European cities that largely controlled trade across the continent. To be the chief export of such a major trading centre is testimony to mumme’s massive popularity in other regions. Making that even more interesting, Brunswick isn’t a port city. The beer would have to very durable to survive being carted in barrels over some 200 kilometres of rough road before being loaded onto ships. Eventually it would travel as far as the Caribbean and India.

1893-double-strength-ship-mumme
An 1893 ad for Ship Mumme, brewed stronger for long voyages to distant ports. The Nettelbeck brewery (1492) is the oldest surviving producer of the style. 

In England, which had its own robust brewing community, Mom imports from Brunswick were banned for a few years to give locals a chance to sell their own interpretations of the style without the inconvenience of the genuine product competing in the same market. In the 17th century there were even dedicated Mom Houses in London. There’s speculation that what was produced in Brunswick was the more pure style, whereas the English brewers were sold false recipes with plenty of additives.

Brunswick beer would have taken on some of its barrel’s characteristics on the journey to England as well, which would explain why the English palate would have expected more ingredients than simply malt, water and hops.

mum-making-of-mum-1811b
An 1811 English recipe for Mum, from witteklaviervier.nl

Here’s where we jump ahead to Beau’s Return of the Mumme. The Vankleek Hill crew are a rather clever bunch and seem to put a good amount of thought into pretty much everything. Mumme translates to “disguise” or “wrap up” in German. The mummy on the label is more than simply a play on the word mumme.

mixpack
Beau’s Oktoberfest Mix Pack, 2016

True to what I’ve been able to learn out about the style, Beau’s version is quite a dark pour, rich and malty, and does contain hops (which is not a given with Beau’s). They’ve chosen to go with a more playful interpretation of the style, adding “organic black tea from India, Sri Lankan cloves and a blend of Egyptian spices including caraway seed, marjoram and thyme.” Thankfully, no eggs.

Admittedly, I didn’t spend much time trying to figure out all the aromas and flavours. This was more about sharing beer with my son than dissecting a style that isn’t clearly defined in the first place. What I did notice was a metallic bite to its malty, burnt caramel body, a sweet molasses-like aftertaste, and a soy sauce quality that lingered. After reading Return of the Mumme shares characteristics of a modern Altbier, that makes sense. I often find myself describing Alts in a similar manner.

This weekend I’ll be in Düsseldorf, specifically because I’m curious to try Altbier in its native environment. I won’t make it to Brunswick, as I’m cycling and my schedule doesn’t allow for it, but I’ve already started looking for craft beer shops where I hope to find a vessel or two of Braunschweiger Mumme.

Beau’s Oktoberfest Mix Pack is in stores now. Beau’s Oktoberfest (the epic party) runs this weekend in Vankleek Hill, Ontario.

The Beauty of De Molen

A couple years ago I was fortunate enough to visit De Molen (@molenbier) on my cycling trip through The Netherlands. It was the best!

Now I’m working on an article for Taps Magazine (@tapsmagazine) about what makes the Dutch craft brewery such a great human interest story. Look for that around the end of summer. I’m really excited to share it.

Last night I was enjoying De Molen’s Ginger Shot; a 4.8% ABV Pale Ale brewed with “lots of ginger.” Unfortunately I had to go to Buffalo to get it, but one day Ontario will figure out that it makes more sense to collect tax on imported bottles, rather then send beer drinkers across the border.

De Molen Ginger Shot
De Molen Ginger Shot

Dutch Beer in Canada

Belgium to the south. Germany to the east. It’s not difficult to understand why The Netherlands doesn’t get much recognition for its beer, considering its entire land border is up against the world’s two most renowned brewing nations. Heineken, Grolsch, Amstel, Bavaria and La Trappe are well known, but even the more astute beer drinkers outside that region would have a hard time naming three more Dutch breweries.

Jopen Brewery, Haarlem
Jopen Brewery, Haarlem – from my 2013 cycling tour

Historically however, the Dutch were among the foremost producers of beer, exporting as far as Russia and even to colonies in the Pacific. Now several of the country’s new generation of craft brewers are working to put traditional Dutch beer back to into the mainstream and their research is bringing into question the origins of certain other well-known styles.

In the new issue of Taps Magazine I go into much more detail about the reawakening of Nederlandse Bier. The article was inspired by the best road trip of my life, cycling around the lowlands for two weeks in 2013.

There I learned that Poorterbier, which shows up in Dutch records as far back as 1301, may or may not have been the precursor to what we commonly call Porter. No one has unearthed a recipe for the older style so it’s impossible to compare the two, but while British beer history mostly neglects the period prior to the 18th century, it is known that most of the beer in England was produced by Dutch speaking “Strangers” who numbered 16,000, as far back as the 15th century.

Stranger beer was so popular in fact, that Edward VI brought a Dutchman by the name of Peter De Wolfe to England “for planting and setting of hoppes,” or basically, to teach hop farming to the locals.

And then there’s India Pale Ale, a more durable beverage first brewed by the English to withstand the long voyage across to India. Long before the first recorded use of the term IPA (1829), the Dutch were shipping stronger, hoppier beer to their colonies in the East.

Chief among exporters was Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (United East Indies Company), also known as the Dutch East Indies Company. Its beer had to survive the voyage to what we now know as Indonesia (then called Oost Indies).

Oat Malt
Oat Malt — about 50% of the grain bill.

In that spirit, Niagara Oast House Brewers has brewed the first known Oost Indie Bier by a Canadian brewery. This Dutch style Pale Ale makes its debut at WVRST, Tuesday, March 10th at 7:00 p.m., which will also be the launch party for TAPS new issue (more information here).

The wort, which will become Niagara Oast House's Oost Indie Bier (February, 2015)
The wort that became Niagara Oast House’s Oost Indie Bier

I had the privilege to sit in as Brewer Mike Pentesco whipped up this first batch, with imported oat malt and a variety of European hops (including Strisselspalt, which not only smell amazing, but are super fun to say when you’ve spent an afternoon sampling).

Strisselspalt Hops
Wonderfully aromatic Strisselspalt Hops

I hope you’ll join us at WVRST to celebrate the launch of this new beer, and pick up a copy of TAPS to learn more about two fascinating eras in Dutch brewing.

Oast House co-founder Andy Vanderkaay clearing  out the spent grain
Oast House co-founder and Dutch descendant Andy Vanderkaay clearing out the spent grain
Oast House Hockey Pucks
The most (m’oast?) Canadian beer coasters ever!
The Niagara Oast House taproom
The Niagara Oast House taproom
Bière de Garde, barrel-aging
Bière de Garde, barrel-aging like a pro.

Rethinking Cider (Part II)

I mentioned a while ago that for too long I was hostile to the idea of cider. I tried a few I didn’t like, then flew to Frankfurt and tried some that didn’t seem to like me. That was that.

My tastes changed when I attended the mouthful of an event known as Canadian Beer News and Canadian Cider News present The Rhino Fall Beer & Cider Festival 2013, and was introduced to West Avenue. Since then I’ve also noticed Thornsbury, Spirit Tree, Pommies and a few others showing up more often.

West Avenue
West Avenue Heritage Dry Cider, at BarHop (the focus being on the grain was obviously my camera’s intuition)

From what I understand – and at this point, admittedly, it’s not a lot – Ontario grows great cider apples. In fact, the Ontario Craft Cider Association claims “… Ontario has the best apples in the world for cider production.”

However the OCCA also laments the discrimination its members endure when sent to school with their craft beer cousins (who, of course, are just starting to get the same respect – if not equal access to distribution – as Ontario’s wineries).

First, some facts and stats to ponder:

  • The LCBO marks up Ontario Craft Cider (cider which uses 100% Ontario apples or pears) nearly 55% above the cost it purchases it for. Factor in taxes, and the cidery is left with just 52% of the final tally. Ontario brewers, on the other hand, are marked up at a much lower rate, netting them 73% of what the consumer pays.
  • If a cider producer sells a keg to a bar or restaurant, 40% of the purchase price goes back to the LCBO, even though the government agency has no part of the transaction. Breweries, on the other hand, pass off exactly nothing in the same situation.
  • Whereas the Ontario Craft Brewers receive yearly taxpayer assistance in the form of Ontario Microbrewery Strategy dollars, the cideries have no similar investment.

That all comes from the OCCA. I wanted to do some follow up, but their website discourages it by failing to provide any contact info. If I persisted (harassed their members, posted on their Facebook page, scrolled to the bottom of this news release), I could probably find something, but I’m assuming the omission is intentional so who am I to be a pest?

Despite a wonky playing field, it seems fermented pommes are still making huge gains. Cider is actually the fastest swelling alcohol segment at the LCBO, and the homegrown juice (at least in terms of percentages) is the grower, if not the yet show-er.

LCBO cider sales
Domestic cider is that which is produced elsewhere in Canada (courtesy the LCBO)

Consider that The Beer Store doesn’t sell it, and the only cider listed at The Wine Rack (Grower’s) is from B.C. and you’ll get a sense of how difficult it is for consumers to find local selection. If I wanted to pick up some West Avenue to take home, I’d have no idea where to go. (Incidentally, the LCBO’s new Cider Rules! booklet gives West Avenue’s Chris Haworth a platform to boast about the strides Ontario cider has made. “Five years ago, Ontario had two cideries. In the past few years we’ve sprouted 15.” Below his photo, this: West Avenue Cider products are currently not available at LCBO stores).

Cider Rules
West Avenue’s Chris Haworth of Page 2 of the LCBO’s Cider Rules! booklet

More and more I’m finding myself curious about this beverage, especially local varieties. If it’s true Ontario breeds the very finest pomaceous fruit, the opportunities for growth are enormous, especially if cideries here go apples out branding their geographic superiority. While they may not luxuriate in the tradition of Frankfurt’s Sachsenhausen (are there any ciderpubs in Ontario?), with proper branding it seems only the province’s regulatory environment can stunt their vast potential.

Rethinking Cider (Part I)

Until recently I wasn’t even giving cider a chance. That was a mistake.

In August of 2012, I arrived at the Hauptbahnhof in Frankfurt and asked for directions to “… a microbrewery? Craft brewery? Someone local that makes beer… not a big brewery.” A map was produced and I was directed to Roßmarkt where I was told local brewers had gathered for a festival!

I hadn’t slept in nearly 30 hours, having endured an overnight flight next to a guy who spontaneously, violently convulsed every hour or so. It was close to 40 scorching degrees and sunnier than a 17-year-old Taylor Swift on Disney pills. What turned out to be my first and only Apfelweinfest was off to a rough start.

Apfelweinfest
Apfelweinfest!
Jagermeister
Jäger – not helping my cause

Frankfurt, it turns out, doesn’t take the same pride in making beer the rest of the country does. Instead, it produces apple wine. Apfelwein is a regional appellation, which means its manufacturers have the advantage selling it tax-free in the local area. A single Euro bought me two samples of the strangely bitter, sour cider. Several Euros were traded that afternoon.

Apfelwein
Apfelwein

Starved for sleep and cooking under an unrelenting Teutonic sun, I put back glass after gloriously chilled glass until the tents started closing and I decided it was time to walk it off.

Apfelwein
A fancier sample of apfelwein

I don’t actually remember what happened next. I know it got dark at some point. I know I wanted a beer. Badly. Then, much to my drunken relief, I found… wait for it… Shooter’s American Sportsbar in the Altstadt, where an altogether charming Polish bartender named Gosia translated the next few hours. To my left, a North African cab driver who spoke only French and German. On my right sat an Italian who also communicated no Inglese.

Weihenstephaner
Weihenstephaner, at Shooter’s American Sportsbar

I know I had Weihenstephaner – I have the picture to prove it. I’m pretty sure there were shots as well. I do remember that when Gosia was busy I continued speaking to my new friends, assuming they would figure it out. The cab driver insisted on paying my tab when I could no longer hold my head up.

Somehow I successfully stumbled back to my hotel, tripping my way alongside the Main (the river that runs through Frankfurt).

The next day I woke up at the Leonardo Hotel in a wicked world of hurt. Clif Bar safely inside me, I shuffled my way across the street to the train station and pulled myself onto a City Sightseeing tour bus (the red, double-decker one) bound for anywhere.

Modern Frankfurt
Modern Frankfurt, from the bus

Frankfurt, you may know, was bombed and burnt to hell during WWII. Where Medieval buildings once stood, a very modern metropolis has assumed the geography. On the south banks of the Main, however, is the Sachsenhausen district, much of which was spared the British bombers. Centuries-old architectural war vets line the neighbourhood, including quite a number of stone-faced venues around Schweizer Straße, that produce Apfelwein on site.

The Applegalerie,  Sachsenhausen
The Applergalerie, Sachsenhausen
 Sachsenhausen
Sachsenhausen
 Sachsenhausen
Sachsenhausen

I was the damaged one the day I walked those cobbled streets. As charmed as I was by how much love Frankfurters felt for their local drink – so much so they built a very prominent building to resemble an Apfelwein glass – that beverage (and not its consumer or whatever else I may have dumped in my body) was what I blamed for the pain that infected my every cell.

Frankfurt
See how the building looks like an Apfelwein glass!
Apfelwein
Apfelwein

When I returned to North America a couple weeks later I had no interest in the cider available here. I had tasted something special in Frankfurt, and it hurt me.

It wasn’t until October’s Canadian Beer News Fall Beer & Cider festival at The Rhino that I finally gave drunken apples a chance again. Greg Clow, who organized the event, insisted I try West Avenue’s barrel-aged blend. And damn. I’ve been missing out!

So cider’s creeping back on my radar. Last week I attended an informative lunch meeting at the Summerhill LCBO, with Woodchuck’s Cider Maker and V.P. of sales on hand. Samples from Blackthorn and Magners were also available.

More on that, coming soon….