With Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival, now well underway after a two-year hiatus, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts about how we approach the Germanic lager styles here at Thornbridge. Only a few years ago, it was almost impossible to get a well-crafted, authentic German style example in the UK, but things have improved vastly in the last few years. It’s difficult to say why this is so, particularly as Brexit has meant it’s become increasingly difficult to import such beers, but some of the impetus must be a move away from the NEIPA trend. Fine examples of Pilsners and Helles are now freely available from many UK craft brewers and it’s allowed us to produce many more than we used to be able to get away with!
We first brewed Lukas in 2016, when NEIPAs were still all the rage and double IPAs held strong as the beer geek’s favourite. Rob, our head brewer, has written about how we brew Lukas many times before, emphasising the importance of soft liquor (our water here in Bakewell is thankfully super-soft), the very best ingredients, cool fermentation and good separation throughout the process. He always says that a great Helles is delicate, soft and rounded and the hops should be in a considered quantity, just enough to balance the maltiness and add to the fruity aftertaste. We’ve brewed hundreds of batches of Lukas now and it remains our brewing teams’ favourite beer – I’m personally very grateful it’s been a part of our core range for a long time now! At 4.2% it’s easy to enjoy a few of these on any day of the week.
The first brew of Bayern was back in 2013 and was our first Bavarian-style Pilsner. In contrast to Helles, which tend to be well-rounded with a touch of sweet maltiness, Bavarian Pilsners are drier, crispier and hoppier affairs, with more bitterness and a lower finishing gravity. We use the best Germanic hops we can get our hands on and add them just after the boil; the latest iteration we brewed for cans used Spalter Select and has a lovely herbal note but we’re also very fond of Saphir, Tettnanger and also some of the newer varieties, such as Huell Melon and Hallertau Blanc. It’s as close to style as possible and if you enjoy Bayern, it’s worth seeking out a few other classics of the style, such as Augustiner or Tegernseer Pils, usually available in only 330ml bottles for some reason, even in Bavaria.
An increasingly popular twist on the German Pilsner is the Italian-style Pils – in simple terms, a German pilsner that’s been dry hopped (hops added either during or after fermentation) with a Germanic noble hop variety. Some of you may remember ‘Italia’, which we brewed in 2011 with our friends from Birrificio Italiano - seeing as we hadn’t brewed one for over ten years, we invited our friends from Pomona Island to brew another one recently. We managed to procure some Hallertau Mittelfrueh hops from the Tettnang region of Bavaria which were of superb quality, brimming with elegant spicy and floral aromas. We called the beer Salice, meaning ‘Willow’ in Italian; a reference to Pomona Island’s base of Salford. We make a lot of collaboration beers here at Thornbridge, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be making this again very soon.
Finally, I’d like to tell you about our Festbier, Feallan. It's been 10 years since we first brewed Feallan, so we were delighted to brew it again. It’s a classic example of the Oktoberfest style – heavier in alcohol and body than a Helles or Pilsner and slightly amber in colour, as we add a little Munich and Crystal malt to the Pilsner malt, giving it an Autumnal feel. Bitterness is kept in check, as we want just enough to balance the residual malty sweetness, so we aim for about 25 IBUs, as opposed to 35-45 IBUs for a typical Pilsner. Despite the strength and malty backbone, Feallan is incredibly refreshing and we undertook extensive ‘testing’ on this beer while it matured in tank. One of the defining characteristics of Germanic lagers is the long maturation and conditioning time they require to produce that clean flavour profile they are so well known for. ‘Lagering’ reduces and removes unpleasant flavour compounds such as Diacetyl and Sulphur Dioxide and helps to precipitate haze-forming compounds. Any compromise can mean a reduction in beer quality, which is not really what we’re about. Festbiers need at least 8 weeks generally, so we had to brew this in early July during the heatwave for it to be ready on time.
We’ve only just scratched the surface in terms of German beer styles here, but rest assured that more are on the way. Hopefully we will have time to bring back our Vienna lager soon and we’ve also lined up a very special collaborative lager brew, which will be ready to release in January. PROST!