Craft Beer: A lager and weissbier that prove quality still counts in Bavarian brewing

Lagerbier Hell from Augustinerbrau, Munich’s oldest independent brewery

THE jury may still be out on the benefits of devolution for the burgeoning beer industry in Northern Ireland, but there can be little doubt that state intervention has helped make Bavaria one of the regions most readily associated with good beer.

The history of beer in Bavaria and its capital Munich stretches back the guts of 1,000 years but we only have limited space here, so all you really need to know is that pretty soon after monks began brewing beer there, it became illegal to brew bad beer.

OK, so that might over simplify it a bit, but quality control was taken very seriously and the passing of the Reinheitsgebot – a purity law which dictated that beer could only be brewed using barley, hops, water and the as-yet undiscovered yeast – in 1516 saw to that.

The invention of wheat beers – or weissbier – less than a century later muddied the waters – both figuratively and literally – as the law dictated that barley was the only grain that should be used in beer. The problem for the beer zealots was that people rather liked weissbier and so they managed to survive a sort of quasi-prohibition which saw weissbiers only brewed and distributed by royalty, who were above the law.

To this day, though, the Bavarian commitment to preserving the high standard of their beer is astonishing. Some breweries are owned or part-owned by the Bavarian government, most notably the famous Hofbräuhaus, which not only makes great beer, but serves it up in its own iconic beer hall in Munich.

So, if you've run through the gamut of every available form of IPA, why not dip your toe (figuratively) into some German brews?

This week I tried Lagerbier Hell. Brewer Augustinerbrau has existed in one form or another since 1328, making it Munich's oldest independent brewery, but the helles style of beer has only been around since the late 19th century.

This crystal clear, straw-coloured beer clocks in at 5.2 per cent. It's a classic German lager, conditioned for longer than a normal ale and smooth and malty on the palate. It has a hint of sweetness and nice clean, refreshing finish.

Next up was an Original Weissbier from Schneider Weisse. This delivered all the characteristics of a classic hefeweizen – dark amber and hazy in the glass, a nice malty backbone and flavours of candy banana, cloves and a hint of pepper. Prost!

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