Day 1 of the beer tasting challenge, New Year’s Day 2016, and what is fitting but to try a Winterbier- perfect for this time of year. Germany is famous for its various beer types one will find on the shelves of grocery stores as well as through ordering. One of them is with winter beer flavor. Interesting is the fact that the origin does not come from Germany and goes way back……
…….to the age of the Vikings.
As many of us know, the Vikings were Norsemen from Scandanavia whose purpose was to travel by ship, invade and conquer the regions of northern and central Europe and take their loot back to their homelands. Between the 8th and 11th centuries, the Vikings dominated the areas of Frisia and Juteland, along the coasts of present-day Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, bringing with them skills in shipping, the Scandanavian language and smoked meat as one of the cuisines to the region. The language was important as many of the words were later adopted in the English and Germanic vocabularies.
Then there was the Winterbier. Legend has it that Winterbier was brewed especially for the Winter solstace, where a special malt flavor is added to the ingredients and the beer is stored in icehouses, thus allowing it to mature with age. When served Winterbier has a high alcoholic content but a strong powerful aroma, which allows the drinker to enjoy the taste. This special beer type is still being brewed by breweries today, albeit with some slight differences and sometimes going by the names of Festbier or Weihnachtsbier. However, the taste of a typical Winterbier today is similar to what is described in the past.
My first taste test for 2016 comes from a very popular beer brand in Germany. The Oettinger beer dates back to 1731 when it was first brewed in the city bearing its name, located in the Bavarian part of Swabia, 30 kilometers from Donauworth. In 1956, Gunther and Otto Kollmar bought the brewery and the family has owned the business ever since, with Dirk and Ingrid also having a share in the business. Since 2004, it has become Germany’s best selling beer and one can find them in supermarkets, kiosks and petro stations nationwide. 5,0 Beer is also part of the Oettinger family. Apart from its headquarters, one can find breweries in Brunswick, Gotha and Mönchengladbach.
The beer to be tasted was the Winterbier. At first, I was very skeptical because I had tried an original Oettinger pils and radler in the past. Both times I was disappointed with the beers because of its rather weak taste- tasting like a combination of water, bread and barley but not having a fine taste where a person can enjoy it. It was not as bad as the Löwenbräu, which I only drank a half bottle, left it in the fridge for three months and then dumped it because of its hideous taste (see article here). Yet sometimes bad experiences can lead to a person avoiding it, even if the brewery tries marketing a special product.
With the Oettinger Winterbier, I decided to give the brand one more chance to prove itself that it can win over the customer. After splitting a bottle with my wife over a dinner, here are some things to know about the product:
Color: copper, most likely a pils with a malt flavor to it. The content is clear and the foam is not too thick.
Aroma and flavor: Like with other Oettinger flavors, the aroma and flavor is bread-like but with a slight caramel taste and herbal seasoning, it falls along the same lines as with the Winterbier. Yet despite its slick taste on the tongue, the impression was that the aroma was rather weak and the flavor was rather flat with more herb than caramel, more water than the ingredients, this partially fulfilling the stereotype of the beer. In other words, the craftmanship was rather plain and not so extraordinary, but the balance between bitter and sweet is in the middle. Yet if one wants to identify the ingredients just by tasting it, it is worth a shot, for a person can take a long time to drink a mug of the beer.
Overall Grade and Comment: (C-/ 3,3) While the Oettinger Winterbier represents a classic example of a winter flavored beer that is typical for this time of year, I found the beer to be relatively flat. That means, like with other beers, it was too watery and had a weak taste to it. As the brewery has been mass-producing the beer products for the supermarkets since the 1960s, this concept has taken its toll on the quality of the beer. If this mass-production combined with possible cost-cutting measures are proven to be effective in the supermarkets, then it has to come at the cost of the flavor and taste of the beer, which is the case here. In order to improve on its quality, Oettinger beer should try lean production, where there is less inventory on beer and more quality on the taste of the beer products. Less is always more and while this type of beer has a unique taste that is typical of a Winterbier, the quality could be improved if the strategy of more for the supermarket combined with marketing strategies changed. While some people like the brand, one has to see that by examining it closer, there is room for improvement.
And now to our next beer. Prost!