In some German cities, one will find a bar or two carrying this name- Duckstein Beer. Many people who have tried the beer have said it has an unusual taste but it is one that is spicy and a bit bitter, but one that is good for a pilsner. I myself had tried it for the first time after coming to Germany and was impressed by it. But yet sometimes first impressions can give way to reality, especially when you drink the beer again some time later. In my case, 15 years later. But given its popularity in many German communities, I decided to give the beer a shot as far as taste-testing is concerned. But first, a short overview of the beer and its history:
The Duckstein Brewery was first mentioned in the 17th Century, where it was first established in the town of Königslutter, located east of Brunswick in Lower Saxony. The beer was brewed using the waters of the Lutter fountain and the creek that eventually becomes part of the Elm River as its source. That water source was laden with lots of minerals, including calcium and hydrogencarbonate, which resulted in the beer having its unusual but pleasant taste of hard water beer. Originally having brewed wheat beer (Weizenbier), the Duckstein introduced its flagship product, the Original in 1640. Characterized by its reddish-brown/ mahogany color, this beer, the beer is aged using beechwood. According to the Craft Beer Locator on its facebook website, “The beechwood is used in ‘chips’ which are actually 3 mm thick & 450 mm long with a spiral shape. The chips are used in the maturation vessel allowing the beer to circulate through the chips & are NOT used to impart any flavor, but to help provide more surface area for the yeast to be exposed to the circulating beer.” The idea was later adopted by Anheuser-Busch for its flagship beer, Budweiser and its affiliated brands. To this day, the Duckstein Original is the only beer in Germany that is beechwood aged to give the beer its color and body. The beer is currently being bottled directly in Brunswick, but is owned by the Danish conglomerate Carlsberg.
Despite its clear mahogany color and its rather full body and good-looking foam upon pouring it, the taste of the Original is Gewöhnungsbedürftig (it takes getting used to). If one is used to the German pilsner, with its herbal taste, then that person should not have a problem with it, especially when it has a touch of caramel malt in it, as mentioned in the brewery’s website. However for those who like the sweet beer or one with a mild taste, then the beer may not be the one to try because of its bitter taste. It is like the goat cheese: you love it or you hate it. There is no in-between…..
Or is there?
With a bottle in the hand, my wife and I decided to split it and decide for ourselves. Sure enough the impression was it was rather too bitter after a few sips. However, I wanted to dig deeper to see how good or bad the beer really was. While the caramel and grain aroma provided a sharp balance but a faint intensity, the flavor intensity was really strong but astringent and a bit bitter. The reason behind that was a combination of spicy and herbal hops combined with a caramel and barley taste . This resulted in the taste being between neutral and off, pending on how the person judges it based on own preferences. Personally, the spices could have been trimmed back to bring out the caramel taste, even if the beer is beechwood-aged. Therefore its craftmanship is decent but could use some touching-up to bring out more of the sweetness in the beer- not intense but sweet. It is possible that this craftsmanship has been a tradition for over 400 years, but in this day and age, with the preferences changing, one has to be careful to address your target groups more carefully.
Grade: 2,3/ C+ This was a tough one to grade because of some of the features that I liked as well as those that could use some improving. If I was to go with the goat cheese mentality, the grade would be much lower (3 or 4ish). However one has to be a bit neutral when it comes to tasting beers, which includes looking at the positives that this beer has as well. The Duckstein Original is not a perfect beer per se, but its unique taste and craftmanship, especially as beechwood is used in the ferementing process, puts this grade into the two category. Better a silver medal than no medal at all, in my opinion. 🙂