Get to know our beers a bit better in this guest blog by London-based beer writer, author, and filmmaker, Jonny Garrett. As well as writing regularly for Good Beer Hunting, Jonny is the founder of YouTube's Craft Beer Channel and has won several writing and broadcasting awards, including UK Beer Writer of the Year in 2019.
The Bavarians have it all figured out. As far as I can tell, their entire culture is based around beer, food and outdoor pursuits – usually at the same time. From my frequent visits, it seems residents just live out an endless summer in idyllic beer gardens, washing down giant pretzels with outsized glasses of beer.
Of course, that can’t quite be true. Munich winters are intense, snow-strewn affairs that force people into their cosy, wood-panelled bars every night – where they continue to wash down giant pretzels with outsized glasses of beer.
And it’s not just any beer either. Where in the UK finding a properly made and poured pint can still be a struggle, in southern Germany it’s so ingrained that you’d do well to find a bad one. You can stumble into any corner shop in Bavaria and come out with a few bottles of something that would make a British beer geek go weak at the knees. In the beer gardens it’s the same beer, but this time perfectly poured with a creamy head and served with schnitzel, pork knuckle or a basket of warm pretzels. It’s this utopian existence that Hofmeister Helles transports me to.
Helles is the most popular beer style in Germany. It suits the climate, the food, the people and the place by putting the region’s malt and hops in perfect balance and, until a few decades ago, fermenting them cold in the caves of the Alpine foothills. By brewing it in its homeland, Hofmeister takes advantage of the millennia of brewing expertise, the abundant honeyed malt, the spicy hops, and soft groundwater that southern Germany is blessed with. It’s not an imitation or an homage to Bavarian brewing, it is a Bavarian brew.
Hofmeister Helles is exactly the beer you crave after a long day – it’s crisp and refreshing, especially straight from the bottle, but it’s got character too. Sweet digestive biscuit and honey is followed by the tingle of floral and spicy hop bitterness, then that snappy finish that all great lagers have, cutting through it all to leave you craving another sip. It’s the kind of beer that you finish in moments, only to stare at the bottle wondering where it all went, before simply reaching for another.
A WORD TO THE WEISS
The drinkability of great Helles might make it the most popular style in Bavaria, but it’s not the most historic. In fact, the first Helles was only brewed 1894, while the region’s other native style spans back to 800BC – a fact we know because of remnants found in an ancient pot that’s considered the earliest evidence of beer brewing in Europe. That beer was a dark ale made with wheat, an ancestor to the second-biggest style in Bavaria. The Hefeweizen has changed a lot as human understanding of brewing, fermentation and technology advanced over the ages. However, the region’s people have always had a taste for beers with wheat in, and the style that developed was coveted enough to make it heavily controlled by the rulers of the day. While the famous Reinheitsgebot, a law passed in 1516 to ensure that Bavarian beer was only brewed with barley malt, hops and water, helped ensure the quality of the region’s beers, it also meant that anyone who wanted to make a wheat beer had to ask for permission from the Dukes of the royal House of Wittelsbach, who could monitor production – and probably sample it – at their discretion.
Hofmeister’s new Hefeweiss taps into centuries of brewing history, and a style that is still largely unique to the region. While hundreds of breweries all over the world have tried to emulate the classic Hefeweizen, there is something about those made in this region that sets them apart. Perhaps it is the use of purely German ingredients, perhaps it is the lessons learned over thousands of brew days, the tight control of production that only lifted around 180 years ago, or perhaps it is the influence of the location they’re made and consumed in. Either way, just like Helles the recipe is deceptively simple – at least 50% malted wheat, one variety of malt, a small dose of spicy German hops, and the unique Bavarian yeast.
Another style of brewing that Germany is excellent at but perhaps receives less adoration for is low-alcohol beer. In the UK it’s a new industry, but in Germany around one in every 15 beers sold is non-alcoholic, another indication that beer is such a huge part of the country’s culture that no day is quite complete without one.
As a result, the country’s brewers are fantastic at making them. They won’t tell you how they do it – they’ve put too much time, money and knowledge into the process to give that away – but the flavours speak for themselves.
You could talk about how they are isotonic, full of vitamins, less than 100 calories per bottle and handed out frequently after sports events but to me that misses the point. So many of these beers are still beautiful in their own right and stand up to their full-strength cousins.
You can make the same claims about Hofmeister’s new Ultra Low Alcohol Helles. There’s lots of sweet grain, fresh grassy hops and bready notes like all great Helles, as well as a good crisp finish. What’s more there’s still plenty of body in the beer – it’s not remotely thin or unsatisfying. I found myself checking the label again to make sure I’d opened the right bottle. The only sign of its strength is an extra hint of dryness – a soft cream-cracker-like note that might even make it even more drinkable, if anything.
We talk a lot about fridge fillers as beer writers, the kind of beer you want in your fridge at all times because you’re never quite sure when the moment might strike you, and that you can enjoy no matter what the reason or occasion. The whole Hofmeister range is heaven for that. In fact, I’d make space for a six pack of all of them in there. Now if someone can point me to a fresh pretzel supplier, I might just have life figured out like the Bavarians.