Thursday, May 22, 2003

Beer's potential remains on tap

More experience should resolve inconsistencies

By Ed Westemeier
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Each beer is served in the appropriate glass, with steins used for lagers.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
The Munich Hofbrauhaus is arguably the world's most famous brewpub, with visitors from all over the world and hundreds of years of experience, so I expected a smoother opening for its newest incarnation in Newport.

There are many indications that eventually we will see a truly world-class establishment, but I can give the beer list only a qualified recommendation.

The Hofbrauhaus opened with five beers, some brewed on site, others brought over from Germany. Within days, only three were available on tap, and the shortfall seemed to be partly due to normal opening glitches, but also partly due to poor planning and design.

The impressive copper-clad brewing vessels behind the bar are roughly the size used by large American brewpubs (17 barrels), but a glance into the adjoining tank room shows that Hofbrauhaus is shortchanging its fermenting, lagering and storage capacity. You can't brew more beer if all your tanks are full of prior batches.

Since the opening, the beer quality has been highly variable. Sometimes you get a truly excellent beer; other times it's lifeless and boring. I suspect that's a combination of learning a new brewing system along with switching back and forth between imported and fresh-brewed beer.

The flagship beer, Hofbrauhaus Original, is a standard Munich lager style. It's golden, with little aroma apart from a subtle, pleasant grainy note. Original is low in bitterness, with just enough hops for balance.

The German hops have a fine, delicate flavor. It's a clean, balanced beer - a good, simple, basic lager that anyone can enjoy.

The second offering is Hofbrauhaus Lite, a weaker version of Original. The Original is so approachable and inoffensive that the Lite seems superfluous. I expected a renowned German brewery to educate and challenge consumers to a higher level, instead of dumbing down its offering for marketing.

Third on the list is a Bavarian Hefeweizen ale, called Munchner Kindl Weissbier. Radically different from the two lagers, this is a true German wheat beer. It's the same gold as the lagers, but a haze of unfiltered yeast makes it beautifully cloudy.

The initial aroma is a distinct clove scent, delightfully authentic. As the beer warms, lower levels of vanilla, banana, bubble gum and spruce aroma notes become apparent. If you're not accustomed to real German wheats, this can be surprising. For me, it's a treat.

Eventually, when production catches up with demand, there will be a dark beer (Munich Dunkel style) and a rotating seasonal specialty beer.

Each Hofbrauhaus beer is served in an appropriate glass. Lagers are in traditional glass-handled steins, either one liter ($6.99) or a half liter ($3.99).

The wheat is served in a tall, narrow glass ($3.99). I'm happy to note that the wheat is never served with a lemon slice, unless requested.

Finally, I have two beer predictions:

As Hofbrauhaus gains experience with its brewing equipment, I expect the beers to get better and more consistent.

Also, while some customers feel that fewer calories is a more important consideration than flavor, I won't be surprised to see the light beer disappear from the lineup.

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