Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Get Ye To The Keller

As has been traditional since moving to the US in 2009, Mrs V and spent most of Thanksgiving week in her home town of Columbia, South Carolina. For a few years now, I have been aware of the presence of a brewery called Bierkeller Columbia, but for some reason I had never been able to time a trip to Colatown to coincide with acquiring their beer. Prior to the pandemic, at least as far as I am aware, their main business was brewing and doing pop-up beer gardens in Columbia, and as I say, we never seemed to be in town when they were having one of their events. With the pandemic though, they have started to sell their beer in crowlers, available at Swamp Cabbage brewing on a Thursday evening for a couple of hours. Given that we were going to be in town from the Tuesday, and pickup had been moved to Wednesday for obvious reasons, I finally made sure to put in an order...

According to the Bierkeller website, founder Scott Burgess lived in Bamberg for a decade, and seriously what better town in Germany would you want to live in and have world class beers on tap literally everywhere? As their website says, the aim of Bierkeller Columbia is to produce and serve German style beers that emphasise:

"authenticity, freshness, hyper-locality, and consistency".

Bold claims, but claims I have long wanted to test. As such, I availed myself of their ordering system, a very handy Google Docs setup, and got myself three crowlers of kellerbier and one each of braunbier and leichtbier. Had Mrs V and boys not been in the car when I went to collect my order, I fear I would have stood around for hours geeking out about German beer, Bamberg, and, after a generous sample from the lagering tank, all things rauchbier. Scott even more generously chucked in a crowler of their steinbier, more of which later.

Now, I almost kick myself that I didn't take notes, and in the case of the braunbier and leichtbier I didn't take notes because here is some excellent beer. The leichtbier is brewed in the style of a Czech 10° pale lager, and it hits every high note perfectly and if we lived in Columbia, I'd be buying vast amounts of this beer every week. Yes, it is that good. So, great start, nailing a style I love. With a litre of desítka sloshing around, I went next for the braunbier, and to quote the website:

"Braunbier is an auburn-brown lager that has a slightly toasty maltiness, balanced by a sweet breadiness and earthy, floral German noble hops."

Wow, this stuff was likewise gorgeous, and was gone in far too few mouthfuls, it is that moreish. I was enjoying myself, the boys had gone to bed, and whatever was on the tele was eminently worth ignoring. I could happily have sat and drunk all 6 crowlers, but it hit me that I didn't have anything lined up for Turkey Day. Unsure if anywhere would be open to stock up, I put a hiatus on my drinking. Turns out Piggly Wiggly is open on Thanksgiving and had a sale on Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, so it was Black Friday before I came back to the Bierkeller crowlers. With just kellerbier and steinbier left, and a disinclination to take notes, but I did take pictures this time, I started with the kellerbier.

The beer itself is not quite as dark as the picture would suggest, but is cloudy orange, topped with a fluffy white head. When I stuck my nose in the glass the first thing to come to mind was Mahr's Bräu aU, and it reminded me of that most venerable brew in the drinking too. A fantastically delicate balance of malt and clean, slightly spicy hops. I could easily imagine myself sat outside a gästhaus in Franconia, bike propped up against a wall as an endless stream of this beer flowed my way. Naturally I would have to walk the bike home, or come back tomorrow to collect it, or maybe the day after as I repeat the happy scene.

Steinbier is something I had only ever read about. Taking hot rocks and dropping them in wort to boil the liquid seems a rather laborious way of producing beer, but heck if you get something like this from doing so, more steinbier please! Scott and co heat up granite to put into the wort and then add the rocks to the fermenter so the caramelised wort on the rocks dissolves into the beer itself. It is really difficult to describe the flavour that this creates, kind of an umami sweetness, if that makes any sense whatsoever. It's like taking the difference in sweetness between Munich malt and crystal malt and intensifying it 5 fold. A stunning beer.

I mentioned earlier that Scott gave me a very generous sample of the rauchbier they have available from this week. Bear in mind that Scott lived in Bamberg for ten years, so here is someone who gets rauchbier, and it shows. The aroma was solid beech smoke and lots of it, lots of it, maybe not as intense as Schlenkerla, but front and centre. Flavourwise it reminded me more of Spezial's divine Lagerbier. As good a rauchbier as is being made in the US right now. My only concern is how to get myself a stash to Virginia for Christmas - Mrs V's parents may have to be sent to the industrial realms of Columbia to mule some up...

Being hyper local, Bierkeller's brews are only available at one of their pop-up beer gardens on the Riverfront in Columbia, or at their weekly crowler pick ups on Thursday nights at Swamp Cabbage Brewing. Also, did I mention that a crowler is just $5? Yeah, you read that right, $5 for a litre of seriously good beer, it's almost as though someone remembered the price control part of Reinheitsgebot as well as the ingredient bit.

I really hope that future trips to Columbia will involve more Bierkeller lagers, and if you live in the area but have yet to try them, seriously get on it, you will not be disappointed.


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