Sunday, 11 September 2011

Deutsch lernen mit Black Isle

I’m a sucker for anything involving German beer. This is because German beer was my first passion in the world of beer, pre-dating my discovery of real ale by a year or so. Sometimes the craving for a litre of crisp golden Untergäriges or a Seidla of brown, intensely hoppy Vollbier still surfaces. So when I heard that Black Isle Brewery were planning a German-themed beer festival I was immediately interested.

Nice barley growing on the farm
After their successful Shindig in summer the brewery wanted to have another festival sooner rather than later. The company slogan “Save the planet, drink organic” was quickly modified to “drink Germanic” and Jocktoberfest was born. I had to go.

At the crack of dawn I board a train bound for Inverness. Listening to Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express to get in the mood doesn’t work; the lyrics of high-speed diesel trains, swish Vienna cafes, hobnobbing with David Bowie don’t fit, and even seem slightly sarcastic, as we pootle through Pitlochry and Blair Atholl in the drizzle.

On the long trudge up to the farm where the brewery is based I pick an ear of barley from the field. It tastes pretty good. Later, on the brief brewery tour, I find out that some of the farm’s barley is now going for malting. Malt from your own organic barley is a unique selling point not too many micros can claim. Others might make organic beer, but they’re still buying the same organic malt as everyone else.

Most micros are also pretty cramped and you have to squeeze yourself sideways between the fermenters. Black Isle was like that too, until just a few months ago when they built the enormous black shed that now dominates the farm. Inside, huge amounts of empty space await further expansion while a shiny new 5hl brewing kit takes up one corner, conditioning tanks the other, and the dedicated bottling line reaches along one wall.

The dimensions of this impressive shed show
the scale of the recent expansion of the brewery
Beer list, the heart of any festival

Jocktoberfest is not intended as a cliched Dirndl and Maßkrug event, and thank heavens for that. There is not much of an attempt at “authenticity”; the bales of straw in the barn for people to sit on are more reminiscent of the Grand Ole Opry than the Hofbräuhaus. The signage in painstakingly hand-painted blackletter script is an amusing touch.
In a splendid bit of fun, Black Isle has asked Fyne Ales, Tryst, Highland and Tempest to each brew a special beer with some sort of Teutonic influence. Tryst has taken the brief most to heart and delivered something called Hopfen Jäger (Hop Hunter) which according to the buzz was a hoppy wheat beer. But they haven’t used a wheat beer yeast and so it just ends up tasting like another Tryst pale ale; i.e. bloody brilliant with a long-lasting bitter finish.

The most authentic food and drink at the festival are the bratwurst made right here on the farm. They are a surprise – not imported Tiefkühlware, but not plain common or garden sausages either. The spicing is right but the texture is ungewöhnlich – sloppy, for want of a better word. Nice though, flame-grilled and daubed with wholegrain mustard.
Additional praise for best beer festival signage

Fyne Ales have sent something called Munster Ale. They're forgiven for calling it Ale, as I can't see that it’s actually intended to resemble any German beer I know of. It’s quite sweet and malty; that is, it tastes of malt, not toffee. It’s also not at its best, the flattest of the three cask beers I try, all of which are lacking condition.

Tempest’s offering, just called Jocktoberfest but billed as a smoked Alt, is my first disappointing Tempest beer. Not annähernd bitter enough for Alt and very little smokiness discernible, though it gets smokier as it warms up.

These are all decent beers (they'll be turning up in pubs in the cities this week and I’ll certainly be trying them again) but an object lesson: there’s more to imitating a foreign beer culture than looking up a recipe on the internet, or using their ingredients.

At least the cask beer was nice and cold; it’s chilly up in Ross in September and I’m quite glad I’ve decided not to camp overnight. I have to get back to Glasgow for a friend’s birthday party so I leave after a last pint – it seems rude to only drink the guest beers and thus I have Black Isle’s own Goldeneye,  from keg at finger-chilling temperature. I’m not keen, the hops are too resiny for me.

I leave really impressed by the festival despite the short stay. The adjoining barns make a terrific venue, people are friendly, beer and sausages are good, lots of effort has clearly been put in. Possibly even a contender for my new favourite beer festival on a remote Scottish farm, but a final decision on such an important matter needs very careful consideration.

Yee ha



Vocabulary used in this post

Seidla half-litre mug
Untergäriges bottom-fermenting beer
Maßkrug litre beer mug, beer stein
Tiefkühlware frozen goods (food)
annähernd nearly
ungewöhnlich unusual




2 comments:

  1. Love the idea for this festival! I also love how it tests brewers to try something new. Sounds like great fun.

    On a side note, I was at a wedding in August and sat opposite the daughter of the owner of Tryst Brewery! I really like their beers.

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  2. Tryst is great. It’s a bit of a one-man-band and they don't go in for self-publicity, so it’s up to us to tell the world about them!

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