"Golly, I thought I could make a film about beer without sex rearing its ugly head again".
Said by a fruity presenter in response to some remarkably ill-informed tosh about "continental beer" from the then landlord of a CAMRA member in the Farriers Arms in St Albans, that might be my favourite quote from this wonderful 1973 documentary about homebrewing and real ale from the BBC Archives. It's definitely worth watching for anyone with an interest beer. And, as you're here, I can safely assume that includes you.
You might be able to make craft beer in railways arches or industrial state units, but for the aesthetes among us - the better sort of people - nothing beats an old brewery tavern.
Klausen/Chiusa's main street. Fresh beer is close at hand.
I present to you Gässl Brau, one of the Südtirol/Alto Adige's microbreweries. It's hidden away down a narrow lane in Klausen/Chiusa, twenty minutes on the train from Bozen/Bolzano. Frequently cited as one of Italy's most beautiful small towns, it's overlooked by a famous monastery complex and looming mountains.
A narrow alleyway opens up into a little courtyard, and there's the brewery tavern.
The beer brewed and tapped on site is unfiltered Hells, Dunkel, Weiss and Pale Ale. I stook to two half litres of the first, and simply enjoyed the setting. For a while sun broke through the clouds and shone down on the little courtyard, abuzz with cyclists, hikers and casual tourists enjoying lunch, as genial, drindl'd waitresses buzzed around.
Gässl Brau's unfiltered hells.
Open fermentation, or did some just forget to close the lid?
Shiny coppers - one of the more romantic images associated with the brewing of beer.
Rothaus sits at just shy of 1000m above sea level - a white line on the chimney marks that exact altitude - making it the loftiest brewery in all of Germany. It's in the Hochschwarzwald - the High Black Forest - and is surrounded by trees, lakes and mountain pastures.
An enormous statue of one of the brewery's emblems - Tannenzäpfle (pinecones) - greeted us as we approached Rothaus.
The brewery's sole UK importer Sandip of Black Forest Beers had arranged for us to visit together last week. I first made his acquaintance back in 2009, during this blog's first period of activity. He sent me cases of the beers he'd then only just started importing. I was impressed, but shortly afterward decided to stop writing this website (a hiatus that would last just shy of five years). As such, the planned post about Rothaus never materialised.
That's the Rothaus tavern and guesthouse on the left, with the brewery - reconstructed after a major fire in 1904 - on the right.
Nearly a decade later, I'm not just going to write about this glorious brewery: I'm pouring Rothaus Pils every day in my new pub the Ypres Castle Inn in Rye, England. It's a neat tying together of loose ends that gives me a lot of satisfaction.
The brewery, despite its fresh and eye-catching branding, is necessarily a conservative company. It's owned by the state of Baden-Würtemberg, and as such is a treasured, somewhat unchanging local institution. The range of beers is small: a Pils, a Hefeweizen, a Märzen, an unfiltered "Maidle" lager, plus de-alcoholished versions of the first two. A really rather good pre-mixed Radler (shandy to an Englishman) is also available.
First beer of the day: a small pour of Rothaus Pils served in a traditional flute at the brewery tavern. Perfection.
For me, the 5.1% Pils is where it's all at. I drink it almost daily in my own pub and was delighted to enjoy it at source. Thanks to the way beer is shipped to the UK only three days after kegging, and delivered to me only four days after that, it tasted exactly the same as it does from my own taps: perfectly fresh. Someone recently asked me what my favourite beer was: I had to say that this is it.
The Märzen is punchier at 5.6%, and very much sweeter. It works well at the dinner table - I enjoyed some with the brewery's great food, including white asparagus in season - but I wouldn't want a session on it.
Rothaus Hefeweizen, enjoyed after a hike around the surrounding forest.
The Hefeweizen is world-class in my opinion, though the style isn't one I consume often. It isn't as profound a flavour as the likes of Schneider Weisse or Weihenstephan from Bavaria, instead being a more gentle and easy-going affair. The orange hue is certainly appealing in the glass.
Rothaus Maidle, a gentle unfiltered lager.
The one beer I got to try for the first time is the hazy Maidle. This unfiltered lager - I suppose you could call it a kellerbier -was first brewed only a couple of years ago, and is rarely seen outside the brewery. It tastes grassier and grainier than the Pils. I've asked for some to be included on my own shipment next time they keg it, so it'll be served at in the UK for the first time soon.
The bottling line is probably the best bit of any brewery, let's be honest.
The brewery tour itself was like all the other brewery tours you've been on - polished coppers, shiny steel tanks, bottling lines etc - only in a more beautiful and remote setting. Rothaus isn't small: nearly a million hectolitres will be produced this year, the vast majority of it sold locally, but some exported as far away as Japan. It's extraordinary to be in a brewery of this scale so far from any major town, surrounded by lush greenery and mountain air.
I'm glad I'm selling Rothaus beer every day here in the UK, and immensely grateful for the hospitality we received. Every time I pour a pint (or indeed drink one) I'll be back in the Hochschwarzwald.
Black Forest scenery near the brewery. Our hosts arranged for us to go on a Segway tour of the surrounding countryside in the afternoon - thankfully we'd only had two beers with lunch and no-one went for a Burton.
There's no reason not to visit Cantillon: it's one of the world's most extraordinary breweries, and they welcome guests. Its moody side street location is a short-ish walk from Brussels Midi, so you can even do it between trains (and who wants to spend much time in Belgium's uninspiring capital?).
When I visited, the place hummed with brewery tour groups. They were mostly young Americans. As individuals, they divided sharply in two: those who were unbelievably excited, and those who were completely baffled and bored. I imagine a lot of people get dragged here by enthusiasts, and don't quite know why they're in a cramped space at the front of a working brewery.
The reason why those poor souls land here is because this is the world's most important brewer of sour beers, which have never been more popular than they are now. Cantillon's spontaneously fermented products are almost a reserve currency amongst beer fanatics. It isn't just hype: they're great.
I didn't bother paying to go on a proper tour. I was content with a stolen glance at a chap mashing in with a big wooden pole as I went for a slash. Instead, I sat serenely by a barrel in a prime spot. For an hour and a half, I was a fixed point among the shifting population of tourists, as I savoured glasses of each of the four beers poured at a simple bar.
For €3 a pop, fairly generous measures of blended Gueuze, Rosé de Gambrinus (raspberry), Kriek (cherry) or pure Lambic were gruffly dispensed from bottles and jugs by a man who'd clearly have preferred to be doing something less customer-facing. Although I'm usually very fond of fruit beers, I found the ordinary Gueuze most agreeable. The unblended Lambic was flat and one-dimensional. It's interesting to try the beer in its most basic form, but you wouldn't want a lot of it: there's a reason they blend it to produce the rest.
I left with a trio of 75cl bottles which now lie horizontally in my wine cellar here at the Ypres Castle Inn. I even bought a Cantillon t-shirt: that image of the happy, stumbling drinker is irresistible. 11 years after starting this blog, perhaps the beer geek in me has truly returned?
North American monasticism: it brings to mind the 1960 novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, one of the more worthwhile products of the golden age of science fiction.
Since 2013 St Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts has been certified as a Trappist brewery by the relevant international body, meaning beer is commercially produced there with the requisite monastic supervision.
I picked up a bottle of the product in Brussels and tried it at my pub in England one afternoon, while listening to regulars drone on about this and that.
Despite the crass yank exhortation on the label - "pair with family and friends" - the resulting beer is pleasing.
Of course there's a relative lack of complexity compared to proper Belgian Trappists, but this mellow and relaxed amber ale has certain charm. The funk is dialled down, but there's still plenty of flavour to grab hold of. I was even reminded of Orval, for a brief moment.
Eleven years ago I wrote about a Flemish sour ale: De Struise Aardmonnik seemed like "the best beer I've ever tasted". Since then I've learned that I just really like this rather rare style. The chance to try a new one is never to be passed up, therefore. This is especially true if the name's similar to my own pub.
I present to you Ypres Reserva 2011, again from De Struise Brouwers. Dried dark and red fruit, chocolate and oak. Sour, complex and delightful.
The setting, incidentally, was Café Rose Redin Bruges, a somewhat fussy but undeniably pleasant shelter from a rainy day.
Unsolicited trade samples aren't usually terribly good. In truth, if a brewery's making good beer, those with an interest in buying it or writing about it will have sought it out themselves.
Similarly, beers with obscure geek culture references as names - the type that leave one none the wiser even when explained in detail - also tend to be shit.
This one, therefore, surprised me twice. It arrived unannounced one morning, a single can roughly parcelled up and despatched via ordinary post.
"Not Your Buddy, Guy!" (me neither, haven't a scooby what that means) is a 6.8% stout with treacle, coffee and maple syrup. You can taste all of that, and it's fantastic.
The Scottish brewer, Williams Bros, used to be known for that odd heather beer, Fraoch, that everyone interested in beer tried once about 15 years ago. It seems they've changed direction since then. Judging by this - the only one of their recent beers I've tried - it's working out nicely for them.
It seems daft to own a really beautiful pub with great beers and not keep this blog going in some form. So I'll start posting again very soon. For now, here's a picture of a pint of Rothaus Pils - my house lager from the Black Forest - in my beer garden this afternoon.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know I love East Sussex.
On Tuesday I bought the freehold of a pub in that county. I first visited it five years ago, after a punishing 35 mile, 11 hour yomp from Pevensey to Rye (the 1066 Country Walk). I remember ordering two pints ofOld Dairy ale as soon as I got to the bar, and smashing the first back in two gulps as soon as it was placed in front of me.
Rye's Ypres Castle Inn (known as the "Wipers" locally) is a 17th century pub adjacent to and below the medieval fortification of the same name. It's got a big beer garden on the town's old ramparts, and a cosy interior with log fires. I live there now, and already I'm really enjoying running it.
The Wipers has a fantastic reputation for cask ale, being an established entry in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide. Once I add a great lager and some sort of pale, hoppy keg number it'll have a well rounded beer offer.
Heres an article Martyn Cornell, aka Zythophile, sent me about my new pub, published in 1948: