Written by Franz Hofer for A Tempest in a Tankard

Nestled amid leafy-green hills cradling the Neckar River, Tübingen is a mere thirty kilometers from Stuttgart but centuries closer to the Black Forest. Timber and stucco houses line the market squares where folks gather in cafes to while away the afternoon. Escher-esque lanes and stairs ascend to churches and descend to the Neckar, where punt-boats float languidly past people strolling along the plane-tree promenade. Over it all rises the turreted Schloss Hohentübingen, an erstwhile fortress with magnificent views over the russet rooftops of the Altstadt.

Tübingen is a venerable old university town steeped in literature and science. Johannes Kepler peered through telescopes to study planetary motions, and the poet Friedrich Hölderlin spent much of his life here. (If you’re into German literature, be sure to visit the Hölderlin Turm on the banks of the Neckar.)

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Lost in a haze: North American craft beer searches for mojo

Craft beer in North America has stalled. That much is plain to see.

From the era of annual double-digit growth, which has lasted for an inordinately long period from craft’s naissance in the early 1980s until the late 2010s, the past few years have seen more-or-less stagnant sales, with the US seeing a 1% drop in production in 2023.

Craft beer’s overall annual market share inched up 0.2% last year but the less-than-buoyant figures have left most industry participants and many observers wondering what the future could hold and how (or even if) it might be possible to restore the sector to growth.

At the core of this quandary is the fact that, for most of craft beer’s existence, brewers, industry watchers, and even many drinkers have struggled to define precisely what makes craft beer ‘craft.’ Size was a good marker, until some breweries grew sufficiently large that it wasn’t, and using ingredients as a yardstick was always going to be a non-starter in an industry segment that from the outset has self-defined as iconoclastic.

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Written by Franz Hofer for A Tempest in a Tankard


At first blush, the Munich Baker-Brewer Dispute might look like a curious footnote in the annals of medieval history.[1] But it’s much more than that. Flaring up sporadically between 1481 and 1517, this inter-guild dispute is not only a colorful story, it also illuminates a momentous transformation in brewing history: the shift from top fermentation to bottom fermentation in Bavaria, and the emergence of what we now call lager. For when we zoom in and focus on what the decades-long dispute was all about, we notice something interesting: yeast.

Besides furnishing us with documentary evidence confirming that medieval brewers and bakers knew what yeast was, the dispute also reveals that brewers were beginning to practice a different kind of brewing.[2] Significantly, the yeast for this new process required more time and lower temperatures. What’s more, brewers discovered that more malt, higher hop rates, and long periods of cold storage resulted in a beer that was resistant to souring microbes during fermentation, kept longer, and, most importantly, tasted better.

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Written by Franz Hofer for A Tempest in a Tankard</h3>

In between evenings of losing myself in my annual “big book” (Don Quixote this year), I’ve been reading Terry Theise’s What Makes Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime. Theise makes a compelling case that people who write about wine or who sell wine for a living be forthcoming with their readers and customers about their tastes.

It’s a simple premise: writers and critics should examine their taste proclivities so that their readers know where they stand. As Theise asserts, this is the first obligation of the critic, whether that person is writing about wine, beer, art, or music. It’s what buttresses our credibility. And, I’d add somewhat paradoxically, it’s what makes our judgments and pronouncements that much more “objective.” (More on that below.)

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Brewery Ommegang: Cooperstown’s Destination for Beer Lovers

(Thanks to Deb Evans for the link.)

New York is home to many great breweries, but there might be none that are more revered than Brewery Ommegang near Cooperstown.

Brewery Ommegang was established in 1997, which also makes it one of the state’s oldest breweries. Located on a 140-acre hop farm, they claim to have been the first farm brewery in the US in more than 100 years.

Unlike many of the breweries in Cooperstown, NY that focus on beers like IPAs, lagers, and stouts, Brewery Ommegang has always focused on Belgian-style beers. This focus has led them to create some of the country’s best beers in these styles. They do, however, also brew other types of beer for those that prefer something different.

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A Beer Judge’s Diary: Pawtucket!

Before I retired I used to tour through Rhode Island in the 90’s and 2000’s as an entertainer and educational service provider. Of all the things I miss, I miss spinach pies the most. I was determined to find one if I ever came back. Millie was skeptical regarding how good they were, and how the pies in Rhode Island were quite different.

Millie and I missed this competition last year because of snow. It’s a long drive for us out of Eagle Bay, NY; a tiny, tiny town set deep in the southwestern Adirondacks. We almost missed it this year. The plan was to stay in Johnstown, NY, for the night then in the morning drive to Pawtucket for OSHC. We got there and Ellen (Millie’s sister.) and Bill Hunt warned us about an incoming storm. So we drove into Massachusetts and crashed in our Sequoia at a Turnpike rest area.

Over $200 for the hotel we had already booked, and expenses pending the next week, we thought it best.

We checked out the hotel on arrival in one hell of a rainstorm, then headed out to The Guild, location for OSHC… Ocean State Homebrew Competition. STILL one hell of a rainstorm.

They had needed Cider and Mead judges, and since I’m endorsed for both, that was my task for the day. Millie judged Mead and Irish.

Continue reading “A Beer Judge’s Diary: Pawtucket!”


Written by Franz Hofer for A Tempest in a Tankard


Düsseldorf is only about forty-five minutes from Cologne by train — so close, yet in beer miles so far away. Düsseldorf and Cologne are unique: ale strongholds amid a sea of German lager. Yet these two “keepers of the ale faith” are rivals in all things beer. Order a beer in Cologne and you’ll get a golden-hued Kölsch. Do the same in Düsseldorf and you’ll get a copper-coloured Altbier. And woe to those who order the wrong beer in the wrong town.

Düsseldorf is the informal capital of German fashion and home to some of Germany’s most cutting-edge contemporary architecture. But forward-looking as the Düsseldorfers are, the very name of their beloved beer points in the direction of times past: Altbier, a beer made the way the Rhinelanders made beer before the tidal wave of lager swept the country.

And the city does love to drink. Locals call Düsseldorf’s Altstadt “the longest bar in the world.” You’ll find a bar in just about every building and on every street corner, mainly non-descript boozers catering to hordes of imbibers careening from one bar to the next. Fortunately, though, you’ll still find oases of Altbier amid this ocean of cheap suds and shots.

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Ambling for Beer in Oberammergau and Kloster Ettal

Written by Franz Hofer for A Tempest in a Tankard

Rays of sunshine pierced the clouds above the marshlands of Murnau as the train trundled along the Loisach valley. As we dipped into the basin that cradles Oberammergau, the sun emerged in full splendour, illuminating the tusk-shaped Kofel that towers over the valley.

Oberammergau is everything you’d imagine a Bavarian alpine village to be. Chalets with carved balconies and flower boxes. A church steeple in the center of town. And mountains all around. Ettal is Oberammergau’s opposite number to the south, and home to a majestic monastery.

For the imbibingly inclined among us, there are breweries and Wirtshäuser in both villages. And for those who like wandering, both places are close enough to each other that you can traverse the distance on foot in a matter of hours.

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Written by Franz Hofer for A Tempest in a Tankard


Gruit conjures up images of medieval goblets and mysterious mixtures of herbs and spice. Gruit is also a reminder that the ale Europeans drank right up to the dawn of the early modern era was worlds away from the hopped beverage we’ve come to know and love.

But what is gruit? In its broadest sense, gruit was a spiced ale that people from the British Isles to Bavaria and Bohemia drank alongside wine and mead. It’s also the name of the mix of herbs and spices that gave the beverage its distinctive, potent, and occasionally sharp taste. And it’s this mix that opens a window onto the power-political dynamics of the time — for this was no mere packet of potpourri.

The Holy Roman Emperor was the ultimate source of the Gruitrecht, which gave possessors the right to compose the gruit mixture and then sell it to brewers. Along with other rights such as tolls, markets, and minting, the emperor could grant the Gruitrecht to members of the nobility (typically counts) or the clergy (typically bishops).

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Twenty-Five Beers for 2024

A few weeks back I wrote about the cultural dynamics that influence our taste, while also giving an account of what has shaped my own tastes in beer. I followed up with an exploration of the kinds of beers I like, ending that piece with a list of beers that had caught my attention of late.

That list is still at the end of Beers I Like, and Why, but it’s way down at the end of a piece that’s already fairly long. So I’m turning the list into a standalone post (with a few modifications and different photos) to draw more attention to these superb beers.

A quick recap if you haven’t read the piece above: To keep things simple, I confined my selection to beers I drank for the first time in 2023. Even if the list doesn’t encompass every one of my favourite beer styles, it represents the kinds of beers I seek out from one day to the next. It’s also a testament to the kinds of beers that surprise me — and a reminder to keep an open mind about those styles and categories of beer we might not drink every day. And it’s a list that brings me full circle to the kinds of experiences I mentioned in the first piece in this series, Accounting for My Tastes in Beer.

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