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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Accounting for My Tastes in Beer

Written by Franz Hofer

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.)

Unlike Theise, who’s a wine merchant, I’m not in the business of selling my readers beer. But like Theise, I’m also subtly (or maybe not so subtly?) trying to sell you on a particular vision of what beer is or can be, along with the kinds of experiences that make beer worth drinking. That’s why, I think, it makes sense to give you an account of what has shaped my tastes — the beer gardens, Wirtshäuser, beer hikes, beer regions, and beer cities I write so much about — in short, the places that transform the liquid in the bottle or glass into something more.

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We Asked 15 Brewers: What’s the Most Overrated Beer Style? (2024)

Overrated can be a loaded word, and it’s often hurled at whatever style the latest tastemakers have deemed to be on its way out. Among them are some of the more hype-y styles shaking up the industry since the craft beer boom. Some people scoff at these popular beers, while others line up to snag the first tastes of them. Some brewers just see them as filling up tank space that could have gone to something more exciting and innovative.

The beer industry had a difficult year in 2023, and perhaps some of its stalwarts are beginning to feel a bit stale. Is beer simply facing massive growing pains? And if the industry is entering a new stage, does it need to leave behind some styles to make room for the new? Here, we asked 15 brewers which beer styles they feel are the most overrated. From hazy IPAs to pastry stouts to smoothies lactosed within an inch of their lives, here are the ones the pros believe have been given more credit than they’re due.

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Last Call: Submit Your Brews and Ciders for Global Recognition at The International Brewing & Cider Award

Elevate your brews and ciders to global acclaim at The International Brewing & Cider Awards – the ‘Oscars’ of the industry. Submit your entries by January 31, 2024, for a chance to gain worldwide recognition, enhance brand visibility and showcase your products.

Time is running out to seize the chance to catapult your beer and cider to worldwide acclaim at The International Brewing & Cider Awards – often hailed as the ‘Oscars’ of the brewing and cider industry. The registration window for this prestigious event closes on January 31, 2024.

The Awards offer an unparalleled opportunity for brewers and cidermakers to have their creations evaluated by a panel of globally renowned, actively practicing professionals in the field. Committed to acknowledging and rewarding excellence within the brewing and cider world, these experts bring a wealth of experience to the judging process.

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It had been ages since I’d been to Freiburg. Good wine was the order of the day back when an old friend studied law here in the 1990s. But now I was back to pay more attention to Freiburg’s beer scene before venturing into the Black Forest for some beer hiking.

Close to Switzerland and the Alsatian region of France, Freiburg is a city of gabled roofs and brownstone buildings famous for its delicately wrought Gothic cathedral and its brooks (Bächle) that crisscross the Altstadt. The Münsterplatz, which wraps around the cathedral, is a bustling square lined with stately buildings and home to a farmers’ market held every day except Sunday. Shaded courtyards and narrow cobblestone lanes provide respite from the crowds and also from the summer sun in this, Germany’s warmest city.

The heat is one of the historical reasons for those Bächle burbling through town in their narrow stone channels. Once used to extinguish fires and provide water for livestock, the channels were constructed mainly as a form of cooling. Even if these valiant brooks may not be as effective against today’s temperatures, the sight and sound of them are refreshing, enough to cool you off by dint of suggestion. But watch your step as you wander through the Altstadt after a few beers. Local lore has it that if you accidentally step into a Bächle, you’ll marry a citizen of Freiburg!

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Blog Post Trio: Cologne, Dresden, Rothaus

Written by Franz Hofer

Hi everyone!

Last time I sent out a trio of blog posts, the northern hemisphere was melting. The same couldn’t be less true today in Vienna, where a blanket of snow has cast a hush over the city. Even if next spring or summer seems far away, it’s never too late to start planning your next beer travel adventure. If you prefer armchair travel, this German-themed trio has plenty for you, too.

Most folks who head to Germany for beer make a beeline for Bavaria, and with good reason. But German beer is much more than Bavaria. This trio introduces you to two large cities (Cologne and Dresden) and, via a beer hike, a regional brewery in the Black Forest (Rothaus). You can click on the links at the top of this email, or the ones right below.

Cologne and Its Kölsch: A Rough-and-Ready Guide

Dresden, Beer City on the Elbe Continue reading “Blog Post Trio: Cologne, Dresden, Rothaus”

Ye Olde Scribe’s: Another WORST BEER IN THE WORLD

Looks wonderful, doesn’t it? Looks can be so deceiving.

Scribe bought 2 four packs. One was fabulous, the other qualifies for yet another “worst beer in the world.”

The can says, “Northway Brewing Co.,” but actually brewed by Glens Falls Brewing Company. Scribe can’t say anything about their other brews, just this on called Oat-Bituary.” It’s like the brewer chose too much roasted barley and combined it with too much black patent. What hops there are bitter and annoying. The best aspect is chewy oat sense way in the background.

Scribe has had worse beer, but for this edition “worst” applies. If Scribe had the time and the ability he’d line them all up and see which is THE worst, however they tend to disappear fast. Gee, wonder why?????????

The mouthfeel is annoying due to the other. However, Scribe can recommend Slushy XXL by North Brewing Company, Columbus, Indiana, if you like over the top fruit and chocolate/fudge beer. The fruit practically dances in the mouth.


Written by Franz Hofer

The rush of cool mountain air was bracing as I stepped off the train on the banks of the Schluchsee. A short bus ride later and I’d be in front of an old beer wagon laden with barrels, the coral-coloured Rothaus brewery rising up in the background. By then the fresh air was starting to warm, mingling fragrances of the forest with the aromas of brewing.

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with German beer knows Rothaus, the Black Forest brewery with colourfully labeled bottles depicting a young woman in traditional dress. What fewer people know is that Rothaus is a short train ride from Freiburg, southwestern Germany’s city of Gothic spires, cobblestone lanes, and medieval gates.

Whether you’re coming from Switzerland in the south or points north in Germany, Freiburg makes for an ideal day or two of beer explorations before you venture into the heart of the Black Forest. After you’ve had your fill of Freiburg, it’s a mere 2 hours by train and bus to Rothaus.

The ride up from Freiburg is a like a curtain lifting on the hiking that awaits you in the region. The train traverses meadows tucked up against the rolling foothills of the Alps and trundles through narrow valleys with rushing waterfalls. Black Forest houses with distinctive sloped roofs and carved balconies dot the fields and cling to hillsides overlooking pristine lakes. Before the train ends its journey in the town of Seebrugg on the Schluchsee, you’ll pass the steely blue waters of Titisee and its resort village as well. It’s worth stopping off at either of these places if you have time. If not, get the bus that climbs up the steep and winding road to Rothaus.


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