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24 x cheers till Christmas

“No matter how old I am, I definitely want an Advent calendar” – this sentence is often shared on Facebook, Twitter & Co., particularly in the run-up to Christmas. And encapsulates my stance to consummate perfection.

But after all, everyone’s got an Advent calendar with chocolates! This year, I wanted to treat myself to something out of the ordinary. So I was delighted to discover, quite by accident, a beer-themed Advent calendar in a magazine. Since I’ve been working for Krones, I’ve become fascinated by beer. It was when I was writing copy for Krones’ craft brewing website that I first sniffed the heady air you find in the world of liquid gold. And during a two-day internal seminar at Krones last month, I learned how an enormous variety of colour nuances, fragrances and flavours can be created using different strains of hops, malt and yeast. Where there is theory, you need practice as well. And so it was not a difficult decision: I have to have this Advent calendar. Only a few mouse-clicks – and 24 different beers were on their way to me. My enthusiasm proved infectious for my colleague Angelika as well, who also treated herself to one of these liquid-packed Advent calendars, though for her it was the craft beer edition. So our sense of pleasurable anticipation was significantly enhanced – not only for Christmas as such, but above all for the 1 December.

A journey of sensory delights

The beer-themed Advent calendar contains specialty beers from 24 small German and Austrian breweries. The journey from Franconia to Upper Austria is also a journey of sensory delights. Because all the different regions have their own distinctive beers: besides the classical types like wheat beer, pale ale and pilsner, behind the little doors you will also find more exotic variants like smoky beer à and mead beer.

But what do I have to bear in mind for my tasting endeavours? See, smell, taste: right at the start, I learned that all my senses count. A tasting guide and an assessment scale provide valuable tasting tips – a real boon for beer-newcomers like me, so as not to succumb to sensory overload with all the hop and malt impressions! So armed with a notepad and a pen, plus a glass and a bottle, I embarked on my beer tastings. And here are my favourites among the beers I’ve tried so far:

  1. Colour

Rieder Schwarzmann, the Bavarian black beer, with its dark-brown, almost black colour, is reminiscent of liquid dark chocolate in a glass. It’s even so dark that you can’t see through it when you hold the full glass in front of a white wall (as my tasting guide recommends). But if you’re expecting sweetish-tart aromas of chocolate, you would be wrong: caraway, black bread and a delicate note of caramel govern the smell and taste of this black beer – a definite surprise package!

  1. Head

My “head champion” is the light wheat beer from the Schneider Brewery. It’s located in Kelheim, which is practically just round the corner – a mere 30 kilometres away. I’m familiar with this wheat beer, of course, particularly from my jobs in the catering trade while I was a student. But now I know: familiarity and tasting expertise are two entirely different things. Because on a stressful Saturday evening, it was imperative to get the wheat beer as quickly as possible to my thirsty guests. Then I cursed the foam for vanishing far too slowly, created when in haste I poured the beer into the glass too quickly. Now, though, it was precisely this fine-pored head, almost as fine as cotton-wool, which put it first in this category so far.

  1. Fragrance of the beer, and initial impression

Now we get down to the nitty-gritty, the beer itself. A veritable taste explosion was triggered by the Met-Amensis Golden Dark. The fragrance of honey and malt immediately unleashed an upswell of Christmastime emotions in me. This sweetish-tart flavour also accompanied the first sip – and, of course, all the subsequent ones. But don’t be deceived: despite definite honey-sweetness and a delicate nuance of caramel, the mead beer is a veritable malt bomb, and replaces almost the entire meal. This is also reflected in the alcohol content: with 6.4 % abv, the Met-Amensis mead beer ranks among the calendar’s abv champions. Definitely not a beer to drink every day – but certainly one for “warming up” some cold winter evenings.

  1. Sparkle and bittering

Chilled, tingling, refreshing – beer is an acknowledged thirst-quencher. My personal freshness champion from the beers I’ve tried so far is the Jubiläums-Kellerpils Gold Ochs. Its delicate citrus aroma, the balanced carbon dioxide content, and the right drinking temperature give the pilsner (and its drinkers) a genuine freshness kick. And during the first sip, accompanied by a delicate (and for me indefinable) sweetness, this is transmuted into a hoppy note of citrus in the mouth. This pleasant bitterness remains present even after you’ve finished drinking, and thus provides a gratifyingly refreshing taste experience.

  1. Aftertaste

“The aftertaste should firstly be the crowning glory, and secondly possess a life of its own” – according to my tasting guide. I can vouch one hundred per cent for the truth of this statement when it comes to the Riedenburger Dolden Sud, a Bavarian IPA. When I smell it and take my first sip, I get a surprise: besides the hoppy citrus aroma, it contains another, sweet component: my guess is mango. This mixture of sweet and sour then changes when you get to the aftertaste – and my mouth is filled by a refreshing note of limes. I’m fascinated – and almost a little bit proud: for the first time, I had identified a particular fruit by taste, and also noticed the change while I was drinking – the tasting process is (literally) bearing fruit. For this reason, but also because of its incredibly multifaceted flavour, I expect I shall be remembering this beer for a long time to come – as will my taste buds.

Time to chill

In my modest tastings, I travel through the beer-themed worlds of Germany and Austria and get to explore their unbelievable diversity: my beer horizons are expanding day by day. I encounter new aromas, and read a lot about the traditions of the brewer’s craft and the brewing process. And with every bottle of beer, the Christmas festivities come a little bit closer!
But there’s something else my beer-themed Advent calendar has taught me: while you can devour a piece of chocolate in passing now and then, for a proper beer tasting one thing is imperative: enough time. And that’s precisely what’s often in very short supply during what’s supposed to be contemplative Advent. Which is why above all I’m also thankful for this intentional chill time, which I deliberately set aside for the tastings. For a short time, I slow down my day – which means I’m far more relaxed in the run-up to Christmas.

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