Germany Renaissance or rebellion? The new wave of German brewing

Discussion in 'Europe' started by herrburgess, Mar 12, 2013.

  1. herrburgess

    herrburgess Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Beer Trader

    Thought I'd start a new thread here -- inspired in part by Bodd's visit to Braukunst Live, but also by the steady stream of stories about new brews (and breweries) coming out of Germany these days. I'm looking for input on what we're seeing now in Germany with both an influx of U.S.-inspired styles, as well as a revival of traditional styles by both new and established breweries.

    My question, in short is: do you think the developments in Germany constitute more of a brewing renaissance (or rebirth) or a rebellion? For comparison, I tend to think of the first wave of microbrewing in the U.S. as more of a rebirth and a revival of (primarily) English-inspired styles, while this latest wave has more hallmarks of a rebellion (breaking with tradition and/or providing a polar opposite to macro beer...with a lot of talk about "innovation" and "ground/rule breaking").

    So, what is it we are witnessing in Germany? Is a renaissance enough to revive the industry? Is a rebellion needed to shake things up enough so that change can happen? I know this has been discussed in separate threads before, but maybe we can bring a bit more "Ordnung" to it here ;) Any and all thoughts welcome. Prost!
     
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  2. leedorham

    leedorham Apr 27, 2006 Washington

    I don't have enough insight into the current scene there to be sure, but I think the reason it may seem like more of a rebellion is needed has a lot to do with tradition. In the US, there was really no tradition to break. Beer was an industrialized alcohol delivery system that had been outlawed only a short time ago.

    Another thought - the rebirth of beer in the US could almost be seen as casting aside the previously-embraced, albeit bastardized, German brewing tradition. German brewers, their descendants, and their students were largely responsible for the way beer tasted in the US up until the craft movement. It probably takes a lotta nuts for a German brewer to embrace American trends and label it as innovation.
     
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  3. Gutes_Bier

    Gutes_Bier Jul 31, 2011 Germany

    I don't think it's to the point where you can start calling it either, to be honest. Not yet.

    I've had a few swings-and-misses at non-German styles here (and a few hits as well). My thought - at the risk of offending certain one horned animals here - is that I hope Germany sticks to what it does well and lets America (and the UK and Belgium...and Italy...) do what they do well. There are positives and negatives to everything. I'll take what Germany has to offer. Complaining about the lack of (A/I/DI)PA's in Germany is like going to The Netherlands and complaining that there are no mountains. I mean, it maybe true, but then again you're missing the point. What I wish for in Germany is that more people (Germans) would embrace the non-local-but-still German traditions like Alt, Kölsch, Gose, Rauchbier or whatever and make more (drink more) of those. I could live very happily off of only German style beers.
     
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  4. einhorn

    einhorn Nov 3, 2005 California
    Beer Trader

    I am not sure it's either a renaissance or a rebellion - it might be a simple survival tactic. As I have shown many times before here, the German brewing industry has been in the doldrums for decades. Shrinking consumption, homogenization (or dumbing-down) of the pilsner style, pay-to-play mentality and price-driven consumers have made life for brewers terrible. You might say they have created their own mess but this is just the beginning from what I can see it can still go in many directions.
     
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  5. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    A bunch of eggheads trying to score scene points on american beer boards because they can't get their feet on the ground in reality does not constitute as rebellion. There is a certain resurgence of regional styles coming from the ground up which is a good thing. Other than that German beer is fine and doesn't need "fixing".

    The reasons why alcoholic beverages (consumption goes down across the board) are consumed less and less around here are many and none have to do with a perceived lack of variety. Not that many Germans would see it that way to begin with.
     
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  6. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    What is it that Italy does well ? Besides switching governments like underwear I mean ? :D
     
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  7. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    the aimless (and largely fruitless) experimentations of a bunch of highschool kids who try everything, get nothing done right and praise each other for their experiments and how great they are while in reality they are pretty much the laughing stock of people who REALLY know about brewing.

    Now, before you explode, I hasten to assure you, that is NOT my personal opinion. I've been to the US often enough and know for a fact there's some really good beer there. However, whenever I speak to friends, aquaintances, family or even at the local Stammtisch about beer in the US, people get that funny look and I can tell they are thinking that I've lost my marbles.

    My point is, people around here are happy with the way things are and would view your opinions a joke at best and a hostile incursion at worst.
     
  8. boddhitree

    boddhitree Apr 13, 2008 Germany

    Back to that incredibly long "Epiphany" thread: Italians do beer very well, thank you. They're 3 steps ahead of Germans in a craft beer explosion. For proof, check out this map. So Stahly... your assumption of Italian beer is outdated and wrong for today, though the gov. part is still correct.

    I plan on getting to my reviews of what I drank at BrauKunst Live! (BKL!) eventually, but as of now, I'm swamped with teaching and I don't have time to do the write up I want to do. But I promise... it will be good and there will be a few pics (though my hands weren't steady enough to take more pics), and you will be surprised at what I've got to say about the beers in general and the German beers I tried, so :p. I worked up the pics yesterday to enhance them for posting, so that task is done; now just gotta find time to write, but please forgive me if I don't get to it before this weekend.

    Also, I want to add my 45 cents to this discussion, but I think most of you know my positions already, right? However, it would be good to summarize them and update my opinions with my experiences from drinking only Bayern beers recently and the BKL! experience.
     
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  9. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    I wish you'd stop to refer to me as a "German" :D Your opinion may be valid for Germany but here in the great State of Bavaria we don't need a "Craft beer explosion" because we never lost the craft to begin with. :)

    So there's quite a few red dots all over Italy. What are those ? And since when does quantity count ? I have not had a notable Italian beer all my life which, admittedly is mostly due to me rather going for a Brunello Di Montalcino when I'm down there. Which, come to think of, sadly also has been quite a while. :/
     
  10. Gutes_Bier

    Gutes_Bier Jul 31, 2011 Germany

    I had a few beers recently while in Italy. I thought one was just awful, although I'm starting to think that it was a style that I just don't care for (sweet stout). The other two were good, with this one being really delicious if memory serves:

    http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/14046/43133
     
  11. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    Italians brewing an "American Pale Ale"... That's a whole new level of cultural bastardization as far as I'm concerned.... :eek::confused:

    "Schuster, bleib' bei Deinen Leisten !"
     
  12. Gutes_Bier

    Gutes_Bier Jul 31, 2011 Germany

    I know, but don't get too caught up in the nomenclature. I would like to strike the word "American" from that category and simply call it a Pale Ale but what do I know. In either case it was a pretty good beer.
     
  13. herrburgess

    herrburgess Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Beer Trader

    But wouldn't emerging from the "doldrums" be considered a rebirth, or renaissance? I do see your point, especially as regards the big boys such as the Radeberger Group; they have definitely painted themselves into a tight corner. However, you're starting to see some interesting moves among the "smaller" groups such as Schörghuber-Gruppe, which is owned by Heineken. Paulaner is opening a beerhall in NYC (http://ny.eater.com/archives/2012/04/paulaner.php) and has a number more U.S. outlets in planning. They are obviously looking to enter the U.S. market with its undeniable thirst for better beer...and perhaps they will be the ones to fill the gap between BMC and rebellious U.S. craft, which has to a large degree migrated to the far opposite extreme of the spectrum. To take things one step further, I could see heightened interest in German beer abroad fueling a resurgence of pride (and revenue) for German beer and brewers at home. Lots happening right now, and it's interesting to see how it is all unfolding.
     
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  14. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    I know, but using it like that is a dead giveaway of their attitude.
     
  15. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    If people consider THAT the "New Wave of German brewing" we are doomed.
     
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  16. herrburgess

    herrburgess Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Beer Trader

    On the contrary! U.S. mid-market consumers might consider it a nice balance between the extreme blandness of BMC and the extreme experimentation of U.S. craft. Then the heightened interest abroad in inferior products could serve to wake up German consumers who -- unlike most of their American counterparts, on both the BMC and the "craft" side -- are aware of the true quality beers that are in danger of being lost to the current downward trend.

    In other words, a rising tide lifts all boats (even if to a large degree that tide is, to use your term, "swill" ;))
     
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  17. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    So you think that Americans drinking all our dreck, thinking it's gold, will create a shortage of said dreck over here and the actually worthy breweries will get more customers ? :)
     
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  18. herrburgess

    herrburgess Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Beer Trader

    Genau! ;) To be a bit more serious, though, perhaps an increase in overall revenue for the industry will serve to boost demand across the board, leading to a renaissance of traditional styles similar to what happened with UK beer in the 1970s. Not saying Germany needs an organization like CAMRA to get things going; I don't think such a grass-roots approach will help much in this age of globalization. Rather it will be increased awareness of the potential loss of tradition that will wake German brewing -- and beer drinkers -- from their slumber.
     
  19. jonb5

    jonb5 May 11, 2010 United Kingdom (England)

    A number of alcoholic trends that have started in The USA have been quickly followed by Britain (eg Alcopops, Light Beer) and have arrived in Germany a few years later. It is obvious that Germany will never be California when it comes to new breweries but there are signs of evolution.

    I think Germany needs to brew some of it's own mainstream gateway craft beers along the lines of Sam Adams Boston Lager and SNPA to show the mases there can be so much more to beer than the 5 Euro crate of Oettinger. The question is, who would brew them and be prepared to take an initial loss? I doubt any new beer priced at more than 14 Euros a crate could sell enough to be profitable.

    The main problem is the mindset most people have, I've read that most Germans buy 3 or less types of beer over the course of a year. By nature they don't stray from what they know.

    I think regional distribution needs to improve, I've seen Schlenkerla and St Georgen Brau beers in a couple of north German outlets but more progress is required. This is a major challenge for the new micro-breweries.

    Personaly I think there is room for significant change but doubt the appetite is there.
     
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  20. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    And here exactly is your mistake :) The "industry" and their hunger for revenue is the polar opposite of anything even remotely "craft". Even should they thrive like you hope / predict, they would simply buy up more small and medium breweries here.

    There's so much written about Germans not drinking anymore and we still drink way more than most others so all this doomsaying about the downfall of German brewing is really completely laughable. Every small brewery I know around here operates at capacity and so what if some of those Fernsehbier piss-mongers sell a few barrels less ? Good riddance I say, I hope they all go bankrupt (or at least give up brewing) and won't soil our good name anymore.

    The real reason why people today drink 2 beers instead of 4 like they did 20 years ago are because for once, the economic situation for many is rather dire with almost 20 % of the entire population are depending on government handouts and many others hardly making enough money to support their families and cellphone plans and secondly because they lowered the legal limit to 0.08% in 1973 and to 0.05% in 2001. Now you can loose your license after the 2nd beer so people prefer to not bother at all anymore.
     
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  21. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    We've had all this since the 60s, it just wasn't "formalized" but mixed at the counter.

    You miss the point, we don't need any "new beer", what the Hell for ?

    "Markentreue" is the wet dream of every company. I admit most Germans could be more adventurous but that's not really in our DNA anymore. All the adventurous ones have emigrated to The Americas or Russia (Well, most of those have come back by now...) over the past 2 Centuries.

    The major challenge for any brewery in Germany is to exist past the first 3 month in a completely oversaturated market. You can't buy Schlenkerla in Regensburg and we're an hour from Bamberg. Why ? Because nobody would buy it. So Schlenkerla won't bother. They'd just get it sent back by the wholesaler after it expired and have to write it off.
     
  22. herrburgess

    herrburgess Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Beer Trader

    You know, I have to agree with you on most if not all points here. The LARGE majority of the talk I have heard about the demise of German brewing has been through the press (and/or on here). When I went back to Bamberg and Bavaria this past summer, I saw the complete opposite: breweries that are filled to capacity and more; new beers from almost every place I visited; and a general "renaissance" and increased interest in tradition. Even -- and perhaps especially -- among younger people.

    I guess all the talk has me worried that Franconian/Bavarian brewing is moths away from decimation -- despite everything I witnessed first-hand. But what I witnessed made me think that a rebirth might be in the works...at least in tradition-rich (and traditionally stubborn!) Franconia.

    Perhaps I need to stick to primary sources more ;)
     
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  23. herrburgess

    herrburgess Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Beer Trader

    ...all that said, I'm definitely interested in hearing Boddhitree's thoughts on the general feeling/sense coming out of Braukunst. I suspect things like this event are there to stay and will certainly be playing a role in the "industry" as it searches for direction.
     
  24. einhorn

    einhorn Nov 3, 2005 California
    Beer Trader

    News from Gaffel on this subject

    Gaffels "Sonnen-Hopfen" als Jahrgangsbier enthält einen zugegebenen Citra-Aromahopfen "aus dem Yakima Valley im Nordwesten der Vereinigten Staaten"

    Gaffels new beer "Sun-Hop" beer contains added Citra aroma hops "from the Yakima Valley in the northwest of the United States"

    I guess it remains to be seen what direction this will all take. The only side of the developments which gives me Bauchschmerzen is the "me-too" philosophy in Germany. Once one guy hits a home run, everybody else starts swinging for the fence.

    Also, please do not compare the rest of the country to the Shangri-La of Franken. The US population has finally embraced something better than AALs and craft beer now has a 6% volume and 10% dollar share of the market. We are beyond high school homebrew experiments and the competition is getting ferocious.
     
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  25. jonb5

    jonb5 May 11, 2010 United Kingdom (England)

    You miss the point, we don't need any "new beer", what the Hell for ?

    I've heard many people say that beer is too "bitter" to drink in any great quantity. They either drink Alster/Radler/Cola-Wiezen or switch to Bacardi-Cola/Vodka-Red Bull after a beer or two. There is room for a beer which could alter the perception of what beer is and make people at least consider drinking more of it. At the moment the masses can't see past Pils and Hefeweizen when they think of beer.
     
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  26. einhorn

    einhorn Nov 3, 2005 California
    Beer Trader

    Another side note, just FYI: selling beer in California gives me a different and maybe insightful look at the trends which will hit the rest of the country down the road. My observation is that many retailers are scaling back imports, for the most part German & English selection, in favor of US craft beer. They continue to carry Belgians, adding more sours, but the tendency is falling. As a lover of German styles, I am sad to see this happen, but it does not surprise me.
     
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  27. herrburgess

    herrburgess Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Beer Trader

    This.

    My guess is it's going to be the citrus/grapefruit hops profiles that Germans latch onto...and run into the ground ;). To be fair, I think that the bold, fruity flavors of the newly cultivated hop varieties drive a HUGE section of the U.S. craft market as well (just look at the love for Jack's Abby's lagers...it's the HOPS, stupid!), and are the closest thing we've seen in the past decade to a true "innovation" in brewing.
     
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  28. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Firstly, I appreciate all of the posts you made in this thread; they are thoughtful.

    In this post you made mention of a number of issues but the one I find the most disturbing is: “homogenization (or dumbing-down) of the pilsner style”. If I want to drink an authentic German Pilsner (where authentic is defined by a Pilsner like they brewed in Germany circa 1970s – 1980s) I have to drink US brewed German style Pilsners.

    I wonder if any of the German breweries have considered making 'good' beers like they did just 30-40 years ago?

    Cheers!
     
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  29. boddhitree

    boddhitree Apr 13, 2008 Germany

    All the usual suspects have contributed with all their well worn talking points. My contribution.
    This is the current state of beer in Germany in general:
    1. German beer in general is boring (irregardless of quality) due to a lack of innovation with almost nothing new to entice the consumer away from other products other than semi-beer products.
    2. The general industry is losing customers to wine and the younger generation, also losing revenue due to shifts in consumer's attitude to beer - lower blood alcohol levels when driving is important, but more important is a general higher health consciousness which beer doesn't fit into.
    3. Quality has been reduced considerably among mass produced beers.
    4. The few quality beers as stuck in god-forsaken rural areas or tiny cities with no access to bigger markets, whether that's by choice or not, that's a different topic.
    5. Marketing of beer is tired and unoriginal, based mostly on "tradition" that appeals to an older market slice. (Beck's interesting label designs are a step in the right direction. See below. Though it masks bad beer, it's an example of creative thinking.)
    [​IMG]
    These are trends, mind you, and there are exceptions, but that's the landscape.

    Possible solutions:
    For conglomerates, not much, except to market based on quality rather than price and tradition, but that's like asking BMC to do the same. This is unrealistic.

    The small brewers must lead the way, either micro or smaller traditional brewers:
    1. Focus on quality because they can't compete on price.
    2. Market their product better, which means creative thinking, something German brewers aren't noted for.
    3. Finding innovative distribution channels, especially online.
    4. When it comes to product, they can A) focus on creating a really great product from their current line up or B) create new ones, either innovating off of what they already make or introduce products completely unknown in their market.
    To do this requires both a renaissance and a revolution.
     
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  30. herrburgess

    herrburgess Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Beer Trader

    Is this more or less what you saw happening at Braukunst? Did you get to talk to brewers about any of this? If so, what is the rebellion against? Just the Fernsehbiere and conglomerates, or are all "traditional" styles being seen as boring and in need of a new direction? If not, where is the renaissance taking place, and what are people awakening to?
     
  31. Gutes_Bier

    Gutes_Bier Jul 31, 2011 Germany

    Sorry to do this*, but circling back I think that Paulaner place could really be interesting. Does "Brauhaus" mean they'll be brewing on location, or is just a marketing label? Hopefully they will brew on location and hopefully they will use the wooden barrel gravity dispense method. While they'll likely not get the hophead market, I think if they do these things they have a chance of getting a lot of BMC drinkers who stop in to turn to German beer as a future option.

    * = once my boy woke up from his nap my BA time was over until he fell asleep for the night.
     
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  32. einhorn

    einhorn Nov 3, 2005 California
    Beer Trader

    It's an interesting and logical move - make their original recipe of just a hoppier version of their current pilsner, which is where I believe Warsteiner is going with their Warsteiner Herb (has anyone tried this?).
     
  33. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Most Ba's will say that is out of style. ;)
     
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  34. einhorn

    einhorn Nov 3, 2005 California
    Beer Trader

    Most BAs show very little love for a well brewed pilsner anyway. Sad but true.
     
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  35. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    We are such predictable folk, aren't we ? :)

    To item 1: Well, German beer is German. We thrive in technical innovations, marketing has never been our strong point.
    To item 2: Fernsehbier is loosing customers. Smaller regional breweries have strong support in the population and especially with the kids. I invite you to come to any brewery fest around here and you can see for yourself.
    To item 3: Agreed. Which is why mass produced beers should be avoided.
    To item 4: It's your own fault for moving to a beerless hellhole like Frankfurt, isn't it ? :p
    To item 5: I don't think better marketing would do much good in terms of selling more good beer. Good breweries are already selling everything they produce and they can't up the production because they don't have the capacity and/or access to more ingredients to toss in their mash.

    Item 1: They already do that, that's how they survived so far.
    Item 2: I sort of already conceded that part but, why would a brewer who already works full time and sells all he makes and has a very nice living from it bother to get himself in a risky financial situation ? Just to please a fickle population that will leave him and his family and his debts like a piece of roadkill on the sidewalk the second the winds turn ? "Der Spatz in der Hand ist besser als die Taube auf dem Dach" goes a German saying that roughly translates to the small bird already in your hand is much better than the bigger one you can see up on the roof but have yet to catch. Germans firmly believe that when we overeach ourselves life punishes us and more often than not that punishment is administered by your own peers walking away from you because they think you lost touch with the ground. I know you are aware of that because of your work and it irritates you to no end but this is Germany and when dealing with Germans you have to apply a solution that works with the German mindset. You cannot convince anyone of doing something that's simply not in his repertoire, no matter how much it may irritate you. I know that for a fact because of my work.
    Item 3: Since most small brewers already sell everything they make the urge to look for new distribution channels is not very urgent for them. They might accomodate you if you approach them if it's not too much trouble for them but they won't bend over backwards for anyone. Why would they ?
    Item 4: No need.
     
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  36. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    Industrial breweries always whine. They don't like to pay taxes (who does...) and they don't want to pay their share holders so they use their willing boot lickers in the press to spread all this nonsense about "OMG German brewing is dying" and people overseas start believing that drivel. Winston Churchill once said that the only statistics he would believe are the ones he rigged himself. In Germany we say "Papier is geduldig" (= Paper is patient). Reality looks rather different however.
     
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  37. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    I don't. BUT, those parts of Germany that have a beer tradition embraces that tradition. The problem with perception is that people like boddhitree think they move to "Germany the beer Mecca" and end up in a place that doesn't have a beer tradition and then they think it's all a hoax. Even vast parts of Franconia have a wine tradition (it's even semi-officially called "Weinfranken") where you won't find a decent beer. People don't drink it and thus, nobody produces it. Germany is far from monolithic, look at a historical map, all those old states from 200 or 300 years ago still live in our heads and the traditions continue.
     
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  38. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Mar 21, 2005 Germany

    You need to come visit Eastern Bavaria.
     
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  39. Gutes_Bier

    Gutes_Bier Jul 31, 2011 Germany

    I saw it recently and thought about getting it but decided against it. Maybe I'll give it a shot, but normally if I'm in the mood for a pils I'll get Rothaus or Alpirsbacher. If I see it again I'll try it and report back.

    Otherwise, I agree with everything Stahlsturm said.
     
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