Fearful Symmetries

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10 August, 2016

Yippee-ki-yay!: hans macgruber by Oliphant Brewing

When I saw the name of this bier, it was instantly familiar. Hans MacGruber, Hans MacGruber...nope. I just couldn't place it. I DuckDuckGoed it and it turns out that Hans Gruber is the villain from Die Hard played by the late and much lamented Alan Rickman. "MacGruber" is the name of a Saturday Night Live sketch that parodies MacGyver.

In addition to the teasingly familiar name, I was happy to see that Oliphant had decided to join the Summer of Rauch '16 by brewing a smoked Vienna-style lager.

The Vienna lager is one of my favorite styles of beer. I suppose it (or variants thereof) was one of the first microbrew styles I encountered back in the early 1990s with the amber lagers of both Capital and Sprecher. Its flavor of toasted grain imbued with a bit of malt sweetness and balanced by Noble hoppy goodness really appealed to me then and continues to do so now.

The style dates back to 1840 and was introduced by Anton Dreher, an Austrian brewer who had studied in both Munich and the United Kingdom where his head became filled with thoughts of pale malts and lagering. And he merged the two in his Schwechater Lagerbier, the ur-Vienna lager. Dreher had a veritable brewing empire - a lager baron, if you will. If I ever meet Ron Pattinson, I think I'll ask him if he likes Wire and then his opinion on Dreher. This should get him discoursing for hours. (If you read this, Ron, and want to return to Wisconsin, I'd be happy to attempt to host.)

Curiously enough, Dreher's son had plans at one point to open a brewery in Milwaukee.

Nothing against Oliphant but I am usually a little apprehensive when drinking lagers from small brewpubs/breweries. It's just that these outfits have less space to dedicate to aging a lager for 4-8 weeks. When I talk to brewers, they generally acknowledge that brewing a lager is tough - there's less margin for error than with an ale. Again, I'm not taking a shot at Oliphant but there are breweries out there that make 100% ales and then one day decide to brew a lager because pilsners are trendy or simply for shits and giggles and they come up with a completely mediocre beer.

Despite, or perhaps because of, all this, I was rooting for Oliphant to pull through here. Not only had they gone through the trouble of brewing a lager but also a rauchbier. I wasn't expecting Schlenkerla quality here but I was also hoping that they weren't merely cycling through styles until an eyepah was on the docket again.

My hans macgruber poured a lovely golden brown. It was plenty clear so I could see a bounty of bubbles inside the bier. Perched atop my glass was a big, light tan head that lasted a fair while. Visually, Oliphant had produced a stunner.

The aroma was heavenly and it was as if there were cherubs perched on clouds of smoke around my glass, joining me as I took in the mild smokiness which suggested, but did not smell like, bacon. There was also a luscious roasty malt sweetness.

Smoke flavor in beer is very polarizing. I have argued previously that the smell and taste of bacon in rauchbiers is largely a mass hallucination. Drinkers who've never tasted a smoke beer hear that they taste like bacon and thusly are predisposed to tasting the meat from that wonderful, magical animal. This taste also seems to be most commonly attributed to malts smoked with beech wood.

In hans macgruber the smoke is rather modest in contrast to your archetypal rauchbier, a Schlenkerla Märzen. While not very strong, it is certainly more than a mere accent. It tasted like Beech wood smoke to me but mine is an amateur palate when it comes to smoke. The Vienna lager came through loud and clear with some roasted grain flavor as well as a honeyed malt sweetness which was just a touch bigger than the smoke. To round things off was a little grassy hop flavor around the edge which tag-teamed with the carbonation to add a little sharpness, a little dryness.

Eventually the malt sweetness fades leaving the smokiness to welcome a heightened hoppiness which was a bit spicy and boosted the dryness a tad. But the finish wasn't extreme with only moderate bitterness. There was a fair amount of Schaumhaftvermoegen left in my glass with a few scattered patches accompanied by the odd foamy streak.

Although hans macgruber doesn't have quite the crispness that I find in the Vienna-style lagers from established lager breweries, I think they did a damn fine job. The smoked and unsmoked malts are like Yin and Yang – (more or less) in balanced. And not only did the smoke come in moderate doses, it also didn't evoke bacon very much. It tasted like smoke. I also thoroughly enjoyed how the carbonation and hops worked together to add some counterpoint to the maltiness. Everything finds harmony in hans.

A most worthy entry in the Summer of Rauch 2016.

Junk food pairing: With medium malty body and 5.4% A.B.V., hans macgruber is no lawnmower beer. But it is happy to be paired with food. Go with some Old Dutch Ripples Bacon Cheeseburger Sliders potato chips.

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|| Palmer, 5:55 AM


Maybe I should drop by Wisconsin agaain. I really should see Milwaukee at some point.

Plenty of other Scottish styles, BTW. Sweet Stouts come to mind. I've just halfway through a writing a book of Scottish recipes. Lots of interesting stuff. Especially in the creative use of lactose.
Blogger Ron Pattinson, at 3:00 AM  
I'm in Madison but, f you are in Milwaukee, I shall attempt to pay you a visit.

I have no doubt that there are lots of other Scottish styles out there. Hopefully either A) American brewers will try to brew them or, even better, B) I will seek them out in their native land.
Blogger Palmer, at 9:59 AM  

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