ABV: 5.1%, 5% and 4.8%
Origin: Murnau am Staffelsee, Bayern, Germany
Griesbräu zum Murnau is a sprawling historic inn in Murnau, on the edge of the Bavarian Alps, that was once patronised by Blaue Reiter artists Vassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter. Like many such establishments it long boasted its own brewery, thus the name — which it continued to use even after one of the emerging Munich giants swallowed it up and shut down brewing in 1917.
Since 2000, it has lived up to its name once again: an in-house microbrewery was installed during a major refurbishment, and now produces some impressive beers to enjoy in a very attractive environment. Alongside wheat beer specialist Karg, it’s one of two breweries in Murnau, both of which I investigated on a recent visit: read more here.
I’m always heartened by a brewery that has obviously taken great care to get its standard everyday beer right, and Griesbräu is an excellent example. Helles, the soft, not too hoppy, pale lager that is the backbone of much south German beer culture, may not be the world’s most cutting edge and exciting style, but at its best it’s a perfect example of how beer can match seductive complexity with the power to refresh.
Griesbräu Hell hits the spot perfectly. It’s fermented for seven days, lagered for up to six weeks and, served unfiltered and unpasteurised fresh from the tank, it arrives a hazy deep blond with a thick and very fine whipped cream head. A fecund, lightly yeasty aroma has gentle citric notes and a spicy hop character.
The palate is beautifully soft and lightly marmaladey around the edges, with a relatively gentle carbonation allowing the appreciation of a complexity that also stretches to light peach tones and nutmeg. The finish is slightly plainer by comparison, with more citrus and spice, lightly chewy malt and slightly more assertive hop bitterness than you might expect. My glass held a full bodied and very well integrated beer that was skilfully made and matured to perfection.
Werdenfelser Ur-Dunkel, named after the wealthy mediaeval county that once covered the area and a now-rare breed of local cattle, is a worthy companion piece. A hazy deep amber beer with a light yellow head, it has rich cereal malt on the aroma underlying notes of dates and redcurrants.
The palate is also sumptuously malty, with chocolate, figs and raisins, leading to a lightly tangy finish with a gentle hint of bittering roast layered with grassy hops. It’s another chewy and substantial brew.
Earlier I’d been down the road at Karg chatting to co-owner Victoria Schubert about a new beer with Cascade hops, so perhaps I should have been expecting to find Murnau’s other brewery exploring more exotic hop varieties too, but even so the whiff of the New World that emerged from my glass of summer seasonal Sommerfrische was a pleasant surprise. New for this year, it’s a slightly darker variant on the brewery’s regular wheat beer, warm amber in colour with a rich off-white head clinging to the glass.
A very herbal and fruity aroma has notes of tropical fruit, citrus and ripe apricots, with a slightly soapy perfume. The palate is intensely spicy and fruity, with more tropical fruit and very ripe stone fruit alongside sweet orange and lavender, locked together by a smooth malty base. The finish stops short of cloying with fruity overkill, leaving a lightly bitter and spicy trace against a fresh cereal backdrop.
Curiously nutty regular wheat beer Griesbräu Weisse is also well worth exploring — some fans rate it the brewery’s best but I found the other beers just pipped it at the post.