ABV: 5% and 5.8%
Origin: Murnau am Staffelsee, Bayern, Germany
Karg, in picturesque Murnau am Staffelsee on the edge of the Alps, has long been one of the more interesting small Bavarian Weizenbier brewers. As I found out on a recent visit to Murnau, it’s likely to get more interesting still with a dash of quiet innovation and international awareness, thanks in part to trained beer sommelier Victoria Schubert, the latest generation of the owning family. Read more here.
The brewery’s flagship traditional pale wheat beer is true to style and consistent but with plenty of flavour and character of its own, delivering all the expected fruity, yeasty, spicy flavours in vivid profusion against a solid, slightly gritty backbone. A proper bottle conditioned Hefeweizen, it pours a cloudy amber with a big creamy pinkish head. There’s a very slight whiff of smokiness on the spiky, clove-tinged aroma, alongside soft strawberry fruit and vanilla.
A soft and creamy palate is rich in banana and soft fruit flavours, with a light swish of complex citrus and rolling notes of light grassy hops, clove and fennel. The lightly drying finish -yields bubblegum, another typical flavour note, with more ripe fruit and citrus.
In 2012 Karg celebrated its 100th anniversary of ownership by the same family — the special beer created for the occasion revived an old brand name, Staffelsee Gold, but the recipe certainly didn’t look backwards. Instead the brewers took note of contemporary trends towards lighter coloured, more hop-forward beers while remaining within the parameters of this dedicated wheat beer brewery. The result, originally planned as a one-off, has proved such a good seller it’s likely to be become a regular.
The label bears the warning ‘stark gehopt‘, strongly hopped, which needs to be interpreted in context. IBU junkies might be disappointed, but by local standards the hops are notably more assertive than usual. They’re also remarkable for their untypical flavours: instead of the soft grassy burr of middle European ‘noble’ hops you’ll smell and taste the more citric, fruity notes of English-grown Cascade.
The beer is a deep shade of gold, lighter than the standard Helles, but just as reassuringly thick with suspended yeast. The hop component of the aroma isn’t in your face but there are firm notes of citrus, pineapple and tropical fruit to complement the more expected yeasty banana notes.
A mouth filling, heady and complex palate is flowery and citric against a smooth banana toffee backdrop, with a light building bitterness and subtle hints of liquorice and cinnamon. Ripe fruit emerges on the swallow, and banana and toffee notes reappear on a long lasting finish that’s dry rather than assertively bitter. Citric fruity notes linger to the last.
Innovation in German brewing is still relatively rare but experimenting with hops is one way brewers can expand their flavour profiles without abandoning the purity law, and Karg are by no means the only brewer doing so. Nonetheless it’s great to see a local stalwart like this stretching its wings with very satisfying results.