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Classic Beer of the Month August 2011: Schneider Aventinus

Schneider Aventinus, 8.2%

There are certain beers that simply make you sit up and pay attention.

Schneider AventinusThese are beers you can use to shock and surprise people, especially people who trot out that ill-thought-out phrase, ‘I don’t like beer’.

A zesty, citrus-loaded American pale ale is one; a tart Flemish red beer is another. A rich, chocolaty stout and a complex, Belgian Trappist ale are other head turners.

Possibly the most remarkable of all, especially to non-beer drinkers, is the weizenbock, and among weizenbocks one beer stands head and shoulders above the rest.

A weizenbock, as its deconstructed name will tell you, is a German wheat beer with the strength of bock lager. It is a weissbier on steroids, a meal in a glass, full of chewy wheat and vitamin-rich yeast.

While there is a growing number of weizenbocks on the market, including Pikantus from Erdinger and Vitus from Weihenstephan, the beer that has taken this style of beer out into the wider world is Aventinus from the Schneider brewery.

The business was founded in 1872, when Georg Schneider obtained a licence to brew wheat beer from the Bavarian royal family. He was the first common brewer to obtain such a licence, as Royalty gave up its hitherto monopoly on wheat beer production.

Georg initially brewed in Munich but his company took over a second brewery in the town of Kelheim, on the River Danube in the north of Bavaria, in 1928. When the Munich brewery was bombed during World War II, Schneider’s operation moved completely to Kelheim, where it stands today.

Comparing Strengths

The brewery’s ordinary weissbier (anything but ‘ordinary’ in fact) is the slightly dark and tart, but hugely refreshing, Schneider Weisse. Aventinus joined this in the range in 1907, taking its name from Aventinstrasse, the road on which the original brewery in Munich stood.

By comparing the strengths of the two beers, you’ll get an indication of where this second beer is heading.

Schneider Weisse is 5.4%, Aventinus is 8.2%, and that means even more barley malt (including some roasted malt in this case) and even more wheat go into the mash tun to provide the sugars that can generate such strength when fermented.

It also means there is so much more for the greedy yeast to chew on.

Contrary to most opinion, it is not the wheat that makes Bavarian weissbiers so distinctive, and it’s definitely not the hops, which are kept deliberately in the background. It is the fermentation.

Such beers are fermented like other ales at a warmer temperature than lager beers. The special yeast strain takes advantage of the warmth to really make its mark, not just creating alcohol and carbon dioxide but spinning-off chemical compounds known as esters that smell and taste remarkably fruity and spicy in the glass.

Assault on the Tongue

If you’re familiar with the banana and clove notes from a normal weissbier, you won’t be surprised by the same sort of flavours bursting out of Aventinus. What will take you aback is the intensity and depth of these flavours, all encouraged by bottle fermentation.

Read reviews of the rich mahogany-coloured beer and you’ll discover that everyone finds something different. What strike me most are marzipan, bananas, raisins and lemon, all against a spicy, vinous base.

Other people suggest chocolate, cloves, figs and prunes. In short, Aventinus is a taste bomb, a sensational assault on the tongue, bristling with fresh and complex malt, fruit and spice notes.

The next time you meet someone who says they don’t like beer, slip them an Aventinus and change their minds for ever.

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