Food & Drink: 'We have no black bears in Thuringia, no bears at all': A little misunderstanding didn't prevent Michael Jackson tracking down his Beer of the Month - a dark, malty German brew

The hunter of the unusual and the rare, edible or potable, can face all kinds of barriers. I have, for example, eaten wonderful Thuringian black pudding - it must be fried, not boiled - but never found it in the land of its origin. And I have had other moments of black frustration, too.

'Black bears? In Thuringia?' The man I was phoning at the East German Trade Mission exuded incredulity. 'We have no black bears in Thuringia or anywhere else in our Democratic Republic. No bears at all.' I tried a second time: 'No, black beer. I have heard you have a very special black beer, made in a place called Kostritz. The trouble is, I cannot find Kostritz in the gazetteer.'

The man sounded puzzled. 'I'll get back to you,' he said. I thought I heard the shaking of a head and was surprised when he did phone back, though his answer offered only a morsel of assistance: 'Yes, we can confirm there is a place called Kostritz in our country.'

My efforts to locate, and taste, Kostritzer Schwarzbier ('Black Beer') succeeded eventually, though not until the Wall had tumbled down. And now this Black Beer is available in Britain. I had flown to Frankfurt in search of the first-hand experience, from where a friend drove me on a seemingly endless journey. It is all very well Westerners rushing to consume the East, but Mercs do not travel well on roads made for Trabbies.

It took six or seven hours to drive a couple of hundred miles through the forested country that inspired Bach and Schiller, past hilltop castles, skirting towns that have been gathering dust in the attic of European history: Gotha, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena, Gera . . . Bad Kostritz. It was the Bad that had hidden Kostritz in the gazetteer. 'Bad' for 'bath': Kostritz was once a spa whose water, washing along the sandy banks of the river Elster on its winding, leafy way to the Elbe, apparently had curative properties.

Sand-baths were offered to ease rheumatism. Nearby wells offer the water and Thuringia the barley suitable for brewing which, in this region, probably pre-dates the use of hops, though the area not far to the east, near Dresden, and to the south in Bavaria has a long history of hop cultivation.

The making of beer in Kostritz itself may date from the original Slavic settlement though its documented history begins with a brewery in the 1600s at the castle of the local count. Even in the days when all beer was dark, the product of Kostritz seems to have had a reputation for being especially deep and sustaining. Students from the University of Jena were said to vist Kostritz to sample the beer and not to return for three days. When Goethe was ill, a friend wrote: 'He is not eating, but fortunately we have some Kostritzer beer.'

Several folk-rhymes celebrate Kostritzer Schwarzbier and its malty, bitter-chocolate richness. It is sometimes sweetened with sugar or enriched with a beaten egg, and was traditionally given to children as well as adults.

Similarly, my native Yorkshire's stronger, sweeter Mather's Black Beer, mixed with lemonade, is given to children as a treat, and adults often often lace it with rum as a protection against the winter. Several comparable traditions exist in Scandinavia.

Kostritzer Schwarzbier is made from pale, kilned and roasted barley malts and Bavarian hops. Technically, it is an almost opaque example of a dark lager with a conventional alcohol content (about 4.6 per cent). Use of a lager yeast gives it a characteristic roundness and cleanness of palate. The first lagers were dark brown or black, and that style of beer was perfected in the 1800s.

The Yorkshire product, made from malt and brown sugar, is more of a dark barley wine and contains 8 per cent alcohol but no hops (it dates from the days when spruce tips were used). The wine yeast employed makes for a fruitier character. Mather's says sales are up, perhaps because of the wintry weather.

The German Black Beer was such a success over the centuries that in 1907 the brewery's aristocratic owners moved production from the castle to a majestic, brick-built brewery in the middle of the townful of half-timbered houses. The building is topped with a tower, spire and gilded weather-vane in the shape of a lion and a crane, the local emblems.

After the Second World War it was nationalised and 'modernised'. The building remains today but its elegantly tiled brewhouse lies empty, supplanted by the modern stainless-steel kettles that bubble in a utilitarian structure across the yard, where I noticed a photograph of Erich Honecker that appeared to have been used as a dartboard.

The brewery has been taken over by a West German brewer who is slowly knocking it back into shape. His product, a wholehearted effort to restore the grandeur of the Black Beer, has just arrived in Britain, and I name it my Beer of the Month. Add a shot of rum and you will think you are drinking chocolate truffles.

Kostritzer Schwarzbier can be ordered by mail from the Elite Beer Company (0403 261554) and is available from the following stockists: The Ale Cellar, 114 Rosemount Viaduct, Aberdeen (0224 624700); Jug and Firkin, Mill Road, Cambridge (0223 315034); Pop Inn, 43 Boughton Road, Chester (0244 320013); Ale Shoppe, 205 Lockwood Road, Huddersfield (0484 432479); Bottle Store, 66 London Road, Leicester (0533 856505); Small Beer, 91 Newland Street West, Lincoln (0522 528628) and 57 Archer Road, Sheffield (0742 551356); Real Ale Shop, 47 Lovat Road, Preston (0772 201591) and other specialist beer and wine shops.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee