Monday, 23 November 2015

Comparing Apples to Apples to Apfelwein

Producer: Obsthof am Steinberg

For those who are only interested in wine, you may want to skip this post. Although if you are in Frankfurt, spiritual centre of apfelwein, you certainly shouldn't deprive yourself of the opportunity to try this local specialty. Made from pressed apples and fermented to produce a beverage with alcohol in the low-to-mid single digits, it bears more than a passing similarity to wine made from grapes. Vintage apfelwein? Check. Use of different varieties, each which contributes its own flavours? Check. Ability to improve with age? Check (well at least that's what I was told).

There are many apfelwein makers in Frankfurt, but the name Obsthof am Steinberg crops up regularly as a premium producer. Owner Andreas Schneider has a degree in Organic Agriculture Management and has worked in orchards in Germany and New Zealand. Like Singapore, this is a big year for Obsthof am Steinberg as they also celebrate their 50th founding anniversary. (SG50 organisers take note, there is still time to arrange for a shipment of delicious apfelwein to wrap up the Golden Jubilee celebrations).

Looking at the directions provided on the website, I had feared that reaching the orchard would have been difficult, but I should have known better seeing as this is Germany, a country known for its efficiency. From the city, the U2 subway line towards Gonzenheim will deposit you at the Nieder-Eschbach station. Right next to the station is a bus stop from which you can take bus 29, getting off when you see a bridge (pictured above). From there it is a short walk up the hill on the left towards Obsthof am Steinberg. Residential buildings gradually give way to a small field of grazing sheep and then the orchard itself.

Inside, crates upon crates of apples are stacked, and I learnt from Robert, one of the staff working there, that Obsthof am Steinberg grows a incredible 128 varieties of apples. It was a treat sampling the different types of apples, some of which were sweet and others tart. It gives an idea of how wide a spectrum of flavours a single fruit can have. A popular item being sold at the store was apple chips, but what caught my eye was a group of people making their own stockbrot around a campfire. A simple but tasty bread, in this wintry season it was true comfort food accompanied by a mug of of warm apple cider.

There are still and lightly sparkling ciders available at the apfelwein tavern. Their house wine is the Hausschoppen, which is also the driest style of apfelwein. Up next was an apfelwein made from the Boskoop variety and aged in large oak barrels that had previously been used for wine. This apfelwein struck a balance between sweetness and tartness and was to my palate quite mellow. The Goldparmäne "Alte Baume" 2014 was deeper coloured with a pleasantly sweet, crisp flavour. All the sweetness comes from the fruit itself; no sugar is added. 

Perhaps because the fermentation is shorter and there is less alcohol in apfelwein compared to wine, the primary fruit flavours stand out more. The sparkling Ananasrenette 2014 displayed the tangy, sweet-tart greengage and pineapple flavours that were present in the raw fruit. I also sampled a Goldparmäne 2013 which, like the still version, showed sweet red apple flavours. All the sparkling apfelwein were bottled in glass and sealed with a crown cap. 

The picture below shows the apple orchard in winter. I imagine that picking apples during the harvest season (August to October) would be a fun way to spend a day in Frankfurt with the family. 

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