A tribute to a great beer: Radeberger Pilsner

When we first moved from Dresden to Seattle in the fall of 1999, I remember going to our little neighborhood pub, asking for a good local pilsner, and having the guy matter-of-factly say: oh, we don’t serve any light beer.  It was confusing.  The standard local drinking beer in Germany – village or city – is pilsner.  It is lighter in color, but it’s full of flavor & bite (the best part!), which is what makes it so good with food, be that bratwurst or BBQ.

Radeberger Pilsner is Dresden’s shining star of pilsners … or should I say Radeberg’s shining star, as Radeberg is a village (now a suburb) on the northwestern edge of the city, on your way to the Meissener wine country which is several more villages out on the same road.  Jens and I moved to Dresden at the end of December 1994 for him to start his residency in January of the new year.  It had already been 5 years since the wall had come down, but you would never have known it.  The East German autobahns were in the early stages of being rebuilt (since Hitler’s originals in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s) which was one of the first big capital projects (and one that had still not been completed when we left a decade later) and the city sat in its sad, gray, dilapidated state for several more years after we arrived before the funding came through for the rebuilding to begin. 

Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-60015-0002 / Löwe / CC-BY-SA

We arrived in Dresden after dark that December day, and I remember Jens driving me down to the Altmarkt to see the famous ruins of the bombed Frauenkirche.  It was snowing, and the huge flakes were falling slowly over the partially standing walls of the church, still perched within the remaining fallen stones.  The Frauenkirche has since been rebuilt, an impressive technical feat as all the stones that were still in the town square at the start of the project (some 50 years after its demise on the evening of February 13, 1945) were chronicled in a sort of outdoor stone museum and then reused in the rebuilding in each of their original positions.

After stopping downtown, we arrived at our little student housing accommodations on Bodelschwingstrasse, the photos of Eric Honecker and Fidel Castro still hanging in the stairwell.  Most of the buildings in our area had not been destroyed in the bombing of Dresden, but through lack of money & upkeep during the ensuing years of communism, they were condemned, awaiting money from West Germany to arrive so that they could be renovated and made livable again.  (From the East German perspective they would be made unaffordable and therefore still  unusable for the locals.) 

Friedrichstadt, Fall 1995

There were few restaurants in the town when we first arrived, a legacy of not allowing public places to gather. But right in our neighborhood, next to the hospital, was Riesa Efau, an underground students’ club which had thrived as a meeting place under the old regime and continued to do so after German reunification.  It was small and thick with smoke every time you entered.  The mood (by Dresden standards) was generally festive, the food was cheap & good (with 2-3 items on the menu any given night), and the beer was Radeberger, served in tall, thin, upright German glass mugs.  Radeberger (along with Meissener wine) was one of the few items that the locals could sell to West Germans for hard currency during East German times.  And there was a reason it was so sought after as it’s some of the best out there:  fresh, with mild flavors of herb & citrus and a nice hoppy bite.  It wasn’t available in Seattle when we first moved back, but in the last years it has been imported to this area.  Whenever I drink beer (which isn’t that often anymore), it always takes me back.

Hope you get a chance to try it!  And better yet, I hope you get a chance to try it in Dresden.  You won’t have the experience we did in the early years after reunification (today, it would take some luck to see a Trabi), but the “Pearl on the Elbe” is still a jewel, closer now to its former, pre-World War II glory.


Presenting Ernst Loosen of Weingut Dr. Loosen

The photos of Ernst (Ernie) Loosen say it all: humor, charisma, passion, knowledge & opinion.  This guy was entertainment pure, poured on top of a mountain of knowledge and a deep love of his land & his wine.  When asked where the spit bucket was, he answered that he prefers to spit in reverse!  Or when questioned about the impact of global warming in the Mosel, he said “Yes, we have it, but it will still be 250 years before we’re growing Syrah.”

With 4 world tours a year (always fly west he said), Ernie Loosen has become the face of German Reisling, its ambassador.  He said he has had to take on this role as German Riesling is one of the great world wines, but increasingly only Germans were drinking it.  Clearly, he has taken it upon himself to change that … and this guy might just do it! 

After bumming around (not in so many words, but basically his description) at university for the normal extended period in Germany (“as you know it’s free & at that time it wasn’t very demanding” … said like a very smart guy), his mother gave her kids an ultimatum.  They had 4 weeks to decide who, if any of the kids, was going to take over the family estate (which had been in the family for approaching 200 years) or she was going to sell it and she had a buyer waiting in the wings.  Long-(very funny)-story-short, Ernie Loosen took over in1988 and immediately made some very important decisions. 

Realizing that he had 60 year old vines in some of Germany’s top vineyards, he had the ingredients for world-class wines.  To reach this goal, Ernie immediately did 3 things: 1) changed vineyard practices to reduce crop size, 2) moved to organic fertilizers (if at all) & 3) strictly selected fruit at harvest.  This, in combination with the gift of his land and highly skilled winemaking, has produced a stunning result.  Accolades>  Here are wine notes on the wines we tasted:

Dr. Loosen 2008 Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer
$13.99 | mixed case $11.19
7.5-8% alcohol.  Alsacian Riesling is higher in alcohol and has a richer oilier texture.  According to Ernie Loosen, German Gewürztraminer is elegant, with traces of rose petal & it’s good with food.  Delicate, not overpowering.  The general comment from the tasters was that this tasted nothing like what they think of as Gewürztraminer.  It was not spicy or oily.  It was light, with very faint essence of rose petal, refreshing, and we can imagine that it would be delicious with food!  By the way, it sold out at the tasting.

Dr. Loosen 2008 Blue Slate Kabinett Riesling
$22.99 | mixed case $18.39
The Blue Slate vineyards have super steep slopes that drain well, filling the wines with mineral flavors, yet this wine was still light & refreshing. “There’s a spicy, tangy quality to this white, along with quince and anise. It’s all underscored by a mineral element and a vibrant structure, with a fine, lingering aftertaste of stone and anise..” 90 — Wine Spectator, Nov. 15, 2008

Dr. Loosen 2007 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett
$28.99 | mixed case $23.19

Ernie understood that German wine labels can be intimidating for American wine buyers, so he made an effort to explain each label of the line-up to our group.  In this case, Erden is the village and Treppchen is the diminutive of Treppe which means stairs, so this is the little staircase of Erden. He also explained Germany’s system of naming the ripeness of the grape, and like the Blue Slate above, Kabinett is the least ripe (and subsequently has the least residual sugar) of German wines.  This wine had a lovely, refreshing effervescence, with flavors of pears & slate; slightly sweeter than the Blue Slate Kabinett. 
Dr. Loosen 2007 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese
$32.99 | mixed case $26.39

Ernie gave a great history lesson with this wine, explaining that 60-70% of the Mosel vineyards were accumulated through the years by the Catholic church.  It was secularized by Napoleon after he conquered the area in 1804-1806.  Graach is a village in between Bernkastel & Wehlen and these vineyards once belonged to the monastery there; thus the name Himmelreich, which means Kingdom of Heaven.  Spätlese is the next step up in the sweetness classification.  These grapes were harvested 2 weeks later than the Kabinett.  They are not overripe, but they have more aroma structure, are more delicate and can age better.  Flavors of ripe pears, pineapple, apricots & white peach. Beautiful minerality & fantastic acidity. This wine will age for decades.
Dr. Loosen 2007 Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese
$44.99 | mixed case $ 35.99

Ürziger Würzgarten means the spice garden of (the town of) Ürzig and that’s what this wine offers, lovely flavors of spekulatius cookies (spicy Christmas cookie flavors) within a white wine. Very unusual and delicious.  Auslese is the latest harvested grapes when they are at their ripest state.  This wine is sweet, but has beautiful acidity.  A terrific complement to spicy Asian cuisine. Very complex, well-balanced, elegant & delicious. Very intense nose of ripe peaches, apricots followed by flavors of mainly yellow plums, peaches, hints of dried apricots, peaches & notes of honey. Wonderful long, lingering finish. This is built for the ages.

Dr. Loosen 2006 Riesling Beerenauslese
$22.99 | mixed case $18.39
Ernie described this as “berry selected, shriveled raisins” explaining that vintages can have from 5%-50% botrytis-affected grapes (where the grapes have shriveled down to about half their normal size & are exceptionally sweet). 2006 had picture book fruit., with the wine containing 50% botrytis grapes. This rich, decadent dessert wine has intense flavors of peaches & nectarines.  In Germany, you would sit around the table after a meal with family & friends and sip this wine and visit and enjoy yourself immensely. 

Really, it was such a pleasure having Ernie Loosen at our shop for a tasting.  We hope he stops by on his next jaunt around the world.

We have the Dr. Loosen 2007 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett in stock.  The other wines are available via special order, so give us a call 206-783-2007 or email info@portaliswines.com for more information.