Tuesday, September 10, 2013

That's Not My Beer

Das ist nicht mein Bier people say in Germany when they mean something does not concern them. No, what follows will not be a continuation of my previous blog but simply about beer. Although I blogged about beer in the past when I reported about a Beer Tasting and mentioned the Reinheitsgebot (German purity law) in my blogs about Thuringian Food and Baguette de Tradition today I must come back to beer because of some recent information and experience.

The other day I read an article bearing the same heading as this blog where the author sharply criticized the purity law: People claiming that German beer is a cultural heritage should admit that the beer brewed in our country tastes all the same. The reason is that although many traditional brand names still exist they are managed by only a few multinational food companies producing a uniform stuff. People drink a bottled premium beer of Brau Holding International e.g. a Fürstenberger brewed in Donaueschingen in a restaurant in far away Berlin. However, for reasons of preservability beer that is shipped over long distances is filtered several times depriving the liquid of most of its proteins. These proteins give beers their characteristic taste, their body, their Mundgefühl (mouth-feeling) and make them süffig (very drinkable). Therefore, the first rule of beer drinking my father taught me is: Always drink local! Local beers are less filtered.

Red Baron likes to drink naturtrübes Hefeweizen ohne Alkohol (naturally cloudy alcohol-free wheat beer), a beer with two issues. Firstly, this beer is not in conformity with the German purity law published on April 23, 1516, in Bavaria. In olden times wheat and rye had to be reserved for making bread. This was the main reason for the Gebot only allowing the use of barley - generally fed to the horses - for brewing beer. Secondly, alcohol is a flavor carrier. So alcohol-free wheat beer tastes different from the real stuff but drinking alcohol during the day makes me sleepy. Over the last years alcohol-free beer has become more and more popular in Germany for this liquid is isotonic meaning that the ions naturally eliminated from your body are naturally replenished when you drink beer with or without alcohol.

I still well remember the time when American beer had no taste. Don't protest, the story goes like this: It must have been thirty years ago. On my way to a conference in the States my incoming plane was late and I missed my connecting flight. Stranded in Kennedy they put me in a hotel near the airport. I was frustrated and I went to the bar for a beer. I don't remember whether the bottle the barkeeper took out of fridge was a Schlitz, Miller or Budweiser but I recall the glass he lifted out of the deep freeze. When he placed it in front of me beautiful frost patterns formed on its surface. He poured the cold beer into the glass, I drank, the beer was cold but had no taste. In later years whenever I ordered a beer in the States I asked for a warm glass until a waitress corrected me: I'm sorry, sir, but we can't warm it for you. During my recent visits to the US T. S. made me familiar with a Boston brew called Samuel Adams so that my atavistic American beer experience slowly faded away.

Coming back to the above mentioned article. The author wrote that German beers received poor marks in recent years compared to brews from Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, and above all the US. Compared to the experimental beers in these countries German beers are simply boring. In the States there are 2400 craft-beer brewers. Here comes my practical experience:

Ale Asylum's beer menu
A few days ago when I was in Madison, Wisconsin, with a delegation from Freiburg celebrating the 25th anniversary of our sister city relationship I had the occasion to participate in a pub crawl that our hosts being proud of their micro breweries had arranged for us. The by now classical German idea of selling beer by the meter in aligning enough glasses on a wooden plank to achieve the right length became a new experience at Madison's Ale Asylum. It was not that the length of the American plank is measured in feet but instead of meter, it was the glasses. They were not filled with a uniform dishwater but eight different beers of the ten the Ale Asylum generally has on tap. In choosing you could arrange your private beer tasting. What made our testing doubly interesting and even scientific was the presence of a Belgian beer expert in our drinking team making notes on a napkin. Indeed you had to write down your impressions in particular when we later moved on to the KARBEN 4 micro brewery for further testing.

Beer on the wooden plank at KARBEN4. Admire the various shades of beer.
All tasted beers were a unique experience. I would only like to single out a brew named Hopalicious. As the name suggests this beer was extremely bitter. Actually it was so strongly hopped that our Belgian expert explained that when drinking Hopalicious the taste buds become saturated such that you will no longer be able to taste other beers well.* Suddenly my memory came back about iced beer blocking the taste. Does history repeat itself? Are the Americans overdoing it again? It really does not matter as people love the taste of Hopalicious, it is the big seller but Das ist nicht mein Bier. Red Baron prefers a fein gehopftes Pils (finely hopped lager).
*The same is true for cheese tasting. Take the Emmental first and the Munster last.

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