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A Taste of Germany

August, 1998

By Bobby Bush

In the beginning, all German beers were ales. Top-fermented at a relatively fast pace under moderate temperatures, ales are fruity in character and often hopped, or otherwise spiced. Ales could not, however, be made in the hot summer months because bacterial contamination was a certainty.

A few German ales survived the onslaught of brewing history. The early style is represented today by Alt, which literally means “old.” Another, Kolsch (named for the city of its origin, Cologne), is often lager-like in mouthfeel and flavor profile.

The discovery of a type of yeast in the mid-19th century that would ferment slowly at cold temperatures allowed the creation of lagers, a distinctive beer of another flavor altogether. Because of the extended fermentation period, lagers could be brewed during the winter season and stored away, or lagered, in caves throughout the summer months. The last casks of the lagered winter beer, often called Marzen (“March” in German), were usually extracted from their cool cave just in time to celebrate Oktoberfest and a new brewing season.

I had not visited Germany since I acquired drinking age status, just a few short decades ago. But here we were flying into Frankfurt with business and beer on my mind. A quick ride northwest to the tiny village of Freudenberg and we were raring to go. Many Americans traveling the all-nighter to Europe take the afternoon to acclimate their body clocks. But not these bad beer boys. After a quick shower, we set off on foot in search of beer and food.

This being lunch time in northern Germany, all stores other than restaurants were closed, by law, for the meal hour. Settling in at a friendly, no-English-spoken outdoor cafe, we relaxed with a bronze, white-headed, slightly hoppy Schlosser Alt, brewed since 1873 in Furstenfeldbruck (which I’m sure is some quaint little German township) and a Krombacher Pils, a frothy lager which proved to be delicious with a tart, biting flavor and barely sour aftertaste. Both beers were served in their own brewery-logo glass, with a cute paper lace doily around the steam, in .31 liter portions. Before heading back to the hotel to prepare for dinner and more brews, we sampled an Eichener Pils, which was similar to the previous pils but with more noticeable alcohol presence and more bitter finish. Eichner, a regional brewery in Kreuztal, has only been in the business since 1888.

Back at the hotel, it didn’t take long to notice that the rustic chalet-looking building across the street was an Alt Freudenberger Bierstube (old town bar) called Bum Knoten. While my companion napped, I became their first customer of the day. The bartender, who spoken pidgin English, poured me a bottle of Hecht Schlenferla Rauchbier, then tended to fresh flower arrangements destined for each table. Brewed in Bamberg by Brauerei Heller Brau Schlenkerla since 1678, this brown-bronze ale boasted only a tint of hops, instead it brimmed with a smooth smokiness instilled from a healthy infusion of smoked barley malt. The style is rare and the taste must be studied long and hard to be acquired, but it’s more flavorful than almost any cigar and certainly more refreshing.

Next from the Bum Knoten tap, I tried a .31 liter glass of Gaffel Kolsch. This strong, golden ale, served in a tall straight glass (as all ales are), was topped by a big bubbly white head which lasted longer than the beer did. Each beer, whether ale or lager, took an eternity to pour. The skilled bartender didn’t waste a drop of foam. Konig Pilsner left bitter tones on the tongue. A tangy wheat lager, Weinhenstephaner Hefe Weissbier was extremely delicate in mouthfeel, but full of taste. The copper Frankenheim, with a head almost as stiff as whipped egg whites, presented a cloudy, fruity body and left a bitter snap at the end. Since 1824, Veltins has been making a pungent pilsner, which seems to be more popular than water in this sleepy, friendly village.

Busy with his dining patrons, the bartender paid me a quick, highly unexpected compliment. “You speak good German,” he proffered. Realizing that all I had uttered were the names of the beers I’d ordered (Rauchbier, Alt, Kolsch, Marzen, Pilsner, Hefeweizen), I took his kindness with a smile. And I left a big tip.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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