Giving the Lager its Due
by Steve Beaumont
I remember several years ago discussing with a fellow beer aficionado the wares of a particular American brewpub we had each previously, though separately, visited. As it was my opinion that the brewery’s stand-out beer was its pilsner, I asked my acquaintance if he had tried it. “No,” he replied, “I sampled the Vienna, the bock and the schwartzbier, but I couldn’t be bothered with the pils.”
And so it goes. All too frequently in the American beer world, lagers (in general) and pilsners (in particular) are shunned by the supposed cognoscenti. The sins of these beers? Being pale, for one, and stylistically linked, however distantly, to the big, mainstream commercial brands. To many a beer geek, lagers are felt to lack character and complexity, and are therefore summarily dismissed.
But as we found while touring Bavaria’s breweries, there’s a lot more to a lager than is normally assumed. Take, for example, the Schlenkerla Helles Lager, a magnificent, unsmoked beer that had eyes metaphorically popping when a few bottles were casually, almost absent-mindedly, popped at the back of the bus. Or the spicy and faintly herbal, yeast-enriched St. Georgen Brau Kellerbier. Or the malty complexity that is Augustiner Edelstoff, the tasting of which requires a trip to Munich. All are golden, just as all are lagers, but each one is also a masterpiece of the brewing arts, well worth anyone’s attention.
And that’s not even mentioning the more unusual bottom-fermented gems we encountered, such as the toasty, rye-accented spiciness of the Paulaner Roggen, the off-dry floral notes of the Weltenburger Kloster Winter-Traum, described as a festbier, or of course, the intensely smoky wares of Bamburg’s Schlenkerla. Turn your back on these lagers and you do a disservice to them, and your palate.
The Bavarian Travel Experience
by Lew Bryson
One of the best things about Germany is how normal the wonderful aspects of it are. There was wonderful beer…everywhere. There was delicious and different food…everywhere. There was delightful scenery…everywhere. And there were McDonald’s and Appleby’s and Shoney’s…nowhere.
Germany has largely resisted the lure of monoculture domination. As a result, every town looks different, with different beers, different sausages, different takes on the staple soft pretzels, even different mustard (which got hotter as we traveled north). This is not a country that needs a craft beer and food revival. There are small producers all over the place, each putting a different touch on things.
So we ate leberkäse, roast pork and trout. We enjoyed crispy and doughy soft pretzels. We drank dunkel, hell, weizen, bock and pils. We had three different types of hops schnapps, pear schnapps that made me moan with delight, and beer schnapps in tiny mugs. We stayed in smart city hotels, as well as large, rambling guesthouses, and clean, efficient sleeping rooms. We reveled in the difference every day brought (except those days that brought potato dumplings; that was one difference I’d have been happy without).
But perhaps the best difference was the drinking culture. There are no lonely drunks in Germany. Everyone goes to the beer halls and gardens together, and they talk, and laugh, and dance. It’s okay to be out drinking, it’s not looked down upon. That was the most refreshing difference of all.