It's The Session, beer blogging on a common topic, and this month it's "German beer." See all the links soon here at lootcorp 3.0.
German beer. Deutsches Bier.
As I'm writing this, I'm trying a German beer that's new to me, courtesy of Horst Dornbusch's new importing effort: Meckatzer Gold, from the Meckatzer Löwenbräu brewery in Heimenkirch. Appropriate (and tasty, too: good malty body, dry bitterness), because there are more damned beers and breweries in Germany than you can shake a stick at.
I've learned that, in the course of five visits to Germany -- more than I've made to any other country than Canada -- and I've also learned that I love the German beer culture, German drinking culture more than any other I've experienced. Mind you, that's limited experience, and Belgium's close, but it beats the U.S. hands down, and even edges out the Czech Republic.
Why? Well, in the U.S., we often get too hung up on the drunk part of things. That's sad, and disturbing. Worse, too often the bars are dark, dingy, and infested with loud music that makes conversation impossible. In the Czech Republic, it's almost like they don't even notice the beer, it's more like breathing: natural, and easy, but...not much joy. Portugal, which may well surprise you with how much beer culture it manages to have, actually came closest to the German ideal (because of German tourists?), but the beer just wasn't good enough. In Scotland, it was quite reserved -- or madly Dionysian, which says a lot about you Scots, I'm thinking. Belgian beer culture is fun, and respectful of the beer, but...almost a little too respectful, over-the-top, too focused.
I think the Germans get beer culture right; at least, for me. Germans like people around when they drink. They like beers they can drink for long sessions, but not so low-alcohol that you don't get that "social lubrication" factor going. They like solid food with their beer; nothing fancy, nothing cheap, belly-mortar to assist in that all-important buzz maintenance. The Germans have a huge state fair-like festival that centers, unashamedly, on beer, a festival that has been going on for almost 200 years and is emulated -- but never matched -- around the world. They sit, and they dance, and they talk, and they sing...and they drink beer. They all drink beer, the family, the grandparents, and they go out in the beerhalls till late in the evening, and they drink, and talk, and play cards...and I miss it when I think about it.
Like my friend and colleague Steve Beaumont said earlier today in his contribution to The Session, I almost believe that this culture, the where and the what and the how and the who of German beer drinking, is more a part of it than the actual beer, or at least as great. I remember a discussion -- not to say 'argument' -- that went on some years ago in several beer-lover arenas about whether it was possible to know a beer without having enjoyed it where it was born, in situ.
At the time, I thought the very idea was bullshit. And I said so: this is just one more way for the beer elite, the malterati, to separate themselves from the common herd. Now that we had discovered the same beers they had, now that importers were bringing us rare beers, now that craft brewers were making beers we could taste and not them (because no one can be everywhere)...they had to come up with some new divider, some new badge of belonging. Bullshit, I said, and drank stale bottles of German lagers in loud, dark, tiny bars.
Then I went to Germany, to Bavaria and Franconia, and my eyes were opened. It was not the "Red Stripe" effect, in which everything is wonderful because you're not at home; to be honest, not everything was wonderful...except when I walked into a beerhall. When you sat down across a trestle table -- solid, wooden, old, clean enough to eat from -- from a German, he or she would lift their glass and drink with you, and once they realized that you were not German, all they wanted to do was help you enjoy your stay. I met very few exceptions to this; three in five visits, one of whom disapproved of me because she was a tee-totaler -- unglaublich!
Is it the beer? Or the Germans? To tell the truth, I don't know, because I've had very little discourse with Germans outside of brewery and beerhall; it's where I go, it's why I'm there. What I do know is that whatever it is, I like it.
I'd like to visit the Scandinavian countries and see what beer culture is like there. I urgently want to visit more eastern European countries and drink there: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Baltics. I need to visit England. But I know that I'll be back in Germany before long, because, well, because I need to breathe that air, enjoy the people, and drink the beer.