To Alte Kameraden...
My very first days of truly discovering beer had a classic soundtrack; appropriate, because I was learning about classic beers. I was introduced to beer out of the mainstream at the Lauzus Hotel, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, an old hotel bar with a tile mosaic floor, tin ceiling, and a big-hearted old German owner, Wilhelm Lauzus.
Wilhelm's idea of 'how to do it' was a long set of coolers full of beers on the wall opposite the long carved wood bar, a cooler from which you would select a beer, take it up to the bar and hand to him or his barman, a crusty old Dane named Per. Once Wilhelm had the beer -- an Altenmünster, a Maisel, a Sailer, a Duvel -- he would inspect the label, cock an eye at you, open the beer, and hand it to you, always with a comment. Kronenbourg: "Alsatian beer. Really belongs to us." Augustiner Maximator: "Give one of these to your girlfriend, ho ho ho." Pabst: "If you want..." Then would come the beer's price -- and the most expensive beer he carried was $2.50 -- and you would pay -- cash, round by round -- and then have a seat.
I had been drinking for three years when I first walked into Wilhelm's place. Pabst, Genny Cream, Bud, and a lot of Rolling Rock. Oh, and National Bohemian, Rheingold, National Premium, Schmidt's, Duquesne, when we didn't have much money. I drank it because it was cold, it tasted good -- eventually -- and yeah, for the buzz.
Then I wound up at Wilhelm's with an Altenmünster in my hand -- "The fliptop's nice, no?" -- and my world changed, right then.
And the tune playing on the jukebox was "Lili Marlene." Wilhelm had stocked the two right-side rows of the jukebox with beerhall music, swing tunes, and even some short classical pieces. The rest of the juke was the same old crap everyone had, classic rock, pop. But I got used to drinking good beer, great beer, to the oompah sounds of Alte Kameraden ("Old Comrades"), Lili, and the Radetzky March. I would clink glasses with my friends, and grin, and swallow deeply of the great refreshing stuff while the brass blared and the drums thumped. We thought it was great fun in those days, and I still do.
Maybe that's why I still like lagers, because they were my first non-mainstream beers, and maybe that's why I still have a deep love for beerhalls and their traditional tunes. It all comes together sometimes, in a way that makes you hope it will never come apart.