Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A German Beer Sampler

Until yesterday, this blog sat idle for three weeks. There’s a good reason for that. I was in Germany. You can probably guess what I was doing there. Drinking beer, of course. Lots and lots of beer. It was wonderful!

The beer scene I encountered in Germany is quite different from ours in Oshkosh. Better in some regards; lacking in others. The experience left an impression on me. It’s altered the way I looked at what we have here. Let me explain...

We toured the eastern half of Germany starting in Southern Bavaria, into the Czech Republic and ending in Berlin. So, I doubt my impressions would be valid for the country as a whole. That said, the first thing I noticed is how deeply engrained beer drinking is there.

You encounter beer almost everywhere and at every time of day. There seems to be little of the weird anxiety that hounds public beer consumption in America. At every restaurant or cafe, we’d notice a good number, if not most, of the people around us also enjoying a glass of beer with their meals. A couple days after returning to Oshkosh, we had lunch at Becket’s. There was neither beer nor wine on any of the other tables. It was one of those moments where your happiness on returning home turns to dust.

What you don’t see in Germany is the incredible variety of beer you find here. That’s not saying that the beer is all the same there. It isn’t. It’s just that the choices are within a narrower spectrum. What dominates, unsurprisingly, are traditional German styles of beer. Weizens and dunkelweizen, pilsners and helles, bocks, märzen, dunkels and schwarzbiers, alts and Kölsch... there’s plenty of variety overall and a world of variation within each style. But you don’t find the incredible range of beer styles that are easy to come by in Oshkosh.

You also don’t see many places with a dozen different beers on tap. Typically, just a handful of beers are offered. Often we found just two or three being served, a pale and a dark lager along with a wheat beer. Does that sound boring? It wasn’t to me. More often than not, the beers we had were so beautifully flavored that the limited choice meant nothing.

Maybe the best beer I had was a kellerbier, a simple unfiltered lager we drank in Kulmbach. It was rich with a bitter/sweet balance and absolutely delicious. I could live on that beer. But if I were a dedicated IPA drinker I might not have been so easily satisfied. Good luck finding IPA in Germany. Or a bourbon-barrel aged stout. Or a pumpkin imperial porter. Or a 15% ABV barleywine. I wasn’t gone all that long, but I can’t say I missed any of those.

Coming back to Oshkosh and meandering again through the beer scene here was an unreal experience. There’s just so much. And so much of it lacks context beyond the whims of “radical” brewers and marketing hacks. It’s occurred to me how difficult it must be for people who are just getting into this. Where do you start?

After time away, the craft beer scene looks faddish to me. So many of the beers, especially the stuff you see in bombers, seems pretentious, overwrought, self-involved and complex for no good reason at all. I’m all for choice, but at the moment the gaudy, circus-like aspect of craft beer appeals to me not in the least. Is this what travel is supposed to do for you? I’m glad to be back home. But I have some adjusting to do.

1 comment:

  1. Yep...sometimes I'll get a German import just to get back to the basics.....simple & delicious....from breweries that have been around for several 100 years.....too often the craft beers give off the vibe that it is the last beer their ever gonna brew....