It’s summertime here in southern Germany, and though the thermometer has gone up and down like a schizophrenic yo-yo so far, we’ve had a few nice days. This is a great thing for beer lovers, since it provides yet another excuse to drink beer. Today's a really nasty, cold and rainy day, which is also a nice excuse to drink a beer. The only thing you have to worry about at this time of year is what style of beer you should choose.
A few weeks ago, a smallish group consisting of two family members, whose genes I have been fortunate to inherit, came to visit. As we went out for a drink after a nice dinner I suddenly fancied a wheat beer (known either as "weizen" meaning "wheat" or "weisse" meaning "white" in German). I have to admit that wheat beers are not near the top of my favourite beer style list, so this was somewhat unusual. However, they had Schneider Weisse on tap, and I thought that was an opportunity too good to avoid not missing. A few minutes later, as I was merrily sipping away, one of the two visitors asked if he could try a sip, and fearing that he would refuse to pay the bill otherwise, I reluctantly let him. Anyway, the comment afterwards was very typical: “This doesn’t taste like beer”.
Now let’s look at this comment in more detail. First of all, there’s no doubt that the beverage in the glass was beer – and a very good one at that, brewed according to the Bavarian purity law and celebrated by connoisseurs and popes of all ages. So how can it be that a beer doesn’t taste like beer? The answer, most definitely, is: probably because it doesn’t taste like pils. Would anyone, ever, have a sip of white wine and complain that it doesn’t taste of wine, meaning that it doesn’t taste of red? Unlikely. Why, then, are such comments so common when it comes to beer?
|A fancy glass of Dunkelweizen|
I shan’t speculate on the answer to this, except that I have a vague suspicion that pils may be to blame, as always. Instead, I’ll write a little bit about the beer in question, namely the Schneider. As mentioned, I am not a great fan of wheat beers. I drink them now and again, but most often I find them a bit predictable and boring. Not so with the Schneider on tap: this was a true taste sensation, fantastically fruity and tantalizingly tart on the palate. It had plenty of grapefruit on the nose and about half a litre's worth of enjoyment in the glass. It was simply superb. It was also very unlike the other wheat beer I tried recently, which was the standard variety of the very substandard (but for some reason very famous) Erdinger: a beverage which lacks everything Schneider has in abundance, namely taste, character, beauty and balls. Erdinger is for kids, Schneider for grown-ups.
The other great thing about wheat beer is that, at least in Germany, they are always served in half-litre glasses. I have no idea why this is the only beer to be allowed this great honour, but the fact is that the half litre is the second finest amount of beer that can fit inside a single glass, narrowly beaten by its big brother, the classic British pint (not to be confused with its American namesake which is actually smaller than a half litre).
The German wheat beers originated in the southern state of Bavaria, where it remained popular for hundreds of years. Then, suddenly, its popularity sank dramatically in the first half of the 20th century, mainly because of the popularity of pils, and by the time the 1960s came around it was allegedly brewed by only a handful of breweries and drunk mostly by elderly ladies. Luckily, just as the elderly ladies were about to become too old or dead to drink more beer, the style was rescued by a new generation which took to drinking it with both hands, often with a slice of lemon gently floating in the glass. Since then the style has gone from strength to strength, and nowadays most Bavarian breweries have at least one, and often several, wheat beers on the menu.
|Three Hefeweizen ganging up on one pils.|
There are several varieties: Kristallweizen is filtered and therefore clear, Hefeweizen is unfiltered and cloudy with yeast sediments, Dunkelweizen is the darker variety, and Weizenbock gets you drunk quicker. The taste is often described as fruity and spicy, with hints of banana, clove and bubble gum. In Berlin they brew another variety called Berliner Weisse which is one of the sourest beers you’re ever likely to taste, unless you drink it like the Germans do – with a shot of green or red syrup stirred in. For some unfathomable reason, the Germans seem to love mixing various sweet rubbish into their world-class beers, such as lemonade, banana juice, cherries or coca-cola. Such concoctions should be avoided at all cost. Actually, since these diabolical mixtures cost nothing when you don’t order them you could easily avoid them at no cost! That’s the tip of the day, folks.
My lovely wife and I have decided to go to Norway for the summer holiday this year, travelling down the coast on some kind of cruise ship called "Hurtigruten". I am not expecting this to be a great experience from a beer drinking point of view, but hopefully more rewarding from a "looking for the pretty landscape through the thick fog" point of view. However, should we stumble upon some good brews whilst trying to figure out how to turn the daylight off, I'll be sure to report back. Until then, have a nice summer and please consider not having a pils now and again.