Category Archives: Zymurgical Musings

Imbibing Culture

Of Hearths and Heated Ales: A Taste of Drinking History

Part II of “Warming Beers for Cold Nights

“Stepping from behind the bar, the tavern keeper walked over to the flickering hearth. […] Bending over, he picked up the jug he had placed on the brick floor close to the bed of coals. Inside the beer was just beginning to steam. […] While it heated, he returned to the bar to scoop his secret mixture into a large tankard. […] He thought back on preparing it earlier in the day. To the fresh eggs, beaten into a froth, he had added brown sugar and a touch of rum. […] Rather than nutmeg, he added cinnamon, [and] blended in a little apple and pumpkin to create an appealing accent that cut through the richness of the eggs, [making] the drink taste distinctly different from the way it did in other taverns. […] From the jug the tavern keeper poured the steaming beer into the tankard, swirling it with a spoon to dissolve the mixture. Bending over again, he picked up a poker, […] and when he pulled it from the fire it glowed bright red. Then he thrust it into the tankard. With a hiss it threw off a small cloud of steam. […] Caramelizing the sugars, it heated the beer, and cast an aroma of sweet spice throughout the room.”  (Gregg Smith, Beer in America, 209-210).

Flip

Like W.T. Marchant and John Bickerdyke writing in Britain nearly a century before, Gregg Smith takes up the theme of mixed drinks made with beer in his Beer in America: The Early Years (1998). And like those nineteenth-century writers before him, Smith’s rumination on what American tavern denizens were drinking in times prior to the rise of industrialism is revealing, both in terms of the ingredients and attitudes toward warm drinks. Just as in the old country, beer was thought to be better than drinking water, but warm beer was thought to be best, presumably because warm liquids were easier to digest and because beer was considered healthy. And it had the physician’s imprimatur. Indeed, many a colonial drinker influenced by the recommendations of physicians and prevailing lore “were as likely to order a warmed, mixed beer as a tall, cold one” (Smith, 211).

As for the ingredients, eggs play a starring role in many a warm beer drink consumed prior to the early nineteenth century. Eggs, you say? Though the thought of eggs in warm-beer drinks might strike many a contemporary drinker as odd, both Marchant and Bickerdyke enumerate several warm beer drinks that featured eggs in their respective works about historical drinking customs in Britain. The flip described at the outset was a popular tipple, all the more so in colonial America if we’re to believe Alice Morse Earle’s account in her turn-of-the-twentieth-century Stage-coach and Tavern Days: “There never was a day, never a minute of the day, and scarce of the night, that some old Yankee flip drinker was plunging in a loggerhead, or smacking his lips over a mug of creaming flip” (Earle, 108). Even the New England Almanac from 1704 attests to the drink’s popularity:

The days are short, the weather’s cold, / By tavern fires tales are told. / Some ask for a dram when first come in, / Others with flip and bounce* begin. (Cited in Earle, Stage-coach and Tavern Days, 108).

*Bounce was a colonial-era liqueur made from cherries or other fruits such as apricot.

So ubiquitous was the drink in the taverns along the New England turnpikes and stage coach routes that the tools and vessels needed for making it were part of the surroundings in these taverns of yore. Large mixing jugs and long-handled spoons were among the tools of the tavern keeper’s trade, but perhaps what made the flip in colonial America a truly “American” drink was the loggerhead. Sometimes known as a flip-dog or hottle, the loggerhead “was as much a part of the chimney furniture of an old-time New England tavern and farm-house as the bellows and andirons” (Earle, 112).

Published a decade before Earle’s work, Bickerdyke’s Curiosities of Ale and Beer and Marchant’s In Praise of Ale provide a glimpse of the recipes that gave rise to the American variations. Here’s Marchant’s version:

“Keep grated ginger and nutmeg with a little fine dried lemon peel rubbed together in a mortar. To make a quart of flip:––Put the ale on the fire to warm, and beat up three or four eggs with four ounces of moist sugar, a teaspoonful of grated nutmeg or ginger, and a quartern of good old rum or brandy. When the ale is near to boil put it into one pitcher, and the rum and eggs, &c., into another; turn it from one pitcher to another till it is as smooth as cream.” (Marchant, 607-608).

Of note is that both chroniclers of the flip in Britain make no mention of the loggerhead treatment — a good thing for those of us in latter-day homes or apartments without fireplaces and pokers. Marchant’s recipe adds rum or brandy; Bickerdyke’s calls for rum or gin.

Speaking of gin …

Purl

Purl is another warm ale-based beverage that enjoyed immense popularity during its heyday, so much so that it was, according to Bickerdyke, “the common morning draught of Londoners” (Bickerdyke, 387). Purl was also popular during the American colonial era, as Gregg Smith notes.

Marchant describes the recipe thus: “It is made with a mixture of beer or ale (formerly amber ale was only used), and gin and bitters, or gin bitters. The gin and bitters are put into a half-pint pewter pot, and the ale warmed over a brisk fire, and added to it, at the exact warmth for a person to drink such a portion at a single draught” (Marchant, 609).

Bickerdyke has left us an even more complex and time-consuming recipe for ostensibly “common” purl prepared in advance and left to mature in the cellar for up to a year: “Roman wormwood, gentian root, calamus aromaticus, snakeroot, horse radish, dried orange peel, juniper berries, seeds or kernels of Seville oranges, all placed in beer and allowed to stand for some months.” Bickerdyke adds — tongue firmly in cheek — that “the writer who gives this receipt says a pound or two of galingale improves it — as if anything could improve such a perfect combination! (Bickerdyke, 387). So there you have it: If you don’t have any gin on hand, just procure some galingale and calamus aromaticus along with your juniper berries and make a “gin-beer” instead. Don’t forget to heat it up after it has stood for the requisite several months.

Possett

Flips weren’t the only warm-beer blends made with eggs. An egg hot was a simple concoction made with a pint of ale to which the barkeep added three eggs, two ounces of sugar, nutmeg, and ginger (Smith, 215).

Even more elaborate is the flip’s cousin, the egg possett, described here by Marchant:

“Beat up well the yolks of eight eggs with refined sugar pulverized and nutmeg grated; then extract the juice from the rind of lemon by rubbing loaf sugar upon it, and put the sugar with a piece of cinnamon and a quart of strong home-brewed beer into a saucepan, place it on the fire, and when it boils take it off, then add a single glass of gin, or this may be left out, put the liquor into a spouted jug, and pour it gradually among the yolks of eggs, &tc. All must be kept well stirred with a spoon while the liquor is being poured in. If it be not sweet enough add loaf sugar” (Marchant, 606-607).

***

It may well seem strange to even think about drinking your beer warm — or, for that matter, about adding eggs to your beer. That said, think of these recipes as a fine way of gathering some friends together while the weather’s still cold to experiment with a few of these forgotten gems from the past. (Don’t forget to check out Part I, “Warming Beers for Cold Nights,” while you’re at it.) Who knows? You might even find some inspiration for the present!

Sources

W.T. Marchant, In Praise of Ale, Or, A Compendium of Songs, Ballads, Epigrams, and Anecdotes Relating to Beer, Malt, and Hops, with Some Curious Particulars Concerning Ale-Wives and Brewers, Drinking-Clubs and Customs (London: George Redway, York Street, Covent Garden, 1888).

John Bickerdyke, The Curiosities of Ale and Beer: An Entertaining History (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1889).

Alison Morse Earle, Stage-coach and Tavern Days (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1900).

Gregg Smith, Beer in America: The Early Years, 1587–1840 (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 1998).

Images

Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern (date unknown): Salvatore Colleluori, “The Colonial Tavern, Crucible of the American Revolution.”

Loggerhead: Earle, p. 113 (screenshot).

Other images: F.D. Hofer.

Related Tempest Articles

Warming Beers for Cold Nights

When Once They Drank Beer Warm: Cocktails and Concoctions from Olde Albion

© 2018 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Warming Beers for Cold Nights

~ “The past is a foreign country.” ~

You might have ended up here thinking this post was going to be about barley wines, Belgian quads, barrel-aged imperial stouts, or winter warmers. It’s not, much as I enjoy those typically malty styles. My apologies. Blame it on a piece I wrote a few years back called “When Once They Drank Beer Warm.” My enthusiasm for introducing readers to a nearly forgotten past did not mesh well with the timing of the piece. (Read: not an inordinate number of page views.) You see, I posted this article about warm beer at the height of summer. Who in this day and age wants to contemplate warm beer when the temperatures say beach and biking? But with a good two months’ worth of cold weather on the horizon, now might not be a bad time to revisit the past and cook up a tankard or two of warmed and spiced ale to parry the cold. So buckle up for a journey into the brave old world of warm beer concoctions, along with several recipes sure to expand what you thought possible of those aforementioned winter warmers.

***

John Bickerdyke begins Chapter XIV, “Beverages Compounded of Ale or Beer,” of his 1889 work, The Curiosities of Ale and Beer, with the following observation:

“Very few people, when warming themselves in the winter months with Mulled Ale, know that they are quaffing a direct descendant of that famous liquor known to our forefathers as the Wassail-Bowl, and near akin to Lambs-Wool, of which Herrick wrote in his Twelfth Night:

Next crowne the bowle full

With gentle Lambs wooll*,

    Adde sugare and nutmeg and ginger,

With store of ale too

And thus ye must doe,

    To make the Wassaile a swinger.’”

*Lambswool is one of the traditional drinks of the Wassail and was made with sweet, spiced hot ale or cider and roasted apples.

That Bickerdyke could assume his audience would be warming themselves with mulled ale is indicative of just how much our attitudes have changed regarding the “proper” consumption of beer in the intervening space of a mere 125 years, especially concerning temperature.

Bickerdyke was not alone. Published a year earlier than Bickerdyke’s Curiosities, W.T. Marchant’s In Praise of Ale dedicates an entire chapter to warm ale. Here, Marchant references a work published some two hundred years before his own, the title of which bears clear witness to the author’s attitudes regarding cold beer: A Treatise of Warm Beer, Wherein is declared by many reasons that Beer so qualified is farre more wholesome than that which is drunk cold (1641).

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Given the ample references to the deleterious effects of cold beverages in these older sources in conjunction with encomia lauding the benefits of warm beer for health, countenance, and constitution, it’s not surprising that recipes for warm ale and beer concoctions abound in the days before the arrival of cleaner water supplies and more reliably consistent (and industrialized) methods of beer production.

Hold my warm beer … …

* * *

Why warm beer now, winter weather notwithstanding? In his socio-cultural history in the form of a book about beer and ballads, Marchant lamented that “the making of these warm, comforting, and invigorating drinks has become all but a lost art” (Marchant, 606). Books are a form of cultural memory, and beer books are no different. Writing in the waning years of the nineteenth century, Marchant was attempting to preserve a long history of sociality that barely survived the Industrial Revolution. And even if history is, in many ways, about preservation, it is also about sensitizing us to difference –– cultural difference, political difference, differences in traditions and mores, and, yes, differences in beer drinking customs largely unfamiliar to us. (Warm beer, anyone?) Though the echo of this history resonates in some culinary circles enthusiastic about keeping old drinking traditions alive, these seemingly foreign traditions are almost all but forgotten among the wider public of beer enthusiasts.

So why did warmed beer beverages nearly fade into oblivion? Why is this past so foreign to us drinkers of cold beer? Refrigeration, a late nineteenth-century invention, may have had something to do with it. Beyond that, Gregg Smith, author of Beer in America: The Early Years, maintains that enough circumstantial evidence supports the notion that beer-based mixed drinks were a means of saving beer that had gone awry. “As brewing’s raw materials, equipment, instruments, procedures, and science advanced in the 1800s, beer mixed drinks […] all but disappeared” (Smith, 224). Writing over a century earlier about lambswool and the Wassail Bowl, Bickerdyke wryly notes the following:

“It can easily be understood that when ale was for the most part brewed without hops, and consequently rather insipid in taste, many people would have a craving for something more highly flavoured, and would put nutmeg, ginger, and other spices into their liquor. It is not unlikely that the introduction of hops was the cause which ultimately led to beer cups going out of fashion” (Bickerdyke, 381).

In other words, sugar and spice were very nice in times when home- or tavern-brewed beers were of wildly varying quality and the ale preceding hopped beer was “rather insipid in taste.”

* * *

The metaphorical shelves of books by late nineteenth-century writers like Marchant and Bickerdyke are stocked with a curiosity cabinet’s worth of drinks awaiting the intrepid contemporary beer enthusiast on a quest for novelty in the past. Here are a few recipes for your historical cocktail hour, straight from these pages. (Of note: Should you venture to try these at home, I’d opt for malty beers over hoppy ones.)

Rum Fustian. A night cap prepared in the same way as posset (discussed in my next piece), with subtle differences. Combine “the yokes of twelve eggs, a quart of strong home-brewed beer, a bottle of white wine, half a pint of gin, a grated nutmeg, the juice from the peel of a lemon, a small quantity of cinnamon, and sugar sufficient to sweeten it.” (Marchant, 607). Oddly, no rum.

Lambswool. A drink that has absolutely nothing to do with the wool of little lambs, and plenty to do with roasted apples. Authors differ on when the roasted apple should be added to the beverage. Smith states that “apples were […] roasted until the skins burst and were added to the warm beer mixture before serving” (Smith, 223) — possibly a colonial American variation on a British theme. Bickerdyke suggests the following means of preparing lambswool:

“To make this beverage, mix the pulp of half a dozen roasted apples with some raw sugar, a grated nutmeg, and a small quantity of ginger; add one quart of strong ale made moderately warm. Stir the whole together, and, if sweet enough, it is fit for use. This mixture is sometimes served up in a bowl, with sweet cakes floating in them” (Bickerdyke, 382).

As for the rather curious name? Bickerdyke and others trace it back to an ancient Celtic pagan festival called La Mas Ubal (The Day of Apple-Fruit), which was held on the first day of November. La Mas Ubal was pronounced lamasool, which was eventually corrupted by the countryfolk into lambswool, the beverage for the feast day bearing its name.

Warm Ale Cup. “One quart of ale, one glass of brandy, two glasses of sherry, and a quarter of a pound of lump sugar. Spice according to the palate. Boil the sugar in half the ale, and then mix the whole together” (Marchant, 608).

Freemasons’ Cup (served hot or cold). Combine Scotch ale with a similar quantity of mild beer, half a pint of brandy, a pint of sherry, half a pound of sugar loaf, and plenty of grated nutmeg. Ever the wag, Bickerdyke quips that “freemasons must have strong heads” (Bickerdyke, 391).

Buttered Ale. Marchant cites a seventeenth-century traveler to England who wrote the following: “In the evening, the English take a certain beverage which they call buttered ale, composed of cinnamon, sugar, butter, and beer brewed without hops” (Marchant, 612).

Braggot. Last but not least, braggot. Writes Chaucer of this elixir in his Miller’s Tale:

“Hire mouth was as sweete as braket or the meth*” (cited in Bickerdyke, 380).

*“Meth” here refers to metheglin, a type of mead.

Braggot is a beverage of great antiquity and has gone by many names, including bragawd, braket, bragget, and braga. The latter is of Nordic origin, and is derived from the name of one of the mythological gods of the Edda. The drink’s iterations over the years are no less diverse. With characteristic wit, Bryckendyke observes that “to define Bragot with any degree of preciseness would be as difficult as to give an accurate definition of ‘soup’” (Bickerdyke, 379).

Marchant furnishes us with a recipe of suitable vintage, “The Crafte for Braket”:

“When thou hast good ale, draw out a quart of it and put it to the honey, and set it over the fyre, and let it seethe well, and take it off the fyre and scume it well, and so again, and then let it keel a whyle, and put thereto the peper, and set him on the fyre, and let him boyle together, with esy fyre, but clere. To four gallons of good ale put a pynte of fyne tried honey and a saucerfull of poudre of peper*. (Marchant, 606).

*As far as I can make out, “poudre of peper” possibly refers to the medieval spice blends “poudre forte” (a spice blend based on cinnamon, clove, and black pepper) or “poudre douce” (similar to poudre forte, but with ginger and without black pepper). Unsurprisingly, like gruit, the variations were manifold. The spice retailer World Spice Merchants adds Grains of Paradise to its poudre forte.

* * *

Remember those winter warmers I mentioned at the outset? In the absence of anything but anecdotal evidence, I don’t think it would be a stretch to claim that the concoctions I have described here were the inspiration for many a contemporary spiced beer fit for winter evenings by the fire. In the same spirit of preservation and historical archeology evinced by the likes of W.T. Marchant and John Bickerdyke, I hope to have opened a small window onto an almost forgotten drinking past by offering you this small compendium of recipes.

Stay tuned for Part II, which gives you a taste of the origins of early American drinking history, itself borne out of the spirit of these drinking customs of Olde Albion. Here’s to keeping the cold at bay!

____________

References

W.T. Marchant, In Praise of Ale, Or, A Compendium of Songs, Ballads, Epigrams, and Anecdotes Relating to Beer, Malt, and Hops, with Some Curious Particulars Concerning Ale-Wives and Brewers, Drinking-Clubs and Customs (London: George Redway, York Street, Covent Garden, 1888).

John Bickerdyke, The Curiosities of Ale and Beer: An Entertaining History (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1889).

Gregg Smith, Beer in America: The Early Years, 1587–1840 (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 1998).

The Oakden Traditional Cookware blog.

Image Credits

Pinzgauer Alps: F.D. Hofer

Jan Luyken, The Brewer (1694): Brookston Beer Bulletin

Marchant title page photo: F.D. Hofer

Engraving from title page of the 1604 edition of Marx Rumpolt’s Ein new Kochbuch: Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden, http://digital.slub-dresden.de/id313700877

Simon A. Eugster, Cinnamon: sticks (ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka), powder, and flowers. Created from 31 images stacked with CombineZP. Wikimedia/Wiki Commons.

Honey photo: organics.org

Related Tempest Posts

Of Hearths and Heated Ales: A Taste of Drinking History

When Once They Drank Beer Warm: Cocktails and Concoctions from Olde Albion

Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer

© 2018 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Reflections and Resolutions

So here we are again. One more turn around this mortal coil, drinking to forget the follies of an old year and toasting the auspiciousness of the new. For me 2017 has been extremely enjoyable, uncanny parallels between the 1930s and the present notwithstanding. I hope it has been the same for you.

Enjoyable but busy — which is why you haven’t heard too much from me in 2017. Fortunately, life hasn’t been all work and no play. And you’ll hear more about all of the play in 2018. See under: Resolutions (below).

For now, I’m going to do something rather out of character as we sail into the sunset of 2017. Any long-time reader of Tempest knows that I’m not a fan of “best-of” lists, but since I’m already hearing the siren call of New Year’s Eve festivities, I’ll make an exception of sorts. Following is a list (in no particular order) of five beers I drank for the first time this year and found particularly impressive. I’m picking more or less at random here, but they’re all beers worth searching out. Three Tankards, if you will. Along with these five beers, I’m including a list of five stellar beer-related places I visited for the first time this year. All are places that you’ll want to put on your travel bucket list for 2018 or further in the future.

Reflections I: Beers

Birra Baladin, Elixir. My first beer of 2017, Baladin’s Elixir set quite the tone for the year. This beer is a malthead’s dream: honeyed malt sweetness to spare, rum-soaked dark cherries, lush caramel, and Calimynra figs mingling with vanilla and toasted coconut. Demarara sugar and high-end milk chocolate (Italian or Belgian, take your pick) follow the initial crescendo of aromas and flavours, all accented by a “Belgian” yeast character that’ll bring plum, baking spice, and overripe banana to mind. If you’ve ever eaten Spanish fig chocolate cake, you’ll love this beer.

Brouwerij ’t Verzet, Oud Bruin. I had visited Cantillon for my second time in as many years the day before, and I could just as easily have listed their superb 2013 Lou Pépé Framboise or their 2016 Saint Lamvinus Grand Cru (featuring Merlot grapes) here. But fortunately we took the word of a woman who has been leading tours of a famous brewery in nearby Bruges for years now. When she’s not regaling beer tourists with stories of her well-respected brewery, she’s singing the praises of up-and-coming younger brewers in the region. And the folks at ’t Verzet are on to something. This copper-garnet beer offers up aromas and flavours you’d usually expect to find in an Oud Bruin, but with a twist: liquid caramel with a dusting of sea salt, chocolate reminiscent of the filling in a Belgian truffle, and a bright balsamic character that heads in the direction of cherry-like Chianti wine. The beer is sour but full-flavoured — a difficult feat to pull off. A green apple/apple cider-like acidity rounds out a subtle earthiness that shades into Amontillado sherry and aged saké.

pFriem Family Brewers, Frambozen. You know what, I didn’t take any notes on this beer. But it has stuck with me. A wonderful mix of fresh raspberry and wild-fermentation funk reminiscent of horse blanket, elegant Band-aid (if ever there were an elegant Band-aid … ), and fresh-cut meadows. North America doesn’t get much closer to Belgium than this.

Fremont Brewing, 2017 B-Bomb (Coconut Edition). I’m a huge fan of just about any imperial stout but tend to gravitate, firstly, toward barrel-aged versions, and, secondly, toward less austere and more rounded expressions of the style. Freemont’s 2017 version starts out as a fine example of blending virtuosity: a mix of their 9-, 12-, and 24-month Winter Ale aged in 12-year-old American Oak bourbon barrels. Add in some toasted coconut and you end up with an exquisite blend of milk chocolate, vanilla, cacao, dates, toasty malt, mocha, and, yes, a clearly present but well integrated aroma and taste of toasted coconut guaranteed to make you bolt in the opposite direction from that next “coconut stout/porter” spiked with extract you’ll probably encounter this year.

U Trí Růží, Tmavý Speciál. Czech dark lager doesn’t get much press back at home, but it has, at least, achieved minor fame as a BJCP beer style in the 2015 guidelines. And long overdue at that, considering the pedigree of a place like U Fleků, that Prague institution that brews and serves one beer and one beer only. And do make the trek to U Fleků for a night on the town singing Czech folk songs with suitably inebriated patrons, one and all quaffing the urban brewery’s signature dark lager. Assuming you likely will (or have) visited U Fleků, here’s another spot that lies a mere hundred meters from the hustle and bustle of Charles Bridge and all the congested pubs in the vicinity. This is the beer that inspired me to take a crack at brewing the style a month back. Needless to say, mine’s but a pale reflection of this stellar beer that features rich cocoa, dark chocolate, freshly ground coffee, and just a touch of dark cherry. Wondering what the difference is between a Czech dark lager and a Munich dunkles Bier? All I can say without getting into too much detail is that they’re similar but o-so-different: like twin cousins.

Reflections II: Places

I don’t want to spoil anything for 2018 (see under: Resolutions), so I’ll operate here under the assumption that a photo is worth a cliché’s worth of words.

‘t Brugs Beertje, Bruges. A classic Belgian watering hole. And a stellar selection of western Flanders beers that’ll help you make sense of the tile patterns on the floor.

Kloster Weltenburg, eastern Bavaria. Serves up one of Germany’s best Doppelbocks named after two of Bavaria’s best Baroque architects, the Assam brothers. Should you tire of the beer on offer (heaven forfend!), you can admire the surrounding monastic architecture to which the aforementioned Doppelbock pays tribute. I’m leaving out a whole lotta Bavaria here, including Nürnberger Bratwurst Glöckl am Dom, a Munich gem hidden in plain sight serving up superb Bratwurst accompanied by Augustiner Helles fresh from the barrel. But that’s fine. The beer, the architecture, and the scenic voyage through the stunning Donaudurchbruch (Danube Gorge) is worth the trip from Kehlheim of Schneider Weisse fame. Make it a two-for-one.

Zum Uerige, Düsseldorf. All the trappings of a classic Altbier tavern and then some. It’s everything you’ve heard about the place. Some claim that the Altbier is better in other taverns. It may well be. And I could certainly give you recommendations for more “off the beaten track” Altbier breweries. But this warren of dark rooms, dimly lit Ausschank areas (where they roll out the barrels), and convivial spaces where the whole family gathers after church in the half-light of stained-glass windows is one of those iconic Euro beer spots that every beer enthusiast should visit at least once.

Päffgen, Cologne. You’ve stepped out of the train station and stood in awe of the cathedral. As a beer drinker, you’ve probably already realized that it’s about a 30-second walk from the train station to the Gaffel shrine to Kölsch. Maybe you have decided to see another 5-minutes’ worth of the town before succumbing to the temptation of checking out what the Köbes (Cologne’s famous Kölsch servers) are up to at Früh. No one will judge you for either of these choices, least of all me. But if you spend a few more days and peel back the proverbial layers, you might find yourself in the Friesenviertel. Some say Päffgen’s is the best Kölsch in town. Whatever the case may be, it is, without doubt, one of the most traditional places to find a Kölsch. (I could have put “traditional” in scare quotes, but I’ll save that for another year. Hint: Kölsch ain’t all that old as a style. Suffice it to day, though, this place has all the requisite “X-factor” stuff going on when compared to the other places.)

Letná beer garden, Prague. Pilsener Urquell and Kozel Černý in plastic cups. Forget everything I’ve ever written about proper glassware and just enjoy the stellar view.

Resolutions:

Write more in 2018.

**

All the best for 2018, everyone!

Further Tempest reading:

A Pivo Pilgrimage to Pilsen

Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant

Of Coolships, Cobwebs, and Cantillon

How Paulaner’s Salvator Doppelbock Got Its Name

A Season for Strong Beer

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

All images by F.D. Hofer

© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Beer Goes to the Museum

Just a little over a year ago, the internet was abuzz with news that the Smithsonian was in the market for a beer historian. That the venerable Smithsonian Institution would be looking to collect, document, and display the history of brewing in the United States is a striking move. It is also a move entirely in keeping with the booming popularity of craft beer in the United States –– itself a phenomenon with aspirations to reconnect beer drinkers with local traditions.

The German Hop Museum in Wolnzach (Hallertau)

Alas, I’ve been bored senseless by one too many museums of breweriana. You probably know the kind: beer signs, beer coasters, beer bottles. Not that these can’t be interesting objects in their own right, but all too often displays of breweriana lack the kind of layered contextualization that both historicizes and revitalizes the object in question. As a historian, I find it encouraging to see an institution of national stature taking a scholarly approach to documenting the rich history and tradition surrounding brewing in the United States. At some point over the next few years I plan to make it out to D.C. to see how their efforts at collecting, exhibiting, and programming have worked out.

For now, though, here’s a look at two museum exhibitions from my recent time in Europe: a temporary exhibition dedicated to the history of the German Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) in Munich, and a hop museum in the Hallertau region of Bavaria. Even if the Reinheitsgebot exhibition has since closed, I talk about it here because it demonstrates the potential of well-crafted exhibitions to enrich our experience of what’s in the glass.  At any rate, I’m certain it won’t be the last of its kind.  And there’s always the extremely informative catalogue if you’re able to read German.

How Beer Made Munich

On the occasion of the five-hundredth anniversary of that famous German beer law that some people love and others loathe, the Münchener Stadtmuseum (Munich City Museum) staged an exhibition called “Munich––Powered by Beer.” The English title doesn’t quite capture the essence of the pun in the German title, Bier. Macht. München, which translates roughly into both “How Beer Made Munich” and “Beer. Power. Munich.” Either way, the title of the exhibition alludes to how beer has shaped everything from medieval brewing rights to Munich’s urban development. The exhibition also underscores the extent to which the beer industry was and is closely entwined with the political and economic powers that run the city.

In scarcely any other major city is the culture of beer so much a part of its history and identity. The exhibition traces the history of brewing in Bavaria from the days before the enactment of the Purity Laws in 1516 through the industrialization of production in the nineteenth century to domestic export networks in the twentieth century.

Industrialization and scientific advances in brewing technology play a major role in the exhibition. One segment recounts the interconnection between the lager-style beers prevalent in the region and Munich’s role in the development of refrigeration. Beer in popular culture plays a large role in the exhibition as well, with galleries dedicated to consumption (beer halls, beer gardens, taverns), advertising, and the history of Oktoberfest. The curators also tip their hat to other annual beer festivals that revolve around particular styles of beer, religious holidays, or changes of season.

“Munich—Powered by Beer” is celebratory, to be sure, but manages to maintain a critical distance. Its treatment of the role of beer halls in the rise of Nazism is but one example, along with its (albeit brief) acknowledgment of the overlooked contribution of Jews to German beer history. As a whole, the exhibition draws on a well-calibrated mix of written documents, artworks (engravings and paintings/portraits), photographs, postcards, technical objects used in the brewing process (hydrometers, refrigeration units), advertising placards, a wide variety of objects (such as tankards, steins, barrels, taps, figurines), and installations of original tavern rooms and bars.

A Hop Museum in the Hallertau

The German Hop Museum (Deutsches Hopfenmuseum) is right in the middle of the Hallertau hop-producing region and well worth a side trip from Munich. Open since 2005, the architecture of the building pays tribute to the local hop yards, while the exhibition itself is a welcome departure from the breweriana of most beer/brewing-themed museums. The exhibition was designed with a focus on interactivity, whether in the form of touch screens with maps and layers of information, hands-on displays, or even a station in the shape of a hop cone that generates hop aromas.

With the aid of objects such as tractors, mechanical pluckers, trellises, and a life-sized replica of a hop kiln, the exhibition details the social and economic history of the hop industry. It also delves into topics as diverse as the role of monasteries in medieval hop cultivation and the use of pesticides more recently. The first part of the narrative emphasizes hop production as a labour-intensive seasonal occupation that drew upon migrant labour and involved the entire village. The latter portion addresses the radical changes and dislocations wrought by the postwar mechanization of the industry. All the while, the exhibition deftly resists the urge to romanticize the back-breaking work of hop picking while also relating compelling tales of camaraderie during the cycle of planting and harvesting. Singing, dancing, and festivities were all hallmarks of the hop harvest.

All of the objects, documents, films, and installations come together in what amounts to a fascinating and sometimes surprising cultural history of hop production in Bavaria. Objects on display include scientific writings on hops ranging from early botanical studies such as those by Hildegard von Bingen to recent works on hop processing. A series of films focus on scenes from everyday life in the hop villages as well as on the dangers faced by those who constructed the hop trellises. Throughout the exhibition, photo albums and oral histories bring the hop harvest to life. The very last section of the exhibition focuses on the market for hops during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and pauses to shine a light on the often overlooked history of Jews in the hop trade.

Unsurprisingly, hops rule the roost in the museum’s gift shop as well. If you’re in need of a pick-me-up after taking in the exhibition, you can buy delectable chocolate containing hops. You’ll also find hop soaps, hop teas, hop jellies, and hop pillows alongside books on hops and postcards with botanical renderings of the hop cone.

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I must confess that I’m always a bit baffled when I hear people complain about how beer and politics don’t mix. What both of these thoughtful exhibitions demonstrate is that beer is intimately bound up with economic and political power. And not only that. The agricultural crops that go into our glass have given rise to rich cultural histories of labour and sociality. Where there’s a history of this, that, or the other, you can be sure that beer’s not far away. So when you’re contemplating your next beer pilgrimage, set aside some time to support museums like these in both North America and Europe.

Cheers to beer in museums!

Related Tempest articles:

When Once They Drank Beer Warm: Cocktails and Concoctions from Olde Albion

A Season for Strong Beer

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

What does it mean to “drink locally”?

The shadows are getting longer on this late afternoon in early autumn as I pull in from a long bike ride. I need a beer. Like most of us in North America these days, I’ll probably head down the road to the local brewery to quench my thirst or stop by a taproom that stocks a selection of beers brewed in the region.

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Many of us have heard or even uttered variations of the following: Drinking beer brewed locally connects us with the place where we live. Drinking locally is a deliberate act that signals a rejection of mass-produced wares. Beer brewed by the sweat of the brow of the folks down the road is more authentic than the fizzy liquid that flows forth from large factories across the land. Beer brewed locally tastes better. And beer brewed locally might just taste of the place in which it was brewed.

But what does it actually mean when we say we “drink local”? This is a question I have entertained since the earliest days of A Tempest in a Tankard. I started thinking about it again after reading a recent article entitled “The Next Big Thing in Beer is Being a Small Taproom.” Of course, being a small taproom means selling most, if not all, of what you brew to patrons who live within a stein’s toss of the brewery. Local is in like it hasn’t been since the days before Prohibition.

As I begin to re-formulate my thoughts on locality, place, terroir, aura, and authenticity for a few new projects, I thought it might be worthwhile to isolate questions I have couched within longer Tempest articles and pose them here in relatively open-ended form. Chime in with your thoughts!

1. Do we feel more connected to locally-brewed beer than we do to beers brewed elsewhere?

2. What do we mean when we say “authentically local”? Who and what do we exclude in this place-marking gesture?

3. What does it mean to be “local”? Is it the brewery itself, rooted in its particular place, or is it the ingredients? Does the brewery down the street brew with “locally-sourced” ingredients, or does it brew with malt from Germany, the United Kingdom, or Belgium?

4. Does the use of internationally-sourced ingredients at the brewery on the corner render its beer less “local”?

5. What are the spatial constraints of the term local? Does it refer to ingredients produced within a hundred kilometers of the brewery, or –– if the brewery is, say, Belgian –– can the term also refer to hops produced in Bavaria’s Hallertau region but used in Brussels?

6. What if your “local” beer is brewed under contract in a different region or state? Who decides, in the end, what constitutes a locally-brewed beer?

7. What about the brewer who simply can’t brew a beer with “local” ingredients? Is the beer produced at a brewery amid the warehouses of a light industrial district any less “authentically local” than the beer that contains maple syrup tapped from trees on the brewer’s land?

8. In recent years some commentators have suggested that brewers and their innovations are a more decisive component of “terroir” than the soil in which the hops or grain are grown. Does this sentiment stretch the notion of terroir to its breaking point? Or is there something to it?

9. Beer was once stamped with a sense of place due to a number of factors beyond the control of local brewers. Nowadays, brewers in Austin can create helles Bier that tastes like those brewed in München. What happens to the uniqueness of terroir when skilled brewers separated by an ocean can make beer that tastes virtually identical?

10. Beers may be a reflection of place, but can we “taste place” in beer?

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I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please take a moment to address any of these questions in the comments. Cheers!

If you’re interested in how I have approached these questions, check out the following articles:

A Reflection of Place, But Dimly

Pinning Down Place

Romancing the Local

Returning for Another Sip of Terroir

Images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Beer Flights: The Smart Way to Drink

5300-plus breweries in the United States and counting. Another 775 in Canada as of 2016 (and counting). A veritable explosion of new and innovative breweries in Europe’s strongholds of brewing tradition: Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and Belgium.

Judges at the 2016 edition of the Great American Beer Festival evaluated 96 general categories of beer covering 161 beer styles.

Never before has such a prodigious diversity of beers been available to those of us who like to drink them.

With all this variety, beer flights are more important now than ever before. I’m sure many would agree –– fortunately, flights are ubiquitous at North American craft-influenced establishments, and are on the rise in Europe. But occasionally I’m left scratching my head when hostility to flights bubbles to the surface.

Vinepair recently posted an article asking brewers to name a beer trend “that needs to die.” One response had to do with flights. Patrick Barnes of Islamorada Beer Company in Florida offered this response to the question of which beer trend he’d like to see go the way of the dodo bird:

“Beer flights. Beer is meant to be drunk by the pint, not by the shot. There are a lot of flavors and aromas that are lost in small tasting glasses, as well as switching back and forth between tasters wrecks your palate.”

Since the Vinepair article started making the rounds, more than a few friends, acquaintances, and members of Facebook beer groups have voiced support for doing away with beer flights. (Incidentally, this isn’t the first time that someone has expressed an antipathy toward flights. Back in early 2015, a barkeep in New York’s capitol region wrote an incredibly subtle think-piece entitled “Flights are dumb, and you’re dumb if you like them.”) Why this hostility to flights, perhaps one of the better ideas to come out of this phenomenon we call craft?

Before going any further, though I do have something against the typical shaker-type pint glass for reasons I’ve touched upon in my “Five Ways to Become a Better Drinker,” I have nothing against pint measures and have drunk my fair share. They have their time and place. Like in a beer garden, for example.

But to return to Barnes’s response: the assertion that beer is meant to be drunk by the pint is absurd. Why by the pint? Does every style of beer lend itself to being drunk by the pint? And why don’t we drink wine by the pint? After all, German late-harvest Rieslings have often have a lower alcohol percentage than many imperial stouts.

It’s similarly misguided to suggest that flavours and aromas are lost in small tasting glasses. A 4-ounce snifter that tapers toward the rim concentrates far more aromas than any 16-ounce pint glass of the shaker variety ever will. (I’ll go out on a limb here and assume that the vessel to which Barnes refers when he speaks of pints is the common shaker glass.)

Granted, switching back and forth between tasters can wreck your palate, especially if you have a high-IBU double IPA, an intensely hopped NEIPA, or a wild/sour in the flight. But let’s step back from the bar for a moment. Before the flight even gets off the ground, as it were, it’s the brewer’s or taproom manager’s responsibility to make sure his or her staff are familiar with the best ways to construct a flight so as to avoid palate fatigue. This could take the form of in-house training or subsidized Cicerone courses, or what have you. (Yes, I know that many breweries and taprooms already engage in this best of practices, but since some folks keep trashing flights … .)

Even the oldest brewery in the world is getting into the game

Now, one could adduce more potent arguments against flights along the following lines: Assembling a flight ties up a member of the bar staff who has to pull a number of 3- or 4-oz pours instead of one nice, hefty 16-oz pint. The bar staff then has to make sure that the drinker knows what each beer is. Though I do empathize with harried taproom staff, flights eminently address that wonderful issue of variety I mentioned at the outset. After all, the way I see it, a significant part of being a “craft” brewery or taproom involves education about beer and its myriad styles. Flights are the way to go.

An enlightening side-by-side tasting of gueuze and kriek: Boon, Tilquin, Cantillon, Girardin, etc.

  • Flights allow you to taste beers side by side. Depending on the flight that you or the bartender put together, you can taste a number of similar beers to see what makes a style tick, you can taste stouts next to porters to see what makes these styles subtly or not so subtly different, or you can run the gamut from a lager to a lambic. Say a brewery offers a range of IPAs –– something not entirely uncommon these days. Try them all next to each other in a flight. If you’re at a taproom, put together a flight of IPAs from different regions and taste them next to one another. Not only is this fun, it’s educational. Tasting beers side by side is much more of a revelation than drinking beers in succession.
  • For people just getting into craft beer –– or even for seasoned veterans –– flights provide an easy and enjoyable way for brewers or taproom staff to introduce drinkers to new styles, innovations, or experiments without the visitor needing to go “all-in” on a pint. (That smoked meat and maple syrup porter aged on juniper branches and blueberries sounded interesting in theory … )
  • Knocking back a few pints in a beer garden or in the pub on the way home from work is great if the beer clocks in at 4.8%-5% ABV. But when you’re talking American-style IPAs and numerous latter-day stouts, many of which clock in well north of 6.5% ABV, you’ll be feeling the hit sooner than later. Flights can make the next day that much more bearable.
  • Sure, anyone living in the vicinity of a particular brewery can head over from time to time to taste his or her way through the brewery’s offerings, pint by pint. But if I’m traveling through town and have only one shot at experiencing what a brewery has to offer, a flight means that I don’t have to get hammered in the process. I might eventually settle on a pint; offering a flight of beers gives me a chance to find that beer or beers.

So there you have it. Flights are smart, and you’re smart if you like them.

And sometimes only a pint will do. Cheers, everyone!

Related Tempest articles:

Five Ways to Become a Better Drinker in 2015

Epicurean Unbound: Five Ways to Expand Your Drinking Horizons

Three Vintages of Goose Island’s Sofie

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Tankards Everywhere: Tempest’s Beerscapes of 2016

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Fermentation in progress, Weihenstephan

I was at Schloss Belvedere a few days back, the famous Viennese museum that houses the even more famous Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Alongside some of his other iconic works such as Judith und Holofernes hung several paintings dating from the year of Klimt’s death in 1918, all containing the word “unvollendet” (incomplete) somewhere in the title. Like Schubert’s 8th Symphony –– Die Unvollendete –– Klimt’s incomplete works gesture tantalizingly toward what would have been.

The same cannot be said for my growing stack of paper and metaphorically bulging computer file filled with work in various stages of incompletion: inchoate thoughts on everything from the German Purity Laws to the perennial debates about canning and canons of taste; travelogues that set out on a journey with no end; and the myriad attempts to turn aroma and flavour sensations into transcriptions of my imbibing pleasures.

One aspect of my attempts to put pen to paper on a regular basis has remained relatively constant since I arrived in Vienna: I get side-tracked too easily by all there is to see and do in Vienna, in Austria, in Central Europe, and elsewhere on this continent. The desire to post regularly has remained just that. I have to admit that I considered putting Tempest on ice on more than a few occasions, but the sheer enjoyment of writing about all things fermentable keeps drawing me back to the keyboard.

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The Speyside Way in the Scottish Highlands

Almost every one of my trips over the past three years has involved the cultural history and contemporary moment of drinking up. This year alone I walked 15 km from one distillery in Aberlour to another in Ballindalloch along Scotland’s Speyside Way.

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Kloster Andechs. I suspect that most of the visitors aren’t here to attend mass.

I followed in the footsteps of thirsty pilgrims in search of spiritual and corporeal solace at Kloster Andechs.

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A local beer from Carinthia’s Loncium at the Dolomitenhütte

I hiked up a mountain for a view of the Austrian Dolomites and a much-deserved local beer at the top, and cycled with friends along the Danube in Austria’s Wachau region during the height of the grape harvest.

And that’s not all. As I began to gather my thoughts for this piece on the occasion of Tempest’s third trip around the orange orb, I realized that it’s been quite the ride since this time last year.

České Budějovice (Budweis), Plzeń (Pilsen).

Polished coppers at Pilsner Urquell

Polished coppers at Pilsner Urquell

Austria’s Innviertel.

Bogner, makers of some of the best Hefeweizen in Austria

Bogner, makers of some of the best Hefeweizen in Austria

Brussels and Flemish Brabant.

You really can't go wrong with a wheel of lambics.

You really can’t go wrong with a wheel of lambics.

Munich, with its expansive beer gardens and lively beer halls, and Ayinger a half hour away. img_8346

A top-notch hop museum in the Hallertau and several museum exhibitions in Munich commemorating the 500th anniversary of the German Purity Laws (Reinheitsgebot).

The German Hop Museum in Wolnzach (Hallertau)

The German Hop Museum in Wolnzach (Hallertau)

Oktoberfest in Munich, and a hop harvest festival in Freising, home of Germany’s oldest brewery.

You won't go hungry in Bavaria.

You won’t go hungry in Bavaria.

And Scotland! Edinburgh’s majestic pubs.img_0722

The search for a 60 Shilling ale which proved about as fruitless as trying to sight the Loch Ness Monster. And drams of whisky to chase whatever Scottish ale I did find.img_0902

So here we are. Some of the notes and fragments detailing my adventures will see the light of day in due time, but in the meantime I offer you a few words’ worth of images, a visual down payment on writing to come.

Cheers to you, my fellow imbiber, for accompanying me on my journey these past three years! It’s you who keeps me writing.

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Check back in a few days for my write-up about the outstanding beer I cracked to celebrate three years.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Tempest’s Beer and Travel Highlights from 2015-2016

So much to do, so little time. With all those beers I’m sure you’ve been searching out and drinking over the course of the year, one or two Tempest articles may have slipped you by. Not to worry! On the occasion of Tempest’s third year traveling to far-flung places to bring you the best beer experiences, here’s a short round-up of highlights.img_1258

(Click here for the updated version of my ongoing Index of articles and posts over the years.)

Occasionally I’d manage to find a small sliver of time between friends coming to visit and excursions to far-flung parts of Europe combining hiking, cycling, and the pursuit of all things zymurgical. The result? Much of what I wrote between November 2015 and now came out in bursts and took the form of series. I did set down a handful of stand-alone pieces, a few of which I’ll list before introducing the highlights of the serial articles I wrote:

A World of Stouts for Your Weekend is an exploration of stouts beyond the British Isles that’ll keep you warm on any non-summer night. Rich brews from Japan, Norway, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Sri Lanka.

Beer Travel off the Beaten Track: Austria’s Innviertel. Few might think otherwise, but the Central European beer scene encompasses more than Bavaria and Bohemia.img_6917 For the intrepid beer traveler, the Innviertel of Upper Austria is a gem of bucolic scenery, colourful towns, and top-notch breweries that don’t see wide distribution.

Say No to Style Loyalty. We live in an era of unprecedented beer selection, yet a number of venerable styles currently on the books are on the verge of extinction. Mild Ale, anyone? Perhaps the most salient piece I wrote all year. Pour yourself a glass of a beer you’ve never had and give it a read.

Wild-Fermented Beer in Belgium

Of Coolships, Cobwebs, and Cantillon––Need I say more about this iconic brewery? Maybe just one thing: go there at least once in your life. This post was by far my most popular post of 2016, but be sure to check out all the other fermented delights that Belgium has to offer while you’re there. And the chocolate.

Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant––Rent a bike just outside of Brussels and follow along to breweries such as Drie Fonteinen, Oud Beersel, and Boon. “Where the Wild Beers Are” also has plenty of suggestions about where to get your sour funk in Brussels when you’re done with your ride.img_7928

The Oktoberfest Series

O’ zapft is! These may well be the only three words of German you need to know beyond bier and prost, but you might also be wondering about the rich history of the world’s largest beer festival. “O’ zapft is!” sets the stage.oktoberfest-hofbrautent-fdh

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810––Did you know that Oktoberfest started its two-hundred year history as a horse race in honour of a royal wedding? It wasn’t until the latter half of the nineteenth century that Oktoberfest started to resemble the festival we all know and love today. Learn more about how beer tents supplanted “beer castles,” and how the golden Festbier eventually replaced Märzen on the Theresienwiese in these two articles:

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

Autumn in a Glass: Märzen, Oktoberfest Beer, and Vienna Lager

The Vienna Beer Garden Series

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens––Vienna: city of classical music, café culture, and stunning architecture. Vienna is also home to a rich but understated beer garden scene. Learn about the history of Vienna’s beloved Prater before heading to the Schweizerhaus for a beer and roasted pork knuckle.

Vienna, City of Beer Gardens––When you’re done with all the museums and sights that Vienna has to offer, hop on Vienna’s superb public transportation network and head out in search of Vienna’s vibrant shades of green.

Up next: Tempest’s Beerscapes of 2016.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

Nearly 40,000 people headed out to the horse race just beyond the Munich gates on that first Oktoberfest day in 1810. Families and groups of friends staked out places to sit on the meadowland heights surrounding the track and began tucking into their bread, sausage, and beer as the races began. The mood was festive at this Olympic-style race, and the event was a resounding success. After all, Munich at the time numbered 40,638 souls, and most of them came out to enjoy the race (Eymold, 327). It wasn’t long before plans were laid to repeat the event annually on what soon became known as the Theresienwiese (Therese’s meadow), named in honour of Crown Prince Ludwig’s bride, Therese Charlotte Louise von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Try saying that even once after you’ve had a few Maß of beer on today’s Theresienwiese.

From Modest Beer Stall to Opulent Beer Castle to Massive Beer Tent –– Or, How to Keep Tens of Thousands from Going Thirsty

If the horse race was the main attraction during the early years of the festival, the merriment soon spread out along the margins of the track. Bowling was popular, as were wheelbarrow races, swings, shooting galleries, and the first carousel that graced the Wiesn in 1818. Looking back briefly to 1814, the German poet, Achim von Arnim, noted that thirsty travelers could find ample Bretterbuden (simply appointed wooden stalls) in which Munich’s tavern keepers slung beer in half-liter tin-lidded tankards (Dornbusch, 49). At first, the guests sat on benches at tables under the open air. Soon, though, the Bretterbuden expanded to offer indoor seating.oktoberfest-postcard-munchenkindlstein As the festival began to extend over several days, provisioning all the attendees became a necessity, in particular since Oktoberfest had begun attracting festival-goers from all over Bavaria. The Bretterbuden proliferated.

With the enormous rise in prestige of the Munich breweries from the 1880s, their presence at the festival began to grow as well. In 1895, the now-defunct Thomasbrauerei built the first Bierburg (“beer castle”), a hall large enough to accommodate 800 thirsty patrons. A 1907 decision to do away with the Wirtsbudenring (a ring of 18 tavern stalls) fundamentally altered the complexion of the Wiesn, opening the door for other breweries to compete with the splendour of Thomasbrauerei’s beer castle. By 1910, all of Munich’s largest breweries had commissioned leading architects to design impressive festival halls that cited decorative elements from the Baroque and Biedermeier eras.

But even those structures weren’t large enough to accommodate the droves of imbibers who descended upon Munich each year. Breweries soon turned to massive tents to simplify the challenge of seating increasingly large numbers of patrons. In 1913, the last year before the First World War broke out, the Pschorr Brewery erected a tent so large that it could hold 12,000 stein-hoisters –– the largest beer structure that has ever stood on the Oktoberfest grounds. It wasn’t long before the beer tent replaced the beer castle, transforming the physical appearance of the Theresienwiese and shaping our contemporary imagination of Oktoberfest in the process. As of 2005, the entire festival grounds offered seating for 100,000 festival-goers; the largest fest hall is the Hofbräu tent and garden, with 10,000 seats.oktoberfest-hofbrautent-fdh

Roll Out the Barrels! The Changing Fortunes of Oktoberfest Beer Styles

Ever headed to Munich during Oktoberfest and been surprised to see that they serve one beer only –– a burnished golden beer at that? Isn’t Oktoberfest beer supposed to be an amber-coloured and richly malt Märzen beer, you might be thinking? If you’re Central European, you’ve probably never been caught up in this confusion. To many Canadian and American beer enthusiasts, though, Oktoberfest remains synonymous with Märzen.

In case you’re wondering where all the Märzen went, here’s a short explanation.

During the first several decades of the Oktoberfest, breweries brought whatever they had on hand to the festival –– usually some sort of forerunner of today’s Munich Dunkel. It wasn’t until 1872 that Spaten’s Gabriel Sedlmayr began brewing a beer specially for Oktoberfest –– a Märzen beer based loosely on the Vienna Lager first brewed by Sedlmayr’s colleague, Anton Dreher, in 1841. This amber beer was a shade or two lighter than the dark beer typically available in the Bretterbuden, and that much easier to knock back. Märzenbier soon conquered the festival.

Fun facts:

Dial “M” for Märzen: After Sedlmayr introduced the drinking world to his particular brand of Märzen in 1872, the barrels that arrived at Oktoberfest bore an “M” insignia. Each cask –– known as a “Hirsch,” or stag –– contained 200 liters and weighed around 300 kilos (Eymold, 328).

Horses and wagons: Breweries used horse-drawn carts to deliver their casks of beer not only to Oktoberfest, but to the inns and taverns of Munich right down into the 1950s (Eymold, 328).

Parades! The first parade was held in 1835 on the occasion of the silver anniversary of King Ludwig I’s marriage to Queen Therese. The parade was a spectacle of decorated wagons and inhabitants from across Bavaria decked out in the Tracht (lederhosen and dirndl) of their respective regions –– the origins of today’s Trachten- und Schützenzug procession that takes place on the second day of Oktoberfest. Back in the day, the festival parade was meant as an impressive demonstration of Bavaria’s “national” character. Festive parades were also held on the occasion of the 100th and 125th anniversary of Oktoberfest. Since 1949, the festival parade starting in Munich’s center and winding its way through the city to the Theresienwiese has been an annual opening-day tradition.

But even the reign of Märzen would prove to be temporary. In 1953, an even lighter Festbier –– Augustiner’s Wiesnedelstoff –– entered the festival ring. Soon all the major breweries had followed Augustiner’s lead, and began serving this eminently quaffable Wiesn beer alongside their Märzen. Wiesnbier displaced Märzen entirely by the late 1980s, becoming simply Oktoberfestbier.

Nowadays, Oktoberfest is about one beer, and one beer only. And only by the Maß. Which is just fine –– it eliminates the need for ordering so you can concentrate on the festivities.oktoberfest-postcard-augustiner-wiesnedelstoff The servers bring armfulls of 1-liter tankards right to your table. Take one, pay up, and Bob’s your uncle.

Here’s what you can expect:

Brewed to 13.5-14 degrees Plato and lagered for eight weeks at minus one degree Celsius, Oktoberfestbier is now a protected trademark of the Munich breweries. The result is a beer somewhere between a helles Bock and a helles Lager that clocks in somewhere between 6% and 6.3% ABV. Burnished gold in colour, the beer exudes aromas of fresh bread, honeyed malt with a touch of light toast, and a mild herbal or spicy hop fragrance depending on the brewer. Medium- to full-bodied on the palate, Oktoberfestbier has a mild residual (honey nougat) sweetness, flavours of lightly toasted bread, and just a hint of hop bitterness. The beer is reminiscent of Alpine meadows, with a refreshing mineral character. Round, supple, and clean. And the epitome of what German speakers call süffig (quaffable).

Darauf ein Oktoberfestbier!

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Related Tempest Articles:

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

The MaltHead Manifesto

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

Sources:

Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016.

Bier- und Oktoberfest Museum, Munich (visited 17 September 2016).

Astrid Assél and Christian Huber, München und das Bier: Auf großer Biertour durch 850 Jahre Braugeschichte (München: Volk Verlag, 2009).

Horst Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1997).

Image Credits:

“Münchner Kindl mit Bierkrug,” Paul Otto Engelhard/München, 1913 (postcard image).

“Augustiner Edelstoff,” Holzfurtner, Plakat, Offsetdruck, 1976 (postcard image).

Hofbräuhaus tent, Theresienwiese, Munich (F.D. Hofer).

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

On 17 October 1810, 40,000 people converged on a field beyond Munich’s Sedlinger Gate to watch a horse race staged by the Citizens’ Militia (Bürgermilitär) in honour of Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The numbers were impressive, given that the population of Munich at the time was only 40,338 inhabitants. It seems no one complained when the next edition of the festival rolled around the following year on the Theresienwiese, ushering in what rapidly became a hallowed annual autumn tradition.

Watching horse races was a leisure pursuit much enjoyed by Bavarians in the nineteenth century. Any person who owned a horse could enter the annual race. From 1810 to 1913, the horse race was the main attraction at Oktoberfest, but other forms of entertainment soon put their stamp on the festival.oktoberfest-1810-peter-hess The Munich Rifle Association (Münchener Schützengesellschaft) organized a prize shoot in 1810 that has remained part of Oktoberfest to this day. From 1811, organizers of the agricultural fair aimed to spur peasants and farmers within the kingdom of Bavaria to ever higher quality and efficiency. Makeshift bowling alleys vied with wheel barrow races, and savvy innkeepers began to cater to the culinary needs of festival-goers.

With each passing year, more and more simply-appointed stalls popped up along the race track, provisioning hungry and thirsty guests with beer and food. At first, the guests sat on benches and tables under the sheltering blue sky, but during the 1820s stalls began offering indoor seating for those days when the sky was not so blue.

Today, Oktoberfest and beer tents go together like beer and Weisswurst, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the nineteenth century that the current Oktoberfest landscape of architectural structures dedicated to drinking beer began to take shape. With the enormous rise in prestige of the Munich breweries from the 1880s, their presence at the festival began to grow as well. In 1895, the first “beer castle” (Bierburg) was built by the now-defunct Thomasbrauerei. Other breweries followed suit. The Thomasbrauerei’s beer castle was large enough to accommodate 800 thirsty patrons, but even that was not large enough. On the eve of the First World War, the Pschorr Brauerei turned to a simplified tent design to pack in an astounding 12,000 stein hoisters –– a capacity that has not been exceeded since.

Within the space of a mere eighty years in the nineteenth century, Oktoberfest transformed itself from a spectacular Bavarian folk festival into a festival that celebrated beer. Between 1910 and 2010, beer consumption rose from 1.2 million liters to 7.1 million liters.img_0277

Even if the Oktoberfest’s last horse race was held in 1913, the initial festival attraction lives on in Munich’s topography. We may now think of Oktoberfest as massive beer tents given over to the blissful enjoyment of Maß upon Maß of Festbier, but to this day the outlines of the Theresienwiese on city maps recall the oval of the horse-racing track.

Here’s a stein to the horses, folks.

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Sources

Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016.

Bier- und Oktoberfest Museum, Munich (visited 17 September 2016).img_0155

Astrid Assél and Christian Huber, München und das Bier: Auf großer Biertour durch 850 Jahre Braugeschichte (München: Volk Verlag, 2009).

Images

Peter Heß, “Das Pferderennen bey der Vermählungs Feyer Seiner Königlichen Hoheit des Kronprinzen von Bayern, veranstaltet am 17ten Octr 1810 auf der Theresens-Wiese bey München von der Cavallerie der National-Garde 34 Klaße. Ihren Königlichen Majestäten von Bayern Maximilian Joseph und Karoline in tiefster Ehrfurcht gewidmet von den Theilnehmern an den October-Festen,” kolorierter Konturenstich, 1810 (Münchner Stadtmuseum, G-IIIc/8).

Spaten beer tent and Münchener Stadtmuseum: F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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