Today’s featured beer is brought to you by the letter G for Germany. It’s also brought to you by a date: November 9, a rather infamous date in Germany’s often turbulent twentieth-century history.
Many remember this date as the evening when an unexpected event ushered in the end of the Cold War. During one of his regular press conferences in the heady autumn days of 1989, the East German Politburo spokesperson, Gunter Schabowski, discussed regulations that signaled an easing of travel restrictions for East Germans. The ink had barely dried on the text of the regulations, and Schabowski had not been fully briefed about the timeline of their implementation. A reporter asked when the regulations would come into effect. Caught off guard, Schabowski hesitated for a moment. His improvised answer: “Sofort. Unverzüglich.” (Effective immediately, without delay). West German media outlets – whose signal was transmitted into most of East Germany as well – broadcasted this stunning news on their evening programs. Crowds began amassing at the Berlin border crossings within minutes, and as the evening wore on, the vastly outnumbered border guards opened the flood gates to the tide of humanity that would swell back and forth across what was only recently a deadly boundary.
Though many in Berlin and Germany will celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, other November 9ths have etched themselves, sometimes more dimly, into German collective memory. Ninety-five years ago today, deputy chairperson of the Social Democratic Party, Philipp Scheidemann, stepped out onto a balcony of the Reichstag and proclaimed the establishment of a republic. With this proclamation, Scheidemann put paid to the German monarchy. Within days, the First World War was over. Five years later, a failed artist and lance corporal from Austria who bore a striking resemblance to Charlie Chaplin, led his SA men in what has come to be known as the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. But this man was no comedian. By 1933 his Nazi party was firmly entrenched in power; on the evening of November 9, 1938, he succeeded in unleashing an anti-Semitic frenzy in Germany. Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, witnessed an intensification of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.
Some of these November 9ths lend themselves eminently to celebration; others, to reflection. Tonight I raise my glass to the fall of the Berlin Wall while remembering other events of German history that were not so festive.
On the evening when the wall came down, I’d hazard to guess that not many were drinking Doppelbock. Sekt (German bubbly) was more likely the beverage of choice. Since I have none of what Napoleon called “the Champagne of the North” (Berliner Weisse) on hand, it’s only fitting to drink a bottle of Bonator, a beer that recalls Germany’s patron saint, Boniface.
Brewed by one of the oldest breweries in the Bavarian region of Franconia, Bonator pays tribute to the first archbishop of Mainz and founder of the Franconian diocese of Würzburg. As Weissenohe traces its roots to the local Benedictine monastery, it’s no surprise that they brew a Doppelbock, the rich and hearty beer that got many a monk through Lenten fasts.
Copper-brown with garnet-mahogany highlights, Bonator issues forth from a swing-top bottle bearing aromas of fresh country bread, toasted malt, cocoa, and milk caramel, with just a hint of licorice and aniseed. Woody and earthy hop aromas are subtle but present in the depths, reminiscent of tea with lemon. The beer is a meal in itself, with a complex and richly malt-forward palate that mingles black cherry and plum with chocolate cake. Unsurprisingly, at a hefty 8.2% ABV, the beer is sweet; but the subtle earthy-citrus hops meld with the bready, toasty, fruity milk chocolate malt, assuring that the beer stays this side of cloying, finishing on a pleasant apricot-peach preserve note.
As with any Doppelbock, don’t drink it even remotely chilled. (Trust me. Use the force on this). Crack it at cellar temperature, and then let it warm as you drink it. And don’t drink too many, lest you need to go in search of a Salvator the next day.
© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.