Friday, 10 June 2011

Simply Perfect

I'm just back from a week in Bavaria. A week of Bierkellers and beer halls, country pubs and city boozers. An experience that's reinforced my feelings for German beer. Renewed my appreciation of what German beer delivers so well: simple perfection.

I pondered the title of this piece on the tram to work. A post in praise of Lager. I've written them before. My love of Lager is not new. It gripped me with that first sip of Pilsner Urquell in Prague, way back in 1983. That's before some of you were born. Suddenly I got it. Understood what made Lager such a wonderful drink. The beauty of a beer that doesn't shout "Look at me!" like some hyperactive teenager. A beer happy to take a back seat while you get on with the serious business of having fun.

Real Lager. That was one putative title for this piece. Because there's one form of Lager with a very special place in my glass. Lager in its truest, simplest form. Soft and inviting. Pure and clean. Beer with nothing added and nothing taken out. Bayrischer Anstich. A barrel on the bar, a tap hammered in, joy poured out. The German equivalent of cask beer.

Out in the backwaters of Franconia, I drank lots of beer from tiny village breweries. Breweries with one or two outlets, brewing tiny amounts. A few hundred hectolitres, half what many brewpubs brew. Often they make just one beer. I love these throwbacks. Where the passion of generations is funnelled into a single product.

But you'll be surprised by two of the glasses that satisfied me most. Many accuse them of blandness. I'd say: subtly seductive. Everyday drinking beers, meant to be consumed in large draughts. Beers seemingly on sale in every other Munich pub: Augustiner Helles and Edelstoff.

Not an hour in Munich and I was in the Augustinerkeller. Dodging thick spots of rain while the sun shone ironically on. A Mass of Edelstoff beaded with moisture, mimicking the rain. The first half litre disappeared in a clutch of guiltless gulps. The world, despite the spitting skies, was warm and welcoming. Poured from a fat-bellied barrel, a merry monk bestowing blessings, beer like liquid sunlight, cheering from within. But it wasn't the most satisfying.

On the final day, under smiling skies pouring gold into the streets, I sat by the shoulder of the Frauenkirche. Outside the quaintly-named Nürnberger Bratwurstglöckl. "Augustiner Hell aus dem Holzfass" the wall announced. Helles, the little brother of Edelstoff. Augustiner's Cooking Lager. A beer bereft of pretension, unassuming, self-effacing even. But one that satisfied. That didn't just hit the spot, more beat it senseless.

Visiting the gents, I saw it. A piglet next to Augustinerkeller's suckling sows. A baby barrel, brass tap shining like a tiny sun.

Bayrischer Anstich. Such a wonderful thing. It makes a simple beer simply perfect.

13 comments:

Atis said...

Such mouth-watering and thirst inducing posts should be banned when it is +32 outside and one has to spend the rest of the day in the office.

Tandleman said...

As you can well imagine, I'm abig fan of BA. Next week. Five days, that'll be me.

Rod said...

You're dead right - Augustiner Edelstoff is one of the world's very great beers, especially from the wood on gravity, not too cold.
Roll on September, when I'll be there for a fortnight. I once put on a stone in weight during a stay in Munich.......

Ron Pattinson said...

I managed to come the same weight as when I arrived. That must say something about my usual behaviour.

Mark Andersen said...

I really love Augustiner. First time I had the Helles vom Holzfass at Augustiner Keller I couldn't help but crack a smile. I can drink liter upon liter of that stuff.

DrJohn said...

That is probably a "Simply Perfect" blog post. I thirst!

Stephen Beaumont said...

Wonderfully written, Ron. And equally well expressed.

Pivní Filosof said...

Great post and I fully agree, even though I haven't had yet the luck to drink most of those beers you talk about, but it doesn't matter, living in the Czech Rep. I fully know what you are talking about...

frank said...

I love Augustiner Edelstoff and the Augustinerkeller.

Really like the Augustiner Bräustuben when it is too cold to visit the keller.

DaveB said...

As a college student circa 1960, my introduction to "real beer", as opposed to Ballantine Chug-a-Mugs, was German Lagers: Lowenbrau (pre-Millers), Dortmunder and the like -- all light lagers. During my time in the USAF with Luftwaffe comrades introduced me to Beck's and St Pauli Girl. A Good lager is still one of my favorite beers.

Barm said...

Boooooring. Those guys need to start making double IPAs.

Gary Gillman said...

Well written indeed.

Of course, everything is relative. In relation to good porter, IPA or Trappist ale, the best Bavarian beer can fairly be said to be soft, simple, pure. But such beer is actually very full in flavour in my experience, as much as any typical craft beer in North America, but just differently structured.

I think craft brewing here has mostly eschewed lager for two reasons. First, ale brewing (taking in porter here) is easier to do with less money. Second, North American hops, if they suit any beer in large quantities, suit ale more than lager. Almost by definition, lager needs good Czech or German hops. We don't have such hops here, and why import them to make a clone when you can innovate with "C" hops (amongst others) and ale traditions?

There are some exceptions: Sam Adams makes excellent, traditional-tasting lager. Some of them use German hops though, e.g. the Noble Pils I think it is called. The regular lager of Sam Adams probably uses some German hops too I think or perhaps a blend of domestic and imported. There are other excellent lagers: Stoudt Brewing makes one, Victory makes one, King Brewery in Ontario makes one. They do exist but the glamour in the craft brewing world still goes to the ale-porter-stout side, other top-fermented specialties (wheat beers) and now extreme brews.

Perhaps it will change around before long, I wouldn't mind since great lager is one of the world's best drinks.

Gary

Tom said...

Before I was an actual beer geek, I was a bit of a beer snob (I know many of your readers can probably relate). But before I was a beer snob, I was a beer enthusiast. I knew I hated the industrial adjunct lagers, I knew I liked some of my beers hoppy, some of them dark, but I just loved variety and any time I could, I LOVED drinking local. Just before "craft beer" entered my vocabulary, I was introduced to a brewery named Franconia in Frisco, TX. I lived just a couple miles away, so this was as local as it got. All the respectable beer joints in Dallas (even those without rotating taps) started carrying their first beer. And it was my go-to drink. It was insanely delicious without being overbearing or pretentious. It was nuanced, and the flavor didn't go away in a wash of being hit over the head with how complex or robust it was. I could drink several of these in a row and not be bored.

And it was a lager.

About two years later, I started becoming "aware" that lagers are boring, bland, and mostly not worth drinking. It's strange how a little "awareness" can rob you of some amazingly enjoyable experiences.

Now I live in SoCal, but whenever I go back, even with Rahr & Sons, Boulevard, St. Arnold, and Real Ale at my disposal, the Franconia is the first pint I order. I miss the pure, unadulterated taste of a well-crafted lager.