Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"It takes a beer to make a thirst worthwhile."

I'll be conducting a German beer seminar on May 12 in Sudbury, MA.  Read about the styles we'll be drinking below. Click here for tickets.

When talking about the history of beer and beer culture, there is almost no other country as important to its development than that of Germany.  For centuries, Germany and its beers have been revered the world over for their depth of flavor and the purity of their ingredients. From light, crisp Pilsners to dark, malty Bocks, German style beers are some of the most unique and diverse, especially considering the limitations imposed by the 1516 beer purity law restricting the use of ingredients to malt, water, hops and yeast.In this class we’ll take a look at several German beer styles produced in Germany and the United States.

We’ll start with a beer that was considered the “Champagne of the North” by Napoleon’s invasion forces during his campaigns in Germany.  The Berliner Weisse style is a tart, quenching brew that is often mixed with sweet syrups to cut the acidity that develops from lactic fermentation. Once brewed by nearly 700 breweries in and around Berlin, this style is nearly extinct save for a few intrepid producers both domestic and international.

Then we’ll head west to the German city of Köln (Cologne) and a style of beer that was first produced in response to the rapid expansion of German Pilsner production. Kölsch is a top-fermenting ale brewed to a light, straw-colored hue. Almost always moderately hopped with just a touch of grain in the finish, the Kölsch style can be found year-round, but is often produced by domestic brewers as a light, summer seasonal.

Our next style was first produced in the Czech city of Pilsen and was quickly adopted by German brewers in their own style.  The German Pilsner differs somewhat from the Czech style, revealing a beer that is slightly hoppier with a crisp, dry finish and an abundance of Noble hops. This style would eventually find its way to North America with German immigrants and become the best-selling and most widely available style in the World, although today the style has been watered-down and the recipe corrupted over years of penny-pinching and a demand for mass-produced, flavorless, vaguely beer-flavored seltzer water.

In passed classes we’ve talked a little bit about the Southern German beer known as Hefeweizen.  This light, crisp and refreshing wheat beer is brewed in a few different variations including a dark style known as Dunkelweizen.  The flavor is very similar to Hefeweizen with notes of mild banana and spicy clove, the darker versions lend a certain breadiness that develops on the palate as an almost banana bread-like flavor.

Each year in the spring German brewers break out a style of beer that has become a rite of the season. The Maibock, named after the month in which it is typically served, is a sweetish, malt-dominant beer brewed with Noble German hops.  These beers are sometimes called Helles (Pale) Bock due to the lightness of color when compared to the typical dark-brown Bock. The alcoholic strength of these beers can vary somewhat, but are typically in the 6 – 7% range and are perfect beers to shake the remaining chill in the air that can sometimes lingering into the springtime months.

The Bavarian city of Bamberg is known for a style of beer that exhibits the flavors and aromas that are developed from wood smoked malts. These Rauchbier are intensely smoky with some of the maltier versions revealing the aromas and flavors of a sweet-glazed, smoked ham (not a joke). While these beers might not suit the palate of some, I have yet to find a beer better suited for barbecued ribs or smoked brisket.

Our final beer style was developed by accident, so the story goes, when a young apprentice brewer was moving barrels of beer from the winter cold back inside the brewhouse. In his haste, he carelessly overlooked a barrel of strong beer and it was left out in the cold.  In the morning it was discovered that the beer had frozen, but not completely.  A layer of ice had formed at the top of the barrel leaving the “ice-distilled” beer at the bottom. Since the water content had been frozen and removed, the remaining beer was of considerable strength. These so-called Eisbocks are still brewed today and still pack a considerable strength of alcohol.  These beers are more akin to a liqueur with a depth of flavor that can include notes of cocoa, intense fruitiness and brandy.  A perfect beer to pair with dessert, these beers are best served in a snifter and just lightly chilled.

We owe a lot to German beer producers and the styles they developed. In this class we pay tribute to just a handful of classic interpretations with a dozen or so left to explored for another day. I hope you’ll enjoy the styles we’ve chosen for this class, they are some of my favorites.  I’ll leave you with the German saying that “it takes a beer to make a thirst worthwhile,” I think you’ll find that after you’ve tried these beers that it most certainly does.

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