I’ve hinted on the subject before and, as was predicted, the reaction was rather subdued. The answers came back in the form of “yeah, I don’t see the point in alcohol-free beer, if I’m thirsty I’ll get myself a coke, a glass of water or something similar, I don’t need to drink beer’. This answer probably came out of my mouth once, in which language I can’t remember, but it seems so embarrassingly familiar, I must have said it before myself.
The next complaint is that the stuff doesn't usually taste very nice. Alcohol-free lager tastes quite a lot like horse urine (I imagine) and drinking the stuff straight can feel a bit…rough.
But, being in ever-sensible Germany, I’ve joined with the mainstream in drinking alcohol-free Weißbier and it’s fine. I don’t usually drink light-coloured Weizen (I find it a bit clumsy and it goes to my head instantly) but the alcohol-free stuff is quite agreeable. In fact, I've grown quite fond of the stuff.
True to tradition, I embark on my most difficult project of the year in January: a whole month without a drop of the jungle-juice (hence the reason you haven’t seen many wine reviews happening recently) and without alcohol-free beer, this can be quite a chore: especially socialising – order a coke or a glass of water with mates and you’re opening the door to mocks and jibes.
However, I won’t just drink anything: I have, over the course of a few months, sought-out the best alcohol-free Weizen available and have, along the way, tried many varietals – here are my results.
All scores out of 100
(25 for taste, 25 for body, 25 for nose, 10 for character, 10 for appearance and 5 for value for money)
What do you reckon?
Do you think I've got something wrong here or is there a beer I might have missed out? Get in touch and let me know by leaving a comment below. Furthermore, if you want to find out how to get hold of these beers where you live, let me know and I'll get back to you. Click here for the contact form if you don't want your message to be shown below.
That time of the year is coming again when thousands of Aussies, Italians, New Zealanders, Brits and Northern Germans will be descending upon the beautiful city of Munich’s Theresienwiese for a few days of beer and dancing on tables.
However, the key to understanding the breweries and beers of Munich isn’t swaying on benches arm-in-arm with Dave from Melbourne and Gino from Milan – of course that is part of the journey but Munich’s beer scene is much more than just Oktoberfest.
To start with Oktoberfestbier is sweet and strong – served in litre jugs for obscene amounts of money, it serves one simple purpose – to get you drunk pretty quickly and, whilst the breweries proudly stand behind these beers, they’re a long way away from being the highlights of the Munich beer scene.
Let’s start with a simple introduction to the six main breweries of Munich – all of them located on the outskirts of the city with many outlets in which you can purchase their beer in the city centre.
If you drink in swanky London/New-York/Sydney bars, you’ll have heard of Paulaner – the brewery that makes the world’s second most-famous Weissbier (after Erdinger – located close to Munich). Löwenbräu is also a fairly famous brewery although the chances you have heard of it aren’t particularly high. The other four are fairly small players: Spaten, Hofbräu, Hacker-Pschorr and Augustiner.
Here are eight beer tips if you’re visiting Munich this (or next) month. A lot of the beers are available in the UK and USA and nearly all of them are to be found all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland in case you can’t manage it this year.
Talking about beer in Germany often leads to a subject that 99% of people understand incorrectly: the Reinheitsgebot. The Reinheitsgebot is a fantastic thing for the consumer: it means that, if a bottle/can/barrel carries this word, the beer is guaranteed to be made of hops, malted barley, water, yeast and nothing else. This is a great thing, a promise to the drinker that there are no E-colours, no chemicals, no additives and no strange ingredients have been used to go into their pint.
Unfortunately, this is where most people stop understanding.
Whilst the Reinheitsgebot is a great way of determining what’s not in your beer, it’s a terrible indicator of quality – the one direction in which the breweries who print it on their labels try to push it: the Reinheitsgebot has nothing to do with the quality of the ingredients that make the beer, it just dictates that certain things aren't allowed to be used.
Now, I’m not going to go down the route of saying that limiting yourself to certain ingredients is idiotic in the first place (which it is by the way) because I live in a country where cold, fizzy beer is the only style accepted. Firstly, the varietal of hops (a very diverse group of ingredients) isn't dictated by the Reinheitsgebot – nor is the quality, amount or origin. The same is true of water, yeast and malted barley. On the side, it’s worth noting that hops aren't necessarily limited to fresh ones: the word Hopfenextrakt is commonplace on many a label – Hop extract. This isn't a bad thing but real beer is made with real hops, not concentrated chemicals, the very thing the whole thing attepts to avoid in the first place: nevertheless hop extracts are allowed in the Reinheitsgebot.
The Reinheitsgebot falls on its face as well simply through the way it has changed over the years. Of course, adaptations in pasteurisation are partly to blame however the use of cane sugar and yeast is also permitted to make sure that old-fashioned brewerys' Weizenbiere (wheat beers) can still carry the label of ‘Gebraut nach dem deutschen Rienheitsgebot von 1516’ – a clear tool of marketing rather than one guaranteeing quality. Something that is so etched into national domestic beer-drinking society that foreign beers are commonly referred to as 'Chemiebiere' (chemical beers) which is neither true nor is the Reinheitsgebot particularly a specialty of German brewers alone.
But no, the consumer and uninformed beer drinker will tell you that the Reinheitsgebot is a definition of quality: not true. Reinheit literally means cleanliness or the like, not quality. The breweries of (awfully dull) beer will continue to print this rubbish on their labels as if it really means something – it does: the brewer has limited his knowledge of brewing beer, he’s chosen to limit his list of ingredients, he’s decided not to experiment with other ingredients, he’s gone down the road of printing misleading phrases onto his bottles in the interest of selling lots of mundane and average sparkling beer.
It’s the equivalent of a chef choosing only to cook with poultry, water, potatoes and peas (nothing else)– there are some wonderful combinations but the variations are minimal and never represent quality, only a list of the ingredients of the boiled food on the plate.
There’s no reason not to drink Reinheitsgebot beer – a lot of it is lovely, really well-made stuff, it's no determination of bad quality - it's not a determination of quality at all. The word Reinheitsgebot still isn’t a reason to drink it though – it has nothing to do with quality – it’s a misunderstood marketing technique that large breweries make use of to sell you boring beer. So now you know.
I was once in possession of this, it didn't last.
Now I don’t want to make enemies with the multinational brewing organisations but I’m not particularly happy with them (and I don't think they'll ever read this).
Multinational beers are, at best, bland and dull with hints of board-room, generic fizz and a fancy marketing campaign – they really offer no advantage over proper beer apart from that they keep a lot of Ad-men in Soho rolling in Cocaine and shareholders being able to dangerously invest money ruining other market sectors.
It particularly hurts when the rise and rise of awful European Lager has pretty much all but destroyed the beer scene in the UK – one of the world’s most important brewing nations. There are still local, micro-breweries dotted around the country but they fight not just against changing tastes (or advertising influence) of the consumer but also ridiculous taxation schemes whereby the multinationals occasionally have a tax-bill waved off but John in his shed producing 100 barrels of beer a year has got to give up half of his income to some slippery taxman in an off-the-rail suit.
John can’t afford a bottling machine, nor can he afford to produce his beer all day (he’s got a full-time job somewhere else) but when he, and he alone, gets down to brewing beer, it’s all about excellent ingredients, hard-work and a love of beer. By stark contrast, skyscrapers full of smart suits press buttons on a keyboard in an office thinking of new ways to crush John with another fantastic advert series that, despite its high-quality, doesn’t show in the product itself at all.
At the brewery itself, often miles outside of inner-cities in big factories, hundreds of workers in safety gear wonder around the brewery looking forward to their next break, casually checking up on machines that are doing the work that they should be doing. The identical litres will be filled into identical cans, barrels and bottles and sent off to a variety of pubs where identical people will slurp large amounts of the liquid down in each sip thinking “hey, this tastes roughly like beer”.
Now, you might think that it's Lager I’m attacking here and, well, it is – the majority of Lagers you get in nearly every pub and shop are, and I’m not sorry for saying this, poor. There are a few odd ones out: Peroni and Becks actually possess a tiny amount of typical origin and character – rare in the premium Lager world but both are produced in god-awful amounts by people who don’t really care about what they’re making.
Of course, it comes down to personal taste and if you don’t like anything but Lager: a) you should probably see a doctor and b) make sure you’re not investing your hard-earned pounds into Mr Soho’s next line of the white stuff. Opt for something local (if possible) or something you’ve never heard of – it WILL taste better and more of the money you spend is given straight back to the people making the product – no middle managers financing a 4 bedroom house in a sleepy suburb with an Audi parked out front, just a bloke with a beard and a satisfactory pile of hops and barley.
However, if you really like beer (and I mean beer) and you live in the UK, I’ve got some good news: you live in beer heaven. Although the micro- and local breweries have taken a hit, there are still plenty of them around and, in stark contrast to multinationals’ beers, they all have unique characteristics typical of the local surrounding (just like wine I might add). Now beer has never been a complicated drink – it is a beautiful pint of relaxing elixir that combines every taste we glorified, bald monkeys love: its bitter, sweet, spicy and everything else too and I’m not going to bother even thinking of it like wine - but the comparison is there and for those who spend lots on wine, you should be thinking about buying proper beer too (although the good stuff is usually cheaper)!
Going back to the local aspect for a minute: you’ll find Scottish beer is powerful and, the most traditional of breweries substitute a certain amount of their hops for local crops: thistles, heather and much more to give beers a unique feel – malty, hoppy but also bitter but sweet and dark and….I’m longing for a pint of Caledonian ale except I’m stuck in Lagerland.
South English beer is lighter, hoppier, fruitier, redder, herbier, more refreshing and those brewed on the coast taste like….well, like they were brewed on the coast – salty, aromatic, spicy, lots of fresh air, sandy and altogether rather fabulous.
But it doesn’t stop there, head off to the West Country and, if you don’t find yourself in a pub selling proper cider (none of that rubbish with ice cubes and straws or whatever), you’ll find some lovely creamy, smooth, fruity Cornish ale. A quick swim over the Bristol Channel and you’ll be acquainted with Welsh beer – big, juicy pints of spicy, herby beer with as much local character as the people you’ll be standing next to at the bar.
Even the big cities have a brewing culture – whilst Newcastle’s famous beer has taken a leaf out of the European Premium Lager’s recipe for undue success (as has Manchester’s), London beer (despite not really being brewed in London) is also great (my favourite style of beer actually) with its hoppy, bittersweet notes and refreshing citrus it is the choice of thousands who know what they're doing after a hard day at work. Few people know that it was London beer that eventually turned into the creamiest of all marketing campaigns produced a few hundred miles to the North-West in a different country although, I must admit, I do enjoy a pint of the black stuff every now and then.
What annoys me even more is that I see people championing English wine on this internet thing, I see people cooking up ‘the Best of Britain’ and I see people saying how great we as a nation are – I also see these people boycotting proper British beer in favour of international fizz where you can safely say that the best thing about it, is the label on the front of the bottle.
So what am I saying? Drink British beer and, if you really don’t like Ale, Porter, Bitter, Cornish Ale, London Ale, Caledonian Ale, Welsh Ale, East-Anglian beer or any of the other hundreds of styles out there, at least drink a decent Lager – one that somebody actually made whilst wondering how his beer would taste rather than contemplating the measly wage the office-people were paying him preparing for their next round of cutting down on staff costs despite.
Sceptical at first, for me Alcohol-free beer was for drivers, show-offs and those without a sense of taste. Those who wished to gain attention ordered an Alcohol-free Weißbier in a pub and seemed to look on the alcohol-ordering drinkers with an arrogant and smug eye just over the top of their ridiculous beer glasses.
For those with a car key in their pockets, that was a different story, I’ve been a believer in not drinking at all and driving since I can remember and those who chose to chauffeur others around all night and not jump on the jungle-juice themselves are the true heroes of the great night out.
However, those idiots who ordered alcohol-free beer at eight in the evening and were there by grace of foot, taxi or bus were (and still are) morons in my eyes.
However, I’ve found a use for alcohol-free beer and what a use it is: drinking a refreshing and tasty beverage before going to work, early in the morning, during the day and on nights where you’ve got an important day the next time you have to wake up.
Okay some of you have probably thought that before but with me beer is beer and beer without alcohol used to not be considered as beer. But what are the alternatives when you want a refreshing beverage? Tea is too warm (and I don’t like it), water is a bit dull (but also a good choice) and sparkling fizzy drinks are way too sugary for my taste (although when hungover I’m a coke junkie when it comes to the stuff in red cans). Juice has always been a dodgy one for me, too much acid, too much sugar and not as good as biting into the piece of fruit it’s supposed to taste like anyway.
Beer seems a logical alternative and if that beer happens to be devoid (or very nearly devoid) of the stuff that makes me dance on tables, talk utter shite and eventually leads to me falling asleep hugging a kebab, what a great alternative that is!
The next problem is finding one that tastes good. Most of the lagers and pilseners are awful and taste like sugar-infused barley water (without the added fruit). Refreshing yes, but then again so is petrol (probably) and I’m sure petrol hasn’t won any awards yet.
No Weißbier is the future of alcohol-free beer and quite recently I’ve discovered two very good alcohol-free Weizens that, whilst not necessarily tasting as good as the real-deal, are very good.
Schneider Tap 7 – Mein Alkoholfreies
Franziskaner Alkoholfreies Weißbier
Of course there are alternatives but I don’t rate them: Erdinger is too sweet for me, Maisels hasn’t got enough CO2, Paulaner is a bit watery and the smaller brewery stuff usually tastes a bit bready with big clumps of yeast…not particularly appetising.
The fact is that the production of alcohol-free beer is quite a difficult one and an expensive one too. In most cases the beers are brewed normally and the alcohol is then removed/dissolved in a way that I will never be able to understand. That’s why they often cost as much as and sometimes even more than their alcohol-containing older brothers – and those elder siblings have alcohol tax on them!
But no, alcohol-free Weizen is the perfect one-van left to unpack energy drink, the quick refreshment at half-time (if you’re playing that is), the I need something to take the edge off of having to go to work beer. Most of them are isotonic too and unlike that god-awful stuff in the blue and silver cans, you don’t get a film of sickly-sweet syrup lining your gums and smell like an old-fashioned sweet shop, you feel as if you’ve just enjoyed a beer and what’s better than that feeling?
So go forth and drink alcohol-free Weizen, just not in the pub with mates if you’ve not got a set of four (or two, or worse more than four) wheels waiting outside: that is just embarrassing.
You know those clip-on taps you see at the pub where the logo seems to have been designed probably by the youngest member of the brewing team who has almost no idea of digital design but a childhood’s experience in Microsoft Paint and Google Image search at his disposal? Those clips represent the old world of beer brewing.
This is a world of brewing long before Messers Heineken, Carlsberg and Carling generalised the beer world into making all beer taste the same. Those badly-designed, cheaply-made tap clips loosely attached to a piece of brass sticking out behind the back of the bar is what is left of regional brewing in the UK.
Whereas the rest of the drinking population is heading in the direction of generic European beer, stupid designer cider with ice cubes in the glass and aggressively-marketed spirits with sparkling sugar syrup poured on top: the tap clips are only ever rarely looked at and almost solely ordered by men over the age of fifty, usually with a beard and who, amongst their masses, have a rather high ratio of blokes named Bob.
Of course I started with Lager – the little bottles of Stella Artois and Export 33 thanks to a semi-legal booze haul from one of Nord-Pas-du-Calais’ many English-run drinks wholesalers. I eventually moved onto stupid (and rather expensive) cider from the bottle (in a pub) and finally onto spirits – which was a phase that didn’t last long thanks to my then juvenile liver and mother’s displeased reaction to scrubbing not just the toilet itself but the area around it too.
Bitter was something I got into (as you read in my last beer-related post) when I worked in a pub. At first I stuck to the brands, the regular bitters with their mock-brass, screw-fastened tap clips where it is obvious a design agency was involved in the creation of the both the brand and logo. Eventually however I started on the world of guest, regional ales and, whilst many were nearly undrinkable, I loved it and still scream in delight the next time I walk into a British pub and see a cheap white piece of plastic with someone’s surname and a badly-illustrated sketch on it holding on dearly to a real-ale hand-pump.
This is confusing for most of the friends I have at my age. It is also confusing to the many Germans who’ve been lucky enough to experience London with my not-so-excellent tour-guide self (Pub, then attraction, then pub, then pub, then pub). “It isn’t fizzy” they’ll say “the glass isn’t thin, it is brown, it is opaque, it isn’t particularly cold, the only others drinking it are three times your age”.
But here’s the interesting part and I’ve found that it almost always works. These dark (and therefore real) beer critics are only critics until they try. The first couple of sips are always reminiscent of the famous German Kampfschluck (the fighting sip) but, after a while, nearly all who have tried are able to understand the fascination of ale. They might stick to Lager or ridiculous bottled cider but they’ll appreciate that what you have in the glass is good (and certainly enjoyable).
You might find it hard to believe but I have actually managed to get Germans to willingly drink the stuff too. Sometimes at my place when I’m lucky enough to have a few bottles of ale in the cupboard and when I ask the question “Was möchtet ihr trinken?”, often enough the answer that comes back is a question, one similar to “Hast du vielleicht (et)was Englishes da?” – a question that I answer with an undertone of glee in my voice before bringing them a pint of British Bitter.
Not all Germans are convinced but then nor are all the English and that’s fine by me. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t drink it but if you haven’t tried it, you shouldn’t formulate an opinion.
What’s more is that those regional ales with the bad logos are often produced very close to home. As an Essex boy I’m lucky enough to have three fantastic breweries close to my hometown whose beers, depite only being distributed within Essex and East Anglia have won many awards: Nethergate who brew the beefy Old Growler, the Mighty Oak brewery with its beautiful and crisp Maldon Gold and Ridleys (bought by Greene King in 2005) with its fantastic Old Bob.
Perhaps the next time you’re in a pub with an impressive rack. Start off with something a little more mainstream (Young’s, Caledonian Deuchars IPA, London Pride, Bombardier, Pedigree) and move on to something from the region. If you happen to live close to a pub that serves guest ales from other regions then congratulations, you are about to embark on a beer-tasting tour of the UK from a worn-out chair, a sticky table and the sodden carpet of your local pub.
Regional beer – excellent.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner but it’s most probably to do with my love of quality products, especially around the theme of alcoholic drinks. As lovely as Pilsenser and Lager are, I’m rarely satisfied with the body, complication and bite of such beers. A bit of a shame living in Germany where the consumption of beer has three simple rules: yellow, cold and fizzy.
After a few years of working in a fantastic little pub in Leigh-On-Sea whereby and at all times no less than four excellently-kept, cask-conditioned ales were served, I sometimes was even allowed to handle the ale myself on a rare basis: selecting, tapping, racking and the changing of barrels and cleaning of lines (something I loved by the way). This gained me a found understanding of the world of British Ale and the art of brewing that, at the time, was on the downturn. Never again did I order a Carlsberg in a pub when drinking away, never again was a bottle of overpriced Irish cider in front of my nose on a sticky pub table – I was a converted ale drinker and still am.
This hobby was then allowed to continue after my move to Germany in 2007 whereby I managed to find a real British pub in Münster to work in (where I stayed for four years). Although German law prohibits the sale of cask-conditioned ale (don’t know why), we did have a range of fantastic (albeit pasteurised) beers on top and, in the many fridges dotted about the pub, we had no less than 20 British ales in bottles – my hobby and love of drinking new beer was allowed to continue – what’s more is that the pub also sold a range of fantastic Bavarian and Belgian beers and, with my staff discount and my boss’s keenness for me to try what it was that I was selling, I was left satisfied in my perseverance to discover new British beer on a regular basis.
However, I’ve since moved to Essen and this town is right in the middle of boring-beer Germany where Pils in on the menu in every bar and restaurant. Again, I’d like you to know that I do like Pils, I just don’t find it half as rewarding as the darker, more complicated beers.
If you’ve ever lived in Germany, I know what you’re thinking – why don’t you drink Weizenbier? There are a few simple answers to that: a) Weizenbier isn’t that much more interesting and b) (the main reason) it has a bit too much alcohol in it for me – a few pints at 5.5% and I’m dancing and singing way before I should be.
So what is the solution? A regular weekend spent in the company of Easyjet popping over the North Sea for a pint of real beer? The non-financeable shipping of beer from England to the Ruhrpott? No, I’ve found a much better one than that: Düsseldorf.
Situated thirty minutes from my fridge is the sprawling Metropolis of Düsseldorf: the capital city of the state I happen to find myself in. With its Rhineland lifestyle, its love of beer and hatred of Cologne the inhabitants produce some of Germany’s best beer – especially the kind that I want to be sipping on: Alt.
If you’ve ever had Alt in another town that isn’t Düsseldorf or out of the bottle, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Even the Germans don’t adapt to Alt, they prefer the much sweeter, much less-interesting Kölsch from, well, Cologne with its pointlessly small glasses and uselessly boring taste.
In Düsseldorf however, Alt is served straight out of the (wooden) barrel into glasses, no carbon dioxide required to tap it, not put in the fridge whilst being tapped and served uncomplicatedly into small glasses which are regularly replaced and added to you bill without you having to order another one.
With its roasted taste, fruity aromas and an almost bitter, clean-cut finish, Alt is the perfect beer for someone looking for something a bit like London Ale, Pale Ale or the milder IPAs. It has a dark colour similar that that of premium ale (think Young’s Special, Bombardier etc) and, although most of the pubs selling the stuff also sell Pils, they’ll look at you in a funny way if you dare to order it - quite correct I believe.
The pubs in which it can purchased are also part of the attraction. The beer is usually brewed there too and most of them are situated in the Altstadt. With grumpy, middle-aged and male service you don’t get the choice whether you want a new beer or not (unless you know of the secret ways) and you’ll find a new one right next to that last slowly-warming sip of the last one in the bottom of the glass without so much as looking up – don’t argue, you won’t win!
Uerige is one of the largest of the bars (although also one of the most overrun with tourists). Nevertheless it serves as a brilliant base for your first few (and it will be a few) Altbiers. I then suggest wandering in the direction of the shopping district and visiting Schlüssel and then crossing the pedestrian road to check out Schumacher’s offering at the Goldener Kessel. Once done, its time to eat something – make your way to Füchschen on the outskirts of the Altstadt for a bite of food and a whole lot more Altbier.
Some of the pubs even sell their beers in litre bottles to take with you – highly recommended! There are other ares of Germany though that also produce darker beers – the Bavarians are famous for it and there are a few brewers of Porter in the east. One brewery in Dortmund also brews Bitter – Hövels.
So, the little Englander inside of me is satisfied for the moment and I’m glad I’ve rediscovered Düsseldorf – a fantastic city with an excellent beer-brewing culture. Would kill for a pint of St. Austell’s Tribute though…
It’s okay to be a bit of a wine buff and know your way around a complicated wine menu. Some people find it a good characteristic to have. To know about food and wine is even better, with a perfect combination of bottle and pan of lovely hot food often bringing several smiles to any dinner table – at home or out and about. But I have noticed something recently – many people who’re experts on fermented grape juice and have no problem knocking up something fantastic in the kitchen often don’t have the faintest sense of a clue when it comes to beer. Alright, they say they like it and they drink it but how can you spend £50 on a meal and then enjoy it with a bottle or pint of watered-down, chemically-brewed Belgian or Australian beer made in Luton (not exactly famous for its culinary heritage)?
Why do people like Jamie Oliver (a disputed cooking genius) like having their photos taken with a bottle of something like Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch) or Cobra in their hands?
Sure, it’s okay to recommend the best wine on the menu to the man who just ordered the most expensive dish but why are you prepared to let him drink something awful if with it if he happens to be a beer man?
It’s not a lager thing – in Germany there are many thousands of lager and pilsner breweries that compete with each other to brew the best beers (although very alike). You can enjoy a lovely glass of bitter Jever with a fresh fish pan or a litre of Augustinian with a braised pork shoulder joint – the Germans know about this kind of thing and beer is often more popular than wine even in top restaurants.
In dark and damp North-Rhine Westphalia (at the moment anyway) the Altbier kitchen reigns supreme with the inhabitants of Dortmund, Düsseldorf and surrounding cities well aware that the winter dishes (hefty dark meats in even heftier sauces) fit just as well with a gorgeous half-litre of Alt or Dunkles just as well as they would with a native Spätburgunder or Dornfelder.
Although a small number of restaurants worldwide are now employing beer sommeliers, often even the best of restaurants only offer a small range of beers – in Germany a proper restaurant rarely offers more than three choices: Pils, Weizen or Alcohol free and the breweries often forbid the restaurants to sell anything that they don’t make – you’ll see their logos on the sign outside, the menu and probably on any table decoration too.
In defence of aforementioned Mr. Oliver, his fifteen restaurant offers a klein but fein range of locally made beers from the excellent meantime brewery in Greenwich.
London brewery Fuller’s offer a menu in its pubs that is designed to complement its beer choices and even chain-run organisations like Greene King and Wetherspoon include beer recommendations with some of the meals on their slimy food cards stuck to the table.
But these are pubs, already well known for their beer ranges (it is safe to say that British pubs offer the widest range of brewed drinks in the world) but not so well known for their food.
So think about it next time you’re eating out in a fancy establishment, you’ve just ordered something really special and then the waiter can only offer you Foster’s or Stella – complain and suggest a more comprehensive beer menu – the drinks are part of the experience as well. You wouldn’t make a steak sandwich with prized Aberdeen fillet and then finish it off with Tesco Value White Loaf would you? Don’t let restaurants try and hit you with an expensive wine list when they only offer a poor beer choice and don’t let wine buffs tell you what beers to drink. If you're not a wine person or you just fancy a beer - you should be able to have the same or similar choice as a wine drinker would have.
The Germans brew excellent beer, no one in their right mind would say the opposite. However, the Germans aren’t very good at buying the stuff often rejecting prize brews and top-end produce for the brand with the most colourful, often-repeated TV advert.
Big breweries in Germany earn big money.
Krombacher, Veltins, Warsteiner and Bitburger account for a massive amount of total beer sales in Germany and sponsor literally every sporting event, a large amount of TV shows and a great deal more on top.
Krombacher pride themselves on being Germany’s most bought beer whilst Bitburger are happy to permanently mention the claim that their beer is the most-tapped in Germany. But are these claims actually good advertising? Aldi and Lidl are the biggest supermarket chains in Germany and, although their produce isn’t bad, it isn’t internationally known as being all that good.
Of course, the brewers rely on the holy Reinheitsgebot whereby only a set amount of ingredients are allowed to be used in the brewing phase. This is definitely a good thing but you can still make a bland corned-beef sandwich out of fillet steak. The Reinheitsgebot cannot and should not be used as a definition of quality but the standard and utilisation of ingredients alone.
Furthermore, German breweries produce mixed-beer drinks whereby they combine their brews with sparkling, flavoured drinks. It's all good and well brewing according to the Reinheitsgebot but if you mix your final product with additive-rich, sugary-rubbish, what's the point?
There are countless German breweries all over the country. In North-Rhine Westphalia, the state in which I live, there are hundreds of breweries however nearly every supermarket offers only the same produce: Veltins, Krombacher, Bitburger and Warsteiner. You’ll be lucky to find anything else and, if you spot something foreign, you should probably buy a lottery ticket that day as well.
By now, you’ve probably realised that this is a bit of a private rant. I’m permanatly belittled for my love of interesting, non main-stream beer. When people see a bottle of something non-German, non-fizzy and non-yellow in my fridge, I’m likely to be hit with a bombarding of Reinheitsgebot-ridden sentences plus an outright rejection to drink what I have on offer.
But it isn’t their faults. Germans are brought up to buy German. They’re permanently being persuaded on TV, on the radio and in newspapers that only German produce is worth buying. Thank god, most of them take this information with a pinch of salt but when it comes to beer: Germans buy German and very rarely, if at all, anything foreign. What’s worse is that they buy what they are told is the best by over-patriotic and unrealistic TV advertising.
Line Veltins, Krombacher and Bitburger next to eachother. They all taste the same, they’re boring beers that are easy to drink. If you’re after something with a bit more taste, you have to go to a specialist drinks shop. The other stuff is better, but not advertised. Why not? Because they spend their money on beer, not on pretty adverts.
Now go out and buy a case of something decent.