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Why the Germans should win ...

As the World Cup warms up, Michael Jackson visits the host cities, and picks his team

Germany has already taken part in one World Cup competition this year. The Beer World Cup, in Seattle, was potentially as great a challenge to national pride as anything feverish on the pitch

The Germans seized medals as though they were beach towels, but they were not satisfied. "They thought they should have won everything," smiled a German observer.

Many Germans believe theirs are the world's only real beers. If pressed to justify such chauvinism, they quote the Reinheitsgebot. This Purity Law insists that beer be made only from malted barley (and water and hops). Yeast had not been identified when the legislation was introduced, in 1516.

The insistence upon barley is supported by etymology. The word barley derives from "beer-like." Where barley and wheat enjoy the terroir, beer is grown. Where grapes do better, the drink is wine.

The beer countries of Europe are those that speak Germanic languages respectively. Paradoxically, this ceased to be so clear when German brewers settled large parts of the Americas. They used native grains like corn (maize), which turned out to produce blander, lighter-bodied beers. It is easy to argue that the melting pot has emulsified the tastes of the Americas' component nationalities, but that is not wholly true.

Young American brewers are rediscovering, and pursuing with purist zeal, the classic beer styles of Europe. At precisely the same moment, the bland, the sweet, the light, the "modern," are being coaxed from corn in Germany for the delectation of youth. Some of these concoctions contain a slice of lemon or lime; others are blended with fruit drinks.

Much as German brewers want to show that they are not hidebound, the beers that won medals in Seattle were unreconstructed classics. Which great beers are produced in, or near, the cities were the soccer World Cup games will be held? Starting in the capital, and travelling more or less clockwise, I picked my Ist XI:-

BERLIN

The tartness, perhaps even sourness, of Berlin's local variation on the wheat beer theme, can be a shock. It is intentional. Not only does wheat impart a crisper edge than barley, this is greatly intensified by the use of a lactic culture in addition to yeast. The first lactic fermentation may have been an accident, but it attacks thirst like a citron pressè. Napoleon's troops dubbed it "the Champagne of the North." Because their principal grain is more suited to a very pale beer, often cloudy, The family of wheat beers are sometimes identified as being "white" (in the wine sense). Berliner Weisse is one of the world's classic beer styles. At a modest alcohol content of around 3.0 per cent by volume, it is a summer refresher in Berlin's beer gardens and the city's lakes.

It is served in large bowl-shaped glasses like beer-sized champagne saucers. It is usually softened with a dash (a Schuss) of raspberry syrup, as though it were a kir royal. The green, slightly medicinal-tasting, essence of the herb woodruff (Waldmeister) is less popular. Candy-striped straws in the appropriate colours are sometimes provided.

Berlin's two big breweries recently came under the same ownership, and lovers of the rare local speciality fear that one example may vanish. Schultheiss Berliner Weisse is the more complex, with a pollen-like floweriness. Berliner Kindl Weisse is more robust.

LEIPZIG

Before the Wall came down, the most serious beer-hunters had a vague knowledge of two or three local specialities that survived in East Germany. Leipziger Gose was news to almost everyone. It had been mentioned in some early brewing texts, but with little detail, as one of several long-lost Northern styles or wheat beer variations.

A beer flavoured with salt sounded as though it would first promote thirst, then quench it. This probably happens, but without being obvious. The beer contrives to be simultaneously stingingly refreshing and flavoursome, with some plummy notes. Further flavouring with coriander, seems less German than Belgian. There is also a familiar ring to the name Gose, so similar to Gueuze.

The German term Gose is said to derive from the town of Goslar, where the style is believed to have originated.

For all the Belgian comparisons, the story of Gose's rediscovery has more of a Czech touch. A play by Havel, perhaps?

Dr Hartmut Hennebach was a biochemist but also a dissident. One day, his bosses told him that his qualifications might better suit him to a job behind the bar. He found himself serving drinks to party apparatchiks in a former student bar that had become the local Communist club. Exercising the curiosity that befits a scientist, he learned that the club had, before World War II, served a highy distinctive type of beer called Gose.

Even before the Berlin Wall finally tumbled, a degree of enterprise was being permitted in East Germany. With the help of various local brewers, Hartmut experimented with revived versions of Leipziger Gose and served it in his bar. "Is this stuff drinkable?" demanded a sceptical customer. "Without doubt," Hartmut responded. The beer became such a success that when the bar was privatised, the establishment was re-named Ohne Bedenken ("Without Doubt").

The late 1800s building has regained something of its student ambience, and offers hearty, inexpensive, servings of bread and cheese. It has entrances on Mencke Strasse and Poeten Weg.

The beer is now made at a specialist Gose brewery, embracing a pub, beer garden, restaurant and small conference centre. The whole complex is called the Bayrischer Bahnhof ("Bavaria Terminal"), and is in a restored landmark: the railway station: built in 1842 to link Saxony with the South of Germany.

Like the lactic wheat beers of Berlin, the Leipzig speciality is offered plain (the most popular version), or with various sweeteners, ranging from cherry liqueur to Allasch, the local, sweet, almond-flavoured version of the caraway liqueur kümmel. It sounds sickly, but the combination of the sour-ish, salty, beer with a spicy, sweet, liqueur is surprisingly lively.

Bamberg, north of NUREMBERG

The growing following for Islay Single Malts bodes well for a greater appreciation of the similarly smoky-tasting dark lagers made in and around the Baroque town of Bamberg, Franconia. While the Scots traditionally dry their malt over a peat fire, the Franconians fire their kilns with beech from the surrounding forests.

The beers are an acquired taste, but the perfect accompaniment to the local smoked meats. Diners share scrubbed wooden tables at two famous brewery taverns: Schlenklerla (6 Dominikaner Strasse) and Brauerei Spezial (10 Obere Könningstrasse).

Bamberg has about 70,000 people and nine or ten breweries. Franconia is the most densely breweried corner of Germany, with the most individualistic beers. It also offers more unfiltered beers than any other part of Germany. Several terms are used, each indicating a slightly different technique. The simplest designation is Kellerbier, usually indicating a pale lager with a restrained carbonation and a big hop character. A classic example is St Georgen Kellerbier, from Buttenheim.

In Nuremberg's Old Town Courtyard, the Altstadth of micro-brewery is based on the designs and techniques of the early 1800s. It produces a hearty range of traditional lagers.

Kelheim, North of MUNICH

This town on the river Danube has one of Germany's most respected wheat beer specialists, the Schneider brewery. The brewery's restaurant is in Munich, on a street called Tal ("Dale").

While the northern styles of wheat beer are few in number, the southern type is widespread and popular. As in the north, the term "white" is used (Weisse or Weissbier) or sometimes Weizen (meaning "wheat"). Most southern wheat beers have a more conventional alcohol content, in the region of 4.8-5.2 abv. They are distinctively fruity in aroma and palate, often reminiscent of bananas, and sometmes with clovey notes. These characteristics derive from the type of yeast used, and its interplay with the wheat. No fruits or spices are added.These beers pour with a huge head and a lively carbonation, and are typically served in a vase-shaped glass, sometimes with a swirly design. They are sometimes served with a late breakfast of Weisswurst (veal sausages).The unfiltered version of the beer, sometimes sub-titled Mit Hefe ("with yeast") is by far the most popular. It is regarded by young drinkers as beer with nowt taken out. There are also dark (Dunkelweizen) and strong (Weizenbock) versions.

Schneider's Dunkelweizenbock, called Aventinus, a World Cup medallist, is a classic. The combination of wheaty crispness, luscious, chocolatey, maltiness, raisiny fruitiness, clovey spiciness and warming alcohol (8.2 abv) make it indeed the breakfast of champions.

THE BRITISH TABLOIDS BLAME CROWD VIOLENCE ON 'LAGER LOUTS'.MOST GERMANS NEVER USE THE 'L' WORD

Outside Franconia, Germans very rarely order "a lager." The word Lager simply means "store," and refers to a period of cold maturation, which stabilises and smoothens beer, The term has nothing to do with colour.

If the German wants a basic golden lager beer, he will simply ask for a Hell or Hellas ("yellow" has etymologically the same root).

If he fancies something more assertive all round, hop accented in aroma, with a decidedly appetising bitterness in the finish, he will ask for a Pills. Or Pilaster. Or Pilsener; Named after the city in Bohemia where this style was first made.

If he requires something more substantial, he may choose an Export (5.0-5.25 abv). This style was once a restorative in the coal and steel towns around Dortmund.

A lager gaining a full copper-red colour from crystallised malts, with an aroma and palate to match (at around 5.5 abv) may sometimes be seen, bearing the legend Märzen and/or Oktoberfest. This style was originally produced before the warm weather made brewing difficult. It was then laid down as a privision for summer. The last of this beer was consumed in September/October, to make space in the cellars for the season's production.

The malty sweetness of a true Märzen/Oktoberfest goes well with German noodle dishes, chicken and pork. Dunkles or Dunkel means "dark." If there are no further words of description, the beer is likely to be a dark (brown) lager, with a cookie-like maltiness. A toasty-tasting example called Barock Dunkel, from the monastery of Weltenburg, on the Danube near Kelheim was among the World Cup medallists.

Schwarzbier is a "black" style of lager, typically with malt flavours resembling bitter chocolate or sometimes liquorice. This style, famously made at Bad Köstriz, in Thuringia, has enjoyed a revival since reunification. It also has something of a tradition in Franconia.

Bock is the Germanic word for billy-goat, and suggests a beer with a kick. The name was originally a corruption of the last syllable of Einbeck, Lower Saxony. The town was a brewing centre in the Hanseatic League. Its beer was sent south to Munich for a royal wedding. The style is still brewed in Einbeck, and in Munich is associated with the city's most famous beer hall, the Hofbrauhaus (Royal Court Brewery). Today, Bock beers, usually lagers, are brewed variously for Lent, Spring Fall and Winter Holidays. A Bock beer has at least 6.0 abv and usually more. A "double" Bock has at least 7.5. The most famous Doppelbock is Salvator, originally the "saviour" during Lent of the city's Pauline monks.

STUTTGART

From the city centre, the vineyards can be seen on the surrounding hills. Baden-Wurttemberg is wine country, but it has no shortage of breweries. What is lacking is a true local speciality with the status of a German classic. In Baden's capital, Karlsruhe, the Hoepfner brewery produces a Porter, with a delicious black treacle character - a rare example of a British style being pursued by a German brewery. A suitable toast if England wins...

THE WEST

For an English ale-lover, by far the most distinctive beer style in the west is the copper-coloured Altbier of the Düsseldorf area. Among the several examples, the fullest in flavour is Zum Uerige, from the eponymous brewpub. Big malt and hop balance. Also in the Altstadt, Im Füschschen Alt is slightly more hop-accented. Unfortunately, no games are scheduled for Düsseldorf. Rival city Cologne does have games, but its Kölsch is a more restrained style, a golden ale counterpart to Pils. The differences between one Kölsch and the next are subtle, but I will seek the light-footed finesse of Päffgen for my World Cup forward line.

THE NORTH

Frankfurt entertains visitors with Apfelwein, a sweet recollection of Europe's vestigial cider belt. Hanover, and several other northern cities, enjoy Korn Schnapps, Wacholder (local gin) and such specialities. Every city has at least one brewery, but which beer represents the north? It may be owned by a national grouping, and be less assertive than it was, but Jever Pils, from German Friesland, still has a hop bitterness to intimidate a nervous defence.

The Soccer World Cup typically inspires a few articles on which drinks best accompany each game. This one, based on the venues of the games, was commissioned for Gourmet Germany magazine, published as a supplement to the British national newspaper The Guardian (May 25, 2006). The article was cut to fit. This is the full, uncut, text.


Published Online: JUNE 7, 2006
Published in Print: MAY 25, 2006
In: The Guardian

- Brew Travel - Historical

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