It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, did you ever carry coals to Newcastle? For any readers who might not know that's an
idom of British origin that roughly means doing something foolhardy or pointless. It's quite
appropriate since the town of Newcastle's basic economy was built around the production of
coal. That phrase came to mind when I read that Berlin's first community-supported brewery,
hoping to introduce American craft brews to Germany's nascent microbrewing scene had just
opened. Who in their right mind would brew American style beer in Germany, home of some of
the greatest beers in the world? To me, that's the equivalent of carrying coal to Newcastle.
To me, Bill, no one understands beer drinking better than the Germans. They make honest,
tasty, crisp, clean, gimmick-free brews and they've been doing it since at least the late Bronze
Age, between roughly 2000 and 700 B.C. See, I did get an "A: in high school history as I told
you. Yes, Bill, I know that the ancient Germans did not invent brewing, but they were probably
the first Europeans to make a liquid that we would generally recognize as beer and it's a good
thing for us they did.
All over Germany you can find beer gardens and public spaces where drinking a beer is a
beloved pastime. German beer is to be enjoyed, not guzzled like some young people around
here who will shotgun a Bud or Coors Light at a drop of a hat. German beer demands and
receives the respect it deserves.
Germany has well over 1200 breweries meaning the people there have easy access to fresh
local beer. Nothing beats that if you ask me. To many people Germany is synonymous with
beer. One reason for their lofty reputation is that brewing there, as you know, is regulated by
the Reinheitsgebot(Purity Decree) of 1516--the oldest food and beverage law in the world. It
dictates that only four ingredients may be used: malt, yeast, hops, and water. Pure and simple
to me is the key to most great beers.
German beer doesn’t get the attention it deserves from today’s beer fans who gravitate toward
extreme flavors and marketing. You’re not going to find a German beer containing massive
hops with Hindu deities on its label or a snowboarding reference in its name. And that's a
good thing. Don't get me wrong, I love the variety and complexity of some of today's amazing
ales but when it comes to consistent quality I'll vote for a German brew. Oh, and before you
give me the old line they make only one type of lager consider the fact that you can enjoy
styles like hefeweizen, Helles, Pilsner, Marzen, Dunkel, Bock, Alt, Berliner Weisse, Kolsch, and
Gose. Not bad, right Bill?
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next month.
Hey Gina, Did you ever hear the true story of Timothy Dexter, an American entrepreneur, who
succeeded in defying the idiom in the eighteenth century.? He was widely regarded as a buffoon
since he was persuaded by rival merchants to sail a shipment of coal to Newcastle. Their hope
was to ruin him. However, the reverse happened. As fate would have it Mr. Dexter made a huge
profit after his cargo arrived during a miners' strike which had crippled local production. So if
under the right circumstances sending coal to Newcastle works so too can making American style
beer in Germany.
Look, it's indisputable that many of the world’s great variety of beers are almost unknown in
Germany because Germans tend to drink one kind: Pilsner. And of course I don't mean the pale
lager that’s brewed in very watery form by Anheuser-Busch and it's macro rivals. Yes, it's an
excellent beer but the fact of the matter is that - hope you're sitting down, Gina - most Germans
have never tasted a steam lager, an India Pale Ale, an Irish stout, or any of the other non-
German varieties that have swept the U.S. market since the late 1980s! Those too are great
styles that people who love beer like the Germans would greatly appreciate if only given the
Any type parochial attitude some Germans might have about their beer will begin to disappear as
the popularity of microbreweries and brewpubs grow. It's inevitable. In fact, the latest statistics
show that German consumers, intrigued by unfamiliar flavors, are purchasing more imported craft
beer than ever before. The statistics also show that beer consumption is slipping in Germany,
and some brewers say their only salvation lies in fostering a drinking culture less constrained by
a 1516 purity law that they say crimps innovation. Sorry Gina, but the purity law does just that.
I'll be the first to agree with you that It’s easy to get good beer in Germany. But to my mind it's
just boredom on a high level.
This transformation cannot happen overnight. Remember, the United States has a 30-year head
start in the arena of creative craft brewing. I understand that there is a glorious tradition of beer
in Germany but all that means is the change will be a bit slower.
Here's some homework for you Gina. Google "best beers in the world" and you'll get many lists
from well regarded beer experts. Check a few of them out as I just did and you might be surprised
to find that in the top 20 not one German beer was listed. Case closed.
Here's looking at you, kid! See you next month.