Saturday, September 10, 2005

Bier v. Beer

The other day in the locker room I overheard a conversation about beer. One guy was talking about American beer and how it couldn’t compare to the beer he had on a visit to Europe, yada yada. Another guy chimed in and said, “I’m from Germany und you are right. Za beer here eez nossing like vhat vee drink in Germany.”

I’ve heard this before, that European beer—specifically German and Czech— is much different than the stuff we quaff stateside. From what I understand, American beer is watery in comparison to European beer; European beer is thicker, heartier and packs more of an alcohol punch.

Be that as it may, some of America’s oldest and most well-known breweries were founded by Germans. John Gurda wrote in The Making of Milwaukee that, “The beverage of choice in the German Athens (Milwaukee), and one of its key social lubricants, was beer. Milwaukee’s first brewery, technically, was organized by a group of Welshmen in 1840, but its product found few takers in the German community. ‘Of course their brew could hardly be considered beer in its German sense,’ sniffed Rudolf Koss, Milwaukee’s pioneer German historian, ‘but to the Americans this somewhat murky, sweet, and ale-like drink was satisfactory.’”

The rest is Milwaukee beer brewing history. Indeed, some of America’s most recognizable breweries—Miller, Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz, all founded by German-Americans—remain recognizable names to this day. But curiously, these famous breweries currently produce beer that is scoffed at by beer purists.

So what happened to Milwaukee’s German brew?

Maybe Milwaukee beer changed in order to appeal to the palates of the larger society? Or, maybe Milwaukee beer is not all that different from imported European beer? As I type I’m drinking a Becks beer, imported from Germany and “brewed under the German purity law of 1516,” which, thankfully, has only to do with beer brewing and ingredients and not ethnic background (I wouldn’t feel comfortable drinking Aryan beer… and I’d hate to be restricted to drinking only Maccabi, Goldstar or He’brew beer).

But I digress. My point is that most of the imported beers I’ve drank are not markedly different from domestic beers. I guess the only way to get to the bottom of this mess is to go to Europe, maybe checkout Oktober Fest, and draw my own conclusions.


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