What makes German beer unique? Pilsners and lagers and helles, oh my! – Food
Artwork by Getty Images/Zeke Barbaro
From your local beer garden to the dozens of tents erected in Munich each year around this time, beer is the lifeblood of Oktoberfest. Indeed, beer is a cornerstone of German culture for many reasons.
One reason is that before industrialization, Germans drank beer in the absence of drinking water, with the added benefit of being a nutritional powerhouse. According to Chip McElroy, biochemist and founder of Live Oak Brewing Co., “It was traditionally a very nutritious food source. It contains calories, vitamins. A small amount of protein. own. .” The combination of boiling and the antibacterial qualities of hops has made beer a more sterile hydration choice.
And, for hundreds of years, the Reinheitsgebot, or Beer Purity Act, imposed strict rules regarding the price and ingredients of beer. In 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria declared that only barley, hops and water could be used to brew beer. This law was partly intended to reduce competition between bakers and brewers for ingredients like wheat and rye, the reasoning being that it would keep bread and beer prices low. Win-win. (What else, Beer’s Oxford Companion suggests that this law, which came into effect at the dawn of the Reformation, also served to exclude plants such as juniper and rosemary, which were associated with pagan rituals.)
While some claim that the Reinheitsgebot retained German beer in terms of binding experimentation, craftsmanship and creativity, it gives brewers the call to tradition and cultural heritage to underline their German bona fides, even though the purity law has been expanded in 1993 to allow yeast (already accepted as part of the brewing process rather than an ingredient).
But according to McElroy, what really sets German beers apart is how easy they are to drink. “You can drink them and enjoy them for a long session,” he explains. “You can enjoy several of them. They don’t exhaust your palate. You can sit and discuss politics with your friends for a long time.”
Just make sure that whether you’re close to home or need a passport to drink lots of beer over a long period of time, you drink responsibly and leave the driving to a sober friend.
What’s wrong with these gingerbread hearts? And can I eat them?
There’s more to Oktoberfest than drinking beer and eating sausages and roast chicken under a tent while listening to polka music. It is also a folk festival similar to a state fair. There are rides and craft markets and competitions. There are also memories; at Oktoberfest, among the most popular and visible souvenirs are lebkuchenherzen, or gingerbread hearts.
(Photo by Melanie Haupt)
The decorated hearts at Munich Oktoberfest vary in size from a slightly oversized standard cookie to the size of a dinner plate, and are prepared with classic spices like nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon , ginger, etc. They are decorated with sayings like “Ich liebe dich” (“I love you”) and “spatzl” (“my darling”). Lovers buy them for each other as expressions of love, the size of the lebkuchenherzen being directly proportional to his love. In this way, they look like the back-to-school moms of the Texans, when mid-century boys gave their dates a seasonal chrysanthemum adorned with ribbons to wear to the big game and the dance. (These, of course, puffed up noise-making 20-pound, luminous monstrosities costing hundreds of dollars and functioning more as capitalist flexing than sweet expressions of love, but I digress. )
Lebkuchenherzen are edible, but are cooked to study hardness and, after being hand decorated by highly skilled herzl painters, are shrink wrapped and strung with a ribbon so you can wear them around your neck and, later hang them like candy. memento. In Austin, Easy Tiger offered a limited supply of lebkuchen hearts for $12 each during its Oktoberfest celebrations; Bake Austin is offering a Family Oktoberfest Heart class on October 16 (www.bakeaustin.com).– MH