If you ask people what they think of when they think of Germany, the answer will include some reference to beer. While stereotypes are often based in the imagination, the connection between Germany and beer has some basis in reality. According to Wikipedia – and I can tell you’re dazzled by my finely-honed research skills – there are around 1300 breweries in Germany that produce more than 5000 brands of beer. The Reinheitsgebot, or Purity Law, governs the ingredients used in German beer and dates back to 1516. This law is 260 years older than the United States!
Numbers and dates are fun and all, but there are really only two things one needs to know about German beer. The first is that it is delicious. I might be biased, since I love beer and have spent a significant amount of time studying and appreciating all things German, but it really is great. Even the cheapest, most generic-looking stuff you find at the discount supermarket is more than drinkable, and the good stuff is not very expensive. I like it all, too: Pils, Kölsch, Hefeweizen, Maibock, Oktoberfest, etc. You cannot go wrong.
The second thing you need to know about German beer is that despite producing some of the world’s best beer, Germans like to dilute it for some reason. I have seen any number of additions to beer in on German menus that make me cringe. Maybe I don’t have a well-developed palate, but I happen to think these are all completely gross. Here are some that I have encountered:
- Radler – beer mixed with fizzy lemonade, grapefruit soda, or even Sprite
- Colaweizen – Add a shot of cola to a glass of Hefeweizen
- Bananaweizen – Add banana-flavored syrup to Hefeweizen. Some places also have the option of raspberry or waldmeister (woodruff) syrup on the menu.
The thing is, I really want to like these drinks, so I keep trying them. That’s why when I heard my friend order an Altbier Bowle at the movie theater the other night, I decided I should also sample one. Altbier is a darker lager that’s pretty tasty. When I studied in Freiburg, my roommates made Bowle fairly often. It is essentially sangria, served in a punch bowl, hence the name Bowle. I’m sure there is a more refined version of Bowle that potentially will not ruin your weekend, but the recipe we used went something like this:
- Empty can of fruit cocktail into bowl.
- Cover with 750ml cheap vodka; soak overnight.
- Add 2 bottles of wine and a bottle of champagne to bowl.
- Wake up with headache.
I am delighted to report that the Altbier version of Bowle is both non-toxic and surprisingly excellent. At the theater, the fruit was apricot; it was wonderful. I will be drinking this again, and recommend that everyone try it. Maybe this skeptic is coming around on the German-style beer “cocktails.” Or maybe this is the only good one.
Has anyone else had a delicious or disgusting experience with things added to their beer? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Also, if any of your German readers can defend these appalling beverages, or share a recipe for Altbierbowle, I’d love to hear from you as well.