Noble Stuff

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When I first arrived in Munich many years ago as a young college student I did not drink beer – at all. Sure, I had tried it, from the cheap stuff that my friends would once in a while get me to try, to the Moosehead we drank with that cool, older friend we so wanted to be like. Of course, Moosehead was Canadian which, at the time, was the closest thing to craft beer any of us had ever seen, but it certainly wasn’t good beer.

Anyway, in Munich not drinking beer is like not breathing air. I persisted for a while, sipping on 0.2 liters of lukewarm Coke while my new-found friends were nipping on their 0.5 Liter beers. For those keeping track at home, that’s a tiny Coke, and a large beer, and given that the Coke was also more expensive it was slowly draining my budget.

Over time, I tried a Radler (the Bavarian counterpart to a shandy) and Weissbier before eventually learning to enjoy that most classic of Munich brews, the Helles. Helles is a golden lager, lightly hopped, with a pleasant malt taste. In this day of massive IPAs it may seem a little mild, but it’s a great session beer, and the staple brew of every Munich biergarten.

Mild though they may be, no two Helles are alike, and one is the king of them all – the somewhat boastfully named Edelstoff (or “noble stuff”). Augustiner Bräu, the proud brewer of Edelstoff, is Germany’s oldest independent brewery and the smallest and most authentic of Munich’s great breweries. Now, most of the bars in Munich are (or were) tied houses, meaning they served only the beer of their host brewery, most frequently Paulaner or Löwenbräu. I was fortunate enough to live around the corner from an Augustiner pub, so I could enjoy Edelstoff on a regular basis. If you happen to be traveling to Munich, you can swing by the Augustiner Kellar, where Edelstoff is available from wooden casks year-round.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer as easy here in the US, although there are a number of US breweries taking a decent shot at brewing good Helles. None of them, though, are Edelstoff, so it was a very pleasant surprise the other day when a visitor from Germany brought over two precious bottles. Alas, only the 12 ounce bottle, but a pleasure nonetheless.

Prost!

Teaching irresponsibility

So, I enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time (obviously), but I’ve never been one to drink for the sake of getting drunk. I don’t enjoy shots or drinks which are intended to disguise the taste of alcohol, and until recently I had no idea what “pre game” meant. I have always attributed that to a healthy exposure to alcohol as a kid.
Now, I don’t pretend to remember my childhood that well, but I do remember that my parents enjoyed a cocktail on weekends, in moderation and always after 5:00 pm. The only real exception was in summer, on very rare occasion, when my father would drink a Carling Black Label in the afternoon by the pool. Obviously, my father had no understanding of beer, but the point is that drinking was simply something adults did, in moderation, when the circumstances were right.
On special occasions my brother and I would be permitted a small taste of wine or (rarely) beer, or even a sip of champagne on New Years Eve. Truth be told, I didn’t care for it much, and as a high school and even college student I eschewed alcohol for the most part. I have long maintained that this early, and healthy, exposure to alcohol prevented me from going on the drunken binges so many of my friends did in high school and college, and I vowed to do the same for my children.
Only, there’s one problem. The otherwise great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, along with a number of other states, forbids the consumption of any amount of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21 under any circumstances. Ok, there’s one very narrow exception to allow underage drinkers to report a medical emergency, but otherwise – nothing, no exception for parents whatsoever.
For those who are interested in this sort of thing, a site called procon.org has a table outlining the different state laws on this issue (and others). Ultimately, though, what Pennsylvania and many other states are doing is forcing parents to choose between breaking the law or simply hoping and praying that their kids magically learn how to deal responsibly with alcohol absent any meaningful exposure or dialogue whatsoever. In other words, the state thinks it’s better for my teenage girl to try her first beer, wine, or Vodka in the woods or behind a barn, with other teenagers, rather than in the safety of our home under parental supervision.
I’m sure that will work out just fine.

A renewed interest

So, I may not do as much traveling as I had done before, but I still drink a bit, and I like to think about traveling and drink, so I figure it’s time to pick up this old blog again.

Fortunately, having just come back from our annual excursion to upstate Maine, I have a little bit to say about travel and drink, mostly beer! My first observation is that I’m becoming quite the fan of Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. While we didn’t make it to the brewery, I had the chance to try a number of the company’s big beers and they were all uniformly good. I even liked the draft-only Midnight Brett, which is quite uncharacteristic for me since it’s a bit of a fruity beer.

Interestingly, I also had the chance to try the company’s first ever lager beer, the Allagash Helles Brau Lager, which they haven’t even seen fit to put on their website! While it was tasty, having lived in Munich (where Helles rules) I can’t say it was a terribly authentic Helles-style beer. It actually reminded me of the delicious unfiltered lager beers of Vogelbräu in (relatively nearby) Karlsruhe, Germany.

Anyway, I’ll be seeking out more Allagash brews in the near future.

A tipple with your newspaper

A few years ago my wife and I were making our way through Berlin with the kids. Now, there are both good and bad things about that, but one which we found quite civilized were some of the little kiosk news stands which are littered throughout the city. In most respects they seemed to be normal news kiosks. They differed in one important way, however, which is that you can buy a small glass of Prosecco with your morning (or, preferably, evening) news. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Prosecco is a type of Italian sparkling wine, like a champagne, a little on the sweet side but quite pleasant, really.
Now, the Moral Majority would find that nothing short of reprehensible, but I for one think of it as charmingly sophisticated. How relaxing to purchase a newspaper or magazine in the late afternoon, a small glass of Prosecco, and sit down on a sunny bench to find out what’s happening in the world. Unfortunately, as it was winter there were very few sunny corners to be found, and in fact a number of the kiosks we passed were closed. It seemed like such a pleasant idea, though.
Now, kiosks throughout Germany sell booze, so that’s no great surprise. In Munich you can buy a half liter of beer or a small airplane bottle of schnapps at many such kiosks, but to me that seems more like the last refuge of an alcoholic than a nice way to spend an afternoon (and anyone who reads this knows that I like beer, and even schnapps).
No, there’s something about the prosecco booth which appeals to me.
Now, if only we had one here in Philadelphia.

Yard’s revisited

I was looking through some photos the other day and I saw the following picture of the Yard’s brewhouse, discussed in this earlier post.. Thought some of you might be interested.
The Yard’s Brewery

On the trail of the popes

Since we were on the topic of wine, wine and the church, particularly the Catholic Church, are inextricably entwined. Both have a strong – if somewhat dysfunctional – relationship to the south of France.
Avignon, of course, was the seat of a number of popes until Gregory decided enough was enough and absconded with the furniture and the papacy back to Rome, leaving an empty palace and a woefully undersized cathedral. He – or rather, his predecessors – also left behind a legacy of wine which rewards us to this day.
One of the most famous of these regions, of course, is centered around Chateauneuf-du-Papes, part of the Cotes du Rhone. Chateauneuf-du-Papes is an interesting little town with the ruins of the papal chateau looming above. At this point, there’s more vineyard than chateau, but the view from the top is magnificent. We were here for more than just the view, however, so we stopped in at both the highly regarded Dieux Telegraphe and Clos des Papes for a taste or two. Although these two wineries (and this region) are much more well known, the tastings were still surprisingly low-key and uncrowded. Suffice it to say we left with two bottles of each and a warm feeling for those wine-drinking clerics of yore.

Wining in the Provence

I think of a lot of things when I think of France, but hot weather is not one of them. Nonetheless, is was a hot and sunny day when I decided it was time to check out some wine while in the south of France, and I have to say it was worth every minute.
Our first stop was a place called Viason-la-Romaine. I’m guessing that the “Romaine” refers to Rome, as there are allegedly some lovely ruins there. Our minds were on the wine, however, so we wandered only briefly through the lovely medieval town before heading off on the road towards Gigondas. We were sure to pass a number of little wineries and cooperatives.
One of my favorites was Clos des Cazaux, just outside of Gigondas. It didn’t look promising to start – a long, dusty road wound its way down to a house (not a chateau, mind you, but a farmhouse, albeit a pretty one). Arriving, we had the distinct feeling we were had stumbled into someone’s home as we looked around for anything remotely like a tasting room. Just as we were considering a hasty, slightly embarassed retreat, a little old lady came out of the house, greeted us like long lost friends, and ushered us into the large barn-like building to the side. A tiny sign read “Caveaux,” to educate those who could find it.
Once in the barn we gathered in a small, stone-walled room filled with barrels, open to display bottles of the different varieties of wine. In the corner was a small bar with numerous bottles, labelled and unlabeled, and a tap. As we struggled to communicate, two Americans with a minimal knowledge of French and an older Frenchwoman with equal knowledge of English, the two of us enjoyed a tasting as far removed from the usual mass-production tastings as one could hope for. Now that’s what travel is about.
Tasting room (from http://www.vacqueyras.tm.fr)