WAY TO HAVE A BEER FESTIVAL

By Glenn DeLuca

For BeerNexus.com

Recently came back from a Rhine River Cruise (and before you ask, No it wasn’t
Viking River Cruises; everyone thinks of them first, although there are many other
cruise lines operating…good, make that excellent advertising on their part).
Stopping at numerous German cities I was expecting I’d taste a lot of the local
brews, but that wasn’t to be. Our tour was loaded with excursions and we did not get
much free time and sometimes getting it in the morning wasn’t ideal as I wasn’t ready
for a beer after a few at and after dinner in the ship’s bar the night before.

We flew Lufthansa over and since it was evening and they were pouring, how could I
resist.  The best moment was when a passenger a few rows up asks the attendant
how much the beer was, to which he replied, “We are a German airline, we can’t
charge for beer”…perfect answer!!

Luftner Cruise’s Amadeus Silver II was for all intents and purposes a brand new boat
having just begun sailing this March. Having never done a river or sea cruise I
toured the ship to check it out and was impressed with the planning, organization
and conciseness of it, which makes sense as space is at a premium. So when all
they had for beer was Bitburger draft and two other bottles, I was disappointed yet
understood why. Needless to say I had quite a few Bitburgers, which on a hot
summer day are definitely pleasant.

We did tour a winery in Alsace. In the southern Germany Alsace region they told us
they drink more wine than beer whereas the northerners drink more beer, although
there was no lack of pubs around. Their wines, mostly Riesling and Gewurztraminer,
were very pleasant, not sweet like the Blue Nun they send us, which they said is not
characteristic of their wines. They drink most of the wine they produce and export
only a small amount. So why send us the cheap sweet stuff which is why I never look
for German wine in our stores…

Luckily on excursion we had lunch out a few times, so in Strasbourg France I had a
couple of Fischer.  And in France, Germany and Holland the name on the glass is
the beer you get in it, not like here where your Victory Hop Devil comes in a Coors
Light glass. We’ve never had that custom/tradition here (that I’ve ever seen) and to
be fair if you have a couple of dozen or more taps and are doing a good job of
rotating you would need to have a warehouse of glasses and spend a fair amount of
time rotating the glasses as well. But I do like that tradition.

The most amusing was in Cologne where the waiter brings out a round communion
like tray and sets down what appears to be a tall shot glass. We look at each other
in amazement and read the “0.2l” on the glass; was more like a double shot of beer
than a glass. It reminded me of growing up, the round communion tray the pastor
brought out with all the little glasses of wine. The waiter told us all the bars serve
with these glasses but I find that hard to believe, maybe for business lunch that
makes sense.

We did get time to stroll the Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg. Most of our group found a
couple of outdoor tables at the Goldener Hecht, a hotel with a first floor bar where
we enjoyed the pedestrian traffic as we quaffed a couple of liters.

One of the highlights was in Amsterdam, our last stop. We did the obligatory tour of
the Red Light District, which wasn’t all that exciting, although there is probably more
activity at night than during the day. We needed a drink so I tried using Google
Maps to get us to De Wildeman, which Michael Jackson said was one of the best
beer bars in the world. Unfortunately it is on a small side street and we couldn’t find
it. But all was not lost; there on the corner was Café Karpershoek, circa 1606 the
oldest pub in Amsterdam, which would be an able substitute. Ordered a DeKoninck,
while my friend had a Brand; sat outside, relaxed and enjoyed. Had time for another
and since we’re in Amsterdam what else would you have but a Heineken. Was not
disappointed, was very nice unlike the skunky Heineken we get here in the US.

But there was a surprise and the highlight for sure. As we sailed into Koblenz where
the Mosel meets the Rhine there is a very large statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I with a
park around it. What luck, it was Sunday and there was a site to behold; an outdoor
beer festival! Our timing was perfect arriving on the weekend. Our boat docks, we
cut the walking tour short and head for the festival. No gate with security checking
ID, no wrist bands, just walk in. Lots of large umbrellas with lots of German beer
names I’ve never heard of nor can I pronounce, but my taste buds do work on
German beer! Where to start, well we stayed away from the San Miguel umbrella,
not that it’s bad beer, just that it seemed out of place. Appeared most had three size
choices; 0.3, 0.5 and 1l. Since we wanted to taste we bought the 0.3l for 3 Euros.
Were a little surprised when he charged us 5 Euro and then quickly figured out
there was a 2 Euro deposit on the glass.

None of them were that exciting that I wanted or needed any more glasses. Sat
down at a picnic table, which were all over the place, the older couple at the end
held up their glasses to us as we did to them. It was a very relaxed and mixed crowd
of young and old, even families with younger children. Got our deposit back and on
to the next umbrella (Ini-Mini-Miny-Moe, Stiegl, that one looks good) with a server
who spoke English so we chatted with her about the beers. Finally one last umbrella
where again our server spoke English and we learned more about the festivals. She
doesn’t work for the brewery, but for the festival which moves around from town to
town; could be an interesting weekend job. Not all that different from ours where you
often find a volunteer serving although these servers could speak about the beers
they offered. Granted their selection is usually three, a pilsner, wheat and kolsch,
possibly another one, whereas our breweries tend to offer more with more
complexity when dealing with all the different styles, hops in the IPA or barrel aging.

It’s also no different in Germany that eventually beer is just a rental and you’ll need
to look for the WC as in water closet or the toilette, not the badezimmer or
bathroom, which is where you take a bath. And make sure you have 0.5 Euro handy
as there is a charge to use it. There are very few free public facilities so you learn to
make use of them when you’re on the boat, hotel or cruise ship.

The Germans, as many in Europe, consider dining an enjoyable social event not to
be rushed. I would say that carries over to their beer festival, which is more like a
family picnic event, very relaxed with people enjoying themselves.  In contrast I
would say our festivals are much more structured with a more frenetic approach of
how much can I taste in four hours. Being able to come and go, sit around at tables,
enjoy the fresh air, company and beer was definitely refreshing.

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing webmaster@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
Outtakes from a life of beer.
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