Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why Can't We Get Real German Beer in the US?

That is the question I have been asking ever since I came back to the US from my army stint in Germany in the 1960s. From Loewenbrau, brewed by Miller in places like Eden, North Carolina (under strict supervision by Loewenbrau in Munich, of course) to imported bottles of whatever, the taste is simply not the same. You may as well buy American beer. The reasons given are manifold:

Beer doesn't travel well.
American standards require pasteurization.
Alcohol content is lowered.
It is never fresh.

I guess there is something to all of that, but I am no expert.

As an aside, I ate at a German restaurant in Puerto Vallarta a few years back, the Cafe Frankfurt. The owner was German, and as I was enjoying a couple of good Paulaners, he told me that when beer is imported into Mexico, there are no mandated alterations, like pasteurization.

It does seem that the product in the US  has been improved over the decades. That taste of formaldehyde is gone (or whatever it was). Yet, even when you go to those places like the Alpine Village or Old World Village in SoCal, the Bitburgers and the Warsteiners and the Spatens just don't measure up to the taste you experience in Germany.

In addition, I have always wondered; why doesn't an aspiring brewer replicate the conditions and the techniques in Germany? Seems to me one could make a fortune. You can use German barley and hops. Do you actually require German water?

But there is good news. If you make it to Las Vegas, you must visit the Hofbrauhaus (corner of Paradise and Harman  near the airport). Affiliated with the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, they import the beer directly from Munich to Las Vegas in barrels. I have been to the one in Munich in the past few years, and I can assure you the taste is authentic. I understand there is another Hofbrauhaus in Kentucky outside Cincinnati. I have not been there.

Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas


And you will have a lot of fun there.

Here is the website for the one in Newport, Kentucky:


And the Hofbrau Beer Garten in Panama City, Florida.


( I can only attest to the one in Vegas.)

The last time I was in Vegas I asked the manager how they manage to preserve the authentic taste. (That's why I asked the manager.) He wasn't sure, but he did tell me that when the beer is shipped, the kegs are turned upside down to allow the beer to "reblend".

Could that be the secret I have been searching for for nearly half a century?

Apparently, the changes mandated by law in the US are looser if the beer is in kegs. That's why those beers in 5-liter kegs are better than in bottles-if you can drink all 5 liters in one sitting. They get stale quickly. Recommended for parties.

Anyway, I still maintain that the Hofbrauhaus is the only source for true German beer in the US.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

German Beer Glasses-Rastal

When you are drinking beer in Germany, one of the pleasures of the experience is the decorative glasses, which contain the brewery's name, logo, and in many cases, the name of the city or town. I have been collecting German beer glasses ever since I was in the Army in Germany in the 1960s. Most of them I purchased from the gasthaus  or restaurant where I was dining and brought back to the US. Some I have purchased at German places in California like the Alpine Village in Torrance or Old World Village in Huntington Beach.

Most German beer glasses bear the name "Rastal", the company (pictured below) which produces them. It is the largest such company in Germany. They are located in the town of Hoehr-Grunzhausen, near Moenchen-Gladbach. They also make glasses for other European breweries.



You may also have encountered many glasses bearing the mark of "Sahm". It seems that the companies are intertwined since Rastal was founded in by Eugen Sahm in 1919 and the ownership is still with the family. I understand the factory is open to visitors and glassware can be purchased there.

At the risk of being repetitive, here are a few samples.

Franziskaner (Munich)           Spaten (Munich)                                    Kitzmann (Erlangen)

If you happen to be in the area of the factory, you might stop in for a tour and buy some glasses. Of course, you don't need to go to purchase them. Most any gasthaus in the country will be happy to sell you one as a souvenir for about 5 Euros. I have never been turned down. Sometimes, they may give it to you for free.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Beers of Franconia

Beer garden in Bamberg
Bamberg -Photo Bamberg Tourismus

Franconia (Franken in German) is an area in northern Bavaria comprised of Lower Franconia, Middle Franconia and Upper Franconia. While part of Bavaria, Franconians do not identify well with Bavaria. The largest city in Franconia is Nuremberg. When it comes to beer, the area has a rich beer culture. During the spring and summer months, numerous towns have their own local beer fests. Nuremberg has two, one in the spring and one in the fall. Erlangen's is during the Whitsuntide season in May-June.

The largest beer company  in Nuremberg is Tuecher, name of one of the old patrician families of the city. You may come across some of their beers in specialty beer stores in the US.

Another local beer is Lederer.

Recognizing that it is all a matter of taste, I have found the Nuremberg beers disappointing compared to other German beers. Thus, neither of the above beers is among my favorites. Nor is a nearby brewery called Zirndorfer, named after a nearby town where a major battle took place during the 30 Year War.

Just a few miles north of Nuremberg is the university town of Erlangen, where I spent three years as a US Army MP in the 1960s. Up until the 20th century, Erlangen was a noted town for beer with several breweries, some of which exported their beer abroad. When I was there, there were three breweries, Kitzmann, Erich, and Henninger, the latter of which was founded by the same man who later founded the present-day Henninger brewery in Frankfurt. Today, only Kitzmann remains as well as a reborn brewery from an earlier time, Steinbach. Of the two, Kitzmann is the best and better than the above-mentioned Nuremberg brews. Both have their own restaurants located as part of their breweries. The Steinbach location has an upstairs pub and a downstairs dining room. Their beer is similar to a quasi-hefeweizen taste, which I am not big on-preferring a simple draft pils. The Kitzmann locale is a Stube combined with a small beer garden outside when the weather is good. I highly recommend it.


The most renowned town for beer in Franconia is Kulmbach, which boasts several internationally recognized brews such as EKU (Erste Kulmbacher Aktienbrauerei.). I have only driven through the town once not having stopped to eat or drink.

Another Franconian town noted for beer-at least in Germany- is the picturesque little town of Bamberg (the Town Without Pity, site of a famous movie based on a real-life incident). The city has 7-8 breweries and is noted for its Rauchbier-smoked beer-which is not to my taste. In the 1960s, it had a brewery called Bamberger Hofbraeu, which was  a darned good beer. Unfortunately, it was absorbed by Tuecher, which absorbed other local breweries.


Bamberger Hofbrau, like several other local breweries, once had a Jewish owner. They eventually lost their companies under aryanization under the Nazis. Prior to that, some breweries and pubs would advertise under the slogan, "Kein juedisches bier"- No Jewish beer)

When I was in Erlangen in the late 1960s, there were two beers out of Fuerth (next to Nuremberg and birthplace of Henry Kissinger). One was Gruner Bier and the other was Berg Brau. Gruner was served in a few Erlangen restaurants and was quite good. It was also absorbed later by Tuecher. Another Fuerth-based beer was Berg Brau, which was served at the most popular GI bar in Erlangen during the late 60s, a place called Hubertus or more commonly, George's, after the name of the owner. It wasn't that great. What is interesting is that this beer was served at Hubertus all the way back to the years just before the Third Reich began in 1933 when the place was a hangout for Storm Troopers. (Today the place is a Greek restaurant.)

Here is a site I found that highlights some of the region's beers and fests.


Here is something I cross-posted last year from Nordbayern (in German). It lists Franconian beer fests. The dates are no longer valid since it was last year, but it gives you an idea of when and where they occur.


All in all, the Franconian region is great for beer drinkers.

Erlangen Beer Fest

Auch im dicksten Medien- und Prominentengetümmel behält der OB den Überblick und zapft mit drei wuchtigen Schlägen das erste Fass an.

If you are looking for a great alternative to the Munich Oktoberfest, why not visit Germany's oldest-in Erlangen, about 15 miles north of Nuremberg? Here are a couple of  old cross-posts from my other blog, Fousesquawk.



Here's a secret. It is the best one in Germany. Not out of control and over-priced like Munich, but fun for all. Erlangen is a university town, and after the fest shuts down at night, everybody goes pub crawling. It comes around every May-June for 12 days during the Whitsuntide season.


This is my initial post on Gary's German Beer Page, dedicated to one of my passions-German beer. Mind you, I am not talking about that imported stuff you get at the store or even in German restaurants here in the US. I am talking about what you drink in Germany-the nectar of the gods and best beverage ever invented by man.

I am not sure what this site will grow into, but some ideas are; lots of beautiful pictures of German beer ads, beer glasses, information about beer fests, my opinions on the better brands and who knows what else. We'll just have to see where this goes. If you love German beer like I do, I hope you will find something enjoyable here.