Thursday, October 29, 2009

Beer Entry 1: Bitburger Premium Pils

When you arrive at the airport in Frankfurt, the first beer you'll see if Bitburger Premium Pils. As such, you could consider Bitburger to be a good example of an everyman's beer in Germany. In the US, the common beer category is dominated by the big three: Budweiser, Coors and Miller. This is simply not the case in Germany. To say Bitburger fulfills the role of Budweiser or the other two is both an insult to Bitburger itself and a vast shrinking of the number of common cheap beers available in Germany.

Bitburger, in it's current form, has been brewed since 1817, making it 192 years old. It is a typical Pilsner style which means a Lager yeast. Currently, the Bitburger brewery ships about a 120 million liters a year, making it easily one of the most common German beers. The name Bitburg, as is common in Germany, is the name of the host town. So, without further adieu, I will get on with the review.

I'll start with the situation I drank the beer in. This is important to note because how you're feeling and the time of day can make a big difference to how you feel about it. The beer was bought by the bottle (1/2 liter per bottle). I drank the beer at our apartment. At the time, we didn't have much furniture so this was only moderately comfortable. As shown in the picture I poured the beer into a small glass. It was 8:30 pm (20Uhr30) on a Monday evening. Work wasn't bad that day so I was pretty relaxed.

Well, onto the review. The beer is pale in color, normal for a Pils. It has a light body which is reflected in it's mere 4.8% alcohol by volume. It does have a slightly malty flavor though that sits well on the tongue. There was fair bitterness though nothing approaching a Pale Ale or an IPA. It was better than I thought it was going to be. A favorite German attribute is for their beers to have some spice to them and this was no exception. It even had a little bite. One can really taste the hops characteristics when you let it sit in your mouth. Nicely, there was little after-taste. At the time I remember desiring the beer to be a little cooler. Probably best served at about 45F or 6C.

In the final assessment, Bitburger is nothing special and it doesn't pretend to be. It's well made and meant for everyone. If you're a beer-nerd, this brew is not for you. If, on the other hand, you're in Germany and you happen to be looking for some refreshment and a very typical German experience, find a Bitburger sign and head in the door. However, I would not use the beer's motto when speaking to a bartender: "Bitte ein Bit". All together, two and a half stars out of five.

Preview for next week: While in Hanover I found a great brew-pub called HBX. It was very impressive.

Monday, September 28, 2009

In search of Odysseus

Odysseus set out from his home on the island of Ithaca to fight in a battle he wanted no part in. After living through the ten years of the Trojan War, his journey home takes much longer than he had bargained for and his adventures are influenced by the gods themselves. I won't try to compare myself to Odysseus but merely to take heart in the spirit of adventure as my own journey abroad really begins.

I lived in North Carolina for six years as a graduate student. I was married there and met more people in that period than anywhere else in my life. A key aspect to my life in North Carolina was how I became tied in with a very special group of craftsmen. Beer-brewers are part craftsman, part scientist, part artist and always ready for a party. If one manages to find one's way out of the doldrums of mass-produced American beers such as Miller or Budweisser, one finds a whole world of brews with a wide range of rich flavors. I had found my way into that community through a friend who brews beers that can often be tasted after volunteering at a scene shop in a certain community theater. I spent a couple of Saturdays as an aide while he brewed beer and I started my education on good and great brews. I picked up home-brewing as a hobby and I made some good quality ales. I became connected with the local beer stores and furthered my education of barley based melange.

Really, North Carolina is something of a Mecca for brewers in the United States. There are numerous successful microbreweries throughout the state with perhaps the best being in Asheville. This was to come to and end, however, when I finsihed my PhD. You see, I had lined up a job in Germany. This sudden move around the world completely disconnected myself and my wife from the rich lives we had led before. Germany is perhaps the best known country for beer. One might think I had landed in the holy land of hops-infused concoctions. While it is true that German beer is uniformly well-made and cheap, variety can be difficult to come by. One has to tend to smaller differences in flavors to distinguish between beers. In the east, where I am located, Pilsners are the beer of the day largely due to the proximity to the Czech Republic, the birthplace of Pilsners. Rather than a wealth of different beers brought to me from around the world, there is a small variety of similar beers to chose from locally.

Not to be discouraged, however, I have decided to make the best of being here. My wife and I will be travelling through Europe and I want to make the best of it - beerwise. This blog will be dedicated to the results of my findings. Each post will focus on a certain beer. I will provide the context on the beer: the style, where it's made, the name of the brewery and so forth. I will then describe it's characteristics and give my own impressions. This will be accompanied by photos to show the label and the color of the beer in a glass. Hopefully, by the time I return to the United States, I will have grown a whole new appreciation for beer in it's many varieties. Perhaps some readers might hear of a beer they want to try. Perhaps that will lead to a vacation to Europe or a new import to the US. Perhaps not. Either way, it should be an adventure so I will set forth on my own beer odyssey.