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Ungespundet hefetrüb

In Presentation, Production on October 3, 2012 at 9:23 am

This makes a change.

I’m sitting in front of a half litre of dark beer, brewed just a few feet away, bubbly and flavourful. Tucked into an alcove at a wooden bench, I’ve found a space for myself. It’s a beautiful room, actually – low ceilinged on the ground floor of an impressively proportioned brewery building. The wooden beams overhead are supported by heavy iron pillars in an industrial but elegant style – I’d call it Victorian but I can’t imagine they call it that here, in this elegant little town in a quiet corner of north east Bavaria, famous for its numerous beers, on this crisply cool, dark Autumn evening.

Yes, it certainly makes a change. On the other side of the room some kind of team gathering  (an all-male line up along a long bench and all wearing the same blue polo shirt) provide a robust soundtrack, but their noisy hubbub – from yodeling (I shit you not) to beer songs – blends easily with the hum of the other patrons’ chat.

K has told me to get lost. Her oldest friend is getting married in the morning and they’re having a quiet little hen night, just three of them. She has decided I’m to be left to my own devices in her beautiful hometown with a pocketful of cash. This means that a) she may not be as bright as she appears and b) I get to spend the evening drinking Bavarian beer from the tap and washing it down with one of my favourite things: a platter of Bavarian (or Franconian, if I’m being specific) brotzeit: cold cuts and cheeses – a quark and onion salad, some camembert, something similar to mortadella, a wedge of hard cheese, cured ham, a couple of slices of I-couldn’t-care-less-what-it-is-it’s-delicious and a basket of beautiful brown Bavarian bread.

The platter means three things:

1) I won’t be losing any weight this evening.

2) It hasn’t been a good day for my cholesterol levels, and

3) It has been a good day.

The dunkel is going down well – the same golden colour as my beloved kellerbier and plonked in front of me by a delightful fräulein. Sorry K, but you did leave me here on my own.

Apparently, I shouldn’t say fräulein these days. Politically incorrect, but if you’ll excuse me I’m wallowing in a fantasy here: bench, beer, sausage, fräulein. She’s not wearing a dirndl; that would be too much, but you know…

I came in, forsaking the pretty biergarten because everyone else had. It’s deserted out there; I could have waited for an hour without being spotted by a member of staff (fräulein). I must say, I’m enjoying the cold! You can get bored of anything after a while and at the tail end of a Spanish summer, perspiration has lost some of its novelty factor, and much of its appeal. Supposed to be good for the skin of course but if that’s the case why aren’t I considerably more beautiful? Hm? I’ve certainly been putting the effort in.

The following morning, K drives us out to a village in the countryside, on a height over which stands a handsome old church – the site of the wedding – and on a separate height a castle, the venue for the reception. After the ceremony and on arrival at the castle, I note with approval that the beer on tap up here is St. Georgen Bräu, a brew I’ve written about before and possibly my favourite kellerbier, so I know what I’ll be drinking tonight. Interesting fact about St. Georgen Bräu: when you want it you might not be able to get your hands on it, but when you really need it, it will always be there.

A long white table is laid out in horseshoe formation and decked in white tablecloth. It’s a cosy affair. The room, though grand enough, is small for a wedding reception and only forty or so people take their seats beneath the low, vaulted ceiling. There follows a couple of blessedly short speeches, a good meal, some bad music, some very good music in the form of an Elvis impersonator, a lot of kellerbier and the inevitable disco.

Without knowing quite how or why the decision was made, but fairly certain it has something to do with the St. Georgen Bräu, I find myself sidling onto the dance floor and implementing some of my super fly moves. With me is the most delightful fräulein of them all – K, back amongst her oldest friends and laughing like I haven’t seen her laugh in a long time.

The bridegroom, another K, brings me another beer. It gets served in a very distinctive, blue grey stein with a seductive curve and below the brewery name, two words I have come to recognize instantly.

Ungespundet hefetrüb.

Yeah, me neither. Something to do with being cloudy and brewed in an unbunged barrel. Not sure. The point is I only ever see these words on the side of one of these steins, or on a bottle of the self same brew. For that reason they’re like poetry to me, a lyrical word pairing that elevates the spirits. Eliot’s Wasteland doesn’t do for me what these two words do. Wallace Stevens wilts in the shade of their majesty. I want to include them in a poem of my own but nothing rhymes with hefetrüb.

He also grabs a spare stein for me to bring home. A lovely gesture, and although it’s the plainest of mugs it’ll be a treasured possession. I depart a day or so later, leaving K to enjoy another week with her friends and family, but I’ll be waiting for her, looking forward to both her arrival and that of the beer mug.

It’ll take its place in my little collection of favourite things. My parrot shaped corkscrew, the tagine from Tangier, our earthenware cazuelas, the goblets from Roundstone in the west of Ireland, the little arab coffee cops from Cairo with their gilt rims. Now that I think of it, all my favourite things are related to food or drink.

No change there then.

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  1. As always, an enjoyable read – even more so on this occasion as it is beer-related! Thank-you!

  2. Another excellent adventure you had there, Robin. Germany is such an underrated destination too. Glad to see you correcting that with your praise.

  3. Many of my favorite things are related to food or drink as well. This is a delicious post on many levels. Greeting to the “most delightful fräulein of them all”. :)

  4. Any wedding with great beer sounds like a good one!

    • Dunno if you’ve had the chance to try a kellerbier. They’re mostly a Franconian thing and don’t get exported very much. If not, put it on your list. It tends to be darkish in colour and very tasty but still pretty light and very refreshing.

  5. You’re in Bavaria! Any chance you’re in Munich this weekend?

  6. What’s in a Name? The name Kellerbier, of course, stems from the brew’s cask maturation in cool cellars. The name Zwickelbier simply derives from Zwickel, the German name for a sampling device. A Zwickel is usually mounted on the flat side of a cask or the manhole door of a tank for drawing tastes to check on the brew’s progress. As for Zoiglbier, the story is more complicated: Zoigl is the Franconian vernacular for “sign.” In Franconian medieval homebrewing (and farm brewing), a Zoigl was a six-pointed white-and-blue star, made from two triangles of wooden slats and assembled into a shape that is similar to the Star of David. Inside the star was usually a cutout of a beer mug or a pine branch. Burghers and farmers used to hang a Zoigl in front of their doors whenever they had homebrew ready to drink. It was an invitation to the neighbors to come over and have a few. One triangle of a Zoigl symbolized the three elements involved in brewing: fire, water and air. The other triangle symbolized the three ingredients of brewing: malt, hops and water. The function of yeast in brewing had not yet been discovered in the Middle Ages. Rather yeast was considered a byproduct of fermentation, known as “stuff” (Zeug in German). In the Bavarian regions north of the River Danube, the right to brew came automatically with the deed to a parcel of land. These brew-privileged medieval landowners often brewed their beers in communal brew houses, with open brew kettles and a powerful wooden fire underneath. Communal brew houses were set up as a public safety measure, because they reduced the incidents of fire, an ever-present danger in cramped medieval cities. Communal brewing is probably the origin for the custom of communal beer consumption under the Zoigl.

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