Year of the Beer: Ur-Saalfelder Dark Beer

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Day 35 of the German beer marathon, and I’ve decided to open this entry up for forum, especially with regards to this candidate, the Ur-saalfelder.  This beer is produced by the brewery located in the southern Thuringian city of Saalfeld, located 40 kilometers south of Jena along the Saale River. There is a unique history behind this brewery, but there is another beer produced by the same brewery that will be tasted later on, and I intend to play the mosquito and suck the information out of the people at the brewery about that and this beer! 😉

The Ur-saalfelder represents an example of a typical “Märzenbier” which if translated, means strong dark beer. This terminology is cloudy because it can be mistaken for a “Schwarzbier,” which also means dark beer, but with a black color and in most cases, with a strong alcohol content. So the translation and definition alone are rather confusing. In the case of the Ur-saalfelder, the beer is not as dark as it is described, for the beer has a copper-like color, a decent clearness, a persistent head, very lively carbonation and a thick full body. The alcohol content is between 5.7 and 6%, and when drinking it, it has a slickness to it, coating the mouth, and leaving an everlasting taste to it.

However, as far as aroma is concerned, despite its rather sweet smell thanks to bread malt and floral hops, the aroma levels are rather low, meaning one can hardly smell it when opening it up. The flavor on the other hand is a bit different. When tasting it, the Ur-saalfelder has at least four different malt flavors (grain, bread, sweet and toast) and is quite hoppy with herbal and floral dominating. The end result is a clash between sweet and bitter, creating a strong intensity where it is unknown what exactly is in there and what ingredients outdo the other. Nevertheless its excellent craftmanship combined with its balance between neutral and bitter has this beer becoming a tasting experience one should try, and one where a lot of questions are open and need to be answered, such as:

  1. What is the real difference between a Schwarzbier and a Märzenbier, when both mean dark beer?
  2. What are the exact ingredients in the beer? Are they what was sensed while drinking or are there different/additional ones ?
  3. Is having too many hops and malt flavors really that good for the beer?

To our German and/or beer experts, this one is for you to answer, even if it means trying the Märzenbier like the Ur-saalfelder to figure it out. So go for it and let the author know what you think. 🙂

And as for the people at the Saalfelder Brewery, I’ll be back! 😉

Note: Click on the logo below to take you to the beers that author has tasted so far, so you can try and comment on them…..

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2016: The Year of the Beer

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23 April, 1516 in Ingolstadt. In response to a numerous complaints to the lack of quality of beer, King Ludwig X and Duke William IV approved a law requiring all breweries to follow a uniform guideline for crafting beer in Bavaria. Known as the Reinheitsgebot (The Beer Purity Laws), breweries were required to produce beer with hops, barley and water.  As stated in the guidelines below (translated in English):

We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer:

(….) we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.

Over the years, while changes were made pertaining to the sale of beer in Germany, the purity laws have remained the same, as the breweries have kept to the guidelines despite having various flavors to choose from, making Germany one of the most attractive places to try every sort of beer, period.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot in Germany, and the Flensburg Files will be presenting several articles pertaining to this important event. This includes the author’s taste-testing of 366 different German beers, one beer per day, for the entire year. The beer will be graded based on appearance and taste and will have some comments on the history and some recomendations if necessary.  A list of beers the author has tried and recommended (at least most of them) can be found in the Files’ wordpress page, alongside articles pertaining to German beer and its future. Click here for access and to follow the author’s progress. Any questions, suggestions, etc., can be made with the author of the Files using the contact details presented in the page About the Author/Files.  When visiting Germany, it’s a crime not to try the country’s prized beers. So Prost! 🙂

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Beer Truck Makes Spill on German Autobahn

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Semi-trucker loses control on German Autobahn, and his load of beer after crashing into the center island.

MAGDEBURG/ BERNBURG-  This incredibly crazy story starts off with a smaller one that occurred in 1999. I had brought back a bottle of Löwenbräu beer from Munich, drank half of it and left the other half in the refrigerator for over two months, torturing my father, who was an avid beer drinker. After two months, he got me convinced to finish the beer off, even though it tasted horrible when I first tried it. Being an avid German beer fan, I have my preferences…. 😉

However, had my father been the president of a German brewery and had heard of this bizarre event occurring yesterday, he would be sharing the sobbing and anger pillows, utilizing every swear word in the book, and instantly sending the driver to the unemployment line. Like him and many Germans, beer is way too sacred to have been spilt on the German motorway.

A semi-truck carrying a load of beer enroute to Dresden on Motorway 14, spilled its load onto the highway yesterday, sending crates filled with liters of every sortiment of beer across the road and into the ditch.  According to information from the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Halle (Saale), a 54-year old driver lost control of his semi-truck, slammed it into the center divider separating the lanes on the motorway, and lost the contents from the side of the truck, which had been covered with plastic planking. All of the contents were spilled onto the opposite side of the motorway on the lanes heading to Magdeburg. The cause of the accident was a flat tire.  The accident occurred at around 1:00pm and the motorway was closed for several hours while the mess was being cleaned up with Shovelers pushing and loading the crates onto trucks to be hauled away.  A video of the accident can be found on the MDZ website here. Police estimated the loss of up to 40,000 Euros ($53,000) and are fearing further accidents because of broken glass left on the motorway.

While the driver will most likely be spared because of circumstances beyond his control, this is the second time a truck lost its contents in an accident in Saxony-Anhalt. In February, a trucker lost control going around a curve, crashing into a hedge, and losing 20 tons of plum jam, which spilled onto the highway near Aschersleben. What a way to finish off 2015 for the Frühaufsteher (early birds) in Saxony-Anhalt.

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Genre of the Week: Planet Germany: Eine Expedition in die Heimat des Hawaii-Toasts

Author’s Note: This Genre of the Week has been pushed up a couple days due to important commitments. This is the first review that has been done by a guest columnist. And for a good reason….. 🙂

When we look at Germans, we look at high quality and how they strive to achieve perfection, priding on the likes of BMW, Nutella, soccer, universities and a good beer. However, when asking a German whether they are proud of their culture or how they perceive us Americans and our way of looking at things, we see and hear another story.  In this book review, Planet Germany: An Expedition into the country that is home to Hawaiian toasts (this is the English equivalent to the original title), Eric T. Hansen takes a look at the old question of German identity and how the Germans look at their own culture, from a humorous point of view. This review was done by Ann Marie Ackermann, an American expatriate living in Germany and working as a lawyer, translator and a writer. Here’s a look at the reason why a person should think about reading this book:

A case of a lost cultural identity

Can it be that the Germans really don’t know themselves? And that they need an American to hold up a mirror and show them why the rest of the world holds its arms open to the German culture?

One American who’s been living in Germany since 1983 seems to think so. Eric T. Hansen’s book, Planet Germany, dissects the German psyche. His scalpel is his rare sense of humor, and he cuts through layers of poor national self-esteem to find the ingenuity that created Hawaii toast. I say “rare” because Hansen manages to elicit laughs from both Americans and Germans. Any American expat in Germany will appreciate the book, not only for the insights into the collective mind of the German folk, but for Hansen’s satire.

The world admires the Germans, but the Germans don’t know it

It was in a shopping mall in Magdeburg, Germany that Hansen discovered Germans don’t know who they are. The author, a journalist, was writing an article about exports, and asked shoppers what German products and personalities they thought would be popular in America.

“Nothing,” said the shoppers. One German man said he couldn’t imagine Americans would be interested in anything from Germany.

Frustrated, Hansen spouted a number of possibilities. “What about Mercedes? Volkswagen? BMW? Are there any German cars that aren’t famous in America?” His list went on:  Braun, Bosch, and Siemens? Gummi bears and “Nutella”? Lowenbräu? Blaupunkt and Grundig? Claudia Schiffer and Heidi Klum? Das Boot, Lola rennt, and the Brother Grimm fairy tales? Wolfgang Petersen and Roland Emmerich? Kraftwerk, Nena, Rammstein, and the Scorpions?

But it’s not easy to impress a German. “That might be,” said the man. “But nothing else.”

Americanization of Germany or Germanization of America?

We – the American expat community in Germany – have all heard it before. At some point a German has sat down with us in a café and started complaining about how the Americans are taking over the German culture.

The first time I heard it, I was incensed. Every individual German votes with his or her wallet by selecting products. Collectively, the country has chosen the culture it has now. Why blame the Americans? But on a deeper level, does a country really lose its culture by purchasing foreign merchandise like Coca-cola, jeans, and pop music? In the United States, we eat tacos and sushi, sing French and German Christmas carols, and listen to Jamaican rhythms. But we call that enriching our culture.

Oh no, says Hansen. That’s not what the Germans really mean. “Americanization” for them really means “modernization.” Alas, the Germans are just mourning the loss of the culture they knew as children.

Hansen puts the complaint under a microscope and finds a better case for the Germanization of America. At the time he wrote his book (2007), the value of German exports to the United States was almost one third more than the other way around. That’s not bad for a country half the size of Texas.

But the Germans better watch out. There is another country that’s done a lot more to infiltrate their country: Sweden. Germans read Astrid Lindgren as children and buy clothing at H&M. They listen to Abba and buy their first furniture from Ikea. They read mysteries by Henning Mankell and watch movies with Ingrid Bergman. And if that’s enough, says Hansen, the Swedes have to go out and flood Germany with Knäckebrot.  But nobody in Germany talks about “Swedenization.”

Germans as World Champion Complainers

Hansen’s satire shines most brightly in his chapter on why Germans believe complaining is a sign of higher intelligence. It’s sort of an unofficial German IQ test. Whoever does the best job of spontaneous criticism is the smartest. A comparison of the headlines in Spiegel and Time Magazine proves this, says Hansen: The American magazine offers information, and the German one critique. Even my German grandfather noticed this tendency. “When a German and an American both buy a new house,” he used to say, “the American guests come over and talk about everything they like about the house, and the Germans come over and find everything wrong with it.”

And here Germans are the Weltmeister. Just as Arabic has more words for “camel” than any other language in the world, Hansen points out, German has more words for criticism. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because public, grassroots criticism plays an important role in democracy. Heck, Germans even have a holiday for political criticism. Have you ever watched German television during Fasching?

To anchor the importance of complaining in the German culture, Hansen applied for a job as professor at twenty German universities. He asked the universities to establish a chair for the esthetics of complaining (Nörgeleiästhetik) and offered a curriculum. Hansen includes his application in the book, and you can find the answers of three of the universities in the appendix. And don’t tell me the Germans have no sense of humor. When I read the appendix, I always have to pull out my Taschentücher because I start crying so hard.

About the book:

Eric T. Hansen, Planet Germany (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Verlag, 2007); 289 pages, in German. Eric T. Hansen is a journalist living in Berlin.

Author’s Fazit:

The book did provide the author with an idea for an activity that students in both Germany and elsewhere can try at home. Click onto this interview about Germany and what to expect. Make a list and ask yourselves whether there is more to Germany than what is mentioned here, and share it with your classmates and teacher. You’ll be amazed at the various answers brought up, especially if you as the teacher is a non-native German. Good luck with that! 🙂

Note: The video was produced by Jason Smith, Marc Schueler and Dan Wogawa in 2013 and powered by GoAnimate.

About the writer and critic:

Ann Marie Ackermann (small)

Ann Marie Ackermann was a prosecutor in the United States before relocating to Germany, where she worked for 15 years as a legal and medical translator. Ann Marie now researches and writes historical true crime. Her first book, Death of an Assassin, will appear with Kent State University Press in 2017. It tells the true story of a German assassin who fled to the United States and became the first soldier to die under the American Civil War hero Robert E. Lee. You can visit Ann Marie’s website at http://www.annmarieackermann.com.

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Germany at 25: The Beer

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There is something about beer that brings out the best in people. Whether it brings cheer to the person’s face, brings people together or even the different tastes, beer does a body and mind good. Sometimes beer brings out the best quotes, as noted by some prominent people:

Thomas Jefferson:  “Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.”

Tina Fey: “In a study, scientists report that drinking beer can be good for the liver. I’m sorry, did I say ‘scientists’? I meant Irish people.”

Anne Sexton: “God has a brown voice, as soft and full as beer.”

Stephen King:” A man who lies about beer makes enemies.”

Martin Luther: “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”

Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia:  “Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.”

And where in the world will you find beer in various flavors and brands? Germany. For almost 500 years, breweries have come up with the finest concoctions for people to try. Whether it was a pilsner beer, dark beer, wheat beer, malt beer, radler (alster water) or even fruit flavored beers, if there is one place where the best and brightest minds can come up with such crazy combinations of beer to satisfy the taste buds of their loyal patrons, it is Germany. And despite going through tough times- wars, economic crises and even fierce competition thanks to mergers with foreign companies, Germany still stands out as the land of beer, where it is served at any social function: get-togethers, parties and even the Oktoberfest. 🙂

If there is a posterboy for various beers that taste great and gives a person his fill, it is not necessarily the breweries in Bavaria, albeit the numbers are huge and include Löwenbraü, Oettinger, Hofbräu and Paulaner (the last two are highly recommended). Nor are they necessarily in central Germany, where many local breweries have a couple flavors only but their own unique taste that makes people buy more, like Wernesgrüner, Hasseroder, Rosen and Köstritzer. More is sometimes better if the various flavors rake in patrons and profits.

It’s located in the Hohe Nord- Flensburg.  And the name: The Flensburger. 🙂

Founded in 1888, the family-owned business is not only famous for its swing top ceramic bottle cap that goes “plop!” when opening it. Because it has bucked the trend of other beers, other local German beers are following The Flens’ lead in that aspect. The Flensburger beer is known for its various flavors of beer- over 16 flavors in all, counting the water. With the flavors that have been retired, the number is close to 20!

So why is the Flens so popular, both in Germany as well as elsewhere (even in the US)? And this for a small family-owned brewery? The author of the Files had a chance to interview Sara Janisch, an international sales representative at the Flensburger Brewery to find out the secrets to the success of the beer and how it has helped give Germany and its beer in general a grandiose reputation for its taste. While some links are available to guide you through the brewery homepage, here are some answers that will get the beer drinker the opportunity to try German beer, let alone this beer:

  1. Personally, when a tourist or expat comes to Germany, which of the types of beer should that person try first and why?

All of them, of course! You can attend a brewery tour at our facilities and afterwards will get a chance to try all of our beers. However, the Pilsener is our classic, so this one needs to be tried for sure! An insider tip is our Flensburger Weizen and the Flensburger Kellerbier. Those are definitely worth a try. But like I said – each one of our beers has its very own and special taste so best to not miss out a single one.

  1. All German beers are created based on the beer purity law of 1516, which will turn 500 next year. Can you elaborate what that law is all about and why it was enacted?

Beers that are brewed according to the German Purity Law must only contain those four ingredients: (barley)malt, hops, yeast and water. It was mainly enacted to protect beer as an important staple food and to prevent tampering with ingredients that are not suitable for consumption.

  1. The Flensburg Brewery was founded in 1888 and is one of the oldest in northern Germany at 127 years. Can you tell me how the brewery was founded and who was behind it?

The brewery was founded by five local residents in September 1888.  They had found an ideal site, a glacier spring with crystal-clear water for brewing and a way of obtaining the ice needed for the lagering cellars. When Emil Petersen took charge of the brewery in 1933, the name of the brewery was changed to Flensburger Brauereien Emil Petersen & Co. K.G., which has remained as is since then. It was during his reign until his passing in 1974 and even when Hans Dethleffsen succeeded him that the brewery expanded and later modernised, making it a one of the most successful family-owned breweries in the region. For more information, please see our homepage for further information on our history: www.flens.de/brauerei/brauereichronik (German) or www.flens.co.uk/our-history (English).

  1. While the Flensburg Pilsner is pretty much the flagship of the beers (and can be found throughout Germany and other countries), the brewery is famous for its various flavors. Apart from the Flensburger Radler, Flensburg Winterbock, Flensburger Lime and others, what other flavors have you created up to now, which ones can you find on store shelves and which ones would you personally recommend?

I attached a document with all beers and other products we currently have in our portfolio. For more information on the products you can also click on www.flens.de/produkte/sortiment (German). We created a helpful tool to track down retail markets (in Germany) that offer Flens: www.flens.de/flens-finder

  1. I also read about you creating the Flensburger Beer with quitten and pear. When did that come out and was it well received?

Flensburger Fassbrause Birne-Quitte was launched earlier this year and it turned out a perfect complement for our Fassbrause range!

  1. Have there been some flavors that were experimented but failed and were subsequentially taken off the shelves? If so, which ones and why?

A while ago we had two flavours of Flensburger Biermix (Blood orange & Grapefruit and Lemongrass), which are no longer in our portfolio.

Author’s Note: The lemongrass version I tried during the 2012 trip to Flensburg. The taste is similar to the Alsterwasser (Radler) but had a twist of lime. Nice taste but “schade” that it was pulled from the shelves. 🙂

  1. Are there any flavors that you are willing/planning to experiment with? Like strawberry, apple, etc.?

Please understand that this will be kept our secret.

Author’s note: Sometimes family breweries have the right to surprise the customers with their own concoction to market. So having this be kept top secret is no surprise and understandable, for it makes the customer become more interested. 😉

  1. Flensburger beer is common in English-speaking countries, including the US, where it was reported to be sold in places, like Texas, New York, North Dakota and even Minnesota (the last one because of the village of Flensburg located there).  Why do you think the people choose Flensburger over beers, like Budweiser, Coors or even Miller?

Our Flensburger beers have their very own distinctive tastes, in which they differ from most of the other “mainstream” beers. We are not compromising on the high quality of our products. This as well as the unique design of our swing-top bottle and the plop’ sound when opening it convinces people all over the world.

  1. While many breweries have been bought out or consolidated, the Flensburger has stood out as the “last man standing,” outfoxing the competition. In your opinion, what has been the secret to being successful?

People up here in Northern Germany are quite down-to-earth, straightforward and persistent. We don’t give up too easily, even in hard times we work as a team and face challenges together. We take pride in our history and the independence our brewery has maintained over all those years. That is something we will never give up at any price.

  1. Apart from supporting the handball team SG Flensburg-Handewitt, what other social engagements has the brewery undertaken in recent years?

The Flensburger Beer has been a proud sponsor of many sporting leagues in Schleswig-Holstein. This includes the state soccer league and our engagement in the Flens Cup tournament. We also cooperate with the SHZ Newspaper Group in awarding the People of the Year to those who engage in extraordinary activities to help those in need. Please check out the following link for further information on this: www.flens.de/aktuelles/engagement (German). We mainly focus on local projects and events.

  1. Last question: If you were to market the beer in the US and on the international scale, how would you like this logo: “Never party without the Flens!” ?

Our logo is “Flensburger. Experience the taste.”, which is not only communicated on a national basis but also internationally. Our Flensburger beers can be drunk at numerous occasions, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a party. In our portfolio we have at least one kind of beer for everyone, not only for youngsters who like to party but also for people who simply enjoy drinking an incredibly tasty beer!

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To sum up on this interview, the Flensburger beer has established itself as one of the main beers that one will see often when visiting Germany, because of its various flavors and its beloved ceramic “plop!” cap. Because of its successes other breweries are looking to the Flens for guidance as they too want to set foot on the ground in the beer business. For those who have never tried a good German beer, do not worry. There are two ways of trying the beer: One is through visiting Germany (and if time allows it, the Oktoberfest). The other is asking (or even hoping) that a good friend brings something to share with others. This was my experience when bringing two 2 liter bottles of Flensburger beer to a friend of mine in Pittsburgh in 2010 to share with others. Since that time, he has found ways to fly to Europe for some more. 🙂  If a good German beer, like the Flensburger can get someone to become a world traveller, then that person is bound to become more informed of the outside world and try new things while visiting other countries. After all, a good beer and a few small steps will make that big difference. 🙂

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Note: The author has a pair of good tricks up his sleave regarding this topic. One of which will be posted soon. The other will be announced in the fall. Stay tuned. 🙂