Friday, 25 January 2008

Beer in Berlin, 1859

Enough of Porter. For a day at least. Here are an Englishman's comments on the beer in Berlin in the 1850's. (Taken from "Bentley's miscellany", 1859, pages 418-419).

"Conservatism has many peculiar ways of displaying itself. In Berlin it is shown
by drinking white beer, and ignoring the claims of the Bayerisch, which has almost entirely ousted that pernicious beverage from the market. For our part, we are not surprised a bit, for the beer in North Germany was really atrocious. During our residence there, we suffered from these atrocities in the shape of beer. First, there was Brunswick Mumm - eugh! tasting for all the world like treacle and vinegar badly mixed : then came Schwarzbier, which you were flatteringly told was like English porter, and at which a pauper would turn up his nose; and last came white beer, which was just endurable, and that was all."
His description of Mumm is so eloquent. Vinegar and treacle: a winning combination.
The author's time in Southern Germany had turned him into a lager fan. Or maybe, as he was such a fan of Bock, he was just a pisshead.

"Perhaps, though, the great fault was that you were served by men. After living for years in and around Bavaria, and listening with delight to the "Wos Schoffens" of the pretty beer-girls, as plump and hearty as their barrels, it caused a sudden revulsion to be waited on by a male creature, who talked excruciatingly polite German that set your teeth on edge. But, we still maintain it, the white beer in itself and apart from the waiter, was a mockery, delusion, and a snare. You took a heavy pull, and about a yard of froth adhered to your moustache, and you found that the pretentious Seidel was only half full. Perhaps, though, regard being had to the nature of the beverage, that was a mercy. Still, there are patriots in Berlin who stick to this stuff, when they can procure the delicious Salvator beer!"

Short measures - as most everything else - are nothing new. I was surprised to read that Berliner Weisse (surely what is meant by "white beer") was in decline and seemed close to extinction:

"But the white beer-houses are few and far between in Berlin, and they are already beginning to be regarded as antiquities. Ten years hence and guide-books will describe them with the same reverence as the Coliseum in Rome, or the Palace of the Doges in Venice. Ten years later there will be a case in the Berlin Museum containing the mysterious goblets, representing a "white or a half white," and the so-called "cool blonde." Yet, in our own knowledge, time was when a large class of deep thinkers and clever orators was known in Athens on the Spree by the name of the "white beer Philistines," and the brewers of that beverage were regarded by the thirsty populace as unapproachable Brahmins."
Berliner Weisse, it seems, was only drunk by a few old blokes. Where have I heard that story before?

"Of course a stranger rarely puts an unhallowed foot in these few surviving white beer refuges. If a pedlar or a hurdy-gurdy boy dare to enter, the whole establishment takes up arms to repulse the invader. The guests are all respectable old gentlemen who have met together for years, and play their customary game of cards. But enough - perhaps too much - on so vulgar a subject: we only allude to it as a characteristic of social life in Berlin."
It gives me a little hope for the future of Berliner Weisse. If it's come back from the dead once, maybe it can do it again. Keep your fingers crossed.


Zythophile said...

Interesting that you could still buy (alcoholic) mumm, which had died out in Britain by about the 1780s or so ...

Ron Pattinson said...

I really liked the description of it as badly mixed treacle and vinegar.

I've always imagined the pre-lager North German beers as being like Belgian witbier or Oud Bruin. Maybe the reason it disappeared was that it just wasn't that good.

It's not often I find personal impression like this.

The bit about Schwarzbier beiing offered as a substitute for Porter caught my eye, too. There's another style I wouldn't mind learning more about. Just how far back does it go?

I've seen Kulmbacher referred to as a Schwarzbier, too. There's another style that's been erased from drinker's minds. When I was looking for DDR Porter labels on the web, I saw a surprisingly large number of Kulmbachers, I think from the 1920's and 1930's. I know Heineken brewed one in the very early days.

It's a shame how many of the more interesting lager styles have become so rare.