We were out on Pensacola Beach at a party. It was 1991, the weather was pleasant, temperature cool, waves crashing loud and the smell of sea salt and charcoal grill in the air. In tow with us were our German exchange students we were hosting. I noticed our friend Jan from Eschborn pouring Coke-a-cola into his beer.
“What are you doing? That’s disgusting!” I admonished him.
“No, it’s good. Try it,” he replied.
I did. Strangely, he was right. It was oddly floral and sweet. Wow, I can still picture that flavor in my head twenty-two years later. Who would’ve though it? Apparently, the Germans did.
I got to go over and stay with our exchange students the following summer. While I’ve already chronicled some of my drinking adventures in this column, I never mentioned what our Hessian friends across the pond are putting in their drinks. They’ve been up to some weird things for a very long time.
The first recorded mention I can find of any German adding anything to their beer save their own moustaches comes from 1922. A Bavarian by the name of Franz Kugler mixed beer with lemonade to form what is now widely known as Radler. In my very short month abroad, I saw the afore-mentioned Coke mix, Radler, apple wine and a German brandy called Weinbrand. We were even at a party one night where a guy mixed a suicide of beer, apple wine, vodka, and orange juice. In a flash of tipsy bravado, I bravely downed the entire glass in an attempt to impress one of the local damsels. It didn’t work.
Most German beer is of excellent quality, so I have to wonder about the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention.” What caused anyone to pour another beverage into an already good thing? Curiosity? Accident? Perhaps it was to wake up their palates. I’ve opined before about how the German Reinheitsgebot beer purity law was supposed to apply to ingredients but most brewers probably took that to mean “everyone make the same style of beer.” Maybe this was the impetus to flavor their drinks; they were bored with the same old same old.
Here’s one for you. Abita Brewing just released their newest Select Series. Strawator is their Strawberry Harvest beer on steroids. This dopplebock is a prime example of German beer style with something extra in it. The beer is a little hazy gold with some pale red shades towards the center. It’s pretty much a straightforward malt-heavy brew with lots of natural strawberry flavor and a tiny dose of herbal hops for balance. In the wrong hands a mixture of malt sweet and fruit sweet would be out of control, but here it’s all good.
Strawberry beer. I’m reminded about the advice Jan gave me all those years ago. It’s good! Try it!