Monday, April 10, 2017

Great Bars of the World - Zum Bitburger

I must share a Kneipe (pub) in Frankfurt, in the state of Hesse, in central Germany - a delightful little slice of heaven known as Zum Bitburger. It is located in downtown Frankfurt on Hochstraße 54 a couple of blocks from the Alte Oper (old Opera house) subway station. As the name implies, the beer of choice here is Bitburger ... definitely a tier-1 German pilsner. What makes this bar great however is how the Bitburger, only in zum Bitburger, is served.

It helps to start with a few snippets of German beer culture. It takes around seven minutes to properly pour a Pils (pilsner) in Germany and what Zum Bitburger has done, brilliantly I may add, is to turn this potential irritant into an honored ritual. The beer drinker however is required to participate to make this all work. Zum Bitburger does two things to set the stage: (1) they have installed refrigerated coils behind the bar where pilsners, going through the seven minute pouring process, may "rest" in a chilled state thus preserving their freshness; and (2) Zum Bitburger offers a range of pilsner glassware sizes all the way down to 0.4L (about 85% of a pint). Definitely go with the small one - 0.4L!

Dipping a second toe into the immense pool that is German beer culture, let's talk about beer glassware style as it also plays a key part in this ritual. In this case, the style of glass offered by Zum Bitburger is the Pokal. All pilsner glasses are relatively tall, cyclindrically shaped affairs; what makes the Pokal unique is that it has a foot. This foot effectively raise the beer above the table and therefore acts to insulate the beer in the glass by minimizing direct contact between cold liquid and a relatively warmer table surface. As for the matter of the size of the glass, you may be wondering how a smaller size is actually better for the beer drinker ... bigger is better right? After all, the stereotypical picture of beer drinking in Germany involves the hefty one liter Oktoberfest Maßkrug. That's more of a Bavarian thing, you're in Hesse now folks and the locals here on definitely onto something good! Smaller in this case is definitely better and I'll explain why.

As said, this is where the beer connoisseur is strongly advised to get involved in order to reach Pils Nirvana. The foundational premise here is that, at an unhurried pace, it takes around seven minutes to drink a 0.4L beer. Figure ten to twelve minutes for a pint, so seven to eight minutes for what is essentially a tad more than eighty percent of a pint is about right. The secret of Zum Bitburger is for the beer drinker to order the next 0.4L Pils, as the current beer is being served, and thus set up what I'll call the VPC (Virtuous Pils Cycle)! By following this regimen, whereby your beer in hand is consumed in the same timeframe that its replacement is being poured; your evening will involve getting a fresh new beer just as you have drained the last delicious sip from your current one! And, only at Zum Bitburger, each of these little goblets of gold, is served fresh and chilled to absolute perfection ... truly, it doesn't get much better than this!

A final word on drinking pace. Seven minutes to drink a well poured Pils may seem a bit of a slow pace for some readers. I encourage you, and you know who you are, to take the long view here. Once started, a well executed VPC can easily run the bar tab well into the double digits in terms of beers consumed. Trust me on this, relax, unclinch and dare yourself to take it easy ... slow life down a bit and enjoy some great beer. With great beer, as in life, it's not the destination, it is the journey my friend!

Oh, and speaking of enjoyable journeys, do yourself a favor and remember to make a reservation here or you'll probably not get a seat. The internet makes this easy, one needs to just click on "Tisch Reservieren" (upper right of web page) at:


the Bier Kaiser

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Heck of a Recession Beer

"When you're out of Schlitz, dum-dum-dum-dum, you're out of beer," was a legendary ad campaign in the era of JFK and LBJ and physicians recommending Camel cigarettes on the then new fangled color television sets. Times were good and Schlitz was one of the largest selling beers in these here United States.

I was about seven or eight and my job - on certain and special Sundays - was to fetch the Schlitz when my uncle drove down from Cleveland. These were the days when the NFL was able to block the local broadcast of the game if the stadium did not sell out. Old Municipal Stadium packed in eighty thousand plus which meant that two or three times each Autumn my uncle Buzz (a hard earned nickname) drove his blood red Oldsmobile, with the Rocket-88 motor, down from Rocky River to our house to watch the beloved Brownies with me, my Dad and the immortals - Dr. Frank Ryan, Paul Warfield, Dick Mojelski Gene Hickerson and - of course - Jimmy Brown!

Good times all around.

For Schlitz, times were very good as well. In fact, the company built the largest brewery in the world, in North Carolina, to keep up with demand for "the beer that made Milwaukee famous." From its peak in 1957, when it was the largest brewer in the United States, Schlitz began a fifteen year slide that was triggered by a crippling strike that in turn led to a disastrous recipe change. Caught up during the long strike with insufficient product, the brewery decided to quicken the brewing process to make up for beer sales lost to the strike. The new ingredients and brewing short cuts resulted in a thin, tasteless brew that had a nasty tendency to go skunky.

The error was fatally compounded when Schlitz attempted to use intensive marketing to make up for what was essentially bad beer. Schlitz's hired the Leo Burnett group to develop a new ad campaign. The Burnett team dumped Schlitz's iconic "Gusto" themed ads for a "Drink Schlitz or I'll Kill You!" message. The ads were horrible, they were actually worse than horrible and on top of that they were promoting a beer that was flat, often skunked and always thin and watery.

The company nose dived. The brand was temporarily rescued by Stroh's but that was like getting snagged on a tree limb after falling half way down the face of a cliff. Stroh's had a number of its own problems and soon went under and was bought, in turn, by Pabst. Schlitz has spent the ensuing decades, as a definite off-brand, a cheap beer typically occupying the far distant corner of the grocer's cold shelf, appealing only to the insanely loyal or, more likely, those with only four bucks and change to spend on a six pack.

Now, Pabst doesn't brew beer, it manages and markets beer brands. Over the last decade it has reformulated and relaunched the Pabst brand and turned it into a trendy counter to "beer snob" brews. It's damn good beer. I got turned on to it when my local micro-brewer shared that it is the beer he drinks at home. The late great brewer Karl Stauss orchestrated a brilliant reformulation and relaunch of Pabst Blue Ribbon and it has become one of the truly positive stories in macro-brewing over the last five years. The Strauss-inspired approach of going back to basics, reviving a legacy beer recipe with quality ingredients and a more patient brewing processing has certainly worked with PBR.

This approach is now being bestowed upon the Schlitz brand and with similar results. My local beer store can't keep it in stock. Customers are requested to only buy a single six pack. The packaging is definitely retro, with the bold maroon Schlitz logo and a notation that this is the classic 1960's recipe. The beer is balanced, with a mild hop note and a reasonably malty base. It finishes crisply and pairs well with burgers, fish and spicy foods. It retains the one essential positive of mainstream American lagers - it won't bloat. You can have two, three or more and you don't feel like an overly inflated Bullwinkle in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

This is a good story to tell. Pabst brings Schlitz back from the dead, with a product that is positioned somewhere under a Pilsner Urquell or Sam Adams, but definitely above Bud or Miller. At $5.99, it is one heck of a recession beer and another sip reminds me that I'm saving a couple of bucks per sixer! I'm buying an American made product and I am rewarding a macro-brewer for – finally - doing the right thing! It’s a good feeling to go with a good beer.

Now this could be a great story to tell, but alas, there is one small hitch. As I mentioned before, Pabst does not brew beer. This bottle of Schlitz I'm sipping from right now was - in fact - brewed under contract by SAB Miller. Ironically, it is brewed in Miller's Eden, NC facility which is just down Route 158 from the brewery that Schlitz built back in the 1960's when it was in expansion mode. Bottom line, from an economics point of view, some of that six bucks I paid for this carton of beer is going offshore to the South African conglomerate.

Now, I'm a free trade kinda guy, most of the time at least, but I really wish I could claim that this was a US product through and through. In these recessionary times, I would much prefer that every red cent spent on my barley-jones stayed here in the States. It may take another cold Schlitz to cement this notion, but I'm thinking I can live with this - a very good story, just shy of being a great one.

Perhaps as Schlitz sales continue to ratchet up, the Pabst bean counters in suburban Chicago can figure out a way to move production into American hands. Doesn't Sam Adams own the old Hudepohl brewery outside of Cincinnati? That’s a really big facility, wonder if those boys from Boston are utilizing all that capacity? Yeah, this will definitely take another bottle of Schlitz to ponder!


the Bier Kaiser

Sunday, September 21, 2008

America's Oldest Bars

Pleasantly surprised is how I would gauge my reaction to the list of America's oldest bars. I had no idea that at least one pre-1700 drinking establishments had somehow survived the ravages of wars, Prohibition and the ongoing pressures of capitalism. There are actually multiple such lists on the net, but this one seems to me to be the best researched and most comprehensive.

The list comes from the Brookston Beer Bulletin and its author known simply as J. I salute J for putting this together and can only imagine how much time it took to do the research and vetting. J's original posting can be seen here:

Any such list of American bars would need to account for the fact that none could legally serve during the Prohibition years, so for those pedantic types, I would view this list as being inclusive of establishments that were originated as taverns, bars or saloons and are still in existence today serving some type of alcoholic beverage, preferably beer!

The list follows and I would greatly welcome any updates or comments on these, or other establishments, that may qualify. I'd like to expand this list from forty one to fifty, to - if for no other reason - round things out:
  1. White Horse Tavern; Newport, RI (1673)
  2. Jessop’s Tavern; New Castle, DE (1724)
  3. Red Fox Inn; Middleburg, VA (1728)
  4. General Lafayette Inn & Brewery; Lafayette Hill, PA (1732)
  5. Fraunces Tavern, New York, NY (1762)
  6. Jean Lafittes Blacksmith Shop; New Orleans, LA (1775)
  7. Horse You Came In On; Baltimore, MD (1775)
  8. Griswold Inn; Essex, CT (1776)
  9. The Tavern; Abingdon, VA (1779)
  10. The Union Hotel (a.k.a. The Allentown Hotel, now DiMattias Restaurant & Lounge);
    Allentown, NJ (1779)
  11. The Warren Tavern; Charlestown, MA (1780)
  12. Gadsby’s Tavern; Alexandria, VA (1785)
  13. Wiggins Tavern; Northampton, MA (1786)
    [tavern moved from Hopkinton, New Hampshire]
  14. Bell In Hand; Boston, MA (1795)
  15. Old Absinthe House; New Orleans, LA (1815, possibly 1807)
  16. Broadway Hotel & Tavern; Madison, IN (1834)
  17. Knickerbocker Saloon; Lafayette, IN (1835)
  18. The Old Tavern; Niles, MI (1835)
  19. Spread Eagle Tavern & Inn; Hanoverton, OH (1837)
  20. Ye Olde Trail Tavern; Yellow Springs, OH (1848)
  21. The Slippery Noodle; Indianapolis, IN (1850) [Wikipedia]
  22. Deer Park Tavern; Newark, DE (1851)
    [occupying the same spot as St. Patrick’s Inn, founded in 1747, but burned down in 1848]
  23. Breitbach’s Country Dining; Balltown, IA (1852)
  24. Genoa Bar & Saloon; Genoa, NV (1853) [new]
  25. McSorley’s Old Ale House; New York, NY (1854)
  26. Anvil Restaurant & Saloon; Ste. Genevieve, MO (1855)
  27. Old Ebbitt Grill; Washington, DC (1856)
  28. Tujague’s; New Orleans, LA (1856)
  29. McGillin’s Olde Ale House; Philadelphia, PA (1860)
  30. Arnold’s Bar and Grill; Cincinnati, OH (1861)
  31. The Saloon; San Francisco, CA (1861)
  32. Waterfront Hotel; Baltimore, MD (1861; building built in 1771)
  33. The Little Shamrock; San Francisco, CA (1863)
  34. Pete’s Tavern; New York, NY (1864)
  35. Schloz Garten; Austin, TX (1866)
  36. The Original Oyster House; Pittsburgh, PA (1870)
    [Bear Tavern also opened on same site in 1827]
  37. Ulrich’s Tavern; Buffalo, NY (1870)
  38. Ear Inn; New York, NY (1874)
  39. Shooting Star Saloon; Hunstsville, UT (1879)
  40. White Horse Tavern; New York, NY (1880)
  41. P.J. Clarke’s; New York, NY (1884)

the Bier Kaiser
Oops - I stand corrected!

Dick Stevens, owner of the the Elevator Brewery & Draught Haus in Columbus Ohio has pulled his line of t-shirts, for sale on premises, that bear a quote or, to be more precise, a misquote concerning beer widely attributed to that printer, scientist, author and Founding Father - Benjamin Franklin. Stevens' inspiration comes from the research and work of brewing historian Bob Skilnik that provides convincing proof that Franklin was writing not about beer or ale, but about rain and its nourishing affect on grapes, and therefore - ultimately - on wine.

In a previous posting, I had cited this Franklin quote - "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" - as part of my attempt to provide a near inclusive listing of all beer and drinking quotes. In the pursuit of accuracy, I will therefore follow Stevens' lead and amend my previous posting for this particular quote. It is still a drinking quote, but certainly not a beer or ale quote. Kudos to Dick Stevens for taking this stand (and monetary loss) in the name of historical accuracy!

Stevens summarizes his actions by saying,

We do everything we can to serve up the best tasting beers at the Elevator (and we are) always striving to brew them true to style. To then sell or give away t-shirts that quote a historical untruth is simply not our style. I hope that we can set the record straight about this little white lie that has been repeated for years. I have no doubt that ole Ben enjoyed a tankard or two of beer with friends and associates, but this beer quote, while well-meaning, is inaccurate.

But Stevens doesn't stop there, he adds,

To all our customers who have purchased the erroneously quoted Ben Franklin t-shirts, we do apologize and ask that they return the t-shirts to the Elevator where we will immediately exchange it for a new t-shirt, free of charge. Let me emphasize that this recall will entail absolutely no cost to our loyal customers, and help them save face.
So what in fact did Franklin say? The historian, Bob Skilnik was able to locate a letter from Franklin to the French economist André Morellet, circa 1779, wherein Franklin reveals his unique perspective on biblical history and wine's role therein. This is a fascinating quote and reveals much about Franklin's religious views and his near devotion to the role of wine in human society, he writes:


You have often enlivened me, my dear friend, by your excellent drinking-songs; in return, i beg to edify you by some Christian, moral, and philosophical reflections upon the same subject.

In vino veritas, says the wise man, --"Truth is in wine." Before the days of Noah, then, men having nothing but water to drink, could not discover the truth. Thus they went astray, became abominably wicked, and were justly exterminated by "water", which they loved to drink.

The good man Noah, seeing that through this pernicious beverage all his contemporaries had perished, took it in aversion; and to quench his thirst God created the vine, and revealed to him the means of converting its fruit into wine. By means of this liquor he discovered numberless important truths; so that ever since this time the word to "divine" has been in common use, signifying originally, "to discover by means of" WINE (VIN). Thus the patriarch Joseph took upon himself to "divine" by means of a cup or glass of wine, a liquor which obtained this name to show that it was not of human but "divine" invention (another proof of the "antiquity" of the French language, in opposition to M. Geebelin); nay, since that time, all things of peculiar excellence, even the Deities themselves, have been called "Divine" or Di"vin"ities.

We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage of Cana [sic] as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operations, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it.

It is true that God has also instructed man to reduce wine into water. But into what sort of water? -- "Water of Life." ("Eaude Vie.") And this, than man may be able upon occasion to perform the miracle of Cana [sic], and convert common water into that excellent species of wine which we call "punch." My Christian brother, be kind and benevolent like God, and do not spoil this good drink.

He made wine to gladden the hear of man; do not, therefore when at table you see your neighbor pour wine into his glass, be eager to mingle water with it. Why should you drown "truth"? It is probable that your neighbor knows better than you what suits him. perhaps he does no like water; perhaps he would only put in a few drops for fashion's sake; perhaps he does not wish any one to observe how little he puts in his glass. Do not, then offer water, except to children; it is a mistaken piece of politeness, and often very inconvenient. I give you this hint as a man of the world; and I will finish as I began, like a good Christian, in making a religious observation of high importance, taken from the Holy Scriptures. I mean that the apostle counselled [sic] Timothy very seriously to put wine into his water for the sake of his health; but that no one of the apostles or holy fathers ever recommended "putting water to

P.S. To confirm still more your piety and gratitude to Divine Providence, reflect upon the situation which it has given to the "elbow". You see (Figures 1 and 2) in animals, who are intended to drink the waters that flow upon the earth, that if they have long legs, they have also a long neck, so that they can get at their drink without kneeling down. But man, who was destined to drink wine, must be able to raise the glass to his mouth. If the elbow had been placed nearer the hand (as in Figure 3), the part in advance would have been too short to bring the glass up to the mouth; and if it had been placed nearer the shoulder, (as in Figure 4) that part would have been so long that it would have carried the wine far beyond the mouth. But the actual situation, (represented in Figure 5), we are enabled to drink at our ease, the glass going exactly to the mouth. Let us, then, with the glass in hand, adore this benevolent wisdom; -- let us adore and drink!

the Beer Kaiser

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tasty Alternative to Microbrewed Ales

The Columbus Brewing Company (CBC) located in the Brewery District of Columbus, Ohio has been serving a solid variety of ale and lagers for almost a decade. The head brewer, Eric Bean, honed his brewing skills at Gordon Biersch and brought to CBC some fresh ideas in terms of beer styles and beer-food pairings. The results, of late, have been nothing short of spectacular. Eric's pilgrimage, this last Spring, to the Lager Mecca of the world - Bamberg Germany - has provided the inspiration, and brewing techniques, to produce a truly superior Bavarian Lager, or Kellerbier (cellar beer).

A Kellerbier derives its name from its original brewing process. Prior to refrigeration, lagers were fermented in underground cellars in order to keep them cool enough to promote fermentation. Indeed 'Lager' is the German word for refrigeration or cold storage. Lager yeast does its thing best at a range of 45-50 F. At temperatures above 60-65 F, these same yeasts tend to produce esters that are not characteristic to style. So lagering literally means the (relatively) cold storage of beer during fermentation.

Eric tapped this beer something shy of three weeks ago and it seems to be altering the fundamentals of my living routine. Are these the first signs of an addiction? Having just made my fourth sojourn down to the CBC, a 25 mile round trip, last night; I can validate that the CBC's Kellerbier is not only faithful to the Bavarian Lager style, more importantly it is a beer that just doesn't stop giving drinking pleasure. Every sip is a reward. True to style, it is unfiltered and lightly carbonated. Malty without being heavy, the secret to this beer is the balance.

Thank God for growlers and thank-you Eric Bean for bringing a truly remarkable brew here to the heart of the Midwest. Those bloody Belgian bastards may have wrested Anheuser-Busch away from us, but if they mess with CBC, I'll go to war!

Take a virtual tour of the CBC at:

the Bier Kaiser

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Brewers Association - 2008 Beer Style Guidelines

In February of this year, the Brewers Association (BA) published their updated guidelines which provide an "official" taxonomy covering all beer styles. As of the 2008 update, 139 separate beer styles are recognized by this governing body. The association has been publishing this inventory annually since 1979 with Charlie Papazian, Brewers Association president, managing the effort since 1993.

This list does for zymurgy (or zymology) what Linneaus did for biology. Linneaus devised the initial taxonomy of all living things when he published his scientific classification of organisms in 1795. As you may recall from high school science, Linneaus, and his successors, came up with the top level classification, termed 'Kingdoms' which defined plants, animals, and somewhat later with the help of the microscope, bacteria as the major groupings of living organisms. Similarly the BA has defined Ales, Lagers and Hybrids as their highest level classification of beers.

The dispersion of beers under these three 'Kingdoms' reflects the history of brewing. Ales, the oldest beer style account for more than half of all beers styles. Next comes, Lagers and then Hybrids with each accounting for around twenty percent of total beer styles. The numerical break-out is as follows:
> Ales - 75
> Lagers - 34
> Hybrids - 30

Looking at how these beer styles from a geographic perspective, based on place of origin, one is reminded that the BA is, after all, an American organization. Approximately one-fourth of BA's beer styles are categorized as American or North American. Next comes Germany which accounts for about one-fifth of the beer styles. The numerical break-out is as follows:
> North American - 37
> Germanic - 31
> UK/Irish - 27
> Belgian/French - 15

New for 2008 are eleven styles which give greater representation to the craft brewing segment of the industry. As part of this effort, five styles of barrel-aged beers were added to BA's style guidelines. This emphasis on greater recognition of craft brewing was explained by BA president Charlie Papazian, "These guidelines help to illustrate the growth of craft brewers in the United States and also offer insight and a foundation for helping appreciate the hundreds of beer types brewed for the beer lover'"

BA Style Guideline updates for 2008:

(1) Fresh Hop Ale: ales which are hopped exclusively with fresh and un-dried ("wet") hops.

(2) American-Belgo Styles Ales: these beers portray the unique characters imparted by yeasts typically used in fruity and big Belgian-style ales.

(3) Leipzig-Style Göse: the original versions of this style of beer were spontaneously fermented German ales, similarly to Belgian-style gueuze or lambic beers.

(4) Belgian-Style Blonde Ale: Belgian-style blonde ales are characterized by low yet evident hop bitterness, flavor and sometimes aroma.

(5) Australasian-Style Pale Ale: this style is a mild, pale, light-bodied ale with a color varying from light to amber. Hop bitterness and flavor range from very low to low.

(6) Out of Category-Traditionally Brewed Beers: there are many excellent and popular beers that are brewed with traditional ingredients and processes, yet their character may vary from styles currently defined or included in these guidelines.

(7) Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer: a wood- or barrel-aged beer is any lager, ale or hybrid, either a traditional style or a unique experimental beer that has been aged for a period of time in a wooden barrel or in contact with wood.

(8) Wood- and Barrel-Aged Pale to Amber Beer: any classic style or unique experimental beer that has been aged for a period of time in a wooden barrel or in contact with wood.

(9) Wood- and Barrel-Aged Dark Beer: any classic style or unique experimental style of dark beer beer can be wood or barrel-aged for a period of time in a wooden barrel or in contact with wood.

(10) Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer: any strong classic style or unique, experimental style of beer can bee wood or barrel-aged for a period of time in a wooden barrel or in contact with wood.

(11) Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer: a wood- or barrel- aged beer is any lager, ale, or hybrid beer, either a traditional style or a unique experimental beer that has been aged for a period of time in a wooden barrel or in contact with wood and has developed a bacterial induced natural acidity.

The full version of the 2008 Brewers Association Beer Styles Guidelines is available at: ... e_2008.pdf

the Bier Kaiser

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

At Least He Died Happy: Archeologists Unearth Skeleton Clutching a PINT OF BEER:

Reprint from The Daily Mail, 17 March 2008

A 4,000-year-old skeleton has been unearthed by experts working on building Britain's biggest ever greenhouse - clutching a pint of beer.

The Bronze Age man's body was dug up by archaeologists who were called in after a team of builders working on the construction of the giant Thanet Earth project in Monkton, Kent, uncovered the skeleton last week.

According to experts the skeleton - that of a high status male - was found in shallow grave holding a "type of beer mug".

Marion Green, of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, said that the find last week was one of the best preserved Bronze Age skeletons she had ever seen.

She added: "It is a beautifully decorated pot which could have been used as a type of beer mug."

Tests on beer mugs from other sites show that Bronze Age man was an ale lover - making the booze from grain.

Thanet Earth spokeswoman Judy Whittaker said: "There have been several interesting finds, but this is the most exciting.

"The man will eventually go on display at a museum."

The giant Thanet Earth greenhouse - the size of 70 football pitches - will be used to grow peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes for supermarket shoppers.

A team of 30 archaeologists from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust have been working on areas of the 200-acre site.

The first part of the giant project is due to be built in three weeks.

the Bier Kaiser