My empty shopping cart rattled as I drove it around in circles. So much beer, so little time! To this day milling through the beer-section in most German grocery stores often remains an overwhelming and exciting part of my shopping experience. The first time I set foot in one of these labyrinth of plastic beer-crates stacked wall-to wall, was in the early 90's, and I'd seen nothing like it. The variety, beer-styles, and colorful labels blew me away. Spending far too much time in the alcohol section got me strange looks, and an occasional stare-down with store-security. So what was I looking for, just buy the beer and get out, right? For me it's not that easy, considering I've promised to share as much I can with my beer-loving friends around the world. Anyone inspired by the creativity and variety in a product also knows what I'm talking about, especially when you get home and realize you've made the perfect choice.
When it comes to beer in Germany, there isn't that much help out there for the outsider or new-comber who didn't grow up around beer. On top of things, where I grew up in Liberty, Missouri, we didn't have much of a beer-culture to draw on – except for Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City. The Craft Beer movement was just getting started when I left for Germany, but that's another topic I'll get to later. The point is, when you're first learning the language, the process of picking out the perfect beer is frustrating. Anything other than the word “bier” remained a mystery – so I started doing my self-taught beer-academy, writing down the names, and asking around at parties or among beer-buddies. Nowadays you can Google everything, but the Internet won't save you from the embarrassment and disappointment of buying the wrong beer for the occasion. Seriously, picking out a beer is a lot like going on a date, you have to make sure your partner is suited for the right occasion. Don't be fooled by fancy labels or historical sounding names either, just be sure it's beer by checking to see if there is the word “Rheinheitsgebot” written on it somewhere. This is the infamous German Purity Law of 1516 stating that beer can only be brewed with hops, wheat, yeast and of course water; again, a debatable topic considering that many in the German Craft Beer movement feel quite alienated by this strict system of labeling. So not many Pale Honey Ales or Oatmeal Stouts are popping up on the shelves here. People aren't used to such beer diversity having grown up with this Rheinheitsgebote (Purity Law) golden-rule of beer consumption mentality. Once I was told by a shop owner, “Bierkulture ist ein Streitkultur (beer-culture is a debate-culture)” which nearly sent me home empty-handed.
A few weeks later I came to a party with a six-pack of a beer that proved his point. It was from another town, much to dark for a hot-sunny day, and my friends weren't shy about telling me how why it was simply disgusting. On top of that, they told me how people from that region had silly accents. These type of moment can be awkward and entertaining at the same time. Still, I'm not sure if I'm qualified to debate my particular brand, considering beer doesn't exactly put me in the fighting mood. But I'm working on it. So yeah, I guess I'm still lost in a labyrinth of beer-crates, trying to think local, imagining myself making the perfect match, and always ready for something new even if I have to drink it in secret!