Summer’s nearly over, and something’s been missing here, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. Then I opened the cupboard with my beer mugs and steins from Germany, and it hit me.
Once a summer I’ll hunt down a hefeweizen, to try to relive my days in Germany, but it’s never quite the same. And that’s not a bad thing. Trying to force the past into the present is a recipe for disaster, be they culinary, Oedipal, or anything in between.
I had a legitimate, clinical addiction to hefeweizen back in the day. Our town had a largish beer garden, the Gartenlaube, that was popular with the biker crowd, of the motorized type. Not talking Harley and muscle bikes — the German biker scene was all about crotch rockets and touring bikes, either of which required the pilot to suit up in padded leather from head to toe. Instead of a sleeveless t-shirt, leather vest, and no helmet, the German biker dressed as though reentry from space was a possibility on each ride, with enough nonputrescible cow hide to survive a half-mile skid on Autobahn pavement as the traveler’s velocity fell from 180 kph to zero.
There are several good, even admirable American weizens, but they’re just not the same as a traditionally brewed, unpasteurized, bottled-just-last-week German brew. The high carbonation level of a proper hefeweizen meant that this beer had to be bottled, never kegged. And the Germans, God bless them, are nothing if not a people who do things the right way, with the smallest detail of ones daily existence the result of years of engineering research and practice. This highly carbonated brew would bubble right over your glass, like champagne poured over Pop Rocks, unless you poured it just right. A very tall, slender glass, nearly a foot high, was the official tool for drinking a weizen. Often it had a swirl to the glass pattern that spiraled down, not unlike Miller’s poorly conceived vortex bottle or Lynskey Helix tubing, I guess to coax the beer to settle down to the bottom and not erupt in a volcano of beer froth.
But here’s where the art came into the pour. The glass was laid on it’s side, with the mouth hanging over the edge of the bar by half an inch. In a high volume beer garden, dozens of glasses would be positioned as such side by side. The bartender would pop the cap off of the bottle, and in one swift motion, torpedo the bottle into the glass, lift the glass to an upright position via the bottle, and then slowly raise the inverted bottle in the glass in order to keep the top (now the bottom) of the bottle about a quarter-inch below the level of the beer in the glass.
Still with me? How’s this:
Hefeweizen beer-pouring robot- The perfect pour
The beer was poured until all but a quarter inch was left in the bottle, and then the beer in the glass was allowed to rest for about a minute. The bartender worked his way down the bar, pouring two at a time, one with his left, one with his right, until he had poured a dozen or so. Then he come back to the first one, swirl the last bit of beer to pick up the yeast that had settled, and poured it into the glass. Finally, five minutes after you had ordered, your beer was ready.
There was one more little trick to this summer beer. I still haven’t figured it out and have only been able to replicate it once, but there was something about the specific gravity of this weizen. It was typically served with a slice of lemon, and occasionally a lemon seed would drop to the bottom of the glass. Because of the high carbonation, the surface tension or something would make bubbles stick to the lemon seed, and eventually it would rise in the glass. When it broke the surface, the bubbles were released and the seed would float it’s way back to the bottom of the glass, only to repeat the process. Sometimes, we’d order a round, but one of us had left the table to talk to another group or otherwise wander, and the extra beer would sit there like a beer glass version of a lava lamp. Yeah, we were easily amused and entertained back then …
Everyone has a favorite summer memory. Maybe it’s camp, maybe it’s a road trip with the family, or maybe some great vacation that you’ll never do again. Or maybe it’s little things, like eating watermelon on the porch and spitting the seeds at your brother, or drinking water out of the garden hose, or catching lightening bugs in a Mason jar. Somewhere in my top three is that simpler time when I could sit at an outdoor table, half-listen to my friends talk about their day, and watch a lemon seed bob up and down a weizen glass.
Hope everyone had a great summer.