Pretzels — snacks to beer, part 2

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Pretzels are one of the most utilitarian beer snacks. They’re really just funny shaped, salty bread rolls. If you get a fancy one, it might have some sunflower seeds stuck to its crusty brown skin but, generally, they are served plain. From what looks like a mug tree.

Their only purpose, as eaten in German pubs, is to slow down the process of getting drunk (or, to use the scientific term, “put the brakes on drunkening up”) and fend off hunger pangs so you can stay in the beer hall/garden/festival tent for longer.

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At Oktoberfest, women in dirndls wander round with huge baskets full of correspondingly huge pretzels, the size of dinner plates. In Nuremberg, they’re sold in the streets, layered thick with slices of cold butter, as an excellent breakfast snack.

The official website of the German Agricultural Marketing Board for the US and Canada says this on the history of the pretzel:

The humble pretzel has come a long way since its modest origins in 610 A.D. when Italian monks made them from leftover bread-dough scraps. Once considered a holy food with healing powers and, in modern times, parodied as the snack that launched a surprise attack on our 42nd president, the basic flour and water pretzel has been an American staple ever since European immigrants brought the recipe with them to U.S. shores in the 18th and 19th century.

They then go on to argue that Americans should only eat pretzels imported from Germany. That seems a bit excessive to me — surely they’ll be stale if you ship them over, and I think flying warm pretzels across the Atlantic is more of an extravagance than Bono flying his hat home in business class.

Anyway, here’s the official German Agriculture Board approved recipe for Pretzels. Ignore the honey dip stuff. It’s really pretty simple, except for the cryptic instruction to “cross to form rabbit ears”. Translation: make it pretzel shaped. Use the photos above for reference, or just your memory.

So, why not skip dinner tonight, and just eat four or five of these with your Saturday night lagers…?

Homicide: Life on the Streets

Hot on the heels of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale’s starring role in Knocked Up, here’s Ned Beatty as Detective Stanley Bolander in Homicide: Life on the Streets demonstrating his fine taste in imported European beers by sharing a six pack of Pilsner Urquell with Luis Guzman:

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In The Wire, David Simon’s critically lauded follow-up to Homicide, Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) is a fan of Murphy’s. What was that the Beer Nut said about ‘paddwhackery’ the other week…?

The rise of lager in the UK

Stonch’s piece on lagers made in the UK made me think about why lager got so popular in the UK so quickly in the late 20th century. As the British Beer and Pub Association say:

Until 1960 lager accounted for less than one per cent of the British beer market… it was not generally provided on draught until 1963. Since then its growth has been phenomenal and it now accounts for almost half the beer market in Britain.

I’ve heard various explanations.

1. The big breweries were determined to move from cask to keg, and lager works better from kegs than ale. Faced with a choice between John Smith’s smooth flow and Fosters, I’d probably go for Fosters, so there might be something in that.

2. People picked up the taste for cold lager on package holidays in continental Europe, and especially Spain. It seemed more refreshing and more ‘sophisticated’ than boring old British ale.

3. As the British diet got more varied and spicy after the end of rationing in the early 1950s, people wanted a lighter, more refreshing beer to go with it. Here’s a bit from an article on the history of the curry from The Observer:

Like so much else connected with curry… the origins of lager-drinking with Indian food are mysterious. Namita Panjabi has been told that in the early days of Veeraswamy in London’s West End, which was founded in 1927, the King of Denmark came whenever he was in the country. Frustrated at not being able to drink Carlsberg – which wasn’t then available here – he shipped over a barrel, so that when he came to eat it would be available for him.

4. All of the above are probably partly true, but my favourite theory is that British soldiers serving in Germany during the war, and then the cold war, came back to the UK as enthusiastic advocates of lager, and demanded the same product back home. My uncle, who was stationed in Germany in the 1960s, certainly speaks fondly of the steins of lager he enjoyed in Munich, and has been a lager man ever since.

Starkey, Knight and Ford — defunct brewery

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Living in London, I’m used to seeing the ghostly indications of defunct breweries everywhere I look — Taylor Walker; Truman Hanbury and Buxton; and, yes, Barclay Perkins. But the whole time I was growing up in Somerset, I didn’t once notice the arguably more subtle remains of the big regional brewery, Starkey, Knight and Ford.

Nowadays, you can spot their old pub buildings — many of which are now shops — by their black horse plaques.

tauntonroad.jpgFrom what I can tell, SKF were established in Bridgwater (or possibly Tiverton, in Devon) but then expanded aggressively into the surrounding towns (notably Taunton — this pamphlet is excellent). Googling them reveals very little other than a trail of takeovers of smaller breweries throughout the 20th century, until they themselves were subsumed by the colossal Whitbread empire in the early 1960s.

My Dad: “They had a big range of beers. There was double X at about 3.2%; triple X at about 3.8%; and four X at around 4.1%. Triple X was the best — sort of nutty, from what I remember.

westquay.jpg“There was one called Lighthouse, named after the lighthouse on the beach at Burnham-on-Sea, and a stout, but I can’t remember the name. The brewery was right in the centre of town, behind where the swimming pool is now. I was drinking their beer right up until about 1966, when they started getting replaced in the pubs by Whitbread’s own beers.”

You can see the remains of SKF pubs on Fore Street (pic 1), Taunton Road (pic 2) and West Quay (pic 3) in Bridgwater, and on the Knowle Inn, Bawdrip (pic 4). For more details of remaining SKF livery, see the excellent defunct brewery history site.knowle.jpg