Drinking in Heidelberg

Anyone who tells you that Britain has some kind of monopoly on binge drinking and rowdiness obviously hasn’t been to this borderline twee university city. Perhaps it was the football, or maybe the warm weather, but the local youths were certainly full of beans as they barreled around the old town knocking back tequila and chanting:

“Jawohl, jawohl – ich liebe alcohol!”

Which is not to say that it was remotely threatening. Rather charming, in fact. They were probably singing the same song at the university of Heidelberg in the 19th century. At least these days they don’t cap a session in the pub by dueling and scarring each others faces.

We spent a couple of lunchtimes in local brewpubs which, again, we found through this website.

Vetters is the best pub in terms of atmosphere and we were impressed by their relatively adventurous approach. Their seasonal special, “Heidelberg Frisch” is a Koelsch-style “obergaeriges” beer served in 200ml stick glasses – something we’ve never seen outside Cologne before. They also offer a ludicrously strong barley-wine type beer, Vetters 33. This has an original gravity of 33%, pours black with a brown/yellow head (saffron!?) and tastes mostly of treacle cut with vodka. Not that nice, in itself, but a refreshing change from the endless premium pilsners…

Scheffel’s Kulturbrauerei is a bit snooty inside, though it has a nice garden, where we took this picture. Their range includes a remarkably good kellerbier which, once again, reminded us of an Alt, or perhaps of a Belgian special. It was amber coloured, bitter and with a lot of orange flavours. The krauzenbier was good, too – very light, almost Hoegaarden like, with grapefruit and lemon flavours. We thought it might be missing a bit of malt flavour, though.

There are plenty of other pubs in Heidelberg – Unterer Strasse (parallel to Hauptstrasse and the Neckar river, up near the Marktplatz) is a good place to start, with a range of places from young and trendy to old and trad. There’s a place where you can get a range of Hoepfner brews, although unfortunately not their porter.


Vetter im Schoeneck is on Steingasse, just off the Marktplatz leading down to the Neckar. Kulturbrauerei is on Leyergasse, parallel to Steingasse about four streets east. Both are handily listed in the Lonely Planet guide to Germany.

Can you bring up your kids to like good beer?

Stonch’s recent post on under-age drinking has reminded me to post on a topic I almost wrote about a while ago. Is it possible to bring up your kids to drink responsibly and appreciate good beer?

My parents liked quality booze and believed in sharing it. They’d drink a pint of ale with Saturday lunch (usually something like Theakston‘s Old Peculiar) and a bottle of wine on Sunday, and from the age of around 12 upwards, they’d let me have a bit of both. Growing up in the eighties, kids were still banned from most pubs, but I have happy memories of running around pub gardens where my parents and their friends were relaxed and happy; I don’t ever remember them being drunk.

So, I had a classic slow introduction to good quality alcohol and responsible drinking. It’s probably what I would do with my kids, were I to have any.

Trouble is, I didn’t then start drinking “good” alcohol responsibly. When I went out as a teenager, my poison of choice was whatever was cheapest and whatever my friends were drinking. Snakebite and black, alcopops, quarter bottles of Teachers’ Whisky. As a student, I graduated to Guinness when I wanted to be cool but mostly drank keg Tetley’s because it was cheap. So what happened?

I reckon there were at least four reasons why my parents’ admirable attempts failed;

(1) Pure economics. Even if I’d wanted to drink fine wine, Strongbow was cheaper.

(2) Contrariness. Teenagers don’t want to do what their parents do, so will drink what their friends do regardless of how they’ve been brought up.

(3) Immature tastebuds. The fact is, I didn’t really enjoy the taste of ale until I hit my twenties. Ditto wine. I still haven’t really got whisky (how uncool am I?) This leads me to conclude that no matter how much your early exposure, it’s not going to “take” until your tastebuds are ready.

(4) Immature mind. A common theme from reading the session posts is that most people’s early drinking experiences are about getting hammered. I think it’s just a stage you go through. Particularly in Britain, where for whatever reasons, our bingeing culture has been with us for a long time.

Did I really learn nothing from early exposure to responsible drinking? Thinking about it some more, I guess it familiarised me with the concept of ale (or at least, beer that was brown, bitter and had flavour) – – even if I didn’t really like it for years, it wasn’t alien to me.

Secondly, parental influence may not have taught me to drink responsibly, but it did teach me to live responsibly. Even if the primary aim of having a drink for me was to get wasted, I knew that it wasn’t a good idea to go out and get pissed every night.


How much is too much?

The Department of Health today launched a £6m “know your limits” campaign, the point of which is to make people aware of how much they’re actually consuming. Interestingly, the scenarios it highlights are very “middle-class”, i.e it’s aimed at the middle-aged couple sharing a bottle of wine at home, rather than binge-drinking teenagers.

As the press-release points out, most people are unaware of how many units of alcohol are in their usual tipple. And so here’s a handy units calculator from the NHS, which incorporates strength and portion size.

There are two problems with this campaign. Firstly, it features one of the most seductive pints of lager I’ve ever seen in my life and had me craving lager at 7am when I saw it on breakfast telly. (Time to wonder about being an alcoholic again?)

The second, more serious problem, is that many British people’s reaction to being told what their limits are is to question the science. Perhaps correctly, because as Zythophile pointed out a while ago, the evidence supporting the current limits (2-3 per day for women, 3-4 per day for men) is not exactly conclusive. And certainly compared to what the average Brit actually drinks on a Friday night, it seems extremely low.

Then again, when I come back from the continent, these “limits” seem perfectly sensible, and I become convinced that we Brits drink too much.

I wouldn’t want to get accused of neo-Prohibitionism, and we’ve expressed on many occasions our view that “binge-drinking” is nothing new in our culture. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for some sensible reflection and education about exactly what we’re consuming.

Boak (up to four units already tonight…oops!)

¿Cómo se pide una cerveza?

This post was written in response to a “meme” passed to us from CAAC, and begun on Culturilla Cervecera, on how to ask for a beer in your home city. This is a useful topic, as in Spain every part of the country has a different word to describe different measures, as you can see from following the links. There’s even a link here to a Portuguese version if you’re planning a holiday there…

If you’d like to chip in with how to order a beer in your respective country, then do feel free. I remember getting totally lost when an Australian tried to explain about “schooners” and “middies”.

En Londres, como en todas partes del RU, se pide “a pint” [paynt] o “a half” [harf] de cerveza que quieres p.e. “a pint of Pride, please”. Se puede usar nombres genéricos como “bitter” o “lager” si hay sólo una opción.

Si quieres beber de una botella, sólo necesitas decir el nombre (p.e. “A Duvel, please”). No tenemos nombres distintos para tamaños distintos. A veces se oye la expresión “nip bottle” para una botella pequeñita, pero nunca la he oido en un pub.

NB: Una pinta británica es 568ml, y una media es exactamente eso – pero una pinta americana es 473ml. En teoria, se puede comprar un tercio de pinta, pero nunca he visto estos vasos en un pub, sólo en beer-festivals.

Otras cosas muy importantes:

  • Normalmente no hay camereros en pubs británicos o irlandeses. Se pide la cerveza de (a? en?) la barra, y se paga imediatamente.
  • Se compra cerveza “in rounds” – se turna para comprar cervezas para sus compañeros. “it’s my round” = “me toca a mi”
  • Normalmente no damos propinas a los barmanes. Si quieres darle una propina a alguien en un pub, dile “and one for yourself” (“y uno para usted”) después de pedir tus bebidas. El barman añadirá el precio de una pequeña bebida a las que has pedido. Pero eso es muy inusual – yo he dado una propina en un pub inglés sólo una vez en mi vida.
  • No se olvides “please” y “thanks” – yo sé que los españoles ríen de nosotros ingleses en España porque decimos “gracias” todo el tiempo pero en Inglaterra no es posible sobreusar estas palabras.
  • Si quieres probar cerveza tradicional, busca la descripción “cask conditioned” o “real ale”.


Historical roots of beer vs wine snobbery? A Spanish perspective

Our amigo Chela has posted an interesting entry on the “Compañía Asturiana de Amigos de la Cerveza” blog about the supposed battle between wine and beer. He suggests that in “wine countries”, wine has always been democratic in its appeal to high and low society alike. In traditional beer-drinking countries, on the other hand, we’ve developed a bit of an inferiority complex towards wine over the ages. And from this has recently emerged the trend for trying to make beer “the new wine”, and leading in some cases to a “Manichean battle” between beer and wine, or at least lots of words being written on why beer is superior to wine.

This can be seen from googling “beer is the new wine”, and is a topic that recurs on American beer blogs in particular. Appellation beer, for example, have a whole series of posts about beer and wine, making “beer is not the new wine” one of their rules. Amen to that. There are enough bloody know-it-alls as it is, without making beer into some rarified “interest”. That said, it would be nice if it had a bit more respect, i.e. articles in the weekend papers, the odd nice beer in a restaurant, that kind of thing.

Back to Chela’s post. There were many interesting comments in response about people’s preferences, whether one really was better, and trends in shopping for wine. But what really interested me were the historical reasons put forward for the cultural superiority of wine. Obviously, in the UK, it’s always been a status symbol, as only the rich could afford it, but why should it be considered a superior drink in countries where it’s common, cheap and easy to produce, like Spain? Galguera suggested it has its roots in the Roman empire — wine being associated with the sophisticated Romans, while the barbaric huns drank beer. Cotoya suggests the religious influence is more important — you don’t get communion beer, after all.

I thought these were interesting points. I’ve had the occasional debate with a wine-lover about how sophisticated beer can be, how it can be just as complex as wine, but I’d never really thought about the origins of our cultural prejudices, or how common they were across Europe, despite the differences in drinking cultures.


Chela, Cotoya and Galguera all contribute to Compañía Asturiana de Amigos de la Cerveza. If you don’t speak Spanish, Google translate does a pretty good job these days, but don’t trust it to translate English into Spanish.