Oktoberfest Kicks Off Today

Oktoberfest kicked off today. Here’s an article on Oktoberfest from a magazine for American troops — some of whom were on the 9 am “drunk bus” to get prime tables at the big tents in Munich.

It didn’t really occur to me at the time, but there were a lot of American servicemen in Bavaria when we were there last.  That’s probably now one of the characteristic features of Oktoberfest.

Paris Hilton, however, is banned.

More fancy beer photography

A couple of months ago, I spent some time off photographing my pint of Summer Lightning. Tragic, I know. But I’ve gone further — I spent today building a special light box specifically for taking risque images of flirtatious, nubile glasses of beer.

Here are some sample photos:

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I didn’t do anything to either photograph in GIMP, other than shrink them for the web.

I say “built” but, not being a proper man who’s comfortable with tools and wood, it’s actually an old carboard box modified with a Stanley knife and Sellotape.

I cut holes in the top and one side, which I covered with greaseproof paper. I then put in a large sheet of white card, curved from the top at the back, and Velcro-d in place. I used Velcro so I could put in different coloured card. Here’s a photo of something other than beer, with a red background:

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For a light, I used two angle-poise type lamps with daylight bulbs, one shining through the greaseproof paper on the top; the other shining through the greaseproof paper on the open side.

The end results aren’t perfect, but they’re my best beer photos yet.

Bonus tip: use your camera’s macro mode for close up shots, usually indicated by a picture of a flower. The difference can be amazing.

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.