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.