Yesterday was a mental health day for me and Nita. We decided to take a trip down to Newport, Kentucky’s Hofbrauhaus. It’s a franchise of the original Hofbrauhaus in Munich. So the only beers available were either the standard brews based on the original’s recipe or the imported seasonal brew. I helped myself to a couple of steins. The Maibock brew is a hoppy, very hearty lager which I like very much.

The waiter and I talked about beers we’d had over the years. A couple years ago, two German exchange students insisted that Warsteiner, usually my German beer of choice, was piss water. They preferred this hard-to-get (in North America) beer called Bitburger. My first warning was that it came in cans. Speaking of piss water…

A friend of mine from high school heard my rather low opinion of it and said it was probably watered down for the American market. I checked the can. Nope. Germans drink this crap, too. My friend subscribes to the myth that America is incapable of making good beer and Germany can’t make bad beer. Does not explain Budweiser’s popularity in Germany.

The reason, I think, the German kids liked Bitburger reflects my own history with beer. I am one of the last people to legally drink beer at the age of 19 in Ohio. Two months after my 19th birthday, the state upped the age to twenty-one. I used to hang out weekends at my friend Rob’s house. Why? His family had a bitchin’ stereo and cable. Plus Rob’s dad had a mission for us. “I want that Old Milwaukee gone by the time we get back from Marblehead.”

Thus began my beer drinking career with Old Mud as we called it. That first weekend, we ran out of Old Mud to get rid of. So we ran out to the Stop N Go and got more beer to get rid of. Old Milwaukee was watery and tasteless, but it had two advantages: It was cheap and got us nicely drunk. But soon, our palates evolved. We didn’t want yellow carbonated water laced with alcohol anymore. We wanted something that closely resembled beer. But we were broke. So we switched to Pabst Blue Ribbon. Oh, yes. This was more like it. It almost tasted like regular beer.

The years passed. Pay checks inflated, and I developed a taste for actual beer. I switched to Budweiser. It’s still my fallback beer in a state that insists Coors Lite is a premium lager. (In that case, why the hell don’t they just import Bitburger?) Soon, however, I switched to Michelob. After all, Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton hawked it, so it was good. Right?

Well, it was better than Bud. Soon, though, Coors bought the rights to an old Irish beer called Killians. Killians is more of a lager than Budweiser, heavier, with a floury taste I’ve come to like in beers. When I moved to Cincinnati, it became my beer of choice. And then I discovered microbrewed beer. And Samuel Adams. And imported beer. Haps Irish Pub had Guiness and Murphy’s on tap. Eventually, British lager Bass Ale became my favored beer.

Now I’ll try anything once. Locally, they’ve brewed Christian Morlein here since the 1800’s without changing the recipe much. We also have the smaller Mt. Carmel Brewery and, from Cleveland, Great Lakes, which has an interesting line-up of beers. During trips to New York, I was exposed to Yuengling and Brooklyn Lager. Both are now available locally, which makes Daddy happy. What confused me about Yuengling was its distribution. Obviously, you can get it in Philadelphia, where Yuengling is based, and all over Baltimore, but in New York, I could get it in Brooklyn but not in Manhattan. And it wasn’t available in Ohio, but I bought some on our honeymoon in Gatlinburg.

Yuengling’s arrival came with the same hype as Coors’ arrival in the midwest in the 1980’s. The difference is that Coors was a huge disappointment. Yuengling I’d already had, so I was able to extol its virtues to uninitiated coworkers. It’s the one beer Nita will sometimes drink.

My best beer drinking weekend was in 2006 at the Madison, WI Bouchercon. There was this really great lager up there called Capitol Ale, which I had with every meal and quite often in the bar. But Madison has another local brew, this light-weight, somewhat sweet beer called Spotted Cow that they sell for a dollar. They had buckets of it at the Shamus Banquet, and let’s just say I spent the better part of ten bucks on beer for myself. It’s a beer made for college students (despite the drinking age being 21) on college budgets, yet you can’t help drinking more than one.

Hofbrauhaus, however, was my first truly German beer. I’ve had Warsteiner for years now, which is a really good lager, very hoppy and smooth. But Hofbrauhaus was amazing, probably because it’s made in limited quantities. They brew the regular brands on site, but Maibock and Oktoberfest are imported. It’s probably the best beer I’ve had so far.

So do I drink the American beers anymore? Oh, I still drink Samuel Adams and Killians from time to time. At a ball game, I’ll get a Budweiser instead of settling for anything called “lite” beer. But the so-called “workingman’s” beers: Burger, Stroh’s, Miller High Life? I guess Pabst falls into that category. Never touch them. I need a little weight to my beer. And I need a lot of flavor.

They tell you when you’re young that beer is an acquired taste, but it’s a great acquistion. Drink responsibly.

My Town Monday Cincinnati: Oktoberfest Zinzinnati

Every September, thousands of people descend on Fountain Square to drink beer. A LOT of beer. Not just any beer, either. Oh, the usual premium brands are there, from Samuel Adams to the various Guiness brands to German brands like Warsteiner. But then there are other beers there as well. Beers you may never see again until next September. Beers that will knock you flat and have strange flavors.

It is Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, an inevitable extension of the city’s German heritage. After all, a few blocks north is a neighborhood called Over the Rhine. Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest claims to be the largest such celebration outside of Germany, and it certainly is one of the largest with over half a million visitors – more than the population of the city itself (just under 300,000) – converging on downtown for the weekend.

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati these days is sponsored by Samuel Adams, the craft beer brainchild of Cincinnati native and Boston resident Jim Koch. There is a lot of sausage served at Oktoberfest, but when you consider that Cincinnati is home to John Morrell Meats, Sara Lee, and Kahn’s, as well as the goetta capital of the world, what did you expect? In Cleveland, there would likely be more kielbasa than bratts and metts, and in Philly and Baltimore, they would likely have scrapple. But this is Cincinnati, and the cuisine here will be extremely German.

But it’s the beer that brings people. Back in my days at BigHugeCo, I found myself working on a Saturday morning during Oktoberfest. I could step out of the lobby and right into Oktoberfest. So when I finished up for the morning, I did exactly that.

The booth closest to my building sold this strange brew from the former East Germany I’d never seen before. I tried a pint. I had another.

Driving home after two beers – normally not an issue for me – was not an option. It was good, but baby, it was strong!

The Oktoberfest here in Cincinnati has one other claim to fame: The World’s Largest Chicken Dance.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

My Town Monday Cincinnati – Would You Like A Hudey? I’d Be Delighted!

When my beer drinking days dawned back during the Reagan Administration, many of my friends pushed me to try a brand called Little Kings. Little Kings is a cream ale, like Genessee. It was popular in the Cleveland area in the days before the Great Lakes Brewing Company emerged. It was really popular at Miami (of Ohio) University, where Li’l Sis and my best friend from high school went to college. Why?

Miami is in Oxford, Ohio, 30 miles from where I’m sitting right now, which makes it part of the Cincinnati area. That meant the local brews all came from the old Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Company.  So when I arrived in the Queen City in 1991, I had to sample the local ale like any good newcomer. I’d already put away my share of Little King’s. The next thing I tried was Hudey Delite. It wasn’t bad. In fact, it was painted to me by my friend from high school as piss water, but it was pretty much a mild beer like Coors Lite, only not as watery. As my taste for beer grew more sophisticated, I tried their flagship brand, Christian Morlein. It’s now one of my favorites and is popular among beer snobs (of which I can be on occasion. It’s not a bad form of snobbery.) Never tried Burger. Someone once told me all I needed to know about Burger was to remember the last can of Stroh’s I’d drunk.

Yuck. (Sorry, Erin.)

Hudepohl fell on hard times in the 1990’s. Some of their facilities were shifted to production for Samuel Adams (the brainchild of Cincinnati-born, Boston-reared Jim Koch). Eventually, only Christian Morlein remained, a very old brand and recipe dating back to the city’s early days.

A few entrepreneurs, however, took it upon themselves to revive the old Hudey brands, buying Christian Morlein and, in turn, buying out the Hudelpohl-Schoenling Brewing Company.

So what does Hudey produce?

Here’s a few of their brands:

Burger – I was shocked they brought this one back until I started working on the West Side. It’s a workingman’s beer, and many West Siders have fond memories of drinking Burger in the old days. As I said, it was often compared to Stroh’s.

Hudey Delight – Hudey is a light beer along the lines of Coors Lite. Actually, it’s closer to Michelob Lite, a little more flavorful than Coors. Not as popular in its revival, it was very popular in the late eighties and early nineties.

Little Kings – A cream ale, my strongest memory of this brew is it knocking me on my ass.

Christian Morlein is actually a family of beers, the best known of which is OTR (for Over-the-Rhine, the neighborhood north of downtown). It is a strong, smooth amber lager that tastes a lot like some of the British lagers. It’s one of my favorite beers.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

I’m Having A Hard Time Finding The Outrage

There are lots of things I’m pissed off about.  Obama’s sell out on FISA.  Gas prices.  The continued popularity of Howard Stern.  Ann Coulter was not stillborn.  As you can see, I have a lot to get worked up about.

The sale of Budweiser to Belgium’s InBev is not one of them. Why?

I drink Killians, which is a lager brewed by Coors based on an Irish red ale.  When I’m not drinking that, I’m drinking Samuel Adams, some of which is brewed here in Cincinnati by the old Hudepohl brewery.  (“Would you like a Hudie?”  “I’d be delighted!”)  When I’m not drinking that, I’m drinking Bass Ale or its cross-England rival, Newcastle.  And when I’m not drinking those, I’m drinking Irish ale, usually Smithwick’s or Harp’s.  And when all else fails, I drink Warsteiner, which is a weak German beer.  Which means you have to drink the entire bottle before it knocks you on your ass.

In other words, I like beer-flavored beer.  I love the Great Lakes brews and good ol’ cheap Spotted Cow from Wisconsin and its more full-bodied counterpart, Capitol Ale.  I love Christian Morlein and the kick of the stuff they brew at Rock Bottom.  I’ve been to New York to have Brooklyn Beer and Philadelphia to have Yuengling and to San Francisco to have Anchor Steam.

I never bought into the myth that the working man must drink really bad beer, even though I did go through a Pabst phase in my early drinking days.  No, sir.  No Schlitz, Milwaukee’s Best, or Stoh’s for me.  (Sorry, Erin.  Can’t drink it.)

For me, mass-produced American beer like Budweiser is little more than alcoholic soda pop.  It’s good to quench your thirst, but there’s nothing to it.  It has no kick, no flavor.  Oh, if I’m forced to drink cheap beer, I’ll usually opt for Bud.  And I will admit it’s not as watery as Coors.  (Will someone please tell me why it was such a big deal to sell Coors east of the Mississippi in the 1980’s?  I can’t believe they made a Burt Reynolds movie about it!)

Yes, a foreign company has bought Anheuser-Busch.  So what?  If I still drank it regularly, I might get worked up about it.  But I’m not.  I say spend the extra bucks and get the microbrews.  In this economy, the little breweries need your support.

And in this economy, you need something stronger than Michelob Ultra to get you through it.

‘Scuse me.  I’m gonna run downstairs and fetch me a Killians.