Let your beer reflect the seasons: May is for light German beers

Nathan Simington

In the spring, everyone ought to drink light German beers. Germany has more diverse beer varieties than any other country, and particular beers are suited to particular seasons. Just as in classical Indian music, a different scale, rhythmic mode, and set of ornaments correspond to the hour of the day and the mood intended to be conveyed, so do different beers and beer varieties correspond to different seasons. For instance, M„rzebier is best drunk in October.The best beers for spring are light and buoyant. Even the most fervent disciple of Guinness must concede that its loaminess and richness goes awkwardly with new life, renewed growth, breezes, and rain. Dark beers ought to be drunk in dark seasons, and in spring, the light wheat beers of Bavaria are well-suited to the change in the times.

The Weizenbier style is a classic southern German style. The Weihenstephan brewery, just north of Munich, produces this variety, and it is possibly the world’s oldest brewery, established about 1040 b.c. Weizenbier is wheat bear, white-gold in colour, with an aroma of cloves. It undergoes a single fermentation (there is no subsequent lactic fermentation in the wort), a secondary fermentation at room temperature or above, and a week or two of `lagering’ (bottom-fermentation at low temperatures; lager means `cellar’).

Both Hacker-Pschorr Dunkelweiss and Paulaner Hefe-Weizen are Weizenbieren. Paulaner is the more internationally famous between the two Munich breweries, but Hacker-Pschorr is better known locally. Both products are competently produced, which is no more than one would expect from breweries of their stature. The Paulaner is bottle-conditioned, which means that sugar and yeast are added to the beer after it has been bottled.

As well as the clove notes, which are to be expected, the Paulaner reveals a sour apple note that gave the palate much more character. There is also some banana and currant in the bouquet. Appropriately for a spring beer, it is refreshing and quenching, and its body is of a medium fullness without being either cloying or watery. The Hacker-Pschorr Dunkel is a bit darker. It is also light and refreshing, but a bit `dirtier’ in flavour; it’s reminiscent of hard cider. The strong malt flavour has bits of chocolate and vanilla in it. One reviewer likened it to Rocky Road ice cream, and the comparison is apt; while quenching, it’s more of a dessert beer, light in texture, but sweet rather than tart in inclination.

A 16-oz. bottle of either variety costs about $2.75 at Dr. Jekyll’s. About 4.5% alcohol by volume. The eminent beer scholar Michael Jackson recommends the local elderberry fritters with these varieties, but unless you can make it to Bavaria, try them with Pop-Tarts or (weird as it may sound) with the Dunkel over ice cream.