If you’re like me, you could eat ham pretty much any time and any old way. I’m not even picky about the quality – when I was a vegetarian, I still ate the really cheap ham because I figured it was mostly just ham-flavored water product (just one of my many vegetarian loopholes). I’ve had a taste of most of the world’s best hams – from Iberco to Benton to Parma – though I’d love to sample the Chinese varieties and have yet to try true Austrian Speck.
I also enjoy preparing ham at home (though less is usually more) – it is a resilient and helpful culinary substance that translates across cultures, mealtimes, textural impulses, and flavor profiles – and I almost always have it on hand. Here’s a few ideas and a recipe or two to kickstart your ham frenzy.
1. Burnt Ham Ends: Take a small ham (a partial picnic ham works great for this) and cut it up into uneven chunks. Toss the chunks in a mixture of molasses, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, and black pepper and roast in a 350 degree oven for up to 2 hours. The chunks will become blackened on the outside and stay moist and hammy on the inside. Eat with large portions of cheesy potatoes (a Minnesota staple involving frozen hashbrowns and cheese aplenty).
2. Ham Shred: Like the above, this one involves annihilation. Braise the ham for 4 hours at 300 degrees, covered, with the liquid of your choice (ham or pork stock is nice and subtle). Take the lid off and using two forks shred the meat (it should be extremely yielding at this point). The shreddy meat should soak up all the residual fat and liquid. Tong up mountains of ham shred onto the platform of your choice: hamburger buns with mustard and Swiss; bowls of rice and furikake, tortillas with pineapple salsa; or large portions of cheesy potatoes are all suitable candidates.
3. Ham-n-Ramen: Keep it simple with your favorite instant variety or make your own, but garnish with perfect strips of thick-cut ham rectangles that have been marinated for an hour or so in miso paste and soy sauce and then seared until dark and irresistible. Bonus points for garnishing with a coddled egg or a dollop of cheesy potatoes. You’ve never had a cheese element in your Ramen? Neither have I. I bet it’s good.
4. Double-Smoked Ham: This is a scam that I see sometimes – a business will advertise their ham or bacon as “double-smoked,” but it’s really just pre-cooked stuff a company will purchase and then run it through their own smoker to claim it as their’s. All the hard work of curing, resting, and cooking has already been accomplished, but the company gets to slap a sticker on it and profit off some unnamed smokehouse’s work. And they charge you more for this ruse. Might I suggest you DYI this scheme and double smoke your own damn ham? Simply fire up your charcoal grill (preferably with hardwood, but you can use hardwood charcoal if you prefer), plop the ham on the grate, cover, and let her rip. Greg Conley, the Grill Zsar of Superior Street, has a more technical set of instructions:
For charcoal grill: Use lump charcoal, charcoal briquets, or ideally, a combination of the two. You don’t need to use a lot of fuel, as you don’t want it to get particularly hot. Once the coals are ready to go, dump or shove them all to one side. Remember, you can always add more fuel as needed. The idea is that you go at a pretty low temperature (200-250 degrees Farenheit is ideal) for as long as possible without drying out the ham. A cast iron pan of water can be added to the grill next to the coals, which will help regulate the temperature and also keep humidity on the meat. Once you have your coals situated, wrap the bottom of the ham with foil and place it on the opposite side from the coals. You will need to check the temp to make sure the ham is not scorching. If it is getting scorched, you may need to remove some coals. When the ham is placed and the coals are regulated, you will want to place some soaked wood chips, moist sawdust or green wood (maple, any fruit wood, hickory, mesquite) directly on the hot coals. You will then want to just crack the bottom and top vents on the grill so that you have minimal oxygen going over the coals. Your soaked wood should start to smolder, and you will see white smoke billowing out from the vents and lids. From there, give it at least an hour on the grill (you can use an internal thermometer if you want the ham to be warmed up and served immediately) or more based on how smoky you want it. You’ll need to replenish your soaked or green wood every 15-30 minutes or so, depending on how quickly the smoke is depleted. You can go as long as you want as long as the heat is regulated and how much fuel and green or soaked wood you have.
For the gas grill: Most gas grills have at least two burners, often situated side by side with separate controls. The method for using your gas grill to smoke ham is the same as using a charcoal grill, except MUCH EASIER. In this case, rather than shove coals to the side, you just light one burner on one side and put the ham on the opposite side. Everything else is the same.
5. Easter Ham, Perfected: I like this particularly with our Smokehouse Berkshire Ham.
Set a half ham face down on a rack in a large roasting pan, and score the outside with a sharp knife in a diamond pattern. Stud the diamond points with cloves for an old-fashioned come-hither ham look.
Pour enough beer (lager) into the bottom of the pan so that it is about an inch high. Take two sticks of lemongrass and cut them into three-inch lengths. Toss them in. Cut three inches of fresh, peeled ginger into 1/2-inch chunks and add them to the mix. Slice up 2-3 shallots and have them follow suit. Cover the whole shebang in foil and place it in a 325 degree oven for about 70 minutes (for a 7 pound ham).
After the initial bake, take the ham out, remove the foil, and glaze the ham with a mixture of the following:
- 1½ teaspoons dry mustard powder
- 1/2 cup clover honey
- ¼ cup xiaoxing wine
The mixture will be runny, so scoring the ham at the beginning will really help capture it. Put the uncovered ham in the oven for another 20 minutes or so, or until nicely colored. Voila: a really tasty ham is made even tastier! Serve with cheesy potatoes, miso-glazed carrots, or nothing at all.
I’m not talking about sandwich artists! First off, I would never compare what my coworkers here at Northern Waters Smokehaus do with that which the employees of a certain monolithic, homogenized, bad bread (baked fresh!) having, named-after-a-public-transportation-system sandwich place would do. That would be rude. There may be some parallels for the two, but come on! What were you thinking? When it comes to Fast Food vs Fast Slow Food, I think that you know which side we’re on and I think you know which side wins.
No, I mean artists in the vein of Michelangelo, Scorsese, One of the Gershwins (you decide) or Hemingway. It might sound crazy, but a lot of the folks who work at NWS have a whole other life outside of work. They don’t just punch the clock at the end of a shift and then retire to their tomb beneath the basement of the Dewitt-Seitz building. No, they wipe off the fish scales, throw their apron in the laundry bag and head out into the larger world for creative pursuits. Here’s a little insight into 5 artists who also happen to work here at the Smokehaus. This just scratches the surface, too. We have a lot of artists, but only 5 things… So…
Florencia Matamoros- ‘Flo’ is probably the most obvious choice for the Smokehaus Artist Series; she was sort of the first ‘creative’ on our staff, and now heads up our creative department here. You can see Flo’s work on display on our website, in our deli and throughout most of the print material we produce that goes out into the larger world. Her food related ‘doodles’ have quickly become representative of our brand and are something that our customers really look forward to. Flo is also co-owner of Prove Gallery here in Duluth, which is a staple of our artist community, as well as a space for community events. Get to know Flo, yo! Here we go!
What is your background? My background in visual arts starts at the age of 7 when my mom (bless this amazing human being) dragged me every Saturday morning from 9am-12pm to classical painting classes in San Salvador, El Salvador. I received pretty formal training in oils for 7 years as a kid and I painted every damn fruit that has ever existed and fields and White Nun Orchids (mom’s favorite flower). A combination of teenage angst, rebellion and tight money led to the end of the Saturday “do I HAVE to” whines and I took every single form of arts education my school had to offer. Since my mamma is the definition of bad ass single mom, I wanted to be just like her and I started my college career as a Chemistry Major with the intention of pursuing something with explosions and a cool lab coat. I couldn’t stick to it. I wanted to draw every day and I wanted to be surrounded by expression and a different path of intellectual pursuit. Essentially I wanted to stay as much as a kid as I could and use my imagination.
Zac Bentz first started to work for NWS in 2017 as one of our Mail Order Elves. Packing and labeling boxes like a madman, but also apparently giving off some sort of design aesthetic, Zac joined our creative department in 2018 as a graphic designer (but he still packs a damn box as needed), to not only do the bidding of our creative department, but also with the idea that NWS can begin publishing a mail order catalog and eventually a cookbook (!). Zac has played in some pretty noteworthy groups based out of Duluth, MN, including his current projects Dirty Knobs and The Electric Witch.
What is your preferred medium? The simple answer is electronic music. I started as a drummer back in the early 90’s and played in a few bands as a drummer, but for the past handful of years I’ve been making electronic music almost exclusively. I guess an even more basic medium would just be ‘sound’ at this point.
Do you have a preferred medium? I guess music/video/installation art done concurrently would best describe what I’m working on right now. I like the idea of my work being really physical, not just in terms of being able to physically see or hear it, but also with volume and frequency that physically moves the audience.
What do you aim to say with your work? I notice themes in the world at large, so I definitely like to base work around those. But rather than ‘get a point across’ to an audience, I want it to be more about what the audience experiences physically and mentally during the show. I’m not really looking to say some specific thing with what I’m doing, I just want to give the audience something that they haven’t yet experienced.
Where can we see your work? Right now I am doing local shows with my music/video/installation project. You can catch it at Duluth venues Blush and The Rex.
Greg Cougar Conley has worked for Northern Waters Smokehaus since 2015 when he helped the company open Northern Waters Restaurant in the Hunter’s Park neighborhood of Duluth. Greg has been pursuing music while based out of the Duluth/Superior area since the early 90’s. He is an old-school fool.
What is your background? I’ve been pretty obsessed with the idea of writing music since I first learned to play the guitar when I was 13 years old. I always had a mind to try to write music in as many diverse styles as I could. I also loved singing and had a pretty good time with that from middle school through high school, and particularly in middle school I had a really great teacher who was not only extremely proficient with performance and music theory, but also had that type of extreme passion for music that is really infectious. He was teaching us music theory stuff in 9th grade that was essentially what I studied my first year as a music education major in college. Unfortunately, my experience with being a music major was pretty disappointing. I ended up deciding not to pursue that degree because: A.) I realized that teaching music was something that I just had no interest in doing and B.)The pursuit of the that degree really sucked all the joy out of music for me. There was no emphasis at all on writing or experimentation, it was all stuff like having the instructor play a recording of a sound and ask “Is this a French horn, or an English horn?”, which is probably really valuable to some types of musicians, but definitely not to me. There was also the style of music lesson where the instructor would try to berate you into singing with ‘perfect function’ by basically yelling or stomping their feet. I had no interest in participating in a system like that. From that point forward, I just tried to do exactly what I wanted in regards to music.
Do you have a preferred medium? Although I completely love the catharsis of performing live, I really feel satisfaction from recording the music that I write. I find that my most scholarly tendencies come out when I’m working on a recording; I make a lot of written notes about what I’m hearing, what needs to change, what’s good, etc. I love that feeling of inspiration while recording when you have those ‘eureka’ moments, where your inspiration begets more inspiration for a quick second and you have this flurry of parts that you get down quickly. The process of fleshing out a song and arranging it in the studio is one that I really relish. I love having a pretty strict idea of what a song is going to be going in and then becoming inspired in such a way that I leave the original idea behind and go in a completely different direction. It can be a really dynamic process that way. We live in a really exciting time right now, because technology has actually broken down those financial barriers that had once existed to allow almost anyone access to not only recording music, but making it sound halfway decent. But I also think that the advances in recording tech from where I started at age 18 with a cassette 4-track with which there was a steep learning curve, to now being able to easily make a recording on my phone has some disadvantages, too. There is definitely a form of aural diarrhea that can happen when certain people have unfettered access to unlimited tracks at the click of a mouse.
What do you aim to say with your work? I guess I just aim to say whatever springs to mind. Sometimes I aim to address a specific topic within the scope of a recording or live music set, but most of the time it’s just whatever jumps out of my mind. I have songs about ecology, worshiping the devil, love, sex work… Just so many things. I don’t know that most people get the gist of what I’m writing about, but I love the idea that I can write something and it can have a different meaning for each person who hears it.
Where can we see your work? There is a pretty small yet diverse representation of what I’ve done at bullfeathers.bandcamp.com and zacbentz.bandcamp.com.
Harrison Cross is The Smokehaus’ Assistant Deli Manager and has worked for NWS since 2013. Harrison is perhaps the outlier here, because he is not what most would consider an artist. Harrison is an avid Role Playing Gamer who coordinates several different gaming groups around town and elevates being a Dungeon Master to what some would consider an art form. Our ‘Happy Harry’ brings so much thoughtfulness and creativity to these pursuits that he has earned a reputation as an elite gamer and gaming facilitator.
What is your background? I was definitely a self-starter with gaming. I didn’t really have any experience firsthand with friends who knew games or anyone showing me the ropes. I actually first observed people playing RPGs on YouTube while I was living in Taiwan. I tried to play a little at first in person with some of my friends there, but it didn’t really go well. My first actual RPG experience was playing with another friend via Skype.
Do you have a preferred medium? There are so many different types of RPGs, and they encompass so many different genres, but one way of classifying these types of games would be ‘Low Fantasy’ and ‘High Fantasy’. High Fantasy is stuff like Lord Of The Rings, where it’s a world completely unlike our own in which events unfold because of magic or destiny and seem to just flow in a fantastic way. I prefer Low Fantasy as a medium. In Low Fantasy, you have to work your ass off! If you want to cast a spell, you have to hunt down ingredients, spend a bunch of time practicing and probably failing… If you saw an animated skeleton, I would make you roll a die in order to see whether you shit your pants before deciding what to do next. It’s kind of like trying to imagine what a fantasy element would function like in our real world, if that makes any sense.
What do you aim to say with your work? The question that I always ask my players is”Why are you travelling together?”. In other words, why is this particular party, which is probably pretty diverse in composition, going on adventures together? Because normally, this group would not probably give one another the time of day. Do they have some common goal? Why are they staying together? I think that this points to what their particular aim as players might be, and what they want to get out of playing together. it also informs the story a bit more. Because, the collective storytelling aspect of gaming is something that I really love; the fact that the story necessarily evolves and is effected by what the players want and think.
Where can we see your work? Nowhere! You can maybe come watch us play at Hoops Brewing on Mondays, but you can’t participate. Otherwise, my work is on display in private homes around the city.
Corned beef is good, really good. But it is on the quality spectrum just like pizza and tacos. Someone will always find a way to make it more processed and convenient for the consumer, ultimately making it an oversalted, flavorless “mystery meat”. It is not.
To keep a long story short, my childhood interactions with corned beef were about as Midwestern/low budget/coupon clipping as you can imagine. Think Hormel Corned Beef Hash in a can for breakfast, Carl Buddig Corned Beef sandwiches for lunch, and Shit on a Shingle for supper. Thankfully that all changed in my “culinary enlightenment years” of college and now present day.
At the Smokehaus, preservation is the underlying concept with all our amazing deli products and corned beef is one that we are very proud of – and no – it’s not just for St. Patrick’s Day. Try it any day of the week on our O6 sandwich (our version of the classic Reuben Sandwich). But in this case, I am going to show you how to use our cooked corned beef to make your own Reubens at home.
We’ve done all the hard work for you for this recipe. We’ve brined the brisket for 5 days, cooked it for 7 hours in liquid, chopped the green cabbage, fermented it for a month (creating “young” sauerkraut), and finally packaged it all and sent it to your door.
Low & Slow Corned Beef with Hausmade Sauerkraut Recipe:
Ingredients/accoutrements bought beforehand:
- Seeded Rye Bread (I prefer Levy’s Real Jewish Rye)
- Butter, for toasting bread during sandwich assembly
- Swiss Cheese
- Russian Dressing
- Pickles (venture from the standard dill pickle. If you haven’t tried half sour pickles, you’re missing out.)
- Sauerkraut (We sell our kraut in 16 oz jars. For this recipe I suggest two jars, 32 oz worth of kraut. We will be braising down the kraut with the corned beef.)
The Low & Slow Corned Beef:
Our corned beef comes typically in a 2-3 pound brisket cut. And remember, they come fully cooked so we are just reheating while we are cooking down the sauerkraut. Typically we portion our sandwiches with ¼ pound of protein – so with a full 3 lb corned beef, you’ll yield about 12 sandwiches. But the best thing about it is the kraut and corned beef keep refrigerated well for those many late-night sandwiching opportunities.
During the reheating process, we will be adding the sauerkraut to the corned beef, allowing it to braise down very nicely.
- Deep roasting pan or large dutch oven with lid. Pan should be at least 6 inches deep.
- Tin foil for baking pan.
- Sheet pan for toasting cheese and bread.
Reheat time is on average 45 minutes per pound.
- Preheat your oven to 275 degrees F.
- In deep roasting pan, place corned beef.
- Add sauerkraut
- Fill with water until the corned beef is submerged.
- Cover and place pan in oven.
- Check every 45 minutes to see if liquid needs replenishing.
- After the appropriate amount of time has passed, pull pan out and allow to cool for 20 minutes.
- After cooling time has passed, pull corned beef out of pan to carve. Remember to always carve against the grain. Cut into 1/8th – 1/4 inch slices.
The Reuben 06
- On a sheet pan, butter one side of each piece of bread. Place bread on sheet pan.
- Apply Russian Dressing on each slice of bread.
- Pile the cut corned beef on on side of the bread.
- Add sauerkraut on top of corned beef.
- Put a slice of cheese on top of corned beef and kraut and one slice on other piece of bread.
- Turn oven on to broil and place sheet pan/sandwich in oven.
- Broil/bake until cheese and bubbly and melted.
- Pull out when finished and assemble.
Enjoy the sandwich cut in half and with a pickle!
Store leftover corned beef and kraut for up to two weeks in the fridge.
I’ve got an Irish surname, but as Bruce Willis’ character Butch from Pulp Fiction so succinctly put it: “I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.” My grandmother always told us that we were ‘Heinz 57’ whenever we inquired about our family lineage; 57 varieties of (presumably?) white folks. That’s probably true of most of us in the United States and beyond (the 57 varieties, not necessarily the white folks part). Humans tend to mix together with others of varied and disparate descent to become something that is unique yet highly universal. I think it’s fair to say that none of us truly know all of the parts that make up our whole, but most of us think that we have some idea of where our family origin lies, at least in part. Your surname is definitely a good indicator of where at least part of your family hails from, but in my case even my relatives who immigrated from Ireland to the US were descended from people who immigrated to Ireland from Germany. That, along with some other family genealogy that has been well documented, illustrates that I am probably of around 50% German descent, with some Norwegian, Finnish, English and Irish thrown in for good measure. A lot of us who hail from the Northern parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota can reliably trace our Norwegian or Finnish ancestry only because the majority of those ancestors immigrated here in the early 1900s.
Beer in the USA is a great parallel to our human lineages. With the explosion of craft breweries and beer in general in this country, you see breweries here taking the known brewing traditions of the Europeans who many of us are descended from and expanding upon their basic form; sometimes with great results, and sometimes leaving your palate in the dust. For years, when most American craft brewers brewed a classic style like an ale or pilsner, they backed up the truck from the cascade hop farm and let it rip, imparting mostly that flavor and burying most of the other ones. That’s cool. I personally don’t want to drink it, but it’s cool to push the envelope and take something to the nth degree. Often, when you push the boundaries of something you arrive somewhere new and unexpected, hopefully with pleasing results. The problem is, many people (and brewers are some of the chief offenders) jump ahead to the step where they make the ‘innovative’ product without first learning how to make a perfect version of what came before. That’s problematic. In most forms of art or craft it is pretty much universally accepted that you can’t make an appreciable innovation or improvement without succinct knowledge of the original.
So, long story longer, I thought it would be fun to take a little tour of the country that a lot of people consider the epicenter of good beer; Germany. See what I did? I’m writing! Writers tie stuff together and stuff!
I think my willingness to drink just about any German beer belies what I’ve learned in drinking wine; find a region that you like and learn the styles (grapes in the example of wine) that appeal to you. I have had really good success in that manner, even as my tastes have changed. Early on in my wine game I would gravitate towards Australian wine because all of the versions available to me had a similar quality; they were sweet and jammy from the intense Aussie sun and the vines were mostly of new world varietals that did not have the complexities of some of the older vine, European wines. Weather conditions are a huge part of the wine equation no matter what varietal of grape you grow. Ever tasted some of the wines produced made from grapes grown here in the Upper Midwest? The quality of those that I have tried can be described in terms ranging from passable to downright diabolical. The weather here isn’t like France, and it for damn sure isn’t like Italy, so no amount of old world vine is going to make up for the differing amount and quality of sunlight or the completely different soil and growing conditions. Beer is an almost complete departure from this idea. Poor quality ingredients in beer are definitely going to lower the quality of the end product, but not in the same way that it would with grapes and ultimately wine. The grains and hops to brew beer are not all created equal, to be sure, but since the process of brewing beer is so completely different from that of making wine, you end up with much less of the nuance and actual flavor of the grain. In other words, you’re actually tasting the process more than the ingredients. Give the master brewers at Ayinger or G. Schneider & Sohn the exact same grains and hops that our old pals Budweiser use and see which lager is better. Even though the Germans might be appalled at using rice (the main ingredient Budweiser uses) as the grain for the recipe, their process would probably yield a higher quality result. So, when I talk about liking regions for brewing beer (and this is mostly true in Europe, less so in the ‘States), I gravitate towards them for their brewing traditions. Beyond just the traditions of brewing great beer, the Germans have for centuries written laws to protect the quality of their beer. Written by Bavarian noblemen in the year 1516, The Bavarian Purity Law for beer says only water, barley and hops may be used to brew beer. Yeast was added to this list, later known as the beer purity law or Reinheitsgebot, when scientists discovered the fermenting agent centuries later. Beer was of great importance to the Germans, as it was a main food staple and also a source of clean, potable hydration (with the added bonus of booze). The modern version of the Reinheitsgebot is not the first attempt at steering the production of beer. It is, however, seen as the high point of several hundred years of regulatory development which was aimed at supplying the citizens with qualitatively good beer (a food staple at the time), while also regulating the prices.
OK… ENOUGH WITH THE BORING HISTORY LESSON. Let’s get into some suds, my buds.
Ayinger- Aying, Bavaria
Full disclosure; I first bought Ayinger’s beer because I loved the label, and especially the cool bottle cap it had. Since then, I’ve had occasion to try several of their other styles, many of which are readily available in the United States at some of the your finer liquor stores and bottle shops. If you are at a liquor store and they do not have at least two kinds of Ayinger beer, WALK AWAY. Alright, maybe that’s a bit extreme. But, seriously, I don’t trust a store will be able to serve my needs if they are not well in the know with this brewery. Ayinger absolutely blasts me into the pleasure-sphere with their Bavarian Pilsner, which is a little heavier on flavor than, say, a Czech style pilsner, but still balances the sweet, slightly caramel taste with a nice brace of hops.
Bavarian Pilsner is definitely a brew that can be enjoyed in any season, but could be served closer to cellar temp in the Autumn/Winter months and then ice cold in Spring/Summer. Ayinger also makes a product that I love called Urweisse. This delicious beer is pale in color and hazy; with a big and voluptuous head. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘brut’ beer, as it begins with a bit of a tart note followed by a delicious, smooth body from a combination of grains comprised of about 60% wheat. This killer brew finishes with a subtle (don’t be afraid, it really is subtle) taste of cloves and ripe banana. That may sound crazy to you, but trust me when I say that it is very approachable and incredibly well balanced in all flavors. Ayinger’s Weizenbock is a relatively uncommon style, even in Bavaria, so I just had to mention it here. Weizen bocks are wheat ales brewed to be as strong as bock. They are incredibly drinkable, full-bodied and deeply flavored but also perfectly balanced. This beer would be a great one for drinking around a fire in the heart of winter, but could probably refresh you in the summer, too.
Weihenstephan– Freising, Bavaria
This is a storied German brewery, the oldest in the world, in fact, that has been in its location in a hilltop monastery for nearly a thousand years. ONE THOUSAND years. As in, before Charlemagne was born, before the Crusades, before most of the cities in Germany that exist today were even cities, Weihenstephan has been making that wort and pushing those suds. I’ve included them here not only because they make great beer, but also because it is widely available in the US. German brewing is definitely a storied tradition, but also one that still is allowed to breathe and evolve, even in more recent times. Of course, ‘recent’ when you’re talking about breweries that have gone on for hundreds-plus years could mean only 150 years ago, but who’s counting? Let’s talk about Weihenstephan Festbier, by way of example. I guess that I need to let you know that the ‘fest’ is in regards to Octoberfest, which is like Christmas for drunks in old Deutchland. The term ‘Octoberfest’ in regards to beer is actually pretty strict in terms of the geographical location of where it is brewed, so ‘festbiers’ are sort of the rest of Germany answering the call for a beer for this very special time of year. Weihenstephan Festbier is completely different from what most people would think of as an Octoberfest beer. ‘Festbier’ is a very light straw colored lager, with a snowy white head and a refreshing hop taste that disappears quickly. I usually see it here in the ‘States every fall, and I always buy it. It’s quite simply one of the best lagers you will ever drink, and one that leaves me wishing it was always October. And speaking of changing brewing traditions , I would be remiss if I did not mention Vitus by Weihenstephan. This beer is a light-colored, full-bodied, spicy single-bock with a creamy head. Sparkling with an effervescent mouthfeel, it develops its round character based on the extra long storage time giving it a bit of the complexity of a Saison, but without a ton of the ester and banana qualities. Thus, the Vitus does not taste like a typical Bock beer but more like a noble, fruity wheat beer. Weird, right? Not exactly my go-to or anything, but something that I had to try, and you should, too. I’m also a big fan of Weihenstephan Kristalbier, which is essentially a wheat beer that has been heavily filtered to obtain ‘crystal’ clarity. The filtration process must take out a lot of the heavier overtones that I would normally associate with a wheat beer, which leaves you with lots of the floral qualities inherent in wheat beers at the forefront. This is a great food beer for that reason, going well with seafood and white meat in the way that a dry white wine would.
J Schneider & Sohn (Schneiderweisse)– Kelheim
This brewery is noteworthy to me in that it only produces wheat beers. I’m not a wheat freak or anything, but Schneiderweisse Tap 7 (sometimes refered to as ‘The Original’) is truly something special. I first had opportunity to try this beer at a Rathskellar (loosely defined as a beer hall or restaurant located in a basement) here in my town of Duluth, MN. The very serious brewmaster (Dave Hoops) who worked for the restaurant group which owned this Rathskellar was somehow able to get half barrels of this beer imported to him from Germany. Amazing! This was the closest thing to drinking it in Germany that you could achieve Stateside. I have included this beer and brewery in my list also because it is readily available here in the US, though not usually on tap. The version that we can buy in bottles is still really good, but as most of us savvy to what a great, clean tap system does know, it just can’t touch it. I won’t waste time describing the flavor here, other than to say that it’s very similar to some of the other weisse that I have described in this article. Even if you don’t like wheat beer, try this one! It is widely regarded to be one of the best versions in the world.
Spaten– Munich, Bavaria
‘Lass Dir raten, trinke Spaten.’ or ‘Let yourself be advised, drink Spaten.’ is an ad slogan first coined in the 1920s by Spaten brewery. I love the way this reads in English (although it doesn’t rhyme as in the Deutsche); it’s so German! You know, we’re not telling you that you have to drink Spaten, that’s up to you, of course, but just be advised that you should be drinking this beer. Too true! Spaten is one of the most common German imports found in the US (I’m not going to talk about Beck’s or St. Pauli Girl, OK?), but it’s also just a really good brewery, and one that has quite a few different styles. For my taste, Spaten makes the excellent Munchen and Munchen Hell, Vienna and Helles style lagers, respectively. These beers are bready, crisp and dry. I think the Helles has slightly more hop flavor, but really they’re pretty similar to one another. If you want to try a pretty great version of a doppelbock, Spaten Optimator is easily found in most reputable liquor stores. This beer has a dark, cola-like appearance with a nice amount of off-white head and it smells very malty and sweet but not in a bad way. The taste is very deep malt, almost syrup like but at the same time its smooth and drinkable. It’s also one of those beers that drinks way less strong than it actually is. At 7.6%, this is the type of beer that you could get into trouble with if you get a taste for it some night.
There are still a ton of beers available from Germany in the USA that I haven’t touched upon. That’s OK! You have a world of discovery ahead of you! Generally, if you see a German import in the store, you can probably infer that it is going to be pretty high quality (unless it says Beck’s or St Pauli Girl, sorry gang). If you’re a hop-head like most of my beer drinking brethren here in the USA, you should probably stick to drinking IPAs brewed domestically. While there are reportedly a few breweries that make a nice IPA ( Fritzale, Häffner, and BrauKunstKeller are names that have been bandied about), it’s just really not their thing. But, if you want to drink any form of bock, wheat, lager or pilsner, stamp that liquor store passport and get to it!