Classic vs. freewheelin' beer style debate has Joe's brain buzzing

Get in the spirit of Bierfest 2014 on Saturday.
Get in the spirit of Bierfest 2014 on Saturday.
Posted: February 21, 2014

A PAIR OF upcoming local beer-drinking events has me thinking out of both sides of my brain.

My left side - controlled and analytical - is focused on Saturday's Bierfest at the German Society of Pennsylvania. I'll sit on a panel of beer experts to discuss classic, old-world lager styles.

My right side - freewheeling and emotional - is preparing for Beer School at the Loft at Iron Abbey, in Horsham, next week. I'll lead an advanced class on unconventional beer ingredients that produce inventive, newfangled flavors.

Left: German lagers are the best-made beers in the world. They are as close to perfection as is humanly possible.

Right: Who needs perfection? I'd rather have the excitement of the unusual. Different flavors, unexpected treats. Perfection is boring.

Left: Boring? Is Da Vinci boring? Is Beethoven boring? A German Helles lager, like Andechser Spezial, is bright and crisp and refreshing. Its flavor is sublime. Its sparkling golden color, topped by a pillow of dense, white foam, smiles at you knowingly, like the Mona Lisa. A full, frothy quaff satisfies your soul, like Ludwig's Fifth Symphony.

Right: Ancient artists and composers - you're living in the past. Give me a Dogfish Head Theobroma made with cocoa and chile pepper. It's like Jasper Johns' ironic paintings. Then I'll take a Local Option Morning Wood. Made with coffee, it's a jolt - like the Ramones. Both are flavorful and satisfying but utterly different from anything you've ever tasted.

Left: Cocoa? Chile? Coffee? That's not beer! The German beer purity law - the Reinheitsgebot - established the ingredients of beer centuries ago: water, malt, hops and yeast. Anything else is . . . is verboten!

Right: The Reinheitsgebot? That's the equivalent of Ptolemaic astronomy. Man learns, we evolve, we don't go backward. Enforcing a 500-year-old beer-making law is antediluvian. It's as wrongheaded as the Vatican convicting Galileo of heresy.

Left: On the contrary, the pursuit of perfection is what drives us all. Galileo learned from Copernicus and gave us Newton, who gave us Einstein. German brewers refined their dark dunkel lagers and gave us Kolsch and Pilsener.

Think of them as engineers who brewed and tested again and again, tweaking the recipes, learning from their errors, purifying their creations.

Right: What hubris! Perfection is a myth. It's an ideal that's beyond man's reach. Worse than that, it completely ignores the random wonder of the universe.

Penicillin was created from household mold; plastic was the result of a laboratory spill. Who knows where double IPAs or spontaneously fermented ales will lead us next?

Left: Who cares? Once you've achieved nirvana, why would you want to drink anything else?

Right: Because drinking beer isn't about some stagnant, utopian ideal. It's about dreams, about challenges, about savoring one glass, then moving to the next discovery.

Left: Ach! Your modern brews are fleeting fascinations. Yesterday it was light beer. Today it's hop monsters. Tomorrow it's . . . I don't know, sour ales. Meanwhile, German lagers endure.

Right: Ugh, that's just the problem. You would have us drink the same beer, liter after liter, day after day.

The sun shines, the moon rises, and one day you wake up and you're old and gray, and your beer is yellow and warm. Your entire life is a rerun.

Left: On the contrary, the perfect beer is like a childhood memory. It is yours to hold forever. It is a constant comfort that gives meaning to your life.

Right: So, beer is comfort food? I don't think so. Beer is excitement and passion. It is a lover who brings you to new heights, a dare that takes you beyond your limitations, a slap in the face that wakes you from complacency.

Left: No, beer is dependable.

Right: No, it's . . .

Bartender: Yo, enough arguing, brainiacs. What'll you have?

Are you a left-brain beer drinker or right? Decide for yourself.

_ Bierfest 2014 is 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the German Society of Pennsylvania, 7th and Spring Garden streets. Tix start at $45 online at phillybierfest.com.

_ Beer School with Professor Joe Sixpack is Feb. 27 at the Loft at Iron Abbey, 680 N. Easton Road, Horsham. Tix are $20, reservations at 215-956-9600.


"Joe Sixpack" is written by Don Russell. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at joesixpack.net. Email: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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