Long ago, I mentioned I planned to spend a few days in beer school. Now that school is over and Oktoberfest has just begun, I thought this would be a nice time to share a bit of what I learned. Every few days between today and October 7, I will share a particular beer and a recipe to match. Since this is Oktoberfest, let’s start with German beers.
Oktoberfest began as a celebration of the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October12, 1810. I will drink a beer for nearly any occasion, but drinking a beer in tribute to love just makes it all the better, don’t you think? If my ongoing obsession with both Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey has taught me anything, it’s that they probably got married because one of them had a nice chunk of land the other one was after.
That aside, the kind royals hosted a festival complete with horse races for all of Bavaria to enjoy. Everyone seemed to like it so much, they added an agricultural festival and did it again the next year. And it just kept going to where we are today. The festival always runs for 16 days and ends the first Sunday in October. To learn more about present-day Oktoberfest, visit the official website.
An important component of the history of German beer is the beer purity law Reinheitsgebot. In 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria was not pleased with the poor quality beer consistently placed in front of him. Too many brewers used cheap grain as a substitute for quality grain. So he did what any man of power might do and passed a law restricting the ingredients used to make beer to malted barley, hops and water. (Yeast was added later.) The result was delicious beer.
Here are a few German beer types, along with my overly simplistic descriptions:
Altbier – A brown ale that is conditioned for a while longer than normal so it doesn’t taste so fruity.
Bock – A strong lager. It is lagered (stored in a cold place) for a while longer than normal so it’s not so in-your-face with taste. In my extracurricular activities after school I learned the goat is the mascot of Bocks. Something about the beer was originally brewed only during the astrological phase of the Capricorn? I was born under the sign of the goat, so I guess I should like these beers.
Dopplebock – An an even stronger lager! And darker than a Bock. I suppose this makes the Dopplebock the strong, dark and handsome one in the family.
Eisbock – The brewing process includes freezing off a portion of the water, so in a sense, this beer is more concentrated than others.
Hefeweizen – Typically brewed with at least 50 percent wheat. The Hefe portion of the name indicates the yeast, and the Weizen means wheat. These beers look kinda cloudy.
Dunkelweizen – Also a wheat beer, but darker than a Hefeweizen.
Weizen-Bock – The pimped out version of the Dunkelweizen.
Schwarzbier – A black beer, though its color does not necessarily indicate its heaviness. These beers are actually quite light and flavorful.
Though I have done my best to provide accurate information, please note I continue to have a very simplistic understanding of the world of beer.
Speaking of World of Beer, Preston at Charlotte’s South End location graciously put the summer beer school program on for eight consecutive Mondays. Any errors, omissions or out-right butcherings of the information he provided and I have re-shared are most definitely my own.
Let’s move on to the food. Nothing says German food like a really nice pretzel! More accurately, nothing says “German food I can actually make” like a nice soft pretzel.You many recall I made soft pretzels last winter, but these are the with-beer versions. I also made a cheddar beer dip for those of you who are like me and need something to go along with your soft pretzels.
I used local Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s OMB Copper for both the pretzels and the dip. This beer has quite a few fans across Charlotte. I have heard “OMB’s Copper is my favorite” proclaimed in settings that range from the dinner table to yoga class. I myself do not care for it. It’s one of those things I really want to like because I think I should, but when it comes down to it, I simply do not. This characteristic actually makes it excellent for cooking purposes because it doesn’t pain me to pour it into something I’m going to eat instead of wanting to pour it down my throat.
As I was checking to make sure pretzels do indeed have origins in Germany, I learned a French or Italian monk is actually given credit for inventing the pretzel. But since German immigrants (today known as the Pennsylvania Dutch) introduced soft pretzels to America, I though this was an acceptable recipe to kick off Oktoberfest. For a different twist, bake the pretzel dough into small rounds to use as sandwich buns or large rounds to use as bowls. Fill them with cheddar beer soup, or simply wait until my next Oktoberfest post when I provide another beer-meets-soup recipe and discuss monks in much more detail. Prost!
- Day 1: German Beers & Pretzels
- Day 2: Belgian Beers & Soup
- Day 3: Dark Beers & Chocolate Stout Bread
- Day 4: Lagers, Ales & Huevos Rancheros
- Day 5: Beer Spiced Cupcakes
- Day 6: Sours & Cherry Lambic Cookies
- Day 7: IPAs & Beer Battered Apples
Soft Beer Pretzels with Cheddar Beer Dip
- For the Pretzels
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1, 1/4 ounce package active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt plus additional for sprinkling
- 1 to 1 1/4 cups brown ale, room temperature
- 3 3/4 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg, beaten
- For the Dip
- 1 1/2 cups beer
- 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- salt and black pepper to taste
- Place warm water and yeast in a large bowl and allow to stand for five minutes.
- Add the sugar, olive oil, salt beer and 3 3/4 cups of flour and stir until dough is soft. Continue to add flour or beer as needed until dough comes together.
- Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 6-8 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
- Place the dough in lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic or a clean towel. Allow to rise for one hour. The dough should double in size.
- Punch down the dough and divide into 12 pieces.
- Roll each piece into a rope, about 20 inches long and twist into a pretzel shape.
- While you shape the pretzels, bring the water and the baking soda to a boil.
- Dip the shaped pretzels into the boiling solution for a few seconds, then place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
- Cover the pretzels and allow to rise another 15 minutes.
- Brush their tops with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with salt.
- Bake at 425 degrees until lightly golden brown, about 15 minutes.
- To make the dip, pour the beer into a sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
- Add the cheese and stir until melted.
- Reduce the heat to medium low and thicken with corn starch.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Feel free to use a stand mixer and the dough hook to knead the pretzel dough. The pretzels will keep in an air tight plastic container for several days. I ended up using 3 3/4 cups of flour and 1 cup plus three tablespoons of beer to get the dough the consistency I desired.