There are few places that I enjoy more than Germany, with its immense amounts of history, culture, and beauty everywhere you look. The history and culture carry over into the drinks available in this remarkable nation. Luckily for visitors at Walt Disney World, these things are adequately replicated in the Epcot pavilion.
As you have probably assumed if you ever walked by the Germany pavilion on a Saturday night, there are quite a few alcoholic beverages served. While certain types hover around the pavilion in order to consume way too many drinks, I am hoping to inspire you to appreciate the adult beverage in your hand by using the history and culture behind those drinks (and, of course, my sparkling wit).
I am starting with this digestif from the north of Germany for three reasons: 1) It is probably the most well known brand name served in the Germany pavilion, 2) It has a relatively boring story, and 3) I do not like it Sam-I-Am.
The name Jägermeister is translated as “hunt master” and was commonly used in Germany in the mid-1930s, which is when the liqueur was created. It is made from a secret combination of 56 herbs, fruits, roots, and spices that are mixed, aged, and filtered. You will find plenty of Jäger flowing in Germany (both country and pavilion), but in the former nation of Bavaria you are more likely to find…
Immensely popular in southern Germany (which I will call Bavaria…because that is what it is called), schnapps is a clear brandy with a light fruit flavor. Unlike some American liquors, German schnapps does not contain added sugar or fruit extracts. German Schnapps is also a liquor not a liqueur (don’t look so confused).
A liqueur is made by taking a high-proof spirit and steeping fruit, herbs, or spices in said spirit until the liqueur takes on those flavors (see Jägermeister). A liquor is the distilled spirit itself, which can be made using fruit, herbs, or spices in the distilling process (see Schnapps).
While it has a relatively low alcohol content of 40%, the taste of true German schnapps is akin to vodka with hint of fruit (i.e,. it is a little harsh). It will definitely warm your heart (and throat…and stomach…and liver) during a cold Bavarian winter.
The gift of fermented grapes is not one commonly associated with Germany, but you may have noticed the Weinkeller as part of the pavilion. If you are a bit rusty on your German, weinkeller translates as Kelly’s Wieners…or maybe wine cellar…hmm, my German may be a bit rusty. Regardless, what is found in this little room is a fine selection of wine from Deutschland (which I think is ‘dairy farm’ in English).
The vast majority of good German wines are whites, and many of those are Rieslings (REES-ling). Without going into full Wine 101, there are two basic ways to classify a wine: by grape variety or by region. If a region is a strong winemaker, that is usually the preference as it signifies some specific traits (well known wine regions are Chianti, Chablis, and Champagne). Otherwise, a wine will be classified by the type of grape (such as Merlot or Chardonnay). Riesling is a type of grape that makes a crisp, slightly fruity white wine.
Contrary to what many think, wine making in Germany is extremely old, dating to sometime around the year 200. Riesling making has been documented as far back as 1435 in the west of Germany, where many wines are still produced today.
Although Riesling is the most common, there are two fairly interesting types of wines you may also come across: Sekt and Spatlese. Sekt is simply sparkling white wine made from common German grape varietals (yes, usually Riesling). Production began in 1826 when a German who had previously worked in Champagne moved back home. It is bubbly and light like Champagne, but less dry and with a little more fruit flavor to it.
Spatlese is a stranger wine made like so many great things…by accident. The name literally means ‘late harvest’ and the grapes are harvested, uh, late. Because of the extra age of the grapes, they are overripe, making the wine more intensely flavored and complex.
The wine was discovered in 1775 when a courier placing a large wine order was delayed by two weeks, thus taking the grapes past their proper date. The grapes were harvested and wine produced with little hope of ever making anything good. The results were surprising, and now Spatlese is produced on purpose.
Now we come to it, the drink Germany is known for. As I have probably proven too many times, I am a man who enjoys a good beer, and beer from Germany is almost all very, very good. There are far too many different styles and types to list, so I will focus on two main styles that you can find in Epcot: pilsner and Oktoberfest.
Before I get to the actual types, there is little point in mentioning German beer without speaking of the Reinheitsgabot (rine-HITE-ska-boot…one of my favorite German words). More commonly known as the “German Beer Purity Law,” it was the first law passed in the world that governed food products. It was originally put forth in Bavaria (the semi-disputed king of beer regions) in 1487, and it said that only three ingredients may be used in beer making; water, barley, and hops. Over time the law was adjusted to include yeast (they didn’t know such micro-organisms existed in 1487). Notice that fruit, chocolate, coffee, milk, and other such craft brewery favorites need not apply (sorry, I’m a snob).
Now the beer: Pilsner is a light-colored lager-style beer that traditionally has a strong, sharp taste. Technically American light beers such as Budweiser and Miller are pilsners, but if I ever hear you comparing them to a real pilsner, I swear to you I will…(okay, deep breaths. Sorry about that!). Anyway, pilsners in Germany date back to 1842, although very similar beer had been brewed in abbeys for centuries prior.
Oktoberfest is quite possibly the beer type that has the most fun story. The date was October 12, 1810, and Prince Ludwig was to be married to the (presumably) lovely Princess Therese of Bavaria. Being Germans, the citizens of Munich were invited to party in the fields outside of the city gate prior to the wedding. Also being Germans, beer was involved. To this day, the celebration continues for the two weeks prior to the first Sunday in October (it was moved up a touch), and, yes, that means that most of Oktoberfest is, in fact, in September.
The beer part of the story reads thusly: Hofbrau brewery in Munich brewed a special celebration beer for that special day in 1810 (lots of special-ness going on). In the following years more breweries began brewing special Oktoberfest versions (which are Martzen style beers, but that is a lesson for another time). To regulate these brews (because Germans love them some regulation), some rules were established: 1) They must adhere to the Reinheitsgabot, 2) must be right around 6% alcohol by volume, and 3) must be brewed by a Munich brewery within the city limits.
What that leaves is exactly six true Oktoberfests: Hofbrau, Spaten, Lowenbrau, Augustiner, Paulaner, and Hacker-Pschorr. I hate to be a bummer, but the Altenmünster Oktoberfest sold in Epcot is brewed in Kempton, a small town in southwest Bavaria. While it is a good beer, it is not, nor will it ever be, a real Oktoberfest (instead settling for “Oktoberfest-style”). What is good news is that, if you eat at Biergarten in Epcot, you can get beer such as Altenmünster in gigantic one liter mugs, just like the Germans like them.
I think that is plenty of information on German beverages (although I could have easily doubled this…you’ll have to wait for my book). Hopefully you are now armed with some knowledge that will allow you to appreciate the skill, history, and culture squeezed into every drop of your drink.
Other ‘Drinks of Disney World’ Volumes: