Wine can bring us moments of pure bliss. In a glass of wine you can find a snapshot of Elysium—quintessence and elegance and complexity bottled up exquisitely.
Wine can take us to heaven, but only beer can bring heaven to earth. Beer is the flavor of life—complex, bitter, sweet, filling, fizzing with entropy, bringing warmth even at its coldest, flat and stale before its time.
If you wish to escape—to fly off to Neverland—wine is the way to go. If you want to be here and now, drinking the marrow of life, you need beer.
And if you need to drink beer, German beer is never a bad choice. Germans know something of the bitterness, sweetness, order, chaos, joy, and sorrow of life, and the these things, along with a small dash of hops, yeast, water, and malted barley, are the ingredients of a good beer.
In search of the true flavor of life, I went off to Lederhosen, a German bar in the West Village. I had the Kulmbacher Eisbock, a potent 9.2% ABV brew with that trippe. Kick that sends your tongue into epileptic fits. Another diner promised it would taste like banana bread. I could not find that flavor, but it was intriguing nonetheless. It was a beer Nietzsche would have loved—an uberbeer, stoic and proud, a little bitter, and sure of itself.
Other beers at the table included Schlenkerla, a smoked beer tasting of a fire-heated cabinamong the mountains of Bavaria (much like those mountains painted on the mural overlooking the dining area), and Kostritzer black lager, a pleasant potable, smooth and dark (and a beer with a history—the first Kostritzer brewery was founded in 1543—22 years before I was born—and the poet Goethe lived off their black lager for months when sickness made it difficult for him to eat).
The only thing Germans know as well as beer is the food beer pines for in its lustful dreams. Foods like pickled herring (do not judge beer for this strange attraction—the heart wants what it wants), German potato salad, and sausage of every kind, including the currywurst and bauerwurst we ordered.
Bauerwurst is not like Bratwurst or other things you might think of when you think German sausage; it is more like a close relative of the hot dog—a swollen, juicy hot dog, more wholesome and dignified than its dirty-water cousin. The currywurst was similar to bauerwurst, with some German interpretation of curry added in.
As for my first experience with pickled herring? Do not fear it, as I once did in my younger days. The slight fishiness is offset by the pickling process, and all the improbable flavors mixed together on the plate—mustard, cabbage, and fish—combined to form something pleasant, unexpected, and refreshing.
We live on a quick segment of time—a thin thread of experience emerging from and returning to limitless oblivion. In this flash of consciousness we are given, ephermeral and saturated with wonder and mystery, there is a great debt we owe to ourselves: some new flavor, or sensation, or parcel of knowledge must be offered up to our experience every week and every day and every hour as tribute to the tenuousness of our lives. Our existence is not a gift—it is on loan from the cosmos, and she will one day claim what she has given.
And when this repo man of mortality comes I would not lower my head in shame and cry, “but I have never had bauerwurst! I have never tasted pickled herring!”