My fascination with honey fermentation, as well as my frugal inclinations, led me down some unexpected paths: learning to keep bees for easy access to raw honey seems pretty straightforward, but that quickly devolved into boiling-wax-comb experiments, dead bees and all, to make plausible medieval must, and culminated in winning a bronze medal in the National Homebrew Competition. Who would have expected that! And why did I go down this rabbit hole? The combination of my avid interest in medieval brewing techniques with keeping the occasional hive and growing many types of fermentable fruit on our smalltool kit. Sure, boiling dead bees sounds like an excellent reason not to emulate the past, but careful examination of medieval and renaissance texts suggested that was not what they were doing, actually, contrary to popular fiction!
WHY is bemoaning the decline and doom of craft brewing such an all-consuming obsession to so many people? Beer pundits used to be content with debating attenuation and mash temperatures and when to hop the ales. But, in increasing numbers, for AT LEAST the past fifteen years, I read this stuff about how “Craft beer is DOOMED!“, “The Craft Boom is OVER!“, “The consumers are turning away!“. EASILY fifteen years, now, and I probably missed a few of these screeds.
Here’s what’s REALLY happening: Craft beer BOOMED, in a way virtually unprecedented in American business, since the end of the 80s, when brewery numbers started to climb stratospherically. In the beginning, the craft community was insanely close and tightly knit. Everyone involved knew and took to heart that a rising tide floats all boats. Cooperation was a given. People shared ideas and methods and equipment and sometimes even labor. It was hippie-ish in its aura. Yeah, breweries failed but usually because they were run by people unprepared to run businesses at all. And the Boom went on for a LONG time.
Let’s start with Wieninger’s Schwabenbräu Wirtshaus, an inn with colourful paintings (Lüftlmalerei) depicting a mélange of religious, chivalric, and culinary images splashed across its façade. The interior is suitably rustic, but it’s the beer garden that drew my attention on that warm and sunny afternoon. This is one of those “klein aber fein” (small but fine) beer gardens with all the trappings you’d expect from larger affairs, but with one slightly different touch: grapevines round out the shade provided by horse chestnut trees.