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Tradition and Beer

I confess, I like newness.  I enjoy reading the latest ideas, viewing new technology, seeing innovation on display.  I enjoy perusing new websites, new music, new gadgets, new Apple products – often to the annoyance of Apple store employees and my wife. It’s also one of the exhilarating aspects of being in a university town like Davis – a community filled with research on what’s next, where ideas are being discussed on campus that many of us could barely fathom.  I find it new and exciting that just a few weeks ago so many new people crammed into Davis, waking it from its summer slumber.  I love it.

That said, I also have a penchant for tradition.  One of things I miss about living in New England is the storied history around every turn.  The architecture, landscape, even just the general vibe breathes from a deep memory.  Call me a history nerd if you will, but so what if I happen to like the work of Ken Burns?

The craft beer industry, like much of its surrounding culture, is often enamored with the new.  The newest recipe, the newest craze, the newest technique – more hops, more alcohol, more…you name it.  Some of it, to be sure, is absolutely delicious.  I’ve written at length in this column of my appreciation of all things hoppy and I hope brewers continue to dream up new beers I will undoubtedly enjoy trying.  And yet some of the beer innovation occasionally feels a little, well, juvenile.

Looking over the offerings at the Davis Beer Shoppe last week, a member of the always helpful staff pointed out a beer from Weihenstephan noting simply, “this is the oldest brewery in the world.”  Either he thought I seemed like some kind of old geezer that would be into that sort of thing, or he too had an appreciation for history and tradition, especially as it relates to good beer.  Thankfully it was the latter, he assured me, and suggested I try the Korbinian they had on tap.

Weihenstephan is, in fact, the oldest brewery in the world.  Now run by the Free State of Bavaria, it was originally the monastery brewery of the Benedictine monks in the region nearly a thousand years ago – further proof, if needed, that beer and pastors really do go together, and have for over a thousand years.  The beer itself was named after Saint Corbinian who ministered to the region of Bavaria in the early 8th century.  Other than regional affinity, why they named this beer after Saint Corbinian is not readily apparent, though maybe he preferred a good dark beer to keep him warm on those cold Bavarian nights.

Their passion for tradition is on display from their label to their website, but comes through most notably through their beer.  This is beer that just feels likes its been around for awhile.  It has the sort of gravitas you only get with the passage of time.  And yet I’d argue both early adopters and staunch traditionalists should give this a try.  It’s that good.

It pours an extremely dark, thick looking brown color that is gorgeous to behold.  It is a double-bock beer (extra dark) that, even in appearance, gives the impression it has been quietly aging in the deep cellars below the monastery.  It smelled of malt and caramel, yet had a slightly sweet aroma that reminded me of malted milk balls.  It tasted just as amazing as it smelled.  Extremely creamy and full, the malt flavor is toasty with a nice spice, yet sweet and balanced to keep it together.  The fact that its alcohol content comes in at over 7% makes this a double bock, and a great evening beer.  It truly was one of the best bock style beers I have ever tasted, and I found myself grateful for the staff at the Shoppe for recommending it.

Weihenstephan seems thoroughly committed to bringing fresh and vibrant life through tradition that has served it well; which, as a pastor in a church seeking to do essentially the same thing, I rather appreciate.  Tradition, at its best, allows for unique expression while simultaneously situating you in something much larger, and older, and deeper, than yourself.  I suspect the folks at the oldest brewery in the world are keenly aware of this.  And as someone always interested in the new and latest craze, even in beer, it was a treat to sit back and realize that years and years of deep memory had gone into brewing the beer I was sipping, and the beer was the better for it.  I recommend it highly.





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