Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kickin' it alt-style

Martler & Cora, 1994
So Beff and I were going to have pieces done by the Composers Ensemble at the Dartington Festival in the summer of 1994, and we built a whole Eurostravaganza around it. First, a visit with my friend Klaus in Düsseldorf, then a drive with Klaus through the Netherlands and Belgium to Paris, where we'd do a few more days. Then, England, with Martler and Cora.

Klaus suggested we fly into Bonn so that we could take the leisurely scenic drive from there to Düsseldorf up the Rhine River and see the many ancient castles dotting the landscape and go ooh and aah a lot. So we got the available redeye, got in the car, and for the first hour or so were oohed an aahed by the smanticulous scenery and the stunning variety of castle architecture, etc. And since we'd just been on a redeye for seven hours, we promptly dozed off. For the next two hours of the drive, Klaus rousted us each time another castle came into view, we'd mutter "Damn scenic, Klaus," and we'd doze off again.

We stopped for lunch at a beautiful secluded park with a castle view, and Klaus served a picnic he had packed. We woke up long enough to down our sandwiches and the beer he'd brought, and of course the beer just put us right back to sleep. For the next hour and a half I dreamed of being awakened every twenty minutes to view yet more castles, and next thing I knew we were in an apartment in Düsseldorf.

That night we went into downtown and to a Chinese restaurant. Looking at the menu, it seemed a lot more German than Chinese — sweet and sour schnitzel? — but the hot and sour soup at least had some familiar-looking chunks in it.

And then we did Klaus's favorite bar hop. Each bar had a distinctive version of the local brewing style — altbier. It's top-fermented (I don't know what that means, but it must be good) and copper-colored, and goes down pretty easily. Which is good, because we must have visited five or six bars, sampling the alt in each and every one of them. Alt means old in German, so according to the intertubes, it's an ancient way of making beer.

Beff knows German much better than I do (if the word isn't in a Schubert or Schumann song, I probably don't know it — well, except schnodderlumpen, which I remember from Lulu). In one of the bars — probably Uerige, now that I think of it — there were some Dutch enjoying beers and cracking jokes. One of which I actually got after Klaus translated. I love to tell the joke because it doesn't make sense in English — just like me! Only different.

"The letters on the restrooms. They don't stand for Men and Women! They stand for German and Dutch!"

For those with furrowed brows, Damen und Herren = Deutsch und Hollander.

Now the English version of the joke that won't make sense in German. They don't stand for Men and Women! They stand for More and Way More! Well, a joke except for the part about being funny.

The alt style of brewing has been pretty much limited to the Düsseldorf area. The German beer that makes it into the coolers of the local beer store is mostly from Bavaria and Munich (did you ever see a Berlin-style beer in your local beer store? (Update: there is a Berliner Weißbier)). Though I wouldn't be surprised if Sam Adams occasionally brought out an altbier as part of their homebrew series; and I think Saranac occasionally makes small batches of altbier to include in their Twelve Beers of Christmas.

And so when I first read about the latest new thing in mod music — alt-classical — I naturally thought it had something to do with beer. After all, the early press I read called it trendy and easily digestible, and young people like it.

What young person doesn't like beer?

There should be an alt-classical festival staged yearly in Düsseldorf sponsored by Diebels Alt. Cross-promotions are trendy, too, and can you imagine the international press? Once they are sober enough to pick up their pens, that is.

And once alt-classical has crossed over from Next Big Thing to Big Thing, I see mod music co-opting other beer styles in order to compete. It will be really cool, and for once, it will be okay to burp loudly and for a long time at a concert of mod music. Actually, now that I think of it, it's always been okay.

  • India-Pale-Ale-classical: refreshing during warm weather, and you'll hop with delight!
  • Lager-classical: everything will feel familiar and you won't have to work too hard to listen.
  • Pilsener-classical: everybody knows the music already, it's almost completely tasteless, it's extremely commercial, and it's mostly composed en masse in St. Louis and Milwaukee.
  • Porter-classical: the music is a bit dark, but it's always sweet.
  • Stout-classical: very dark and serious, and they'll have to pick you up off the floor. But you might actually remember it.
  • Hefeweiß-classical: a little bit tasteless, but you'll be able to listen to a lot of it without feeling much of anything.
  • Trippelbock-classical: the music takes a long time to play, but you're out like a light by the end anyway.
  • Lambic-classical: full of strange combinations, intriguing but ultimately just weird.
  • ESB-classical: finally, classical music that sounds best at room temperature!
  • Lite-classical: aspires to be Pilsener-classical, and makes you pine for it.