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:
I am not going to lie to you; this Drink of Disney World series is one of my favorites to write and most certainly my favorite to research. It started with a trip behind the drinks that are served at the UK Pavilion in Epcot. Today, I’m going to throw a change up and head over to a resort that I recently spent some time at: Port Orleans.
As you are no doubt aware, the Port Orleans resorts are designed to resemble different aspects of southern living. French Quarter is a Disneyfied version of central New Orleans (meaning no…uh, gentlemen’s establishments), while Riverside is an equally sanitized depiction of a more rural lifestyle. In reality, the adult beverages available in these two areas would be equally different, but this is not quite reality.
Sadly (to me anyway), the drink menus are nearly identical at both Riverside and French Quarter. They both have a full liquor array and mostly standard beer lists, as well. The only interesting beer choices come from the Abita brewery, which is a relatively small brewer from New Orleans. Abita has some good quality brews, but its story is not particularly interesting, nor is it very long (Abita has been brewing for under 30 years, and any product younger than I am does not count as history).
Where you can find some true Louisiana history in a glass is in the cocktails. No, you won’t come across moonshine hidden in the back woods of Riverside, nor will you run into the Duke boys evading Rosco P. Coltrane (although that would be fantastic). What you will find is two mixed drinks with a lot of history that leads straight back to New Orleans: the Hurricane and the Sazerac.
The Hurricane is a rum-based cocktail invented by Pat O’Brien, the proprietor of the French Quarter bar, Pat O’Brien’s (I wonder how he thought up the name). During World War II, good quality whiskey and vodka were hard to come by, but rum was widely available-a little too widely available. Liquor distributors in the New Orleans area began requiring the purchase of several cases of rum for every case of whiskey or vodka bought. Obviously, bar owners were trying to find ways to move all of that less popular liquor, and Mr. O’Brien decided to concoct a cocktail of rum and fruit juice. In an attempt to make it more desirable, he began serving it in a large, curvy glass shaped like a Hurricane lamp…and a legend was born.
Today people flock to the original site of Pat O’Brien’s to imbibe in the famous drink and take home a souvenir glass. While the bartenders of Port Orleans will gladly make you a real authentic Hurricane, they may not be as happy with your trying to take the glass home (although I have never tried).
The Sazerac is a lesser known cocktail, but it is every bit as dear to New Orleans as the Hurricane. In fact, it was named the “Official Cocktail of New Orleans” in 2008 after several amended bills in the State Congress (who says government wastes time on silly things?). It is made almost entirely of rye whiskey (or sometimes cognac) and simple syrup (sugar water), so it is a pretty stiff customer, but having a Sazerac at Port Orleans will instantly link you to centuries of Louisiana history.
In short, a bar owner began serving a cocktail in New Orleans around 1850 that was made from a particular brand of cognac: Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils (did you make a link to the name yet? Of course you did). The drink became so popular that the bar was renamed “The Sazerac House.”
Since you’re pretty smart you are probably wondering why the drink is named after a cognac yet made with rye whiskey, right? Well, around 1870 there was a vegetation decimating disease in France that devastated the grape crop, making cognac scarce. The recipe was amended to rye, which was much more reliable and apparently did not impact the cocktail’s popularity (there is now a rye named Sazerac, but it is predated by the drink).
There are subtle and obvious links to Louisiana, and specifically New Orleans, all over the Port Orleans resort. You may not have realized the relationship at the bar before, but now you can amble into the River Roost or Scat Cat’s and confidently order a real connection back through history.
While it is unarguable that Walt Disney World is a great place for a family vacation, it is also unarguable that many people, after a long period of time with said family, could use a drink. Disney has always had a strange history with alcohol; Walt Disney himself was famously against serving alcohol in his theme park. Nowadays it has become commonplace to see someone wandering World Showcase in Epcot with a drink in hand. Disney has even begun opening more elegant drinking establishments, such as La Cava del Tequila (wonderfully summarized by my co-blogger Stacey) in Mexico.
While I have been known to enjoy an adult beverage from time to time, I am also a researcher. I am less concerned with putting large quantities of alcohol in my system and more focused on quality. My goal with this new series is to orient you to the choices in alcoholic beverages and give you some idea of where it came from. As a wise man once said, knowing is half the battle…
Since I am, at heart, a beer fan I have decided to start with a beer heavy location: the UK Pavilion in World Showcase. Obviously, when you think of grabbing a drink from the UK, you are going to the Rose & Crown Pub, so that’s where I’m going, too.
First, let me start out with some basic history of drinks in the UK. And the Brits sure do like their drinks. Due to the climate, the English, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish (also known as…the UK) are not wine drinkers. They just plain didn’t grow the grapes. What they did grow was barley, which is fantastic for making things like beer and whiskey. Not too coincidentally, they tend to drink beer and whiskey (see how I connected those dots? I told you I was a researcher).
The Rose & Crown
The bar menu of the Rose & Crown features a lot of drinks…a real lot. If I went through every one of them you would stop reading even earlier than normal, so I’m just going to hit the highlights and let you comment below as to what I have missed.
Scotch Whisky (no, I didn’t misspell it, this is how it’s supposed to be…honest)
Spirits have been brewed in Scotland for centuries; so long, in fact, that no one is sure when the Scots started making them. To be officially considered a “Scotch whisky,” the spirits must be produced, processed, fermented, distilled, and aged (for a minimum of 3 years in oak casks) inside the borders of Scotland (and yes, there are very serious regulations about this).
In general, there are two types of Scotch; single malt and blended. To be called a “single malt,” a whisky must be produced from only water and malted barley at a single distillery and mixed with no other batches of whisky (again, seriously regulated). Blended Scotch is what it sounds like, whisky that is mixed with other batches, possibly from other years, to make a more consistent product.
Ahhh, the English countryside
There are several types of Scotch available at the Rose & Crown, and the wonderful bar staff there can no doubt steer you around them. Scotch is most certainly an acquired taste and if you sample a few you will notice a remarkable differences based on maturity and the location where it was produced. Plus, nothing impresses people like being able to talk about single malt Scotch, right? Right? Never mind.
In my opinion (which matters for something, I hope), the UK has some of the best beers in the world. It is often overshadowed because they are not hip or trendy styles, just simple ales that taste good. Like Scotch, beer has been brewed longer in the UK than there has been written history. The beer was (and still is) stored in the cellar to mature and pumped up to the bar for service. This meant that the beer was cellar temperature (around 55 degrees, give or take) rather than “warm,” as so many people mistakenly believe. The pump system also means that carbon dioxide was not needed, which kept the beer smooth and creamy rather than gassy.
There are still beers served in England by pump, and there are others that simulate the effect. Two of those beers are on tap at the Rose & Crown: Guinness Stout (although not from the real UK) and Boddingtons English Pub Ale. Both use a combination of carbon dioxide and nitrogen to temper the carbonation, which is what makes them so smooth and why they have to “settle” before drinking them.
Other English beers that can be found at the Rose & Crown are Bass Ale and…uh…wait, that’s it!? Yes, Boddingtons and Bass are the only beers on the menu that are from the UK. The rest are Guinness (Republic of Ireland), Stella Artois (Belgium), and Harp Lager (Republic of Ireland). For shame.
My favorite beer at in the UK...that's not from the UK
One other fun thing to try from the Rose & Crown’s drink menu is the mixed beers. Yes, I know that sounds nasty, but bear with me. Some beers (specifically Boddingtons and Guinness) are chemically less dense than others. That means that they can “float” on top of another beer, making a tasty drink (and a cool looking one at that). A few of the better known mixed beers are the Half & Half (Harp topped with Guinness), Black & Tan (Bass topped with Guinness), and the Bumblebee (Boddingtons topped with Guinness). Another good option for those who think Guinness is too bitter (you’re wrong by the way…it’s perfect) is a Poor Man’s Black Velvet, which is a hard cider (such as Woodpecker or Strongbow) topped with Guinness. (In case you are curious, a Black Velvet is Champagne topped with Guinness, and it is kind of gross).
So that’s my rundown in 1,000 words or less. Yes, I know I missed some things, but I’m hoping this will give you a better appreciation of what you are ordering while enjoying the performances of The Hat Lady, sitting next to the lagoon, or simply trying something new.
Thanks for reading!