AS BEER-DRINKING dilemmas go, the lemon question is an easy call: Don’t do it!
I refer, of course, to the unfortunate trend of defiling a perfectly good wheat beer with a spongy hunk of citrus. It happens most commonly in bars that serve German hefeweizen, but the practice has spread like a bad case of crotch rash to Belgian wit and American wheat. Some joints have gone as far as plunking an orange slice into a murky brown dunkle-weisse.
Stop it, I say, stop it now! You’re ruining a perfectly good beer. The citric acid kills a hefeweizen’s billowy head and the aroma masks the ale’s delicate aroma of banana, clove, bubble gum and, yes, lemon.
Who’s responsible for this madness, I don’t know. The Germans do it, I’ve been told. But:
1. Who cares? The Germans also put mayonnaise on their french fries. And,
2. I doubt it. The Germans invented the beer purity law, which means nothing goes into beer but water, yeast, hops and barley.
Anyway, almost certainly the only German beer that deserves a lemon slice is kristall-weizen, a crisp, filtered wheat beer whose flavor might be enhanced by fruit. But hefeweizen? Never! This is one of the world’s classic beer styles, a beer whose complex yeast works on simple ingredients to produce an array of flavors that are soft, comfortable, refreshing, perfectly balanced. Exposing a tall glass of this cloudy beer to a 5-cent lemon wedge is the taste-bud equivalent of slathering the $34.95 filet at the Prime Rib with a bottle of Heinz.
“Lemon in hefeweizen infuriates me,” said Mike Griffin of the authoritative German Beer Guide Web site. “I cannot for the life of me fathom why some people believe the skill of the brewer to be so insignificant that the flavor of the beer should be masked with some randomly selected citrus fruit.
“If served a hefeweizen with lemon in, I usually send it back.”
If you’re one of the lemon culprits, well, I’m not blaming you. These days, any time you order a hefeweizen, the bartender automatically finishes off the pour by ceremoniously reaching for the fruit tray. You ask him to hold the lemon, he looks at you like you’re not wearing any pants. And I’m not blaming the bartender, either, though I suspect the slice is a simple ploy to increase tips.
The problem is, we’re getting mixed messages from beer authorities.
Ludwig’s Garten, Center City’s excellent German bar, routinely serves lemon with its hefeweizen. A bartender there once told me it helps “settle the yeast.” (That’s baloney.) The makers of Schneider Weisse, one of the best German hefeweizens, warn that “the true connoisseur avoids the addition of lemon as it destroys the beautiful white head.” Its American importer, B. United International, says that it “adds acid to an already perfectly balanced beer.”
But Merchant du Vin, which imports the fine Ayinger Brau Weisse, says the acidity of weizenbeir is “complemented” with a slice of lemon.
Beer writer Michael Jackson says at his Web site, “I have also heard it said that the lemon reduced the foam to manageable proportions, but why would anyone want to flatten a naturally sparkling drink?”
Still, he’s not opposed to the practice, noting the “lemon accentuated the tart, refreshing character of the beer, and I am sorry that it is so rarely seen in Germany today.”
Even the highly opinionated authorities at BeerAdvocate.com sit on the lemon orchard fence, writing, “Is there a right or wrong? Who knows? It’s very subjective.”
Well, I’m here to tell you putting a lemon into your beer is wrong.
Now stop it.
Note: The above fruit-in-beer advisory does not apply to a lime wedge in a Corona bottle because:
1. Corona is not real beer; it’s just fizzy, yellow water. And,
2. The lime is only thing that gives Corona any flavor.
Speaking of wheat beer, Legacy Brewing, of Reading, Pa., is out with its second bottled beer: Midnight Wit. This is a Belgian-style wheat ale that, like hefeweizen, is cloudy and spicy but a bit sharper in the palate.
Look for it in 12-ounce bottles and on tap in area bars and distributors. And, like hefeweizen, Midnight Wit don’t need no stinkin’ lemon.