This past October Lauren and I vacationed in Germany. I’d visited Germany as part of a blitzkrieg 30-day Europe tour as a high school senior (Mom & Dad – hope you know how grateful I am for that opportunity!), and had a couple of limited business trips, but hadn’t really seen the country. This was the first time I’d been able to really enjoy the country as an adult.
After a hard negotiation with the travel agent to steer clear of Dachau—as I reasonably explained to her, the Jews never really wanted to go there in the first place—we settled on an itinerary that started in Munich, swung through Baden-Baden, went up to Heidelberg and wound up in Berlin. Baden-Baden and the Black Forest in general were lovely—we enjoyed great dinners, won seven Euros on roulette, watched parasailers at the top of the funicular, bathed in thermal springs, and hiked to the Grandfather Tree with our slightly-cracked beekeeper tour guide.
On our second night in Baden-Baden, we had dinner at the Casino. The dessert menu featured a deconstructed Black Forest cake and I suddenly had a revelation: a Black Forest Cake beer. Black Forest cake is surprisingly light: a light chocolate sponge soaked in cherry liqueur, sour cherries, whipped cream frosting. If you’re thinking heavy, you’re probably envisioning a German Chocolate cake.
So what would this be? Sour cherry and chocolate. But not a strong pastry stout: something drier, lower-alcohol—streamlined. Like an Irish stout. Soured? Yes. Fermented over sour cherries and cacao nibs. And: lagered to avoid any residual fruitiness. The recipe came together directly on the heels of the inspiration.
As it almost inevitably turns out in the beer world, this idea isn’t entirely original—I ran across a couple cans of Black Forest Cake beer at a gift shop. But their version is much more of a dessert beer. As completed, the HLH rendition strikes an interesting balance between the sour and the sweet, with the chocolate adding an earthy background that is in no way cloying. It is exactly what it was intended to be.
On our Black Forest hike, we were taken to Lake Mummelsee—a pretty little lake high in the mountains. The legends surrounding the lake include that it was once the home of mermaids. These mermaids would emerge from the lake during the day to work and socialize with the local townsfolk, but they would always return to the lake by 11pm.
One young man fell in love with a mermaid and was desperate to spend more time with her. One day he had the bright idea of setting back the clock an hour to delay her departure to midnight. So she got back to the lake an hour late; and of course, in the morning she was dead. In the lake there’s a statue that pays tribute to this tragedy.
This legend made a beautiful namesake for the beer and souvenir for the trip. The label image would have to pay tribute as well, and the thought of the clock striking 11 evoked the Black Forest cuckoo clock that I brought home as my other souvenir.
With mermaids and cuckoo clocks and beer swimming through my mind, they started to resolve into something startlingly close to Tony Millionaire’s Maakies strip, starring Drinky Crow. In a foolhardy moment I wondered whether it would be possible to get a drawing from the man himself. Then I discovered his home on the web. I took the plunge and he was more than pleased to bring the vision to life. I am freaking thrilled to have Drinky Crow popping out of a cuckoo clock on one of my beers. So as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I’m not a Wilco superfan but every once and again I fall hard. There’s an exquisite balance to their music.
From one angle, Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting is simple, grounded in elemental roots idioms with an occasional garnish of hooky pop chord changes. From another, his lyrics are impressionistic and a little inscrutable, but not in a generic way—there are shards of specificity that burn hard.
From a third angle, they are masters of a comfortable, lived-in shuffle, the kind that gets the dads in the audience moving their dad-bods in eerie synchrony. From a fourth, they’ve got some serious experimental musicians in their lineup and use the shuffle as a virus to inject some sorely-needed skronk into the host organism.
A song like “Impossible Germany” can be examined from all those angles at once.