Last night I headed to the Malzmühle, one of Cologne’s venerable brewhouses, famous for dining Bill Clinton after another Brauhaus had refused him entry. I was there, not to honour the former President, but to take part in a Bierseminar on the topic of German craft beer.
It was a two-hour event, which involved lots of hands-on (or tongue-on) activity in the form of sampling, with a beer-master who introduced the six craft beers and placed them in the wider context of the thriving phenomenon that is German craft beer. We also snacked on “Kölscher tapas”. You won’t be surprised to learn that I enjoyed it enormously.
It’s interesting to reflect on it as an adult education experience. There was a lot of humour, initiated and led by the beer-master, who made light of his considerable knowledge, claiming that it was based mainly on having drunk 27,000 litres of beer. There was a touch of subversion, with an informed critique of the famed Reinheitsgebot, and a rather sharper mocking of the dominant Lager industry. The highly sociable event was high on learner involvement, increasingly noisy as the evening went on.
The thirty-plus learners, I ought to say, were mostly in their thirties, with some in their twenties or forties (I was far the oldest). Two thirds were male and one third female, and one family had brought two young children. Beards were plentiful but not as frequent nor as ferociously clipped as I’d expect to see in the UK. And in one of Germany’s most multi-cultural cities, and indeed in the middle of a multi-ethnic neighbourhood, all were white.
I don’t want to get too serious about what I had attended mainly as a bit of fun. Still, I learned quite a bit about the science of brewing, the shortcomings of the Reinheitsgebot, and the relative uniformity and blandness of most (not all) German lagers. My expectations had been modest in this respect: what could I learn in Germany about craft beers that I didn’t know already? Well, I was happy to be proven wrong.
Pleasant though it was, the evening wouldn’t be worth blogging about were it not that it exemplifies one of the largest and most diverse but most neglected areas of adult learning: privately-run educational activities that are sold on a commercial basis and promoted in terms of the benefits to customers. Very often they are conducted as a by-product of the core business, as was the case with the Malzmühle – which also represents a highly-trusted brand.
Yet we know very little about this part of the adult education sector, and what we do know is often anecdotal, completely subjective, and unsystematic. And we have little or no knowledge of the wider effects of this growing consumer-oriented private sector.
I want to end, though, by celebrating the German craft beer industry. I had some great IPAs, including a wheat IPA, and a wonderful Imperial Stout. Star of the show for me, though, was a Gose Bier (known also as a Goslar Bier), an acidic ale which had been brewed from a mix of malts, complemented by a small about of lactose,salt and coriander. It completely failed to meet the Reinheitsgebot criteria, and packed a mighty punch of fruity flavour with a bitter, hoppy finish. Prost!