Visiting a beer garden is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That is, an opportunity to impress your friends and members of the opposite sex, or an opportunity to look like the biggest doofus on this side of the Atlantic. It’s your choice.
We recommend you choose wisely if you expect your progeny to be able to hold their heads high during exercises involving alcohol consumption. Far too many casual drinkers have visited beer gardens only to be embarrassed to the point of being compared to one Kent Dorfman of Animal House fame. If you don’t know who we’re talking about, please look it up.
Beer Garden Basics
For starters, a beer garden is not a couple of lawn chairs in your backyard surrounding a kiddie pool. This is serious business; especially if you are of German heritage. The term “beer garden” comes from the German “biergarten,” which may be close enough after you’ve had a couple of Holston Pilseners.
To a true German, however, a beer garden is an outdoor space where friends gather to sit on large wooden benches, drink lots of beer, listen to good music, and laugh so hard the hops are shooting out of your nose. Okay, we added that last part just for effect. But you get the point.
The other thing to remember about the beer garden experience is its social aspect. According to Brew York, the original concept of the German beer garden was one of social gathering. The idea was to create a large community space where people could come to get to know one another and build community relationships.
We know, it sounds very sappy and a lot like Hillary Clinton’s “it takes a village” speech. But a beer garden isn’t a true German experience if you just go with a couple of friends and never talk to anyone else. So mingle.
Beer Garden Etiquette
The first rule of German social gathering is to be welcoming to all guests. In fact, if you were to go eat in a traditional German dining hall, you would find multiple families sharing a table. So when you go to a beer garden, be prepared to share your table or bench with complete strangers.
Next, it’s really important to know your beers. Why? Because it’s called a beer garden; not a wine cooler garden or a place to sit around and experiment with trendy mixed drinks with stupid names like “Blue Lagoon” or “Shot in the Dark.” Besides, Germans take their beer very seriously. If you want to fit in, you’ll definitely need to know the difference between a lager and a weisse (German for “wheat” not “wuss”).
Some people prefer to go to an Italian or Vietnamese beer garden; in this case, knowing German beers won’t do you any good. Then again, those aren’t truly beer gardens in the strictest sense of the term. They are alcohol consumption establishments trying to cash in on a long-standing German tradition.
Beer Garden Food
What’s a good German beer without some good German food to go along with it? Nothing. When you visit an authentic beer garden, expect very tasty foods like wiener schnitzel, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and little egg noodles known as Spätzle. German food may not look like much, but it tastes a lot better than anything with the name “fusion” after it.
The good thing about the food at the beer garden is that each person gets his own plate. If you were to go to some other countries, like Spain for example, you may find yourself eating off a big communal platter rather than your own serving dish. In Germany you may be sharing tables, but every man’s plate is his own.
One last note about the food comes by way of Esquire.com. In their slide show about German beer gardens, they mention a rich cream cheese creation called Obatzda; a creation that will knock you on your backside if you’re not prepared for it. It’s generally served with rye bread, soft pretzels, and, of course, beer.
After Your Visit
The true German experience can’t really be taken in if you only spend 30 or 40 minutes at the beer garden. To do it right requires several hours, at least. If you’re willing to invest that kind of time, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. Just remember a couple of important tips for the ride home.
First and foremost, if you’re drunk do the right thing; don’t drive. Give your keys to your best friend, who may or may not be named Hans Mueller, and let him do the driving. If your whole group is drunk, leave the car and get a cab. This takes us to tip number two.
When riding in a cab remember that the driver is not interested in your rendition of “Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi.” Never mind that you have no idea what it means. Be nice to your driver and the neighborhood you’re passing through―sit still and be quiet.
A truly German beer garden is an experience you must try at least once. Local Oktoberfest celebrations are a good option if you don’t live in a large city like New York. Otherwise, most of your major metropolitan areas will have at least one beer garden you can try.