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Lager Beer in New York

The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1290, p. 559-561.

December 3, 1864


"To appreciate the great German element in the social and political life of America requires," says our New York correspondent, "a treatise on lager beer. The Teutonic population of New York, including the neigbbouring Brooklyn, Hoboken, and Jersey City, amounts to about 150,000; every one of whom, from the grizzled patriarch and old woman to the babe of tender years, may safely be counted upon as one of the consumers of their national beverage. Nor is the pussion for lager beer confined to these. It has become an 'institution' of the land, and, during the summer months at least, its consumption by the other citizens of New York would alone keep a respectable number of breweries in full operation.

"Lager beer proper is composed of malt, hops, and water, and its excellence is said to depend much upon the quality of the spring from which the water is obtained. It is lighter than the beer of England, and has a bitter-aromatic flavour, very grateful to the palate. During the hot season, however, it is apt to have a taste of resin, a slight infusion of which is considered necessary to keep it sound. A stronger kind of this beverage, called bock beer, is much indulged in by some of the steady old topers who frequent the beer gardens and saloons. This is of a more potent brewage than the ordinary sort, and its specific gravity is one third greater, as it has so much more of the malt ingredient in its composition. Bock beer is of a darker colour than the common lager, and possesses a certain luscious flavour, being spiced with an infusion of coriander or some such aromatic seed. It takes its name from the frolicsome spirit supposed to be imparted by it to its imbibers, whose gambols remind the observant Teuton of those of the bock, or goat, a figure of which animal, engaged in sportive dalliance with a beer cask, is usually to be seen as a sign in places where this brewage is on tap. Lager beer is invariably drunk out of small glass mugs, in shape somewhat resembling the pewter tankard of the English alehouse. The New York price for a mug of it used to be four cents; but the war prices extend to every article now, and the rates at which it is sold in the city and suburbs vary from six cents to ten. One of the meanings of the German word 'lager' is a storehouse. Hence this kind of malt beverage derives its name, the variety of it brewed for summer drinking, especially, being stored away for some months before it is considered fit for use. Another kind, much used in summer by the Germans in America, and more particularly by the Prussians, is that known as 'weiss bier,' or white beer. This is a light, frothy beverage, brewed from one part of barley malt and five parts of wheat. Like all wheat beers, it speedily turns sour, on which account it must be consumed while it is yet fresh and new. It has a sickly, swilly, flavour, and, because of the immense head of froth it carries, is drunk out of tall glasses resembling lamp chimneys. Its price is usually the same as that of the common lager beer.

"There is hardly a street, lane, or alley in the city of New York in which the lager beer saloon, in some of its various forms, is not to be
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Election Day in New York: A Polling-Place among the "Upper Ten."; A Polling-Place Among the "Lower Twenty."--See Preceding Page.

Page 561

found. The Garten Wirthschaft, a tavern with a small pretence of rural verdure attached to its premises, is most endeared to the contemplative Teuton, who loves to take his leisure under the greenwood tree. Some of these beer gardens, especially in the eastern part of the city, are on an immense scale. There are two or three in the Bowery that can each accommodate at least a thousand sitters. A portion of these buildings opens to a small plot of ground, roofed over with glass or canvas, and sparsely studded with sickly shrubs. Generally, there is a little fountain in full play, with goldfish and small turtles swimming about in its basin. Music is always a leading attraction here. From the afternoon until a late hour of night the band performs industriously in a gallery high over head; and each musician removes the ophicleide or flute from his lips only to refresh them with a mug of lager beer. In the intervals of the music the players light their pipes or cigars, and sit gravely studying the scores before them. In some of these places there is a small stage at one end, with a piano and a stout woman in fancy costume who sings gutturally to the twanging of a monstrous guitar. The company are chiefly well-to-do mechanics and tradespeople, who bring their wives, and children with them, and even the baby is sure to be treated with a modicum of the ruddy malt. The waiters deftly wind in and out through the crowd, with three or four mugs in each hand and a couple of glasses on the top. Small girls parade up and down with little trays of sweetmeat for sale. Games of various kinds are carried on in the side alleys. There is Invariably a shooting-gallery, where, at a distance of some twelve paces, the bold marksman from the Black Forest pops little shuttlecock bolts from a spring gun at a grotesque figure made of painted wood, which, on being wounded in the 'bull's-eye,' whisks round on a pivot and jerks into its place a lovely woman, also of painted wood. The walls in some of these places are adorned with cartoons of wondrous device. Sigel, the chosen war-chief of the American Germans, figures often in a terrible battle-piece, rushing, on his fiery steed, over a field thickly sown with the bodies of dying and dead Confederates.

"As in Bavaria, so in New York, most of the great breweries have bier gartens or saloons annexed to them, in which the refreshing beverage is dispensed cool and fresh from the vaults. Conspicuous on the right bank of the Hudson River, about five miles above New York, stands a tall, white, tower-like structure, with a red roof. This is the great Guttenburg brewery, built against those grand rocks called the 'Palisades.' in which its immense cellars and storehouses are excavated. In the top story of this building, which is flush with the upper road and reached by a 'Jacob's ladder' of steep steps from the lower, there is a spacious hall containing billiard-tables, a piano, and a bar for the lager beer and the pleasant vintages of the Rhine."

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