“What can I get for you?”
“Lemon or lime?”
This scintillating piece of theatre goes on every day in bars and pubs and restaurants all over the country as well as overseas. But what really is the deal with jamming citrus into the neck of a bottle of beer? Where did it begin and why? And what causes it to continue?
I lay the blame squarely at the unwashed hands of the Mexican brewery worker. Not having a go at Mexicans – some of my best friends are illegal immigrant fruit picking mariachi singers. And I love the Moguel family who appear from time to time on the Wiggles videos. No, this goes back decades to a time when Corona was a nice cheap import from Mey-hicho into the States.
The story – totally, as yet, unsubstantiated by hard, cold fact or court ruling – goes like this. Corona, in the early days, was, more often than not, subject to the Brewer’s Curse – infection caused by poor sanitation. Perhaps not wanting to let a little bacteria get in the way of the sale of a cheap beer, retailers would cover up the stank with a generous wedge of lime. The citric acid would mask the dodgy aromas as well as disinfect the lurgy in the lager. Shift to the present and unwitting punters are continuing the Manuel Legacy as we speak. I should stress that nowadays Corona is brewed to strict sanitary standards and the lemon is used by punters to give this thin, pissy lager some taste.
“Momma always says stupid is as stupid does.”
Redback Wheat beer drinkers were the first Australians to be treated to the lemony lager experience when bartenders everywhere began to graduate with master’s degrees in garnish distribution. But this bit of pub theatre should not be dismissed as mere trickery or wankery. The Germans, and the Bavarians in particular, have been adorning their weizens, weisses and weissbier dunkels with citrusy additions since the Kaiser wore short pants. This is partly due to the German Purity Law of 1516 which forbade brewers from using anything but malt, hops and water in beer. More of the Reinheitsgebot in a separate story. Remind me, please, cos’ it’s a good story.
So the Germans have been known to brew more than a couple of very good beers which are well complimented by a slice of lemon. This is particularly apparent in the northern summers where the citrus brings a refreshing edge to an ice cold beer. BUT ... I must emphasise this ...BUT ... in fact ...
BUT ... this does NOT extend to a hefeweizen, that is, a beer which still has yeast suspended in it. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen lemons blindly tossed into the bottom of a scrupulously cleaned and badged Shofferhoffer Hefeweizen glass as if it were a Corona. Wheat beer yeasts and malts have some complex aromas of their own. The acids in the lemon deafen the subtle flavours in the yeast and the malt. So, stop it. Please.