PHOTOS THIS COLUMN: (from top) Lizzie, beermaid extraordinaire; George Snyder & Jeff Guice with festival cuties; girl with bad fashion sense; fest babes atop a table; Dave Field, Kiff Forbush (rear) & George Nicks; Lizzie, Jeff Coleman & Erdinger export director Waltraud Kaiser; Jim Dorsch when he thought he was being stuck with the check; Sheryl Barto & Dave Studdard; Jeff Coleman, Dave Field & Bob Lempinen in funny hats; brewmaster Andreas Zirngibl, unidentified German man, Werner Brombach, owner of Privatbrauerei Erdinger Weissbrau, & Sheryl Barto; Ed Westemeier, Werner Brombach, & Jack Curtin.

PHOTO CENTER COLUMN: (clockwise from bottom left) Karla Rohrbaugh, unidentified Dutch retailer, Terry McSweeney, Dave Field, Sheryl Barto, Bob Lempinen, Dorothy Creamer, Friday night at Herbstfest. Note Jeff Coleman in serious conversation at left rear and dedicated beer writer in background clearly pondering how to best present this sordid tale for your edification.

        IN GERMANY

ERDINGER (5 Sept. - 6 Sept. 2003)

Oktoberfest? We don't need no steenkin' Oktoberfest.
We arrived in Munich later than planned, of course, given the mess at Heathrow, but still in time to have the scheduled lunch at the hotel. It was a Best Western called the Munich Airport Hotel, which would have made perfect sense if it were located anywhere near the airport instead a nearly 20 minute ride away, in or near Erding, our actual destination. After lunch, the DBI folks all went off to a business meeting with the Erdinger people while we lucky scribes had a chance to rest up a bit, most of us having been on the road for close to 24 hours, some even longer.

I guess this would be a good time to tell you who was in the traveling party. The DBI group consisted of 10 people who work directly for the company or are affiliated with it: Jeff Coleman, president; Jillian Bodgett, marketing manager; Dave Field, logistics manager; Kiff Forbush, sales rep; Bob Lempinen, sales manager; George Nicks, "ad wise guy;" Mark Proell, sales rep, and wife Mary Beth Matheys; Dave Snyder, sales and promotions, and Dave Studdard, sales rep (if the latter names strikes you as familiar, here's why).

Our press contingent consisted of Bill Brand, science writer for the Oakland Tribune who also freelances a regular beer column to that and nine sister papers and publishes a beer newsletter, "What's on Tap;" Dorothy Creamer, editor of a magazine called "STUN!," which is sort of a Maxim or FHM clone (hot chicks, guy stuff, some periodic beer pieces); Jim Dorsch, publisher of American Brewer Magazine and some of the "Brewing News" papers; Jeff Guice, an event promoter and publisher of the "Beer, Wine & Spirits Industry Newsletter;" Ed Westemeier, an well informed and well traveled freelancer from Ohio whose beer and food writing appears regularly in the Cincinnati Enquirer, and of course, moi, your humble servant. Add PR maven Cheryl Barto and her pal Karla Rohrbaugh (who caught up with us in Munich and was along on the trip as a birthday present) to our side of the ledger because, well, blondes have more fun, dammit, and writers need all the help we can get.

The Erdinger Herbstfest, I was told, is much like Oktoberfest in Munich, albeit on a smaller scale (a 3,000-person tent rather than one for 9,000). While I've never been Oktoberfest, I'd guess that's just about right, given photos I seen and reports I've read. We were bussed over to the fairgrounds that evening and it was some spectacle, like one of those small town traveling fairs on steroids, the scene dominated by huge amusement rides. And crowded with all the usual suspects at such events, multi-generational families, young couples, lads on the make, pubescent strumpets seeking to draw their attention...and us dedicated beer folks, who made out way quickly through all that with barely a glance and settled in at our tables in the Erdinger tent, where a band played familiar songs from the Sixties and Seventies (where have you gone, John Denver?).

We were part of a whole section of tables in the left rear of the tent which were apparently for guests and friends of Werner Brombach, the owner of Erdinger Weißbräu (which is, by the way, the largest wheat beer brewer in Germany), and the beer and food flowed freely. Ultimately, people were dancing on the tables (forbidden in Munich, I'm told) and we happily engaged with the crowd around us.

There was an early bus and a late bus back to the hotel and most of the writers took the early one (Boo! where have you gone F. Scott Fitzgerald?); only Dorothy and I hung in there until the wee hours with the DBI team every night of the trip and were eventually designated honorary members of that less than august group. Almost everyone else took the late bus (with three notable exceptions, to be revealed shortly) and I seem to recall a beer or two at the hotel bar...

A quiet little wine bar.
Saturday morning I came down to find Dave Studdard and Kiff Forbush, our too largest members, already sitting at the lobby bar with impressive glasses of Erdinger Hefeweizen in front of them and realized all was well. These guys were two of my closest pals on the trip; always go with the big guys if you're gonna hang out in strange bars. Studdard, an eight-year NFL lineman with the Denver Broncos, had helped raise Forbush, who was just out of college, and has a sense of humor which, were I to cll it ribald, would be not doing it eren close to justice. I like that in a really big guy.

We were bussed over to the brewery for a tour of the facilities and a press conference with Brombach, Kaiser and Peter Liebert, general manager of Erdinger's Technical, Purchasing & HR Departments.

First off, brewmaster Andreas Zirngibl took us through the brewery. He's a fifth generation brewer ("our family brewery in the Black Forest is not large enough to support all of us") and has been at Erdinger for seven years. He proudly noted that Erdinger does 2000 quality tests daily but seemed equally taken with the close-knit relationships among the people with whom he worked. In that regard, he told a story about how, on Brombach's 50th birthday a decade ago, while he was vacationing in Hawaii, workers wanted to do something special, so they brewed a new dunkel weisse and sent it to him as a present. He liked it so much that Erdinger Dunkel is today part of the brewery's regular portfolio.

At the press conference, we learned that Erdinger is 16th in overall production volume among Germany's 1200-plus breweries, that its primary export markets at present are Italy and Austria and that nearly one million bottles of beer leave its warehouses every day. Much of this came from a presentation by export manager Kaiser, who was leaving for India the next day to see about opening that market. This was the first of several examples we were to see of the refreshing presence and importance of women throughout the German brewing industry.

There's lots more, of course, including some of the plans DBI and Erdinger have for a renewed push into the American market in coming months, but for that you'll just have to wait for my story in the December 2003/January 2004 Celebrator Beer News.

Lunch was at a traditional Bavarian restaurant called Weiss-Blaue Rose in Munich. We had an hour or so to kill afterwards and Jeff Coleman led us to the nearby Andecher Bar which pours the delicious beers of the nearby Andechs Benedictine Monastery. Brian O'Reilly had made a point of telling me over and over that a visit to Andechs was an absolute necessity on this trip and several of us had already committed to that for Sunday, our one free day, but why wait? Eight strong, we took over a table in the back of the place and happily ordered pints of the famed Andechs Doppelbock, little knowing that, for a while at least on Sunday, it would appear to have been the most fortuitous decision of the trip.

It was back to Erdinger Herbstfest that night, for more of the same. On our bus ride from the brewery to the restaurant for lunch, we'd stopped to pick up a band of Dutch beer retailers who were also guests of Erdinger and that crew took a serious interest in those members of our party who were of the female persuasion, not only because they (understandably) found them attractive and interesting but because they were, you know, Dutch retailers. There was great frivolity and strange stories of Dorothy's camera being borrowed for a series of, um, unusual photos, but that sort of thing is not a fit tale for the upright and family audience of this site and we shall talk about it no more.

I mentioned earlier that three members of party did not take the bus back to the hotel with us. Jeff Coleman, Bob Lempinen and the ubiquitous Ms. Barto instead moved on to what was described as "a quiet little wine bar." Nothing would do but that we all go there post-festival that evening. "Quiet," it was not. "Little," it was not. "Wine bar?" Hell, I dunno, I was drinking beer.

We'd hoped to run into the two gentlemen who had separately proposed marriage to Sheryl the previous night, but no such luck. This was a shame because there was a debate about, were she ever to consider such a thing, which of the two offers she should accept. One of the two suitors was in his early 20's, the other a man of 50 or so. We, logically, argued for the older, more experienced chap; Sheryl didn't seem entirely convinced.

Difficult though it is to believe in retrospect, we continued drinking back at the hotel bar, the final hours of a long day winding down as we watched, bemused, the aimless wanderings of one Terry McSweeney, an Irish lad who was part of the Dutch retailers group and who showed up to claim that he had missed his bus and desperately needed a place to sleep "on the floor of someone's room."

On that note, this Erdinger chronicle here endeth, and whatever may have unfolded next is, perhaps fortunately, forever unrecorded....

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