Throwdown: German Beer in Syracuse
What makes German restaurants authentic? Apparently, the fact that they sell a lot of beer. In this throwdown, we found the best of this iconic German beverage in Syracuse. Who’s We? Two Chinese students, one American, and me, a German.
When we first talked about the idea of going to a German Biergarten, I was intrigued even though I’m not the typical beer-drinking person. Driven by the thought of tasting a bit of home, I was thrilled.
The Contenders: Wolff’s Biergarten vs. Gordon Biersch
If you are looking for German restaurants in central New York you will find two. The first one, Wolff’s Biergarten, imports German Bier and sells it at its locations. They have four locations in the state of New York: Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Syracuse. It started in 2009 with its first restaurant in Albany. Its theme is “Soccer. Bier. Peanuts.” which makes sense when you first enter: there are TVs hanging on the wall streaming soccer games, the floor is covered with peanut shells and there is a huge menu with diverse German Bier. The customers in this restaurant have one specific goal: go there and drink bier while watching soccer games.
The second contestant, Gordon Biersch, is located in Destiny Mall, the sixth biggest shopping mall in the United States. Many drop-in customers enjoy their home-brewed bier.
Gordon Biersch was first opened in Palo Alto in 1988. The theme of this brewery is to brew its beer following the Reinheitsgebot, German brewing law. That means they brew it only with four ingredients: Hallertauer hops, two-row malted barley, a special yeast strain imported directly from Germany, and water. They sell the bier within a restaurant which also offers warm “German” food.
The Set Up
Both restaurants are selling bier in the right glass. A Hefeweizen is served in a traditional 0.5 liter glass with a bulbous top. They are especially designed to contain the right amount of foam the Bier produces. If you like a bigger beer you can also order it in a Maßkrug which is a one liter glass usually printed with the logo of the beer brewery.
The main difference between both restaurants is the type of Bier. Both Biers are brewed after German law but the taste is more authentically German in Wolff’s Biergarten.
On an autumnal Friday evening we first went to Wolff’s Biergarten, a German-style outdoor Biergarten equipped with benches and a large bar. When we entered the bar, we felt the unique atmosphere: televisions were hanging on the wall showing soccer games, people were shuttering while shelling peanuts and drinking beer. We ordered at the bar, choosing from a huge variety of beer. Everybody in our group said this is a cozy place to hang out with friends, watch sports, or drink beer.
Gordon Biersch was more formal. We sat down at a dark wooden table and got our menu. The open styled restaurant with its kitchen behind glass made me feel like sitting outdoor and looking at shopping windows. Many families and smaller groups were enjoying their beer in this restaurant. We agreed that we would come here to have a family reunion or after shopping.
Apples to Apples (A2A)
At both restaurants we ordered a Hefeweizen, which is a beer brewed with a large amount of wheat and top-fermented. It has a unique taste from the fermentation process: it is fragrant and fruity.
In Wolff’s Biergarten we ordered the traditional light Hefeweizen from the world’s oldest beer brewery “Weihenstephan” served in a Maßkrug from Hofbraeuhaus in Munich. One Chinese student and the American student liked the taste of the Hefeweizen. The taste of beer was not too strong, which it made it very easy to finish the glass. The other Chinese student doesn’t like beer much so she wasn’t a fan.
Choosing a beer at Gordon Biersch was a little bit harder for us. They had a huge variety of beer as well but I couldn’t recommend any of them because they are all Americanized. We also tried the Hefeweizen which was promoted as “fruity and spicy”. When the beer was served, as a German, I was very disappointed. The beer had no foam at all. I was taught how to pour that beer in a glass when I was a kid and could not understand how they served something like this. After trying the beer, we all agreed that we also didn’t even like the spicy taste of coriander and cloves in the beer.
This round goes to Wolff’s Biergarten with its authentic German-styled beer.
Toe to Toe (T2T)
Asking for the signature beer in both restaurants, we wanted to give them the chance to impress us.
At Wolff’s Biergarten we ordered a beer mixed with grapefruit juice. It has a sweet but dangerous taste. Dangerous because someone could underestimate the amount of alcohol beer while drinking it. Everybody in our group loved the taste.
At Gordon Biersch, we again had a hard time deciding which beer we should get. After asking for their signature beer, the waitress brought two samples. The first one was a so-called Märzen, which is unique for its malty flavor. The other one we tried was a beer from their category “light & refreshing.” It was a Golden Export. Nobody in our group liked either of these beers. The Märzen was too malty, the Golden Export tasted too much of hops. We didn’t order a large glass of either of the two samples.
This round also goes to Wolff’s Biergarten.
In addition to the beer, we also ordered something to eat at both restaurants.
At Gordon Biersch we had the opportunity to order from a variety of food. But Wolff’s Biergarten didn’t have many choices: we could choose between hotdog and pretzel. We decided to get a pretzel. You cannot imagine how surprised I was, when the pretzel was served. They served a light baked pretzel with a lot of salt and melted butter on top. I had never seen a pretzel like this. In Germany they are dark brown and crusty and certainly not topped with melted butter. But still, I tried it. I have to admit, the taste was good. My fellow students really liked the pretzel, but said it was a bit greasy because of the melted butter.
At Gordon Biersch we had to choose out of a big variety of dishes. We chose the Brewers Combo which was an Oktoberfest special. It contained a grilled Märzen-simmered bratwurst, a soft pretzel and their legendary garlic fries accompanied by Märzen mustard. We also ordered the side dish of Spaetzle, which are traditional German noodles. We all agreed the first pretzel was better because this one was very hard to chew. But we all liked the bratwurst. And while the wooden plate it was served on was authentic, the dish at Gordon Biersch was not.
Again, this round goes to Wolff’s Biergarten.
The atmosphere in Wolff’s Biergarten is impressive. I really felt like I was back home in Germany and enjoying the beer with my friends even though they didn’t speak German. We all agreed that the atmosphere was unique compared to Gordon Biersch which was more like every other restaurant.
This throwdown goes to the authentic bar: Wolff’s Biergarten.
However, beer lovers and beer connoisseurs will like both places. Being open for new styles of beer and trying them is not only interesting, but it is also fascinating. I learned a lot about the huge variety of tastes. With only four ingredients, I believe you can create flavors suited to every palate around the world.