Hirt. I’ve been through the town, back some years ago. Tucked in that storybook region of south-central Austria, within site of the alps. The town is on the Ljubljana-Klagenfurt-Vienna line. I’d just come out of my first trip to the former Yugoslavia, still mired in conflict. Exhausted but tortured by all I’d experienced and witnessed, my gaze was fixed out the window on that overnight train to Vienna.
The hills and mountains were lost to darkness and the reflection of my face in the window of the small, empty compartment. There were but a scattering of lights in the distance. Hirt was one of those ocassional places. I can’t recall if the train stopped there or not. What I do recall was the soft, almost sweet scent of the chilly autumn air through the window, juxtaposing with the struggling floor heater near my sore and tired feet. My shoulders still ached from the backpack perched on the seat opposite. I luxuriated in a cleansing breath and felt those last days and weeks wash from my body and soul. Last night, as I poured a glass of Hirter Morchl, an elegant but not overbearing dark Austrian Lager, the scent of the beer reawakened that moment on the train.
I’d barely chilled this beer. I actually prefer darker, fuller beers at not much below a comfortable room temperature. Too cool and I feel the aroma of the beer is subdued, and with it the taste. The craft and artistry of these beers is their character. I want that. I want to explore that. I also want a nice controlled and foamy head in a good beer. Silly as it sounds, I want my nose in that soft head, where I can fully and deeply breathe the beer in. Hirter Morchl did not disappoint. So that’s where I began with Hirter Morchl, that caramel-tinged head. It didn’t remain for too long. It shouldn’t, instead withdrawing into the body, or remaining upon the sides of the chaliced glass in tatters. Beer aficionados dub this lacing.
There is a harmony to European trains at night. The rhythmic clunk-a-clunk, the slow cradling, lolling of the train coaxes sleep or deep thought. As the Berlin wall was coming down and Europe in the course of a fundamental revolution, I travelled Europe by train almost exclusively, much of it in Eastern and Southern Europe. The uncounted and untold hours and days I spent writing, daydreaming, lamenting and exploring for almost two years were a university all to their own. A world happens on European trains; politics, romance and more. Unlike trains in America, European trains are community. I always liked to think that the European Union was inevitable, if for no other reason than for the ultimate community drawn East to West by trains.
At first taste, I found its gently fruity sweetness giving way to the a nutty, chocolate and dark malt depth, saved at the end bit a hint of hops, just to remind me this was beer and not silk. This is a pleasant, hardly overwhelming beer reminding us that, while not gone, the darkest and coldest days of winter are behind us, and that spring awaits. We’ve bested winter once again.
The train arrived in Vienna the next morning after a rain. The streets were soaked and glistening. The long tall avenues, imbued with a timeless history, fully open to the fiction of one’s fantasies were rendered in hues of blue and gray. A soft, cold drizzle still remained. I shivered at a chill. Despite a night without sleep, I was fully refreshed, a consequence of the train, alpine air the luxury of unfettered thought: Harmony. From the first taste of Hirter Morchl I found that same harmony.
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