Americans get a bad rep sometimes for their supposed lack of geographic knowledge, particularly outside our borders. Fair enough. America is huge. It's the 4th largest country in the world after Russia, Canada, and China (and those three are mostly forest or ice anyways so what's to know?). The U.S. accounts for just over 6% of all the land on Earth. Germany, on the other hand, is the 63rd largest country with 0.2% of Earth's land area (thanks Wikipedia). Basically I'm saying you should know where the Harz is if you are a German or you live in Germany. I have met Germans and [more excusable, but still...] Europeans who don't know where the Harz mountains are and it's even a national park.
Kevvy-Kev and I were in Biarritz once talking to some French surfer dudes who hadn't been to the U.S. yet, but when we asked where they'd want to go first, all three answered in unison in deep, gnarly voices, "Yellowstone...!!" So cool. Thank you for not saying New York or LA. Then I think of a conversation Christian had in Livigno with another Deutschman from near the Bodensee and the completely blank and clueless expression he had on his face as Christian tried to explain the location of the Harz, Germany's 5th largest national park. Even the mention of Hannover didn't elicit a flicker of recognition. Meet the Map, dude. Suffice to say, the Harz mountains are located in the middle of the northern half of the country.
It's a mountaineous (or hilly by Alpine standards), former mining region dotted with picturesque, small villages. I'm here because it's Christian's Heimat and our local bier is Altenauer... and that's all folks. Why? The Wirtschaft section case study elaborates, but I'll tell ya now, it's not because Altenauer is monopolistic. It seems a combination of Heineken or AB InBev's exclusivity contracts, Altenauer's disinterest in expansion beyond the current roster, and the people's ignorance in supporting local businesses.
A few shops (some closed and now for rent) in Clausthal-Zellerfeld have signs that say, "Think global, buy local." Altenauer prides itself on being 'Brautradition im Oberharz' and 'so sagenhaft wie unser Harz.' Yet the population seemingly takes no interest in the region or, more specifically and importantly, the community.
In the paper the other day, a local club was talking about the Osterfeuers and keeping tradition alive, but in the picture accompanying the article, all the guys were drinking Einbecker. It could be worse, it wasn't Amstel Light or something, but Einbecker is way west of the Harz and 80% of it is owned by private investors from Cologne. Furthermore, Einbecker has its own 600 year brautradition, but seems to be a little hungry in the acquisition department... At least for now, they remain focused only on North Germany and not the world. Anyways, if these club guys are so keen on keeping Harz tradition alive, why aren't they drinking the local beer? Altenauer isn't even served at an annual mountain bike race that takes place in Altenau. Generally, it's easier to find Altenauer in the supermarket rather than the local bars. All I can hope for is that someday - preferably before the region is completely dead - consumers here will educate themselves and create a vibrant community (it already has beer so the cornerstone is there!).
In the meantime, my favorite place to enjoy a bottle of Altenauer, besides the sunny and leafy terrace at the house, is Polsterberger Hubhaus. This place is absolutely fantastic and a perfect example to what other Harz institutions may aspire: DELICIOUS local, organic and hausgemacht fare with some tasty vegetarian options. Altenauer dominates the beer list and the Urstoff or Dunkel is the perfect accompaniment to some Möhren Ingwer-Suppe and Spinatknödel. The ambiance of this place is unparalleled: nestled in the woods with a wonderful Sonnenterrasse and cozy interior for the winter visitors.
In the winter, however, I'm more apt to go to Wilddieb because it's closer and it has AMAZING Kartoffelraumsuppe. The interior is so cozy - like a little hunter's lodge and like a hunter's lodge it has an extensive meat menu with game fare. You can even grill it yourself at the table on hot stone. Wilddieb is a perfect place to hibernate with some warm soup, feast on meat, wash it down with local beer, and then top it off with some yummy hausgemacht schnapps.
Am Harz and nicht im Harz is the UNESCO World Heritage Site town Goslar. It is very quaint and cute as it is the primary beneficiary of consumer outsourcing im Harz. These days, if you live in Clausthal-Zellerfeld, you have to go to Goslar just for a tailor. While you're in town spending money, I suggest you also spend some at Brauhaus Goslar - home of Gose bier. It has a very nice ambiance, outdoor seating, good food with regional and organic selections, and a variety of hausgebraut beer. The Brauhaus, Polsterberger, and Wilddieb are the only places I know, so far at least, that highlight regional food and drink. At all three, you can eat Das Harzer Rotvieh, a special breed of cattle unique to the Harz. The only down-side to Gose bier is it seems to face similar distribution issues to Altenauer. The local getränkmarkt in C-Z doesn't carry Gose bier and Gose says the getränkmarkt hasn't asked for it and round and round we go... anyways, I come 'round to the Brauhaus every time I'm in Goslar.
On the NE side of the Harz national park is a little brewery in Quedlindburg called Brauhaus Lüdde that is also a hotel. It's always nice to get fresh vom fass Bier at a Brauhaus. Surprisingly Altenauer doesn't have a taproom so finding it vom fass is like seeing an Auerhahn. I only know of one place, maybe two, that have Altenauer vom fass and that is Kleine Kapelle in Sankt Andreasburg and possibly at Restaurant Untermühle (but the limited opening hours have limited my field research for now).