San Francisco has its own Master Cicerone

Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone (credit: Schroeder’s)

Rich Higgins
Schroeder’s Restaurant
240 Front St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 421-4778

Meet Rich Higgins. He is one of only seven people who have earned this distinction following a lifetime of learning and two years of rigorous exams. “I got really serious about it over my eight years as a professional brewer, and then got into the food side,” says Higgins, who is also former president of San Francisco Brewers Guild and event director of San Francisco Beer Week.

Higgins enthusiastically teaches, trains, consults and curates the outstanding beer program at the newly re-launched Schroeder’s, one of the city’s oldest restaurants. On the eve of Oktoberfest, we caught up with him to taste and talk about what’s he’s importing. Here are five suggestions of great German fall beers to fit the moods, foods and occasions of the season.

Fall beers at Schroeder’s Restaurant (credit: Laurie Jo Miller

Maisel’s Weisse

Consider a Bavarian Hefeweizen. The apple autumn harvest in Germany earns this spicy and fruity brew a place on the seasonal list. Higgins describes the “bready mouthfeel as rounded and chewy, with structure and acidity from the wheat.” Here’s a beer that pairs beautifully with either savory or sweet, it’s perfect with marinated pork chops or apple strudel. Any surprises? It definitely brings banana and clove to mind.

German beers at Schroeder’s (credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

Gordon Biersch Märzen

Higgins explains that this classic beer is named for the month of March, the end of the legal season for brewing in mid-19th century Bavaria. People kept their Märzen cool in caves while consuming it all summer long. By harvest time, when the weather was cool enough to brew beer again, all of the remaining caches of cool-aged Märzen were festively depleted. Brewed in San Jose since 1989, in tune with the old recipe, it’s dark in color with a caramel flavor focus. Higgins describes it as “malty, not too hoppy, with slight residual sugars, so not too sweet.”

Oktoberfest Beers at Schroeder’s (credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel

This one is a dark lager brewed by the monks since 1050, making it Germany’s second-oldest. “There’s cocoa, toasted brown bread, even peppery aromas and flavor,” Higgins noted. The conversation begins with this beer’s long name describing its style and place, from the cloisters in the town on the flood plains of the Danube about 70 miles from Munich. Darker beers are associated with cooler weather (with a nod to San Francisco’s quirky exception) and there’s even a hint of black licorice in this autumn import, which tastes like Halloween in a glass.

Schroeder’s stein collection (credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel

“The monks produced this quintessentially cold weather beer that used to introduce the fasting season,” says Higgins. “With more malt and more residual sugars, it’s full-bodied and flavorful to ward off chilly evenings and stave off hunger pangs.” Not fooling around at 7.2 percent alcohol content, it’s doubly strong, as the name indicates. Forget fasting. Food-wise, “it’s incredible with chocolate, raisins, dried cherries and prunes,” Higgins suggests. This is the beer that gives homemade holiday fruit pies a perfect partner.

Rich Higgins at Schroeder’s (credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

Oktoberfest Beers

The breweries in Munich and others in the USA create their new Oktoberfest seasonal releases based on the Märzen tradition. Higgins explains that “these six-week-old brews tend to be deep golden, malty, nutty and toasty, not bitter and very drinkable.” As experienced Oktoberfest fans know, Festbier generally has higher alcohol content. The German imports arrive via ship to the East Coast and then make their way to us via land or train for this year’s September 19 kick-off. Short of an airline ticket to Munich, it’s a beer lover’s season of not-to-miss obsession with what’s new.

Laurie Jo Miller Farr loves walkable cities. A tourism industry professional and transplanted New Yorker by way of half-a-lifetime in London, she’s writing about the best of the bay and beyond for Yahoo, USA Today, eHow, and on