My ancestors are Anglo-Saxon with some Viking of the Danish variety thrown in. The latter’s presence in my genome explains my propensity for third-degree sunburns and horned headgear as well my bent toward marauding. My genes made me a blonde; my hairstylist keeps me that way.
Despite the colorful history of my people, I always pined to be German. First of all, they had homemade noodles. I suspect homemade noodles cooked in chicken stock and top-dressed with butter and parsley are on the menu in Heaven. Second, the Germans knew how to throw a party. They had weddings featuring homemade noodles along with barbecue, beer and dancing that lasted for three days or at least until the wee hours of the morning. Their celebrations made the sherbet punch, white cake and pastel dinner mint affairs pale in comparison.
Two of my parents’ best friends were Jim and Dolores Herklotz. Dolores’s maiden name was Wagner. They were German through and through, and they were family as surely as the bio-kin who bore the names Evans, Perry, Molbeck and Woodward.
As a result of inter-family adoption, I had an extra helping of grandparents. In addition to Granny Wilma, Papa Rufe, Granny Inda and Papa Alph, I claimed Grandma and Grandpa Herklotz and Grandma and Grandpa Wagner.
Grandma Wagner introduced me to the pleasures of coffee kuchen. She made two kinds: streusel and cheese. Given the opportunity, I could’ve eaten an entire streusel coffee cake by myself. I didn’t get the opportunity. Her secret recipe was too much work for me to be a pig.
Of course, her coffee cake also proved that I was a German-heritage impostor. I never developed the taste for cheese (other than the ubiquitous Anglo-staple cream cheese) in my sweets. Her bio-family would knock people over to get a square of the cheesy one sprinkled with raisins.
She also introduced me to beer. According to my mother, I was a much better beer drinker as a toddler than I am as an adult. According to Grandma Wagner, a few sips from a sweaty can of Schlitz was a time-tested sleep aid. I suspect she was right, but frankly I don’t remember.
On Saturdays I would meet my sister-friend Lisa at Grandpa and Grandma Herklotz’s house. She stayed with her grandparents while her mom Dolores worked at the sale barn office during the weekly livestock auction. A short bike ride took me from my house to theirs. The Herklotzes had chickens, guineas, ducks and possibly even geese running loose in the yard. Lisa and I played outside a lot. Our shoes smelled like a chicken coop.
Grandma Herklotz often cooked Sunday lunch on Saturday afternoon, so frequently something meaty was cooling on her kitchen table. I was forever sneaking a pinch off a roasted chicken or duck. The boiled tongue, however, was safe. I never got past it being skinned at the table. Skin on or buck naked, it didn’t look like anything I wanted to touch with my tongue.
Instead, Lisa and I opted for baloney sandwiches. It wasn’t until much later that I recognized the irony of eating baloney to avoid beef tongue. I’m certain we got our daily allowance of tongue—and lips—sandwiched between two slices of white bread and topped with mustard on more than one occasion.
But of all of my happy-fat-kid, German-wanna-be, food-related memories, Grampa Herklotz’s homemade wine takes center stage. His wine was only served on special occasions—and I can’t tell you what precipitated pulling out a jug. We kids were allowed to share a single portion in a shot glass of sorts that was decorated with raised Greek motifs on a background of green. As far as sacred vessels go, it was our Holy Grail.
The wine was made of wild mustang grapes and plenty of sugar. Unlike purple Kool-Aid®, the wine was warm going down—all the ways to my toes.
It’s been more than 40 years since I tasted Grandpa Herklotz’s wine for the last time; his formula went with him to the grave. And yet I still remember its lingering taste. The terroir was 100 percent Lee County. Even though I’m not a sommelier, I recognize it was a fine, rare wine.
In honor of Grampa Herklotz and all of the others just like him, we’re raising a toast to the traditions of winemaking, brewing and distilling in this issue. You’ll shoot the breeze with Jimmy Mauric, brewmaster for Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, and get a tour-goers look at the facility. Don and Kikki Teague, owners of Teague’s Tavern in Round Top, introduce you to their Texas tavern featuring signature cocktails made from locally produced spirits. Joe Alecci, distiller at Bone Spirits in Smithville, explains how corn gets from local farms to the distillery’s bottles.
John and Wendy Rohan, owners of Blissful Folly Farm that is home to Rohan Meadery, share the secrets of honey wine and transitioning a family from the Houston suburbs to a farm near La Grange. Brewmaster Ryann Huff who, with his wife Christine, co-owns Huff Brewing Co. in Bellville, talks craft beer and Friday nights at their off-the-beaten path tap room. Finally, Wylie and Angeline Boehnke of Flatonia will you teach how to make homemade wine and much, much more.
As always, we appreciate you exploring the backroads with us. Katie and I are proud to be your designated drivers. Prost, y’all!