Expect the Wurst

Given the tremendous response that our recent column generated from professional philologists and laypersons alike -- recall we trotted out the German noun Schadenfreude and put it through the paces across the sleek steeplechase course of contemporary American idiom (see "Waiting for the Fall?" June 1) -- we will commence this week with an examination of the newly popular term synergy.

For many decades this classical Greek portmanteau was a medical term and carried about it the whiff of denatured alcohol and flowers of ammonia. Then, in announcing the merger of Time Inc. with Warner Bros., Steve Ross, CEO of the newly created company, told a press conference audience that the somewhat improbable union of two companies in different lines of work would create "synergy." Working together, the two companies would create a whole more valuable than the mere sum of its parts. Currently synergy in business is a concept as common as downsizing and almost as popular as profit.

This week the latest Houston company to fly the synergy flag is the tiny Saint Arnold Brewing Company. The microbrewery, named after a seventh-century German bishop who weaned many souls away from the darkness of paganism and toward the light of the Gospels by preaching against the drinking of water, has synergistically added a line of bratwurst to its roster of three perennial brews and five seasonal varieties.

A small veal-and-pork tube steak whose German name means "fry sausage," the bratwurst is, most likely, an Austrian invention. It became famous in the United States -- or at least that part of the United States within easy driving distance of Sheboygan, Wisconsin -- when two factories there began to produce serious amounts of pork bratwurst in the mid-20th century. In Sheboygan and neighboring Johnsonville, there are bratwurst festivals in the late summer. These feature grilled sausages on a "semmel" bun (with the usual hot dog condiments), beer drinking, polka music and the wearing of funny foam-rubber hats that resemble a highly enlarged pair of sausages on a bun with condiments. Saint Arnold founder and brewer Brock Wagner, whose Wagner forefathers ran a popular beer hall in San Francisco prior to the 1906 earthquake and fire and who thus can claim to have alcohol in his blood, explains that the small, family-owned Candelari Sausage Company had provided "brats" for promotional events at the brewery. Given a preliminary boiling in a mixture of water and Amber Ale, the sausages acquired a flavor that delighted Wagner. The next step was to supply the Candelari plant -- Houston's only sausage factory with a West University Place zip code -- with a keg of Amber Ale. Wagner explains that beer is a common part of bratwurst recipes, so using the brewery's own product was a simple step in the synergistic cycle he had embarked upon. The next step was to offer the sausage for sale at the brewery, which hosts tours and free tastings to the general public every Saturday at 1 p.m.

Those who don't want to make the drive out to the brewery's location in a prim industrial park off Highway 290 [2522 Fairway Park Drive, (713)686-9494] can find the bratwurst at some Spec's liquor stores [including 2410 Smith, (713)526-8787, and 14625-B Memorial Drive, (281)870-9778] and perhaps, in the near future, Kroger Food Stores (at $5.35 for a one-pound package). To date, about 1,000 pounds of the Teutonic treat have been sold. Given that the Saint Arnold Brewing Company, according to Wagner, produced and sold 5,000 barrels of beer last year (compared to Wagner's estimate of "95 million barrels" sold by competitor Anheuser-Busch), a thousand pounds of bratwurst may yet be another giant synergistic step for American business -- if relative scale is taken into consideration.


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