I wonder if IT is in the gap between expectation and reality. It's really tough to clone a beer or nail a particular style when you've formed strong expectations about how it's going to taste. The first glass is inevitably going to taste wrong.
See my post directly above. I am pretty certain that at the very least rabeb, germanbrew, and I have done side-by-sides at home and can pick out "it" blindly simply by the aroma alone.
Yes, I always keep German lagers of the same style of mine that I'm drinking, to compare. "It" is not in the slightest way related to actually being in Germany. But I think it's more than mindful. I first detected the flavor in beers I drank in Germany (where I became aware of it, which was really as much about me learning about beer as being in Germany), but imported beers that I drink in the US have it, too.
I agree, too, that "it" is likely comprised of a combination of factors, not just some additive added (though wouldn't that be funny if it was. "it" in a bottle).
Hmmm, yeah, we're kind of at an impass, but it's very fascinating to see a wide range of responses from folks who clearly can identify with each other, and others who have no idea. It would be fun to get in a room and sample beers together. I wonder if the 'it'-knowers could better articulate it via everyone sampling.
I really don't mean this to be some mystical thing...good German beer reminds me of fresh grain, a fresh wildflower meadow, a touch of sulfur, aging in a tank, kinda mixed together. It's really no different than describing a nice barrel aged Chardonnay. In that case a little oaky, some vanilla, that 'tank' aged character, alcohol. This is no different, just distinct in German beers.