Sunday, 25 October 2015

#295: Canned Slaughter

It is not humanly possible to leave Amsterdam without bringing with you something that you bought in De Bierkoning but, considering the city was just my first of a handful of ports of call I limited my buying to a couple of American cans for the road.

The first of those made it as far as Vienna; Caldera's Ashland Amber pours like a clear red beer making a valiant effort to appear amber and immediately smells of toffee with an underlying orange spritz. This is pretty faithfully carried through to the palate with chocolate orange toffee and bittersweet lemon zest making the lead impression. Thereafter, a sweeter juicy ripe orange and chewy malt thing develops, the whole effect being rather simple but quite enjoyable; one has to assume the workhorse here is, as usual with this kind of beer from this kind of place, the Crystal malt that props the whole beer up and provides a nice contrasting background for some fun, fruity and restrained citrus hop goodness. If this beer was around I'd have it in the fridge.
The other can made it all the way back to Cork before it was unceremoniously dumped into a shaker - alas, no amount of dumping, chucking or sloshing could inspire a proper head. The beer is a gose, or, more specifically, The Kimmie, the Yink and the Holy Gose from Anderson Valley, and it doesn't have much of an aroma to speak of either. What it does have is a refreshing salty tang on a rather plain and simple canvas, but this is oddly and uncomfortably skewed by a strange, soft and creamy apparition at the end and follow-through of the taste. On top of this, the tang that was so promising earlier on pairs with the bizarre creamy texture to come across as syrupy and rude later on. I finished it, but not without plenty of brow-furrowing and quiet 'hmm'-ing.

There was one other Bierkoning stowaway - you simply can't ignore a dedicated free-standing bookcase of De Molen - but that won't see a glass until the days are darker, colder and shorter.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

#294: Vienna

The Vienna portion of the trip lasted a measly two days, one of them a Sunday, so there was hardly enough time for tourists to scratch the surface of what the city has to offer in general sightseeing, let alone explore the beery underbelly.
That said, the first order of business in a new city is dinner, and on holidays, dinner is always accompanied by a beer. In this case it was the house tap Stiegl Goldbräu; a gold lager that lands somewhere between a Helles and a German Pils, being closer to the former with its sweet biscuit grain and golden syrup backbone. It's nothing special but it makes for good quaffing with a heap of pasta. 
Hausmarke 4

The following afternoon we stumbled upon a market of food and drink stalls in the small open space in front of Vienna's formidable Rathaus. A hearty veggie burger and fries here made the Ottakringer Helles seem better than it was, though for its malty heft you pay the price of unjustifiable booziness. At 5.2%, this seems like a poor return.

Speaking of Ottakringer, elsewhere in the square the Viennese brewer had a large bar of its own, pouring various Ottakringer varieties as well as a handful of 'craft' styles under their Brauwerk moniker. This is Hausmarke 4, a Flanders Red. Hazy rust is how it looks, and with no real aromatic punch to speak of, its taste is pretty mild too; more akin to a slightly soured dunkel or dunkelweiss than a purposefully sour beer of any description. Red berries and light toffee is as interesting as it gets, with the only true positive being that, so far is it from an authentic Flanders Red that there's absolutely no threat of balsamic vinegar. Alas, the threat of tasting like anything else is also mostly empty.

Hop Devil
Wandering around the city we stray close to 1516, and it would awfully rude not to drop by. It's a decent cosy setup by the bar until everything smells like the cigarette smoke you're stewing in. Still, they do offer some non-smoking seating upstairs, so be prepared to do some walking if you want a few drinks. As an aside, how people are still OK with eating, drinking and above all working in a cloud of someone else's smoke is beyond me. To each their own, I guess. 
I start with Hop Devil, a beer that sounds familiar because it's named for and based on the Hop Devil from Victory. It comes a slightly murky orange with a thick white slice and downstairs it smells like the sting of cigarette smoke. Carrying it upstairs, it reveals some nice lemon sherbert that cheers me up no end. Sweet and juicy orange, lemon and a decent burst of bitter tangerine astringency makes it a pretty delicious pint.
I also had my Kimber upstairs, and this amber ale is also a murky apparition that smells of nothing and tastes of little too; caramel, a bland ghost of toffee, light Vienna malt and some soft, pillowy sweetness. It wouldn't even make in interesting red ale, which says quite a lot.

It was time to move on, and with just a late evening left in Vienna we could only manage a few minutes in 7 Stern, another Viennese brewpub. The Märzen was a toffee malt backboned bland jug that really wasn't anything to speak of, so, I won't. On that sorry note and with my palate falling asleep, it was time to call it a day.

Munich was even shorter than Vienna, essentially only included in the trip for its flight to Cork. As such, I put away the beer book and started drinking beers I'd had already and enjoyed in the past.

It's been a bit of a slog, and if you've read these posts you're a real trooper. Normal service resumes with the next post.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

#293: Prague

Berlin to Prague is another semi-epic train journey, but an incredibly beautiful one at that. It's all well and good already until you pass through Dresden; thereafter, the track aligns with the winding Elbe as you follow wooded valleys across the border into the Czech Republic. The six-seater glass-doored compartment of the train only emphasises the old world Romance of the trip.

This is pretty much carried on throughout Prague itself; the old town is a preserved medieval streetscape with an abundance of churches, bridges and beer. Only the constant herd of high-season foot traffic threatens to spoil the authentic oldness of the place.

Old Town Square is where you flock when you're a tourist, and the restaurants that circle the square itself are each represented by a big Czech brewer, the name of which is on the awning. It was by accident that we found ourselves sitting in a Krušovice joint looking directly at the face of Old Town Hall, albeit through a swarm of Segways.

Being a sucker for dark lager I went straight for Krušovice Černe. It's dark alright, but it lacks the bodily heft that it needs to be called chewy, an essential component of my perfect dark lager, be it Czech, Bavarian or otherwise. The fact that it's light and comes with low carbonation makes it eminently drinkable while placing it pretty low on the scale for memorability. This is in spite of the fact that I obviously drank plenty of it over the few days. What I will remember it for is how much I enjoyed the delicious pumpkin soup I had with it on one of the chillier afternoons.

The Černovar Černé next door was marginally better, although this may have been by virtue of being served in one of those hand-grenade mini-dimpled beer mugs. It felt a little less bland with some actual toffee chocolate creeping into the otherwise still quite coppery, thin and wan dark lager.

Back in the Krušovice restaurant I decided I'd take a break from the Tmavý and try the wheat beer, helpfully called Krušovice Wheat. Like it's darker brother it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of being a properly great beer, but it does at least show off slightly more flavour to begin with; there's plenty of sweet banana to taste but only an optimist can find clove on the nose. OK, so not more flavour, but more of one flavour - it begin to cloy near the finish.

I couldn't go to Prague and not try some Pilsner Urquell; it's not quite home turf, but it's close enough. Surprisingly it's not nearly as ubiquitous as I'd expected it to be, but there are official Pilsner Urquell-endorsed bars and restaurants dotted around the place. The one we stopped in here was on a neat little cobbled roundabout in the staggeringly beautiful Jewish Quarter. Pilsner Urquell comes unpasteurised here (tank beer, they call it) and it's delicious. The bready graininess is ridiculously intense and there's a decent, robust straw or grassy bitterness that lingers for ages, while the whole thing remains undeniably quaffable. Good stuff.

On the other side of town is U Fleků, where the beer is good, the environment is breathtaking and the service is downright spooky.

They will watch you come in.

They will watch you sit down.

One of them will appear at your table and listen to your order.

He will not make eye contact with you.
He will carry an expression that tells you that if it wasn't for his pesky 'job' he'd be choking you to death where you sit.
He will not acknowledge that he heard the words you vomited from your abhorrent tourist mouth. He will simply walk away.

Another one will appear at your table. This one wears a smile.
This one offers you an unnamed, unlabelled shot from the tray he carries.
He won't believe you if you say 'no thank you'. He needs more convincing than this,

It's not certain whether, whence or where one would awake after accepting the mystery shot.

The first one returns. Good, at least he heard you.
The beer is clear, so you can verify that, no, he didn't shit in the glass. That's good too.
Did he spit in it? Who knows.

What I do know is that U Fleků Flekovský Tmavý Ležák 13° is without a doubt the blackest lager I've seen and this one does have some chewy toffee and roast malt goodness, a cold, clean raisiny finish and... oh, a disappointing and surprisingly anaemic overall impact. It's good but it still doesn't scratch the itch and it certainly isn't worth walking to the lest welcoming place in Prague to try. Remember, it is the only beer they serve, and while I find that Romantic and admirable, if you don't like it or the place itself you've wasted your time.

The final day in Prague had probably the most enjoyable beer stop, at U Tří Růží, back in the cosy embrace of Old Town. The downstairs bar is the only part I explored but it's a pleasant people-watching space with some supposedly functional copper-finished brewing equipment on show. Being the devotee that I am, I had to begin with the U Tří Růží Tmavý Ležák, and it proved the Tmaviest Tmavý of the trip. The nose lacked a certain anything but there's no doubting the simple but satisfying concoction of raisiny toffee and barm brack maltiness on the palate. There's a decent heft to the texture too, being rather full but not too filling.

There was only time for one more so I knew I had to make it count; no pils for me, thanks. Instead I opted for the Klášterní Speciál Sv. Jiljí (No. 4, I think), a 7.2% 'monastic special beer' we're told. I'll take that. 

It comes a handsome clear gold and smells immediately of sweet, candied pineapple and caramelised sugar. There's a sort of tingling clove thing hiding in the back somewhere, and, rather surprisingly, a suggestion of a good dose of fresh New World hops - juicy and tropical but ultimately of the sweeter persuasion. I'm not sure what style this is trying to be or indeed what style it would even fit into but I'm not too worried. It's a nice change of pace and, with the possible exception of the crisp Pilsner Urquell above, might by the most hops I've seen since Amsterdam.

With that, the Prague leg of the trip comes to a close. Next up was supposed to be Budapest, but as it would have felt terribly inappropriate to walk through a refugee-packed Keleti dragging a tourist suitcase and looking for beer, we opted to head directly to Vienna. 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

#292: Berlin

The 6 hour train journey from Amsterdam to Berlin spent most of our day's energy, despite landing us in Germany's formidable capital early enough in the afternoon. As is now a constant on our German visits, it was hot as hell and unforgiving of the walking, suitcase-dragging tourist. As such, after a long rest back at the hotel, the only thing we had the time or energy to do was get the bus to Potsdamer Platz and have a nose around.

Here was the first beer destination of Berlin, Lindenbräu. The replica indoor-but-outdoor beer garden was weird, especially seen for the first time at night when the Sony Centre is a glowing, shapeshifting mass of light. 
One each please, a Märkischer Landmann Dunkel for me, a Zwickl for herself. Mine was a lovely chocolatey, raisiny thing that was tipped off kilter first by a twang of copper at the finish, and then again when it was pointed out to me that it smells just like barbecue beef' Hula Hoops. Hmm. Still, it remained a serviceable dunkel, and  I was glad of it.
Sober Destrier's Zwickl was softer, all lemon and light biscuity malt, but even that was somewhat tainted by an assertive huskiness that damaged its clean quaffer cred.

A couple of days later, back in a now sunny Sony Centre, I decided I'd go for the local curiosity, a Berliner Weisse. Ever the tourist, I went for the classic woodruff version of Berliner Kindl, and boy did I regret it. It comes a cartoon nuclear waste green with an alarming green-tinted white foam. A sad straw marks the disaster area for the eventual arrival of the UN cleanup team. Eugh. I was looking for sour refreshment, but this has way more soft marzipan sweetness than anything that could legitimately be considered sour. I like marzipan, so I took those first couple of sips with a bemused but entertained smile on my face, before I started to wonder when my life had taken such a dark turn. Every sweet swallow was made bitter by observing the rest of the clientèle sink their jugs of delicious pils. Unfortunately, this bitterness was only metaphorical. Of course, this is all my own fault, opting as I did for the syruped version, but nevertheless I found I couldn't quite stomach the whole sugary glass. What you see pictured here is what I left behind. 

If there's any justice in the world, it will still be sitting there on a table in Potsdamer Platz, lonely and choked with the corpses of the summer's wasps and flies, a beacon of warning against all who think syrupy Berliner Weisse is worth a go.

In between those visits to Lindenbräu our non-beery tourism took us close enough to Lemke's place in Hackescher Markt to justify a call in. This is a much more visually appealing place, nestled under a railway with a leafy, cosy beer garden out back. 
A quencher was on order, as ever, so it was Lemke's Hopfenweisse first. This is a low carbonation affair with all the usual banana and soft overripe fruit. There's an whiff of Cascade hopping too but the biggest thing I take from the beer is the surprising and uncharacteristic slick oiliness of the texture. At 7% ABV it's a little bit too strong to be a proper refresher, though it is billed on the menu as a Weizenbock-IPA so perhaps I was looking in the wrong place for something I could sink into.

The house beer is a Vienna lager and, hey! I like Vienna lager! So that was next on my list. Lemke Original is an abhorrent apparition of muddy, murky brown. Thankfully it's not murky to taste, being reasonably clean, standard lager fare that isn't all that good or all that bad. Wet Hobnob-like biscuity grain is about the size of it.

Much prettier is the Imperial IPA, which despite its lack of any head has a lovely, clear orange glow in a teku glass. The aroma is a ridiculously juicy, Tutti Frutti sweets mix of mango, citrus, pineapple and tropical fruit juice. To taste it's a sweet, honeyed tropical fruit dessert that is sweeter than I'd like from a double IPA, no doubt helped by the 10% alcohol, but remaining interesting and tasty enough to be sipped slowly and enjoyably for the remainder of the stay.

On that slow sipper we end this beer log of Berlin. Next up, Prague.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

#291: Amsterdam

I finished summer with the now routine visit to Amsterdam, this time following on to Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Munich. With the refugee crisis reaching boiling point first at the border of Hungary and then at Keleti station in Budapest, we thought it prudent to cancel the Budapest leg of the trip in favour of an extended Prague stay. Beer was not the focus of the trip, but needless to say, it featured heavily nonetheless.

As usual, beery things began in De Bierkoning and unfolded in the gorgeous and surprising back garden of my uncle's house near Hoofddorpplein. 

Amsterdam's own Oedipus comes first with Mama, brewed at Brouwerij Anders in Belgium. As a 5% IPA, this should have been very straightforward. Hazy yellow and screaming of lemon is all well and good, with spicy, zesty and yeasty qualities in equal measure inviting you in, but it lies. It lies, because it's just not as fun as it suggested it was going to be. There's a lick of spice, some wet grain and a herbal coriander twist but ultimately way too much wit/tripel cross-breeding for this to be enjoyed as anything like a drinkable IPA. In this way it reminds me of the lesser 't IJ beers, obsessed as they are with that pseudo-Belgian hereditary yeast character. This will probably have its fans, but it hasn't found one in me.

De Prael's IPA is exactly like the Mama, only with added misery in the form of some diacetyl on the nose. Apart from this it is again dominated by yeast and spice and the hopeful hint of grapefruit is less in the US sort of way and more in an old wonky Bock way. As it warms it begs you to find some lemon and orange on the nose but that utterly fails to shout down the butterscotch element that only grows more and more offensive. Ouch.

Much more luck was had with Brouwerij 't IJ's Amber Ale. It is indeed dark amber and immediately announces itself as beautiful. Bittersweet orange and mandarin skins and serious amounts of zesty  pithy grapefruit; this is New World hopping done simply and done well. Clean and dry and certainly the most astringently bitter and juicy of the trio, it scratches an itch that I would find hard to scratch for the rest of the trip.

Playing it safe was Gueuze Girardin 1882. Surprisingly dark brown it pours, unsurprisingly woody, cidery and vinous it smells. Waxy bitterness and a not-too-sharp but not-too-round sourness characterises the drink, with some tangy apple cider and almost whiskey-like malt warmth opening up with time. I'm not sure if I'd file this under C for Classic, but I'd give it a lifetime pass to G for Grand. Certainly at around €2 for a tiny 275ml bottle.
A couple of Bierkoning pickups made it out of Amsterdam, but more on those later.

The Arendsnest is still my must-visit bar in the city and on a sunny afternoon it is simply unbeatable. I started with Texels Tripel, a low carbonation, white-capped 9%er. All I could pull from the nose was a bit of generic biscuity grain, but I'll charitably put this down to the serving temperature. Thankfully, there's a lot more going on on the palate; the wheaty heft of the beer is more like a strong blonde at first before the honeyed tripel spiciness kicks in at the finish. It's bitter in a weird, soft kind of way, all coriander and orange skins. For 9% it is a very easygoing sunny day tripel, even if it isn't a world beater.
Vrouwe van Gramsbergh

Keeping things strong is Mommeriete's Vrouwe van Gramsbergh, a 9.5% quadrupel. There's more of a nose to this one, thick as it is with nutty toffee chocolate, brown sugar and cola. To taste it's a rich and semi-sweet dark fruit bomb, dominated by delicious raisiny malt and chewy tobacco and fig. There's even more chocolate here to sign off, and the whole thing plays like a highly enjoyable if predictable quad. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Black and Tan
The last beer of this short, sweet session was Emelisse's Black and Tan, this version aged in Wild Turkey barrels. It looks, well, black and tan, while the aroma has a holy shit amount of coffee. There may be some typical barrel-ageing fare like woody vanilla, but mostly it is chocolate covered liquorice bliss. The palate gets dollops of sticky black fruit jam and bitter dark chocolate, washed down with strong, cold black coffee and a flash of boozy heat. And all in the space of a 10.2% tasting glass. Hats off Emelisse.

The San Marino of the gathering presented itself during the Sober Destrier's mandatory trip to the excellent Apenheul primate park in Apeldoorn, where the restaurant was serving Gulpener Ur-Pilsner. It's actually a decent pils, if a little short on pilsy hopping, offering instead just plenty of clean, straw-like malt refreshment. Serviceable, but here appearing, quite literally, as an afterthought.

Next stop, Lagerland Berlin.