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Archive for July, 2008

No Carlsberg, thank you

According to a Danish newspaper article, from Børsen I believe, Carlsberg is unable to establish itself as a brand in Laos. This is despite the fact that Carlsberg owns half of Lao Brewery. (The other half being owned by the Laotian government.)

The reason being given for this is that the local population had the same relation to their beer as a fan has to his soccer team – total dedication. The head of PR at Lao Brewery says it is impossible to sell Carlsberg there – Beer Lao has a market share of 99 per cent.

This also stops all attempt of innovation at the brewery. They have tried to launch six new beers over the last few years, but they are easier to find on posters than in the shops and bars of the country.

I have a feeling that they should get the most out of this market while they can, I’m sure there are competitors waiting in the wings!

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T-shirt in Glasgow

When I look at the map, I have covered a fair number of countries since I started blogging. 23, to be exact, and that means 23 countries I have visited in this three year period.

Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Ireland, Scotland, England (yes, I count England, even if they don’t have their own parliament!), Wales, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary and Cyprus.

Some of them, admittedly, for only a brief stay, but others where I have been able to go deeper into the beery heart of the nation.

Should I pick six of them as beer destinations?

Denmark, the Czech Republic, Germany, Scotland, England, Belgium and the Netherlands. Sorry, that’s seven. But they would make a mighty fine tour of Europe.

A general word of advice is to go for the brewpubs. The beer is fresher, the barmen know more about what they sell, there is more enthusiasm. I’ll give you my top ten some time.

Croatia is coming up, if I’m lucky with a side trip to Slovenia, but I don’t think they will make the core list.

There are still glaring white spots on my map of Europe, including Poland, Portugal and Russia. But there are also other continents to consider….

Beer in Sofia

Beer in Sofia

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Right in the middle of Old Town Prague, quite close to the National Theatre, you’ll find the U Medvidku, a tiny brewpub you’ll have to know about to find. This is part of a bar/restaurant complex, so don’t just sit down at the first table, but follow the signs to the end of the dining room, then to another room and then, when you think you’ve lost your way, upstairs, where there is a cozy pub serving food and beer.

There is only one beer on draft here, Oldgott, brewed behind the counter. This is a chewy, grainy, sweet and sour amber beer. Frehness is the key word here, this is constantly being brewed in small batches. Flowery and dry finish. An outstanding beer. Too bad I had no time to linger, this would have been great for lunch and a few more beers.

Follow the signs to the souvenir shop, where you can pick up a few bottles of their strong bottled beer to take away. And suddenly you find yourself in a modern shopping centre, blinking at the bright light. A rough return to reality.

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One of the wonders of drinking in the Czech Republic is that you can get unpasteurized and unfiltered version of the well known beers, which really shows the difference between beer handled lovingly and beer being mass produced for a global market. Of course this is beer that does not travel well. There are similarities, like British cask ale and the wonderful Rodenbach Foederbier, where they had to figure out a distribution chain to keep it fresh and avoid the yeast running amok.

One place in Prague to enjoy the yeast beer or the kroužkovaný ležák is the Budvarka Dejvice. It is in Evan Rail’s book, and it was just five minutes walk from my hotel, close to the Dejvická Metro station in the area behind the castle.

This is a neighbourhood place, with the regulars sipping their beers. The place looks fairly new. There is a bar in front and it looked more restaurant-like in the back. The atmosphere is a bit gloomy, perhaps, but the service is swift and attentive.

The yeast lager? Grain, breakfast cereals. Chewy maltiness. Soft, and round, and then the bitterness is left on the tongue crying out for another sip.  I tried their dark lager, too, but this was no match. Malty, almost dessert-like sweetness. Not bad, but not outstanding like their flagship.

I wanted a snack, so I ordered stinking potatoes from the menu. These were deep fried, then gratinated with blue cheese. OK, but I’d like to develop this dish a bit further.

Budvarka

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A handy beer shop

If you leave the Strahovsky Klaster with its micro brewery and walk through the opening in the monastery wall facing Central Prague, you’ll find a cobbled road leading stright down the hill, with the castle to the left. Uvoz, it says on my map. Continue walking down, you’ll find the usual assortment of tourist traps. On the right you’ll eventually pass a bottle shop, where absinthe and other strong drinks are prominently displayed, but the shop window also boasted of a good beer range.

This is correct, they have probably close to a hundred beers in the back room. Not the place to go for obscure micros, and I’m sure the prices are inflated. But lots of fine beers in bottles and cans, some of them kept in the fridge for immediate consumption if you so wish.

I passed on the free samples of absinthe…

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Way up on the hill, even slightly above Prague castle, there is an old monastery complex, with its own church, art museum and a stunning old library. The Strahovsky Klaster is reachable by public transport, as there is a tram line passing at the back, but it was a fine morning stroll from my hotel, so you’ll have to figure out how to get there yourself.

There was an extra fee for taking photos of the library, so you’ll have to take my word for it being a beautiful place. No such photo regulation for another attraction within the walls, a micro brewery.

It was still early in the day, so there were few visitors in the brewpub. I imagine it is more crowded on summer afternoons, especially for tour groups who have been running up and down the hills all day. So, this brewpub is definitely on the tourist trail, and it has prices to match, they have even gone up after Evan’s guide book was published last year. If you, however, limit yourself to the smallest glasses, sampling them won’t bankrupt any foreign visitor.

Three beers available on my visit, an amber, a dunkel and a seasonal weisse.

The amber was a lovely reddish hazy beer. Sweet and nutty with a fine dry finish. The dunkel or tmavy was nutty and malty with a little coffee, some burned toast in the aftertaste. The weisse was a bit too much – lots of banana, giving a feeling of bubble gum which I really don’t like in beer.

You can buy bottles of fresh beer to take with you, they did not have any bottled varieties not currently on tap.

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A different brew

One type of beverage I haven’t covered on my blog is sake, the Japanese fermented rice brew. Technically, this is a beer. It is made by fermenting a cereal, isn’t it?

Well, I have not gone deeper into the nuances of sake, but you don’t have to go to Japan to try them out. thisislondon.co.uk has a feature on the best saki (?) bars in London. One of them even lets you buy a sampler, letting you taste six varieties if there are two of you.

Wikipedia has more on sake if you’re interested.

And if you are looking for cider, it seems like the Green Man is your place.

I’d rather have a pint of bitter, please.

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Pivovarský Klub

Actually it is time for another beer, this time at a very different watering hole – the Pivovarský Klub. A fairly recent addition to the Prague drinking scene, this is both a bar, a restaurant and a beer shop. This has large windows opening on the street, giving a light and airy feeling. The place is rather popular on a sunday afternoon, but we find two chairs at the bar. Six beers from various micros are avialable, as well as an enormous range of bottled beers, both on shelves and in fridges. Glassware, too, if that is your thing. If you just have a few hours off in Prague due to other obligations, this is the place to get it all.

We go for the unfiltered Bernard 12°. Biscuits and grain, smooth, yet there is some bite, too. Long finish with sweetness and sourness playing along with each other.

To finish off, a beer from the sister establishment, the Piovarsky Dum. Also an unfiltered one, this is like a liquid mouthful of Saaz hops, summer meadows and flowers, a proper finish to a solid beer session.

I pick some bottles to take away from the hundreds available. It is time for some exercise, so we walk through town back to my hotel in the lovely summer weather.

Thank you for meeting me and showing me those hand picked spots, Max. Pleasant and interesting company, too – hope to see you again soon!

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I arrive at the spanking new airport terminal in Prague in the early afternoon, and I soon find myself on the bus towards the centre. No regards for speed limits here, a Swedish fellow passenger mutters that the driver is speeding like he has stolen the bus. Luckily I managed to get a seat. It is sweltering hot, and I am lucky that the bus stops right in front of my hotel. Time for a quick shower before I go down to the lobby to meet Max, my local guide and fellow beer blogger.

Max is not a Czech native, but an Argentinian who has settled here. It is extremely useful to have a guide with an in-depth knowledge of the local beer scene, who knows the language and, at the same time, speaks better English than I do.

And, even better, know his way around. Sure, I’ve got Evan‘s Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic and a good map, but it is so much easier for once just to follow, down into the Metro, some stops down the line, up a flight of stairs, around a corner, run a few meters to catch a tram. No time wasted reading maps and figuring out ticket systems. This means that within half a hour or so we find ourselves in the cool vaulted cellar of Zlý Časy.

This pub had a sort of mini festival on, with rotating beers seldom seen in Prague. A few blackboards show us what’s currently on offer. This is not a place for thimble-sized samplers, so we soon have full half litre glasses in front of us, Střibro Argent having the honor of opening the ball. And what a beer for a day with 30 degrees in the shade – hazy amber, unfiltered. A hint of yeast, a little pleasant sourness, strong flowery aroma. Long lasting crisp and dry aftertaste.

We continue with a Pukrmistr Lezak (apologies for wrong or missing accents here, two days was a bit short for picking up the nuances!). This dark gold beer has a medium body, some caramel malt and aromatic hops. Well balanced and very pleasant.

One more? Sure, and some barbecue as well. Nicely grilled ribs, served with a basket of bread – no time wasted on raw or cooked greens here. The beer is a Beroun 11°. Hazy, with a crisp dryness and a herbal finish. The micro that makes this is located in a junkyard, but the beer is certainly no junk.

OK, then. One for the road. Kout NA Sumave 12°. Dark gold. Grainy, chewy, malty. Caramel, then a lovely bitter twist in the tail that lasts long after we have emerged into the brutal sunshine again. What next?

 

 

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It’s the little things that matter. A few extra inches to stretch your legs aboard the plane. A smooth glide though security. Newspapers.

And, on a very rare occasion, a glass of beer that is not just another industrial lager. British Airways has London Pride on board. The good news is that you might find Danish micro beers on SAS flights from Copenhagen. These chubby little bottles of Skands Humlefryd are just the thing to brighten your day. And they will be replaced by their stout in a few months….

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