Archive for April, 2011

Bring a few extra for the monkeys

Even if the polar beer Knut is gone, his relatives seem to have fun playing in the pool. The Berlin Zoo is a pleasant place to spend a spring morning, you can’t help being charmed by some of its inhabitants.

No motorized vehicles inside, except for the beer delivery truck, of course.

When we were there on the Thursday during Easter week, they were setting up a beer garden. It was not ready when we left, but it is certainly a place to set up your base camp while the kids are running between the tigers and the elephants.

Setting up a beer garden

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I knew there were beers in Berlin. But I have found it very convenient to buy beer from web shops when I visit various countries.

Biershop Bayern keeps sending me offers. Regional beers, wheat beers, packs of beers from small breweries. I decided to give it a try.

9 beers from the brewery Camba Bavaria. Typical German beer styles like a Dunkler Bock and various wheat beers, but also a stout and an IPA. 27 Euros including postage. Beers hardly seen outside their native village.

And there they were, in a sturdy box in my hotel room. Vorsicht Glass.

No time to taste any of them yet. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

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Sure, we could walk up to the Tilsiter Liechtspiele. But we had already spent the day walking around the parks and streets, som a swift tram ride was a good alternative. The old tram network of East Berlin has been refurbished with comfortable and speedy trams. My friend Arve and I left our families back at the hotel to go exploring in the Richard-Sorge-Straße.

Our destination has quite a history. A cinema established in 1908, closed in 1961, the year the Berlin Wall was built. It was reopened in 1994 – with a bar – a Kneipe – in the lobby. Read the fascinating story on their web pages. There is even a potted history on the Tilsiter name; there is more to it than cheese.

The bar is very welcoming, it still has the feel of a pre WW2 cinema lobby. Local, yet welcoming, easy to get talking to the locals. Memorabilia on the walls, a 1938 photo is available as a poster or postcard. The cinema is very much of the arty typs, showing documentaries and foreign films in the original language with German subtitles. Even silent movies with live music.

For the last three years the manager has been brewing his own beers. Regularly available is the Tilsiter Hell Unfiltriert, but there might also be a Schwarzbier or a Prassnik Pils Unfiltriert on tap. The Helles is on right now, a no-nonsense beer suitable for a no-nonsense bar. Unfiltered grain goodness, hops being allowed to play out, the yeast giving a soft kiss without being intrusive. Full body, lots of flavour, grassy hops. Sometimes the best beer you can imagine is just a fresh unpasteurized lager where all the raw materials are allowed to play.

An extra bonus is that this is a micro brewery that has not been entered in any beer database, guide-book or web site beforehand. It’s like being the first trainspotter bird watcher to document a new species.

 When I look at the map to geo tag this, I see that the next street is called An der Brauerei. This is obviously not the first brewery on the block.

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After booking our hotel, which had good rates for family rooms, I used Google to search the nearby streets for potential watering holes.

It turned out there was a place just across the street, Hirsch, that looked promising. It turned out it had just the relaxed atmosphere you want after a long day of walking the parks and streets of Berlin. A comprehensive beer list, some of them from quite obscure Bavarian breweries. The beers were not spectacular, but competent German craftsmanship, and the staff were proud of their list, particularly their own pils, brewed by Privatbrauerei Hösl Mitterteich in Bavaria.

The food is quite basic. Cold cuts, cheese, hot sausages, salads, soups, some pasta dishes. We created a minor panic when we turned up one evening to order hot food for eight persons – the waiter explained that this could take some time, as they are primarily a beer bar, and there is only one cook in the kitchen. But it did not take that long for the grub to turn up, and it was cheap and filling. If you want more sophisticated cooking, there is a Alsatian bistro around the corner with humane prices.

Open from four in the afternoon until morning, but you are asked to be quiet if you use the outside tables after ten. It is a residential street with little traffic.

Very handy for a pub crawl in the area, I’ll come back to that later.

I would be proud to call a place like this my local. It’s on Koperkikusstrasse, not far from a tram stop. No landmarks or museums close by.

As they say on their web site:

Sterile Cafés, versnobte Bars und Schickimicki-Kneipen gibt’s mittlerweile wie Sand am Meer…

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We were fairly late in finding a place to go for the Easter family break, which meant the cheap tickets were gone for Paris, Amsterdam and England. But Air Berlin and Norwegian Air Shuttle had nice fares, it is only an hour and a half from Oslo, and we found a nice hotel on the East side of town.

All in all we were four adults and four kids, so I did not expect much time to explore the more beery sides of town. But, as usual, with careful advance planning, a little help from Google plus fantastic spring weather, I managed to find some nice stuff.

We stayed in Friedrichschain, the part of East Berlin where we ended up on our January visit. I did not have time for a return visit to the two brewpubs we visited at the time, but that was no reason to go thirsty.

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Axis and allies

There will be two visits to Berlin and one to London this year. I’d be surprised if I don’t manage to cram in a few beers.

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While in Copenhagen, I was lucky enough to get invited to a beer tasting of rare US and Canadian brews. This was kindly hosted by Alex, a world resident who resides in Malmö but travels both for business and pleasure. Other guests included the top Danish raters on ratebeer.

I have promised not to reveal any details about the session, but the beer was splendid, the food was exquisite and the company was lively.

What impressed me most, however, was this growler.

Dragging this across the Atlantic is true dedication!

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Seven deadly sins

The Austrian magazine Genuss has a list of the seven deadly sins to avoid if you want to serve beer on tap. We are talking about keg lagers here, not cask condition ales. Nevertheless:

  • Old beer. Once a keg is opened, it should be consumed, preferably on the same day. Not enough turnover to serve beer on tap? Go for good bottled beers instead.
  • Right temperature. What matters is the temperature when it is served to the consumer. If the glass is to be carried through a beer garden in high summer, it needs to be kept cold enough.
  • Wrong pour. Never let the beer tap into the glass. Never use anything to take off the head.
  • Lack of head. Practically all Austrian beers should be served with a proper, good-looking and stable head.
  • Rinsing of used glasses. Only freshly washed glasses should be rinsed in the Spülkranz, unless you want to spread Herpes.
  • Hygiene. The dispensing system and the bar should be kept clean at all times.
  • No cheating. Never fill beer from one glass into another. No pre-tapping to have beer ready. Never.

The translation is a bit halting, but you get the message. Even a humble half liter of lager should be properly cared for.

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This little shop is tucked away in a side street, but actually just a few minutes away from the main tourist route. I have walked past it several times, but never during its opening hours.

The owner takes his beers seriously – this is where they refused to sell Nøgne Ø Dark Horizon 2 until had aged longer in the bottle.

The shelves are crammed with beers from near and far. Imports, yes, but the emphasis is on Danish micros. You get a little bewildered, until you see that the shelves are organised according to beer style.

Glassware, books and boxed beer gifts, too. For the special occasion, there is a gift wrapped basket with 12 Mikkeller beers.

I’d say the prices are similar to Ølbutikken, but Barley Wine has more regular opening hours and has, for the time being, a more convenient location. Try to visit both of them.

Be sure to check out the Barley Wine web site, with comprehensive coverage of the Danish micros they carry.

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The Artist formerly Known as Stonch is back blogging, this time about an upcoming beer festival at the pub he runs, the Gunmakers in Clerkenwell, London.

They will be offering up to 30 different ales during the course of the week, with a special cask ale-only bar in place in the rear conservatory.

This will start at Tuesday 26th April and will run through to closing time on Friday, the day of the Royal wedding.

Details about beers to follow.

Jeff pulling a pint


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