The Beer Gatherer

Blogging about Israeli beer in general and Israeli craft beer in particular, following 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die and other beer musings.

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

A Weekend In Switzerland Part II: Tradition

When The Secret Agent and I decided to visit Basel and Zürich, two cities in German speaking Cantons, one of which, Basel, located practically across the street from the German town Freiburg, we expected to encounter a beer culture similar to that of Germany: large beer halls that’s been around for centuries and serve one or two dirt cheap, fresh house-brewed lagers on tap. Sounds boring? That’s the setting that The Secret Agent idolizes; he’d rather sit in a bierhall and chat in pidgin with local retired men over visiting any cutting-edge multi-tap bar.

However, his Bavarian fantasy didn’t come true over our Swiss weekend. The market is dominated by Feldschlösschen, once family owned that’s been a Carlsberg subsidiary since 2000 that brews pale lagers. With the help of Ratebeer, we visited 3 beer halls that have the patina we’ve been craving.

ueliLocated in the heart of Old Town Basel, a minute from the Rhine, is Restaurant Fischerstube, a lively brewpub in a 15th-century building that serves traditional Swiss dishes and the house beers on tap as well as bottled seasonals and specialties. As expected from a microbrewery in a town know for its winter carnival, Ueli Bier‘s icon is a (thankfully not intimidating) jester. Fischerstube is a packed, yet cosy place. Filled with chatter and clutter, a welcoming atmosphere and crowd that consists of locals and foreigners at once. We sat next to two women who were having a drink after a shopping spree and exchanged looks with them, over the loud Americans who occupied the opposite table and bragged about the thriving microbrewing scenes of Colorado and Idaho. In the corner there was a large table of 60-70 years-old women, celebrating something over wine glasses.

Beams!

Beams!

We loved the atmosphere and enjoyed the beer we sampled – 5 different beers in total, as those on tap are offered in different size glasses, from 100 or 200 ml. to 3L jugs. The spicy, almost-chewy Hefe Weizen was our favourite with the roasty dunkel a close follower. There was nothing really outstanding about the beers in Fischerstube, but their freshness and the lovely, lively happening around us added to our enjoyment.

IMG_2692You can buy Ueli Bier in Drinks of The World in Basel, which we mentioned in the first entry in the Swiss weekend series, but I’m afraid that outside the restaurant they’re just simple lagers, so if you can (and if you’re in the teeny-tiny town known as Basel, you can), drink it on location.

There must be other traditional beer halls in Basel, but we had only one evening in the city and opted to visit brewpubs (yes, in plural. Wait for part III). We arrived at Zürich on Friday evening, dropped our luggage at the spacious room we found on AirBnB and returned to the crowded train station, for a taste of Christmas Market and beer. Located in the main hall of Zürich Hauptbahnhof, Brasserie Fédéral that specializes in Swiss beer, attracts quite a few of the 400,000 passengers that enter the station every day. The menu offers more than 100 Swiss beers, almost all of them bottled, most of them conservative; beer from new Swiss micros wasn’t spotted on the menu. We were seated in a corner table and were served by an impatient waiter that was somewhat irritated that we read the menu and didn’t just opt for some Feldschlösschen. The prices were high, we were tired and wanted to switch to our pajamas so we ordered two bottles of hard-to-find stuff that’s in the 1001 book. Felsenau Bärni Dunkles Spezialbier an unfiltered dark lager thathails from Swiss capital Bern pours clear dark bronze and smells of honey and diluted caramel. Tastes rather sweet with a little sting, its body is light and the carbonation quite soft for a  lager. This is not a bad beer. It is properly done, but you can lead a peaceful life and die happily without trying it. Rosengarten Einsiedler Hell is another rather difficult to find beer. That’s a pale lager that, according to the book “is a must-try beer for scholars of the Swiss beer landscape”. Beers like that is the reason the 1001 book pisses me off so many times. There’s one Israeli beer in the book, a hard-to-find, tap only seasonal and then there’s this mediocre Swiss pale lager? Gee, Goldstar is much more worthy! Even Tuborg Red that has an interesting story behind it is worthier than Einsiedler Hell. Clear Golden with a quick dissolving white head, honey and mineral aroma, bitter, malty and roasty taste, light body and way-too-soft carbonation. Something was wrong with the bottle, as the flip-top opened without any resistance. Mediocre.

clearly uninteresting

clearly uninteresting

Our Classic Beer Hall craving was satisfied on our last day in Zurich. Restaurant Zeughauskeller, a huge, busy place in the heart of Old Town, has been in business since 1926. Before that the building that was constructed in 1487 was used as arsenal warehouse. The restaurant website tells that “[legend] has it that the crossbow from William Tell […] was issued here.” It comes as no surprise that the walls are decorated with all sorts of armor. It’s a touristy place and as such is expensive and offers multi-lingual menus, but when we visited on  Sunday noon, it also boasted of dining Swiss families. Menu is full-on Swiss traditional dishes, has limited vegetarian/ vegan options (but the bread is to die for!) and a small, but alright beer menu: a few Swiss beers on tap and a bunch of “international” bottles (Schneider Weisse, Chimay and more Swiss beer). Draught beer is offered in 300ml and 400ml glasses. We opted for the small ones and finally drank some beers from the aforementioned Feldschlösschen: Feldschlösschen Urtrüb that’s in the menu is called Naturrüb that was alright, with grassy, vegetal aroma that’s quite typical for unfiltered beer. We also drank Dunkle Perle that was a bit too watery for me, Oberländerbier Amber that was quite nice, bitter and malty with some caramel and the house beer that was brewed by local brewery Turbinenbräuhaus that was quite nice as well, with spices and biscuit in the nose and soft herbal, slightly dry bitterness.

more beams!

more beams!

I would highly recommend visiting these 3 places but more for the atmosphere than for the beer. Meanwhile,  Felsenau Bärni and Einsiedler Hell are beers #158 and #159 *I* Must Try Before I Die. You, however, don’t have to.

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A Weekend in Switzerland Part I: Beer on the Go

The Secret Agent and I spent the last weekend of November/ First weekend of December in Switzerland. Sort of an early birthday getaway and making my latest biggest wish come true: seeing The Young Gods Live. I wrote about going to Switzerland and returning from Switzerland before, but it’s about time I actually write about the trip. I’ve already written a detailed account about the trip in our Hebrew blog, focusing on date and location, providing travel and (vegan) food tips to the readers. Since the nature of The Beer Gatherer is more geeky, I decided on a different approach for this blog.

First, some background and disclaimer: We spent 4 days in Switzerland, in Basel and Zurich. With 12 Swiss beers in my book, we were also mission-oriented. Naturally, tourists tend to generalize and get a somewhat superficial impression of their travel destination, and despite doing the best research Ratebeer, Google and Bov’s website provide, there’s a good chance we missed stuff or just didn’t get the essence of things due to a language barrier and general cluelessness. Having written that and making this introduction useful in a way, let’s begin with some shopping tips

Actually, in order to get your beer fix to Switzerland, all you need is one tip: Drinks of the World. A small chain that carries, well, drinks from around the world. If the store’s called *Drinks* of the World, it probably means that you can get there all kinds of whine and rum and tequila and scotch, but the truth is, we didn’t notice, because the two branches we visited, in Basel and Zurich, are so loaded with beer that we were almost blinded by the choices we had to face. But first thing first. A small chain, right? It has 5 branches at the railway stations of Zurich, Basel, Bern, Luzern and Winterthur. Unlike other places in the world, Switzerland’s railway stations are well-lit, safe spaces with a thriving commercial space – quite the opposite of Tel Aviv’s Central Bus station, to those who are familiar with the lovely scenery.

We read mediocre reviews about the stores and its selection, but since we compare it to what we know from home, we were thrilled. Europeans, there’s a nice, small selection of American beerP Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, Kona, Anchor and Flying Dog (and also some Coors, Miller and Colt 45 if you insist). Americans – there’s a decent selection of European Beer. Good German stuff, Belgian ales, French stuff, English beer and also BrewDog. Everybody, there’s a vast selection of Swiss beer, including gift packs for the indecisive, and also a fair bunch of (mostly) pale lagers from “rare” countries: we couldn’t resist and despite being well aware that we’re taking room from good quality beer we bought bottles from Morocco, Mongolia and Cuba (did read this, Americans? Cuban beer).

Although we decided to leave beer shopping to the end of the trip, we bought a couple of bottles before getting on the Train from Basel to Zurich. We are target-oriented and used the 1 hour train ride to drink Schneider Weisse Original that we bought at the store in Basel. Cold from the fridge, this refreshing, full-bodied wheat beer was pleasing to drink, but since we had to look after our suitcase and share our seats with other passengers and, we decided to give up on the other bottle we bought, and take it home with us.

beer on the train

beer on the train

We visited the zurich store right before getting on the train back to Basel, the night before our flight back home. We bought a bunch of bottles to take home with us and since we had a night to kill at the airport before the morning departure, we decided to make the most of our free time and picked some beer to taste in the vacant airport. Here’s what we drank:

Ratebeerians are everywhere!

Ratebeerians are everywhere!

These were selected from the fridge. Vollmond is domestic, brewed only on full moon for mystical aura and promotional reasons, I guess. It’s a regular lager with a nice label and a nice story behind it, that’s all. It has funky piss-like as well as cooked-veggies aroma and that mediocre pale-lager bitterness, or in other words, almost tasteless. Why is it in the book? Probably because of the full-moon story. The other beers we drank in that nightly airport session were better, with Brewdog’s Dogma being the highlight of the tasting: rich tastes of wood and roast, bitter, a little sweet and a little coffee-like sourness and wood, espresso and acetone aroma.

Schwaben Bräu Das Echte Märzen was quite alright too, malty and balanced, and Schlösser Alt was just great: simple, robust, very drinkable although a tad bit on the sour side. Meanwhile at home we already opened our bottle of Trois Dames IPA from Brasserie Trois Dames, one of Switzerland’s new microbreweries. It’s a huge difference from most of the beer we tastes on our weekend, and that’s a compliment. Murky amber in colour with dry and fruity aroma and dry, fresh bitter taste, it is a good, refreshing beer.

Suffice to say that being true beergeeks, we didn’t only rely on these two chain stores. Paul Ullrich in Basel is another good source for beer and drinks in general. There we also explored the other shelves and let me tell you, their rum section is to die for, with great editions from classic and contemporary distilleries alike. Beer Planet in Zurich has a smaller selection than Drinks of the World, but it’s worth mentioning, because sometimes you can get harder-to-find domestic brews over there. We got a bottle of Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien 2011 there, a beer I didn’t even imagine finding in the German canton.

Stay tuned for more Swiss musings. Meanwhile, Schneider Weisse Original, Vollmond and Trois Dames IPAare beers #155, #156 and #157 I Must Try Before I Die.

trois_dames_IPA

Jemmin’

jems02

On Monday after work Teva Boy and I met up at Jem’s brewpub, to try their new Golden Ale. He brought along his bottle of Lagunitas Maximus, that’s been waiting for me since the summer, but we met at Jem’s to check out their first release in two years, Jem’s Golden Ale.

Teva Boy and I make our respective beer money in the same industry and in the same dull industrial area – Kiryat Matalon, Petach Tikva –  that other than greasy spoons run by ex-cons, salad bars and mediocre chain restaurants has pretty much nothing to offer to the regional culinary scene. Jem’s Beer Factory entered this wasteland about three years ago. Armed with kosher certificates, a good story about a once White House employee leaving everything behind and making his Zionist dream come true in the shape of a brewery and the best location ever: An industrial/ business area with no proper option for business luncheons or casual dinner that’s surrounded by affluent Light-Orthodox neighbourhoods, with money to spend but nowhere fun to spend it at. 6 kinds of beer, plenty of greasy grub and a weekly, always sold-out music shows fill the suburban void quite well.

The brewery has expended and 2 years ago started bottling and selling its creation outside the pub as well. I heard that a new branch is about to open in Ra’anana, another town with a dominant affluent kosher keeper population. Also, a year or two ago The Secret Agent and I noticed an improvement – apparently some of the recipes went under modifications that did them good. The selection, however, is standard: dark lager, wheat, pils, amber ale, stout and 8.8, a Belgian strong ale that according to a bartender who works there is their most popular brew. Not surprising, as Israelis love their value for money and the higher the abv. the faster it takes to get drunk. The beers are fine but like so many other local brews suffer from inconsistency. Teva Boy says that they can’t keep up with the demand and hence they take it easy with conditioning. Anyway, those who are new to the brewery can order samples which is always cool for beergeeks and indecisive people such as myself alike.

The Golden Ale which we tasted is Jem’s attempt in an American-style session beer, is currently available from tap only and it smells grassy and dry with the slightest tropical hints. I tasted grain, cookie dough and a little bitterness, but the citra hops used in its production isn’t really apparent. Can’t say we were disappointed, as we didn’t have high expectations anyway.

jems01

Butthen Teva Boy took a bottle of Lagunitas Maximus out of his bag. He chilled it at work and we shared it with the bartender, who enjoyed the new taste and didn’t mind that the beer was somewhat past its prime. I didn’t mind that either, because it caught that very sugary aroma, of cherry, ripe peach and cake, and a malty bitter taste with candy-like sweetness. With 8.2% abv. no wonder I was a little tipsy upon arriving to the gym for some after work workout.

lagunitasmax

Lagunitas Maximus is beer #154 I Must Try Before I Die and Jem’s Beer Factory is THE place to visit if you happen to be in Petach Tikva or if you are a die-hard beergeek.

Four on the Go

For the first time in many weekends I can say I had a rest. Between high productivity and task-ticking and beer tasting and nuts going I had a blissful 10-hour sleep, ate a hearty breakfast, watched 2 episodes of Breaking Bad and snuggled with the cats. I still can’t upload our notes from the trip to Basel and Zürich because the photos haven’t been photoshopped yet. The Secret Agent’s been insanely busy since we came back, but it shall come. Meanwhile, to thin down the ever-growing beers to blog about list, here’s a bunch of beers we tasted recently. No particular order, no weird story, no anecdotes, just thinning down the list.

marston_pedigree   I rarely hit the stores these days as we’ve been getting our fix from deliveries and gifts, but last month I stopped by the neighbourhood alco shop on my way home from the bus or something and that’s where I bought a bottle of Marston’s Pedigree. As usual, when The Secret Agent is not around, I forgot to look at the best before date and thus got a bottle that in a normal country would have not been sold. Expired in May 2012, its presence on the shelf shouldn’t surprise those who are familiar with the players in the local industry, importers and merchants alike. It’s a country of scammers.

I can only blame myself: I was too lazy to go out and return the bottle (or just couldn’t bear listening once again to the local salespeople’s catchphrase used when faced with dated beer: “oh, it’s alcohol, it never goes bad”. Yeah, especially in the great storage condition, by your southernmost window). Anyway, we drank the beer that felt old indeed. Bready and fruity in the nose, soft bitterness in the mouth with hints of fruit, like suckling on a peach pit. No rich maltiness remained and that’s a shame. Although the beer wasn’t bad, it was clearly not what the brewmaster had in mind.

ohara_irish_redAnyway, the O’Hara’s Irish Red I bought at the same store was good, date-wise. It was also good beer-wise. A little on the light side, sweetish, with caramel aroma and flavour and also some wine. A decent beer that I enjoyed and The Secret Agent enjoyed less, because for him it was too sweet.

IPA Samuraj by Czech Brewery Kocour was poured (from a plastic bottle!) at a recent tasting. Shachar, who has a link to my list, brought it from Beer and Beyond’s latest trip to the Czech Republic. An American-style IPA, from a Czech brewery, poured from plastic bottle. The disastrous potential was gone as soon as my nose met its aroma, which was grassy and skunky, but in a good way. It tasted green and bitter and almost dry and had a delicate fizz and a long finish. Not the best IPA I have ever had and it probably would have not made it too the book had it not come from the Land of Saaz, but nevertheless it’s an OK brew.

IPA-Samurai

The last beer in this list is Sprecher Hefe Weiss from Wisconsin. What is supposed to be a German-style wheat beer ended up being too spicy and too bitter for a hefe. We didn’t like it in General and didn’t find anything German in it in particular. That’s quite disappointing. sprecher-hefeweiss

Marston’s Pedigree, O’Hara’s Irish Red, IPA Samuraj and Sprecher Hefe Weiss are beers #150, #151, #152 and #153 I Must Try Before I Die.

Dog Brews

We’re back from Switzerland, still enchanted by The Young Gods’ brilliant concert. I would have paraphrased and said that It’s Good to Be Back*, but I’d be lying. It is never good to be back from a holiday, though our bank account is definitely relieved that we’re back.

Soon I’ll start working on my notes and turn them into a couple of entries about Swiss  beer and beer in Switzerland, but these will be picture-heavy entries and after an all-nighter we pulled at the airport (where beer tasting took place too, of course!) I just don’t feel like messing with Windows Picture Manager or delegating the task to The Secret Agent, aka Der Fotoshopfenkunstmeister. We are both knackered. Instead, let’s talk about dogs. We haven’t talked about dogs for ages in this blog, not since October, when Brewdog Rip tide was reviewed. There’s a Lion Stout, Hop monkey, Goose Island and even a Black Cat, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that dogs rule the world of beer.

turbodogWe recently drank two doggie beers. The first is Abita Turbodog from Abita Springs, a small town in the New Orleans Metropolitan area. Abita Brewing Company uses the town’s spring water. Wikipedia tells us that “[i]n August 2005, Stuff Magazinecalled Abita’s Turbodog Ale the best beer made in America”. Wikipedia also tells us that Stuff magazine is a sleazy men’s mag that merged to Maxim in 2007. 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die was first published in 2008, I think, so the beer must have kept its rep for a few years.

It’s an alright brown ale, with cherry, old-chocolate and sweet flowery aroma and sweet chocolaty taste, faint toffee and a little yeast.  It’s an alright beer but due to its carbonation and richness, is a little too heavy to drink an entire 12oz. bottle by oneself. Luckily we share.

fatdogNot only did Stoudt Brewing Co. named their Imperial Stout Fat Dog Stout, they probably donated the money that would have otherwise been paid for a graphic designer to their local SPCA. Yes, it is THAT amateurish. Look:

But judging beer by its label is wrong. Inside the bottle rested a great imperial oatmeal stout, the blackest. How much more black could this be? The answer is none. None more black. Italso has a really nice tan head. Underneath, good ol’ roasty aroma, with some coffee and unexpected cotton candy. It tastes rich, bitter and roasty and a little dry and finishes roasty as well. A really yummy stout it is! Highly recommended.

Turbodog and Fat Dog Stout are beers #148 and #149 I Must Try Before I Die. More entries to be published soon. Meanwhile, goodnight.

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