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 category “Beer Travel”

6-months planning

A very intense week came to a sweet end with booking our plane tickets to the US. We’re only taking off in April, but the itinerary is pretty much set: Beer, cocktails and niece in Southern California, cocktails, beer and nephew in New York, deep south, cocktails, beer and bourbon in between. Early booking means low airfare and six months to dream and plan. Next thing I did after closing the Expedia tab was to google map Port Brewing (10 minutes from Escondido and the niece), and the Bruery (tap room is open til late – we can drop by on our way from the airport, if we’re not too knackered.) Both brew Book Beers, of course, only Orchard White by the latter is now retired. Another reason to live forever, or better, drop this mission. Or maybe, check out the second edition of this stupid publication.

Booking is a good excuse to recap Californian beers I drank and haven’t blogged about yet. Like Lost Abbey 10 Commandments, that’s brewed in the above-mentioned Port Brewing. I had it in late December 2013 (and I’m afraid that’s not the worst backlog in this blog), from friends who brought it back from a beer festival in Italy, if I’m not mistaken. 10% abv. of Belgian Strong Ale. My sample of this 2012 vintage bottle poured murky brown and had a dark tan head. I smelled raisins, hyssop and turmeric,and after a while – a little alcohol. It tasted very fruity, dark and heavy, with a little alcohol in the mouth too. Full-bodied, Belgian-like, deep, spicy finish. Very complex, heavy and difficult to drink.

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Another old one is Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale that we shared at a tasting at The Dancing Camel pub in Florentine, Tel Aviv, in December 2013. Wintery IPA with 6.8% abv. Last time I checked the empty bottle was still adorning the bathroom over there. Clear amber. Slightly spicy, christmas cake aroma, bitter, hoppy, fruity taste, medium-bodied, a little burnt finish. Nice. – these are my tasting notes for this beer.

REL, Dead Swedish Girl and The Actuary, that brought the 10 Commandments, also shared FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout – from FiftyFifty Brewing. Looking at the date it was sampled, they must have brought it back from Copenhagen Beer Celebration. Eclipse is an imperial stout that aged for ~7 months in oak barrels and  released once a year, in December. Our purple wax-sealed sample was aged in Elijah Craig barrels and was pretty awesome: black with tan head. A little vinous, wood, vanilla. Deep sweet taste and a little spicy. Smooth, syrupy, no carbonation, a little alcoholic aftertaste.

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Next, Green Flash Le Freak – 9.2% Belgian Strong Ale from San Diego. I loved this one. Hazy gold-amber with white head. Fresh, hoppy aroma, grapefruit and pine. Grassy, skunky green taste. Medium body, relatively carbonated, hoppy and floral finish.

Another Californian Imperial Stout is Moylans Ryan Sullivans. we bought the bottle in Høkeren, a cute bottle shop in Copenhagen, in January, because there is no better way to celebrate one’s birthday in a cold and windy city filled with beautiful people. We shared the bottle at Mikkeller & Friends with our ratebeer/untapped buddies Ruben and Dorthe. Black, with a big tan head. Dark chocolate and espresso aroma, rich bitterness, coffee and a hint of sourness in the mouth, full body, very bitter finish, no carbonation. Nothing experimental here, just a nice and solid imperial stout.

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It was Teva Boy who shared The Bruery Saison Rue in early 2014. Quite awesome and heavy on alcohol saison – 8.5% here. Cloudy amber with white head. Bretty, fruity, apple, some toffee and pepper aroma, mildly sour but very drinkable – a little alcoholic too. Full body, slightly alcoholic finish. Very good.

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I believe I had Russian River Supplication sour ale on more than one occasion, but my tasting notes are from a tasting at Teva Boy, of a bottle shared by Sparrow Brewery’s owner and brewmaster Dror, from February 2013(!) Pours clear-to-hazy rusty with white ring. Apple vinegar, air freshener, rose-water aroma, delicate sour taste. Medium body, very fizzy, ciderish finish. I gave it 3.3/5 – that’s around my average rating. I wonder how much I’d give it today.

This ends the Californian backlog. Lots more to drink from The Golden State – the ones from the book that are still available and hundreds more. We have only 5 or 6 days in SoCal before heading to Austin – we’re gonna work hard.

Lost Abbey 10 Commandments, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout, Green Flash Le Freak,  Moylans Ryan Sullivans, The Bruery Saison Rue, Russian River Supplication, are beers #453, #454, #455, #456, #457, #458, and #459 I must Try Before I Die (and thank you Teva Boy!)

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Greetings from the Bygone Empire

trumer hadmar

Has it really been a month since the last time I wrote? An intense month it was, I guess. Some university stuff, the jobseeking, plenty of errands and a spontaneous trip to Austria and Hungary! while I ended up drinking plenty of beer, mainly due to bottlesharing and samples, I used my time in Central Europe to walking and relaxing. Some cemetery visits, strolling by the Danube and visiting Zentralfriedhof, Vienna’s largest cemetery. I believe that the best way to get familiar with a place is to visit its drinking joints and cemeteries. Both Hungary and Austria are experiencing a craft beer revolution, with the emergence of breweries, specialty shops, brewpubs and craft beer pubs. First published in 2008, The 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die book which I’ve been following ever since starting this blog, has either overlooked the local scenes. They may have been too small to notice at that time, as far as I know. There was one Hungarian beer in the book, Dreher Bak that we drank in 2012, and 12 Austrian beers. We’ve already covered Urbock 23, Stiegl Goldbrau and only recently – Samichlaus which stands out, as most of the Austrian beers in the book are generic lagers, sort of. Yet, finding them was hard. Some are seasonal, other local. Out of the 9 remaining beers, I only got a hold on two.

I found Trumer Pils at the first bar I visited. The Krah Krah is a noisy, smoky (like everywhere in Vienna) old-school bar, not far from the Canal. At 16:45 in the afternoon it was full of men who were socializing after work. There are a bunch of taps of  mostly Austrian beers, and some bottles, with Leffe being pretty much the more exotic option. Trumer is served in a flute-like glass, thin and quite elegant. It pours clear gold with a big white head and has fine aroma of grass and grain. It tastes bitter and slightly buttery, but not in a way that really fucks up with the beer. Light-bodied and quaffable, perfect for that hot summer afternoon, in this unair-conditioned venue.

My friends and hosts Anna and Roey, had a bottle of Hadmar, an organic pale lager, and shared it with me. Clear and fizzy gold with a white head, cereal and grain aroma, light bitterness and malty with some grass. Medium body, with a mouthful bitterness and malt. It tasted great but I cannot help but wonder how a different ambiance would’ve affected my impression – colder weather, different people…

Trumer Pils and Hadmaer are beers #437 and #438 I Must Try Before I Die. Budapest and Vienna are great cities to visit: beer is good, people are friendly, prices are between reasonable to dirt cheap and food is awesome and surprisingly vegan-friendly. Head to ratebeer.com/places for beer and happycow.net for food. As for the rest of the Austrian beers on the book – I guess I’ll have to visit there again. Next time with The Secret Agent.

Stuff I drank in Prague – Day 1

In January 2014 – boy, that’s almost a year and a half ago! – The Secret Agent took me to Prague for my birthday. The one good thing about being a January kid, is that airfare and accommodation are rather cheap. In return, you get frozen ovaries, but hey, there are sales that compensate for that!

We spent a weekend in a suite in the posh Mamaison hotel, right by the river and a 10 seconds walk from the Hemingway Bar. To this day I hate myself for not visiting one of the  world’s best bars that was practically around the corner. We ate lots of amazing vegan food and of course, drank lots of beer. As usual, we created google maps using Happy Cow for food reference and Ratebeer for beer, but this time, we also watched the relevant Beer Hunter episode. 20+ years after it was first aired and some of the places are still standing.

It’s been a long time, but with the help of Ratebeer and Dear Diary, here’s a log of our beer adventures in Prague.

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First His&Hers of the trip

We landed on Friday morning. After leaving our luggage at the hotel, we entered the nearest beer place, U Tří Růží, or The Three Roses Brewpub.They serve their own beer, no guest beers on tap when we were there, that were traditional Czech brews. Nice place, but not a top priority, if your schedule is tight. Our next stop was U Medvídků, a brewpub known for their X33-Beer, a 12.6% abv. doppelbock, world’s strongest lager, they claim. It was probably true once. It was unavailable on Tap or bottled when we were there, as they brew it seasonally, so instead, I opted for Budweiser Budvar Dark Tmavý Ležák, that’s (Czech) Budweizer Dark for you. Because when in Prague you drink the classics – Tankova, of course.  Very dark brown with light beige head. A little roasty and caramel aroma, slightly bitter and a little dry taste. Full body, light carbonation, sweet – a little honey finish. It was good! As for X33-Beer – Armed with references and addresses, Metalhead Cousin and his girlfriend spent Passover in Prague, and brought us a bottle. Too strong and alcoholic for my taste: hazy, fizzy brown. A little spicy and caramel aroma and a little alcoholic. Alcoholic, sugary and sweet taste. Smooth and silky, very sugary and full-bodied.

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After a short nap in the hotel we headed out to U Fleků, perhaps Prague’s most famous pub. They serve food, cater to locals and tourists alike, with a band that’s playing. We weren’t there for the very carnist menu or for the music, but for the one beer they serve there, U Fleků Flekovský Tmavý Ležák, which is considered one of the best Dunkel beers in the world, and I must agree: very dark brown with a hard beige head that leaves a pretty lace. Grainy, caramel aroma but all in all rather faint. Sweet, roasty and a little nutty taste. Smooth, medium-bodied, slightly roasty finish.

Following Michael Jackson’s footsteps, we headed toPivovarský Dům- a 2-story place (street level and basement) not too far from the center that’s known for its creative, flavourful beers. The one I tolerated the most was their Nettle beer that had a neon-green colour and really tasted of nettle and sage. Dům Štěpán Český Klasický Ležák Světlý
is a pilsner and it’s also in the book – not very true-to-style though – hazy gold with a quick dissolving white head. Malt and butter aroma, lemon/ citrusy, butter and some salt in the mouth. Medium-bodied, salted butter finish, carbonated but a little creamy too.

We then crossed the street to Nota Bene, a basement bar with plenty of Czech craft beer that did good to our tasting buds and also some imports. Found Belgian beer Piraat there, that’s also in the book, but I already blogged about it.

Our first day in Prague ended with 3 hours of sleep the night before, a short nap and 19 different beers. Miraculously, no hangover the following morning.

Budweiser Budvar Dark Tmavý Ležák, U Medvídků X33-Beer, U Fleků Flekovský Tmavý Ležák 13°, Dům Štěpán Český Klasický Ležák Světlý are beers #428, #429, #430 and #431 I Must Try Before I Die.

English Beer Recap #4 – The hidden Gems of Bradford

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As soon as we decided to take a beer trip to Northern England, we knew we’d stop at Bradford. A place known better for its curry, riots, and the 1989 burning of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Bradford is not a top-of-mind beer destination. However, it has a special place in my personal history. As far as beer history goes, this is the first place I learned about CAMRA. It was in 1997 and I was at the 1in12, where the punks and anarchists hung out. Didn’t know shit about beer and used to drink “lager” – that’s what my boyfriend used to order – and apple flavoured Hooch, a horrendous alco-pop. Not being a social animal, and that’s an understatement, I was happy to find a small zine, similar to any punk publication of the day – cut and paste, photocopied – with the tagline Campaign for Real Ale, whatever that was. The one thing I remember reading there – and that’s quite something, considering it’s been 18 years of booze and B12 deficiency and an OD of written material – is an op-ed against my drink de jour, aka Hooch and the likes – how they destroy the industry, ruin young people’s appreciation of real ale, whatever that was, and so on. It stuck with me.

This CAMRA publication is of course not a good reason to visit the city, but seeing the place where I lived, and walking in Lister Park, and eating a decent curry are, so after a short sightseeing tour and some beer in Manchester, we drove to Bradford. We opted to drive through towns, so instead of 30 minutes on the highway it took us about an hour to get there.

After a brief tour of the neighbourhood, which felt tamer than it was – is it distance and defamilarization or is it for real? – we went drinking. The Secret Agent picked 2 CAMRA-recommended pubs to visit before heading to a night in Huddersfield, old-school real-ale pubs that I must have seen before, but never went in, because the ex had his own local, Scruffs and Snobs. I looked for it online before our trip. It’s not there anymore. First place we visited was The New Beehive Inn, not far from the city center, as the area code BD1 indicates. The inn was built in 1901,  and has tons of features we love in a place, such as stained glass windows, a painted sign and all sorts of knick-knacks. We arrived quite early in the evening and it was quite dark inside. Apparently this pub is known for its use of gas-light and is recognized by CAMRA as one of Britain’s Real Heritage Pubs. The Beehive serves locally-brewed ales and we sampled two of them. Black Sheep Best Bitter was the first. Our itinerary was quite flexible and on the first day of the trip we didn’t know we’d make it to Masham, to visit Black Sheep and Theakston breweries, so we drank this one as soon as we saw it. The name Best Bitter is quite accurate – it is one of the best bitters I have ever tasted. Clear golden brown with white head. Toffee, nutty, earthy aroma, full, robust, toasty bitterness, medium body, long, bitter, earthy finish. Next comes Saltaire Blonde, from the nearby town Shipley, home of Shipley Glen, the location of many yesteryear adventures. 4% abv. blond ale that’s also available in bottles in the area. Clear blond with white head, Fruit, faint citrus, floral aroma, bitter, slightly hoppy finish. Soft, medium body, bitter, a little dry finish.

We had to make it to Huddersfield that night and satisfy the craving for curry before, so we left after a single round and headed to The Fighting Cock. Located in the Lister Hills neighbourhood, pretty much in between the area where my ex’s friends used to live and the 1in12 club where they used to hang out, I had to slap myself when entering the place. The 19-year-old me would’ve had it so much better had she hung out there! It’s in a street corner, near a discount supermarket, with 2 or 3 rooms (been a while, so I forgot), all bustling with decor and awards and people! Lots of them! It was busy and we couldn’t find a vacant table, but two locals who saw us wandering immediately invited us to sit with them. You can get foreign bottled beer there, but we were there for the real-ale, and as local as possible. We started off with a Book Beer – Timothy Taylor’s Landlord from Keighley. a 3.5% abv. bitter, it pours light gold with white head. Pumpkin seeds and jasmine aroma, very little butterish taste, a little burning and mildly bitter. Medium body, long, nettle-like finish. The burning sensation in the end is very untypical, that’s for sure.

Next we had Geeve’s Smokey Joe. It’s a stout from Barnsley, and I couldn’t skip a beer with such a name, of course! Its aroma was great, with notes of chocolate, wood, old chocolate liquor and delicate smokiness. It’s a pretty good beer, however, despite the smoky notes in the mouth, neither the taste nor the body matched the awesomeness of the nose. Then, another local, Rat Against The Machine, an IPA from Rat Brewery from Huddersfield, yup, the following destination. Pretty good beer, with great citrus aroma and some grainy notes in the mouth. We continued with Bobs White Lion, an ok blond ale from Ossett, and since we had so much fun, we stayed for a third round. We had Copper Dragon Golden Pippin blond ale from Skipton – quite alright and very malty, and abother Book Beer – Pendle Witches Brew by Moorehouse’s. Coming from Burnley, Lancanshire, 26 miles south west of The Fighting Cock, this almost feels like a foreign beer. But I cannot blame the distance nor the pub for its poor performance. Judging from the 5 other pints and half-pints we had there, beer’s well-kept in that place; and 26 miles is practically around the corner, so the buttery, popcorn aroma and taste is, well, the beer. What a shame. We washed down the off flavour with delicious vegan portions at Punjab Sweet House, as recommended by our table buddies and headed to check out the pubs in Huddersfield.

 

Black Sheep Best Bitter, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Moorehouse’s Pendle Witches Brew are beers #404, #405 and #406 I Must Try Before I Die.

There Is Always Time

imageI drank Meantime London Pale Ale last month, on what should redefine the term ‘business trip’ to London. A great group of guests and colleagues and skyrocketing levels of gin consumption: straight in cocktails and mainly with tonic. Hey, this is what I’m getting paid for! Beer was used as an essential break and palate cleanser during this trip. Drank plenty of decent stuff during this trip – managed to sample all Samuel Smith’s casks at the Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, introduce our PR guy to the wonders of Brewdog in Camden, and check out the busy pub by the hotel. And drink beer in restaurants and in the hotel bar. And this bottle of Meantime London Pale Ale I ordered at a gin bar in Soho. I was so not mission-oriented in this trip, at least not a beer mission, so drinking a Book beer was an added bonus. Clear amber gold and white head. Toasty bready aroma and mildly bitter and a little limestone in the mouth. Medium body, bitter and a little toasty finish.

Meantime London Pale Ale is beer #384 I Must Try Before I Die and the only beer from the 1001 book imbibed in 72 hours of gin.

Beers I drank in Spain

Did I mention the crazy backlog in this blog and list? Of course I did. There’s one beer missing from last year’s Romania Field Report, not a word was written about September’s Real Ale Trail in Yorkshire and Manchester and I kept silent about the Birthday Mayhem in Prague that took place in a sunny January weekend. Between these two beer-centric getaways there was a business trip to the Canary Islands – a long weekend of surfing lessons, shows, parties and so many glasses of Jameson ginger ale that it shows in Irish Distillers annual reports. But it was business, tough job and somebody had to do it. There are no direct flights from Tel Aviv to Lanzarote. I had to arrive at the island a day before my guests – ~90 bar and restaurant owners, bartenders, local celebrities and fellow employees – to watch the production. Thus an afternoon flight and an overnight stay in a hotel in Madrid were booked, and I logged in to Ratebeer.com, to do business. To make a long story short, I landed, checked in at the airport hotel, dropped my bags and rushed to the bus to the city center. By the time I arrived, 11p.m on Wednesday night, a casual hour in Tel Aviv, the bars I was aiming at were not admitting new patrons. Begging, saying I’m a beergeek who came all the way from Tel Aviv and that I just want to tick/ grab a takeaway,  didn’t help.

It was late, I was tired, but decided to take a walk around the block before hailing a taxi back to the city outskirts. Beer Karma came to work and I bumped into a corner bar, that bears the cheesy name La Casa De La Cerveza.

The Pilsner Urquell and Guinness signs in the streets, the name of the place and the beams are deceiving: behind the touristic facade there’s a nice bar with a decent menu that lists dozens of European and American brews: from Belgian ales to bigger export US craft beer, with a good amount of German and English stuff in between, and 7 taps as well. The bartender fixed me a vegan sandwich and I read the beer menu, picking stuff from the 1001 Beer book: Gouden Carolus Classic was imported to Israel in the past and used to be one of my favourite beers when I got into craft beer, but my palette has changed and it tasted too sweet and stuffy. Condensed fruit, lots of sugar and full body. It wasn’t the ideal beer for my tired body, apparently.  Duchesse de Bourgogne is a Belgian sour beer that The Secret Agent and I drank in Namur. I love the gothic  label, but the beer’s a little too sour to my taste. Its aroma begins sweet and then becomes pungently fruity-mango-yogurt-like. The tastes is sweet at first, then becomes  lactic. Full-bodied, yogurty finish and rather smooth texture, but not really my kind of brew. Despite the obsessiveness, I asked the bartender to recommend me something Spanish, and he opened a bottle of Copper Ale by VG Noster from Basque Country, a sweet, fruity amber ale. Not much to write about it. It was getting late, I was getting drunk, so I grabbed a bottle of Achel Bruin to drink later in the trip (7 months later and it’s still in our fridge. It’s a Trappist ale so I’m not worried).

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There is not much to write about beer in Lanzarote – bars pour macro lagers mostly and the supermarkets stocks them and they are really cheap and cater for those A Place In The Sun expats. I did grab a bottle of Mahou Negra, a popular Spanish dark beer from the Carlsberg group, that tastes sweet, like chocolate milk almost and is still rather light-bodied. It is now available in Israel and served on Tap in the Cervezeria, a Madrid-style Tapas bar in the heart of Tel Aviv. We go there for Gin and Tonic or Rum but draught Negra is our in-between rounds drink.

no beer to write home about, but look at the view!

On our way back home we had a 4 or 5 hours layover in Madrid Airport, that was going under renovation; they’ll have some fancy shops in the future, but for the time being, other than Cafeterias that sell San Miguel (yup, tried the non-alcoholic one on my way to Lanzarote), and an OK spirits section at the duty-free shop, the options are limited. However, daytime, metro to the city center, a map and mucho determination, brought me to Plaza Bilbao, where I landed several nights before, only to find it thriving. Grabbed a bag of chestnuts – a mandatory part of any visit in Europe in the fall or winter – and ran to Bar Animal, that was friendly and inviting. 10 taps, a fridge full of goodness and this fridge door:

Bar Animal Madrid

In a little over an hour I drank 6 beersm some with the help of two nice beergeeks that were sitting on the bar too. Two of these beers were from the book: Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout and Haandbryggeriet Dark Force. The former’s a pretty cool beer: slightly smoky, chocolate aroma, with chocolate sweetness and a little dry bitterness in the mouth. Bitter, chocolate finish, hops, full body, and smooth, very mild carbonation. The latter, that hails from Norway, pours black, opaque with a mocha colour head and smells amazing: slightly peaty, dry ash and prunes. It also tastes awesome:smoky, bitter, ashtray dryness in the mouth with a full body and slightly dry and ashy finish. I like my beer to be smoky/ peaty/ roasty/ burnt and Dark Force did the job just fine.

shakespeare dark_force

I also drank/ sampled De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis Wild Turkey Barrel, Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper 2013 and To Øl Ridiculously Close To Sanity – all three great and from tap.

Following my drinking partners’ recommendations I ordered an APA by Spanish brewery Naparbier, that’s located near Pamplona. The 5 Titius Anniversary is quite alright – definitely better than most of the Spanish craft beer I’ve tried before or after, with fresh floral – jasmine – hoppy aroma, and hoppy bitterness. turns out that one of these guys illustrated a label for Naparbier, so I took a bottle of this beer and shared it at the airport with two members of our group – bar owners from Tel Aviv and Rishon LeZion, before checking in. Naparbier The IV Beer Riders was piney and skunky but in a good way. Drank straight from the bottle and in a rush – I had to stop at the duty free to grab a bottle of rum for the home and that mandatory bag of candy for the office.

Rating Naparbier at Bar Animal

Rating Naparbier at the airport

Gouden Carolus Classic, Duchesse de Bourgogne, Mahou Negra, Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout, Haandbryggeriet Dark Force are beers #318, #319, #320, #321, #322 I Must Try Before I die

Romanian Beer Adventures Pt. III: Craft Beer Bars in Bucharest

What's the time? Why, it's Beer O'clock!

What’s the time? Why, it’s Beer O’clock!

Our good friend Shmupi is an avid Foursquare user. He is also a big fan of Belgian blond ales. And he is Romanian – born, raised and with grandparents in the homeland. His Facebook updates from Beer O’clock answered the first question we asked ourselves when Family Agent started planning the trip to Romania, which is, of course – the state of craft beer in the nation. Besides following Shmupi’s check-ins we visited Ratebeer.com and thus built a short but sweet beer itinerary for Bucharest: Beer O’clock, Beer O’clock 2 and La 100 de Beri. 3 bars, conveniently located within a few meters of each other, in the city’s old town, some 1o minutes walk from our hotel. The latter prides itself with 100 beers on the menu. The former’s website counts 165. Way more modest number than Delirium Cafe’s menu, much more extensive than any bar in Israel. We figured we’d find plenty of new things to drink there without being overwhelmed. Moreover, these places focused on being beer bars and not tourist attractions, or so it seemed from Shmupi’s check-ins and the reviews we read – suit us just fine.

My fave spot on the bar - behind the taps.

My fave spot on the bar – behind the taps.

The first bar we visited was La 100 de Beri. Just like everywhere else in Romania, the place is smokers-friendly and breathers’ enemy. No proper ventilation, but there’s a spacier room in the back that has more air and is more tolerable. Several beers on tap, including hand-pumped English ales and German and Czech representatives. The inventory does not necessarily corresponds with the menu – many beers were missing so after the 3rd attempt we just asked to look at the refrigerators, that stocked plenty of stuff that’s not on the menu, for example Engel Aloisius from Germany or Wychwood fruit beer. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable – they were nice enough to tolerate our beergeek idiosyncrasies: taking pictures, writing notes, peeling off labels and collecting caps. This is our favourite bar in Bucharest and after our initial visit on the first night of our trip we sat there twice more when we returned to Bucharest in the end of the trip. The staff recognized us on the third time; too bad we had to fly back just when we started to be regular customers. 3 visits, two heavy drinkers and one Californian Agent who joined us in our last session there – that means plenty of beer. In order to make this short and sweet, here are the beers that are listed in the 1001 book that we drank there:

 

Rychtar Premium 12 – a bottle of generic Czech pils; Stiegl Goldbrau – Austrian lager, fresh and bitter; Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger which was both beautiful and tasty; Orkney Dark Island – one of the few Orkney brews we sampled in the trip – robust, salty, roasty Old Ale with sausage, iodine and dried fruit taste; and König Ludwig Dunkel that obviously had gone bad (BB date April 2013) but tasted fine by me – grainy and chocolatey.

On the first night we headed to Beer O’clock after leaving La 100 de Beri. Bigger space, broader selection. The extensive menu includes rarities such as aged bottles of Trappist ales and Brewdog’s expensive editions such as Abstrakt and Tactical Nuclear Penguin. Despite the inviting menu we only stayed for one round: the place reeks of cigarette smoke in such a way that The Secret Agent’s eyes reddened and I had to go out to the cold street in order to smell my beer. I drank De Ranke XX Bitter, a fine Belgian Ale that we enjoyed a couple of years ago in Belgium and were happy to drink again and enjoy its toffee and citrus notes. We bought a bunch of bottles to drink in the following days and take home and left.

A fridge to die for

A fridge to die for

After traveling all over –  in pastoral villages, touristic cities, small towns where the family’s from – we returned to Bucharest. On the first afternoon The Secret Agent and I split from the family and checked out Beer O’clock II, which is located in a small alley, filled with cafe’s and shisha lounges. At 4 or 5 p.m. the door was closed but the place was just opening. Sleazy heavy metal in the background, same extensive menu but due to the early hour and the fact that we were the first customers – no smoke. This bar is smaller than the mother ship, with a bar on the first floor and tables in the gallery. Looks less shiny but we liked it better because of the cleaner air. We hung out for a few rounds and drank a couple of beers from the book: Oakham JHB from England, tropical hoppiness and bitter with nettle-like finish that I liked alot, liked enough to order Oakham Citra that didn’t disappoint either. La Caracole Nostradamus is a pretty good Belgian Strong Ale that is very fruity in the nose and and tastes sweet and spicy. We ordered a couple of German beers that we enjoyed and Primator Double 24, a nasty, 10.5% abv. Czech Doppelbock that I simply couldn’t finish; it tasted like overly sugared coffee and alcohol.

So, what have we got here, count-wise? The bold-marked ones are beers #270-#278 I Must Try Before I Die. Noroc!

Romanian Beer Adventures Pt. II: Bear Hug

When Family Agent decided to tour Romania, I wrote down a small to-do list of stuff I wanna do, other than seeing where Papa Agent is from. The list contained three chapters that basically summed up everything I knew about the country:

  • Visit the Merry Cemetery
  • Buy bras in Marks & Spencer
  • Drink Ursus Black

I ticked all three: we drove all the way to Săpânţa in the northernmost corner of the country and immersed ourselves in stories of locals’  lives and deaths; I spent an hour at one of Bucharest’s malls and treated myself to some quality underwear; we drank Ursus Black, twice. In the land of cheap pale lager, this Schwarzbier shines above all, at least that’s what the editors of 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die think.

I wanna be buried in a merry cemetery

I wanna be buried in a merry cemetery

We drank it twice. First in Berăria Ursus in Cluj Napoca, Romania’s second largest city and until 2010, home of Ursus Brewery. The historic building was demolished around the time of our visit and production moved to other parts of the country. However, a brewery-owned pub is an interesting addition to this university town. Is this a brewpub we’re talking about? I dunno. On one hand, there is no brewery around. One the other hand, the menu’s preface states that the place is owned by the brewery. Also – let’s pretend I’m an octopus and add another hand – other than Ursus taps – black, premium (pale lager), unfiltered and (bottled) pils – the place offers MORE light lagers: Grolsch and Pilsner Urquell. Guest taps are common sight in brewpubs but these feel like permanent residents…

douchebag-friendly advertising board.

douchebag-friendly advertising board.

Berăria Ursus is a pretty neat place – located in a historical building in the city center, split to halls and corridors, has non-smoking area (not something to be taken for granted in Romania, we learned) and an extensive menu with several vegan options that looked inviting but the waiters were slow, we were on a rush and thus had to cancel our vegan pizza and soup order.
pretty on the outside.

pretty on the outside.

We focused on beer: Ursus Nefiltratã was our favourite and Ursus Black was the major disappointment: awfully, awfully buttery taste! Something was definitely wrong with this beer. The Secret Agent thinks it must be dirty pipes or something. Diacetyl took over the rather aromatic fruit and the little roastyness we felt. We decided not to judge the country’s flagship beer based on this poor experience and drink it elsewhere. Worst case we’d buy a tall boy at the gas stop or something, we said. However, in the end we opted for the best case. Enter La Caru Cu Bere, probably Bucharest’s most famous restaurant and beer house, located in the heart of Old Town and caters to hundreds of  tourists who gush all over the painted glass windows, heavy wooden panels, golden panels and general exuberance daily.

so so pretty too!

so so pretty too!

[A] true living legend and also one of the oldest beerhouse in Bucharest, was opened for the first time in 1879 in the old Zlatari inn and, after 20 years it moved to Stavropoleos Street, where it can be found even today“, serves contract-brewed house beer and Ursus Black on better-maintained taps than the previous establishment. There we could enjoy the beer and justify its appearance in the book: malty, caramel, bittersweet chocolate aroma, roasty, sweet chocolate taste. Medium body, smooth texture, long, sweet and a little roasty finish.

Tasting and testing.

Tasting and testing.

We recommend visit both places. the pub in Cluj is the better of the two in the main square. If the taps and pipes were cleaned and you have the time to sit and enjoy a meal, this is a lively, casual place for hanging out.  Caru Cu Bere is simply too beautiful to skip. It’s touristy, priced accordingly and feels very impersonal but being a city landmark, it’s worth spending 20 RON and 30 minutes over there.
And of course, Ursus Black is beer #256 I Must Try Before I Die. Two more Romania-related entries to fo..

Weekend in Switzerland Part IV: Innovation

Now that’s what we were really looking forward to in that Swiss weekend of ours 2 months ago: the promise that the border with Italy brings. New, challenging, hoppy brews like the ones our buddy troubles shares when he returns from business trips to Rome and Milan. It was a bottle of Bad Attitude he once brought that made me fantasizing about a funky beer paradise that has the best of both worlds: traditional German-style quality lagers and those contemporary ales. In fact, I’ve been drooling over the scrapbooky website for weeks before our departure date, fantasizing about Hobo and Bootlegger and Rudolph the winter warmer. Alas, their distribution map and also Ratebeer spotting revealed that in order to drink these sought-after brews we have to change our plans and head to the Southern, Italian cantons. Despite what it sounds, we weren’t planning a beer trip – it was The Young Gods’ show that brought us to Switzerland. Being quite persistant when it comes to beer, a couple of days before we took off I contacted Bad Attitude via their facebook page and asked if their beer is available anywhere in Basel. Turns out it does, but nowhere in Ratebeerville: All Bar One, centrally located in a pedestrian street in the city center. This smart, modern-looking bar serves top-quality alcohol, be it wine, liquors, cocktails (not sure about their quality, and I’m the world’s worst cocktail snob, but still…) and beer. Some from tap, some bottled, a bunch of international in the line of Sierra Nevada, Brewdog and Fuller’s. sounds dull but in a city dominated by local breweries and multinationals, this is a fresh change. Oh, and there were also the Swiss-Italian beers, the reason for our visit.

oh hops, oh joy!

oh hops, oh joy!

There were a bunch of BA brews on the menu, including the great Two Penny Porter which we drank before. Since we heard good things about The Dude Double IPA we ordered this one. There were other Swiss beers on the menu which we haven’t heard about before, so we opted to try one of them instead of another bottle of BA, which I have a feeling we’ll get to drink again in the future. The bartender recommended La Rossa by by Birra San Martino, that after a through investigation I learned that this is where BA contract-brews their beer. The dude was nothing short of awesome. Tropical aroma of mango, pineapple and lychee, fresh bitter taste with a little malt and biscuits and a fruity aftertaste. Quite the opposite of the other Swiss beers we sampled during that weekend. La Rossa is a strong amber ale, 6.7% abv. with more malty dominance: sweet biscuit, grain and yeasty fruitiness in the nose, bitter, dry and starchy in the mouth. Quite alright but nothing like The Dude. These two beers cost more than other domestic brews: we’re talking 8-9 chf per can/ bottle!

We found our favourite beer spot in Zürich where we least expected to find it: we googled it. Yup, it wasn’t listed on Ratebeer and wasn’t even reviewed by Bov. Desperate by finding nowt that resembles anything edgy in these sources I turned to Google and found Fork and Bottle. Opened in 2012 and located off the beaten path this lovely bistro (and beer garden in season) serves food, Italian wine and most importantly – Italian craft beer! Keep in mind that Zürichi s a relatively small town. Off center means a 10 minute train ride from the city center, then 3 minutes short walk under the freeway in a safe and quiet tunnel.

Before we asked about beer, we inquired if there’s anything to eat. I wasn’t too hungry myself and didn’t really count on stuffing myself there – my experience in omni eateries in Switzerland had so far left me with pretzels. However, there was a veggie burger on the menu which was actually vegan! and the brilliant, garlicky tomato soup was vegan too! The owner, an American, told us that there are plenty of VEGetariANs among the regular patrons and that when  ordered in advance, more vegan dishes are available – tres cool!

yummy!

yummy!

Anyway, we’re here for the beer, right? Get this: with the exception of Bad Attitude, Fork and Bottle curates around 30 Italian craft beers, selected by the owner, Mr. Mike Goguen, on his travels to Northern Italy. The beer menu is divided to sections that both beergeeks and newbies understand (session, light, semi-bitter, sweet, bitter, Belgian-style triple, hoppy and cask-aged). As strange as the  beers on the menu were to us, as much as we wanted to sample them all. Due to financial and temporal restrictions – we were on our way to the Rote Fabrik to see The Young Gods (remember? The reason for our trip to Switzerland on the first place), we planned to stay for one round only and asked Mike to help us choose from the menu.

IMG_2795Oh, of course I chose Elav‘s Punks Do It Bitter myself – can’t resist a brew with such a title! Luckily, this hazy golden English Pale Ale was just the right thing: pine, pineapple and that hoppy mango thingy in the nose and bitterness, slightly hoppy-fruity in the mouth. Light bodied, balanced and well made. Great name for a great beer.  Mike hit it right by recommending Grado Plato Sticher – a variation on Altbier that The Secret Agent was eying. An easy to drink beer with and aroma that hints of roast, some wood and cocoa beans  and a roasty bitter taste with, again, hints of cocoa. It’s a medium-bodied beer with a smooth and sweet finish – good choice here.

The clock was ticking but we were having such a good time at the Fork and Bottle, so we opted for a second, quick round. Mike picked another beer from Elav, Grunge IPA, and Stradaregina Imperial Hop. Grunge IPA is a clear ruby-bronze brew with a floral, grapefruit aroma and a bitter taste that isn’t dry and is just a little burning and alcoholic. It was pretty yummy, smooth and light-bodied. The Imperial Hop was the weakest link in this session, but only because the other 3 beers were so good. Clear to hazy ruby-brown colour with and and off-white head. Wooden aroma, some pine and cooked veggies as well and a very bitter, dry taste.

I’d drink any of these beers again.

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By far, the Fork and Bottle was the best beer experience we had in our short getaway to Switzerland. It was clear that the owners love their beer. A must stop for any beer lover who visits Zürich, especially to those who don’t make it to Italy or the Italian Swiss cantons.

beautiful display - I want them all.

beautiful display – I want them all.

It took us 2 months to complete this field report. We hope that readers and googlers who plan to visit Basel and Zürich find it useful. Our next destination seems to be Romania. It’s gonna be a family trip but we’re sure that we’ll find time for beer. The Secret In-Laws have already asked if we started looking around for beer locations in our itinerary. Til then I plan to do a major catch-up with project 1001. I’ve accumulated a few dozen beers and notes that have yet to make it to this blog for one reason or another, so February will be dedicated to clear the to-write list.

A Weekend In Switzerland Part III: Progress

The European Beer Consumers Union tells us that “The eastern two-thirds [of Switzerland], that is roughly the German-speaking part […] is very much pale lager country, with very few deviations from the Germanic norm. Even micros and brewpubs tend to produce little else than unfiltered pale lagers, a few dark variations and the odd Weizen.” unfortunately, the newer beer institutions we visited on our short weekend in Basel and Zürich did little to contradict the quoted statement.

We drank the first round of beer about an hour after arriving to Basel. We checked in at our hotel, Ibis near the Railway station and headed straight to Unser Bier. Located in a converted factory that is now used for a trendy backpackers hostel, the brewery and the brewpub, Unser Bier was established in 1998 by a group of homebrewers, owned by thousands of shareholders and in 2011 produced some 600,000 liters that were consumed locally, in Basel and vicinity. Whereas the cheeky king can be seen in trendy cafe’s all over town and crates adorned by his face fill the local Drinks of the World, it was nowhere to be seen in Zürich. We were lucky to visit the brewpub, as it is open only two evenings a week. We were also fortunate to find the entrance (which is to the left of the main entrance of the building, in a courtyard).

High ceiling, minimal decoration, smartly dressed audience and a supercool lampshade made of beer glasses make it a modern, trendy spot. The Secret Agent and I prefer more shady looking watering holes, but we thought, maybe the creative design indicates creative beer?  IMG_2677Well, not quite. We sampled the 4 beers that were offered on tap: blond, amber, Wheinschaft – Christmas beer – and schwarzbier. All were really fresh and accurate. Granted, you may think, we were drinking at the brewpub, with only a door standing between us and the fermentation tanks. It isn’t taken for granted in Israel, that’s for sure. Fresh, accurate, filtered and not bad, but nothing was really great. We then shared a bottle of Aypiey, their organic IPA that again was alright: some citrus and pine in the nose and unoffensive bitterness in the mouth, but again not exciting. It’s cool that Unser Bier offers more than the traditional styles, but a bit more risque would have done them good.

IMG_2694Later in the evening, after fun time in Fischerstube we dropped by Cafe’ Hirscheneck, hoping to score a vegan meal. The kitchen was closed by the time we made it there, so we stayed for beer. Appenzeller on tap.  Locher Appenzeller Naturperle was first brewed in 1996 and is Switzerland’s first organic beer. This unfiltered, unpasturized brew contains 5.2% abv and smells a little like vegetable broth, as well as malt and grass. Broth is also apparent in the mouth, along with malt and canned corn water. It has a light body and smooth texture, but hardly any carbonation. I guess it’s because it’s unfiltered that the drink reminded me of vegetable soup, but hey, it was quite fine. The Secret Agent ordered Appenzeller’s helles lager, called Locher Appenzeller Swiss Mountain, which was also quite alright for a lager.

IMG_2763We told you about our first night in Zürich in a previous post. The following day, Saturday, began with hunting down Amboss 5. This is a local brewery that contract brews its stuff elsewhere. Their German-language website and a review on ratebeer indicate that they have some kind of brewpub/ Club. 10:30 a.m on Saturday may be a little too early for beer, but the place was open and we learned that there’s no brewpub in the address, only a warehouse/ distribution center. However, there were people at the place who pointed at a neighbouring cafe’ that pours Amboss 5 beer and brews Amboss coffee – they also roast and grind beans. I love coffee in my beer, both as an addition or as roasty porter/ imperial stout aromata, but these are two separate businesses. The beers we sampled were two rather standard lagers. Amboss Amber, Märzen beer, is grainy and has just a little roast, with fruity bitter taste (quite untypical for the genre). Amboss Blond is standard light lager. Again, alright, refreshing – which is the last thing you want from a beer in the freezing Swiss winter – but standard.

A couple of hours later we were the first customers on the bar at Steinfels, a trendy bar that serves burgers and brews beer in a well-designed space. The beer menu shows an attempt to think out of the Swiss box and we jumped at the opportunity to taste Swiss Saison. Well, it was as aromatic as tea, with cinnamon and jasmine and clove and tasted like tea as well. Nice, but definitely not Saison. The Weizen, however, was very good, with orange peel aroma, biscuit and somewhat sour taste. One of the better beers we tried at the brewpubs we visited. IMG_2783

With the 1001 mission in mind, we allowed ourselves to drift away from Swiss beer and visit Bonnie Prince Pub. Located near Zürich’s touristic old town, this is a Scottish-like public house that serves commercial Heineken bottles and cans as well as Scotch and Scottish beers in a stuffy atmosphere with velvet-covered walls, wooden bar  and squeaky stools and Walkers crisps for sale – of course. They offer some 8 different Scottish beers, out of which we chose Isle of Skye Black Cuillin which is a rather good porter and Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, our reason for dropping by and staying in despite the bartender’s refusal to let us use the Wi-fi. This is the 4th Harviestoun beer we ever drank and like its predecessors, this is one great beer. All black, with honey and cocoa aroma, aggressive cocoa and coffee taste and syrupy, engine oil-like texture. A great beer and definitely a fresh change in the Land of Pale Lager.

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Locher Appenzeller Naturperle and Harivestoun Old Engine Oil are beers #162 and #163 I Must Try Before I Die. Stay tuned for the 4th part of the Swiss Weekend series and other 1001 Beers adventures.

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