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.
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…
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.
“[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.