Thursday, April 25, 2019

One More Road for the Beer: Budapest.

When the variety-beer thing has blown up everywhere around the world, you might as well go somewhere beautiful to enjoy it -- preferably somewhere with really fatty pork and voluminous comfort food.

So, the eighth episode of our radio pod program cast show is on lovely Budapest. Mangalitza pork, ruin pubs, strudel, taphouses, goulash, pinball, and more. Find those smoked-and-fried rib tips in salted caramel sauce, my dudes. Also we name-drop Roger Protz.

Where we go:
Szimpla Kert
First Craft Beer & BBQ
Neked Csak Dezső
Hedon Taproom

Besides the Hedon Taproom, we discuss the Hedon Brewery & Playground down on Lake Balaton. I wondered aloud about whether it could be a day trip from Budapest. It could be -- it's about 80 minutes' drive southwest of the city, says Google Maps -- but obviously driving back from a brewery is not ideal. There are holiday rentals and resorts nearby though. I think you should do this.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

One More Road for the Beer: Postcards from the Bar (Wild Card Edition).

We are not slaves to gimmickry. So far each episode has focused on one major city. A fun thing to do, but also limiting, no? What about all those in-between places?

How can we not mention, eventually, cycling around Flanders? Or drinking cask ale in Lancashire? Or the burgeoning beer and food scene in Costa Rica?

Do not answer those questions, for they are rhetorical. The point is, via careful experimentation, we have discovered an elegant answer: the wild-card episode. It's a hodge-podge. It's like a little stack of breezy postcards that take 30 minutes to read in total, instead of just one postcard with 30 minutes worth of teeny-tiny but no doubt very insightful writing upon it.

In this, the seventh installment of our episodic radio-cast program, we talk about cycling around a bit of West Flanders, Belgium; visiting a few traditional/neighborhood pubs in Lancashire; and a blossoming scene for food and beer around my old friend Chepe, a.k.a. San José, Costa Rica.

So, as you can imagine, this map looks different.

Cycling around Poperinge & Watou:
Palace Hotel
Brouwerij St. Bernardus
Poperinge Hop Museum

Prince of Wales (Chorley)
Bob Inn (Chorley)
Beer School (Westhoughton, Bolton)

Costa Rica:
Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Co.
Barrio Escalante
Al Mercat
Mercado Central

And here is Ignacio from Treintaycinco in Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica. Tell him we sent you.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Kölsch and Kavier on the Rhine, er, Spree.

You can find the whole world in Berlin -- Turkey, Sudan, Taiwan, Chile, Canada, you name it.

Hell, you can even find the Rhineland.

On the north bank of the Spree, but pretending it is the Rhine, is the Ständige Vertretung -- the "Standing Mission." This is near the heart of Mitte, across the river from Friedrichstrasse station, and close to things like the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate -- perfect spot for a tourist trap. But is it one? That depends on how you define "trap." Does it need to be overpriced and inauthentic to qualify?

There are plenty of places in Berlin where you can wallow in "ostalgia" -- a willfully forgetful longing for East Germany. Here at Ständige Vertretung the thing is "westalgia" -- a wistfulness for the days when the West German capital was in Bonn. The name alludes to the fact that West Germany could not recognize the East as a sovereign nation, so instead of an embassy there was a standing mission. In the Nineties one of the restaurant's founders campaigned loudly against moving the capital from Bonn back to Berlin -- partly, it must be said, to get publicity for his business. The Ständige Vertretung became an outpost of Rhenisch culture, ostensibly for all the uprooted bureaucrats whose work moved to Berlin. Tourists inevitably found it, lured by location, a splash of history, and layers of framed nostalgia.

Fresh Gaffel Kölsch is the beer here. At the bar they'll keep filling 20 cl stange glasses for €1.90 each (about US$2.15). If sitting at a table you can opt for 25 cl (€2.40) or half-liter (€4.80). You can even get a 10-liter pittermännchen -- a spigoted barrel for you and companions to pour yourselves. That costs €89, a slight savings. These prices are somewhat expensive for Berlin; less so if considering the location and specialty.

They churn out plenty of big meaty plates and flammküchen here, but consider the nibbles -- the "Kölsche tapas." You can get bread with lard and crackling (Schmalzstulle) for €2.90, a big meatball/patty (bulette) for €3.20, or (my favorite), the Kölsch Kaviar for €4.50 -- blood sausage on rye rolls with mustard and raw onion. They serve those into the wee hours, after the kitchen has closed.

There also is a Gaffel Haus pub on nearby Dorotheenstraße; it calls itself the Kölsches Konsulat. It's only slightly more expensive; the concept is similar. The scrubtop-table atmosphere is more like the big brewery pubs in Köln, but less cozy than the Standing Mission. (Sadly we don't have a Päffgen outpost here.)

Berlin also has several Bavarian-style beer halls serving Munich Helles, some Franconian-themed places, and even a few Swabian restaurants and pubs. I like the idea of a traveler on a business trip, maybe here for a conference, with no time to go anywhere else in Germany -- but they can still get a taste. Certainly there is such a thing as a useful tourist trap.

Monday, March 11, 2019

One More Road for the Beer: Amsterdam.

I think we managed to get through this show without mentioning coffee shops or the Red Light District even once. I mention them now only to mention that we don't mention them. Our focus here is on the beer, the brown cafés, the bitterballen, and a bit of genever.

It can be prohibitively expensive to stay in the over-touristed center, and we talk about how to get around that. But hey, Amsterdam is on your bucket list for a reason (the museums, no doubt). You should go. Other useful tips we discuss, briefly: The express train from the airport is easy. If you have a car, you can park at the airport and take the train right to the center. Or you can stay in Haarlem and take the train from there. Hell, you can stay in Antwerp and make it a day trip (80-minute train ride on Thalys).

Here are the places we discuss, and a map:
Pilsener Club
In De Wildeman
Butcher's Tears
Elfde Gebod
Gollem (four locations)
De Zotte

And please remember to eat bitterballen responsibly. They are filled with meat lava.

Friday, February 15, 2019

One More Road for the Beer: Bamberg.

Our fifth episode is ready, all queued up for your doodads. We're on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, and most of those things that cast pods. Please enjoy our radio program while you hit the treadmill or walk the pupper or drive to work or stroll to your next pub.

Bamberg is the smallest city we've done so far, and yet -- as always -- there are a bunch of good places we don't mention. Why? Because we like this format of 30 to 40 minutes. It's digestible, just enough time to give you the highest of the highlights for a weekend trip. Mind you, we would like to talk more. Oh we could go on. We're geeks and it would be easy to blather, start drinking beer, belch into the mic. Instead we're trying to be choosy about the info -- while still putting it into context and drawing you a picture, so to speak. Anyway, that's the goal.

With that in mind I want to mention a useful app for getting more out of Bamberg. Fred Waltman's Bamberg Beer Guide is another thing you can put on your doodad, available in the Apple Store and on Google Play. Or there is a website version here. Listen to Fred, he knows.

Meanwhile this is a pretty good introduction. Here's where we go in this episode, and a map:

Spezial Keller
Wilde Rose Keller
Café Abseits

Also mentioned:
Hotel am Brauerei Dreieck

We have this rad idea for schwag: black T-shirts that say "One More Road for the Beer: European Tour 2019." On the back would be a list of the cities we're hitting. These shirts should be pretty metal, with skulls and whatnot. You'd buy that, right? If only we could afford schwag. Hey, would you like to be an underwriter?

Next week... We're not sure yet. Maybe Amsterdam or Budapest.

Friday, February 1, 2019

One More Road for the Beer: Warsaw.

Pull on your thickest winter socks, put your feet up, and pour yourself a glass of something thick and black. It's time to talk Polish beer. Here is our fourth show.

Something I forgot to mention: the Polish Beer Lovers' Party, because it's a cool part of the story of Poland's transition (or return) to being a more serious beer-drinking country after Communism. The Beer Lovers' Party had a brief heyday -- they had seats in Parliament and everything -- in the early 1990s when the possibilities of democracy must have seemed nearly infinite. Their main plank was to promote people meeting in pubs to talk and drink beer (instead of getting drunk on vodka). They were successful enough to splinter apart amid disagreements. When I imagine this happening, I picture the People's Front of Judea.

Warsaw is the capital and has more than 50 multitap beer bars, so the city made a convenient excuse to talk about Polish beer and Baltic porter. There are several other nice cities with thriving scenes though -- Wroclaw, Krakow, Gdansk, Poznan, and more. If you go, you may want to make use of the site Loads of multitaps and beer lists there -- far more than we could ever hope to mention.

Here's what we mention on the show, and a map:

PiwPaw Beer Heaven
PiwPaw Parkingowa (their other main location)
Same Krafty
Same Krafty Viz-a-viz
Pijalnia Wódka i Piwa (but there are other locations)
Maryensztadt Craft Beer & Food
Pinball Station

We talked about smoky beers on this show but it appears we are just getting started. Next episode: Bamberg.

Friday, January 18, 2019

One More Road for the Beer: Rome.

Well, here is our third show. Prego!

We recorded it Tuesday. After doing my homework on this stuff all day -- ugh, how do you pronounce cacio e pepe again? -- it turned out that I had a hankering for cacio e pepe. So I cooked it for dinner and stuffed myself. Then we went and did the show and talked about all this food and so I got hungry again.

One of the highest compliments is when someone says the show makes them want to buy a plane ticket. After listening to the Rome show you might want to make yourself a tall mortadella sandwich on ciabatta, then buy a plane ticket. In fact I want one right now.

So, three cities in three countries so far, and pronunciation has been an amusing challenge. One mistake I caught this time is that for My Ale we say MEE-ah-leh when I think it might be pronounced MY-ah-leh. That's because it turns out the Italian word for pork is maiale, when I thought it was miale. Scusate!

Here are the places we mention in the Rome show:

Luppulo Station
Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà
Bir & Fud
L'Osteria di Birra del Borgo
Birra e Sale
Birra Piú
My Ale
Pork 'n' Roll

Bear in mind that in any of these cities we are only scratching the surface. We might well have mentioned Birra Baladin or Brasserie 4:20, for example. Hey, you should go there too. But we like the length of these shows. So we each pick a handful of favorite must-dos and let the chips fall where they may.

Another source I'd recommend for anything food-related in Rome is Katie Parla. She has a website, an app, writes books, does guided tours. Listen to her. She won't lead you wrong.

You should be able to find our show on iTunes, Stitcher, Castbox, Podbean, Spotify and Soundcloud. For technical reasons because we're based in Germany, we haven't figured out how to submit to Google Play yet. Not sure what's going on there but we're working on it.

Next show: Warsaw. The Polish beer scene is humming and I get to talk about Baltic porter. No doubt we will pronounce everything perfectly.

Friday, January 4, 2019

One More Road for the Beer: Prague.

So, here is our second show. It's about one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, which happens to be the capital of one of the greatest beer drinking countries on Earth. If you like Prague, or Czech beer, or if even if you just like lager, you'll want to insert it into your earholes. This will make you thirsty and hungry and stoke whatever fire it is that burns the hours searching for discount airfares.

We give kudos to Evan Rail. He taught us much. Here are inexpensive used copies of his Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic, published 10 years ago but still useful for some older breweries, pubs, and the context of Czech brewing and drinking culture. Let's all tell him he should write another one. He could crowdfund a new Prague pub guide. We would all throw wadded fistfuls of cash at him.

Speaking of cash, we at One More Road for the Beer are looking for sponsors. Or underwriters, if you prefer. Fair warning: I've been an independent journalist/critic type for more than 20 years. So I feel compelled to clear my throat and note that all editorial content remains totally independent. I might even be tempted to say horrible things about you just to prove it. Just the same, you'd reach a curious and growing audience of anglophones who like to spend money on food, drink and travel. But since I do not sully my hands with this filthy lucre, if you or your company is interested, please reach out to Zach at zach dot johnston at uproxx dot com. (Do people still need to spell out email addresses that way? I do not know.)

Here are the places we mention in this, our second useful episode, followed by a neat map:

Zlý časy
U Šumavy
Kolkovna Olympia
Pivovarský Klub
Brevnov cloister and brewery
Klášterní šenk
Hotel Adalbert
U Medvidku brewery and hotel
U Dvou Koček
Letenské Sady beer garden
Riegrovy Sady beer garden
První Pivní Tramway

The shows are on Soundcloud, iTunes, and other services like Stitcher that deal in podded casts. I don't know much about them. If you can't find it on a particular service or app-thingy, let us know and we'll oil whatever part of the machine is creaky.

We plan to record another show or two again very soon. We're not quite sure what city we're doing next but we have lots of ideas. Warsaw? Rome? London? Bamberg or Berlin or Düsseldorf or Munich? Antwerp or Bruges or Ghent? Feel free to nudge us.

Friday, December 21, 2018

One More Road for the Beer: Brussels.

So, we're launching a podcastZach Johnston of UPROXX and myself. It's many months in the making, starting with a long series of those late-evening half-drunken "Wouldn't it be cool if..." talks that you don't really think will go anywhere.

It's called One More Road for the Beer. Put it in your earholes as you travel home for the holidays, or on your next commute. Let us know what you think.

Each episode will focus on a different city; we're trying to keep each one to 30 or 40 minutes... We want to hit the highest of the highlights, plus a few obscurities -- the places you'd want to visit if you're on a business trip or only have a couple of days in town. And we aim to put it all in context. We want to put you in the atmosphere. We want the beer foam to tickle your nose. We want you to smell the local snacks.

In case you listen and want to look them up, here are the places we mention in the first show (and a map!):

Grand Place
Moeder Lambic Fontainas
Moeder Lambic Original
Fleur en Papier Doré
Les Brasseurs
Bier Tempel
Delhaize on Anspach
Petit Filou

We also mention beers from Cantillon, Senne, Tilquin, De Ranke, Oud Beersel, Dupont and Boon... more or less in that order.

Obviously we can only scratch the surface in each city. When possible we'll point you toward additional resources... In this case we're in my wheelhouse, and I'd humbly suggest Around Brussels in 80 Beers or the Good Beer Guide Belgium.

Notable correction: When talking about Cantillon in the 1970s, I should have said Jean-Pierre Van Roy was responsible for starting the nonprofit museum side of the operation. For some reason I just said Jean, which the name of Jean-Pierre's son who is now in charge. First-show nerves, maybe.

Next episode: Prague.

Monday, December 17, 2018

What's Up with All Those Belgian Christmas Beers, Anyway?

The world's best-known festival of Christmas and winter beers happened over the weekend. There they poured 187 different beers -- all made special for the season, all Belgian-brewed. Mind you, there are only about 240 breweries in Belgium. Not a bad ratio.

The Kerstbierfestival is in Essen, at Belgium's North Pole (near the Dutch border). The organizers go to great lengths to source every Belgian Christmas beer they can. Their first was in 1994, when they were able to find 38 of them. At that time there were about 110 breweries in the country.

What we can draw from this? For one, we can see that the number of special Christmas brews has expanded right alongside the number of small, independent breweries. That makes sense. It also makes sense (to me, anyway) that the existence of the festival in Essen has had something to do with it. Brewers know the event and want their beer to be a part of it.

So those are a couple of the possible answers to the question of why Christmas beers have become such a big thing in Belgium. Here are some other explanations I've heard or read at various times:

The faux-historical one: In the legendary old days the Belgian farmer-brewers would have had surplus grain after the harvest, so they would brew stronger ales to enjoy for the winter holidays. It's somewhat plausible and makes a nice story. I haven't found any evidence of it.

Palm started it: In 1947 it released Palm Dobbel, a somewhat stronger version of Palm delivered to clients as a thank you, and also to celebrate the brewery's bicentennial (based on a now dubious date shrouded in mist; in 1747 it would have been the De Hoorn farm brewery, which is older than that). Off the top of my head I can't think of any present-day Belgian holiday beers older than this one. That doesn't make it the first.

No, Artois started it: The story goes that Artois in Leuven introduced Stella as a Christmas beer named, sort of, for the Star of Bethlehem. However our friend Evan Rail has had a look at the brewing records. Trouble is, the brewery had fermentation problems with its earlier batches and didn't release the beer commercially until August 1927. From then on it was year-round. Thus I feel reasonably confident in declaring the Stella Christmas story to be nonsense. (Interestingly, the AB InBev site says it released Stella as "une bière de Noël, respectant en cela une coutume de l'époque," or "volgens de toenmalige traditie." That is, according to the custom of the time. So, maybe holiday beers really were a thing back then. Or, maybe we should be careful not to trust anything found on marketing websites, and this one in particular.)

Blame the British: Senne brewmaster Yvan De Baets -- whose Zinnebir Xmas is one of the best -- once told me his theory that the Belgians got the idea from the British, especially after World War I. This was a time when the Belgians were trying out pale ales and stouts too, so why not Christmas ales? (But as with other consumables, the Belgians have a special way of adding their own panache.) This is a rather plausible theory that also matches up somewhat with the timing of the Palm and Stella stories. If it was a "custom of the time," maybe this is why.

The capitalistic one: It's the money, stupid. You don't need to go to the Kerstbierfestival or fancy bottle shops to find Belgian Christmas beers. You can go to nearly any supermarket in Belgium and find endcap displays full of them. Or you can visit many corner cafés to find table tents and posters advertising brands like Palm Dobbel, Bush Noël, or Tongerlo Christmas, to name a few of the more common ones. They're nominally only available this one time of year, so many customers go for it. Not many brewers want to miss out on that.

More thoughts from De Baets: "As a brewer I can tell you what gets us moving, sometimes at least: We see clients, pubs, making an emphasis on Christmas beers at the end of the year and all the customers having their interest focused on them. So, what do we do? Well, we simply make one also. It maintains a interest in our products, it's as basic as that."

The truth may be some combination of all these things (er, minus the Stella bit): old traditions, good marketing sense, and a whole bunch of smaller breweries well versed in cranking out variety and oddities -- what's one more, to them? Why not join the fun?