Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant

Skimming place names on a map of Belgium is like going into a prodigiously stocked bottle shop. Where do you start in a country with a beer heritage as rich as it is in Belgium? Trappist beers, witbier, saison, Flanders red, oud bruin? What about all those famous towns like Chimay, Roeselare, Poperinge, and Westvleteren –– to say nothing of urban beer havens such as Antwerp and Leuven?

For me, the choice was relatively easy: I had never had the opportunity to taste lambic, those Belgian ales discussed in hushed and reverent tones among adepts of the zymurgical arts, beers that rarely make it beyond the immediate vicinity of Brussels.IMG_7820

Lambic had become something of a holy grail for me.

So when I found out that an old friend had moved to Brussels for work, it was only a matter of time before I made the pilgrimage. My friend got things off the ground the right way, greeting me upon my arrival from the airport with gueuze and kriek from Oude Beersel. Things only got better from there.

Scratching the Surface of Brussels’ Beerscape

Before venturing out into the countryside around Brussels, why not an evening of aperitifs to set the stage? Brussels –– capital of one of the most fascinating beer countries in the world –– doesn’t disappoint on this score.

Our first stop was À la Mort Subite, a classic Belgian beer café dating from the prime of the post-Great War years before the Depression. Cream-coloured walls, wooden brasserie-style tables and chairs, small globe lights casting a soft light over the cafe, brown bench seating built in along the periphery walls, rows of painted metal art-nouveau columns, an arched threshold with wood-framed doors, and a floor-to-ceiling showcase window perfect for watching the world drift by. Blink and you might think you’d been transported back to the 1920s.IMG_7798 I ordered up a Mort Subite Witte Lambic, which sounded interesting on the surface of things. It turned out to be a sweet and apricot-fruity beer –– refreshing and approachable, but with little in the way acidity and no wild-fermented complexity. Fortunately, though, this mild ordering fail did nothing to detract from the atmosphere of the place. And besides, there’s plenty more on the menu.

From there, we made our way to Moeder Lambic via the Galeries Royales St-Hubert and the Grand Place, which was actually quite grand. Tastefully lit at night, it’s the kind of place that has the power to stop even seasoned Euro travelers in their tracks. If you’re there during the day, check out the brewing museum in the Brewers’ Guildhall (L’Arbre d’Or).IMG_7808

Moeder Lambic on Place Fontainas serves up lambic, gueuze, and other styles aplenty. Their expansive menu makes for some interesting reading. Cantillon’s wares feature prominently, and rare bottlings from other lambic/gueuze producers abound as well –– some selling for as high as 200 euros per bottle. If you want to keep it simple but still be able to try something you won’t find far beyond the Brussels region, opt for a Gueuze Tilquin on draft.

Lambic, Gueuze, and Kriek in Flemish Brabant

The next day dawned all golden sunshine, auguring well for our planned cycling tour of the fabled valley where the wild-fermented beers are.

The Senne/Zenne rises north of Brussels and once flowed through the city before it was covered over in the nineteenth century as part of an ambitious urban works project that dramatically reshaped city. Today, the river reemerges to the southwest and continues on its gentle way through the rolling hills of the Payottenland.IMG_7856 As late as the turn of the twentieth century, some three hundred lambic brewers lined the Senne and spread out into the surrounding hills and farmland. Now the region is home to just over a dozen lambic brewers and blenders, with only one –– perhaps the most famous one –– located within the Brussels city limits.

***

After a walk through the monumental and rather monolithic Parc du Cinquantenaire, we boarded a train from Gare Bruxelles-Schuman to Hal/Halle. The short train ride leaves just the right amount of time to talk about those enchanting and enigmatic ales that brought me here. I realize that unless you’re an avowed beer enthusiast or “beer geek,” you might not know what a lambic is –– and that’s just fine. It took me some time as well to disentangle lambics from gueuzes and krieks, and Flemish red ales from oud bruins.

A lambic is a spontaneously fermented ale made from Pilsener malt and anywhere between thirty to forty percent unmalted wheat. This sets lambic apart from German or American wheat beers, which use malted wheat. Lambic gets its minimal hop charge from Belgian or Central European varieties that have been aged for up to three years.IMG_7919 Process-wise, the wort is set out to cool overnight in a large shallow vessel called a coolship often located in the attic of the brewery before being transferred to barrels for fermentation. During the months and years the beer spends in the barrel, the microbes that inoculated the wort overnight join forces with the organisms that inhabit the barrel to work their magic. The resulting array of aromas and flavours might, at first blush, strike anyone unfamiliar with spontaneously fermented beers as downright odd, if not repulsive. Sometimes described as vinous or cidery, lambics typically exhibit lactic, citric, or malic (apple) sourness, and they can be tart and tannic when young. Notably, lambic brewers aim for a level of acidity similar to that of a zippy white wine. Balance is key. More does not necessarily mean better.

The same goes for the “funk” level in the aromatics and flavours. Sure, the Saccharomyces, Pediococcus, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and other organisms combine to impart aromas at times reminiscent of barnyard, hay, horse, horse blanket, and washed rind cheese. But the concentrations should be “pleasant.” Admittedly, like durian or pungent cheese, it’s an acquired taste, but worth the effort.

Sound appetizing so far? Depending on the various yeast and bacteria strains, lambics may also recall pineapple, tart cherry, oak, and even honey as the beer ages. Whether you’re a fan of sour/wild-fermented beers or not, what might strike you most about lambics is the (virtual) absence of carbonation. Like most wines, lambics are still. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see any trace of a head on your beer. That’s entirely normal.IMG_7864

Comprised of one-, two-, and three-year-old lambics, gueuze showcases the skills of the seasoned blender. Highly effervescent, gueuze is to Champagne what lambic is to wine. Under optimal cellaring conditions a gueuze will continue to evolve for years. Dry, tart, and with a dense and frothy foam cap, gueuzes run the gamut from fruity (citrus, green apples, tart cherry) to phenolic-spicy, from earthy and leathery to oaky with hints of vanilla, and from fresh-cut hay to barnyard and horse blanket.

IMG_7872Kriek is a younger lambic to which cherries have been added. But don’t expect a well-brewed traditional kriek to be sweet. Wild yeasts thrive on the sugars present in the fruit, leaving behind an intense fruit character with no residual sweetness. If you have a kriek that tastes sweet and syrupy, it has been back-sweetened. Best bet: look for a bottle that has “oude” in front of the word kriek. Cantillon adds 150 kg of Schaerbeek sour cherries per 500 liters of two-year-old lambic and leaves the cherries to macerate for five to six months before adding a quantity of young lambic –– one third of the volume of the kriek for anyone who wants to try this at home –– to kickstart secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Biking for Beer in Lambic Land

Chances are, you didn’t bring a bike with you to Belgium. No worries. You can rent a passable bicycle for 10 euros per day near the Halle train station. Exit on the east side and return along the tracks in the direction of Brussels and you’ll find the rental place. Before venturing out for that ride through the countryside, keep in mind that Flemish Brabant is not flat. In exchange for a few hills, though, you get pastoral scenery that inspired the likes of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and some room in your belly for beer.IMG_7825

We jumped on our bikes, took a slightly round-about route through farmers’ fields and small villages to Beersel via Huizingen and Lot, stopped briefly at the Kasteel Beersel to learn about the lambic and gueuze possibilities in the area from one of the castle attendants, and then braced ourselves for the hill to Drie Fonteinen.

After talking with one of the brewers who works on the barrels, we made our way to to Drie Foneinen’s restaurant for –– finally!! –– my first-ever sip of lambic.IMG_7823 Wonderful stuff! Worth the journey to Brussels, the train ride to Halle, and the ride up the steep hill to the Beersel town square. Absolutely still with a few errant bubbles skirting the surface of the beer, darker than I expected (amber-hued, an indicator of some barrel age), and slightly hazy. Refined, with a subdued tartness and a meadow-like scent of hay. The Oude Gueuze was lively, with plenty of juicy lemon and green apple along with an oak/tart cherry character from the wood. Hungry after all that riding around, we tucked into a generous portion of Stoofkarbonaden, a rich rabbit stew that was an ideal foil for the Oude Gueuze’s acidity.

Slightly down the other side of the hillock you’ll find Oude Beersel. Everything was locked up tight when we arrived, but I rang the bell anyway. Just as we were about to give up and move on, the door swung open and one of the brewers invited us in for more lambic and an animated conversation about larger versus smaller lambic producers. If you show up on a Saturday between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm, you won’t have to ring the bell. Oude Beersel runs English-language tours at 12:30 on the first and third Saturday of the month.IMG_7892

Then down the hill we went, and back up a hill, and back down, till finally we landed back in Halle, where we returned the bikes and took a bus to Lembeek in search of Boon. Just our luck. It, too, was closed. So I rang the bell again and waited until someone poked his head out of a second-story window and arranged a fabulous personalized tour for us with one of the brewers.IMG_7853

Frank Boon, a driving force behind the gueuze and lambic revival, opened his brewery on a site that was once a seventeenth-century farmhouse brewery and distillery. Boon’s brewers still brew on their old system, but they have also installed a shiny new brewery around and adjacent to the old one. Though some of the initial fermentation now takes place in stainless steel tanks, Boon still maintains a large cellar stacked with barrels for aging.

Not far from the gates of the brewery and just off Lembeek’s small town square you’ll find De Kring, a cozy café with an excellent selection of Boon beverages. We rewarded ourselves for a day well spent –– there’s something wholesome about biking for your beer –– with bottles of Oude Gueuze Boon and Kriek Mariage Parfait, which was stunning it its crystalline expression of cherry flavour. De Kring evokes a bygone era when locals of all ages gathered in the local tavern for a drink, sometimes with the kids in tow. With its wood paneling and diffused light, this classic café feels like a trip back in time.IMG_7862 Go there before time catches up to it.

Brussels Reprised

What better way to cap a day of riding around the Payottenland countryside in search of lambic and gueuze than to head out for the exact same thing in the big city?

With a pleasant glow, we stepped into the evening sunshine and made our way back to Brussels for dinner at Bier Circus Bruxelles, another renowned Brussels watering hole, for a Girardin lambic and Gueuze Girardin 1882, both of which exhibited a distinctively round, mildly lactic buttery note. Pair them with the Waterzooi, a Flemish specialty made from fish, chicken, or veal. I had the fish version, an excellent fit with the beers we had.

Coffees done, we headed over to L’Ultime Atome, a cool bar in the Ixelles neighbourhood with funky Japanese-influenced lighting fixtures, floor-to-ceiling windows, and plenty of hazelnut-coloured wood for one last round before calling it a night.

Tomorrow, Cantillon.

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Odds and Ends

I didn’t get around to visiting the Bezoekercentrum De Lambiek (Lambic Visitor Center) in Alsemberg near Beersel. Simply too much to do and see. By all accounts, this museum and tasting facility provides a prime opportunity to sample most of the region’s gueuzes, lambics, and krieks in one place. Next time.

Related Tempest Articles

A Twist of Sour: New Belgium’s 2013 La Folie and Verhaeghe’s Duchesse de Bourgogne

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips

A Rodenbach Grand Cru in the Fridge, or a Six-Pack of Lesser Beer in the Fridge?

Sources

Jeff Sparrow, Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewers’ Yeast (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 2005).

“Brewery Cantillon: Traditional Family-Run Brewery,” (Brussels, n.d.).

Gregg Glaser, “In Search of Lambic,” All About Beer Magazine (July 1, 2001).

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Vienna, City of Beer Gardens

Not a cloud in the sky and the streets are starting to radiate the heat of the late afternoon. So much to see in Vienna. But I could use a cool drink right about now.IMG_4050 Perfect time to head to a beer garden.

“A beer garden?” some of my Viennese friends ask, usually with slightly raised eyebrow. In writing this series on beer gardens, I’ve come to learn that many in Vienna don’t refer to beer gardens as beer gardens. The preferred term is “Gastgarten” (guest garden), while “Biergarten” has a distinctively southern German ring to it. I’ll revisit this fascinating semantic world of Gasthäuser, Wirtshäuser, Beiseln, and Gastgärten at a later date. For now, though, it’s probably a safe bet for us English speakers to just call the drinking establishments in this series “beer gardens.”

Now you have a topic for your next beer garden conversation in Austria –– guaranteed to touch off a lively discussion about these aspects of Austrian culinary and cultural history.

A Gasthaus, a Beisl, or some guy named Franz?

A Gasthaus, a Beisl, a Wirtshaus, or some guy named Franz? Maybe they have a Gastgarten out back …

Where were we?

In Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens, we headed out to Vienna’s iconic Prater for some Czech Budweiser and roasted pork knuckle. After that, we hiked through the Vienna woods and capped it with an Augustiner beer fresh from Salzburg at the Bamkraxler (A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country). Time for another one of those epic tram rides –– this time to the western corner of the city.

Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz”

Tucked away amid the largest expanse of urban gardens (Schrebergärten) in Europe, the Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz” is one of those true gems that should be on the itinerary of every beer garden aficionado. Founded in 1920, today’s Schutzhaus may not have the largest selection of beers –– Czech Budweiser, a Zwickl from Ottakringer, a Paulaner Hefeweizen, and a few others –– but beer’s not the only reason you should visit. Peter Eickhoff, author of 111 Orte in Wien, die man gesehen haben muss, writes that the person who doesn’t know of the Schmelz “doesn’t know Vienna” (Eickhoff, 2015, 180). Even so, when you wander past the tidy urban gardens and enter the Schutzhaus beer garden, you’ll feel like you’ve been let in on a secret that not every Viennese has heard.IMG_7669

Sipping your beer surrounded by so much soothing greenery, it may take a moment to conjure up the rich history of the area. Auf der Schmelz has seen many incarnations, but its name still recalls its origin as an iron-smelting works that stood here up until the time of the second Ottoman siege in 1683. The Friedhof der Schmelz (cemetery) replaced the smelting works and held the remains of the victims of the 1848 Revolution until everyone was up and moved to the Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery) some years later. From 1857 this strip of land was used as an exercise ground for the imperial cavalry, and was the staging ground for the magnificent military parade held annually for Kaiser Franz Joseph.

After the turn of the twentieth century the area was slated for an ambitious redevelopment that would have shifted the artistic and cultural focus of Vienna considerably westward. This “blank slate” devoid of established buildings appealed to the architects of the day, including Otto Wagner, who submitted intriguing plans for the Kaiser Franz Josef Stadtmuseum (currently the Wien Museum on Karlsplatz).

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The Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz” is, to paraphrase Peter Eickhoff, not only the heart but also the belly of the Schmelz –– and the portions are, indeed, ample. It was “Spargelzeit” when I first went, that glorious time of year in Central Europe when menus feature all things white asparagus. I tucked into an “asparagus cordon bleu” (white asparagus spears wrapped in cheese and ham, then breaded and fried like a schnitzel), but you wouldn’t go wrong with one of their classics such as Schweinsbraten (roast pork) or goulash. If you arrive between June and August, you’ll be in for a treat: a weekly menu that features different menu variations using chanterelle mushrooms. (Look for any menu item with “Eierschwammerl.”)IMG_7676

  • Address: Auf der Schmelz, 1150 Wien
  • Getting there: Take the U3 in the direction of Ottakring as far as Johnstrasse, transfer to Bus 10A in the direction of Heiligenstadt, and get off at the “Auf der Schmelz” stop. You can also do the trip entirely above ground by taking the Tram 46 toward Joachimsthalerplatz as far as Schumeierplatz, transfer to Bus 10A in the direction of Niederhofstrasse, and get of at “Auf der Schmelz.”

Wirtshaus Zattl

You’ve been out to the Prater in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district, you’ve sipped beer in the shadow of Nußdorf’s vineyards, and you’ve ventured out to the leafy Auf der Schmelz garden district in western Vienna. What’s left in terms of beer gardens and shaded courtyards attached to lively taverns? Plenty. But we’ll leave off with one spot in the center of town should you be pressed for time during your visit.

As far as pub interiors go, the Zattl certainly wouldn’t make any “top ten” lists of Europe’s best taverns. I’ve heard the place described as “rustic modern,” but it’s a polished rusticity with much of the historical character sanded out.IMG_9098 We’re here for something different, though. On the opposite side of Zattl’s Herrengasse storefront, you’ll find a bustling beer garden hidden just off the Freyung market square and right in the courtyard of the Schottenstift (Scottish Abbey). On any given evening when the weather’s warm, you’ll find the beer garden abuzz with a mix of students, people on their way home from work, and fashionably dressed older folks taking a break from the city around them.

Considering its location, the food and drinks are reasonably priced, with a 500 mL mug of beer running at 4.30 euros. Classic Austrian tavern fare such as Wiener Schnitzel, Fiaker Goulasch, and Zwiebelrostbraten (a delicious roast beef dish served in an onion sauce with crisped onions) begins around 12 euros. The Zattl receives its beer tanked in fresh from the Pilsener Urquell brewery a few hundred kilometers away in Bohemia.IMG_9101 The 2000-liter refrigerated delivery (subsequently divided into 500-liter tanks in Zattl’s cellar) is unpasteurized and naturally carbonated, making for a softer, rounder Pils Urquell than you’d get in the bottle. In addition to Pilsener Urquell, Zattl serves a variety of Stiegl beers, along with wine offerings from the Wachau, Kremstal, and Neusiedlersee regions.

Even if the Zattl’s sleek interior design runs short on Viennese charm, I share the oft-expressed sentiment among food and beverage writers in Vienna that the Zattl beer garden is among the prettiest inner-city beer gardens in Austria.

Or maybe it’s not a Biergarten after all, but a Gastgarten …

Drink up!IMG_9111

Sources

Peter Eickhoff, 111 Orte in Wien, die man gesehen haben muss (Emons Verlag, 2015).

August Sarnitz, Otto Wagner: Wegbereiter der modernen Architektur (Köln: Taschen, 2005).

“Schmelz,” Wien Geschichte Wiki.

Related Tempest Articles

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country

Last time we met I was drinking a Czech Budweiser under the chestnut canopy in the Alsergrund section of the Schweizerhaus. Today we’re going to head to the village-like atmosphere in the north of the city where the Vienna Woods begin. In Part III we’ll swing west to one of the city’s garden districts before capping the evening in a beer garden hidden right in the middle of the historic old town.IMG_7776

Excursus: Vienna’s public transportation system

Spend even a few hours in Vienna and you’ll realize that its public transportation system is second to none. When you went to the Schweizerhaus after reading Part I, you probably arrived via tram, train, or subway at the Praterstern station. Maybe you hopped the Tram 1 from somewhere along the Ringstrasse, disembarked at the terminus nestled in the woods of the Prater, and then strolled along the tree-lined Hauptallee on your way to the Schweizerhaus.

Trams pass within half a kilometer of every beer garden in this spotlight series, and some of the rides can be truly epic. IMG_5620

Take, for example Tram D, which will get you to the Bamkraxler (see below). Tram D begins its journey in the new glass and steel development to the east of Vienna’s recently-completed Hauptbahnhof before trundling past the Belvedere (home of Klimt’s Kiss) en route to the city center. From the monumental Schwarzenberg Platz (named for the general who led Austrian and Bohemian troops in the Battle of Leipzig during the Napleonic Wars), the tram banks left along the Ringstrasse showcase of nineteenth century historicism. The tram’s arc takes in the Opera and the Hofburg palace facing the twin structures housing the Kunsthistorisches Museum (art) and the Naturhistorisches Museum (natural history). From there, the tram passes the Parliament, the Rathaus (city hall), the University of Vienna, and the Votivskirche before entering the haute-bourgeois Porzellangasse. As Tram D traverses the Ninth District, elegant facades abruptly give way to a grittier neighbourhood, a contact point between two worlds described at length in Heimito von Doederer’s Die Strudelhofstiege.

A few major intersections beyond Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s colourful Fernwärme (incinerator), Tram D begins its glide along the entirety of the Karl-Marx-Hof. Over a kilometer in length, the Karl-Marx-Hof is not only the longest residential building in the world. It also stands as testament to the social democratic housing initiatives of the “Red Vienna” period immediately following the Great War.

And then, as if by some sort of magic, Tram D leaves the bustling twentieth-century boulevard to enter Nußdorf, one of those slices of Vienna that still retains the village-like charm that appealed to one-time resident, Ludwig van Beethoven.

Bamkraxler

Nußdorf is one of those rare places that offers the best of both worlds: world-class wine grown within the city limits, and cask-conditioned Salzburger Augustiner beer served up in a century-old chestnut grove. The forests and hills around Nußdorf also make for pleasant hiking –– a perfect way to build up a thirst.

Not far beyond Tram D’s terminus, the hiking trail rises gently at first, and then more steeply through woods and terraced vineyards. Atop the Kahnlenberg is a church with a plaque dedicated to John III Sobieski, Polish king and grand duke of Lithuania. Sobieski’s timely arrival and strategic sweep down from the mountains decisively turned the tide against the Ottomans at the gates in 1683.IMG_7761With the most strenuous part of the hike behind you and a view of the city unfolding at your feet, it’s time for a few Grüner Veltliner and Gemischter Satz wines at the various Heuriger dotting the hillside. Refreshing as these wines are, you’ll likely be thirsty again by the time you reach the village below. A few twists and turns through the alleys and cobble-stoned streets of Nußdorf and voilà! The tell-tale signs of a beer garden.

Open since 1997, the Bamkraxler is a relative newcomer on the beer garden scene. When the owners set eyes on this erstwhile Heuriger, they knew what to do, turning the hundred-year-old stand of chestnuts and maples into a cozy 250-seat island in this sea of wine.IMG_7783 A small gazebo-like structure provides shelter for the occasional downpour that breaches the defenses of the leafy canopy, and the former wine tavern with its yellow walls and brown trim provides warmth during cooler evenings.

If the name evokes a beloved Viennese toy figure, the Augustiner beer hails from further afield. For those who have had their fill of this refreshing cask-conditioned Märzen brewed up by the good monks at Salzburg-Mülln’s Augustine Monastery, Bamkraxler also taps the crisp Grieskirchner Pils, Ottakringer’s Zwickl Rot (one of Ottakringer’s better offerings), and Kozel’s dark lager. Bottled offerings include beers from Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Hirter, and Murauer.

As far as I know, Bamkraxler is the only place outside of Salzburg that serves the infinitely quaffable Augustiner, the beer that I had during my first-ever visit to a beer garden.IMG_4483 Happily, the Bamkraxler is no mere knock-off of this Salzburger classic, but a beer garden worth seeking out in its own right. If you have friends who prefer wine, split the difference. Spend half the day at a Heuriger, and the other half at Bamkraxler.

Address: Kahlenberger Str. 17, 1190 Vienna

Getting there: Take Tram D in the direction of Nußdorf to its terminus from anywhere along its route. Tram 37 to Hohe Warte is another option.

Check back in a few days for Part III!

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Related Tempest Articles

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

All images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

Vienna, city of music. Home to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Mahler. Vienna, a showcase of architectural styles from the soaring Gothic-era Stephansdom to the Baroque opulence of the Karlskirche, and from elegant Ringstrasse historicism to the fin-de-siècle modernism of Otto Wagner. Vienna’s pastries rival those of Paris, as does its coffeehouse culture. Chocolate? Plenty of that, too.IMG_5580

But Vienna, city of beer? Not since the nineteenth century, nascent interest in craft beer notwithstanding.

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Nothing says summer more than the crunch of gravel underfoot and the shade overhead as I carry my stein of beer back to my spot under the leafy canopy of the chestnut grove. I’ve repeated the ritual for years now.IMG_8563 The cool breeze, the buzz of conversation, the heavy clink of beer mugs, the solid and slightly awkward metal chairs or benches bedecked with wooden slats, the chestnut blossoms covering the tables in late spring and early summer, the plates of sausage, pork knuckle, and sauerkraut –– it’s a scene that never loses its charm.

Even if the glory days of Vienna lager are a thing of the past, Vienna can still lay claim to a rich but understated beer garden tradition. Here’s the first of four shaded oases sure to inspire visitors and locals alike out to check out different parts of the city.

Schweizerhaus

A few steps from the iconic Riesenrad (giant Ferris wheel), and tucked between the lively commotion of the Würstel Prater amusement park and the stately tree-lined Hauptallee, the Schweizerhaus serves up its beer with a shot of Viennese history on the side.IMG_6754 If you visit before the Schweizerhaus closes for the season on 31 October, you’ll be able to raise a stein to Joseph II, the reform-minded Habsburg monarch who opened up the imperial hunting grounds to the general public. Since his proclamation 250 years ago, the broad natural expanse on the edge of the city has become tightly woven into the cultural fabric of the city.

The Prater has been many things to many people over the ages –– meadows, woodlands, amusement park, den of iniquity. Some commentators have even gone so far as to claim that the Prater is an “anarchic space” in which different levels of society could mix and mingle more or less unconstrained by the social norms operative in the city. Countless Austrian literary figures have written fondly of the Prater, and even Goethe, who never visited Vienna, was aware of its reputation. The Prater has also appeared in motion pictures, perhaps most indelibly in the 1949 classic, The Third Man, featuring a diabolical Orson Welles on the run from Joseph Cotten and a Vienna laid low by the war.

***

Food and drink has long been a highlight of a visit to the Prater. Early on, lemonade stands, snack booths, guest houses, and coffee houses emerged as fixtures along the Hauptallee. Taverns soon followed, including the storied Schweizerhaus.

The Schweizerhaus opened in 1868, and is one of the few great Prater drinking establishments to have survived both world wars. Nowadays the Schweizerhaus exudes tradition, but at one time it stood at the forefront of innovation.IMG_4531 Following the example of tavern owners in Munich and the United States, the proprietors had a giant ice cellar installed. “Thanks to this,” wrote one contemporary enthusiast, “patrons can now […] enjoy every glass of Pils or Schwechater beer fresh from the ice cellar while they must be content with lukewarm refreshment at best in many Prater restaurants, especially at the height of summer” (Hachleitner, 2014, 132). When the owner passed away unexpectedly in 1920, Johann Kolarik, a butcher and Prater regular, stepped in. Kolarik switched to Czech Budweiser and introduced a meat dish that soon became synonymous with the Schweizerhaus: the Schweizerhaus Stelze, or roasted pork knuckle.

The establishment remains in the Kolarik family to this day, and now has space for 1700 lucky imbibers in the shaded garden. Keep an eye out for the signs on the lampposts that divide the beer garden into Vienna’s twenty-three districts. You’ll find me in the 9th District enjoying my Budweiser.

Prost!IMG_4533

Check back soon for the second installment covering the remaining beer gardens.

Sources

Bernhard Hachleitner, The Prater Book (Vienna: Bohmann Verlag, 2014).

For a brief history of how the beer garden came into being, see Tempest’s In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden.

Also related:Plakat_In_den_Prater

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

*If you’re visiting Vienna this summer and want to learn more about the cultural history of the Prater, don’t miss the Wien Museum’s informative and entertaining exhibition, Meet Me at the Prater! Viennese Pleasures since 1766.

With the exception of the placard for the Wien Museum’s Prater exhibition, all images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Smoked Beer Sauerkraut

Get out your Rauchbier, folks! It’s smoked beer sauerkraut time!

Not long ago I was in Oklahoma getting ready for a backyard grillfest with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. We decided to keep it relatively simple. Plenty of bratwurst from Siegi’s Sausage Factory in Tulsa would do the trick fine.

We also just so happened to have some homemade sauerkraut in the fridge. What could be better with bratwurst than a nice, smoky sauerkraut?IMG_1574 I was just about slice up some bacon and get the pork hocks out when my partner in crime reminded me that we had a few vegetarian guests coming. She suggested I make a vegetarian sauerkraut. But … but … I want a nice, smoky sauerkraut, I protested. And besides, we had some hearty grain salads at the ready.

***

I’ve made sauerkraut with wine, I’ve made it with hefty wheat wines and Weizenbocks, I’ve made it with gueuze. I’ve even made it vegetarian. But how would I satisfy my craving on this particular day for a deeply rich and smoky sauerkraut without the meat? A light bulb went off in my head, triggered by the Aecht Schlenkerla I spied in the fridge earlier in the day.IMG_5163

So far so good. But adding Rauchbier alone wasn’t going to do the trick. I needed to get that depth of flavour in there somehow. Enter caramelized onions. Lots of them! And lots of butter. Both help round out the beer’s contribution to the dish.

***

Unlike my light and zesty Choucroute à la Gueuze recipe I shared a few years back, this sauerkraut is Central European through and through: butter in place of the bacon, duck, or goose fat, and cooked for several hours. Spice amounts are approximate. As far as the sauerkraut goes, use fresh sauerkraut from the deli. Better yet, make your own. All you need is some advanced planning and enough time to let the critters do their thing –– not unlike homebrewing, really. (Details follow the recipe).

Smoked beer sauerkraut is a perfect side dish during grilling season, but it’s also suitable as a main course to help warm those dark days of winter. Even if the base for this recipe is vegetarian, nothing’s stopping you from adding some of those bratwurst fresh from the grill. Whatever the season, pour yourself a Rauchbier and raise your glass in the general direction of Bamberg.IMG_5086

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. fresh sauerkraut, rinsed
  • ¼ cup butter, slowly browned in a saucepan before using in the main dish
  • 4 onions, cut in half and sliced relatively thinly (too thinly and they’ll burn)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • About ½ a bottle of Aecht Schlenkerla Ur-Märzen (I use Aecht Schlenkerla because it’s one of the more intense Rauchbiers out there. Grätzer/Grodziskie, for example, would be too subtle for this dish.)
  • 1 tbsp juniper berries, lightly crushed with the back of a knife
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp celery seeds
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sea salt or kosher salt to taste. The amount you use will depend on how briny your sauerkraut is. Careful that you don’t over salt.
  • Cheesecloth and cooking twine
  • Accompaniments (boiled young potatoes, or sausages for your carnivorous friends)

Directions

Rinse the sauerkraut according to personal preference. Tie the juniper, cloves, coriander, fennel, celery seeds, and bay leaves in cheesecloth to make a spice bag.

Now crack yourself a beer and start browning your butter over low heat. In the meantime, set a heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-low heat and cover with a fine layer of vegetable oil (you’ll add your browned butter later so that it doesn’t burn). To truly caramelize your onions, you’ll need a good forty-five minutes. Add about a third of the onions to start, and keep adding as the onions reduce down.

If patience isn’t your thing, you can get by with about twenty minutes at a slightly higher heat and still get some richness into your sauerkraut, but going the distance will add that much more depth. When you’ve gotten the onions to where you want them, swirl in your browned butter, add the garlic and cook till it’s aromatic.

Raise heat slightly, deglaze the casserole with your Rauchbier, add the sauerkraut and spice bag, and let everything come to a gentle boil. Check salt and add if necessary, then cover the casserole and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for the next two to three hours.IMG_4932

Beer pairing: Any smoked beer. Porters and stouts would also go well with this dish, and I’m willing to bet that a dunkles Hefeweizen, a Weizenbock, or a dunkles Bock would work as well.

Turning Cabbage into Sauerkraut

Find a dense cabbage, remove the outer leaves, core it, and then slice it thinly. For every five pounds of cabbage you’ll need about 3.5 tablespoons of salt (roughly 2-3% of the weight of the cabbage).

If you don’t own a crock, the fermenting fabrication in Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation works just as well: two food-grade containers of equal size. Just fill the bottom container with alternating layers of cabbage and salt, then fill the top one with water to weigh it down. Top it off with a clean pillow case to keep the bugs out, store the container in a cool, dry place, wait about three to five weeks, and Bob’s your uncle.IMG_5046

Endnotes:

A deli and German-style restaurant in one, Siegi’s Sausage Factory in Tulsa is one of the best places in the U.S. to get German-style sausages. Look them up if you’re passing through Oklahoma on the I-44 some day (8104 S. Sheridan Rd., Tulsa, OK, 74133).

Related Tempest Articles:

Dining Down the Holiday Stretch: Choucroute à la Gueuze

Down the Rabbit Hole: Doppelbock-Braised Rabbit

The Fonduementals of Beer and Cider: Recipes to Warm Your Weekend

Bourbon Squared: Maple-Glazed Pork Belly Meets Barrel-Aged Beer

Images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Beer Travel Off the Beaten Track: Austria’s Innviertel

When you think of beer destinations in Central Europe, certain cities and regions stand out as iconic.

Rauchbier from Bamberg. Budweiser from Budweis. Kölsch from Cologne. Pilsener from Pilsen. Altbier from Düsseldorf. Berliner Weisse. Gose from Leipzig. Light and dark lagers from Munich. And the beer riches of Bavaria in general.

Austria? Vienna Lager may well be a thing again as we celebrate the 175th anniversary of Anton Dreher’s brewing virtuoso this year. But even as the tide of “craft beer” slowly engulfs the Tyrol, Carinthia, Styria, Salzburg, and even Vienna, the country is still, largely, a patchwork of Gösser green, Ottakringer yellow, Puntigamer blue, and Stiegl red. Few beer enthusiasts beyond Austria’s borders think of it as a beer destination.

For the intrepid beer traveler, though, the Innviertel of Upper Austria is a gem of bucolic scenery, colourful towns, and top-notch breweries that don’t see wide distribution. In many ways, the Innviertel’s status as one of the few bona fide beer regions is not surprising, given its proximity to Bavaria. Indeed, the region was a part of Bavaria until it briefly became part of the Habsburg realms in 1779 and then continuously part of what would eventually become the Austria we know today in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. Today, the brewing tradition of the region pays tribute to these historical connections with beers that would not be out of place in any Franconian tavern.IMG_7092

The Innviertel is roughly equidistant between Vienna and Munich, and a mere stone’s throw from Salzburg, but it’s off the major train lines. In fact, the diesel-driven train that runs between Neumarkt and Braunau am Inn is naught more than a bus on rails. If you want to stop at one of the smaller towns along a line, you have to push a button to alert the engineer. As you get further from Linz, the industrial center of Upper Austria, the landscape starts to undulate, and the houses take on a more rustic character. Verdant rolling fields spread out northward across the Inn and into Bavaria, and the tops of snow-capped peaks loom up above the hilltop forest stands to the south.

***

My first stop is Ried im Innkreis, the administrative center of the Innviertel region and the largest market town in Austria in the mid-nineteenth century.IMG_6887

With a town square awash in colour and charming alleys radiating in every direction, Ried invites visitors to spend some time on the many terraces sipping a coffee, eating ice cream, or … drinking a beer.IMG_6880

Ried was once home to a handful of breweries, but since the Kellerbrauerei cooled its kettles in 2013, Rieder Bier is now the sole hometown hero.

The best place by far to hoist a tankard of the local brew and much else besides is the Biergasthof Riedberg. Karl Zuser, the sommelier-owner, is something of a local celebrity, criss-crossing the region offering and promoting his well-stocked cellar broad in brand selection and deep in vintage verticals.IMG_6829

Riedberg’s head server, Susanne Schimpf, is also a trained beer sommelier. She set me up not only with superb beers, but also a hop soft drink (Hopster Hopfenlimo) that I’m sure we’ll see at some point in Kreuzkölln or Brooklyn. IMG_6863

Schnaitl, one of the region’s innovative breweries. Zuser sells his beers by the bottle, but also offers reasonably-priced flights of anything on tap –– a rarity in Austria and southern Germany.

Schnaitl, one of the region’s innovative breweries. Zuser sells his beers by the bottle, but also offers reasonably-priced flights of anything on tap –– a rarity in Austria and southern Germany.

The hop schnapps Susanne served at the end of the meal cut through the rich and delicious regional fare perfectly.

Local beef cooked in beer, smothered in a Bärlauch cream sauce, and topped with white asparagus. Bärlauch grows wild in the foothills of the Alps and in the woods ringing Vienna, and is closest to the garlic scapes of eastern North America.

Local beef cooked in beer, smothered in a Bärlauch cream sauce, and topped with white asparagus. Bärlauch grows wild in the foothills of the Alps and in the woods ringing Vienna, and is closest to the garlic scapes of eastern North America.

***

After a leisurely Easter Sunday buffet breakfast at Biergasthof Riedberg, I made my way to the train station to get the semi-regular train to Braunau am Inn, a pretty town that bears the unfortunate distinction of being the place where Adolf Hitler was born. As someone who has done a fair amount of work on the Holocaust and National Socialism, and who has traversed Europe to do research on the concentration camps, extermination camps, transit camps, forced labour camps, and the memorial sites that have sprung up as a witness to and warning against the murder of Europe’s Jews, I felt a certain ambivalence about heading to this particular town in search of beer on Easter Sunday. I’ll leave those thoughts open … They certainly refused to be bracketed as I tasted my way through Brauhaus Bogner’s stellar beer offerings.

Something on the lighter side ...

Something on the lighter side …

Be it the stellar Hefeweizen, the unique Fastenbier dark Bock brewed for Lent, the Frühlingsmärzen pulled straight from the lagering tanks before the rest of it goes down for the longer haul over the summer, or the dazzling Zwickl with its subtle aromas of pear, blossoms, artisanal bread, butter pecan, and fresh-cut meadows, Bogner knocks it out of the park.IMG_6938

Bogner is one of the smallest breweries in Austria, so you’ll need to journey to the source. It’s well worth the effort, though –– a real treat for fans of lagers and Weissbier.IMG_6942

Since the weekend was already winding down, I didn’t have time to linger in Braunau am Inn before retracing my steps in the direction of Schärding, a vibrant town perched on the banks of the Inn River.IMG_7085

For those who have been reading along since the early days of Tempest, you might remember a piece I wrote about Kapsreiter Landbier on the occasion of Craft Lager Day. Unfortunately, the owners of this much-beloved regional brewery also had money tied up in real estate, and are said to have been done in by the effects of the financial crash. The brewery and its inn were bought by Baumgartner, the brewery just across the street, but the legacy of Kapsreiter lives on.IMG_7040

IMG_7047Though Kapsreiter may be gone, Baumgartner is doing an excellent job of keeping the brew kettles stoked in Schärding. You can get their beer in just about any inn or tavern in town, but why not go straight to the source? The Baumgartner Stadtwirt Schärding (formerly Kapsreiter, as the barrels out front and stamped benches within attest) is conveniently located right across from the brewery, and the food is on point as well.IMG_6981

It’s early Monday afternoon, I don’t need to be in Vienna until nighttime, and I’ve already tasted my way through Schärding. I hadn’t thought of it while planning my weekend, but Passau is a mere fifteen minutes away on one of the main train lines out of Vienna into Germany via Linz. And a train happens to be leaving in half an hour.IMG_7100

Since it lies at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz, and Danube Rivers, it’s the perfect way to end my exploration of beers and breweries along the eastern portion of the Inn River. The Veste Oberhaus, erstwhile fortress of the Bishop of Passau, overlooks an Altstadt strewn with Gothic and Baroque architectural jewels and teeming with lively terraces.IMG_7113

Passau is also a university town, and it’s not long until I feel the pull of the inns and taverns at every street corner and in every square.

A beer with a view.

A beer with a view.

Satiated, I clamber I up to the fortress dominating the ridge overlooking the town, dip my toe in the water where the Inn and Danube come together, and stroll along the banks of the Inn back to the train station, just in time for my train back to Vienna. I barely scratched the surface of Passau, but in the immortal words of a certain Austrian from Graz, I’ll be back.

Related Tempest Articles

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

Endnote: Due to spotty bus and train connections to Engelhartszell, I missed out on Austria’s only Trappist brewery this time around. Now that I have my international driver’s permit, I’ll rent a car one of these weekends and let you know more about the town and the abbey.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

A World of Stouts for Your Weekend

The Lucky Seven Selection

Blame Guinness for declaring St. Patrick’s Weekend. Not that I’m complaining. Stouts of all stripes are among my favourite beers, after all. Guinness has also given me an excuse to bundle my occasional Saturday Six-Pack Series together with the commemoration of a saint who drove snakes out of a country that has never seen a snake. IMG_6648We’ll leave that to naturalists and hagiographers to debate while we tuck into a few stout beers.

Stouts, though. Not exactly a clear-cut style. Case in point: the marked proliferation of sub-styles in the 2015 edition of the BJCP Style Guidelines compared with the 2008 edition –– proof positive that style categories are anything but static. And then we have all those legends worthy of St. Patrick, guaranteed to keep self-styled beer historians debating till the wee hours. Though I’m not (yet) what I’d call a historian of beer, I know enough about the shifting sands of beer styles to say that you’re not alone if you’ve ever confused a porter with a stout. And don’t even get started with Russian Stouts. Or do. Interesting stories of icy sea journeys and opulent courts abound, along with no shortage of confusion over nomenclature. For now, I’m content to let the legends be. If nothing else, the heated debates and sedulous myth-busting make for entertaining reading.

Fine-grained differences between stouts and the family resemblance with porters aside, just what is it about stouts that keep us coming back for more, century after century? It’s worth quoting Ray Daniels, one of the more lucid writers on homebrewing caught up in an alliterative moment:

Perhaps it is the blinding blackness of the brew as it sits in the glass – a sort of barroom black hole so intense that it might absorb everything around it.

He continues:

Those who finish their first glass often become converts, swearing allegiance and setting off on a sybaritic search for the perfect pint.

Twenty years after Daniels wrote those words, our love affair with stouts shows no sign of abating. Bourbon County Brand Stout, anyone? Or how about Dark Lord Day – which, incidentally, has its very own website?

***

For this edition of your “Lucky Seven” Saturday Six-Pack, I’m going to leave the emerald isles to their celebrations and sample what lies beyond the traditional Anglo-Irish homeland of stouts. Much as I love plenty of American stouts, enough has been written about these justifiably sought-after beers, so I’ll save a sixer of those for another day.

Regardless of which version of the history of the style you read, one element of the story stands out in all versions: Stout is an eminently international beverage, with examples from just about every continent. The stouts I talk about below are, for the most part, available in any well-stocked North American bottle shop. As for the Austrian and Czech examples? Whether you live in Los Angeles or Latvia, you’ll need to get a little closer to the source. Never a bad thing, exploring new beer regions.

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Rasputin (Brouwerij de Molen, Netherlands). Why not start off with a beer that tips its hat to that infamous lover of the Russian Queen? The lightest-hued stout in this mixed pack, Rasputin is no black knight, but also no lightweight at 23º Plato and 10.4% alcohol. Translation: plenty of malt, and more than enough octane to go the distance.Brouwerij de Molen website (03-bierografiebanner) And like any wise master of intrigue, it hides its claws. Cocoa-dusted ganache, dark cherry, chocolate milk, and plenty of rich Ovaltine-like malt herald a palate of bitter black coffee, prune, and earthy-anise licorice. Café au lait and bourbon vanilla bean linger in the background of this medicinally bitter beer. The beer was bottled in August 2015 and carries a balsy best-by date of 2040, so I’d suggest giving this beer a few years to round out. Brouwerij de Molen has created a tidy little niche for itself with its big beers. You can also check out my extended review of their Hel & Verdoemenis Imperial Stout.

Espresso Stout (Hitachino Nest, Japan). You may be familiar with the little red owl adorning Hitachino Nest’s beer labels, but what you might not know is that this spectacularly successful brand started as a side-project of a saké kura in the Tohoku region of Japan.IMG_6654 Kiuchi Brewery knows a thing or two about the art of fermentation, and it shows in their beers. Even if the Espresso Stout’s coffee notes are a touch too “jalapeno green” for my taste, it nonetheless delivers a satisfying cup of espresso spiked with dark chocolate, mocha, and chocolate liqueur. Black cherry and prune lurk in the depths, and an earthy herbal-spiciness evoking sassafras lends intrigue to this export-strength stout (7% ABV).

Morrigan Dry Stout (Pivovar Raven, Plzeň, Czech Republic). A stout isn’t the first beer you’d expect to come across in the town where a particularly ubiquitous beer style was born. Echoing the understated brewing tradition of western Bohemia, Raven’s Morrigan is the kind of stout that doesn’t rely on barrels or tonnes of malt to win over its admirers. As impenetrable as the Bohemian Forest at night, Morrigan offers up dark notes of earthy cocoa powder and an ever-so-slight smokiness from the roasted malts.IMG_6464 Mocha and dark cherry brighten up the beer’s countenance, with café au lait and a touch of milk caramel adding a suggestion of sweetness to this elegantly austere, tautly balanced dry stout. One Tankard.

Imperial Stout, (Nøgne Ø, Norway). Nøgne Ø prides itself on its uncompromising approach to quality, an approach reflected not only in its beers. The brewery’s name pays homage to the famous Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, who used the poetic term, “naked island,” to describe “the stark, barren, outcroppings that are visible in the rough seas off Norway’s southern coast.” Nøgne Ø’s rich and unctuous imperial stout forms the perfect antipode to images of steel-hued coastlines ravaged by waves. Lyric aromas of espresso, prune, molasses, dark bread, vanilla, cookie dough, walnut, and a touch of salted caramel cascade forth from this jet-black beer –– a dreamy complexity that retains its harmoniousness throughout. Chocolate notes take center stage on the moderately sweet and rounded palate. Cocoa-dusted prune mingles with milk chocolate-coated pecans; baking spice hop notes intertwine with artisanal dark bread and a smooth, understated bitterness. Note: This example was bottled in October 2012 and consumed in March 2016. File under cellar-worthy, and take Nøgne Ø’s advice regarding serving temperature (12ºC). Two Tankards.

Lion Stout (The Ceylon Brewery, Carlsberg Group, Sri Lanka). Formerly grouped under the Foreign Extra Stout category in the BJCP Style Guidelines, Tropical Stout is now a category of its own (16C, for anyone interested). If you’re new to the style, expect a sweet, fruity stout with a smooth roast character –– somewhere between a stepped-up milk stout and a restrained imperial stout. Opaque ruby-violet black with a brooding brown foam cap concealing 8.8 percent of alcohol, Lion Stout is not for the faint of heart. Fruit aromas of currants, burnt raisin, and prune combine with a vinous character not unlike a tart-cherry Chianti. Underneath it all lurks a smoky-roasty bass note that keeps company with licorice, acidic dark chocolate, and mocha. The dark chocolate and vinous acidity carries over onto the palate, balanced by creamy mocha and velvety alcohol. Rum-soaked cherries strike a pose with earthy licorice, while mild notes of roast-smoke intertwine with cocoa-dusted milk chocolate and dried currants. Surprisingly buoyant for its alcohol and malt heft, this is one dangerously drinkable beer. One Tankard.

Royal Dark (Biermanufaktur Loncium, Austria). What would a “lucky seven 6-pack” of stouts be without an entry from the lands known more for their lagers and wheat beers? Even if Austria isn’t legally bound by the Reinheitsgebot, many Austrian brewers proudly proclaim their allegiance to these strictures governing beer purity.Loncium - Mtn Toast Not a bad thing, but more often than not, adherence to the Reinheitsgebot translates into a limited selection of beer styles in Austria. Up until recently, home-grown stouts and porters were rare birds indeed. Enter Loncium, a pioneering brewery hailing from the southern province of Carinthia noted for its dramatic Alpine scenery. Loncium’s pleasant milk stout features a dusting of cocoa powder, a dollop of caramel, a touch of dark cherry, and a hint of bread crust. Scents of fresh-ground coffee, mocha, and a suggestion of smoke from the roasted malts round out the aromas. Coffee with cream gives way to baking spice and dark berry notes on the palate. Smooth, off-dry, and with the mildest bitterness, you could almost call this beer a café-au-lait stout.

Imperial Stout (Midtfyns Bryghus, Denmark). Overture: Onyx, with tinges of ruby. Waves of malt and a judicious hand with the oak. Act I: Toasted toffee, crème caramel, and smoky dark chocolate opening out onto cookie dough, bourbon vanilla bean, cocoa-spiked molasses, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and Vollkornbrot.Vollkornbrot (www-quora-net) Intermission: Full-bodied and silky –– right on the border between whole milk and light cream. Act II and aria: Black Forest cherry cake and a buttery pecan nuttiness countered by a splash of rum. Curtain call: Off-dry and fruity-jammy, with raisin and juicy prune lingering well into the sunset. Expansive and stellar. Three Tankards.

With that I say cheers! And vive la sybaritic search for la perfect pint of stout!

Further Reading:

Ron Pattinson, “What’s the Difference between Porters and Stouts?All About Beer (August 27, 2015).

Martyn Cornell, “Imperial Stouts: Russian or Irish?” posted on his Zytophile blog (26 June 2011).

Ray Daniels, Designing Great Beers (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1996).

For a fleeting hint at the colonial history behind stouts in places like Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Jamaica, see Jenny Pfäfflin, “Chicagoist’s Beer of the Week: Lion Stout,” Chicagoist (July 10, 2015).

Consult the links contained in the text above for more information on the individual breweries.

Images

Brouwerij de Molen banner: http://brouwerijdemolen.nl/beers/

Loncium brewers in the Alps: www.loncium.at

Vollkornbrot: https://www.quora.com/

All other images: F.D. Hofer

Related Tempest Articles

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie, Goose Island, Victory

The Curiosity Cabinet: Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée

Bourbon Squared: Maple-Glazed Pork Belly Meets Barrel-Aged Beer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Epicurean Unbound: Five Ways to Expand Your Tasting Horizons

The year is no longer so new, and all those well-intended resolutions have long since faded in the rearview mirror. But it’s never too late for resolutions concerning your beer tasting abilities, whether you’re new to this whole craft beer thing or a seasoned veteran. Fortunately for those of us who enjoy good food and drink, tasting is an aptitude that only gets better with practice.IMG_4687While we’re drinking up, here are a few more resolutions aimed at satisfying your inner sybarite: Drink more coffee from different parts of the world. Drink Scotch more often. Learn about the wonderful world of sherry, from the dry Manzanilla with its whiff of the sea to the inky Pedro Ximenez sweet like molasses and redolent of dates, figs, and raisins. Try different kinds of honey, and eat more chocolate. Take time to smell the flowers –– and all those spices, herbs, perfumes, nuts, grains, and fruit. What sets lemon zest apart from lime zest? Tangerines apart from Meyer lemons or blood oranges?

***

Now that you’ve visited your local farmers’ market, now that you’ve bought a variety of nuts and procured vanilla beans and bags of whole spices, and now that you’ve cut some herbs and flowers from your garden, it’s time to have some fun honing your tasting skills.IMG_4156Targeted Tasting

Pick a beer style or two, and then read up on what characterizes the aromas and flavours of these beers. Now head over to your well-stocked spice cabinet and fridge to find some of the spices, fruits, syrups, coffees, nuts, herbs, balsamic vinegar, honey, baker’s chocolate, cocoa, honey, and the like associated with those beer styles. If it’s a spice, grind it up fresh with your mortar and pestle; if it’s a citrus fruit, zest it or juice it. Add the contents to ramekins, jars, vials, or whatever you have on hand. If you plan far enough ahead, you can even infuse vodka with herbs, spices, fruit, chili peppers –– jalapeno’s a good one –– or flowers like lavender. (Bonus: If you’re a homebrewer, these infusions can yield interesting results. Add to taste at bottling or kegging.)

IMG_1833Say you’ve chosen Belgian-style Witbier. Buy a few different kinds of Witbier, and maybe throw in a Hefeweizen for comparison’s sake. Grind up some cloves and some coriander, and maybe some cinnamon, too. Zest some lemon or perhaps some orange. You could even include chamomile tea, crushed lavender, or honey. Invite a few friends over and pass around your various concoctions so that everyone can get a sense of what they’re about to smell and taste. Crack open the beer, and then see if you can identify particular aromas when they’re mixed in with other aromas. Once you’re all well into enjoying your beer, you can send the containers around again to see who can identify which aromas, this time blind.

Blinded by My Love of …

The reputations of some beers precede them, whether they’re venerable classics or the hyped brands of the moment. Anyone who has been drinking craft beer long enough has encountered the ubiquitous lists of the world’s best beers. Pliny the Elder scores a perfect 100 on Beer Advocate, as does Kentucky Breakfast Stout. But are these beers “perfect”? The absolute “best” example of a style you’ll ever drink?IMG_5198 Preconceptions about labels, packaging, and price points have an immense impact on our perceptions, to the point that ratings can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

But when the influence of a label is removed…

It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard friends swear that XYZ IPA is their absolute favourite IPA, or that ABC Imperial Stout is the best beer anywhere around, only to see their surprise in a blind tasting when those assertions didn’t hold up in a blind tasting. At the same time, I’ve also been part of blind tastings where certain beers turn out to be worth every ounce of hype.

So try it at home. First, you’ll need to invest in enough uniform glassware that your friends can taste three to four beers side-by-side. Next, you’ll need to devise some way of identifying the glasses. I stick a small piece of masking tape on the bottom of each glass, and number them in series of 1 through 4. After that, one person needs to cover all the bottles with paper bags or (clean) socks and pour out the samples. Obviously, that person won’t be tasting that particular flight blind, but you can take turns. When all is said and done, you might find out that an occasionally overlooked but otherwise solid and reasonably priced beer is among your favourite of the lot.

Stump the Chump

If you’re a fan of the late, great Tom Magliozzi and his brother Ray, better known as “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” on NPR’s Car Talk, you know about “Stump the Chumps.” One way to introduce an extra element of intrigue into your tastings is to play the craft beer version of “Stump the Chump.”IMG_4694 All you need to do is ask each of your friends to find a beer that’s easily confused with another beer style –– or a style that you and your friends might not drink much of. We’ve already touched on the influence that labels can have, but without any initial cues beyond the colour of the beer, you’ll be surprised how hard it is to guess a style “blind.” Is it a porter or a stout? A Tripel or a Belgian golden strong ale? A British ESB or a strong ale? A Scotch ale? A Doppelbock? Bonus points if you can guess the brewery.

Note: Needless to say, some of your craft beer-drinking friends may not react too kindly when you punk them with BMC. I once had a friend praise the merits of what he thought was a delicate Kölsch. Not Kölsch, I said. Coors. He wasn’t amused. Lest I come across as some sort of all-knowing beer sage in this post, I hasten to add that I’ve been hung out to dry on more than a few occasions myself.

Style of the Week

It’s time to reward yourself for all that hard work tasting beer blind and trying to identify the differences between coriander and cardamom. And what better way is there to find out what kinds of porters you like than sharing several of them with friends?IMG_5171 The BJCP Style Guidelines aren’t the most thrilling read in the world, but if you dip in from time to time while drinking, say, a series of Bocks and Doppelbocks, or the entire gamut of IPAs, you’ll get a better sense of what the brewer was trying to achieve, and what flavour and aroma characteristics you might encounter. You’ll also start to get a feel for the often subtle and sometimes radical differences within a particular style. If you’re a homebrewer, this is an excellent way to find out what makes a style tick.

Test Time!

You’ll be surprised at how much you actually learn when studying for the entry-level online BJCP or Cicerone exams. These tests are far from impossible (you can do it!), and they give you an excuse to hit the books (and beers) a few nights a week. Who knows? You might find that you enjoy the judging side of drinking beer … and beer competitions around the country could always use more judges.

Remember, though, it’s all about enhancing your enjoyment of what’s in the glass. If you find that the “practice” element of beer appreciation is eclipsing your enjoyment, just grab a beer out of your fridge or cellar and kick back. Now that I have finished writing this, I’m going to do the same.IMG_4917

Related Tempest Articles

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All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

Wooded hillsides, a hundred lakes mirroring the fleeting afternoon sunlight, emerald green pastures with the occasional dusting of snow. Stately Renaissance facades watching over magnificent squares and Gothic spires reaching skyward. Dimly lit train stations redolent of times past. Castle towns that drew artists like Egon Schiele away from the bustle of Vienna. The Vlatava (Moldau) winding its way languidly through České Budějovice (Budweis) and Český Krumlov.

And, of course, cities that have given their names to beer styles and brands renowned the world over.

Pictures at a Czech beer exhibition.

Gallery 1: České Budějovice: home of the real Budweiser

IMG_5655Twilight over the old town’s Black Tower signals the shift from exploring the narrow streets radiating off the main square to settling into taverns for hearty Bohemian food and beer.

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The Dominican Monastery gardens. I’m sure these folks drank plenty of beer in their time.

U Tří Sedláků (At the Three Yeoman) once catered to merchants and officers, and to the rafters driving wood along the river. During the Communist era it was annexed to a nearby restaurant called Masné Krámy (Meat Shops).

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On its own again since 2005, it now serves Pilsener Urquell, while the neighbouring Masné Krámy deals in Budweiser Budvar.

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By the time night falls, the Masné Krámy, with its Renaissance façade and basilica-style layout dating back to the sixteenth century, transforms itself into a classically raucous drinking establishment. Forget about trying to find a table.

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The city hall

The previous night’s revelry now the stuff of dreams, it’s time for some culture in the form of a brewery tour.

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The real deal.

The Pivovar Budějovický Budvar (Budweiser Budvar Brewery) was founded in 1895, and has been engaged in a protracted trademark dispute with a certain Annheuser-Busch.

IMG_5709The dispute takes center stage in a tongue-and-cheek short film that forms part of the exhibit in the visitor center. Spend some time checking out the rest of the exhibits if you arrive early for your tour.

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Those midday tours really help you work up an appetite. If the samples on the tour weren’t enough, you can head next door to the Budvar Brewpub.

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Relatively light fare as far as Bohemian cuisine goes.

České Budějovice isn’t all Budweiser Budvar and Pilsener Urquell. You’ll find the occasional gem tucked away here and there. Krajinská is one such spot. Great food, too. (Of note: The micro/craft breweries we visited depart from the stock repertoire of delicious but hefty Bohemian cuisine, offering lighter fare with an “artisanal” touch.)

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Minipivovar Krajinská

Keep your eyes open for Beeranek as well – closed in late December when we visited. Thanks to Tomáš Hasík for the tips.

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Off to Pilsen two hours away.

Historical note: The train line connecting České Budějovice to Linz is the second-oldest train line in the world.

Gallery 2: Plzeń/Pilsen

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The Great Synagogue, built in 1893, is the second-largest synagogue in Europe.

Plzeń is the birthplace of that most famous of beer styles, the Pilsener, first brewed in 1842 by Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll.

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St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, located on Republic Square.

Pilsener Urquell (now under the auspices of SABMiller) is ubiquitous, as are the taverns and hotels affiliated with the company.

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Not a microbrewery.

English tours depart on a regular basis throughout the day. We showed up about 10 minutes after one had started. No worries. You can get a combo ticket for the tour and for the Brewery Museum.

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Malting bed plus crucifix and uncanny wax figure.

The informative museum of brewing history –– complete with an intricate model of a brewery that took eighteen years to build –– is also affiliated with the Pils Urquell folks.

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Apparently this contraption can even brew a small volume of beer.

Back to Pilsener Urquell we go. The tour of the biggest brewing operation in town is a fairly straightforward affair augmented by high-tech multi-media displays and a trip to the bottling and canning line.

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Can’t get enough of them copper kettle photos.

But that all changes with the labyrinthine lagering cellars dating to 1839 –– worth the price of admission alone.

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The cellars are also home to small-batch open-fermented beer that subsequently spends time in pitched aging casks.

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Note the date: 28.12. Brewed the day before we arrived.

If only Pils Urquell and similarly large breweries would distribute this kind of tradition beyond their cellars. Vastly better than any bottled or draught Pils Urquell.

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U Pašáka

Pilsen is also home to a nascent craft beer scene.

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One particularly vibrant craft beer bar, Na Čepu (no good pix, unfortunately –– blame it on the good beer) has set up shop in the shadow of the Brewery Museum. Co-owner Jaroslav Jakeš is a wealth of information on the local and Czech-wide beer scene.

And so we head out the next morning, skies blazing blue, memories of Czech-style stouts and white IPAs sustaining us, in the direction of Český Krumlov.

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Gallery 3: Český Krumlov

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If the Eggenberg beer hasn’t grabbed your attention yet, the tower rising up from the castle precincts will. Try scaling those rocks after a few beer.

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View of St. Vitus, straight up.

Český Krumlov suffered neglect during the communist era, but its splendid Renaissance and Baroque buildings were restored in the early 1990s, earning the town a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992.

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Cue up Smetana.

After all that Pilsener Urquell and Budweiser Budvar, Eggenberg Brewery (not to be confused with the Schloss Eggenberg brewery, brewers of the famous Samichlaus, in Austria’s Salzkammergut) provided us with a refreshing change of pace.

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A classic beer hall.

Their Nakouřený Švihák, a Rauchbier with very subtle maple-syrup-accented wood smoke, was one of the highlights of the trip. A much different Rauchbier than, say, Bamberg’s Aecht Schlenkerla.

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Duck with purple cabbage and two kinds of traditional Bohemian dumplings.

I don’t know about you, but these photographic reminiscences have made me hungry and maybe a little bit thirsty. Time for dinner and a beer.

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Filtered/unfiltered.

Na zdraví!

Related Tempest Articles:

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

Say No to Style Loyalty

All images by F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Say No to Style Loyalty in 2016

Ninety-nine styles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine styles of beer …

Your Saturday Six-Pack Series is back.IMG_9876

***

Coke or Pepsi. Bud, Miller, or Coors. Many a craft beer aficionado has railed against brand loyalty, criticizing the consumption of advertising over what’s in the bottle. And rightly so.

But a specter haunts the craft beer world –– the specter of style loyalty. A chicken in every pot and an IPA in every fridge is one thing. Entire lineups of IPAs, though?

Hops: Not a bad thing.

Hops: Not a bad thing.

That’s something altogether different. Double IPAs! Triple IPAs! (Session IPAs!) Fruit-infused IPAs! Enjoy-by IPAs! And just plain old IPAs! Hopheads, rejoice. Ah, America. The land of choice.

Lost in the figurative and sometimes very literal buzz(feed): the craft beer mosaic is comprised of over a hundred styles of beer.

***

Is your beer diet heavy on the hops? (I know – we all need our veggies.) Here’s a little throw-down for the next time you’re at your favourite bottle shop. Make it a point to try a style you’ve never had before –– lest they all disappear from shelves in the not-so-distant future, subsumed by a rising tide of IPA and a few other beer styles surfing shotgun.IMG_0899Go ahead, go for that cream ale! No one’s looking. While you’re at it, grab that Rodney Dangerfield of beers, the lowly brown ale. Like Mikey in the Life cereal commercials of yore, you might just like it.

By now you’re probably feeling an overwhelming urge to toss a few IPAs into your cart, and maybe a bourbon barrel-aged stout because, you know, it’s so damn cold out there. But resist and pick up a Pils instead.

Czech style

Czech style

Still a few more to go. Craft beer drinkers cannot live on barley alone. Variety is the spice of life, and wheat beers are the spice of the zymurgical arts – which is just another way of saying life. Take your pick: Belgian Wit, American wheat beer, and Weissbier, which itself comes in all sorts of different varieties.

Word on the street is that porters, too, are now underrated. We need to remedy that situation forthwith. As homebrew meister Jamil Zainasheff once quipped, “Who’s your Taddy?” If you don’t know, there’s another bottle for your cart.

So that’s five beer styles toward your Saturday six-pack. Venture out of your geographical comfort zone with that last beer. Japan is famous for its saké, so it’s no surprise to find beers containing that otherwise-disdained adjunct, rice. Like gin? Try Finland’s contribution to the wonderful world of beer styles, Sahti, the mash of which is filtered through a bed of juniper twigs. (Sorry to get your hopes up, gin lovers. Sahti tastes nothing like gin. All the more reason to try it.)

***

That still leaves over a hundred different styles of beer. What are some of your favourite underrated beer styles?

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Related Tempest Articles:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Your Saturday Six-Pack, Vol.5): Saisons

Augurs of Spring: Wheat Beers Belgian, German, and American

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

A Taste of Oklahoma in Six Glasses

Brown Beers Get No Luvin’: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.2)

Images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 A Tempest in a Tankard and F.D. Hofer. All Rights Reserved.