Category Archives: Regional Rambles

On the Road with Tempest in a Tankard. *Bring a Designated Driver* *Drink Responsibly*

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.

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

It was one of those August days when the sun-baked cobblestones seem to transcend themselves in mirage-like fashion. Since arriving in Salzburg earlier that day, we had been exploring a baroque palace here, a castle overlooking the city there, and churches everywhere. Definitely time for a beer, one of my friends declared. Another suggested a visit to the Augustiner, where we could relax in its chestnut grove with a cold stein.Augustiner Stein (FB pg) With one last burst of energy we crossed the foot bridge over the Salzach and climbed the hill in the direction of the Augustiner. As soon as we descended the stairs into the cellar precincts, the summer heat faded away. We threaded our way through stalls selling bratwurst and pretzels, and came upon the counter where a gruff barkeep in lederhosen was tapping beer straight from the barrel. Steins in hand, we headed out into the beer garden to partake of a venerable tradition: an al fresco Maß (liter mug) of beer among lively groups of friends and families who had gathered at tables and benches in the afternoon shade of the chestnut trees.

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This particularly enjoyable rite of spring and summer traces its history to early nineteenth-century Bavaria. Back in 1812, King Maximilian I. Joseph of Bavaria (1806-1825) set the development of beer garden culture on its present course with a Solomon-like decree that diffused the tensions that had been (ahem) brewing between Munich’s innkeepers and brewers. The dispute had its roots in the set of reforms that King Max had enacted, first as duke, and then as king. Some of these reforms proved more favourable to private Bavarian brewers than had previously been the case during the era of aristocratic brewing prerogatives, and breweries began to proliferate along the Isar River. During the warm summer months in particular, the citizens of Munich took to spending more of their time (and money) at the beer cellars on the banks of the Isar, preferring these shaded chestnut groves to the rather stuffy inns where the beer was decidedly less fresh.

Unsurprisingly, the innkeepers of Munich became increasingly incensed that they were losing revenue to the beer brewers who were also selling food to accompany their refreshing beers. They petitioned Maximilian –– connoisseur of the good life who was more likely to be seen at Munich’s Viktualienmarkt than at the barracks –– to do something.BeerGarden - Rescript_Max_I_Joseph_1812-01-04 A friend and supporter of brewers and innkeepers alike, their good King Maxl paid heed. The resulting decree of January 4, 1812 benefitted both parties and put its stamp on the history of the Bavarian beer garden down to the present day. Brewers could, indeed, keep right on selling their beer fresh from the beer cellars beneath their leafy gardens. But in a nod to the concerns of the innkeepers, the beer garden precincts were limited to the sale of beer and bread.

* * *

Now, as for these beer cellars (Bierkeller) that gave rise to beer gardens? Beer gardens as we’ve come to know them in Bavaria and beyond are difficult to imagine without the history of a beer style many of us have come to know and love: lager. In the centuries before the invention of refrigeration, brewers sunk cellars on the grounds of their breweries. There, they covered their beer with ice blocks hewed in March from the still-frozen lakes and rivers of the region.

Even though monasteries and abbeys had been storing their beer in cellars and in caves at the foot of the Alps since the Middle Ages, the sinking of cellars in Munich accelerated in response to a decree promulgated by Duke Albrecht V in 1553. Despite the vaunted Reinheitsgebot of 1516, not all Bavarian beer was gold, so the duke declared that Bavarians were allowed to brew beer between St. Michael’s Day (September 29) and St. George’s Day (April 23) only. One of the reasons cited for the decree of 1553 was a fear of summer conflagrations caused by hot brew kettles. More importantly, though, brewers and the authorities who knew a good beer when they tasted it had, by the mid-1550s, learned a fair amount about the effects of cold fermentation on beer quality. Slower fermentation between 7 and 12 Celsius (44-55F) in conjunction with extended lagering (lagern = to store) at temperatures near freezing yielded a cleaner beer that kept longer than the top-fermented ales brewed in warmer conditions.

Beer cellars also enabled brewers to store their beer during the months they weren’t brewing, thereby ensuring a steady supply of fresh and stable beer during the summer months. As a further means of keeping the temperature of their cellars cool, brewers planted broad-leafed and shallow-rooted horse chestnut trees. From there, it wasn’t an enormous leap from the cellar to the shade. Enterprising brewers began to set out tables and chairs under the leafy canopy shading their cellars, and voilà: the beer garden. BierGarten - AugustinerMunich (FB page)If you’re lucky enough to live in a North American town that boasts a beer garden, or are even luckier and live in or will be visiting a Germanic country this spring or summer, raise a stein to the wise Bavarians who inaugurated these traditions. What better place is there to enjoy a crisp and spicy wheat beer or an effervescent Pilsner on a spring or summer day than in a beer garden?

Related Tempest Articles

The MaltHead Manifesto

Gose: A Beer Worth Its Salt

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

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

Pinning Down Place

Further Reading

German Beer Institute.

Horst D. Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1997).

Michael Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

Sabine Herre, “Geschichte der bayrischen Biergärten: Im Schatten der Kastanie,” taz (26 May 2012).

Images

Stein (Augustiner Bräustübl Salzburg Mülln Facebook page)

Decree by King Maximilian I. Joseph of Bavaria allowing Munich brewers to serve beer from their cellars, but prohibiting the sale of food other than bread (January 4, 1812). Bayrishes Hauptstaatsarchiv, München. Image available on WikiCommons.

Beer Garden, Augustinerbäu München

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Bourbon in Michigan: Barrel-Aged Beer along the Great Lakes

With its rich aromas and flavours, bourbon barrel-aged beer evokes late fall hues and heralds the coming of winter. In this, the first of what I intend be an occasional series of posts tracking barrel-aged and sour beers across North America, I sample some of what the Michigan shores of the Great Lakes have to offer: Founders’ Backwoods Bastard, and New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk.

Despite its recent and growing popularity, barrel-aged beer is far from new. Lambic and Flemish red ales call to mind examples of traditional European beer production in which wooden barrels have long been a fixture. What is relatively novel and entirely indigenous to the United States, though, is the selection of a particular vessel for aging beer: the bourbon barrel. Goose Island’s venerable Bourbon County Stout dates back to 1992 and is, according to the brewery, the beer that originated the bourbon barrel-aged category.

Beer Barrels 2

On this side of the pond, bourbon has made a distinct and indelible impression on the craft beer drinker’s palate – to the tune of seven bourbon barrel-aged beers occupying the first twenty-five spots on BeerAdvocate’s “Top 250 Beers” list. Not only is the acronym “BAB” gaining traction, barrel-aged beer now has its own feast day of sorts inscribed on the craft beer calendar. For those who missed out on this year’s Barrel-Aged Beer Day, mark October 3, 2014, on your calendars so that you, too, can partake of the excitement of yet another “Beer Style XYZ Day.”

The Great Lakes region is home to a number of reputable bourbon beers. Along with Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, Three Floyds in Indiana produces a series of bourbon barrel-aged offerings that have included renditions of their Black Sun Stout and Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. Michigan, too, has no shortage of renowned bourbon beers, with bourbon-inspired variations of Bell’s Black Note Stout, Dark Horse’s Plead the 5th Imperial Stout, and Short’s Bourbon Wizard Barley Wine, offering craft beer enthusiasts some compelling choices along the way. (Like many brewers that have been bitten by the barrel bug, Dark Horse rolls out not one, but several, bourbon beer offerings.) So entrenched has the enthusiasm for bourbon beers become that Carson’s American Bistro in Ann Arbor is poised this Thursday to offer an autumnal repast of Citrus-Cured Pork Belly, Duck Confit, and Pumpkin Tres Leches Cake to pair with a selection of bourbon beers.

If you’re in the market for some bourbon beer to pair with your own Thanksgiving feast, and if you’re fortunate enough to live in an area with solid distribution of “Michigan bourbons,” neither Founders’ Backwoods Bastard Scotch-style ale nor New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk stout will let you down.

The 2013 edition of Dragon’s Milk has teeth aplenty, clocking in at a weighty 23 degrees Plato and 10% ABV.

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The aromas of this ruby-tinged dark brown beer layer a mélange of earthy vanilla-butterscotch oak tones on top of high-octane mocha coffee reminiscent, at times, of Kahlua. Dark cherry, maple syrup, black pepper, and licorice mingle with the malt aromas. A little like liquid brown sugar on the palate, the beer has a velvety texture checked by a firm hand with the bittering hops, reprising the dominant fruit, wood, and mocha aroma notes. An ideal accompaniment to dishes accented with sweeter sauces (maple syrup-glazed pork belly, anyone?), and, of course, dessert.

Founders’ Backwoods Bastard also carries a daunting 10.2% ABV, sure to induce a sound sleep if consumed alongside one too many crème brulées.

FoundersBackwood 3-pack

The bottle I had was from 2012, so wood aromatics of cinnamon sticks and sandalwood from the aging process formed a nice accompaniment to the complex Ovaltine-like malt and vanilla bean nuances. As this elegant brick-red/pecan-brown beer opened up, oak, shortbread, and brown sugar-dusted earthy licorice came to the fore. Expansive and incredibly buoyant on the palate for its ABV heft, Backwoods intertwines flavours of honeyed figs, black cherry, and spice box, with a warming and lasting bright bourbon cherry finish.

New Holland is drinking well now, but could use more time to round out the rougher edges of the roasted coffee, bitter-sweet chocolate, and sharper alcohol tones. With an extra year of age to its advantage, the Founders was more settled and harmonious, presenting an exquisite balance between fruit and malt characteristics of milk caramel, toasted toffee, and molasses-brown sugar.

For some fun, why not practice your blending skills to produce a “Backwoods Dragon”? And don’t forget to drink these beers on the warm side of cellar temperature.

Related Tempest Articles

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

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie’s Pirate Bomb, Goose Island’s Bourbon County, Victory’s Dark Intrigue

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

© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.