Cologne, Sunday, 11:30 in the morning. The server, called a Köbes in Cologne, brings me my second glass of Kölsch and makes another mark on my beer mat. I’m not the only one here. Around me sit a mix of regulars populating the area around the bar, elderly couples who have come to sip on a few beers after mass, a family stopping in for a light snack and a beer before their afternoon outing, and a handful of English-speaking beer enthusiasts at a nearby table who, like me, are here for the Kölsch. It’s a scene that plays itself out endlessly in the traditional taverns of Cologne and Düsseldorf.
Regensburg, Monday, 2:30 p.m. It’s almost too cold on this late spring day to sit out in a beer garden, but we’re rewarded with a magical view of Regensburg’s gothic cathedral and medieval town center on the opposite bank of the Danube. The Steinerne Brücke dates from the middle of the twelfth century, and was the only bridge across the Danube when it was built. Regensburg may not be Munich, but the beer’s just fine and it’s an ideal base from which to visit two of Bavaria’s more iconic breweries: Schneider Weisse in Kelheim and Kloster Weltenburg a half an hour from there by boat.
Kloster Weltenburg, Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. We made it to Kelheim in time for the first sailing along the Danube in the direction of the Donau Durchbruch, the stunning gorge that serves as a gateway to the equally marvelous Kloster Weltenburg. The Assam brothers designed the opulent church and monastery; Kloster Weltenburg brews a Doppelbock in their honour. It’s one of my favourite Doppelbocks, but it tastes even better underneath the chestnut trees of Kloster Weltenburg’s beer garden, rain be damned.
Prague, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. From the terrace in the shadow of the Strahov Monastery the Malá Strana and Staré Město districts spread out beyond a stretch of urban orchards and vineyards. Once we’ve imbibed the view, we head off to rub shoulders with the early evening drinking crowd at the Pivnice u Černého Vola, one of many traditional Prague pubs. Fortunately, you’ll still find plenty of these gems amid the deluge of tourists and the bars that cater to them.
Bruges, Thursday, 4:00 p.m. We walk past the place where I first encountered Belgian beer, way back on a misty late-autumn eveing in 1991. The beer looked like the pilseners and lagers I had just learned to appreciate in Germany, but something was just a little different. I downed it and ordered another. I drank this one a few seconds more slowly and noticed that the beer had a certain richness and residual sweetness to it. Not long into my third beer I noticed something else – a bit of an unexpected kick. This time around I discover a nice twist on this beer they call Tripel: Cuvée Soeur’is, an oak-aged triple kriek from Brouwerij de Leite served up in the dimly lit surroundings of ’t Brugs Biertje.
Bellegem, Friday, 8:30 a.m. After a night exploring the beer cafes of Brussels, I head out with an old friend to western Flanders. We were there for the Flemish red ale, and for a tour of Brouwerij Omer Vander Ghiste. Neither disappointed. And I made a new friend named Le Fort Tripel.
Munich, Saturday, mid-morning. The weather has finally turned the corner, and the Aumeister beer garden in the northern reaches of the Englische Garten is just the perfect place to be. It appears we’ve beaten the crowds this morning, but it won’t be long before we’re joined by three thousand like-minded folks on this balmy summer day.
This itinerary combines four different beer-related journeys upon which I’ve been lucky enough to embark over the past few months. Now that the “field research” is behind me (somebody’s gotta do it, right?), I’ll have time over the summer to put pen to paper and round out these sketches of life in Europe’s beer centers.
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All images by F.D. Hofer.
© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.