Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit...

Munich, Germany. Oktoberfest. This is culmination of a ton of traveling and drinking; to witness one of the largest celebrations in the world.

And we didn't even get to sit in a tent the first day.

We read a lot about what times to get there, what tables, what tents, et cetera. But most of the stuff you read online is for a normal Oktoberfest day. Not the Opening day, on a Saturday. We arrived around 10am. Early enough, seeing as how they're not supposed to serve any beer until the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg at noon.

Every single tent was filled to the brim when we arrived. Some tents wouldn't even let us in to stand, they were at capacity. After watching the parade out front, which consists of many horses, drawing large carts full of beer in barrels, each one adorned with their respective breweries - we ended up at a biergarten outside the tents, enjoying Paulaner Hefeweisens. The area outside the tents are like a large fair; think of the Del Mar Fair (but without carnies.) We ended up leaving shortly there after, to visit the Englischer Garten.

The Englischer Garten is a very large, beautiful park with a lake in the middle. We sat at a biergarten and drank Hofbrau Radler (a Radler is a 50/50 mix of Helles and Lemonade. To further clarify: a helles is a pilsner, and lemonade in Europe is actually lemon-lime soda) It's incredibly refreshing during the summertime and drinking a liter of it won't get you anywhere near drunk.

Day 2 of the Oktoberfest was much more successful. We arrived at the Hippodrom at 8AM. Tents on the weekdays are supposed to open at 9AM, but for some reason the Hippodrom didn't open until 10AM. That's probably a good thing, as we got in line as soon as we arrived, and actually got to sit at a table this time. Keep in mind it was a mad scramble for an open table, even though we were probably only 20-30th in line. This brings me to what is really my only complaint about Oktoberfest tents. It seems like 70% of all tents are reserved! It's pure luck if you come upon a group who is getting up from their table (as they tend to sit there all day, in shifts.)

The rest of that day pretty much consisted of heavy drinking, eating, and singing German songs. I can tell you right now that is one of the best times of my entire life. We met a couple from Hong Kong at our table. We met three 16 year old German kids (and played pranks on the boy when he got up to use the bathroom.) We met an Australian couple who had actually been to San Diego. It was a blast, and I'll never forget it.

We also attended day 3, a Monday. We expected a smaller crowd, but that wasn't the case. It seemed just as packed as a weekday. We got really lucky and snagged one of the stand up tables in the famous Hofbrauhaus. We met a guy from Texas who came straight from the Airport. He still had his luggage. Hofbrauhaus is a weird tent. It's all Americans/Australians/New Zealanders. Every five minutes or so, someone will stand on a table, and everyone will cheer as he guzzles his beer. It's like a big frat house, which I'm not a huge fan of. Augustiner and Schottenhamel seemed to be 100% German. Everyone was in traditional dress, standing on the benches, singing songs non-stop. It seemed impossible to get a seat in there!

Some tips if you ever plan to attend Oktoberfest in Munich:
- Book hotels as early as possible. We booked fairly early, and the rooms were far and away the most expensive out of any of our hotels in Europe.
- Bring cash (no tents that I saw took card)
- Splurge and get some Oktoberfest clothing. I could only afford a spiffy hat, but if I could, I'd be rocking lederhosen, no doubt.
- Don't go for opening day. Wait until that second week, and try to attend a weekday. Being able to sit and eat is much better than standing around.
- Practice drinking
- Learn the lyrics to 'Ein Prosit.' You'll be singing it every five minutes for hours

I hope you've enjoyed reading my exploits. I encourage anyone to make a trip to Europe. It's a beautiful place. Might want to wait til the US dollar is stronger though ;)

- Eric

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bye bye, Netherlands; hello Germany!

Bye bye, Netherlands; hello Germany!

Amsterdam continued to impress us, just a few hours before we left on a night train to Munich. We happened upon a bottle shop that actually carried Westvleteren.

For those who are unaware of this brewery, it’s one of the seven Trappist breweries, and they’re regarded for making some of the best beer in the world. The monks only sell enough beer to support the monastery financially, and they only sell it at the monastery itself. They ask others not to resell their beer for profit.

I was a bit torn on buying the beer. I want to respect their wishes; but at the same time it’s very hard to get it in the states, and I knew that this was one of my only chances. We ended up getting some of their blonde, and the Westvleteren 8. My particular bottle of the 8 was heavy with sediment, not sure if I got a bad bottle or what. I’m glad I was able to try both beers, but at 11 euros a bottle, I won’t be buying it again. Keep in mind that if you get an appointment to buy a case of beer at the monastery itself, it’s something like 40 euros. A CASE!

From there, we left Amsterdam and set out to Munich for the culmination of our trip: Oktoberfest! We spent some time at the biergartens prior to the Oktoberfest itself. It’s a very relaxing thing to sit in a large, beautiful park, drinking liters of beer with people of all ages. It’s one of the first things that stood out to me. Beer is a very normal, regular thing here. You can drink beer at age 16, and I regularly saw kids drinking. In the states, drinking is sometimes seen as an activity that leads to drunkenness. In Germany, it felt more… responsible? I never saw anyone young drink to excess. They weren’t like rowdy frat boys, chugging liters as fast as they can. They’d sip their liter, eat pretzels, talk, laugh, and generally have a good time.

Anyway, I’ll update again later with my actual Oktoberfest activities. I’m got some super jetlag and I need to crash.

Until next time –

- Eric

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Surprising Amsterdam!

Funny thing, Amsterdam is. The second you leave the train station, all you smell is that certain herb the city is well known for. But the focus shouldn't be on that, no. This city has a rich history, good food, and surprisingly enough, great beer bars!

One of the first we encountered was Cafe t'Arendsnest. This cafe specializes in Dutch beers, and I have to say; they're giving the Belgians a run for their money. I tried quite a few, but my favorite was Wolluk's Drupke. Very dark, had an almost licorice taste.

We also went to Beer Temple, which actually specializes in American Craft brew. They had many bottles and stuff on tap that Ive never tried. Great Divide and Southern Tier were the real winners here. A creme brûlée stout and Yeti Espresso Oak Aged Coffee stout were fan-tas-tic. Never thought I'd be discovering American brewers in Amsterdam! Shout out to Peter at Beer Temple, who was incredibly nice, and great to speak to.

In de Wildeman, Cafe Belgique, two other good beer bars need a calling to. Make sure you stop by and get a brew; everyone speaks English and is very friendly!

We also stopped by two breweries local to Amsterdam; Brouwerij t' IJ and de Prael. Both made solid and very cheap beers. 't IJ is located in a windmill!

I'm currently using Cafe Belgique's free WiFi (thank you!) to post this; we are killing time before our night train to Munich in preparation for Oktoberfest. We are so close!

Until next time -

- Eric

Monday, September 13, 2010

Belgium: Beer and Waffles

The second we got off the train in Belgium, we knew something was different. The bad smells were gone. The train station was pristine, and signs were in English, French, Dutch, and German. On our cab ride, the driver apologized for having to take the long way; the streets were closed because of a festival.

On our 5 minute walk to the "cool" section of town, you could feel the atmosphere was just so different. Relaxed, friendly, happy. As we made our way to the world famous Delirium Cafe, we had to wait for the Dutch marching band in the alley to finish their song. They threw oranges to the crowd for some reason.

Never have I been so torn on what beer to order once I had got inside the cafe. Their menu is like a large book, with 2000+ beers. In the day and a half I was there, this is what I got to try.

Cookie Beer
Arteveld Grand Cru
Eichbaum Weizen Grand Cru
Mikkeler Tomahawk
Saxo Blonde
Martins 100 Year
Bons Deaux Brasserie Dupont
...and numerous other fruit beers and lambics that the ladies were getting.

Now that's a nice little list of beers right? But think about it: that's a drop in the bucket compared to the amount they have in this place. Simply amazing.

I also wanted to talk about the availability and cost of beer in Brussels. When we were in Paris, beers were 6-10 euros at bars. At bars in Brussels, they're 2-5 euros. Convenience stores in Brussels put BevMo in the states to shame. They carried most Trappist ales, and then some, at ridiculous prices. Delirum Tremens? 1.75 euros a bottle. Chimay? 1.50 euros a bottle. We spent some time in the convienience store just laughing to ourselves.

We are are leaving shortly for Amsterdam. I know it'll be fun, but wow, I'll miss Brussels. It's everything I wanted London and paris to be.

Until next time -

- Eric

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Paris? More like "Pee-ris"

Been a bit since I could blog, the wifi in Paris is sparse and our hotel is completely without it. Before I get into some of the food in drink in Paris, I need to say a few things.

Paris smells. Seriously, most of Paris smells like urine, about 90% of the time. The other ten percent is usually the smell of body odor. Not sure what's up with either of those smells permeating every square foot of Paris (the large grassy area in front of the Eiffel Tower smells too!) but whatever. It rained two nights in a row, and that actual muted the smell a bit.

Now, lets talk about Paris, minus the odor. I actually found that I enjoyed London a bit more, to be honest. The amount of beer bars are about the same, but it's far more expensive in Paris; even though the pound is doing better than the dollar and the euro. The underground simply trounces the metro in speed, cleanliness, and intuitiveness. (the signage is absolutely awful for the Metro.)

Paris' few beer bars are pretty good, though we stuck with one for the most part, because of it's proximity to our hotel and the fact that I guessed the wifi password to a nearby network! Clichy's Tavern has a great selection of beers from all over the world, though it's mostly Belgian and French. One beer in particular, L'Angelus was very good. Pours a brilliant gold, has a bit of a yeasty flavor. Not sweet or fruity, it was rather refreshing. My second favorite was La Guillotine from Brouwerij Huyge (makers of Delirium Tremens.). Fruity and spicy, my first thought was of pineapple. I could drink this all night, but at 8.5%, I'd pay for it.

I tried numerous other beers, Faro Lambic, Tea Beer, Grimberger, Kasteel Brune, Kwak, and defaulted to a Trappist when I ran out of stuff to try. We had to call an early night on our last day, as we had to be on a 7AM bus to Normandy the following day.

On the bus trip, we travelled to Rouen, a small town west of Paris. Small, but big on history. The church there is from the 13th century, and looks amazing. You can still see the damage from then it was hit with bombs during World War II. In the nearby town square, we saw the spot that Jeanne d'Arc was burned at the stake. We then travelled to Honfleur, home to the picturesque setting to many famous Impressionist Painters. We enjoyed a snack, and even found a cafe with a good beer selection! (I had the Leffe Radieuse. It was good, I prefer it over the blonde.)

We then moved on to Omaha and Gold Beach. Being a WWII nut, I know most of the things that went on there, and its significance in the war. We also visited the American Graveyard, which was a sobering experience. We are staying in Caen tonight, and going to St. Malo tomorrow, then it's off to Brussels, Belgium on Saturday. Now the drinking can truly begin!

Until next time -

- Eric

Friday, September 3, 2010

Success in London

Finally, a great success in London. After doing a bit of research, we came upon a few true beer bars near Leicester Square. The first one turned us away because we didn't want to buy food, just drink. That's cool; less money for you guys.

The other however, was quite welcoming. Lowlander Cafe has a fantastic selection of beers on draughts and on bottle. I began with a taster of three (1/3 pint each.)

Affligem Blonde was delicious. Smooth and refreshing, it might have been helped by the fact that we had been walking for a while, and had yet to drink a single good beer! Anyway, a lovely blonde, not too sweet. It's what Leffe SHOULD taste like.

Next, another Affligem, the Brune. An amber, it has a taste that I've never had before. Mild caramel notes, and became moreso when it warmed up.

Next was a special wheat beer that had just became a available. Rothaus, from Black Forest is a smooth wheat beer, in a sort of typical German hef style. Tasted very similar to Franziskaner Hefeweisen.

After the tasters, I was ready for a full beer, and chose something from their celllar. Troubadour Magma is a dry-hopped amber ale. It approaches a socal IPA in terms of bitterness, but very smooth for 9%. Went so well with the double Dutch fries and spicy ketchup. Mmmm. Yeah, I am craving it now as I type this.

Lastly I mooched off a friend so that I could try his Achel Blonde, a Trappist ale. Big, bold, frothy head with wonderful lacing, it had notes of... Bananas? Sweet, but not overly so.

We ended the night elsewhere, having had my fill of some good beer (finally!). At the Absolut Ice Bar in London, they outfit you with a hooded jacket and gloves, as you step into a bar made entirely of ice. Absolut cocktails are served from cups actually made of ice. The whole thing is fun (if over priced) and I plan to do it again in Las Vegas the next time I'm there.

Tomorrow is our last day in London, then it's off to Paris. I don't have any clue as to the beer scene in France, but given the proximity to Belgium, I'm hoping it's not too bad. If I never see English beers on cask again, I think I'll be okay with that.

Until next time.

- Eric

Thursday, September 2, 2010

English Brew

London so far has been a blur of wrong trains and bad beer. While I'm quite happy with all the photographs I've taken, the selection of beer has been under whelming at best.

Stopping at a few local pubs in Nottinghill results in the exact same beers. Peroni, Stella Artois, Foster's Lager, and English beers on cask. My immediate thought is to get a beer on cask, but Fuller's Pride is not exactly your top tier beverage. At The George, they have an IPA called Green King. Frankly it tastes like any of the other awful English brews I've had, and at 3.6%; it can't really compare to the hoppy deliciousness that is IPA heaven in San Diego.

Not all is lost however; I took a trip to the Borough Market and was treated to an absolute smorgasboard of food and drink. Utobeer was extremely impressive, with hundreds of bottles to choose from.

While waiting for our Medieval Banquet (think of Medieval Times in LA) We tried one more bar. Unfortunately it had a similar beer selection, with the addition of Hoegaarten. If you're wondering, it tastes the same as the stuff we tend to get in bottles in the US.

We have some time to kill before the Absolut Ice Bar to tomorrow, so Im going to make it a priority to find a true beer bar. I won't give up on you, London! If you fail me, there's always Brussels and Munich!

Until next time -