Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tim's European beer experience

So I’ll admit I’ve only traveled overseas once since I found out what “real beer” is. I’d traveled through Western Europe before in high school and college. The high school trip was through France which, even though I love, is a beer wasteland. They’re all about their wine, and only being 18, was closely watched. We did manage to score some booze, but it was only wine. The second time was in college and my idea of great beer was a “30 Stone” for $9.99. I can’t wait to get another chance though. The bier gartens in Munich may be the best places on Earth. You’re in a beautiful park, there are women bringing you litre mugs of beer, and Germans are the nicest people you will ever meet. Nothing against any other cultures or peoples, but from my experiences it’s true.
Unfortunately because my only concern as a 19 year old college student was getting as drunk as possible, I didn’t explore the true beer scene. However, I probably was too young and dumb to appreciate it. From my naïve experience though, I will say, take any chance you can to get over there. If not for the beer, then for the experience. I always liked Europe, but until that night in Munich I didn’t love it.

When I decided to actually concentrate on school and went back as an adult, part of my program was to travel overseas. I was fortunate enough that my university sent me to central and Eastern Europe. My first stop was in Budapest, Hungary. My second shot at college was at a Christian university that forbade drinking by their members and their students. I was fortunate again that the professor leading the trip knew we were adults and she allowed me to explore a little bit. We were only there for two days and were busy actually learning. I did stop into what I’d call a bodega here on the first night and grabbed the first beer I saw, Dreher Classic. Lager beers are the predominant style in this area, and that’s what this was. I bought another six pack to bring home for my friends to try. Unfortunately in the post-911 world my bags were searched and it magically disappeared between Amsterdam and New York City.

The bulk of the trip was spent in Bratislava, Slovakia. It’s like Prague without gangs of tourists. We had an apartment in the old city for the two weeks we spent there and around the corner from it was a bar called the Dubliner. Obviously this is an Irish pub with an Irish theme and décor. The comments on the site about it being scary I don’t remember. Lots of Brits there, and they do tend to get crazy. It was there though that I discovered Zlaty Bazant which is Slovakia’s national beer. Another light lager, but when you find all you have to say is “Pivo prosím” and they give you a pint for what equals $1 you don’t question it. It's available in the States under the name Golden Pheasant.

Another night I convinced a few of my classmates to go with me to a Belgian beer bar a few blocks away, Café de Zwaan. There I enjoyed fresh beers from the best Belgium has to offer. I have to say though, I still didn’t know enough about good beer to truly enjoy what I was drinking, but I feel I learned a lot.

The Heineken Brewery in Nitra, Slovakia where they brew Zlaty

I, along with another student, took a day over the Easter weekend to travel up to Prague, Czech Republic. I have to say it’s probably one of the most beautiful cities to which I’ve ever been. Sadly though, you’re asses-to- elbows with tourists. The Charles Bridge, which is amazing, I was literally shoved across. While we were stuck in a mass of people we ran down a side street to escape the old people in tourist groups and went into a small pub. I have no idea what I drank there to be honest. I just needed out of those crowds. It was a Pilsner, the Czech Republic being the birthplace of the style, and it was delicious, either because of the craft behind it or the relief of not being in a mob.

One final note. Budweiser is actually named for the city of Budweis, Czech Republic (Ceske Budejovice) that has their own beer. Here it is called Budvar. In CR and Slovakia it is sold as Budweiser. The American version is sold as “Bud.” Just an interesting factoid I learned while there.

I hope to make it back to Europe in the next couple years and fully experience the beer scene in Belgium and Germany. In the interim though, I count myself lucky to have enjoyed the beers that I have.

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