Sunday, December 5, 2010

London, Amsterdam, and Dusseldorf


So, after spending ten weeks in India, it was time to go home. However, when you’re flying over Europe to get home, why not stop in for a bit? So I, and a colleague of mine, Ben, took a week-long layover in Europe. We left Delhi at 3AM and arrived in Brussels at 7AM after a 9hr flight. Have to love time zones. I’ll write about Belgium in a separate entry; this one is to talk about my experience in England, Holland, and Germany. Europe’s transit system is second to none, so on our second day in Brussels, we took the subway to Midi Station and boarded the Eurostar train for the 90-minute ride to London. Train travel is the best way to travel in my humble opinion. Also, I can now say I went to the bathroom underneath the English Channel. Our main goal was to be full tourists, to be honest. However, there’s no way I’d pass up a chance to check out the pub scene or their craft brew.
We arrived at 8AM (again, gained an hour because of the time zone), and did a whirlwind tour of the biggest tour spots London has to offer. London is one of my favorite cities in the world despite both of my times there I’ve only got to spend one day each trip. It’s chaotic and crowded, but at the same time has peaceful parks, and for a city of its size, it’s really clean. After hitting the main sites (Buckingham, Big Ben, etc) it was lunch time. Ben’s favorite fast food restaurant is Chipotle and the only one in Europe happened to be located in London. My best friend since the first day of Kindergarten now lives in London so he was going to meet us there. I do like Chipotle, but from my experience here the beer selection isn’t even worth a second look. To my surprise I saw a familiar red label. At a Chipotle in London, England, I found Goose Island Honker’s Ale. I know, I’m in England, I should have chosen an English beer, but you say that after being deprived of American Craft beer for over two months. I devoured my grotesquely large barbacoa burrito and was careful not to chug the delicious Goose Island.

After Chipotle, we stopped at Starbucks for the second time that day (no Starbucks in India!!) and Jared, Ben, and I decided to do the London Eye. Very cool experience, and worth the hefty fee to get on. From there, it was late enough in the day, 2PM, that I didn’t feel bad saying a pub would be nice. I had reservations at Brew Wharf Brewpub at 4. Jared knew of a truly authentic feeling English Pub not far from the Eye, The Market Porter. It’s what I expected of an English pub. Small, somewhat crowded, and extremely friendly bar tenders. They had Meantime on tap, so I couldn’t pass up having it fresh. Their India Pale Ale is great, as I expected. We had a couple pints while Jared and I caught up on each other’s lives.


He had to get going for a family event for his woman and it was time for Ben and I to check out Brew Wharf. Luckily for us, it was literally a few meters down the same road.

The restaurant was obviously a rehabbed building. Seems to be a trend with brewpubs, and one I fully support. It had very modern touches throughout, however. We were a little early for our reservation, but they went ahead and seated us anyway. They had two of their beers on tap, the Indian Summer Wheat and the Brown Chicken Brown Cow. I started with the Brown. Malty and delicious. I asked the waitress if the brewer happened to be in, but unfortunately he wasn’t.


We were both still pretty full from the burritos at lunch so we just ordered their cheese plate which was excellent, and they didn’t skimp on the quantities. Next up was their wheat which while not my favorite style, was still good. I had to get up to use the facilities, and I told Ben that if the waitress came by to get our tab and ask if they had any merch to buy. When I returned, he had two glasses sitting in front of him; one your standard pint glass, and the second a 20oz from the Borough Market Brew Fest. He said she told him pick which one we wanted or we could just have both. So even across the pond, beer people are just as awesome. Unfortunately we only had time in the schedule for a day trip. After Brew Wharf it was time to head back to King’s Cross and catch the Eurostar back to Brussels. My love of England only increased, and I look very forward to returning, hopefully for more than a day the next time.

On our fourth day in Europe, we rented a car to make it easier to get to the small breweries that aren’t convenient by the train. We decided to take a road trip through the Netherlands and Germany for a day and night. We set out on the fifth day for Amsterdam. Not exactly known for its beer culture, but I’ve been to Europe three times previously and had never been there. While we were there we did “The Heineken Experience.” Basically, they had moved their brewery out of central Amsterdam and had turned the old brewery into a giant tourist trap for Americans. Everything is in English, including signage, and no other language. The people working there speak with American accents, and it is all very odd. Now, I love my Europeans, but the “Experience” couldn’t be more European in style. Whether it is the odd video pods that you lie in or the discotheque-like rooms you walked through. Ben and I skipped the room that was supposed to be like you’re the beer. We’re thinking it is one of those emersion movies that the seats move and you feel like you’re actually moving. Just didn’t interest us. We moved directly to the tasting room.



Here an extremely attractive blonde from Australia gave us instructions on how to taste beer. It was pretty much standard stuff, but then towards the end she talked about how whenever you look at a beer you should put your fingers on the other side. If you can’t see your fingers, it’s a bad beer. I’m hoping beyond hope she was referring only to Heineken and not beer in general. If she was referring to beer in general, then that’s just horrible advice. From there we went on to the bottle your own beer section. Here, you can pay 5 Euro and get a bottle of Heineken saying you had bottled it. Complete bullocks, but of course we did it. At the very end we finally got our two full tasters, which I have to admit was pretty cool. There is their standard lager then the Heineken Ice which is served at a brain-freezing temperature. We drank those then picked up our bottles that we apparently bottled by magic. Afterwards, we tried to find a good bar to sit down and have a beer or two, but we didn’t have much luck. Maybe we just didn’t know enough about the city, but we had no success finding just a standard bar.


The next morning we set out for Dusseldorf, Germany. We were headed to southern Belgium and decided to stop in at a brewpub in Germany on the way. I had no reason for picking Fuchschen really. Just found it on beermapping.com, and their website was tacky, crazy, and entertained me. And I’m glad I did pick it.

They only serve one beer, an alt, and it was really good. The awesome German food made it even better. I had the schnitzel, and Ben went for what is basically an entire leg of a pig.


We had a couple of their Alts afterwards, and then headed back to Belgium. While we didn’t make some epic Beer Trip, it was a great experience, and got my feet wet in the European beer culture. Talk to you soon about our experiences in Belgium, both the great and the not so great.
Cheers!
Tim