Saturday, 3 January 2015

2014 - The Year in Beer

I stated in my previous post that I wasn’t going to do a Golden Pints for 2014. I intend to stick to my resolve, but what I want to do instead is to look back at some of last year’s beery highlights and pick a few golden moments which really stuck in my memory.

At the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
On the travel front it was a year of four capitals cities; two national capitals (Berlin and Dublin), and two state/provincial capitals (Barcelona and Munich). Of the four, only Munich was familiar, and unfortunately our visit there was marred by bad weather. Actually Barcelona wasn’t much better weather-wise, but then it was late November. Dublin also lavished a night of torrential rain on us, but after that we were blessed by warm summer sunshine – definitely a case of when Irish eyes are smiling!

The year’s globe-trotting began with six glorious days in Berlin at the beginning of March. Our first visit to the German capital was marked by wall-to-wall sunshine which meant excellent conditions for sight-seeing, plus the unexpected bonus of sitting out in the open whilst enjoying a beer or two.

Early spring sunshine - East Berlin
Beery highlights in Berlin included sitting out on a sun-drenched terrace over-looking the still, blue waters of the Müggelsee just outside Friedrichshagen in rural East Berlin. The mug of cool, pale golden Bürgerbräu Pils tasted all the better for the idyllic scenery and the unseasonably warm early march sunshine. A few days previously we enjoyed a similar outdoor drink at a café in the extensive grounds of the San Soucci Palace in Potsdam; with refreshment provided in the form of Potsdamer Rex Pils.

San Soucci - Potsdam
Our outdoor experiences lasted right through our time in Berlin, and we ended our visit with an evening meal which we enjoyed at a table outside the excellent and quirky Dickie Wirtin pub, close to our hotel in the Charlottenburg district of the city. Fortunately the outdoor seating area was warmed by patio heaters, as the night times were definitely on the chilly side! Mönchshof Kellerbier from Kulmbach, served in a ceramic mug, was the surprise find of the evening, and went down very well with my roast chicken dinner.

"The Church" - Dublin
At the end of June I made my first trip across the Irish Sea to the capital of the Irish Republic. Dublin was the host city for the 2014 European Beer Blogger’s Conference, and this beery event certainly lived up to its reputation. There were so many superlatives over the course of this long weekend that it’s hard to know where to start. The highlights had to be the visit to the Guinness Brewery on the Friday evening where, as guests of the brewery management, we were treated to a top-notch beer and food pairing. The brewery chefs had pulled out all the stops to lay on some excellent food which ranged from fresh oysters to cod and chips and hand-crafted beef burgers. There was a beer from the Guinness portfolio to complement each course; my favourite being the Foreign Extra Stout.

Free stuff
Incidentally the only pint of Guinness I drank during the four days I was in Dublin was the pint I had at the brewery. The thriving Irish Craft Beer scene meant there was no need to resort to the ubiquitous “black stuff”, such was the variety and quality of the locally brewed beers on offer. Thursday night’s introductory pub-crawl, led by veteran Irish blogger Reuben Gray, introduced us to some of the capital’s finest alehouses and ensured the conference started in a beery haze; a theme which continued for the rest of the event.

Yours truly with Brewmaster Vaclav Berka
There were two more beer and food pairings that weekend. The first was the conference barbecue which took place on Saturday lunchtime in the garden of “The Church”, the stunning and superbly appointed conference venue, situated right in the heart of Dublin. Pilsner Urquell hosted this event and on hand to dispense us Pilsner Urquell straight from a couple of wooden casks was the company’s legendary Head Brewmaster Vaclav Berka
In the evening the conference finished with a superb four-course meal, prepared by “The Church’s” talented chefs. The event was hosted by Franciscan Well Brewery of Cork, and brewery founder, Shane Long, talked us through the beers he had selected to accompany each course. The meal ended with an excellent barrel-aged stout, which was a fitting way to wind up the conference and bring to an end what for me had been four of the most beery days of my entire life!

Lunch by the lake
The next city I visited was Munich; capital of the Free State of Bavaria and a long-time favourite destination for beer and a good time. However, the Gemütlichkeit induced by a Maß or two of beer in a shady beer garden was very slow to materialise, with wind, rain and unseasonably cool temperatures marring much of our visit. Beery highlights included sitting on the shore of the Ammersee at Seehof Herrsching enjoying a couple of mugs of Hofbräu Original, whilst watching the steamers come and go from the nearby jetty. This was on the way back from our by now obligatory pilgrimage to the monastery brewery of Kloster Andechs.

View from Gasthof  Stern
A trip up into the Bavarian Alps to the small town of Mittenwald, was another highlight and sitting out in the courtyard behind the Gasthof Stern pub, enjoying a few glasses of locally-brewed Mittenwalder beer whilst taking in the view of the mountains and the cool alpine air, was a refreshing and enjoyable experience. On route to Mittenwald we made a detour to Kloster Ettal to pick up some beers and try then at source in the imposing hotel opposite. The bus trip up into the mountains through the fir trees via the steep, winding road was another unforgettable experience.

Local beer
On previous visits to the Bavarian capital we had relied quite heavily on Larry Hawthorne’s Beer Drinker’s Guide to Munich. However, although on its sixth edition the guide, has not been revised since 2008, and is now badly out of date. We found several city-centre outlets now serving a different brewery’s beer, and standards had definitely slipped at a number of entries. That said, the BDG2M is still an invaluable guide for tracking down the best of the city’s beer gardens. I don’t think we could have found the path through the woods from Höllriegelskreuth S-Bahn station to the excellent Gaststätte Brückenwirt on the banks of the Isar River without it, or the way back to the tram turnaround at Grünwald.
Enjoying the sunshine at Hirschau
Gemütlichkeit was eventually found and enjoyed on the last day of our trip at Hirschau Biergarten, in the northern section of the Englischer Garten. The sun finally shone and the mercury climbed. A few beers at Forschungsbrauerei that evening rounded off the trip and provided some of the finest quality and tastiest beer of the trip.

The fourth and final capital of the year was Barcelona - Spain’s second largest city and capital of Catalonia. Although I had once changed trains here 40 odd years ago, I had seen nothing of the city itself. My wife had been keen to visit Barcelona for some time, so we booked up a long weekend right at the end of November in search of some sun to go with the Catalonian experience.

Unfortunately the weather gods once again failed to smile on us, and our visit coincided with one of the worst storms to hit the western Mediterranean in some years. Still, the temperatures remained in the high teens and we did have one day of sunshine. Beer is big news in Spain, especially amongst the country’s younger generation. Young people have been deserting the country’s traditional tipple of wine in their droves, and numerous boutique bars and craft breweries have sprung up to cater for their beery demands. Nowhere more is this trend evident than in Catalonia, and there is now a thriving craft-beer scene operating in Barcelona.

La Fabrica Moritz
Eileen isn’t a beer drinker, so it would have been rather unfair of me to drag her round a succession of different beer joints. We did however, make a couple of visits to La Fabrica Moritz; the former home of what was once Barcelona’s second largest brewery, and now a trendy, boutique restaurant-cum-micro-brewery situated in the university district, just a stone’s throw from our hotel.

Both the un-pasteurised house beers sold in this rambling complex, were very good and went well with the food served there. The real find though was BierCab, a well-stocked craft-beer bar only three blocks away from our hotel. I spent a most enjoyable rainy Saturday afternoon there, sitting at the bar, enjoying some tapas plus a few of the bar’s 30 different craft beers. The manager was very knowledgeable about the beers he was selling; something he managed to get across despite the language barrier.

BierCab Barcelona
I stuck with the Spanish beers, enjoying two locally-brewed American Pale Ales (La Pirata Viakrus and Mango Pale), plus a 7.6% Golden Ale from Pamplona, called Farmer’s Choice. I even bought a few bottles to take home, from the Biercab Shop next door. I’ve yet to sample them, but will no doubt be reviewing them over the coming weeks.

This concludes the foreign travel experiences undertaken last year, and is therefore a convenient place at which to break. In the next part of this review I want to look back at the beer festivals I attended along with a few other beery adventures.

To be continued……………………………………………………

1 comment:

benilhalk said...

Thanks a ton dear for sharing your experience with us. I am so inspired with your blogs. You know I also write blog posts and just finished writing a post on the fireworks event that I attended last week at one of the finest event halls in Philadelphia.