Monday, March 28, 2005

Dr. J's Excellent European Beer Adventure

Last blog, I made mention of an opportunity that allowed me to work in Ireland for about a year and a half. In 2002, a close friend of mine, who practiced chiropractic in Dublin, invited me to join his business as a partner. Just as I was considering the business venture, I was appointed as chiropractic liaison to the World Health Organization. Seeing this as a great way to drink many different beers at their source, I jumped at the chance. No, seriously, this was my way of giving back to the profession and to allow myself the time for personal and professional growth. Oh, who am I kidding? This was a great opportunity to drink beer in different countries.

I ventured overseas and made my home in the Donnybrook section of Dublin. I lived for the weekly rugby matches and pints of Guinness in some of the best pubs in the area. My local (the term for your neighborhood pub) was Kiely's, home of the Leinster professional rugby team, which was just a few meters from Leinster's Donnybrook rugby stadium. I made a point of trying to visit different pubs in the area each weekend. Some of my favorites were Toners, Doheney & Nesbits and Donaghues on Baggot Street. The Stag's Head was another great pub, named for the huge stag's head mounted over the bar. These pubs were off the tourist path and were where the Dublinites hung out. The Guinness flowed through the beer lines with such frequency, it was not uncommon to see the Guinness delivery truck out front each morning. It was in these pubs that I could taste the difference in a pint of Guinness compared to the USA pint. The freshness you hear so much about was a fact in these pubs.

The typical Irish pub in Dublin had a few different beers on tap. Imported beers like Budweiser and Miller( Ha! and expensive too!) with the two standard European Imports, Heineken and Carlsburg. Add your Five taps of Guinness, a few Smithwick's Irish Ale taps, if you were lucky a Kilkenny Irish ale and that was about it. One or two pubs would have the German wheat beer favorite, Erdinger. In my opinion, it seemed most of the younger Irish would drink Lagers like Bud and Carlsburg and even a lot of Bulmers (a hard apple cider on tap), while the older gents would drink pints of Guinness. Budweiser markets their advertising overthere just as much as they do here. And I guess it is working. As for me, even though Guinness is my favorite brew, man cannot live on Guinness alone. This led me to my search for different beers.

Every now and then your mouth screams for a good lager. I wasn't about to start drinking mass made USA beer or even the Danish brands. That is when I found the star. Stella Artois from Belgium is probably one of the best lagers you could put your lips on. It is fairly common in most Dublin pubs, a few even have it on tap. My chant of "Stella, Stella" (think Brando in On the Waterfront) has gotten me through many a lager draught. Finding Stella Artois pointed me next in the direction of Czechoslovakia. It turns out, Dublin beer stores carry a fair number of Czech Pilsners. I was even able to drink the fabled Budweiser from the city of Budweis, not to be confused with Budweiser from the city of St. Louis. I never made it to Czechoslovakia or its main city, Prague, but after drinking so many of their native brews, it is now one of my must visit places.

The summer weather in Dublin is not what I would call summery. A hot day would be around 70 degrees F. When those days pop up you have to make make sure you have a huge glass of German wheat beer. As I mentioned, Erdinger wheat beer is the most popular Weiss beer and is one of the best. The Whole in the Wall pub located on the back wall of Phoenix Park, Dublin's answer to NY's Central Park, is the best place to go on a sunny, not so hot, summer day. The Whole in the Wall is named for the actually whole in the wall in the pub. The pub used to be a speakeasy and beers were passed through the hole in the wall. The pub butts up to Phoenix Park and the patrons grab their beers and go sit in the park on blankets, play frisbee and just lounge around. It's pretty funny, as the bar staff have to walk in the park to get their beer glasses back into the pub. The Erdinger is on tap and just goes great with the park atmosphere. The pub itself is pretty cool, as they have a carvery open all day. Carvery is the term the Irish use for buffet with hot carved meats, potatoes and vegetables. It is a gigantic plate of food, as good as moms, for only about 10 bucks. Local musicians show up at the pub and drink pints while "jamming" Irish folk songs or cover music. It is a very fun day.

That pretty much covers Dublin's beer scene except for two important items. One is the Brew Pubs. Dublin has two. Messrs. Maquires is right on the river off of O'Connell Street. This pub is awesome. The beers are all incredible, the view is great and the food is just as good. It is a very old pub, 4 stories high with good atmosphere. They brew a bitter that is out of this world. The Porter House at the end of the Temple Bar district brews their own beer and serves over 100 different beers of the world. This place is a beer lovers paradise. The Porter House makes an Oyster Stout ( Brewed with real oysters) that is probably one of the best stouts on the planet. It goes with out saying that a dish of fresh oysters, which they have, goes along great with their stout.

Lastly, you haven't been to Dublin unless you have experienced one of the Australian bars. Well actually, they cover all of the southern hemisphere including New Zealand, and South Africa. The two main pubs are the Down Under, off of Grafton St. and the Outback (not the USA chain) attached to the movie complex. The Down Under is really down under. It is in a basement. Both pubs are really good, but I prefer the Down Under. They serve all the real Australian beers ( Not Fosters) as well as South African and New Zealand varieties. It is a really fun place to go as it is filled with Australians. The Aussies are a great bunch. Never met one I didn't have a blast with. You wouldn't believe how the place is when one of the Southern Hemisphere Countries are playing rugby. A very wild time. The crowd is crazy and full of fun and booze!

Next blog, I will continue my adventure and tell you all about the other countries I visited and the beers that I drank.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Brilliance of Guinness

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, here are my thoughts on the liquid black stuff.

I'll never forget the day my lips first settled upon a pint glass filled with Guinness Stout. I picked up the glass and watched the beer settle into its calm blackness. I then raised the mighty stout to my mouth and gently poured in a hearty swallow. I almost gagged. It was 1993 and my usual beer tastes were formed around cases of Miller Lite and buckets of Rolling Rock. That night, my rugby mates encouraged me to finish the beer. Not one to waste alcohol, I tried again. Two swallows, three, half the pint. By the time I got to the bottom of the glass, Guinness was growing on me. By the time I finished my second pint, I was hooked. Guinness Draught became my beer. Guinness gets all the credit for opening my door to the world of different beer flavors and styles. Once I had learned to appreciate my first Guinness, I began to search out imported and microbrewed beers. I started to read beer books, subscribed to a "Beer of the Month Club" and even became an avid homebrewer. Nowadays, I have had almost every beer style out there, traveled the world to taste beers where they are actually brewed and as you can see, even write about my beer experiences. And not once have I forgotten my first love.

Guinness Draught is the one beer I would not be caught without. The taste of a pint of Guinness is almost indescribable. All I can say, is that when that first sip crosses my lips, the sensation in my brain is "Ahhhhhhhh." The second sip is pure heaven. It is rare that I don't finish my first pint in four mouthfulls. To this day, when driving home after a long hard days work, Guinness is the only beer that will actually make me start to salivate in anticipation. Liquid gold.

The icing on the cake, is that contrary to the average person's opinion, Guinness is not as filling as it seems. Less calories than a regular beer and less alcohol, it is the perfect session beer. Perfect as an appertif, digestif and desert beer, one can't really describe a time when a Guinness is not called for. One of my favorite things to do, is purchase a few cans of smoked oysters at the Whole Foods Market (healthy oysters) and sip a pint of Guinness while eating the succulent shellfish. Guinness is so dear to my heart, that when an opportunity to live in Ireland and work in Dublin for a 1 1/2 year period came up, I jumped all over it. I drank Guinness at its source, St. James Gate, Guinness Brewery and some of the busiest Guinness serving pubs in Dublin. They say the Guinness in Ireland tastes much better than the Guinness in the United States. They say it is fresher. Well, it is not that the actual untapped keg of beer is fresher, the kegs may be almost the same age. What determines the freshness of the Guinness, as any beer, is how long the beer sits in the keg once it is opened. And the fact is, the Guinness flows through the beer lines in Ireland way faster then it does at your local Fridays. So, does the Guinness taste better in Ireland? You bet your pint it does. On the same note, a bottle of Guinness Draught here, tastes the same as there. Believe me. I brought some back with me and I had a blind taste test. Couldn't tell them apart. So, where can you get the best tasting Guinness on tap? Frequent the pubs that have the most Irishmen in them. You would be hard pressed to taste the difference between a pint from Dublin and a pint from the Pig and Whistle Irish Pub in Manhattan, NY.

In closing, nothing, I mean nothing is better than a pint of Guinness. Brilliant, just Brilliant.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Day McEwan's Scotch Ale Saved My Life

Due to the years I have put in and the nature of my chiropractic occupation, I happen to have chronic elbow tendonitis. Lately, it has gotten really bad. Bad enough for me try anything to get rid of this condition. The newest path I am pursuing to rid myself of this affliction is called prolotherapy. The doctor injects sugar water mixed with lidocaine directly into the ligament. The sugar causes an inflammatory reaction within the joint, which then causes the body to start to strengthen the ligament. Sounds good. The problem is that a 3 inch long needle gets poked multiple times in the elbow joint. The lidocaine is to help you deal with the pain. Guess what else the lidocaine does? Lidocaine wears off. Then the pain comes. And the pain comes on strong, and gets stronger and stronger until misery presents itself.

That's where McEwan's Scotch Ale comes in. I don't like to take pain pills, never have. Unfortunately, I don't like pain either. Thankfully, the night before my jab fest, I had brought home a six pack of McEwan's Scotch Ale. Even more thankfully, I didn't drink any of the ale that night and had saved the whole six pack for another time. That time came up quicker than I had imagined.

One beer took the edge off. Two beers knocked about 30% of the pain away. Three beers, and I was able to relax and enjoy my McEwan's Scotch Ale. McEwan's is a wonderful ale. Dark, warm and very smooth. The maltiness and roasted barley mix well together and remind me a bit of Guinness Draught mixed with a couple ounces of the Mexican liqueur, Kahlua. A very nice taste. McEwan's Scotch Ale is 8% alcohol, thus the pain relieving capabilities. After four 12 oz bottles, I was okay for the night and had minimal elbow discomfort. Though, I did feel a little cloudy in the head the next morning. A few nights later I had my last two McEwan's Ales. McEwan's Scotch Ale is a very enjoyable beer. I was able to better appreciate my two bottles without the elbow pain.

McEwan's Brewery dates back to 1856 and is located in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Heavyweight....Worth the Trip!

Beer stores are a frugal place. The environment for shelf space is very competitive. The Beer stores only want to stock their shelves with products that they can sell in volume, thus all the Budweiser and Coors Light. In a perfect world, you would be able to walk into any beer store and find the best microbrewed beers in the country. Sadly, this is not the case and one of the best brewery's in the country is not even stocked at my local beer store. Thankfully, on a recent road trip, I stopped at a beer shop in a different part of the state and found a few styles of beer from my favorite local brewery, New Jersey's own Heavyweight Brewing Company. Heavyweight makes some great beers. I remember the first time I tried a bottle of their Belgian style ale, Lunacy. I went back to the beer store the next day and special ordered a case. Incredible beer. Then there was the time I went to Firewaters Pub at the Tropicana Casino and found Heavyweight's Porter, Perkuno's Hammer on tap. This is one of those richly, dark, creamy beers that makes a stout lover drool. This sampling caused another special order of a 24 bottle case.

But, I digress. My recent road trip found me staring at the shelves at two other Heavyweight styles. Old Salty and Stickenjab. Old Salty is a barley wine. I love barley wine. The extreme warming sensation of a barley wine will cheer you up on the dreariest of winter days. Old Salty is probably one of the best Barleywines I have ever tried. The maltiness is second to none. I even tried a taste test comparison with Young's Old Nick Barley Wine from England. No comparison. Old Salty beat Old Nick hands down. I have a collection of Old Salty 12oz bottles from 2002 and 2003. I am aging them for a few years to see how they turn out. Barley Wine is supposed to "ripen" with age as time brings out even more character in the beer.

The next beer, Stickenjab, is a German style Altbeir. This beer is bottom fermented and cold stored for four weeks. My wife pretty much only likes one kind of beer. She loves Guinness Stout. That doesn't stop me from offering her a sip of every beer I try. When I gave her the Stickenjab, I almost didn't get it back. Her comment was, "I could drink this beer, this is good." After I did get the beer back in my hands, I agreed with her. Stickenjab was very drinkable at 6.4% alcohol by volume. I enjoyed this beer and kept the pint glass away from my wife. Afterall, who knows when I will be able to get another one.

Heavyweight Brewing is located in Ocean Township, New Jersey. Visit there website at .