Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Round-Up: Dr. J's European Adventure Comes to a Close

My wife and I left Dublin for a long weekend in Paris, France. I wasn't too excited about the beer scene as we would be in one of Europe's wine meccas. The two most popular French beers in France are Kronenbourg and 1664. They remind me a little too much of the popular American beers. 1664, though had more taste and was enjoyable. Sort of like drinking a Yuengling. Thankfully, Belgium is close by, so most of the Taverns had Leffe on tap. Leffe is a quality Belgium beer that never fails to please. I prefer the Blonde. As in beer style. Ok, and also as in my wife. I am a sucker for a blonde. Back to the beer. Leffe brews a Blonde and Brown. The Blonde is lighter and more refreshing on a hot day. The Brown is a nice winter warmer.

After Paris, I had a business trip in Geneva, Switzerland. This was one of those one day, fly in, fly out trips. After my meeting, I had scheduled ample time for a local pub visit before I had to make it to the airport. As luck would have it, across the street from the train station (that takes me to the airport) was a pub called, "Les Brasseurs." The pub made its own beers. My only problem was that I didn't speak the language and my waitress didn't speak English. So, I had to point at names on the menu and nod my head up and down politely. I managed to have a few very good, well made beers and to top off my experiance, I met a whole table full of college students who were drinking out of their own "table keg." Never saw one before, but now I see them in all the better living catalogs. It is a very tall, plastic cylinder filled with beer and a tap at the bottom or base. I think they were charging around $70.00 for a full one to be brought out to your outside table. The kids seemed to be having a ball. The "table keg" was almost empty, so I better change "seem" to "were", as in they were having a ball.

My next adventure had me in Brussels, Belgium. I was very excited about going to Brussels. I love Belgium beer. The thought of going to this tiny, little country that brews over 400 different beers was sort of like a child trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. Brussels is a great city to visit. We (I went with another chiropractor from Dublin) spent most of the time in the "Grand Place." The Grand Place is a big square in the center of the city. Adjoining the square are alleys lined with shops, taverns and restaurants. Other than beer, Brussels is also known for its food, primarily dishes with Mussels and it is also famous for its Frites. A fried potato like a french frie that you dip in a mayo type sauce. Just writing this is making me hungry for mussels and frites. The beer sampling was tremendous. The only problem was that because a lot of the Belgium beers are high in alcohol, after you ate, you were ready for a nap or bed. An interesting side note is that in all the countries I visited, they all had an Irish Pub in them. Not a bad thing for sure, but the weird thing was that they were always full of Irish people away on a holiday. I would have thought that if you were "getting away", you would want to try something different. The Guinness was always flowing and the Irish were always singing, just like in Dublin.

Being German and being proud of the German Brewing heritage, I was very happy when I was asked to speak in Hamburg, Germany (Yes, it is really true that the Hamburger came from Hamburg). Hamburg also brews a beer called Astra. I tried to get into the brewery, but it was closed the Sunday I was roaming around. Astra is a light, lager/pilsner style beer. It is brewed by St. Pauli Girl. It is also the official beer of the college age backpacker, because it is cheap. I tried a few. Nothing to complain about. A crisp light beer. On the other hand, after my speaking engagement, the attendees took me out for a beer and dinner. Guess where they tried to take me? An Irish Pub. I protested loudly until they found me an authentic German Tavern. This tavern's specialty was Kolsch Beer. The beer came out in a wooden rack holding ten, 8oz glasses of Dom Kolsch. The glasses were small and narrow. I thought the rack was to share with the table. It turns out the rack was for me. I smell a hangover coming on. After two racks and an evening in bed. I said goodbye to Hamburg. The funny thing is, my hosts pocketed the wooden rack, the ten glasses and sent me home with them. I packed the glasses in my suit case, but the German security gaurds would not let me take the wooden rack on the plane. Try pleading with a German Security officer. Fat chance. I didn't get my rack.

The last place I visited in my European adventure was London, England. I flew over to meet my wife's sister who was there for a weekend visit. She used to live in London, so I was given the insiders tour. I really enjoyed London. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) organization has kept real ale alive and well in the London Pubs. It was great to be able to have a cask conditioned pint of ale at any time. Especially along with a big Sheperds Pie or some Fish and Chips. The best part about my trip was that it was during the Rugby World Cup. This was England's year that they won the whole shabang. The electricity in the air was palpable. At the time of my visit, Ireland was still playing good rugby and they were to be playing France at 7am English time, Sunday morning. (The World Cup was played in Austrailia). My sister-in-law had me up and in the pub where she used to live by 6am for the pre-game drink-up. Thank God for cellar temperature beer early in the morning. My only problem with the morning and the pub was that it was in a French speaking neighborhood. Here I sat with my Irish Rugby jersey among very loud, cheering Frenchmen, whom I couldn't understand. The Irish decided to play bad that morning and after 4 or 5 pints, I think I started to speak French. After the match, I had my sister-in-law take me to, you guessed it, an Irish Pub. It seems I was a little home sick.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Holy Head Batman: Dr. J's Excellent European Beer Adventure Part Three

As you can tell by the jist of my European Beer Adventure, proximity is everything. The closeness of all of these great beer drinking countries is a traveler's dream. For instance, I went to bed one Saturday evening thinking about how nice it would be to have a cask conditioned, celler temperature, English Bitter. The craving was pretty strong, but the problem was that it was impractical for me to go to the airport on Sunday and book a flight, albiet short, to England and be back the same evening. Now, don't get me wrong, ala my New Castle trip, it can be done. But I don't like to stress myself out on Sundays with the next day being Monday and work and all. Then, out of nowhere, an idea hit me. Take the ferry to Wales. Wales is attached to England, there must be Bitter there.

On Sunday morning I headed out to sea via the Irish Ferries. I decided to take the leisurely 3 hour trip across the Irish Sea to Holyhead, Wales and then take the high speed (1.5 hours), catamaran ferry back to Dublin. If you have never been on a Ferry in Europe, you are in for a big treat. My only experiance with Ferries, would be the ones we have here in the States. The Ferries are usually small here and not extravagant at all. Think Cape May Ferry. The Irish Sea Ferry had 11 decks, multiple restaurants, bars, live entertainment, movie theater and various shops. It looked like a cruise ship and in fact was bigger than at least one cruise ship I have been on. The catamaran ferry was a lot smaller, but it did not sacrifice comfort for speed. I even managed to watch Adam Sandler as Mr. Deeds in the boat's theater on the way home. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

On my trip to Wales, I had a very nice breakfast, wandered out on the deck to see the sea, and then parked my self in the lounge and listened to two Irish gentleman perform Jimmie Buffet songs. I resisted the temptation to have a couple of pints of Guinness on the ride. Afterall, wouldn't have that defeated my purpose? I arrived in Holyhead right on schedule and wandered off of the ship without a map or guidebook. I was only looking for a pub, how hard could it be? It wasn't. A short walk up the hill found me in front a a pub called The Boston. A little sign beneath the sign said, "Always a Warm & Friendly Welcome." Sounded good to me. It was a real hangout. Like one of the old waterfront, dock workers bars you see in the old movies. There were a half a dozen Welsh man watching a car race on the TV and a few shooting pool. I sat down at the bar and perused the taps. Guinness, Bud, Stella, Carlsburg. It wasn't looking good. I said to the bartender, where are the real Ales? Thankfully, he pointed to another part of the bar and there they were, three or four hand drawn, beer engine taps filled with cask conditioned Ale. My day was made.

The bartender was a long, haired rock and roller type fellow. He asked me if I was a Yank. He was pretty impressed when I told him that I had taken the ferry to Wales just to have a few pints. He spread the word to the other "gentlemen" and before you know it I was made to feel very welcome and full. The bar kept buying me pints of Ale until I told them my ship was about to leave. I wobbled back down the hill, jumped on the ferry and settled back to watch an Adam Sandler movie, which incidently, was very funny. Or was it the Ale?