Monday, May 30, 2011

Week 16

Wow what an amazing week. We started out the week by heading out to the Munich airport to pick up our rental car. I had read about a brewpub there called Airbrau. It was supposed to be one of the best in the area. It just so happened to be right by the rental car desk. There was a long line, so while Adam and Ben waited to sort out the car stuff and I sat and had a beer. It was one of the best unfiltered pilsner's I have had while in Bavaria.



After that we hit the road headed towards Prague. We drove north and east for awhile finally stopping just before the Czech border for some lunch. We had Doner Kebab's at a roadside stand and I tried a local Helles.

We drove straight through to Prague without any issues. The hostel we booked was easy to find and we basically had an apartment for the next three days. This place was really nice, and cheap. That night we walked around town for awhile, and decided to cross the Charles Bridge and eat on the water front. This was also my first chance to try Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic. It was very fresh and had a nice flowery bitter finish. It was far better than what we get in the states.

The next day while Adam and Karl explored some of the sights of the city, Ben and I headed out to do some beer hunting. I had read that Prague has a burgeoning craft beer scene, and that is part of why I went there. Our first stop was  Pivovarsky Dum.  I tried the sampler tray and a half liter of their pilsner. The sampler tray had a variety of their beers (see picture).

The one I was most excited was the nettle beer. It had a grassy bitterness to it that was really quite good. I would like to experiment with that in an IPA when I get home. I am pretty sure all the other flavors were added post fermentation, maybe not, but they just tasted like lager with flavor added. One thing I have noticed with Bohemian pilsner's is a noticeable level of diacetyl. I think it adds to the mouthfeel, without being overbearing.

Nettle beer

Bohemian Pilsner
Next it was off to Kvasnikovy Lezak. That translates to New Town Brewery. They have two choices here, light or dark. We had light and had some food as well. The light was a well made lager without any flaws. We stayed a short time here as we had more places to check out.

Next it was on to U Fleku. It is said that this is the oldest brewpub in the world. I wouldn't know. I do know they have one beer, dark. We sat in a very traditional style beer hall and had two half liters of the dark. They also forced some sort of herbal schnapps on us claiming it was "traditional".

By now Ben and I were starting to feel a bit of a buzz. It was perfect because we had agreed to meet Adam and Karl at a place that required a nice long up hill walk. Our destination was Klasterni Pivovar. This is a brewery on the grounds of the Strahov Monastery. They are privately owned and don't really have anything to do with the abbey though. The monastery is perched high on a hill overlooking Prague. The view's from there are stunning. The brewery has a 10 hectoliter system and they make some great beer. I had a couple of their IPA's and they were wonderful. Very much like those being made in the states.

The next day we went East of Prague to Sedlec Ossuary, also known as the "bone church". It was a very strange experience. I'm glad I saw it but it I don't really know what to think of it.

The next day it was off to Pilsen for us. Our goal was the Pilsnre Urquell brewery. We arrived just in time to take the tour in English. Our guide was great. He was really passionate about his job. Mid way through he found out I was studying brewing, then he preceded to ask me a bunch of questions while giving the tour. It was really cool to be able to answer his questions and help inform some of the other people who were on the tour. They had a pretty amazing operation there. The bottling line has the ability to put out 2 million bottles a day. They still include the old brew house on the tour, which has a whole lot of copper going on. The new brewhouse is pretty amazing as well. I guess they still do the triple decoction mash, which would explain all they vessels. Eventually we ended up in the old cellars, which are mostly used for tourism. They still ferment some beer in open oak barrels, and age them in barrels as well. This is all done for the tours, but I have to say, that is one of the best beers I have ever had. It was lightly fruity, and floral, and didn't have the diacetyl I have gotten from the packaged product. I really fell this is close to what the beer used to taste like. We also found out our guide lived in Portland for about 15 years. It was a crazy coincidence. All in all it was a great experience and really neat to see where such an important beer style came from.

The old brewhouse

Part of the new brewhouse

Stainless in the new brewhouse

Open oak fermenters

After the tour we headed back to Munich for one night, then got up and headed to Vienna to meet Ben and I's friend Thomas. Tom was the Austrian exchange student in high school and I hadn't seen him since. After a bit of a debacle trying to meet up we finally ended up at an Italian restaurant by Tom's apartment. They served a lager called Villacher, which is made in Villach, the town Tom grew up in.

After some food we walked through the amusement park across the street from Tom's apartment and stopped into a place that had Budvar on tap. That turned out to be fuel for our next move. As we were walking out we passed the go-carts and just had to go for it. It was so much fun we raced again. It brought out the kid in all of us.
A mix of the light and dark.

The next day we got up early and headed south for some fly fishing. We had a really nice day fishing though the weather was a little sketchy. I am pretty sure everyone but Karl caught fish. It was a very technical river to fish. I spent a long time trying to catch a massive rainbow, but never did get it. It was my "white whale" I guess. That night we went back to the house Tom grew up in in Villach, where we bbq-ed, and watched the champions league finals. We had picked up a case of Puntigamer beer. It is a nice helles made in the Austrian city of Graz. I had also picked up a beer that was of great interest to me. It was made by the Kapsreiter Brewery. It was a Landbier, which is hard to explain. It is a basically a "country beer" usually kind of rustic in it's production, most of the time unfiltered and has a nice hop presence. This is a beer style I really want to bring back to the states, and try to replicate. It is pretty hard to find over here.

We got up the next day and headed out for some more fishing. After a nice day on the river we headed back towards Munich. It was a long drive, but one of the most beautiful car rides I have ever encountered. Austria is a place I would recommend to anyone traveling Europe and wanting breathtaking views. There are mountains everywhere, and quaint can't even begin to describe some of the villages there. A lot of it feels like  something out of a fairy tale. We got back to the Munich airport late in the evening and returned the car. We were hungry so we had some dinner at Airbrau, and enjoyed some nice fresh airport beer.
Next week I will have some down time before returning to school the following week. I am thinking of doing some exploring of some breweries a little outside of town, but we will see, I might just relax and do some reading.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Week 15

Another week has come and gone. Sadly on Tuesday I had to say goodbye to Jen. I had a lot of fun traveling around with her, even if I did get grumpy at times. Now I just have to wait another two more months until I see her again.
I spent the next few days hanging out with my friend Karl, who had come down from Sweden. We were waiting for my brother and my friend Ben to fly in from the states. They were flying stand-by which turned out to be a sort of cheap disaster. They were supposed to get in on Tuesday but didn't end up arriving until Thursday morning, with out their luggage of course. Karl and I spent the majority of the time walking around Munich and hanging out in the Englisher Garden enjoying the weather and waiting for them.
On Friday I took the guys up to the Olympic Park and we laid around even more. I was happy to have some time to relax after all the traveling from the previous weeks, and I was also happy there was a place that had the Ayinger Jahrhundert Bier on tap, which is a beer celebrating 100 years for the brewery.

Ayinger Jahrhundert Bier
 On Saturday we took the train to Herrshing and hiked up the hill to Kloister Andechs. This was a real treat for the guys. It was their first taste of a true Bavarian experience. One thing I found disturbing was the vomit basins in the bathrooms, but I guess they felt the need to install them. We had a few liters then headed home (without puking).


Sunday was another Englisher Garden day, and nice Indian food for dinner. Not the most exciting week, but relaxing for me. Next week should be fun with a trip to Prague and Pilsen as well as fishing in Austria with an old friend. More to come................

Monday, May 16, 2011

Week 14

On Monday we had a long day of travel. We had breakfast in Brussels, lunch in Paris and dinner in Milan. On the train we did a beer sampling of three different saison's I had purchased in Belgium. Not surprising, Saison Dupont was the best. We had a pretty exciting moment when we crossed the Italian border and the police boarded the train with a drug sniffing dog. They came straight to us and asked for our luggage. Of course we were fine, but it just show's you that we as tourists really do stick out.

We got to Milan late, had dinner then crashed out at our hotel. We got up had breakfast and decided what we were going to do next. One of the main reasons for coming to Italy was to check out some Italian craft beer. They are really on the forefront of beer right now, and Milan is sort of the central hub for it. We found ourselves not really impressed with Milan itself, so we decided we would check out one brewery there, then head up to the Lake Como area. We had some time kill before the brewery opened so we just walked around the city. Finally we went back to check out Birrificio Lambrate.   I had read some great things about this place, and it turned out they were all true. We started with a sample of each of their beers. This was such a great thing for me. Most of their beers were very similar to what American craft brewers are doing. They are using a lot of American hops and really pushing the envelope. It was a welcomed change from German beer, which I do enjoy, it's just very one dimensional. We also had some great food, but the true highlight was when I asked for a t-shirt they asked if we would like to meet the brewmaster. We did, and it turned out to be a great experience. He gave us a short tour and explained their system to us. They have a new 20 hl automated Kaspar Schulz system, and some cramped cellar space. They were pretty excited about the fact that we were from Portland.

Talkin' shop

After that, we boarded a train and headed north. Our destination was Lecco on the shores of Lake Como. We randomly booked a hotel online that turned out to be absolutely fantastic. It was high on the hillside overlooking the lake. They had a superb kitchen and even had great Italian beer. We ended up spending two nights here. The hotel is right at the beginning of a path that leads up the side of the mountain to the ruins of an old castle. We hiked up the trail the second night and had a picknick.

Next it was farther up the Lake Como coast to the town of Verena. It is a really tourist heavy town, but quite beautiful just the same. We had another hotel half way up the hillside with a stunning view of the lake.

Later in the day we decided to take the ferry across the lake to the town of Bellagio. We had a beer outside and it started to rain, but it was still nice and warm. We took the ferry back, walked along the esplanade in Verena, and hiked back up the hill to our hotel for dinner. It was a great day.

Friday we packed up and headed south again to the town of Mandello Del Lario. Our main goal here was to visit the Moto Guzzi motorcycle museum. Since I own a Moto Guzzi this was pretty special for me to see where my bike was born. The museum is only open for 1hour everyday. It was neat to walk through reading about some of the history and looking at very cool motorcycles.

Pretty close to my bike

One of my dream bikes

After the museum we walked to the waterfront had a beer, then walked back to our hotel for some food and more drinks. The place we were staying at had some of the best pizza we have had while in Italy. They also served beer from Birrificio Lariano. This is another one of the breweries I had read about, and wow they are making some nice beer. I tried four different kinds and was not disappointed with any of them. I really like their approach to their brand concept and I hope to be able to get these again somewhere. They do unfiltered, unpasteurized bottling, so that can be a bit of a risk but these were in great shape.

We left the Lake Como area, and made our way over to Venice. This is one of those places that I would recommend seeing once, but it's really not my kind of place. The architecture and the layout of the city is great, but it's full of tourists in a bad way. We did have some dinner and I tried a lager called Bierra Castello, ehhh.
Afterwards we walked around the city a bit and found a wine bar right by our hotel that also had beer. I tried the Bierra Moretti 150 year anniversary Grand Cru. This was an interesting beer. Bierra Moretti is most famous for a light lager that is usually quite oxidized, comes in a green bottle and generally lacks flavor. The Grand Cru however was in a 750 ml bottle, had a nice amber colo,r and had a good fruity Belgian yeast influenced flavor to it. The CO2 was nice and high, really bringing out the volitiles. I was quite impressed with it. Not the best beer I have ever had, but far from the lager they normally make.


We left Venice the next morning. I guess I would have liked to explore more, but I honestly feel I got enough of the city to be happy with.

We took the train through northern Italy and through parts of Austria, that I would love to return to. The scenery was stunning. We got back to Munich by early evening, and met up with some friends for some dinner and beers. I am glad to have a little down time for the next week, that is to say I'm glad to not be traveling too far for awhile. I have basically been traveling for about a month, and a little rest will be nice before more traveling, then eventually back to school.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Week 13

I started the week off basically just getting ready for Jen to get here, which really consisted of sitting around for two days doing nothing, and that was just fine by me.  When she did arrive on Wednesday morning we went and got her some coffee and a snack, then hit the streets of Munich. We walked around for a few hours before meeting up with our friend Scott, part owner of the Breakside Brewery and his friend Brian. Scott had just flown and that morning as well so he and Jen were pretty jet lagged.

We went and had an Andechs dopplebock , then walked around a little more.  For dinner I decided to take them all to Augustiner Keller, we tried to go to Hofbrau house afterwards but it was too crowded. We ended up at an Ayinger house, which was just fine by me.

The next day was more walking around and meeting up with Scott and Brian at Seehaus, which is a nice beer garden in the English garden. After that we went our separate ways. Jen and I decided to go up to the Olympic park and climb the hill to get a nice view of Munich. Well worth it.

Later we met up with Scott and Brian at UnionsBrau for a Maibock, then on to Hofbrau Keller for dinner and more beer. Afterwards we said goodbye. They were headed to Austria the next day and we went headed to Brussels.

We arrived in Brussels with no problems, except trying to figure out the public transportation. After we finally found our hotel, we walked down to the Grand Place to check the sights and get dinner. We decided on a little restaurant and ordered mussels steamed in Belgian blonde ale and salad.

The next day we got up had some breakfast, then went to one of the spots I was most excited to visit, the Cantillion brewery. We took a tour and has a glass of gueze at the end. The place is very old and full of character. Afterwards we had booked a Brussels beer tour and went off to the meeting place for that.

The tour was actually really fun. The guide was the owner of the business, and made sure that people got to taste some Belgian beer that wasn’t just the run of the mill stuff we see in the states all the time. All together we tried, Bourgogne des flanders, Malheur Blonde, Rocheforte 8, Cristal Pils, Tripel Karmilate, Petrus, Chimay blue, Panther and Westvletern 12. All in all it was a nice tour and we met some really nice people as well.

We left the tour and met up with some of Jen’s friends that live in Ansterdam, and had come down for the day. We basically just bar hopped all night.

Sunday Jen and I met up with those guys, had some breakfast and walked around the Grand Place for awhile. We also visited the Belgian Brewers Museum which was kind of neat.

After another dinner of mussels we jumped on a bus to meet up with one of my classmates who is staying for a few weeks in Brussels while we are on break. We met Robbie at an irish bar to watch a football match. The night was filled with nice conversation and a few Orval’s. 


It was a very exciting  first week of traveling  and nice to not have it be school related. Next it’s off to Paris for a short visit, then on to Italy….can’t wait.