Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Where everybody could know your name

While spending a vacation in a wine country, even a beer drinker like myself could convert into a wine drinker. It is great drinking beer when it is hot, but a nice rosé wine is also nice. And especially when you are in an area where local wine is produced.

One of the French villages I visited this summer was Fox-Amphoux in Provence. Fox-Amphoux is in a way two villages three kilometres apart. On the hillside above the many grape fields you can find the old village, and among all the wine-to-be you find the village centre with a town hall, school and library.

Three or four hundred people live in Fox-Amphoux, and the old village is a beautiful sight with its medieval church and beautiful stone houses. Near the school on the flatland you can find a little shop and the local inn. The local inn is owned by a married couple, and Jean and Chantal serves dinners and drinks. Myself I visited the little restaurant several times, as I found the place both inviting and with really great hosts. It is first and foremost for the locals, as rather few tourists venture into the inn.

Dinner is a menu at 12.50 Euros. The dishes changes from day to day, but you always get a starter, a main dish and some dessert. Portions were large, so I felt the place was a good value for money restaurant.

In the warm Summer weather I enjoyed sitting outside in the shadow of the trees, drinking some wine and talking to the locals when they knew some English. Otherwise we used sign language, and there is much that can be said through fingers and gestures.

Inside in the bar, a large boar with sunglasses covers one of the walls. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it, as it was stunning. The proprietor, Jean, is a third generation innkeeper in Fox-Amphoux, and he shot the boar himself after a long chase. During the hunt the boar bit his brother, but everything turned out fine in the end. A large owl is also to be found over the bar, and there are also pictures of famous French soccer stars.

I had a few glasses of pastis at the bar during my days in Provence, and Jean always insisted that I drank the local variant from Marseilles. It is supposed to be produced with only natural ingredients, and I found it superior to for instance Pernod.

But I had to have some beer after all, and in the bar they only sold beers from bottles. I decided to try something new for me and ended up with Fischer. This is a beer from Alsace served in a swing-top bottle. Poured into the glass this is a golden lager with both much carbonation and a large head. The nose is flowery and malty, and the first sip tells this is a strong lager. There is an alcohol taste inbetween the malts and hints of hops. But I liked it, and went on to have another bottle. But then I stopped. At more than 6% alcohol this was no session beer, but it was one of the lagers I really liked in France.

I hope to go back to France again soon. Then there will be more Fischer, but there will also be some wine tasting...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Star of the papal city?

Avignon is one of the cities I never had visited, but that I always had heard about. I remember that my friends who chose French as a second foreign language in high school, used to sing the song about a bridge in Avignon in their French lessons. It had an easy melody, so I learnt the song myself. Without the words, of course, as I chose German as my foreign language.

This summer I got to see the bridge myself. It never crosses the Rhone river, and the day I saw it, people were not dancing upon it like the lyrics say people do.

More reknown than the bridge, is the Papal palace and the story about the popes in Avignon. It is a beautiful building, but I did not take the time to see it from the inside. Perhaps that was unfortunate, but I did enjoy the sight from the outside.

After walking through the inner city of Avignon, it was time to sit down and enjoy dinner. I found the brasserie L'Hotel De Ville and ordered a portion of fish. It was very tasty, although I would have preferred more fish on the plate.

To drink I chose a half litre of the brasserie's draughted beer. That was none other than Belgium's Stella Artois. I have had Stella from draught before, and mostly in a licenced version in British pubs. I consider it a drinkable lager beer. This time I was given a pale lager with some carbonation and a small head. In the hot weather, this was an OK beer that took away my thirst. It had some maltiness, but I felt it was a little bit sweeter than I prefer lagers. It had much more taste than Jupiler, and if I had to choose between the two Belgian beers, my choice would be Stella Artois.

As I left the brasserie in the main square of Avignon, I thought to myself that Stella Artois gets a lot of undeserved badmouthing. Sure, there are better lagers than Stella, but there are also worse beers than it.

A study in blandness

While many European beers are available in France, I felt a solid presence of Belgian beers everywhere in the country. I must confess that I have not tasted that many beers from Belgium, so my trip to France was also a travel into Belgian beers.

Most of my days in France were spent in Provence. The weather was hot, the sun was shining and the soil on the French countryside was rather dry. My throat was also dry, so when I went walking in the village of Barjols, I needed to have a beer. There are several taprooms in Barjols, and I decided to sit down at the Bar Le Sporting. This is a sports bar with various beers on the menu - both from tap and bottles.

I settled down by the bar and ordered a half litre of Jupiler, the most common lager beer in Belgium. The beer was a pale lager with a lot of fizzyness and a small head. The head dissolved rather fast, and there was none while I had my first sip. I was very thirsty and did not know what to expect from the Jupiler beer. That was a fine thing, because this was the most tasteless beer I have ever had. It was so bland that I felt I was nearly drinking water.

Fast forward five days, and I am in another village in Provence. This time I am seated in Aups outdoors at the Grand Cafe Du Cours. I am in the mood for a beer, and I see that people around me drink Jupiler. OK, I will try it again. Perhaps my palate was off course in Barjols or there was something wrong with the beer?

The server brings me my Jupiler, and it is time to taste the Belgian beer again. It has a smaller head this time around, but in every other way it is the same bland beer in Aups as in Barjols. In a way that was a disappointment. I will not say no if somebody offers me Jupiler, but I will not buy it myself. Been there, done that!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Among the Frenchmen

As I told earlier this month, I spent some of my Summer vacation in France. Before I went, I heard that France was not a beer country, and after visiting the country I agree. In the towns and villages I visited, the French beers sold were in most cases typical eurolagers that could be described as boring compared to many other European lager beers.

It was nice trying Duvel for the first time. And I did it in France.

The French are good at wines and spirits. I have tasted many good red and rosé wines this Summer, and a cognac or a French brandy is often very nice. I also liked the French pastis. I have visited Greece several times and am very fond of ouzo, so that was no surprise to me as the two spirits have very much in common.

From a French Supermarket: Value packs abound.

Supermarkets in France have a good selection in beers. Many Belgian beers are available in the shelves together with French and Dutch lagers. Often you can find value packs of 20 or 30 bottles for a great price.

My fridge in France: Various thirst quenchers sold in French supermarkets.

I found the use of 0.25 litre bottles very funny at first. At home here in Norway 0.5 litre cans are the preferred measure, but 0.33 litre bottles are also widely sold. The fine thing about the small bottles in France, is that the beer is always fresh. That was an important point when I visited The Netherlands some years ago and found 0.20 litre glasses at pubs very amusing.

From another French supermarket.

I enjoyed being in France, but I feel that the leading French beer brands are not among the best I have tasted. Kronenbourg was nice to quench my thirst, but I would have loved to have a Pilsner Urquell or a Budvar instead. But still Kronenbourg and its French colleagues were nice lager beers - just like many I have tasted in Greece, Italy or Spain. They take away your thirst, but you know that better alternatives exist.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

In the footsteps of Pivni Filosof

I became a avid reader of Pivni Filosof's blog last Autumn. Pivni Filosof is based in Prague, and he has interesting reflections over beers and food. In addition to reviewing various brews, Pivni Filosof also writes about restaurants, pubs and bars in Prague. From his posts I have found many interesting places to visit, and here are some of them. I have linked to Pivni Filosof's posts, so you can also read his texts about these five taprooms.

If you take tram number 11 to the last stop in Sporilov, you get to the Prvni Pivni Tramway hospoda.

Prvni Pivni Tramway is placed in a recedential area with a lot of highrises around. The inn itself is very special. It has a tram theme, and inside you will find old benches from trams. There is also a tram bell at the bar, which the barkeeper rings when people leave the hospoda.

Prvni Pivni Tramway has many good beers. Pilsner Urquell and Primator Weizen are two of the draughted beers at this hospoda. There is also a rotating tap, and the day I visited they served a beer from Bakalar. I tasted it, but I was not impressed by it.

The last beer on tap is Pardal. Pardal is brewed by Budvar and is supposed to be Budvar's answer to Gambrinus on the Czech market. According to Evan Rail this is supposed to smell like bear urine. I have never smelt bear urine, and if this is how ursus odors are, I wouldn't mind having a bear in the neighbour's garden. It was a completely drinkable lager, but Budvar's vycepni is a much better product.

On the other side of town is the Brevnov monastery. Near the monastery you can find the U Kláštera restaurant. I went in there to try a portion of their pork knuckle, koleno.

At home I usually use bits of salted and smoked pork knuckle in soups, but I had not tried the Czech version before i visited U Kláštera. It was a very nice experience. The skin had a crispy feel to it, and the meat was tasty and fell easily off the bone.

To drink I tried draughted Klášter golden lager. I found it very refreshing and enjoyed it very much. They also sell Klášter's dark lager and Pilsner Urquell, but I did not try those ones this time around.

There are several nice hospodas in Zizkov. My favourite restaurant is U Sadu, which is near the TV tower. This was a place I found by myself on one of my visits to Prague, and I always visit it when I am in the city. Inside there is much to look at, and old tools are hanging from the ceiling. There is always a nice ambience at U Sadu, and the opening times are extraordinary. Usually this place opens at 8 AM and does not close until 4 AM.

U Sadu is a tankova restaurant. This means that you get the unpasteurized version of Pilsner Urquell, which is better than the ordinary pasteurized one. You can also get Gambrinus from tap here together with the two Master beers.

There is also Primator Weizen to be found at U Sadu together with various bottled beers. The wheat beer from Primator is very nice, and I can recommend it.

At U Sadu they also sell Svijany Maz. This is an 11° lager beer that is quite enjoyable. It is not among the best Svijany beers, but it is a good alternative to Pilsner Urquell when you visit this hospoda.

A few blocks away from U Sadu you can find Kralovstvi. Kralovstvi is a nice cellar restaurant which specializes in beers from Černá Hora. The Černá Hora beers I have tried have been nice, and I recommend visiting this restaurant to check them out.

My favourite among the Černá Hora beers is Kvasar. This is a lager beer brewed with honey. It is excellent, and I really like it.

I am also fond of Moravský Sklepní Nefiltrované, which is an unfiltered and unpasteurized 10° lager beer. So far none of the Černá Hora beers have disappointed me, and I am looking forward to trying more of them. I have among others heard rumours of a wheat beer coming up from the Moravian brewery.

At last I will present the place where I have tasted my favourite lager. Down the hill from Kralovstvi, you can find U Slovanske Lipy. This is a taproom with great beers from the little Kout na Šumavě brewery.

I have tasted many lager beers, but the two golden lagers from Kout na Šumavě are just fabulous. It was Pivni Filosof who presented these beers to me for the first time, and I will always be thankful for him doing that.

Myself, I prefer the 12° golden lager. It is a stellar lager beer, and I recommend everybody to visit U Slovanske Lipy to try it out.

U Slovanske Lipy also sells the dark lagers from Kout na Šumavě. My favourite is the 16° dark lager. This is an enjoyable beer. It is strong, but extremely tasty.

Last but not least, I will thank Pivni Filosof for his great blog, and I hope you will continue writing about beers and Prague for a long time!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Memories of Prague

I have written about Prague several times in this blog. Prague has become a favourite destination for me, and in a week I will be back in the Czech capital. The first time I was in Prague, was in 2006. I immediately fell in love with the city, and I have spent several vacations there since then. The architecture is fascinating, the city has many exciting sights to be seen - and (of course) there are many great beers to be found there. I will share some of my memories from Prague with these photographs.

The Meduzzy restaurant.

My first meal in the Czech Republic was at the Meduzzy restaurant at the Ujezd street. It was a Summer night after arriving late at the Prague airport. I can not remember what I ate, but they sold Budvar lager beer. Tasting Budvar from tap was extremely nice, and these days Budvar lager is still a favourite. Unfortunately I have not found Budvar for sale in any shops in Norway this year, so I have a craving for the golden lager these days.

Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell.

My first days in Prague were spent in the tourist areas, where prices are much higher than in the residental parts of the Czech capital. Therefore I followed a good advice and had a tram ride out of the town centre. I ended up at Belohorska street near the Pyramida hotel. There I found the U Zelene Brany restaurant.

U Zelene Brany in January 2009.

U Zelene Brany is not the fanciest restaurant. It served Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus from tap, and it also had some nice meals on the menu. I remember paying 150 Czech korunas for two dishes and below 30 Czech korunas for a half litre of beer.

Czech Goulash with dumplings from U Zelene Brany.

The food was tasty, and I enjoyed it very much. I also enjoyed sitting on the restaurant's porch on the warm Summer day with a nice draughted Pilsner Urquell. This was also my first taste of the Czech variant of dumpling, knedliky. I liked them a lot, but I also found them very filling.

Czech cuisine is to my liking. Many talk about bland courses, but I disagree. I like pork, and roasted pork with sauerkraut or pork knuckle are among my favourites. I am also fond of the Czech smazeny syr (fried cheese) and the pickled sausages served as beer snacks at many pubs and bars. In Prague I also have eaten a lot of duck dishes. Roasted duck is a favourite for me, and sometimes I prefer the Czech duck courses.

The Tiantan restaurant.

There are also many Chinese restaurants in Prague. I like Chinese food, and I have very often had lunch at various Chinese restaurants. One of my favourite Chinese restaurants is called Tiantan, and it is opposite Meduzzy in the Ujezd street. They serve draughted Pilsner Urquell, and I have always felt that the waiters have shown very good service.

The Charles bridge.

Being a tourist in Prague, it is also important taking a look at the sights. The Charles bridge is of course a must. But I also like to jump on a tram and ride somewhere at random. Now and then I have found nice restaurants or bars, and it is always nice looking at the houses and the streets.

Also in Prague: Modern architecture near the Haje metro station.

There are shopping centres and malls all over Prague. The largest ones can be found at the metro's terminus stations like Cerny Most, Letnany or Zlicin. I have also been to nice malls at the metro stations Andel and Flora. For a beer tourist the malls often have supermarkets or hypermarkets with a good selection in beers.

A great bargain for a good beer. Klaster lager at less than 0.25 Euros for a half litre!

Prague is a recommended destination for any beer lover, and the city has also much more to offer.

A popular sight: The astronomical clock in the Old Town Square.

And within a week I am back in Prague!