An Imprecise Beer Journey in Europe

Brand IPA, Den Haag

Because I’m as much a sucker for a three-minute punch of guitar rock and harmony as a I am for a cold beer, I occasionally find myself visiting a blog site called Powerpopaholic to discover new music. The guy there ostensibly “reviews” singles and albums in the Power Pop genre on a scale of 10 but because he likes power pop, and the stuff he reviews has already met the conditions of the type of music he likes before he’s listened to it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him give a review of less than 7—it’s all 8s and 9s over there. It’s either really great, or really good.

It’s a Trappe!

I’m guilty of the same with beer. At the urging of a friend several years back I downloaded the Untappd app allowing you to “check in” every time you have a beer, photograph it, indicate where you bought it, who you drank it with, and share that info with your beer-enthusiast followers (and surely some back-end AI delivering data to ad generators and marketed to taverns and brewers). Everything is a social network today. We do things only to get credit for having done it, and wind up with personalized encouragement to do it more. By the way I have only 24 “friends” on that app. For God’s sake please follow me (springer66).

I don’t use Untappd to record every beer I have. Wait, you had 4 Budweisers, in an hour, in your backyard? Not telling. What I think it can be useful for is to track variety—both in the beers I try and the places I try them. That’s the best kind of beer anyway: evocative of the moment you drank it, the places you were, and the good times associated with it. That’s another reason my reviews of them can’t be trusted: If I feel good enough to tell the world, or at least 24 people, that I just drank a particular beer, I probably also liked it.

Super 8 Primus in Brussels

So when my friend Ceetar asked me to write about the beers I had on a recent trip to France, Brussels and the Netherlands on his excellent blog, I was hesitant in the sense that if you want to know anything particularly technical about the beers I had there, you’re following the wrong guy: my reviews are pretty much worthless. According to Untappd, over the 16 days I spent in Europe I had 10 different beers in 10 different cities—which between us is a huge motherf-ing lie—and all of them, according to me, scored a rating between 3.75 and 4.25. They were all good! But to the extent variety, experience and unique places count, I have a story to tell.

France: We Drank Some Beer Here

We (me, my wife and 13-year-old son) left our Brooklyn home on Friday August 16, arriving in Paris the following Saturday afternoon.

Some beer in Paris.

I actually don’t have a lot to say about Paris, beer wise. For one thing, I figured there I’d do what the locals do and drink wine with our meals; for another, I wasn’t much using the phone then and so didn’t actually Untappd the beers I had there. Beyond all that, we discovered France is basically closed for business in August and it was only us tourists there anyway. I’m not joking: most of the shops were closed, and a plumber to fix a malfunctioning toilet in our hotel room wasn’t even available for two days. That’s a good way to thrust oneself into local culture and a foreign tongue: puis-je utiliser vos toilettes?

Get us to Belgium

We had some enjoyable beers there at cafes, though the only brand I remember was the ubiquitous Budweiser of France, Kronenbourg 1664. I can recall being hopeful that this Continental export lager would somehow reveal itself to be something special when consumed locally, as we’d experienced with the impossibly fresh and delicious lagers we drank when we visited Germany five years before, but it wasn’t really the case.

The only other beer I recall having in France, thanks to this photo we took on the luxurious Thalys train, wasn’t a homeland beer, but one originating from our next stop on the trip.

A Great Place to Drink Beer and Pole Vault

Belgium. It’s a totally underrated country. About all I knew about Belgium before we arrived came from war movies where it’s always cold and desolate with Germans shooting at you. I also knew a girl from Belgium once, and she dressed drably–not that I wouldn’t have given her the exact same impression about Americans.

But Belgium in fact was lively, fun, safe and attractive, and the weather was gorgeous: Bright blue skies, never too hot. We also had a ton of delicious beers here that highlighted both Belgium’s great tradition of brewing and also, influences from the craft movement that we hadn’t seen much of in Germany or in France.

L’Ermitage Californication: Terrific post-sightseeing beer that also glows in the dark.
For mussels in Brussels

Brussels is a gorgeous old city, plenty to do and see; not completely overwhelmed with tourists and just large enough to explore by foot. We did a little research to find where we might experience good beer and found a fantastic bar called Moeder Lambic just in time for a sun-soaked happy hour after a long day of sightseeing. Here, I had a super fresh Californication double IPA from Brussels’ L’Emeritage brewery that was dynamite. Afterwards we hiked on a restaurant called In’t Spinnekopke where I asked our waiter to recommend something to accompany our mussels and out came a bottle of Wikap Pater Stimulo, a mellow Belgian pale ale with a very cute logo.

Brewdog: Nice beer but we didn’t need to travel 3,600 miles for it

Just outside of the central train station plaza in Brussels you’ll find a symbol of craft beer’s growing globalization—an outlet of the Brewdog franchise that grew from the Scottish beer bros who established a brand through a reality TV show. Very nice hangout for the after-work crowd, and a convenient meet-up space where our friend Otto trained in and joined us. Long story, but my wife’s parents were friends with Otto’s folks through work and many years ago, she spent a summer babysitting a then-young Otto and his brother in their home in the Netherlands. Grown-up Otto lives in Belgium now and after our happy hour (your standard Brewdog lineup that were just fine but I can I also can now find in my local C-Town supermarket), the four of us hiked to a Brussels restaurant where we ate pork products and enjoyed the less widely-distributed Karmeliet Tripel, a fruity distinct Belgian style ale that really reminded me I was in Europe.

Enjoy with pork products
You heet the Canadian

Inspired by what I’d seen in the movie, we spent the following day “In Bruges” which just as depicted in the film was a fairy-tale like old city inhabited nearly entirely by tourists. Like American elephants we climbed to top of the bell tower where Brendan Gleason had his ultimate misadventure, had one of our better meals, and popped in a pub to down the brightly shining locally brewed Brugse Zot IPA. I spent most of the day quoting the film: “Back off, Shorty.” “You heet the Canadian.” Etc. Good times.

The original microbrewery, now at your local German discounter.

The next day we traveled by train to Lueven to meet Otto at his place there. Lueven is beautiful old college town that you probably know as the home city of the Stella Artois brewery, which has a giant facility along the highway and rail tracks. We checked out surrounding abbeys where for hundreds of years monks were the original microbrewers. One of these abbeys, maybe it the one pictured here but not certain, got out of the beer business some years back when it sold the recipe for its brew to the no-frills German supermarket operator Aldi. Aldi you may know is a vertically integrated retailer famous for its German efficiency– coin-released shopping carts, cashiers who also stock and sweep floors, and low priced, indifferently merchandised but high-standard food. If you buy their abbey-style beer thinking it’s some knockoff, know this: it actually originated here in the 16th century.

Pole-vaulting in Lueven

Lueven’s historic downtown is lined with streetside cafes fronting stunning old buildings on cobblestone streets, lots of students, and a lively town square where, on a Saturday evening, there was a rock-and-roll pole-vaulting contest going on. We grabbed some chairs, and drank strong Belgian ales (the rich, reddish La Trappe Quadrupel) while eating fried food and watching athletes from all over the world launch themselves 20 feet in the air for our amusement. A truly insane and magical evening.

Me, the Boy, Otto and the Wife. Fun times in Lueven.

A Great Place to Drink Beer and Ride Bikes

From Lueven we continued north into the warm, watery and flat Netherlands, and the tiny North Sea beach town of Petten, were Otto’s parents have a summer residence where we set up for most of the next week. Germans love the Netherlands beaches, filling “camping” fields all around with closely-packed caravans along the dikes and on one evening, whooping it up in a town-square festival complete with an Abba cover band and Amstel on tap.

Hertog Jan from the supermarket

In Petten we mainly drank beers from the local supermarkets—Amstel, the lager which you may know is not marketed as “light” beer in its home country, and a pilsner called Hertog Jan. They were okay. We also used Petten as a home base from which we did day trips and stop-ins throughout North Holland—some by train, others by bike, visiting Haarlem, Alkmaar, Amsterdam, Zaandam, Rotterdam, Den Haag, Uitgeest (pronounced OW-kaste), and Den Helder (which is also the name of my new Van Halen cover band), among other places, having at least one beer in all of them. I’ll speed through here as this post is getting pretty lengthy already.

Ride like the wind

I rented a bike, and can’t say enough good things about the cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. Almost all roads have separate bike lanes, including the highways, and cycle-specific signage that makes it almost impossible to get lost. I can’t ride more than 20 miles here in NYC without constantly consulting a map (and getting doored); in Holland I found my way around the entire country never having been there and without a clue as to the language. The lanes are all flat, proceed through beaches, farmlands and forests, and thanks to the wind, you can go pretty fast. If you like to cycle, go do it in the Netherlands.

Hoop and herring: A winning combination

I made several long rides, catching up once with the family at Zaanse Schans, the historic “old Dutch” neighborhood north of Amsterdam you see in the all tourist films and postcards.  Here I enjoyed the local roadside delicacy—a herring sandwich—and washed it down with a local micro IPA called Hoop Kaper.

Jopen one up in Haarlem.

In Haarlem, we had Jopen beers at lunch and later that afternoon, encountered its brewery—stunningly set in a restored church. That’s my Northsea IPA in the foreground ahead of Wifey’s beer, which I believe was a pilsner (can’t be sure of that), and the ever-present frites. Nice place!

Stunning brewery in an old church.
Cooled off with an ostrich in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, we hung out with Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and fought off 90-degree heat with this Ijwit wheat beer in a super-cool bottle. The beer endorsed by an ostrich. Refreshing.

In Alkmaar, we visited the famous cheese market, gorging on very good gouda, saw a crazy Beatles museum, and tried this Punt IPA brewed in the far northern town of Groningen.

It’s goed.

Like many of the so-called IPAs we had here (the Hoop Kaper, the Brand we had in Den Haag) this beer wasn’t exactly what you’d consider an IPA here in the U.S., but they’re in the ballpark in the same way you might consider Rainbow’s “Since You Been Gone” a Power Pop song (it is, only one not by a brand-name power pop manufacturer). There are no doubt some Power Pop Cops and Pale Ale Police out there who might disagree, but like I said, it’s all good to me.

We spent our last night in a hotel in Den Haag, where bringing us full circle, the toilet malfunctioned. There was beer, and it was good. But it was time to fly home.

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Beer and Society: My Beer Story

This post is my final project for an excellent class I took at Central New Mexico (CNM) Community College called Beer and Society.  For the people in the class who have to read this post (sorry!), you can skip past this next part and rejoin after I describe the class for anyone else.  For those not in the class, read on!

  Class peeps, feel free to skip to END DETOUR below!

The name Beer and Society hints to exactly what the curriculum is.  Each class is a series of two-pronged lessons where we first learn from history professor Dr. Brandon Morgan about the origin of a beer, its birthplace, which local ingredients were used and why those ingredients were chosen, as well as any social or political ramifications that helped shape why that beer was made at the time and place it was.  Great stuff!

Then we taste!

(sorry for the amateurish vertical video)

The Advanced Cicerone, Dr. Asa Stone, then takes the helm and works with us to understand what we should be looking for in the beer we’re sampling, from its appearance to aroma, taste and mouthfeel, all the while looking for hints of the ingredients and backstory that we just learned about from Dr. Morgan.

Did I mention there are culturally appropriate food pairings?  Cause there are.

German schnitzel and a dynamite red cabbage sauerkraut!

Week 2 was a schnitzel (prepared by a CNM chef) that was paired with an array of German and Czech beers as the class explored the Early Modern Era and a handful of styles including the German Pils, the Festbier, the Dopplebock, Weissbier and others.

Needless to say, the Beer and Society class is super cool and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone in the Albuquerque area.

And the end of my little CNM advertisement 🙂

Back to the matter at hand, my beer story.  The previous week’s class, I think, was my favorite out of all the great classes, specifically the discussion on food and beer pairing that followed a scrumptious plate of Beef Wellington (which was accompanied by tasters of Stone IPA and New Belgium Fat Tire).  Someone in class mentioned they would have paired the IPA with a green chile cheeseburger and it took me back to the 2018 New Mexico IPA Challenge, where I contemplated why New Mexicans love hop-forward IPAs so much, and pondered the synergistic intensites of New Mexico green chile and aggressive New Mexico IPAs. 

I’m taking a kind of circuitous route to get to my point, but after thinking about spending the last few NMIPA challenges with friends, my brother and my girlfriend, I realized that my beer story is this:  beer is no longer just a thing I drink while doing other things.  It’s become, in many cases, the central focus for a lot of events I plan my life around.

It went from being just a lamp on a table at a party to the host of the damn thing.

Beer as a character in my life has grown in importance the more I got to appreciate it, same as my heart has grown fuller for people I’ve come to know more closely.  Conversely, some lesser characters fade away in life, same as those (dirt cheap) 12-packs of  Shaefer in college, but beer as a character in my life has gradually been basking under a larger and brighter spotlight.

For example, while we’ve all gone out to fill a growler, a friend and I turned a simple growler run into a capital “G”, capital “R”, Growler Run, a yearly motorcycle trip that’s taken us countless thousands of miles across 20 states in the US, up to and across Canada and down to the tip of Baja, Mexico in search of a local growler fill to take back to our campsite.  The motorcycle trips would have happened regardless, but they’re built and centered around a thing we love in our lives – beer – but with a desire to experience a slightly different version of it made by different hands in a different place altogether.

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Aside from running to another country with one of my best friends to fill a growler, my brother, Dan, and our good friend and neighbor, Jeff, have graduated from having beers while hanging out, to hanging out while trying to make our own beers.  We’ve only finished three different batches to date, but as our appreciation for beer has increased over the years, so, too, has our desire to understand it (and make it taste a little better, while we’re at it). 

It’s like I casually swiped right on beer years ago, and now realize beer has a toothbrush in the glass on the bathroom sink.  

So what then, now that I’m shacking up with beer for good, it seems?

Well, beer school, naturally.

I bounced around a good many colleges after high school, getting (part of) an education so I could play some baseball, but I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Now, I’m 44, a Unix engineer for a massive telecom company, and I still don’t necessarily know what I want to be when I grow up.  But instead of taking classes in this scripting language or that cloud computing technology, I’m taking classes at CNM to learn how to make freaking beer.

Alas, the thing I did at college has become thing I now go to college for.

~~~

For those not familiar or wanting more info, the Brewing and Beverage Management program at CNM offers industry certifications as well as an associates degree program.  Info can be found here.

ALSO! If you’d like to write for Barley Prose, send an email to Ceetar at admin@barleyprose.com.

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“I’ll take a beer and some coins for the jukebox, please.”

As the sun fades this evening, I sit here drinking the remarkable winter edition Project Dank by La Cumbre while listening to the boygenius EP, a superb six-song collaboration by Julien Baker, Pheobe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus.  The beer and EP pair surprisingly well, as they’re both phenomenal creations and neither are really a regular thing. The Dank is a rotating experiment, and even though the recipe changes with each release, the quality of each differing batch is as wonderfully reliable as any of the solo records released upon the world by the three women who comprise boygenius.  In short, excellent.

Kinda similar to La Cumbre’s gold-medal winning core lineup of beers, the aforementioned artists have pretty firmly established themselves in the indie circles of the music biz as solo powerhouses.  Baker’s Turn out the Lights was on the New York TimesBest Albums of 2017.   AV Club called Phoebe Bridger’s haunting Stranger in the Alps one of 2017’s best debut records, and Lucy Dacus’ Historian was only Paste magazine’s numero uno album of this whole year.  All these talented elements that stand so well on their own somehow swirled together magickally, and like a comet, we get boygenius (and Project Dank winter edition!) hurtling through our universe for this short, sublime window of time before the women all go back to gigging solo and we return to drinking La Cumbre’s flagship Elevated IPA.  No losers here, to be clear.  The staples are fantastic but the experiments can be rewarding in different ways, too.

On the wider topic of beer and music and how perfectly they go together…

I do very much like to drink an alcoholic beverage, be it beer, bourbon or wine (the Holy Trinity is really all there is for me), but I like the booze even more when there is great music to taste along with it. To that end, I’ve created “The Barley Prose Companion” playlist on Spotify for you to shuffle on your hi-fi while you enjoy that adult bevvy.  It varies from the overt (Tom T. Hall’s “I Like Beer”) to the subtle (Tom Waits’ perfect “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You”), where the hero is stuck with a last-call stout when the girl he’s been eyeing all night has snuck out of the bar at closing time.  Man, what a song.

While this playlist is still a work in progress, I invite you (yes, YOU!) to contribute.  It’s a collaborative playlist, so anyone can add anything they like (I will only delete the decidedly crappy additions). I’ve skipped some obvious choices (“One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”) and some annoying ones (“Beer for My Horses” – adore Willie, but Toby Keith ruins anything).  Needless to say, I’m sure there are kegs full of wondrous drinking songs I haven’t yet added. If you’d like to, please do:

The Barley Prose Companion playlist on Spotify

Cheers, y’all.

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Pair at the Fair

This blogger thought, on a recent trip to the Great New York State Fair, that each beer and drink consumed was worthy of a pairing.  Not necessarily pairing beers with the exact right culinary treat, but, rather, all of the various things that a drink might be paired with at the fair.

Note: These were taken over the course of many hours, by a trained professional beer blogger.

Beer 1:  The Adirondack Bear Naked Ale, served up courtesy of the Shamrock Pub adjacent to the Midway.  A fine, refreshing American amber ale.  Lighting below is due to the author hiding in the shade of a vendor tent on a very bright and summery August day.

Naked bear

Pair with: a Reuben Egg Roll — corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese, wrapped in a jumbo sized egg roll wrapper, deep fried and served with Thousand Islands’ dressing for dipping.  I would punch my momma in the ear to eat one of these.

Reuben egg roll? What a country!

Beer 2:  Empire East Coast Amber.  To be truthful, I thought the first beer was going to be an American Pale Ale, not an amber, but also didn’t mind having a second one of that type.  I’ve been on an amber ale kick of late, having enjoyed the Session Amber at Buried Acorn most recently.

East Coast representin’

Pair with: A visit to the Sand Sculpture, normally backed by a beautiful large slide show of various New York landscapes and parks to visit.  Well, for most of the day, anyway…

Gave the IT guy some giggles

Beer 3: Lake Placid Ubu Ale, an English Ale (7.0% ABV) named after a dog, one of the many beers I first enjoyed from the Wegmans’ “Craft Your Own Six Pack” aisle.

Sit, Ubu, sit! Good dog.

Pair with: Naturally, a beer named after a dog is best paired with a watching of the New York State Police K-9 units that serve so intelligently and proudly.

Good dog! Have a beer shaped chew toy.

Beer 4:  Buried Acorn Hot Whip IPA, another one I had enjoyed at the Buried Acorn tap room and knew just what I was getting.

Orange whip? Three orange whips.

Pair with:  Chicken, in a waffle, on a stick, served with a side of maple syrup.  The innovator who came up with this deserves every penny he or she makes.  What else can we jam conveniently inside of waffles?   The possibilities are endless, when you think about it.  I’m even thinking of replacing my wallet with a waffle stuffed full of credit cards and cash.

Genius!

Beer 5: Galaxy Andromeda IPA, because, five beers in, I am seeing stars.  Due to the buzz, naturally.

Galaxy quest

Pair with: Stars, my friends!   The New York State Fair brings in quality musical entertainment, and multiple free concerts every day from established new and classic musical acts.  This year included Smokey Robinson, Live, Collective Soul, and a bunch of country/pop acts I wouldn’t recognize if you had a gun to my head.   How about a free concert from ZZ Freakin Top?  There’s your stars, sir/madam.

They rocked in 99 ways, one for each year of life they had each lived, or some quantity akin to it

Beer 6: Not a beer at all, but, rather, a hard cider flavored wine slushie.  I generally don’t drink a lot of the slush because of the brain freeze, but this is like a jacked up cup full of applesauce.  It’s what fairs are all about.  The black and white straw accents it nicely, I find.

Lush slush

Pair with:  A big fan, pushing misty cool relief at a guy who’s had several drinks over the course of the day.

Ah, sweet relief

Also, while not pictured, this wine slush and the subsequent second one “for the road” pair, sadly, with a wipe out on the author’s bike ride home, causing a bent chain, skinned knee, chin, and a bruised hand and wrist.  All in the name of a good time.  This is the price we pay, kids.

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