Saturday, August 27, 2011

Top Picks from a Mini European Beer Tour

Top places to try Czech, German, and Belgium beers in nine days.

We recently did a mini tour of some of the greatest beer countries in Europe, hitting Czech Republic, Germany, and Belgium in nine days. Here are some of the highlights (our favorites).


Logically we began our tour in the Czech Republic, the birthplace of pilsner and the biggest beer consuming country (per capita) in the world. We had heard so much about "beer cheese" from our friends at Earls Beer and Cheese that we decided to visit first U Medvidku--the only hotel with a brewery in Prague.

The first thing we ordered was the beer cheese with a Czech Budweiser in the downstairs pub. The bread was buttery and crunchy with a nice kick from the raw garlic.

After we went upstairs where the U Medvidku brewery is located and sampled.

We choose the cloudy dark lager. This was one of the most interesting beers we sampled on the entire trip. It had a lively, slightly funky, bready, vanilla flavor with a deliciously creamy head. Many Americans would be surprised that a lager could be so complex.

The next highlight was Prague Beer Museum with the country's biggest selection Czech microbrews. Our favorites were d'Este by Ferdinand, Sedm Kuli by Ferdinand, and Kocour Samuraj IPA. The bartender was friendly and helpful and we got to try a wide variety of styles.

A safe bet for anyone is Portrefena Husa, which is a chain featuring tank Staropramen--our favorite of the bigger breweries. A stellar item on the menu was a Leffe beer spare ribs.

Lokal, a traditional Czech cafeteria, also has Urquell from the tank and great Czech food. The same company that owns Lokal has recently opened a higher end restaurant in the Upper East Side in New York called Hospoda.

Pivovarsky Klub offers a more subdued atmosphere but a staggering selection of bottles and a solid line up of taps. We asked about the sausage and beans on the menu and got a dry answer, "It's sausage and beans..." We are glad we went for it. It was one of the most memorable dishes of the trip.


We took a train to Berlin. The first place we explored was Gaffel Haus Berlin, a Koln style restaurant with crisp kolsch on tap served in small glasses. With the beer, we had herring, hamburger, and outstanding tomato soup.

Inside Sony Center, there is a wonderful brewpub with outside seating called Lindenbräuhaus offering a popular "homemade" wheat beer. Right inside the restaurant visitors can view the brew kettles.

Brauhaus Lemke, another brewpub, was our final highlight in Berlin. It also had pleasant, clean outdoor seating (beer garden) and excellent sausages.


We took the night train to Brussels and went straight to A La Mort Subite (sudden death), an elegant brasserie specializing in geuze beer and decor from 1928. We absolutely loved the Faro (brown sugar).

Speaking of geuze and lambics (the specialty of Brussels), we visited Moeder Lambic, a classy bar with an extensive collection of the style. It was a warm, welcoming place that, according to Beer Advocate, was crafted from artisanal wood.

No beer tour in Brussels would be complete without a trip to the Cantillon Brewery, a family-run traditional lambic brewery that has been in business since 1900. It is a true Belgian national treasure. We have been on many brewery tours but this tour was by far one of the most educational and impressive. Cantillon is the last lambic brewery in Brussels still using the traditional spontaneous fermentation (the open vat near the roof is pictured above). As part of the tour, we had samples of the geuze, kriek (sour cherry), and rose (raspberry). The fruit lambics had a beguiling and filling vinegar quality that reminded us of the concoction we used as kids to dye Easter eggs. We also sampled a very special and rare, nontraditional dry-hopped lambic called Cuvee Saint Gilloise, which is rated 99 by ratebeer.

The Cantillon brewery with its open fermentation resembles a unique ecosystem with spiders and insects living in the building in a kind of symbiotic relationship with the beer. We saw one of the venerated spiders guarding some of the casks.

We ended our tour at Poechenellekelder, a somewhat touristy but nonetheless entertaining pub with outside seating right next to the silly Manneken Pis (which happens to be on the label of Blache de Bruxelles). It was a perfect place to sit, watch the tourists, and reflect on our mini European beer tour.

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