Saturday, September 30, 2006

"Mr. Phillips, I presume?" (Part 2 of 2).

It turned out that our erstwhile compatriot was waiting to take the overnight train to Brugge. He’d richly enjoyed his extra time in Vienna, and noted that 1516 was just a couple of blocks further down the street … and not only that, he’d had multiple pints of Hop Devil during his last session there, which had concluded only a short time before our unplanned meeting at the kangaroo bar.

Hop Devil?

Victory Hop Devil? The American IPA from Downingtown, Pennsylvania?

I thought the heat (or the alcohol) had gotten to Graham, but with mock indignation he offered to guide us there and prove it.

Sure enough, after settling the bar tab with the gracious Crossfields hostess, we strolled to 1516 and there it was: Hop Devil, originally brewed at 1516 in February, 2004, by Victory’s Bill Covaleski as part of the brewpub’s guest brewer program (a visit apparently arranged by Austrian beer guru Conrad Seidl), and back on tap just for us, so as to provide a desperately needed American hop jolt after so many days of characteristic, balanced golden lagers.

The beer menu observed that Hop Devil marked the “first time (that) whole hops was used in 1516 Brewing Co.,” and that Hop Devil was a “winner in Conrad Seidl's 2004 Bierguide.” That’s a good pedigree … as if Hop Devil needs any help. For the record, it is made with Vienna and Caramunich malt, and Centennial, Tettnanger and Cascade hops.

I celebrated by drinking three. Graham departed for the train station after a pint, and if the single biggest surprise of the trip -- and perhaps of any trip I’ve ever taken -- was coming across him at the one place of hundreds that I decided to glance into, second place handily goes to the surreal joy of drinking Victory Hop Devil at a Viennese brewpub.

There was a Mexican-style burrito on the 1516 food menu, and after so many days of pork prepared in a myriad of ways utterly baffling to the uninitiated, it proved a fine appetizer (but not up to the standard of La Rosita’s, by any stretch), happily providing the strength necessary to walk another quarter-mile to the Salm Brau brewpub.

Salm Brau’s location adjacent to the Lower Belvedere palace grounds and gardens predictably makes it a popular tourist stop, but happily, it seemed to be filled with quaffing and chatting locals during our two-beer visit.

A longer walk followed our Salm Brau interlude, and it brought us at dusk to the friendly confines of the Siebenstern brewpub, which is situated on the street of the same name, in a rapidly gentrifying 19th-century district just up the hill from the increasingly and deservedly popular Museumsquartier (MQ).

My first experience at Siebenstern came almost ten years ago, when an American pulling duty as assistant brewer at the time offered a bottle of house-brewed barley wine as evidence that flights of stylistic fancy occasionally were sanctioned by the management.

Sure enough, an IPA was on tap as Bob, Kevin and I settled into patio seats, as was a Rauchbier brewed with Weyermann smoked malt from Bamberg. Acting on the suggestion of my cousin and frequent Vienna explorer, Don Barry, I ordered a Rauchbier and a full rack of succulent rubbed and smoked spareribs. A second Rauchbier followed, and numerous forkfuls of Bob‘s transcendent side of tender, delicious sauerkraut were transferred from his bowl to my plate. A third beer, the pub’s renowned Dunkel lager, capped the meal.

Walking had become more challenging at this stage of the evening, but even so, our feet carried us to a final venue, the Bogside Inn, noted summertime hangout of expatriate Hoosiers, and an establishment that helpfully was only a short distance from our beds.

The Bogside probably isn’t the world’s most scrupulously authentic Irish pub, but it is very comfortable, boasts a youthful and intensely loyal local clientele, and plays a diverse musical selection courtesy of a massive computerized filing system. The pub provided three perfect pints of Guinness to settle the Siebenstern’s spareribs, and people responded affirmatively as to whether they could vouch for the drunkenness of Don and his colleague Randy during their July nights.

Another memorable pub crawl – and another memorable Viennese evening – came to a delightfully cosmopolitan and Irish-accented close. Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 29, 2006

"Mr. Phillips, I presume?" (Part 1 of 2).

Our final destination, Vienna, was within an easy morning’s ride on Saturday, September 9, as the three remaining beercyclists (Bob, Kevin and your truly) assembled for breakfast following an enjoyable Friday evening in Tulln, a small and lively city on the banks of the Danube northwest of the Austrian capital.

What happened to the half-dozen original beercycling plotters?

Unfortunately, Tim Eads had been unable to make the trip, reducing the group to five from the outset. Later, having already bicycled the Greenway on a previous trip, our friend Craig Somers elected to fly from Prague to Belgium for an ale-based conclusion of his European holiday.

After a post-Tabor detour to Ceske Budjovice and Cesky Krumlov, Graham Phillips arrived on schedule in Znojmo along with Bob, but decided to proceed early to Vienna (and afterward, to Belgium) by train rather than spend the originally scheduled two nights in Havraniky at the Pension Ham-Ham with the rest of us.

That left a still hearty trio, and after a combined bicycle and train ride from Havraniky to Tulln on Friday, we were overjoyed to find a pleasant weekend wine festival in progress that same evening. After clinking and sampling a few local examples of the vintner’s art, we accidentally stumbled upon a very small brewpub, Adlerbrau, and had soft, golden house lagers and three heaping platters of regional cuisine to finish off the excellent late summer’s day.

On Saturday morning we rode one hundred meters to the river and picked up the long-established Danube bike path, a veritable superhighway of the genre, cruising 40 flat kilometers into Vienna with only one ferry boat ride required. Rooming arrangements were readily made, and by mid-afternoon, we were ready for a beer … perhaps even two.

From our lodgings off Alsterstrasse near the Rathaus, we walked along the majestic Ringstrasse toward Vienna’s famous Opera House. The object of our stroll was the 1516 Brewing Company, which I dimly recalled from a previous visit in 2002 as being located somewhere in the vicinity of the Soviet war memorial, but still “inside” the Ring.

Just off the crowded Karnterstrasse shopping street, I noticed a sign for the Crossfields Australian Pub, and as is my habit, speculated in an admittedly patronizing way as to precisely the sort of tourist who’d travel all the way to Vienna just to have a beer in a theme bar of the genre – and glancing inside, I spotted the answer to my question sitting right in front of me.


Well, of course; it made sense. Graham had traveled in Australia, and had a wonderful time while touring the continent, so why wouldn’t he stop at an Aussie pub, converse with the Aussie staff, and enjoy fine memories?

But seeing as none of us had expected to see Graham again until we’d all returned home, the surprise reunion was spontaneously joyful and fairly raucous, and included a round of unfiltered Ottakringer Zwickl lager – and for me, given my reputation as finisher of Graham’s uneaten meals, the remainder of his fish and chips as scooped hungrily from a slightly greasy paper cone.

(Part 2 tomorrow)

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 28, 2006

There'll be good beer at Harvest Homecoming this year, thanks to Bistro New Albany.

Harvest Homecoming is by far New Albany’s largest annual celebration, drawing tens of thousands natives and visitors to a variety of events ranging from an already concluded Knobs bicycle ride to a queen’s contest, and from a dog show to the always crowded “booth days” downtown.

Alas – and phrased as diplomatically as I’m capable of being – for many of the same reasons that the city of New Albany has found it difficult to reinvent itself during changing times, and has found future visions elusive, Harvest Homecoming remains firmly wedded to the lesser of common denominators.

Of course, this is not to demean the earnest efforts of those who have spent many years volunteering their time and organizing the festival’s “family-oriented” activities.

But as regular readers know, I firmly believe that in any mass market, there are underserved niches … and in the case of Harvest Homecoming, these absences have (until recently – the music has improved) included too few reflections of cultural diversity, staid entertainment options, and by-the-numbers food and drink offerings.

Specifically, there have been few alternatives to mass-market, industrial swill in proximity to downtown during Harvest Homecoming – and particularly, in the officially sanctioned beer garden.

Last year, the owners of the now defunct House of Bread restaurant approached NABC with an offer to sell our beer during booth days, and we were happy to comply. Several customers have remarked that having an Elector salvaged the day for them.

This year, with the advent of the Bistro New Albany, fest goers are guaranteed the availability of more good beer than ever before during booth days. The Daves currently are working on a plan to expand their patio by adding a “beer garden” on the adjacent parking lot. It would feature their full bNA lineup of NABC beers and guests.

We’re optimistic that this year’s Harvest Homecoming booth days will be the first of many that will see local beer aficionados stopping by Bistro New Albany for a pint before braving the sea of humanity for inexplicable elephant ears and rote political party solicitations.

There’s hope for Harvest Homecoming yet.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

UPDATED: Lupulin Land Harvest Hop Festival 2006 -- coming Friday, October 13.

Today a brief break from travel vignettes, and a reminder that it's almost hop fest time.

Lupulin Land Harvest Hop Festival 2006

We’ll be exceeding OSHA’s legal limits on IBU’s per square foot of floor space when Lupulin Land 2006 begins on Friday, October 13. It is our fifth harvest hop celebration, and a good occasion for Kentuckiana’s hopheads to unite over a pint or two of America’s most bitter beer.

Residents of New Albany should note that the Harvest Homecoming Parade takes place on the previous Saturday (October 7), and Booth Days run from the 12th through the 15th.

The delivery timing on the three "fresh hop" ales listed for the festival (Bell's, Great Divide and Sierra Nevada) is going to be tricky, so they may not appear until later in October.

Randall the Enamel Animal will be brought back for a second appearance at Lupulin Land. Details will be provided soon.

Roughly 10-14 of these will be on tap when the fest opens, in addition to the everyday beers.

Those marked * are first-time drafts.

Microbrews from America (18).

Avery Maharaja Imperial India Pale Ale ... in house

BBC Beer Company (Main & Clay) American Pale Ale (dry-hopped; cask-conditioned) ... ordered, not received

Bluegrass Brewing Company (St. Matthews) Ultra/aka Homewrecker (dry-hopped; cask-conditioned) ... ordered, not received

*Bell’s Hop Slam Imperial IPA ... ordered, not received

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA ... in house

*Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale ... ordered, not received

Great Divide Hercules Double IPA ... ordered, not received

*Great Divide Titan IPA ... ordered, not received

NABC Hoptimus ... in house

*NABC Oaktimus ... in house

Rogue I2PA ... in house

Rogue JLS Integrity IPA JLS Release #14 (2006 redux) ... in house

Rogue Morimoto Imperial Pilsner ... in house

*Rogue Juniper Pale Ale ... in house

*Shmaltz Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A. ... in house

Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale ... ordered, not received

Stone Ruination IPA ... in house

Two Brothers Heavy Handed ... ordered, not received

Imports (5).

Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale (Japan) ... in house

Houblon Chouffe (Belgium) ... in house

Jever Pilsener (Germany) ... in house

Poperings Hommel Bier (Belgium) ... in house

St. Georgenbrau Keller Bier (Germany) ... in house

Year-round offerings -- on tap throughout Lupulin Land (7).

Alpha King

Arrogant Bastard

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale

NABC Croupier IPA

NABC Elector

Pilsner Urquell

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Happy Hour in the restaurant car on the EC-22, on 18 September, 2006.

After two rainy noontime hours were spent within the confines of Vienna’s Westbahnhof, with half-liters of fresh draft Zipfer Urtyp in hand and a roomy place at the stand-up counters at the imbiss facing the central hall, the sun magically reappeared at 15.00 west of the city – half an hour into the eight hour journey to Frankfurt, and serving as a signal to visit the restaurant car for scenic libations.

The train was making good time across the tidy and well-ordered Austrian countryside as I savored a Konig Ludwig Hefeweissbier. Wheat ale isn’t my favorite beer style, but it was a viable alternative to the pedestrian Warsteiner available in bottles or on draft (my feet rested atop a full 30-liter keg being stored beneath the high-top restaurant car tables).

The train was scheduled to make relatively few stops during the course of its long journey to Dortmund, but several of them were clustered in western Austria right around 15.45 to 17.00, prime commuting hours, and the “regulars” – mostly men – came on the train for a beer, cigarettes and conversation, then got off again further down the tracks and could be scene hopping over to adjacent platforms to switch trains and finish their trips.

All the while the vistas swept past, magnified by the oversized windows of the restaurant car. The attendant, a man in his mid-fifties dressed in an official uniform of dark pants, white shirt and red vest, regretted to inform me that the Hefeweissbier was gone, so I gritted my teeth and sipped Warsteiner, instead.

Later, when it was dark outside and the train station lunch of Weisswurst and “chili con carne” had worn away, I strolled through the six seating cars separating the restaurant (located in proximity to first class, not the bicycler’s 2nd class wagon at the rear) from my seat and settled down to a dinner of canned herring, black bread, and apricot jam, as purchased at a supermarket earlier in the day and packed for just the occasion.

Also in the picnic basket were two cans of Stiegl lager from Salzburg. They guided me into Frankfurt at 21.45, and I was in my room at the Hotel Bristol by 22.05.

Next morning, it was a quick commute to the airport, and back home.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I like drinking beer in train stations.

Airports are sleek, clean, and carefully calibrated to soothe your fears of flying by extricating as much cash as possible from your wallet while you hurry up and wait to be late.

Need I go further than a $5.90 Sam Adams Boston Lager at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky airport to make the point?

If you’re lucky, the European train station where you rest atop your luggage prior to departure has resisted the worst excesses of gentrification, retaining a handful of down and dirty nooks duly filled by 7:00 a.m., when the same old men queue at the concessions window that’s first to serve beer that day.

Rest assured, they didn’t come to eat … although others did, and somewhere, sausages will be roasting. In smaller cities, the train station’s full service restaurant just might remain a cherished local meeting place even if the days of elegance have passed.

Since my first European travels more than two decades ago, the enjoyment of having a beer or three at the train station hasn’t diminished. There’s something about the contrast between my own stationary absorption and the motion of people passing through – their laughter and conversation, their bags and backpacks, the music of languages and announcements over the loudspeakers – that is enduringly fascinating.

Although the beer selection is seldom large, it’s no worse than an airport, and price gouging customarily is kept to a minimum.

Back in the 1980’s, there was an imbiss directly in front of Track 16 in Munich’s central station. It has since been displaced by major renovations, but in its prime, I looked forward to the opportunity to stand at one of the huge barrel-like wooden tables and drink a cool, crisp Hacker-Pschorr served by one of the workers from the back of the stainless steel and tile work areas.

An added bonus was the luscious Leberkase (a bologna-like meatloaf), served warm with mustard, and an assortment of sausages priced only a bit above those offered by nearby restaurants.

Along with cousin Don, I’d watch as commuters would stop for a quick one before catching the train home – and often, before going to work. Note that these were not the ubiquitous and almost always harmless vagrants. They were perfectly normal folks with briefcases, shopping bags and rolled up newspapers or magazines.

Most were passing through, and yet they never seemed to be in that much of a hurry. Perhaps the knowledge that their destinations could be reached without driving automobiles relaxed the tension and made the beers taste better. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A beer or two while waiting for the train.

On the day that Kevin and I decided to bypass a stretch of the Prague-Vienna Greenway and take the train, we were required to change at the tiny Moravian junction station at Okrisky.

That's the Country Bar to the right. Soon after these photos were snapped, the proprietor ran out to urge immediate consumption, as his wife/girlfriend was approaching, and he was preparing to hang a "gone to lunch" sign on the door.

The beers were from the Hostan brewery in Znojmo, which we'd soon be observing atop the town's hill.

The train from Okrisky to Znojmo included two seating cars and an engine, with the cars being drawn from older rolling stock, but as you can see, there was a pleasant area for storing the bicycles.

Stay tuned next week, as the series of beercycling trip remembrances will continue. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hopping over to the Zatec hop festival -- another view.

Here's the biking group during our visit to the annual Zatec hop fest. From left to right: Bob Reed, the Curmudgeon, Graham Phillips, Kevin Richards, Libor "Czech Beer Man" Vojacek, and Craig Somers.

Notice a degree of drinking with two hands ...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hopping over to the Zatec hop festival.

Zatec (ZHA-tets) is a small, recovering city located northwest of Prague. It is the Czech Republic’s one-stop center for hop production, with a processing plant, research institute, museum, recently upgraded commercial brewery and an annual festival, all rolled into one easy package, and accessible from the capital by train or bus.

Seeking greater efficiencies of time, on September 2nd our group of five beercyclists parked the two-wheeled conveyances for the day and climbed into a van hired from Mike’s Chauffeur Service – and driven by Mike himself – for the hour’s drive to Zatec and a visit to the hop festival.

Having noted the city’s degraded condition during a previous visit in 1999, I was pleased to see that redevelopment is gradually radiating out from the central square, while not unexpectedly, the back streets haven’t yet benefited from what will be a long-term process of rebuilding after forty years of Communist neglect.

The festival was a delight for all of us. It is a celebration not micro-designed for beer enthusiasts in the geeky sense, but instead a pleasing community-wide street party with many different beers available for sampling, ample entertainment on multiple stages, and plenty of food – especially sausages, which were smelled cooking on grills throughout the central square … and a few of which were happily consumed.

23 Czech breweries were announced as participating, although we never found StaroBrno and Herold. Most had more than one beer for offer, so it’s likely that somewhere between 75 and 100 brands were present.

Most were of the standard strength or lighter golden lager styles, but there were dark lagers, unfiltered beers and a sprinkling of others, among them innovative brews from the Chyne microbrewery near Prague. Follow the link and read a report written by the Czech Beer Man, who was at the festival and provided us with invaluable insights into the Czech brewing business during a brief chat.

Chyne’s ginger-infused beer was not present at the Zatec festival, but we’d tried it the night before, as provided by our accommodating campground restaurateur, and I can state without exaggeration that it was the best such spiced beer I’ve yet tasted, with the ideal balance between the ginger flavoring and the amber, malty backing.

None of the beers consumed during the hop festival were bad, and the system for reclaiming used plastic cups was especially creative.

It’s also hard not to like dogs in hop garlands, which were being plucked from a trellis apparently grown just off the square for the express purpose of festive silliness during the annual weekend.

Twinned Belgian hoppy city Poperinge boasts the great parade during its hop fest, which takes place every third year, but the atmosphere at the yearly Zatec bacchanal is uniquely its own, and well worth a visit, perhaps during the 2007 group beer trip by motor coach that’s beginning to take shape in my mind.

 Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 21, 2006

She may have forgotten to charge us for one or two.

Well, you’d look a bit dazed, too, if the three beers on the table were the 32nd, 33rd and 34th of our trio’s recent eight-hour session on the patio of the Pension Ham-Ham’s restaurant. Joining me were Bob Reed and Kevin Richards (Moose is shown above).

The locale is Havraniky, a village eight kilometers outside the Moravian wine city of Znojmo. The Austrian border is a few minutes to the south. The beautiful and rugged Podyji National Park is just as close, as is an unusual, isolated moor that Kevin and I rode our bikes through on a dirt and stone path when first coming into the village.

Grapes are growing in all directions, and there is an abundance of inexpensive local wine, which we copiously sampled when appropriate.

However, sometimes you feel like drinking beer, and as is the case with all the golden, pilsner-style lagers brewed in the Czech Republic and tasted on the trip, Litovel has a pleasant, full body and a crisp, lightly hopped finish.

Litovel uncomplainingly accompanied three heaping platters of meat-laden local cuisine and a side of delectable fried cheese, took the place of dessert, and kept coming back for more as closing time approached and we paid our bill – which came to $25 per person, including tip.

Prices like that are why Austrians come across the border for a cheap night out. With the Czechs now members of the European Union, and the Euro set to replace the Crown in two years, we must enjoy the value while we can.

And did.

The English-speaking waitress was amused as we answered her frequent request of “more beer?” with varying responses:

Why not?
Of course.
We suppose.
Maybe just one more.

To be honest, my efforts to say “indubitably” were about as conclusive as Daffy Duck’s, but she understood.

Undoubtedly. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Teaser: Beercycling is concluded for now, but the stories should continue to grow as the months pass.

The beercyclers prepare for a session at Bamberg's fabled Schlenkerla tavern in this photo from early in the expedition. There'll be more to come as soon as I get my bearings and collate the information gathered in the most recent escape from New Albanian reality. Posted by Picasa