Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Attention MSNBC: I got your top ten cities for beer lovers.
Just as I wouldn’t look to Gilbert & Sullivan to provide a list of the best auto mechanics, or to Simon & Garfunkel for tips on Icelandic whale blubber processing, it would seem self-evidently senseless to trust Sherman Brothers Travel & MSNBC for a list of “Top Ten Cities for Beer Lovers,” and yet they’ve graciously made the call, so now I have the pleasure of picking their list apart.
Ouch. Some make sense, while others suggest the presence of hallucinogenic compounds not normally present in beer. Here they are, in alphabetical order.
Bob Ostrander correctly noted the most obvious clunker while reprinting this list at Indiana Beer, asking, “Mexico City?”
Yes, says the anonymous compilers, because the presence of “fun taverns, mariachi clubs, and bars … where you can taste your share of local beers” thrusts the Mexican capital into the upper echelon, although any “beer lover” worth his or her malt knows that bells and whistles take on a diminished sheen when all those local beers taste exactly alike.
Obviously someone was taking a stab at counter-intuitive witticism during the course of breezing past more relevant Bavarian locales to exalt the options in Berlin: “Is there any place on earth better to sip Berliner Weise (beer with woodruff or raspberry juice) than in its city of origin?” The answer, or course, is no, there isn’t, especially when one understands that Berliner Weisse (with not one, but two letters “s” in the spelling) is seldom seen anywhere else except Berlin.
With 70,000 people, Bamberg’s ten breweries and dozens of available regional craft beers easily surpasses anything of a purely fermentable nature that Berlin has to offer, and the cost structure in Franconia is far more favorable. To be sure, you won’t find Berliner Weisse in Bamberg, but there are plenty of Hefe Weizen ales to sample – and one of them (Schlenkerla) is smoked.
I’ll second Amsterdam, Brugge, Dublin, Portland and Prague, but with caveats: Many “beer lovers” would prefer the mellow café ambience of a smaller city like Haarlem to the claustrophobic bustle of Amsterdam, and enthusiasts might well opt for Guinness as poured in any rural Irish pub to the pint drawn in Dublin, although certainly the literary connotations beheld in the latter are high-ranking when it comes to extraneous considerations.
Based on what I’ve heard and read of late, Copenhagen (a strong contender for its lagers and civility even before its recent beer and brewing Renaissance) probably deserves a nod over just about any city in Japan, and perhaps any city in Asia. Also, having just returned from Vienna, there’s a strong case to be made for the Austrian capital’s options for “beer lovers” based on its multiple brewpubs alone.
It is indeed strange that no cities in the UK are mentioned in the article. London emphatically is not the best place for traditional English ale, although food, drink and culture from the entire planet are readily available for the plucking. Cambridge, home of the St. Radegund pub and a fine place for a crawl, probably would be my choice, but I’ve not traveled extensively in England, Scotland and Wales. Manchester struck me favorably with regard to big cities and beer, but the best time was had in the Yorkshire countryside.
In America, I’ll readily concede (without having been there) that Burlington may well be a good choice, although Denver merits a look, with at least eight breweries downtown in addition to the unparalleled Falling Rock tap house.
If in the end my choices seem rooted in Europe and America, that’s because the best beer in the world generally comes from Europe and America, with honorable but isolated exceptions gladly made for emerging beer and brewing cultures in Japan, Italy and perhaps even certain corners of South America. These are steadily gaining ground, and yet to me, the classics still hold sway.
Sapporo for canned lager from a vending machine, or Dusseldorf for fresh Altbier? Montreal for a handful of admittedly fine brewpubs, or Brussels (and environs) for authentic lambic?
Mexico City for the same insipid lager beers that New Albany’s La Rosita Grill vends less than four blocks from my front door, or traditionally brewed draft Eggenberg lagers in the Old World splendor of Cesky Krumlov?
If it’s all about the beer, then the list narrows considerably. If it’s about cold and alcoholic liquid combined with unique culinary and cultural offerings, then the “best place” might be almost anywhere: A bottle of Singha in Bangkok, Namibian lager after a big game hunt, or even Pabst in whichever dive bar has the best barbecue somewhere in Alabama.
Why does Internet fluff inspire my contrarian instincts?