Monday, May 12, 2014

Beer in Europe

During our short return to the States I had the pleasure of remembering many of the local microbrew on offer. 

Guiness Stout
complete with Irish cloverleaf

I was instantly reminded how different beer is there.

I would like to encourage readers to perform their own deep research on the topic.  Each of us have different tastes and prefer different qualities in a good brew.  Acquiring a PhD on the topic requires many many years of careful, faithful, personal research.  As a short-cut, perhaps I could offer a few thoughts based on my own experience while living in Paris?

Some Americans get all misty-eyed at the thought of yellow colored low ETOH liquid that's served in Southern Germany around Oktoberfest.  If that's your pleasure, you know when and where to go.  The Germans will no doubt happily embrace your open wallet and introduce you to their Party Tent where the fluids flow well into the night.  Personally, better stuff comes from the former Czech Republics and England.

With this kind of Deep Beer history 
things are bound to be quite tasty.

Up until rather recently the only French beers to be found came from the former German temporarily held (in Geologic Time) territories of the Alsace region.  Karlsberg, 1664, and Heineken all brew in this part of this often fought-over part of the world.  It's strange to think that German laws are still followed in this part of France.  If this kind of mass-produced beer often finds it's way into your mug, then all is right with the world and you'll be happy to know these yellow-colored waters are found partout France.  Any pub, bar, brasserie, or cafe will likely have it on tap.  To my palate, again, better stuff comes from the former Czech Republics and England.

It took a long conversation with a Parisian (ne Normand) beer merchant to sort out the how's and why's of the current (woeful) French Brew Situation.  It seems that when the peasants had more than a few heads rolling at their feet during the Terror that just about anyone who knew how to make a decent beer packed up and high-tailed it out of Dodge toute de suite!  Carmelites, Benedictines, Cistercians, and Trappistes each took what the knew and headed for more religiously tolerant parts of Europe just across a conveniently close border.  This is why the best Continental Brew still comes from Belgium and the Netherlands.

Heaven's Own Gates 
Beer Inside

Americans have improvised on a theme of good, drinkable, fairly low alcohol content (3 to 6 percent ETOH) English beers.  A friend who lives there (in Merry 'Ol, that is) suggested that the English keep the alcohol content deliberately low so that a person can enjoy several in an evening without the need of a wheelchair later.  Even Guiness Stout on tap around these parts is only 4.5percent ETOH.

Porter (one of my favorite), Stout (yum!), English (that's the word!) Session Beers, Amber (alert!) Ale, Brown Ale, and Lager (to take the edge off the Summer Heat).  These were some of my favorite styles.  Brewers in Portland, Oregon make great versions of each of these.  The place is called Beervana for a reason.

On the European Continent things are for the most part done differently.  If you're only used to what happens in England and the Land of the Free the situation can be more than a little confusing.  Beer is not often labeled by style so it can be difficult to know what you're getting into.  They can talk about a blond or a brown, but you have no idea whether something is a light on the palate and drinkable or if it is more suitable for delivering a Good Night Y'all Knockout Blow around Vespers... and if you happen upon a Lambic for the first time your life, hold on to your hat.  It's nothing like you'll ever have expected out of something stamped with the word "Beer" on the bottle.

Monk's Truth in Advertising ~ it
really is the Peace of God.  
Brilliant stuff, this.

Alcohol content begins at 7 percent for a low-end supermarket shelved triple fermented beer to upwards of 15 percent around the winter holidays in what are called Winter Warmers.  Standard commonly available quadruple fermented beers average 10 to 12 percent ETOH year round.  Many beers are not strongly hopped, though if you look carefully, the Continental Europeans will brew a strong beer with flavors similar to an American IPA.  Malts tend to be predominant and many beers taste slightly to the side of sweet.

Only recently have the French started to experiment with small batch brewing.  If you head down to la cave au bulles deep in the Marais you will find the samples of the current trends in French beer production.  Not that the State of the Art as practiced in France hasn't stirred more than a few pots to full boil.  I've heard there is something of a lutte between traditionalists and la nouvelle vagueLa lutte is over how much and how strong a hop _should_ be used.  I'm not sure who's winning, but the fight has more than a few amusing twists to it.

Monks are not the only people who
can brew a wonderful beer.  
Straffe H. proves the point.

Until the French get things going again, my head turns toward Belgium and the Netherlands.  Frequently I am heard when raising my mug en demandant encore de la biere belge, svp!  For this simple reason I frequent a small beer merchant who's long running establishment (c1976 - by some accounts it's the oldest continually operating beer shop in Paris).  It's only a 15 minutes hike from the apartment with M. Caddy in tow.

The Bootlegger is Heaven on Earth.  It's a temple devoted to Rocket Fuel... er... Great Tasting Beer belge.  One and a half walls are devoted to brew emanating from that single small mosquito infested part of the world.  Another wall stocks German, Scots, English, Irish, American, and Czech beers.  Yet another wall holds only Seriously Large Bottles of biere belge.

Rocket Fuel disguised as beer

This should suffice to set a rickety foundation for exploring Continental Europe's tastes in beer.

Next I will share a personal well-tested ever evolving hopefully improving always applied technique for performing your own Boots On The Ground beer research in bars and brasseries.

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