Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Euro-trip Tasting Notes

Brasserie Federal – Zurich, Switzerland

I’ve been procrastinating writing the last post in the hopper from our Europe trip, but here it goes:

After taking a beautiful 3 hour train ride from Lugano back up to Zurich, the wife and I were looking around for a relatively reasonably priced restaurant (for Switzerland) at which to have our final meal in Europe. Not wanting to stray too far from the train station, we happened upon Brasserie Federal (which was actually IN the main train station). I didn’t expect anything extraordinary, but unbeknownst to me at the time, this place was on Beer Traveler’s list of 150 great places to have a beer. I got to check this place off the list without even trying!

The food was pretty good, albeit expensive as was to be expected in Switzerland. They had a really nice bottle selection with an emphasis on Belgian beers as well as a small but unique (to me) draft selection. I tried a schwarzbier by Falken, a brand brewed in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. It was very clean with hints of roast, paired with a similarly subtle hop bill. I could get into lagers like this. The second beer I tried (almost out of compulsion, as they had so many signs about the place that I thought it was the restaurant’s name at first) was a hell beer  by Haldengut. This brewery in Churn, Switzerland was purchased by Heineken just a few years ago. Their hell beer was pretty much as I expected: very clean but with that familiar lager taste I can’t get myself to fully enjoy. Very similar to Surly’s Hell beer I tried last summer. Just can’t get into hell lagers. (more…)

Eichoff Braugold in Lugano, Switzerland

After a few days in Cinque Terre, my wife and I hopped on a train (well, multiple trains – it was kind of a mess again) and headed Northwest up to Lugano, Switzerland to spend a day there on our way back to Zurich. This was “the beginning of the end” of our amazing trip, and the weather treated it as such. We had enjoyed beautiful blue skies every single day in Italy except for the day we left when it poured rain. Fitting. The rain even managed to follow us throughout the 300 kilometers journey up to Lugano.

Lugano is a large city located in an extremely beautiful region of Switzerland. Very near the popular Lake Como, Lugano is known as “the Italian region of Switzerland” as it is very near the country’s border with Italy. The language and signage appeared to confirm this, as an official universal language wasn’t quite evident. Do I try in vain to speak German or Italian? It depends on who you talk to.

As I’ve stated previously, Switzerland is EXPENSIVE! A very beautiful country, true. But they know this and consequently charge you extra for it. After arriving in town, we walked around quite a while, passing up many restaurants where we could have easily dropped 100 Euro ($115) on a dinner for two as well as a McDonalds before finding this limited menu lunch place that also does happy hour called Time Out. They had a few beers on tap and were so happy to have us there that they offered free appetizers. FREE FOOD! In SWITZERLAND! It kind of blew my mind. (more…)

Italy's beer – Peroni Lager or Angelo Poretti Pilsner?

As I’ve stated many times over, Italy is not really “into” beer. Most available by far was Peroni‘s standard lager, a SAB MIller product. This was definitely the country’s Bud/Miller/Coors beer of the masses, though I should note it’s a bit more flavorful. We had Peroni a few times while in Italy, both on tap and out of the bottle. I wasn’t ever super impressed or super disappointed. It was just kind of… there.

Once in Monterosso al Mare, the Northwestern most town of Cinque Terre, we were out to eat and the pizza place had one beer on tap though I wasn’t sure what it was. I ordered “the beer on tap” and when it came I had a little fun trying to guess what it was. Kinda tasted skunky and they had some Beck’s paraphernalia strewn about the place, so when the waitress came back over I submitted by guess.

“Oh no, no. You are drinking Angelo Poretti beer, Italy’s beer!” She was very enthused about it and made sure that I know it was to be appreciated. Ok, well it kinda tasted skunky like Beck’s. Maybe they just needed to clean their tap line or something. (more…)

Tennent's Super, Strong Lager

Having drank all together too much wine in Italy, I needed a change of pace and decided to seek out a beer at the market to pair with a late lunch (which was THE best slice of pizza I had on the trip, focaccia bread-based) on the deck of our apartment. I picked up a bottle of Tennent’s Super, a “strong Scottish lager” that comes in at 9%. I could definitely tell while drinking it that it was a very strong beer. It had good head retention for a lager, darker gold in color closer to what you’d expect of an IPA. The hop profile was light on the bittering additions, heavier on the flavor hops (tasted like an english variety), and seemed to have almost no aroma hop additions. The taste definitely lingers for a while.

Funny story: After returning home, I did some research online and found out this InBev product is often preferred by the homeless, teenagers and basically anyone looking to get drunk ASAP. There are some reviews online (good example here) that rip into this beer. Honestly, it wasn’t horrible. From my perspective, it was just an amped-up lager. I kinda think MOST lagers taste like shit compared to ales, just that this one had more malt dumped into it and a bigger hop profile which made it more interesting to me. Maybe they have a different recipe for Euro-distribution? I know Guinness does that. It seems this stuff is mainly available in cans in the states. Mine was out of a bottle, which adds to my suspicion that a different recipe might be in play here. (more…)

Cinque Terre, Italy

Manarola, Italy – where we stayed

Oh Cinque Terre… such a beautiful place. And thanks to that asshole Rick Steves, pretty much everyone knows it. Fortunately, our time here was largely during the off-peak days of the week, having arrived on Saturday night (which was crazy busy, however) and staying through Tuesday morning. The “five lands” sits on the northern part of Italy’s western coast as the peninsula meets the mainland. There are five towns build right into the coastal hillside, connected only by winding pathways (and speeding trains). Besides the tourist euros flying out of my pockets, the locals appear to survive on the growing of grapes for use in the production of wines specific to their region (very tasty in a well-balanced dry/sweet sort of way). Fishing also appeared to be a popular occupation and hobby. Consequently, most menus leaned heavily towards affordable fresh fish offerings. This pleased me greatly. Again, as is the theme of Italy, craft beer was clearly not high on their priority list. I didn’t find much of interest here. (more…)

Theresianer Antica Birreria di Trieste's Strong Ale

While staying in Anghiari, we took a day trip to Perugia, the capital of Umbria (Tuscany’s neighboring region). We stopped for lunch before our walk around the ancient city. With my prosciutto sandwich, I tried a strong ale from a brewery called Theresianer, located in the northeast Italy town of Treviso. It had a strong carmel flavor, very malty. You could tell it was reasonably high in alcohol.


Tuscany, Italy

After Munich, we took an overnight train down to Florence, then another train to Arezzo and finally bussed it to the tiny, non-touristy hill town of Anghiari. It was kind of an ordeal. The overnight train ride was about 10 hours long. We got a sleeper car, but I’m pretty tall so I didn’t fit in my bunk. I probably slept two or three hours all night. We didn’t have seats, just bunks, and had two other German ladies in our room so I couldn’t really get up and do anything. Just kind of laid there, trapped in my undersized coffin all night with plenty of time to think. Probably won’t do that again.

Once we got to Florence the next morning and transferred to our Arrezo-bound train, those crazy Italians let us get on a section of the train they had planned to take to the garage for maintenance (not indicated via any signage…). There was no one else in our car, but fortunately there happened to be a native Italian who also spoke fluent English (which in Tuscany is apparently very uncommon) in the car behind us. The three of us were the only ones who ended up finding ourselves miles out of town stuck in the maintenance garage area. Our new best friend who guides tours of France for English speakers for a living managed to find the train conductor and get into a heated debate about why the three of us had found ourselves in this predicament. Apparently the decision had been made after we got in the cars that those were in need of maintenance and were to be diverted. Fine, but they probably should have sent someone to walk through the cars before sending them miles outside of the city for maintenance. Our new best friend managed to get us all a cab and we made it back to the train station in a mere two hours after our original departure… I’m not sure what we would have done without him, as the train conductor seemed to speak zero English and we had no functioning phones with which to call a cab. I offered to pay for the cab ride but he insisted covering it: “I am embarrassed for my country. This is not possible. I will write letters, make phone calls, get this money back and make certain this doesn’t happen again. This is not possible…” Nice guy. (more…)

Franziskaner Dunkel-Weizen

I picked up a bomber of Franzikaner’s dunkel-weizen at the local market one day in Munich. Glad I did. Got to chill out on the deck of our hotel and try this out one evening after dinner.

Though it exhibited some banana flavor typical of a Bavarian hefe, it’s fruitiness was placed in check by carmel or other dark malts used to create a deep amber hue. Nice balance between carmel and banana. There was little to no noticeable hop profile and came across as having a very soft mothfeel. Persistent head due to the fact that this is, of course, a wheat beer at heart.  (more…)

Hofbräuhaus – Munich, Germany

Yes we made it to the one, the only, the big HB. One of Munich’s most historic and popular tourist attractions, the Hofbräuhaus has expanded to multiple locations here in the states in the last few years. Though this unfortunately makes it less special in my mind, I was still glad to enjoy some beers and lunch at the original location.

The HB in Munich is a HUGE place. I’d been told to stop by for a beer and skip ordering food because the service is normally poor. Our waiter, however, was as attentive as one would reasonably expect. I will admit this was probably because we were there for a late lunch during the middle of the week. I didn’t happen to take any tasting notes here (whoops) so I actually remember more about how the traditional weisswurst veal sausage tasted more than the beer. Annnnd in case you were wondering: yes it was weird to eat a white sausage (that’s what she said?) but it tasted great. I’d definitely order that again. As far as the beer goes, I think based on my pictures I had their dunkel and my wife had their Munich weisse, and I think both were pretty good. Informative, right?

Just based on what others have said, I’d recommend doing like we did and going at an off-peak time so you can actually get your waiter’s attention.


Radeberger Pilsner

I think Budweiser has really ruined pilsners and – to a large extent – lagers for me. I tried a Radeberger Pilsner out of the mini-bar in our hotel and couldn’t get over how much more I’d rather have been drinking an ale.

The noble German hops really came through, backed by a subtly clean malt bill and all held up by the highly carbonate water of Bavaria.  (more…)

Kloster Andechs – Andechs, Germany

Hey reader – thanks for your patience. Blogging has been a bit tough to fit into the schedule lately. The band has been very active and I just started a new job last week. I’ll try to keep posting as much as possible. Here we go:

Though we were over in Europe for about 18 days, I can honestly say our day drip out to this monastery/brewery was overall my favorite day of the trip. We took a train about 45 min. southwest of Munich down to Herrsching, a small town on the coast of a decent sized lake called the Ammersee. I’d been referred to Kloster Andechs (in the nearby town of Andechs) by Max, a reader of my blog, in the comment s section of a previous post. Glad I took the recommendation!

After getting off the train at Herrsching, we followed the signs for Kloster Andechs through the town, neighborhoods and eventually through the woods for a longer walk than I’d anticipated. I had to keep telling my wife how sure I was that the brewery was “just over the next ridge.” It wasn’t a lie because I honestly believed it, but I was wrong a few times before I was right. (more…)

Ayinger – Munich, Germany

Ahhhhhh Ayinger: probably my favorite of the three big brewery restaurants we visited in Munich as evidenced by the fact that we actually went here twice in the span of just three days. We had dinner here our first night in the city and got a great seat right out front on the patio. I ordered the same thing I did at the Zeughauskeller (wienerschnitzel) and didn’t have to pay a million dollars for it this time. Go Munich! Tasted just as good, if not better. (more…)

Paulaner – Munich, Germany

Ok, here we go. We finally made it to Munich. After hitting the Marienplatz and checking out the beer garden in the Viktualienmarkt, we stumbled upon Paulaner’s pub and had our first beers in Germany.

First, I went for their dunkel they had on tap. It came across as very “clean” and definitely like a very flavorful, malty lager. So malty, it almost seemed to tread the line between a lager and an ale. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of lagers, but I can dig this.

Next, I had to try their famous Salvator beer, the origin of the doppelbock style (even though they only had it in bottles). Monks from Paula, Italy who had moved to Munich came up with this beer hundreds of years ago to sustain them during Lent when they were unable to consume solid foods. These monks sent some of this strong beer to the Pope for approval, as some were worried they were having too good of a time “fasting” in this manner. Apparently the beer spoiled en route and upon tasting, the Pope was quite impressed the monks had chosen to subject themselves to consuming such a beverage during Lent and gave Salvator papal blessing. The monks pretty much said “umm… well ok then” and kept making and drinking Salvator each year.


Schneider Weiss

One of our days in Zurich was occupied with a brief train trip out of town up to Üetliberg to see the city and Zurichsee from afar. Very cool views from the tower:


Zeughauskeller – Zurich, Switzerland

We decided to hit up the Zeughauskeller for beers and dinner for our first night in Zurich. Yes, it’s a tourist attraction, but we were tourists. So there.

I’d heard Switzerland was expensive before we went there, and you know what? TRUE. Fortunately, a Swiss Franc is only worth something like $1.15 right now (whereas Euros are worth $1.40), but still… Switzerland is a beautiful place and those assholes let you know they know it. The single most expensive meal we had on this three week vacation was here at the Zeughauskeller. Three beers between us, bread (turns out you have to pay for the bread on the table if you eat it…), two salads and two entrees came to around 110 Swiss Francs. With the conversion to the dollar, that’s nearly $130.oo Ridiculous! I had freaking wienerschnitzel and my wife had some forgettable chicken cordon bleu. Get off your high horse Switzerland.

I did some checking after we got back and it looks like I’m not the only one to dislike this place, though I guess our service could have been worse based on the reviews. It was probably OK because we got hungry and went to dinner early that day.

Anyway, I will say their beer was delicious. I had a couple pints of bock (on the right). It was probably unfiltered or unfined, as it was the most opaque of all the bocks I ended up trying on the trip. Very smooth, likely because it was served close to cellar temperature (I’ll give them points there). I can’t recall what my wife ordered. Wasn’t taking notes just yet. Looks like probably their standard lager. (more…)

Euro-trip 2011

Kloster Andechs

My wife and I have been over in Europe for the past three weeks on the longest vacation we’ve ever taken. For those keeping regular tabs on this blog, you didn’t notice much of an interruption because I managed to write a few posts out in advance to go live while I was away in attempt to hold your interest. I hope it worked.

Our basic itinerary went like this: Zurich, Munich, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Lugano, Zurich, home. We ended up making a big loop, riding the rails all the way. I managed to find a variety of beers to try (and some wines, of course), taking notes and pictures so I could blog about them upon my return to the states, naturally. And here we are. I have a ton of blog fodder to work with! Max, if you’re still reading — we ended up taking your suggestion and making a day trip from Munich out to Kloster Andechs. Well worth it, thanks for the suggestion! One of my favorite days on the trip for sure. Expect a detailed blog post soon.

The images below are merely a taste of what is to come from the trip. I’ve created a new “Euro-trip Tasting Notes” category so all posts pertaining to the vacation can easily be found in one place. (more…)