What Do Finns Bring Back From Vacation?

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In Scandinavian countries, alcohol is HIGHLY taxed.   Not surprisingly, they are always ready to take advantage of a deal on alcohol.  He says that he’s never seen anything like the Swedes with an open bar.  Yes, I realize that I’m overgeneralizing a bit here.

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Alcohol is not taxed at the same high rate on the cruises and ferries in the Baltic. As a result, Booze cruises are popular and people take advantage of ferries to lower tax countries to buy alcohol. While waiting for our ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, we saw people disembarking with their souvenirs.

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If you’re travelling in the Nordics and want to drink. You might want to plan ahead and take advantage of the deals from duty-free. The natives do. DSC_0371 DSC_0372 DSC_0373 DSC_0374 DSC_0377

 

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Finnish This Brew, A Helsinki Microbrew Festival

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While exploring Helsinki, we stumbled upon a Finnish microbrew festival.  He loves microbrews, so we had to check it out.

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It was a good chance to meet and talk with Finns.  Everyone had told us that the Finns are reserved and not the sort of people to use two words when one will do.   When drinking, this does not appear to be the case.  We were repeatedly engaged in conversation by nearby Finns.  We really enjoyed chatting about their country, beer and life with them.

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While you might not be able to name a single Finnish brew as they don’t export a lot of it, they have a surprisingly good microbrew culture.  The Finns are making some fantastic microbrews.  If you’re traveling there, they are definitely worth seeking out.  There were too many participants to name them all.

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Some of our favorites were:

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They weren’t all crazy beers, but for the traditional Finnish beer drinker, the IPA’s Ale’s and Stouts were probably different than what they grew up with.  However, a growing number of Finns are choosing microbrews instead of the typical beers produced by big global brewing conglomerates.   Karhu (which translates to bear), a traditional Finnish beer, is now owned by Carlsberg.  Many people report boycotting it post acquisition, however a decline in sales cannot be verified.  Small breweries only account for about 1 percent of Finland’s total beer consumption in Finland, but it’s growing each year as Finns develop a taste for more character filled craft beers.   With such good local brews to choose from, it comes as no surprise.

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Our favorite was the Malmgård’s Brewery.  Their Dinkel and Arctic Circle Ale were exceptional.  We met the head of marketing who told us a bit about the brewery, beer in Finland.  The brewery’s products are produced by hand in small batches using clear spring water, the domestic malts, cereals from the farm’s own fields.  They don’t use any additives. Malmgård has both the standard craft beers and more adventurous products.    If you’re in the US, you can get some through Shelton Brothers in shops featuring organic and locally produced products. DSC_0179DSC_0180

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Augustiner Bräu Is Germany’s Best Beer

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With my affinity for all things Belgian, I used to think German beer was overrated. Some may be, Augustiner Bräu is not.  The Augustinian Brotherhood of monks began brewing Augustiner beer at their monastery near Munich’s cathedral in 1328.  This makes it Munich’s oldest brewery.  In 1803, secularization and subsequent privatisation led to it becoming a privately owned company: Augustiner Bräu.  It has been at Neuhauser Straße since 1885.  It was majorly damaged during the Second World War, but was rebuilt.

Today it is one of the six official beers that produce beer for Octoberfest, but  Augustiner beer sets itself apart by being old school.  Most German breweries made their bottles slimmer and gave them a more modern design.  Augustiner kept their traditional form, known as the “Bauarbeiterhalbe” (construction worker’s half liter).

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If it’s so historic and the beer is so great, why haven’t you heard of it?  He says that the Germans are greedy and keep all the good stuff for themselves.  Another reason might be that Augustiner Bräu doesn’t have an advertising department.  In fact, they don’t advertise (with the exception of a website).  Bavarians love it so much, they don’t need to.

Augustiner is considered the last truly local Munich brewery.   If you are in Munich, you can sample the tasty beverage at the brewery’s internal tavern, the “Bräustüberl”, at the Landsberger Straße.  Michael Jackson’s The New World Guide to Beer he described it as “[t]he most elegant place devoted to the consumption of beer in Munich is Augustiner’s 1890’s Restaurant on Neuhauser Strasse.”   It’s less touristy than the Haufbrauhaus and, well, you know how I feel about the beer.  Proust!

The Best Beer In Geneva

Our friend discovered the Brasserie Des Murailles at a summer festival.  He made a strong statement and declared it to be the “best beer in Switzerland.”  After tasting it we fell in love with the brewery (brewery is brasserie in French).  Here’s why:

1. They regularly brew five varieties of beer (and additional seasonal ones). Each one is great.  They don’t make a bad one.

2. The brewer studied in Belgium.  Yeah Belgium!

3. They have continuously grown their business each year with minimal advertising.  They grew so much that they went from the tank above to the tanks below.

4. We like to tour breweries and microbreweries (and pretty much any kind of factory).  Although they are small, their old farm is one of the coolest buildings around.  It is a rustic old bar that has been retrofitted to accommodate brewing and visitors.  The best part is the setting in the countryside of Geneva with a wonderful view of the French Alps and Le Salève.  From the back, you can see the Jura. mountains.

5. Like the Belgians, they manage to pack their beer full of flavor.  Somehow, they manage to keep it light enough for the local market.  Even in during a summer heat wave, they never seem too heavy.

6. Their beers are unique and complex.

7. They are small enough to exercise strong quality control.

8. Although it isn’t technically a reason their beer is great, they are nice.  Really, really nice. You want them to succeed.  Although they love great beer, they aren’t pretentious or snobby.

9. At summer festivals, what would you rather drink Heineken, Kronenbourg 1664 or something with taste and flavor?

10. In a market like Geneva, where great unique beers are hard to come by, they are a godsend.

If you are interested in Swiss beers, check out the Ultimate Switzerland Beer Guide.  Sante! Proust!  Chin Chin!  Cheers!

The Guinness Storehouse Tour, A Pint Of The Black Stuff To Celebrate St. Patty’s Day

I don’t normally post about past vacations.  Since it’s St. Patty’s Day, I’m celebrating by posting about our tour of Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse (before meeting up with some Irish ladies).

Although it’s a cliché and a bit of a tourist trap, the Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s number one tourist attraction.  When we were in Dublin, we figured we had to stop by.   Most giant brewery tours are similar and Guinness is no exception.  The tour is your typical large brewery tour in that it is more like a museum with a lot of advertising than a working brewery and built for tourists.  I’m not knocking it because it is a heck of a good time, just setting reasonable expectations.

Located at 1 St. James Gate, the former home of the Guinness brewery (Guinness is now brewed off-site, hence why they call it a storehouse) is an impressive building with a storied history.   Guinness.  In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease at £45  ($70.77) a year lease brewery!

The Guinness Storehouse is self-guided and it takes at least an hour to see the exhibits.  Prepare yourself for marketing, embrace it.  If you approach it as 7 floors of Guinness propaganda, it won’t be as much fun.

This facility is devoted to advertising and marketing of the Guinness brand and they do it well.  Heck, Guinness markets a lot, has for a long time and does it well.  I can’t believe that I am saying a beer tour is an excellent opportunity to learn about marketing and advertising, but it really is.  It was truly fascinating to look at the evolution of their ad campaigns.  You’ve seen enough posters to know that they are quite funny and the graphics are great.

You also get to see the original copper kettles where they brewed the beer, taste malted barley and either “learn how to pour a perfect pint” or gives you one free beer at the bar upstairs.

The “pour the perfect pint” session, where you learn how to properly  pour a pint of Guinness.  Unfortunately, it’s quite popular and you may wait quite awhile. On the bright side, you will receive a certificate attesting to your new skill.  It is a nice demonstration.  People who don’t want the beers they just poured leave them untouched on the counter.  Broke college students have been known to ensure that they don’t go to waste.

The Gravity Bar is a huge observatory deck on the Storehouse’s top (7th) floor where you get a 360 view of the city and free Guinness.  You’re there for the Guinness and the view.   Some claim that Guinness tastes better here than anywhere else in the world.  I don’t know if it was the best Guinness ever, but it was a mighty fine one.  It could be because Guinness cleans the taps every month, serves at the ideal temperature and it is extremely fresh. Since there’s a constant ready supply and great demand, the beer doesn’t sit around.

The store is massive and contains virtually every piece of beer merchandise ever conceived.  Guinness has managed to put a logo on just about everything.  Hats, tee shirts, glasses, clocks, mugs, posters, beer signs, pictures, they’ve got it all…and then some. They also sell a ridiculous number of foods made with stout.  Given the volume and variety don’t be surprised if the gift store suckers you in.  I’m speaking from experience.  Like our coasters?

If you are looking for ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, a couple of years ago, we had a Guinness dinner.  Every food had Guinness in it.  Here’s the menu

I’d list the beverage, but it seems a bit obvious.  The soundtrack?  Flogging Molly and The Pogues.  A good time was had by all.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Slàinte!

 

Beer In Belgium

Belgium has a long and rich brewing tradition. It is a country the size of Maryland, but brews 700-800 different labels! It is a part of their culture and there are many things that make Belgian beers unique:
Almost all beers are served in their own, specially designed glasses to optimize their taste.
 
They are incredibly diverse and have a lot of different ways of producing beers (spontaneously fermented, second fermentation, etc.).
Towns throughout the country have their famous beer pubs, with storied histories and a huge variety of offerings.
There are lots of specialty beer shops and festivals. Belgian beers are commonly found in wired and corked like champagne bottles (making them good presents).
By the way, Belgium is the home of the largest brewery in the world, InBev. You may have heard of them a couple of years ago when they bought a little company called Anheuser-Busch that makes Budweiser.
 

Ladies (And Gents) Love The Lambic

Lambic beers are a unique to Belgium and different from most other beers.  Lambic‘s fermentation is caused by exposure to native, wild, airborne yeasts and bacteria.  As a result, it is strongly tied to its place of brewing.  It undergoes a relatively long period of aging of up to 2-3 years.
There are several different types of Lambic beers.  They include:
Faro – light, sweet from the added sugars, low on alcohol
Fruits – flavors include: Framboise (rasberry), casis (black currant), kreik (cherries) and peche (peach).  They are often sweet, fruity and the flavors remind you a bit of Jolly Ranchers.  Mort Subite and Belle-Vue are probably the best known and most easily accessible of these.
Gueze – golden to light, amber, sour, acidic, rarely bitter, sometimes harsh with a champagne like sparkle.
Muscat – made from grapes and more like wine.
Lambics may not be our American Neighbor’s sort of thing (his everyday beer is Budweiser and I’m not lying about the everyday part).  Even if you don’t want to drink them everyday can really compliment a food, be fun to taste, or a nice change of pace.

 

 

Belgian Trappist Beers

Orval

Orval (Photo credit: jucanils)

“This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption… Beer!”

Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, Friar Tuck

I thought this quote was perfect for the Trappist beers. To qualify as a Trappist beer, it must:

  • be brewed in a monastery,
  • monks must play a role in its production,
  • profits from the sale must used to support the monastery and/or social programs.
Trappist

Trappist (Photo credit: Titimo)

There are 6 in Belgium:

The Netherland’s has the only other one in the world. While they are all yummy, they have different styles.

Achel trappist beer (Belgium).

Achel trappist beer (Belgium). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Achel was an established monastic brewery until the German army looted its copper kettels during WWI. They restarted brewing in 1998 and have continuously improved their operation. You are starting to be able to find this brand with more ease in the US.
The four varieties of Chimay, with Chimay Bleu...

The four varieties of Chimay, with Chimay Bleue in the glass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chimay, the largest and best-known Trappist brewer, now uses non-monks to do most of their brewing. This has created a bit of a backlash with two main effects arguments: (1) creation of a controversy whether they merit their Trappist designation, and (2) whisperings of a decline in quality.

They make three types: red, white and blue (by far the best). If you are looking to bring something other than wine, a large bottle of Chimay Blue is a nice and pretty easy to find.

Orval Trappist beer

Orval Trappist beer (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Orval is only known for one kind of beer. It is dry, light and hoppy (which makes it different from other Trappist ales).

The monastery of Orval has the beautiful ruins on their grounds that are worth touring. Their symbol is a fish with a ring.    This is because a noblewoman allegedly lost her ring in a pond.  A fish brought it to the surface.  To show her gratitude, she funded the monastery.  That’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

The beers of Rochefort

The beers of Rochefort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rochefort (not Roquefort where they make the yummy but stinky cheese) makes rich ales. I like them all, but if you have never tried them, Rochefort 8 (a bit lighter) and 10 (stronger and darker) are good bets.  Michael Jackson (the Beer Hunter, not the singer) wrote a great article about his visit there.

Westmalle Trappists and friends

Westmalle Trappists and friends (Photo credit: valde_)

Westmalle is the originator of the widely imitated Trippel style. (You are now officially warned about the high alcohol content of all Trippels, Dubbels too. In fact, be aware of the high alcohol content of virtually all Belgian beers. Trust him on this one.) Any of their beers are a good ones and relatively easy to find.

Westvleteren XII - Best bier in the world

Westvleteren XII – Best bier in the world (Photo credit: Philippe Clabots)

Westvleteren is the best beer we have ever had. They don’t market or distribute this beer. To lay our hands on a bottle, our friend Steamer traveled to Belgium, went on a specific morning at a specific time (they don’t sell it any old time) to the abbey and bought all he could.  Don’t quote me on this, but I think there was a six bottle max. It was so good that he drank them all over the course of his vacation.

Luckily, he stopped in a shop in Amsterdam at the end of his trip. They had just sent someone to the monastery to buy a limited amount. He managed to buy one and bring one back to the US for us to taste. Steamer is such a good friend! If you tasted it, you might not share. This beer is so good that it will set the bar by which all beers you taste will be measured (and found wanting).

For more in Westvlandren, here’s a link to an article about someone’s visit.

 

Kinds Of Belgian Beers

Belgium is known for many different kinds of beer. They include:
Abbey Beers – Abbey beers are generally brewed from traditional recipes under a license by a commercial breweries. Maredesous, Leffe and Grimbergen are good ones that are easy to find in the US. Some can be found in the Trippel and/or Dubbel styles.  Many American (and Canadian) microbrews emulate these.
Amber Ales – Belgium’s Amber Ales are similar to British Pale Ales, but are less hoppy. They are slightly spicy which is balanced by a bit of a yeasty taste.
De Koninck

De Koninck (Photo credit: Schlüsselbein2007)

Belgium’s Brown Ales are a specialty of eastern Flanders. They are complex, lack acidity, usually have a caramel-like malty sweetness and have strong flavors (often a sourness from several months of maturation). They tend to have a high alcohol content (notice the start of a pattern and consider this the first of many warnings). One that I have seen in the US is De Koninck.
Français : Delirium Tremens (bière)

Français : Delirium Tremens (bière) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Belgian Golden Ales are not the run of the mill golden ale that you get in the US. They have a higher alcohol content than many of the US ales (you were warned) but not as high as the Belgian Dubbels and Trippels.
Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel and Hopsinjoor

Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel and Hopsinjoor (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Belgian Golden Ales are clear with a clean taste and are maltier and hoppier instead of fruity or yeasty.  Quality ones that are easily available in the US include: Delirium Tremens, Duvel and Delerium Tremens.
English: Exterior of Délirium Café

English: Exterior of Délirium Café (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blanche/Whit/White Beers – These wheat beers are light, cloudy, and with a hint of citrus. They are similar to a German HefeWiessen, but have coriander and orange peel. The White Beers that are best known in the US include: Hoegaarden St. Bernadus and Blue Moon (not Belgian, but I thought it would help explain the style).
Lambic Beers – Lambics are pretty unique so they get their own day.  For the Lambic post, click here.
English: Maes pils

English: Maes pils (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pils – Pils are generally mass produced beers that are widely found in Belgium. Common ones there include: Jupiler, Maes and Stella Artois (which is easily found in the US).

English: Brewery Gaverhopke, Belgian beers

English: Brewery Gaverhopke, Belgian beers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Red Beers – This style comes from western Flanders. Red Beers are produced from red barley, aged in oak and highly fermented. They are refreshing, fruity, sweet and sour. Make sure that you drink it cold (not as much of an issue in the US as it is in other parts of Europe).  Rodenbach and Duchess de Bourgogne are two good examples of this style.

Trappist Beers – They are so wonderful and unique that they get their own day! Click here for the post.

Saisons – Saison Beers are a specialty of Walloon (the southern French-speaking part of Belgium). They are typically brewed in smaller breweries and have an artisanal quality. They are hoppier, spicier, have stronger flavors than many other beers and can be a bit tart. Most likely, they won’t have the extremely high alcohol content of other Belgian beers. They are brewed in smaller batches and you can taste it.  Some of the better ones that you can find in the US are: Dupont and Fantome Pissenlit.
Categorie:Afbeelding bier

Categorie:Afbeelding bier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Special Belgian Beers are some of the country’s best.  They are have a gravity of .060 to .095, use various herbs and spices and doesn’t clearly fall into any other category (more or less).  They offer a unique taste that is not easily replicated.  You can usually find some brands in the US: Golden Draak (similar in style to Piraat and a friend’s favorite), Kwak, Piraat (blonde, have a high alcohol content and amazing flavor), Dupont (I know that it is listed more than once here, try it and decide how you would categorize it) and La Chouffe (dark amber, rich, herbal, a great winter beer).

Sour ales from Belgium

Sour ales from Belgium (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Congratulations Belgium! After 541 Days, You Have A Government.

English: Flanders (red) in Belgium and the Eur...

English: Flanders (red) in Belgium and the European Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Belgium was unable to form a government for 541 days! What?  How can they have been governmentless for so long? There was an ethnic standoff in Belgium’s parliament. The French and Flemish (Dutch) speaking communities* were divided and were not able to form a government… for about 18 consecutive months (demolishing Iraq’s record).

 

 

English: A graphical representation of the six...

English: A graphical representation of the six biggest Flemish political parties and their results for the House of Representatives (Kamer). From 1978 to 2010, in percentages for the complete ‘Kingdom’. Nederlands: Een grafische voorstelling van de 6 grootste Vlaamse partijen en hun behaalde resultaten voor de Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers. Van 1978 tot en met 2010, uitgedrukt in procenten voor ‘Het Rijk’. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Why didn’t they hold new elections. Few people believes calling new elections would help. The Belgians don’t have any truly national political parties, only regional (i.e., Flemish, French, etc.) parties. The Flemish-speaking separatist party (New Flemish Alliance) is quite popular and there are deep divisions between the parties. If they held new elections, the results would likely have been the same (as the one that created the stalemate) or the more extreme populist parties would have gained ground.

 

Things continued to function, more or less, on auto-pilot. Civil servants showed up to work. Governmental power was already somewhat decentralized from the national government to the French and Flemish speaking parts of the country. These separate divisions continued to function. Also, Belgium is part of the European Union which exerted power (ironically from Brussels).

Elio Di Rupo

Elio Di Rupo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was finally resolved when a Flemish separatist party left negotiations in the hope of provoking new elections. The move backfired when another party managed to cobble together a new government when Belgium’s debt was downgraded last month. Their new leader is Elio Di Rupo.

I love Belgium. It is a fantastic country. To celebrate Belgium’s new government (and aid you in your holiday beverage selections), I am declaring this coming week Belgian Beer Week. Cheers! Sante! Op uw gezondheid! Proust!

Français : Etape 19 (L'Alpe d'Huez) du Tour de...

*Cyclist Philippe Gilbert just won an award for his bravery uniting his fellow Belgians, both Flemish and French.

**Mr. Di Rupo is the country’s first openly gay leader and the second openly gay leader of a country (after Johanna Sigurdardottir of Iceland).

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I was going to post this early last week. On the way home, I heard on the radio that a gunman in Liege, Belgium opened fire on a crowd. The gunman killed six (seven including himself), and injured 121 people. Words can’t properly express the tragedy and sorrow created by this senseless act.