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.

 

 

Beer Tours – If You Want To Improve Yours, Just Ask Us?

We’ve had a beer or two on our day and have been on a few brewery tours. While we were in Copenhagen, we toured Carlsberg.
Carlsburg had several things going for it.  It has decent beer (sorry Heineken). It has a nice campus. It has a decent place to sit and drink your free beers.  One of the best parts of the tour was the Guinness (ironic) Book of Records certified world’s largest collection of unopened beer bottles (currently +/- 20,000). The other nice part was the history of the company and it’s role in Danish society.
Sorry, I couldn’t fit them all in. Not even close.
They have a copy of The Little Mermaid Statue. The family commissioned the one in the harbor.  You get to see a bunch of old machinery and, like the Budweiser tour, there are stables with horses (no horses in the stables on the Heineken tour).
 

Several things go into making a good tour.  We enjoy a tour and here are some easy ways to make a factory/product tour better:

  • Show funny old commercials. Even ones that the suits setting up the tour don’t think are funny.
  • Have a location with a view.  Look out over mountains, the sea, the city, even a garden. Guinness does a good job with this.  Their Gravity Bar has the best view of Dublin.
The second best part of the Guinness tour
  • Provide plenty of silly photo ops.
  • Try not to be as obvious about making it a giant commercial for your product. Yes, Guinness Tour I am talking to you. Miller, please pay attention as well.  World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, you might be a lost cause.
  • Have knowledgeable people who can actually answer questions about the product. Olde Mecklenburg, Thomas Creek and lots of American microbrews do this well.
  • If at all possible, try to show production.  We eat it up. I’m not sure if you can still do it, but you used to be able to do this at Yuengling and some of the Milwaukee breweries.

 

Lost in Translation – Prize Bull

 
English Translation:
“FORS” WILL BE HARD WON
 

Christened yesterday “Fors-ver-der-Lueg”. This young bull is the pride of breeder Kaltacker (Bern), Hans Bichsel. It must be said that the animal has been chosen to be delivered to winner 2013 edition of the National Swiss Wrestling Festival (aka Schwingen) of struggle, which has has kicked off in Burgdorf.

 
I’m speachless. This is fantastic! We must go next year.
 

 

Panache – The One Beer That Can Make Him Do This

In the Summer here, people find Panache refreshing.  It is beer with some lemonade, kind of like a Shandy. It is a bit too sweet for me, but I can understand it.  He did this.