Going the Whole Hog: Beer Connoisseur in Europe
At Euroventure we firmly believe in getting acquainted with local produce, whether that be local cheeses, delicious fresh bread or the wonderful European tradition that is beer. With the annual celebration of all things hoppy, Oktoberfest, about to get under-way in Munich, what better time for a run-down our favourite local beer in Europe and where to try them, all easily accessible from our famous Whole Hog route!
Just because you’re in a country renowned for its wine doesn’t mean you can’t get a great pint. To my mind, France has the finest ‘premium’ lager out there with Kronenbourg – ask for ‘un Kro’ to fit in with the locals. If you fancy something a bit more special there’s an organic craft beer revolution in Paris; head to the 11th arrondissement (the heart of Paris’ nightlife), where craft beer bars La Fine Mousse and Les Trois 8 offer a fine selection for your delectation, all in really cool venues with a great crowd and amazing atmosphere.
Although Amsterdam can boast of being home to two of the biggest lager brands in the world (Heineken and Amstel), you’d be missing a trick if you play safe and stick to these. The city boasts a huge number of microbreweries – most of which have their own bar as well as being available in trendy spots across the city. Last time I was in the city, I tried some of the beers from the ‘Two Chefs Brewing’ microbrewery – including a very hoppy IPA called Green Bullet which is well worth a try – but asking a bar-tender what they recommend usually gets results. If you want a scenic place to sample the local produce you can do worse than the snappily named ‘Brouwerij ‘t IJ’ in east Amsterdam which is situated in a real old windmill – one of the last to survive in the city. An honourable mention for music lovers is ‘The Waterhole’ – a cool live music venue with a decent selection of ales.
Sadly, for a city with such an illustrious past for beer, the last of big local breweries closed, moved or were bought up by big corporations following the collapse of the Berlin wall. The passion for a good pint has fortunately never left the city and its as easy as you’d expect to sample malty brews from all over Germany, as well as local beers from the capitals flourishing micro-brewery scene. Diversity of German beers is huge: from golden pils to malty bocks to aromatic wheat ales there’s plenty of choice. Berlin is known for its expansive and buzzing biergarten (beer gardens) – the perfect place to sip your way through the hop varieties of Germany. ‘Cafe am Neuen See’, a beer garden on a wooded lakeside, is the perfect place to enjoy a chilled evening with friends.
Eastern Europe is where you get the real beer – those ‘premium’ lagers and heavily-hopped craft beers are favored by hipsters but fade in comparison to the honest simplicity of Czech beer. The average annual consumption of the amber nectar in the country is a whopping 261.5 pints per person – so they ought to know a thing or two about brewing. Pilsner Urquell is the most famous of the Czech beers, and rightly so, as their pioneering technique mastered in 1842 is now the basis for 70% of all beer sold worldwide! Check out Czech Pilsner in the 549 year old beer hall ‘U Medvidku’ where you will also be able to tuck into traditional Czech food, which should help to soak up some of the alcoholic dregs.
Coming in a lowly third place for the most beer drunk annually, the Austrians still know a thing or two about beer. The Austrian breweries still respect the 1487 Reinheitsgebot law (literally purity order) which established the benchmark for quality in beer. Ottakringer, a light pilsner-style beer, is the local beer of choice in Vienna and despite its availability and popularity is an excellent choice. I thoroughly recommend going to the ‘7 Stern Bräu’ brewery and beer-hall in the centre – the atmosphere is great and the beers are as reasonably prices as they are delicious.
Whilst not as high up on the famous beer places leader-board as nearby Vienna and Prague, Bratislava is just as serious about brewing. The cutely named Zlaty Bazant (Golden Pheasant) is the most popular local beer and is pretty tasty but there is also a boom in Eastern-European-style microbreweries in the city. If you want to try something different I’d recommend combining your love of hops with another local delicacy at ‘Starosloviensky Pivovar’, where they specialise in traditional Slovakian goat’s cheese as well as the local beer offerings.
Croatia is another fine beer-producing country and good news if you fancy moving away from the Bavarian-style golden Pilsners – Croatia is known for its great pale lagers and darker beers with a heavier taste. Velebitsko, a Croatian beer brewed from the springs of the Velebit mountain, will satisfy your cravings for something different. If you want the Croatian pub experience go to ‘Pinta’, just off the main square in Zagreb, where the high vaulted ceilings and ornate, traditional wooden furniture make for a relaxed and authentic Croatian evening.
The Catalan capital is the perfect place to drink cerveza-style beers in the clime they’re intended for. Local beers Moritz and Estrella Damm are lighter tipples than those favoured in Bavarian regions. Find yourself a tapas bar and sip a cold cerveza with some patatas bravas and fresh calamari. If you fancy something a bit special go to ‘Mosquito’ a Cantonese-inspired tapas restaurant which makes its own beer – it is particularly renowned amongst local cerveza-aficionados for its wheat beer.
If you feel you need to sample a few of the beers listed on our guide, why not take a self-styled beer tour of Europe with one of our trips – or, if that’s not enough, why not make the pilgrimage to Munich during Oktoberfest for the best in beer appreciation.
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Words by Iain Reilly