Monday, November 23, 2009

A Perfect Munich Beergarden - At Last!

For ages now, I've been prattling on about wonderful beers and wonderful places in which to guzzle them. There are so many! And since I can only praise the lovely liquid so much without a Thesaurus nearby, I tried to attach a numerical rating to the various Beer Experiences. But is there such a thing as a Perfect Beer Experience?
Well, yes, I've decided that there is indeed a Perfect Ten out of Ten on my Yuk/Yummy Scale of Beer Goodness. There is a Perfect Beer for me, and a Perfect Beergarden where I can enjoy it, and yes, it is in Munich, Germany. It's the first beergarden I ever visited, the most recent beergarden I've been to, and if there was only one beergarden left for Mooncattie, this would be the one I'd greet the Afterlife with.It's the Augustiner-Keller, just west of Munich's main railway station, or Hauptbahnhof. Weather permitting, it's a joy to sit outdoors among the chestnut trees and the thousands of happy patrons and enjoy one of Munich's most historic (ie. OLD) beers. Whether you go for the Augustiner Helles, the slightly stronger Edelstoff, or their Weissbier, you are guaranteed a magnificent maß (I hope that's the 'double-s' key). If the clouds are rolling in, you can always duck inside the large adjacent beer hall and join your fellow revellers in toasting the night away.

I won't say there isn't a better place to enjoy a beer, but in my (albeit fairly limited) experience, it's the best I've found. Of course, this means I have to keep traveling and trying out new spots while not forgetting to return to my old favourites. Roll on, 2010, and Prost! to you all.

Augustiner Keller
Arnulf Strasse 52
80335 Munich
Ph# (089) 594393

Take the #17 Tram to Hopfenstr. or any of the main S-Bahn trains to Hackerbrücke and walk one block north to Arnulfstr., then turn right one block to Zirkus-Kronestr. Cheers!

NEXT: The Big 5-0!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Perfect Munich Beergarden, Part 2

Yikes, I haven't written anything in over a month. Busy at work, and general laziness, I guess. I want to continue my look back at the Summer of 2009 and in particular, a wonderful time spent touring the beergardens of Munich. In an earlier chapter, I recalled a trip to the northern part of the city to visit a Spaten sponsored garden near the River Isar. Today I'm pleased to tell you about another Spaten spot located well to the south of Munich, but easily accessible by S-Bahn and a lovely countryside stroll. It's the historic Kugler Alm Beergarden!
How to get here: from anywhere on the main S-Bahn line of stations in the heart of Munich, grab the S5 in the direction of Furth. That's your destination, and you'll need an upgraded ticket or transit daypass to get there, as it's a bit further beyond the Munich city limits. Once you arrive at Furth, just follow the directions on the various signposts to Kugler Alm. It's less than a 20-minute walk, and a very pleasant one it is.

I arrived just in time for lunch on a Wednesday, and as you can see, there aren't a lot of folks hanging around just yet. I'm sure it's a great spot in the evenings (plenty of parking adjacent) and on weekends (lots of cycling paths leading the way in). That's where the historic nature of Kugler Alm is revealed - this is the home of the Radler, the light-beer mixture of Beer and Lemonade (or anything resembling what we know as 7-Up). Legend has it that the garden's owner, Franz Kugler, came up with the idea in 1922 as a means of keeping the Radlers (cyclists) from getting too tipsy to ride home after a visit. It's now a common low-alcohol alternative in many beergardens and taverns in Germany. Well, I didn't have to worry about driving or cycling, so I went for the mass of Spaten Helles and a plate o' ribs, and was I ever happy afterwards!
This was, for me, very close indeed to the perfect beergarden experience. The BBQ spareribs were the BEST I had tried at any of the Munich gardens, and the beer was fresh, cold, and tasty. The awning above provided shelter from a brief July shower, the loos were clean, and the staff was friendly. What more could I want? Well, not very much actually. I rate the Kugler Alm a hair or two above the previous day's visit to Sankt Emmerams Mühle for the fine location, the superior ribs, and the ever so slightly tastier Spaten. An easy 9.5 on the Yuk/Yummy Scale of Beery Goodness, and maybe, just maybe, touching a wee bit closer to the Perfect Ten. So I'll split hairs and give it a grateful 9.75 and look forward very much to the day I get to return to this wonderful spot. For an easy day trip outside Munich's city center, I cannot think of a better destination to quench one's thirst than this one.
Kugler Alm
Linien Strasse 93
82041 Oberhaching
PH (089) 61390190
Open 10am - 11pm

NEXT: Yes, there IS a Perfect Ten!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Emergency Creative Writing Chapter, Pt. 2

It's a scene from another one of America's most beloved long-running soap opera comic strips, which will not be identified or mocked in any way, as this is another loving tribute, so please don't sue me, and instead let's all rejoice that this wonderful example of art is with us every day!

I reckon you remember Ol’ Blue?
And with one quick glance at the strange, spotless truck with the insane headlights that Cody had insisted on installing on his own after watching that movie about the cute little alien that everybody was talking about, all the years came rolling back and it was that impossibly long June evening again when it seemed like the sun was never gonna set. And Lu Ann had been saying how this time she really was gonna go to New York City and make it as an artist, and Cody had just better get used to the idea. And Cody was saying that this was fool talk and that she’d be happy to paint her prairie flowers just as much while being his wife and raising his kids while he worked with his older brother Woody and his Pa at the piggery, and it all seemed so wrong to her to hear all this, even if it was the second biggest piggery in the county. And now Cody is working for Daddy, and what’s up with that? And now the sun was finally setting, and Cody knew that she was gonna be on that plane the next morning, and he started to make those sad, snorty crying noises, and she leaned over and kissed him, and knew that he was gonna take that as a big old green light for sliding her into the back seat, and what kind of truck has a back seat anyhow? And she thought, well here goes, as he rolled her sundress up her legs and kind of stumbled on her, and then, like he forgot or something, turned around and switched on the radio and Ol’ Blue’s heater. And with the truck’s engine wheezing like someone whistling really badly, he put on that 1510AM signal out of Mangy Butte and there was that danged Oak Ridge Boys song that they played every half hour and Cody loved so much, and then he kind of fell on her bare legs and undid his belt and everything seemed to go from there in a weird sort of a way, like he was trying to plop down and up, down and up, in time to that song with the stupid words, and it was so hard not to laugh, but she knew that would just ruin everything for him, so she bit her lip and listened to Giddy Up A-Ooom Poppa, Ooom Poppa, Mow Mow. And his breathing started getting real heavy and raspy like the noise of his truck’s heater, and she was thinking how one of her feet still had a shoe on and the other was bare and tucked into a map pocket, and what kind of a truck has a map pocket in the back seat, and there was that hand clapping sound of his little bits slapping against her butt, and she kept thinking that it was sort of like milking a cow backwards for some reason, but then she wondered if maybe he didn’t know that he wasn’t really inside her, and could it be that even though he’s got pigs all over the place, he’s never seen them doing it, and should she grab his pickle and help it in, or would that make him angry? And then those danged words Ooom Poppa, Mow Mow came on again, and Cody went all funny and yelled along with the song Hi-Ho Silver, Away!, and there was an awful mess, but it was mostly over his truck’s back seat and she was thankful for that, and then he kind of fainted on top of her and started making moany noises about how she can’t leave him and there’s nothing but trouble in New York City. And lying there, with her foot still crammed into that map pocket, and the sky getting dark real fast now, Lu Ann thought about how that plane can’t take off fast enough for her and the first thing she’s gonna do tomorrow after arriving at the New York City Airport, is make a telephone call about that apartment that’s up for rent with the two other gals as roommates. And she thought that’ll be just fine, because they can show her the big city, and she can teach them the Ways of the West. And there won’t be anyone or anything wheezing, and there won’t be any danged Oak Ridge Boys.
Oh yeah, Lu Ann remembered Ol’ Blue.

NEXT: Back to Munich for more ravings about Beergardens!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Perfect Munich Beergarden, Part 1

Beer to the north of us, beer to the south of us...if you visit the fine German city of Munich, you'll be surrounded by the stuff and it's all good. A lot of it is great. And some of it is just about Heaven in a Stein. How appropriate that a liter (or litre) glass (or stein) of Bavarian suds is known as a Mass (or Maß as it's spelled in Germany) since it's bordering on a religious experience when the beer is right. And Munich gets it so right!

I was fortunate to visit three particularly wonderful Munich beergardens in July of 2009. In this chapter, we'll head north via the city's super transit system to check out one of them, the Sankt Emmerams Mühle. On a city map, it appears tucked away on a distant shore of the river Isar, way to the north of the Englischer Garten - but it's not really difficult to access. Just take the U-Bahn line #6 north to Studentenstadt station, then transfer onto the #50 bus in the direction of Johanneskirchen. Just two stops will take you onto a highway, then across the river and back south along the far side. Jump off and walk westbound downhill at St Emmerams Strasse, and there you are: a pleasant outdoor garden that seats well over a thousand thirsty visitors. Many are locals who have cycled in from wherever, and a few brave souls will even try to park in the vicinity.

"Mühle" means "Mill", and this was the site of a paper mill for many years. Beer and food have been part of the complex for well over a century, and although the old mill buildings survive to this day, this is now a beergarden only. And what a spot! It's a Spaten garden, featuring the fine beers of this famous member of the Munich Big Six breweries. If you are a wheat beer fan, you can indulge in a Franziskaner Weissbier. I'm there for the Helles, however, and here's the pot at the end of my rainbow - a nice maß of lager!

What a treat! I've had past experiences with Spaten where the beer has been something less than ideal - well, let's just use the word "stale" and be done with it. No worries at St. Emmerams Mühle, where the Spaten was tasty, fresh, cool and delicious. And the appearance of that book at the far right of the photo means it's time for me to once again plug Larry Hawthorne's wonderful The Beer Drinker's Guide to Munich, the book that led me to this and several other wonderful Munich beer spots I wouldn't have known about otherwise. If you're thinking of a Munich voyage, please do yourself a huge favour and track down the Guide. I've mentioned it in earlier posts - don't forget, your copy will have coupons for FREE BEER in selected beergardens, AND THIS IS ONE OF THEM! Yes, I enjoyed that lager for half-price!

I've gone on and on about a Yuk/Yummy Scale of Beery Goodness, and although I find it hard to give anyplace a Perfect 10, it's easy to award Sankt Emmerams Mühle a 9, maybe a 9.5 for ambience, friendly staff, and delicious beer. It's a lovely, and easy adventure away from Munich's inner city and I look forward to returning some sunny day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Emergency Creative Writing Chapter, Pt. 1

It's a scene from one of America's most beloved long-running soap opera comic strips, which will not be identified or mocked in any way, as this is a loving tribute, so please don't sue me, and instead let's all rejoice that this wonderful example of art is with us every day!O Edinburgh, My Edinburgh
I entered the morning room at St. Andrew’s Bed & Breakfast, and found my usual table by the door empty and waiting. After a quick good morning nod to the other early birds, I sat down and surveyed the offerings. Toast. Cold, burnt pieces of dry toast, filed upright like index cards inside a wired, um, toast-holding device! I instinctively picked out a paper-thin slice from the middle and began shaving off slivers of rock-hard butter. Well, here we are again, ready to tackle Edinburgh once more. Thank heaven for the orange juice and tea. I could have done without the potato-ade, though.

It’s a complicated city to describe. I could tell you that the city has a medieval feel to it, with its Gothic architecture and cobblestone streets, but I’d be insulting your intelligence (never mind resembling a complete nitwit) as that pretty much describes every town in Europe. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Edinburgh enjoys a somewhat uneasy relationship with its past, and with the mobs of people who come to feed off of it, especially during August when the Festival is on. The cash brought in by the visitors is welcome, but the folks spending the cash are merely tolerated. I’ll be glad when the fookin’ tourists fook aff home, I heard one teenager say the previous evening, as he weaved back and forth along the sidewalk outside a pub. That was my cue to slow down, cross the road, and try to remain invisible. I guess it worked – the kid and his two buddies abruptly stopped and sprayed a gush of piss worthy of the Firth of Forth onto ye olde cobblestones below. At least two of them remembered to zip up afterwards.

Of course, Edinburgh is a beautiful city. The Castle on the Hill is a magnificent sight, especially at night when illuminated by spotlights for the evening Tattoo. The Royal Mile that winds downhill from the Castle to Hollyrood is pretty touristy, but it makes for a great stroll anyway. The Gardens below the Castle, separating the Old and New cities, is a good spot to relax in between bouts of sightseeing. And the area just off the Princes Street shopping district is very pleasant for just wandering around and breathing in the atmosphere. On my street, that meant an atmosphere combining urine-soaked cobblestones and fish & chips grease from the local shop that always seemed to be closed whenever I approached. I was told that this was a famous chippy – it was Robbie Coltrane’s local whenever he was in town. In that case, all kudos to Mister Coltrane for always nailing the 45 minutes a day when the damm place was open.

The bed and breakfast butter lumps seemed in no hurry to melt on my cold, burnt toast. I decided to just start chomping and make the best of it, when I heard the floor creaking from outside. New guests! They must have checked in late the night before. A huge walking manatee with a carefully trimmed white beard and sideburns wheezed in, accompanied by a blonde woman at least thirty years his junior. Notme notme notme, I mentally willed the couple toward the back corner of the room. Of course, Professor Chinbeard grabbed one of the chairs at my table and settled his massive lower quarters on down, leaving his daughter to take the other remaining chair at my table for herself. I made quick eye contact with folks at the other tables – returned expressions reflected a mixture of smirking and sympathy. Damm. Why do I always travel alone?

“Good morning”, boomed the Professor at all of us in the room. Turned out he really was a Professor, although I would have placed him at the head of the Faculty of Bad Scotty Impersonators. He wanted to know where we all hailed from. “We’re from the West Coast!”, he announced. I was slow to realize that he was referring to America, and wondered what the others in the room, mainly Europeans, made of this pair. “Are you happy, my dear Toe!”, he announced, rather than asked. Was he addressing his feet, I wondered, before clueing in with a jolt that Toe was his companion’s name. And a further jolt. She was his wife, not his daughter!

“I’m so happy, Ian darling!” Her voice was a bit too much of a girly squeal for this early hour. “This city has a medieval feel to it, with its Gothic architecture and cobblestone streets.” She grabbed his shoulder and gazed at him adoringly, looking for all the world like an Up With People director at the start of a world tour. “I’m falling in love all over again!”

Achim and Jose at the opposite table glanced at me. Achim bit his lower lip slightly, and I had to pretend to cough to keep from sputtering with laughter. They had us all in stitches the previous morning with their description of the Hollyrood Castle tour. Achim’s Berlin-accented take on the tour guide’s delight in pointing out the deficiencies of the building, general awfulness of the artwork within, and the violent ends most of the early monarchs met was worthy of any travel show. Jose was the quiet one, but he was a hell of a listener. When the Professor waved his arms in the air and declared that this was the land of his birth, I’m positive that both Jose and I heard the word girth. Jose’s first half-note of a high-pitched “HOOOOO” was cut short by a painful kick to the ankle from his partner. How I swallowed that bloody toast, I’ll never know.

Perry and Cindy from Chicago were at the table behind the German guys, and they were great fun in their own right. Two days earlier they had visited the Whisky Museum on the Royal Mile, which involved sitting inside a whisky barrel that was in fact a vehicle on a dark ride, touring the History of Whisky through a series of what may politely be termed economically-designed themed rooms featuring depictions of streams, clumps of peat, nasty-looking Redcoat mannequins and bagpipe-accompanied tartan types. The ride ends at the souvenir shop, naturally. Now, I could see Perry sink slightly into his chair in the hopes that he wouldn’t be brought into Chinbeard’s monologue. “We go to Europe to get away from guys like that”, he told me later. “First, they want to know where you’re from, then they ask you how much your house is worth and where you work, and next thing you know, they’ve got a hold of your Herald Tribune and they’re going on about their stock portfolios. Christ, what an asshole.”

Sorry, Perry. That smirk from thirty seconds’ ago cost you dearly, and I was delighted to introduce the Professor and his artist wife Toeby to my Windy City friends. Cindy loves meeting folks, but I could see Perry mouthing silently I’ll get you for this, Moon. And once Chinbeard heard the word “Chicago”, he was all over them with a long-winded lecture about some recent convention there and the worthiness of the grand city and his wife’s problems with identity theft and all kinds of other claptrap that I was able to shut out as a background burr while I concentrated on my cold, burnt toast with the lumps of still-icy butter. Ian Darling was still at it when I got up, excused myself, and departed merrily to get on with my day.

There really is a lot of talent in Edinburgh, and so much of it comes together each year during the month of August. There’s the International Tattoo up at the Castle, where marching bands from all over the world gather and perform. The Festival hosts stars from opera, the classics, and theatre. And running between the lines, as it were, is my favourite event, The Fringe. Comedy and musical acts – well, every kind of performer imaginable – show up in Scotland, do their thing, and hope for their big break.

I’d been looking forward to today’s show for a long time, and as I settled into my seat at The Courtyard, I was already halfway to laughing out loud. The stars of this show were local kids, still in college, and they called themselves Snorkelco. Five of them would position themselves on-stage, their heads encased within gigantic Aquarium Head Pieces, complete with live goldfish. They all wore snorkels to breathe, and the crowning touch was an underwater microphone for each one. Today’s Performance: Selected Readings from the Works of Sir Walter Scott.

As the lights dimmed, I could already hear giggling around me. It was hard not to join in. It got very much easier, however, very quickly, as I sensed a familiar whiff of body odour and Old Spice. My heart sank; yes, it was Professor Chinbeard and his Toe settling down directly behind me. That squeal again. “Ian! I’m so happy! Sir Sean Finnery, in person!”

What the…?

Then that pompous blowhard: “I must thank that fine man from Chicago for steering us here. Imagine visiting the land of my (oh God, I’m sure he said girth again) and missing out on Sir Sean Finnery as Sir Walter Scott. Oh, Toeby!”

“Oh, Ian!”

Oh, shit.

Perry, you bastard. Of course we all kept up with each other’s Fringe schedules for the week, and a highlight of each evening in the B&B lounge (or morning at breakfast if we were staying out late on those cobblestones) was comparing notes on each show. Perry was well aware of my enthusiasm for Snorkelco, and now sweet revenge was his.
The five spotlights blinked on, with five Aquarium Heads reading from Rob Roy: Far and near, through blubberbubble hill, blubbelly blubble sound of Blobb Bloy’s name ubble blubble blub…

The audience was in tears. Then, as we all paused to inhale (Snorkelco, too), a rumbling voice from among us: “This isn’t Sir Sean Finnery!!”

Oh no, no, no. Now the audience was howling. Obviously this fat boob sitting behind me was some sort of plant.

“There’s been a tragical error!”, he persisted, and now two of the suddenly-confused Snorkelco team had inadvertently ingested water and had hit the floor. Aides from stage right raced in to assist, gesturing for the curtain. Surely this was part of the show. Then a scream pierced my left eardrum. Toeby!

Her husband, enraged at the nonsensical troupe that had pre-empted his beloved Sir Sean, and further stoked with fury at the audience laughter, had hauled off and socked the first face he saw within reach. And whose face might that be, Dear Reader? Why none other than the face of Snorkelco’s Number One Fan, Prince Harry himself, just back from his latest tour in Afghanistan and never more popular than now. Well, old fart or not, you don’t just punch a member of the Royal Family without suffering the consequences. Before the Prince’s bodyguards could grab Chinbeard and drag him to relative safety, Harry stepped in and introduced his attacker to the concept of a Glasgow Kiss. From my seat, by now almost directly underneath the action, I can report that HRH Harry possessed a head-butting technique that would make his Mum (and Grandad Phil, how’s that for a pair?), as well as goats everywhere, proud of him. The Professor’s nose cracked like a walnut, and I was immediately drenched in warm, sticky blood, as well as the brief notion that this might have gone rather well with this morning’s toast. More squealy screams, deep bellows of rage, and my goodness, a third member of the Snorkelco team has hit the floor, this time with the shattering of his Aquarium Helmut.

Goldfish everywhere.

Next year I’m going to Toronto. Nothing ever happens there, so they say.

NEXT: More ravings about beer, this time in Munich!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sweet, Sweet Chocolate

This week, you are going to win half a million dollars in the lottery. It's not enough for anyone to care about, so nobody will bother you. Enjoy your winnings!

This week, the Hofbrau Brewery people will open their first Canadian beergarden franchise a ten minute walk from where you live.

This week in Mary Worth, Dr. Jeff Cory will throw Ol' Mare over his knee and give her a damm good spanking.

Ahhh....fantasies. They help make our lives so much more interesting. And some of them even have a hope of coming true.

This week, I'm going to enjoy some incredible, wonderful, TASTY chocolate from Europe. Actually, I enjoyed some of it earlier today, and there's more in store for tomorrow and beyond, thanks to a shopping spree I made earlier this summer in Berlin, Germany to my all-time favourite chocolate store, Fassbender & Rausch. Wow Oh Wow, is the chocolate there ever good.

There it is, at Charlottenstrasse 60, at the corner of Mohrenstrasse (Berlin's Stadtmitte U-Bahn station entrance is directly behind me, so it's easy to get to). This was once "East" Berlin - Checkpoint Charlie is actually a block ahead and just around the corner a bit - and the Fassbender & Rausch Chocolatiers have been doing their thing for over a century now.
Once inside the shop, you are met by a series of truly remarkable displays of chocolate products, featuring various degrees of cocoa content, from around the world, in a variety of shapes, sizes, and wrappers. It's a delight to spend the first several minutes of a visit just wandering up and down the aisles!
Yes, that's a chocolate Brandenberg Gate by the front door! They also have a chocolate Reichstag, a chocolate Titanic, and an erupting chocolate volcano, among other displays.
This is MY favourite display of the lot. Rows and rows of solid chocolate bars, ranging from silky milk chocolate to very intense and bitter high-cocoa content bars. You can get small, medium, or giant bars, or in stick format if you prefer. Each bar is named for the part of the world where its cocoa is harvested. They also sell variety packs, featuring a little square sample of each brand, allowing you to try each kind at your leisure. Yummy!

Fassbender & Rausch offer all kinds of gift packages, as well as individually wrapped chocolates with all kinds of flavours and fillings. They even have a cafe upstairs where you can enjoy a Hot Chocolate and a suitably sweet dessert!

Here we see Pauline ringing up my order and wondering if she's got enough bags to handle the amount of stuff I'm buying! Pauline lived in America for a time, and is great fun to talk with. Thanks for looking after me! Of course, it's a lot more relaxing shopping here in the summer than at Christmastime, when I imagine the place is very, very hectic.

I've enjoyed chocolate from Belgium, Switzerland, other parts of Germany, Britain (yea, Cadbury World!), France, the Netherlands, Austria and of course the United States (BIG shout-out to See's, another huge fave!), but this is the Mother Ship of Chocolate Wonderfulness for me and a Must-Stop every time I visit Berlin (well, 11 times and counting). If you get to visit Berlin one day, take a half-hour and have a wander into Fassbender & Rausch for a wonderful European, German, Berlin shopping experience. Even if you just buy one bar for the road, take time to breathe in deeply. Ahhh, REAL chocolate.

NEXT: Munich Beer Adventures!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

U Cerneho Vola, Prague

U Cerneho Vola
Loretanske Namesti 1
220 513 481

Yikes! I thought I had tastefully concluded my grand tour of Prague pubs, only to realize I had neglected to include one of the very best - the magnificent U Cerneho Vola or "At the Black Ox". Or "Bull" Your choice. I wandered into this beautiful building just after my visit to the Kloster Strahov above Prague Castle, and before my afternoon visit to U Zlateho Tygra.
Yes, they have Pilsner Urquell available here, but I was interested in the Kozel beer. The Black Ox is one of the few Prague pubs that offers Kozel, and a pint was going for about a measly $1.60 a pint. What a deal!

The amber was delicious, and dark-beer friend Ute reported that hers was also very tasty. And I wanted one of those Goat Beer Mats! Happily, that very mat is sitting at this very moment next to my keyboard.

It was another wonderful Czech beer success. I preferred this to the St. Norbert that I had recently consumed just a half block up the hill at the Kloster. I rate it at a very tasty 8.5 on my Yuk/Yummy Scale of Goodness, maybe not quite as fantastic as the Pilsner Urquell I was to find later that afternoon across the river at The Golden Tiger, but the atmosphere, service, and general beer deliciousness made U Cerneho Vola an absolute Must-Return for my next visit to Prague. I could have stayed there for a very happy afternoon. I gather its fame has spread world-wide - we ended up sharing a table with a visitor who lives about 10 kms from me, north of Toronto!

Charming, small, well-kept, and well-supplied with tasty Kozel beer. U Cerneho Vola is everything a thirsty visitor could want in a pub far from home. And that's No Bull!
NEXT: There's more to life than beer. Chocolate, for instance!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

U Zlateho Tygra, Prague

U Zlateho Tygra, Prague
Husova 17
222 221 111

I had been in Prague for about 48 hours, and managed to fit in a nice assortment of pub visits along with some quality time exploring a few of the city's major attractions. Of all the major pubs I had on my list to try, U Zlateho Tygra ("At the Golden Tiger") was actually the closest to where I was staying. I put it off towards the end of my visit, however, for several reasons. I was somewhat intimidated by the press clippings - not friendly to outsiders, pretty much reserved for long-term "locals", weird opening hours. Saturday afternoon had arrived, and I still hadn't made the pilgrimage - however, a violent thundershower and being on my own for a couple of hours made the short journey of just a block and a half from my pension seem like a good idea. So off I went!

Once inside, I put my Czech Pub Etiquette to good use. Dobry Den! Je tu volno, procim? Yes! I was in! At the Golden Tiger is larger than U Hrocha and U Cerneho Vola, but smaller than U Medvidku. It's a Pilsner Urquell tankova, where the unfiltered, unpasturised PU arrives not in kegs, but by truck and is hosed right into the premises...right under that massive tap!

This is a pub with a history. It is famous as the "local" for many decades of Czech writer Brohumil Hrabal. Mr. Hrabal has been gone over ten years now, but a shrine is in place above his table, as filmed above. Also hanging for posterity is a photo of President Clinton meeting him during his visit to U Zlateho Tygra as a guest of Czech President Haval.
So what did I think? Well, for starters, Bill had by far the reddest nose of the three of them. Oh, the beer? Well! This is the hands-down BEST Pilsner Urquell I have ever tasted. Better than at U Hrocha or any other pub in Prague. Better than any bottled version I've tasted elsewhere. It was super-fresh, delicious, and with more time and a companion or two I could have spent many happy hours at U Zlateho Tygra enjoying more and more of this fantastic tasting lager. Yes, it's an easy 9 out of 10 on my Yuk/Yummy Scale of Hoppy Happiness. I want to come back to Prague, and this is one of the special spots I want to spend more time at when I do return.
It's a big "Na Zdravi!" from me, from U Zlateho Tygra, at the end of a wonderful first visit to Prague - the first of many, I hope. I hope that you enjoy reading these little unscientific reviews of my favourite beer places in this wonderful city, and that if you haven't already had the chance to come here, YOU will one day make the trip and compile your own list of favourites.
NEXT: Goat at the Ox!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Klasterni Pivovar Strahov, Prague

Klasterni Pivovar Strahov
Strahovske Nadvori 10
233 353 155

Up on a hill....

Above a Castle...

...sits the Klasterni Strahov, a new brewpub in a very old location. The Monastery at Strahov dates back to 1142, and beer has been brewed on-site for centuries - however, the current Pivovar has been brewing its own St. Norbert lagers since 2001. It's easy to reach by Prague's famous trams, as Line #22 will drop you off just yards from the driveway. Inside the property is, yes, a monastery and chapel, but for me the attraction was this delightful outdoor patio.

I thoroughly enjoyed the St. Norbert Amber Lager, and my friend Ute said that the dark was delicious (always a smaller size, Ute?). An American family was at the table next to us, and Dad was singing the praises of the Special Weizen. The wheats aren't usually a fave of mine, but here goes nothing!

It was delicious! Cool, tasty, VERY fresh!

As it should be, since the copper kettles were sitting about ten feet away from me!

I found the service to be excellent. An extra smile and a couple of attempts at Czech and a compliment or two, and the staff melted like ice cubes. They were a delight to chat with, and looked after us very well. I hadn't noted the Cloister as a Must-Visit while planning my Prague Pubs, but I was very glad to have made the effort to visit. They rate a delightful and friendly 8 out of 10 on my Yuk/Yummy Scale of beery goodness, and they'll definitely be on my return list for my next trip to Prague. Pricier than the older "locals" down in the city, but well worth the journey to the top of the hill.
NEXT: Tiger in your Tankova!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

U Medvidku, Prague

U Medvidku

Na Perstyne 7
224 211 916

It's somewhere behind all that scaffolding. It's a beer hall, a restaurant, a brew pub, a small hotel, and a museum / souvenir shop! U Medvidku ("At the Little Bears") is one of Prague's most important suds-related addresses. Been there, drunk the beer, got the ball cap! What more can I say?

Well, how about a look inside, for starters? It's one of the larger "traditional" Prague pubs, and the ground floor features TWO rooms - the above is the one nearest the front door - with plenty of space to settle in and enjoy one of the Czech Republic's most famous, if not controversial, beers.

Yes, it's none other than Budweiser!! But this is NOT your Uncle Sam's Bud. This is Bud Right, the original Budvar, and its lovely taste bears absolutely no resemblence to the American Budweiser with the Clydesdales and the expensive TV commercials. U Medvidku offers a light and dark Budweiser on tap in its main room, plus a series of Budvar specials in another corner of the premises. Both Buds were fresh, delicious, and easily earned a solid 8 out of 10 happy gulps on Mooncattie's Yuk/Yummy scale of lager 'liciousness. All well and good....but these Little Bears have a special surprise waiting for you just up the stairs....

Do I look happy, or what? What?! It's U Medvidku's special own brew, none other than Old Gott! We patrons of the top floor were being supplied with this special darker, and slightly stronger, lager courtesy of a single spigot attached to a rather largish barrel on the other side of a glass barrier. Lots of copper kettles and bits and pieces of old brewing equipment, sadly not photographed by your rather far-too-pleased correspondent. The brewpub section of U Medvidku also offers a VERY strong (over 12%) X-Beer, but I was eager to avoid falling down and injuring myself until the last possible moment. Mission accomplished! Old Gott scores 9 out of 10 for me. What a lovely place this was to visit. Please can I go back?
NEXT: The Cloister Above The Castle

Monday, August 17, 2009

Prvni Pivni Tramway, Prague

Prvni Pivni Tramway
Na Chadovci 1A
272 765 683

All Aboard for a very special beer experience! My Prague Pub Pilgrimage has shifted into high gear by my second afternoon in the Czech Republic, and now it's time for a little adventure.

I boarded a #11 Tram and rode for twenty minutes or so to the end of the line at Sporilov. Not so scenic out here in the 'burbs, is it? But Lucky Number 11 will deliver you directly to the front door of the Prvni Pivni Tramway, "The First Beer Tramway" pub!

What an amazing and truly unique pub! Part of the interior is laid out like an old-fashioned Prague Tram.

Inside I found a hard-rockin' atmosphere, veering towards a punk/goth soundtrack. They had settled down to U2 by the time I left. The main bar area was covered in all kinds of "stuff", much of it somewhat on the risqué side, and all of it loads of fun. The staff were very friendly, and whenever they felt like it, they rang the authentic old Tram Bell (directly over the server's head). Ordering a second beer seemed to get me the Ring-a-Ding treatment!

The First Beer Tramway differs from most Prague taverns in that it isn't a strictly one-brewery operation. The sign outside indicates that Pilsner Urquell is indeed available here, but Prvni Pivni also prides itself on a "rotating tap" or a visiting draft. This was the Guest Beer when I showed up - a Holba Serak from the eastern part of the country. Very nice and tasty, if a little bitter to my (after)taste. For 29 CZK (approx. $1.75 Canadian) a pint, who am I to complain? I'm not complaining! It's a Pleasant 7 on the Goodness Scale!

Oh my. Oh my. Here's the real deal. On tap that wondrous day was a Primator Premium Dark. Wow! I've never tasted anything quite like it. Very filling, with a hint of coffee. Evan Rail's guide also mentions cola and ginger notes. Do I detect cocoa as well? No matter, it was magnificent. One of the best glasses of beer it has ever been my pleasure to slurp, and easily a 9 out of 10 on my Yuk/Yummy Scale of Goodness, and maybe a 95% overall, but I'll have to return to Prague and visit this lovely bar again for a longer period of time and verify this rating. Suddenly, I felt at home. I must have been smiling a lot by this time, as I kept hearing that darn Trolley Bell! What a great place!

NEXT: Lose your cares At The Little Bears!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

U Hrocha, Prague

U Hrocha
Thunovska 10
257 316 890

U Hrocha (its name means "At the Hippo") can be found on a quiet side street just down the hill from the Prague Castle. It was my second Prague Pub, and my first at what I would call a traditional "local" establishment. At a spot like this, knowing a little Czech Beer Etiquette will go a long way towards enjoying a great Pub experience!

For starters, it's a good idea to get on the staff's good side. Keep in mind that these pubs tend to be very small, with perhaps only five or so tables, and that they all tend to have "Reserved" signs on them. Reserved for locals, that is, and these places would be quite happy to do without any backpackers from Ontario or anywhere else showing up. So....
Greet the server with a cheery "Dobry Den!" ("Good Day!"), and gesture toward an empty table while saying a reverential "Je tu volno?" ("Is this taken?"), adding a submissive "Procim?" ("Please?") for extra brownie points. If the staffer grunts and nods towards a certain table, then CONGRATULATIONS!, you have made contact and you are in. Now to the beer!
U Hrocha, as befits its name, has all kinds of Hippo related brick-a-brack within the premises. The beer, however, is none other than the Czech Republic's world-famous Pilsner Urquell. This ain't your Beer Store PU, though. This is fresh from the source, by means of a quaint little tap on the counter. And at 32 CZK (less than $2 Canadian a pint), it's a cheap ticket to Pilsner Paradise. Here's another bit of Etiquette to keep in mind. The beer will keep a-comin' unless you make some noises, so when you have arrived at what you judge to be your Final Beer of the session, tell your server upon receipt "Zaplatim, procim" ("I will pay, please"), and he or she will tally up the ticks on your beer tab and present you with your total, to be paid whenever you are next able to secure their attention. Do not be in any hurry! Conclude the visit with a sincere "Dekuji" ("Thank you" - try dee-KOO-yee and you'll be close), and you'll be, almost, ready for your next pub!
As much as I enjoyed U Hrocha, I would have to say that I didn't give it quite the same Yuk/Yummy rating as Ferdinanda. The Pilsner Urquell was delicious, but I actually found tastier PU at a future location. This did seem a bit extra-bitter in the aftertaste, although I was at some point using the beer to help swallow the really strong Beer Cheese I had ordered! A 7.5 out of 10 is my way of saying that I enjoyed this pub and would be delighted to return, but it wasn't the Best of Prague.
NEXT: Glug Glug Glug Went the Trolley!


Ferdinanda, Prague
Opletalova and Politickych

This was my first pub in Prague, and it's a good one! Where else will you be offered "1 small bear" with your entree? Looking back, it seemed cleaner and more spacious than most of the traditional Prague pubs I visited. The staff was friendly, the food was delicious (great caesar salad, nice fries, tasty fried bread with cheese), and the lager was excellent.

Of course I managed to lose all my details of how much everything cost, the various % of alcohol, etc. But this photo shows that a "big" beer comes in a 0.4 liter glass, perhaps a tad short of a full pint. The prices in Prague were very reasonable, so no complaints there, and this was delicious!

My friend Ute, who generally prefers the darker beer, reported that hers tasted very nice indeed. It was a great start to our Prague pub-crawl, and I can highly recommend "Ferdinanda". Ferdinand beer, by the way, comes from Benesov, home town of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose nasty end in Sarajevo in 1914 led to the outbreak of World War I. It gets a big 8 out of 10 on my Yuk/Yummy Beer Scale!
NEXT: A Happening At The Hippo!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's August!!

Crumbs! It's been ages since I have written anything here. So busy...and when I'm not, it's difficult to get motivated to think up something to type. Thanks, however, to my buddy over at Project Fleece, I'm finally getting around to catching up on this year's events.

Let's see...

In February, I fell down. Slipped on an icy patch of sidewalk. Fractured a knee.
In July, I fell down. Tripped over a boulder. Banged up my ribs, bloodied my arm.

Aside from that, it's been all great. I visited Chicago in early May, traveled to Switzerland, Germany, and the Czech Republic in June/July, and tomorrow I fly off to Chicago for a long weekend.

If you have travel plans that involve Munich and/or Prague, and you have a hankering to visit a beergarden or pub, allow me to introduce you to two wonderful Guides that helped me make a great holiday even greater.

This is the second year running that I've made The Beer Drinker's Guide To Munich an essential part of my plans when visiting this sudsy city. Earlier entries have touched on my passion for Munich and its wonderful selection of beers and outdoor facilities in which to relax and drink them. Future submissions will outline my trips to old favourites, as well as describe a couple of adventures to new, and highly recommended, beergardens!

I visited Prague for the very first time in early July. I only had three nights to explore this historic treasure of a town, and especially wanted to make the most of the city's wonderful pubs. Fortunately, a new Guide, The Good Beer Guide to Prague, was there to help me find the best of the best. Yes, I will dish the dirt on my fave pubs in Prague, where a number of drinking establishments scored very high indeed on Mooncattie's unpatented Yuck/Yummy Scale of Goodness. Stay Tuned!

I shall close with a photographic teaser of what's to come. What a lovely holiday! Except for the Schneider Weisse, of course. Cheers!

Once you've had a Schneider Weisse, the rest of your holiday is bound to feature better beer!

A night of blues music, and a Staropramen. Oh well, at least the blues music was great!

Ah, now that's more like it! A nice stein of Spaten Helles.

NEXT! Mooncattie's first Prague Pub! Where will it be? Can you say "Archduke"?