Travails Through the Great Loos of Europe and other Earthly Delights
All About Beer Magazine - Volume 25, Issue 1March 1, 2004
The late great US vice president Hubert Humphrey had a few words of advice for all of us, no matter our age or occupation, but his advice is especially useful for beer tourists and beer enthusiasts. At a political convention, when he was asked what advice he had for young beginning politicians, he answered, “Take advantage of every rest facility.” I would add to that (for beer enthusiasts) “and never, never leave home without your trusty Swiss army knife (the one with both a corkscrew and a bottle opener), but don’t carry it on the plane.” There you have it, 35 years of wisdom gathered from my studies. In Europe, as anyone who has traveled there well knows, there is a modest surcharge when one makes use of a public loo. Well, it used to be modest when I went to that delightful region years ago, whereas now there is a hefty levy of 70 cents Euro. I don’t mind paying to do what comes naturally, but there’s been a healthy increase. In the grand old days, one had the company of an elderly lady for guidance to one’s chosen urinal. It was comforting to know that one’s coin was supporting the elderly. These days it’s usually a slot machine that takes your coin and opens a door. On the positive side, there are more and more free loos in that region. And it seems that paying for this privilege is becoming relatively rare in Britain, although it does happen. We have not caught on to this practice (so far) here in the United States, although I can see it coming. For now, we are still the land of the free. Incidentally, if you like loos, you’ll love Paris, although the quality of those ancient pissoirs has deteriorated considerably from their height of fame after World War II.
London Is FunThere’s so much going on in London that I wouldn’t think of directing the pilgrim, but don’t leave your CAMRA 2004 Good Beer Guide at home (or plan to buy one at any Wellstone Books outlet). For best results, limit your beer excursions to the pubs listed in that tome. There seems to be at least one in every neighborhood. For example, near my hotel in the Kensington district (indexed at SW5:Earl’s Court Road) was the Blackbird at 209 Earl’s Court Rd. It is across from the Station and to the right, less than a block away. A Fullers Pub (one of 234), it was converted from a bank in 1997. Fullers has many good beers, among the best in England, and even better on cask. Blackbird is not a large place but is quite pleasant. The real reason I chose Kensington for my stay in London is that area has many good hotels and ethnic restaurants, and it is on the Piccadilly Line, the main subway line between downtown London and Heathrow Airport. It is also close to Mark Dorber’s famous White Horse Pub, which is in itself a perfectly good reason to visit Britain. To get to the White Horse, one first goes to “Earl’s Court” Station on the Piccadilly Line, where you change to the Wimbledon Line (westbound). Parson’s Green is the third stop (after West Brompton and Fullham Broadway). At Parson’s Green, exit by following the “Way Out” signs. Go out the right door, turn right again and walk about 100 meters up the road to the White Horse, on your left, at 1 Parson’s Green (www.whitehorseSW6.com). The beer selection, especially cask, is always first rate, often amazing, and the menu outstanding, too. This is not merely pub food but good food. OK, it’s a tad more expensive than what is found at most British pubs but well worth the price. At Mark’s invitation, I joined him at a “Safeway Beer Tasting” in the Shaftsbury district of London, managed by Glenn Payne, beer buyer for that group. In my travels, at least, I rarely got to sample bottled beers, many of which are, or are likely to become, available in the United States. A number of these brews were representative of what seems to be the direction session beers are taking: pale to golden in color, 3.5 to 4.2 percent alcohol by volume. The class here was Young’s Bitter, 3.5 percent.
France Is French Through and ThroughFrench beer is fascinating. The wonder is not that it’s good but that it even exists, given the damage to French brewers (the ones that Louis Pasteur hoped to encourage with his Etudes sur le Biere, circa 1876) that two great wars fought mostly in the brewing region have wrought. There is also the clear disadvantage the French government seeks to put on that country’s beer industry in favor of its wine growers. The CAMRA guide (1998) by Arthur Taylor, Northern France Good Beer Guide, is wonderfully informative but very poorly organized. There is no index and only one poor map, which has no mileage scale and covers the beer region of northwestern France, leaving us to wonder how that fits in with the whole of France. Taylor’s research is excellent; he just needs a good editor. Lille (pronounced Lil) is a highly under-appreciated but good-sized city (France’s fourth largest, population 991,000). Not very many people there will admit to speaking English, but you can manage. Getting around is not easy, although there is good public transport including a modest subway system (Metro). Our two days were definitely not enough time to explore. We did find one good beer bar: Palais de la Biere, (14 bis Place de la Gare, across from the Flanders train station). We had Leffe, from megabrewer Interbrew, which is good beer, although not up to the great taste I found in my last venture to Europe. The bar was poorly rated by Taylor: “not much of a place, and not especially good for la biere, compared with places only a stride away.” That did not prove true to us. The beer was good, and there were a number of different taps, a friendly crew, with manageable English. The other bars in that particular area were not nearly as useful.
Amsterdam Is Better than Its Red Light DistrictWe tracked down an excellent Dutch beer pub called ‘t Arendsnest at Herengracht 90, not far from Centraal Station. We tried two fall beers, Volenbok, from Volendam, and contract brewed Jopen Hoppen (similar to Leffe, good character). Another time we had Wildebok, Kroonbok, and LaTrappe Blond. The pub also offers a sample tasting (four 12-cl drafts for only 5.40 Euros), something one rarely finds in Europe. I managed to procrastinate long enough to miss getting to ‘t Ij when it was open. That’s too bad, because by all accounts, it is the best brewery in Amsterdam and certainly the most interesting. It was an old bathhouse under a windmill in the old days.
Umlauts Are Where It’s at in GermanyGerman beers are predictably delightful, but I spent only two days in Frankfurt before returning home. Nevertheless, alts, black beers and Munich darks are the best of the lot in my view. However, Frankfurt is justly famous for its apfelwein (apple cider). Dortmund is another story. It’s a beer city, but not much else. It’s an industrial city with great manufacturing capacity, and it produces some 7 percent of all German beer in seven big breweries. The Dortmund Kronen Brewery has a lovely museum and is well worth the trip. The centerpiece is two working brew houses, one from 1928 and another from 1936. There is a full array of brewery equipment in the museum--wort cooler, coolship, hopjack, the usual line of bottles, equipment, horse collars, beer steins. The tasting room, on the bottom floor adjacent to the brew kettle exhibit, offered all of the Kronen line of beers. Kronen Alt is great beer with some roast malt character. It is very good stuff!
Fred Eckhardt lives in Portland, OR. He drinks beer, Portland tap water, and a wide range of alcohol libations.