Beerman for Jan. 10, 2013

The accidental beer tourist

For Weekly SurgeJanuary 7, 2013 

My wife Kristi is a travel agent, and she arranged a holiday vacation in Europe. We flew into Munich, Germany, on Dec. 27, where we spent two nights before taking a train down to Passau, Germany, where we boarded a 7-night cruise down the Danube River, departing the riverboat in Budapest, Hungary, on Jan. 5. Then we spent two more nights.

This trip wasn’t arranged as a beer and brewery tour, although it provided a few opportunities to taste world-class brews we can buy here on the Grand Strand. While traveling, I had the advantage of tasting the beers close to their home breweries.

I came away with a difficult conclusion. No matter how many acclaimed imported beers we receive on the Grand Strand, some of them will never taste as good as they do on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

My first European beer on this trip was Paulaner, which you've probably seen in local stores and at beer fests. I drank Paulaner, the original type, in Munich, which is its birthplace. Of course it was excellent.

My server said the Paulaner I've tried in the United States is probably brewed by a company in my home country. Our conversation was wonderful because I’ve mastered the German language.

That’s a joke. Our server was glad to speak English with us. We were pretty useless with German outside of U2’s album, “Achtung Baby,” and I strongly suspect that title is half English.

I should probably explain the surprising lack of a language barrier. Everyone we met in restaurants and shops, in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, was glad to speak English if they had a grasp of it. (This would be dramatically different from our previous experiences in Paris, although other parts of France were more accommodating.) People were willing to work with our English. During a riverboat stop in Austria, I asked an older, formal, gentleman server at a Vienna coffee shop if he spoke English. "Not a word," he said, then grinned.

Back to Munich -- our server thought the water was better in her city, so Paulaner brewed elsewhere would not be as good. She guessed the Paulaner I drank in Myrtle Beach probably was brewed somewhere in the United States.

So far, however, all my research suggests that Paulaner is brewed and bottled (or canned) in Munich and then exported. I have a big empty can of Paulaner Oktoberfest Wiesn on my shelves, and it says, “Brewed and canned in Munich, Germany.” I bought that can in Myrtle Beach.

The same appears to be true for Franziskaner Weissbier, which tasted glorious there in its hometown of Munich – and better than I remember it tasting here in Myrtle Beach. Again, to the best of my research, all of Franziskaner is brewed solely in Germany.

In other words, we’re getting the real deal here on the Grand Strand. It’s just that it doesn’t taste quite as good once it gets to this side of the Atlantic.

Another example would be Pilsner Urquell. I was visiting Bratislava, Slovakia, when I took a few minutes around lunch time to step inside a restaurant whose façade was entirely covered in Pilsner Urquell logos, colors, and images. Pilsner Urquell was made famous in part for being the long-standing and original pilsner style, and certainly its fame was helped when the late beer critic (not the singer) Michael Jackson praised it in his books.

Of course, Pilsner Urquell is made in the Czech Republic, but Slovakia is the other half of the former Czechoslovakia, so I knew the beer I would get in Bratislava hadn’t traveled far.

Inside the Pilsner Urquell joint in Bratislava, I had a pint straight from the tap. It was far better than the bottled Pilsner Urquell I have sipped here in Myrtle Beach, where the distinctive pilsner taste tends to mutate toward a hint of sulfur at times. No so in Bratislava. That Pilsner Urquell was sweeter and almost floral.

I guess it’s just a bit disappointing that I can’t get the same taste here in Myrtle Beach. I don’t know what can change that.

I have other notes on some beers we can get here, including Lowenbrau and Budweiser Budvar, and at least one I haven’t seen here, Hungary’s very own pale lager, Dreher.

But my journey home to Myrtle Beach began nearly 24 hours ago, and the jet lag is increasing in gravity, so I will see you next time.

Contact Colin Burch at beerpour@yahoo.com and visit his blog at http://maltyhops.blogspot.com.

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