Gundel is a renowned old-fashioned European restaurant here in Budapest which rose to prominence at the turn of the century and has since seen a few ups and downs. It has recently been bought and revived by international restaurateur George Lang who was born and raised in Hungary and also owns New York's CafÃ© des Artistes.
Click for a pic of the entrance
The first thing you have to realise about a place like Gundel is that it came of age during a period that is astonishingly different than our own. A review of Joseph Wechsberg's Blue Trout and black Truffles refers to that era as a time when: "twenty-four varieties of boiled beef could be ordered, [at fancy restaurants] and in Vienna a person who couldn't talk learnedly about at least a dozen different cuts of boiled beef was "beyond the pale" - no matter what titles had been conferred on him by the Kaiser." The food and the service at Gundel still have this quality of being from another time. No, they don't serve twenty four varieties of boiled beef. But things like wild boar soup and roast suckling pig are on offer alongside more modern dishes such as salmon with mushrooms. Other things you should know about Gundel. The service there is better than anywhere else in the universe. They put on a nice lunch every day on the back patio in the spring. They grow their own herbs. And Gundel is right next to Bagoly VÃ¡r or "The Owl's Castle", which hires only women and serves an alternate and cheaper version of the food at Gundel.
Beer? Oh yes! My beer was the Czech lager, Pilsner Urquell (which translates roughly as 'original' pilsner). My Hungarian friends were a little put off by my choice of beverage. It may have been because they're not sure if women should drink beer (less likely) or because it's the wrong setting for beer (most probably). The brunch comes with a drink and most people have champagne or orange juice. However, I once had Chinese food with some Hungarian cousins who told me that women shouldn't drink beer (I had already ordered one and I drank it anyway) so the former option is not entirely impossible. I forge ahead. It's a nice light beer. The lunch is buffet style. I have cold roast beef and tomatoes with dill and smoked chicken breast as a starter from the 'salad' table. For the entrÃ©e I have the salmon with mushroom sauce. The beer went especially well with the chicken and the salmon. I had SomlÃ³i Galuska for dessert and one of those nice cappuccinos that you get in central Europe. I have since learned that Pilsner Urquell is supposed to be among the best Pilsners. It's the model for many Pilsners that you can buy in the US, but orders of magnitude better.
Here is an interesting article which shows the macro-economic factors affecting Heineken's sales and its strategy to react to them:
Europeans also are increasingly favoring wine over beer, with the U.K. set to become Europe's biggest wine market by 2008, according to a study commissioned by Vinexpo, a wine trade-fair organizer based in Bordeaux, France. As European beer markets slow because of aging populations and sluggish economies, brewers such as Heineken are expanding in Russia and Asia in search of sales growth. Beer consumption will rise an average 4.8 percent a year in Russia and 4.2 percent in China through 2009, Merrill Lynch & Co. predicted last month. Indeed, Heineken may dominate acquisition activity in the global beer industry this year as it strives to gain a greater presence in emerging markets, Lehman Brothers predicted. The enterprise value of transactions in the brewing industry rose to a record $14 billion in 2004, according to Lehman's estimates.The weather in Florida, the price of the euro against the US dollar and the Irish smoking ban in pubs are also cited as critical factors in shift in beer sales.
OK. Once again we have the timeless question of "what the heck is a porter anyway?" Each of the words in that question lead you to a different porter I have had in the last 12 months. Unlike a best bitter, a hefeweissen or a barleywine, you never know quite what the brewer is going to qualify as a porter. Sometimes they are sharp and hoppy and not overly malty - sometimes it is a molasses thick malty bomb. Inevitably, more research ensues.
The three that I have collected for this weekend's evaluation are the unwebbed Nethergate's Old Growler from the south of England, Coffee Porter from Toronto's urban urbane Mill Street Brewery as well as its Ontario country cousin Church-Key Brewing's Decadent Chocolate Porter. The first was at the Kingston LCBO on discount at about $2.50 CND for a 500 ml, the second at the Newmarket LCBO because they do not stock it this far east for $11.50 CND a six pack, the third was $11.00 CND per six only at the brewery.
- Nethergate Old Growler: This 5.5% ale pours translucent and mahogany, not far off the appearence of, say, Leffe Brune except that there is only a beige rim left after the pour. One early report on the internet says it is brewed with corriander. Ratebeer.com includes what it calls a commercial (if corrianderless) description:
Brewed according to a 1750's Porter recipe, Old Growler is one of the most authentic and historical versions of English Porter from anywhere in the world. Challenger hops, wheat flour, and crystal, black, and Maris Otter pale malts.The hoppiness is there though not at the level of Burton Porter which I tried about once, about three years ago, which also claims to that mythical earliest form of the style...and must to my mind have captured it if only because so few people get it, as its beer advocate listing would indicate. For my money, this is a valuable addition to any understanding of porter. It is a hopped brown ale with moderate malt but also tang in the yeast, in the black malt, in the herbal hops and perhaps other vegatives added to the mash tun. Not as licorice rich or strong as a Baltic porter, not as roasty-toasty as a stout (which we all know as a style began life and is now a short form for stout porter), not as mellow and embracing as a North American style modern porter. Instructive.
- Mill St. Coffee Porter: This 5.5% ale, as the names implies, takes off in the direction of a new beer [or, for the Teutonics amongst you, ein neues Bier] adding coffee notes to a traditional stylistic range. Again, trasnlucent mohogany resolves quicky to a beige rim. A nice nod to Canadian tradition with the use of the stubbie, this ale could as easily been called coffee dark or coffee brown as there is little porterness about it - unless being a porter is only about being dark brown. The brewery apparently uses coffee from a local downtown T.O. bean roaster. Fair enough - but that is merely a flavouring, not even an adjunct as it adds no fermentables to the mash. Not a tragedy in itself, especially as this brew is fairly tasty, but it overpowers all the other characteristics in the beer's profile. For me, flavourings are ok but they should present themselves within the style of the beer rather than setting the style. That means, unless you like a good cup of coffee, this is not a beer you will like. That being said, I like good coffee. I also like how this beer does balance the big dusty roasty java taste through the tangy yeast (which I might bet a small figure on being a Ringwood strain), twiggy hops and some black and roasted malts. Best of all, it is fresh and real ale.
So if coffee is your thing, give it a go - all 17 advocatonians said "yea!". The only question is - is it a porter? This is not the first brew that will trigger that debate.
- Church-Key Decadent Chocolate Porter: Darker than the other two examples, this beer has a fine beige rocky head that stays on as a reminder that the ale is real. As is right, the taste is hops, malt, then the chocolate subtly in the aftertaste. Porter with a nod rather than a flavouring with a branding. The chocolate is bitter and local to the brewer. The brewery says:
A super dark porter that contains a hearty helping of roasted grains. This robust ale also contains a liberal dose of baker's cocoa from Campbellford's local chocolate factory. 5% alc./vol.Nice. Not quite a balance to a cigar but way more than a nice cup of hot chocolate. Given the point that porter must find between a brown ale and a stout, this beer knows what it is. As you sip, the head leaves a thin fine layer of foam down the glass - beyond lace. I think that advocatrons are simply off, saying it lacks body or complexity. I think they have been fooled into the idea that a porter must be big as a stout or a Baltic porter. This puppy is subtle, layers of flavour under the cocoa. While not dense and slate-like, like the greatest beer I have recently had, Freeminer Deep Shaft Stout, it is still - like Freeminer - more Bordeaux than Burgundy: structured, finessed, thoughtful, just lighter. More than anything it is balanced, more about the maker than the terrior - yet there is that something about this brewer's water...I actually want to try his lager. Imagine! All in all, a top notch beer as long as we are mindful of, again, the use of a very non-traditional flavouring, my only two other experiences of which being Young's Double Chocolate Stout, a much creamier and lighter take on the same idea, and Rogue Chocolate Stout, which I could go on about for a while again if you had the time. A side by side with the Rogue would be a good afternoon's project. High praise.
I picked this out of another email from Ben visiting a part Russian wing of his family in Nepal:
As usual, conversation was about two-thirds Russian, one-third English. And my vocab's picking up again -- I had forgotten that draft beer was "razlivnoe pivo." (Alas, they were out -- the Maoists had halted the shipment of kegs. Those bastards! -- that was the last straw: disrupting our beer supply...)
I've had the Golden Lion's so-called flagship brew -- Lion's Pride -- several times before. They describe it as A dark brown British styled ale with a rich malty flavour and distinctive hop aroma. I would rate that an accurate description, as Lion's Pride is quite delicious and satisfying. So I decided to give the Bishop's Best a go.
Wow. The description on the bottle reads This copper coloured gem is sure to please those in search of the 'Bitter side' of life. Forget the description...it's an explosion of infinite hoppy bitterness. Don't get angry...get Bitter. It is indeed one of the most bitter beers I've had. Fortunately, it is not bitter to the point of being sour, but if you prefer things on the sweet malty side, this one will pucker your lips and bring oniony tears to your eyes.
I'm "bi" (in that I like both hoppy and malty beers), so I shed no tears over this one. In fact, a wide grin eclipsed my face at the first sip. The color is a nice clear and dark coppery brown, and it has a slightly loose head that nevertheless leaves a gorgeous creamy lace on the glass. The aroma and flavour are rich and really hit home for fans of bitters. It's almost too much -- by the time I finished it, I was in need of a cool glass of water to counter the astringent feeling that deep bitters leave when consumed on their own without accompanying nibbles (or water).
A visit to the brewery's Web site was puzzling. Apparently, the Golden Lion pub -- situated in the heart of Lennoxville, a college town -- was voted "Canada's number one student pub" by CBC's Monday Report with Rick Mercer. That's great if you're 20 years old and primarily concerned with quantity of beer and proximity of booze-filled friends and potentials scores. A quick tour of the site reveals a preference for sophamoric sloganizing, with tags like NICEST JUGS IN TOWN, and 24 HOURS IN A DAY, 24 BEERS IN A CASE -- COINCIDENCE?, and BEAUTY LIES IN THE HANDS OF THE BEERHOLDER scattered throughout. Their mascot is a cartoon lion who looks and acts like a frat boy.
Had I seen the Web site first I might have passed on the beer. It doesn't exactly shout "quality assured!" But who am I to judge? I certainly was drawn to that scene when I was in uni, but at the time I probably wouldn't have cared if the beer was skillfully crafted or just rolled off the back of a truck from Molson -- as long as it was cheap and plentiful. A further look into the history of the pub, however, seems to indicate it was founded with old-school intentions, but has evolved into its present form because of its proximity to the university and all those supposedly impoverished students (who always seem to have a rather generous beer budget).
No worries. The brewing certainly hasn't suffered. In fact, it's seems to have excelled. As for the pub, I'll give it a miss, unless I happen to be in Lennoxville on a mid-week afternoon or during the summer when most students are back on the farm bailing hay to make cash to pay for their next few semesters of
Before I depart for the bustle of Shanghai next week, as a Good Beer Blogger, I felt it best to offer a short review of some of the best watering holes in Singapore for beer drinkers. While there remain only two brewpubs in the city, the variety of brews available for sale has improved dramatically over the past five years and there are a more than a few spots dedicated to serving fine brews for connoisseurs. In part, this has been possible due to the liberalization of trade laws, which, for example, allowed some of Australia's finer brews to enter the city-state. Moreover, as has become the case elsewhere, there has been a growing realization that there is more to beer than the international lager. For the first in this trilogy, I welcome the introduction of Belgian-style brasseries to Singapore.
Shortly after I first arrived here, I was excited to see an in-cinema advertisement for a Belgian-themed pub called Mad Monk's. I had spent the previous 18 months in the dry country of Kuwait and the idea of tasty Trappist ales or lambic sent me into a near ecstatic state. But when I and asked what Belgian beers they had. The reply was "Stella Artois." Well, things here have improved greatly since 2000 - and not just because of the widespread availability of Hoegaarden. Indeed, unique Belgian beer can increasingly be found elsewhere in the city and two bars now specialize in the brews of that European state: Oosters at Far East Square and the more secluded L'Estaminet at Greenwood Avenue - both of which opened last year. Oosters is a near perfect Belgian-style brasserie with more than thirty beers in stock, five on tap and an authentic Belgian menu, like one kilogram servings of mussels and triple-dipped fries served with mayonnaise. Essentially, it's a little piece of heaven. The bar's website notes that it has three beers on tap, although this should be updated as it has recently added the exceptionally tasty Malonne Brune. Check out the menu by clicking on the thumbnail at the left. Oosters is located near the financial center of the city, and on weekdays is frequented by generally well-heeled sorts.
But a more laid back option is available. L'Estaminet is hidden in the suburbs of Hillcrest Park, near several of the other Les Amis Group of restaurants. While this spot doesn't have as ample a selection of brews as Oosters, especially when it comes to draught, it is the only spot I have discovered in Singapore that offers Canadian brews. And thank heavens they aren't Molsons or Labbats! Indeed, the only Canadian brews that I have ever found served at a Singapore bar are, impressively, made by Unibroue of Quebec. These are included in the menu, click left, as Belgian beers...and indeed they are Belgian-style brews. It does not offer Belgian style foods, although it is attached to a decent wood-fired pizza joint called Pepperoni. Still, like Oosters, L'Estaminet is heavy on presentation. Both of the pubs have the array of glasses suited for each beer. The Belgians tend distinctive glass shapes for each beer in order to improve the nose and flavor - though it likely relates more to tradition and marketing than science.
My explorations of the bars of Singapore continues next with a comparison of Brauhaus vs Ice Cold Beer.
Sadly, evil lerks in the hearts of men:
The FBI was called out to investigate a suspicious bag in Auburn [California] Wednesday, just one day after a pipe bomb was found near the city's Department of Motor Vehicles office. Authorities were called to a building under construction at Maidu Drive and Auburn-Folsom Road around 9 a.m. after there were reports of a suspicious device, possibly a bomb, at the site. After a short investigation, the FBI said it turned out to be empty beer cans in a paper bag.Tension is a wee bit high as the report goes on to say "a similar device" was found the day before. Bag o' cans. Device.