Here is a report from the front line - the very counter in Bury St. Edmunds from Paul, the owner of Beer2Go, a type of beer store that would be illegal in most of Canada and perhaps some of the USA - certainly Pennsylvania - though it is essentially the same idea as the Party Source in Syracuse, New York. I would be a very happy man indeed if I were near such a selection. Click on the pictures for larger views.
It's been an interesting first four months in our beer shop. Thankfully we seem to have been warmly welcomed by the paying public.I see a lot of favorites like the Anchor beers from San Francisco - including the loverly Old Foghorn - as well as the Samuel Smiths but also masses of unknowns to me. Lucky Paul. Must be tough not taking your work home with you.
Our range of beers we stock is constantly changing. On the ale front we stock a number of beers from East Anglian brewers (most of which are bottle-conditioned), City of Cambridge Brewery being my favourite. Hobsons Choice (their flagship beer) is a delicious golden ale which will stand up to any similar style of beer brewed in the west country. Parkers Porter is a rich dark beer with just the right amount of bitterness (I don't care much for very bitter beers). Their Jet Black is a perfect mild, a well balanced slightly chocolately, slightly hoppy without being bitter (otherwise of course it wouldn't be a mild !). Another popular local ale is Woodfordes Wherry - it's a very good example of an East Anglian session beer - never too bitter. If you want bitter then you need a Yorkshire beer. Nothing subtle about a Yorkshire beer!
When someone first walked into our shop and asked for Charles Wells Banana Bread Beer, we thought how disgusting. But we put some in stock, it sells well and of course we just had to try it. It's actually quite good. Goes well with Chinese Take-Away.
Other popular beers we sell from around the world include KEO from Cyprus, Erdinger Weissbier from Germany, Chili Beer (yes chili not chilli) from the USA which is an equivalent to liquid vindaloo and VB from Australia (the bemusingly named Victoria Bitter which is actually a lager and not a bitter - wags those antipodeans).
Of course you can't generalise, because every customer is different, but I have noticed that lager drinkers tend to be very brand loyal whereas ale drinkers seem to prefer to want to try as many different beers as they can.
...you would all get together and arrange for a trip for me to this event:
BEER drinkers from across Britain will head for Manchester at the end of the month, when one of the country's biggest real ale events returns to the city. The CAMRA National Winter Ales Festival, sponsored by the M.E.N., will be a showcase for a huge range of both draught and bottled beers - many from round the world. And the four-day event, which is being officially opened by colourful town crier Barry McQueen, is expected to draw thousands of visitors. Highlights will include the 2005 Champion Winter Beer of Britain Awards, and Tameside brewer Shaws has created an M.E.N. Festival Ale specially for the event. The festival will run from Wednesday to Saturday, January 26 to 29, at the recently-refurbished New Century House in Corporation Street.Maybe we can get a local report from Mancunian Steve.
Later: Here is the information on the National Winter Ales Festival from the CAMRA site.
Orval. This is the nicest little bottle of ale in the hand. Shaped like a Perrier bottle in brown, decorated with a fish on a gold ring, it is the product of Trappist monks - one of the five (or is it six?) real Trappist ales going...well, except St. Sixtus of Westvleteren which you have to go yourself to the Abbey to buy.
If you want to know what Belgian hops are like, antique and dignified like brittle lace, this is a great beer to try. Rajotte says it is dry hopped for a month and its taste is primarily a play of wild twiggy herbal yeast and hop with only a supporting role for the malt. As a result, it has a fairly light body with a mouth filled with rustic flavour, thyme and lavander.
As with a good clovey southern German hefeweizen, a pork roast would do very well sitting in Orval for half a day before meeting the fire.
I bought a six of this quite a while ago and amongs all the double IPAs, Christmas ales and porters, I kept coming back to one of these when I wanted something nice and sensible. Doesn't sound like much of a recommendation. A warm one poured into a frozen glass produces a decent off-white head that dissipates fairly quickly. The beer is sweet for a Canadian pale, slightly toffee-ish, with some nice grapefruity and even metallic hops to balance it out. Basically this is the same beer as Quidi Vidi Traditional and Big Rock Traditional without the sour notes and with some nice biscuity graininess amongst that sweetness. Low carbonation is a nice change from the other two as well. Beer Advocates all approve but moderately so. I can't find a website for the brewer, the Niagara Falls Brewing Company, so there is no snazzy link or quotes from the brewer with every popular phrases like "full bodied" and "distinct flavour".
You may have heard in the news of a Swedish brewer that has made a cholesterol lowering light beer to be distributed in the USA. Sadly, we have on very good evidence that it is all a big fat buch of hoo-ey and we have our crack team of amateur journalists on the tale. There is, however, rumours of a "beer with specific health properties" being tested and trialed in Sweden which may be the root of the story. Film at eleven.
Later: OK - here's the evidence from our source in the trade:
From: Arne Berge
Sent: Wednesday, January 05, 2005 9:24 AM
Subject: Re: UK Distribution?
Dear Mr. X;
The story about Aventure Ab workong together with BeverageMarketing USA to launch our cholesterol-lowering beer is false, a made up story by Mr Richard Davis, that has unfortunately been spread around the world.
the truth is that we (Aventure) have developed a method for brewing beer with specific health properties. this beer is currently being clinically tested by scientists at Lund university. Results will be ready in March 2005. Thjis means that today, there is not even a ready product and when there is, it will probably be brewed and sold under licensa by established breweries around the orld.
Please contact me if you have any more questions.
President, Aventure AB
Lilla Södergatan 15
223 53 Lund
Tel 046-211 07 90
Mobil 0708- 21 07 90
Fax 046-37 31 40
As far as I can make out Hungarian social culture is much like Russian social culture. It may also be a pan-European thing that when you socialize you should be prepared to devote a lot of time. I still remember visiting with one family at their place in the Buda Hills. She spoke some English. He spoke some French. She did a lot more of the actual hosting and food preparation. Of course, like most things Hungarian, it was dawn to dusk. They insisted that we arrive as early as possible. They would pick us up at the bus depot at 8 am. We started drinking early at a restaurant along the way to their house. When we arrived at the house itself, there was Pálinka (which is a sort of brandy). There were promises of food, and a series of snacks were offered while we waited and drank and blathered. The main dishes though kept getting put off. There was a kind of stew that usually simmers in a cauldron (bogrács) on a fire in the yard. It was of wild boar. Finally around 10 pm we suggested that we had to get home amid protestations. I think the main supper courses were still in the preparation stages. It took forever to get home. We had been drunk all day.
There is a passage in a biographical piece in a recent New Yorker about a writer named Frayn (who is British) who had a long and somewhat ambivalent relationship with Russian culture and Russian writing. And I have to say that there is a lot of similarity in what he describes of Russian social life and what I've experienced of the Hungarian equivalent. Anyway, there's a section in in this piece about the aspects of Russian culture that this guy Frayn found were at odds with his own personality:
Russians are maximalists. Russian friendship has always been a very demanding concept, particularly in Soviet times. If you were admitted to someone's circle as a friend, you were expected to give up anything, really, as the Russians did for each other. If you had some money and your friend wanted to borrow it, you gave it to him. You had to be prepared to devote whole days to seeing people. Well, there are some English people who can cope with that, some who like it, but I can't say I ever have. I take a view of friendship as something that doesn't make those kinds of demands on you.(New Yorker, Oct. 25, 2004 at p. 64.)There are aspects of Hungarian social life that are like this. And, like Frayn, I just don't have the time to devote to this kind of life. Maybe if I were single and a had a nine to five job and no kids, but not with two kids etc. etc. there's really no way. So we have to beg off a lot on the social thing. On the other hand, in a way it's easier to observe when you're not totally immersed in the culture. Here are some photos of various wine beer and hard liquor emporiums (taken from the outside) to give you a more concrete idea of the drinking communities here. Please click on each photo for a much larger view.
The first picture, above left, is of a little hole in the wall basement 'borozo' or wine bar. It's pretty skanky as most of these places are and the wine is not brilliant. However, these kinds of bars are everywhere. This particular bar is near our place on a street called 'forget-me-not.' Easy to remember. So if you're prone to binge drinking in neighborhoods not your own and happen to leave your keys on the counter maybe the name could come in handy. Or it could just be one of life's little ironies that you left your wallet, your soul and passport in a bar on forget-me-not street. The next shot, above right, is of forget-me-not street itself.
Above left is a bar at the end of the same block. You can see the street name on the side of the bar under the 'Eszpresszo' sign (Nefelejcs utca - utca being street). Above right is the Piroska restaurant (pronounced Pee Roshka, "vendéglő" being restaurant or diner). Piroska (Rosy) is also the name used for Little Red Riding Hood. So the restaurant is sort of named Rosy's Diner. A lot of people hang out there and/or go out for beer at such places.
One of Budapest's grand boulevards called Andrássy ut is above left. To the right is of an intersection called Oktogon. If you look closely on the right side of the photo on top of one of the buildings there is a McDonald's M above the Burger King sign (of course). Americanization exists here, but it's not as serious or as high pressure as (or so I've heard) in Prague.
Above left is one of the more common forms of snack shack - a little sandwich and drinks stand where you can get wine or beer in a cup. In fact, there is a sign above and to the right of the boy's head that says hot wine - 80 forints (about 50 cents). These snack stands are very common in the subways. The last is a shot of a beer bar 'söröző' called Niagara. It is named after Niagara Falls, Canada mainly because it's part of a mall that was built by Trimark, a Canadian investment company, which features at least one but probably several prominent Canadians. In fact my husband calls the mall the Brian Mulroney Memorial Mall because Mulroney, Canada's last Conservative Prime Minister, had a hand in making this particular business venture happen. Alas, the 'memorial' part is just an anticipatory flourish.