Europe in a can
Mark Dredge tours Europe from his sofa
Saturday 12 February 2022
This article is from
Great European Road Trip
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My name is Mark, and it’s been two years since my last trip to Europe. I haven’t said “Prost!” while lifting a stone mug of Helles, I haven’t sat in a Belgian café sipping a Trappist ale, I haven’t even drunk ice-cold lager while looking at the Mediterranean. I don’t have any stories about envy-inspiring European road trips, because all I’ve done is sit at home and drink on the sofa.
Be that as it may, beer has an amazing ability to evoke strong memories, and sometimes just the mention of a style vividly recalls moments of drinking in specific places. And as any brewer can choose to make any style, often recreating classic examples, I don’t need to travel to have these visceral experiences; beer becomes the vehicle to take me on great journeys.
So here we are. A European road trip without leaving home. A celebration of European-style beers, all made by British brewers, because while travel is wonderful, I’ve got quite comfy sitting on my sofa.
BEER STYLE: HELLES
Try: Utopian Brewing British Lager
It’s the beer garden I imagine when I think of Helles. My view is fully romanticised: shorts and t-shirt weather, sun filtering through leaves of great chestnut trees, the litre glass endlessly refilling itself and glowing like liquid gold. Utopian’s British Lager is exactly what I want from a Helles: bread crust and slightly sweet malt upfront, refreshingly balanced bitterness, ever-so refreshing. Drinking a litre of lager at home feels irresponsible, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
BEER STYLE: GERMAN PILSNER
Try: Donzoko Select Pils
German Pilsners are beers of a moment more so than of a place. The best, like Schönramer and Rothaus, have pin-bright clarity and a pinpoint bitterness which is pithy and herbal. Their joy is the refinement and the way the hoppiness hits along with the snap of carbonation. Donzoko’s Select Pils is a rare exceptional version of a German Pilsner. It picks a single hop variety and showcases how aromatic and how interesting it can be in a beer which is lean, light and lastingly bitter.
BEER STYLE: CZECH PILSNER
Try: Bohem Brewery Amos
Nothing makes me thirstier than the sight of a mug of freshly-poured Czech lager with its thick creamy foam. There’s also no other beer which I recall so vividly in my taste memory, where I’m always in a busy beer hall, the table covered in half-drunk glasses of beer, the foam lacing beautifully, and we’re all laughing deeply. Bohem brew the truest-tasting Czech lager in the UK. Amos is softly caramelised and toasty to begin, but never sweet, cutting down to a deep bitterness. Pour it with lots of foam.
BEER STYLE: FRANCONIA KELLERBIER
Try: Braybrooke Keller Lager
I miss drinking in Franconia. I miss the traditions and traditional taverns, and I miss the endless variety of the world’s best lagers. Braybrooke’s Keller Lager is a perfect example of the typical pale lager from this part of Germany, and it’s as good as anything brewed in Franconia because they brew it exactly as the Franconians do. There’s toasty malt richness, an upfront fullness of flavour thanks to being unfiltered and a little more rustic than a Helles, then a long-lasting herbal hop bitterness.
BEER STYLE: DUNKEL
Try: The Kernel Munich Dunkel
If I think of Dunkel I’m transported to Munich’s Hofbrauhaus. It’s a huge and historic beer hall, where every day thousands of people visit to drink giant mugs of Helles and Dunkel. Hofbrau make the quintessential Munich Dunkel, or dark lager which is all bread crusts and pretzels and with a soft, peppery bitterness. The Kernel’s version is leaner, more herbal and bitter, more roasted, and the carbonation more lively, and it’s as delicious as anything from Munich.
BEER STYLE: SCHWARZBIER
Try: Round Corner Brewing Gunmetal
Wanting to learn about Schwarzbier, or Black Lager, I travelled to Thuringia, the German region where it’s from, only to be thoroughly underwhelmed by it, where it seemed to lack the customs or local love and lore of other outlier German beer styles like Kölsch and Altbier. I’m including Round Corner’s Gunmetal because its crisp dryness and hint of fudge and cacao makes me project a new affection towards Schwarzbier.
BEER STYLE: CZECH DARK LAGER
Try: Utopian Brewing Černé speciální
There’s a brewpub in Prague which has been making beer for over 500 years. It’s a destination pub, a bit touristy, but worth visiting for their famous dark lager which is full bodied, rich with malt, a little sweet and nicely bitter with dark malt and hops. Utopian’s version is faithfully similar, with even more dark maltiness. The authentic experience would be to chase the beer with a shot of Becherovka, a herbal Czech liqueur.
BEER STYLE: BALTIC PORTER
Try: Lost & Grounded Running With Spectres
Baltic Porter is primarily popular in Poland and Estonia, where cold winters are happily warmed by glasses of this boozy dark beer. Baltic differs from British Porter by being stronger and usually brewed with a lager yeast, or at least cold-stored for an extended period, giving a beer with elegance and balance for its strength. Lost & Grounded’s glorious Running with Spectres is chocolatey, roasted, vinous and rich, and masterfully hides it’s 6.8% ABV.
BEER STYLE: KOLSCH
Try: Thornbridge Tzara
Kölsch makes me angry. I fully embrace fluidity and creativity in almost any beer style, but not Kölsch, the beer of Cologne. It’s a beer with rules: it’s a filtered, pale, dry, moderately bitter lager-like ale of around 4.8% ABV. Very few non-Cologne versions are authentic, brewed as a faux lager, and often unfiltered or with other ingredients added in. Thankfully Thornbridge’s Tzara is perfectly to the true Kölsch type.
BEER STYLE: ALTBIER
Try: Going to Dusseldorf…
Kölsch is Cologne’s beer, and their neighbouring city, Düsseldorf, also has their own beer: Altbier. It’s hard enough to find a quality Kölsch in Britain, but to try and find the dark ale brewed in Dusseldorf is almost impossible. Kölsch and Altbier are specific beers of and from their own cities, and so much of the identity of the beers is tied to where you drink it. Altbier might be one of those rare examples of a beer which you only want to drink in Dusseldorf.
BEER STYLE: HEFEWEIZEN
Try: Giepel Brewing Hefeweizen
Where’s all the British Hefeweizen? Only rarely are they brewed and seldom are they anything like a classic Bavarian brew. It’s a treat to find a great one, so whenever I see Giepel’s Hefeweizen, I order it. Think classic banana esters, toasted bread, some pepper at the end. Their Dunkelweizen, a dark wheat beer, is even better.
BEER STYLE: WITBIER
Try: Queer Brewing Witbier
My memories of Witbier always involve fried potatoes. There are paper cones of frites topped with mayo and with a tumbler of beer on the side, or glasses of Wit with bowls of moules frites, there are even lobster rolls and fries in New England, far from Belgium. Queer Brewing’s Witbier meets us somewhere between the fries and the frites. Light, elegant, orangey, floral from coriander seed, creamy smooth and beautifully refreshing. Have this one with chip shop chips.
BEER STYLE: SAISON
Try: Lost & Grounded Saison d’Avon
Saison has become a broad beer family which could be anything from low alcohol and highly hopped, to long-aged and sour. When I think of Saison, I think of Saison Dupont. Briskly effervescent, fruity yeast aromas, sweetness first and a dry, bitter finish with hop and yeast spiciness. Saison D’Avon hits all the flavour notes that I want: punchy upfront with malt and yeast profile, a fullness of flavour in the middle, then peppery at the end.
BEER STYLE: BELGIAN BLONDE
Try: Duration Bet The Farm
I find Belgian beer thrilling. The high carbonation combines with enigmatic and lively yeast and they seem to burst like unexpected fireworks, where I’m never quite sure what colour, sound or flavour will pop out next. Belgian Blondes are every day and normal, yet still complex and engaging, capable of being both comforting and thrilling. Duration’s Bet the Farm brings hops which add a spice alongside the fruity yeast, before the dry and bitter finish.
BEER STYLE: BELGIAN DUBBEL
Try: Tynt Meadow English Trappist Ale
It’s the ritual of Belgian beer that I love. The way you look over the long menu in the dark café but already know what you want. The wait for it to arrive, the perfect presentation, the foam just crowning over the glass. Dubbels and Quadrupels, with their strength and depth, are beer for contemplation. Tynt Meadow is brewed by British monks using British ingredients and it’s one of the finest Belgian-inspired Dubbels. Classic dried fruitiness, toasted bread and cocoa, which is reverentially and classically Belgian, but wholly British.
BEER STYLE: BELGIAN TRIPEL
Try: Solvay Society Tritium
What I’ve come to love about Tripel––one of my favourite styles, and the beer I most like to drink on my sofa––is that I can never truly understand it. Every time I open one, it’s like I’m drinking it for the first, even if it’s a beer I’ve drunk a dozen times. It’s the complex mix of grain and yeast which could be sweet or bitter, herbal or fruity, and I always experience something new when drinking them. Solvay Society’s Tritium updates a classic Tripel base by adding rye and pink peppercorns, which give extra fruitiness, a bit of sweetness, and fruity spice.
BEER STYLE: GUEUZE
Try: Burning Sky Coolship
Belgian Gueuze is a beer uniquely of its place, and of its special yeast and bacteria which spontaneously ferments the beer and then helps it mature. That maturation happens in wooden barrels over a few years, before different barrels are blended together and it’s left to carbonate in the bottle, like Champagne. Burning Sky’s Coolship is brewed exactly like a Gueuze. It’s brightly tart and lemony, oaky and complex, with a vibrant and mouthwatering fruitiness. They also make superb fruited beers, often with local cherries or apricots.
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