Category Archives: Europe

Weekend in Lisbon (Portugal)



San Francisco!
Nope. Cheaper to get to from Boston, similar climate, hip museums and fantastic food and music. Not as much craft beer. Or any, really.

But who cares when you can sip this delicious cherry business right in the middle of the cobbled streets?


The tavern selling this small treat is really a dressed-up counter at the edge of the sidewalk called Ginja Sem Rival, which sort of means Best Cherry Liquor Ever. And if context is anything, it surely is.




And just like San Francisco, there are steep streets…


But then the old world charm of Europe takes over. In a lovely old Sunday park that doesn’t have silly American alcohol restrictions.


And on the streets by fountains late at night where musicians and informal dancers have impromptu gatherings.


But wait- there is beer! We stopped at La Crêperie da Ribeira for some of their ricotta, walnut, and honey yumminess, and found…


More good-enough beer was found alongside excellent cold cockles at a restaurant known for seafood.



But the best nibble and sip combo was at a little diner-ish place quite close to the cherry tavern. They served sparkling vinho verde with a meat sandwich called lombinho.


These sips and sounds along the sea mean I’ll be back soon to explore some more… and perhaps open a decent brewery.



Leave a comment

Filed under Europe, Uncategorized

Detour to Rome (Rome)


What would make your year- winning the lottery? True love? Peace on Earth? Okay- all those would of course be fantastic- but I mean in the realm of reality. You know- like winning concert tickets, finally kissing someone you’ve always wanted to, or having an olive branch extended from a long-time feuding neighbor. What would do it for you?

For me, the culminating wonder of 2013 (subject to change given the date) was walking into new craft beer destination Tørst in New York City earlier this week and having the bartender say, “Hey- Didn’t I meet you in Rome last month at EurHop?”

I’m a beer geek- what can I say?


And, why yes, Kim, you did!


Rome was not on my original Italian itinerary. I had planned to be in Venice for a week followed by another week exploring craft beer, white truffles, and wine in Piedmont. Period. But I’m always ready for a detour.

Rome is a six hour drive from Gorzegno, where I was staying in Piedmont. I like to drive- especially the un-guarded hairpin turns of Piedmont in a stick- heaven! And loyal readers know I’m willing to drive five hours from my home in Cambridge for an amazing meal in Montreal. But this was different.


First Teo Musso of Baladin in Piozzo told me about EurHop, a new festival of European craft beer. Then Riccardo at Montegioco mentioned he was going. Then out of nowhere Yvan de Baets of Brasserie de la Senne in Brussels texted that he would be there and wondered if I was going. And finally- the deciding factor- I learned that Marjorie Jacobi would be there! (More on this later- en français bien sûr!)

So beer travelers, here is what I learned, on the fly, about craft beer in Rome.


I don’t usually endorse hotels. This site is about sipping fine and interesting beverages, not the hospitality scene. But when I realized the official EurHop hotel was full I was stuck. It was two days before the fest, and no one I knew was in town yet. The fest was actually a bit outside the center of Rome- not much else there. The GPS saved me. (It owed me, having let me down so often the previous two weeks) I flicked on the “show hotels” feature and plugged in the addresses of the three beer destinations I knew of. Fate was on my side- they were all near each other, and also near the Colosseum which I’d always wanted to see.



Mind you, I was already in Rome and had spent seven hours in the car. Lovely scenery passing the Mediterranean and all. But it was three more hours, eleven hotel tries, two police officers, a tiny sort-of accident with a wall, and one wonderful Peter Sellers movie scene of an endless roundabout later- I found Tiziano Hotel. It has parking, but you have to drive a few curvy blocks to it and they send a bellhop with you so you can find your way back on foot. And do you know in one of the cobbled linked alleyways we walked through when returning to the hotel we passed a beery crowd spilled outside of… Open Baladin? Yes- right there! I knew that my hotel karma had been restored. The next corner we turned on faced the full moon as a backdrop to the Colosseum. Wow. Even my tough looking car guide had to pause in a moment of wonder at the site. We exchanged smiles and continued back to the hotel.


The next two days were all about exploring Rome and beer. See?


One must cross this lovely bridge to get from the Tiziano Hotel/Open Baladin side of the river to the Bir & Fud/Ma Che side.







And finally- EurHop.


I had agreed to help Yvan pour for Brasserie de la Senne, which worked out great since his plane ended up being delayed for hours. His booth was next to Jean of Cantillon.


I later heard that the next night, after I’d been long gone speeding towards Torin, there were still lines out the door after 12:30 in the morning! But on this first night of a first ever fest, no one was sure of anything, everyone was delighted to be there, and lots of people just ran around giving warm greetings. Here are some examples:


Marjori Jacobi et moi, ensemble encore!



The guy from La Fine Mousse in Paris recognized me- that’s quite a memory!


Valter of LoverBeer, me, and Skigi of Extraomnes



Yvan finally made it!

So why the big deal about Tørst? First, it’s almost as hard to find as a hotel in Rome, even with an address.


Second, I was meeting an old neighbor there.


Third, I had just seen Valter again in NY the night before at Proletariat to taste his wondrous LoverBeer.


Finally, I love to be reminded just how small the artisanal beer world is. Inextricably connected to cheese makers, bee keepers, yeast cultivators- and friends of terroir, fermentation, careful cultivation, and other living sensory expressions everywhere. In a word, with all its meanings: culture!

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe, Italy, Rome

Alten und Neuen (Bamberg)


Bamberg has so much more than smoked beer, although that was my initial reason for planning a trip.


Armed with several maps, Steve Thomas’ Good Beer Guide: Germany (only available in England if you’re trying to find it), a rental car, and a reservation at Alt-Ringlein in the city-center, I approached Bamberg a day earlier than planned. I knew I was off to a good start when my hotel not only allowed me to arrive early on a moment’s notice, they upgraded my room. The view from my window is above.

Bamberg sits on top of a hill (or seven…) and is composed of narrow cobbled streets. Charming, but hard to know where cars are allowed. (I still confuse the “no parking” signs with the “do not enter” signs) My hotel had parking, but on my way into town the GPS sent me down a pedestrian-only street. Many non-English speakers enthusiastically made me aware of this. I chucked the misleading device onto the passenger seat, smiled sheepishly, backed up, and navigated with my internal compass across the river to my hotel. I had to then back the car downhill onto a metal suspended contraption inside a parking garage too short to stand in. I told myself I’d fetch the car the next day to explore the beer destinations outside of the city. I didn’t get into the car again until I left for the airport five days later.

And I definitely needed a beer.


After a house helles at Alt-Ringlein (they don’t actually make it there anymore) I ventured out to find what I’d been told is the finest example of Rauchbier in Bamberg: Spezial (above). I was skeptical. I mean how different can smoked beer be?



The beer garden was full, but with what I soon learned is usual Bamberg hospitality, a couple of sippers invited me to join their table. Over my visit I ended up doing this a lot, and always managing to join locals in spite of the dense crowds of tourists.

It turns out smoked beers, like any other style, can be quite different from one another. I tried several other rauchbiers in Bamberg, but I returned to Spezial daily for what I thought was the best to keep my beer-barometer in tune. The smokiness is different than all others: subtle- not choking or charred, somehow a little sweet like mesquite or hickory. The finish is soft and refreshing, even on a hot July day. It makes you crave another sip after each swallow. Really quite fine.


Most of the beer destinations in Bamberg open at 9am, and are fairly
full by 11. Definitely my kind of town. I started early the next day with the longest walk from my hotel (a little over 2 kilometers) to Café Abseits.


This place boasts a 100 rating on, meaning one of the finest beer bars in the world. It’s easy to understand why. The menu features rotating local craft beer on draft and several exceptional bottles; the service is knowledgable and sweet; if you write things in a notebook while drinking you will get a visit from kindly Gerhard Schoolmann. He will explain everything and make recommendations on where else to go.


The “Bierprobe aller 5 Faßbier” above includes Gänstaller-Bräu Kellerbier, Mönchsambacher Lager, Keesmann Herren pils, Huppendorfer Weizenbier, and Huppendorfer Vollbier. Schoolmann told me about a local brewer who makes the Gänstaller, and said his bar is worth a trip because it has a lot of wonderful local beers I won’t find elsewhere- music to my ears! I had planned to go the next evening for a special beer dinner, but as the time approached to leave I just could not imagine myself navigating back on the tricky streets to the hotel in the dark after sampling beers when I could barely do it sober in the daylight. Nope- too risky. It is my one regret of the trip that I didn’t go.

Below is a shot of the lovely bridge I crossed each day and the river it spans. (No cars allowed!)


Over the next few days I hit more beer destinations than I should probably admit- all within walking distance of the Alt-Ringlein: Ambräusianum, Fässla, Greifenklau, Kachelofen, Kaiserdom, Keesmann, Klosterbräu, Mahr’s, Pelikan, Schlenkerla, Stilbruch, Stöhrenkeller, Torschuster, Wilde-Rose-Keller, Eckert, and (thanks to a kind local with a car) the grounds of the Altenburg castle.

Each one had a story, but I’ll keep it to three.


Thomas Grube (above, with his gal Martina) is a cool cat. He presides over the beer and the music (all on vinyl) at a tiny gem called Torschuster. Unlike most bars in Bamberg (and Europe) there are seats at the bar, and people are encouraged to belly up and chat with Thomas. I love that.

After an evening of fine beer and bonding, I suggested that I return in 10 years to take over. He didn’t laugh. I’ll keep you posted.


Later that week at an outside concert I ran into Thomas and his family again, and he invited me to their home around the corner, below . Do you think I could take over the house too? I’m ready to move now!



The biggest surprise was that in this bastion of German brewing tradition, with an older beer purity law by 25 years than the 1516 Reinheitsgebot, the two best beers I tried were completely non-traditional.



The first was at Greifenklau, made by Siggi (pictured above with his tanks) who can point back to many generations of family brewers here. He made a dry-hopped pils for his sister’s wedding. The wedding was the next day, and somehow I got to try it. (Below) Unlike many American dry-hopped beers that lose all sense of proportion, this was elegant and clean. The dry-hopping added a refreshing bouquet to the underlying pils.


The story of the other great beer- and the best beer of my trip- is a bit longer.

I love wine. The marketing hype of beer drinkers pitted against wine drinkers is ridiculous because a well made fermented beverage is delicious- Period. I find brewers who say they don’t like wine a little suspicious- just like chefs who smoke. It’s not a deal breaker, but to me it’s a strike against their palate judgment and credibility that the beer (or food) will have to overcome. In my experience it often does not.

On the other hand, brewers who embrace wine making (BFM’s Jèrôme Rebetez and Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo come to mind) take beer to another level, often with cult followings and connoisseurs’ accolades.

This is all to say that when I visited Mahr’s lovely little beer garden, I literally ran smack in to brewer Stephan Michel (below). I hadn’t told him I was coming. Stephan is a person with a certain reputation, as am I. I made certain both remained intact.


He handed me a glass with his little experiment, not yet in bottles. Fest Cuvée. Fermented in wine barrels, dried out with champagne yeast. Super soft finish and bone dry- one of the ten best beers I’ve ever had. Stephan told me the price he plans to sell these limited bottles for, and I said I’d gladly pay double. Probably not smart, but trust me you would too!

And both of these edgy beers from Bamberg. Let’s just say that things are changing. Now if I can just convince him to put the U in cans…


One more thing really struck me about this gorgeous city- the sounds of it. The church bells. The non-stop tourist leaders taking their little crowds around. The evening hum of people drinking in the narrow streets. The live music in the plaza- from African drumming to modern oom-pah bands that sneak in Mancici tunes. I am especially grateful to have been introduced to JD McPherson on someone’s car stereo. Give it a listen. He’s playing at the Newport Folk Festival next Friday (July 26). Join me!


As I write this from Cambridge USA, accompanied by a bottle of Weyermann’s Pumpernickel Porter given to me Gerhard Schoolman on my last day at Café Abseits, I need to thank several people. Will Shelton for convincing me to book a room well in advance and suggesting the best places; Yvan de Baets for giving me a book called Brauns Brauerei Atlas – Franken that contains the most useful pull-out map of Bamberg beer destinations; Bernard from 12 Apôtres in Strasbourg (See October 2012) for sound advice and local literature. And of course I’m grateful to all those mentioned in this post for making my first exploration unforgettable. Danke sein!


July 20, 2013 · 2:29 pm

Hamburg Special (Hamburg, Germany)

The rumors are true: I crashed a bachelor party in Hamburg to get in on a craft beer tasting. But there is more to the story. Really!


The truth is that I went to Hamburg to visit dear friends for a few days. In between the cartography conference in Helsinki (see previous post) and beer in Bamberg (upcoming post if I can get it together) I decided not to research the Hamburg beer scene at all. I inteded all of my attention to be on my friends; none on my own interests- that was the plan.


You can see why. They’re adorable! And even nicer than they look. Knowing me as they do (but not necessarily being craft beer people) they did their own investigation. And brought me to Altes Mädchen.



We ordered the cute mermaid-paddle sampler. Still- I suspected nothing. Even though the tag line on the menu (in English) is “Real Craft”. I can be thick sometimes. Then I sniffed the Pale, then tasted the Zwickel- and I finally figured it out. The brewery behind the restaurant – Ratsherrn- is quite special.

Once I’d finally been hit over the head with it, I asked our server a bunch of questions. That’s when she asked if I wanted to join the tasting and brewery tour that was about to start. Of course I did! But I swear I didn’t know it was a bachelor party. That’s just my usual luck.


The groom and his brother are below:


They didn’t seem to mind me crashing their tour. We were all quite giddy. And after the tour and fassbiere, I tried the cumin schnapps called Helbing (super!) and got a tour of Hamburg nightlife with dancing silliness. Next day a boat tour of the harbor, an afternoon at the wonderful smelling Jenisch gardens sipping a rhubarb juice/sparkling water combo called rhabarberasaft-schorle, a visit to my friend’s secret dress shop, fabulous sushi across the street from their place, many aperol spritzs. All before returning to- you guessed it- Altes Mädchen! To be clear- I mean that it was so fantastic, in three days we went twice. And when I return it will be my first stop.




That last shot is of me with their son, a delightful little boy. For those who know me well, you can close your mouths now. He only speaks German; I only English (in spite of my attempts at French) but we bonded and I will be back to continue my role as the family’s eccentric American friend. I do it so well!

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe, Hamburg

Worlds Collide (Helsinki)


Every other year my beer life and my map life collide- when the International Conference on the History of Cartography moves to its next host city. I skipped the 2011 Moscow version, so my last one was in Copenhagen, where I collaborated with a (pre-celebrity status) Shaun Hill on a beer for the conference when he was with Nørrebro Bryghus : Arctic Wit, labeled with a map from the opening exhibit.


Thanks to Matthew Edney (a rock star in the map world yet unknown in the beer universe) who sent me a link to the Helsinki Beer Trail, Kaisla was my first stop. It’s deceptively small because it is made up of a maze of cozy rooms- lots of brick, stone, and wood- which I learned is the Finnish way.




Not only do they have beers that are either hard to find or unavailable in Massachusetts (Alaskan Smoked Porter, Cantillon Vergnonne) they also strive to feature Finnish craft beer on draft. Huvila Pekko pale ale was my favorite: clean, well conditioned, and plenty of hops. The Keisari 66 (“American Pale ale”) and Plevnan Amarillo Weizen were also super.

Beer and maps were intertwined all week. Near the opening reception at the National Museum of Finland is a little bar called St. Urho, where I first tried the Finnish native beer called Sahti. It wasn’t on the menu- I asked for it everywhere I went. It’s unstable (hence doesn’t travel well) but a true local flavor. It smells like raw sweet dough and strawberries. It’s cloudy and sweet- almost like wort but hot. This particular one was 8%, which is higher than most.



Matthew’s tips were spot-on, yet another map/beer geek, Nick Millea of the Bodleian Library at Oxford- found the newest gem: Bryggeri Helsinki.


If you only have time for one beer destination in Helsinki, stop here. All four house beers are fantastic, the food is quite good, and the service is top notch. Plus they carry other Finnish craft beers so you can really get a taste for the scene.


The house beers were a pils, weizen, altbier, and summer ale (a light IPA). I could drink the summer ale for days. Oh wait- I did!



To top it off, Bryggeri Helsinki serves sahti from Lammin. The glass of it below says “enjoy” not “naughty”!


Every now and again I come across a special place and think – wow, this is what a beer bar should be. That’s Teerenpeli.


The outside isn’t promising, but once inside it’s open, hip, warm, modern, cosy- all at once. And the second floor has a secret terrace- very private compared to the sidewalk space near the entry. And the beer! After a brief conversation my waiter brought me a taste of an IPA still in the fermenter. Heady Topper watch out! Did I mention they distill their own whiskey?



I stopped in several other wonderful craft beer gems in Helsinki: Bruuveri and Villi Wäinö stood out. But I was pressed for time (having as my primary purpose the International Conference on the History of Cartography, with lecture after splendid lecture by day and special exhibits every night) and thought I would have to miss the RB #1 rated beer destination in Helsinki: Olutravintola Pikkulintu. It’s a few kilometers out if town.


But thanks to my Swiss/Albanian friend Endrit, I made time. RateBeer has it wrong though- this is a whiskey destination. The beer is Finnish craft: Siperia stout aged in a spirit barrel, Panimiravintolic from Tampere. But the single malt selection- dominating every millimeter of space- stole the show. Gëzuar!

1 Comment

July 11, 2013 · 10:44 am