Feeding a Yen: Foreign Beers You Miss and Can't Find Here
I just got done rereading Calvin Trillin's Feeding a Yen about foreign foods one ate overseas and can't find in the US and the 60's beer post and it got me thinkin' about all the great beers I've drunk overseas that I can't find here.(Just keep in mind that I'm writing form Maine which has a great culture of microbreweries, but not much variety of imported brands.)
I studied in the old Soviet Union and was exposed to communism and beer(Not a happy marriage.) Beer names were derived from the town's factory Moskovskaya Zavod Piva was Moscow Factory Beer and it tasted like it. A weak, watery lager. Vodka was the way to go. I do, however, miss the public beer machines with communal mugs that dispensed a cool draft beer cheaply. Simply invert mug when done and rinse with a jet of water. I did taste awfully good with kielbasy and kapusta(saurkraut) though.
I loved Christmas in Norway. Out came the Juleol, an amber ambrosia worthy of the big Julenisse himself. My local brand was Tau(Tau Smak Gir Mer Smak or Tau Flavor Gives More Flavor) an excellent rich and creamy lager. Besides lagers and Christmas beer, Ole Nordman also put out some very decent bokks. All of the Nordic countries had the same method of rating beers by alcohol content. One or 2 stars on the bottle cap meant lower alcohol and could be purchased in grocery stores. For 6-10% alcohol, 3 or 4 stars, one needed to find the Vinmonopolet(Winemonopoly), the government run liquor store. Live in the boonies? No problem, they mailed it to your door. Other favorite brands were: Hansa(Bergen) and Frydenlund(Oslo). I, once upon a time saw another Oslo beer, Ringnes, in the US, but I didn't care for it. I do really miss an icy cold Tau with North Sea herring or fried cod tongues and cheeks.. Now that is a marriage made in heaven.
The Finns take beer to the arena of international politics. When Karjala beer first appeared on the market, during the cold war, the label had 2 mail clad gauntlets, the one on the right (read east) holding a curved sword and the one on the left (read west), held a straight sword. The classic symbol of the historic struggle of the Finns to stay free from the Russkies. The Soviet ambassador went on TV and (rightly) called this an unfriendly act against the neighborly CCCP.(The Finns have fought 43wars against the Russians and have lost every one!) The beer immediately rocketed to the top in Finnish beer sales and stayed there for decades! All one had to do to order a Karjala was to make a fist with the right hand and cock back your right arm. So much for Finlandization. Back to the beer! Sinebrynkoff (Russian influence?), the oldest and largest brewery, located in downtown Helsinki, puts out a fine array of beers. I have seen the Koff Porter in the US. Lapin Kulta is a creamy lager and of course a rich Christmas beer, Jouluolut (olut is beer). Finnish beer has saved me from embarrassment at many a summer's Rapu Fest. Rapu, crayfish, is Finnish summer addiction. Imagine sitting outside, in the summer's warm midnight sun peeling and eating scores of crayfish boiled in dill, and knocking back icy shots of Korskincorva (Over the Waterfalls!) Vodka with beer chasers! I was "forced" to drink more beer and less vodka. Oh, do I miss an icy cold beer with fire roasted makkara (sausage) after a 300 degree F.(no kidden, Kidden) sauna! Those were the days.
Bolivia was a beer lovers pleasant surprise. I was unaware of the huge German influence in Bolivia(I came afta ze var.) The national airline, Lloyd Aero Boliviano(LAB) is named after the German that founded it in the 1920's. Due to the mainly (except for the Altiplano) tropical climate and heavy German influence, the vast majority are lagers. The largest selling beer, Pacena, even has the famous German logo of a chubby crowned monarch legs wide astride a huge keg with 2 giant mugs of frothy beer in his hands. I preferred Taquina(Cochabamba) and the local Cruzanian brew Ducal. It went very well with churrascos (huge meat BBQs). I learned a lot about the third world when I found out that a .75 l. bottle of beer cost less that $.50, but the deposit on the bottle was $.75. It was more difficult to manufacture the bottle than brew the beer!
Finally, our oldest son is married to a Korean and lives in Seoul. When we visit, we love the food, culture and people; it's the beer we can't stand. All 3 majors Cass, Hite and OB make the silver bullet look rich and creamy by comparison. We learned the lethal joy of So Ju and our son has become an accomplished home brewer. Fini.
Remember: "In heaven there is no beer, that's why we drink it here. And when we're gone from here, our friends will be drinking all the beer!" Traditional Polish Polka
Primus- Perhaps the best beer I've ever had in Brugge Belgium. It may have been that I was particularly parched after a full day of travel but it was a damn fine beer. Never seen it in the states or anywhere else on my travels for that matter.
Many of my fave beer memories are of beers you CAN get here, but somehow it's not the same, because it's the experience that can't be replicated.
Sapporo poured from one of those cool automatic beer-pouring machines in Japan.
Tiger on the rocks in a frosted mug, with a plate of satay, on the beach in Singapore.
Bass best bitter on handpump in an inn in Ludlow, England, after watching Othello staged in the old castle ruins.
Staropramen on tap in jazz club in Prague.
Bottle after bottle of Hacker-Pschorr hefeweizen on a road trip through Bayern fresh from the ruins of yet another old Gothic castle ruin.
I am definetly not going to say it is the best beer in the world (in fact, far from it), but I have a soft spot for the world of Korean beers. After living in the country for almost 2 yrs, I had some good times with Cass, Hite (Korean lite beer), OB (over rated), and the somewhat hard to find but best of the bunch, Red Rock (served only at the Cass sponsored bars Cass and Rock [if my memory serves me right]).
I miss the bar culture in Korea. Ordering 7-9 beers at a time, crazy amounts of food with each beer (bar food with alcohol had its own name - ahn ju if I remember my Korean right....any Koreans on this board confirm that for me?....I don't want to dig my Hangul Dictionary out of the basement).
Plus, the crazy theme bars. The prison bar where you drank in a tiny dark basement with jail cells that were the biggest fire hazard I have ever seen. Plus the Cubs bar in the college district of Seoul which warmed this Illinois kid's heart. Pirate bars, the DMZ bar, the Ska bar that would play NOFX if you wanted them to, the shortlived punk club, and the "Cure" club based on the band where the owner looked like a Korean Robert Smith...
ANd the best of all...the Boston Club named after the band with a confederate flag with a picture of Hank Williams Jr on it hanging from the ceiling and the owner would get drunk with you and play the Frank Zappa - Sheik Your Booty album over and over again....
Great! We can't wait to go back to Korea for a longer period, but with kids in college.......You gotta read Feeding a Yen. After reading your post, it made me realize the big diff between being a tourist and living in a foreign culture. As a tourist, I preferred So Jo to the beers, but w/ time(and to spare my liver), the beer, I'm sure, would grow on me and have an association with foods, places and memorable experiences. Did you ever hit the Czech brew pub/beer hall? Best beer in Seoul, but not Korean for double sure. OH DILEMMAS!
At home when I make Bulgogi and Kalbi, we drink So Jo that I haul back form the NY area (can't get it here) to make the meal more of a special Korean event.
I just had another beer zen moment. I was reading the Czechvar post on the Mid-Atlantic board and it hit me hard; a beer zen memory. In the early '80's, a Norwegian, a Dane (Also a female Aussie hitch hiker, but that is another story.) and I were sailing back over the North Sea to Stavanger, Norway, completing a whiskey run from the Orkney Islands. I was standing on the bow and saw a small object bobbing in the water, quickly picked up a net and scooped it up. It was a brown beer bottle, with the word 'Budweiser" in raised glass lettering on the side. I was dumbfounded. At that point in time, I had only known "Merican Bud". My shipmates told me about this good Bud brewed In Czechoslavakia. And that, I thought, was it.
A few years later, however, I found myself living in Helsinki with an invite to fly down to Prague in a private plane to watch the world hockey championships. After hours of being detained by Czech officials on suspicion of being a spy, checking into a hotel, we finally hit a pub and lo and behold, Budweiser was on tap! What a long weekend that was. Great ice hockey and even better beer. And under the communist regime, everything was very inexpensive.
Why is it my mind is filled w/ beer zen moments? Do others experience this?
Back in '85 I quit my no pay publishing job in NYC and hit the road. I spent 8 weeks bumming around Czechoslovakia and in Budapest. I did not have a bad brew in CZ, not once. I even made it to Plzen and had dinner in their basement beer hall. Every now and then when I get a good bottle of Plzen (rare these days) and pop the cap, the aroma of the worlds greatest beer wafts up and hits me smack in the nose. Man oh man, it brings me back to those days doing a tavern to tavern run around CZ. The first afternoon in Prague I went to a cafeteria and had some dark lager, can't remember which. As Sulu always says "Oh my"
"Every now and then when I get a good bottle of Plzen (rare these days)"
Why do you say "rare"? I take it you're referring to Pilsner Urquell and, while I'll agree that the beer's lost "something" (thanks to various "modernizations" from both before and after the take-over), it's certainly a lot easier to find a -relatively- fresh bottle now that's it's a SABMiller product. Closed cases and 12 packs are common, cans are available in many markets and (tho' I'm still too paranoid to buy them) even the 6 packs are better protected than previously. AND all are clearly dated with SABMiller's date code, which gives the beer 9 months of shelf life and I can regularly find it less than 3 months old. (And pass on it when I can't).
When I first started drinking it (circa the late '70's- Communist gov't owned with cork-lined caps) it *could* be an amazing beer but too often was old, stale and often light-stuck.
Yes, Urquell. I haven't seen the best by date. I've been drinking Budvar instead which has a clear date. Even thouhg SAB has wider distribution, I've had so many skunked bottles and let's not even talk about the draft. I havent seen the cans and am not oppesed to trying them and hopefully enjoying 'em.
I only buy it by the case, so have not had a light struck one in 20 years or more. The pull dates are on the back label of the bottle, bottom of the cans, the cardboard "tray" of the twelve packs or cans and the top of the packaging (box or wrap-around on cans). I agree, I'd never buy a single at a bar. I have I had too bad an experience with draft- don't see it often and when I do there's usually better local choices- I've generally had no problems lately but I've run into some stale stuff in the past.
The cans are real nice but not well-distributed and when they are carried it's in small quantities (ie. a place that has a pallet of bottles will only have one or two cases of cans). Some retailers only sell the cans singlely since they replaced the bomber bottles (or so some Miller houses tell them). But, when you find 'em they're a bargain by the case. AND, one good thing- MORE beer (500ml cans).
Miller's got a pdf file on how to read their date codes here
but you'll have to go thru their age check to get there.
Now, Budvar, so far, in my area is the opposite. The A-B distributor 'round here still hasn't picked up the brand and the only store I ever see it in still has the 500ml brown bottles from the previous importer, with a "Best Before" date of Feb. '06. I'm sort of itching for some fresh stuff (but, all things considered, I still think I prefer P/U).