Wednesday, 30 August 2017

How to Visit Prague (and not get ripped off)


For those who follow my blog, you'll know that I love Prague and indeed every Czech city I've been to. It's an awesome country with great architecture, nice people and cheap beer but there's an issue - like any touristy city, there's a massive issue with people getting ripped off.

If I had a Czech Crown for the amount of times a friend or colleague comes back from Prague and boasts about only paying 99 crowns for a pint, I'd have enough to buy a pint in a respectable pub or hospoda that doesn't rip people off.

While on the face of it paying the equivalent of £3.50 doesn't sound that bad, it really is. I frequently tell people that the most expensive normal lager in the Czech Republic is usually Pilsner Urquell and even so you should never be paying more than around 50 crowns (£1.70) for a pint of it.

Yes, I know, people reading this blog who went to the Czech Republic 20 years ago will be flabbergasted that the price of a pint is that much these days when it was previously only about 10p a pint but that's what happens - inflation and the weak pound - but it's still cheap if you know where to go and what to do.

Arriving in Prague:

It is most likely that you'll arrive in Prague at Vaclav Havel Airport and I would strongly advise against using the taxis that are parked outside because they will rip you off. There is also an Airport Express Bus that goes directly to the main train station but it is not cheap, in fact it's probably about £8.

You can use public transport although it will consist of a bus and then an underground journey which isn't too helpful if you have luggage with you, so your best bet is to use Uber which will probably cost around £8 to the centre which isn't too bad if there are more than one of you.

Currency:

DO NOT CHANGE MONEY AT CHEQUEPOINT. This is literally the worst thing you can possibly do as a tourist in Prague. They advertise 0% commission, but they literally give the worst rates ever because where you'd usually get around 28 crowns to the English pound these days, you'll be lucky to even get 20 here.

Of course there are honest currency exchanges in Prague but it's much better to exchange your money before you go, at somewhere reputable like Eurochange or Debenhams.

Also, whilst you can buy things using Euros in the Czech Republic, local currency is cheaper. If you look at a bill in a restaurant and convert both crowns and euro currency into English, I can guarantee the price you pay in crowns is better for your wallet.

Old Town Square:

Old Town square is pretty; there's no denying it. It's fun to see the Astronomical Clock, then take a walk over the beautiful yet horrifically busy Charles Bridge but you see that pop up police station right in the centre of the square? It's there for a reason. It's there because the area is rife for pickpockets. You won't see them and you won't feel them slide your wallet out of your bag or pocket until you go to pay for something and boom, you'll notice it's gone.

The shops of old town square are a rip off too. Want a traditional Czech gift to take back to your mum? Well it'll cost an extortionate amount and is actually made in China. Go find a farmers market instead to find some genuine hand made gifts to take home.

Beer & Food:

Of course I wanted to go a little more in depth about the beer situation since this is a beer blog, but I'm also going to include food. This basically follows on from what I was saying at the start, and about Old Town Square.

When walking around Old Town Square or up near the castle (the two main tourist areas) you will see several things...

Kiosks: These kiosks primarily sell 3 things - Trdelník, Prague Ham and Drinks. All of these things are a rip off. Trdelník despite all of the signs is not traditional Czech dessert; its origins are unknown but it's suspected to be Hungarian. Prague Ham, whilst delicious and is well worth eating, is a rip off from these kiosks because the price advertised is actually only for around 100g, not a portion so they'll pile it up and guess what sucker? You're stung with a bill for 300 crowns and you'll have to pay it. Drinks are extortionate too as they'll charge you probably 100 crowns for a 330ml can of deliciously warm Pilsner Urquell that you're not legally allowed to drink in public.

Restaurants: If it boasts about selling "traditional" Czech cuisine in English and/or the menu has pictures on it STAY WELL AWAY. There are several restaurants in the touristy areas of Prague that like I said above will charge you a horrific price for beer but that's not all. The food is crap and massively overprice - whilst a main meal in a real traditional Czech restaurant would cost you around 125 crowns, these restaurants will charge around 300 crowns whilst also sneaking a massive service charge and cover charge on you.

Instead of visiting the kiosks and restaurants around Old Town Square, just walk a couple of streets over to Dlouha to visit Sisters for a delicious open faced sandwich topped with Prague Ham or anything you can imagine; and pop to Lokal for a cold, reasonably priced pint of tank fresh Pilsner Urquell with some delicious Czech Cuisine. Lokal is a small chain of maybe 5 restaurants in Prague and you can't go wrong. There's also one at the other end of Charles Bridge - U Bile Kuzelky, on Misenska.

There you go, my top tips to avoid getting ripped off in Prague. Of course this is not a comprehensive guide but just a few observations that I've made when I've been there and also a couple of bits that I've borrowed from Honest Prague Guide on YouTube because they're great guys, doing a great service to stop people from getting ripped off.

I have plenty of other blog posts about good places to eat and drink in Prague, including posts about craft beer bars where the £3.50 a pint is justified so take a look at the rest of my blog!

Thanks,

Nate

Friday, 28 July 2017

BRLO Brwfest 2017 - A Craft Beer Festival for All

BRLO is a small craft brewery located in 38 shipping containers not far from the centre of Berlin. They brew a range of beers similar to what craft breweries in the UK & the USA are brewing such as IPAs and Pale Ales as well as more traditionally German beers such as Helles and Berliner Weisse.

I first discovered BRLO Pale late one night in Kaschk in Berlin last August and I fell in love; it was definitely one of the best beers I had of that trip so we knew we had to visit the brewery bar when we were in Berlin last month.

We discovered just before we went that our visit would coincide with their Brwfest celebration - a mini craft beer festival where they'd invite some of the breweries they're friends with to come and pour their own beers in the yard of their Brwhouse. They'd invited 11 of their friends - 9 of which from various countries in Europe including my friends 40ft in the UK, Edge from Barcelona and White Hag in Ireland as well as three new German breweries - and had various street food and music things going on.

As y'all know, I'm a beer festival skeptic but since we were in Berlin and planning on heading to BRLO at some point anyway we thought we'd check it out along with Canadian Chris.

The most important thing that struck me when we first got there is that despite there being a craft beer festival going on within the confines of the brewery, you could still just go there and drink BRLO beer from their own bars as you would on any given day. Whenever I've seen similar events at UK breweries, regular drinkers who don't want to take part in the festivals have to elsewhere. I absolutely loved this approach that doesn't exclude regulars who just want pints of BRLO beer.

For those who wanted to get involved, you'd pay €5 for a special festival glass which includes a token for a 300ml pour from the hosts BRLO and having that glass allows you visit any of the craft breweries who were pouring at the festival. Prices were good, typically being €1, €2 or €3 depending on the size of pour you wanted... yes, it was possible to get a full grown up glass of beer at a craft beer festival!

I started by cashing in my BRLO token straight away and had their German IPA which was a dark and chewy caramel based IPA with plenty of tropical fruits going on in the background. Very enjoyable and somewhat of an English/American IPA cross.

Next we dashed across to White Hag an Irish brewery whose beers I've enjoyed before both in Dublin and Munich to try their Little Fawn session IPA that The Beer Nut had previously said I need to try, and it was a nice and light IPA. I could have had several, alas there were more beers to try including Edge Gose Margarita that Sammie got a goddamn it, it was like if a margarita and a beer were to bang and have a beautiful baby.

We popped to the bar next door to see 40ft Brewery from Dalston where Tanya whom I'd briefly met before at 40ft's Technoberfest last October. We chatted about our love for the London beer scene and how Braumeister Ben is a legend and she kindly gave us a free beer! I went for the Pale Ale which I'd not had before and it was fruity with a solid malt base whilst Sammie went for Larger, an awesome German style lager that I've previously drank loads of. Sammie wasn't really feeling lager so I finished hers, with great pleasure.

Next we dashed back across the other side, trying to avoid getting hit by kids playing cornhole (they beat Chris) and I went to the Stone Berlin bar and had a large glass of the Go To IPA, another session IPA that I absolutely love. Sammie berated me for my boring choice of beer because I drink it all the time. Sammie was slightly more interesting and went for Motel Beer Purple Noon, a grisette which is a lesser seen beer style. It was spicy, fruity and a little funky. Very enjoyable!

We then noticed a sign saying we were at the meeting point for brewery tours and it was the right time so we figured it'd be nice to see the brewery. The lovely Devin (whom we'd met before at BKL) turned up along with other people who wanted to join the tour, whilst he had to make the decision of whether the tour was going to be in English or German! Luckily everyone in the group could at least understand English so we went along with the tour. See, they say that once you've seen one brewery you've seen them all but it's not about that. It's about meeting the people and hearing the story. Besides, it was a bloody beautiful brewhouse! Devin was funny and engaging and a great host!

Near the end of the tour we got to try a brand new beer that was almost ready to come out which was a pale ale with tea, and it was absolutely delicious.

My next stop was at Norwegian brewery Bevog's bar where I had Rudeen, which was honestly one of the best Black IPAs I've ever had. In another not-so-surprising twist, Sammie had yet another sour beer in the form of Jopen Coastal Gose from the Netherlands and it was honestly one of the saltiest beers I've ever had. I don't think I could have handled more than a sip!

Yet another IPA for me, Kinn Vestkyst (which I'm assuming means West Coast in Norwegian) and it was one of the beers of the day... as juicy as you'd want from the style. Then out of nowhere OH MY GOD SAMMIE IS STILL ON THE SOUR. Back to Ireland for this one... The Puca Dry Hopped Lemon Sour from White Hag was lemony and acidic and delicious.

Just one more beer to finish our trip and I went Spanish with Ziggy a session IPA from Barcelona's Edge Brewing. It was soft and citrusy and basically the youngest brother of their DIPA i'd had before. I don't even need to tell you that Sammie drank Kennedy a berliner weisse from Schneeeule which again was ridiculously sour!

By this point we'd drunk loads of delicious beers so it was time to head off for some food. We toyed with the idea of going back but we were knackered and went back to our hotel.

It was genuinely the best craft beer festival I have ever been to and if they do it again in 2018, I can guarantee we'll be back!

Thanks for an awesome day, BRLO!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Prague 2017 Day 3 - Viewpoints, Weird Donkeys and Vietnam

Day 3 started much the same as any other with us moaning about hangovers before making sandwiches at the apartment before heading out.

We decided to head up to Letna Park because we'd not been there before and we'd heard it has great views over the city (also, beer gardens.

We jumped off the tram somewhere in Holesovice near the Generali Arena where AC Sparta Prague play, and for a team that I've seen play champions league games I was surprised how small their stadium is. I guess ice hockey is more their thing since the TipSport Arena where HC Sparta Prague play is massive.

We wandered through the greenest space we'd seen in Prague, the large Letna Park and found the Metronome where there was skateboarding and the universal sign for "You wanna buy drugs, fam?" and holy shit, the view was incredible. A wide unobstructed view of the city I love in all its glory.

Afterwards we took a short wander and accidentally found a Staropramen beer garden serving Tankova at very cheap prices, about 32kc if I remember correctly. Despite it only being 11:30am of course I had to have a pint of the 10 degree (which is not the horrible stuff we get here). It was so nice sitting in the scorching sun drinking beers, chatting and smoking cigarettes. Some English girls then arrived who knew ALL ABOUT BEER, it was great because I learned that Corona is from Italy. NOT. We prevailed through their knowledgeable conversation which somehow, effortlessly switched to make-up and I have no idea how. We decided to have another pint with Sammie once again making the mistake of thinking the cider wasn't Kingswood. Obviously it was, to her disappointment.

We decided to head towards The Prague Market in Holesovice with another stop at another beer garden. This one wasn't quite as nice and only had Gambrinus 10 which I actually prefer in bottles and Sammie had a bottle of Frisco which is like a blended fruit cider from the makers of Pilsner Urquell.

We finally found the market and it was wonderful. I felt like I was walking around Great Yarmouth due to the sheer amount of stalls selling genuine knock off merchandise and cheaply made everything, except there were more Vietnamese people than in GY.

We found the food hall which was wall to wall of fresh produce. Fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses and the freshest carp you could find... in fact it was so fresh that it was swimming around in the tank still! Next, food was on the agenda, and the only food we could find was Vietnamese, but I was OK with that! I had some curried chicken noodles which were alright, washed down with a can of Gambrinus 10 that boasted 10% extra, whilst I got lost in translation and accidentally ordered Sammie a chicken pho, but it was delicious and fresh so no complaints.

We decided to walk through the housing estates and construction sites of the very quiet Holesovice area towards Pivovar Marina which I'm sure that you don't need to know Czech to figure out that it's a small craft brewery and restaurant next to the water. The restaurant and beer garden are both massive and there's a small, probably only 5bbl brew kit behind the bar. The Holešovický ležák 12 was a delicious unfiltered lager, popping with sweetness and fresh grassy hops whilst Sammie's Marina tmavý speciál 13 was rich and chocolatey.

We got the tram into the centre next and went to another place on our hit list for the week, T-Anker which is a bar/restaurant on top of a rather brutalist looking department store. With the sun shining down on us, and the amazing view over the city it didn't even matter that their house lager was just OK.

Next we were going to meet Adam, Brendon and Bellos somewhere that I would never have chosen before. A well known, misogynistic chain of American bar/restaurants. Hooters. Tankovka Pilsner Urquell and chicken wings were delicious and cheap enough but I couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling I had being in a restaurant where the management's entire philosophy is for female waiting staff to get their boobs out.

We moved on swiftly to Craft House where we'd been the other night and was handily across the road. They'd shaken their tap list up a bit so there were fresh new beers for us to try. Hendrych H8 is a pilsner that I'd had before and was tasting as delicious as ever. Sammie's Raven Morrigan Irish Dry Stout was silky smooth, creamy and full of chocolate as a beer of the style should be. Raven is one of the best Czech craft breweries out there so I had to grab a pint of their juicy, Casquinox IPA which unsurprisingly was full of Cascade and Equinox hops whilst Sammie had been craving something sour so went for the locally brewed Zubaty Pes Kiwinator which was an uber salty and bitter Kiwi Gose.

We left the guys to their own devices and went somewhere that Sammie had seen online and we'd been recommended before, Pivovarsky Klub. We walked into an incredibly busy tiny bar since the downstairs was closed; the bar man who was doing everything by himself including drinks, glass collecting, glass washing, serving food, seating people, the works was incredible calm and collected, asked us to either come back when downstairs is open or just wait for a seat. Bars of this small size in the UK struggle with even three people on so he was doing an impressive job. Eventually he spotted two seats at the bar so reserved them for us and we jumped in. There's a small but carefully curated tap list of 6 beers, one of which I'd noticed was Benedict Světlý ležák 12 which Joe had recommended me on twitter, and holy shit it was one of the best lagers I had all week. Perfectly crisp and hoppy. Sammie went for Rebel pšeničný which is a perfect banana and clove tasting creamy hefeweizen.

It was with this, we decided to call it a night. Stopping via Tesco and sitting in Sacre Couer park with a couple of beers on the way back to our apartment as the next day was going to be boozy...

Friday, 23 June 2017

Prague 2017 Day 2 - Not Just Pilsner in Pilsen

Waking up with irresponsibly sore heads, we had some breakfast at the apartment and caught the train to Pilsen, a city of a little over 150,000 about an hour and a half on the train from Prague.

I'd been to Pilsen once before, back in 2015 to do the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour which I didn't fancy doing again so this was a trip to see the town and visit some pubs.

First stop was actually the Pilsner Urquell brewery where they were preparing for a performance art festival later that evening. As it was a nice, though somewhat blustery day, we sat outside drinking their ubiquitous beer which I'm sure I don't need to introduce by now.

After that we took a wander over the river, taking in the sights of the beautiful city and found Na Parkanu, a pub I'd heard so much about before since they sell Unfiltered Pilsner Urquell, probably the only place to do so. I'd had it once before, directly in the cellars beneath the brewery but I was underwhelmed with this and that's probably because it's a case of needing the experience more than you need the drug. Next, a poster in the pub caught my eye; it was advertising Master Summer Ale which comes from Prazdroj who make Pilsner Urquell so I went for that. It's great seeing an extremely traditional brewery making their take on a modern craft beer and it not being shit! It was exactly what I expected from a summer ale... citrusy and refreshing. Sammie went for a cider, thinking it wasn't Kingswood but much to her disappointment it was. It just tastes like Apple Tango (which I don't mind so much).

Whilst we were walking towards somewhere else, we figured it'd be hilarious to pop into the British and American sweet shop and to our entertainment found Bud Light, John Smiths and Boddingtons in the beer fridge!

After that we found another little craft beer bar and bottle shop that wasn't on my radar, Pivotecka, so it would have been rude not to stop. Lovely little hipster looking oasis where I observed a mixture of people from two guys who were clearly on a craft beer crawl, to two coders with the macbooks discussing development stuff and a guy who was slightly confused that they didn't sell Pilsner Urquell so made do with another lager. I think there were about 15 beers on tap, which was pretty astounding. I figured it was time for an IPA so I went for Zichovec 15 Degree IPA which was happily drinkable. A little hoppy but more English style. Sammie went for Hellstork Doppelcock which is a honey doppelbock. A little too sweet for my liking.

Next stop was Francis, another craft beer bar which actually sold Pilsner Urquell so I had a pint to which Sammie judge me as she ordered her Zhurak Melounie Oatmeal IPA which I wish I would have had because it was rich with a thick body and a boatload of fruity hops. It actually reminded me of Siren Soundwave.

Back round the corner and we were hungry so stopped for a dirty kebab which was very delicious and wasn't the last of the trip.

Next stop was Na Cepu, another little craft beer bar where I had the Pivečka Cascade IPA as I wanted hops again. It was nice, but not exactly bursting. Sammie had some weird beer that tasted like apples. I wasn't into it.

We walked towards the station and purposefully missed the next train out to go to Klub malých pivovarů which I'd heard was good, and boy I was not disappointed! 8 taps of craft from the Czech Republic's finest. I started with Kout na Šumavě 10 degree lager which was crisp and delicious whilst Sammie had Frýdlant Albrect 12 degree as she'd had the dark version the previous night and enjoyed it. I have to admit I preferred this one. We decided to have one more beer which turned out to be the best I'd had all day, and possibly the best of the trip. Permon Cryo Hop Mosiac was a punch in the face with mosaic hops, citrusy, bitter, toasty, juicy. Basically it's 100% what I want in a beer and I should have had another pint. Sammie had a bottle of Sedmy Schod because she has one of their beer mats but hadn't tried it before. I wasn't a fan; it tasted like one of those old American imports.

Next stop was the train station and we had some beers on the train and got off at Smichov. We wandered across the river and went to (A) Void which describes itself as a floating gallery. The atmosphere here was banging, with music and dancing which was nice considering everywhere we'd been in Pilsen was dead. We had a couple of beers here, but just relatively boring Lobkowicz lagers but remember what I said earlier about needing the experience more than the drug? Well that. We absolutely loved sitting in the scorching sun, drinking pints and listening to music.

More craft beer next as we found Kulovy Blesk where I found what I think was my only Matuska beer of the trip, their wonderfully summery and hoppy California whilst Sammie went for Bad Flash Hop Wings IPA which was equally tasty.

And that was day two, more beeriness, more cheeriness but a different city to explore.

Nate

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Prague 2017 Day 1 - Monks & Craft Beer

Ah, the now annual trip to Prague. A wonderful occasion as it's one of my favourite cities. The old world style buildings, mixed with modern architecture. I love it.

Usually we don't arrive until quite late at night but this time we opted for an early flight meaning we could get there in time to enjoy our first day. Obviously an early flight means a mandatory 6am pint of Adnams Mosaic at the airport too, which is always a delight.

We landed at around 11:30am and got an Uber to the apartment we were staying in, but we were too early for Check-In so we decided to pop to our local for the week... Smíchovská Krčma. It's a small, and cheap, pub and restaurant with a half constructed back garden in shade of the sun. The beer selection is the same that you'd find in many Prague pubs with the likes of Pilsner Urquell, Radegast, Kozel Cerny and Gambrinus of course. Obviously I opted for the crisp and refreshing Pilsner Urquell which was probably the cheapest PU of the trip at 39kc for a half litre which was perfect on a hot day. I went on to have three before check in.


Our apartment was still being cleaned at the time of check in so we dropped our bags and decided to take a wander for a beer or two and groceries.

The next stop was an old favourite, Bernard Andel, which was the quietest I've ever seen it and it led me to wonder if people even drink on a Sunday. I had the Unfiltered 12 Degree which was colder than the previous Urquell and delicious as always, whilst Sammie opted for a bottle of their new IPA. It seems that Bernard are trying to get all modern on us! Their IPA was nothing to speak of; it was probably more English style with its sweet maltiness and no hop bitterness to speak of.

On the way to Tesco and back to the apartment, we stopped at the very new Beertime... CRAFT BEER HAS FINALLY HIT SMICHOV! 14 taps of modern craft beers (and the occasional craft lager). I went for a half litre of the locally brewed Sibeeria Lollihop IPA at 6.6%, mostly because of the novelty name but it turns out it was a nice little juicy banger full of fruity hops and was served in a nonic glass, to my delight. It also seems that Zichovec Pina Colada Cream Ale, which was very sweet and creamy and tasted a bit like a pina colada. It wasn't for me, but Sammie loved it.
Czech craft breweries are being as playful as the likes of Omnipollo as Sammie went for

Decided to have a couple of beers at the apartment next, one of which was Tesco Finest Unfiltered Lager - yes, even Tesco is getting into the craft beer own brand game over there! It's unclear as to who brewed it but I was impressed as it's exactly how a porter should be, though maybe a bit thin.

Our next stop was Klasterni Pivovar Strahov, which I've seemed to have missed on my previous two visits. We accidentally sat down on the same table as a gun loving, Trump supporter from North Carolina who despite having been living in Prague for 15 years barely speaks it. He advised me to get the St Norbert IPA because apparently it's exactly the same as Pliny the Elder. Spoiler: It's a really decent beer, strong malty backbone and a nice hoppiness but Pliny it is not. I think I was more impressed with their Weizen that Sammie had.

We walked down the hill next and found another bar from the poplar Lokal chain at U Bile Kuzelky. I think I've talked about Lokal before - they basically just sell Pilsner Urquell Tankovna which is why it's awesome. Enough said.

Next we were going to meet my friend Adam and his merry band of Cumbrians in Vortex bar but it appeared to be closed so we just headed to Craft House, somewhere we'd been before. First Order Green Door IPA was drinkable but nothing special but Sammie's Frydlant Albrecht 12 Katerina dark lager was full of caramel and roastiness.

Afterwards we decided to walk back to Smichov instead of using public transport because Prague is pretty, and that way we'd walk past Hells Bells Rockin' Pub and I can tell you that this time it was not rockin'.

We've always had pleasant experiences here but this time, a different guy was working on the bar. I only realised when I ordered my second drink that he was massively overcharging us by 40kc so we were paying 74kc for a fucking Staropramen. Being slightly drunk I figured I wasn't going to be an arsehole drunken Englishman so we finished our drinks and left before popping across the road to Pivnice U Mejly which is a little oddball 24 hour sports bar we quite like. Here, the prices were exactly how they're meant to be. A solid 31kc for Staropramen 10.

We then decided to go home to sleep as the next day we were catching a train to Pilsen.

Nate

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Real Reason Why RateBev is Terrible

This weekend Good Beer Hunting broke the news that an AB Inbev owned investment firm has bought a stake in popular beer ratings website, Ratebeer.

This led to a #Hopinions poll by my friends at Beer O'Clock show asking whether it's a good or bad thing. Here is the poll and my response:


Now I thought long and hard about this after I tweeted it and realised that it's a terrible thing; not for the industry but for the people within the beer community.

The Irrelevant Reason

There was a lot flying around on twitter about how AB InBev will now have access to all of this big data and market insights which is a bad thing, but it's not. They already had access to it. Everyone did. Anyone can harvest data from Ratebeer to tell you what the most popular beers are in a given region. Besides, how would ABI use the data? Sure, they've bought craft breweries but craft brewers don't need to be told what's popular. The data side of things is irrelevant.

The Real Reason

What is relevant, however, is the fact that the knowledge of this buyout could destroy a whole community of tens of thousands of people across the world.

It's not secret that I'm not a fan of Ratebeer - in fact I regularly refer to it as "hatebeer" - but I am a fan of the sense of community that craft beer has.

See, Ratebeer has thousands of subscribers from all over the world that share one common interest... craft beer. Although it's actually not strictly true that they only have one common interest because the second is that they hate big conglomerates like AB InBev.

Just look through the Ratebeer forums every time a AB Inbev or some other conglomerate buys a craft brewery and you'll see hundreds of posts showing outrage; cries of boycotting said breweries, and photos & videos of angry beer geeks drain pouring $25 bottles of beer because they can taste the corporate structure.

Now I've not looked at the Ratebeer forum since this announcement but I'd bet my last 50p that there are many angry people on there; people looking for a way out; somewhere else to go and trade beers; somewhere to continue being a part of that community, and I doubt I can see them all flocking to Ratebeer's biggest rival, Beer Advocate.

Sure they could all go to Reddit, or they could keep in touch via strings of emails or WhatsApp groups but it's not the same. It was one of the only surviving forums when forums all but died.

Where will they go now that they know the evil eyes of AB InBev are on them, stealing their thoughts, because you can't wear a tinfoil hat on the internet.

The Ratebeer community could potentially be destroyed and this really isn't good for the beer community.

However...

An Opportunity That Can't Be Missed

If I were the owner of Untappd, I would be rubbing my hands with glee, thinking of all of the potential new subscribers I could potentially get. Historically, Ratebeer and Untappd are worlds apart as Untappd users generally don't take everything quite so seriously but this could change.

Sure, right now you can toast and comment on checkins; you can rate them and split the format you had them in but if I were the owner of Untappd I would be paying my app developers to work overtime, throughout the night working on a forum that former, disgusted Ratebeer users could flock to, to share beer and rage at the next buyout.

This could be a massive and wise move for Untappd. It doesn't have to be the end of this whole community. Just a migration.

Nate

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A Day in Salzburg with Stiegl Brewery

Waking up bright and early on the Thursday morning in a hungover haze in a dorm shared by 7 other people, I was basically still drunk. I panicked as I couldn't find my wallet or passport, but I still had my phone. I was led to believe that everything had been stolen, went to the police, then got back to my hostel to find the key to my locker where drunk Nate had stashed everything. I am such an idiot.

But that's not the point of this blog post; the point is to tell you about the awesome day I had with Thomas Necker, Export Manager for Stiegl Brewery in Salzburg, Austria.

I've been a fan of Stiegl brewery for quite a few years; in fact (geek moment), my 1,000th Untappd check in was Stiegl Weisse, and my local, the Fat Cat has recently had their flagship Goldbrau and Grapefruit Radler.

I've also been good friends with Martyn and Andy from Euroboozer, their U.K. import partner for several years and that's how my trip to Stiegl came to be. I'd mentioned on Twitter that I was planning on a day trip to Salzburg during my stay in Munich and Martyn responded asking if I'd like to see Stiegl Brewery and really, there was only one sensible reply... "HELL YES".

I arrived in Salzburg at about 11:30am on Thursday, my hangover had cleared, and I was ready to see this city I've heard so much about and the brewery whose beers I'd come to love.

Thomas picked me up from the train station and drove me through the picturesque city, almost like a tour guide, telling me about some of the history of Salzburg. For example, I didn't know that Salzburg hasn't actually been a part of Austria for that long as before, it was basically run by the catholic church!

We arrived at the brewery, a large pastel yellow complex on the edge of the city; in front of the building there's a field with farm animals, ample space to expand on but they're not allowed. Why? Not because of planning permission but because the owner of the brewery's villa is across the road and he's said that for as long as he's alive, there will be no building on that land as he wants to be able to see the brewery from his house. What a guy.

We wandered through, past the tents and busy workers getting ready for the May Day celebrations that happen the Sunday after May Day. I didn't even know that they celebrate May Day on the continent and in fact Thomas was surprised to learn that I know about the tradition of the May Pole!

We walked through a yellow arch into the biergarten courtyard before Thomas gave me a quick tour of the three onsite restaurants. There's a more formal restaurant where the owner of the brewery has his table that he likes to dine on (it is in no way exclusive, however), a more modern looking craft beer bar style bar, and the main restaurant where we would have lunch. I was very surprised to learn that you are allowed to smoke in restaurants in Austria, something which I do not disagree with.

Since I was in Austria, what do you think I was going to have to lunch? Wiener Schnitzel of course; it was a no brainer. I was a little thrown off by the fact that they don't have kartoffelsalat and instead just parsley potatoes or chips, but OK, I opted for chips, along with a half litre of Stiegl Pils. I'd not had the Pils before, and it was beautiful. Crisp, floral, a little hop bite and refreshing; it was nothing like the Northern German style Pilsner as it didn't have that herbalness, and in fact it was closer to Czech style. It makes sense that it's a combination of the two since they're both bordering countries. The Schnitzel was the best I've ever had; tender pork, a bit fatty, a crunchy batter on the outside, and a very large portion. The Pils cut through the grease perfectly. We decided to have one more beer here; the unfiltered lager which was delicious too.

We then toured the massive brewery, including the beautiful brewhouse which is situated in a building designed by Dr. Volkmar Burgstaller who also designed Red Bull Hangar 7, another beautiful building. Now I've been to a lot of breweries, big and small but this brewhouse was possibly the most beautiful I've seen.

We walked through the brewery and the museum with Thomas passionately talking about the 525 year history of the museum. It was refreshing to hear such passion and dedication from someone who truly loves and respects the company and the beer.

An interesting fact I learned is that their flagship Goldbrau can't win international awards because its style is a Marzen, but an Austrian one which is basically a Helles, unlike its German and internationally recognised counterpart.

After the tour, Thomas chose some rare and special Stiegl bottles from the fridges in the bar before we went down into the private tasting cellar to try them.

Going into this dark, wooden clad room adorned with bottles and barrels was really something special. I've never seen anything quite like it. When breweries do private tastings, it's usually in the corner of a railway arch or some industrial building but this felt more akin to a wine cellar in Burgundy or Tuscany. It was really something special.

And so were the beers.

First up was Grenzganger, a Hibiscus Gose at 4.9% and a great example of the style. It was full of juicy yet tart hibiscus with that little bit of salt on the end reminding you that this isn't just a fruit sour. Next we had my favourite beer of the entire trip a Tequila Barrel Aged Double Witbier and holy fucking shit it was special; it wasn't light at 9.5% but nor did it taste the ABV - classic orange and coriander flavours, a smattering of booze before woody agave flavours. I loved it so much that I finished the bottle on the train back to Munich. Next was a Double Chocolate Oatmeal Stout which did exactly what you'd expect with a thick mouthfeel and delicious, deep chocolate flavours, before finishing on the weirdest beer of the trip. Wildshuter Urbier was beer without hops, made solely from ingredients that are grown on their farm around 40km away; its ingredient list boasts 3 different types of malt, honey, dates, saffron, coriander and aniseed and was insanely bizarre. It's one to sip and savour.

After the tasting, Thomas accompanied me into the centre of Salzburg; something I was not expecting at all. When I've been invited on tours before, I've done the tour, maybe had lunch and been left to my own devices but not here. Thomas didn't just treat me like a guest at the brewery, but rather a guest to the city of Salzburg. It was amazing.

We drove into the centre, absorbing the sights of this beautiful city, and parked in a car park that was built inside a goddamn mountain. It was such a surreal experience.

We wandered through the historic city centre, all of the time I was in awe at the beauty and hated that I didn't have much time left there. We had a look inside the majestic cathedral, adorned with marble and 5 massive organs risen high above the pews.

We wandered through streets lined with high street shops that were hidden in the facade of buildings that are hundreds of years old. I saw Mozart's birthplace (fun fact: Mozart actually once visited and drank at Stiegl brewery; they found it in an excerpt from his diary a few years ago) which is an apartment building with a Spar convenience store underneath. We saw the "Stiegl" (little steps) from which the brewery gets its name.

We walked up a steep hill before finally getting in one last beer of my day in Salzburg... at Augustiner which is no relation to the one in Munich. Still, it's Augustine monks doing what they do best - brewing beer. Inside this massive building, down a wide, steep marble staircase you find yourself in a corridor aligned with independent food vendors. You get to a crossroad, turn left and find shelves adorned with half litre and litre stone mugs and the concept is simple: You grab the size mug of your choosing, rinse it in the fountain, pay the lady at the kiosk for the size of beverage you would like then you take it to the old Austrian man who fills it from a massive wooden barrel before sliding it, wild west style across a metal counter to you. The experience is as magical and as medieval as the beer is good. We took a seat (in the smoking room) and drank in the place that I could spend an entire evening and afternoon drinking.

Alas, after those two last half litres that slid down as smooth as anything, my time in Salzburg was over for the day and I had to head back to Munich.

A massive massive thanks to Thomas Necker from Stiegl for taking time out of his day to show me not only the brewery that he's so passionate about, but for showing me the city that he loves so dearly.

Nate

Disclaimer: I didn't pay for my day at Stiegl Brewery with Thomas. The beers and lunch were on him. Not once was I even asked to write about my day but I have anyway. I did pay for some stuff in Salzburg though - Smokes (€4,90), a pack of Mozartkugln (€7,50), a half litre of Augustiner (€3,10), a taxi back to the station (€8,50) and two cans of Goldbrau for the train home (€1,60). Oh and my Bayern Ticket on the train (A bargain at €25 for unlimited travel on regional trains in Bavaria, which also gets you to certain border towns too, like Salzburg)