European beer adventures
I’ll admit it. I was on cruise control at work. After nearly twenty years in the Human Resources profession I had grown comfortable in my abilities. Perhaps too comfortable? There wasn’t much I hadn’t seen before in my job.
And although raising three kids can certainly be a challenge, my wife and I had our home lives situated nicely as well. School, sports, and a German Shepherd. We were in our comfort zone.
Then one day my boss tapped me on the shoulder. The company we work for bought another company with operations in Europe, and he needed an HR leader to go on a short-term assignment.
Suddenly change was afoot.
It was a hard decision to make. Spending time abroad while the family remains at home was an unsettling thought. Trying to apply HR principles learned in the Unites States in a vastly different operating environment means—in some ways—starting all over as a professional.
Always up for an adventure—and with my wife’s somewhat reluctant blessing (she would have to work hard at home in my absence)—I took the assignment.
I’m about a month into things now. I won’t go into detail about the work that’s taking place. Rest assured it’s a challenge. I’m no longer in cruise control, instead maneuvering through the many hairpin turns that mark my path.
Why am I writing about this on my Arkansas beer blog? Well, one of the benefits of working in Europe for an extended period of time is the ability to explore some new beer territories.
So I thought I’d share my first impressions with you.
To this point I have visited the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Austria. Since my UK visit was mostly spent in the small town of Ashford—bunkered in a hotel conference room with my colleagues for three days, working through business strategy—I’ll start my recap across the North Sea.
I arrived in Amsterdam on a Thursday night, fresh off a four hour train ride from London.
I’ve heard all the stories about Amsterdam—the red light district, the coffee shops, the non-stop partying. But I was more interested in the museums, the canals, and finding the best beer in town. All of that would have to wait, however, because the following day I had to drive north a couple of hours to see one of my company’s new production sites.
Site visit out of the way, I spent Saturday morning with Monet, Rembrandt, and Van Gough at Rijksmuseum. My throat grew parched while cramming what seemed like an entire semester of art history into four hours. So I found Brouwerij Troost on the internet and decided to check it out for myself.
On first glance Brouwerij Troost had an American vibe. The taproom could have easily been located in Boulder, Colorado rather than smack dab in the middle of Amsterdam. The bar was front and center, and the brewing equipment was framed behind glass in the dining area. There were lots of American styles on the tap list, including a New England IPA that I thoroughly enjoyed. There wasn’t much traffic in the brewery that day, but it was still early, and most people were probably still shaking off the dust from the previous night. I decided to move along and see one of the bigger breweries in town.
Brouwerij’Tij is located in a windmill in Amsterdam. How perfect is that? I’m not sure about the size of the brewery—in terms of output—but I saw the beer on taps and in bottles all across the city. According to Wikipedia, Brouwerij’Tij has been open since 1985, so it predates the craft beer boom of the last 15-20 years. The place was rocking when I arrived mid-afternoon. A couple hundred people were enjoying the warm sunlight while they sipped on their cold beers. The taproom was a bit small, but efficient. Bartenders poured beer at the walkup bar and patrons paid for each beer as they went. I enjoyed a witbier and marveled at the beer culture that was unfolding before my eyes.
I wish I had more time to explore Amsterdam. The city is beautiful, the beer is wonderful, and the food is flavorful. Although I can technically scratch it from my bucket list, I will be back some day to see it on a deeper level.
Most of my time in Europe will be spent in Vienna, Austria. I’ve already explored much of the city, and it’s really an eye-pleasing place. Some consider it to be the most livable place in the world. With as much green space as there is concrete (in a city of nearly 2 million people), I can certainly see why that is.
The beer scene looks a little dull on the surface. Although people love beer and seem to drink it all day long, Vienna is full of pilsner and hefeweizen and not much else. Dig a little deeper, however, and a few bright spots emerge.
1516 Brewing Co. is located in the city center and has a good assortment of beers brewed onsite. I enjoyed the Cry-O IPA, which was made with rye malt. There’s also a hearty menu of food available. I tried the goulash on my first visit and it was awesome. I haven’t eaten anything else, but the burgers, ribs, etc. I saw brought to nearby tables looked great as well. Vienna is a sidewalk dining culture, and on my last visit to 1516 its outdoor seating area swelled with people. It appears to be a very popular place on summer nights.
Beer Lovers really loves up to its name. I only visited once because the closing hour of 8:00pm really sneaks up on you when you’re working late. I did finally make it into this bottle shop-and-home brew store combo, and was very happy that I did. The vast assortment of beers—merchandised by style—is a site to behold. The attendant spoke English pretty well and we made small talk about home brewing in the city. He told me that it’s very popular in Vienna. Local home brewers have an exchange program at the store that allows them to take bottles home to sample and critique. Feedback is a gift, they say! On my visit I chose two Danish beers—Mikkeller Green Gold IPA and To Ol Insane in the Grain (also an IPA). They made for an excellent night cap back in my room.
I stumbled upon 7Stern Brau on my way to somewhere else. A brief rain shower popped up and serendipitously the brewery was just a few paces across the street from where I stood, rain dripping from my brow. This old school brewery makes some traditional styles—Rauchbier, Maibock, Helles, and Weiss been a few. I chose a Dunkel during my brief respite from the rain. It was a rich, malty rendition of a style we rarely see in the United States. A glance at the menu revealed regional fare such as schnitzel and goulash. I was tempted to snag a sausage plate, but I had to move along. On my way out the front door I noticed a vending machine with bottled beer to go. Why haven’t I seen one of those at a brewery back home?
Brickmakers is a craft beer pub southwest of the inner city, not too far from the big museums and massive Hofburg palace. The list of beers is impressive, but what really made me want to go was the American-style BBQ menu. It wasn’t a completely faithful representation, but the burnt ends I ended up ordering were an absolute treat, especially after eating the somewhat bland offerings on more traditional Austrian menus. I went back later a few days later and ate a bit healthier (chicken salad) with a terrific hazy IPA from a local Austrian brewery as a sidekick. Although Brickmakers doesn’t brew its own beer, it’s clearly a craft beer destination with a menu that boasts around thirty taps and 150 bottles.
I went to Ottakringer Brauerei—the region’s largest brewery—looking for a tour. Instead I got the first day of a multi-day beer food and beer festival. The facility is a little bit further away from the city center than I had ventured before, so it involved both the subway and local tram. I’m really glad I decided to go because the place is really impressive. I didn’t get to go inside the brewing facility, but the grounds themselves were a lot of fun to explore. There were a few hundred people sprawled across the beer garden’s tables and a more laid-back section of beach chairs in the back. Burgers, pretzels, and fried chicken wings were being doled out in huge numbers. I settled in with one of the brewery’s more traditional offerings—Wiener Original—and enjoyed some people watching. Ottakringer, which opened in 1837, brews around 450,000 barrels of beer per year, or about the same amount New Belgium Brewing Co. can produce in its Asheville, North Carolina facility.
This short-term assignment will be more work than I can handle. I’ll have time to explore after work is done each day, but for the most part, my day job will dominate my thinking. I won’t have as much time for beer writing as I’ve enjoyed in the past. If you’re looking for my column in the Fayetteville Flyer, or blog posts here at Beer in Arkansas, understand why they can’t be found.
I’m fortunate my family will be able to join me in Vienna for a couple of weeks later this month. I’m looking forward to showing them around the city and introducing my children to a world bigger than the one they know back home. Their presence will also help break up my solitary existence in a land whose language I can barely understand.
I’ll be back in Arkansas soon. There will be more to write about in terms of our burgeoning beer scene at home. Until then I will make the best of my European adventure, and in the process, take copious notes about the local beer to share with you.