When not staring listlessly out the window, or compulsively refreshing the screen on randomstreetview.com, I try and mitigate my COVID boredom-angst by remembering pleasant times I’ve had abroad. And though I am a wino, and relatively ignorant of the world of artisan bewing, a lot of those pleasant times involved a beer. Like the winemakers, who seem to universally love a cold one, some of the attraction to beer may be that it’s not work, the way tasting wine can be. Indeed, the beers I’ve had with colleagues on press trips to wine regions, were always at the end of the working day, or at least a break in it. The other beers I write about below were had with friends, family or both on holiday. For these reasons, you may notice, I have very little to say about the beer consumed, since I was certainly wasn’t taking notes and was ppaying more attention to the company and the surroundings than the brewing styles or tasting notes. Sometimes a beer is just a beer, and sometimes a post about beer isn’t really about beer at all. Here are five beer drinking moments I have had overseas, one for each beer drinking time of the day or night.
Mid-Morning in Munich
I went to Munich by mistake. One of the very first wine press trips I was invited to join, a decade ago, was to the Republic of Georgia. I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be able to travel to such an exotic land and I accepted the invitation immediately out of fear the Georgians would discover I was a fraud and rescind the invitation at any moment. Imposter syndrome or not, this was a mistake because I accepted without reading the itinerary very carefully. For some reason, then and maybe still now, every flight into Tbilisi landed at 4AM local time, and every flight out took off at about 5AM. That meant leaving Munich at around midnight, after having arrived on the overnight from Toronto at about 8AM. Sixteen hours of sleeping off jet lag at the Munich airport didn’t appeal. Luckily Jamie knew someone in Munich, an actress by the name of Marlene Morreis. I contacted Marlene who wasn’t working the day I would be in Munich and she very kindly agreed to show me, a stranger from Canada, around the city for a few hours. I am very much in her debt, as she was an excellent tour guide and great company, and when we met on the Marienplatz at 10AM, the first thing she did is take me on a short U-bahn ride and walk to the original Augustiner-Keller for breakfast. Beer for breakfast is not probably not a sustainable lifestyle choice for me, at least with any frequency, but the Augustiner was packed that morning with pensioners sipping steins of the brewery’s beer and eating various pork and cabbage dishes. I joined in happily and found a couple beers, and a plate of divers pig bits from sausages to a whole hock served with warm cabbage and a big dumpling. I think Marlene sensibly had a coffee and watched me enjoy myself. It was a perfect antidote to jet lag and fortified me to the extent that I could enjoy the walking tour Marlene took me on afterwards. Whenever I return to Munich the Augustiner will be my first stop.
Lunch in London
The Anchor & Hope
The Anchor and Hope is a gastro pub on The Cut, a high street on the South Bank that also features The Old Vic theatre and is a short walk from Waterloo Bridge. It’s easy to get to from the West End, but it feels like you’ve escaped tourist London and can get a sense of how real Londoners (whatever that means) live. It really is a pub with one half set aside with low slung tables and stools for drinkers and a dining room side with bare wooden tables. It was established and run by alumni of St. John, and the food is excellent and very much influenced by Fergus Henderson’s new British, nose to tail cuisine. The wine list is also very good and interesting with lots of good stuff by the glass, but it’s a pub and the taps are what I’m interested, at least at lunch. I usually try one of the guest tap ales, hoping for a bitter and taking the advice of whoever is serving our table. The advantage of a pint of bitter at lunch is that it’s not a very high alcohol drink, so one can easily have two and still spend the afternoon refreshed and ready to walk around London.
Day Drinking in Dublin
My wife and I have been going to London at least every year for nearly 25 years… except one. 2012 was the year of the Olympics, and when we made our annual pilgrimage to Wales to see my in-laws, we decided to avoid the crowds in London, figuring we wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. Our friends there, later, told us we couldn’t have been more wrong, since everyone else thought the same thing and the city centre was virtually deserted. We didn’t mind though, since instead of London that year we found a cheap flight to Dublin from Cardiff and spent a few days exploring the Irish capital. We loved it and ate and drank very well. We also adopted a new gastronomical habit for our time spent there. Every afternoon around four o’clock, about halfway between lunch and dinner, we would pause in our ramblings, find a good looking pub, and have a Guinness. It was the perfect pause that refreshes, and a pint of the stuff in the city it’s made in is somehow ethereally different and better than one tasted anywhere else. One pub we sought out, on the advice of the Toronto restaurateur power couple and experts on all delicious things Irish, Donna Dooher and Kevin Gallagher, was Mulligan’s. Mulligan’s is straight out of real Irish pub central casting and its location on Poolbeg Street, around the corner from the Irish Times, means that despite the curious tourists, like we were, it’s a real working pub full of journalists and people in suits taking a break in their work day.
Variation in Verona
Osteria la Mandorla
Mandorla means almond in Italian, which once you know seems like the obvious root for the English word. Or so it occurred to me when I figured it out one early evening I spent there between tastings in Valpolicella and dinner in town in Verona. I was on a press trip to Amarone country that I took with Jamie a few January’s ago. The trip was a rarity in that both Jamie and I were invited – or, more accurately, Jamie was invited and somehow he managed to get me to tag along. Remarkably, not only were we on the same trip, but we were also in the same mini-bus with the same schedule, roaming around the foothills of the Dolomites from morning to early evening. Most days, once we’d landed back at the hotel within the gates of Verona’s old town, and after we’d splashed water on our faces and brushed our teeth, we’d walk a few blocks tot he Mandorla to debrief over a few birre artigianali. I think it’s funny, ironic and wonderful that artisanal beer in Italy is a big thing, especially among the under 30 crowd. From what I can tell, craft brew is considered a kind of youth rebellion against old people’s wine culture. Verona is home to VinItaly and aspires to be the wine capital of the Republic, so naturally it has a thriving small production beer scene. (In Alba, a.k.a. Barolo-town, there is also a very popular craft beer bar, Fuori CitaBiundo, with an all local selection.) Anyway, after a day of tasting high-test Amarone, with the occasional flinty Soave snuck in, a beer at Mandalora was just the thing to get us to dinner. The bar is tiny. A photo on the wall suggests it used to be a gas station. But it’s utterly charming in the shabby chic Italian way. It’s the first place I’ll go when I get back to Verona.
Postprandial in Porto
Capa Negra II
The last time I was in Europe was in October 2019 with a small group of Canadian wine journalists. We were there to taste and learn about Vinho Verde, the production of which is located around and to the north of Porto. We had a great trip, met some lovely and interesting people, discovered some fantastic wines, were fed very well, and the six colleagues got on well and enjoyed our company. On the last night, back in Porto after our tour around wine country, we were set free and decided to go out. The Québecoise journalist and author Nadia Fournier had a recommendation on a very cool little wine bar in the old city, near the Douro river, where we ordered bottle after bottle of small production Portuguese wine and grazed on a succession of small plates until it was time for the restaurant to close. It was a very convivial night and great fun, but… after all that high acid wine we decided we needed something to settle our stomach’s down and while we had toured the Northern Portuguese countryside and enjoyed lovely rural cooking, we hadn’t tried Porto’s famous sandwich, the Francensinha. The owner of the wine gave us a suggestion on where to find one, based on the location of our hotel and the late hour of the evening, and we piled into an Uber, hoping to make it before the kitchen closed. The Francensinha (little French lady) is the Portuguese anser to the Croque Monsieur, sometimes crowned with a fried egg, sometimes not, it is always made with an assortment of meats, mostly pork, melted cheese, and a gravy like sauce. It was just what we needed, and when we ordered ours at Capa Negra II, a brightly lit diner-like spot, we washed them down with the beer of Northern Portugal, Super Bock, which despite its name is a light and refreshing lager. Uma cerveja perfeita.