By Jasmine · October 5th, 2013 · 2 Comments
I tried to come up with a clever title for this post, but really, do I need anything more gimmicky than what it actually is–an entire festival devoted to Hungarian sausage and fruit brandy?
The festival is held at Buda Castle, an impressive arrangement of enormous gilded buildings on a a very high hill on the Buda side of Budapest. In the middle of the festival, just next to the main stage, is one of the most extraordinary fountains I’ve ever seen. Twenty-five feet tall and festooned with dead animals, hunting dogs, men in cloaks, and a goat, it is in turns awe-inspiring, absurd and a bit frightening, depending on how many shots of palinka you’ve had at any given time.
The entry is confusing, and a little expensive, but once through you have a wristband, a tiny stemmed tulip shotglass, and a “festival” card loaded with money for in-festival purchases. We went early Thursday afternoon, the first day of the festival. On the one hand, there wasn’t much going on. No bands until 6pm, and very few people who were not tourists attending. In fact, very few people period. On the other hand, this made what would normally have been a very intimidating situation much more accessible since all of the pálinka servers (who rarely spoke English, and our Hungarian is sort of limited to the terms below) literally had nothing better to do than to mime pouring and paying actions, stumble through explanations, and figure out whatever it was we were trying to order.
There were about twenty pálinka vendors, each with at least ten pálinkas to try, but usually more, and six or seven food vendors. We dove in, and learned a few things. First, some key vocabulary words:
Pálinka: if you didn’t know by now it is a distilled fruit brandy, 100% fruit, usually somewhere between 40-60% alcohol. Ranges from clear to light brown or brownish red.
Méz/mézes: means honey or honeyed. Many pálinkas have honey added to tone down the harshness. Probably used most on cheaper versions, it is quite good when well balanced.
Ágyas: pronounced AG-yash, it literally means in bed. The brandy is aged on a bed of fruit, which seems to make for a mellower, darker, often more complex spirit.
Érlelt: old, aged. These are usually darker and more complex, like in most spirits
Meggy: sour cherry. Szilva: plum. The Hungarians are obsessed with sour cherries and plums.
I learned that I preferred pálinka aged on fruit beds. I like it with honey, but only sometimes, as a heavy hand can make your pálinka taste like Kool-aid and vodka. My favorite I tried was a sour cherry agyas pálinka from a company called Bekesi.
We had some sausage. Note that for reasons we haven’t yet figured out, any Hungarian sausage with paprika added is also incredibly oily. Like when you cut into it, it looks like it is bleeding. And no, it’s not blood sausage–the woman at the sausage counter made sure to point the blood sausage out to us and steered us away, though I’ve had blood sausage I liked before. We also had a “traditional” dish that appeared to consist of spaetzel like potato or flour pieces coated with hot cottage cheese and topped with raisins and bacon chunks. My description makes it sound like something a four-year-old would make when you leave them alone in the kitchen unsupervised, but honestly it was pretty good, in a dirty, cheesy, hangover food-gorge kind of way.
Maybe all Hungarian food is really drunk food.
In a different post soon, Joe will “beverage nerd out” on some of his favorite pálinka.
Tags: Beer & Food · Eastern Europe · Non-Beer Beverages · Tastings
By Jasmine · September 28th, 2013 · Comments Off
Joe and I are public transportation people. We take trains instead of renting cars. We only take cabs if where we’re going to or from is dangerous or only accessible by miles of walking. We never owned a car in San Francisco.
Which is why we are so deeply hurt by Prague. We were leaving the castle, tired, thirsty, and with my knee aching like crazy. We had one more destination and I (incredibly) figured out how to get to the tram stop closest to us from the castle maze. There was no ticket machine at our stop and I remembered reading that when you took a bus you could buy a ticket from the driver, it would just cost you more.
We got on, exact change in hand. The tram driver was behind a door–no way to buy a ticket from him. Then we saw a person with a machine in the back of the tram. We went up to her and said, “Please. We would like two tickets.”
What we got was a big fat fine.
No amount of begging, insisting, promising or showing the money in our hand would convince the transport officer and her non-English-speaking partner to let us out of this fine. We were on a tram. We did not have tickets. End of story. 800 crowns ($40) in cash each immediately please. It turns out that there was (probably) a ticket machine across the road at the other stop.
Joe did manage to convince them to only levy one fine instead of two. I sat on the corner and cried. By the time he got back, it was pouring rain.
Prague is not in my top ten list of favorite cities.
Luckily the stop they made us get off at to get cash was the one we were heading for anyways, so ten minutes later, when the waterworks stopped, we both had a beer in our hands at the Strahov Monastic Brewery.
One of the greatest things that Europe does that America mostly fails at is the small pour. All the beers came in half pints, so we had all four–an IPA, dark lager, amber, and unfiltered wheat. All of them drinkable and delicious, though not terribly remarkable.
This made me stupid happy.
Even better, we wound up sharing a table with Chris and Ellen, a honeymooning couple from Macon, Georgia. After sharing a few tales of traveling woes (between Warsaw and Prague, they’d had even more troubles than us), Chris pushed one of their cheese plates towards us. “We accidentally ordered two instead of one, so please, seriously, help yourselves.” After being told a few more times, we did.
There was a nice swiss style, something that appeared to be a medium Provolone or aged mozzarella, and a nice sweetish blue. Then there was something that looked like a chevre round that had been left out in the sun for two days.
It’s the half rounds at about 4 o’clock here, much lighter color than other pics you’ll see online.
It was an off-white, almost yellow, like nicotine-stained teeth. The center was dense and lighter colored, while the outer ring was translucent, almost with the appearance of those candy orange slices, all shiny inside where your teeth scraped away the sugar. That’s the only way I can describe it. Do not let this make you think it was sweet in any way.
When I took a bite, the texture was firm–you could crack the little disc into triangles. It starts out rich and minerally, the way hot springs smell, like limestone with a hint of sulfur, then finishes with such a cow-barn kick that you’ll swallow and wonder if you liked it or not.
I just kept trying and trying, unsure.
Finally I asked the waitress what it was. It was the first time she smiled at us. Either she was happy we were taking interest in a very Czech cheese, or the faces American make when they taste this cheese is one of the great joys in her day. “ Olomoucké tvar?žky,” she said. Ok, I admit that I didn’t know that that’s what she said at the time, but I have since figured it out. “Czech people,” she continued, “we like to eat it with some butter, and also with nakládaná zelenina…pickles.”
So we all spread some butter on a piece of bread (we didn’t have pickles) and tried it again. The butter tones down the hay-and-manure notes into a more pleasant grassy funk and leveled out the shattered texture. If you can get your hands on it, try it, in a slow and pondering kind of way.
We also had onion soup with cheese toasts–Pragians are sort of obsessed with their toasts. I think it was blue cheese mixed with some garlic. Super tasty, and another comfort-food tear-stopper.
I would love to visit the Czech countryside one day to hunt down more of these cheeses, but I have to say I might be done with Prague itself. I suspect that everyone who claims it is the most beautiful city in Europe has never been to Bruges.
Originally posted on Curds And Words
Tags: Beerventures · Eastern Europe · Travel
By Joe Ruvel · September 23rd, 2013 · Comments Off
Traveling can be tough sometimes. Your standby ticket doesn’t get you where you need to go, your bag lags behind you, or you just end up really tired late at night not really remembering where you are. Thankfully beer, good food, and a cheerful drinking establishment can make it all melt away.
When we left NYC we didn’t even know we were going to be going to Cologne, Germany but alas we ended up taking a train from London to Cologne and then were off to Prague a few hours later on an overnight train. Adventure!
Still wearing our nice clothes (to try to help us get on a plane with standby tickets) we trudged into Cologne around dinner time. We had two hours to eat (and drink of course) and get back to our long night train to Prague. Sounds easy but with such a short amount of time, you worry that you won’t find the right place and will end up eating at the equivalent of 7-11 and downing a light lager. Which of course works sometimes, but I had higher hopes for a place where good beer is king.
I can’t tell you much about Cologne, but I can tell you that the people are overall rather nice and that Gaffel am Dom by the train station is a great place to eat and drink. It was raining and thankfully we went out the right door and there it was, a boisterous beer hall with those traditional Kolsch glasses and beer everywhere.
The place was welcoming to us and we were out of the rain and sitting down with two Kolschs pretty fast. And the beer was great – of course we REALLY wanted it at that moment but still it had plenty of bite and flavor and the waiter kept coming by with a little beer tray with new filled glasses to give us. He also spoke English and told us we have to try the Gaffel restaurant in NYC. This peaked my interest. So far I haven’t really found that they have one in NYC, but I do see that you can get it at Loreley Beer Garden – maybe that is what he meant.
I saw a different beer that they make and had to try it. It was called SonnenHopfen. It came in a big bottle (check), had lots of Citra hops (double check), and so we tried it. The waiter said it was a “girl” beer. It was tasty. A summer mild brewed with Citra hops from Yakima Valley, WA. I wasn’t as excited about it as I was the Kolsch but still a good one to try if you can.
And if you ever wanted a personal little keg for your table – this is a good place to try it (5L barrel for around $35)
Hopefully our travels bring us back to Germany on this trip – I hear they make good beer.
Tags: Beerventures · Travel
By Joe Ruvel · September 13th, 2013 · 2 Comments
Oh Dogfish Head you weird wild brewery. Why do you put lobster and chocolate in a beer? Or will it be cloud berries this time and wheat-grass. You are the child in the sandbox with a hose and a grin on your face. You are the mad scientist ready to do whatever it takes. And I love it. I love the unpredictable nature and the crazy combinations. I love the playfulness.
It hit me recently that people who don’t like Dogfish usually find one beer they find so odd that it turns them off to the brewery. Red and White has done that to some people, Their Chocolate Lobster made me cringe but guess what – there was an awesome pilsner experiment right next to it.
And my favorite is the minute beers. Continually hopped with that green gold we all love, the minute beers have become one of my favorite beer series. Sixty, Sixty-one, Seventy-five, Ninety, One-twenty. Oh my!
I have been lucky to have them all on this trip. There is still a very special place in my glass for Ninety, my gateway beer if you will but I am loving Sixty more and more. The first time I had Sixty-one I was not in the mood at all but when you are ready for it, it can be very tasty. And then there is Seventy-five. Great label art, killer beer. The maple syrup really works for me in that beer and I love the body and hopping. And then finally One-twenty. Not a party beer but I do love the flavor. And when you age that stuff – wow – it can be something really special.
Try a minute beer when you can – you won’t be disappointed.
Tags: Beerventures · Tastings
By Joe Ruvel · August 17th, 2013 · Comments Off
I have tried to make this comparison before and have not done the best job, but let me try again here. I have been lucky over the past few years to have some amazing wines. Some of the best I have had are from Burgundy. Which overall has a better cost/value proposition than Bordeaux. A word-class wine is of course a somewhat subjective classification, but usually it takes a combination of a few things (land, weather, wine maker, year). And the cost can vary a lot but it is almost over $100.
If you are a beer nerd in 2013 – you are a lot luckier. You can find so many amazing world-class beers in many different parts of the country and for A LOT cheaper. Yes beer prices for premium craft beer does keep going up but you are, in most cases, paying for attention to detail and better ingredients.
Sometimes this idea of how lucky I am to love beer and how many amazing beers there are to try, hits me like a big brick. This happened in Portland in general and most of all when I was sitting with my friend Bill trying beer after delicious beer at Cascade Brewing Barrel House.
2 dollar tastes people!! If you like sour beer this is a temple to sour. They have worked very very hard to age, flavor, and deliver these beers to you. And then you can try them all (not having to buy a whole bottle) and relish in all the sour glory.
Of course my notes from a few weeks ago are not great but you can get the idea of the fun:
Lemon-A-Peel – aged a long time – lemon cream flavor
Summer gose – salty delicious
Strawberry – eh – not bad but also not my favorite
Elderberry – great berry flavor – big sour punch
Tangerine dream – one of my favorites – huge flavor – good carb – sour!!
Honey-gin-lime – like the best soda you ever had. Loved it
I want to go back already.
And then to further my argument of the power of beer at our fingertips – close by is another temple to beer - Hair of the Dog. Barrel aged beer is their bag and oh my do they do it well. You want vintages – they have beers for sale from when they started around 1993!
I went for their barleywine vertical – Doggie Claws 08,09,10,12. And in honor of my dad (and Michael Jackson beer hunter) – I tried the very good blended flanders red Michael.
You want to experience some of the best beer in America? – I got a cool area of Portland for you to spend a few hours and not that much money.
Near these two breweries is a great coffee shop called Water Ave Coffee. You can even get oak barrel aged sumatra coffee. We had it iced and it was pretty amazing. I talked to them about the process and the nice barista told me that they were letting some oak barrel pieces sit with the coffee beans for a few days before brewing the coffee. I think that I remember they might even do this before they roast the coffee (on site!) and it really does give it a nice light oak vanilla flavor. They are still experimenting with it – so fun things ahead.
Tags: Beerventures · Tastings · Travel