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First Holiday Beer of the Season

By Joe Ruvel · December 5th, 2013 · Comments Off

Ah the first holiday beer. Many more to come but this one is special. It marks a time for winter warmers and spicy big beers. It’s cold outside and I have a holiday hoppy pale ale – life is good.

Read the poem in the second picture if you have a minute, those BrewDog folks know how to write some good label.

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Best whiskey brand name ever

By Joe Ruvel · December 2nd, 2013 · 1 Comment

I have in my hand a small bottle of one of my favorite Irish whiskeys I have had so far. Not only is it a very tasty product but it also has one of the best names ever.

Writers Tears is an independent bottling blend that is made to evoke the type of whiskey that was made during the time James Joyce was living and writing.

Anyone that writes knows the pain of writers block. Fear of failure, laziness, doubt – all of it holding you back from putting words on paper. Many a great Irish writer has turned to whiskey to get past the block. And so it was said that when an Irish writer cried, the tears were made of whiskey. Marketing schtick but good marketing schtick at least.

And a killer product. Made at a Cork distillery that they do not mention this fine whiskey is a blend of pot still whiskey and malt whiskey. Pot still, which I recently learned, means it was made with malted and unmalted “green” barley. And then the mixed mash is made into a beer of sorts and distilled usually in a fat bottom pot still. A malt whiskey can also be made in a pot still but it just has malt.

Blend them together and you get a great drink of honey cake with spiced fruit. Some oily/rich notes that I am seeing is usual with pot still but then a nice shot of sugar.

More of this and I should be able to post more than once a month!

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→ 1 CommentTags: Non-Beer Beverages · Tastings

Beverages of Transylvania

By Joe Ruvel · November 9th, 2013 · Comments Off

A few photos of some of the drinks we had in Transylvania.

Ciuc bottle right when we got to Satu Mare. We were very hungry and thirsty. They made a mean pizza at the random place we stopped

 

Home distilled fruit brandy. First night in our little village home away from home. I think this is the plum brandy and boy was it easy to kick back a few of these after dinner.

 

Fresh/New wine – quick ferment – rather young table wine. Almost everyone in the village had vines near their doorway. They make wine for themselves and for guests. Simple and delicious.

Tuica (kind of like a sherry – pretty sweet – Jasmine loved it) and Palinka

Fancy wine shop in Bucharest – very interesting wines from Davino

Feteasca Alba – ancient Romanian grape that is over 2000 years old

Comments OffTags: Beerventures · Non-Beer Beverages

Pálinka & Sausage Festival

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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→ 2 CommentsTags: Beer & Food · Eastern Europe · Non-Beer Beverages · Tastings

Czech Cheese & Beer

By Jasmine · September 28th, 2013 · Comments Off

The bar at Strahow

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.

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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.

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 round at about 3 o'clock here, much lighter color than other pics you'll see online.

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.

Toast, with soup

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

Comments OffTags: Beerventures · Eastern Europe · Travel