Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kloster Mülln Pilgrimage

Salzburg is one of Europe's most beautiful cities, and always one of our favorite travel destinations. And I never visit Salzburg with out a trip to Augustiner Bräu at Kloster Mülln. This monestary is the location of Austria's largest Biergarten and beer hall, and whether you are inside or outside in the shade under the chestnut trees, it is one of Europe's greatest beer drinking experiences. Located just west of the pedestrian area of the old town, one can get there via a narrow walkway around the steep cliffs (approx. 15 minutes), or, if you visit the Festung high above the town, you can stroll down through the Mönchberg park to the entrence (approx. 30 minutes).

Kloster Mülln is a very traditional beer hall. It is exclusively self service - so patrons select a half liter or full Maß (no glass, only Stein) from the rack, give it a thorough cleaning at the cold water rinse station, pay the attendant, and finally get their beer. There is only one type of beer served - a Märzenbier. And it is still brewed by the monks, and it is still served in front of you out of weathered wooden kegs. Truly a treat, and truly a great, world-class beer.

I've only visited Salzburg in the summer, so I usually sit outside in the Biergarten, but this year it was dreary and rainy, so everyone was inside in one of the two main halls, which are masterpieces. I sat in the the Stockhammersaal (hall), which was the inspiration for the design for my basement. The color scheme, dark wood paneling, bench, table, wall painting, Steinkrug on the wall, etc. were all ideas inspired by this room. But I must admit, my basement is not even worthy of a 1000:1 replica of this magnificent beer hall. But I have to work with what I've got.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Hirschgarten

Greetings from the world's largest Biergarten - the Hirschgarten! I'll have to update this latter, because I don't have the stats with me, but I believe the grounds seat around 8,000 beer lovers. Augustiner is the favorite beer of people from Munich - and here they serve it directly from the Holzfaß. (wood barrel) In the 1800's this park served as a place where deer (Hirsch) were raised to be released for the royalty to hunt. It is near the Nymphenburg castle, part time home of the Wittelsbach, and at the time in the countryside - outside of the city of Munich. Now this park is part of Munich proper, and the deer need not be too worried - they are fenced off to amuse the children while their parents drink Maß after Maß of Augustiner Bier.

We concluded our day here after hiking all morning and afternoon through the Bavarian Alps. Elfi and Stefan took us up to the Rotwand (near Spitzingsee) for a wonderful hike with spectacular scenery that was somewhat subdued, or possibly enhanced, by the thick fog. After two hours of hiking through land that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, we popped into an Alm with a large Gaststätte packed full hikers drinking beer and enjoying a lunch of bacon dumpling soup. That is one of the things I love about Germany, no matter where you go, and no matter how remote, you can always find a good meal and a great beer!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Biking Through Munich

We have spent the last weekend in Munich enjoying time with our German friends Elfi and Stefan, and their son Stefan. They were nice enough to arrange for a couple of bicycles for Joycelyn and I, and on Friday afternoon they led us on a 30km tour of Munich and the Isar river. We rode from their house near the Rotkreutzplatz across town and down the river to the Waldwirtschaft Biergarten in Großhesselohe. Elfi and Stefan were married in one of the banquet halls here, so it holds a special place in their heart. It is a beautiful setting nestled on the west bank of the Isar up above the river. We had a couple beers there and ate a small lunch. I think most Americans expect great beer from Bavarian Biergartens, but what many don't realize is that the food is also consistently excellent. The proprietors take great pride in serving the freshest beer, and serving high quality, traditional dishes. Our lunch was excellent. The Waldwirtschaft is usually packed with a jazz band playing in the center, but this day the crowds were kept down due to the cloudy weather and a brief rain shower. Our timing was perfect since we were under an awning enjoying our second beer during the shower.

On the way back to the Rotkreutzplatz, we saw several floats drifting down the Isar. I've included a picture so you can get a feel for what they look like. They are flat log rafts (that are broken down for their truck ride back up the river) with a couple of guides, Blasmusik (um pa pa bands) and of course plenty of beer on board. Everyone appeared to be having a great time - and it is something I'd like to come back and do some day.

The Isar flows chalky-white through Munich north toward the Danube river. It was interesting to get up and close to one of the beer world's most famous rivers! Its highly carbonate water is perfectly suited for brewing the dark, malty and clean lagers that Munich is famous for. I think this water is one of the secret ingredients that makes it impossible to brew copies of Munich's wonderful beers in other parts of the world. There are many great Dunkles and Bock beers brewed in America, but none quite match the originals.

Munich is a very bicycle friendly city, and it is easy to find stores that rent them. So if you get the chance, get off the beaten path of the old town and ride around a little. And I recommend the trip south down to the Waldwirtschaft Biergarten in Großhesselohe - down the peaceful Isar bicycle route. And we have to give a big thanks to Elfi and Stefan for being such great hosts and showing some new parts of Munich.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Au Brasseur - Strasbourg France

I have crossed into enemy territory. That's right, yesterday, for the first time ever, I crossed the German border and went into France. Albeit Alsace, "the least French of French regions," according to my guide book. This is a beautiful territory to the west of the Rhine river across the valley from the Schwarzwald - the Black Forest. Joycelyn and I will spend the next couple of days touring Alsace, but we started in Strasbourg. Strasbourg is one of the three capitals of the European Union. Don't bother going to the EU section of town, stick to the Old Town area. Old Town is an island formed by a fork in the Ill river, and is a quaint area dominated by the old Cathedral, and with numerous half timbered houses (Fachwerk), canals, locks and bridges.

Alsace is know for its wine, but I was able to find one micro (artisan) brewery in town - the Au Brasseur. It is located at 22 Rue des Veaux, about three blocks west of the Cathedral in a quiet, fairly non-touristy section of Old Town. They offered four beers of their own; La Blonde, Ambree, La Brune, and La Blanche. First I tried the Blanche. I was not sure what to expect with this wheat beer, but after the first taste I could tell it was of the Wit style. It was pale, cloudy and very tart with some definite sourness. A very good representation of the style. My second beer was the Brune. This beer was made with a touch of chocolate malt, and was a clear dark amber, fairly clean tasting, but also with a very slight tartness. I'm not sure if the two beers shared a common yeast strain or not.

School doesn't get much older than the brew house. It was in a very small sunken area surrounded by the bar. Crammed in that area was a well used two vessel system. The pumps looked ancient, but the tuns were well kept. I'm not sure how old it was, but it did not look modern by any means. The mash and lauter tuns were fairly small, probably a 10 barrel system. Malt rakes and shovels hung behind the bartender. They also employed what looks to be an open fermentation system. I did not research the history of this brewery, and our bartender did not speak much English, so I can't give much for details. I've inserted a couple of pictures for you.

The place reminded me of some Belgian brown pubs I've visited, though with less flair when it came to their beer presentation. (For example, naming their beers simply Blonde, Ambree, Brune and Blanche.) But a very nice, though tight, atmosphere. They served pitchers of beer, which I don't ever recall seeing in Europe. And lots of them. The Au Brasseur was definitely popular with the locals. The ancient cellar downstair was converted into a tight beer hall, with numerous picnic tables, and a stage for jazz and blues bands at the far end. We had just arrived from America, and were pretty tired, so we retired to our room instead of staying for the music, but it felt like the atmosphere would be buzzing in a couple of hours.

If you get a chance to visit Strasbourg, I recommend hitting the Au Brasseur. And if you do please let me know what you think of the music and their Blonde and Ambree that I did not get a chance to try.