Prior to visiting Hong Kong I enjoyed overnight stops in Shanghai and Beijing, albeit with little or no opportunity to seek out interesting local products. Not that that should deter one from trying. A small number of modern-style brewpubs are to be found in both cities if you have the time to seek them out – for example Boxing Cat Brewery, of which there are two branches in Shanghai, and Drei Kronen 1308 Brauhaus, apparently an Asian outpost of a Bavarian brewer of the same name, although that’s not easy to confirm. There are several others.
Such was also the case in Taipei, capital of that “other” China, Taiwan, a few days earlier. Here Le Blé d’Or and a branch of the Gordon Biersch brewpub chain are among the establishments offering a break from the near-ubiquitous Taiwan Beer. There was no chance to try these either, unfortunately, although I can report that the national brew went well with local fare.
Thankfully a weekend in Tokyo did provide a few opportunities to sample Japanese brewing, however. This was true both in its established – and heavily German-influenced – form and in the shape of a new generation of micros that, somewhat surprisingly, are taking their influences from well beyond Germany or the more-recently influential US brewing scene.
After almost five weeks of near constant travel for business, I’m back in Blighty and finally in a position to update the blog. There’s much to say. While business travel doesn’t usually offer much scope for tourism it does typically offer the opportunity to try out a few local tipples, especially with the assistance of locally-based colleagues and friends.
Such was the case with my latest overseas adventure, which took me first to Canada, then on to Australia, Taiwan, Japan, mainland China and finally to Hong Kong. Which, as is my prerogative, is where I’ll start, if only to speed up the writing process and to save the best till last.
A busy weekend in Poland for a friend’s wedding offered ample opportunity to imbibe the country’s national spirit and a few of its better-known beers. Regrettably, lack of time and a huge storm during our brief stop over in Warsaw on the first night, restricted chances to delve far into Poland’s alcoholic culture and especially recent innovations. But I still came away with something worthwhile drinkwise.
Polish brews such as Tyskie, Żywiec and Lech aren’t difficult to find in the UK these days. The large number of Polish nationals currently living and working in the UK have encouraged our supermarkets to stock all manner of Polish goods over the past few years, although I’ve largely ignored the beers as rather mainstream. (Polish smoked sausages, especially Kabanos, have not escaped my notice however.)
As a longstanding motor sport enthusiast I’ve become accustomed to spending several long, hot days each summer in the beer desert that is, or rather was, Silverstone, longstanding home of the British Grand Prix. Fosters, Carlsberg, Guinness and John Smith’s Extra Smooth were pretty much the only options for the thirsty racegoer for years, dictated by event sponsors and controlled supply.
No more. This July’s event boasted a small number of outlets where the cask ale drinker could slake their thirst with something nearer to their preferred pub tipple. Although it still takes a reasonably committed drinker to hold out for a better brew when they’re so widely spread out across the event site.
Whether it’s age, a diminishing ability to consumer large quantities of alcohol, or a growing sense of accountability to my employer (or probably some combination of all three), I’m increasingly finding myself drawn to the concept of low-alcohol beers.
Not the no-alcohol Barbicans, Clausthalers, or “alkoholfrei” versions of big-brand German beers such as Erdinger or Bitburger. Nor the traditional but generally uninspiring Belgian tafelbiers, Swedish folköl’s and the like. Nor, for that matter, anachronistic British beer survivors such as Manns Brown Ale and Tennent’s Sweetheart Stout. Rather, my interest lies in a new wave of beers designed from the outset to appeal to serious beer drinkers in situations where they would rather not imbibe too heavily.
Tuesday’s opening night at The Great British Beer Festival 2011 marked the 21st consecutive year that I’ve made the pilgrimage to this temple of beer. Ever since the festival made its permanent home in London, in fact, although the current event bears little resemblance to the one-off edition that began my adventure at the London Docklands Arena in 1991.CAMRA clearly learned a lot from that Dantean Inferno of an event, which – on the day I visited at least – saw most of the beers on offer dispensed at a temperature more akin to that of a brew kettle at full blast than that of a cool cellar. GBBF moved the next year to the greater expanse of Olympia where it stayed until 2005 (it’s going back in 2012) while barrel cooling jackets rapidly became de rigueur at all CAMRA festivals. The overall excellent condition of the various tipples sampled on Tuesday night at Earls Court, which would largely have passed muster in a Good Beer Guide-listed pub, is testament to the skill and knowledge that the Campaign’s volunteer army brings to the World’s biggest bar.
One of the delights of tippling alternatively is that – Forrest Gump-style – you never quite know what you’re going to get. Even when you find yourself drinking “off-piste” in what looks like an unpromising environment. That’s certainly the case with this little gem of a lager that I discovered, unheralded and unexpected, when lunching at my local (to work) Tas Restaurant a couple of weeks back.
Described by the friendly waiter as simply “Turkish beer” the fresh, bready aroma and flavour led me to enquire further. This was certainly no Efes or Turkey-brewed Tuborg (for those familiar with the limited Turkish beer scene). Rather the bottle, which the waiter kindly brought over for me to examine, revealed it to be Perge Pilsner, a 4.2% straw-coloured lager in the German tradition.
One benefit of my day job is that it constantly brings me into contact with folks from around the world, whether as colleagues or through business. One downside is that many of those who I’ve worked with eventually choose to go home. But my work being what it is, our paths may well cross again. And if I’ve done my job of boozy education properly, such meetings may well see my tonsils crossed with exotic liquor.
Such was the case a few weeks back when a company “global summit” brought my Australian colleague and chum Tim back to Blighty with a brown paper bag full of micro brews from the land down under. As I’ll no doubt find out for myself when I return the favour and head to Melbourne and Sydney this autumn, it seems the Oz brewing scene has undergone a revival since I was last there in 1998.
Welcome to The Alternative Tipple, an assortment of anecdotes, observations and musings on the subject of alcoholic beverages, the places and ways in which they’re consumed and the culture that’s grown up around them. And what those things mean to me.
Posts relating to beer and whisk(e)y will form the bulk of my meanderings, simply because they’re the drinks I gain the most pleasure from, spend the most time with and most actively seek out. They’re also the domains where I’m able to cast my net widest. From IPAs to Islays, rauchbiers to rye whiskies, and porters to pure pot stills, there’s more than enough to keep me going for some time to come.