I really enjoyed sampling beer as I went along. I had some definites on my list - Budvar and Velkopopvický in Czech, Siebenstern Prager Dunkels and whatever Horst at 1516 had on tap in Vienna, Żywiec and Perła in Poland, but there were also many surprises. I'm sure I'm missing a few too. I drank a lot of beer, much of it pretty darned good :-) Anyplace a beer appears in italics, that means I had it, but it was not from the country I was drinking it in (notable here are Pilsner Urquell in Poland, Gösser in Slovenia and Guinness almost everywhere). Unless specifically noted, I'm commenting on tap beer.
- on the LOT flight from Chicago to Warsaw, I had a few Żywiec in 330ml cans - not bad, but not anywhere as good as fresh & on tap
- our first night in Poland, I had Pilsner Urquelle - interestingly, I enjoyed this more than any other P.U. I had on the trip
- in Krakow I had Okocim, and Tatry from the can; also had Żywiec in a can on the Sky Europe flight to Dubrovnik
- in Croatia I had: Karlovaško, Ožusko, Jadransko, Guinness, Laško and Velebitsko from a bottle
- in Ljubljana: Laško Zlatorog, Union and Gösser
- in Austria: Ottakringer Pils, Zipfer Pils, Kapsreiter Helles, Gösser, Guinness, Franziskaner Weizen, Wieselberger, Kaiser Fasstyp, Stiegl Pils; and at the brewpubs: 1516's Stout & Hop Devil, Siebenstern's Prager Dunkles, and both the Pils & the Gemischt from Salm Braü
- in Prague I just went straight for the gold: Budweiser Budvar, Velkopopovický Kozel Svetle, Velkopopovický Kozel Černé and Pilsner Urquelle
- back in Poland: Żywiec, Okocim, Koźlak, Tyskie, Pilsner Urquelle, Lech, Guinness, Perła Chmielowa and Warka
- and last but not least, a few Żywiec in 330ml cans on the LOT flight back to Chicago
So, my impressions? Here are a few:
- In Poland, if you like lager, Żywiec is a good bet, and you can find it nearly everywhere - it's the national beer, and worthy of the title (unlike many other "national beers"). I like Okocim, too, although it's got to be fresh. For dark, sweet Baltic Porter, Koźlak is very very nice, although on the sweet side for some, it goes down easy and smooth. Still, by far my favorite is Perła Chmielowa from Lublin - it is a brilliantly balanced beer, and stands up easily beside its peers in not only Poland, but in Czech, Austria and Germany as well. It's possible I'm biased because Lublin is near Ania's home, but I think it stands on its own quite handily - one of Poland's best.
- In Croatia things got a little hard to follow. I had so many new beers in such a small time, and I wasn't particularly keen on taking copious notes with so much new to see. Still, having pizza in a plaza café on a hot day in Dubrovnik, I thouroughly enjoyed Ožusko. I don't remember any of the Croatian beers striking me as particularly unpleasant, although neither did anything really stick out too far above the rest. Overall I liked the beer in Croatia, however there was much better to come...
- In Slovenia, I was surprised by what seemed like a real lack of beer choices. Slovenia is small, so I guess this makes sense. Union and Laško were bascially everywhere, and aside from the predictable imports like Gösser, Carlsberg and Guinness, there wasn't much else. I read a bit about a couple brewpubs in and around Ljubljana, but we didn't try any. With a bit more time, it might have been fun to explore a bit more and find some locally brewed beer. Alas, neither Union or Laško are bad, and I think I prefer the latter, but there didn't seem to be much choice. In fact, to be dreadfully honest, I think I drank more Gösser, which is from Austria (and not particularly remarkable), than anything else while in Ljubljana.
- Austria. Now we're getting somewhere :-) Beer aplenty, and some of it has got to be some of the best beer anywhere. Seriously good beer in Vienna. I knew this after living there, but every time I go back I'm more and more certain of it. Kent and I were both surprised at how good fresh Zipfer was on tap at Da Capo restaurant, and Siebenstern's Prager Dunkles and 1516's Stout both really stood-out as excellent examples of the craft.
- Czech was nice. I didn't get any Regent, which I was hoping to find fresh and on tap, but besides that, I thouroughly enjoyed both Velkopopovický Kozel varieties that I had, and Budvar, of course. P.U. is always nice, but Budvar and Velko easily best it from most taps, in my opinion.
Some memorable beer moments:
- in Dubrovnik, sitting at the "Most Beautiful View" with a cold Ožusko (neither claim on the sign was wrong)
- the Pilsner Urquelle I had in a 1 liter mug at Podwale in Warsaw
- fresh Budvar in Old Town Square in Prague at night
- Perła at a café alongside the Wisła in Kazimerz Dolny in Poland
- the Prager Dunkles from Siebenstern in Vienna, in the biergarten, under a chestnut tree with Ania and Kent
- sipping Guinness in the Old Town in Lublin
- Koźlak on tap in the Café Josef K. in Sopot
There were many other great beer moments, but those were the most memorable. In retrospect, I could have kept better notes (especially in Croatia), and I could have tried a lot more than I did, but as it was, I had fun exploring some new beers, and confirming my opinion on several others. Getting Koźlak fresh from the tap was a nice and unexpected treat in Sopot. The stout that Horst was serving at 1516 in Vienna was astoundingly good - I wish I could remember its full name (Kent would laugh at me for not remembering). As I pointed out in a previous post, Siebenstern's Prager Dunkles in Vienna is probably my favorite dark lager anywhere. Budvar in Czech is wonderful, but Velko light takes the prize there if you ask me.