Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Session #32 – Eastern Beers

Looks like I've taken a couple months off from participating in The Session, the monthly beer-blogging thing you can read about here. And when I do get on board, I usually do so a couple days late. Like this month.

Our task for Session #32, as assigned by Girl Likes Beer (and recapped here), was to "pick your favorite beer made east [from] your hometown but east enough that it is already in a different country. It can be from the closest country or from the furthest. Explain why do you like this beer. What is the coolest stereotype associated with the country the beer comes from (of course according to you)?"

For Americans, of course, this is an easy question given all the great beer over in Europe (i.e. east of us). I thought I'd try to make this interesting by seeing what beer-producing lands might fall along my same line of lattitude (around 34°) but seeing as how that line will take you through North Africa and the Middle East on the way to China, I'm not sure I have many options there. So anywhere east will have to do.

Having been lucky enough to have traveled to Europe a few times, I can easily pick from any number of delicious beer styles I've enjoyed in their homelands – from authentic, delicious English Bitter and Porter to the wonderful, unique and diverse Belgian ales and the lagers of Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. For a beer lover, it's something of a pilgrimage to be able to enjoy a beer where and how it was meant to be enjoyed – hand-pulled ale in a cozy London pub; bright, revelatory Geueze in Brussels; liter upon liter of German lager so tasty and drinkable its nearly shameful; Pilsner Urquell that's about as delicious and fresh as it seems beer can be.

These are the easy answers, and there are more just like them. But seeking out great beer is not the only reason to travel; it's a sad truth that some of the world's highly interesting and beautiful places have hardly any beer culture to speak of. Shocking though this may be, it is manageable – not to mention a nice reality check for those of use who might take beer not only too seriously, but for granted also. It's during these times that the rare, unexpected moments of beer pleasure are all the more welcome and rewarding.

With all that in mind, I'll play it loose a little with this Session topic and revisit one such icing-on-the-cake beer moment I wrote about not long ago. In Bermuda this summer – despite its British heritage not exactly a land of great beer – I was more than content to soak up the beautiful water, weather and scenery of such a charming place. So it was all the more enjoyable when I found, at a simple cove-side food shack looking out upon a typically gorgeous Bermudian scene, real, tropical-style Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. The stronger stuff too, not the Canadian-brewed version we get in the U.S.

I hope Girl Likes Beer will pardon my flexible interpretation of her topic, as it bears noting that this Guinness wasn't actually brewed in Bermuda, only consumed there. Though, certainly, its eastern origin remains in place.

Beer historians connect Foreign Extra Stout with the tropics (it can even be called "Tropical Stout") due to the style's former, and to an extent present, popularity there – no doubt thanks to the one-time colonial presence of Stout-loving Brits in places like Jamaica and Bermuda. But for people who don't know of such things, so stout a beer is among the last things they'd associate with these island paradises. Rum and Red Stripe, yes. FES, not so much.

Back at the food shack, I would have been perfectly content to enjoy my pre-snorkel lunch in the company of an uncomplicated European macro-lager. Instead, I got confirmation of what select islanders already know – that a strong, roasty, bitter stout can be plenty satisfying in these tropical environs.

It goes to show that when you're least expecting it, great beer can sneak up on you and make a wonderful experience even better. And if the object of great beer isn't to enrich life, I'm not sure what it is.

This view and FES? I'll take it.
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