Beer stories

Waiting for a teenager in a shopping mall is… daunting. It could be worse though - this time she has none of her friends along so there’s no counseling and chatting and trying and texting and fitting and whatever else only girls know and we have no idea. I dropped shortly before by the Drinks Of The World shop in the Zurich main station, so I’m in a good mood now. I even have a small pastime in hand: a Cardinal Special pilsner. Not bad, yet I think it’s a matter of taste - it has this fruity aroma a bit too strong for a beer, weird thing to say I realize but this is really how it feels. Anyway, what’s there left to do but wait and maybe take some pictures around town? Speaking of which, you’ll notice the Bahnhofstrasse, possibly the most expensive shopping mile in the world, is completely blocked by road works. So deep, you almost feel the vibes of the gold stored underneath by these legendary Swiss banks…

It’s so long, too long we didn’t do anything together… I mean just the two of us. The kid just left to celebrate with her close friends the end of their last school year together. Tough high school admission exams separated their funny gang and we thought we’d organize for them a nice way to say goodbye. A “nice way” in teenagerspeak doesn’t include parents so this is why we were now so disoriented, suddenly wondering what to do with all these hours of free time. I didn’t even know what to say; she saved the day proposing a surprise trip to the nearby lake. No, not the lake of Zurich, too crowded, too boring, too all-day. We should go to the Greifensee, maybe a bit farther away but without the whole city traffic. Said and done, soon after we were walking towards the small leisure port on the lake and its terraces bathed in summer heat, when I had this brilliant idea to rent two free bikes from the nearby stand. “Whaaaat”, said she, “look at me, in the fancy street dress and, and, and I didn’t ride a bike since I was the age of my daughter…” I must concede, her opposition was full of arguments, but she presented them with too little energy so there we went, pedaling along the lake on less and less crowded paths. The trees along the paths helped a bit ease the reality that we forgot to bring along some drinks, after all when it got really hot we just dipped our feet in the nearby water for a minute or two, watched with envy casual swimmers splashing around (swimsuits, forgot ‘em too), waved those too friendly insects away then rode on in the heat, between corn and wheat fields (no circles, we checked). What should I say more? It was good, it was great, it was fresh, even though it doesn’t seem much now that I look back. The Usterbräu Original pale lager, brewed just across the lake (not visible in the pictures) crowned our surprise trip. Rather light, with a hint of the green grasses we just stepped on, very little bitter and with less yeasts than the usual Swiss brews, it matched perfectly our mood: happy, relaxed, smooth… did I just describe the beer, or the afternoon?

I’m on Untappd since one week already and after 34 beers from 14 countries and 21 badges (well, I was on vacation) I still don’t get it. What it can obviously do - making a list of your drinks - doesn’t really justify any amount of emotional investment. That incessant refresh of pages plus its inability to work offline, especially when you’re on a bad net like in just any half-underground location or just off limits… whatever. True, I felt flattered getting the “beer connoisseur” badge after my first 5 checkins because they were from 5 different countries, but there’s still not much appeal beyond that. Ok, but how did I get to that many different sorts, especially in a country that poor in quality brews? First was the mall - seriously if you feel stranded in the Romanian sea of bad lagers, head to the nearest mall and you’ll find with certainty some goodies. If the mall has an Auchan store, an entire row of goodies even. But if you go out in Bucharest, there’s exactly one and half bars worth visiting (and I know another one in Transylvania). The half one is “O suta de beri” aka “One hundred beers” focusing on Hook Norton English beers, not bad (offers lots of vintage bottles) but not enough among the too many local brews. The proud bearer of the full mention is “Beer’o’clock”, pictured in all the images above taken by proud me (with firmer or shakier hand). Yummy, right? Just thought I’d mention this: although it has no American native beers, the American styles are represented as well here and there on the leather-bound beer menu. So in case you travel to Bucharest, you know what to tell the taxi driver. Actually, no, because the area is pedestrians only, so you’ll need some extra navigation help until you’ll reach the Delirium pink elephants marked umbrellas of beer heaven.

A real evening out in Bucharest cannot but begin with a drive by communist landmarks. The “Casa Scanteii” building, in Soviet socialist realist style might lie today covered with huge stupid advertisements, but the People’s Palace, the communist behemoth holding a few Guinness Book world records, could not stand such an offense. It hosts after all the Romanian parliament, that oversized mob of… don’t get me started. The REAL evening began with a great Rodenbach Grand Cru at the Beer’o’clock bar. I just love these Belgian sours for the summer, even more when they don’t overdo it with the sourness. And this was just a great fruit wine… beer, I mean. A chat and there was already the time for a bite, at the “Hanu Berarilor” hosted in this gorgeous old villa… wow. Too bad the name, translating to “Brewer’s Inn”, doesn’t mean zit. From the meager list I picked bravely an Ursus Unfiltered in the hope that, associated with a cheese plate, it won’t give me the same runs like last time. And lo, how I escaped them! However, I still can’t tell what for a beer this was. Weak and with little taste or aroma - although pleasant - it could be a light weizen, or a failed lager… I know I know, I have no idea about beers, but so the folks I asked around. All being said, we moved on to a theater cafe, the Godot, to watch a moderately funny (in a weird way) play about love and betrayal out of stupidity, fanfaronade and simplicity. The accompanying beer was a Guinness for lack of alternatives and I didn’t like it more than the play or the acting, the flavor is so watery simple… Our walk back under the mustard yellow street lights was rewarded by a few touching sights of the old Bucharest with its historical buildings, some restaurated many almost falling apart, until we reached our car covered in flyers for nearby undercover bordellos. Doh, these contrasts.

There aren’t that many sandy beaches on the Romanian seaside. Of its less than 250 kilometers share of the Black Sea coastline, the Danube Delta and its natural reservation eats up already a good half. Cliffs, forests, ports and industry leave only so many touristic places you can count on your fingers (include toes if you’re less demanding). The only surprising part is how crowded they got over the years. I visited as a kid Mamaia already and I didn’t recall having to negotiate paths between so many umbrellas, chaises, swimming rings and people, people, people. It’s crazy. The sand used to be finer too. Earlier this year there came a heavy storm (they don’t call it Black Sea for nothing) which washed away a bunch of the beach, so they had to complete it - with costly truckloads of annoyingly jagged sharp edged shell sand. Eh. You can move instead to the small town of Sulina, reachable only by boat on the Danube middle arm. The sand is fine in Sulina, there aren’t many beachgoers and you’ll find only two eateries on the beach. You can have there a frozen glass of the disappointing Golden Bräu (guess why frozen), a Romanian slightly sour and almost devoid of aroma pale lager, instantly forgettable after you got your thirst slacked. If you want (relative) wilderness instead and don’t mind BYOB in a cold box, you should go to Perişor towards the southern side of the Delta. This is another place reachable only by boat, with a picturesque barely three meter wide beach - only seashells, you must have a fakir training to be able to walk on them. But it’s quiet, looks just great and… I can’t figure other plus points.

IPA day, finally! Although Mamaia has nothing to offer, beer-wise, just one jump away there’s Constanța and its malls. Silly me, I should have thought about it before… Lots and lots of beers yet there was one single India Pale Ale on the whole Romanian seaside to grab: the English brew of Shepherd Neame. I didn’t like it that much, rather low on aroma hops it felt more like a thicker bitter ale. But I like Old Speckled Hen as well so there, checked in late for the international IPA day. Cheers!