Duck Holiday takes beer very seriously indeed, and it is purely in the name of scientific research that we have worked so hard to sample so many different beers. This being a site dedicated to the pleasures – and occasional displeasures – of central and eastern Europe, it is logical to concentrate on produce from that part of the world.
Before we move on to the exciting part, there are two points to note. The first is that Duck Holiday has a goodly proportion of Irish blood and is thus rather well disposed towards beer that is dark. There is nothing wrong with a pale beer (except, of course, the mass produced, fizzy, freezing cold, chemical filth that passes for lager in Britain), but for now, the dark side wins. The second is that we will focus on beer that can be obtained in the UK. This, unfortunately, means that we cannot include excellent establishments such as the wonderful Kratochwil in Ljubljana, but certain restrictions have to be imposed or this article could go on for several years.
Germany is the obvious place to begin the quest. A particular favourite is Köstritzer, a gloriously black beer from Bad Köstritz in what we might call the German East Midlands. At 4.8%, it is a little on the vigorous side for a session, but if taken slowly, it can be spun out over much of an evening. This beer, sold by a number of off licences in the UK, is also available through the excellent Adnams Brewery in Suffolk, so those keen on a fix of Köstritzer might also fancy trying a selection pack of different Adnams’ ales.
Kaiserdom is in a similar vein, a 4.7% beer from the town of Bamberg in Bavaria. Like any good beer of this type, any malty sweetness is well balanced by bitter hops. The finish is a pleasing toasty coffee flavour.
Another familiar site on these shores is Krombacher, one of Germany’s oldest breweries located in Kreutzal, in central western Germany. This is closer to a session beer at a more modest 4.3% , so it’s a good choice if you want to make an evening of it.
Proving that not all German beers start with the letter K is Lausitzer Porter, brewed in the town of Löbau near Dresden. Although it is called a porter, the beer is more like a black lager and is a very quaffable 4.4%. It should be noted, however, that this is a beer for those with a sweet tooth.
Something that is more geared to those of us that prefer bitter beers is Marzen Smoked Beer, from the town of Herzogenaurach near Nuremberg. This is truly an extraordinary experience. Merely opening the bottle hits you with a blast wave of smokiness, as if you’d just unwrapped a particularly vigorous smoked cheese. At 5.1%, it is not overpowering in strength, but it is probably something you’d want to have as a one-off at the end of an evening. Having this as your first drink of the night means that it’s likely you won’t be able to taste anything else properly.
The presence of a substantial Polish community in Britain means that quite a few beers from Poland are easily found. Admittedly, many are rather standard issue lagers and not terribly exciting, but there are exceptions. For those with an adventurous nature and a strong constitution, the 8.3% Okocim Porter is worth a try. Like most beers of this strength, it is rather on the sweet side. The most visible Polish beer in Britain is Żywiec and this brewery produces an even more headbanging affair, a brain-clobbering 9.5% porter. Handle with care.
The Czech Republic is renowned for its beer and the cerny produced by Krušovice is a classic example of how a beer does not need to be mind-blowingly strong to have a depth of taste and character. At 3.8%, this falls firmly into the category of a session ale. The town of Krušovice is to the west of Prague and Krušovice beers can be found in many parts of Europe, also proving that mass production does not necessarily mean poor quality.
A liitle to the south lies the town of Březnice, where the exceptional Herold Black is brewed. This gorgeous beer is a bit more potent at 5.2%, but is very (and slightly dangerously) drinkable. It is everything that a black beer should be, full of toasted, roasted flavour.
The Baltic region produces some lusty porters. Lithuania is especially notable in this regard. Utenos Porteris, brewed in the north-east of the country, is a powerful 6.8% ale. Despite its name, Volfas Engelman Imperial Porteris from Kaunas is, in fact, a little lighter at a mere 6%, which in Lithuanian terms is relatively meek. Latvia, too, has a few porters. One of the more commonly found is Aldaris Porteris, brewed in Riga and another 6.8% beer. A slightly more easy going alternative is Bauskas Alus Tumsais Dark, from Kaunas. At 5.5%, this is getting close to the Baltic’s idea of a session beer.
Ukraine has quite a number of breweries, though Ukrainian beer does not tend to venture too far west. We did, though, discover Lvivske Porter (Львівське) – from the western Ukrainian town of Lviv, surprisingly enough – and this is another of those 8% affairs that is best drunk as a sipping beer at the end of an evening.
With the welcome return of some excellent independent off licences and some splendid online retailers (Beers of Europe is a site that can be browsed for many hours), there is every reason to suppose that eastern and central Europe’s hidden gems can be continue to be unearthed for beer lovers in the west.