Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Search for Gluten-free Beer in the Czech Republic

Pilsner Urquell Brewery in Pilsen, Czech Republic
I read on the Internet somewhere that the Czech Republic was one of the leaders in developing gluten-free beer, so naturally I believed this. Off I went with visions of gluten-free tastings, gluten-free tours, gluten-free lagers and pilsners. And all we found was smokers.

If you are a chain-smoker, you really will love the Czech Republic. On our first evening in Pilsen (Plzeň), we decided to eat at the brewery, which was directly across the street from our hotel. (Finally, Sebastian the Wishing Well Attendant chose a hotel close to the things we wanted to see.) The restaurant at the Pilsner Urquell brewery is a large and loud beer hall. And it smells like an ashtray.

When we told the server--who was trying to seat us next to a mother blowing smoke into her toddler's face--that we'd rather not sit next to the evil mother blowing smoke into her child's face, the server simply smiled and pointed to the table again as if this table were choices A-Z all rolled up into one neat little carcinogenic ball. We left.

Leaving will do you no good, though. No matter where you go in the Czech Republic (except maybe Starbucks), you will be sitting next to a smoker. Again, if you like this and want this, you'll be happy here.

Before we left, we did ask the bartender if he had gluten-free beer.

"Huh?" he said.

"Gluten-free beer? Do you have it?"

"Alcohol-free?"

"No. Gluten-free."

"Huh? Wait minute. I get colleague. He English much plus betterski."

While the bartender was getting colleague, I noticed that they did have cider on tap: a consolation since I knew what colleague was going to tell me.

"No. We have no glutinous-free beer."

"But you have cider," I said and smiled.

"Cider not beer," he said.

"Very true," I said and smiled.

"Not beer," he confirmed.

"Couldn't be truer," I said. Then we left, because I wasn't going to drink my cider in this smoke-filled room.

For the Americans reading this light gluten-free anecdote, cider (the alcoholic kind) isn't called hard cider by anyone except Americans. Everywhere else it's called, well, cider. This must be because no one else sits around the fire drinking hot cider at Christmas. If you order cider in a pub in London, you can be sure you won't get a hot drink appropriate for children with a stick of cinnamon in it.

Our quest for the elusive gluten-free industry in the Czech Republic continued the next day as we drove to Budweis (České Budějovice), home to the famous Budweis Budvar brewery where they've been brewing beer with the same recipe for 700 years. That's quite a while to go without any improvements. This beer must not be broken. Of course it's great beer. I had enough of it before I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.

"Do you make gluten-free beer?" I asked the woman at the museum.

"Please?"

"Gluten-free beer. Do you make it?"

"Goop. Gloop. Glue?"

"Yes, thank you." I turned to Sebastian the Wishing Well Attendant and shook my head. The Internet had obviously lied to us.

We ate in the smoke-filled restaurant at the Budweis brewery. I ordered red wine and potatoes and watched Sebastian the Wishing Well Attendant scoffing a mountain of food drowning in a gluten-filled sauce and washing it down with a dark beer. This sucked. My disappointment was palpable, but I wasn't ready to give up. I remembered reading about a beer called Celia and had even read a couple of (not very positive) reviews.

A few impressions of Budweis, Czech Republic at night to keep you in suspense just a few seconds more:






On the way home from the brewery we stopped at Kaufland, a German supermarket chain, to see what they had in the way of gluten-free products. I won't keep you in suspense. They had Celia. Eighteen bottles. At first, Sebastian the Wishing Well Attendant insisted on putting all 18 bottles into our shopping cart, but then I wisely suggested trying a bottle of the stuff before we committed to the whole lot. So with one bottle of beer in our cart, we made our way to the check-out lanes.

Even at supermarket temperature, the beer was fine. Acceptable. A little bitter, but I like that in a beer, or at least I think I remember liking that in a beer. We bought all they had. Now, the only odd thing about this purchase is that each bottle has a deposit on it, so we have to return to the Czech Republic to get it back. We're doing this on Friday with six bottles. The euro will come in handy, I just know it.



My search is not done. I'm determined to find a brewery in the Czech Republic that makes gluten-free beer and serves it in their smoke-filled restaurant. I've even started doing some research. Maybe you've had more luck? Maybe, knowing how lazy and research-averse I am, you'd like to help me do my research? Sweet people? 

I must be off,
Christopher

_______________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day. 




 

 .  



 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A November Hike at Aachensee in Austria

About a kilometre before our goal: Gramaialm.
Friday, we--and you know when I say "we" I always mean Oscar the Carpaccio Pounder because I don't plan things, right?--so, we planned a spur-of-the-moment trip to Austria. We drove to Aachensee, just across the German border into Austria, then we hiked all the way to Gramaialm from the parking lot in Pertisau. When I say "we" hiked, I do mean that I was actively involved. I love hiking; I hate planning.

Although Aachensee is just across the German border, it's not a place that Americans usually visit. Sure, a few do make the drive, but most tourists tend to gloss over Austria with the Sound of Music tour. Which is a pity. Aachensee and Pertisau (pictured at the very bottom of this post) are always worth a visit. 

The walk from Pertisau to Gramaialm is a moderately long hike (2 hours) but also gently sloping, albeit gently uphill the entire way. But! But this means the walk back to the car is effortless. You feel as if you're flying, or at least floating, or maybe as if you're the frozen sediment of a glacier older than these hills. Maybe not, but there is a sense of relief that comes only with a constant, gentle downhill slope that makes you feel lighter than you really are. We were definitely a bit heavier actually, but I'll get to this in a moment. 

At the first and only Jausenstation (the Austrian word for a simple hut that serves drink and food in Austria) there were way too many people, so we slogged on toward Gramaialm, hoping it would be open. It wasn't, but it was a pretty place. I can imagine staying here for a weekend. In fact, both Oscar the Carpaccio Pounder and I decided we'd be back to cross-country ski once this valley is covered in six feet of snow.

Though the restaurant was not open, the dozen or so cars outside the restaurant gave us false hope that we'd find food and drink. The reality was that tourists--smoking tourists with shoes not meant for hiking--were ambling around the grounds with nothing much to do except, well, amble. They weren't going to set off on a three-hour hike up the mountain, and they, sadly, weren't going to find food or drink here either. Disappointed, we began our float back down the valley. 

The buildings at Gramaialm.

So how did these tourists get there? The road to Gramaialm is a toll road, but the toll booth was unattended when we were there last week. I suppose it costs more to pay the attendant in the off season than it's worth. We of course didn't drive to Gramaialm--because we are burly, manly, smelly hardcore hikers--but it's possible. It's also possible to stop along the way and walk. Walking is good.

The river that usually flows down from the mountains was bone dry. Eerily dry. As if someone had turned off the spigot up there in the mountains. Everywhere in the Austrian Alps there are signs along the rivers warning people of sudden waves. In Gerlos, Austria we experienced this. A lazy flowing, babbly brook became a rushing torrent in seconds. And children were playing on the banks. I wonder how many children die each year because someone suddenly opened the floodgates on the mountain.

On our way back to the car, we stopped at the same Jausenstation to have our "reward," which for me is a glass of white wine and for Oscar the Carpaccio Pounder a dark beer. What a cool. place this is. I'm going to teach you a German word now, so brace yourself for education.

Gemütlichkeit
(gheh-myoot-lich-kite) .

Germans--and I suppose the Austrians, the Swiss, the Alsatians and the South Tyroleans--are so proud of the fact that this word has no adequate translation in English. Obviously we just don't have Gemütlichkeit. We do, though; we simply don't know what to call it. I think it would be best to introduce the German word into English--like when we say Gesundheit when someone sneezes. Gesundheit means health, by the way. If you want to be funny when someone sneezes, say Schönheit or Reichtum. You'll get chuckles . . . if the person who sneezes speaks enough German to know that Schönheit means beauty and Reichtum means wealth.

I know I'm keeping you in suspense. You want to know what Gemütlichkeit means. Well, the only word we have that comes close to Gemütlichkeit is coziness (cosiness for the Brits), but it doesn't go far enough to define what the Germans feel when they describe something as gemütlich.

A little cabin in the mountains. A warm place to come in from the autumn weather. A familiar, friendly atmosphere. Blutwurst and Bratkartoffeln. The cabin smells of food, rich fatty things you don't normally eat unless you've just hiked for four hours. There's lots of wood. Dead animals' skins on the walls. There's the feeling of Heimat (home, where you belong). And it's warm here. This place is gemütlich in a way that the large restaurant at Gramaialm would never have been. I loved every second here. And my Leberkas, Spiegelei and Bratkartoffeln (a sort of meatloaf that is more like baloney that meatloaf, fried egg and fried potatoes) went so well with my Veltliner (an Austrian white wine).

 
Back at the car, we weren't sure if we'd been for a hike at all. The last couple of hours were so effortless that we felt more energized than tired when we got back. This area is beautiful, not dramatically beautiful but still beautiful. And quaint. And gemütlich. I'll leave you with a photo of Pertisau on Aachensee I took a couple of years ago. It turned out really well despite my two hands of thumbs.

Pertisau am Aachensee in autumn


I must be off,
Christopher

_________________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day. 








Monday, November 4, 2013

On the Bee-ducational Path at Pillersee

Yesterday evening our neighbors came home after a family bike ride all bundled up in warm jackets and scarves, hats and gloves. I was standing there at my door barefoot in shorts and a not-very-clean T-shirt.

"Um," they said collectively.

"What." The only thing missing from my summer-fun gear was an umbrella-ed drink, sunglasses and a Panama hat (OK, a few things were missing). "Just a second." I re-appeared with the full look.

"Better," they said, still muffled in their scarves.

"Yeah," I said. "It's still summer on the ground floor." Although yesterday was quite cold and rainy, we were still hanging on to the last rays of summer.

From Thursday to Saturday, we went on three hikes, two in Austria and one above Tegernsee near Munich. The beauty of hiking off-season is that you aren't trudging behind groups of gabbing tourists dressed (poorly) as hikers, fathers pushing prams up steep paths and cats on leashes. I've seen it all.

On Thursday we drove and drove and drove because Oscar the Carpaccio Pounder wanted to treat us to the Teufelskamm (Devil's Ridge!!) near St. Ulrich in Austria. The drive took at least 30 pop songs, around 30 too many considering the yawn factor of the Teufelskamm.

The dreaded Devil's Ridge. OK, I was afraid to get close to the edge.

The walk around Pillersee is easy and, as it turns out, educational. There's a Bienenlehrpfad, or a bee-ducational walk for those of you who don't speak German. The bee-ducational walk, though, left a few questions buzzing around in my mind. Forgive my stupidity (think Cocker Spaniel crossed with Homer Simpson), but I couldn't figure out from the picture of the bee's anatomy where the honey comes out.

"The butt?" I ventured.

To my defense, Oscar the Carpaccio Pounder didn't know the answer either. "Sounds logical," he said.

"Does not." I grimaced, studied the bee's anatomy for another more felicitous aperture. "Hmmm." I said. "Could it be? Could honey be bee poop? I mean, all they eat is sugar, right? Right?"

Oscar was already way down the bee-ducational path, already reading about pollen or something. So this question dogged me all the way around Pillersee, back to the car and back to Munich. "The butt?" I kept saying. "No."

And as it turns out, honey is not bee poop; it's bee puke. And not just once, but twice. The harvesters puke the honey into the mouths of the bees who stay in the hive, and then these bees puke it up again. Doesn't this sound so much better than bee poop?

I'll leave you with this thought and a few impressions of Pillersee.

A Kneippanlage at Pillersee. You walk through this to increase your circulation.






I must be off,
Christopher

___________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.