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From fruity creations infused with Sardinian honey, to brooding Belgian staples made in the backwaters of Wallonia, this selection of Europe’s 12 finest craft beers and ales that you surely didn’t know about is certain to have something for everyone. So, cheers, prost, aclamaciones, and iechyd da folks.
Perhaps it’s a little unusual that an out-and-out bitter American IPA has made such headway in a country seemingly obsessed with their light and bubbly pilsners, but, true to its name, Atak Chmeilu (Hop Attack) really has taken the Polish craft scene by storm, forming the vanguard of the acclaimed Browar PINTA label working out of Żywiec (no, not the rival beer, the place). With overtones of citrus, malt and caramel in the nose, this dark and fluffy ale follows up with a bout of lemons on the tongue and a bitterness that could easily be confused with a classic English cream flow.
Cast off by many as the Pabst Blue Ribbon of London town, the tipple of choice for the regular hipster and drainpipe-jeans-wearing Shoreditch stalker, Camden Pils has actually done well to bring the unfiltered tradition of pilsner brewing from countries like Belgium and the Czech Republic to the English capital. While that milky veneer may not be a Briton’s usual idea of a perfect pint, delve into the flavours and a tangy, citrus burst awaits, washed over by a healthy dousing of all-American imported hops.
Created in the style of Bavarian rye brews, this medium strength ale out of County Galway, Ireland, is the flagship beer of the N17 Brewery. The flavour is markedly organic and natural, with a simple but pleasing intermingling of hops and grain blends. However, the real pull here is the ethos of the folk behind the tap. Not a single by-product of the fermentation process goes to waste. That means there’s now everything from dog biscuits to mushrooms coming out of this one’s casks in little old Tuam too, just try not to confuse them with the beer.
There was a time when wheat beers reigned supreme in Germany, accompanying everything from white sausage in the morning to hearty platters of bratwurst at night. Then pilsner came along from Czech Bohemia in the east and everything changed.Top-brewed wheat beers were pushed into the background and in the capital, Berliner Weisse was the tipple of choice no longer. Enter Hops & Barley, a small and independent brewpub nestled between the streets of Friedrichshain, where this classic, fruity wheat beer imbued with three different malts continues to flow from the taps.
Just like its namesake Madrileños, this bottom-brewed lager from the Spanish capital is lively, bubbling and great company with a bout of classic tapas. Since hitting the scene it has been a little divisive amongst craft aficionados, some celebrating its bold embrace of earthy hops and sharp, citrus flavours at the same time, others not so sure. Of course, there’s only really one way to decide which side you’re on: head down to the La Virgen tap rooms in little Las Rozas on the peripheries of the city and take your fill.
Our first pick from Belgium comes in the form of the peppery Troubadour Blond by the Musketeer Brewery on the outskirts of Ghent. The flagship tipple of the factory that set things rolling in 2000 for the four folk behind the barrels, this well-rounded drink with a malt-laden, full-bodied flavour and fruity scent has proved a real favourite, while later brews from the label include the acclaimed Troubadour Magma, a rust-red blend of American IPA and classic Low Country triples.
In the absence of their own dedicated brewery the folk at Pivovar Nomád did exactly what their name implies: they went and gate-crashed brew houses up and down the Czech Republic to put their own recipes in motion. The result: one seriously stand-up American Pale Ale, which fuses the classic flavours of chinook hops with just a light touch of lemon and citrus and a perfectly balanced bitterness in the aftertaste. Just imagine what these guys could do with their own casks behind them.
‘Drinkable’ doesn’t even touch it when it comes to the classic pilsner from Cardiff-based artisan brewery, Pipes. No sir, this one glides straight down the gullet like a silvery will-o’-the-wisp massaging the palate with flavours of citrus and spice as it goes. A light and easy-going tipple that’s at its prime in the rare sun of South Wales or in the company of a beach barbeque on the sands of the nearby Gower. If that’s got you thinking, then be sure to check out the al fresco bar run by these guys on Kings Road, which erupts ad hoc each month in a medley of burgers and home-brew beers.
As the name might imply, this strong, dark, Belgian ale is riddled with mystery. After the top is popped, aromas of oak and mahogany and preserved cherry emanate. The head is frothy and thick, yet light and bubbly at the same time, there are undertones of liquorice in the flavour, while caramel and malt blends take centre stage in the style of classic Low Country brews. Whatever you take from this full-bodied classic out of the Brasserie Caracole in Falmignoul (a brewery famed for its curious warm water fermentation techniques), you certainly won’t forget it.
This light, amber ale is laden with so many fruity aromas and honey scents that it might easily be confused with one of the full-bodied wines that are plucked from the vineyards in the hills around Cagliari in the Sardinian south. But beer it is, and perfect for drinking in the Mediterranean sun it also is. Offering an excellent table starter and accompaniment for salty Tyrrhenian seafood dishes, Tuscan al fresco lunches and the like. No wonder the folk at the Barley Craft Brewery have garnered so many awards for their creations in recent years.
Taking us to what is arguably the most famous beer town on the planet is this heady, dark and truly unforgettable ancient brew from the medieval town of Bamberg, where beer making has been just about as common as breathing since around the Middle Ages. One style that the town is known for globally is the so-called rauchbier (smoked beer), which involves scorching malt grains in a beech wood fire before adding it to the mixture to form the wort. The product from the Schlenkerla Brewery is arguably one of the best going and apparently does fantastically well when drunk in tandem with a smorgasbord of Bavarian sausages and meats.
Fuelled by the pungent and unmistakable fruit flavours of Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand, the Sanda Black is arguably one of the finest dark pale ales to hail in from Scotland in recent years. Boasting a distinct creamy head and an interesting amalgam of berry and coffee bean undertones, this one has become a real favourite of the folk over at Fyne Ales, who claim it’s the perfect accompaniment for barbeque foods and smoked meals. All-in-all, a thoroughly interesting and memorable tipple.