Oktoberfest 2011 is on the horizon: it’s the biggest beer festival in the world, never mind Germany. Of course, there are other beer and wine festivals in Germany but everyone needs to experience Oktoberfest at least once in their lives. Once you have, take down those boozy blinkers and explore what alcoholic delights the rest of nearby Europe can offer.
The best tipples in Amsterdam
Amsterdam might be better known for its coffee shops but their Dutch beer deserves some credit too. Around 90% of all the beer in the Netherlands is pale lager – Amstel, Grolsch and Heineken – so you’ll need to take note of our hot tips if you’re after some variety, but it’ll be worth it.
Firstly you’ll need to choose your bar wisely. A top tip to look out for is to check the size of the glasses in the patrons’ hands. Traditionally glass sizes in Amsterdam are small. If you do see pints you’ll be heading into an over-priced tourist trap with Heineken wall to wall. Another tip to thank us for later is to check the colour of the walls. Legendary drinking establishments that have stood the test of time will have brown walls from the years of cigarette smoke. Known as ‘brown bars’ these places are where you’ll find an exciting selection of native beers.
So, you’ve chosen your bar, now for the drink. Make sure you try a classic Dutch ‘white’ beer while you’re in Amsterdam – go for Wieckse Witte. It’s light and cloudy with a sweet and mild taste. If you’re looking for something to sup slowly in the sun choose a dark red Speciale Palm, but if you want something with a real kick go for a Columbus. It’s bitter, strong and is the kind of drink to be savoured, not thrown back down the gullet. Drink with caution if you’re working your way through the menu, Dutch beers are known for being the most potent in the world – this could go some way to explaining the miniature glass sizes.
If you do fancy a pint though, there’s always The Heineken Brewery Museum – created for you to ‘see it, hear it, smell it and taste it’ all in one easy trip.
If you’re looking for Amsterdam cheap hotels that don’t mind when you’ve had a drink or ten you need Hotel The Globe Centre. Their bar is open until 3am weekdays and 5am weekends, and is one of the biggest bars in the Red Light District. Private rooms start from €24pppn.
How to drink in Paris
How do the French relax after a hard day at work? A nice glass of native French wine of course. There is an art to tasting and selecting it though – gain the know-how at the OChateau Wine Tasting and Wine Bar. It’s just 5 minutes from the Louvre and they have over 40 wines to choose from by the glass, and over 500 by the bottle! OChateau has a fun vibe, good music and beautiful décor – perfect for sampling some of the most exquisite wine in the world. They also organise tours to Champagne, hic!
One of the best wine experiences in Paris is at Le Verre Volé – a wine shop that doubles as an intimate restaurant. Sit in and eat, or just ask proprietor Cyril to select you a wine and then sit on the banks of the nearby Canal St Martin to savour it.
Cheap Paris hotels are plentiful – if you’re looking for somewhere close to the Canal St Martin to stagger back to try the Avalon Hotel Paris. It’s near the Gare du Nord – perfect for quick getaways – and has a free breakfast for soaking up last night’s debauchery. All rooms are tastefully decorated and have private bathroom facilities and free wi-fi. Private rooms start from €36pppn.
Drink real ale in London
The Earl’s Court Beer Festival comes to London every August, but there’s no need to wait until then to flex your beer taste buds. With the variety of traditional pubs in London and the fact you can just jump on the underground back to your hotel, every day can be an Oktoberfest in the Big Smoke.
For a traditional pub with a range of beers to try, head to the Carpenter’s Arms in Brick Lane. They have three beers on hand pump, including Adnams, and a separate blackboard listing a wealth of more unique bottled beers too. The Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell is another brilliantly historic pub that remains true to its roots, rather than going all ‘hip and trendy no soul’ on us. They sell the full range from St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk from the row of small casks behind the counter, which coincidentally go perfectly with the roast pork sandwich on the menu. The Royal Oak in Borough is another exclusive pub, but this time it’s only serving Harveys’ brews. With year-round favourites including Sussex Mild and time specific specials like Old Ale, the Royal Oak is a traditionally English place to spend an evening. But my all-time favourite place to work my way through the beers in London has to be the Porterhouse in Covent Garden. They’re passionate about the provenance of their beers and you could spend a week here and still not have tried them all.
Many of the cheap hotels in London have bars downstairs. Try St Christopher’s Inn – Southbank they have an extensive bar where you can enjoy traditional fare like fish and chips or bangers and mash and wash it all back with a real ale from the pump. It’s housed in a 15th century listed building and beds start from €12.20pppn.
Hit the vodka and absinthe in Poland
Along with their Russian and Norwegian neighbours the Poles are famed for their hard drinking. Vodka here has a 40-45 percent alcohol content and is to be downed in one gulp, no mixers allowed. Flavours are hugely varied and like wines connoisseurs can decipher the dry, half-dry, half-sweet and sweet varieties.
You can join vodka tasting tours and find out about the history and varieties of vodka. Of course you’ll also get to try a few samples and might even pick up a few polish words while you’re there – at least the translation for ‘one more vodka’ anyway.
If the vodka’s not quite hitting the spot, you can always move on to absinthe. It’s recently been relegalised in Poland and the Absynt café drink bar is making the most of it. The traditionally decorated cosy bar plays jazz and serves Absinthe the elaborately traditional way, complete with caramelised sugar and all.
If you’re looking for cheap Krakow hotels try Greg&Tom. You can join the pub crawl around the best of Krakow’s vodka bars four nights a week. Or go to the vodka festival on Wednesdays, enjoy free shots in the on-site bar on Fridays and on Saturdays they have an all you can eat and drink party with drinking games and awards. I’m not sure when you sleep in this place, but they do have spacious dorms with comfy beds for when you crash out. Dorms start at €14 pppn.
Article sponsored by Hostelbookers.