Monday, 1 June 2015

On tour with The Soft Walls - pt. 2

A couple of days later, we’re back on our way again, and our next gig is in Munich. The free beer from the venue is Giesinger’s Untergiesinger Erhellung, a lively, hoppy kellerbier. Bands are normally supplied with your average cooking lager in these circumstances – this is perfectly understandable and only a true ingrate would complain, but it is a real treat to be offered such a decent beer on this occasion. And once those are finished, a crate of Augustiner Helles is brought out for us - this is amazing in itself, but I need to get closer to the source. This beer holds massive sentimental value for me, as it’s a favourite of my girlfriend, Sidony, one I buy for her on every special occasion. Unfortunately she can’t be with me, but I still feel duty-bound to make a trip across the city and sink one in their beer hall, Augustiner am Platzl, located amongst branches of McDonald's and Foot Locker in Munich's pedestrianised shopping district. The journey is uncertain – I keep taking wrong turns, the blue dot representing me on my phone’s map feature darting and diving all over the city. To make matters worse, my battery is almost dead, and even if I find this hall, I'm not sure how I’ll get back. I have to question whether it’s worth it on a couple of occasions. But, of course, it is. I make it, sweating and dishevelled, and order a litre of helles. I can barely begin to assess its deliciousness before a trio of rowdy young Bavarians beckon me over to their table. My initial instinct is, shamefully, completely antisocial - I try with all my might to communicate that I'm happy by myself, waving my arms to signify ‘no’ and pointing to myself and then to the glass, as if to say “this is just between me and the beer.” They’re having none of it, though, so I head over, trying and failing to make them understand why a lone Englishman would walk halfway across Munich in the rain to drink alone. I have to admit that it’s more fun than sitting by myself, and a great experience I’d never have had if it weren't for the quest for good beer. My glass drained, I try to make my excuses and leave, which my new friends are less than happy about – “but you cannot walk on one leg!” one of them repeatedly tells me, meaning, I think, that one beer must always be followed by a second. I politely tell him I’ll be walking to Cologne if I don’t leave soon, and dart back to the venue, where we polish off a few more bottles before retiring to our youth hostel for glasses of Tegernseer and games of pool.

The next day is no fun at all. I'm hungover and exhausted, and on our way to Cologne, we hit a truly epic traffic jam which puts our journey time at about nine hours. By the time we arrive, I'm a shell of a man, in no physical or mental condition to traipse across the city in search of the Päffgen brewery tavern as I had planned to. I'm gutted – Cologne was my most anticipated beer location – but I do at least manage to choke down a glass of Sion kölsch at the venue. I figure it’s not one of the most highly regarded Cologne breweries (not one I’ve ever heard mentioned back home, for example) but it will at least be fresh and I should try something while I’m here. And it’s good – dry and very, very bitter, far beyond any regular lager, and it only increases my determination to come back and do kölsch properly someday soon.

Nothing spectacular happens, beer-wise, in Paris, though our show there is very enjoyable. The final date is in Brussels and, whilst I had been excited about searching out the very finest of Belgian beers, once we arrive I sort of lose my determination. Instead, I spend our free time hanging out, enjoying the final day of the trip in a more relaxed fashion. Besides, whilst the most visible breweries here are not necessarily the most distinguished, good beer really is everywhere – the convenience stores all sport impressive bottle displays in their windows, and I pop in and out of a few of them stocking up on some favourites to take home before enjoying a glass of delicious Orval in a café, then finding the venue for tonight’s show. When we get there, Ernst, Viet Cong’s tour manager, tips me off to a nearby shop where I can buy Westvleteren beers. I head over there and, sure enough, I find a palette full of Westvleteren 12, one of the rarest and most widely acclaimed beers in the world. It’s €13 a bottle, and I'm a little torn as to whether I should buy one – it’s expensive, but if it really is as good as everyone says, it’s likely to be worth it. It’s also something of a black market product – the monks who brew the beer don’t want it sold on in this fashion. But, as much as I’d like to, I'm unlikely to ever make the trip to the abbey to drink it ‘officially’, and so I decide to act now lest I never have another chance. After the show, we head to a strange, higgledy-piggledy café (the name of which escapes me) with slanted, claustrophobic ceilings and a ton of crazy crap on the walls, and see off the tour with glasses of Chimay blue. My final beer of the trip is a Duvel, drunk straight from the bottle, in a cramped, crowded drag bar, and it's a perfect end to the trip.

The whole tour was an amazing experience, and I’m so grateful to Dan, Viet Cong and everyone else that made it happen and came to see us play. And I’m glad I made the effort to seek out at least some of the local beer experiences in the places we visited. Now, to make a start on the stash I brought home with me. I'm particularly looking forward to reuniting with Pelforth Brun - maybe not everyone's idea of a classic beer, but it was one of the first I ever enjoyed that wasn't a light lager, and I'll always be pleased to see it whenever I visit France. I also picked up an imperial stout (though further research would suggest it's more of a baltic porter) from Carlsberg, which I never would have thought existed, as well as a couple of 2015's Duvel Tripel Hop, which I can't wait to try. 

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