<P>From a beer hunting point of view the year started kind of badly. My company sent me to the Dominican Republic for two weeks, and I couldn't find a single new domestic beer or interesting import in two weeks, despite having never been that neck of the woods.
<P>It didn't get much better upon visiting Brno in the Czech Republic as the one brewpub in downtown Brno, Minipivovar Pegas, set a new world record in the world's most hostile reception of customers. Unless you are suicidal a visit to this place is not recommended...
<P>My streak of bad luck seemed to continue when at a short stop in Prague I found the door to the newish beerstore Pivnie Galerie locked, despite having carefully checked out their opening hours, but this was to be the turning point of the year. As a desperate last attempt I tried phoning the owner, and to my delight the owning couple was the most friendly, service-minded and multilingual people imaginable, and they opened the store especially for me so that I could walk away with about half the store....
<P>Twice our neighbouring country Finland offered me highlights. In June I had one hour to kill in Helsinki and desperately wanted to get hold of beers from the new microbrewery Stadin. In two places I ran out of luck, but thanks to service-mindedness at the these pubs I was finally able to locate their Dubbel,
Tripel and Barley Wine, all top class. In a similar one hour dash through Turku I visited two brewpubs. I was impressed by the riverside pub Herman, offering their own well made lagers as well as a guest beer from another Finnish microbrewery. I need to return soon to Turku for a complete exploration of all three brewpubs.
<P>Denmark has long been a Carlsberg country where the other breweries seem to compete against the giant through cutting even more corners and offering even cheaper beers. But now things are changed, and interesting microbreweries have started popping up. There is no doubt that if this trend continues Denmark will soon have the most interesting beer scene in Scandinavia. Right now I would say this award goes to Finland. During my very short stay in Copenhagen I was able to sample a seasonal hefeweizen from the brewpub Apollo as well as a wit and an India pale ale from Brøckhouse.
<P>At home I made a mad spur of the moment dash by train, 250km each way just to sample
one seasonal double bock from a new brewpub in Örebro. Luckily it was a good one. As you may guess we are not very spoiled with brewpubs in Sweden.
<P>During July & August things sped up, as I toured Scotland and England, and with The Good Beer Guide from CAMRA and hit as many brewpubs and country pubs as possible for two weeks. The most memorable was probably the Heskett Newmarket in Cumbria, along with Moulin Brewery & Hotel in the Scottish highlands, and The Prince of Wales/Foxfield Brewery, also in Cumbria. The trip was crowned by a Manchester pub crawl with Oakes, and a visit to the Great British Beer Festival.
<P>Then, in autumn, my job forced me to stay a couple of nights in Maastricht, Netherlands. I had no reason to complain as they have more than their fair share of beer cafes there. Another good thing was that I got a couple of hours to kill in Amsterdam on my way home, so I made I quick dash around the city's most prominent beer bars and beer shops.
<P>In November things got more adventurous as I hit the road for a trip over land from Stockholm well into the Asian part of Turkey. Beer hunting wasn't the official reason, but of course I tried to take advantage of the situation as much as possible. I managed to find a half-decent brewpub (Pivnica Kasina) in downtown Belgrade serving a dark and a pale unfiltered lager. The service was kind, and Serbian (only Serbian...) widely spoken among the staff.
<P>There is also at least one brewpub in Istanbul. "Taps! Istanbul" is a USA-inspired brewpub, and they offer a wide range of beers of good quality. The service is very good, as is the food.
<P>In Macedonia I found no brewpub (no wonder as I only spent one night there, and this
was in a small town), but instead one microbrewed unfiltered rare lager simply called Makedonsko Pivo. In Albania I sampled my first-ever Albanian beer. I also found roads which haven’t been repaired since the Romans left...
<P>Speaking of Rome - that was a debacle. I went to the address of a new brewpub, but couldn't see the slightest trace of a brewpub, just embassies. Spent half a fortune on taxi, and didn't get a single beer. I guess that's what happens when you do your homework badly. In Mestre, just outside Venice, at least they had one own beer at the restaurant chain Brek.
<P>In the end I managed to find one more brewpub in 2003, when I went to Taiwan. The legislation has just been changed so that it is possible for brewpubs and microbreweries to start up here. The beers you can find in stores are…err... let's say less exciting. It was the same in all pubs and restaurant I visited until, after many hours of research, I found that Jolly Thai Food and Malty Drinks in Neihu existed, and that they at this point were the only brewpub in the Taipei region. The food there is excellent and the beers (a pilsener, a pale ale and a weizen) are mild and on the light side, but pretty good.
<P>So, in all 2002 was a decent year. Hopefully 2003 will be better.