When I was in Calgary last month, there was one place I visited that didn’t really fit into the overarching narrative of the beer halls that are springing up there, and this is because it doesn’t really do North American craft beers in the same way that the other beer halls do. WURST is more interested in serving traditional German beers and in creating a somewhat more authentic Bavarian beer hall atmosphere.
The truth of the matter is that I didn’t know exactly what to do with what I was seeing within the larger context. All I know is that this sort of thing doesn’t really exist in Toronto in the same way. There isn’t the same dedication to the concept. We have WVRST, which is unrelated and very good, but the selection of beer is wider and the focus of the food menu is narrower.
The first thing that you need to know about WURST is that it’s incredibly tastefully appointed. The main dining room in the upstairs section has gone for a beer garden feel complete with trees indoors and it feels a great deal more like a fine dining establishment than I was expecting. Since I was there on a survey of the Calgary beer scene, we retired to the downstairs section, which is more traditionally a beer hall with long table communal seating and a large selection of taps featured prominently at the bar. One of the nicest features of the place is the set of lockers that is visible as you descend the main staircase. They hold dozens of steins which are reserved for regular visitors to the beer hall. It’s a lovely touch that I’ve seen discussed in other pubs, but never brought to fruition on quite this scale.
The reason I’m writing about WURST now is that they have a launch on the 20th. They’re bringing in Hofbrau Munchen (and if anyone can tell me how to make this keyboard produce an umlaut, you’ll be thanked). I want to suggest to you that these are beers worth trying, and as a matter of fact they’re showing up across the country. I believe we’re meant to be getting them in Ontario shortly as well. Plus, Hofbrau has a new beer hall opening in Chicago. The Germans are an industrious people.
I think that it was because I had not announced a specific agenda that I was poured nearly a half pint of everything that was on tap at WURST and could be said to hail vaguely from the region of Bavaria. This may have coloured my impression of the lunchtime I spent there, as might the fact that they were served by a lovely young lady who looked capable of wrapping a stein around your head if you cracked wise about her lederhosen. I think you want a waitress you can respect (and possibly fear a little).
That said, my favourites were the Ayinger Brau Weiss, which I think is a very underrated beer (four dollars at the LCBO, Junior Rangers!) and the Hofbrau Munich Helles.
You have to understand: A month of drinking discount beer after going for the hoppiest thing going will do interesting things to your palate. If you drink a 60 IBU beer regularly, and that is your baseline… well, I’m sorry, but your palate is absolutely wrecked. The level of bitterness you enjoy has creeped up to the point that you’re probably not a great judge of stuff less hoppy than that. I have come back from February realizing that Black Oak Pale Ale may not be generally considered to be a hoppy brew, but it is. It just is.
At the midpoint, at twenty days of macro lager, Hofbrau Munich Helles was revelatory. It explained so much. Like, “why were the American 19th century breweries trying to copy this” and “why is 90% of the world’s beer lager?” The Hofbrau Munich Helles is just this beautifully poised, wonderfully balanced beer with a slightly honeyed sweetness that fades to increasing bitterness which fades away. The mouthfeel is marvelous. The carbonation is perfect. It’s balanced on the edge of a knife. I have a friend, Greg Sherry, who has periodically worn a Hofbrau Munchen hat to beer festivals. It made him look like Gandalf the Slightly Tipsy. I will never make fun of him again.
I’m sure the dark is good too, but in that moment the Helles was the first beer I tasted and I looked at the rest of the tasting glasses and thought “can’t I just stick with this?”
The other thing I should mention is that Grant Parry is doing a really excellent job in the kitchen. The charcuterie and cheese platter was marvelous down to the speck and landjager and this buffalo bresaola that I think he called wunderfleisch. Everything that reasonably can be is sourced locally. Much of the Charcuterie came from down the highway in Canmore. There is some really lovely stuff on offer.
The food that came out of the kitchen looked better than anything I’ve ever seen in a beer hall. Maria Mendelman, their events manager, ordered a Chicken dish that looked fantastic. I asked Grant what they do that no one else does. I should have known there would be trouble when he giggled to himself.
I want to introduce you to the BAVARIAN WING.
The concept here is that you take a chicken wing and bone it out.
Then, you stuff the wing with sausage.
You poach the whole issue, dry it off and coat it in pretzel crumbs. Then you cover it in hot sauce.
The BAVARIAN WING is a … well, let’s just say that someday it’ll end up in front of a tribunal at The Hague. They come three to an order, apparently. It is exactly the right kind of mistake to make at about 11:30 PM after a long night of hoisting a stein. It is exactly right for the venue, and it is the kind of thing that you need after an enthusiastic evening of drinking Hofbrau Munich Helles.
If you’re in or around Calgary this Wednesday, WURST is where you want to be. There’s food that is some of the best I’ve seen around beer in Canada. There’s a beer that really deserves some attention. And, if you get to the point in the evening where it’s death or glory, there’s the BAVARIAN WING.
If you’re in Ontario, you should also check out the Hofbrau Munich Helles. It’ll be on tap somewhere near you shortly.