Author Archives: Daniel

Substack Hack – Template

I’ve been using Substack for the past few months to send out a monthly How to Japanese newsletter. It’s basically a mini version of my Japan Times column, a little something on beer or booze, and a collection of links/thoughts at the bottom. You can see more about my thinking behind the newsletter in the first issue.

I’m not familiar with Constant Contact or MailChimp or other newsletter services, so I don’t have anything in the way of comparison, but I do like Substack’s features and the way it looks. It took me a second to figure out how to edit the url slug (a feature which I think they’ve added in the past few months; it’s in the “Settings” down near the “Publish” button), but other than that, the only feature I wish they’d add is a template feature. I solved this issue by creating a template draft and just always keep it as a draft.

When I start a new month I just copy and paste the template over into the next month’s issue.


The only New Year’s resolution I can remember making was back in 2012 when I resolved to learn more about wine. I failed spectacularly. Once a week for the first couple weeks of the year, I walked over to Whole Foods and picked out a bottle, but it was always too much to finish on my own, and they ended up sitting half-empty in the fridge until I dumped them out a few days later.

I can’t say for certain, but I think this likely serves as a stand in for most of my past resolutions, which makes me similar to many.

A quick Twitter search is instructive: I won’t share all of them, but I have at times resolved to ferment more foods, to want less, to read my RSS feed regularly, and to listen to more Johnny Hodges/Gerry Mulligan.

I do very few of these right now. I’m coming down off a year or two of wanting, Johnny Hodges only occasionally pops up in my play list, I can’t remember the last time I opened Feedly, and while I do still brew beer, my fermentation game has lagged in food categories…until recently.

And that is because I was fulfilling a new style of resolution that I implemented in 2017. I’d have to do a deeper dive into my journals or my Twitter feed to know exactly why I made this decision, but that year I decided that I would cook something I’d never cooked before, and that this new dish would be my New Year’s resolution.

That year it was ribs, the next saag paneer. And onward. I’ve kept it up for four consecutive years. Here’s the list so far:

2017 – ribs
2018 – saag paneer
2019 – pupusas
2020 – natto

Not everything was ‘gram-worthy, so I won’t share pictures, but I will say that it felt good to be expanding my cooking repertoire, and to be accomplishing something. When I started, I imagine my thinking was that a clearly defined accomplishment was more important than a more vague, sustained change in lifestyle, or perhaps that small, actionable items rather than broader ideals would necessarily lead to a change in lifestyle.

When life gets busy, I still reach for Trader Joe’s Indian food, as by chance I happened to do last night as I was writing this, but I also have a freezer full of food I’ve prepared myself in advance—Japanese hambagu, lentil soup, lamb meatballs, black beans.

I keep a short list for future resolutions. Lasagna and ramen are near the top. But I find myself trying out new recipes more often, without needing a prompt from the calendar. When I’m shopping, I’ll pick up something I haven’t tried before and spend a minute Googling to see if I have enough at home to turn it into something.

There are a couple of other benefits, in addition to the food itself and the sense of improvement.

I’ve experienced a heightened sense of memory related to these recipes. I remember picking up ribs from the grocery store and cooking them for friends who came over last minute to play board games. I remember venturing out early in 2018 during a snowstorm, when I still had a blissful Japanese New Year’s holiday, to find a cheesecloth for the paneer at Sur La Table and go shopping at Uniqlo downtown. And I remember picking up the wrong type of masa for my pupusas, which sadly resulted in throwing out a lot of wet cornmeal.

This exercise has taught me that you don’t have to do too much. This isn’t an excuse for me to acquire new kitchen equipment or half a dozen obscure spices. A few tomatillos or a head of cabbage can be enough. (Especially if you use the cabbage to make bigos.)

I also find these cooking adventures useful ways to dissipate the sort of restless anxiousness I find myself experiencing from time to time. Cooking new recipes gets me out into Chicago, up to Devon to pick up ground lamb, to Argyle for daikon, and to Lincoln Square for bacon from Gene’s Sausage Shop. And there’s the focus in the kitchen. Too much of my time gets spent in front of the screen. Much of it is required for work and for writing, and I sometimes hate myself a little for not writing and translating more in my free time, but relief from the screen is also critical.

My next challenge, free from the need to fulfill a resolution, is chashu. This will be the first step toward my ramen goal, but I’ve realized it’s also a key ingredient in Japanese fried rice, which has been stuck in my mind recently. I have such strong memories of eating fried rice during summer holidays in Japan.

I have just about everything I need other than the pork belly and butcher’s twine. This recipe will give me direction for a bike ride, help me restock my freezer, and focus my time during this wild and still young October 2020.

How to Japanese Podcast

I spent this summer working on a podcast project that just wrapped up in November. You can see all 10 episodes here or over on the blog:

It was a fun process! I got to figure out all the technical stuff (and make a few consumer purchases), but putting together the content, creating a replicable system to put that content into the world, and kind of sculpting it all into something meaningful was the most fulfilling part.

Life has been busy the last two months (I finished up the bulk of the podcast work by September and really just had to piece together the episodes once I launched), but I’m already starting to think about a second season. I wish it was something I could commit to every week, but things are just too busy for that, unfortunately. And I think there is something to be said for creating more concentrated doses of content. It definitely helps build anticipation. Hopefully with 10 episodes in the bag, the second season will not only be better but easier to put together. This first season is pretty, pretty good if I do say so myself!

If you’re looking to start your own podcast, I’d recommend checking out Podcastage, specifically this post about equipment. There are a lot of really good recommendations. It doesn’t have to be all that expensive.

Translation – Masquerade and the Nameless Women

Some folks go to the beach during the summer. I translate Japanese fiction.

The book I worked on this summer is available for pre-order and will be published by Vertical on January 29. The book is titled “Masquerade and the Nameless Women” by author Eiji Mikage.

Follow along over at How to Japanese for more information. Pre-order on Amazon or at your preferred bookseller.

Content Pastures

“Passive income” is a relatively newly minted oxymoron. I’m not certain exactly where the term originated, but my best guess would be real estate and investing. The idea of rental income or dividends steadily filling a savings account over the course of the year is intoxicating (mostly to the Olds).

“Passive income” is trending up in Google Trends from around 2012-2013 onward. Monetizing “content” and the internet economy probably has something to do with this.

The investing podcast “Animal Spirits” recently had a conversation about how passive income is actually quite active. Plunging plugged toilets is far less exciting and less passive than sitting on the couch and checking a bank statement, as is tracking down and paying plumbers to plunge said plugged toilets for that matter.

Writing blog posts each month, each week, or three times each week as I was when I first started blogging is the equivalent of plunging cultural toilets (to loosely borrow a concept from Murakami). Generating money from online content seems like it would be a fun, “passive” thing to do, but I think that’s only in comparison to a regular 9-5 job. It’s actually a good bit of work, and there are very few who are able to turn a content library into a full time job. Even then, once your consumers are accustomed to a schedule, you have to feed them or risk them leaving for fairer content pastures. I get far fewer commenters on my blog posts now than I did when I had something for them to read every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

In September I wrote my fiftieth column for the Japan Times Bilingual page. This is kind of crazy for me to think about, mostly because I vividly remember writing my ninth column during the winter of 2014. It was a cold, snowy Chicago weekend during the extended polar vortex that year. I was single and lonely, but I hadn’t written for the paper in nearly two years, so I was happy and fulfilled at the prospect of being paid for my writing again, and of having something to say.

I put on Beck’s “Morning Phase,” which I believe was streaming as a preview on NPR before the album release, made a cup of tea, and sat in front of the computer for most of the day. It was great.

At some point I stepped outside onto the back staircase of my apartment and took a photo of my mug with the weather.


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Had to pick an appropriate mug for today. #sapporo #時計台

A post shared by Daniel Morales (@howtojapanese) on

And I tweeted out a preview of the article I was working on:

Being a writer these days is a bit like being the captain and sole crew of a ship. You put up new sails, take others down, redeploy things from the past, all in the hopes that a breath of wind will come along and propel you forward.

Strangely enough, this article got a draft from the official Haruki Murakami Facebook page:

There’s a difference between attention and money. The plug on this page got that article far more clicks than it otherwise would have had, and I imagine that didn’t hurt my chances to keep writing for the JT. In a sense it increased my potential earnings. But it wasn’t money in the bank.

I got a more financially lucrative gust of wind earlier this spring when Keio University used one of my articles (“Japanese humor: more universally funny than you think”) on their entrance exam.

My initial reaction:

But it wasn’t totally unexpected. Starting in 2011, I received half a dozen or so requests to reprint a few of my JT articles in Japanese textbooks for prep study courses. I was confused at first but later it became a nice surprise; I would wake up in the morning bleary eyed, find an email from the JT asking me for reprint permission and my author’s fee, and punch in a quick reply.

In these cases, I received money but no attention. The small author’s fees dropped into my bank account silently a month later.

But Keio was big enough that it set off a quick series of requests. Not a huge amount, but about the same as in the previous few years. It’s been a nice little windfall.

And now that I look back at my emails (that I clearly wasn’t reading closely enough), I’m realizing that another article (“Tanka help Japanese express emotions”) was used on the entrance exam for Fukuyama City University and that Senshu University used the same article on their test that Keio did. Crazy.

The last reprint request came in October, and I asked for a 15-dollar increase to cover the international wire fee I get charged by my bank. I haven’t heard back from the JT, so I may have accidentally shut off my stream of passive income, although it’s never been clear to me whether the JT is shopping around my articles (and their own content library, which is quite vast) or these prep courses and universities are discovering the writing on their own.

I did discover that university entrance exams have a history of “borrowing” material from foreign writers. Tim Murphey of Dokkyo University wrote an article in 2005 for “Shiken: JALT Testing & Evaluation SIG Newsletter” titled “Entrance exams breaking copyright law? Academically unethical?

It sounds like things have changed for the better in the past 13 years. As you can see above, I was cited, which wasn’t always the case. However, the JT and I were only paid because the test question was reprinted in an exam book. They didn’t have to ask permission or pay us to use the writing on the original exam, which feels a bit strange.

I’m not getting my hopes up that the work I’ve produced will bring in a massive amount of passive income. This next statement might come from a place of extreme privilege (this is me checking my proverbial self before I wreck my proverbial self), but I’m not sure if earning money was ever the point. I started writing How to Japanese because I needed to produce something. I needed to connect with people and share things. There was a sense of justice, a light outrage that no one was able to communicate certain things to me. And I wanted to pass those things on.

It feels good to have succeeded on that front, to be reaching out from my laptop onto the screens of others learning Japanese. And now onto the pages in front of Japanese high school kids taking their entrance exams…who hopefully glean something from my words despite the testing fervor that surrounds them.

I do appreciate the extra income, but mostly as a trophy of sorts because I know how awful a writer I was at age 23, and I know how actively I had to work to get where I am now.

The Disease

It’s funny where you find insight about writing. I was listening to the BeerSmith Podcast the other day and was struck by something Homebrew All Stars author Drew Beechum said:

“…if you want to get something written, you have to have somebody who has a sort of disease in their brain that says ‘You know what I have to do? I have to write.’ A lot of people don’t suffer from that impulse.”

It does feel like an impulse. Especially taking that first step. Shaping a finished piece of writing–editing it–feels to me like a more conscious, controllable act. I step back from the impulse to see what it is that I’ve produced.

Craft Beer in Japan

beer essentials2

I was in The Japan Times a week or so ago with an article about craft beer in Japan: “Beer Essentials: The craft beer boom in Japan shows no signs of running dry.” I’m pretty happy with the way it came out, both the text and the awesome layout they put together. This is my first feature article anywhere and my first non-Bilingual, non-Murakami article in the JT.

I wish I had better news to report: Japanese craft beer is gradually becoming more plentiful, but it’s still expensive and the quality isn’t improving as quickly. Although, to be perfectly honest, I think the quality of American craft beer isn’t all it’s made out to be.

Yes, we have a lot to choose from, but it’s not cheap, and it can be difficult to find reliable breweries. The truly excellent breweries are thriving: Sierra Nevada, Goose Island, Ommegang, Boulevard, Brooklyn…in terms of smaller more regional breweries that I’m familiar with, Urban Chestnut, Revolution, Prairie, Cigar City.

But for each of these you have smaller breweries that are producing subpar beer. Breweries that will devote half of their tap selection to IPAs that are difficult to distinguish.

So I think the comparison with the U.S. scene is overblown. I was impressed with Japanese macrobrew on my last trip. Yebisu and Yebisu Black are delicious beers. Even Super Dry is very drinkable…it has a nice bitterness not present in most American macrobrew. If only it were a bit cheaper…maybe 50-80 yen cheaper per can? I guess we just have to hope for a tax equalization at some point.

What I think about when I think about Monk


When I graduated from college I got an assortment of gifts from friends and family. Few of them stand out because they were mostly checks and gift cards, but one of our family friends got me a large beach towel in addition to a $50 gift card about a year after I finished.

At the time I had just gotten into Thelonious Monk. I visited a friend in New York for a quick vacation before shipping out to Japan on the JET Program, and my friend’s roommate had two huge folders of CDs. This was the tail end of the CD era. I didn’t have an iPod yet, but I did have a nice collection of music on my computer. I spent a few hours going through the folders and ripping things that looked interesting into iTunes.

I know I took a T-Rex album, but I can’t remember anything else other than the Monk’s Straight, No Chaser, an album the roommate recommend as a first step into his music, and Alone in San Francisco.

Once in Japan I hooked my laptop up to the large television supplied by the town and piped music through its speakers while I cooked dinner or cleaned around the house. This is how I fell in love with Monk. Chopping onions for an omelet, hanging wet clothes to dry outside (or inside if it was too cold), sweeping and wiping the tatami mats cleans. I also played Monk while driving around Fukushima Prefecture in my tiny Daihatsu Mira.

I took a few trips into Tokyo for a conference and for the winter holidays, and each time I returned with more Monk. His solo albums, his work with Sonny Rollins, his early bebop and the wild Brilliant Corners. The RECOfan in Shibuya was my go-to shop. They always had good deals or a surprising find.

I also picked up the first iteration of the iPod Mini, which enabled me to play them in the car more easily. It only had 1GB of storage, so I was forced to swap albums in and out, but I always reserved space for Alone in San Francisco and Thelonious Himself. During my first winter, I was driving a friend home to Inawashiro and had Thelonious Himself playing as we passed the snowy fields between the foot of Mt. Bandai and Lake Inawashiro. We must’ve been toward the end, right around where Coltrane comes in with the sax on “‘Round Midnight” after just piano for five straight tracks. My friend turned to me and said, “This album is pretty amazing.”

When I went home to New Orleans to see my brothers graduate in May and was surprised by the belated graduation gift, Monk was the first thing I thought to buy with the gift card. I used it on Monk’s Dream and the documentary Straight, No Chaser. We went to dinner with the family at one point while I was home, and I told them what I had bought.

“Thelonious Monk?!” the mother said with half-sincere, half-joking incredulity. “We wanted you to have some fun! That’s why we got you the towel.” She then laughed a little.

I am certain she had no real idea who Thelonious Monk was. Which is too bad. There aren’t many musicians with a greater spirit of fun than Monk.


I’ve never been able to forget her comment. I actually think about it pretty often. When I’m listening to Monk. When I use the towel, which I’ve brought to music festivals and events but not yet an actual beach that I can remember. More recently I’ve been using it to prevent bottled homebrew from becoming light struck. And to dry out my equipment after brewing.


I’m sure these aren’t the uses that she imagined, but they’re still fun. Happy 10th birthday, beach towel.

Los Morales

If you’re finding this page because you’re a Morales and are interested in connecting, please check out the Facebook group I created for Descendents of Meliton.

My brother David got married three weeks ago, and I was able to catch up with family I hadn’t seen for…I can’t even remember how long. My Uncle Rey has been the keeper of the family history, combining his own research with that of a few other family members, and after the wedding he sent me a trove of digital material. My dad had sent me some written material a few years earlier so I had a loose idea of the history, but after Rey’s email I had pictures. I’ve put together the succession below. I may add more photos in the future.



Meliton Morales (1836-1924) is my great-great grandfather. He’s not the oldest relative Rey has tracked down, but he is the most interesting. He was captured by Apaches when he was 7 and traded to the Delaware tribe for a blanket and a quart of whiskey (or so says the family history). He escaped at 16 or 17 and made it to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and then, strangely enough, to New Orleans (my hometown). He later joined the Union Army in Texas, established a ranching empire, and earned a Texas historical marker.

Eliseo Cecelia Ramona Meliton    Matiana

Eliseo and Angelita


Eliseo C. Morales

angelita 2


Eliseo Morales (1876-1922) is my great-grandfather. He was a twin with Elisa, lower right in the Meliton family picture above. He married Angelita Camunez (1890-1946). Angelita’s mother’s family was German, from the Markwordt family, one of nearly 20,000 German settlers who took land on the Texas-Mexico border.

Reynaldo Otilia Frank



My grandfather Reynaldo Morales (1911-1992). Eliseo died when my grandfather was only 11.

David  Ramona Reynaldo


Reynaldo married my grandmother Eva Hurtado Morales (1910-1989).

eva hurtado

Robert and Marialice

My dad Robert “Bob” Morales was born in San Antonio (I’ll leave out dates for now, heh).

Robert 1960

Robert grad

bob marialice

He met my mom, Marialice, in Dallas. This is a picture of them in Japan in 2006.


My brothers and I took pictures together at the wedding, but I don’t have any copies yet. These are some of the more recent photos of us. Me on the left, David, and Tim below. I’ll have to add a few younger pictures at some point.

david daniel


Top 15 beers of my trip to Germany and the Czech Republic

I was supposed to visit Bavaria in 2010, right before I moved from Japan back to New Orleans, but then Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland and I canceled my trip even though my flight was the first one cleared to fly from Tokyo to London: I’m an unabashed mama’s boy, and my mom may have had an aneurysm if I’d gone.

I spent the last five years thinking about that trip and imagining the beers in Europe, in particular in Bamberg, and finally this past month I was able to make up the trip. I planned a more surgical strike into Bavaria and Bohemia, covering Prague, Pilsen, Windischeschenbach (for the Zoigl communal beer), and Bamberg.

It was amazing.

The following are my favorite 15 beers of the trip.

15. U Fleků Flekovský Tmavý Ležák 13°

U Fleku

U Fleků was a beautiful traditional-style Czech pub not far south from where our hotel was on the edge of Old Town. They only have one beer—a dark lager—and you don’t even have to order: Waiters walk in carrying huge trays full of beer at regular intervals.


U Fleku dark

The dark lager here had the most flavor of any of the darks I tried the whole trip: Lots of Czech yeast character (the slightest touch of sulphur) and a hint of roast in a beer with slightly more weight than the lighter 10 plato beers that are standard in the country. Delicious.

14. Pivovar Matuska Apollo Galaxy APA

2015-03-24 21.43.47

After two straight days of lager, it was refreshing to see a Czech take on an American style ale. The proprietor of U Kunštátů recommended the IPA from the small brewery Matsuka, but I needed something lighter, so I went with the APA. And I’m glad I did. It was basically a perfect beer. Crisply and cleanly fermented, very bitter, and fruity but not overhopped. I’d say it was probably better than 80-90% of American-made American pale ales.

13. Lederer Pils

Lederer Pils

This was the first beer I had in Germany, so it will always have a special place in my heart/stomach/liver. Apparently it’s a local macro-ish brew produced now by the Nuremberg brewery Tucher. It’s a classic German pils: pale and crisp with a subdued hop bite. It went fantastic with Nuremberger sausages. I had one the night before we left so it was nearly my final beer in Europe, but I snuck in an Alt at the airport in Dusseldorf.

12. Schlenkerla Rauchweizen


Points off for this one coming from a bottle, but it was delicious and just as smoky as the cask marzen. We killed some time here our last morning in Bamberg waiting for a nearby store to open, and we watched older men take up spots at the table to down a couple early beers. I couldn’t tell much difference between this and the marzen, to be honest, but I know it’s higher in ABV.

11. Beim Käck’n Zoigl

Beim Käck’n is up the hill in Neuhaus in Windischeschenbach. We got a little lost in the small neighborhood, but once we found the main street it was easy to spot the Zoigl star.


The beer was good, just about the same as the location down the hill but slightly less carbonated. The beer is semi-dark (Munich malt?) and surprisingly hoppy (from what I was expecting), but not hoppy in the American sense. They use exclusively German noble hops which are a bit milder compared to the West Coast snuff.

Kackn zoigl

We made friends with some older German guys who were excited that we were there. Good times, solid beer.

10. Beim Glosser Zoigl

Beim glosser

Beim Glosser was right around the corner from our hotel. They recommended sausages stuffed with cheese, and the guy who sat down next to us told us we had to eat them hot.

Glosser zoigl

The beer was slightly spritzier than the other Zoigl. Other than that, it was difficult to tell a difference. My notes say that it might have been hoppier, and I vaguely remember thinking that maybe they dryhopped it. The next day was my first true hangover of the trip, although I blame part of it on the loss of an hour due to daylight savings time change.

9. Keesmann Herren Pils


Keesmann is right across the way from Mahrs, but we failed to visit on our first trip to that neighborhood of Bamberg because we were full of schnitzel and already drunk, so we had to make a second trip—no complaints.

Herren pils

Just a quick trip in for the beers here. We had the Pilsner and a Bock. The Pilsner was on the left. You can see how pale it is. Incredible. Clear and crisp with a sharp hop aftertaste. It was the best Pilsner on the trip, and I’m glad my friend encouraged me to make the trip back for it.

8. Mahrs “The U”


It took two trips to Mahrs to fully appreciate this beer. The first trip was made very late in the evening after a drunken nap that went longer than I intended. The beer was hoppy, a bit sour (not in an unpleasant way), and yeasty. The mug we had the second trip may have been fresher—it was more carbonated and seemed slightly paler.

Mahrs casks

I imagine that the cask we got the night before had been sitting out for longer than the second one. A fantastic beer. One that you can just drink forever. When I think back now, it seems to have similarities with the Zoigl beers.

Mahrs ungespundetes

7. Úněticé 10° světlé

For lunch one day in Prague we went up to T-Anker, this restaurant on the top floor of a small shopping center. They had a great view of the city and a very respectable selection of beers, including even one from Matuska.


The Úněticé 10° světlé is your basic pale Czech lager. I love that the breweries put the gravity of the beer on labels in the Czech Republic. Just multiply by 4 to get 1.040, the gravity reading that homebrewers might be familiar with. This is a low gravity that results in a 4% ABV beer or so. It has the characteristic Czech yeast flavor—a little bready with traces of sulphur. It was so good that I had another in lieu of coffee or dessert.

I’ve been back for two weeks now, so all the flavor sensations feel just beyond my memories, but this one stands out for its pleasant bitterness, for being unfiltered (like many), and well carbonated…which was not true of many of the Czech beers! I feel like they were either purposefully not well carbonated or gassed off during the serving process. The beers were served with lots of foam, and often the server jets the beer aggressively into the bottom of the glass in order to generate the foam, which reduces the carbonation.

6. Pilsner Urquell


The last stop on the Urquell tour is the caves under the factory where they still have a few wooden barrels full of beer fermenting openly—you can see the krausen threatening to spill over the top. Then they take you a little farther into the lagering cave where the barrels have been sealed and rolled up next to the walls. A friendly old man pours everyone a cup full of unfiltered, unpasteurized Pilsner from one of the barrels. It’s pretty magical experience for a beer nerd.

2015-03-27 15.28.16

Urquell cask

The beer itself is perfect. Slightly higher in alcohol and more golden than Czech pale lager thanks to more barley and a triple decoction. It has many of the same characteristics as the other Czech pale lagers but is much richer.

5. Schlenkerla Marzen

2015-03-29 16.24.10

This is the beer I booked the trip for. My friend Paul recommended it to me at some point when I was living in Tokyo, and I eventually picked up a bottle at a shop in Mejiro (the legendary Tanakaya). I was hooked on rauchbier.

Schlenkerla schwemme

Schlenkerla rauchbier

It’s surprisingly different on cask in Bamberg: the smokiness is far more intense, and different in quality from the other rauchbiers in Bamberg. There’s something more phenolic and smokey rather than bacon-y. It’s just on the border of being over the top and unpleasant, but it’s not. It’s very good. Much darker than the other rauchbier in town. The marzen is on the left. The beer on the right is the seasonal fastenbier.

4. Buttenheim St. Georgen Landbier

This is one of the beers I think back to most often. It’s also one of the few beers that generated an almost physical response in me: I was shocked how good it was. This isn’t to dismiss the other beers on the trip—they, too, were amazing—but I just wasn’t ready for how superlative this beer was.

Buttenheim landbier

My buddy Paul, who was there, too, said something like, “How do they do that?” And I couldn’t say. Landbier is a pretty simple style. Mostly Pilsner or Vienna malt, probably some Munich malt, hopped with Hallertauer hops, fermented cleanly with a local lager yeast, and served in a ceramic mug. I wish I’d gone back for another. Next time I’ll have to make the trek to Buttenheim.

(I just spent five minutes on Google Maps checking out the route from Bamberg to Buttenheim. Looks like it would be a three-hour hike, a one-hour bike ride, or a half-hour train ride.)

3. Ferdinand Lager

I know U Kunštátů was a nice bar because when we arrived looking for food, they told us they had none and recommended a nearby brew pub (basically a competitor). After being fed and sauntering around Prague for a bit, we came back and I asked for a mug of the only beer they had on tap—Ferdinand. I’m not sure whether it was their 10, 11, or 12, but I’d guess the 12, which would be the same gravity as Pilsner Urquell (i.e. 1.048 OG).


They said it had been kegged “two hours” before, which could be true since Benešov, the town where Ferdinand is brewed, is only a half hour away from Prague, but I took it to mean that the beer had been kegged that day and was extremely fresh.

It was crisp, not completely clean in a very typically Czech way, and clear despite the fact that it was unpasteurized and unfiltered. My notes tell me there wasn’t as much sulphur as in the Pilsner I had with dinner, but that it still had some—that Czech funk. Just a delicious, crisp, bitter, spritzy beer. You can’t ask for much more.

2. Spezial Ungespundetes


We stayed two nights at Spezial when we only intended to stay one, and I’m glad we did. Their breakfast spread was better, the rooms were better appointed, they had wifi, and the beer was amazing. But you don’t have to stay there to try the beer.

Spezial ungespundetes

I didn’t have the U at Spezial until later on our first day in Bamberg. We had the lager, walked around the town, tried Schlenkerla, had a nap, and then came back down for a late night snack. The kitchen had already closed the hot food (Spezial is pretty strict with their meal hours), so I ordered Camembert and bread and one of these, which was a perfectly good snack for me.

The beer was perfect. Noticeably bitter and hoppy with great malt backbone but still light. This is what beer is supposed to be. I had it a number of times on the trip, and the hoppiness seemed to vary slightly.

1. Spezial Lager

For me, this was the beer of the trip. It’s a rauchbier, but they call it the “Lager” and that’s what you order. It’s crystal clear, nice and brown, and intensely smokey but not off-putting at all. On the contrary, because your taste buds get used to the smoke, you just keep drinking more and more in search of that first smoke shock.

Spezial rauchbier

Spezial rauchbier and me

The smoke was more hammy than the Schlenkerla rauchbier and paired perfectly with German food. It’s also served off gas instead of off cask, so it has some carbonation to it, which was good for me. I like bubbles in my beers. Definitely worth the trip.


I thought I had done a good bit of drinking on the trip, but now that I sit down and tally up all the beers, I seem to have averaged three beers a day, which is a pretty reasonable pace. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I have to thank Paul for recommendations (especially the Zoigl tip) as well as the Prague tourism website (which never failed us—they only list solid bars and restaurants; check out the PDF at the bottom of the link) and Fred Waltman’s The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Bamberg.

So go on and get over there. The dollar is mighty at the moment, and the transportation in Germany and the Czech Republic made getting around an absolute pleasure.