Spring break can be a cruel mistress. As many of our friends book round-trip flights to Cancun and St. Barts, those of us living on a slimmer budget are faced with a foreboding dilemma: how to spend our time at home.
For those 21 or older, consider the escapist benefits of imported beers. Packed with amorous medleys of spices and hops, sporting chic bottle designs and sometimes bearing dust from their native lands. Non-domestic drinks can offer the same joie de vivre as a trip to Moscow or Machu Picchu, for a fraction of the cost.
Trois Pistoles – Chambly, Quebec, Canada.
Cusquena Peruvian Lager – Lima, Peru
Pizarro might have conquered the Incas, but some grains of Incan innovation remain in Cusquena, one of Peru’s top exported lagers.
Like many Latin American cervezas, Cusquena errs on the lighter side, with only the mildest hint of bitter hops. Its malt content, however, is surprisingly seductive, lending the golden beer an inherent taste of freshly baked scones that similar lagers, like Mexico’s Pacifico and Costa Rica’s Imperial, lack. The beer is also the only Latin American beverage brewed under the German Purity Law of 1516, which dictated that water, barley and hops were the only suitable ingredients for beer.
Cusquena is regularly available at BevMo locations and can make a subtly salacious accompaniment to a picnic or any South American cuisine, particularly ceviche.
Spaten Optimator – Munich, Germany
As Vince “Shamwow” Offer once taught us, the Germans are generally known to “make good stuff.” Indeed, Munich’s Spaten Optimator doppelbock, one of the most commonly available imported beers in Los Angeles, might be the cheapest alternative to a trip to Deutschland.
Bearing a whopping 7.2 percent alcohol content and packed with enough molasses and malt extract for two loaves of bread, the Optimator is breakfast in a bottle. Guaranteed to make the clouds or club lights appear fuzzy, this exemplary doppelbock still drinks with the same sweetness and simplicity as a mug of hot chocolate.
One can generally find Optimator at Trader Joe’s and BevMo, but purists are strongly advised to get the beer on tap at Downtown’s Wurstküche, with some juicy bockwurst and truffle oil fries on the side.
Old Rasputin – Fort Bragg, Calif.
Still don’t believe any Russian can drink you under the table? Try tossing back an Old Rasputin and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
It’s not actually brewed in the monk’s homeland, but this Russian-style imperial stout is a well-endowed beast of a beer. Dark as midnight and spiked with coffee, chocolate and hints of smoke, Old Rasputin’s initial docility hides a surprisingly potent aftertaste. In its final moments, the beer’s nine percent alcohol content reveals itself, actually resembling the sting of a vodka shot.
Thankfully, you won’t have to travel far to get your hands on one of these bad boys. The Lab Gastropub serves Old Rasputin by the bottle and cold as the ice of Yakutsk.
Boasting the same golden tan as any lager but wielding a complex, non-bitter harvest of hops, this wildly popular beer is a sensorial rush that goes down smooth as velvet. We should expect no less from a nation whose soil has been scientifically proven to be the best in the world for hop growing, and whose businessmen will often wash down their morning muesli with a glass of beer.
Pilsner Urquell can be bought at Ralphs, BevMo and Trader Joe’s, and is also served at The Lab Gastropub.