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A Tale of Two Stations

14 May

I like St Pancras station.

I do not like Brussels Midi station.

St Pancras station has a lovely roof.

Brussels Midi has concrete and washing up bowls catching the rainwater as it leaks through to the basement.

This is not a poem!!

Brussels Midi does serve this beer in one of life’s more preposterous receptacles though. Every cloud!

Preposterous

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Remote Brewing – Nether Wasdale’s Strands Pub and Brewery

9 May

I probably go to the Lake District in the North West of England about once every year and a half. Each time I have been, I’ve found myself in awe at how beautiful the place is. There is something in the combination of colours, light and stone that is individual. The farmhouses and stone walls are fantastic, the walking is superb and there is plenty of good food and beer to be had to boot.

Cumbria

The West side of the lakes is less visited but equally beautiful. I started a walk from Gosforth village where I saw an excellent bakery which doubles up as someone’s home. Nice. I like that kind of thing.

Gosforth Bakery

The village itself is very pretty by normal standards but certainly not a jewel in any Cumbrian crown. My walk was through the village for about 5 miles in the direction of Nether Wasdale. Another of the great things about being in this part of the world is that the light changes every 5 minutes and the views are in a constant state of change. There are also plenty of animals to look at and, of course, plenty of animal shit to tread in. Oh the great outdoors!

Moo

Goat

Deer

Sheep

I also came across that most rare of things. A fox. Not just any fox, a fox that was actually frightened enough by your presence to bolt off into the fields on seeing you. A far cry from your urban fox with its devil-may-care attitude and its disdain for all things human (as exemplified by the holes in my garden and the ‘little messages’ left outside my front porch).

Road to Wasdale

Nether Wasdale is a stunning place and when I entered the village I came across a young man knocking posts into the ground and fixing some bunting along the roadside. ‘Why?’ I asked. Well, there was to be a May Day Fair in the village that weekend and they were expecting quite a few people. From where I’m not sure I could guess as there seemed to be more pubs in this village than houses (there were 2 pubs). Nevertheless the small green still had its maypole in good working order and apparently the local (?) children were well versed in the ways of traditional country dancing.

A signpost

All good walks in England ought to take in a pub at some point or other and mine did just that. If I’m being completely honest I’ll admit that I had slightly engineered this walk because I had heard about one of the village’s pubs, The Strands pub and microbrewery. We’ll keep quiet about that one though!

As pub location go this is up there with the best of them. We shared the pub garden with a load of hens while a group of brown cows looked over the fence at us. The views towards the mountains were great and sitting back with an ale after a bit of a trek was just what the doctor didn’t order, but I did it anyway because I’m rock and roll! So off to the bar.

Strands handpumps

There is nothing so welcoming as a line of ale pumps set on a pub bar as you walk in. In this case there were 5 from the pub’s own microbrewery. Great – Responsibly, Brown Bitter, Red Screes, Pied Piper Mild and Irresponsibly. It was nice to see a selection of different styles of beer on offer. I didn’t check the food out because I’d brought my own packed lunch (this is also rock and roll). I wasn’t entirely sure about the triangular pump clips but they did catch the eye, or rather I remembered them. The barman happily took me through the beers and made appropriate recommendations along the lines of ‘they are all nice.’ This happened to be true.

Red Screes & Irresponsibly

The beers on the right were halves because I was trying to get into the spirit of the rambler! My first half was Responsibly, again in the spirit of the rambler, a slightly hoppy, light, dare I say largery 3.7% beer.  Their website says it is slightly smoky but I didn’t really get that. I would certainly have a couple of these again though. The two in the picture are Red Screes 4.3% and Irresponsibly 5%. The Red Screes was my favourite of the three, it was tasty, refreshing and interesting. I contemplated it down to the bottom of my glass, much to the chagrin of the Profesorette, who was hoping for a little bit more adult conversation.

Being a saddo who photographs pump clips turns out well sometimes as the owner came out and told me he was setting up a tent in the garden for the next week’s beer festival and that if I gave him a few minutes he would put on all 25 pump clips for me to photograph. Now in the real world I would have taken this as a sarcastic threat but in the beer world people are genuinely nice and I took him up on the offer.

Chickens, or are they hens?

After I finished my beer, I left the Profesorette playing with the hens/chickens and joined him for a while while (ahem) he was setting up. Despite him and his co-worker looking extremely busy he stuck some pump clips on for me and let me take photos. I felt a bit guilty so rushed them. He also took me into the microbrewery where he was brewing up some Angry Bee honey beer and happily answered my questions. If I had known he was going to be so accommodating I would have prepared some more!!

Mark Corr, I believe his name is, brews around 26 beers and many of them look really interesting. Unfortunately, I won’t be there to try them all as the festival is on 11th-13th May 2012. This weekend. He brews for the pub mainly and he mentioned one other pub in another valley that he supplies to as well. He sells bottles from the pub and they are all bottle conditioned and very popular by all accounts.

It’s always quite impressive when a brewer tries his hand at so many different types of beer and even more that he manages to get different beers all ready in time for one festival. Remember they are all beers from the microbrewery and in cask form!!  Unfashionably, I love a TBB (that’s Traditional Brown Bitter apparently) and like the idea of drinking a beer called … Brown Bitter. I’d also love to get my hands on his Barley Wine (and no that isn’t a camp euphemism). There is also a cheeky lager style ale name Corrsberg. (That’s a play on words, you see his surname is Corr and there is a Danish brew…)

It’s a shame the beer is only sold in the pub but next time I go to that part of the world, I will definitely time it right so that I’m there for the festival or if not, I’ll stay the night in front of the fire after a long day walking, supping ales and waxing lyrical about the time I jumped over a stile and nearly fell full force into a great big round cow pat, and we’ll all laugh heartily!

Angry Bee in the tank

 

The cheeky one is on the left!

Pumps

More handpumps

Tea, Beer and a Mallet – 2 Great British Institutions and a potentially lethal murder weapon!

Bored yet?

 

 

If you are in the area. You won’t regret going there if not for the pub then the scenery!

The pub

The pub opposite

Het Velootje Pilgrimage Quashed

6 May

Pilgrimages are all well and good if you’re  religiously insane but what about the rest of us?

A recent beer pilgrimage of mine was a funky little trip to Ghent to visit the legendary Het Velootje bar or pub or whatever they call their drinking establishments over yonder. I’d looked forward to this for some time because, like the religiously insane, I too enjoy long trips of hope and expectation. Only in my beer pilgrimage, I was to actually get to meet a slightly disturbed man with long hair, a beard and dirty fingernails! Better still, I would be able to have a beer with him or at least have a beer served by him. See, we’re all a bit mental!!

Sadly, while the arduous journey through some of the hardest terrain known to humanity (Belgium on the Eurostar) taught me to love myself and to respect other people (allowing other people off the train first), it did not prepare me for the crushing disappointment that was to await me when I found the place.

Het Velootje is situated in the Patershol district of Ghent, a very pretty historical area and the building must be quite old. It is in all the guidebooks as a weird bar with a weird owner and the latter is certainly true.  It’s a bar crammed with bicycles and junk with a roaring fire (by all accounts). I arrived there early in the day just so that I knew where to come later in the day and found a small but lively little street. The place was closed but I was happy that I would be back there later on in the day.

Het Velootje

Great bin location. What looked like a bunch of Romanian cleaners
had just shut themselves inside before I took the photo.

I went back. I dragged the Profesorette. We rocked up and were pleased to find a bevy of lunatics outside. I was beside myself with joy until I found out from the horse’s mouth that, because of problems with the electrics, the fire department had decided to close them down for the time being. What? Seriously? Well, I can’t tell if they were having me on to this moment. “It ish alsho political, oh yes and the neighboursh” is what I was told.

She holding the veggie box, He holding my hopes and dreams in his tool box

Well, I was happy to have met the madman and his friend, who seemed lovely, like a Belgian Pam Ayres. There was another particularly mad fellow who was trying manfully to translate what the creator was trying to explain. Unfortunately, he had to disappear on his bike either for a trip to the dentist or to get his grey roots dyed so I never had the chance for a photograph.

The bar

When all was said and done, I wasn’t really disappointed. I came away content because I’d had quite the most bizarre conversation outside the place of pilgrimage with the legend himself. I didn’t get in for a beer but it just sets me up for the next time. Assuming it is still there that is*. And after all, it’s not every pilgrim who gets to meet the man with the beard!!!

*Apparently, people should write on his website about how much they want to visit, and how disappointed they were that their visit was in vain because the comments are being compiled into some sort of book that will be delivered in front of the powers that be, or something like that, I didn’t understand every cryptic remark that was shot my way!

What’s up doc?

6 Apr

Some time back when I was travelling in the Andes I put this in my mouth and swallowed it.

Cuy

This is an Andean Guinea Pig which has been traditionally baked in a hot oven on a hot rock of some description. They go by the name of cuy. This particular cuy was consumed on a balcony overlooking the colonial-style main square in the Peruvian town of Arequipa. People in the Andes are thought to have first domesticated these animals some 5000 years ago and not because they are cute and furry. They were domesticated to provide food. When I was trekking through the countryside in the Andes, there weren’t too many households where you didn’t see them being kept in outdoor enclosures for exactly that purpose.

I only ate the one cuy but that wasn’t because it was horrible, it was just a bit too much of an effort to eat for so little meat. You really need to get your hands greasy to get the meat of those little fragile bones. It did make me think about the meat we eat in the world though. If everyone in the world develops a taste for the same protein sources, beef, lamb and pork, where are we going to farm them all? On the area currently known as the Amazon rainforest perhaps? I might be stretching things there but you do get the point. It is a serious environmental issue.  One thing that puzzles me is why we don’t eat more of what is abundant near to where we live.

One such animal here, and I suspect in many countries around the world, is the rabbit. Often scoffed in the UK for being peasant food or more recently because they are cute little bunny-wunnies, these animals are a plentiful source of meat and very often a pest in the local habitat. They are also very, very cheap. You won’t be surprised to learn that I picked up 2 for £5 at a local farmers market recently. Eating them would seem to be a win-win situation. The meat is good, wild and there is certainly more on them than on the cuy that I ate.

They are a seasonal product and the rabbit season finishes at the end of February so I froze those last two before cooking them. Historical and traditional recipe books always have a few rabbit recipes in and amongst all the mutton recipes that also seem to have disappeared from modern tables so I decided to try a couple of new ones back to back  (almost) and see how they turned out.

The first was a fairly typical recipe with cider, tarragon and mushrooms. When it came down to it though I didn’t have any cider so I chopped some apple up and used some of my homemade oakleaf wine. I guessed this might come out a lot sweeter and a bit less refined than using a dry cider and I was correct. It was pretty tasty.

rabbit 1

The second recipe came from a torn out page of a recipe magazine and was called Craddock’s Hazlenut Picada. I’m guessing Craddock refers to Fanny Craddock, the legendary mad-as-a-lorry TV chef from the distant past, but please correct me if I’m wrong. I think this recipe could be Maltese in origin or perhaps Spanish but I’m not sure. Again let me know if you have any information. Anyway, I enjoyed this one too. It’s quite rich but I liked this recipe more. Then again that could be because I didn’t tinker with the recipe!!!!

Braised Rabbit with Mushrooms and Cider (Official Version)

Ingredients: 30g butter; oil; 4 rabbit portions; 4 small onions;  375g of quartered mushrooms; 300ml dry cider; parsley; tarragon; 300ml single cream

Method: Brown the rabbit in the butter and oil and remove; add onions to pan and stir until golden; add mushrooms and cook for 3-4 minutes; return the rabbit and add cider, parsley and tarragon, season and bring to boil; cover and cook at 160c/325F/gas 3 until rabbit is tender (90 minutes); remove rabbit and reduce sauce then add cream, season and garnish.

Craddock’s Rabbit with Hazlenut Picada

Ingredients: Rabbit; Olive oil; 4 tomatoes chopped; onion; garlic; parsley; 250ml white wine; thyme; celery; paprika; 75g hazlenuts toasted; garlic (I like a lot); a few strands of saffron; chopped red chilli peppers

Method: Put hazlenuts, 3-5 cloves garlic, saffron, chilli peppers and some oil into a blender and press ‘whizz’; In a pan fry onions and olive oil until translucent; add tomatoes, garlic and parsley and reduce until you get a thick sauce; brown rabbit pieces in another pan in some more oil; add rabbit to the reduced tomato sauce; add everything else except the sauce in the blender; cook the rabbit for 25-35 minutes until it is nicely cooked then remove from sauce; now add the contents of the blender to the tomato sauce and cook to the right consistency; pour over the rabbit pieces and drizzle a bit of olive oil and sprinkle some paprika over the top.

 

For my next mission, I will eat a squirrel. There are too many of the blighters running riot across this country. Again, a plentiful source of protein. Anyone know where I can eat it?

A Tale of Two Cities – U Fleku and Birreria Peroni

6 Apr

Two beautiful cities. Two historical cities. Two tourist destinations. On the surface, the two cities seemed well-matched and I had high hopes of enjoying them both equally. Actually, they are very, very different in culture, style and what is becoming increasingly important to me, atmosphere. Atmosphere is a personal thing when I visit places, be they a village 20 miles from my house or a city on the other side of the world. Sometimes preconceived ideas of what to expect ruin an atmosphere unfairly and it takes you a little time to shift your mindset around this.

Stained Glass

I visited both cities within a short space of time and only for long weekends. In Prague, the weather was spectacular and the buildings were very beautiful and the tourists bled from every church, museum and statue there was. In Rome, the weather was spectacular, the sheer volume of history was overwhelming and the tourists cascaded down every dome, column and  balustrade in sight. I enjoyed the Rome experience and was slightly underwhelmed by the Prague experience. Why? How could I be so underwhelmed by such a beautiful place? On paper, it ticked all the boxes for me architecture, history and one of few countries with a bona fide beer culture.

It all came down to atmosphere I suppose. Italy is ‘literally’ bursting with historically important towns and cities but each one that I have visited still has a lively, life-goes-on-despite-what-we-have feeling. People go about their business and the tourists go about theirs. Rome had this feeling but Prague did not, for me at least. In Prague, I felt like a lot of the life had been squeezed out of the centre of the city turning it into a place with a splash of the Disneylands about it. There may be economic and historical factors for this, taking into account the Czech Republic’s communist history and the fact that people have been touring Italy since the Renaissance for example but that was my impression.

Prague

Now, I mentioned the Czech Republic’s beer culture and the Czechs are very proud of their beer, rightly so, and they do drink an awful lot of it. The Italians are less well-known for their beer but have recently begun to make some very nice brews themselves. In Prague, one beer seems to dominate, the famous Pilsner Urquell, which is a classic, but there are others around. On my visit, I was also able to try a number of other types which were all of a quality, if not always to my taste. Rome tended to have three beers per menu, two typical lagers and a bock or a ‘Rosso’, just enough to get by on.

U Fleku

It was in two particular establishments, one in each of the cities, that I could sum up my overall reaction to the two cities. One was the legendary U Fleku, a brewpub/restuarant which dates back to the 15th Century. They have been brewing there for 500 consecutive years and it has a medieval look, with Gothic and Romantic styling. There is one house dark lager called Flekovský ležák 13°.  It is a place of pilgrimage for beer lovers and was high on my list of places to visit, as it happened my hotel was a minute’s walk away so it was one of the first places I went to.  In Rome, there is a similar beerhall, less well-known, and while still a destination for tourists, not a mecca for beer lovers. This was the Antica Birreria Peroni, a beerhall which ‘only’ dates from 1909 and whose Art Deco style dates back to the 1920s. Inside it really looks the part and sitting there you could imagine wax moustachioed Italians with centre partings and white bibs sucking up spaghetti off their plates all those years back.

On entry to U Fleku, a rather grumpy man pointed glumly to a room where we could go in and find a seat. It was a nice room with a lovely beamed ceiling. I loved the fact that there was only one drink on offer and you were expected to drink it. The waiters just brought the dark, frothy brews into the hall and without looking banged them down on the tables. Perhaps this less challenging part of their job contributed to the disinterestedness and lack of charm they were showing to their customers. Next, a waiter came along and barked out that we needed to try this horrible, green, medicine shot because it was traditional, omitting to mention that they were about £100 each. OK, I guessed that they weren’t free and thought why not, but the manner in which it was done was a little forceful. The food was simple Czech fare but definitely not the same quality as the beer. The beer was very nice. I wasn’t raving that it was the best thing I’d ever tasted (which I do do) but it was very nice. I now wonder whether the atmosphere affected my enjoyment of it. Before and since, I had and have enjoyed oompah bands but the musicians in U Fleku were just a bit, well annoying, and in your face, certainly not the endearing ones I had expected. The bill, when it came, was relatively high and looking around the room it was easy to imagine that this place was no longer within financial reach of your average Prague pub-goer.

Pic from their Website

Onwards and upwards, Birreria Peroni, provided quite a different experience. On entry, we were greeted with that most precious of commodities, a smile. It was again lunchtime but this time looking around the room you were not just met with groups or tourists, although these were present, many local workers were also enjoying their lunches there. The hall was equally stylish but less steeped in history than U Fleku and, happily, there was no oompah band and nobody was trying to force Buck Rogers drinks down my neck. There was even a bit of banter with the staff despite the fact it was plainly busier than its Czech counterpart had been. Simple Italian food was available and was very tasty. The prices weren’t too bad. The beer was from Peroni and they had 3 types on sale, Nastro Azzuro, Rosso and Gran Riserva, no real attraction to the beer lover but it was fantastic to drink and eat in a nice atmosphere in a classy, historic beerhall and when I did drink those beers, I wasn’t thinking about how average they were, I was just enjoying every last drop of them, cold an’ all!

I would happily go back to Prague again and re-evaluate my impressions but as revered a beer as U Fleku has around the world, I’d give it a miss if I did.

Not mine either

*I always consider myself among the tourists, wherever I am and whatever form of travelling I'm doing. I don't buy into the idea of having a backpack makes you less of one, despite me being more likely to travel that way.

Valparaiso Cerveza ‘Artesanal’ – Chilean Beer Journey

11 Mar

In Europe, people often cite that as you progress in a Northerly direction, the beer gets better, the food gets worse. Well I would refute the second statement, having enjoyed great food in many a northern country (including England) but tend to agree with the second. I haven’t had any good beer in Greece for example, nor Turkey, nor Bulgaria, nor Hungary nor, come to think of it, in Spain. Italy is one notable exception.  In South America, this situation appears to be the reverse. As you go through the hot, more tropical areas of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, there is plenty of yellow watery stuff available in bottles but little else. Travel down to Chile and Argentina and you’ll find there is a lot more choice. I would also say that there is some good food to be had in these countries too.

Some time ago when I was merrily working my way around these countries, I was to become chuffed beyond all manner of joyousness to find that Chile was a country where there was a beer choice. This was mainly because it was so unexpected. I’d been told that ‘South America was a beer desert so don’t get your expectations up sonny’. Apparently, we have the Europeans to thank for this , most notably the Germans and I was to appreciate this contribution all the more once I’d travelled a few thousand more miles north.

Chilean Patagonia is a cold, tough place. It’s also an absolutely stunning place, as is most of Chile. Punto Arenas is one of the last towns near the very south of the country, and it’s a pleasant enough place with pleasant people. The main foods I found were enormous steaks, very nice, and sea urchins, abalone and mussels. You’d have to be particularly stupid to ruin that kind of food. The restaurants were quite down to earth establishments, which suited me as I don’t go in for ‘poncey’ restaurants.

Punto Arenas was my first introduction to Chilean beer. In a little restaurant 2 minutes from our hostel, I saw two things I’d never expected to find – a stout and a golden ale. The brewery, which I don’t think was from the area, was called Kross.  The stout is apparently based on the brewmasters drinking experiences in Ireland, but for me it was a little thin in the mouth. Nevertheless, it was welcome. The Golden Ale was a far more pleasurable experience, pale in colour and quite sweet, the notes on their website say that it is their take on an English Pale Ale. It lacked a bit of zesty hoppiness but was very drinkable. I was happy to return to this as a beer to drink without thinking too hard about it. Not sure I’d choose it now I’m not in that part of the world but I wouldn’t turn one down.

Puerto Natales, is the base town for any trip to the absolutely amazingly stunning Torres del Paine National Park. It’s a small town sitting on a lake, surrounded by beautiful mountains and, when we were there, deep autumn colours.  There is a supermarket in this town, which is where I was introduced to the beers of the Kuntsmann brewery. This brewery produces a number of beers, a lager, a honey beer and a wheat beer, all of which I wasn’t fussed about, and an altogether  more decent bock and a pale ale called Torobayo.  They were all of a certain standard, with the pale ale being my preference, although again tame on the hops. They were a welcome break from the swill you get in a lot of countries and very refreshing but the real thing to drink in this town was from its own brewery Baguales. There is a cafe/restaurant in town, mainly selling pizzas and the like that also dispenses their beers, and very nice they are too. There are two beers they serve, Rubia and Negra. The Rubia is an amber ale with citrus hop character and also with significant mouthfeel. I enjoyed this a lot, as did those I was with, although it was a tad on the cold side. I was alone in enjoying the Negra mind, but I often am with dark beers. It had a slightly coffeeish flavour and was like a very drinkable dark lager with touch of the stouts about it. The cafe had a very friendly atmosphere, with a lot of good-natured table sharing going on, I’d recommend it. I may be romanticising about it but then again, you’re probably not going to end up anywhere else in Puerto Natales.

Way further North in Chile is a great little town called Valparaiso, set on a hill overlooking the sea and, just so as I’m not romanticising too much, a grubby old port. There is a good fish market here and lots of little alleyways covered in interesting graffiti twisting their way up the hills. The hills are quite steep and a lot of furnicular railways have been built to help the less able up and down. There is a very interesting prison museum here and some fine colonial architecture in the more prosperous older areas. There is also a pretty good cafe called Cafe Vinilo.

Cafe Vinilo is set in an opening among the mazes of small streets on, I believe, the hill called Cerro Alegre. It is smart and quite cool without being pretentious. The food is all well done and there is a buzz in there, friendly banter, service and music a just about the right volume (on my visit).  I asked the waitress what type of beer they had there and she replied that they serve ‘cerveza artesanal’ ! Cerveza artesanal, artesan beer, what was she chatting about? Beer is beer, it just varies between  crap and amazing, doesn’t it? For artesan, read the word craft I suppose. Craft beer seems to be a term imported to the UK from the US recently and the marketeers love it.  In fact beer geeks seem to have taken to it too. I wonder if the Belgiums call their beer craft beer. Nevertheless, however much it irks me, at the end of the day I’ll get over it and drink it, because I’m like that.

The waitress bought me a bottle of Cerro Alegre Brown Ale. It poured flat and was almost ice cold. I didn’t want to be rude, thinking of the poor artisan who made it having to put food into the mouths of 10 hungry children, so drank it. Too cold to make any kind of judgement on it. When she came round again, I asked her  for one that hadn’t been refrigerated quite so much and this time came away with a far more positive opinion. It was a decent bottle conditioned ale, a little bit fruity, a little bit sweet. Overall, worth a try. I believe they do a Blonde Ale and a Stout too. I think I tried the Blonde Ale but cannot remember what it was like as I was probably a few sheets to the wind. Not having ranted about it to anyone probably suggests that it was no more than average but I’m prepared to be set straight on that one. However, if travelling north from here, make the most of these beers because you’re probably not going to find anything to stand up to them until you go home!

I loved Chile, it’s so stunning and the people are very nice. It’s possibly the least Latin Latin country I’ve ever been to and that in itself is charming and having a few new brews to try certainly helped increase my enjoyment of it.