Tag Archives: beer

Taking my Probe out in Public!

11 Jul

Before you read on, I’d like to openly admit that this behaviour is a little on the sad side. If I were to imagine myself doing this even 5 years ago, I would be more than a tad perturbed. It’s not really the done thing to pull it out in public places, let alone dunking it in someone’s drink. My mate Bob thinks I should be locked up and is threatening to stop being my mate unless I get some help. Such things really should be confined to the privacy of your own home, he says.

Well, I’m not the only one to enjoy getting theirs out. Heston swears by his. This lady does too. However, I don’t know whether either of them have taken their probes out in public. Curiosity is a cruel mistress. It drives a man to distraction and this particular distraction began with my mate Bob whingeing about the temperature that beer was being served in pubs. My mate Bob does like it served on the cold side, whereas although I can enjoy it across a whole spectrum of temperatures, I’m more likely to whine if it is too cold.

It got me a thinkin’. Again. If I had my probe with me, maybe I could measure the temperature of the beers that we were served over the course of a night or two, come to a rather neat little conclusion and put the matter firmly (but lovingly) to bed! So that’s what I tried to do.

However, there were a few flaws in my plan. Mainly, I hadn’t bargained on all the attention pulling it out would receive. I’m quite proud of my probe and I’m not bragging but it isn’t exactly a subtle one, you can’t slip it into a pint glass unnoticed.  After the first attempt, everyone wanted a play. In the end I just had to explain to people that it was my probe and nobody was to touch it except me.

Another issue was that my probe has the appearance of an offensive weapon in some people’s eyes and I hadn’t bargained on having it confiscated by security guards at a football match. I tried to argue that it was more likely to save someone’s life than take it, especially with some of the old codgers I stand near. It held no truck with the men in black bomber jackets mind and they stood firm. Understandable in a way, I mean, you wouldn’t want me taking your temperature in the crowd with 2 minutes to go, would you? Fortunately, for me, and the world if they are remotely interested, I recovered my probe in good working order.

Fearsome…Grrr!

So what were the results, well they are either in my spare room under a mountain of paper or being recycled by the local council but the long and short of it was that all pints were not served at the same temperatures. If my memory serves me correctly, the warmest was at 16.5 degrees and was too warm to enjoy and the coolest was at 10 degrees, which was agreed to be acceptable. Those in the 11-12.5 range were perceived as the most enjoyable because you didn’t really think it was too warm or cool, you just got on with enjoying them!!

Needless to say, I won’t be repeating the exercise!!

Advertisements

Reblogging

2 Jun

Just thinking about nutrition, which, despite all my blethering on about beer, does concern me, I came across this post on Glen Pendlay’s Blog. The comments section makes fantastic reading with lots of interesting ideas and opinions, along with a bit of spam! I liked it so much I wanted to post it here too.

I myself do eat in a particular way but have resisted going on about  it here as I don’t want to come across all evangelical and would also feel a little hypocritical eulogizing about beer and trying to promote a way of eating as healthy. For the record, I don’t think there are real health benefits to beer and I no longer kid myself that there is (I used to). I do still enjoy the culture that surrounds it and like the taste!

Low ABV disillusionment!

28 May

Today I’m a little dissatisfied with the beer world. After enjoying a lovely beer from the Kernel Brewery in the garden, and then another, I found myself feeling a bit skew whiff (if that’s how you spell it!). This narked me somewhat as I would have like to have continued out there, drinking lovely beer after lovely beer until the sun went down unaffected. It seems to be a sad fact of life that if you really want to hit those heights in your beer, alcohol is necessary. I’m not 16 any more. I don’t drink beer (more or less my only vice these days) just to get swerved up. I like to enjoy it and when I do it doesn’t seem fair that I have to stop.

If I had one wish it would be that someone would brew a really low ABV beer that tasted magnificent and different. Yeah! You can keep your world peace, cutting greenhouse emissions and cures for yellowfoot!!

I might feel differently tomorrow….

Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant

22 May

Ghent, in Belgium for the ignorant, has many plus points for someone like me. First of all, it is very close by. Well, that’s relative I suppose. It’s not that close but it is only 3 train rides away (Lots of my favourite London locations are 3 train rides away.) and one of those is the Eurostar, which is mildly pleasurable with the exception of its poisonous buffet carriage. Secondly, it’s architecturally beautiful and historical. I haven’t ranted on too much about architecture but no doubt will do in future, from a layman’s perspective. It’s also a student location, which lends it a little more life to the old place. It’s a bit more real than it’s more celebrated cousin Bruges. Thirdly, and rather obviously, it has some great Belgian beer!

If you have ever seen the film In Bruges with Colin Farrell, who is actually quite good in it, you’ll recognise Bruges as being both really interesting but really boring and conservative in equal measures. This is also true of Ghent. However, there is enough sexy beer in sexy beer glasses to keep my attention for a day or too. It’s always nice to have a decent beer list in any restaurant or cafe you rock up to. Something that here, through snobbery, foolhardiness and a tendency not to celebrate things we do well, is only just appearing in restaurants. There are some good pubs/bars there too, many institutions that you have to (try to) visit.

Het Waterhuis aan Bierkant

Situated on the canal just along from the market, Het Waterhuis aan Bierkant is a fairly busy place in town. In the daytime when we were there, it was just too busy, being a bank holiday and all. Roll forward a few hours and the crowds had fallen away revealing quite a chilled out little bar. The weather was a little balmy before moving aside for a short rainstorm, which looked almost romantic on the surface of the canal from the pub window.

The service was interesting in the bar. You had to order from behind the counter and then the barman would sort out your drinks before giving them to the waiter who brought them to your table where you paid. I’m sure there is logic there somewhere, maybe they like you to have a seat before serving you.

The beer list was pretty immense and you can check it out on the website. However, what are the chances of me having all those beers in an evening. I had to choose something that I hadn’t had before, I always have to, which is a bit of a chore at times.

chill

There was also a good mix of ages in the place, something I would aim for if I ever opened a pub. The locals were very friendly and were happy to help out with information and a little bit of banter. I’m a sucker for a bit of memorabilia really, or brewerania as some call it, and there were some good little bits and bobs around the place including this:

Xmas box!

I was reliably informed by one of the locals that this was a savings box. Regulars would have a slot where they would put some money aside over the year and it would only be opened around Christmas time, presumably for an almighty blowout in the pub itself. If you ask me, it sounds like a bit of a ruse by the publican to ensure the punters don’t go home with their own change in case they should spend it on the kids or something equally disturbing.

Reinaert Gran Cru

The above beer was fairly interesting. A 9.5% dark beer which was sweet and spicy smelling but with an underlying sourness. It was a thoughtful beer or rather a thought-provoking beer. It provoked me into thinking what I should go for next. After all the talk of choosing beers I hadn’t had before, I went for an old favourite in Saison Dupont. A marvellous choice it was too. I always think of straw bales and barns when I have this beer and it never lets me down. If I were to write tasting notes for this one they would be along the lines of .. bloody lovely  mmm straw bales! It’s quite easy to get my mitts on over here too so I did feel a little guilty choosing it from such an extensive menu. But I wanted it.

Brewerania that you can’t see very well. Still it looks chunky enough.

Overall, I liked the bar, liked the beer and enjoyed the company!!

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!

OK sometimes it really is grapefruit I can taste!!!

24 Apr

Well, yesterday I was blethering on about that elusive grapefruit taste in beer. I recognized the taste but didn’t really think it was grapefruit, at least not the grapefruits I eat. I’ve always known what people are referring to but it just wasn’t really grapefruit, was it?

Hopsacked with Citra Hops

Well today it really was grapefruit and it really was lemon. It wasn’t grapefruity or lemony, it was grapefruit and lemon, both on the initial smell and the tasting. The beer was OMNOM by Mallinsons Brewing Company 4.3%, who hail from Huddersfield UK. This was a winning beer for me. Very light tasting but with good body, there is some sweetness which helps with the aftertaste. It’s tart and hoppy without being too bitter.  It was a fantastic refreshing beer. All in all, I think this is one of the most enjoyable beers of the year so far for me and I hope I can get it into the summer months.

I believe OMNOM is the sound you make just after drinking it or at least it was after I was drinking it.

More like this please.

Bruegel Amber Ale 5.2% and Global Beer TV

23 Apr

Quite a low strength ale for a Belgian this one, which was quite welcome under the circumstances in which I found myself. It is fairly easy-drinking and a bit floral. It tasted a bit of what people tell me is grapefruit but I never actually taste as grapefruit. I say the word for the benefit of others who do taste grapefruit. The taste doesn’t linger long enough for me to get excited about, it could be a nice summer drink but I’d probably opt for another drink, especially if I were over here.

However, I wouldn’t even have mentioned having this if it were not for the fact that, upon looking up the history of this beer, I came across this gentleman from Global Beer TV. I’d not heard of Global Beer TV before but will look it up more often if Johnny Fincioen keeps presenting. Listening to people murdering your mother tongue as much as I do does tend to wear you out a little so it’s wonderful to hear someone speaking with an accent and enthusiasm that brings a smile to your face.

To be honest I’m not even sure if this is supposed to be a send up of an enthusiastic native Flemish speaker indulging in his beer passion in English or not. It certainly could be from a sketch show!

Check this one out – ‘Shouldjerz did not drink vater’ Classic!

The world needs more Johnnies!! In every sense.

By the Horns Brewery Open Day

23 Apr

Summerstown is a very nice name. It sounds like the name of a happy village from a charming fictional storybook. Well, the reality is quite different. It’s the crap bit that sits between Earslfield, Tooting and Wimbledon where all the pubs are boarded up and green spaces concreted over. It might be wild west country were it not for the fact that nobody lives there. It is basically a rather dated industrial estate with a dog track.

So spending a Saturday afternoon alternating between a garage-sized industrial unit and a small car park drinking beer wouldn’t appear to be the most attractive way of spending a Saturday afternoon. Just as well I didn’t do it. I arrived a bit later for an hour or so to have a brief look at what now must have become my local brewery.

By the Horns

I’ve mentioned By the Horns Brewery on here before but was unable to make their last open day. It’s been set up by two lads in their twenties (I think) called Alex and Chris, who say they saw potential in the market and just went for it. I can’t remember which one was which but the tall bloke said that he hadn’t long been into appreciating ales as such whereas the shorter one was the avid homebrewer. Together they seem to be putting their respective strengths to good use and have been making a few waves around the local area since they started production in November 2011, not even 6 months ago. I recently missed out on their beers, which also appeared at the Hope’s London Beer Festival last month, too many beers not enough of a beer gut to put it all in I’m afraid!

Menu

OPA

The open day would display (sell) some of their cask ales, some keg and their bottle-conditioned range, as one might expect a brewery to on such an occasion. They were also having some food put on from a deli in the altogether nicer part of town not 5 minutes away. Unfortunately, which is an adverb I often use when I’m describing how I never pull my finger out of my arse in time, I arrived too late for the food. And whatsmore, they’d ran out of beer!! A welcome sign indeed for the lads but not so for me! My initial fears of a wasted journey were not completely borne out, most of the bottled range was still being sold albeit a little on the warm side.

Having a little chat with the brewers was also quite nice as they were two enthusiastic and personable young men (I’m not sure I’m old enough to say that!) who spoke openly about what they were doing and appeared to have time for everyone.

The people who attended, at least while I was there, were not just the usual suspects but had quite a young bias. I only counted one beard, not that I’m knocking beards, after all they are nature’s bibs. It appears to be a good sign for the brewery as they look to (also) tap into a younger, perhaps trendier market, as may be evidenced by the 33cl bottles and branding. They also appear to be tapping into their status as a London brewer with their brews often named after something iconic, Diamond Geezer Red Ale and Lambeth Walk Porter and good luck to them.

Garage

I tried their new beer 6 X 6 Oat Pale Ale 4.4% which was pretty hoppy without being overwhelming and had a decent mouthfeel and flavour for the strength. The one I liked the most was their Bobby on the Wheat 4.7%, it didn’t ask too many questions was good in the mouth and didn’t smell of old socks. Their Diamond Geezer Red Ale 4.9% felt like it might be quite interesting but I thought that it had a touch of the vinegars about it. Stiff Upper Lip was a Pale Ale at 3.9% and was good and the most sessionable one on offer, light with a hoppy finish. I also tried a sample of the Lambeth Walk Porter and was a bit disappointed to miss out on the Doodle American Pale Ale 5.9%.

Makeshift Keg Taps

I’m glad I went. I brought home a few bottles but I think I’ll reserve judgement on the beers themselves until I’ve tried them on cask. Cask ale is a different beast after all. Considering these fellas have only being going since November, I think  it is quite exciting to think what they might end up producing for us.

Good luck to them and it’s certainly good to see a brewery in South West London again.

They have another open day on the 19th May but no details are available as yet.

Otley O1 – We don’t need bubbles!!

20 Apr

I opened a bottle of Welsh brew Otley O1 today expecting a grassy light golden ale with citrus! What I got was quite different. I opened the bottle and poured out a very flat beer indeed. It was slightly darker than I expected too. I’d tried this beer before, a long time ago at the Beer Experience in Islington, but my recollection was of a very light golden ale.

To me, it was all toffee and caramel in smell and taste. What’s going on? I really liked it though and it made me wonder, do we really need carbonation at all? No head means more beer in the glass – result. On the other hand, more beer means less head and head is very saucy indeed. But whatever was going on with this particular bottle it worked out very well indeed and the flatness actually added to my enjoyment. The smoothness and toffee together were a light and slightly fruity Werthers Original, if that makes any sense to anyone other than me!! But don’t get me wrong, there was nothing heavy about it at all and if you were of that nature then you would happily sink a few of these.

I know it’s a stupid question but why aren’t more beers brewed to be served with near zero carbonation? After all, if Michael Jackson didn’t need Bubbles….

Look what they’ve done to my beer, ma….

17 Apr

Lordy! Lordy! What HAS happened?

The excitement of finding the 330ml bottle, a more manageable quantity for a 7.2% beer, has given way to a touch of despair and incomprehensibility!! Can I say that word? Incomprehension doesn’t quite cut it somehow. Anyway, I opened a bottle of Brakspear Triple, which I was hoping I could savour and swirl and thrust under the professorette’s nose every two minutes, but was alarmed to find a very ‘wet’ tasting beer hiding out inside. Closer inspection revealed no yeast residue in the bottom of the bottle either. I tried a little more of it and again thought something quite essential was missing from this once classic ale! In the words of Melanie … it’s turning out all wrong!

What trickery is this?

Ils ont changé notre biere ma….. Ils ont changéeeeeee……. 

When you don’t want to be in the pub

15 Apr

I didn’t choose the location to meet last night, nor would I have. It wasn’t a horrible pub, it was just that there wasn’t anything I wanted to drink, which made me feel a bit awkward. Most people I was with didn’t really care what they were drinking as long as it was alcohol of some description. I’m not drinking too much in one night these days so I personally like to make each drink count. For that to happen I need something with some degree of quality. This generally means good beer as there isn’t really room in my life for all the good beer there is in the world AND another alcoholic drink and of course beer is far more versatile than, say, wine is, so it fulfills most of my needs.

I’d almost forgotten that there were pubs where you can only buy rubbish. What was more galling last night was that every other establishment in the immediate vicinity had brilliant options! But Hey Ho, I wanted to be with the people I was with and they were content enough so I didn’t make a fuss. I sipped on the worst pint of beer that I’ve had in a long time. Called London’s Glory, it was anything but. It was in good condition but I can honestly say I have nothing positive to say about it at all, it was simply a waste of everybody’s time, money and effort. I didn’t finish it. Water was the better option. I don’t eat mini babybels so I’m not going to waste my time on crap beer.

Once I’d made up my mind that that was what I was going to do, I had an OK time despite the jibes from my mate Bob.

So where was this excuse for a pub? ……..The George Inn in London Bridge!!

This pub is actually a must see pub in London. It is owned by the National Trust and is the last surviving galleried coaching inn in London. There are parts of it where the likes of Dickens and Thackery would have sat and quaffed themselves into their top hats. There is one lovely room underneath the original galleries and if you enjoy wood, which I do, there is enough to hold your attention. I love the small corner seats which obviously date from a time before cellulite and there is also a tiny bar, which isn’t often open but is worth sticking your nose in to see the old-fashioned beer engine. On top of all this, there is a seated outdoor area, which in zone 1 is something of a rarity.

So, on the surface there is much to admire but quite honestly this venue depressed me. The place is a national treasure and should be great in all respects but just seems to exist because it can. Tourists will always pop in for the ‘pub experience.’ It is no surprise to find out that this is run by Greene King, who could do so much better with their other pubs scattered around the capital, or indeed the country, not to mention their woeful beer and food (I don’t include their XX Mild or Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale in this but you hardly ever see them so it doesn’t really matter!) We might as well have met in the park.

This pub is in dire need of some lovin’. If you are in the area, I recommend that you go there take a couple of photographs, look at the old beer engine, then bugger off elsewhere for some decent food and drink, you won’t have to go far!!

The Hit Parade

9 Apr

We all love a chart, don’t we? Top 5s, Top 10s… When I was younger the Top 30 (40) was so important to my life. Every Sunday evening the official music chart went out on BBC radio and I used to take it really personally if the song I liked at the time went down a few places. Now, I don’t even know if there is an official chart.  There is just music, isn’t there?

Lads mags and fashion mags are forever compiling Top 100s. Every time I log onto the Interwhatsit, Yahoo homepage is displaying a list of 10 things not to say to your lover while they have their nose in your fridge or 8 tell-tale signs that the person you are speaking to would really rather be looking at their iPhone.  Now, I would say that if you can’t beat them join them but clearly I joined many a moon ago, as evidenced elsewhere on this blog. Long before Nick Hornby released High Fidelity, we were all compiling our top 5 this and our top 5 that and top 5 the other. When I say ‘we’ I don’t necessarily include you. I refer to those of us who have shards of the obsessive coursing through our veins.

Well, I suppose I can’t keep ranting on like this without compiling another Top 5 of my own. Actually, in the interest of balance, why don’t I make that two Top 5s! Both are based on how much I enjoyment I gained from them on a particular occasion.

My top 5 foods enjoyed since finishing my detox!

  1. Spinach
  2. Venison Hearts
  3. Lord of the Hundreds Cheese
  4. Feta Cheese
  5. Pork Shank

My top 5 beers enjoyed since finishing my detox!

  1. Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter
  2. Ellezelloise Quintin Ambree
  3. Rothaus Pils
  4. Otley Thai-Bo
  5. Windsor & Eton Knight of the Garter

 

I might go away next Easter. I really do have too much time on my hands!!!!!

 

C is for Chocolate, C is for Coca-Cola, C is for Chimay

7 Apr

Sorry, this isn’t about chocolate exactly, nor Coca-cola. This is about two different tasting experiences with the same drink. A week or so ago, I busted open and necked a bottle Chimay Rouge, my least favourite but the most widely available of the Trappist monk brewed ales. Actually, I didn’t. I opened it very carefully and with the respect it deserves poured very thoughtfully into a nice glass and sipped it.

Yeah..salt!

I’d recently revisited this beer as I have done with a few different beers after a serious detox. Yes, I know beer and detoxes aren’t supposed to be happy bedfellows but, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, beer is my carbohydrate of choice and I make allowances for it. Perhaps I’ll write about that another time.

I’m not a great one for making tasting notes but I decided to scribble down what I said or was thinking about the glass I’d had one evening the other week:

“Mmm, that’s much nicer than I remember. Tastes nice. Mmm. I can’t believe I haven’t had one of these for a while. Yeah, it’s all right! I’m actually enjoying this! Yeah.” 

Realizing these were quite subjective thoughts, I made the effort to try to pin down a few more useful ones:

“Quite thickish body, err.. ‘baby’ vinous body.. I think , mildly fruity port-like, deep dark chocolate to the end. Yes definitely the deep dark chocolate!”

The next time I tried it was just after a lunch and I tried to be more constructive by listing what I tasted:

“Smells of cherries, cherry and orange taste, then Uncle Tom’s bitter shandy from childhood Christmases, Coca-cola for a bit, finally turning to some chocolate, oh and now it’s vanilla ice-cream…. salt! “

I don’t think you’ll be seeing that on the back of a bottle in the near future, particularly as Uncle Tom is exactly that, my Uncle Tom!! I suppose I’m not really cut out for ever making serious tasting notes. I do, however, have a little more empathy with the likes of Oz Clarke when he starts drooling over the fact that the wine has a chewy quality like that of his grandmother’s knicker elastic. Not much though!

Katzenjammers Bierkeller and the Hop Exchange

6 Apr

My previous post on U Fleku and Antica Birreria Peroni, started me thinking. A while back, in order to re-live some Munich memories, a few of us decided to get out to a German bierkeller called Katzenjammers in Borough, South London. I hadn’t thought I would like it, as I’d seen the places near the river at Richmond and the Bavarian Beerhouse operations and not been impressed. However, this place had something going for it in that it was located under the Hop Exchange. For those of you who didn’t know the Hop Exchange is the building pictured on the top of this blog.

The Hop Exchange minus 2 floors

Despite no longer having its original glass roof, which was destroyed during one of the World Wars, I think this building cuts a fine figure curving around Southwark Street as it does. The Hop Exchange, as its name implies, was once the centre of commerce for the hop industry where hops could be steam-trained up from Kent and people could trade in hops under the natural light entering from above. It is missing its top two floors now but it is a lucky survivor, surviving bombs, fires and redevelopment, so far!

A few years ago, I was allowed inside during one of London’s Open House weekends, when all sorts of great places open their doors to the general public for two days. It is both functional and beautiful inside, at least to my mind and worth a visit if you get the chance.

Hop Exchange Balconies

While this area was the centre of London’s brewing industry, it’s now a great centre for food, with Borough Market next door. The Hop Exchange itself has been converted into office space but it does let itself out for functions.

However, the beer connection hasn’t been totally lost, which is where Katzenjammers comes in, located as it is in the basement. The vaulted basement ceiling lends an air of authenticity to the German style beer and food hall. The oompah band, so irritating in Prague, doen’t get in your face and plays such covers as ‘I should be so lucky’ by Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley’s ‘Never gonna give you up.’ It’s quite possible that I imagined the Rick Astley song but I’m sticking with the story, it sounds better.

Unfortunately, it was too busy to get a table for food so I didn’t get to try the Schweinefleisch und Bierentopf, which by all accounts is a ‘hearty pork and dark wheatbeer stew’! On the plus side, I was able to opt out of drinking out of a stein and get some Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (a-love-it-or-hate-it smoked sausage-smelling smoked beer from Bamberg)  from the tap.  It was a busy Friday night and I think I might go there again, only earlier or on another day, I want that Swine flesh!!!!

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.