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Friday, 20 November 2015


I’m off on my fifth overseas trip of the year at the weekend. The destination this time is Austria; Salzburg to be precise. What makes this trip even better is my lovely wife is picking up the tab!

We both hit the bit six-O this year, so a short break in this lovely old city, taking in the Christmas markets (which start early in Austria), seemed as good a way as any to spend a bit of time before the Christmas rush begins.

I’ve been to Salzburg a couple of times before, and whilst it’s not the most exciting city beer-wise, there are some fine traditional beer halls in the old town. There is, or course, one place every beer lover should visit and that is Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln. Attached to a working monastery, a kilometre or so from the city centre, in the suburb of Mülln, Augustinerbräu should not be confused with its better known Munich namesake.

The entrance from the street is quite easy to miss, and once inside, you descend a couple of flights of stone steps, which takes you to the beer halls.  First you pass a number of kiosks selling various food items. The kiosks include a bakers and a couple of butchers; the idea being to allow customers to buy “picnic-style” food to go with the beer. As in many German Beer Gardens, patrons are also allowed to bring their own food, and many local seem to do this.

The beer halls are towards the end of the corridor and here there is a choice of three large rooms; all with high ceilings and long, sturdy wooden tables. You can then either queue up for your beer at a self-service counter or pay a little more for a waiter to fetch your beer for you.

The beer itself  at Augustinerbräu is an excellent 4.6% ABV Märzen served directly from large oak barrels. As it is served in stoneware Krugs it is difficult to determine the colour, but it tastes delicious and is lovely and fresh.

Around Christmas, a stronger Bockbier is available, but I unfortunately  missed it by just a few days on my first visit to Salzburg, in late December 2006. I wonder if I will have more luck this time? I will produce a more detailed report upon my return, but in the meantime zum Wohl!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Best Beer in the World?

Westvleteren 12 - Best beer in the world?
In terms of beer production, the St Sixtus Monastery at Westvleteren in West Flanders is the smallest of the 10 Trappist Monastery Breweries, with an output of just under 4,000 barrels, or 126,000 gallons, a year.  Contrast this with Chimay, the largest and probably best-known Trappist brewery, which produces about 3.2 million gallons a year, and you get some idea of the differences in scale between the two establishments.

Three brews are produced at St Sixtus - Westvleteren Blonde (green cap), 5.8% ABV, Westvleteren 8 (blue cap) 8% ABV and Westvleteren 12 (yellow cap) 10.2% ABV. The latter is by far the best known and most renowned beer brewed at the abbey.

Back in August, whilst in Belgium for the European Beer Bloggers’ Conference, I was fortunate to visit Westvleteren. I didn’t get to see the brewery; no-one ever does as St Sixtus is the Willy Wonka chocolate factory of  breweries. But if you think the monks occasionally hide "golden tickets" in amongst their packs of beer, then think again! The closest anyone gets is to either visit the modern and spacious In de Vrede café, located just across from the abbey in the Donkerstraat 13, or to try their luck at the drive-thru pick-up gate.

In de Vrede- Westvleteren
I would strongly recommend the former, as at In de Vrede not only can you drink the beer by the glass, but you can also buy limited quantities of bottles to take home with you at the café shop, (maximum of two six-packs per person). Or at least you can normally, but on that hot, late August Sunday, when we called by, In de Vrede was packed out with thirsty customers and was not doing carry-outs. After speaking to other beer lovers on my return to the UK, I discovered you will have much better luck mid-week, when the café is usually much quieter.

Attempting to buy your beer at the monastery gate though is a much more fraught experience, as not only are you limited to just one case per car, but your order must be reserved at least 60 days in advance. You do this by calling the brewery over the "beer phone"; a dedicated number which is supposed to put you through to the brewery. However, when the pone system was first introduced, the call volume was so high that the local exchange crashed, forcing the monks to switch to a national high-capacity number. This has made little difference and at peak times as many as 85,000 calls are made per hour. It is reckoned that  only around 200 callers get through during the two-to-three-hour window when orders may be placed.

Determined drinkers do get through though as on most afternoons, a line of cars forms outside the monastery walls at a pick-up point for the latest coveted batch. Drivers stay in their cars as staff check registration plates, load the single crate and then take the credit card payments.

So what is it about Westvleteren beer which makes it so hard to get hold of, and why are supplies so limited? The situation dates back to 2005 when the beer-information website rated Westvleteren 12° as the best beer in the world. The monks at Saint Sixtus who brew this dark, quadrupel-style beer were not at all pleased by the ensuing publicity, despite this award being an achievement that most brewers can only dream of. The problem is they are not in the business of brewing beer in order to win awards; neither are they in it for the money. They brew beer only in sufficient quantities to support themselves and their abbey.
Awaiting the thirsty hordes - glasses at In de Vrede

As you can imagine, a beer which few people had heard of suddenly rocketed in popularity. One day, a few dozen people were drinking the beer; the next, there was a huge line of cars queuing up at the abbey gate to buy it. Stories began to appear about the abbey's stocks of Westvleteren 12 starting to run low, so to counter this situation the monks were forced to reduce the amount of beer sold to each customer. In a rare interview one of them explained that the abbey had no intention of increasing its production, despite the clear demand for the beer, adding "We make the beer to live”, he said, “but we do not live for beer.”

In 2015 Westvleteren 12 is again on RateBeer's list of the best beers in the world. The monks of St Sixtus remain detached, as much as possible, from the ongoing publicity, and continue to decline requests for either interviews or visits. However, it’s probably fair to say that the abbey is secretly proud of the title. Brother Godfried, who is in charge of the brewery, reportedly told a news agency, "It's good to know our customers appreciate what we make."

Westvleteren is part of Vleteren; a small rural town in West Flanders, close to the French border.  Situated in an agricultural region known as the hop country of Belgium, it also consists of other small villages such as Oostvleteren and Woesten. The combined population is around 3,600 inhabitants.

Hidden behind a high wall - Sint Sixtus Abbey, Westvleteren
The St Sixtus monastery was founded in 1831 by Trappist monks from the Catsberg monastery in France. In 1838 a brewery was added at Westvleteren, to brew beer primarily for the monks own consumption. The brewery was ‘modernized’ in 1871 and brewing continued apace; even surviving both World Wars. In 1931, the abbey began selling beer to the general public; having only served beer to guests and visitors up until that time. During the 1930’s the monks even used trucks to distribute their beer!

Things came to an abrupt end at the end of the Second World War when Gerardus, the Abbot at the head of the monastery, decided to downsize the Sint-Sixtus brewing operation. He believed that brewing was taking up too much of the monks’ energy and was beginning to interfere with their true spiritual calling. According to the Abbot brewing beer on a commercial scale was not part of that calling

In 1946, deal was struck with the owner of a local cheese factory in nearby Watou, to brew the beers. To assist with the start-up of the new brewery, the Brewmaster from St Sixtus became a partner in the new set-up and brought with him the recipes, the expertise and, most important of all the St Sixtus yeast.

For many years, the Watou brewery produced and marketed the beers under the names "Trappist Westvleteren" or "St Sixtus". Beer also continued to be brewed at the abbey to cater to the needs of individuals buying it at the gates as well as three local cafés connected to Sint-Sixtus. This was done to continue providing beer for their own consumption as well as to keep the tradition alive within the monastery walls.

The contract with Watou was renewed in 1962 when the Abbey gave them a second license; this time spanning a 30 year period. This agreement ended in 1992, primarily due to changing laws and regulations which stated that in order to be labelled a Trappist, the beer actually had to be made (mainly) by real Trappist monks at a working Trappist monastery. That same year, the abbey opened its new brewery to replace the older equipment. In 1992 that license came to an end and the production was completely taken over by Sint-Sixtus again.

St Sixtus brews about 70 days a year, starting at around 9 a.m. and finishing at approximately 5 p.m. The brewery currently employs three secular workers for various manual labour tasks; however, the primary brewing is done by the monks only. It is the only Trappist brewery where the monks still do all of the brewing. Of the 26 Cistercians who reside at the abbey, five monks run the brewery, with an additional five who assist during bottling.

As soon as the Watou Brewery got over the loss of the Westvleteren beers they started to produce and market their own line of abbey-styled beers, under the name, St. Bernardus. One of the beers they came up with was St. Bernardus Abt 12. Many claim this to be the same beer as Westvleteren 12, as St. Bernardus had the recipe and almost 50 years of experience and, more importantly, knew how to brew it.

Special edition - Oak aged St Bernardus Abt 12
Others dispute this, claiming that if you compare the two side by side, you will certainly find similarities but they are clearly different beers. I have tasted both, but not at the same time, so I don’t consider myself qualified to judge. In addition both beers are bottle-conditioned, with a five year shelf life, so there are bound to be subtle differences anyway, depending on age, storage conditions etc.

What I do know is I have a half dozen bottles of St. Bernardus Abt 12 sat in my cupboard. The beer is easy to come by in Belgium and also closer to home. A work colleague has a Belgian friend who visits England quite regularly, so I always get him to bring me a case over with him.

It was interesting that whilst in Belgium we met the Managing Director of the St Bernardus Brewery. He, of course, was adamant the beers are the same, but then he would say that, wouldn’t he? Unlike St Sixtus, St. Bernardus is open to visitors and offers a wide selection of speciality beers including St. Bernardus Tripel, Prior 8, White, Pater and Christmas Ale plus the lesser known 'Grottenbier' and 'Watou Tripel'.

A few of the St Bernardus beers
So after all the publicity and hype surrounding Westvleteren 12, and the controversy surrounding St Bernardus Brewery’s claim that their St. Bernardus Abt 12  is the same beer, which one is better and is either of them the best beer in the world?

I have drunk quite a few bottles of St. Bernardus Abt 12, but only one bottle of Westvleteren 12, so am unable to answer the first question. Both beers are very good, but at 10% ABV they are not the sort of beers you drink every day. This leads me on to the second question, and here I would argue there is no singular “best beer in the world”.

The reason of course is beer is such a diverse drink, with a myriad of different styles and strengths, that there are in fact dozens of “best beers in the world”. The choice of beer depends on many things and is influenced by location, climate, company and occasion, so whilst a nice cool Pilsner is to be enjoyed whilst sitting out at a pavement café on a hot summer’s day, a cool, well-hopped pint of traditional English bitter is equally appreciated after a long walk to a traditional country pub. Conversely, the two aforementioned Abbey beers are best enjoyed sat in front of a roaring log fire on a cold winter’s night.

In this respect rating sites such as RateBeer have not only done a disservice to the holy brothers of St Sixtus Abbey, but they have turned the world of beer drinking into little more than a "list-ticking exercise", rather than what it should be – the appreciation and enjoyment of beer. It is one thing for writers and beer aficionados to recommend certain beers, but to select beers of different styles, tastes and strengths, and then try and rank them in a table of “best in the world” is sheer hypocrisy and self-indulgence of the worst kind.

Are people so shallow minded and herd-like that they need ranking sites to tell them what to drink? Make your own minds up people. Don’t rely on rating sites; especially as they can leave themselves open to manipulation. Don’t follow the crowd; do some proper research of your own. Get out there and try these beers for yourselves. Even better, try and visit some of the places which produce the world’s classic beers and experience how better they taste on home turf. You know it makes sense!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

First of the Season

I managed to track down some Larkin’s Porter yesterday; the first of the season. Dark and full-bodied and brewed from a grist that includes plenty of chocolate and crystal malts, Larkin’s Porter has a rich, full mouth feel, with plenty of bitterness to match the lush sweetness of the malts. At a strength of 5.2%, it is a beer for savouring, rather than swilling. The beer’s appearance each November is eagerly awaited by its devotees, and it is no secret that Larkin’s Porter is one of my all time favourite, seasonal “winter” beers.

Larkins produces just two brews of this superb beer each year; one in mid-September, and the other towards the end of November, (round about now). Following brewing and primary fermentation, each brew is allowed to mature, in cask, for a minimum period of six weeks before it is released to trade. Traditionally the first batch is not released until Bonfire Night, so just over a week later is was good to give the beer a try.

I came across the porter at lunchtime on Saturday, at the Old Fire Station in Tonbridge. This historic old building was being run again by Beer Café proprietors, Fuggles of Tunbridge Wells, as part of their November “pop-up” take-over. I don’t think many people knew they were open as, apart from myself there was just a small group of elderly gentlemen occupying one of the tables.

The lack of customers enabled me to have a chat with Fuggles owner, Alex who was working behind the bar, along with a member of his staff. Alex told me that the Thursday and Friday evening sessions had been very popular and they were expecting the same for that evening. Amongst other things we discussed Thursday’s session back at their main site in Tunbridge Wells, where the Troubadour tasting event had taken place - see previous post.

Later, whilst sitting at one of the tables nurturing my excellent pint of Larkin’s Porter, I began to contemplate the appalling events which had taken place in Paris the previous evening. Sitting there in the calm and tranquil surroundings of this lovely old building I was struggling to contemplate how can people be so wicked. These thoughts remained with me after I had left the Old Fire Station and walked back to the town via the imposing Gatehouse of Tonbridge’s historic 12th century castle.

There are no answers, of course, but before I left, I thanked Alex and reminded him that, along with some of my CAMRA colleagues, I would be back on Thursday evening for our pre-arranged social.

ps. Larkins have finally moved into the 21st Century with their own website.As you might expect, there are no fancy gimmicks, just an attractive and informative site. Check it out above.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Off the Record

The debate sparked by my most recent post about “revitalising” the Campaign for Real Ale threw up a number of issues; one of which revolved around the question “Would lapsed or even non-members be welcomed at an official CAMRA social?”

Speaking from my own branch’s point of view, I would say, unequivocally, that they would. Despite having over 500 members on our books, we often struggle to reach double figures for our socials, so even though the branch would obviously prefer these people to be fully paid up members, we extend a friendly welcome to any new comers; members or not.

One of the things we do from time to time is hold “unofficial” get-togethers. These are normally socials, visits to beer festivals, or a ramble to a nice country pub. Unlike official socials which, owing to the lengthy timescales involved in getting them advertised in “What’s Brewing”, have to be organised weeks in advance, we can be much more spontaneous with these other events. Normally a quick on “Whatsapp”, or a message on the branch’s Facebook Page does the trick and seems to work quite well. Sometimes we even attract more people along to these unofficial “dos” than we manage for the official ones!
Last Thursday was a case in point, when a group of seven of us turned up at the Bedford in Tunbridge Wells for an impromptu get-together. We actually didn’t stay that long at the Bedford, despite some excellent beer from the likes of Pig & Porter, Goody Ales and Yeovil. The pub had a couple of live acoustic acts on, and whilst it is always good to see pubs supporting live acts, we wanted to chat. So rather than try and talk above the level of the music, which would have been both difficult from our point of view, and rude as far as the performers were concerned, we headed off up the hill and along to Fuggles; the town’s premier Beer Café.

A couple from our party had already gone ahead before I arrived, but there was time for me to enjoy the excellent, citrus flavoured Yolo #6 from Yeovil Ales. I actually had wind that a special event was taking place up at Fuggles, as earlier in the day, I had received an email from the British Guild of Beer Writers informing me that  Cave Direct Beer Merchants would be launching Troubadour's annual special IPA in two locations – Fuggles in Tunbridge Wells and the Lowlander Cafe in Covent Garden.

Now this of course was quite a scoop for Fuggles, although I must confess I had not heard of Troubadour before, but I understand that since their foundation just over 10 years ago, the company have made quite a name for themselves, both in their native Belgium and, more recently, further afield.  What made the launch so interesting was that this year's version of their Magma IPA had been spiked three times with the wild yeast, Brettanomyces to create a sour, saison-style beer. It was going to be tapped and served alongside the original, non-spiked IPA.

Fuggles was heaving when we arrived; although we later discovered that some of this was due to an office “leaving-do” which just happened to be taking place at the same time. We found the advance party from our group, and managed to pull up some chairs, but not before ordering our drinks from the bar. Fuggles were running a special offer of a third of each of the two Troubadour beers for £3.50. We all opted for this, and it was interesting comparing the two beers side by side.

Now I wouldn’t normally go straight in for a couple of 9.0% ABV beers; certainly not on a school night, but both beers were well-crafted and most enjoyable. Whilst initially preferring the original Magma IPA, I found myself warming to the “Brett” spiked version. Others needed a little more persevering, but we all agreed this was a good exercise. To give some idea as to the taste of the original Magma, Troubadour’s website describes it as “An amber coloured beer with the bitterness of an American IPA but balanced with the fruitiness of a Belgian Triple.”

Normally I would start off with the weakest beer on the list and then work my way up the gravities, but on Thursday it was a case of doing things in reverse. Cloudwater Porter from Manchester, which came in at a mere 6.0% was next up, and proved to be an excellent dark and tasty porter, with plenty of roast and chocolate flavours, and my final beer of the evening, was Tonbridge Green Hop Ale which, after the high octane beers, proved an ideal palate cleanser. So an interesting evening, with some good beer in pleasant surroundings made all the more enjoyable by the company of friends.

One final point, all but one of our party on Thursday evening, were CAMRA members, but we quite happily switched back and forth between the cask and the keg beers. There are no prejudices about what makes a good beer amongst our group; the ultimate proof being what does the stuff in the glass taste like. I am not sure whether CAMRA as a whole will ever come round to this way of thinking, or whether it will remain constrained by its definition of real ale. It may be too much a leap of faith for the organisation to make such a change, but the fact that many members now put more credence on the quality and taste of the finished beer, rather than how it is stored and dispensed, does give grounds for optimism.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Revitalising the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale

Just over a month ago, veteran blogger The Pub Curmudgeon published a lengthy and well though out post about the “Revitalisation Project”which is being launched by Tim Page; CAMRA’s new CEO. The post has to date, attracted 50 comments with views ranging from “Yes, CAMRA does need to take a few steps back and look at itself closely”, to “CAMRA has had its day and is a total irrelevance in today’ rapidly changing beer market.”

Of course there were lots of voices raised from the centre ground as well, but having read and found myself agreeing with much of the sentiment raised, I find myself increasingly questioning the relevance of CAMRA to my life today.

I don’t want to go over the history of my involvement with CAMRA over the past four decades; although I will nail my colours to the mast and say that I have been a member of the Campaign since 1974, and an active branch member since 1979. During those years I have seen CAMRA change from a dynamic young person’s organisation to today’s collection of pensioners’ drinking clubs. Before anyone points the finger, I include myself in the later group, even though I’m not yet officially retired!

Since its inception, CAMRA has changed from a high-profile, self-publicising campaigning group of individuals, to a safe and staid organisation of largely faceless lobbyists – albeit a highly successful one. Along the way the campaign has become involved with all sorts of things which weren’t in its original remit; including full pints, beer prices, pub-preservation, licensing reform, publishing and, most controversially, a drink made from fermented apple juice, which is completely unrelated to beer!

Strange brew!
Now I have warmed to traditional cider over the years and recognise it as a fine drink in its own right; but it is those last four words “in its own right” which sum up my attitude to cider and make me, like hundreds, if not thousands, of others to question why the Campaign for REAL ALE is putting time, money and effort into campaigning for REAL (or indeed any) CIDER!

I realise it is regarded as heresy in many CAMRA circles to even question such an association, but surely the time has come for the CAMRA off-shoot APPLE to be spun off as a completely separate and autonomous organisation, rather than one which leaches time, effort and funding from a campaign which purports to promote our national drink, BEER!

I will await the findings of Tim Page’s “Revitalisation Project” with interest, although I very much doubt it will propose anything as radical as what I have suggested in the preceding paragraph. There are also several other questions I would like to see answered, and many areas of concern which need to be addressed.
Curmudgeon’s excellent post, highlighted at the beginning of this article, puts forward some serious, in-depth suggestions as to which areas the “Revitalisation Project” should be addressing. I certainly agree with most of  what Mudge is proposing, but whether the great and the good within the CAMRA hierarchy will see things the same way, remains to be seen.

On the positive side CAMRA has definitely recognised it is at a crossroad, even if it remains uncertain as to which direction it should be taking. I too, feel much the same way and with next year’s membership renewal fast approaching, and subscription rates being increased, do I cancel my long-standing direct debit or should I do nothing and let inertia take over so that my membership automatically renews for another year?

I will almost certainly do the latter, as in many ways it would be a crying shame to pour 40 years of CAMRA membership down the drain. However, on the other hand membership benefits, such as Wetherspoon’s vouchers and reduced admission to CAMRA beer festivals aren't sufficient incentive alone to keep me in the fold. For the record, I rarely use all my Spoon's vouchers and this quarter, with just over three weeks left to run, I haven’t used a single one!  

One thing I do look forward to is the quarterly Beer Magazine; a publication which is well worth reading from cover to cover, but apart from this, and branch socials (an activity I could still be involved in without being a CAMRA member),  there is precious little else within today's campaign which interests me. This leaves me with the following dilemma; should I remain a member and stay inside the tent pissing out, or should I let my membership lapse and find myself on the outside pissing into the tent?

Before deciding one way or the other, I will wait and see what transpires over the coming year as, I suspect, will many other longstanding CAMRA members.

One final point, the irony of the word “Revitalisation” in the title of the Chief Executive’s proposed project, will almost certainly be lost on much of today’s CAMRA membership. It’s almost ancient history now, but the “R” in the acronym “CAMRA”, originally stood for “Revitalisation”, back in the day when CAMRA was the Campaign for the REVITALISATION of Ale!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Rest of the Dark Beers From Beer Hawk

I promised Zoe Piper, the online marketing manager at Beer Hawk, that I would post my review of the rest of the beers  her company kindly sent me. I reviewed six beers first time around, and assumed there were another six to go. It turns out I miscounted, and there were actually an additional nine beers so, without further ado, here are my thoughts and impressions of this rather fine bunch of dark beers.  

Mad Hatter Brewing Company - Hare of Darkness 7.4%
If I hadn’t read the small print on the label describing this beer as a “Black IPA”, I would have described Hare of Darkness as a strong stout. It really is “as black as your hat”, and is incredibly bitter (IPA?), with a burnt almost liquorice like taste. There’s not much other information on the label, apart from the fact the beer is hopped with Galaxy and Centennial hops.

I have never been comfortable with the term “Black IPA”, and refuse to give it credence by recognising it as a style. Only the Americans could have come up with this sort of nonsense. To me, this beer is a strong stout, which borders on being an Imperial Stout. Unlike some of the other beers tasted above, this one is definitely a beer for sipping, as it doesn’t take any prisoners.

The Ticketybrew Company - Stout 5.4%
Described as “a roasty stout, with a smoky, silky finish”. I wouldn’t argue with that description, apart from saying I detect very little smokiness. I appreciate I’m something of a “smoke” addict, but having drank some of the finest “smoke beers” in the world (I’m talking Bamberg here), I find other beers which claim to be “smoked”, often pale in comparison.

What I can instantly detect in this beer is the presence of treacle – and I don’t like it! I noticed it before I had even looked at the ingredients list. Just a personal foible, but black treacle has no place in a beer, so far as I am concerned, no matter how black or how stout the beer is!

Fortunately the Belgian yeast, used to brew this Ticketybrew beer comes to the rescue, adding a touch of spiciness, and the malted wheat helps smooth out the almost iron-like taste of the treacle. The beer did grow on me, but it’s not one I would rush out and buy.

Left Hand Brewing Company -Milk Stout 6.0%
Roasted malt and coffee flavours build the foundation of this creamy sweet stout - so says the label anyway. Dark-brown/dark ruby-red in colour with a loose light-brown head, there’s little in the aroma, but plenty in the taste of this mid-west American take on a classic old English ale style.

Full-bodied, as one might expect from a milk stout of this strength, there are also plenty y of roast malt and coffee notes- as stated on the label. An enjoyable and interesting beer, with an interesting artistic label to boot.

To Øl - BlackBall Porter 8.0%
Pours jet black with a light-brown rocky head. Roasted and chocolate notes are in the aroma, but these leave the drinker totally unprepared for this intense bitter-sweet chocolate full-bodied, almost oily beer.

This really is one of the most intensely flavoured beers I have drunk, and full credit to Danish brewers To Øl. The statement on their website sums up the philosophy behind the company. “To Øl  wishes to make potent beers, packed with flavour and character. Beer, which you do not forget easily (unless you just had too many). We make beers with an edge and with a drive that prefers quality way before quantity.”
Give this, or any other of the company’s beers you come across, a try; you won't regret it.

To Øl - By Udder Means 7.0%
In case you hadn’t guessed from the rather painful pun, this beer is a milk stout. Similar in appearance to the other To Øl beer, this one I perhaps smoother - the effect of the lactose? Again, full bodied, with lots of roast and chocolate flavours. There is also a very noticeable hop aroma when the beer is first poured.

Another extremely good beer with a modern Scandinavian twist on a classic English style. Like the Black Ball Porter above, this is another very full-flavoured beer which definitely ticks all the boxes.

Rogue Mocha Porter ABV – not declared
I’ve been a fan of Rogue Beers for many years, even though they are rarely seen for sale in UK shops. I first became aware of the company when a work colleague brought me in a bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale. His son had bought a short-dated case of the beer at a knock-down price and, much as he liked the beer, he was having trouble getting through it. He also knew ht given my penchant for a decent glass of beer, I would appreciate this one. I certainly did, and have kept a lookout for Rogue Beers ever since. 

The Mocha Porter is one of two Rogue bottles included in my selection from Beer Hawk, and like all Rogue beers the label features an appropriate character giving the trade-mark “clenched-fist” salute. The beer itself is a deep-dark ruby-red colour, topped by a white fluffy head. The ABV is not declared on the bottle, but the company website gives it as 5.3%, and then goes on to describe the beer as having a bittersweet balance of malt and hops, with a light creamy finish. This encapsulates the beer, as far as I am concerned; especially the creamy finish.

As might be expected from the description, the beer slides down a treat, and is just the ticket on a damp and misty early November evening.

Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout ABV – not declared
Pours jet black, with a tight, light brown head, this American oatmeal stout certainly packs in plenty of flavour. There is a rich creaminess about this beer, which combines well with the dark roast coffee notes, and the slight lactic taste lurking in the background. The latter reminds me of the U Fleků house-beer, before they cleaned up the taste.

Another excellent beer from the extensive Rogue stable; a sign on the label informs the drinker that the beer is a World Stout Champion. I can quite see why. Like with the other Rogue beer, the ABV is not declared on the bottle, but the company website gives it as 5.8%.

The Ilkely Brewery - The Mayan Chocolate Chipotle Stout 6.5%
Ilkley Brewery, based in the Yorkshire town of the same name, brew some stunning beers, and this unusual chocolate stout is no exception. Inspired by an ancient Maya recipe, this beer is brewed with Chipotle Chillies, chocolate malt and real chocolate. The resulting beer is velvety smooth bittersweet stout with the added heat from the Chipotle Chillies; an odd combination, but one which is known to work.

Deep dark, ruby-red in colour, with a contrasting tight creamy head, the Mayan is certainly a beer well worth getting stuck into. I remember drinking a draught version of this beer, back at the start of the year, and this bottle certainly brought back some happy memories.

The Durham Brewery - Temptation Russian Stout 10.0%
According to the label  “Temptation is an Imperial Russian Stout: a style that was exported to Imperial Russia in the 19th Century. The massive body supports oily coffee, liquorice and chocolate flavours. The alchemy of Golding hops and roast malts make a complex aroma of anise, caramel and blackberries.”

Well despite such a mouth-watering write-up, I’m going to resist Temptation and leave opening this beer until Christmas. Such a high-strength beer commands respect; especially when it comes in a 500ml bottle! This is a beer which will go well with the Christmas pudding or with the cheese and biscuits afterwards.

There is no hurry to drink it, as the beer is bottle-conditioned and has a Best Before End date of June 2020!

If you would like to send me beers to review, please be aware that I will give a totally honest opinion of your product. If I like it, then great, but if for some reason I don’t, then I will say so. 

If the beer is not to my taste, but has been brewed correctly, and is not suffering from off-flavours, then I will again be honest. I will probably say that the beer in question is a good example of the style in question, but it just doesn’t float my boat! You can’t say fairer than that!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Four More Prague Brew-Pubs

Continuing my narrative about pubs in Prague, I move on to describe four more pubs in the city; all of which brew their own beer.

I’ll start first with one of the oldest, and one which is some way from the city centre. Pivovar u Bulovky otherwise known as the Richter Brewery Pub, was founded in 2004, by František Richter; a man well experienced in the Bavarian brewery scene. It quickly established a reputation for the quality of its house-brewed beers. Tucked away down a quiet side-street, just a short walk from tram stop Bulovka, Pivovar u Bulovky is well worth seeking out.

Pivovar u Bulovky
My son and I went here on two separate evenings, back in September 2012, as it was only a 10 minute tram ride from the hotel where we were staying. It's not terribly large inside so we were lucky to get a seat on our second visit.  The walls and the bar are panelled with dark wood that matches the furniture, and the windows don't let in too much light. The pub has a legendary reputation with Prague drinkers and also has a loyal following of locals from the surrounding Libeň district.

This, coupled with the quality of its beer, means it can get very busy. Over-seeing the bar are the polished-copper brewing vessels which are used to brew a variety of different beers. These often include top-fermented styles, such as Porter, Alt, Stout or Weizenbock, but the pub staple - Richter Ležák light lager, is available every day.

We ate at Pivovar u Bulovky on both visits, but be aware that the pub has no English menus. It does have German ones though so if, like me, your Deutsch is up to scratch you will be ok. On more recent visits to Prague I’ve missed going to this excellent brew-pub; mainly because I was staying on the opposite side of the city.

New kid on the block
By contrast the next brew-pub only opened earlier this year; and what’s more it couldn’t be more centrally located, being opposite tram stop Národní Divadlo, and  just a minute or two’s walk away from Národní Třída metro station. Pivovar Národní is housed in an imposing renovated old building, part of which looks like it may once have been a church. I had noticed it the previous day, as we went passed on the tram, so it seemed logical to give it a try the following evening.

Inside is a large restaurant, with the bar, and the brewing kit to the right, as one enters. There is also a beer garden behind the pub, but we didn’t venture out into it. The house-brewed beers are sold under the Czech Lion brand, and include an 11° unfiltered and filtered pale lager, a 13° amber lager and a pilsner. The beers are heavily malt accented and not overly bitter, but are nevertheless very pleasant and quite quaffable. I stuck with the 11° unfiltered pale, whilst Matt opted for the pilsner. Our meal of roast beef with white bread dumplings was also very good.

Opened for business last year
Next up is another recent brew-pub, Vinohradský Pivovar, which opened its doors in November 2014. The pub is located in part of the old Vinohrady Brewery; the fermenting room to be precise. The original Vinohrady Brewery was quite a large concern, which dated back to 1894; when the first beer was served. The brewery had its own malt house, and at one time served as an institute for brewers.

After WWII and the nationalisation of businesses which followed the communist takeover, brewing ceased and the building fell into disrepair. The block suffered a large scale fire in 2000, which destroyed everything apart from the aforementioned fermenting room, where the current brewery is housed. The head brewer at Vinohradský Pivovar is none other than František Richter; founder of Pivovar U Bulovky, described above.

Interior- Vinohradský Pivovar
We visited Vinohradský Pivovar on the afternoon of our last day in Prague. It had been raining heavily all day – the rain which, after an exceptionally dry summer, the hotel receptionist said the countryside was crying out for. We were just glad to get out of it, having caught the tram along from Muzeum Metro station.

A set of steps led down from the street to a whitewashed vaulted room, which echoed with the customers’ conversation. We found a table opposite the rounded tunnel like windows which give drinkers a view into the brewery. Each is labelled explaining exactly what part of the brewery one is looking at. There is another floor below, which I only became aware of when I nipped down to the gents. Here there is more dining space, plus another set of taps, sturdy wood tables and chairs plus places for standing guests.

Look at that head
After our beers arrived, I walked over to the windows and had a look through to the brewery. As you will notice from the photos, it is a substantial affair which, to me, looked far too large to just be brewing for the one outlet. I therefore suspect Vinohradský Pivovar brew for other pubs and bars in Prague.

According to the Prague Beer Garden website(Vinohradský’s own site is in Czech only), the house beers are an 11° and 12° light lager plus a 13° amber lager. The 12° lager has a more caramel touch to its malty body, while the 11° is a fresher, classic light lager. Ales, bocks and other seasonal brews also feature on the pub’s rapidly changing beer menu.

And through the Oval Window.......
During our all too short visit to Vinohradský Pivovar, I tried the 11° light lager and the 13° amber lager. Both were really good, but the former was excellent, and was by far and away the best beer I had on the entire Czech trip. Full bodied and unfiltered, with a cloudy richness which is hard to describe, but instantly recognisable. Combine this with the fresh and well-balanced bitterness from the hops, and you are on to a real winner. Unfortunately our itinerary did not permit a return visit, but I highly recommend the place to one and all.

The final pub featured in this round up, was not only the one we visited on our last night in Prague, before departing for Český Krumlov, but it was also within walking distance of our hotel. This isn’t the first time that we’ve found an absolute gem of a pub in the immediate vicinity of where we’ve been staying, but it always strikes me as ironic to find these places, virtually on the doorstep, after days of riding around various cities in search of that elusive perfect pub selling the perfect beer.

A proper Czech pub meal
Sousedský Pivovar Bašta, is a two minute walk from tram-stop Nuselska Radnice, on line 18, and is a friendly and well-patronised neighbourhood brewpub, which opened in early 2008. We found it courtesy of the excellent Otto’s Rambles site, taking note of the fact there are no English menus available. This wasn’t a problem as there was a group of English students sitting at the next table that helped us out. In addition the friendly waiter pointed out a few of his own recommendations; the roast chicken with mash potato and gravy going down particularly well!
I didn’t take any photos of the pub interior, but from memory it was a nice pub with several wood-clad rooms, fitted out with some large tables. One of these rooms was reserved for a meeting or perhaps a party of some description. Because of this we were lucky to get a seat, but as is common on the continent, some of the local budges up and made room for us on the end of their table.
Traditional ceramic coasters - at Sousedský Pivovar Bašta

The in-house brewery, which is contained in a side room, produces a range of four beers of which three are generally on at any one time. There are also a number of specials on sale from time to time. We gave both the Svĕtlý ležák light and the Polotmavý ležák amber a go, and they were both really tasty; the former going especially well with the roast chicken.

Although we caught the tram to the pub, it was only one stop away from the stop by our hotel. As we had just missed one after leaving Sousedský Pivovar Bašta, we decided to walk back through the rain, after what had been an excellent, but totally unexpected final evening in Prague.