Saturday, 23 September 2017

Greyhound update

Just a quick update regarding the Greyhound at Charcott, which reopened just over two months ago. I have been popping in most Fridays, as part of my normal lunchtime walk, and am pleased to report that the pub is continuing to do well.

There are usually three cask ales on the bar; Larkin’s Traditional plus two guests. In recent weeks we have been treated to beers from Dark Star, Gun, Pig & Porter, Kent Brewery plus Old Dairy. I opted for the Dark Star American Pale on Friday, and seeing as the weather was unexpectedly fine, sat outside to enjoy it along with the surprisingly warm autumn sunshine.

Several other customers had decided to do the same, and I noticed several tucking in to the charcuterie and cheese selection the Greyhound is currently offering, until the kitchen is ready.

On that subject, I asked landlord Richard last week, how the kitchen was progressing. He told me that the area will soon be ready for fitting out, but sensibly declined to offer a date for its opening. It will be good when it does though, as I know several local people who will be glad of an alternative place to dine out at. It should also provide a further welcome boost to the Greyhound’s trade.
Finally, and not wishing to name-drop, I noticed two members of a local brewing family sitting outside enjoying their lunch, along with the beer they supply to the pub. Nothing like doing a bit of first hand, quality control!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Hot and cold in Nuremberg

The following article is a bit of of a filler really. I started writing it a couple of years ago, following on from my visit to the Fränkisches Bierfest, in June 2015. I came across it whilst looking for something to post before I depart for Regensburg, next week, and decided that this brief article about Nuremberg, fitted the bill.

In previous years the third weekend of September has seen me visiting the Canterbury Food & Drink Festival, in order to sample some of the Kentish Green Hop Beers on sale there. A group of friends (the same crowd who have attended for the past few years), went along along today, and following a day of warm sunshine, I wish now I had joined them. However, with the need to clear my desk before going away, and also not wishing to use up too much annual leave, I reluctantly went into work. You will therefore have to read about Nuremberg, instead.

I have been to Nuremberg several times. Most of these visits were when I was passing through, as I have used the city’s airport as a convenient gateway to several destinations in Germany; most notably Bamberg, but also Forchheim and Regensburg. I have also visited Nuremberg’s famous Christmas Market, whilst on a coach tour.

My visit at the beginning of June  2015 though was the first time I had actually stayed in the city, and I have to report that I really liked what I saw. My family-run hotel was conveniently situated just a short walk away from the Hauptmarkt and just slightly further from the massive Imperial Castle which towers over the city. The latter, of course, was the venue for the Fränkisches Bierfest; which was the main reason for my visit to Nuremberg.

The weather was fine throughout my stay, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures peaking at around 30˚ on the Saturday. Like most German cities, Nuremberg has a fully-integrated public transport system, meaning that with a valid ticket it is possible to transfer easily between trains (both over-ground and underground), buses and trams. Day tickets are available, covering several different zones which radiate out from the city centre.

Nuremberg is the second largest city in Bavaria, but it is also the capital of Franconia; a region which was once a separate state, until Napoleon came on the scene. Its inhabitants, like those of the rest of Franconia, see themselves as Franks rather than Bavarians and tend to disapprove of the macho image portrayed by their southern neighbours. Interestingly though, many Franconians (Franks) will support Bayern Munich when it comes to choosing a football team!

There is plenty to see in the city, including several museums (the transport and toy museums are particularly well worth seeing), art galleries and some fine old churches, but for me the most interesting, and also the most impressive, are Nuremberg’s fortifications.  These date back to medieval times and as well as the massive Imperial Castle (Kaiserburg) which over-looks the city, the old city walls are well worth a look.

I have walked along the north-west section, and there are two massive stone walls separated by a deep and wide ditch. I am not sure if this would have been filled with water during the medieval period, but the defences would have been sufficient to deter even the most determined of invaders. The inner section of wall is covered in places, to provide shelter for the defenders. A number of the old city gates remain, and these are fortified with various towers etc.

Up until the early 1945, Nuremberg had one of the best preserved medieval townscapes in Europe, but unfortunately around 90% of the old city was destroyed, in a devastating raid carried out by the RAF in February of that year. With the end of the war, just two months away, you have to wonder at the mind-set of men like Arthur Harris. This  surely was destruction, just for the sake of it; and if further proof was needed, "Bomber Harris" carried on his campaign of indiscriminate carpet bombing, almost to the end of hostilities.

After the war, much of the old city was rebuilt in a modernised version of the original style, with the most important buildings re-built true to the originals, but walking about it is still possible to spot the original medieval buildings which survived the raid.

I have only drunk in a handful of Nuremberg’s pubs, and on my most recent trip, only one.  I had singled out a pub called Hutt’n as the ideal place for a meal plus a few drinks on my first evening in the city. Not only did the pub offer one of the best ranges of beer in town, but the menu also looked enticing. The first thing I discovered was Hutt’n has moved to larger premises, near to the castle. The second though was it was absolutely packed; both inside and out, so there was no chance of a table. Not to worry, I wandered along to the beer festival instead.

I returned to Hutt’n the following day, whilst waiting for Fränkischerbierfest to open. I called in for a quick Rauchbier fix. Even at this early hour I had to sit outside; no problem under a shady umbrella in 30˚ of heat. I went for a smoke beer from Fischer.

Although perhaps not quite as smoky as that of Schlenkerla, the most famous and best known Rauchbier, the example from Fischer still packed in plenty of smokiness and certainly hit the spot so far as I was concerned. It was good sitting there under the shady umbrella watching the world go by, and seeing people struggling up the hill in the 30˚ temperatures, but tempted as I was to stop for another, I had a potentially heavy afternoon's supping ahead of me, so decided to call it a day.

I was due to meet up with local beer enthusiast Erlangernick, at the festival, as he had offered to act as my guide.  Nick is an American who has lived and worked in Germany for a number of years. He lives in the nearby town of Erlangen; hence his name. I had been put in touch with Nick by fellow blogger Tandleman, and after exchanging emails and text messages I had arranged to meet up with him at the festival.

You can read about my experiences of the festival here, but as  it happened  Hutt’n was the only Nuremberg pub I visited on that trip. The rest of my drinking took place at the festival, in Bamberg or as part of the excellent tour of some of Franconia’s finest Bierkellers which Erlangernick took me on.

I visited two other pubs on my first visit to Nuremberg, which took place in December 2007. The contrast in temperature could not have been more striking, as it was bitterly cold. I was  in the city, as mentioned earlier, as part of a coach party on a brief visit to Nuremberg's world famous Christmas Market; the Christkindlmarkt. 

It was too cold to spend time walking around the stalls, so I headed up the hill to the Schwarzer Bauer, which is the tap for the tiny Altstadthof Brauerei next door. It was nice and cosy inside the pub, and after enjoying a couple of mugs of the house-brewed beer, I was loath to step back out into the cold. However, I wanted to see Nuremberg's magnificent Imperial Castle, and can report that this massive structure, is well worth visiting.

On the way back to the coach pick-up, I just had time for a quick glass at Gasthaus Schranke; a fine old, half-timbered pub, just down from the castle's main gate and in the shadow of its imposing  walls. The place was packed and in view of this, people were drinking outside, standing at tables which had been converted from old wooden barrels. I joined them, in-spite of the cold, and waited for the waiter to come and take my order.

Gasthaus Schranke now appears to be owned by Augustiner of Munich, but 10 years ago it sold, amongst other beers, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg. Despite having enjoyed this magnificent "smoke beer", earlier in the day, at the Schlenkerla Tavern, in Bamberg itself, I just had to have one last glass, before rushing back to board the coach.

It seemed a fitting way to end this whistle-stop tour of Bavaria's second largest city.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Three out of five

One of the more newsworthy stories associated with the launch of the 2018 Good Beer Guide, is the one regarding the five UK pubs that have made every single edition. To be listed just once in the Guide is an achievement in itself for any pub, but to have appeared in all 45 editions, since the publication was first launched, is absolutely amazing.

Not everyone is perhaps aware that the pubs which appear in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide are selected entirely on personal recommendations made by local CAMRA members. Individual selections are rigorously reviewed by local branches before any final decisions are taken. Recommendations take into account beer quality as well as the history and architecture of a pub and various aspects such as food, gardens, family and disabled facilities and special events. CAMRA does not take any fees for listings to ensure the guide remains independent and unbiased.

The five pubs, which year after year met CAMRA’s strict criteria by serving a consistently high standard of quality beers, in their own unique settings are: the Star Tavern and the Buckingham Arms in London, the Roscoe Head in Liverpool, the Square & Compass in Dorset and the Queen’s Head in Cambridge. Each pub will receive a  special award from  Guide Editor Roger Protz, and the local nominating CAMRA branch.

Roger, who will be stepping down as Editor of the Good Beer Guide after 24 editions said: “Congratulations to the famous five, who will go down in history for being hallmarks of the Good Beer Guide. It is a great honour to be listed in the Guide even just once – never mind 45 times. I look forward to visiting each of the pubs to offer my personal congratulations in the coming days and weeks.”

As mentioned in a previous article, I have visited three of these five pubs and would like to look at them in a little more detail. Not surprisingly, the two London pubs, feature on my list, so let’s look at them first.

Star Tavern, Belgravia.  Tucked away down a mews, in the midst of London’s main embassy district, the Star is a Grade II listed traditional pub, which dates from 1848. A sensitive refurbishment, carried out in 2008, ensured that the Star’s essential character was maintained, along with its cosy wood panelling and a real fire.

In its time the Star has been the haunt of the powerful and famous, and also the infamous. It is rumoured that the 1963 Great Train Robbery was planned at the pub; given its tucked away location. Today it is a popular Fuller’s pub where local residents, business people and embassy staff rub shoulders with casual visitors.

I have known the Star since the mid-1970’s, having “discovered it” whilst on a pub crawl of London with an old school friend. The Star at the time, was a lone outpost in Central London for Fuller's excellent ales, and what was even better was the fact that the beers were dispensed by hand pump, rather than the more usual "top-pressure" system favoured by the brewery at the time.

Travelling by tube, we alighted at Hyde Park Corner, and then made our way, past the various foreign embassies and consulates which abound in Belgravia, to the Star, which is reached via an archway leading into Belgrave Mews West.

On that first visit, my friend and I sat near the window, in order to soak up the atmosphere and take in the whole scene of this hidden gem. We sampled both the London Pride and the renowned ESB. At the time, the latter was the strongest draught beer available on a regular basis, anywhere in the country.

I have returned to the Star on many occasions, and have spent some really good times in there. What appealed to me at the time, and what still does today, is the Star's location; one simply does not expect to find such a gem of a pub in such a salubrious neighbourhood.

Buckingham Arms, City of Westminster. This pub opened in the 1720s as the Bell, was renamed the Black Horse in the 1740s, rebuilt in 1898 and renamed for a second time as the Buckingham Arms in 1901. It remains a welcoming late Victorian  pub, which belongs to  the Young’s Pub Company.  Refurbishments carried out just under a decade ago have retained the etched glass mirrors behind the curving bar  counter, along with the attractive stained glass screens. There is an alley bar, which was formerly used by servants to avoid observation.

The pub is situated in Petty France; a short street linking Buckingham Gate with Broadway and Queen Anne's Gate. The name is thought to refer to the settlement of Huguenot refugees in the area.

Petty France was until 2002, the home of the London Passport Office at Clive House, and this is the reason I first became acquainted with the Buckingham Arms. I visited the Passport Office with a friend, back in the mid 1970’s. I can’t remember if it was to collect his passport, or if something to do with mine, but I suspect the former, as my friend lived in London.

Whoever’s passport it was, the visit afforded the perfect opportunity, for me at least, to call in at the Buckingham Arms. This was back in the day when Young’s beers were held in high regard, and were well worth drinking. I don’t remember that much about the pub, apart from it being packed out with office workers enjoying a lunchtime pint. Again, this was at a different time when a few pints at lunchtime was quite normal, rather than being frowned upon, as it often is today.

I have been back a few times since that first visit, but not recently. I ought to rectify this, especially in view of the pub’s unbroken record of 45 consecutive years in the Good Beer Guide.

Square & Compass,  Worth Matravers, Dorset. The third, and final pub of this “famous five” is a real gem, which quite rightly is listed  on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors.  The pub has been in the hands of the Newman family since 1907, and the two rooms on either side of a serving hatch convey an impression that little has changed since then. The garden faces the sea and offers fantastic views across the Purbecks. In winter the pub closes in the afternoon, but stays open all day during the summer months.

I have only been to the Square & Compass once, and that occasion was 35 years ago, whilst on a camping holiday, in the Purbecks, with the previous Mrs PBT’s. We were staying at a campsite at nearby Langton Matravers, and I am delighted to see from the map that the camp site known as “Tom’s Field ” is still in existence. I’m not sure about Tom himself though, as he was getting on a bit when we pitched our tent there!

Anyway, we had heard of the Square & Compass and had been recommended to visit it whilst in the area. Rather than driving to Worth Matravers, we decided to walk there for a lunchtime drink, and instead of taking the more direct inland path, we headed south towards the flat area of rock, just below the cliffs, known as “Dancing Ledge.” We then followed the coastal path in a westerly direction, before heading back inland via the lengthy dry valley of Winspit Bottom.

The walk took longer than anticipated, but we still managed to reach the Square & Compass before afternoon closing. Such was our thirst that we had time for a couple of well-earned pints. As far as I recall, the beer was from the former Strong’s Brewery at Romsey which, although then owned by Whitbread, still turned out a decent drop of locally-brewed bitter.

We sat inside, sheltering from the brisk onshore breeze which had accompanied us for most of the walk. The beer was served in handled, dimpled mugs straight out of the cask, via a serving hatch, and as mentioned above was well received. I had the distinct feeling that we were visiting somewhere unique, and really special, so I am especially pleased to learn that the pub remains little changed to this day.

We took the shorter inland route back to the campsite, but that was our sole visit to the Square & Compass. This may have been because we were only in the area for a long weekend, but as with the Buckingham Arms, I would love to make a return visit to this unspoilt gem of a country pub.

Roger Protz with the 24 Guides he has edited
So three of these unique “famous five” pubs visited, and two more to go. I should be able to make the Queen’s Head in Cambridge without difficulty, as I can squeeze a visit in on my next trip up to Norfolk. The Roscoe Head in Liverpool, might prove a little trickier, and the fact that its future could still be in doubt, does make a visit all the more important.

The thing which does surprise me though, is the enormous “churn” of pubs which have appeared in the Guide over the years. Given it features around 4,500 pubs each year, it’s strange that only five in the whole country should have featured in every edition.

Acknowledgements: photos of the three pubs featured were supplied by CAMRA via a press-release to the British Guild of Beer Writers website.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Good Beer Guide 2018 - from a different angle

The Good Beer Guide 2018, was officially launched last Thursday, and is celebrating its 45th edition. Unlike last year’s disastrous press-launch, which saw the MSM latching on to the “story” about the use of fish-derived finings as a means of clarifying cask beer, this year’s press releases saw CAMRA playing it safe.

The main focus was a reflection on the massive changes which have occurred within the beer industry, since the first guide was published in 1974, and contrasting them with the situation today. The most significant change  has been huge rise in the number of breweries and the massive increase in  the range of beers now available to today’s beer drinkers.

I still have a well-thumbed, and rather dog-eared, copy of that first edition Good Beer Guide. It was just 96 pages in length and listed around 1,500 pubs. The brewery section, covered just two pages at the rear and listed a mere 105 brewing companies. The beer range available in 1974 primarily consisted of milds and bitters, with the occasional smattering of winter and Christmas ales. This is in sharp contrast to today’s Guide which lists 1704 breweries, producing more than 7,500 beers (as part of their core range) in more than 14 styles.

Another news worthy item is the highlighting of  the five pubs which have appeared in every edition of the Guide, thereby demonstrating a consistent high standard of quality beers served in a fantastic setting. As I intend to write a separate post on this, I won’t go into too much detail here, but for the curious, this link will tell all you need to know. For my part, having visited three of these survivors, I want to write a more personal piece, based on my own experiences.

The 2018 edition also sees the departure of  long-serving editor Roger Protz, who is standing down this year after editing 24 editions of the Good Beer Guide . Roger served two stints in the editor’s chair, from 1978 to 1983 and more recently from 2000 to the present day, and helped the Guide become the leading “go-to” publication for anyone interested in good beer and good places in which to drink it. In short, the Guide remains an indispensable travelling companion for anyone journeying around the UK.

I haven’t rushed out to buy a copy, certainly not in physical form; in fact the last GBG I bought was the 40th edition, which appeared in 2013. Up until then I had a full set, but 40 year’s worth of guides gathering dust on the shelves was enough for me to call it a day, and I have not bought a copy since.

The Breweries Section 1974
The Guide has grown in size since that first 96 page edition it’s is not the easiest thing to carry around. For many years I have been saying it is time to drop the Breweries Section which, in the 2013 edition, took up 250 pages, equivalent to 27% of the total guide. Whilst this section was certainly relevant 45 years ago, today it is almost totally superfluous, as anyone interested in discovering more about a particular brewery and its beers, can easily find the information they are looking for on line. Perhaps this will happen, now that Roger is stepping down; it would certainly make sense.

Instead, we could either have a slimmer and much more user friendly guide, or the number of pubs could be expanded. If CAMRA feel there is still a market for what is effectively a list of breweries and their beers, they could publish a separate book, spice it up a bit with photos, illustrations, detailed tasting notes and more details of brewery taps, take out etc. However, given the numerous changes which occur each year, within the brewing industry, the chances of this happening are realistically, zero.

One way round the weight/size problem is to purchase the electronic version. I am not normally a fan of digital books,  as I much prefer the printed  “real thing.” However, as someone who is only likely to refer to the Guide on odd occasions, buying it in electronic form may be the best option for me.

The electronic version is said to come with regular updates, but looking on the Google Play Store there seem to be a couple of conflicting Apps, with poor ratings. CAMRA’s own website seems to indicate that the Good Beer Guide is only available as an App for iPhone users, which is very puzzling.

If this is correct then it is bad form from an organisation which has been trying, for some time now, to switch members away from traditional printed paper forms of “What’s Brewing” and “Beer” magazine, and onto electronic, downloadable versions.

The fact this switch is being pushed through in order “to save CAMRA money,” does make me wonder whether the printed Good Beer Guide generates far more dosh than an App-based version does.

If so, CAMRA needs to make its mind up as to whether it wants to keep its publications in traditional print form, or whether it wants to ditch paper, in favour of downloadable electronic versions. At the moment it appears to be cherry-picking, and this is unacceptable whichever side of the paper versus digital debate you happen to be on.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Seeking inspiration

Just under three years ago, I published a post entitled “Getting the juices flowing.” A more apt title would have been “Getting the CREATIVE juices flowing,” as the post was really about the part played by alcohol in getting one's “creative juices” flowing, especially when it comes to writing.

I used the example of American writer, Ernest Hemingway, as the perfect illustration of this, and the experiences he recounted of the time he spent in Paris, during the years 1921-1926, when he was a young, penniless and virtually unknown writer. Hemingway recalled a world of boozy and leisurely lunches and long café nights, and of hanging around in bookstores to escape the cold and windswept streets outside and of writing long into the night.

Drink, and often rather a lot of drink, played a significant part in the lives of Hemingway and many of  the writers and artists who were his contemporaries, during his time in the French capital, and I commented that I too, find my creative juices are at their most abundant after a drink or two. No more than a couple of glasses of beer, otherwise I start losing focus on what I am trying to say, but I am certainly of the opinion that a beer or two really does help me to focus and knock out the odd article.

If proof of this were needed, my written output over the past 10 days or so had been somewhat subdued. I mentioned about having had a tooth extracted, and  have been quite surprised how much this relatively simple procedure has knocked me for six. I bounced back pretty quickly after having my wisdom teeth removed, but that was 40 years ago, so perhaps my body is trying to tell me to slow down a little.
Feeling under the weather has also put me off my beer, so  I don’t know whether that is the cause of my current lack of inspiration for something to write about. On the other hand it could just be a combination of working too hard and trying to cram too much other stuff in.

I really need to get my mojo back so now, more than ever,  I feel a longing for that nice cool mug of beer, consumed in that warm, sunny Bavarian beer garden, over-looking the River Danube. Only another 12 days to go!!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Some goodies from Belgium

It’s useful knowing people from abroad, especially when they can supply you with beer from time to time.

One member of my team has a friend who lives in West Flanders. They both share a love of VW Camper Vans, computer games and stuff relating to World War II. Living in Belgium, John has grown up with an obvious appreciation of beer, and good beer at that.

He has brought goodies over for me before, and last week he brought some more. He and my colleague, were heading off to Busfest; one of the largest gatherings of VW Bus owners in Europe, if not the world.

Held over three days at the Three Counties Showground, in the shadow of the Malvern Hills, Busfest is all things VW, and much more besides. My colleague was back at work today and he brought with him a fine selection of beers from the St Bernardus Brewery in Watou, which I had pre-ordered via Belgian John.

They were all a little shaken up, so will need a week or three to settle. No matter, as I shan’t be drinking them in a hurry, especially as strong beer needs to be treated with respect.

With the exception of the strong, dark 10% St Bernardus  Christmas Ale, I have all of the beers brewed under the St Bernardus range, and what’s more I’ve got two bottles of each! The beers are:

·  St. Bernardus Tripel (8% ABV)
·  St. Bernardus Extra 4 (4.8% ABV)
·  St. Bernardus Pater 6 (6.7% ABV)
·  St. Bernardus Prior 8 (8% ABV)
·  St. Bernardus Abt 12 (10.0% ABV)
·  St. Bernardus Witbier (5.5% ABV)

The St. Bernardus range is considered a close match in recipe and style to the beers from the Abbey of St. Sixtus, at Westvleteren, a brewery whose beers are held in high regard by many beer drinkers. Westvleteren beers can be hard to obtain outside their immediate area, so I may ask my Belgian contact to pick some up for me, next time.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Not the best start to the month

Iain - sadly departed and much missed

We're already a quarter of the way into September,  and it hasn’t exactly been the best start to the month so far. Let us trust things will start getting better as time goes on.

September began with family, friends and colleagues bidding a final  goodbye to our recently retired branch chairman and long-standing committee member Iain Dalgleish, who was known affectionately as the “Kentish Scot.”

Iain succumbed to an illness which he’d fought off a decade ago, but which unfortunately returned last year. Despite a brave battle, second time around, he sadly passed away in the middle of last month, leaving a grieving widow and many equally lamenting friends, of whom I am one.

West Kent CAMRA will certainly feel his loss, as for many years he was a tireless driving force behind the branch playing a pivotal role in the successful beer festival we run in conjunction with local Heritage Group, Spa Valley Railway. His computer skills and knowledge of data bases came into their own with the publication of the award-winning Gateway to Kent Guide; a joint venture with Maidstone & Mid-Kent, plus Gravesend CAMRA branches. His spreadsheets and data interpretation abilities were also to the fore at GBG selection time, particularly when it came to analysing the NBSS scores submitted to WhatPub.

It is his personal qualities that we will miss the most though, as Iain was an amiable, good-natured and kindly person who lived life to the full, never missing the opportunity for one last drink, or a sneaky visit to the pub on the way home from work.

Gateway Guide award - Isle of Man 2010
A true "bon-viveur" would be an apt description, and that is how we remembered him as we said farewell, in a manner which I’m sure he would have appreciated, at the Royal Oak, Tunbridge Wells, last Friday, immediately after his cremation. A packed gathering at the funeral service, and afterwards at the wake, was a measure of the esteem in which Iain was held, by all who knew him.

The presence of several licensees, as well as a couple of brewers, showed just how highly regarded he was by the licensed trade, and the donation of two casks of beer; one from Kent Brewery and the other from Pig & Porter, made sure the afternoon went swimmingly and passed off in more than a slight alcoholic haze.

The start to the working week  was pretty straight forward, but on Tuesday I had the remaining bottom right molar removed from my jaw; a procedure which wasn’t helped by the tooth fracturing into three pieces during the extraction. It is only today (Saturday), that I have felt anything like my normal self as, although returning to work the day after the extraction, I was popping pain-killers at the appropriate  times and generally feeling under the weather. As an indication of this, I have not had a drop of beer since Monday evening, although I intend to rectify this later this evening.

Windmill - beer selection
The weather too has not been good recently, and certainly not conducive to enjoying the great outdoors. There is a CAMRA social tomorrow, at the Windmill in Sevenoaks Weald.  There is the possibility of walking there, but with squally showers forecast later in the day, it might be a case of a walk there and then the bus back.

The Windmill, of course was branch Pub of the Year for three years on the trot, and only narrowly missed winning the award for a record fourth time this year. There will be plenty to look forward to beer-wise, at this tastefully renovated village pub, and it will be good to catch up with landlord Matt under happier circumstances, as the last time I saw him was at Iain’s funeral, last week.

Regensburg - old town
Finally, we have the prospect of a family holiday to look forward to in a few weeks time, and a return trip to the lovely city of Regensburg, in eastern Bavaria, should help lift all our spirits. With four breweries, plus a brew-pub, operating in the city, there should be plenty to keep us entertained on the beer front, and if the weather turns out the same as last year, it should provide a much better end to the month than September has been so far.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The only way is up!

Here’s a news story that has been all over radio and TV these last couple of days, and it concerns a subject close to every beer lover’s heart. 

According to the recently published Good Pub Guide 2018 (not to be confused with CAMRA’s Good beer Guide), London is no longer the most expensive place to buy a pint. For the first time, Surrey has overtaken the capital as the most expensive area of the country, with the average pint costing £4.40. This is 20p more than what they would expect to pay for a beer in London. Apparently, this is the only time since the Good Pub Guide first appeared, in 1982 that the average price in the capital has not been the highest in Britain.

By way of contrast, Herefordshire and Yorkshire have the cheapest beer, with a pint costing just £3.31. Other cheaper counties where drinkers have a reason celebrate, include Shropshire at £3.33 a pint, Derbyshire at £3.36 and Cumbria and Worcestershire, both at £3.38.

The difference in price for a pint of beer is now more than £1 across the country, with the average glass costing £3.60 - up by 13p on 2016’s prices. I haven’t seen any figures for Kent, but in neighbouring Sussex, drinkers can expect to pay an average of £3.82, while Hertfordshire comes in at £3.81.
Whilst the figures are broadly indicative of differing prices across the country, they should be viewed with a little caution, as there are many factors which determine average prices. Not least amongst these are variations in earnings in  different parts of the country and that favourite topic of conversation at middle-class dinner parties; house prices.

Some might argue that this story was nothing more than a cynical publicity stunt to promote the Good Pub Guide ahead of its launch. The fact that this guide has hit the bookshelves a week before the official launch of CAMRA’s own Good Beer Guide, might lend a grain of truth to this idea, but I’ve no doubt the Campaign for Real Ale will have a few good publicity stories of its own, come September 14th.

Whatever your take though, the continuing upward creep of the price of a pint is surely a concern for all those who appreciate good beer in good pubs; and if you happen to live in Surrey do you just grin and bear it, do you move to a cheaper area, or do you start brewing your own?

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

A walk in the park

I would like to share one of my favourite places with you; a place where I really feel good and at peace with the world. That place is the Englischer Garten (English Garden) in Munich and it is the largest urban park in Germany, and one of the most pleasant centrally-located green spaces of any city in the world. The name Englischer Garten  refers to its informal “English-style” of landscaping; a form of outdoor design which became popular in England from the mid-18th to the early 19th Centuries. 

I became enthralled by the Englischer Garten during my first visit to the Bavarian capital in 2005, and  ever since I have made a point of spending at least a day there whenever I visit the city. I just love strolling along one of its many paths, walking at times through mature woodland, before emerging again into areas of parkland, brightly lit by the warm summer sun. What is more, unlike London’s Hyde Park where it is often difficult to escape the noise of the traffic, in the Englischer Garten it is hard to believe that one is in the middle of a large metropolitan city.

Despite its name, the Englischer Garten was conceived by an American called Benjamin Thompson. Thompson had sided with the British during the American  War of Independence, and had been forced to flee his homeland when the war ended. He ended up in the service of Prince Karl Theodor, the recently appointed Elector of Bavaria, who was keen to carry out improvements to his new home city. This was partly to court favour with his new subjects thereby avoiding the fate of his contemporary, Louis XVI of France. Theodor commissioned Thompson to come up with ideas that would endear him to the people of Munich, in order to head off any thoughts of rebellion they might harbour.

Thompson worked on a number of  projects, but his best idea was in persuading the prince to set aside a portion of the Royal Game Reserve on the outskirts of Munich, along with an area of swamp along side the banks of the River Isar. The swamp was to be drained and the whole area developed into a large public park. The site was landscaped and laid out in the natural English style, rather than the more formal French style of landscaping. Although the park was Thompson’s idea, it was designed and laid out by the Royal Gardener, Ludwig von Sckell and the man who was to become Thompson’s successor, Baron von Werneck. It is considered a prime example of a classical landscape park.

The Englischer Garten was officially opened in 1792, and was an immediate success with the local population. The Prince awarded Thompson the title Count von Rumford and the Bavarians even named a soup after him, (Rumsfordsuppe). In 1836, a mock Greek temple, called the Monopteros, was built on an artificial hill.

Today the park occupies an area of 922 acres (373 hectares), and is three miles long and just over half a mile across at its widest point. There are three streams flowing through it, in addition to the Isar which forms the eastern boundary of the park. On hot summer days it seems as though half of Munich has decamped here to soak up the sun, jog or cycle along its many paths, or to bathe in the streams.

As I said earlier, I fell in love with the place during my first trip to Munich. This was a short visit in the summer of 2005, and was a welcome and much needed break from the pressures of running a busy off-licence, which was open seven days a week. I packed quite a lot into my three day stay, but it was on my first full day in the city that I found my way to the Englischer Garten and was delighted with what I found.

The other great delights that the park has to offer are its beer gardens, of which there are several. Probably the best known is the Chinesischer Turm, so-called because the 7,000 odd seats are arranged in front of a 50 foot, multi-tiered, wooden pagoda. This structure acts as the stage for a Bavarian oom-pah band on weekend afternoons. All Munich life seems to gather here, and it is a fascinating place to spend a summer’s afternoon. The beer is from Hofbräu, one of Munich’s, and one of my favourite breweries.

Back in 2005, the Chinesischer Turm  provided my first experience of a German beer garden, and the rituals involved with the buying beer and food at the self-service kiosks. It was also just really good, sitting at one of the wooden benches, enjoying a nice cool mug of beer and people watching. Beer gardens are great levellers, and people of all ages and from all walks of life are all equal there.

A bit further into the park is Seehaus im Englischen Garten , which overlooks the idyllic Kleinhesselohe Lake. Boats can be hired from the nearby boat-house, and are an ideal way of working up a thirst prior to visiting the beer garden. The beer here is from Paulaner, one of Munich’s largest breweries. There are two other beer gardens slightly to the north of the Kleinhesselohe Lake. They are Osterwald Garten ( Spatenbräu) and Hirschau (Löwenbräu ). Three years ago, on my last summer visit to Munich, I finally managed to visit these two establishments as well.  

On that particular trip we also visited the Chinesischer Turm twice. Our first visit, which was on a Friday evening, found the place heaving. Many people had just finished work and were starting to wind down for the weekend. Things were a little more relaxed on our second visit, which was early in the afternoon, but it was a baking hot day and we were glad to find a shady spot under one of the many chestnut trees. As we wandered through the Englischer Garten that day, people were pick-nicking, bathing in the streams or just soaking up the sun (some completely naked!). Others were cycling, walking their dogs or strolling through the grounds. At the southern entrance to the park, some hardy souls were surfing in the rapids where the streams converge.

Of course Munich is much more than just the Englischer Garten, and the city is well worth a visit in its own right. Not only is it Germany’s third largest city, it is the city where most Germans say they would like to live. Munich is sometimes described as “Italy’s northernmost city”, and the city’s architecture and relaxed lifestyle certainly match this description. The Alps are only 30 miles away and there are numerous lakes and picturesque villages that are just a short drive away.

Munich though is also a city of culture. For over 900 years it was the capital of Bavaria; once a proud and independent kingdom, and a place which still describes itself as the “Free State of Bavaria”. Over the course of this period Bavaria’s ruler’s amassed treasures, collected fine works of art and constructed magnificent palaces and castles in which to house and display their collections. It is also a beery centre of culture, and can justifiably claim to be the “Beer Capital of the World”.

Go there and enjoy yourself, but when you do, make certain to spend some time in  the Englischer Garten.