Monthly Archives: September 2013

Alternative beverage suggestion

Something for the weekend, just for the hell of it (and because I’ve been humming it all day).

You can find out more here. (NB May lead to expansion of your record collection.)

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No, I don’t want a cup of tea

A few quick pub updates from recent wanderings.

When the rumour went round that the Salutation was going to be closed down by its owner, Manchester Metropolitan University (which I should note is my employer), I resisted the general doom and gloom; I had already heard that the pub was staying open, and that it would be run by the Students’ Union. Obviously it would change, a bit, but I was hopeful that the Sal would retain its character – and its excellent beer range. I stuck my head in the other day and found that, of the four hand pumps, only one was in action – the (Pennine Brewery) house bitter. There were a couple of those small blackboard-on-menu-holder arrangements on the bar, advertising Gaymer’s (keg) cider and Jeremiah Weed. Things may change when term starts in a couple of weeks; I’ll reserve judgment till then.

Another pub with a house beer is the (JDW’s) Sedge Lynn in Chorlton. Their arrangement with Brightside has yielded the interesting experiment of a house dark mild (which I foolishly never got round to trying) and – on now – a house golden ale. It’s very light – not-touching-the-sides light – but pleasant in its way. Last time I was in they also had Mordue Belma Red, which puts up a bit more of a fight. Not the prickliest red ale I’ve ever had, but worth £1.80 of any CAMRA member’s money. Some Spoons’ do put some good stuff on. On a couple of occasions recently I’ve seen the same beer on at the Sedge Lynn and Pi or De Nada, both of which obviously charge considerably more – I wonder how the breweries make it pay.

From house beers to house breweries: for me there’s been a small question mark over the beer range at the Horse and Jockey since its takeover by Holt’s. Taking on the Horse – complete with the Bootleg brewery – seemed downright bizarre at the time, although it now looks more like an early sign of Joeys’ new direction. When I looked in the other day they had seven beers on: three Holt’s (Bitter, IPA and the golden ale Two Hoots), two from Bootleg and two guests, from Beartown and Conwy. It’s not the kind of range the Horse had before the takeover, but it’s not bad (I’m a bit of a fan of Conwy).

A couple of doors down from the Horse, the Beech continues to plough its own furrow: lots of Timothy Taylor Landlord and Golden Best, supplemented by three or four guests, some adventurous (Oakham, Salamander) but most not (Hobgoblin, Ruddles). The other night I thought I saw Pedigree on the bar; I looked again and realised it was Pedigree New World, a special using the Pedigree recipe with (you’re ahead of me) New World hops. It was OK, but after one pint I went back to the Landlord.

Electrik have a few distinctions in the crowded Chorlton bar scene: one is having three of their own beers (brewed at Happy Valley), another is having a free jukebox of high quality, while a third is having a wide range of comfortable-looking seats on which it’s actually impossible to get comfortable. When I’m there I’m looking for a chair I can lean back in, with enough light to read by and no draught on my neck; the combination is hard to find, and I usually end up shifting between two or three different seats. I keep going back, though. Last night both their own Bright Spark and the rum stout Black Out were on (I had the latter, which was excellent) as well as the very welcome sight of Ticketybrew Pale Ale. It was, once again, a fantastic beer – and keenly priced at £3.40 a pint.

Lastly, a weekend note. I’ve got a long-established Saturday routine, involving going out early doors for a couple of pints with something to read. It’s a habit I got into when I didn’t know many people in the area, and I’m reluctant to break it now, although I’m conscious it may sometimes make me look anti-social. Last Saturday I divided my time between the Marble Beerhouse and De Nada. I hadn’t had a drink in the Marble for months, & I was very pleased to see that the framed posters which graced the walls for years have been put back up: two of Brendan Dobbin’s unique West Coast Brewery posters, a Thirsty Moon, a Wobbly Bob… They didn’t have any of those beers on, mind you – in fact, they only had one guest (from Marble offshoot Blackjack), although I think another had just gone off. There were five Marble beers, though, and – sign of the times – a guest keg font (Magic Rock High Wire). Sitting on an upholstered bench next to a sleeping cat, reading my paper by the light of the fading evening sun, in complete silence but for the sound of conversations from the far end of the room, I had a pint of Marble Lagonda. And what a mighty beer that is – a full-on pale ale, but with a fruity body in comparison with the more astringent likes of Dobber.

Then, up the road at De Nada, I had an XT 4, which was pleasant if unspectacular; I drank it in between eating the complimentary nibbles, while sitting in a leather armchair, reading by the wall light, listening to a hum of conversation all around me and enjoying the sound of the jukebox (when did you last see a jukebox with Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”?) As a way to spend half an hour it was rather fine.

Getting philosophical for a moment, it struck me afterwards that in those two Saturday pints I’d experienced the difference between a pub and a bar. With the sounds, the nibbles and the dim light, De Nada had a real buzz about it; I really enjoyed being there. With the natural light, the quiet and the cat, the Marble had absolutely no buzz at all – and I really enjoyed being there, but in a different way. It would be pushing it, to say the least, to say that that’s what pubs are like – that’s not even what the Marble’s like when it gets busy. But I do think that experience – “take your beer, sit down, now we’ll leave you to your own thoughts for the next hour or two” – is something you’re much more likely to get in a pub than in a bar; just as the more ‘buzzy’ experience – “enjoy your beer, try some nibbles, do you remember this one? this is cool, isn’t it?” – is very bar-like. I wouldn’t be without either of them.

(It’s in Belgium)

We had a long weekend in Bruges a bit back. Bruges is as beautiful as you’ve heard it is, and very nearly as beautiful as it looks in the film (and if you haven’t seen the film, do yourself a favour and seek it out pronto). The beer was pretty good, too. Here are the tasting notes I jotted down on my iPod, with added commentary.

Brugse tripel (Palm)

This was at a bar called De Gilde in Oude Burg, a street which seemed to be on the way to (or back from) most places we went – we walked down it about three times every day. I ordered it under the impression it was a local beer (what with the name) & was disappointed to find it was one of Palm’s. It was fine, though.

Leffe Radieuse: fruity, surprisingly hoppy

There were a few Leffes we don’t get over here. Radieuse is marketed as “Leffe goes hoppy”, and it was, a bit. I had this with dinner the first night. Mmm, Flemish beef stew.

The next few are from what’s probably my favourite bar of the trip, ‘t Brugs Bieratelier. (Thanks to Chris M for tipping me off to this – although, as it was two doors down from our hotel, I probably would have found my way there eventually.) The Bieratelier specialises in draught – which is to say, keg – as distinct from the massive bottle menus offered by most places. I had two lots of three small beers – 100 ml? 200? I’ve no idea how much I was actually getting, which is a disadvantage of beer from the tap – at least, it is in a country which hasn’t gone through the kind of standardisation we take for granted in the UK. Anyway, you got three beers for €8 (plus complementary peanuts) which was basically fine by me. It was a quiet, laid-back weekday late night, which meant there were only a handful of English people ordering pints of lager (in English) and only one stag party (from Holland). But, in all seriousness, it was a quiet, laid-back place – the atmosphere was so relaxed that it seemed to soak up the rowdier elements without being affected by them. The quiet soundtrack of Dylan album tracks may have helped.

Anyway, here are my six beers:

Guldenberg tripel

Fort Lapin: pale and interesting

St Bernardus: mmm

Gouden Carolus dubbel

Timmermans lambic: aargh!

Novice black tripel (???): extra f’in ordinary

Fort Lapin (“strong rabbit”?) was a new name to me; their tripel was rather nice & a few steps away from the usual “pale, strong, a bit fruity, a bit herby” template. There were hops there, I’ll be bound. I’ve been slightly sniffy about St Bernardus before, what with them not being Trappists, but the dubbel was extraordinary (it knocked the Gouden Carolus into a cocked hat). Not as extraordinary as Landtsheer Novice “black tripel”, though. It was basically what you’d get if you spliced the genetic material of a tripel with a black IPA. Very hoppy, very roasty, very Belgian – quite unusual!

As for the lambic, I have drunk it before – some years ago, when the relative strength of the pound made Belgian imports a regular buy – but it was a bit of a shock to the system coming in among those dubbels and tripels. I think getting properly into lambic would take an evening of its own, or possibly a trip of its own. The barman saw the face I made after my first swallow and apologised – “It’s not very sour, is it? That’s the only lambic we can get in a keg – the good ones are only available in bottle.” Let’s just say that the problem I’d had with it wasn’t a lack of sourness.

The next day we stopped around 12.00 for a portion of chips (with mayonnaise), accompanied by

Hoegaarden inna can

for about 50p. (The Belgians never got the memo about minimum pricing.) Having noticed a distinct groundswell of English people ordering in English, I was determined to use what little Flemish I had. (Belgium is bilingual, but Bruges – which we should call Brugge really – is deep in Flanders; French is about as useful there as Spanish.) “Drie groote frites, alstublieft”, I said to the guy behind the counter. “Three large chips – what would you like on those?” he replied, not missing a beat.

We stopped for a proper lunch later on, with a

Maes pils

for what that’s worth. That night we had an Italian meal at a rather fine restaurant called La Riva del Sole (very nice zabaglione); I know I had something with it, but what it was, my iPod and I cannot tell you.

Another late-evening outing took me to De Garre. Among others, Beersay‘s writeup had raised my expectations somewhat:

Dating back to the 1700′s, De Garre is one of those places where the gentle atmosphere and ambience has your mind wondering how many people have sat here before you. What joys, tragedies, laughter, crimes or drunken buffoonery have these four walls witnessed in their lifetime?

The Tripel arrived in two large goldfish bowl like glasses, with the thick white creamy head massively outweighing the liquid content by about three parts to one, there being only approximately three quarters of an inch of beer sitting at the base. Either by sensing our unconscious looks of disappointment or by the daily experiences of newcomers to his bar, the barman softly whispered “wait, it will come”.

Each tray of beer is served with a small portion of chopped cheese, which I’m led to believe is a compatible match for most Belgian beer, it was soft, creamy and when finally, patience rewarded we got to taste the Garre Tripel went perfectly with the beer.

Here’s my writeup:

De Garre tripel: not brilliant and much too strong

I arrived to find a tiny and brightly-lit bar with every table taken. (No standing at the bar in Belgian bars.) The barman caught my eye, held up one finger and pointed upstairs, then shouted something indistinct which I (correctly) interpreted as “you want the Tripel?” Upstairs was a slightly larger but even more brightly-lit bar with every table taken but one, right in the far corner, directly under a couple of halogen lamps. I manoeuvred the furniture around until I could get behind the table. The barman brought my drink. (It came with peanuts, and soft whispering was not involved.) I tried to concentrate on (a) my beer and (b) my paper but found I was fighting a losing battle with (c) the glare and (d) the noise of what appeared to be 300 English and American beer geeks having animated conversations all around me (“as for what I’m thinking, nobody has the RIGHT to censor what’s in my MIND“.) I got to the bottom of the glass sooner than I expected and looked up to see the barman standing over me. “ANOTHER!” he enquired. I shook my head and got my purse out. And that was about it for De Garre. As for the beer, it was a very heavy tripel; it would have been pretty nice but for an unpleasantly strong flavour of alcohol. Basically it tasted like a tripel which had had a tequila dropped in it. I was seriously considering going into the Bier Bistro on Oude Burg on the way home for something more palatable in a more relaxed atmosphere, but the atmosphere that night was a bit too relaxed – by the time I passed it was shut.

There wasn’t any daytime drinking the next day. In the evening I had the bright idea of going out before dinner instead of last thing at night, and found my way to bar #2 on my hitlist: ‘t Brugs Beertje. It was rammed – so much so that I had to share a table – and absolutely everyone was speaking English, but somehow the atmosphere was much more laid-back than it had been in De Garre. And the beer was great.

Pannepot: a vision of Virol loveliness

Orval (young): interesting but too young

That’s De Struise Pannepot, De Struise being a newish local brewer (est’d 2001). I’m not sure how you’d classify Pannepot: it’s very dark, very strong and made with spices. Possibly a Quadrupel? It was very nice indeed, whatever it was. Very malty, as my tasting notes suggest (Virol was a ‘malt extract’ given to babies; I was once found, aged two or three, eating it out of the jar). As for the Orval, the Beertje will serve you a young Orval for €2 or one that’s been aged in the bottle for six months for €2.50. I guessed, rightly as it turned out, that the ‘aged’ variety would be what I’d had before, and ordered the ‘young’. It was… interesting. Much lighter than the Orval we know and love (although presumably it’s just as strong); I was reminded of ginger beer. I wish I could have followed it with an ‘aged’ bottle, to compare and contrast, but I had to get back to base camp.

That evening we ate at a really superb restaurant called De Schilder, where (with my rabbit) I had a

Bourgogne des Flandres: good but too light (5%) for its fruitiness

and followed it with a

Westmalle tripel: stern but beautiful

Can’t improve on that, except to say that drinking a Westmalle tripel out of a Westmalle glass really does feel special.

Lastly, with a sandwich lunch on the final day, I had a

Brugse Zot: light, refreshing, aromatic 6%er

Regrets, I’ve got a few. I didn’t get around to the Halve Maan brewery tour, which famously concludes with a freebie Zot; I didn’t get to the Bier Bistro, Cambrinus, the Café Rose Red or the Trappiste; and, of course, I barely scratched the surface at ‘t Brugs Beertje. My son, who recently turned 18, was less enthusiastic about the drinking than I’d hoped; he’s decided he’s into cider, which wasn’t a big feature of the local bars. Another time.

Also, beers – I’ve got a few of them, too. There are tourist-oriented bottle shops all over Bruges; in one of them I saw, and declined to buy, all three of the Westvleteren beers (semi-illegal and at ridiculous markups). But really there are only three places to buy beer, and two of them are supermarkets. Here’s my till receipt from the Carrefour near our hotel.

Receipt

Mmm, Rochefort

“Leeggoed” = bottle deposit; in effect everything came out 10c dearer than it looked (or 50c in a few cases, such as Delirium Tremens). But the selection was frankly extraordinary, and the prices were mind-boggling. That €1.09 for Westmalle Dubbel isn’t unusual; the Rocheforts and the Duvel (Tripel Hop) were the pricey ones. (And the prices went down if you bought a six-pack. Six-packs of Trappist beers in the equivalent of Tesco Express – what a country!) The bottle shops were all selling these same beers for €2.50 and €3.50; they could actually stock up in Carrefour and still make a profit.

As for the third place to buy beer, it’s called the Bierpaleis or Beer Palace, and it puts the rest of the bottle shops to shame. It was there that I bought a couple of Fort Lapins (tripel and quadrupel) as well as the find of the trip, a big bottle of Mont des Cats – the Trappist beer that isn’t (it’s brewed by Trappist monks, but on the Chimay brewkit rather than within their own abbey). In all I came home with nine bottles, of which I’ve drunk two (the Westmalle and the Tripel Hop); they didn’t disappoint. I’m looking forward to working my way through the rest. Also looking forward to another trip to Bruges…