Friday, 22 April 2016

Nuremberg Day 2: A Munich Interlude

Sorry this has taken me a while but I got distracted.

Up bright and early on the Tuesday, Sammie and I decided to head to Munich for the day. Trains in Germany are ridiculously cheap, if you get the regional ones, but they do also take forever. The Bayern Ticket we got entitles you to unlimited travel within Bavaria and Franconia for one day for €23, and you can add other people on for an extra €5, which is a bargain, although the regional train means it stops at every single stop and thus taking around 3 hours.

We got to Munich, and the weather wasn't very pleasant. Rain. Ugh. Our main target for pre-beer wanders was The English Gardens so we headed that way. Sammie, I may have mentioned, is really into art so we went to Haus Der Kunst (literally House of Art) which backs onto the English Gardens. We paid about €12 each to get into an exhibition of an artist whose name I forget, but this guy creates scale size dioramas and models, then shoots with a camera to make them look life sized. It was pretty cool but the best part was actually the free installation by French artiste Laure Prouvost, entitled "We would be floating away from the dirty past" which featured sculpture, video, text and every kind of art you could imagine. The whole idea was about inviting you in, being your friend, showing you some love. It was about how she would treat you if it was her museum. She'd give you raspberries and make you a cup of tea. I'm not usually encapsulated by art, but this was something special.

We then decided to take a wander through the rainy English Gardens where the surfers were out in full force on the artificial wave, in spite of the weather. We got to the Chinese Tower, which was beautiful despite the rain and ordered a half liter of Hofbrau Helles whilst admiring the scenery and deciding that it would be much more beautiful in the summer. The Helles was crisp and refreshing, and only €4, which if it was somewhere in England like the equivalent of Hyde Park it'd probably be about £6.

We then hopped on the tram to go to the one place that I really needed to go in Munich - (Schneider) Weisses Brauhaus. That was the dream, being a massive van of Hefeweizens. I was surprised at how easily we were able to find a seat considering it seemed like a busy day, and as it happens we were between two groups of English people, both very different groups. On one side was a couple of respectable chaps who looked like they were over on a business trip, but then there were the dreaded scousers drinking litres of lager. I knew we'd have to bump into wankers like that. They kept singing and being loud so they eventually got kicked out, much to our gratitude.

We ordered our beers - We both started with one of my all time favourites, a half litre of Tap 5 Mein Hopfenweisse, a strong hefeweizen that's been hopped to fuck. Holy shit, the freshness, the drinkability despite the ABV! I could have easily drunk this all day but there were more beers to be drunk so we decided to have one more, mine was a Unser Original and Sammie being the dark and strong beer fiend that she is, obviously went for Aventinus.

Moving on, the next pub on our hit list was Augustiner Am Platz which was quite a bit busier than Weisses and after sneakily manoeuvring the place we found a seat. First beer we ordered was Augustiner Edelstoff, a 5.6% Export Helles, and I dare say that it was ridiculously refreshing after a couple of yeast-heavy weissbiers. At this point, while waiting for my native friend Thomas, we started talking to Tim and Jen, an American couple who were sitting beside us. We got talking because I'm a nosy fucker and noticed him checking into a beer on Untappd so after hearing they were speaking English, we started chatting and exchanged Untappd usernames. We chatted beers, whilst drinking yet more beers. I went for the standard Augustiner Helles next, which is a far cry from a standard lager and I preferred this to the Edelstoff as it wasn't quite as sweet. Sammie had the Dunkel, which was too sweet for me but she loved it. I was not pacing myself so managed to sneak in another half litre of Helles before Thomas arrived. (NB. Untappd says that I actually had a pint of Dunkel too, which I don't actually remember).
We bade Jen and Tim farewell and wandered off with Thomas to get food.

Due to having not eaten yet, I was quite drunk and therefore cannot remember the name of the pub we went to next, or what I drunk but I can tell you that I had the most delicious roast pork with dumplings that I have ever eaten in my life, after Thomas told me I wasn't allowed to order the bratwurst as you only order it before lunch, and I drank a lager. He was shocked at the fact that in the UK (or where I'm from at least) you can't walk down the road drinking a beer for fear of getting fined.

We had time for one last stop before the train, and it was a weird, posh, basement hotel bar that I think was attached to the train station or at least very near. I'm sure I had a Konig Ludwig Weissbier here.

A stumble to the train station to grab some currywurst (that I spilled down myself on the train) and a beer and we embarked on our journey back to Nuremberg.

And that's where things went wrong. Towards the end of our journey, we both fell asleep and woke up in the town just past Munich. We were in a raging fucking panic but that was all sorted because it was going back to Nuremberg to stay for the night. THANK FUCK FOR THAT!

We got back to Nuremberg and got safely back to our hotel for a rather good, but drunken night's sleep...


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Beer Review - St Peters Black IPA

It's been a while since I've done a proper review, mostly because I've been a dreadful person and haven't written about anything that I've automatically been sent within the last probably year-ish but this one I couldn't not review and that's mostly because the CEO of St Peter's Brewery hooked me up with samples as he's a lovely chap.

It was just a chance meeting with Steve Magnall, formerly of G****e K**g and the wonderful Thwaites Brewery, when my good friend Matt Curtis was on a whirlwind trip to Norwich in aid of City of Ale. It was in St Andrews Brewhouse, along with International Man of Triangles Kev Tweedy, my Beer Woman of the year Belinda Jennings and Francis who does PR for City of Ale, that I bumped into Steve.

We got chatting, and he mentioned they'd decided to brew a Black IPA, which was going into 330ml bottles (as it is the preferred measure these days) to which I cheekily mentioned that I am one of them beer bloggers again now and totally independent WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE, so we exchanged business cards (he gave me his business card as I never bothered to order any. I should) and I promised to email him the next day. He then hooked me up with their marketing lady, Emily who took my address and promised to get some bottles to me.

St Peters I've always found were a criminally underrated brewery. I always remember seeing the medicine style bottles of their beers on supermarket shelves and I remember drinking their beers before I was allowed to, when dad would buy us a few bottles in for Christmas. I then remember drinking their beers in The Fat Cat on cask, and recall Grapefruit being a thing of beauty (suck it modern craft breweries... St Peter's did a grapefruit beer first). For years after that, cask St Peters was few and far between and then it started cropping up again along with key kegs (which are mostly export). The most interesting thing I learned about Peters is the countries in which they sell the most beer too. Three of them, maybe four are unsurprising but the fifth shocked me to my core for the fifth is Mexico. Apparently Mexicans go nuts over their dark beers, because very few of the new craft breweries that have cropped up over there are making stouts and porters. Interesting huh?

Anyway, I'll stop waffling (can you tell I miss writing?) and get down to it... what's the beer like?

Brewery: St Peter's (Suffolk, England)
Beer: Black IPA
ABV: 7% (5.2% on cask I believe)

It pours black as the night with a lovely massive medium brown head; on the nose you're getting spiky citrusy hops before the chocolate and coffee notes kick in along with dark fruits.

Upon tasting, it's mostly those dark fruits you get on the nose like dates and raisins but the coffee kicks in before a sweet fig and citrusy finish. It really hides the 7% well!

Verdict? It's a very bloody good beer, but for me it's not a Black IPA. For me, in a Black IPA, those fruity, citrusy flavours should dominate but they just don't. For all intents and purposes, I'm going to view this beer as an India Stout, or Hopped Up Stout, because that's what it is.

Would I buy? 100 times yes. Especially if I saw it on cask.


Monday, 18 April 2016

Brewdog Norwich - The Dream has Happened

For years and years my beer geek friends and I have dreamt of this day; the day that anarchic Scottish brewery Brewdog open a bar in Norwich. We called for it, we crawled the streets trying to find a suitable venue for them to move into, alas no luck but finally, about 9 months ago we got the news that we were waiting for, the news that Brewdog would open up in the former Hideout/Knowhere nightclub on Queens Street in Norwich.

Friday 15th April, at Midday, Brewdog Norwich is finally opened to the public with craft beer, food and a bottledog shop.

I mean, as if the need for Brewdog Norwich wasn't enough, it has a goddamn shop with around 200 bottles... something the centre of Norwich has been crying out for, for a long time too.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a secret friends and family opening on Wednesday night, by my good friend and Brewdog barman Jay, as well as the EFP/Press Launch on Thursday night.

Walking through the door, it's the same yet different as other Brewdog bars... sure it has the exposed brickwork, but the bar is different. It's clear with no obtrusive (yet beautiful) 3 out founts and instead the 25 taps are on the back wall a la Norwich Taphouse.

The opening tap list comprised of around 15 Brewdog taps with the remaining 10 being dedicated to the likes of that local brewery, Alesmith, Oskar Blues, Mikkeller, Beavertown and Almanac amongst others.

Alesmith on keg in Norwich. WOAH BACK UP A MINUTE. Alesmith beers are not common at the best of times outside of California, let alone within the UK so the Vietnamese Speedway Stout at at 12% was a real treat, drinking well below its ABV with deep, bittersweet coffee and chocolate flavours.

My other guest beer highlight was Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale from Colorado; I've had this in cans plenty of times, and previously also had it on keg but this was probably the freshest I've ever had it, with juicy citrusy hops, well balanced by a light malty backbone; great value too at £4.95 a pint.

Brewdog highlights were Elvis Juice, a grapefruit infused IPA which in my opinion was better than Magic Rock Highwire Grapefruit as it didn't have the bitterness, just all of the juiciness, it was a beer that I've repeatedly gone back for since the first time I had it. Born To Die was another real treat, so so fresh and delicious.

Jet Black  Heart, however, has been my favourite; it's Brewdog's way of saying "fuck you, Diageo", a nitro stout to kick Guinness in the bollocks, it pours jet black as the name suggests, with a creamy, tight tan head. Coffee flavours echo throughout the creaminess with a refreshing finish; something you don't find in stouts often. At 4.7% and with a nice lightness to it, it's a highly drinkable and sessionable beer and I can see myself drinking more of this than any of Brewdog's other core range beers.

Ah, I've not mentioned the food. In many pubs, food is merely a backing singer but in Brewdog Norwich, food is the lead guitarist which stands in line with the aggressive frontman; the Patty Melt is greasy, dirty and delicious with its cheesy, beefy glory, the sharp pickles cutting through. I will eat a thousand of these and die a greasy, delicious death. My only criticism is that there doesn't appear to be a pork or chicken alternative for people like my girlfriend who are allergic to beef. There is a vegetarian haggis
version and there are also chicken wings,which look delicious though.

I've also found the service to be nothing short of amazing, which I'd expect from Brewdog given my experience in their bars. A lot of hard work has gone into training the staff so that they know their shit and are extremely attentive to everyone's needs.

All in all, it's goddamn Brewdog in Norwich. It's the best thing to happen to the Norwich beer scene in quite some time, and I'm looking forward to seeing what events and beer launches they have coming up.

Brewdog Norwich is on Queens Street and is open 12-12 Sunday-Thursday and 12-2am on Friday and Saturday.


P.S. I'm not that good at taking photos. They came accompanied by a press release from Viola at We Are Romans PR.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Unmentioned Pubs of Norwich

When talking about pubs in Norwich, the obvious stand out. The Fat Cat & Fat Cat Tap. Reindeer. Plasterers. Taphouse. Mash Tun. but there are so many other pubs in Norwich, either that I've not been to or I don't make a habit of drinking in. On Sunday, Sammie and I went on a bit of a crawl to discover these pubs...

The Rose Tavern, Rupert Street - A pub that I believe Alec and I went into once, about a year ago but drunken memories are hazy. This is a massive pub that's catering to the Sunday lunch crowd, with a nice garden out the back. The usual suspects of beer are on keg along with the rarely sighted Leffe and Hoegaarden. There were also hand pumps sporting not so uncommon real ales including Doom Bar, Woodfordes Wherry, Hopback Summer Lighning and Timothy Taylors Landlord. Of course, I went for Landlord above any of the others and it was extremely well kept. Service was friendly and with a smile, and we agreed we'd come back.

The Mulberry - Based on Unthank Road, The Mulberry is an Adnams tied pub that is seemingly part of a group of several pubs in Norwich. Arriving shortly after midday, it became apparent that it's one of the many "Sunday Brunch" spots that have popped up in Norwich. It seems to only be table service here, so we ordered Bitburger as if we were in Germany again (not that we ordered Bitburger when we were there). I had a great realisation that Bitburger is actually a really good beer and I just hadn't appreciated it before. Although nice, I doubt we'll return.

The Mad Moose - Another pub we'd heard of but never actually been to, and it was alright. It's on a corner that's more like an island, it's massive and has a garden with a rather large metal moose in it. I had Belhaven Intergalactic Dry Hop Lager, which surprised me as I've never been a fan of Belhaven beers - it was fruity and dry like a lager should be.

The Garden House - I used to drink here years ago when it was my brother's local. Moderate sized pub with a pool table, a massive garden but said garden has a serious lack of tables and chairs. I had Kozel, which definitely wasn't the same Kozel as I was drinking in Prague last year.

The Black Horse - I went here years ago as it was one of the only places that sold Hobgoblin on cask and oh how it has changed! It's all new and clean with a good buzz going on, still got the massive garden but an arguably better beer selection which I was surprised at for an Enterprise pub. There was Brooklyn Lager on keg and a good bunch of real ales on. I had Wharfe Bank Blood Orange IPA which was great.

The Alexandra Tavern - A pub I know I've been in many times and it was just the same, with Mediterranean style food and a selection of mostly Chalk Hill Brewery beers. We found a gem in Orkney Northern Light, which was light, hoppy and delicious.

The Belle Vue - Again a popular spot for me from years ago. Matt and I used to go there, hungover on a Sunday morning for one of their famously massive fry ups. I had Newby Wyke Kingston Topaz which was great - Newby Wyke is seriously underrated - but I noticed Guinness Golden Ale on keg, something I didn't know existed.

The Fat Cat - Ah a classic that I used to drink in pretty much every single day a few years ago, but yet another pub that Sammie had not been to. It was busy, as always, with the same usual selection of 30+ beers (they don't really change anymore). I went for the legendary Oakham Green Devil.

The Lord Nelson - A pub I have walked past loads of times but I've never wanted to enter. As this was a day of discovery, we went in. It was busy, full of locals who all know each other. There was one real ale on pump, Doom Bar, but in a pub like this I doubted the condition of what isn't a very nice beer anyway, so I went for Grolsch whilst Sammie went for Coors Light (somehow she had done so well in life as to never have tried Coors Light). Garden was big, and odd. Won't return.

West End Retreat - I never knew this pub existed before Sammie accidentally walked past it going the wrong way to her physio appointment the other week. I think of a retreat as somewhere nice, maybe like a beach or just somewhere peaceful. A peaceful beach, it was not. All mass produced keg lagers with warm bottles of Trooper that have probably been there since the first ever brew. Dusty, dog smell, a canvas photo of the dog above the bar (said dog was in the pub which is odd) and a weird shelf full of tins of different brands and brand progressions of baked beans. Fucking weird. We had a half of San Miguel and got out of dodge.

The Reindeer - Obviously it's one of my regular pubs, not least because I work there. Awesome pub, anyway. Dark Star Hophead was drunk here.

Rosebery - Been here tons of times. It was busy. Don't even know what I had but I'm sure it was good!

Fat Cat Brewery Tap - The best of the fat cat pubs. Live music was on so getting to the bar was a struggle. To my surprise, I found Brewdog Ace of Simcoe, single hop session IPA on keg which was beautiful to relax in the garden with.

The Stanley - Again, walked past loads of times but never been inspired to go in. I had a half of Guinness but they also had bottles of Black Sheep in the fridge. It was quiet, with just a few locals. Apparently they do live music. I didn't hate it, but I'm not sure I'd return.

The Artichoke - I vaguely remember play pool in there once. It was dead as hell and I didn't fancy London Pride so we had a half of Sagres which is an alright lager. Not in a rush to go back.

The Leopard - Sammie was quite drunk by this point and banging on about wanting food. The plan was always to go for an Indian but instead of going straight there, we diverted here. Again, I'm not sure what I had in here but I have a feeling it was a Golden Triangle beer.

The Plasterers - Another diversion on the way to have an Indian and I feel like drinking a half of Brewdog Jackhammer was not a wise idea! Again, I don't think I really need to say much about this pub.

Passage to India - Good Indian food with a half of Cobra (which I don't mind to be fair).

King's Head - Another classic Norwich institution which I visit regularly and you guessed it, I don't have a bloody clue what I drunk. I know that Sammie had a bottle of an unwisely strong Belgian Beer which meant... TAXIIIIII!

So what did we learn from going to pubs that we don't go to often or at all?

Firstly, don't stereotype just because it looks a bit dodgy and you don't like the look of the clientèle. Despite the fact that we'd been warned that some pubs like The Stanley and Nelson are rough, or that The West End Retreat that I'd never heard of looks really dodgy and rough, it doesn't mean they are. Not a single pub we went in made us feel unwelcome, in fact on the contrary the people were friendly and talkative. Said pubs may look weird, but they're not unfriendly.

That being said, there's a reason we don't go to most of these pubs often or at all and it's that they're just not our types of pubs. These pubs are there for a reason, because the locals gather together and have a good time and don't want to bother anyone.

The thing is though, we went on a Sunday; a family day; so things may be far, far different on a Saturday night when people are getting tanked without their kids.

All in all, we had a great day. Drank some dubious beers, but also drank some very very good ones.


P.S. I may have missed some pubs as my memory isn't great, but I think I captured most of them.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Aims of CAMRA

I've been saying for years that CAMRA has become less of a Campaign for Real Ale and more of a Campaign for Saving Pubs Regardless of How Shit They Are. CAMRA knows that it has won the battle to save real ale; we all know this.

I have accused CAMRA in the past of having another aim, the anti-craft keg aim, but I'm grown up now and I know that's not the case and it's merely just the view of some members. I know that CAMRA's technical committee, whatever the hell that actually is, has said that key keg beer is OK because no CO2 touches the yeast and we have in fact seen key keg bars at official CAMRA beer festivals within the last 6 months or so; this is, of course, wonderful news as it shows that CAMRA as an organisation and some branches are more progressive than I once gave them credit for.

Now, I'm no longer a CAMRA member as I got a bit annoyed at the views of some local branch members, but I'm over that. I'm going to put it down to my youth and the fact that at the time I was working for a local brewery that exclusively brewed craft keg lagers and ales. I'm not going to go over the ins and outs of this as it's irrelevant really, but even throughout my annoyance I've always kept a close eye what's going on with CAMRA.

Recently, however, so has everyone else; even those that are strongly anti-CAMRA may potentially see the organisation in a positive light due to the CAMRA Revitalisation Project.

The whole idea is that it's a survey and a bunch of consultations around the country that gives CAMRA members the voice to say what they think today's aims of the organisations should be.

The big question, with several options, in the consultation document is:

Q: How broad and inclusive should our campaigning be?

1) Real ale drinkers
2) Real ale, cider and perry drinkers
3) All beer drinkers
4) All beer, cider and perry drinkers
5) All pub goers
6) All drinkers

Now, in recent years it has looked like option 5, all pub goers but at the same time it's really option 1, or 2 if you're at a CAMRA beer festival.

Option 3 is what really grinds my fucking gears though...

"Should CAMRA represent drinkers of all types of beer on the grounds that if they drink beer they may be potential converts to real ale?"

What a load of condescending bollocks. I don't think I know a single British craft beer lover who didn't start on real ale. It reminds me of the article in the local, and really poorly named, CAMRA magazine "Norfolk Nips" where a bunch of them went and did the Bermondsey Beer Mile which was pretty much wasted on them as the article was just complaining that everywhere they went was keg beer then, the finishing line was the icing on the cake "All of the young people we spoke to were interested in what we had to say about real ale so we may have some potential converts". Excuse me? You went down to London and did the Bermondsey Beer Mile and basically turned it into an outing to preach about real ale? Get in the fucking sea.

I've banged on about the evils of conversion before so I'm not going to talk about it again but the above statement proves that even if CAMRA as an organisation did move to option 3, to represent all beer drinkers some branches still wouldn't accept it.

Option 4 talks about representing all traditional styles of beer, cider and perry but without discriminating about whether it's keg or cask, which won't work as it looks very anti-innovation.

Really the only option that looks realistic and less discriminatory is option 5, to represent all pub goers which is what it seems CAMRA has been doing for a while now anyway. Aside from the one local example I mentioned, most of what I see of CAMRA online is not about promoting real ale but more about supporting pubs and keeping them open regardless of whether they sell real ale. Hats off to my local branch for the fact that they have tried to keep local pubs that only sell mainstream keg beer open though.

I think it's pretty much pointless, in the very diverse beer world of 2016, to have a one track mind of just promoting real ale. CAMRA has proven as an organisation that it can be open to new things and they've managed to save real ale and get it into thousands and thousands of pubs across the UK so focusing on pubs and pub goers regardless of what they serve or drink is the logical move. We see pubs close all the time; they may be pubs we wouldn't ever think of going to but they have a purpose (coming soon: blog about pubs I would never dream of going to but did go to).

So CAMRA, that's my two cents for you, represent all pub goers. Those lager louts, they're the ones keeping pubs open. They're in your local every single day necking pints and pints of Foster's, keeping the landlord busy while you're at work.