Sunday, 25 December 2011

Bruges trip

I mentioned that I won't be visiting any pubs over Christmas. That's because I'm spending a week in Bruges from Boxing Day.

A beautiful city at any time of year, it is especially so at Christmas with the gluhkriek stalls, ice rink and of course Christmas beers. I'll be visiting classic bars Brugs Beertje and De Garre plus newcomers such as Rose Red. Struise Brouwers have opened a new beer shop which should be worth investigating. Trips to Brussels and De Haan are planned too.

A Lowry-esque view of the Markt
An added bonus is Tranmere's game at Sheffield Wednesday on 2nd January. We're travelling back overnight from Rotterdam to Hull so it will be a short detour to drop me off in Goole where I can catch a train to Sheffield where the obvious first port of call will be the Sheffield Tap. Happy Christmas!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Value for money?

Pencil and Spoon seems impressed by Brewdog Camden stating that "Draught BrewDog is from £3.50 a pint (Punk is £3.95); draught imports can be double that but will mostly be drunk by the half; samples are freely given (my advice: exploit this); bottles peak just under £20 but most give change from a tenner. It's not cheap but it's not unusually expensive for London"

Thank God I don't live in London. I expect change from a fiver for a bottle of beer, never mind a tenner and £20 gets me a good night's drinking.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

It's beginning to taste a lot like Christmas

My Christmas drinking started in earnest last week with my trip to the Kerstbier festival. Finishing work is a precursor to three days serious drinking at home. I go on holiday on Boxing Day so it looks like I won't be making any pub visits, but more of that anon.

Anyway, I've prepared some fine beers to help me through the rigours of Xmas TV:

Thwaites Old Dan

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

Meantime IPA 750cl

Marble Old Manchester 750cl

Fuller's Vintage Ale - 2004, 2005 and 2009

Brew Dog Hårdkogt IPA

St Feuillien Cuvée de Noël 2009

De Dolle Oerbier Reserva 2010

De Dolle Stille Nacht 1993

Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy's Ale 150th Aniversary 1987

Westvleteren 12 2006

Should do for starters. What are your inbibing plans?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The most wonderful time of the year.

I got fed up of Christmas long ago. False bonhomie, too much food, boring TV, pubs packed with strangers, public transport suspended. In contrast, my favourite weekend of the year is the one before Christmas. I set off tomorrow.

Essen (not be confused with the German town of the same name) is the norhernmost station on the Belgian rail network. Just one kilometre from the Dutch border it is a perfectly nice but boring commuter town. No doubt very pretty in summer, it feels bleak in midwinter as a savage easterly breeze cuts across the Kempen. There a plenty of bars but nothing to attract the beer tourist. What it does have is one of the best beer festivals to be found anywhere in the world. This is a labour of love organised by the local volunteers of O.B.E.R. which stands for the Objective Beer-tasters of the Essen Region. O.B.E.R. is one of more than 20 local clubs of the Belgian confederation of beer-tasters known as Zythos which is the Belgian equivalent of CAMRA.

Each year the local Heuvelhal is the venue where O.B.E.R aim to showcase every Christmas beer brewed that year. The number rises every year and will be pushing 150 beers this time. While gaining in popularity, it still has an initmate atmosphere that other festivals lost long ago. The beer list can be found HERE and includes some of the finest beers brewed in this finest of brewing nations. I can't wait to try classics such as barrel aged De Dolle's Stille Nacht Reserva and Bush Prestige. You can even catch me working behind the bar from time to time.

Yes, you can see Rochefort in 75cl. bottles
Essen has only about a dozen hotel rooms, so other than the odd camper van or foolhardy types sleeping in the back of cars in sub-zero conditions most people choose to seek accomodation in Antwerp which is a half hour journey by train or Brussels or Bruges. These cities are recommended even without the beer festival as Belgian cities know how to 'do' Christmas with their ice rinks and market stalls and more subtly attractive lights than the Blackpool Illuminations style found in Britain. Of course every Belgian bar worth its salt carries a range of Kerst biers at this time of year.

Last year's renewal was made even more memorable by the once-in-a lifetime snowstorm that paralysed much of Northern Europe and allowed me an extra night in Brussels with hotel courtesy of Eurostar.

If it is too late for this year to resolve to visit this festival at least once. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Liverpool Beer Festival

 RedNev blogged a few weeks back concerning the perverse system of ticket sales that Merseyside CAMRA use to sell tickets for their beer festival. Tickets, apart from a small number for less popular sessions sold by post and a tranche reserved for festival workers, are purchased by queueing in person in Liverpool city centre on a designated day. This penalises anyone who isn't local and means that few tickets are sold to the public at large.

The designated sale day was yesterday. A friend of mine got up at 6:00 a.m. yesterday to travel to Liverpool to queue up. Joining the queue at 8:00, he stood in the hail and wind for over two hours but when he eventually reached the head of the queue only one ticket remained for the Friday night - he had hoped to buy three, hardly an excessive order.

Why not spread tickets sales across a number of pubs, or sell them all online which would be the fairest method. I'm sure the vast majority of punters would find a small fee for postage better than the hassle and cost of queueing in person with no guarantee of tickets.

Sunday, 4 December 2011


That's how much a bottle of Marble Brewer Barley Wine costs from the Marble Beer House. It is 10.7% and is presented in a 75ml champage-corked bottle but even so is it value for money? I think not.

Perhaps Marble are starting to take their customers for granted. I did buy a bottle of Old Manchester to take away but £8.50 isn't enough for the staff to provide a bag to put it in. Also, I went to order food at the bar but was told that meals were suspended for an hour. An hour later there was still no timescale for ordering foood and when I enquired why I was told that the staff were busy catering for two pre-booked parties in the restaurant. In other words the ordinary customer could starve or in my case go elsewhere. I will say that the draught beer was as superb as ever.