The big three double O..

300xThis is my 300th post, a bit of a milestone for me and long overdue. Much in beer has changed since I first sat down and decided to start blogging under the Beersay handle around five or six years ago..

Brewdog opened their first bar in Aberdeen sometime during my first year in blogging proper. My own first visit to a new-fangled “craft beer” bar came I think a year or so later when I walked through the doors of Mr Foley’s in Leeds. 

Mr Foley’s rapid rise to fame came largely in my view at least, as a result of the vision of it’s then manager Dean Pugh. His potential quickly spotted, @BrewDogBarDean as he is now known, became manager at Brewdog Manchester, before helping to establish the brands UK flagship 40-tap bar in Shepherds Bush. Then bringing the timeline bang up to date. Only a few weeks ago, Dean packed his bags and moved to Berlin, and he’s not just going over to watch better football. 

Although saying that, currently the only team doing “wurst” than his is my own.

In that time of course Brewdog’s massive expansion has been mirrored by a huge rise facial growths of the beardy variety, many other things grown too, breweries, bars, beer columns in the press, full-on “quality” beer publications, podcasts, twitter beer shows, blogs and more.

Beer Festivals are no longer purely the domain of brown, there is a now veritable rainbow of colour choice, cloudy is acceptable and if a beer is sour, it won’t necessarily always mean “it’s off, sorry I’m sending it back”.

The once awful catchphrase uttered by a landlord, “here’s a fruit based drink for your good lady” doesn’t have to mean he’s being sexist, but only if he’s just handed you a bourbon barrel aged imperial apricot and mango saison. If not, he’s still a twat.

Beer is on TV, hooray! OK it still needs work and will get better, but it’s getting there.

Loads of the beer writers that inspired me to write also have moved on. Some have written books, become beer sommeliers, taken jobs in breweries, STARTED breweries, launched enormously successful beer festivals, opened bars, shops etc. Some have done pretty much all of the above.

Personally speaking I certainly don’t write as much now as I once did and there are many reasons for that. So many more folk doing it better than I do being one that immediately springs to mind. But that is a good thing too, as clearly with more being written by more people, beers popularity has risen enough to enthuse more people to be passionate about it in whatever fashion they see fit.

I definitely get a buzz about it still, especially when folk comment or say that I have inspired them in some way, or even if they just tell me I’ve written a complete load of tosh, as at least I know they bothered to take time out to read it.

If nothing else, I have made so many new and good friends over the years, not just drinking buddies, people I truly class as long-term close friends, people I trust and can (and do) confide in, go to for help and get it, help back, have a moan at or with, or just plain have a laugh and get drunk next to. Inspirational people in some way all of them.

THANK YOU ALL!

But the times they are a changing, as old Bobby Dylan once scribbled: and I have exciting news. Things are about to change for me too

Exciting, scary things..

Otters-Tears-IconV2-360px

Things are about to get otter, but I’ll tell you more about that in a day or so..

Cheers!

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Edinburgh jaunt

We recently visited Edinburgh for a couple of days and after taking lots of recommendations from folk (thanks @davomanic and @ckdsaddlers), managed to hit quite a few new places both on the beer and coffee, food and beer front. (We found a few bloody awful places too, but we won’t dwell on those) No in-depth reviews of any here really, a few words at most, plus photographs taken hastily, often blurry, using my iPhone of some of the most interesting.

First on my hit list was The Hanging Bat and indeed it was to there we headed immediately after dumping our belongings at the nearby Premier Inn on Lauriston Place, which I have to add was ideally placed to put a lot of places we hoped to try within easy walking distance. The Hanging Bat didn’t disappoint in any way, a lovely looking venue with the aroma of smoke mixing with brewhouse niffs. The beer list was tip-top and I was really happy to find a few new Scottish breweries making the beer list, Pilot and Fallen both hitting the spot several times over the weekend.

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Food was trickier as Mrs H (the wife) doesn’t really like smoked food, which here does not compute, I had the ribs with Vimto glaze which was absolutely beautiful, but left my fingers with a lingering smell of smouldering oak. This is fine until about 3am when you wake up gnawing at your knuckles dreaming about beer post beer munchies..

I was also really impressed by Blackfriars, tucked away a stones throw away from Brewdog and easy to miss unless you know what it is and where it is. Split in two on the ground floor with a restaurant one side and bar the other, but linked at cellar level sharing a kitchen and restrooms. The decor is bright and modern and had a cracking little beer list ably served by cheery knowledge staff.

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The bar, in case you hadn’t guessed…IMG_2869

I have no idea what this was, other than it was sour, murky and very drinkable.
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Stephen….(seagull)

Moving away from beer, Caffiene Drip was very much a Mrs H find and I have to admit on first impressions I was sceptical as we headed in for our first breakfast visit. However all that changed as we went down into the cellar serving and café area which had a really cool “in the know” kind of feel, with rows of small tables set in coffee sack clad walls. The menu was very coffee-deli like, but set at such a high standard.

IMG_2889 IMG_2888I went for the three egg and enormous toast, “pick your own” breakfast, with three superbly seasoned eggs (obviously), toast made from bread to die for and paired it with tasty bacon and local sausage. Such a great feed and extremely filling which is  good thing, but sadly I couldn’t face any of the delicious looking cakes, granola and pastries also available. Of course fresh coffee washed it all down well with the long black my cup of choice.

We spent far more time in Brewdog on Cowgate than I expected and no doubt than was healthy. Despite being small and a little tired compared to some of the new establishments, the beer list was excellent, no doubt aided by the Ballast Point tap takeover we had just missed. It was great to try some of those.

IMG_2873 IMG_2872 IMG_2875One slight disappointment being that nobody had a clue what was in the AB’ bottles in the fridges, consequently I didn’t but any, however the “Mills & Hills” collaboration between Fyne and De Molen plus the Ballast Point “Victory At Sea” amply made up for that loss, both being absolutely beautiful.

I had hoped to write a bit more at this point, but a WordPress “no save” disaster put paid to that as now I am running out of time and about to go for a few days away with the good lady wife. I’ll leave you with a few more pics though and wish you all the best until next time.

 

CHEERS!

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SPIT/FIRE

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Castello Coffee

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A gardening trapèze artistiering genius

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As sampled at Hanging Bat

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As sampled at Hanging Bat

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OX184

 

Positive Waves….

IMG_2622Things have been quiet here on the post front for several months you may, or may not have noticed. For lots of reasons, most of them personal and not for discussion here, but basically a lack of drive or inspiration to write anything worth reading (which may well still be the case)..

Part of that too was a feeling that blogging (for me at least) had become a little stale and for want of a better descriptor, “samey”, which doesn’t really mean anything at all.

If I did feel the urge to engage brain to pinkies, it was inevitably about something negative. So I refrained from doing so in an effort to not piss people off, and in doing so save my “iKeyboard” from being fist-mashed into something beyond the recognition of even the late Steve Jobs..

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So why now, I hear you collectively cry? (thanks to both of you for crying that by the way)

Well, a few things really. Weirdly the first was the second anniversary of Simon #Scoop Johnson’s death (which doesn’t seem that long ago at all). I was reading some of his old posts and it made me think, I miss these. Simon’s writing was informative, witty, farsighted, grounding and sometimes (perhaps always), absolutely bonkers. His posts generally made you feel happy or at least able to laugh at even serious issues, beer and blogging about beer should be fun.

Exhibit A: Harrumph

Exhibit B: Money For Old Rope…

If you never got to meet Simon or in particular read any of his work, go and have a good rummage through his blog, time well spent I assure you.

IMG_2637The second was this last weekend and an impromptu visit to both BlackJack and Runaway Breweries as part of the Manchester Brewery Expo, to quote the latter twitter profile “Manchester Brewery Expo is a collaborative, open door event to celebrate our brewing community, shared goals, and unique characteristics”.

The Expo included and just happened to coincide with BlackJack’s own monthly brewtap weekender, which I heartily recommend. But my attendance wasn’t planned. Two brief early morning comments sparking an idea that grew quickly to become a wonderful afternoon where I met so many good beer people, friends, enjoying their company and conversation. I felt that dark cloud lift for a while, thinning and rising ever higher, bright warming rays starting to peep through the gaps.

(For reference, in terms of the whole event, there was so much going on that I didn’t get to see over the weekend, but in any case I completely forgot to take any pictures… However, for a flavour of that, check out this fine photoblog by Mark Johnson).

The final thing though, was a most timely email last night from some social media site congratulating me on the fact that the blog was “3 years old today”, it even had a cartoon cake!

“Wow” I thought “three years, it feels longer than that”.

It was, my first post on Beersay was actually February 2011, so it is actually nearer four and a half. So, maybe taking a break has just done me good. I’m hoping so and that this is a sign of my returning mojo in whatever form that may take. Beer blogging has been kind to me, I’ve learned so much and made more friends with similar interests than I would have ever thought possible. Only time will tell..

Raising a glass to “positive waves” people, “positive waves”. #ODDBALL

De Garre – Bruges

Although it’s a couple of years old now, for some reason this post seems to be getting lots of hits at the moment, probably as folk plan Belgian beer expeditions. I like it as it brings back lots of fond memories, so I thought I’d post it again. Sorry for the self-indulgence if you’ve read it before…

P1010907To find this place you either stumble across it, or have to purposely search for it, for us thanks to the “Around Bruges in 80 Beers” guide-book and the map reading skills of “pathfinder Rachie” (the wife), it was the latter.

Although centrally located on the main tourist trail and only 100 yards from the main Bruges Markt square, De Garre remains discretely hidden from the less discerning beer tourist, tucked away down a tiny cobbled alley (De Garre) off Breidelstraat. Clientele ranged from the obviously regular local folk each having what seemed to be their own favourite chair, to beer enthusiasts and folk that were very probably lost…

The main room itself is quite small in cafe/bar terms, probably 18 feet by 18, with a small apertured high bar facing you as you venture up the ancient worn stone steps, a tiny winding staircase aside the bar leading to the upper drinking gallery.
Once inside the feeling is like stepping back in time. Being a fan of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it reminded me of the scene in The Prancing Pony where the hobbits first met Strider, huge gnarled oak beams, stone floor, simple wooden tables clustered together all baring glasses of foaming ales.

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 tine four walls witnessed in their lifetime?

Garre Tripel – 11%


Although they have a reasonable beer menu at De Garre, I was only after one in particular at the recommendation of Mark, co author of “real ale reviews” blog. This was the leg weakening De Garre house “Garre Tripel”, I was not alone as almost every table had at least one.

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 about 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

The beer itself has aromas of yeast and biscuits with slightly grassy hoppy notes. Once through that thick long lingering head, the first thing that hits you is the smooth malty flavour that disguises the alcoholic strength better than some half the same ABV. Garre is quite sweet for a Tripel which I suspect is due to the heavy alcohol, it has a smooth full-bodied creaminess in the mouth which perfectly compliments the peach and light citrus flavours. The finish is easy-going with evidence of hop bitterness but lightly so.

Garre Tripel is only available on the premises so you really need to make an effort and find it if ever you visit Bruges, all in all a fantastic experience and one we repeated whilst in the city. The beer can be purchased in 1.5 litre bottles to take away but we refrained from buying one preferring to keep the memory of the visit alive.

A final word of warning, at De Garre I’m told they will only ever serve you three house Tripel beers in one sitting, I didn’t test the theory but probably suggest that it’s a wise move..

Weird Whisky Mac

WhiskyMacI can remember drinking versions of Whisky Mac almost from early childhood, we always had Stones Ginger Wine in at Christmas and of course the odd bottle of blended Scotch (no chance of single malt in those days for us) and as I had the odd experiment, (as you do), whisky and ginger seemed perfect partners.
I seem to recall it being a big hit with my brother, in fact when I mentioned this to him recently, he actually asked me to bring him a bottle. I left open-mouthed and in somewhat of a daze as he is a dedicated drinker of Carling Extra Cold and him wanting to try beer of any other kind is something unheard of, rare as rocking horse shit no less…
Anyways enough reminiscing, getting up to date, I love a good ginger beer but sadly rarely ever get one. The stuff in the supermarkets is generally utter dross unless you are lucky enough to stumble across Robinsons Ginger Tom, sweet syrupy ginger alcopop is probably a more fitting description for most. So when I heard that Michelle at OffBeat had crafted a new ginger beer called “Unhinged Ginger” if course I was interested. When I heard she’d barrel aged some in Glenfarclas casks I was EXTREMELY interested.
IMG_5219It was then I had my first stroke of luck, the last cask of it was shipped to my local pub. It was delicious, in fact I recall the cellar-man texting me as he tapped it, goading me as I had to wait another day.
The second stroke of luck came I’m the form of my first visit to Firsty Friday, OffBeats monthly open session. There on the shelves were bottles, bottles and more bottles, something quite new to the brewery and among them Weird Whisky Mac, I made purchases with great haste..
I’ve tried a few at home now and actually think it suits the bottle, it’s probably a serving temperature/carbonation so maybe it would work on keg to, especially in the summer months. On the first sniff of the glass you get the briefest hint of honey followed by soft whisky notes. This is quickly replaced by aromas of freshly chopped ginger root.
After such a big ginger thwomp up the hooter your senses tell you this is going to be hot, harsh even, but it’s not. It’s actually cool, spritzy and refreshing, in fact you could be forgiven for even being slightly disappointed, this is a 6.1%abv beer but drinks like a low strength session pale. Do not be fooled though, this is a wolf in a big Scottish ginger sheeps fleecy coat.
That cool fresh drinkablity remains throughout, but as you drink warm ginger flavours begin to creep back up from deep within your belly, hitting the back of the throat and spreading across the tongue like a liquid tartan electric blanket, all the time without any cloying sweetness, it’s quite dry and bitter, just as it should be.
Och aye!

Mea Culpa

Being a bit of a self-confessed glass geek, visiting bars in Belgium bars is generally a feast to the senses. Every beer no matter how obscure normally has its own special receptacle designed to showcase the beer on the eye in correct style and proudly display to the world “I am drinking a (insert beer name here). The nose gets a little treat too, with hoppy aromatic beers given the best chance to focus those lovely smells in deep curvy tulips long before the beer ever passes the lips.

On the bar itself, the glasses are often given pride of place, every available space being used productively to hang glasses here and stack them there all in full view of the paying customer.

Basically saying we value your custom, we respect the beer and the wishes of the brewery and want you to enjoy your choice as the brewer (or Marketeer) intended. There are some exceptions to this last rule, where I think more thought has been put into the glass than what goes in it, but hey. The glass below is not one of those I must stress, De Garre being awesome, the sight of this brimming with white foam is one to behold I assure you.

As to why we rarely follow suit here in the UK, I’m guessing that cost plays a massive part, pilferage too I suspect as it seems hilariously funny to some folk to walk out with that “special beer glass” hidden under your jacket and therefore robbing the next person of the chance, before no doubt lobbing it over a wall or using it to store loose change in at home.

What ever the reason is, it’s a real shame as for me, it makes a massive difference for all the reasons I mentioned earlier, it just says something about passion for the product.

It was for such passionate reasons I was drawn to and really excited about visiting a little beer shop come beer café just a walk away from main city centre of Brussels, BEER MANIA.

Beer Mania is situated on Chaussée de Wavre 174 which is about a 2.5 kilometre walk from the Grande Place. It’s a fair old way especially in 30 degree heat, but you pass some grand architecture on the way including the palace and gardens and at the end of it you get to drink a beautiful beer in perhaps the most stunning glass ever made, that of Mea Culpa.

Both beer and glass were designed by the shops owner, (Tamos I believe, we met and spoke but never passed names) the glass design apparently coming to him in a dream. I’m not sure what came first the glass or the beer to put in it, but both stand up to the test of drinking.

We’d arrived after a long hot tramp in blazing sunshine and the cool shady interior of Beer Mania was like the stereotypical desert mirage, in truth we could have been served cold supermarket in a sweaty clog, but instead we got cool refreshing beer served in superb style..

The only down side of drinking out of Czechoslovakian hand blown crystal glasses is how much they are worth, at around 75 Euros a shot you drink VERY carefully when there are four of these on the table I can assure you. This quote from the website made me laugh.

carlos said:

this is very handsome but very expensive

Tam�s said:
Yes, Carlos my friend. This is the cruelty of life. You will not find a handsome Maserati at Wal-MartR

As we wandered around the many beer shops and bars Brussels and Bruges has to offer I noticed a few examples of glassware where seemingly looks overrode functionality. There were pointed glasses suspended on coiled springs, curved bottomed glasses sitting on wooden plinths, you name it, they were trying it. The other stand out effort for me though was this one from La Corne.

I loved this glass as it brought out my inner Viking. I could imagine a one-eyed Kirk Douglas swilling ale from something like this as he scoffed at Tony Curtis getting barnacles on his barnacles, the tide rising ever higher and higher (or was that the other way around). Sadly though the beer itself didn’t quite live up to its billing in my opinion, don’t get me wrong it wasn’t bad, it was fruity, refreshing and all that malarkey, but a beer served in a glass horn needs to be fantastic and it just wasn’t. I did look out for one of the glasses though in the beer stores but they were a little too pricey for my liking at 25 Euros, an expensive novelty.

A slight hint to the phallic perhaps?

I didn’t see this one anywhere though, which I’m presuming is the original or more specialised version, for this I may have been tempted, although I can’t imagine having it tucked away at my local for swilling pints from…

What’s you take on branded glasses, for, against, couldn’t give a monkeys?

Got a favourite?

Cheers

De Garre – Bruges

To find this place you either stumble across it, or have to purposely search for it, for us thanks to the “Around Bruges in 80 Beers” guide book and the map reading skills of “pathfinder Rachie” (the wife), it was the latter.

Although centrally located on the main tourist trail and only 100 yards from the main Bruges Markt square, De Garre remains discretely hidden from the less discerning beer tourist, tucked away down a tiny cobbled alley (De Garre) off Breidelstraat. Clientele ranged from the obviously regular local folk each having what seemed to be their own favourite chair, to beer enthusiasts and folk that were very probably lost…

The main room itself is quite small in cafe/bar terms, probably 18 feet by 18, with a small apertured high bar facing you as you venture up the ancient worn stone steps, a tiny winding staircase aside the bar leading to the upper drinking gallery.
Once inside the feeling is like stepping back in time. Being a fan of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it reminded me of the scene in The Prancing Pony where the hobbits first met Strider, huge gnarled oak beams, stone floor, simple wooden tables clustered together all baring glasses of foaming ales.

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 tine four walls witnessed in their lifetime?

Garre Tripel – 11%


Although they have a reasonable beer menu at De Garre, I was only after one in particular at the recommendation of Mark, co author of “real ale reviews” blog. This was the leg weakening De Garre house “Garre Tripel”, I was not alone as almost every table had at least one.

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

The beer itself has aromas of yeast and biscuits with slightly grassy hoppy notes. Once through that thick long lingering head, the first thing that hits you is the smooth malty flavour that disguises the alcoholic strength better than some half the same ABV. Garre is quite sweet for a Tripel which I suspect is due to the heavy alcohol, it has a smooth full bodied creaminess in the mouth which perfectly compliments the peach and light citrus flavours. The finish is easy going with evidence of hop bitterness but lightly so.

Garre Tripel is only available on the premises so you really need to make an effort and find it if ever you visit Bruges, all in all a fantastic experience and one we repeated whilst in the city. The beer can be purchased in 1.5 litre bottles to take away but  we refrained from buying one preferring to keep the memory of the visit alive.

A final word of warning, at De Garre I’m told they will only ever serve you three house Tripel beers in one sitting, I didn’t test the theory but probably suggest that it’s a wise move..