Thursday 29 September 2016

Two Classics and One Less So

In early Autumn sunshine, Amsterdam is quite delightful. From our hotel near the rather grand Concertgebouw it was a nice stroll across the park to the Van Gogh museum (unmissable) and the Rijksmuseum (less so).  But man does not live by culture alone and after a visit to either icon of enlightenment, a spot of liquid refreshment is required.  Now of course you could repair to any number of local outlets for the ubiquitous Heineken, but if you want to drink in pubs of the company that put the lack into lustre, that's fine, but there are other options.

In what might roughly be called the centre of town, not far off Dam, is one of the most famous of boozers, In De Wildeman. The pubs own website describes it as "one of the best places in Amsterdam to taste new beers or simply drink your personal favourite".  That's exactly so.  I took our small party of six in after their visit to the hidden Catholic Church, a spot of culture I opted out of, preferring to sit in the sunshine at the canalside, watching the world go by.  This is an old fashioned boozer with multi rooms, a soothing atmosphere and a warm welcome from the barmaid, a Mrs Doyle look and sound-alike who was pleasantly helpful and gratifyingly, Irish.  My pals and E all drank Jever. OK it isn't Dutch, but it is good. I too avoided Dutch beer, not through any bias, but because I fancied some Weihenstephaner.  Cheesy and (raw) sausagey snacks provided the sustenance to see us through another couple of rounds.  It is that kind of place.

Two of our party left for different things and four of us decided, on my prompting admittedly, to visit another icon, Arendsnest. We asked a friendly local for directions. "Two canals over and on the left." Oddly, one canal over and the noise and bustle of the city receded. Two canals over and it had gone, giving way to a sedate residential area which was a pleasure to stroll in. The bar itself is in a handsome terrace and is beautifully appointed. It serves only Dutch beers. The greeting here couldn't have been better and the smiling barmaid insisted in giving us tasters and happily talked us through the draft beers. We stayed for two, or was it three?  Time ticked by gently and both the beer and welcome made you glad to be there.

A day later, E and I visited Beer Temple, an American beer bar on Voorburgwal.  This is described on t'internet variously as "cosy" or "relaxed". We both thought it a bit of a dump in need of a clean and although the beer was fine, it reminded us that there is more to a drinking establishment than a good beer list.

When did Heineken become so undrinkable? It used to be reasonbaly quaffable, but now seems sweet and turgid.

Beer in Amsterdam isn't cheap, but pick the right places and you still get value. Pick the normal places and you get Heineken at €5.80 a half litre. Top tip. If in a Heineken joint, buy Duvel.

Monday 26 September 2016

Dispensary Beer Festival

A few weeks ago I was in London having a few pints with @erlangernick. I wrote about some of it here. For our last beers, I took him to one of my local East End pubs, the Dispensary near Aldgate East Tube Station.  I usually go there when I am down at our London flat, as it sells decent beer and is handy for me.   During this visit, Annie the landlady came to chat and ask if I was coming to their beer festival. As it happened I was going to be in London that weekend. She asked if I wouldn't mind checking over the state of the beers on her external stillage and for a bit of advice -  which I duly gave.  She was worried (among other things) that the beer on the stillage, served by gravity, wouldn't be up to snuff.

Fast forward to the night before the festival when I went in to see what was going on. The stillage was erected, twelve beers on board and all vented using a porous hard spile as I had suggested. All were untapped.  Cold water cooling was supplied by Adnams and the beer seemed cool to the touch, so all looked good.  I tapped all the beers and samples were spot on.  So far so good.  I called in the next morning all was well. No big leaks - a miracle in itself - and even better - no cask had spat its tap out overnight. That's always a fear.  The beer was cellar cool, well conditioned and mostly pin bright apart from those that weren't meant to be. Well we thought they weren't meant to be, but it is hard to know these days.  All tasted fine however and we disregarded the odd haze. None were soupy.

The festival was opened by Roger Protz who was, to say the least, surprised to see me, but we had a great time and the pub was busy. Roger drank some Londom Porter which he loved and gave a very amusing and interesting speech about beers in the East End and spoke fondly about his old favourite, Charrington IPA. Roger is a true East Ender and was happy to be back. We had a good two or three hours. Later, much refreshed after our gated community's annual residents party, we called in again. The pub was still busy and beer still good. On Saturday night after meeting friends we nipped in once more on the way home and again the beer on stillage was still in great form and the pub, not usually open on a Saturday attracted quite a crowd.  It was clearly going well.

As I keep saying, looking after cask beer is actually fairly easy.  Why do so many get it wrong?

The photo shows Annie and me after the beers were tapped. I didn't take any pictures of Roger. Or much else. Don't know why really.

Disclosure: Annie is a pal. I just helped her for a few beers. And to prove a point I suppose. Oh and David, her husband gave me an excellent sausage butty!  Assuming the event wiped its face at least, Annie and David will be doing this again. I might help.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Good Beer in London

Readers of this blog will know I can be a bit scathing about quality of cask beer in London. I don't do so lightly as after all it is easy to get right. But nonetheless to redress the balance in this quick post, here's some good news.

Last Saturday we met friends who had come down from Manchester for the day. Their plans, being Beavertown fan-boys - well craft fans in general really - was that we should go to Beavertown's Saturday opening. Alas it was not to be as instead of the usual open day, it was a ticket event which had sold out. So we arranged instead to meet in Soho for some more ordinary pub crawling.  Our first pub was based on nearness to Tottenham Court tube and you don't get nearer that Nicolson's Flying Horse.  Let's draw a veil over the awful beer there, but it was just a meeting place.   We had intended to have a look at the Fitzroy Tavern, newly renovated by Sam Smith's.  (As an aside, I found out when reading a book this weekend about the blitz, that the Fitzroy was a well know haunt of homosexuals during the war. That's where you went for a sure pick-up if one batted for that side. Or both.)  Alas entry wasn't to be either, as it is still closed for aforesaid renovations fifteen or more months after it started, so plan B was the Draft House across the road, also in Charlotte St. The beer there was fine and actually cool to cold, which is unusual if our local DH in Seething Lane is anything to go by. It wasn't Good Beer Guide standards in my view, but good enough to have a couple and it started an upwards trend.

Brodies' Old Coffee House was busy and the beer was pretty good. Again probably not quite GBG standard, but a notch up from the Draft House.  Food was required by now and so we went on that basis to the Queen's Head in nearby Piccadilly. Both the welcome and the beer were excellent, with Good Beer Guide quality beer and staff who seemed to actually like their job.  The rising trend continued.

Train time for our friends took us the the Euston Tap where the beer was outstanding. You expect this from them and good it is too not to be disappointed.  A two pinter most certainly and it was the sort of quality and choice that made you wish you'd come in earlier. Always a good sign.  GBG quality? You bet. Lastly for us was our London local the Dispensary in Leman St which had a beer festival on. More of that another time, but it was great to see the place buzzing, as they don't normally open on a Saturday. The beer was in great nick too. Again Good Beer Guide quality.

Good cask beer in London is good to find. It was an enjoyable day.

The photo was of a lovely old mirror in the Queens Head. London is great for old brewery mirrors.  

I borrowed the blitz book via E from Tower Hamlets Libraries. A good read if that sort of thing interests you.

Friday 9 September 2016

Is That Too Much?

Out in Manchester the other day with my oldest friend, our first pint was in Sam's Chop House. There was a middle of the road selection available - think Black Sheep and Bombardier - but we both chose Taylor's Landlord.  Mike raised his eyebrows as the barman announced "£8.40 please".

We repaired to the beer garden and welcome sunshine at the back and viewed the clientèle while checking out the beer. Customers were mostly "Ladies who lunch" or businessmen drinking Becks. It was a rather upmarket crowd and the pub itself could be described in similar terms, at least at lunchtime. The beer was average to good, but better on the second round when it had become a bit cooler, our pints obviously being the first through. Being used to London prices, I didn't really bat an eyelid at the cost and actually I enjoyed the experience, the ambience and indeed the beer, but tweeting without revealing the location, the cost seemed to shock some.

The price of beer is difficult to determine these days, as is the value for money. We discussed this over the next two pints in Holt's Ape and Apple where the cost of the round was five pounds odd instead of eight pounds odd.  The quality of the beer in the Ape was way above that in Sam's and it had a good atmosphere too, though I'll deduct a point or two for the irritating music.

So three quid or so different, but two equally enjoyable experiences.  You pays your money and you takes your choice? What do you reckon?

Holt's Mild was absolutely superb - I do love a top form mild - but best beer of the day was in the City Arms in the form of Brightside Odin.  Lovely drop.

The beer was a bit clearer than it looks in the photo, but not pin bright by any means.