Much like house prices and earning potential, beery events are undoubtedly another sign of the north/south divide. Sure, there’s a cavalcade of CAMRA festivals turning out the occasional gem and the odd interesting keg-centric event up north, and I’m very much looking forward to the Hawkshead festival this summer. However, it’s undeniable that the south has us beat on must-visit events. And one place in particular seems to always draw the first boozy blood; that London.
From bottle shops to meet-the-brewer events, rebrand launches to the Bermondsey mile, London has the beer scene pretty much sewn up. Even the breweries seem to get along. The capital is a taste talisman, an olfactory oasis and I can’t help feeling a pang of jealousy from time to time.
I’m not the most prolific of bloggers but I subscribe to many of the best out there, and it only takes an event like last week’s Craft Beer Rising to make me more of a Jealous Guy than Bryan Ferry. However, this weekend London is heading north, bringing its boozy wares with it courtesy of The Free Trade Inn.
It will come as no surprise that The Free Trade Inn holds a special place in my heart. For those lefties amongst you, I’m sure you saw the recent coverage of the Newcastle beer scene in the Guardian last week. Tony Naylor opened his paragraph of praise with: “How could you not love a pub which, on its Facebook page, describes itself as “an absolute dump”?” And he’s right; The Free Trade Inn is certainly a little down at heel. I’ve been coming here since my formative drinking years, when it was more about Stella and Silk Cut rather than IBUs and ABVs.
However over the last four years manager Michael Potts has transformed the pub with the best view in Newcastle from a lager and Guinness-schilling boozer to the award-winning, hop-slinging, imperial stout-serving beer HQ of the north east, all without disturbing the hilarious graffiti in the gents. It’s been a hell of a turnaround.
We are blessed with a fantastic array of pubs in Newcastle; from the historic Crown Posada and its ornate glass work and snug, through to new kid on the block Lane7 for boutique beers, bites and bowling. Brewdog, the Bacchus and many more equally fantastic pubs are also on hand to cater to every boozy whim. Due to Newcastle’s small geographic footprint I reckon we’ve got the majority of destinations beat when it comes to awesome boozers within a square mile of the city centre. In fact I know that @thealetrail and his fantastic OpenSideways blog is working on telling that very tale.
However, none of these bars can hold a candle to the Free Trade. I class it as my local even though it’s a four mile stroll from my front door to the bar. They sell pickled eggs (now available in deluxe “craft” varieties); they’ve wonderful, knowledgeable staff and the world famous CraigDavid pub cat. It’s dickhead-free and you’re always guaranteed amazing ales. What’s not to love?
Starting this Thursday (27 February), The Free Trade is kicking off its biggest ever beer festival. Michael has pulled together an incredible London-centric list featuring beers from all the railway arches, ex-City traders and more. From Thursday to Sunday you’ll be able to sample over sixty different beers; nine cask and 15 keg lines from the likes of Beavertown, Brodies, Camden, Kernel, Brew by Numbers, 5 Points, Hackney, Four Pure, Head in a Hat, Alpha State, Pressure Drop and Redchurch. There’ll also be a range of Fuller’s Vintage bottles to get stuck into. The beers will rotate throughout the weekend, so that second (or third) visit you undoubtedly make will be a completely different affair. You can find the full list here.
And it’s not just beer; there’ll be London coffees from Square Mile and Nude Espresso served up by guest baristas; Anth from Pink Lane Coffee and Joe from Flat Caps Coffee. Would that be the self same Joe who just scooped the Best Espresso award in the UK Barista Championships? Yes, yes it would.
But wait, there’s more! Gin. Loads and loads of London gins. It turns out that not everyone is hip to beer’s groove. But that won’t stop them getting absolutely sauced on London’s finest mother’s ruin.
You’ll be able to stave off the worst hangover you’ve ever had thanks to the likes Riley’s Fish Shack, Papa Ganoush and Fat Hippo. Michael has pulled together a riot of beers for us to enjoy and I can’t wait to get stuck into them. London beers without having to put up with East Coast Mainline? Yes please.
Hope to see plenty of you there. I’ll be the one drunkenly ranting about something or other.
Newcastle is an amazing place. In fact, it’s better than that; it’s fucking tremendous. The city’s home to thousands of years of history, amazing architecture and engineering prowess. When we weren’t showcasing the first incandescent light bulb or building the first ever rail and road bridge we were brewing Newcastle Brown Ale goddammit. Today, the town is a melting pot of cultures, cuisines and quality bars.
One family in particular has been working tirelessly as a cultural catalyst for the best part of forty years; the De Giorgis. This Geordie-Italian family opened their first restaurant, Don Vitos, back in 1976, kick-starting their entrepreneurial masterclass in making Newcastle better.
Today, Joseph, Cristina and Aldo De Giorgi are the trio behind Gusto UK, who have helped shape some of the city’s best-loved bars, bistros and bodegas. With the opening of Paradiso’s they turned the tide on antiquated licensing regulations in the mid nineties, helping to change Newcastle from a PubCo controlled enclave to vibrant independent friendly city, while with Secco they offered up delicious regional Italian dining.
Their cocktail bar Popolo’s captured me with a student loan cheque in my hand well over a decade ago. The suave surroundings and exquisite top shelf spirits were the cause of one too many hangovers over the years. Alvino’s taught many Geordies that lager didn’t have to mean Fosters and Carling and their cafe Intermezzo made a post-cinema Negroni as commonplace as pre-film trailer.
However in 2011 they truly staked their claim on the town with their partnership with the Theatre Royal. The theatre is a Grade I listed building situated on the magnificently curved Grey Street. Designed by local architects John and Benjamin Green it opened back in 1837 and has long been an architectural jewel in the town’s design. Not only is the theatre a neo-classical monument but also a cultural driving force, with more than 350,000 visitors a year. In 2009 the modern great Sir Ian McKellen described the Theatre Royal Newcastle as his favourite theatre. That’s fucking Magneto talking right there people.
Following £4.5 million worth of renovations in 2011, the theatre reopened with the De Giorgis transforming the former box office into the fantastic 9 Bar; a tiny oasis of excellent coffee and home to arguably the world’s best cheese toastie. 9 Bar makes it easy for me and many others to get my coffee fix slap bang in the city centre. And not just any cup of Joe either but Square Mile. Beans from the gourmet London roastery are a rare treat outside the capital and come courtesy of Aldo’s longstanding friendship with owner James Hoffman.
At the same time as launching 9 Bar they also opened Pasqualino’s, a contemporary destination bar and pizzeria. They offered local and continental beers, as well as authentic imaginative Italian food on their daily changing specials. However, as of 14th March, Pasqualino’s is being reimagined as DAT bar.
Joseph and Aldo came down to my Beer and Bites event at the Baltic earlier this month. Once I wrapped up the afternoon we chatted about their plans for their new bar, hoping to do for small batch beer what they have did for New World Wine in their restaurants over the years.
They invited me down to DAT bar to take a look around and hear what they have planned, as it emerged from its construction chrysalis.
It’s currently pretty noisy and dusty but the scene is almost set for a riotous opening. The huge oval bar will see twenty keg lines offering up a rotating fifty keg beer list. Everything from Kernel, Summer Wine, Magic Rock, Burning Sky, Siren, Beavertown and more. The bar will be set off by a huge hand drawn mural of punk and rock and roll iconography. Forget your clinical clean lines and subdued colour palette. Dat bar is undeniably in your face.
Circle the bar and you’ll see everything from super sessionable low ABV pale ales, through to smokey porters, succulent saisons, walloping stouts and IPAs. Around the bar in fifty beers if you will. Precise temperature controlled fridges will see both your super fresh IPAs and imperial stouts and porters served up at the correct temperature. Correctly cellared bottles? Count me in!
The rear area of the bar sees sumptuous leather booths overlooking the open kitchen. Needing quality sustenance to stave off that hangover? Not a problem. Freshly made sourdough pizzas will be in abundance, along with what Aldo hopes to be the world’s best hamburger. A lofty claim but when you hear the brioche will come courtesy of the Great Northumberland Bread Company and filling from the award winning meat merchant Peter Hannan I have little fear this will be realised.
Even in the midst of its creation you can see the De Giorgis’ individuality stamped throughout. Much like with the screen printed decor of 9 Bar, DAT bar is very much its own beast. From a fifties jukebox, sixties motorcycle, and seventies car doors, the bar is perfect collage of sights and sounds.
I’ve mentioned on countless occassions the reviliatised beer scene in Newcastle, with bars like The Free Trade, the Bacchus, Lady Grey’s, BrewDog, The Bridge Tavern and Red House all consistently challenging expectations with an ever-changing range of local, national and international beauties. However, from March a whole new audience will get to experience fantastic beer.
Grey Street is currently undergoing its own resurgence, with the arrival of Jamie’s Italian, Carluccio’s, Brown’s and more. In 2002 it was voted ‘Best street in the UK’ by BBC Radio 4 listeners. National treasure Sir John Betjeman said:
“As for the curve of Grey Street, I shall never forget seeing it to perfection, traffic-less on a misty Sunday morning. Not even Regent Street, even old Regent Street London, can compare with that descending subtle curve.”
However these new openings are doing little more than clearing out the rows of recruitment consultancies, replacing them with soulless identikit chain eateries. DAT bar is the big “fuck you” to all of that and will undoubtedly usher many onto the road of beery rebirth.
This vibrant, visible and voluminous destination bar will help to see a new crowd treading the beer boards, which can only be a good thing. For those of us already indoctrinated into the ways of great beer, DAT bar will serve up an obscene range of kegged and bottled delights all via table service.
DAT bar is the second act twist that no one saw coming for the Theatre Royal. Rehearsals are well underway, but already the scenery and players are already looking and sounding pitch perfect. There’s less than a month till the curtain goes up and I can’t wait for opening night.
Come March 14, I’ll be at that bar. Which bar? DAT bar.
Jesus wept it’s February and I’ve yet to post anything on here this year. Well, I’ve been pretty busy! On Sunday I hosted the first Beer and Bites event at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on the Gateshead Quayside. And it went amazingly well.
I was contacted by the Baltic in May last year to discuss the possibility of pulling together a beer tasting event in their Riverside Terrace Bar. I agreed with let or hindrance and promptly put it to the back of my mind. Being a huge cultural institution they have pretty long lead in times and February 2014 seemed like ages away.
But just like that exam you feel woefully under-prepared for, it came around faster than Uma Thurman with an adrenaline shot to the heart. And before I knew it I was stood in front 100 paying punters, mic in hand, giving a talk about the history of brewing on Tyneside.
For the event, the chefs at the Baltic had created small dishes to match my six selected beers from three of our best local breweries; Anarchy Brew Co, Allendale Brewery and Tyne Bank. I’m not going to lie, the beer choices were great.
The crisp and bitter Citra Star from Anarchy opened proceedings, followed by the delicious Cherry Stout from Tyne Bank, before the remarkable Saison Sauvin from Allendale closed the opening round. These were followed by Anarchy’s world class Sublime Chaos Breakfast Stout and the sensational Southern Star from Tyne Bank. Allendale brought the event to a close with their limited edition Bourbon Barrel Aged Export Stout.
For two hours I held court, giving the audience the back story to these three fantastic breweries and explaining the different beer styles and flavours. Now I won’t pretend I wasn’t nervous, despite plenty of preparation. The Baltic regularly plays host to wine tastings from vintners and sommeliers beyond reproach. So to have hundred people parting with their hard earned to listen to a beer blogger was an intimidating as it was exhilarating.
I needn’t have worried though; the audience really enjoyed the event. It was fantastic to get see the audience tying completely new styles of beer. Pushing people slightly out of their comfort zone and challenging any preconceived notions of strength and flavour was great fun. The feedback I received was truly humbling.
I’d like to thank Emma Jackson and Sheila Brownlee from the Baltic for organising such a great afternoon, the wonderful chefs for working their culinary mad skills, the fantastic serving staff who served out hundreds of bottles of beer with aplomb, the breweries for supporting the event and everyone who came down for a great Sunday afternoon of drinking.
Another Beer and Bites event will take place later this year. I can’t wait!
Well, 2013 has certainly gone over quickly, and my beer blogging has been less than stellar. Without a beer to review every day, I took my foot of the gas and coasted through the last eleven and a bit months. The majority of my writing has been for magazines and Tyne and Beer Metro, my beer journey around the north east’s light railway system. I must finish that next year.
Anyway, I’ve still managed to sneak in some epic drinking this year, from the outstanding Copenhagen Beer Celebration to the wonderful Bristol Beer Week, Brodies #HaggisBasher in Edinburgh to Craft’s birthday knees up in London. I might not have been taking beers on board with the frantic pace of 2012 but I still feel confident in my beery endeavours. 2014 is already shaping up to be a pretty big year beer-wise. I’m hosting a beer and food pairing event at the Baltic Art Gallery on the banks of the Tyne, showcasing some of the best north east beers from three of the best breweries. You can buy tickets here if you fancy. If not, I still love you.
Anyway here are my Golden Pints for 2013; a brilliant way to remind yourself of the damage you’ve done to your liver over the last twelve months.
Best UK Cask Beer – Do they still do that?
Best UK Keg Beer – We all know keg is king and this year there were oodles of beers itching to get their boozy paws on the crown. However for me it wasn’t a barrel aged, triple-hoped, 20%er that really caught my eye. It was Summer Wine’s Pacer, the session beer of the summer.
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer – Magic Rock’s Un-Human Cannonball was a revelatory beer; a brute made to be drank super fresh. The best DIPA to come out of the UK by miles.
Best Overseas Draught Beer - Jester King’s FunkMetal at CBC. There simply aren’t enough superlatives for this beer. As I wrote here, “This stout was Saudi Sheik-rich and Tangfastically sour.” Amazing stuff
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer – Thanks to intrepid beer explorers @TheAleTrail and @DassieGirl1 I have been lucky enough to sample some pretty unreal examples this year. Their most recent jaunt was to Chicago and Grand Rapids from where they brought the most remarkable haul of canned goodies. Four day old Founders All Day IPA was fantastic, but the award has to go to the hop monster, Anti Hero from Revolution. Incredible artwork and unbelievable beer.
Best Collaboration Brew – Wild Beer Co’s Shnoodlepip. Made by Kelly Ryan from Good George Beer in NZ, Brett Ellis (originally from the US) from the Wild Beer Co, and Mark Tranter from Burning Sky Brewery. Utterly bonkers and absolutely fantastic.
Best Overall Beer – Boak and Bailey nailed their choice with Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss (Grapefruit). My goodness, my goze. A scintillating sub-4%er. Delicious.
Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label – Anything by Magic Rock or Wild Beer Co. No one else comes close.
Best UK Brewery – Siren Craft for their non-stop series beery hits. From Näcken to Liquid Mistress, Limoncello IPA to Even More Jesus; they are the brewing equivalent to the truck in Duel. Unstoppable.
Best Overseas Brewery – Cantillon
Pub/Bar of the Year – I wrote this for Living North Magazine to sum up my pub of the year, the Free Trade Inn, Byker.
“Regularly noted as being the bar with the finest views in the UK, in recent years the Free Trade Inn has transformed into an imaginative, progressive boozer, whilst still retaining the well-worn feel of a traditional north east hostelry. Jimi Hendrix reportedly spent time here while living locally with his manager, former Animal Chas Chandler. According to local legend he wrote ‘Stone Free’ in this very boozer.
“Coming complete with a very friendly pub cat, hilariously named Craig David, the bar is always a showcase of the best the UK beer scene has to offer, with a bottle list to keep you amused for hours. As you while away the hours drinking the likes of Summer Wine’s Diablo or Kernel’s Table Beer, be sure to also sink a pint of the house beer Peloton. This delicately hopped easy drinker was brewed exclusively for the bar by Tyne Bank Brewery, and is the perfect accompaniment for an afternoon spent taking in the majesty of the Tyne and the rejuvenated Quayside.”
There is no better bar. Fact.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013 – Newcastle has done well this year with our own take on NYC’s Brooklyn Bowl in Lane 7 and the microbrewery within the Bridge Tavern, but Pleased to Meet You on Newcastle’s High Bridge is this year’s most welcome addition. The former Turk’s Head has had a sumptuous makeover and now serves up over 20 innovative ales, an extensive bottle menu and a spirit range to bring you to your knees.
This, the latest offering from the Ladhar Leisure group features floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, which bring the outside in, letting patrons take in the fresh air and late evening sun from the comfort of the their seat. Distinctly American in feel, Pleased to Meet You specialises in gin. However their soulful soundtrack of late 70s funk helps patrons deftly sidestep the melancholy of mother’s ruin.
Beer Festival of the Year – While Copenhagen Beer Celebration probably edges it, I loved Bristol Beer Week. A seven day celebration of the best brewing action in the region. I doff my cap to organisers extraordinaire @BlueGiantBeer and @Hoptopia
Supermarket of the Year – Undoubtedly most will say Sainsbury’s from the Great British Beer Hunt. I’m saying my local Tesco store. Why? Sierra Nevada for £2 a bottle, that’s why.
Independent Retailer of the Year – We are spoiled in Newcastle with the likes of Rehill’s, Coppers and Glug. Despites Rehill’s shelf-busting ranges and Glug’s city centre location, I’m pinning my rosette on Coppers. Their amazing range of naughty beers and eagerness to embrace their audience is second-to-none.
Online Retailer of the Year – BeerBods - Matt Lane and his beer subscription service is a joy. With slick design, great customer service and Thursday Twitter tastings, BeerBods is opening up beer to a whole new audience.
Best Beer Book or Magazine - It’s got to be Leigh Linley’s Great Yorkshire Beer. A passionate and informative ode to the best breweries and beers his neck of the woods. Tremendous.
Best Beer App – Don’t use them.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer – @Landells, his constitution for beers and boozy bollocks is unparalleled.
Best Brewery Website/Social media – Say what you will about their bullshittery, Brewdog have this social media thing locked. That’s Beavertown collaboration was fucking unforgivable though.
Looking forward to reading everyone elses nominations.
While many people’s New Year’s Eves are now spent pissed, in front of the TV watching Jools Holland’s pre-recorded Hootenanny, there’s one place that does it very differently. The sleepy town of Allendale in the heart of Northumberland celebrates the coming of the New Year raising a burning tar barrel rather than a glass.
The origins of the Tar Barl festival are unclear; there are claims for both Pagan and Christian roots. It can definitely be dated back to the mid 1800s, though some say it harks from the Middle Ages. Regardless, come New Year’s Eve, the village heaves with locals and visitors who watch as the barrel-carrying, fancy dress-wearing ‘guisers’ parade through the centre of the town where the barrels are placed atop a giant bonfire. In today’s modern climate, it’s a health and safety minefield, yet every year it goes off with a hitch, regardless of the weather.
I’ve only been the once, when I was thirteen, owing to the fact Allendale can be an absolute swine to get to from Newcastle, especially in winter. However, it’s a unique way to welcome in the New Year. I’d like to think that the revellers will this year be raising a glass of Allendale’s Brewery’s fantastic Tar Barl stout; a rich velvety beer, perfect for the winter months. If they are really sensible they’ll have the keg dispensed version, which is absolutely tremendous.
For over 200 years Allendale was a bustling town famous for its lead mining industry and the Allen Mill was at the heart of the economy. Since the collapse of the industry and the closure of the Smelt Mill in 1896, the Mill building has had many uses, including storage of munitions during the war. Today it’s home to Allendale Brewery, a staple in the North East.
Their hugely sessionable Golden Plover, Wolf and APA can be found all over the region. However, in the last eighteen months they’ve turned their output up to eleven with their fantastic END range of beers. These ever-changing, experimental ales showcase fantastic and wildly different styles and ingredients.
It’s always a treat to spot an END pump clip on the bar. These must try beers have turned out some truly remarkable results. Last year I reviewed their Sauvin 600, brewed to celebrate their 600th brew. I wrote: “sticky grapefruit is lip puckeringly bitter, while the pale malt adds a thin layer of cream to the proceedings. Being quite lightly bodied I could quite easily see pints of this being sunk in the summer months, like an overzealous game of Battleship”.
The END range has taken in everything from a gin tinged botanic ale, the hugely hopped behemoth C4, an American Brown Ale, chilli chocolate milk stout, single hopped pale ale and more. It’s testament to the brewing prowess of Neil Thomas, the man in charge of Allendale’s hot liquor tank, mash tun and copper. The former chef and chilli sauce impresario first met Allendale’s owner Tom Hick at the market in Hexham. This chance meeting turned into a job offer and Neil has never looked back.
I’ve been trying to get up to Allendale for the best part of six months, and although we’ve exchanged countless emails and tweets I’d never actually met any of the Allendale armada. Last week I took a day of work and remedied this sorry state of affairs.
The brewery has been up and running since 2006. It’s a family affair, run by husband and wife team, Tom and Lucy Hick. It became the first brewery in the small village since 1887 when the original brewery closed to due to rural depopulation. They have grown year-on-year in their almost decade in operation, becoming firm favourites in bars as far afield as Edinburgh. They’ve picked up a clutch of awards along the way, including a number of CAMRA and SIBA plaudits.
As the UK beer explosion marches on, Allendale are growing to accommodate their demand. There are plans afoot for more vessels to increase capacity to help quench the north’s raging thirst for their beers. Neil is assisted by Ric and Rikki who help to keep the boozy cogs in motion.
The brew of the day was a Black IPA. The END range has already seen two trial brew iterations but today was a five barrel batch and Neil was determined to make this the best version yet. As a thick layer of Carafa malt worked its magic, imparting the deep colour and hint of roast to the liquor, Neil and I shot the shit about all things beer.
Now, I’ll make no bones about my job; it doesn’t exactly make me happy. I’m well aware that in this current economic climate I’m very lucky to even have a job, but getting to speak to Neil, I couldn’t help but feel a stinging pang of jealousy. Here is someone truly happy in their work. His years as a chef have served him well, and the big flavours of Allendale’s beers are undoubtedly down to his finely tuned palette.
Like so many bloggers before me, my input into the beer was limited. I wasn’t even treated to digging out the mash tun. Admittedly, this is blessing in disguise, but I was convinced proper work was par for the bloggers course. To be honest, I’m still glad I somehow managed to dodge this back breaking bullet. I did get to play a part in the ingredients and with four separate hop additions, this BIPA is going to be blisteringly hoppy.
Weighing out and breaking up blocks of Columbus, Chinook, Citra, Centennial, Summit and Chinook was a pleasure. The sticky, piney hops filled the brewery with a sumptuous, resinous smell. All that was missing was a tape of Creedance and a White Russian. As the beer bubbled away I was treated to a number of bottles that I’ll be reviewing on the blog soon. Any brewery playing around with Brett just for fun ranks highly in my estimation.
Towards the end of the afternoon Ric decided it was time to sample quite unique beer, a pin of Wolf conditioned on Christmas pudding. No, really.
Obviously this beer isn’t going to make it to market anytime soon but take it from me the resultant tidal wave of beer that spewed forth from the cask was truly remarkable. This one-off 4.5 gallon experiment might only have left half a pint glass of beer following the big beery bang as it was tapped, but bloody hell, it didn’t half work. Sweet and sticky, all it was missing was a gaudy Christmas jumper.
However, this completely sums up Allendale; good natured and experimental. Their END range has been one of the most exciting things to come out of the region in years. I would personally love their beers to go further afield so more people can bask in their boozy brilliance.
Hearing that their Sauvin Saison will be making a reappearance made me grin from ear to ear. Easily one of my beers of year, this saison is truly world class. As tart as a slaggy receptionist, this vinous beauty needs to be stocked by sommeliers to showcase the style to as many people as possible.
It was fantastic to finally meet up with Neil and the rest of the team; people genuinely passionate about their product. I was lucky enough to spy their new branding which will be making its debut in early January. Fellow north easterners will be able to see the lot for themselves at a tap takeover at The Free Trade in January. I can safely say it’s beautifully designed, with subtle typography and a tasteful colour palette. Easily the best looking labelling of any of the local breweries.
So with the yeast added, and working its magic on the BIPA, we are just three weeks and a dry hop away from release. Hopefully it will be hitting the bar pre-Christmas. I’ll be getting torn up on it. You should too if you get the chance.
Thanks again to everyone at Allendale for tolerating me for the day, it was a pleasure. I’ll be showcasing two of Allendale’s beers at my Booze and Bites at the Baltic art gallery on the 2nd February; both are absolute pearlers, as well as one other doozy which will be receiving its public debut at the event. It’s an absolute stormer, get excited.
Fantastic to see my good friends Gary and Jill taking over US TV on their trip to Grand Rapids. Would have preferred to see Gary in a Toon top though, naturally. Check it out.
Autumn: the season of big coats and the permanent need for an umbrella. It’s also the time of year for two of Europe’s go-to beer festivals; Borefts and IndyMan. The windmill/swimming baths double act serve as the high watermarks in the European beer calendar and provide a heavy-going fortnight for even the seasoned drinker. Twitter was ablaze with tweets from friends and acquaintances, as they laid their livers to waste on barrel-aged beauties and hyper-hopped harlots, as the rest of us non-attendees reached for the unfollow button.
I was at neither Borefts nor IndyMan. Instead Emma and I chose another beery destination; the inaugural Bristol Beer Week. The brainchild of @BlueGiantBeer (Stephen) and @Hoptopia (Lee). Bristol Beer Week was a seven-day celebration of the best beers, bars, brewers and brewsters from Bristol and the surrounding areas. You can read about the backstory here.
I have been to Bristol once before. Flying into Bristol airport I was ferried straight to Temple Meads station and beyond to take part in a course in Weston Super Mare on how to interview people correctly under police caution. I’ve had a varied career. Bristol passed by in a blur and, if I’m honest, never troubled me again. However after seeing tweets from Stephen about four months ago, when Bristol Beer Week was just a twinkle in his eye, I knew I had to go. Bristol had become what Devil Tower was to Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters. The beer beacon was reeling me in.
After a short fifty minute flight we were aboard the airport transfer coach service heading to the city centre. Or we would have been, if it weren’t for the gridlocked traffic. The glacial pace of the coach was bewildering. Do Bristolians spend the hours of nine to five in their cars? This was Bangkok levels of traffic craziness.
One hour and six miles later we alighted, catching one final lung full of burning clutch. We’d made it and coffee was required. Stat. Thankfully Bristol has a wonderful caffeine emporium in Full Court Press, which serves up all manner of black gold. This delightful shop is run by Mat who rustles up some truly fantastic coffees while the premises are bathed in Scandinavian chic design. It reminded me a lot of Copenhagen’s Coffee Collective; clean lines and fucking tremendous drinks.
Two superb coffees later and we were on our way, with a complimentary bottle of cold drip to boot. Bristol was already proving to be a class act. We plumped for a four night stay in the Travelodge to free up cash for beverages. Of course, just the one night in a Travelodge can test the most patient of travellers. The omission of anything other than a child size cake of soap is disheartening, while the handprint high up on the wall offered more questions than answers. Regardless, it was well placed and unfeasibly cheap.
With all manner of events taking place across the city it was apparent from the off that we weren’t going to be able to get to everything on the list. Instead of racing over the city we decided to see this more as pleasure ride, than a last minute commute. And our visit was much better for it.
The Three Tuns, which comes complete with the incredible offerings of Meat and Bread, was located just moments from our penthouse suite. Serving as an Arbor Ales tap, I was able to quench my thirst with an incredible Breakfast Stout, whose rich and creamy magnificence was the perfect aperitif for Bristol Beer Week… and with which to be interviewed by the BBC.
Somehow, within minutes of sitting down I was being interviewed for Points West about minimum unit pricing. Pretty standard. Once my fifteen minutes were up, the Breakfast Stout proved the perfect accompaniment to a mammoth belly pork sandwich, which set us up for meeting up with Mark Landells.
Mark was gracious enough to send me some beers for my Beer 366 quest last year and we have kept in touch ever since. We first met in person at the beerpocalypse that was the mighty Copenhagen Beer Celebration and we had made plans to meet at the Famous Royal Naval Volunteer, a boozer stocked to the rafters with Summer Wine beers for Friday night’s tap takeover. Mark is quite simply one of the nicest people you could ever hope to share a beer with so we were excited to meet up.
Now let it be said, we don’t do things by halves (or thirds) and what followed was a magnificent twelve hour drinking adventure. Having cut down dramatically on my beer intake in recent months, this little adventure probably should have landed me in hospital. But it was Bristol Beer Week and Bacchus and her mates were smiling on us favourably.
After several of Holmfirth’s finest we popped next door to the vaulted ceilings of The Beer Emporium. The heaving racks of bottles more than made up for the sparse decoration and with beers like Brooklyn’s There Will Be Black on keg it was obvious their name wasn’t an empty promise. After dropping our bags back at the doss, house Mark took us on a whistle stop tour of the town by foot. The night began with another round of Meat and Bread at the Tuns before heading to the Hare on the Hill for the Bristol Beer Week Launch event.
Brewers from Beerd Brewery, Wiper and True, Rocket Science Craft Ales, Arbor Ales and Art Brew had created a range of beers brewed especially for the week. As the brewers worked the bustling crowd, we three intrepid drinkers worked our way through each of the auspicious ales. The Wiper and True / Beerd Bristol Cream Stout was particularly tasty as was the Arbor Sauvin Non-Blanc (although it was crying out to be kegged). Lee and Stephen rocked up later on in time for a brief hello before we headed back into town for even more beer.
Bristol’s Brewdog was first on our list. Unlike the mezzanine floors of Newcastle, Bristol is a compact bar. It might have similar decor, but Bristol seems a more welcoming affair, selling a range of Bristol Beer Week cocktails and a solid range of sours. Two halves of Blitz and a split bottle of Mixtape 8 later and we are off, heading down river to the Apple. It was time to drink cider…on a boat.
Like Newcastle, Bristol is a former industrial town which once had a heavy reliance on its waterways. Newcastle chose to celebrate this history with a floating nightclub; a former passenger ferry converted into the world’s worst water hole, complete with a revolving dance floor ors. Thankfully, the Tuxedo made its final voyage out of the city several years ago. Hopefully to international waters where it was scuttled with all of the regulars still on-board.
Bristol however makes better use of its rivers, as can be seen by the number of small bars and eateries installed aboard barges. One of these is the Apple, which specialises in selling incredibly strong scrumpy to incredibly drunk youngsters. Mark, Emma and I sipped our pints of old Bristolian, knocked ever so bandy by the nautical undulation while tables of freshers screamed “Chug! Chug! Chug!” We may have been too old for the Apple, but it was certainly fun.
Bars seem to shut early in Bristol and our choices for post midnight drinking were limited, so it was back to the underground sanctum of the Beer Emporium. We opened more bottles. We drank more beer. It was the perfect way to toast day one of Bristol Beer Week. And this was just the start.
OK, I’ll level with you. Over the past six months I’ve gotten a touch bored with beer. Last year’s Beer366 kind of burned me out and writing about beer grew pretty tiresome. I got sick of trying to come up with witty descriptors; bored with reading about the latest and greatest bars and brewpubs; fed up with spending hundreds of pounds of bottles and bombers.
Don’t get me wrong I’ve continued to drink some world class stuff, attended some great festivals at home and abroad, and even bashed out the odd magazine article or two, but the passion just isn’t there at the moment. I have two Tyne and Beer Metro posts almost ready to go yet can’t find the words to finish them.
I’m hoping Bristol Beer Week will re-ignite my boozy fire which, at the moment, is barely clinging to life. Instead of hitting the bar with alarming regularity I’ve cut back the boozing to a bare minimum, dramatically improved my diet, and got myself a personal trainer.
However one thing I have missed as my beer levels have dropped is flavour; the subtle nuances of a stout or the balanced bite of a double IPA. But I’ve found a replacement beverage to keep my palate more than ticking over: coffee. And this week I found time to take it one step further thanks to the wonderful north east coffee merchant Pumphrey’s.
Pumphrey’s has a long history in my home town, first established by a gentleman named Leigh Smith in Newcastle’s creepily named Flesh Market, opposite the Bigg Market, in 1750. It was sold to George Richardson in 1800. Richardson was described as a “Quaker, businessman, tanner, grocer and dealer in tea.”
After 35 years in the game he was succeeded by his son Henry and the street which had previously been renamed Union Street now became the Cloth Market as it is today. Henry Richardson had two nephews - Thomas Pumphrey and George Richardson Pumphrey. See where this is going?
In 1853 George, aged just 23, purchased a grocery business in Blackett Street, Newcastle with Thomas as his shop assistant.
A year later Thomas joined his uncle Henry in the Cloth Market business as Henry Richardson & Co. until uncle Henry retired in 1858. Thomas formed a partnership with his friend T. Carrick Watson who would run the Blackett Street business as Pumphrey & Watson for seven years until 1869 when Watson became sole proprietor. Following years of hard graft, Thomas Pumphrey died aged 78. His business continued to thrive and ‘Pumphreys Coffee’ became a household name throughout the north east.
Pumphrey’s remained a dominant force in the north east for years. Their store in the Cloth Market, with its very busy roasting department and coffee rooms above, continued to flourish. My mother has often mentioned her frequent trips to the coffee rooms while working in the city.
In 1974 the grocery side of the business had to close and a decision was taken to move the coffee side of the business into the Old George Yard (behind the shop) and continue to supply the catering trade from there. This would free the main building for sale, which was in great demand for use as a public bar. Sadly this went on to become one of the many god awful boozers occupying the Bigg Market. However, there’s talk of a huge overhaul in that area. In fairness a Sarin gas attack would sort it out in the short term, but it would appear there are plans afoot for a boutique hotel and new bars. I’ll believe it when I see it.
In 1983 Pumphrey’s Coffee Ltd. was purchased by the Archer family and its place of business was moved out of the Cloth Market for the first time in over 230 years. The business moved to Blaydon on Tyne, home of the Blaydon Race, where a new 40,000 sq ft factory has provided warehousing and roasting facilities with excellent positioning for distribution.
The firm went on to offer more than 80 different coffees and teas all freshly prepared with the traditional Pumphrey’s care and attention to detail. In 2002 Stuart’s son (Stuart Lee) joined the business and introduced a vastly improved range, along with all relevant up to date training.
They have since extended their showroom at Blaydon giving customers a one-stop-shop for not only their coffee but also all the various associated products such as crockery, glasses, disposables, sugars and chocolates. They stock a fantastic range of high-end coffee machines to give even coffee enthusiasts like me the caffeine-infused horn. From Aeropresses to V60s, Chemex to Syphons; their Blaydon base of operation is the perfect base for all your brew methods.
Upstairs they have a dedicated training centre where they provide City and Guilds-accredited courses on coffee, coffee making and machine maintenance. For the past ten years Stuart Lee Archer has trained countless baristas before they have gone on to set up their coffee shops. He has played in a part in helping to train Newcastle’s Joe Meagher, the man behind the wonderful Flat Cap Joe’s on Ridley Place. Joe is one of the shining examples of Newcastle’s burgeoning coffee cultures and was a finalist in this year’s UK Barista Championships; a hell of an achievement.
On Monday I visited their Blaydon base to take part in their introductory Barista Training. The course was lead by Stuart Lee Archer who, over the day long course, took me on a whistle stop history of coffee, including bean selection, coffee storage, espresso extraction, milk texturing, drink presentation, grinder maintenance and cleaning and much much more.
Getting to spend a couple of hours playing with super expensive Italian espresso machines was a hoot and while my cappuccinos would undoubtedly be sent back (looking more like they were served up by someone with chronic vibration white finger) they still tasted pretty damn good.
Getting to learn what goes into make a perfect espresso was fascinating, with Stuart splitting the drink into its constituent parts and illustrating the massive variances in aroma, mouthfeel and flavour that under and over extraction can cause. The course was hugely beneficial in helping to understand how subtle changes in preparation can dramatically affect your coffee.
Stuart remained on hand to talk you through lighter and dark roast coffees and explain the types of flavours you could expect to experience. It was like a beer tasting but, you know, with coffee.
Another treat of the day was the tour of the roasting room, where I got to see the equipment used to make Pumphrey’s signature roasts. This was about as far from super high tech, lab conditions as you could get. Instead it was old school pulleys, gears, cables and fire. Fantastic! Seeing the changes from green beans to the finished product was fascinating and learning about the variances you can experience from farm to farm, season to season, stoked my interest even further.
It was a superb day and I can’t recommend it highly enough. While it’s unlikely that Emma will allow me to drop big money on a top-of-the-line espresso machine I’m now all too aware that a new grinder is on the horizon to help improve the flavour of my home brews. I fear my coffee consumption is about to increase exponentially.
Next time you’re in central Newcastle be sure to pop into Pumphrey’s Brewing Emporium in the Grainger Market where you can pick up your supplies and have a have a coffee in the UK’s first covered market to boot. Or, like me, pony up the entrance fee to learn more at their Blaydon headquarters. You won’t be disappointed.
I recently had an article published in Living North magazine highlighting the best places to get pissed in the sun in the north east. Living North is chock full of the best the north has to offer and does it in damn swanky fashion. It was great to be able to be write for them.
You can check out my article below.
I’ll be contributing another beer related article in their September issue. I suggest you take out a subscription and you can do just that by visiting www.livingnorth.com
In other writing news, I’d encourage you to visit my other site Tyne and Beer Metro as new content with be getting posted early next week. I’ll be visiting the beer desert that is Newcastle Airport, Callerton Parkway and a few other disparate stations. Just shy of forty stations still to go. Bloody hell.
Back in late March I was lucky enough to get my hands on four bottles from London’s Pressure Drop Brewery. My wonderful beer donkey girlfriend Emma (her words not mine) dutifully hauls a selection of bottles from Sourced Market back to the north east whenever she’s in London for work.
Their size - a tiny 0.5hl - amazed me. In such a small time and on a fantastically tiny kit they’d managed to create four completely different beers, all of which were chock full of foraged herbs, berries and other goodies. Pressure Drop aren’t brewing simple milds and bitters like all too many breweries, far from it.
On my recent visit to London to drink myself draft at Craft’s second birthday party, Emma and I decided to do our damndest to visit a couple of breweries too. Pressure Drop were high on my list but we weren’t sure we’d manage it in our forty eight hour flying visit to the city.
We had arranged to visit our friend Kai, who is currently at Howling Hops in the Cock Tavern in Hackney. While we caught up with him and head brewer Ed Taylor we discussed a recent collaboration they’d done with Pressure Drop; Wallbanger Wit, a tasty sounding wheat beer loaded with foraged elderberries.
“Well they’re just across the road,” Ed informed me. What?!
It so transpires that Pressure Drop have had a growth spurt. Gone is their miniature industrial unit in Stoke Newington, to be replaced with the quintessential brewery base - a railway arch. Capacity has grown to, now up to 800 litres. A hop, skip and tweet later and we were squeezing past rows of Metrocabs waiting to be serviced and on our way to visit Pressure Drop’s new homestead.
We were lucky enough to be shown around by Sam and Ben, two thirds of the Pressure Drop triptych. The new kit was less than a week old and by their own admission they were still finding their way around it. The pilot kit responsible for their brews up to this point was still going strong too. For me, it was their uniquely small size that initially caught my eye, along with their simple yet assured branding. But it was their agility and inventiveness that really made them shine.
Their Pale Fire is a quintessential summer supper, packed with a showcase of juicy hops but they are much more than Pale Ale peddlers. Delicious featherweight brown ales pack a heavyweight punch, while they season dunkels and wits like gourmet French chefs.
We were also lucky to meet Jonathan Cook, better known as Jon the Poacher. Previously featured in National Geographic, Jon is a key component of the Pressure Drop magic and often vanishes into parts of urban London to pick the wild roots, herbs and berries that help shape Pressure Drop’s botanical beauties. But Jon keeps the exact whereabouts of his foraging a closely guarded secret.
A week or so before our visit they’d tweeted about a new beer that was en route, a dandelion and burdock porter. Fuck me, I needed that in life. A traditional favourite flavour meets a dark and characterful beer. After a small sample it’s already on my top ten beers of the year. The guys shared a bottle and, although very young, the character of the botanicals shone through. In a couple of months it will be incredible. I urge you all to try it; several times.
At present they’re unable to sell beers from the premises but fear not, that’s coming soon. Before too long you’ll be able to sit outside, sampling beers brewed just metres away. I can’t wait and it will undoubtedly become a must visit every time I make it down south.
To round off a stellar trip, the guys generously loaded us up with some bottles to take home, each one as delicious sounding as the next.
Having previously sampled their Pale Fire with Amarillo & Citra, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into the two most recent variants. I made it through the first day back at work before the call of the bottle opener was just too strong.
Pale Fire (Nelson Sauvin & Mosaic) (4.5%)
It has a lightly golden pour with a waif like white bubbly head. The aroma was fruitier than a pack of Opal Fruits and equally mouth watering. Orange and grapefruit with a twist of lemon and lime. The flavour was just as good; a light biscuit base carried the fresh citrus filling perfectly. Gone in three gulps. I think that says everything.
Pale Fire (Nelson Sauvin & Topaz) (4.7%)
The Nelson Sauvin and Topaz variant looked exactly the same, but served up a richer fruitier aroma. The plumped up ABV drew more attention to the booze but offered up a fruit platter finish than would make Gillian McKeith proud. Take aim, Pale Fire!
Following up our visit to Howling Hops it’s only right to open their most recent collaboration with the Hackney hopslingers. Hand labelled and yet to be released, it’s a red pour with a sweet and heady aroma. I was convinced this was a berry laden beer but clarification came via Twitter that it’s just malt, hops, water and yeast. An intriguingly moreish beer with a juicy bitter finish.
Builder’s Tea Porter (4.6%)
The fourth and final bottle of the night brought a pairing that couldn’t help but make me prick up my ears. Tea and porter. The hilariously named Builder’s was a favourite before I even opened it. With an aroma of richly roasted malt and liquorice, the nose also carried hints of strong black tea. Get in! It’s even more evident in the flavour, dry as a bone with a medium bitterness. It’s a velvety smooth beverage, perfect for elevenses, twelveses or anythingses. Fabulous.
I have a few bottles left that I’m looking forward to splitting with friends on the train as we hightail it to Brodies’ HaggisBasher event in Edinburgh next week. One of these is the Stokey Brown Bourbon Barrel edition. I can tell from the bottle it’s the perfect breakfast beer.
Thanks again to Pressure Drop gents for taking the time to show us around and let us sample your beers. Now brew more and send it all to Newcastle! Cheers.
Things have been pretty quiet on both of my blogs of late. The ongoing crawl on Tyne and Beer Metro has taken an early summer hiatus and I’ve been enjoying nights out and in without the need to post updates.
My blogging regimen is a far cry from my Beer 366 days but as the warmer weather begins to show signs of life, it’s time to fire up the typing fingers once again.
That’s not to say I have been doing nothing; I’ve recently written a piece about alfresco drinking in the north east that will be published in Living North magazine in August and next week I embark on a new beery odyssey.
On Thursday @BillQuayMag and myself will be jumping on our bikes and high tailing it to Anarchy Brew Co in Morpeth. We’ll be having a look around and hopefully getting to sample the 10% 100 IBU monster WarHead that I helped to brew a month or so ago. Once our taste buds are properly scorched we’ll be hopping back in the saddle and riding on to Allendale.
On Friday we’ll be visiting the Allendale Brewery, where we’ll help and/or hinder brewer Neil as he creates the next in the END series of beers. I’m really excited about this 100 mile excursion. Getting to visit two of my favourite North East breweries in rapid succession is always a treat and helping out with the epic END series is the cherry on the cake. Doing it all by bike adds an extra level of excitement, and makes me feel less guilty about the beers I’ll be consuming.
The journey is the prologue stage in our BikeHops project which will see us visit each of the breweries in the North East by bike. We’ll be providing maps and directions for anyone who cares to follow in our tyre tracks. You can track us on the competitive cattle prod that is Strava to see how we do if you’re that way inclined too.
I have a few more blog posts up my sleeve in the coming weeks, including a visit to Edinburgh and a day of drinking along with the Tour de France. Oh and I’m off to that London to visit a few breweries and for the Clerkenwell branch of Craft Beer birthday celebrations. Any financial assistance you can offer in the coming weeks and months will be gratefully received.
A few weeks ago I submitted a review, or press release depending who you listen to, to Cheers North East; a free beery magazine that you can pick up in Newcastle. Sadly only three paragraphs made it in so I thought I’d post the whole thing for folks to read.
To paraphrase country songstress Dolly Parton, “My weaknesses have always been food and beer - in that order,” so I was delighted to be invited to an evening of both at Newcastle’s The Broad Chare. There is a long history of expert flavour pairings; from the decadence of chilli and chocolate to the double act of botanical-rich gin and its uniquely bitter tonic counterpart. However beer and food is quickly becoming the quintessential pairing.
For several years our American cousins have pushed beer and food as a concept, and with so many styles and flavours, beer is both a perfect and versatile accompaniment to dining. Many people lack the correctly tuned palate to pick out the subtle nuances of one spicy Shiraz compared to another. Beer, however, is as versatile as it is diverse, offering both complementary and contrasting experiences when paired with food.
When chef Terry Laybourne opened his first restaurant, 21 Queen Street, on Newcastle’s Quayside in 1988 it was the start of a North East culinary empire, winning him legions of salivating fans and a Michelin star for good measure. His family of eateries appeals to a wide audience offering up rustic style cuisine, Italian peasant food to fine-dining.
In May 2011 Terry opened the doors of The Broad Chare; a proper pub serving both proper food and proper beer. With its stripped wooden floors and painted brickwork, it’s a bar that is low on fuss yet big on warmth. It’s a fabulous addition to Newcastle’s drinking scene. The Broad Chare marries Terry’s unaffected menu with a fabulous beer list. From bitters to barley wines, the bar is stocked to the rafters with casks, kegs and bottles for all occasions and courses.
It seemed only fitting that Laybourne and his team would collaborate with the North East’s most progressive brewery, Anarchy Brew Co, for their beer and food pairing night. It’s been an amazing 12 months for Anarchy owners Simon and Dawn Miles. If you’ve been in any North East bar recently you’ll have undoubtedly happened upon their lovely Blonde St*r. However Anarchy is not a brewery to rest on its laurels. Instead they have been releasing a steady stream of increasingly forward thinking libations.
From their hop heavy summer-in-glass CitraSt*r to the coffee and rich malted breakfast stout Sublime Chaos, these Morpeth-based brewers are on the march. With new brewer Andy Aichison now wrangling the copper and kettle, the night was a perfect opportunity for Anarchy to showcase their beers along with a mouth watering three course menu.
The opening salvo came in the form of Crime Scene; this Hybrid American Amber offered up a nose of tangerine and pineapple and left a swirling tropic taste in the mouth. This lightly carbonated, cool and creamy number was served as a dinner gong, leading the diners to the first course.
A sharing board of delicious pork pies, Scotch eggs, cauliflower fritters and potted crab came complete with a piquant plate of of pickled veg. A bold, bitter beer was needed to cut through the flavours, and Anarchy’s Quiet Riot was the perfect partner. Fragranced with passionfruit and mango, Quiet Riot lays waste to your taste buds with its full-on flavour.
The main course would have had vegetarians running for cover; a whole suckling piglet. Our porcine pal melted in the mouth, rich and succulent, with the crackling providing a salty crunch. Again, Anarchy brought a dazzling partner to the party; their delicious Anarchy Lager. This SIBA silver medal winner serves up more syrupy fruit then Delmonte ever could. Sweet and heady, anarchic and appetising; a better pairing than Fred and Ginger.
The night was rounded off with a cheese board crowned with Montgomery Cheddar from the Neal’s Yard dairy. Robustly rich and nutty flavours were completed by a grainy, crystalline crunch. With it came the final beer of the night, Sublime Chaos; and sublime it was. Brewed with oats and Ethiopian coffee it’s a viscous, silky stout with dark fruits firmly in the driving seat and richly roasted malts riding shotgun. It was so good I ordered a second for a rousing curtain call.
Anarchy expertly talked the diners through the courses, describing the flavours the diners could expect from the beers and how they would work with each dish. Like a lot of relationships in life, the key to a good pairing is balance and this certainly holds true for beer and food. The Broad Chare’s culinary masterclass danced over my taste buds and was perfectly complemented by a boozy pas de deux with Anarchy. A fabulous night of both fine dining and fine drinking.
“I feel like a pig shat in my head,” the titular Withnail once famously said. I however, felt worse. A lot worse. A night of super high strength beers mixed with the adrenaline-fuelled panic of being hopelessly lost in unfamiliar city had taken its toll. Emma wasn’t faring much better either. An emergency breakfast of eggs, bread and bacon was required. And paracetemol; lots and lots of paracetemol.
Our mission was to make it to the morning session of the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, the two day beer festival organised by Mikkeller, which plays host to the great and good of the international beer world. Now in its second year, Mikkeller had ditched the tried and tested ‘exchange money for tokens, tokens for beer’. Instead they were trialling something more devilish. You buys your ticket, you drinks your beer…until it runs out.
If this beer festival was held in Newcastle this would probably be more pain than pleasure; an all inclusive bar of brown drek sounds ghastly. However an inclusive bar filled with the likes of 3 Floyds, Founders, Kernel, Firestone Walker, Hoppin’ Frog, Jester King, Brodies, Mikkeller and more. Now you’re talking. OH YEEEAAAHHHH!
The CBC is split over three sessions, with the breweries showcasing different beers at each gathering. Hardcore drinkers could purchase a weekend ticket covering all sessions, but the more sensible visitors, including us for once, could plump for just the one. The wonderful thing about staggering the beer launches is that if you make it to just the one session your guaranteed a shit load of world class beer; make it to two or all three and you can double or triple your intake but never have the same thing twice. Well played Mikkeller, well played.
However as we walked the slow and long trudge to the Gunnar Nu Hansens Plads sport hall the last thing on my mind was beer, let alone all you can drink. Perhaps last night’s shenanigans were a tad pre-emptive. To add insult to drunken injury it was incredibly warm. The mammoth amount of booze I’d imbibed had completely bollocksed my internal thermostat, rendering me a sweaty, hungover mess. Check me out Copenhagen.
Doors opened at 1130 sharp and it took us well over an hour to make it to the other side of town. My stomach had settled and the thrashing drum solo in my head had slowed to a steady 7/8 jazz tempo.
The queue was full of characters. CAMRA takes some stick for the bearded weirdos it attracts to its festivals. The same could we be levelled at Mikkeller. Knock thirty years off the average age, ink up with a shed load of tattoos, pour into skinny jeans and that right there is their key demographic. Believe you me I’m aware of the irony, as I fall headlong into this stereotype. However, I’m not from Brooklyn and my bike has more than one gear.
Regardless of the hipster credentials on show it was a raucous crowd with an unquenchable thirst. The queue quickly moved along, carrying us into the sports hall. Our tickets were scanned and our dainty tasting glasses handed over. Now the fun could begin.
The room was split into four rows of vendors; breweries and much needed food stalls. It was only once inside did I realise that the people serving you the beer were the brewery owners and brewers themselves. Holy shit! Forget your volunteers, these people were the real deal and ready to answer any questions you could throw at them. From barrel aging to the brewing process, they were eager to answer and more than happy to chat. Superb.
We opened proceedings with a flight of beers from young Danish upstarts ToØl. These Mikkeller protégés were showcasing their new Fuck Art series. A thirst quenching and juicy IPA was the stomach liner I needed and their Fuck Art – This is Advertising was the rich Belgian Quad it transpired I desperately needed.
I don’t use UnTappd; I see it as a gateway to beer ticking. I rely on a trusty notebook for festivals to try to remember what the hell I’ve drank. This usually descends into unintelligible drunken scrawl that would need the Enigma machine to decipher. I wrote the first two beers down, scanned the tables of twenty plus breweries and put it promptly back into my bag. I was here to drink not document.
We were seemingly in the minority however, as the sports hall was full of beer aficionados hunched over beer lists, sniffing, swirling and sipping as if their lives depended on it. Notes were being scrawled over Excel spreadsheets and decisions made. The tickers here were certainly better dressed than the sorts you get at CAMRA festivals but it was still a familiar sight.
And so we drank…and drank… and drank. It was amazing.
First up we spoke to Japan’s Baird Brewing and their owner Bryan. He told us of the difficulties he’d encountered in the Land of the Rising Lager to create a craft brewery and explained how his taprooms are now helping to change perceptions of beer back home. We spoke to Surly Brewing and tried their wonderful coffee porter. Surly don’t even export outside of their native Minnesota so getting my tastebuds around their beers was a true treat.
We tried three barrel aged belters from Founders and some bottled beauties from Firestone Walker. We spoke to youngsters Anchorage and learned about the owner’s Blackpool roots. We had beer from Against the Grain and Amager, from newbies Siren to established Stillwater. We were assaulted by hops by Lagunitas and had our lips puckered by Brodies’ sours.
We sampled the cherry wine made from the same fruit used by Mikkeller in their Spontinale and head banged along with 3 Floyds. We spoke and drank with Shanghai’s Boxing Cat and learned the story behind their fighting feline logo and drank super fresh New Zealand beers from 8 Wired.
A real highlight beer, and that’s saying something in the company we were in, came from Jester King in the form of their amazing FunkMetal. This stout was Saudi Sheik-rich and Tangfastically sour. I had four; which might explain my somewhat swaying disposition.
Thankfully Mikkeller had the perfect pairing on hand for such thirsty work, a range of locally sourced tasty treats. While punters hoovered up burgers and hotdogs we made a bee line for an organic chilli con carne. The mix of protein and carbohydrates was the perfect support to keep us from collapsing. Oh, and the cheese, the Mikkeller infused cheese. It so transpires that cheese can be made 100% more awesome with an infusion of barley wine and imperial stout. Who knew?
Another intriguing sight was the brand new brewery; Merciless. Taking their logo design from an eighties metal album they were rocking six taps, double the amount of anyone else. Most of their beers were double digits in strength and went by names such as Creeping Death and Human Sacrifice. Russian Imperial Stouts and 10% sours were flowing and the drinkers were flocking to them. However the sign they on display had some drinkers scratching their heads. “Brewery for sale, including recipes.” What?
It turned out Merciless were in fact De Molen. Speaking to one of their brewers they explained that people don’t judge beer objectively when they see the De Molen brand and this time they wanted the beer to do the talking. And bloody hell, it did just that. The two glasses of 19% Eisbock practically floored me but don’t worry, I powered on. With five hours of drinking to be done, I was determined to stay the course.
We met some wonderful people, discussed beers, life, the universe and everything in between; setting the world to rights over glass after glass of incredible beer. This was the beer festival to end all beer festivals. Busy and bustling but not overcrowded, stocked with possibly the greatest line-up of beers anywhere in the world at that given moment. It was sensational.
As the taps started to run dry and the next session rapidly approaching, we decided to beat our retreat. As we staggered our way vaguely homeward it became quickly apparent I wasn’t going to make it. Even a delicious double espresso couldn’t rally my spirits. I was broken and going nowhere fast. We hailed a taxi and tore through the town to my much needed bed.
Admittedly we were back out a few hours later after a restorative nap but at that moment I was overcome with smiles, handshakes, conversation and genre defying beer. CBC2013… done. See you next year!
Back in the final days of Beer366 I was lucky enough to be gifted a bottle of Sauvin 600 from Allendale. This precision-guided hop missile tore my tastebuds a new one and for me, marked a big change in the output from Allendale. Their core range features Wolf and Golden Plover, both tasty drops but more of your standard sessiony fare. However their END series marked a move into more experimental waters.
Thankfully this seems to be the direction they are heading in and bugger me, their beers are getting better and better. I popped into the fabulous Coppers bottle shop last week and was greeted by four gleaming END series beers. How could I resist?
Orange Summit (4%)
Burnished orange with a subtle fruity nose. Chock full of hop character with a worrying glugability. Beer garden beer par excellance.
Black IPA (6%)
Opulent malts almost overpower the party with hops very much in the passenger seat. Lacking the juicy fruit flavours but bloody tasty nonetheless.
Sauvin Saison (6.5%)
This farmhouse beer is an absolute blinder. As tart as a slaggy receptionist, this vinous beauty needs to be stocked by sommeliers to showcase the saison style. One of the best.
Export Stout (7.1%)
The perfect finisher to this flight of beers. Fuller figured, dark and decadent; this would be the perfect after dinner accompaniment. Smokey and sublime.
To top off this run of hits, I sampled Allendale’s 3.1% Fermenta at the Newcastle Arms on Friday. You know Kernel’s Table Beer? Well it’s like that… but better. It needs to be bottled and kegged yesterday; spectacular. At the moment Allendale are a non stop brewing hit factory and are quickly becoming the leading light in the north east brewing scene. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Pester your local purbs and bottle shops to get these in at once. And if you’re up north, get thee to Coppers. Well go on then!
It goes without saying that Danish is linguistically challenging to say the least. The Danes are not afraid of adding additional characters into their alphabet which makea pronunciation trickier than the Sunday Times cryptic crossword. So as Emma and I staggered our way around Copenhagen at 1am, hopelessly lost and unfeasibly drunk, it goes without say even our pidgin Danish was stratospherically shit.
Our day had started early, very early. The 3am alarm call was as welcome as a home invasion, but seeing as we’d traded in a fistful of Air Miles for £30 flights, we had the added indignity of a flight to Heathrow before flying on to Copenhagen. With the taste of toothpaste still fresh in my mouth we entered Newcastle Airport to be greeted by a line-up of departures that read like a Club 18-30 brochure; Alicante, Palma and Ibiza. Such destinations attract a particular type of traveller. Forget your linen suits and Tumi luggage; this was all about the Superdry tracksuits, personalised polo shirts and the heady mix of Blue WKD and Regal King Size.
The sheer number of stag and hen-dos was mind boggling; it was like a Geordie Shore / Mooney wedding party. I have never seen Newcastle airport busier or more punchable. The snaking security queue was like a congo line from hell; tube tops, tan lines and tosspots (there’s your new show right there BBC3).
I’m currently working on another website at the moment called Tyne and Beer Metro. I decided to tick off the Airport station and bars whilst there. A couple of quick beers in both of the bars? Easy. Wrong. It was standing room only in the Eagle Bar, home of classy sights including someone’s mother enjoying an entire bottle of Rose wine to herself and a gentlemen ordering eight pints of Magners Cider. At 4:30am.
The quite frankly bizarre Woolsington Arms however was the true Sodom and Gomorrah of the AMP Capital empire. Packed to the rafters with the world’s largest stag-do all drinking individual pitchers of Carling. This group of characters was a true car crash of humanity but you simply couldn’t look away. Their polo shirts identified each of them with their unique callsigns. ‘Butt Slammer’ and ‘Will Pull The Heed Of It’ seemed to be firm friends, sharing a cheeky round of Jagerbombs. Sadly the anticipated final call for passengers Piss Flaps and Fanny Hockle wasn’t needed, as they downed their pitchers in record time and made their unsteady way to the gate.
Two flights and a couple of soothing G&Ts later and Emma and I were touching down in Copenhagen. It was then the fun truly began. Being a beer blog I’ll shy away from the actual sightseeing we snuck in; the picture postcard beauty of the port, the Little Mermaid and Frederiksberg Park;instead I’ll stick with the boozing, which was done in abundance.
Being sleep deprived, the first day all kind of blended into one, from the beers in the wonderful Laundromat Cafe to the smoky Vinstue 90. Vinstue is a taste of Copenhagen past, a time capsule from the drinking days of the 1920s. The bar itself hasn’t changed much in almost one hundred years. The bar, decor and furniture are all from 1916 and the place is jam packed with smokers and drinkers. But the reason they are all here is for their unique “slow beer”.
Slow beer is actually Carlsberg but dispensed in a completely different manner. The beer is poured without the use of carbonic acid and with a Czech tapper which only pours foam. The glass is completely filled with foam that is allowed to settle. When the foam has calmed down, it is refilled again and this process is repeated 10 to 15 times, taking about 15 minutes to pour, hence “slow beer”.
It’s still Carlsberg but the thick, viscous, creamy mouthfeel is completely alien to the taste. It’s still lacking in flavour but being in this incredible bar and drinking this Copenhagen classic I’ll give the taste a pass. It was here we met barman Nicky, fellow beer fan and soon-to-be marketing man for Mikkeller. He recommended a couple of bottles for us try, an IPA and Black IPA from the Herslev Bryghus. These organic ales were sparkling with juicy hops and an oily mouthfeel. The polar opposite of the slow beer yet the perfect companions.
From Vinstue we headed to the Mikkeller bar, and this is probably where the night took an abrupt left turn. This exquisite cellar bar is the obvious inspiration for Brewdog’s boozers. Clean lines, beautiful glasses and lots and lots of taps.
The staff were surly but the beer was beautiful; brilliant barley wines, sumptuous sours and incredible imperial stouts. We went to town on the taps spending an inordinate amount of money. Oh, by the way, Copenhagen is bonkers expensive; BONKERS. It makes London bars feel as cheap as working men’s clubs. If you’re planning on visiting for god’s sake take more money.
A couple of hours later we sauntered street side only to find that not only were our wallets substantially lighter but we were properly pissed. Sensible people would have taken this as a cue to go home for the night. But not us, instead we found our way to Jernbane Cafe, a pub near the station.
This is a real old fashioned bodega serving up its own specially brewed pilsner, Number 7. Malt heavy and a smattering of hops it’s a damn tasty drop and made all the better by the loud music and great clientele. We joined Pierre and Marianne, a couple from Roskilde, and proceeded to keep up Anglo-Dane relations by getting slaughtered together on locally brewed Imperial Brown Ale. Great beers, great company. Brilliant.
As we staggered out into the night it wasn’t until we boarded a random bus that we realised that not only did we have no clue where we were but also we couldn’t remember where our apartment was. Oh shit! Cue shouting, tears, taxis and alfresco urination. Hilarious in hindsight, awful in the moment. Six hours of restless sleep later and we were greeted with jackhammer hangovers. Thank fuck we weren’t going to a world class all-you-can-drink beer festival in four hours time…