Monday, 25 March 2019

A new angle on an old friend

I spent Saturday afternoon and early evening in London. I won’t go into too much detail as to why I was there, but I was accompanied by a million or so of my fellow citizens, and just before 5pm I found myself in Parliament Square.

Although the addresses to the crowd had finished, people were still flooding into the area. I decided it was time to find somewhere quieter and somewhere I could enjoy a well earned pint or two. Westminster Underground Station was understandably closed, so I cut through to St James’s Park, glad of the open space and less people.

With a one day, all-zones London Travel Card tucked into my wallet I decided that my best bet was to get out of Central London for a while, find a place for that quiet drink I craved, and let the crowds die down, before taking the train home. Having just walked from Hyde Park to Westminster, I also didn’t fancy having to trudge much further to find a suitable watering-hole.

St James’s Park station was open, so I headed down onto the platform and jumped on the second westbound District Line train (the first one was bursting at the seems). My plan was to make for the Dove; the historic riverside pub, owned by Fuller’s. It had been many a year since my last visit, but whilst I had a London A-Z in my rucksack, I couldn’t remember the location of the pub.

With no Wi-Fi and no 4G signal on my phone, I was a bit stuck, but as the train edged towards South Kensington I suddenly had a brain-wave. I remembered an old favourite from the early real ale scene in the capital, and that particular pub was the Anglesea Arms. What’s more I remembered the pub’s address as  Selwood Terrace – funny how certain things lodge in one’s sub-consciousness. 

A quick scan of the A-Z before the train pulled into South Kensington showed the pub was only about 10 minutes walk away; perfectly do-able, even for a weary and foot-sore “citizen of nowhere”, so after alighting from the train and exiting the station, I made my way along the Old Brompton Road towards my destination.

I must admit my heart sank a little, as when I saw the crowd of people milling around outside, all thoughts of a quiet drink vanished. However, having come that far I was determined to at least have one pint, even though the crush at the bar was several people deep. There were individuals in front of me, ordering all manner of fancy cocktails, so when it came to my turn, I’m sure the barman was relieved that I only wanted a pint of biter.

I opted for a pint of Hopfest, a 3.8% Pale Ale from Mad Squirrel Brewery. It set me back £4.70 and, as with the offering I had from Bedlam Brewery the other night in Tunbridge Wells, the beer was a disappointment. It wasn’t off or lacking in condition; it just lacked the hoppiness promised by the name.

I found a ledge amongst the throng, where I could rest my pint and take a few photos. I was especially pleased to see the lovely old pub mirror still in place,  advertising Salt & Co.’s Pale & Burton Ales. The rest of the interior was also pretty much as I remembered it, although I don’t ever recall seeing the pub so packed.

Given the crowds I decided that one pint was sufficient and I should head back into Central London, for a pint close to Charing Cross. Unfortunately both the Chandos and the Harp, my two pubs of choice close to the station, were equally packed, mainly with  people who’d attended the same event as me.

Not wishing to fight my way through to the bar for a second time, I gave up and caught the 19.30 train back to Tonbridge, where son Matthew was waiting to give his old dad a lift home from the station.

Footnote: The Anglesea Arms is a legendary free-house, which was one of the first pubs in London to capitalise on the growing interest in "real ale", by offering a selection of beers which could not be found anywhere else in the capital.

Following my first visit in the summer of 1974, the Anglesea Arms became a regular place of pilgrimage over the following few years and, certainly during my student days, no visit to London was complete without a trip to South Kensington in order to see what was on offer there. To walk in through its doors and be greeted with a new set of pump clips was always a pleasure, and for a lad who was just approaching his 20th birthday, it was like an Aladdin’s Cave.

I have fond memories of many a happy summer’s evening spent on the outside terrace, enjoying a selection of new and interesting ales in the company of friends, and now, four and a half decades on, it is good to see this lovely old pub is thriving, and is still as popular as ever.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

A quiet evening in Tunbridge Wells

So after six days away from home and, with one notable exception, six days of drinking some of Cologne’s finest Kölsch offerings, it was back to these shores and time to get stuck into a few native beers.

I actually took a four day “holiday” from beer, or indeed alcohol of any description, to allow my body, and my sense of general well-being, to recover following what were some quite intense beery sessions. The trouble with knocking back small (20 cl) glasses of beer is that it’s very easy to lose count, and the temptation to have “just one more beer” when it’s such a relatively small measure, is hard to resist.

By Thursday though I felt suitably recovered and whilst still tired from going straight back into a still hectic work environment, the temptation of a CAMRA social in Tunbridge Wells, was enough to persuade me to make the short train journey from Tonbridge across to the Wells.

The branch had advertised a mini pub-crawl, starting off at 8pm from the Sussex Arms, before heading up to the Grove Tavern, but that time was a little too early  for me. Many West Kent CAMRA members are retired, but for us folk who are still working, getting home after our labours, having something to eat and then going back out again, does tend to eat into the evening. I said as much, but agreed to keep in touch via WhatsApp.

After some initial confusion, I met up with the group en route to the Grove. They'd had to leave the Sussex earlier than planned as it was quiz night and they'd been asked to either keep the talking to a minimum, or go elsewhere. They chose the latter. The Grove is a small backstreet pub, which is tucked away in the "village area"  of Tunbridge Wells. It is probably the oldest pub in town, and whilst it is very much a locals pub, it does offer a warm welcome to visitors.

Yesterday evening though, the welcome did not include the bar-flies sitting in front of the counter making room for us visitors to see the beers on offer. I understand it's "their pub" and "their space", but don't be too surprised if someone spills their beer down your back as they try and manouvre themselves and their pint away from the bar!

There were three cask ales on tap; Harvey's Sussex Best, Taylor's Landlord plus a beer called Phoenix, from Bedlam Brewery who brew at Plumpton Green, close to Brighton. Phoenix was a very pale 3.9% American Pale Ale which for me, plus several of my companions, didn't really deliver.

The brewery promise some of the"boldest US hops", in the form of Citra, Amarillo and Cascade, but as one of my friends said, they must have skimped on the amounts added to the copper. I moved swiftly on to the Landlord, which was in good condition, and well worth a 4 on the NBSS. I know it's been quite a while since I enjoyed a pint of Knowle Spring's finest, but I do think the beer has become slightly darker in colour than I remember it.

Putting the beer and bar-hogging customers to one side, the two pints I enjoyed at the Grove gave me the chance to catch up with a former work colleague, who retired a year ago, before disappearing off on a three month trip to Australia and New Zealand. As well as telling me about his adventures, he was keen to hear about the many changes which have occurred at the company, since he left last April.

After two pints at the Grove, the majority of us decided to move on. Several of us had trains to catch, so we headed down the hill towards the station and the nearby Bedford. Here we had the final drink of the evening. Three pints was plenty for me, especially on a "school night", and there was a good choice of beers adorning the bar .

As well a a couple of offerings from Greene King, there were beers from Pig & Porter, Cellar Head, Iron Pier and Great Heck. If truth be known, there were probably one or two too many beers on sale, as my pint of Citra from Great Heck was somewhat disappointing.  To be fair, it was probably the penultimate pint out of the cask, and wasn't bad enough to return, but it was slightly hazy with what is sometimes described as "yeast bite".

Despite my slightly below par pint, I was impressed with the friendly and knowledgeable barman who served us. He obviously knew his beers and he also knew how to nip potential trouble in the bud. I dislike using the term, but there was a group of "hipsters" sitting at the largest of the Bedford's tables, and one of the group was using the "f" word rather indiscriminately and rather loudly. This same individual was also hugging his pet Dachshund, which was wrapped in a blanket. 

After several more expletives were broadcast to all and sundry, the barman shouted over to the offender and told him to moderate his language or leave. Our hipster friend chose the former course of action; a sensible move given the size and build of the barman.

That was enough excitement for one night, certainly as far as I was concerned. Most of my fellow branch members had already left, but having just missed a train, I left it until shortly before 11pm to walk over to the station. In my book, it counted a good night, and after the bustle of Cologne, a relatively quiet night in Tunbridge Wells was just what was needed.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass - Köln

The keener readers amongst you will recall the post I made on 9th March, announcing  my then upcoming trip to Cologne, and my intention, if at all possible, to make a return visit to Brauhaus Päffgen.  This historic brew-pub is somewhere I visited back in 1975, on my first visit to Cologne, and whilst I have revisited Päffgen on a subsequent trip to Cologne, that was ten years ago.

Well sadly things did not quite work out as planned this time around, mainly because Brauhaus Päffgen is a bit of a walk from the centre of Cologne. It’s no great distance for a seasoned walker, but I had four colleagues to consider, and whilst I could probably have persuaded at least one of then to accompany me, the others seemed a little less keen, particularly our new Japanese General Manager.

All was not lost though as I at least had the chance to enjoy several Stanges of  Päffgen in another of Cologne’s old beer-houses. Stanges, by the way, are the tall, straight and narrow thin-walled 20cl glasses, which are traditionally used for serving Kölsch.

I have fellow beer-blogger Matthew Thompson, to thank for a tip-off regarding a much more centrally-located pub where I could knock back a few glasses of Päffgen Kölsch.  Matt writes the excellent When My Feet Go Through The Door; a blog which mixes beer and pubs with a little bit of music (particularly from old blues legends), plus a sprinkling of politics and the odd bit of sport. He is based in Stockport, a town I know well from my time as a student n the Greater Manchester area.

Matt recommended we try Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass; a classic old town pub, sited on a narrow cobbled street which leads from Heumarkt to Buttermarkt, in an area teeming with pubs, bars and restaurants. He assured me that as well as serving Päffgen Kölsch,  the pub’s menu was also of a high standard.

As things turned out Wednesday was the only evening where we were free of meetings with either customers or colleagues from our parent company, so  after weighing up the options we decided we would visit Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass, after eating elsewhere. A customer of ours had recommended a nearby Lebanese restaurant, so this seemed the perfect plan, and we even got our hotel to make a booking for us.

However, after a brisk walk through the wind and rain we arrived at the Beirut Restaurant to discover that it was a cash-only establishment. It was fortunate that one of my colleagues asked before the rest of us entered and took our places, but having been caught out in this fashion, a couple of years ago at Früh am Dom (one of Cologne’s largest and best known  Kölsch outlets), we weren’t going to be left scratching around for cash again.

Plan B was to head straight up to Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass, and see whether they could accommodate our party of five. As the German speaker of the group, it was left to me to do the talking. The place seemed packed, but the waiter perhaps warming to being addressed in his native tongue, managed to find us a table squeezed in towards the back of the pub. We could also pay by card, provided we paid as a group.

It was a good move befriending that particular Köbes, as he looked after us well, ensuring we never had an empty glass in front of us, and that our food arrived promptly and together. I made sure to give him a generous tip when it came to paying the bill.

The draught Kölsch was  dispensed straight from the cask, and was every bit as good as I remembered it, and the food was equally good. Eschewing the obvious roast pork knuckle (Schweine-Hax’n) – I was glad that I did when I saw the size of it on an adjacent table, I went instead for an old favourite in the form of Leberkässe mit Spiegelei & Bratkartoffeln.

This basically is a meatloaf, topped with a fried egg and served with fries potatoes and sweet mustard. Although there was two thick slices of Leberkässe, it was surprisingly easy to digest, and with the assistance of a few glasses of Päffgen Kölsch, it wasn’t long before I had  an empty plate in front of me. My colleagues all opted for a Schnitzel, in one form or another.

We spent a couple of hours in this real old-school, traditional pub, soaking up the atmosphere and the beer in equal quantities. I had to accompany the Köbes to the bar, in order to pay, and it was here that I saw the kegs of Päffgen, set out on the counter in a very similar manner to those at Peters Brauhaus.

The crowds had thinned out a bit by this time, allowing me space to take a few photos on the way back to rejoin my colleagues. They had also enjoyed an excellent evening, so the Beirut Restaurant’s loss ended up as Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass’s gain and ours too.

For me, not only did our visit allow me to renew my acquaintance with Päffgen Kölsch, but it introduced us all to one of Cologne’s best pubs. So thanks again Matthew, for the tip off.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Peters Brauhaus - Köln

I thought I’d visited Peters Brauhaus on a previous trip to Cologne, but looking back it must have been Brauhaus Sion instead. The latter is just short walk away, so it’s easy to see how the confusion may have arisen. Both outlets are fine examples of a traditional, Cologne beer-house.

Anyway, I was pleased we called in at Peters on our first night in the city, as not only was it a very traditional looking establishment, but the Peters Kӧlsch we enjoyed was amongst the best we came across in the city. Even better it was served direct from metal casks, perched up on a stand behind the bar, and being dispensed by gravity, without the use of extraneous CO2, the beer was smooth tasty and far less gassy compared to what is often the norm in Cologne.

As we entered we noticed a sign (in German only), in the porch asking visitors to wait in order to be seated. When the waiter, or Kӧbes as they are called in Cologne, arrived I told him that we had already eaten and just wanted a few drinks. He beckoned us to follow him to an area at the far right of the Brauhaus, which was immediately opposite the bar; except it wasn’t a bar as we know it in the UK. Instead it was the area where the beer is dispensed.

As mentioned earlier, the beer was dispensed direct from metal casks which are brought up from the cellar by means of a chain-pulled, block and tackle type of arrangement. This means the beer arrives already chilled to the perfect serving temperature. There was one large cask evident, plus several smaller ones; the latter probably reserved for towards the end of the evening’s session.

Close to the opposite wall was a large oval-shaped wooden table, which was obviously designed with stand-up drinking in mind, and this suited us fine. We stood there enjoying several glasses of the excellent Peters Kӧlsch, which slipped down a treat, and acted as the perfect night-cap after our earlier meal. I took several photos of the interior, on my trip back from the toilets, which were at the opposite end of the pub. 

The place was quite quiet, but it was Monday and with the dental show not due to open until the following morning, many visitors were probably still on their way over to Cologne. Our visit though was still a great experience of a really traditional Cologne beer-house, and a great way for us to end our first night in the city.`

Footnote: Until 2004, Peters Brauhaus was the tap of the former Peters & Bambeck Brauerei. The latter is now part of the Oetker Group, Germany's largest private brewing conglomerate and, like many other brands of  Kӧlsch, Peters is now brewed at the Kölner Brauerei-Verbund plant in Köln-Mulheim.

The pub remains thankfully unchanged, and is well worth a visit, if you are ever in Cologne.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Return from Köln

I arrived back to a wet and very windy Ebbsfleet at 9.20 pm last night, and after collecting the car, driving back along a surprisingly busy M25, I was back in my house 40 minutes or so later. It had been wet and windy at times in Cologne, but not to the same extent as the UK; the stormy weather in Britain seeming to match the tempestuous  political situation the country faces.

It was good to be away from the goings on at Westminster,  even though at almost every opportunity we were being pressed by people from our Japanese parent company, and also quite a few customers (both existing and potential)  as to what was happening with  regard to the dreaded “B” word.

In case you missed my post of 9th March, I was in the Rhineland city helping to man my company’s stand at the International Dental Show (IDS) and,  as I hinted in that article, it meant long days, with little time to oneself – even in the evenings.

On the whole though the week was enjoyable, and certainly made a change from being at work. At the risk of sounding a bit corny, it also afforded the opportunity of some “team bonding”, especially between  myself, my management colleagues and our new General Manager.

There’s lots I want to write about, including the “joys” of international train travel, the aforementioned long days on the exhibition stand and the rather hectic rush back to the hotel in the evening, prior to going out for something to eat. Eating is another subject worth more than a passing mention, as Cologne has some fine restaurants, ranging from traditional Rhineland beer halls, through to establishments serving different  cuisines from all over the world.

And then there’s the beer, and Cologne is of course famous for Kölsch; it’s own, internationally recognised style of beer. Kölsch can be enjoyed in bars and restaurants all over the city, but on our last night we dined at a very traditional beer house which offered draught Löwenbräu, from Munich. This certainly made a pleasant change, and was particularly enjoyed by the Japanese colleagues we enjoyed a meal with.

For now though, I’m off to bed as it’s back to the office tomorrow. In addition, with my normal weekend activities crammed into just one day I’m feeling more than a little washed out.  So as the Germans would say, bis später”.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

A real Home Bargain

Well if the previous post was a short one, then this one will be even shorter. But before I head off to continental Europe, possibly for the last time as a citizen of the European Union, I want to tell you briefly about a beer from a different continent, and one which I picked up at an incredibly low price.

I’ve written several previous posts about cut-price beer, but the one I came across this time was not only the cheapest I found so far, but it was on sale in the most unlikeliest of places.

The beer in question is an American Pale Ale from the well-known Californian brewery, Lagunitas, and the store where I found it on sale, at just 79p a bottle, was somewhere I called into with Mrs PBT’s in order to buy a bath mat.

The Tonbridge branch of  Home Bargains was the retail outlet which was selling the beer, and was not a place I would even have thought to look in; especially for something decent. At that price I bought a half dozen bottles, but looking back I now wish I’d bought more.

Lagunitas Day Time Ale,  is an “easy-drinking beer", which might well be where the day-time moniker comes from. Described as a “Fractional IPA”, whatever that might mean, this 4.6%  pale-coloured and well-hopped ale, is just the sort of beer to be expected from Lagunitas. 

However, if I might be just a little critical, I feel this offering is slightly too "hop-driven"  and, for me at least, a little more juicy malt just to balance things out, would have been a nice touch. However, for a beer which cost just 79p for a 355ml bottle, I can’t really complain, and I will certainly be paying a return visit to Home Bargains, the next time I’m in that part of Tonbridge.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

International Dental Show 2019 - IDS

Just a quick post, as I’m busy packing for a week away in the Rhine-land city of Cologne. It’s a business trip that I’m embarking on, and it’s as part of a team to represent our company at the International Dental Show (IDS).

This event takes place every two years, and this will be my fifth time at what is, by far, the world’s largest dental show. Occupying several halls of the Köln Messe (the Cologne city exhibitions halls), just about every company  involved in the field of dentistry will be there.

We are travelling over in a number of separate, and staggered groups, with some staff members swapping over with others who will be arriving mid-week, but I’m in for the long haul, as I’m there from Monday to Saturday. We’ll be catching the Eurostar from Ebbsfleet on Monday morning, changing onto one of Deutsche Bahn’s  high-speed ICE trains at Brussels. If all goes well we’ll be pulling into Köln Hauptbahnhof at 16:15, local time.
Now I don’t want people to get the impression that it’s all glitz and
glamour, as it’s a long day on stand. The show opens each day at 9am, and runs through to 6pm. Being stuck inside a vast complex of inter-linked exhibition halls, means there’s little chance of enjoying much daylight, although I do endeavour to go outside when it’s my turn to grab some lunch, or as a means to take a short cut across to another hall.

The evenings too will be similarly busy and they are an opportunity to entertain customers, or meet up with colleagues from elsewhere in the group. The latter traditionally involves a lavish evening hosted by our parent company, at the Hyatt Regency, over-looking the River Rhine, but this year, our party of five has been invited out for dinner with the company president and several of the directors.

This was a last minute arrangement, and as it was proving difficult to find any restaurant in Cologne, able to accommodate a party of ten on a Friday night – with a major exhibition drawing to an end, it was left to me as the only German speaker in the company to find somewhere are make the booking.

There was also the proviso that the chosen venue had to be fairly close to the Hyatt Regency, which is where the board members will be staying. After several attempts and finding most places fully booked, I secured our party a table at the Löwenbräu Köln Hotel & Restaurant, in the city’s Altstadt, pleased that the staff member who took my call understood what I was saying, and grateful too that I understood in return.

Looking on the restaurant’s website, it looks like quite a cosy place, despite claiming it can accommodate up to 100 diners at a time. With an offering which combines both German and Italian cuisine, there should be something for everyone, and definitely a selection which will interest the Japanese board members who are hosting the event.

Beer-wise I noticed the establishment offers Löwenbräu Hell and Pils by the litre or half-litre, as well as the ubiquitous KölschCologne’s local, top-fermented pale beer, which although only normally sold in 0.2l glasses, is also sold in Bavarian sized measures.

Friday evening’s dinner may be the only chance we have of enjoying some traditional German cuisine, as on Monday evening we’ve a table booked at an Argentinean steakhouse, where we’ve eaten on a couple of past occasions, whilst Tuesday night sees us hosting a couple of Middle Eastern dealers at an Italian restaurant, close to our hotel – yours truly had to book that one too, over the phone!

Wednesday evening is still looking free at the moment, so could this be a chance for me to escape to Brauhaus Päffgen and enjoy a few glasses of Kölsch, brewed on the premises? Päffgen is somewhere I visited back in 1975, on my first visit to Cologne. I was travelling around Europe by InterRail, and spent several days in the city staying with an old school friend who was living and working in the city as part of his degree course.

It’s a real old-school sort of place, steeped in tradition, and full of atmosphere. I re-visited, with a number of colleagues, in 2009 whilst over for the dental show, but have not managed to squeeze in a further visit on subsequent trips to IDS. As well as draught, house-brewed Kölsch, dispensed from wooden casks, Päffgen offers a solidly traditional German cuisine, with a few Rhine-land touches thrown in for good measure. It would certainly be good to renew my acquaintance with the place.

I trust I’ve whetted your appetites, as I certainly have mine, but that’s all for the time being,  as I’ve things to get ready and a suitcase to pack.