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.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Good Pub Guide 2019

A month or so ago, I had an Amazon voucher to spend, and after choosing a couple of CD’s plus a DVD of the classic, free Hyde Park concert, given by the Rolling Stones in 1969, there was still some credit remaining. My purchases were insufficient to qualify for free delivery, so in order to take me over the threshold, I plumped for a book, in the form of the Good Pub Guide 2019.

Some might argue that the latter is a publication to rival CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide, but having flicked through the pages of my purchase, I don’t think that CAMRA has anything to worry about. For a start, the two guides are totally different from one another, with one concentrating solely on beer, and the other on the outlets selling the stuff; although to be fair neither is mutually exclusive from the other.

To be truthful, I bought the Good Pub Guide as an alternative to the GBG, primarily because the latter seemed to be morphing into the good micro-pub and micro-brewery tap guide and I wanted to see what  alternatives were on offer. However, having  parted with £8.00 for my purchase I’m extremely glad I didn’t pay the cover-price of £16.00.

Running to over 1,700 pages, and listing around 5,000 pubs the GPG, is an unwieldy publication, and definitely not one for carrying around, or even leaving in the glove-compartment of the car. Apart from some mono-chrome maps at the rear, the guide is totally devoid of illustrations, making it an extremely boring read, with about as much appeal as a telephone directory, but before dismissing it totally out of hand, let’s look at what it has to offer.

Now in its 37th edition the Good Pub Guide claims to be "Britain's bestselling travel guide", and the only truly independent guide of its kind. It also claims that its yearly updates, and reader recommendations ensure that only the best pubs make the grade.

Its publishers state that  not only will you find a “fantastic range of countryside havens, bustling inns and riverside retreats, but also a growing number of gastropubs and pubs specialising in malt whiskey and craft beers,” – all very different from what CAMRA’s guide has to offer, but do the publisher’s claims stack up, and how do they compare with what CAMRA has to say about its own guide?

For a start, CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide is also truly independent and almost certainly far better researched than its erstwhile rival. It too is updated on a yearly basis, following recommendations from local CAMRA members, who monitor and provide feedback on pubs within their local branch area, over the year.

Most branches encourage members to nominate pubs for the guide, on a yearly basis, and once a list has been drawn up, detailed inspections will be carried out, followed by a democratic selection process, in order to ensure that only the top-notch pubs go into the guide.

I’m not sure how selection for the GPG works, but according to the publishers the 2019 edition contains 1,140 fully inspected main entries plus 1,931 entries recommended by readers. Interestingly these are entries which “Have yet to be inspected”. 

Personally, I found these reader’s recommendations far more interesting, and useful, than the main entries; especially as the latter place far too much focus on what’s on the menu, to the extent  of listing the dishes available. Surely that’s what the individual pub websites are for? But on the subject of on-line viewing, the Good Pub Guide maintains its own website, listing 55,000 pubs, and what’s more it’s free to access. So why on earth would people shell out for the paper and ink version?

I envisage using the Good Pub Guide on an occasional basis, mainly as a reference to find a decent pub in an unfamiliar part of the country. But with the Good Beer Guide App on my phone, plus access to CAMRA’s WhatPub; both of which give the information I am looking for in a concise, illustrated and much more portable form, I don’t really see me making that much use of it.

Monday, 4 March 2019

"A quick pint"

The Beer Seller -  the latest addition to Tonbridge’s burgeoning pub scene, has been open now for just under three months, but with just the one visit under my belt, I thought it high time to pop my head round the door and pop in to see what’s on offer.

I needed to buy some new shirts for my fast approaching business trip to Cologne, and after persuading Mrs PBT’s that we could leave the weekly food shop until the following day, headed over to Tunbridge Wells, on the train.

Travelling by rail is definitely the best option particularly on a Saturday, as not only does the town get snarled up with traffic, but parking the car is both difficult and expensive. So with a return fare costing juts £2.90, thanks to my “Senior Railcard”, I caught the 10.29am service over to the Wells, and 10 minutes later was walking up the hill to the town’s main shopping centre.

M&S was my destination, as I find their shirts both comfortable and long-wearing, but with the need to look the part whilst on the company’s stand at the International Dental Show (IDS), it was high time I treated myself to some new ones. IDS takes place every two years, and looking back I recall doing exactly the same thing back in 2017!

It didn’t take me long to select five suitable shirts, make my purchases and leave the store, calling in at a couple of charity shops on the way back to the station. With many music lovers switching to digital downloads, I find these outlets an increasingly good source of CD’s, at bargain prices. Some of us still prefer to have a physical item, rather than an electronic “virtual” one.

I struck gold, not with a CD, but with a 4-disc, special extended box set DVD of the "Two Towers"; the second Lord of the Rings film. Nicely packaged in a fold-out box, and priced at just one Pound, this had to be the best bargain of the year so far.

My return train saw me arrive back in Tonbridge at 12.20pm, with a visit to the Beer Seller firmly on my mind. I had heard via one of our West Kent CAMRA “WhatsApp” groups, that Goacher’s Old Ale would be on sale, so after striking lucky the previous weekend with Harvey’s Old, a small glass of Goacher’s finest would be just what I was after following my shopping expedition.

I headed off along the High Street, and that was where what I’d intended as just a quick drink, turned into a much longer one. A dozen or so yards from the Beer Seller I bumped into my old friend, and walking partner, Eric. I hadn’t seen him since before Christmas, and the irony was that particular meeting had also taken place in said drinking establishment.

It was rather inevitable then that we should adjourn to the Beer Seller, for that mythical “quick pint”. Of course there’s no such thing, despite the best of intentions, so after noticing that whilst Goacher’s Old was indeed on sale, its high octane  (6.7% ABV) persuaded me that something a little weaker would be much more suited for lunch-time drinking.

So spying Kent Brewery Porter at a mere 5.5% ABV, I settled for this more moderate dark ale. Eric did likewise, and we stood at the bar, enjoying a bit of banter with Wendy the barmaid and a chap sinking at the bar. Eric knew both these persons, and we were soon chatting merrily away.

The porter was very good, smooth, dark and full of lots of roast flavours. I scored it at 4.0 NBSS, but I knew full well that when two Englishmen “go for a pint”, there’s always more than one beer involved. Throwing caution to the wind, we both decided to risk the Goacher’s Old, but half-pints only!

The halves were dispensed into our empty pint glasses, which meant they were on the generous side. This was one time when I would have preferred an exact measure, but when I tasted the beer it was definitely something special. Like several other smooth, “old” beers of this nature, it didn’t drink to its strength, although it was very full-bodied.

It would have been very easy to have sunk another half, which is exactly what we ended up doing, because although I had every intention of calling it a day, Eric ordered us another half each whilst I was in the gents.

A short digression here, as I know there are quite a few fans of “toilet art” out there, and I wanted to share some of the magazine and newspaper clippings pasted on the wall above the urinals. Not as good as some, but for those of us who grew up in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s, a touch of pure nostalgia. (For something more up to date, check out the mural below, which is from the gents toilets at the Wuppertaler Brauhaus, -a former swimming baths in the conurbation  of  Wuppertal,  North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.)

I obviously finished my “unwanted” half of Old, but we definitely decided to call it a day at that point. Whilst not packed, the Beer Seller was doing a reasonable trade for early on Saturday; a time when many people would still be out shopping.

With a good selection of gravity-drawn beers on tap, and all priced at just £3.60 a pint, along with a selection of snacks from the butcher and fishmonger just down the road, you can’t really go wrong. Incidentally, the lagers are also local (Curious Brew and Westerham), and a very reasonable  £4.00 a pint.

Mrs PBT’s wasn’t entirely surprised when I breezed in, with that slight look of silliness about me. She’d guessed I’d bumped into someone and also surmised I’d been to a place where drink was sold. Son Matthew had taken her shopping, so all was right with  the world, but the Beer Seller, strong beer and an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages were probably not the best of combinations.