Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 - The Year in Beer - A brief overview

As many of you will know by now, I don't do "Golden Pints", as the concept is a little past its sell-by date, and can come over as rather  naff. What I do instead is take a look back over the past year and reflect on the highlights, with a particular emphasis on beer and travel. As there's quite a bit to get through, I've decided to break things down into two parts. This first one is a brief overview of 2017. The second installment will look at a few specifics.

Like 2016, last year was quite tame, and something of a mixed bag. I did manage four separate visits to Germany; one of which was an unexpected business trip, but apart from a brief stop over in Belgium to change trains, that was the extent of my foreign travel. On the home front, nights away were largely confined to trips up to Norfolk to visit my father. Unfortunately dad’s Alzheimer’s is slowly getting worse, and sadly on each visit there seems to be less and less of the father I remember and love.

At the end of each year I like to look back at what I have achieved in various areas of my life. With just three and a half years before I reach state retirement age, there is still quite a lot to accomplish before I can swap the nine to five with something different, and potentially more rewarding. Part of my strategy is to complete the outstanding work on the house and pay off the mortgage.

The latter is progressing well, and there’s been some movement on the home-improvement front, although the major bathroom refurbishment has been put on hold until the new year. The delay this is not down to the inability of the great British workman to turn up when he’s supposed to, but rather because there is far too much choice in relation to wall tiles, bathroom suites and associated fittings, and it took Mrs PBT’s and I  rather a long time to choose.

Back in February, I succumbed to pressure from my son and his friend to accompany them to Munich. This was the first of last year’s visits to Germany, although the trip was slightly against my better judgement. This was because I view the Bavarian capital as a "summer city", and considered that the cold bleak days of February would not show the city in its best light.

I was correct in that assertion, but we still had a good time, and the boys enjoyed their visit to BMW Welt. They even persuade me to join the tour of the adjacent car plant; something which took a full two hours and several kilometres on foot to accomplish. I wouldn’t have minded the later had I not already been for a lengthy walk around the nearby Olympia Park.

I was back in the Federal Republic a month later; this time to the city of Cologne, on a business trip. I had been by my boss asked to step in at the last minute to help staff the company stand at the International Dental Show (IDS). This event, which takes place every two years, is the largest dental show in the world, and is a “must attend” event for any company involved in the field of dentistry.

Unlike previous shows, where we have driven over in a hired van, this year we shipped the exhibits over in advanced and travelled across to Cologne by train. This involved taking the Eurostar service from Ebbsfleet to Brussels, and then switching onto the Thalys train, direct to Cologne. This was a fast, comfortable and very civilised way to travel, with minimum check-in times at Ebbsfleet and just a 45 minute stop-over in Brussels. What’s more, there are no limits on baggage and no restrictions on liquids either.

We didn’t see much of Cologne, as the exhibition was very busy, and there were a couple of nights where we were dining out with customers. We’d all been to Cologne before though, so that didn’t really matter, and on the plus side we picked up several new overseas customers. We managed one night at a traditional Cologne beer hall, in the shape of Früh am Dom.

The place was absolutely rammed, but our waiter found us a table right in the bowels of the building. Our Polish colleague was pleased because she had her Schnitzel and Sauerkraut fix (so did I, as it happens).  I was pleased at the chance to down a fair  few Stanges of Kölsch.

I was back in Cologne two months later, this time as part of a group of CAMRA beer enthusiasts. The trip was actually to the neighbouring Rhineland city of Düsseldorf, but we spent a day in Cologne which included lunch at Malzmühle; a Kölsch brew-pub at the far end of the Alte Markt, which I had always wanted to visit on previous trips to the city, but never quite managed it.

Our day in Cologne also saw us visiting Brauerei Sünner, a traditional brewery on the other side of the River Rhine, and one where the Kölsch style of beer is said to have originated. After a fascinating tour around the brewery, we concluded with an excellent evening meal, at the small beer garden attached to the brewery.

Düsseldorf though was the main focus of our visit, and gave us the chance to enjoy the city’s own, unique style of beer, known as Alt Bier. The latter is a top-fermented, copper-coloured beer which, apart from being served on the cold side, is quite similar to an English ale. We sampled the majority of the Alt Biers produced in Düsseldorf, and we also managed a tour around Schumacher; the city’s oldest brewery (see Part Two).

The highlight of the Düsseldorf trip was the day out we had to the nearby conurbation of Solingen and Wuppertal. After travelling by trolley-bus (remember those), from the former to the latter, we had a ride on the highly unusual, Wuppertal Suspension Railway.

Known in German as the Schwebebahn, this 110 year old Suspension Railway operates at a height of around 40 feet above the River Wupper, and runs for a distance of just over 8 miles from Vohwinkel to Oberbarmen. We took advantage of this unusual mode of transport to visit the Wuppertaler Brauhaus; a large and spacious brew-pub, which occupies a former public swimming baths. On our return journey to Solingen, we visited another brew-pub in the in the small village of  Gräfrath. (See Part Two, best beers).

And so to our family holiday, and my fourth visit to  Germany. We again visited the unspoilt medieval city of Regensburg on the River Danube, in eastern Bavaria, and like the previous year, our took place at the end of September. However, whilst we had very little in the way of rain, the temperatures were much cooler than the previous year, but it was still a nice family break, in an attractive city. If you don’t know Regensburg, I can highly recommend a visit. 

We spent the first day of our holiday in Munich, having flown in the night before. Our stay just happened to coincide with Oktoberfest; that well known fortnight's celebration of beer and all things Bavarian. (See part Two, Bucket List).

To be continued.................................


Russtovich said...

One thing I'm envious of with regards to location is your ability to go to other countries (and cultures) nearby; not to mention the vast historic heritage in Europe as compared to over here (we have great natural beauty but we are still fairly young when it comes to history - and we're too bloody big in size! :)

All the best for the New Year.



Paul Bailey said...

Russ, my sister who has lived in the US for over 20 years, feels exactly the same. She misses being able to hop across the Channel for a day trip to France, or take a short city break in a European capital.

There are obviously lots of interesting places she can visit in North America but, as you point out, there aren't quite the same opportunities to experience other cultures or the historical heritages they may have.