Thursday, 8 January 2015

Good Things to Come?

In the last two posts I looked back at last year from the perspective of a beer enthusiast, taking stock, if you like, on what happened during 2014. Now that Christmas is over, thank-goodness, it is worth looking ahead at the coming year, at what I’ve got planned and at what might be in store. After all, the month of January is named after Janus, the Roman God of beginnings and transitions; a figure who is sometimes portrayed as having two heads – one looking forward and one looking back. Janus thus represents all beginnings and possesses the ability to see all things past and future.

Well, as I alluded to in a previous post, 2015 sees my wife Eileen and I marking a significant birthday, and we are currently engaged in looking at ways in which to celebrate it. We’ll probably hold a party for family and friends. We will also try and complete one or two significant projects in both house and garden. Primarily though we are looking at a river cruise taking in some of the treasures of either western or central Europe.

The party and the cruise will almost certainly involve beer, although the exact timings and form of both events is yet to be determined. Two beer-related happenings though have already been arranged; the first is a week’s holiday in the Czech Republic during May, whilst the second will be the 2015 European Beer Bloggers Conference, which this year takes place in Brussels. I haven’t yet booked my place on the latter, but the former has been arranged since last June.

When most people talk about visiting the Czech Republic, they usually mean they will be spending their time in Prague. And why would you not want to? The Czech capital is a beautiful city with over a thousand years of history behind it, and has now become a “must see” attraction on many tourist itineraries. I wouldn’t argue with that, as I have made four visits myself to Prague during the last 30 years, and consider it one of my favourite cities. However, there is much more to the Czech Republic than its capital city, and the visit I will be making in May is one which takes in other, equally beautiful and significant parts of the country and, from a cultural point of view is important in that it has been organised by a friend with close family connections to the Czech Republic.

It all began when I was talking to an old friend who for many years has been a leading light in Maidstone & Mid-Kent CAMRA. In fact he has probably been involved with that branch for an even longer period than that which I played within West Kent branch. The conversation took place on last year’s Good Friday Ramble, whilst we were walking back from our lunchtime stop of the Windmill, at Sevenoaks Weald.

It transpired that my friend was arranging a trip to Czech for 2015 which would be based in the town of Jihlava. Jihlava is situated in the Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic, on the Jihlava River, which forms the historical border between Moravia and Bohemia.  The plan is to fly out to Prague on day one of the trip and then travel by coach to Jihlava. I am planning to fly out a couple of days earlier and will meet the dozen other members of the party either at the coach station in Prague, or in Jihlava itself. Day two has a morning tour of the Bernard Brewery in Humpolec scheduled, followed by an afternoon visit to Velké Meziříčí (Jelinkova Vila brewpub).

Telč, Czech Republic
Day three is devoted to sight-seeing combined with a bit of culture, with visits to the towns of Slavonice and Telč. The latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More beer follows on day four, which is the last full day of the trip. We will be visiting the Chotebor Pivovar microbrewery, followed by the Rebel brewpub of Havlickuv Brod. The final day will mean an early departure for Prague, followed by the flight home.

As it’s a trip which combines beer appreciation with culture it should be doubly interesting, and will afford the opportunity of seeing parts of the Czech Republic which most western tourists rarely visit. Both Slavonice and Telč look stunningly beautiful. On the beer front the Bernard Brewery produces some of the country’s best beers, and the other breweries/brew-pubs on the itinerary all look interesting.

Franconian Beer Festival
Following the Czech trip there’s a possibility of visiting the annual Franconian Beer Festival which takes place in Nuremberg at the beginning of June. Held in the moat of the city’s imposing and historic castle, around 40 local breweries take part, offering around 100 different beers. The festival does not appear that well known outside of Germany; the official website is in German only (not a problem for me, but not really likely to encouraged visitors from other countries). I say possibility, as the festival follows hot on the heels of the Czech trip, so it may be an event I will have to save for next year instead!

It appears that everything is happening around May-June time, but prior to that the CAMRA Members Weekend and National AGM will be taking place in Nottingham in the middle of April. Again I’m tempted, but only for the craic and the local pub scene, as a load of turgid debates and procedural rigmarole doesn’t appeal at all. I’ll have to see whether finances and brownie points permit my attendance. 
Requiring more immediate attention are three beer festivals coming up at the end of January/beginning of February. The first takes place at Stonch’s pub, the Finborough Arms, in Earl's Court, London, in the form of a Winter Ales Festival from Friday 23rd - Sunday 25th January. The following weekend the Cooper’s Arms in Crowborough will be holding their Dark & Delicious Winter Beers Festival, (see previous post), and then a week later, our local rugby club, Tonbridge Juddians (TJ’s), will be hosting their own winter beer festival (not exclusively winter ales). I will need to decide which to go to, although I’m temped to go to all three!  

A beer festival will be returning to TJ’s in the summer, as for the last six years the club has hosted the SIBA South East Regional Beer Festival, when most SIBA members within the region will be exhibiting their beers. Providing the weather is good, and it isn’t always – the 2012 event had to be cancelled due to flooding, this is one of the best regional festivals, with the event taking place in a large marquee adjacent to the clubhouse, overlooking the extensive riverside setting of Tonbridge Sports Ground. It also affords an unrivalled opportunity to sample beers from all over the south east region.

The Great British Beer Festival
On the subject of beer festivals, we mustn’t forget CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival which takes place at Olympia in August; an event I missed last year, due to double booking, but one I am determined to attend last year. As I mentioned in my previous post, son Matthew and I have promised to chaperone my wife’s niece Heidi and her partner Phil around the event and to introduce them to beers which will knock the socks off the likes of Doom Bar et al

The fact that so many of events clash is symptomatic of the dilemma facing many a beer hunter, but is also a sign of a healthy and vibrant brewing and beer appreciation scene and is therefore no bad thing. A further clash comes in August when a week before the European Beer Bloggers Conference in Brussels, over in Franconia the famous Bamberg Sandkerwa will be taking place.

Sandkerwa, Bamberg
Sandkerwa is a six day folk festival which embraces the entire town of Bamberg, with around 300,000 people attending each year. The festival takes place in the Sandstrasse area of the city and its neighbouring alleys. It is basically a street festival with local breweries serving from their permanent establishments and visiting breweries wedged into every available nook and cranny in what is one of the oldest parts of Bamberg.  There are food vendors everywhere and tables are set up in the streets for drinkers to sit at and enjoy the beer and food.

It all sounds very jolly and is another event which features high on my beer wish-list, but like the Franconian Beer Festival is something which may have to be postponed until next year!

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