Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 - The Year in Beer - A few specifics

So after the brief overview of 2017 in the last post, here is a look at some of the highlights in a little more detail.
Campaign for Real Ale
CAMRA finds itself at the cross-roads, and next year sees the group finally voting on the much vaunted and long awaited findings of the "Revitalisation Campaign".  I've got my own feelings on this, but returning to local branch matters, in August we sadly lost our former, long-standing Chairman,  Iain - the Kentish Scot.

Iain is greatly missed, both from a personal and also branch point of view. He will be a hard act to follow, and as we wait for a new year to begin, our thoughts are with his widow, Carole.

Best Brewery Visits
Dark Star Brewery. A trip organised by my local CAMRA Branch to as a “thank-you” to all those who helped at the previous year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival. This was my second visit to Dark Star, and I was surprise to see how much the brewery has expanded since my earlier trip, six year’s previously.  Being shown around by two member of the brewing team was a real bonus, and helped make the trip one of the most interesting I have been on.

Brauerei Schumacher, Düsseldorf.  The city’s oldest brewery and constructed on a traditional tower principle, Schumacher still uses open top fermenters and packages some of its beer into traditional wooden casks and, somewhat unusually, one litre swing-top bottles.

Our group tour took place on our last morning of our stay in Düsseldorf, and after being shown round the brewery we enjoyed a few beers in the attached restaurant/bar. Here we sampled Schumacher Alt, along with the brewery’s  1838er Anniversary Ale. Described as a hybrid pale/alt, the beer was brewed to celebrate Schumacher’s 175th anniversary.

Best Beer Festivals
Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival 2017. Looking back I only attended the one beer festival last year, and that was the event my own (West Kent) CAMRA Branch organises, in conjunction with the SVR Heritage Railway. The unique selling point of the festival, is there are different beers available at the stations up and down the line, as well as on the trains themselves. This obviously encourages visitors to buy a ticket and enjoy a ride on the trains; so if you enjoy preserved railways, as well as beer, then I highly recommend this festival.

Great British Beer Festival.
I’ve included the event, even though I didn’t attend this year, as the comments I made in 2016 still hold true; especially those about the festival being far too crowded. There were also complaints about the beer prices which, if you take into account the admission charge, means GBBF has become a rather an expensive day out, (even for CAMRA members).

Given the phenomenal rise of craft-beer, there is also the vexed question of whether GBBF is missing out on something, and is it now time for the Campaign for Real Ale’s flagship event to focus on other types of beer?  It could then truly be said to represent the very best of British beer.

I also missed the 2017 Kent Green Hop Beer Festival, which takes place in Canterbury, in the shadow of the city’s historic stone walls. The festival aims to feature every Green Hop Beer produced by Kent breweries, but as our SVR Festival had made a real feature of Green Hop Beers,  I was able to sample a fair few of these beers on home turf, the following month.

In relation to this I was one of the judges in the competition we ran, to decide on the best Green Hop Beer of the SVR Festival, and this was a particularly enjoyable evening. At the tasting, we were joined by two distinguished guests in the guise of Sophie Atherton and Roger Protz; both well-known and highly respected beer writers.

 Sophie is also a qualified Beer Sommelier, and before the judging commenced, she ran through the basics of beer tasting, and told us what to look out for in a beer. I learned a lot about beer tasting from sitting on the same table as Sophie plus fellow judges from Pig & Porter and Cellar Head breweries.

Best Beer on Home Turf
Harvey’s Sussex Best. As previously, no beer comes close to beating Harvey’s Best.  For everyday drinking it is a real classic and one of the finest examples of a full-bodied and well-hopped southern bitter. If I could only choose one cask beer to drink for the rest of my days, this would be it.

Two local seasonal beers also ticked all the right boxes for me. Both of them are dark ales.

Long Man brewery Old Man, a fine mellow, traditional old ale, reminiscent of a strong mild, which has been quite widely available in the West Kent area this winter.

Larkin’s Porter, is stronger and packs in masses of flavour. Still my favourite winter beer by far,  this excellent  Porter makes this cold, and often depressing time of the year, much more bearable.

Best Beers Abroad
Hacker-Pschorr Festbier 6.0%,  enjoyed in the autumn sunshine, in the outdoor seating area of the Hacker-Festzelt, at the Munich Oktoberfest. My litre Maβ Krug slid down really well, and despite its high octane, I could quite easily have demolished another!

Gräfrather Klosterbräu Zwickl, an unfiltered Kellerbier, enjoyed whilst sitting out in the mid May sunshine, at the Gräfrather Klosterbräu brew-pub, on the way back to Solingen, during our Düsseldorf trip. This tasty, and full-bodied beer was served in a stoneware Maβ Krug, and was one of several excellent beers I enjoyed on that trip.

Bucket List
Oktoberfest – Munich
A visit to Oktoberfest had been on my wish-list for ages, and with a little serendipity coming into play, it was easily accomplished. (See Regensburg trip, above).   like I did for years. It is free to attend, and if you time your visit, as we did, to a midweek early afternoon,  you won’t need a reservation to get into the “tents”. If you haven’t been to the world’s best known beer festival, then go. Don’t make excuses and put it off

I won’t say anymore, as you can read about our visit here, but I will say the whole family enjoyed it, as there are other attractions such as fairground rides and sideshows, so Oktoberfest is not solely about beer drinking.

I didn’t manage to knock anything else off my bucket list (the one which isn’t written down and which changes on a fairly regular basis!), but I have a few things planned for 2018.

Best Locations to Enjoy a Beer
In the UK.
There were quite a few places where I enjoyed a beer over the course of last year. I think pride of place should go to the Greyhound at Charcott; a recently re-opened pub close to where I work, After years of barely ticking over, and then put up for sale as “suitable for development”, a local couple bought the place and have breathed new life into it. It is now a smashing place to enjoy a pint, and you can read more about it here.

Slightly further afield, the Windmill at Sevenoaks Weald continues to demonstrate how to run a successful village pub. With a good choice of mainly local cask ales, plus excellent food, the Windmill is another favourite haunt of mine.

Finally, special mention should be made of Fuggles, whose owner Alex Greig brought the successful formula he’d developed in Tunbridge Wells to nearby Tonbridge. Since opening back in August Fuggles has been packed most evenings, and is now delighting the good people of Tonbridge (including me), with a selection of beers which is second to none.

Further afield
Alte Linde, Regensburg, Bavaria. Set on an island over-looking the main branch of the River Danube, this lovely old pub was a real find. With its shady beer garden and views across to the old city, good and reasonably priced food, plus several  refreshing glasses of Kneitinger Edel-Pils, Alte Linde turned out to be an excellent place to spend a sunny, early afternoon.

It was every bit as good as the nearby Spitalgarten, which also overlooks the Danube.  Spitalgarten is much larger and can be quite raucous, but when Matt and I called in on our last afternoon in Regensburg, it was quiet and gave us that distinct feeling that the outdoor beer garden season was drawing to a close. 

Zum Uerige, Düsseldorf. Close to the River Rhine, this pub in the Altstadt looks quite modern, certainly on the outside, but once through the door the inside is like stepping back in time, with a maze of different inter-connecting rooms. On our first morning in Düsseldorf,  Matt and I sat outside, enjoying the warmth from the sun, whilst watching the people strolling by. A few glasses of the rather bitter, Uerige Altbier provided a good “pick me up”, after the previous night’s Altbier session.

Best Days Out
Several days stand out here, the first of which was a West Kent CAMRA trip to London to visit Kew Brewery and also By The Horns Brewery. Both breweries had picked up awards at the previous year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival,  and the purpose of  the trip was to present them with their respective certificates. Using a London Travelcard, we took a train up to the capital, and then hopped on and off a variety of different buses and trains to visit both breweries, and also found time for a spot of lunch in between.

If I’m honest, Kew Brewery was a disappointment, as it is housed behind an anonymous looking shop front, and was rather chaotic and haphazard in nature. By contrast,  By The Horns Brewery was very good, and we spent a pleasant afternoon sitting outside their well-fitted out brewery tap.

The days’ highlight was our pre-arranged lunchtime stop at the Express Tavern, Kew Bridge. We arrived to find the back room reserved for our party, and the tables laid out ready for dinner. The Express Tavern was also a real delight to the eye. The character of this lovely old Victorian building has been maintained, and original features such as the old fireplace and bar counter have been kept.  

North Downs Way
I spent a couple of days walking two sections of the North Downs Way long-distance footpath, with three friends. The walks took place on consecutive weekends at the end of June, and we were blessed with fine weather; particularly on the first walk.

We enjoyed some contrasting scenery, ranging from open downland to dense woodland, and everything in between, as we followed the route along the Stour Valley between Wye and Chartham on the first walk, and then south across more open countryside from Shepherswell towards Dover, and the finish of this long distance footpath.

There were, of course, several good pubs along the way, and also a small beer festival, in Wye, at the end of the first walk. For one of my companions, us reaching Dover marked the completion, for him, of the 130 mile trail. Having completed the South Downs Way, eight years previously, I have now been inspired to have a go at the North Downs Way. As a prelude, I received a booklet of OS Maps in my Christmas stocking, outlining the trail from Farnham in the west to Dover in east.

Well, that’s probably more than enough to be going on with, so let’s see what next year brings us. Whatever you are doing this evening,  have a great New Year, and I'll be back with you in 2018.


Dave said...

I have very much enjoyed your posts. Looking forward to more.

Paul Bailey said...

Glad you've been enjoying my ramblings, Dave.

Russtovich said...

I enjoy the ramblings as well. :)

That Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival looks like it was a lot of fun.

I'm anxious to try Harvey's Best Bitter now. Is it just as good from the bottle or keg?

Nice to know there's some nice pubs near where my grandfather used to live (Sevenoaks).

And Regensburg looks quite inviting.


PS - My condolences again on the passing of Iain.

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Ross, glad to hear you are enjoying my ramblings, and thank you for your condolences in relation to Iain.

Harvey’s have only recently introduced their Best Bitter in bottled form. The canned version is probably even more recent. They used to sell a beer called Blue Label, which was based on the Best Bitter, but was a slightly lower gravity (3.8 % or possibly just 3.6%, I can’t honestly remember).

I haven’t tried either of these two packaged versions, so can’t really comment, although I will say Harvey’s bottled beers are normally very good. Canning is a new concept for the company, and a brave one. It will certainly enable them to break into new markets.

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