Tuesday, 8 January 2019

2018 - The year in beer and travel

First apologies for the late appearance of this review of 2018.The year was quite different to previous ones, especially as it didn’t get off to an auspicious start. Much of my free time during the first two months of the year was spent driving over to Maidstone visiting my wife in hospital, and as anyone who has been a hospital visitor on a long term basis will tell you, this can be rather tiring.

But the year got increasingly better, just as Mrs PBT's herself did, and as it went on there were many good things to experience and enjoy. What I intend to do with this review, is follow the same headings as last year, and see where this takes us.

Campaign for Real Ale
At their Annual General Meeting in Coventry, CAMRA finally voted on the much vaunted findings from their "Revitalisation Campaign". All of the Special Resolutions  put to the meeting were passed, apart from what was probably the most controversial one. Where this takes CAMRA remains to be seen, but with the resignation, soon afterwards, of the organisation’s CEO the wind has definitely been taken out of the Campaign’s sails. The organisation seems to have lost focus, and feels like a rudderless ship, heading for the rocks.

After 43 years as a mostly active CAMRA member, I have been questioning whether I wished my membership to continue. It was only the inertia of the Direct Debit kicking in at the beginning of last month, which prevented me from cancelling my membership, but apart from the excellent BEER magazine, there is very little happening within the organisation which persuades me to remain a member.

Since writing these words, CAMRA have appointed a new Chief  Executive Officer, and the new appointment is a promotion from within. So perhaps things will improve with the Campaign, but I will review my decision next autumn, when there is still time to cancel my subscription, should I so desire.

Best Brewery Visits on Home Turf
For the first time in several years, I didn’t partake in any brewery visits in the UK, despite my local CAMRA branch running two trips. Both were connected with the previous year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival, and were designed as a “thank-you” to all those who helped at the event.

So whilst both Dark Star and Old Dairy Breweries are well worth seeing round, I visited them the previous year, in the same capacity. The fact that both these concerns picked up awards at the festival, is obviously something for them to be proud of, it was not so good for people like me who appreciate a bit of variety.

This year should be better though, as renowned Sussex brewers, Harvey’s of Lewes, picked up an award for their excellent Bonfire Boy. Word has reached me of a visit to the brewery, although I have a nasty feeling that this may clash with a proposed business trip.

Best Brewery Visits Abroad
Stone Brewing – Richmond VA
Well I was in the United States, so no apologies for the use of the word “awesome”, as there is no other adjective suitable for describing the impressive scale of this newly-built brewery, which was constructed to produce for the eastern side of the America.  The Richmond facility now produces just over one third of Stone’s total brewing requirements.

Triple Cross Brewery – Richmond VA. The smaller and much more laid back neighbouring brewery to Stone. Nice tap-room and restaurant, excellent beers and superb pizza, from a wood-fired oven.

Best Beer Festivals
Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival 2018.  This event was the festival which 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.

As in previous years, I worked behind the bar, as a volunteer, although I wasn't involved in the actual organisation of the event. 

SIBA South-East + Tonbridge Juddians Beer Festival 2018. A quick mention should be made of this annual event which, due to the luck of the draw, clashed last year with an important game for the England football team, at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Because of this, attendance figures on the Saturday were considerably down on those for  previous years, despite the hot and sunny weather. There was an impressive range of beers on sale, including some real corkers. You can read more on this story, here.

Best Beer on Home Turf
Harvey’s Sussex Best. As in previous years, 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.

Tonbridge Brewery Ebony Moon, described as a “Quaffable Porter”, this rich dark malty ales 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
Aecht Schlenkerla  5.1%. On what was my sixth visit to the lovely city of Bamberg,  I once again enjoyed the world’s finest Rauchbier in the packed surroundings of its home tavern.  Nothing more to be said, apart from pure class in a glass!

Mährs Bräu Ungespundet 5.2%. On the same visit to Bamberg, enjoying a few cool mugs of this unfiltered “Natürtrüb” beer, in the shady beer garden area in front of the brewery tap.  

Bucket List
A train trip across the USA
OK, not right across the United States, and not even half way, but the journey I undertook, from Richmond VA to Chicago, as a passenger on one of AMTRAK's iconic trains, was something I had wanted to experience for years.

With the section through the American mid-west, plus the scenic passage through the Rocky Mountains still to do, this particular bucket-list item remains at only one third complete.

Reykjavik Iceland. A brief stop-over in the Icelandic capital, whilst on my way to Washington, for the Beer Bloggers & Writer’s Conference, gave me an all too brief taste of this spectacular country and its laid back capital. Iceland is definitely somewhere I would like to return to .

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 2019.

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 somewhere a bit different, and somewhere definitely off the beaten track.
Rock, Chiddingstone Hoath The Rock is an old drovers inn, which has retained many original features. It is close to 500 years old, and is so named because it is close to one of several of the rocky outcrops which are a feature of this remote corner of Kent.

Being a rural pub the Rock obviously attracts country folk, but they are proper work-a-day country people, rather than the "green Wellington brigade". The floor of worn bricks means that muddy boots, and equally muddy dogs are welcome. Larkin’s beer, including Porter in season.

The Bull Inn, Three Leg Cross. This unspoilt gem is one of those pubs I’ve wanted to visited for as long as I remember, but somehow never got round to. I finally managed a visit in February last year. This unspoilt gem is at Three Leg Cross, on the outskirts of  the village of Ticehurst, close to Bewl Water.

The Bull also happened to serve me one of the finest pints of Harvey’s Sussex Best ever to cross my lips - cool, but not chilled, and with just the right amount of condition, this glass of beer contained the perfect balance between sweet-juicy malt and peppery, earthy hops.

Further afield. With visits to Bavaria, Iceland and the United States last year, I drank in some pretty amazing places, and there are a couple of places which really stand out.

 Mahrs Bräu, Bamberg, Franconia.
Sitting out in the beer garden at the front of the brewery-pub, under the canopy in the front courtyard, sheltering from the fierce May sunshine, with a group of friends from Maidstone CAMRA. Good beer, and equally good company. The Mährs Bräu “U” and Helles, were both exceptional.

Bravo Bar, Reykjavík.
Sitting on a bar stool, whilst enjoying a couple of locally-brewed Viking beers at one of the most popular bars, in what has to be one of the coolest capital cities in the world.  Cosy and atmospheric, with plenty of opportunity of observing the comings and goings amongst the mainly young crowd, which included quite a few Americans.

The Viking Stout was excellent; full-bodied and brewed in a typically Irish dry style. At 5.8% it packed quite a punch and was by far the best of the beers I sampled in during my short stay in Reykjavik.

Best Days Out
Beer Writer’s Post-conference excursion - Richmond VA
Spending the day in Richmond Virginia, following the Beer Bloggers & Writer’s event., where we were the guest of Visit Richmond VA. After being bussed down from the conference hotel at Sterling, we spent the day visiting breweries and brew-pubs in the city which was the Confederate capital during the US Civil War.

Sandusky, Lake Erie, Ohio.
Visiting three bars in this pleasant resort town on the shores of Lake Eyrie with my sister and brother-in-law, on a hot and sunny August afternoon. We visited three contrasting bars, and had a meal in the most up-market of them. This was at my sister’s behest, as the bar offered a better selection of wine than the other two bars we visited. Sandusky was a nice town in a lovely setting overlooking Lake Erie, and had a real resort feel to it.

Würzburg, Franconia
 Spending a hot day in May, visiting this lovely old city on the banks of the River Main, which suffered so much, unnecessary devastation during the closing stages of World War II, which saw around 90% of the historic old city destroyed.

Wandering around the immaculately laid out gardens around the Residenz Palace, overlooking the city, followed by a walk back down into the city and across the ancient stone bridge over the River Main. There was then a strenuous hike up to the impressive Marienburg Fortress on the opposite side of the valley.

The day ended in a nice cool beer garden, with a plate of local Spargel (white asparagus), and a few mugs of Würzburger Höfbräu beer.

Blog Highlights
1,000th Post. The article posted on 27th September (about a visit to the Yorkshire village of Haworth), was the 1,000th article posted on Paul’s Beer & Travel Blog! This was a real milestone for a blog which I started writing in my spare time, but I actually missed this significant anniversary and didn’t realise until a couple of posts later!

10th Anniversary. The other exciting news was that the following month Paul’s Beer & Travel Blog celebrated its 10th birthday, which represented a further milestone.

Looking back, my very first article was posted on Sunday 23rd November 2008. I won’t say anything corny, such as it feels like only yesterday. I was 10 years younger then, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge, and a lot of beer has flowed too, since that first post, but on the whole I’ve enjoyed writing the blog and sharing some of my experiences with you all.


Etu said...

I take my hat off to that lot, Paul, and you manage to hold down a job to support your family too.

No wonder you need a pint now and then!



Paul Bailey said...

Thanks, E. It is a bit of a juggling act at times, but it keeps me out of mischief, and makes that well-deserved pint all the more enjoyable.

Write for us said...

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Nayan Gupt said...

Everyone who is surviving in this world, must need to travel from one place to another. Travelling is so much essential for a person. So many people like to travel from one place to another. Travelling gives them a lot of new experiences and happiness.A good traveler always wants to travel whole over the world.