Sunday 31 December 2023

The true taste of Christmas

Here’s a short post, not just to round off 2023, but also to take the total for the year above that of last year. In addition, I promise, it will be the last article to mention Christmas, unless something particularly enlightening or relevant turns up prior to next year’s festive “celebrations.”

Right, here we go, and I want to launch straight in to the often-thorny subject of “Christmas Ales.” Now I’ve published several articles over the years, the most recent being two years ago, about what constitutes a decent Christmas beer, and what constitutes a fake – a cheap, marketing gimmick of taking a bog-standard BBB (Boring Brown Bitter), shoving a fancy label on it, and giving it a festive sounding name, that often incorporates the most cringe worthy puns imaginable.

You know the sort I mean - Good Elf, Rocking Rudolph, Tinsel Top, Merry X-Moose, Santa’s Sack (don’t even go there!), the list goes on, and so does the awfulness. It doesn’t have to be this way, but backing up what I wrote two years ago, a proper Christmas Ale, should be brewed to a decent strength to begin with, ideally something at around 6.0% or stronger. I also like my Christmas ale to be dark in colour (preferably darker than ruby), full-bodied and well-hopped.

For this reason, I have deliberately avoided those uninspiring, malt-led, brownish bitters in the 4.0 – 5.0% strength bracket, as there is nothing Christmassy about them. Even worse are those festive offerings that are pale in colour, and sometimes even golden! Low in strength and low on taste, the only connection with Christmas that these beers have is the name on the pump clip, or bottle label.  

Fortunately, I’ve enjoyed quite a few “proper” Christmas ales over the years, and this year has been no exception. Even better is the fact that one of the very best of these beers, is brewed just 30 miles down the road, from my home. There are no surprises for guessing which brewery and beer I am talking about, but before revealing all, I want to say the following.

Lots of Christmas ales claim to contain the "spirit of Christmas", and perhaps some do more than others, but until I cracked open this 500 ml bottle of Harvey’s delectable Christmas Ale on Christmas afternoon, I thought they were all missing something. This followed hot on the heels of a bottle of St Bernardus Christmas Ale, which despite the claims on the bottle was something of a disappointment.

Not so with this bottle from Harvey’s with a BBE date of December 2023, the beer had if anything improved as it aged in the bottle. I know some will maintain this isn’t possible in a bottled beer stabilised by filtration and pasteurisation, but despite this treatment, there will always be a few viable yeast cells that make it through the aforementioned processes.

Harvey’s delectable Christmas Ale has a respectable 7.5% abv, and basically is a strong, dark, barely wine reminiscent of the strong “stock ales” drunk during the 18th and 19th centuries. Consumed over two sittings, given it strength and volume, this particular bottle contained the real essence of Christmas, far more than the St Bernardus version. Without going all Jilly Goolden, in last Monday’s bottle I found notes of pine needles, spices, oranges, dates, raisins and other vine fruit. The pine needles were reminiscent of Christmas trees, whilst the other components embodied the true essence of Christmas, by literally warming the soul. An award-winning beer which is definitely, pure class in a glass. I have consumed more than a few glasses of cask Christmas Ale as well as the occasional bottle, but somehow that aged, bottled version tasted even better.

I scored it at 4.75 on Untappd, but with hindsight it was a definite 5.0. If you are lucky enough to come across this beer, either in bottle or cask, then don’t pass up on the chance of missing one of the finest, and most authentic Christmas ale around.

In the meantime, given the timing of this post, I’d like to wish all followers and readers of this blog, along with friends and family, a happy, peaceful, prosperous, and above all healthy 2024, and thank you for your support over the year just gone.

Saturday 30 December 2023

Golden Pints - or metric equivalent - 2023

As 2023 rapidly approaches its conclusion, and after a reflective look back from a beer and visiting different places perspective, there’s one final task to undertake, before drawing the curtain on the year. Before going any further, I want to reiterate that I’ve never really ran with the “Golden Pints” idea. I was even thinking the concept was in its death throes, until a look through my Blog List showed there were quite a few bloggers still putting out their favourites from a varying list of beer, pub, brewery, and all things related highlights.

What I’ve tended to do in previous years, was take a look back over each previous year, and write a review, under the banner of “The Year in Beer.” So, this time around, having written a fairly lengthy review of 2023, I reflected that I hadn’t properly set out my thoughts on the best beers, best pubs, best places to enjoy a beer etc, over the course of the past year, and this was where the idea of resurrecting the “Golden Pints” concept re-entered my thinking. I still feel the title “Golden Pints” is pretty naff, although perhaps the word “Pint” will now take on a new significance, at least amongst the dwindling band of Brexit supporters, given the news that wine can now be sold in pint bottles!

This aside, I want to place on record that I found great difficulty in writing this piece. This may have been because I was over-thinking what to include and what to leave out, given copious guidance notes, plus a year’s worth of blog entries. Veteran bloggers, Boak & Bailey, thought otherwise, opening their Golden Pints review with the statement, These end-of-year roundups are more fun to write than to read, aren’t they?” The pair still felt the need to do it, in order to put a “neat bow on the year,” whilst following the guiding principle, that nobody really cares about all this, “so don’t overthink it.” Their final line that this type of article is more about feeling, than about facts, helped guide me, when I was struggling to put my own review together.

Best beer on home turf

Harvey’s Sussex Best. Unlike previous years, where no single, individual beer stood out, my answer has to be Harvey’s Sussex Best. A magnificent beer, that is truly worthy of the title, “best bitter,” and what’s more it’s a blend of juicy, sweet malt sugars, set against an earthy, peppery background imparted by traditional hops varieties such as Fuggles and Goldings.

So no, over-powering citrus, or pineapple flavours, hiding behind a murky haze, here. Instead, just a good, old-fashioned glass of traditional English bitter, representing all that is best in local brewing.

Best beer abroad  

Päffgen Kölsch. A tricky one really, as despite spending nearly a month away from the UK, I didn’t visit that many pubs or bars, and certainly not in the Mediterranean. Five days on a business visit to Cologne was perhaps a little different, and it certainly allowed me to drink plenty of Kölsch - the city’s local beer style. Whilst Kölsch is pleasant enough, it doesn’t really reach out and grab you by the throat, although I shall make one notable exception.

Päffgen Kölsch, dispensed from a wooden cask behind the bar counter, and retailing at €2 a glass, was the sole beer on sale at the legendary Gaststätte Lommerzheim. The latter is a classic, old-style Cologne pub on the other side of the River Rhine, and Päffgen are one of the few independent Kölsch brewers remaining in Cologne. In my view, and also that of many others, Päffgen Kölsch are up there with the very best.

Best Locations to Enjoy a Beer (UK) 

Boar’s Head Inn at Eridge. The Boar’s Head is, an unspoiled 17th Century inn, just off the main A26 road, a mile or so to the north of Crowborough. It is a low beamed pub with a cosy interior, featuring two inglenook fireplaces. Visited back in November, after a gap of 30 years or more, but still as good as ever. A really atmospheric pub, serving an excellent pint of Harvey’s, in a rural setting, but one that is easily accessible by bus.

Barton’s Arms, Birmingham. Dating from 1901 the Barton’s is a Grade 2* listed heritage building and represents Victorian splendour on a grandiose scale. It is one of the most spectacular survivors from the late Victorian era in the country, with an imposing stone and red brick with exterior, complete with its own clock tower, and an interior boasting numerous original features. These include rich mahogany woodworking’s, stained and engraved windows and mirrors, snob-screens, a sweeping wrought-iron staircase and wall-to-wall tiles, ranging from shiny-glazed decorative patterns to huge painted scenes.

Best Locations to Enjoy a Beer Abroad

Dash Coffee Bar, overlooking the waterfront in Argostoli, capital of Kefalonia. The cool shady interior, of this attractive, contemporary bar, formed a welcome refuge from the fierce heat of the midday sun. And seated at the bar, enjoying a cool and refreshing half litre of Mythos beer, whilst watching the world go by outside saw me in proper, wind-down holiday mode, and was the perfect way to round off my time ashore in this gorgeous, Greek island.

Gaststätte Lommerzheim, Cologne. Not just for the excellent Päffgen Kölsch, but also for the atmosphere inside this true, Cologne, beer house, known locally as “Lommi’s”. The pub is a survivor from the days before WWII, and there is a real buzz about the place. Time your visit carefully, as it is often difficult to get a seat, such is its popularity with the locals.


Best new pub find

 Bull, Birmingham. A classic, back street local in the centre of Birmingham, which is one of the oldest pubs in the city. A snug, cosy and comfortable, back street boozer, with a real homely feel, with two distinct drinking areas surround a U-shaped bar with smaller, and quieter back room.  A collection of 300 jugs adorns the ceiling, along with a number of old pictures and memorabilia. Just the place to spend time on a wet April, afternoon in Britain’s second city.

Best brewery

Braybrooke Beer Company. A tricky one again, although I’m going out on a limb by recommending Braybrooke, a company specialising in the production of really good, proper lager. Brewed using state-of-the-art equipment, and the very best ingredients, the resulting beers are a selection of unfiltered, unpasteurised, and naturally carbonated beers that have complexity whilst retaining the refreshing drinkability every great lager should have. (Braybrook’s words, although I whole-heartedly agree with them).

Back in the summer, I signed up with the Braybrooke Beer Club, a subscription beer delivery service, where, each month, I receive a selection of Braybrooke beers.

Best Beer City  

Manchester. It was a close tie for Best Beer City, between Manchester and Birmingham, both of which I revisited in 2023. In Manchester’s case, it was 30 years since I’d last set foot in the city – an interval that is far too long. Although many of the breweries, I knew from the four years I spent in adjoining Salford, during the late 1970’s, have vanished (Boddingtons, Burtonwood, Greenall’s, Tetley’s, Threlfalls, and Wilsons), others have taken their place,

My visit, at the end of June, only scratched the surface, but was still sufficient to remind me of the vibrant and thriving beer and pub scene. As Arnie said, “I’ll be back.”

Beer festivals

London Craft Beer Festival. Held in Wapping, at the historic Tobacco Dock, the festival proved an interesting experience, although had I needed to pay for my admission ticket, it’s doubtful I would have gone. There were some interesting breweries exhibiting, and some equally interesting beers, but the event followed the American pattern of “sips” rather than a decent amount of beer. I also, might have escaped contracting my third dose of COVID, had I stayed at home, especially as the festival was hot, crowded, and cramped, in equal measures.

Best days out

Macclesfield, Manchester, Birmingham – for nostalgic reasons, plus Chichester. I included the latter because I’d never visited before, despite it being fairly close to home, and relatively easy to get to.

Best beer book 

Cask – The Real Story of Britain’s Unique Beer Culture, by Des De Moor. Claimed to be the definitive book on the subject of Cask Beer, Des’s latest book certainly looks like a real labour of love. I’ve met Des on a couple of occasions, and know from his London Pub Guides, that this current book will prove informative on a subject close to the hearts of many of us. It received mixed reviews from two other bloggers who I know – Tandleman and Ed Wray (no more name dropping, I promise), so I look forward to getting stuck into it.

I say that, because despite the best intentions, I haven’t read the book yet! The plan was to make a start on it whilst on our recent cruise, but being a relatively slow reader, I have only just finished the other weighty tome I was ploughing my way through. That particular book is Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding, and with over 800 pages of close typeface, it took longer to finish than I anticipated. Expect a review of “Cask” in a few months’ time, then.


Bucket list – places visited for the first time.

Greece plus the Greek islands.  A short visit to the Greek capital, Athens, allowed sufficient time to scale the Acropolis, overlooking the city, view the Parthenon, the only downside being the thousands of visitors, all with the same intention. It was still worth the steep ascent, even though I managed to lose the tour-guide - clue, carry a more distinctive flag, next time!

Visits were also made to Crete, and its laid-back capital, Heraklion, Santorini, the lovely Ionian island of Kefalonia, mentioned above, and finally Sardinia, an island which, according to Ancestry, Mrs PBT’s has a 1% DNA match with.

This concludes my look back at 2022, a mixed year, for want of a more appropriate description, and whilst a part of me is itching to get my hiking boots on, and head out, back into the great outdoors, a glance at the appalling weather, outside my window, persuades me otherwise.


Wednesday 27 December 2023

So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun.

So sang John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 52 years ago, but despite the half-century time lapse, it's still a question that's well worth asking. Christmas Day and Boxing Day are now over, and apart from confirming that the Bailey family enjoyed an excellent roast turkey dinner, on the "big day," I want to take a look back at the year that is fast coming to an end, with particular emphasis as usual on the world of beer and travel.

After a brief respite on Boxing Day, the weather has returned to its familiar, damp and rather miserable pattern, so with nothing to tempt me outside, I want to use the time to present my annual round-up and look back at the year 2023.I’ve been keeping some rough notes which suggest that I didn’t achieve as much as I would have like to, in certain areas of my life with particular regard to pubs. I only visited 84 different pubs in 2023    which was a lot more than I initially thought, but obviously pales into insignificance when compared to the exploits of pub-ticking legends such as Retired Martin, Si Everitt, LAF (Life After Football), and GBG completest over several years, Pubmeister. In mitigation, 23 of those pubs were new to me.

Despite this low tally – only three up on 2022, I enjoyed visiting all these pubs, which ranged from town centre locals, unspoilt rural gems, modern craft beer bars, to CAMRA National Heritage Pubs. The numbers were boosted by days out spent in a number of towns and cities, up and down this fair land of ours. Places visited this year, were Norwich, Henley-on-Thames, Birmingham, Manchester, Chichester, and Macclesfield, I also spent time in Dundee and Cologne, and whilst these visits were work-related, I still found time for a few beers.

We said a sad farewell, at the start of the year, to Mrs PBT’s brother David, who died unexpectedly in January, then, later in the year we had another family funeral to attend, this time it was Eileen’s aunt, who was just a few months short of her 100th birthday! This meant a trip to the Bingley area of Yorkshire, for the funeral, and also to spend a few days with the Yorkshire branch of Mrs PBT's family. As on a previous visit, we based ourselves at the Bradford West, Premier Inn, which is on the edge of Bingley, in an attractive, semi-rural setting. (The adjacent photo, shows David, sitting next to me, in happier times, enjoying a summertime drink).

Eileen is a big fan of this Whitbread-owned, hotel chain, and whilst I agree with her statement that “you know what you are getting,” I personally prefer an independently operated, or even family-owned establishment, even though occasionally, it can throw in the odd “duffer.” A short, 1o-minute walk from the Premier Inn, takes you to the Airedale Heifer, a stone-built pub housed in a former barn, that was once part of the Old East Riddlesden Hall Estate. The Heifer, is also home to the Bridgehouse Brewery, with brewing taking place in a separate outbuilding, behind the pub.

During our time in Yorkshire, we spent a morning in Howarth and then took a drive across the moors to Colne and Skipton. The scenery certainly looked spectacular in the June sunshine, and we passed a number of attractive looking, stone-built pubs nestling by the side of the road. Our journey home, saw us skirting Skipton and the edge of Harrogate, before passing through the attractive North Yorkshire town of Knaresborough, and then on to the A1 and the road home.

Fortunately, the car behaved itself on this trip, which is more than be said after what happened in September, when it started malfunctioning on the M25, during a drive home from Dorking. Having to be recovered from Clackets Lane services, was an indignity I haven’t experienced before, but after having the faulty fuel injector replaced, blow me if the same thing didn’t happen again, on the Friday before Christmas. I limped the vehicle home this time, and it’s going in for a diagnostic check in a couple of days’ time. I mentioned previously that I’ve been looking for a replacement vehicle, but with the benefit of that wonderful thing called hindsight, I should have looked for one, earlier in the year.

One activity that definitely took a nosedive was bus trips, out to unspoilt and difficult to reach country pubs. I’m not how this came about, particularly as there was very little in the way of long-distance walking but trips out by bus were nowhere as frequent as the previous year. For the record I travelled out to Goudhurst – Star & Eagle, Eridge – Boar’s Head, Petteridge – Hopbine and Brenchley – Halfway House, Penshurst – Leicester Arms and Edenbridge – Old Eden, but that was it. This was despite my best intentions, and the fact that I’d compiled a list of “easy” places to visit by bus.

2023 was a disappointing year for walking, being marred by wet weather, particularly during the months of March and April. This didn’t help with my quest of completing the Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk, a 27.5-mile trail that passes through a rolling landscape of ridges, valleys, small fields, hedges, and broad-leaved woodland, as it skirts the town of Tunbridge Wells. Lying within the High Weald AONB, the trail explores the diverse and beautiful countryside which lies on the borders of Kent and East Sussex.  I have been following the official Kent Ramblers Guide, which divides the trail into four convenient stages, which vary in length from 5 to 10 miles, but so far, I have only completed two of the stages (Southborough to Pembury, and Pembury to Frant).

Still to come are Frant to Groombridge (7 miles) and Groombridge to Southborough (6 miles). These final two stages should be relatively easy, although the trail isn’t as well signposted as those along the North and South Downs. I aim to get started, once the wet weather eases up, and the days begin to lengthen again. 

Another feature missing on the walking front, has been the complete absence of CAMRA, related rambles. This follows on from the relocation to Portsmouth of one of the leading lights and driving forces of the Weekend Walking WhatsApp group. The garden also proved rather disappointing last year, and if truth be known, I probably expended too much time and effort on it, for very little return. On the plus side, it has forced a reappraisal on what’s feasible, or even worth growing.

Highlight of the year, even if it was a longtime coming, was the (almost) three-week Mediterranean cruise that Mrs PBT’s and I embarked on, back in October. Not only did it take up a large chunk of the month, it also represented by far the longest holiday that the pair of us have ever undertaken. Even better was the fact that we didn’t fall out, not even slightly, despite being in close proximity to each other for a long period of time. 

There were many memorable moments, and some amazing sights, such as passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, as well as the Strait of Messina, between Sicily and the Italian mainland.  Anchoring in the collapsed caldera, that makes up much of Santorini, was also memorable, even if on that occasion, we didn’t get off the boat. Then there was my ascent of the Acropolis, overlooking Athens, and getting separated from the tour party, when we reached the Parthenon. 

Both Eileen and I were smitten by the charms of Kefalonia, and have marked down this idyllic Greek island, as a place we would like to return to before our days are out. Cruising doesn’t always get a good press environmentally and is said to be worse for the climate than flying. There are other downsides too, such as limited time in each location and not experiencing the local hotels and nightlife, but the sheer joy of waking up almost every morning in a new or different port, or anchorage, certainly takes some beating. Let’s end the year on a high note then and await what 2024 has to offer us with a mixture of excitement tempered by a slight hint of trepidation.


Sunday 24 December 2023

Christmas is nearly here

Christmas day is nearly upon us, and I have to say that, as in previous years, it’s crept up on us and caught us unawares. When all is said and done, Christmas is just another day, albeit with lot of fuss and faffing around associated with it. To be fair though, it does brighten up the darkest time of the year, so you can sort of see why the early Christian church adopted the old pagan festival of Yule, as a means of celebrating the slow, but steady lengthening of the days, following the winter solstice.

At the moment, all three of us Bailey’s are caught up in the yo-yo effects of the latest respiratory virus that is doing the rounds. Mrs PBT’s has been quite badly affected, and it seems that now son Matthew has also gone down with this bug, something that is unusual for him, as he normally has a cast iron constitution. Working in a forward-facing, customer service roll (retail), doesn’t help, but at least he can take things easy for a couple of days before the mania of the Boxing Day sales kicks off on Wednesday.

Apart from feeling somewhat washed out, I’m OK, and will be looking forward to cracking open a few beers later on. As in previous years, I’ve built up quite a stock of both bottles and cans this year, although it’s mainly the latter. As in previous years, it will be just the three of us, sitting down to Christmas dinner tomorrow. With Eileen and I having lost both or respective sets of parents, and with siblings scattered far and wide, the Christmases where we all squeezed around the table are long gone.

I must say I prefer things with just the three of us, as those large, family get togethers could be a little strained. Also, in times past, they often involved me having to drive, and whilst I never intend getting trolleyed, I do enjoy a glass or three with my turkey dinner, and post dinner as well. Just as well, I suppose, as I’m once again without the use of a car, following an almost identical repeat of September’s glow plug warning light issue, and a loss of power from the engine. This followed a drive home on Friday afternoon, following a shopping trip to the Tesco superstore at Riverhead.

Matthew and I had driven over to, to stock up on various Christmas goodies, of the food variety, in an annual father and son trip that has become something of a tradition in the Bailey household. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t bore you with any further details, apart from saying we normally make it an evening visit. Thinking the store would be less crowded during the afternoon, we arrive at Tesco shortly after 2pm and were surprised to find the place absolutely rammed. We got that wrong, but after escaping from the store, and with our goodies safely stashed in the boot, we set off for home.

We were motoring quite nicely, along the main A21 trunk road, towards Tonbridge and had just reached the summit of River Hill, when the car suddenly lost power and the glow-plug warning light started flashing on the dashboard. I had a real feeling of déjà vu, as this seemed an exact repeat of the incident, we experienced on the M25, smart motorway, just three months ago, but this time around, I was determined to keep going and reach home, rather than having to be recovered from the side of the road.

We made it back, without any dramas, and the vehicle is booked in for a diagnostic check, this coming Thursday. September’s issue was a faulty fuel injector, and given the age of the car, and the mileage on the clock, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the same thing. The annoying thing is I was planning (still am) to part-exchange the car against a newer model, so I could do without the expense of repairing the vehicle, just to get shot of it in a few weeks’ time, but we will have to see how the maths works out, when set against the cost of repairs. In the meantime, I’m not too bothered about being without a car, as I have my bus pass and railcard, and Matthew can ferry Eileen and I around, for a while.

So back to the festivities, or lack of them, as our infectious condition did mean us having to cry off from the annual “mulled wine, cider, sausage rolls and mince pies” with our neighbours down the road. I’ve a feeling we missed this annual get together last year, due to me having COVID, but whilst it’s nice catching up with what’s occurring down the street, I really don’t like mulled wine, and I’m quite particular over the cider I drink, as well.

I walked down to Waitrose yesterday, to collect our pre-ordered turkey crown, plus a few other bits and pieces. Whilst in the store, I bumped into an old friend who I hadn’t seen for some time, who was out shopping with his wife. With seasonal aliments being one topic of conversation, my friend’s wife informed me that she’d been suffering from the “boomerang” effects of this chesty cough for the past six weeks – a prospect that fills me with considerable trepidation, apart from the fact she is probably a decade or so older than me. Time to stock up on some strong, seasonal  beers, methinks.

I’m tempted to crack open the bottle of Harvey’s Christmas Ale that I’ve got downstairs, although I shall probably opt for the bottle of Westmalle Dubbel, that I left chilling slightly, on the back doorstep, because as it is the season to be jolly, I can’t think of anything better than a rich, dark, and warming winter ale. Writer Jonny Garrett has this topic nailed, in his excellent “A Year in Beer” book that I read last year. I made a list somewhere, inspired by Jonny’s book, of the best beer and food pairings, and I’ve just managed to lay my hands on it.

There’s nothing that out of the ordinary on the list, so I should be safe with my carefully accumulated collection of Quadrupels – for the Christmas pudding, strong porters and even that bottle of St Bernardus Christmas Ale that I’ve got, stashed away in the cupboard under the stairs. For “in between” drinking, I’ve got several bottles of Pilsner Urquell keeping cool. As for the main event, there’s my perennial favourite, Fullers 1845. Coming in at 6.5% abv, this strong and full-bodied, bottle-conditioned amber ale is just the thing for a roast turkey, Christmas dinner.

Still to come is my look-back at 2023, with particular regard to beer and travel. This is something I’ve done for most years, in common with most other beer bloggers and writers. In the meantime, though, I’d like to wish each and everyone of you a happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year, and thank-you all for staying the course, and continuing to read this blog.

Thursday 21 December 2023

The Beer Bucket List - from a personal perspective

It's strange how people sometimes come into one’s life then, as quick as they appear, they vanish. When you're approaching the 70th anniversary of your arrival on planet Earth, all sorts of people have crossed your path, often going back many decades. Apart from family members, these people include those who we went to school with - infant, primary, and secondary school, and then, for those fortunate to have attended university, people from your student days.

Following on, and into the world of employment, in whatever category, there are work colleagues who become a part of one’s life, for various periods of time. If, like me, you've worked in a variety of industries, and for several different employers, sometimes in different parts of the country, then there are more people whose career paths cross with yours.

The example I'm about to give, isn't someone who was part of my life for any significant period of time, and it isn't someone I claim to know well either, but the other day his name flashed up on a well-known beer blog (Boak & Bailey), along with a link, that provided a fascinating insight into how this individual started off with a beer related blog of his own, before branching into the world of writing, publishing and PR- the latter with at least one well known and well respected international brewery. With this in mind, it's worth taking a brief look back not just at what this former blogger's achieved, but how one of his later books ended up give me something to reference my own their experiences against, and this latter point is really the main subject of this particular post.

I started Paul’s Beer & Travel blog, in the autumn of 2008, joining a number of individuals whose names and reputations were far more illustrious than my own, and some of whom are still writing about beer today. Most though why they got bored with the subject, branched out into different areas of interest, made a definite career out of beer writing, or sadly in a number of cases, have shuffled off this mortal coil. Just over a year later, in December 2009, I had an enforced day off work it's due to heavy snowfall, I was unable the drive into the factory. In addition, there were no trains running either (no surprises there), so feeling at a loose end, I decided take a wander down into Tonbridge.

The following narrative, from my post of 18th December tells the story, and provides the link to this article, some 14 years on. The snow clouds had cleared leaving a beautiful bright and crisp sunny morning. so off I went with no clear-cut plan, apart from picking up some Czech currency for my forthcoming trip to Prague. This accomplished, I made my way to Tonbridge's only independent book shop, MR Books, for a chat with the then owner Mark Richardson, and also to see if I could pick up a copy of Jaroslav Hasek's, satirical classic, The Good Soldier Svejk, ahead of my forthcoming visit to Prague.

"You're not the first beer blogger in today", Mark informed me. "Oh", I replied, "who was the other?" The "Pencil & Spoon" blogger, I was told, and he said he wants to meet you. "Mark Dredge" I said, slightly surprised, "in here? "Why not," said MR Books' proprietor, "he only lives across the road in one of the new flats". I responded that I would like to meet Mark, so following a quick phone, call the winner of the British Guild of Beer Writers New Media Writer of the Year 2009 duly appeared in MR Book’s shop.

I hadn't realised that Mark lived in Tonbridge, but it turned out that him and his girlfriend had recently moved into one of the newly-built flats that occupy the old market site, opposite MR Books shop. Mark couldn't stay long, as he was in the middle of preparing dinner, but we had a pleasant chat, nonetheless. We both griped about the lack of a decent boozer in Tonbridge, and certainly the lack of anywhere selling the darker ales which ought to be about this time of year. MR Books suggested that I open a pub but having run the Cask & Glass off-licence for five and a half years, I'd had more than enough of the licensed trade!

We parted company, promising to meet up soon for a drink, but as is often the way with such well-meaning intentions we never did. Continued following Mark’s Pencil and Spoon blog, even though he seemed to be branching off it in a slightly different direction, and it was to be a further five years for our paths crossed again. In the summer of 2014, I attended my first European Beer Bloggers Conference. Held in Dublin, this was one of three such events held in various European capitals I enjoyed, during the latter half of that decade, and was, as fellow beer Blogger, Tandleman, forewarned me, a very boozy affair. Tandleman was right of course, and to say that the beer flowed freely would be an understatement, and what’s more it was included in the price of the conference package.

Not included though, was accommodation, or the cost of travel to and from the host city. However, some pretty decent food, plus a substantial end of conference meal, was part and parcel of the deal, so who stumped up the cash for the food and the beer? The answer of course, is the sponsors, and given the location of the conference, it’s no surprise that Guinness were one of the main backers of the event. Also high amongst the main sponsors were Czech brewers, Pilsner Urquell, who had brought over their own mobile bar, complete with integral cooling unit, plus glass rinser. It was then that I bumped into Mark Dredge again, who by this time was working for Pilsner Urquell, as part of their PR team.

Three years later, and Mark and I crossed paths again, not in a physical sense, but following an approach from the publishers of his latest book. Titled The Beer Bucket List,” was described by publishers Dog ‘n’ Bone, as a “Collection of over 150 unmissable beer experiences, featuring the world’s greatest beer, bar, breweries and events: it’s the ultimate bucket list for every beer lover.”

Asked if I would like to review what turned out to be Mark’s 5th book, I of course said yes, and after my complimentary review copy arrived, I soon got stuck into it. You can read what I wrote here, but for the point of this article, I want to list those unmissable beer experiences of Mark’s that I have enjoyed myself. So, without further ado here they are, in no particular order.

  • Tour Fuller’s Griffin Brewery
  • Best of British Cask Ales (too many to mention)
  • Modern (Pale & Hoppy) Cask Ales
  • Drink in some Wetherspoons Pubs
  • Best of London’s Historic Pubs
  • Bermondsey Beer Mile
  • Blue Anchor - Helston
  • Kent Green Hop Fortnight
  • Thanet’s Micro-Pubs
  • Visit Burton-on-Trent
  • Marston’s Burton Union system
  • Sunday roast with a pint of Cask Ale
  • Pint of Marble at Marble Arch Inn
  • Great British Beer Festival
  • Edinburgh pub-crawl
  • Drink Guinness in Ireland
  • Porterhouse Brew-pub, Dublin
  • Oktoberfest Munich
  • Augustiner Hell vom Faβ, Munich
  • Hofbräuhaus, Munich
  • Annafest, Forchheim
  • Schlenkerla Tavern, Bamberg
  • Weihenstephan – world’s oldest brewery
  • Altbier in Düsseldorf
  • Kölsch in Cologne
  • Drink Baltic Porter in Poland
  • Drink Pilsner Urquell in Plzen
  • Drink Polotmavý in Czechia
  • U Fleků, Prague
  • Drink Westvleteren 12° at In de Vrede café, next to the brewery
  • Three Classic Belgian Breweries – Rodenbach, Brasserie Du Pont, Westmalle Tripel
  • Three Essential Belgian Bars - Moeder Lambic, 't Brugs Beertje, De Halve Maan
  • Amsterdam Braun Café, De Wildeman
  • Carlsberg Brewery, Copenhagen
  • Experience a Hop Harvest
  • Visit China – the world’s largest beer market

Writing about the book on his blog, Mark says he was inspired by thinking about where in the world he'd most like to drink a beer. And then by thinking about where he'd suggest others go to drink. The list included the places that any beer lover really should go, plus all those many oddities and idiosyncrasies that make beer – and travelling for beer – so great.

So, with just 36, out of a total of 150 experiences ticked off, there are many more places to go, and beers to drink, but don’t forget, Mark’s list is just one person’s take on the beer world, and others, including me will have their own ideas as to what constitutes an unmissable beer experience. Please let me know what you think.