Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Doomslayer of Sevenoaks

Always smiling - Barry Dennis
When long-serving landlord, Barry Dennis, decided to remove Sharp’s Doom Bar from the bar of his Sevenoaks pub, customers and friends thought he was mad. Barry had been getting through between five and six firkins (9 gallon casks) a week of Doom Bar at the Anchor; one of the few remaining traditional town pubs in the heart of this affluent Kent town, so to drop one of his best-selling beers, seemed to many like he had taken leave of his senses!

Barry had his reasons though for, as he told me, he always believed in supporting the “little man”. Like many licensees, he had taken on Doom Bar, back in the day when Sharps were a relatively unknown small brewer, from a tiny Cornish village called Rock. The easy-drinking Doom Bar was an instant hit with the Anchor’s regulars, and pretty soon it became a permanent fixture on the bar.

Doom Bar was also a hit in many other pubs up and down the land; so much so that Sharp’s had to step up production at their Rock Brewery in order to keep up with the demand. As this beer, which is named after the dangerous “Doom Bar” sandbank at the mouth of the Camel Estuary in north Cornwall, became a common feature in the nation’s pubs, Sharps caught the attention of multi-national brewing giant, Molson Coors who bought the brewery in February 2011, for £20 million. Sales of Doom Bar continued to grow after the takeover, increasing by 22 per cent during 2011, making it the UK's fastest growing ale for the third year in a row. In 2015, it was revealed that the bottled version of Doom Bar had not been produced in Cornwall since 2013, and was brewed in Burton-upon-Trent.

This revelation was the last straw for Barry, so earlier this year he took the decision to ditch Doom Bar in favour of a beer with more integrity and also one which could be sourced locally. I was one of the people he confided in, but when he told me how many casks the pub was getting through each week I told him he would be crazy to drop the beer. Barry nevertheless decided to go ahead, but rather than jumping in feet first, he did his homework.

Ideally he wanted to go with a Kentish brewer, but when Sussex micro Turners came up with a proposal to brew a beer especially for the Anchor, he jumped at the chance. Turners had featured as a “guest ale” on several occasions at the Anchor, and their beers had been well received by the pub’s customers. Barry gave them the remit of coming up with a mid-strength, easy-drinking bitter which would appeal to the pub regulars, and in particular the Doom Bar drinkers.

A total of six test brews were produced, which were trialled amongst the Anchor’s customers, over a period of several weeks, before both Turners and Barry plumped for a 4.0% ABV fruity, traditional Sussex bitter. A competition was also held to choose an appropriate name for the beer, and one of the pub’s regulars came up with the name “Pride of Sevenoaks”. The beer was launched during the last week in November, with representatives from the brewery, plus the local press in attendance.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make that evening, as my family and I were off to Austria the following day, but at the beginning of this week our local CAMRA branch arranged an impromptu social at the Anchor, which gave me the ideal opportunity to go along and try the new beer for myself. Being a Monday, it was Texas Hold ‘em Poker night, and the pub was quit busy, but my friends were waiting, sitting at the bar, when I arrived. Barry was there of course, holding court behind the bar, and he pulled me my first pint of Anchor Pride of Sevenoaks. It was mid-brown in colour and reasonably well-hopped against a strong fruity background. I could understand why the beer was a suitable replacement for Doom Bar, and I would add that it has more character as well.

Although it is still early days, Barry said the beer is selling at roughly the same rate as Doom Bar, so it is obviously going down well with the Anchor’s regulars. I had a further pint, before finishing the evening with a pint of Harvey’s; purely because I wanted a beer with a few more hops. Barry did his usual, bringing out plates of sandwiches, hot dogs and sausage rolls. Although these were primarily for the poker players, there was still plenty left for the rest of the pub’s clientele.

Barry Dennis is the longest serving licensee in Sevenoaks. He comes from a family of publicans, and has been behind the bar of the Anchor for the last 35 years. Barry has certainly seen some changes since he first took over this traditional town pub in the town’s London Road, back in 1979. The Anchor was then a Charrington’s pub; serving Charrington IPA and Draught Bass. Barry remarked, the other evening, as to just how lively this legendary Burton beer used to when first tapped and how it was almost orange in colour, (pale amber would probably be a more appropriate description).

Barry is a real showman, conducting proceedings from behind the bar acting like a “Master of Ceremonies”. He never seems to stand still, and there is always something going on at the Anchor. Monday is the aforementioned Texas Hold ‘em Poker night, but the pub holds open mike nights for budding musicians, regular blues evenings, darts, presentations from various brewers, charity events and meat raffles. Barry is also a keen supporter of the town’s Stag Theatre, which is almost opposite the pub.

Turner’s are a brewery based at Highfield Farm, in Ringmer, East Sussex. They were established in 2010, and commenced selling their beers a year later. There are eight core beers; some of which are seasonal, but their best seller is their Ruby Mild. Turner’s beers have appeared at JDW outlets in both Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, and have also been a regular feature at the Bedford – opposite Tunbridge Wells railway station. Their website can be accessed here, but it is not terribly informative, (presumably it is still under construction).

Sunday, 6 December 2015

West Kent CAMRA AGM 2015

Saturday the 5th December was the date for West Kent CAMRA’s Annual General Meeting. I thought I’d better go along and show my face, and it was a good job I did, as my presence increased the number of attendees to 16!

We learned at the meeting that the branch now has 582 members, so where were the other 566? A pretty poor show and something of a slap in the face for all the hard work put in by the current committee. The only real saving grace, over the past year, was that members did turn up, in quite large numbers, to help at October’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival; a joint event between this Heritage Railway organisation and West Kent CAMRA.

Constitutional Club
As in previous years, the meeting took place at Tunbridge Wells Constitutional Club; a venue well suited for such an event,  with several meeting rooms, plus a range of four different cask ales. Yesterday's beers were Harvey’s Best, Everard’s Tiger, Wychwood Dog’s B*ll*cks and Pig & Porter “Thief of Time” Porter. The Harvey’s was in fine form, but the offering from locally-based Pig & Porter my favourite was my favourite.

It’s worth noting that Pig & Porter are now the sole occupants of the 10 barrel plant, formerly by the now defunct Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery. I say sole occupants because, for a while, the company shared the site with a contract lager-brewing company, based in one of the Baltic States, (I can’t remember which one). Having started out as an events company, supplying both beer and food (burgers and hog roasts a speciality), for weddings, birthdays, parties, shoots, point to points and corporate events, Pig & Porter seem to have upped the brewing side of the business, and are now producing a range of quality beers. They are certainly a welcome addition to the local beer scene.

Back to the meeting, and there was a struggle to fill vacant committee posts. This has been a problem in the past, but this year it seemed particularly acute. How to address this is an issue facing not just West Kent CAMRA, but other branches as well. The rest of the meeting was taken up with reports from various committee members, and whilst it is encouraging to learn that the branch finances are looking healthy, this does not really benefit the local membership as the majority of this money will have to be paid over to CAMRA HQ at St Albans. Perhaps if some of it could be spent on a “Jolly” for West Kent members, rather than wasted on publicity material for pointless campaigns, we might see a few more of them!

Once the main business was concluded, we adjourned downstairs for the buffet. I may sound like “Mr Grumpy” here, but the food supplied was barely sufficient for the 16 members who turned up; so had the turnout been double, we’d have been left fighting over the egg sandwiches and chicken nuggets!

I remained downstairs and sat reading the paper, whilst the rest of the attendees returned to the meeting room for that most contentious of issues (especially in the eyes of die hard activists), the nominations for the 2017 Good Beer Guide. I was told by one departing member, who’d had to leave early, that things were getting rather heated, so it seems I missed some of the fun, but the fact that branches are having to look ahead to 2017, when the 2016 Guide doesn’t hit the bookshops until October next year, says all that is need to be said about this antiquated white elephant of a publication. (Lighten up chaps, it’s not worth spilling blood over, and neither is it worth doing the editor’s job for him!).
Most, but not all of those present adjourned to Fuggles following the meeting. The latter has certainly established itself as Tunbridge Wells’ premier beer establishment since it opened two years ago. It was pretty busy when we arrived, but we managed to get a table. I stuck to the cask offerings, despite several of the craft range taking my fancy. In no particular order I enjoyed Celt Experience Iron Age 3.5%; Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout 4.5% and personal favourite of the day Magic Rock High Wire 5.5%.

The one downside of Fuggles is it gets rather noisy; not from music being played over the speaker system, but just from the presence of so many people. With little in the way of soft furnishings, the one long room has a tendency to echo, and towards the end of our stay there. It became difficult to hear what other people were saying. It was time to move on.

The final port of call, prior to heading back home, was the Opera House; Tunbridge Wells’ Wetherspoon’s outlet. It wasn’t quite as packed as might have been expected on a Saturday night. I was flagging by this time and just had a soft drink, but I understand from my colleagues that the Old Dairy Red Top was rather good. As for the branch, well it remains in good hands for the immediate future, but unless we can attract the new blood which is so desperately required, then its long term survival seems far less certain.

Friday, 4 December 2015

The Woodman - Ide Hill

It’s strange how sometimes you can be living somewhere and not really know what is literally at your feet. I’ve resided now in the pleasant town of Tonbridge for 30 years; literally half a lifetime, so there aren’t many pubs in this part of West Kent which I haven’t visited.  Until yesterday evening, the Woodman at Ide Hill was one of them, but all that changed when I joined some of my work colleagues, plus visitors from Japan, for a meal at this attractive, but isolated free-house.

The company I work for is a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan’s second largest dental manufacturing company. Every year, at around this time, a number of top officials from our parent company make the trip over from Japan for a directors’ meeting. Other meetings take place as well, but it is something of a joke amongst us that the visitors really come to do a spot of Christmas shopping; even though Christmas is a festival which is not really celebrated in Japan!

No matter, as it is always good to meet up with our overseas colleagues and to spend time together discussing projects and issues of mutual benefit. One longstanding tradition is that of going out for a meal with our guests, so yesterday evening we  headed over to the Woodman at Ide Hill; the venue selected by our General Manager for this year’s informal evening get-together.

Ide Hill is a small village situated on one of the highest points of the Greensand Ridge about five miles south-west of Sevenoaks. To the west of Ide Hill, but separated from it by an area of woodland, is the tiny hamlet of Goathurst Common, and it is here that the Woodman is situated. It was a wild and windy night as our taxi driver negotiated the narrow country lanes which traverse this densely wooded area, so we were glad when the lights of the pub appeared as we pulled into a clearing. It was then that I caught my first sight of the Woodman.

It’s hard to describe the exterior of the pub, as not only was it dark when we arrived, but we entered and left by the rear. It was evident that the interior has recently had a make-over, and whilst there were signs of obvious antiquity, it was difficult to discern which parts were original and which were modern additions made to look old by the use of old and reclaimed oak beams.

The interior certainly seemed Tardis-like, and with two levels. The bar was at the lowest level and to the rear of the pub. There was reasonable, but not terribly imaginative selection of cask ales – Harvey’s Sussex Best, Otter Bitter and the dreaded Doombar, whilst the keg offerings included Meantime London Pale Ale, Pilsner Urquell, Moretti and Noble Lager (from Greene King). I stuck with the Harvey’s - my first drop of English ale since returning from Austria 10 days before, and can report it was in excellent condition.

The food was good too and we had a most enjoyable evening with our Japanese visitors.  The pub itself was strangely quiet; although I imagine the foul weather had put people off from venturing out, but without our party of 13 it would have been virtually empty. One nice touch was a group of local carol singers had been booked to entertain the guests (and, I suspect to practice as well), and whilst they were singing some distance from where we were sitting, their presence (and carols) added a nice pre-Christmas touch to the evening.

Having whetted my whistle, I intend making a return visit to the Woodman, but in daylight next time. There are some good walks around this part of the Greensand Ridge, and a lunchtime stop at this tucked away pub would add to the pleasure of a ramble through the woods and hills of this attractive part of the county.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Feldschlößchen Lager

I picked up a few bottles of Feldschlößchen Lager 4.5% in ASDA at the weekend. They were retailing at just 90p each, so they seemed too good a bargain to miss.

The Feldschlößchen Brewery, based in the Coschütz district of Dresden, is described as one of the largest breweries in Saxony, and brews a wide range of different beers, so at first sight these bottles seemed a bargain. A closer inspection though revealed that this particular beer is contract brewed in France, so I have to ask why?

Well a look at the company’s website reveals a rather convoluted history for Feldschlößchen Aktiengesellschaft, which began under communist rule with the nationalisation and grouping together of three Dresden breweries - Feldschlößchen, Felsenkeller and Waldschlößchen, to form the state-owned company VEB Dresdner Brauereien. After the collapse of the communist regime and reunification in 1990 there was further reorganisation and the founding of the Sächsischen Brau-Union (SBU). In 1991 SBU commenced production of Feldschlößchen Pilsner, and production at the original FeldschlößchenBrewery on Budapester Strasse then ceased

In 1992 the Holsten-Brauerei AG acquired 100% of the Sächsische Brau-Union, and three years later SBU was renamed the "Feldschlößchen Aktiengesellschaft Dresden". In 2004 Carlsberg A/S, of Denmark acquired the majority of shares of the Holsten Brauerei AG. Feldschlößchen thus became part of the Carlsberg Group Deutschland.  In 2011 November the Feldschlößchen Brewery found itself back in German hands when the Danish Carlsberg Group sold the brewery to a medium-sized brewery group, which already owned the Frankfurter (Oder) Brauhaus and the French brewery, Brasserie Champigneulles.

So now you know a bit more about this eastern German giant, and why they are brewing some of their beers in France.

As for the beer itself; well it’s pale, refreshing, reasonably well hopped and quite dry tasting. It’s not exactly spectacular, but then what do you expect for 90p? With the first bottle I thought I detected a hint of diacetyl, with is tell-tale butterscotch flavour lurking in the background. It wasn’t really noticeable in the second bottle, but its presence would suggest that maturation (lagering) of the beer may have not been quite as long as it should. By the way, this particular beer is not listed on the company’s website; indicating it may well be a budget-priced brand produced especially for supermarkets. Still at 90p a throw, you can’t really grumble!
I am tempted to stock up on a few more, if there’s any left, just so to have some bottles of easy-drinking quaffing lager to hand, over the Christmas period. They will also be a good contrast to all the really heavy stuff I brought back form Belgium with me!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Another CAMRA Branch Milestone

I attended a rather special reunion on the last Friday in September, when I went along to the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Maidstone & Mid-Kent Branch of CAMRA. Although not a founder member, (I was still at university back in 1975), I joined the branch in late 1978, after moving to the county town following the purchase of my first property.

Despite having been a CAMRA member since 1974, this was the first time I had joined up with the local branch in the area I was living. MMK branch made me feel welcome, and I soon began to play an active role within the organisation, which culminated in me joining the branch committee. As well as assisting with local beer festivals, I also helped deliver the branch newsletter, “Draught Copy”, around local pubs. Eventually I would go on to edit it!

Things changed in late 1984 when I moved to Tonbridge; some 17 miles south-west of Maidstone, and said goodbye to the many good friends I had made during my stay in the town. Despite not wishing to become too involved with another CAMRA branch at the time, I was persuaded to help kick-start the then moribund Tonbridge & Tunbridge Wells Branch (now known as West Kent CAMRA) back into life. It was rather ironic then that just a few months after the latter branch celebrated 30 years since its reformation, I should receive an invite from an old friend at MMK to attend their 40th birthday celebration.

The event took place at the Dog & Gun; a Shepherd Neame pub which is just a short hop from Maidstone’s rather grim-looking Victorian prison. Even more ironic was the fact that when I lived in the town the Dog & Gun was my old local, being just five minutes walk away from my house. Friday was therefore a double reunion, as I don’t think I had been back to the pub since moving away from Maidstone.   

I caught the train over from Tonbridge and arrived at the Dog & Gun shortly before 7pm. Like many pubs it had changed in the intervening 30 years, with the former public and saloon bars now knocked through into one. They hadn’t made a bad job of it, and there was a good choice of beer on the bar. All Shep’s of course, which isn’t my favourite, but the Whitstable Bay Organic Pale was in good form, as was the company’s No.18 Yard Green Hop Ale; a very quaffable 4.5% ABV Golden Ale. To make things even better, the first pint was on the house!

I soon noticed a few familiar faces; most with hair either greyer, or non-existent, but with one or two exceptions I was able to put names to most of those present. It was particularly good to meet up again with Richard and his wife Gill and with Dave and Jan. Dave was chairman when I first joined the branch, but moved down to Hampshire to run a pub in Andover, on behalf of Bourne Valley Brewery; one of the pioneering first new wave of micro-breweries. Following Dave’s departure Richard had taken over the reins of chairman.

I also met up with friends whom I have kept in touch with over the past three decades, and it was good to see them all again. Dave and Jan had brought a large display of old photos, press-clippings, newsletters and other memorabilia. The pub had laid on an impressive buffet; something I was particularly glad of as I had rushed over straight from work without having time for anything to eat. Something solid to soak up the beer was therefore especially welcome.

I chatted with numerous people that night, swapping stories and bringing ourselves up to date with what had happened in our respective lives over the years. One story which is worth repeating is that the night Maidstone CAMRA branch was formed literally went with a bang; for about half a mile down the road, on the other side of the prison, the Provisional IRA exploded a bomb outside the Hare & Hounds pub. This was at the height of the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign; the pub being targeted because it was popular with soldiers from the nearby barracks. Fortunately no-one was seriously hurt, and despite extensive damage the Hare & Hounds was eventually rebuilt. Those present at the inaugural meeting though, certainly heard, and felt, the explosion!

The other thing worth noting was the dearth of real ale pubs in Maidstone back in 1975. The real thing was only available in the town’s nine Shepherd Neame pubs, plus the odd Courage and Whitbread-Fremlins house. By the time I moved to Maidstone, the latter company, which had both roots and their former brewery in the town,  had embraced cask ale in a big way, bringing back the Fremlins name for their excellent Trophy D bitter, and launching a new stronger beer called Tusker; named after Fremlins famous elephant trademark.

These improvements were thanks in no small part to the campaigning work put in both locally and nationally by CAMRA, and not long after I joined the branch a guide to all the Real Ale pubs in the local area had been published by MMK.

I left the Dog & Gun around 10.30pm and made my way back to the station; arriving in time to catch the last direct train back to Tonbridge. It had been an excellent evening, but not completely devoted to nostalgia. MMK branch has gone from strength to strength over the past four decades and is now one of the most successful of the Kent branches. I am proud to have played a part, albeit a small one, in that success.


I waited a couple of months before publishing the post, as I was expecting to see some photos of the evening’s celebrations. None seem to have appeared, and unfortunately I didn’t take any of my own. If any do surface, I will add them above.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln - Salzburg

Salzburg in all its finery
My recent short break in Salzburg represented my third trip to this delightful and picturesque Austrian city. My first visit took place in late December 2006, at a time when I was very much in need of a break. I was six months into a new job, whilst at the same time trying to sell our Off-Licence business as a going concern. It was all getting a bit much, so when my wife suggested I get away for a few days, I jumped at the chance.

I’m not sure quite why I chose Salzburg, but my desire to escape to somewhere person-sized and with a touch of class about it undoubtedly influenced my decision. Whatever the reason though I was glad I selected Salzburg as my bolt-hole. The weather back then was cold and crisp and, part from a sprinkling of snow on our first full day in the city; it was pretty much the same this time around.

One place I was determined to visit on that first trip was Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln; a brewery attached to a monastery, not far from the centre of Salzburg where the beer is served straight out of wooden casks. Ron Pattinson’s excellent European Beer Guide website had first drawn my attention to this establishment; so on my first full day in the city, I set off to try it out.

Augustinerbräu does not open until 3pm during the week, so after a morning’s sight-seeing, followed by lunch in an establishment in the newer part of the town, I set off in the rapidly fading daylight and the increasingly cold air to find the place. It was a short walk from my hotel down to the river Salzach, which I crossed by means of a footbridge. It was then a case of following the road along the riverbank until the floodlit exterior of the monastery church, perched on the edge of the Monchsberg hill, came into view.

Entrance to the Bräustübl
The entrance to the Augustinerbräu Bräustübl is through a large wooden door, where a long tiled passage leads to a further door behind which a flight of steep stone steps leads down into the heart of the establishment. The first thing I noticed was the half dozen or so kiosks where customers can purchase a variety of hot or cold food to accompany the beer. Alternatively you can bring in your own picnic, as many of the locals do.

There are three large, cavernous beer halls, plus a number of smaller, more intimate rooms that are available for private hire. For the summer months there is a large, shaded beer garden to the rear. The main attraction is of course the beer and as mentioned before it is served direct from large wooden casks. A full-bodied lager, known as Märzen  with an ABV of 4.6%  is brewed all year round, whilst from November through to Christmas a stronger Weinachtsbock (Christmas Bock) at 6.5% ABV is produced.

Unfortunately, despite visiting the day after Boxing Day, the entire stock of the festive beer had sold out, so I never got the chance to sample it. The well hopped, malty and satisfying Märzen though more than made up for it. As the beer is served straight from a wooden cask there is no excess gas to bloat one’s stomach, and the beer slips down a treat!
Grab a bite to eat from one of the kiosks

I quickly sussed out the ritual necessary to obtain a beer. There is a serving area just round the corner from the end of the food kiosk corridor. Here you help yourself to a stoneware mug (litre or half litre) from the dozens laid out on a series of wooden shelves. You then rinse the mug at the ornate marble fountain before queuing up and paying the person sitting behind a glass screen. In exchange for your money you are given a ticket, which you then hand to the man dispensing the beer. He takes your ticket, fills your mug with beer and then slides it back over to you across a perforated metal counter.

Grab a mug

You then wander off and find a seat in which ever beer hall takes your fancy. When you want a refill you simply take your mug back to the central kiosk, pausing perhaps to rinse it clean at the fountain, before repeating the process.

I tried all three different beer halls during the two visits I made to the Augustinerbräu Bräustübl on that first trip, but preferred the non-smoking one to the left of the serving area. As it was still relatively early in the evening there were plenty of wooden tables to sit at. What I especially liked was that Augustinerbräu appeared popular with people from all walks of life and also from all age groups. Groups of young people were just as eagerly getting suck into their mugs of beer as their older counterparts. When I left, after more than a few mugs of beer myself, I witnessed no signs of trouble.

Rinse your mug
Some eight months later, I found myself back at to Augustinerbräu; this time accompanied by my son and at the height of summer. On that occasion we sat outside in the shady beer garden at the rear of the establishment. The beer was now being served from one of a number of hatches (the others were dedicated to serving food). The same ritual of selecting and rinsing your mug still applied though. The place was packed, but we managed to squeeze around one of the tables, and sat there, under the shade of the chestnut trees, enjoying our beer. Matt was only just old enough to drink at the time (16 years is the legal age in Austria), but he enjoyed the beer every bit as much as I did.

Fast forward eight years to last week’s trip, and I’m pleased to report to Augustinerbräu Bräustübl  is every bit as good as I remember it; in fact I’d say it was even better than I recall. My wife, son and I arrived shortly after the 3pm opening time, having caught the bus up from the Old Town. As we walked along the corridor and then descended the steps to the corridor where the food kiosks are situated, everything came flooding back

My favourite of the three halls
We settled on the furthest hall; the one past the serving area. This hall allows smoking, much to my wife’s approval. It was fairly empty, so we grabbed a table, but before I had the chance to go and get some beers, a waiter appeared and asked what we would like to drink. I was slightly disappointed to be missing the self-service bit, but it seemed churlish to send him away. I ordered a beer each for Matt and I (Märzen), plus a lemonade for Eileen, and we settled down to enjoy the whole monastery brewery experience.

It was whilst we were sitting there conversing, that Eileen’s confusion became apparent. For some unknown reason she had thought I was taking her to the abbey where the opening scenes of the Sound of Music were filmed. She seemed far less impressed that I had brought her to a beer hall; albeit one of the finest and one with definite spiritual connections. I thought I had made the nature of our current location abundantly clear, but obviously not. Fortunately, the opportunity to enjoy a cigarette indoors in the warm won the day and we started laughing about the mix-up.

Weinachts Bock at last!
A small “A”- fold sign on our table advertised the presence of the Bock Bier; something I‘d already ascertained by the sight in the serving area of a smaller wooden cask alongside the larger one. This time I went for the self-service option, and ordered myself a mug of the Weinachts Bock.

The beer was everything I expected and more, being rich, malty and strong enough to taste the alcohol. In short, it was excellent. I was tempted to go for another, but thought I might be pushing my luck. I settled for another Märzen instead. During the hour or so we were there, the hall had really begun to fill up; such is the popularity of the Augustinerbräu Bräustübl.

It was dark when we left, and the gods must truly have been shinning on us that day as, when we reached the bus stop, I noticed a No. 27 bus was due along shortly, and this would take us directly back to where our hotel was situated, adjacent to the main railway station.

Märzen on the left; Bockbier on the right
I managed a second visit to Augustinerbräu, but this time I went alone. This was on the afternoon of our last day in Salzburg, and having done the majority of our packing, I remarked to the family that I fancied a wander into the town for a last minute look around. Neither my wife nor my son were keen on accompanying me, so I set off set of on my own. Eileen gave me that knowing look as if to say “I know where you’re going”.

She was right of course, and after a short bus ride along to Mirabellplatz, I crossed the river, by means of a footbridge, and arrived in the Alt Stadt. I was a bit early for opening time at Augustinerbräu, so I had a quick look round before heading up in the direction of the monastery. I arrived at a similar time to the previous day, but before grabbing a beer ordered a Schnitzel roll from one of the food counters. I then obtained a mug of the Weinachts Bock and took myself into the beer hall to the left of the serving area. This was the one I preferred from my first visit back in 2006.

The main entrance for those walking up from the city
It was already quite busy, but I found a seat ok and sat down to enjoy my food and my drink. One thing I noticed was the large number of signs on the wall, stipulating that many of the tables were Stammtisches. These are tables reserved for groups of regulars but, as the signs indicated, most were only reserved on specific days or at specific times. For example, one such Stammtisch was for a pensioners’ group which met at 19.00 on the first Thursday of the month. This meant that at other times, the table was available for other customers to use.

I liked this aspect, and also the rows of coat pegs hanging up along the walls. This is another welcome tradition in the German-speaking world, and it prevents people hogging a disproportional amount of space by spreading their coats along the benches or over the chairs. I was very tempted to have another Weinachts Bock, but I wasn’t quite sure how strong it was. (I later found out it was 6.5%). I opted for a Märzen instead, and before leaving I enquired about the availability of bottles to take away.

I discovered they were only sold in packs of six; an amount which would have put my baggage weight allowance over the rather paltry 15 kg allowed by Ryanair, but the helpful man at the cash desk told me there was a shop across the road at the back of the brewery which stocked Augustinerbräu bottles.

Not exactly small beer - the impressive brew-house.
I left by the back door, pausing to look at the beer garden which stripped of its tables for the winter, looked rather bare and forlorn. I also saw the impressive brew-house at the rear of the Bräustübl, and was surprised by the sheer size of it. Brewing at this monastery is certainly no small beer!

I found the shop alright, but they only had bottles of Märzen available, and no Bockbier. I bought one anyway, and then made my way back to our hotel on foot. My route was the same one I’d taken back in 2006, and despite stopping on a number of occasions to take photos, I was back with the family within half an hour.

If you ever go to Salzburg, whether for business or pleasure,  a visit to Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln is a must. Not only is the Bräustübl tavern the largest in Austria, it is also one of the finest and most traditional beer halls anywhere in the world!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Beer in Salzburg

Austria isn’t a country particularly renowned for its beer; a fact which is rather surprising considering it borders both Germany and the Czech Republic. There is no Reinheitsgebot in place ensuring Austrian beers are brewed from just malted barley, hops and water, although it is fair to say many of the country’s 170 odd brewers do adhere to the principles of that 500 year old consumer protection legislation.

There are of course, pockets of excellence and I mentioned one such example in my previous post about my impending trip to Salzburg. I arrived back home yesterday, and pleased to report that the beer at Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln is as good as ever, and I even managed to sample the Weinachts Bock (more about that in a separate post).

So far as the rest of the beer in Salzburg is concerned, I managed to sample beers from several Austrian breweries, along with a few from the city itself, and whilst they weren’t world classics, they were still perfectly quaffable beers which suited the time and the occasion. This largely means they were enjoyed in various pubs, bars and restaurants, normally as an accompaniment to a meal. The trip was, after all, a family holiday, rather than a beer-hunting expedition!

Like in neighbouring Germany, it is often difficult to know exactly which of a particular brewery’s products you are sampling. Point of sale material on beer founts is often restricted to just the brewery logo, and menus, particularly in restaurants, will just list the brewer of the beer, rather than specifying the particular type. This is quite surprising as in common with their Teutonic neighbours many Austrian breweries brew a bewildering number of different beers, many of which have suspiciously similar strengths. Moral of tale - it’s no use being a “ticker” in this part of the world!

The beers I did get to sample include, in no particular order, Stiegl Goldbräu and Paracelus Naturtrüb; Wieninger Dunkel; Hofbräu Kaltenhausen Original; Gösser (variety unknown); Zipfer Urtyp and Sternbräu Stern-Bier. However, rather than write about the beers it’s probably better to describe a few of the pubs and kellers they were enjoyed in.

I intend doing this in a subsequent post.