Friday, 10 January 2020


I arrived back home from a three day business trip to Scotland at around 6.30pm on Wednesday evening. I want to emphasise that it was a business trip, so there was precious little opportunity for sneaking off and doing some pub exploration of my own. Despite this, it was an enjoyable, and at times fun, experience and, as the old cliché goes, just good to get out of the office!

I travelled up with our Business Development Manager, in order to give a presentation to the sales representatives from one of or
largest UK customers. This was new experience for me, but everything went well, we picked up some first rate feedback and met lots of interesting and useful (from a business perspective), people.

Dundee was our destination, and was my first visit to the city which looks out across the Firth of Tay. We debated the best way of travelling there and back, with flying coming out on top, despite me wanting to let the train take the strain. Our fly-drive was definitely the best option, as it meant we had the use of a car whilst in Dundee. In addition the flight from Gatwick to Edinburgh was only just over an hour, compared with four and a half hours by train and seven and a half hours by car, should you be foolish to attempt the drive in one hit.

There is one direct, daily return flight to Dundee, with Logan Air; never heard of them, then you are not alone. They are a Scottish regional airline which operate out of Stansted for the Dundee route. We drove past Dundee Airport on Monday evening, when we took a quick drive into the city. Let’s just say it was small, with a tiny, 1930’s style control tower, perched on top of the flat-roof terminal.

So all things considered, our choice of plane plus hire-car, was the best, and least stressful option. I was impressed with Edinburgh Airport, despite the construction work being carried out to improve its capacity. It is well-laid out making it easy to navigate one’s way around.

There are good public transport links, not just to the city centre, but to two peripheral stations, where onward journeys can be made to various Scottish destinations, as well as some across the border into England. On the way to collect our hire car, we passed the tram terminal. I made a mental note of it for future reference.

Our route to Dundee took us north across the recently-opened Queensferry Crossing, which carries the M90 motorway across the Forth, and runs adjacent to the Forth Road Bridge. Use of the latter is now restricted to buses, taxis, cyclists and pedestrians, following the discovery of a number of structural defects in 2005.  Visible the other side of this 50 year old suspension bridge, is the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, which opened in 1890. 

After crossing the River Tay, to the south of Perth, we turned onto the A90, which took us all the way to Dundee. The city’s Double Tree by Hilton Hotel was our home for the next two nights. It was comfortable, well-appointed and reasonably priced at £66 per night; a rate which included a decent buffet breakfast, or kippers, if preferred.

The presentation we attended was held at the nearby Invercase Hotel, which had fine views across the Tay estuary. We returned to the hotel on the Tuesday evening, for a dinner and fancy-dress party. It was a long and tiring day, especially for my colleague who talked himself hoarse, but it was good for our company and we received some really positive feedback about our products and the service we provide.

I said at the beginning of this post there would be very little about beer or pubs that I could write about, and for a start, I saw no cask on sale. On the first evening, my colleague and I walked along to the local Beefeater restaurant, at Gourdie Croft, largely at his suggestion.

It was only a 15 minute walk, but quite a dodgy thing to do, as the route followed the A90 dual-carriageway, and whilst there was a pavement along one carriageway, we had to cross over to the other side - a move that included hopping over the crash-barrier on the central reservation!

There were two hand-pulls on the bar, both with their Doom Bar clips turned round. The bar manager was quite apologetic, but the non-availability of DB was no great loss as far as I was concerned. I consoled myself with a couple of bottles of Erdinger Wheat Beer. The meal was pleasant enough, even if it was standard Beefeater fayre.  We walked back along the grass verge on the opposite carriageway, as I said I would rather end up with muddy shoes, than get knocked down by a speeding car!

The beer selection at our hotel was actually better than the Beefeater, as the bar offered bottles of Schiehallion Lager from Harviestoun as well as Brew Dog Punk IPA. At the Invercase Hotel though, it was Tenants, Stella or a real blast from the past in the form of McEwan’s Export (keg of course). I had a pint of the very bland Tenants, before moving on to red wine for the rest of the evening.

My colleague was careful not to consume too much alcohol that evening, as although we took a taxi to and from the evening party, there was the small matter of him having to drive the following morning. I’d warned him about Scotland’s draconian drink-driving laws, as had several other people, because given the much lower permitted blood-alcohol limit, it is quite possible to be over the drink-drive limit the morning after the night before.

Fortunately he heeded the advice, although as it was 11am when we checked out of our hotel, I imagine there was ample time for the alcohol to be fully metabolised. Our flight wasn’t due to depart until 14.55, so we took a leisurely drive back to Edinburgh Airport.

There was still time to kill before our flight, so after returning the hire car, and passing through security in double-quick time, we decided that a drink and something to eat was in order.

There is a large Wetherspoon outlet airside, at the airport in the form of the Sir Walter Scott, and cask is obviously a feature, but my eye had been caught by the nearby Brew Dog bar, so that’s where we ended up. A pint of Lost Lager for my colleague, plus a pint of Indie Pale Ale for me,  was just right.

Afterwards we each grabbed a baguette from Pret A Manger, before boarding our Easy Jet flight back to Gatwick. My train journey back to Tonbridge took the same time as the flight, as there were delays due to signalling problems.

It was an interesting trip, although I unfortunately picked up another cold, whilst away – hence the delay in publishing this post! The photos are rather random, but they should convey something of the flavour of my short trip north of the border.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

It's the same, the whole world over...........

Real Ale, Real Music, whose excellent blog I only discovered recently, describes the inertia, slovenliness and lethargy that infects the nation during the period between Christmas and New Year, as the “dog days of winter.”

It is the equivalent, as it were of the well-known “dog days of summer;” the period between July and early September when the weather is traditionally at its hottest and its most uncomfortable. These climatic conditions are perhaps, unsurprisingly, characterised by stagnation and a lack of activity.

What I’m leading up to here is there has been very little for me to personally write about, as since before Christmas I haven’t been anywhere to speak of, or done much that it worthy of sharing with a wider audience. So what is a frustrated beer writer to do under such circumstances?

The answer of course, is to look elsewhere for inspiration, so a quick Google search for beer-related news stories, threw us, amongst other worthy items, this particular story from 2018. The story surfaced on the Independent’s website, but looking at the small print it originated from the New York Times. It concerns that most German of institutions, the local beer-hall which, believe it or not, is facing very similar problems to the traditional English pub.

As in the UK, changing demographics, and an increasingly ageing population, has led to a significant drop in the number of traditional pubs, restaurants and beer halls. So whether they be “gasthof” , “wirtshaus” or “kneipe”, their numbers declined by a massive 20 per cent between the years 2010 and 2016, according to the German Hotel and Catering Association.

Increasing urbanisation, that has drawn young people away from rural areas and depleted villages, combined with different aspirations of a younger generation have all left their mark. Now, with more people relying on social media as their source of news stories, or the place to exchange gossip, traditional outlets like the village local are dying on their feet.

The Independent’s story focused on the settlement of Handorf-Langenberg, in northwest Germany. A village of 1,500 inhabitants where Zum Schanko, the village beer hall that had acted as community centre and celebratory space for countless birthdays, baptisms and other gatherings with family and friends closed, following the sudden death of its owner, Hubert Frilling.

Mourners, who had packed the nearby Church of St Barbara for Frilling’s funeral, were told by the local the pastor, that “The heart of Handorf-Langenberg has stopped beating,” but what made matters worse was no-one seemed willing to take the place on, and run it as a traditional beer hall.

There had been interest in the premises for places such as pizza joints or Asian fast food outlets, but this wasn’t what the locals wanted for their village. Fortunately, as has happened over here, a number of local people got together to raise sufficient funds to buy the pub for themselves, and continue running it along traditional lines.

This was achieved by setting up a cooperative and selling shares to local residents and others who felt a connection to the beer hall. The oldest shareholder was in his eighties; the youngest, received a stake on the day she was born. It was still a race against time, to raise the €200,000 needed to buy the place but, as with all good stories that end happily, they managed it. 

They even found someone to run the place in the form of  Andreas Mählmann, from a town 30 miles up the road, but who knows the local dialect still spoken by many patrons. Together with his partner, Gabi Von Husen, they offer a menu based on  schnitzel and sauerbraten, with special menus for Christmas, plus the all-important asparagus harvest in the spring and kale in the winter.

Stories like this one, have been repeated all over Germany but, as in England, not all have a happy ending. In a bid to try and save traditional pubs, the government in Bavaria approved a €27m package of financial support, aimed at helping owners of beer halls and restaurants in rural areas survive, but not all states have followed Bavaria’s example.

As part of their fund-raising campaign, the people looking to secure Zum Schanko, wrote to Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, hoping to capitalise on how he had highlighted the country’s urban-rural split in his annual Christmas address the previous year.

A letter signed by the president himself came back, praising the effort to save Schanko as “a striking example of what can be achieved in rural regions through taking the initiative and self-help projects”.

Unfortunately we do not have such enlightened individuals heading up the UK government, so even more than in Germany, it is up to us as individuals who love and care about our traditional pubs, to continue giving them our support.  

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Some ramblings to kick start the New Year

My “man flu” has lasted for over a week now, and seems to come and go in varying degrees of severity. It’s in one of its “here I am again” phases at the moment, so I might have to see if alcohol, of some description can shift it. I haven’t actually felt like any beer this past week, so it’s been something of a  post-Christmas detox, but at the moment it’s a case of “kill or cure!”

My company re-opened for business on 2nd January, but fortunately those initial two days were fairly quiet, as quite a few colleagues took the opportunity of extending the Christmas-New Year break until 6th January.

I’m heading up to Dundee, on a short business trip on the 6th, so it made sense for me to go in at the end of last week, to get things ready. I’m assisting our Business Development Manager with a presentation to our second largest UK customer, so it should be an interesting experience. The only down-side is the dinner, at the end of the evening is a “fancy dress” event; something neither of us are keen on.

What makes it worse is the theme chosen is “Disney!” I let my colleague decide what we should go as, so he decided that we’d turn up as the two chefs from the Pixar animation, "Ratatouille." His girlfriend sourced the chef’s tunics from a charity shop, whilst I picked up the diamond-pattern chef’s trousers from Amazon. As for the hats, we'll have a look in the local cash & carry, tomorrow!

It seemed a decent enough compromise, and as he said, “Better than turning up at the airport, dressed as Buzz Light-year and Woody and being denied boarding!” Other work colleagues have requested photos, so I expect some will escape onto Social Media, and possibly this blog, as well.

So there’s a bit of packing to do tomorrow, but nothing too serious as we’re travelling with carry-on bags only. Then there’s the joy of a round-about train journey to Gatwick on Monday morning. The Tonbridge-Redhill rail-line remains closed, due to a serious landslip, which followed the pre-Christmas deluge, and is likely to remain shut for some time.

The story of that final Friday before Christmas is one of torrential rain, severe flooding and of almost ending up being trapped at work, due to rising river levels – the joys of working in a rural location! Mrs PBT’s and her friends had to abandon their planned, pre-Christmas dinner that evening, due to the road being impassable at Penshurst.

The re-scheduled event took place last night, and from what she said, they enjoyed an excellent meal at the Spotted Dog, Smart’s Hill; a lovely old pub, in a very isolated location. Matthew and I didn’t fare quite so well at the local Hungry Horse, but as I said to him, you get what you pay for. Next time, I will choose the venue!

I made a start getting back into the lunchtime walking on Thursday and Friday, but on both days only made it as far as the start of the path across the old airfield. I couldn’t believe how knackered I felt. Nothing to do with the Christmas lay-off, and everything to do with this unwelcome bug. I was pleased though, to see that the temporary gate had been removed from across the path, and the sheep safely behind the re-instated electric fence – see pre-Christmas post.

So with those ramblings out of the way, I’m off to pour myself the first beer of 2020!

Friday, 3 January 2020

2019 - The Year in Beer - Part Two

Continuing from where we left off, with this beer and travel-related review of 2019.

Best Days Out

A day in Rye with Retired Martin. At the back end of February, under a cloudless sky, Martin and I took a good look round this charming Sussex, hilltop town. We enjoyed some excellent beer at the Ypres Castle; an exemplary pub, run by the legendary Jeff Bell, followed by fish and chips, eaten straight out of the bag - the perfect end to a perfect day out.

Shifnal with the Real Pub Men. A day out in the Shropshire town of Shifnal; a place I’d never heard of the town until a few weeks before the trip. Despite the inclement weather, and general gloom of late November,  I really enjoyed exploring Shifnal’s excellent array of pubs, an undertaking made all the more enjoyable by the equally excellent company.

Bucket List

Bucket lists, by their very nature, are meant to be fluid, but one quite achievable item is for me to visit every European country, (44 in total, if you include  places such as Andora, Monaco, San Merino & Liechtenstein.)

Poland was one country I crossed off the list. I enjoyed a delightful four day break in Krakow; a city which, unlike Warsaw, was largely spared the destruction of the Second World War. With much of the Krakows old town still intact there was plenty to see and hold my interest plus, of course, some interesting bars and beers.

China. Although not on my original list of countries to visit,  I wasn’t going to turn down the chance of a business trip to China, even if it was rather short for my liking. Not much in the way of beer, but a pretty amazing place, with lots to see, both old and new, authentic cuisine and the sheer experience of just being there.

Qatar. I passed through Doha, the capital of this enigmatic Gulf State, whilst changing flights, on my journey to and from Guangzhou. It would have been good to stop off for a look round, as I liked what I saw from the promotional video we were shown on the plane.

Luxury Cruise.  At the end of October, Mrs PBT’s and I enjoyed a short, two day mini-cruise, from Southampton to Zeebrugge and back. We journeyed on the Cunard Queen Elizabeth, which afforded a real touch of luxury and a good introduction to the world of cruising.

Best Locations to Enjoy a Beer

Greyhound, Charcott. A continuing success story for this lovingly restored village local, rescued from closure by an enterprising local couple. Since re-opening two and a half years ago, the Greyhound has become a thriving and welcoming country pub, offering good beer and good food to both local residents and visitors.

Codsall Station Bar. A restored Victorian waiting room and booking office next to the platform at Codsall station. Now converted into a rather nice outlet for Holden’s beers, this was the first stop on our day out in Shifnal, and is definitely  is a place well worth missing a few trains for!

Ypres Castle, RyeA lovely old pub, reached via a steep flight of steps from the town's Gun Gardens and the Ypres Tower. Lovingly restored and run with pride and real professionalism by the legendary Jeff Bell. Old Dairy, beers at their best, local ciders and Rothaus Pils from Germany’s Black Forest.

Hopbine, Petteridge.  Another classic country pub, tucked away in a quiet rural hamlet, consisting of just a few cottages. Last year marked my first visit since the pub became a free-house. I liked it so much that I returned for a second visit, a few months later.

Wrega Polish Pub & Gallery. A great place, to enjoy al fresco eating and drinking, that I stumbled upon, by accident, after a day spent
walking round Krakow’s old Jewish quarter.

Peters Brauhaus, Köln. A very traditional looking establishment, where the gravity-dispensed Peters Kӧlsch ranked amongst the best we came across in the city.

Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass, Köln.  Another real traditional old-school,  Cologne pub, this one serving  Päffgen Kölsch, again  dispensed straight from the cask. Päffgen’s brew-pub lies some distance west of the Altstadt, so to find this excellent Kölsch available right in the city centre, was a real bonus.


North Downs Way

Back in July I enjoyed three days extended walking, completing the missing sections of the Canterbury loop. The only downside was low cloud and drizzly rain blowing in off the English Channel, on the second day. What should have a been a route along the White Cliffs, with glorious views out to sea, ended up as a day shrouded in mist.

I found it rather satisfying, not just walking about in an area relatively close to home, but putting up at a B&B that is still in the same county.  

This had the added benefit of being able to allowing a full day’s walking by hitting the trail straight after breakfast.

Campaign for Real Ale

For several years now, I have been questioning whether I wish my membership of CAMRA to continue. Back in November, I concluded that apart from the excellent BEER magazine, there is very little happening within the organisation which persuaded me to remain a member. As I was not a life member, I took the sad decision to terminate my membership, after 45 years as a member.

I intend to write a full-blown article about how I arrived at this rather brutal decision, but I feel that whilst it’s been a lot of fun along the way, CAMRA has lost its way and is no longer relevant in today's fast changing world.

The Campaign was primarily a young person’s organisation when I joined, but now the opposite is true. Back in those early days there was a real sense of discovery in seeking out local beers around the country, and enjoying them in some real, cracking pubs. If you like there was an almost pioneering spirit associated with CAMRA; a spirit whic has long sinve vanished. 

Over the years, I've met scores of interesting people, made many good friends and got to drink some amazing beers in some equally amazing pubs, but all good things come to an end and, for this reason alone, I think it's best to go out on a high.

CAMRA can hold its head up high for providing the spark which led to the totally unforeseen rise in interest in beer around the world, and the creation of hundreds, if not thousands of new breweries, producing an unprecedented and ever expanding range of different beers. I'm proud to have played a part in this incredible achievement.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

2019 - The Year in Beer - Part One

The year 2019 was rather a strange one as far as I am concerned. If I described it as disjointed, you might get an inkling of where I am coming from. I wasn’t a year of stunning achievements, although it will go down as the year I paid off the mortgage on our property. It was also the year that our twice-postponed bathroom renovation project finally came together.

We are now proud owners of a totally revamped bathroom, complete with walk-in shower. The latter is an important feature, given that neither of us are getting any younger, and it certainly helps make life easier when we are rushing to get ourselves ready for work each weekday morning.

The disjointed nature of the year was primarily down to two business trips I undertook during the first half of 2019. The first one, to Cologne for the biennial International Dental Show was planned, but the second one, a visit to China, was a much more hurried affair which came about following a meeting with some colleagues, from our Japanese parent company, whilst we were at the dental show.

Both were enjoyable trips in their own right, and the opportunity to visit China was certainly not one to be missed, but two weeks out of an already busy work schedule, plus the need to fit in annual leave around other members of my department, did mean both June and August were unavailable.  Moral of tale – get in early next year!

However, despite the quite topsy-turvy nature of 2019, there were still plenty of good things to experience and enjoy. What I intend to do with this review, is follow similar headings to previous years, and see where this takes us. There is also quite a lot to get through, so I have divided this look-back into two halves.

Best Beer on Home Turf

Harvey’s Sussex Best. As in previous years, no beer comes close to beating  this classic beer from the “Cathedral of Lewes.”  For everyday drinking, Harvey’s Best is one of the finest examples of a full-bodied and well-hopped southern bitter, and if I could only choose one cask beer to drink for the rest of my days, this would be it. 

Vocation Brewery. This Yorkshire-based brewery have really caught my attention this year, and I have enjoyed numerous glasses of their  Pride & Joy, plus Life and Death, both at home and in a number of pubs and specialist beer bars.
Larkin’s Porter.  Strong, dark and packing 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. What’s more I treated myself to a 5 litre mini-cask to see me through the Christmas period.

Best Beers Abroad

Zwyiec Porter at the Wrega Pub in  Krakow. An excellent, dark and full-bodied Baltic-style porter, with just the right amount of residual bitterness. In short, it was a most satisfying beer, and far more enjoyable than the myriad of different “craft” offerings I sampled during my short break in Poland

Päffgen Kölsch. Dispensed straight from the cask, at Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass, Cologne. Päffgen are one of the smaller Kölsch brewers in Cologne, and one of the few that are still family-owned. Their beer is, in my opinion, the best Kölsch in the city.

Westmalle Dubbel. One of the more common Belgian Trappist beers, but none the worse for that. I enjoyed a glass of this excellent dark ale, served in the correct glass of course,  at the American-themed, Café Chevvy's, in Zeebrugge port, in the company of Mrs PBT’s, her sister and brother-in-law.

 Brewery Visits on Home Turf

Harvey’s Brewery 
Back in March I was fortunate to have a tour around Harvey’s Brewery, in Lewes. This renowned Sussex brewer, picked up an award for their excellent Bonfire Boy seasonal beer, at the previous autumn’s Spa Valley Railway Festival, so the company invited volunteers, who’d worked at the event, to visit the brewery, for a tour. This was followed by the award presentation plus, of course,  a generous sampling of Harvey’s beers.
Harvey’s legendary Head Brewer, Miles Jenner, acted as our host and conducted us around the brewery. This was probably my 5th tour of Harvey’s and although Miles acted as guide on each previous occasion, he always has something new and interesting to say,  coupled with the odd amusing anecdote to add a bit of spice to the proceedings. 

Cellar Head Brewery
On the way back from Harvey’s, we called in at Cellar Head’s brewery and newly opened taproom, at Flimwell, East Sussex. The brewery was celebrating its 2nd birthday, and with plenty of interesting Cellar Head beers to sample, their birthday bash was a fun event with everyone having a good time.
The whole brewery-taproom set-up, along with the al fresco drinking, reminded me of the Vanish Woods Brewery in Leesburg, VA, which I visited whilst attending the Beer Bloggers & Writer’s Conference in the United States, in August 2018.  

Brewery Visits Abroad

For the first time in several years, there were no foreign brewery visits for me to enjoy. With only two rather short foreign holidays, neither of which had any CAMRA, or other formal involvement, there wasn’t the wherewithal to organise one.

Beer Festivals

Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival 2019. 
This festival, organised jointly between West Kent CAMRA and SVR, is becoming a victim of its own success.  Recent events have been manic, especially for those working behind the bar. This is a shame for those of us who like
to engage with customers, and chat  about the various beers on offer, but is impossible when there are thirsty punters pressing against the bar, several deep, and all waiting to be served.  

You also get awkward individuals wanting a beer from the other end of the bar, which means barging past your fellow bar staff, whilst trying to remember where you’ve got to return to. Even worse are those indecisive customers asking for tasters. After they’ve had three or four, you just know they’re taking the piss!

This constant pressure, with little or no respite for staff, meant the fun had gone out of the event for me, so I didn’t offer my services at last autumn’s event. Whether I do so this year really depends on the organisers arranging proper rosters, with adequate breaks for staff. The fact we are volunteers, shouldn't mean we can be taken advantage of; a fact which CAMRA as a whole ignores at its peril!

SIBA South East Beer Festival 2019. Once again hosted by Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club  this excellent festival is now in its 13th year. I attended on the Friday evening, with son Matthew, and on the Saturday with Mrs PBT’s and some of her relations and friends. With good weather, good beers (in the main) and excellent company, this event continues to be a highlight in the Tonbridge social calendar.

Great British Beer Festival (GBBF). It hadn’t been my intention to go to GBBF last year, but I was persuaded to change my mind by the well-illustrated and extremely positive write-up in CAMRA’s BEER magazine. I therefore went along with the intention that this would be my make or break year.

It was a day of two halves really, the first enlivened by the excellent company of fellow beer blogger, Retired Martin. I then spent the second half of the day, after Martin had wisely departed, sitting upstairs in the gallery area with group of friends from West Kent CAMRA.

As we sat there chatting I discovered we all seemed to be suffering from beer festival fatigue. The idea of meeting up in an attractive city such as Salisbury or Winchester, was floated, as an alternative to GBBF. So rather spending money travelling to London, followed by extra cash for admittance to the festival, we could visit several pubs in the suggested locations, get to sample a number of different beers and have a decent day out.

This confirms, that for me, GBBF 2019 was definitely  a “break” rather than a “make” event.

To be continued.............................................