The Rake at Christmas and Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout

If you want to get into the Christmassy spirit in London, a trip to Borough Market is a winner. Geese, game pies, mulled cider, and carol-singers under a tree. A real Dickensian wonderland (just wish they had Dickensian prices). All the better if you go on a weekday afternoon when you should be in work.

Having carefully selected some beers in Utobeer to go with Christmas dinner (more on that after Christmas) we retired to the Rake for a quiet drink or six. We hadn’t been for a few months – it’s rather difficult to get in the door in the evenings these days – and were pleased to see that what was on offer had changed considerably since the last time we were there. Not that there was anything wrong with the previous selection, it’s just good to see change and variety.

On tap; HopBack Entire Stout, O’Hanlon’s Goodwill, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, La Chouffe N’ice, Koestritzer Schwarzbier and I think Maisels’ Weisse. In bottles, another two hundred or so.

yeti.jpgOf the various beers we had, Goodwill was great in that it wasn’t just a standard bitter with some cinnamon in it. Instead, the brewers had gone for citrusy flavours and succeeded in creating a nicely balanced, warming bitter. Similar citrusy flavours abounded in Celebration Ale, which also tasted of peaches. La Chouffe was very tasty, but then at 10% it should be! All excellent beers.

But the star of the show was Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout (in bottles). Now, we’d had a few drinks beforehand, so I’m not sure in the cold light of the morning I’d be as bold as to say it was the best beer I’d ever tasted (which I said a few times last night to anyone who’d care to listen…) But it knocked our socks off sufficiently that we ordered another one straight afterwards, rather than try a new beer. It’s 9.5% and almost jet black, with a gorgeous mocha-coloured head. It reminded me of an amazing hot chocolate I once had in Spain, which was 85% cocoa solids. Incredibly chocolatey, thick and silky, but not at all sweet. It’s very bitter (it proudly boasts “75 bittering units”) but the hop bitterness blends perfectly with the cocoa bitterness. It’s a sledgehammer of a beer.

The Frog and Rosbif, Toulouse and Paris

frogandrosbif.jpgFrogpubs are a chain of brewpubs in France; they have four outlets in Paris, one in Bordeaux and one in Toulouse. (According to their beermats in Toulouse, they have a new one in Pau, too, but this doesn’t seem to have made it onto their website.)

Each pub brews six beers to the same recipe, although they have slightly different names depending on the pubs. I had the pleasure of visiting the Toulouse branch and the St Denis branch in Paris on consecutive days, and both were great, although slightly different.

Firstly, the beers. One of the many clever things about the business model is that they make both lagers and ales; there is something for everyone. The “blonde” is a beautifully crisp and clean lager, unpasteurised and unfiltered, which tastes like a revelation in the context of all that bloody Heineken. Reminded me of the Helles you get pubs in southern Bavaria.

Next up is the “blanche”, with orange peel. I only had a taster of this in Toulouse, and it the overwhelming flavour for me was lemon.  Would be nice in the summer, I think, but wasn’t for me at that particular time. To complete the lagers, there is a “ginger twist”; as you might imagine, this has ginger in it. I like ginger beer in small quantities, and a half of this was pleasant enough, but I was keen to move onto the ales.

On the ale front, Frogpubs offer a paleish ale (called “Aeropost’Ale in Toulouse, and “Inseine” in Paris), a red-brown ale, and a stout. These were all very interesting, not lease because the taste varied from pub to pub. The Aeropost’Ale was my favourite in Toulouse; it had nailed the English summer ale style absolutely perfectly (if I can generalise about styles like that…) Hoppy, fruity and homesickness-inducing.  In contrast, I preferred the red-brown ale (“Brew de l’Industrie” in Toulouse, “Parislytic” in Paris) in the Paris branch, where it tasted not unlike Fullers ESB. The stout was good in both locations.

Both pubs had a similar mix of international students, locals and expats – I spotted at least one German party in both. The Frog in Toulouse doesn’t have a kitchen, but has the great business idea of hooking up with two local restaurants – one of which is a curry house – to keep the punters fed. The Frog in Paris offers fancy-looking pub grub which seemed to be very popular with French and expats alike.


Locations of Frogpubs, descriptions of beer and other fun stuff can be found on their website. You can read about the history of the company and even buy someone a drink online.

Belgian Beer in Biarritz – La Tireuse

I seem to be having a lot of luck with my stopovers.

As Sunday tends to be pretty dead in France, I had been wondering whether choosing Biarritz as a stopover was wise. However, it turns out to have considerably more life on a grey November Sunday than many other French towns.

It also has “La Tireuse”, a bar with 20 handpumps loaded with Belgian beer. They’ve gone for a selection that avoids the usual, featuring a range of styles from the bigger “independent”* breweries – which you don’t often see outside Belgium, particularly not on tap.

So from Brouwirij Leroy they had Leroy stout (not my kind of thing – too sweet) and Yperman (described as an “ambree” – lovely stuff). From Bocq there was La Gauloise Ambree, St Feuillien Bruin, and from Van Eecke there was Watou’s Wit, Kapittel Triple and an old favourite, Poperings Hommelbier.

Also intriguingly, they have a beer called “La Tireuse special” – I can’t find reference of this beer on the internet. They told me it was brewed in Belgium, but I don’t have enough French to find out if it was brewed especially for them. It’s a “light” blonde, 5.6%, with quite a strong hop flavour. It was very tasty.

The bar staff are extremely friendly and happy to provide tasters, descriptions and recommendations. There is also food, with a nod to Belgium and Germany in the menu (Flammkuechen, Spaetzle, and great big hunks of meat and potatoes).



*I’m not sure what independent means in the world of Belgian beer – independent of what? – but all of these breweries are classified as independent on various web forums, as well as in their own publicity material.

La Tireuse is on Rue Mazagran, at the top of Place Ste Eugenie, in the centre of Biarritz. Photo to come.


Belgian beer in Burgos – La Espiga

Burgos is the kind of place that guidebooks describe as “likeable”. It has some nice old buildings including a stunning cathedral, and lots of bars and pubs. You probably wouldn’t go out of your way to visit, but it’s handy for travel in between Madrid and the Basque country.

As I had only chosen it for a stopover based on the rail connections, it was a very pleasant surprise to discover La Espiga, a genuine beer lover’s paradise. I’ve been to a number of places in the last couple of months in Spain that claim to be “beer paradises” or “beer temples”, only to discover they’re yet another weapon in Heineken’s Spanish armada, and that the exciting international beers on offer extend to Adelscott and Desperados.

Trois PistolesNo, this was the real deal. Around 10 beers on tap, including La Trappe Dubbel, Spaten Bock, Kwak and Liefman’s Kriek, and between 50-70 more in bottles. The selection was mostly the usual Belgian big boys – the Trappists, the Abbeys, the Deliriums, the Hoegaardens, but there were some more unusual offerings, such as the Unibroue range from Quebec.

There was a guide to the various beers, and the staff were knowledgeable and prepared to make recommendations. Beer menus are something I’m very keen on, as they help and guide the budding beer enthusiast – it’s amazing how many good pubs with big selections don’t bother with this step.

Best of all was that it was absolutely heaving with locals of all ages, enjoying a range of beer. Perhaps there is hope for the beer scene in Spain afterall. Maybe the Spanish beer revolution will begin in Burgos – I also noticed a German bar, and the internet cafe I visited had Barbar Miel and Kapittel Watou in the fridge.

In the meantime, here’s to you, La Espiga. I put this up in the hope that another beer lover who winds up in the area will google “beer + Burgos” or perhaps even “cerveza + Burgos” and will discover you too.


  1. Cerveceria La Espiga is on Calle de San Juan, right in the middle of town. Cibercafe is on Calle del Pueblo (?) which meets Calle de San Juan at a big arch.
  2. Burgos is about 2.5 hours from the French border and 3.5 hours from Madrid on the train.
  3. French keyboards are the most annoying in the world. All the letters are arse about face. It has taken me an hour to type this.

Boak (homeward bound…)

What are pubs for?

Why do people even bother going to the pub? Or, to put that another way, what does the pub have that you can’t get at home?

One obvious answer is: other people. You might be sat in the corner on your own reading the paper, but you want there to be other people around. Empty pubs are depressing places.

Another possible answer is: proper beer. For some people, that means cask-conditioned beer. For quite a few other people, it just means anything fresh tasting off a pump, hence the push to sell those little kegs for drinking at home which will supposedly replicate the experience.

For me, though, the reason the pub is special is because it’s like home, but not home. Your local pub should feel as comfortable as your front room but, unlike your front room, there should be the buzz of conversation, decent beer and, most importantly, four walls to stare at that aren’t your own four walls.