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.

Notes

  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.

Fuller’s London Porter

london_porter_straight.jpgFollowing a tip-off from Stonch’s blog, I convinced some colleagues that, if we must go for an after work drink on a Tuesday night, we should do it at a Fuller’s pub, so I could try cask-conditioned London Porter.

It’s one of our very favourite beers — there’s a very short list of about four beers that both Boak and I agree are bang on — but I’d never had it on tap.

As is often the case, it was a very different beer than the bottled version. It had a lighter body for one thing and possibly also a lighter colour (transparent red). Unlike the bottled version, it maintained a lovely head all the way down. It was incredibly fruity, with a little less of the sourness or coffee flavour I’m used to from the bottle.

I probably ever so slightly prefer the bottled version, but nonetheless, it would be nice if this stayed on tap in Fuller’s pubs all year round. As it is, they often have both Honey Dew and Discovery, which are similar-tasting light, lagery ales, and HSB and London Pride, which are similar tasting brown bitters, and nothing like a dark mild/stout/porter except Guinness.

In fact, all pubs should make it their business to have one lightish beer, one brown beer, and one black beer. Then there would always be something to suit my mood.

Secret Bars of Westminster

largeblm.gifI recently spent a night in a bar in Central London where you can always get a seat, which always has at least three real ales on tap (one of which is always a mild) and where a round of two drinks costs much less than a fiver. Sadly, it’s not somewhere I can recommend to everybody — it was one of the several members-only Civil Service social clubs hidden around Westminster.

These are some of the few surviving working men’s clubs in London, and that is exactly what this one felt like. I was reminded of Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights; of the railwaymen’s club my Mum and Dad joined a few years ago because the beer was a pound a pint; and perhaps a little of the club that Mr Mackay opens in the basement of HM Prison Slade in Porridge the Movie. In other words, it was rough around the edges, and maybe a little bleak, despite being a stone’s throw from both Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. But, for all that, the beer was half the price it is in the Rake, and just as good.

I drank Crouch Vale Blackwater Mild, which was in perfect condition, delicious, and reminded me of Anchor Porter (more hop aroma than is usual in a mild, perhaps?). But is it named after the sinister American “security” company…? They also had Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, and a couple of other beers whose names I didn’t write down.

If you know any civil servants, ask them if they can get you into their “social”. You’ll either love it or hate it, but either way it will be an experience.

Jukebox 1982

theetonrifles.jpg

This month, the Session is hosted by The Lost Abbey Brewery, and theme is music and beer

When I was little, my parents ran a pub. It was called the Artillery Inn and was a slightly grotty, failing Whitbread pub in Exeter. When I was four years old I used to help with the stocktake so I have vivid memories of counting bottles of pale ale in crates in the cellar.

Failing it might have been but that didn’t stop my folks from trying hard at it, working every hour the license would allow, organising bands, social nights, barbecues, pantomimes, darts tournaments — anything to liven the place up.

But the one thing that really helped give the place some atmosphere was the jukebox.

My Dad, being obsessed with music, put a lot of effort into stocking it. It must have been one of the last to play 7″ vinyl singles. I remember watching it pick out a record from the huge stack, swing it into place and drop a needle onto it. The noise was great, incredibly loud and mechanical. There would be a few moments of amplified crackling and popping before the music kicked in.

Particular songs spring to mind: Eton Rifles by the Jam; Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant; I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me by Nik Kershaw; Michael Caine by Madness. Those were there because they were in the charts, but Dad wouldn’t have a song in the box he didn’t kind of like. After all, standing behind the bar, he’d have to listen to it over and over again.

Then there were his own records — songs from the sixties and seventies. Lola by the Kinks must have been in there. His copy certainly has the middle punched out, like so many others in his collection.

I think a pub should have a jukebox. I know there’s a “no music” lobby, but I just don’t get it. Is the idea that loud music will somehow interfere with your tastebuds?

Well, frankly, I find silence interferes with my mood.

Bailey