Dos brewpubs en Madrid

[I wrote about these brewpubs back in November 2007]

Creo que Madrid tiene algunas de las mejores galerías de arte en el mundo y algunos de los mejores bares también. Pues, al menos si hablamos sobre el ambiente – ¡ojalá que la cerveza fuera tan buena que la atmosfera!

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Searching for a good dark lager

Dark lager: wonderful idea. When done well, you get the refreshing crisp qualities of lager but with much more going on in the nose and mouth. Simutaneously restorative and stimulating.

But when it’s done badly, it’s either indistinguishable from the pale stuff if you close your eyes, or worse, a sweeter version thereof. We had many disappointing dark lagers in Germany. Not so much in Franconia, where they’re not afraid of a bit of character in their brews, but certainly outside.

We decided to escape from the “eurowhiff” and have a tasting session at home of some dark lagers we’d picked up at Utobeer. And by dark lager here, we’re not talking about a strictly defined style, but rather anything that’s a lager and is dark.

Bohemia Regent Dark4.4%

One of the more commonly available Czech dark lagers (i.e. I’ve seen it in at least two places…)

This reminded me of a Franconian beer – refreshing, incredibly gulpable, but with interesting flavours to analyse. It has a good long aroma of treacle, which makes you think the beer’s going to be overpoweringly sweet, but it’s not. You get a soft burnt caramel flavour, with the hops adding subtle spiciness, although not much bitterness. It leaves a light roasted malt flavour on the tongue.

The Bohemia Regent site is here.

Hirter Morchl, 5%

This is from Austria, and that’s about all we’ve been able to work out from their website. It’s a similar dark red colour to the Regent, with a lovely toasty aroma with hints of smoke. It’s not particularly fizzy, giving it a richer, fuller body. It’s slightly on the sweet side, and gets sweeter as it warms up, becoming rather cola-like. Can’t really taste much hops.

Budvar dark, 4.7%
Well, it looks great, with a towering frothy head. Mildly smoky. It doesn’t have the same pronounced malty flavour as the others we tried today, but it’s got interesting sour notes, like a good stout, and very discernible, almost raw, hops.

We’d happily drink all of these, but we didn’t think any of these were as good as the Bernard dark beer we had in York last month. That was lovely stuff, with a full body and coffee bitterness, and yet incredibly drinkable. An exotic mild…?

What are your dark lager recommendations?

Bigfoot Barley Wine in Oddbins

UK wine sellers Oddbins, with branches all over the country, are now selling Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley Wine and Early Spring Beer. They’ve always had a passable beer selection, but this is really good stuff. Let’s hope they ditch one or two of the rubbish Euro-lagers soon and replace them with more interesting beers along these lines.

I think you'll find…

When keen, knowledgeable bar staff cross the line and start correcting people, this is what happens.

INTERIOR, LONDON REAL ALE PUB, DAY.

An innocent looking PUNTER approaches the bar and peers over at the fridges where the bottled beers are stored. After a few moments a bearded semi-goth BARMAN (resembling Dawn of the Dead make-up artist and actor TOM SAVINI) approaches. Throughout the following, he does not blink.

BARMAN

Are you waiting?

PUNTER

Ah, yes. Erm… a couple of weeks ago I came in and you had Weihenstephan Old Bavarian or Old Munich or…

An un-Earthly gleam comes into the BARMAN’s eye. He interrupts.

BARMAN (gleeful but blunt)

Ah! Now, I think you’ll find you’re confusing two completely different beers, namely the Erdinger Dunkelweiss and the Augustiner Edelstoff. We’ve never had the Weihenstephaner dunkel weiss.

PUNTER

Well, I’m not sure I am confused. It was definitely by Weihenstephan. It had a sort of brownish red label. And it was a dark lager, rather than a dark wheat beer…

BARMAN (abruptly)

There is no such beer! We’re out of all of our dunkel weisses, including the Weheinstephaner.

There is an awkward silence. The BARMAN switches into lecture mode.

Perhaps you’d like something called Rrrrraushbier? It’s smoky tasting because the producers use…

PUNTER

It’s fine, thanks. I think I’ll go.

The bewildered PUNTER leaves shaking his head.

The moral of this story? Try not to use the phrase “I think you’ll find…” at the start of a sentence. Exactly like the words “I’m not racist but…”, it will mark you out as a buffoon.

North Nineteen

n19.jpgThe London Drinker really is invaluable for keeping tabs on the comings and goings of London pubs. The editorial is, of course, interesting, but in the current issue, it was an advertisement that caught our eye.

The landlord of North Nineteen, a recently refurbished pub off the Upper Holloway Road in North London, included this refreshingly friendly line in his advertisement for a “mini beer festival”:

We are looking for ale lovers not just for the event but also to become regulars as we always have good well kept real ales on draught. Real ale and the British pub are national treasures, so we are doing our bit to keep this fantastic British tradition going.

On top of that, a warm review in Time Out gave us the nudge we needed to brave a barely functioning public transport network and give it a go.

First impressions: they are trying very hard, and partially succeeding. The beer was, as promised, on good form, and there was interesting selection including two from Wooden Hand. Black Pearl was a very tasty porter/stout — one to look out for.

In terms of atmosphere, there’s a little work to do. Wooden floors and white walls, contrived to send out come hither signals to North London middle classes, actually make the place a bit cold and echoing, but that will change as the place gets busier. That’s certainly what happened at the Pembury. One of the two bars was already crammed with people enjoying live music from three bands, which bodes well for the pub’s survival.

The biggest asset, though, is likely to be the energy and commitment of the owners. The landlord was very much the host, readily dishing out the hellos, goodbyes and welcomes. He also got out from behind the bar to, as they say in the modern vernacular, “work the room”, which really helped to make us and others feel at home.

In short, we like this place, and we want it to do well, even if it’s not quite there yet. If you’re in the area, do pop in for a pint.

Picture from the pub’s rather swanky website.