More good pubs opening than closing

walthamstowabstract

It turns out we’ve now got four pubs serving decent and interesting beer within a ten minute walk of our house. We’re spoiled.

The Old Rose and Crown on Hoe Street in Walthamstow, in east London, used to be a cool but down-at-heel pub with rotten beer. It was taken over by new management a year or more ago and the decor improved. Sadly, the beer didn’t.

They’ve obviously been working hard since, though, and this year have deservedly made it into the Good Beer Guide. Having decided to give them another go, in the last couple of weeks we’ve enjoyed fantastic pints of Hopback Crop Circle and Edwin Taylor Extra Stout (a great beer, full of flavours of bitter chocolate and smoke).

With the Nags Head, the William IV, the Village and now the Rose and Crown, we can say without any irony that Walthamstow is worth 20 minutes on the tube and an hour or two of your time if you’re at a loose end in London.

Even our local off-licence is worth a look — it’s now a Spar franchise, but the beer’s got even better, with all the old stock plus Sambrook’s, Brodie’s and a few other breweries we’ve never come across before.

Pembrokeshire – great place for walking and drinking

The Griffin Inn, Dale, Pembrokeshire, Wales

The Pembrokeshire coast path, in South Wales, features 186 miles of gorgeous cliffs, hidden bays — and the occasional wonderful pub. I don’t mean that there are lots of pubs and only some of them are wonderful — more that pubs are spaced quite far apart in this part of the world, possibly something to do with widespread Nonconformism and therefore teetotalism. There are exceptions, for example Little Haven has three pubs, and I’ve already written about Solva. They must have been very sinful places. Continue reading “Pembrokeshire – great place for walking and drinking”

Drinking in Heidelberg

Anyone who tells you that Britain has some kind of monopoly on binge drinking and rowdiness obviously hasn’t been to this borderline twee university city. Perhaps it was the football, or maybe the warm weather, but the local youths were certainly full of beans as they barreled around the old town knocking back tequila and chanting:

“Jawohl, jawohl – ich liebe alcohol!”

Which is not to say that it was remotely threatening. Rather charming, in fact. They were probably singing the same song at the university of Heidelberg in the 19th century. At least these days they don’t cap a session in the pub by dueling and scarring each others faces.

We spent a couple of lunchtimes in local brewpubs which, again, we found through this website.

Vetters is the best pub in terms of atmosphere and we were impressed by their relatively adventurous approach. Their seasonal special, “Heidelberg Frisch” is a Koelsch-style “obergaeriges” beer served in 200ml stick glasses – something we’ve never seen outside Cologne before. They also offer a ludicrously strong barley-wine type beer, Vetters 33. This has an original gravity of 33%, pours black with a brown/yellow head (saffron!?) and tastes mostly of treacle cut with vodka. Not that nice, in itself, but a refreshing change from the endless premium pilsners…

Scheffel’s Kulturbrauerei is a bit snooty inside, though it has a nice garden, where we took this picture. Their range includes a remarkably good kellerbier which, once again, reminded us of an Alt, or perhaps of a Belgian special. It was amber coloured, bitter and with a lot of orange flavours. The krauzenbier was good, too – very light, almost Hoegaarden like, with grapefruit and lemon flavours. We thought it might be missing a bit of malt flavour, though.

There are plenty of other pubs in Heidelberg – Unterer Strasse (parallel to Hauptstrasse and the Neckar river, up near the Marktplatz) is a good place to start, with a range of places from young and trendy to old and trad. There’s a place where you can get a range of Hoepfner brews, although unfortunately not their porter.

Notes

Vetter im Schoeneck is on Steingasse, just off the Marktplatz leading down to the Neckar. Kulturbrauerei is on Leyergasse, parallel to Steingasse about four streets east. Both are handily listed in the Lonely Planet guide to Germany.

York — a great city for beer

york_brewery.jpgIf you like beer, York is a great place to spend a few days. And that doesn’t just apply to fans of real ale.

From our experience, you can’t go too far wrong following your instincts in York — if it looks a friendly pub, it probably is — but here are some pubs we tried and liked.

Continue reading “York — a great city for beer”

I wish I was in Cologne

cologne1.jpgIt’s Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Day). I love pancakes, don’t get me wrong. But isn’t Shrove Tuesday in Britain a pretty tame celebration, compared to the multi-day benders that go on in many parts of the world?

The Rhineland goes in for carnivals in a big way. Whilst we were in Duesseldorf a few weeks back, we saw plenty of posters advertising the big events to come. The Cologne carnival is even more famous.

I wish I was in Cologne, drinking koelsch tonight.

And that reminds me — we haven’t posted our postscript to our trip to Duesseldorf — a brief round up of a couple more cheeky koelsches downed between train connections.

On the way out, it was a visit to the Gaffel brewery tap in the Alter Markt. Gaffel’s pleasant enough, particularly when it’s the first beer of the trip. However, more exciting was the fact that we saw the very waiter from the photo that illustrates the “Cologne and the Northwest” section of the Eyewitness Guide to beer.

On the way back, we thought we’d pop into the famous Frueh am Dom, which had always looked too touristy/busy to visit on previous trips. It being a wet Monday afternoon in January, there was plenty of room, even with all the businessmen and their suitcases, awaiting their train connections. It’s a nice place. The brew itself is a very clean, crisp koelsch, very refreshing but not one of the more interesting ones (in our humble opinions).

Highlight this time round was Peter’s Koelsch, from their outlet in the old town. We seemed to have missed this on our first crawl round Cologne. You can definitely taste the ale in this one — fruity and almost sulphurous. We liked it.

Notes

A map containing all of the places mentioned here and in our previous post can be found on Ron Pattinson’s European Beer Guide, here, which also has stacks of other interesting information. You can also follow this link for Ron Pattinson’s various koelsch crawls, all entertaining reads.

Boak

Nice place (singular) to drink near Paddington Station

On my way down to the West Country last night, I ended up stuck at Paddington Station for a few hours. London stations are generally horrid, and pubs in London stations are both horrid and depressing. The Mad Bishop and Bear at Paddington made a refreshing change in that it was actually pretty good.

Not just “good for a station”, but better than a lot of other ordinary pubs in London. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to spend a long Sunday lunchtime — the noise and smoke from the station are annoying, and the music is too loud — but it’s fairly big and comfortable, unlike the usual cupboard with three chairs (viz. the Mash Tun at Victoria, if that’s its name).

Perhaps part of the reason why it’s a cut above is that it’s a Fuller’s pub, with the full range of their beers, all in tip-top condition. Like Maieb says, the stuff in bottles looked a bit cold, but the stuff from the cask was great. I had a very pleasant pint of Seafarer (“fake” Gales, 3.8% — malty, dark, and very different to Chiswick, Fuller’s other session bitter) but was excited to see St Austell Tribute on the pumps too, and Brooklyn Lager in the fridge.

Perhaps most importantly, though, there is an enormous departures and arrivals board hanging over the door, so rather than join the scrum on the concourse, I could just sup my pint and wait until the last possible moment to board the train. Lovely.

I say “fake” Gales because the brewery doesn’t exist anymore, and Gales never brewed this particular beer when it did exist. Odd.

Nice places to drink in Westminster, London

There are no nice places to drink in Westminster.

Joking aside, Westminster is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Britain, so most of the visible pubs are tourist traps selling “traditional fish and chips”. But there are a few gems, mostly full of gossiping civil servants and political types.

1. The Sanctuary, 33 Tothill Street — that old reliable, a Fuller’s pub. It gets heavingly busy between 5-7 most nights, but the beer’s always good.

2. The Buckingham Arms, Petty France and The Royal Oak, Regency Street — two cosy (small) Young’s pubs. As with all Young’s pubs, the range isn’t quite what it used to be in either pub, but there’s still enough variety to have something different on every round.

3. The White Horse and Bower, Horseferry Road — a Shepherd Neame pub which has always been good, but horribly smoke-filled. That shouldn’t now be a problem. A range of SN beers on tap, including the seasonal special, and a few more in bottles. The last few times we’ve been, the bar manager has been a very cheerful chap who will wax enthusiastic on the beer, if given the chance.

4. St Stephen’s Tavern, Bridge Road (Westminster Bridge approach on the Parliament side) — the beer’s usually a bit rough, to be honest, but it’s one of the two Hall & Woodhouse (Badger) pubs in London, and very “historical”. It’s the one with the bell that rings when it’s time for MPs to get over the House of Commons to vote. Great Victorian interior, too.

5. Westminster Arms, Storey’s Gate — a pub which has cleverly sub-divided into a hole for civil servants to drink real ale in, and an upstairs to fleece tourists. There are usually two or three guest ales on, all well kept, and not the usual suspects. Don’t expect a seat; do expect to see lots of famous politicians walking past the window.

Updated

6. The Speaker, Great Peter Street – probably the best place for real ale if you like variety. It’s the traditional haunt of old-school civil servants with a fondness for liquid lunches, and the windows are full of passive-aggressive signs (”This is a real pub! We don’t have music…” and so on). But for all that, it’s rather charming, with surprisingly friendly staff, and a deep commitment to serving a variety of interesting real ales from around the country.

7. The Old Monk Exchange, 61-71Victoria Street. It’s a bit of a hole in the ground, and can be very busy, but it’s got a large range of foreign lagers and other bottled beers — fruit beers, wheat beers, that kind of thing. They also seem to be improving on the real ale front. We didn’t used to like it much at all, but it’s growing on us.

Here’s a another post about it.

See also our guide to places to drink in Victoria — it’s only a short walk from Westminster to, say, the Cardinal (Sam Smith’s pub near Westminster Cathedral)

Link to Google map showing all of the above, including the Cardinal.

Nice places to drink in Nuremberg, Franconia, Germany

Franconia has only been part of Bavaria since the early 19th Century, and apparently “many of its people do not consider themselves fully ‘Bavarian’ “. Well, that’s the kind of guff Lonely Planet comes out with, but I would say that there is a different type of beer culture here than further down south.

If Upper Bavaria (Munich et al) is about swigging litres in beer gardens, Franconia is more about savouring individual and local styles. It’s estimated that there are around 200 breweries and thousand beers in “Upper Franconia” alone, and you see styles here that you don’t see elsewhere (such as “Rauchbier” (or “smoke beer”)). It’s home to famous brewing towns such as Bamberg, Kulmbach and Bayreuth. Furthermore, people seem genuinely interested in their beer here, and proud of the varieties. Unlike other parts of Germany, where you get strange looks if you ask for a different drink on the second round…

Nuremberg

Nuremberg is the capital of Franconia, and a very interesting and beautiful city to visit even if you’re not a beer lover. It’s also very well connected, with high speed links across Germany and excellent local connections to the smallest villages, making it an excellent place to base yourself for a beer holiday.

Nuremberg has two brewpubs, the Altstadthof and Bar Fuesser (see below), and is also home to Landbierparadies, a chain of five pubs (and one large off-licence) selling beer from small breweries in Franconia. We featured them in an article on this blog last month.

Recommended pubs

This is not a comprehensive guide! I have a feeling most of the best places to drink are probably outside the centre, but Nuremberg is a big old place, and this is just intended to be a starting point.

From Nuremberg station, it’s only a short hop to Kloster Andechs “Das Wirthaus”, in the groundfloor of the Hotel Deutscher Kaiser. This does the full range of Andechs, one of Germany’s most famous monastery brewing corporations. They even do a tasting platter (which takes them a while to put together).

About five minutes further up Koenigstrasse, you get to Barfuesser, a cavernous “Hausbrauerei” and restaurant. They brew two tasty refreshing beers (a dark and a light), which you can see fermenting from certain parts of the beer hall. The food’s pretty good too.

Top of our recommendations has got to be the Altstadthof, in the middle of the old town (up the hill near the castle). This is a cosy brewpub where, on a cold January day, we really fell in love with beer. They brew a Helles, a Schwarzbier, and most special of all, a “Rothbier” (which they translate as “Red beer”).

altstadthof beer mat

I’m intrigued by how they manage to brew beers which taste so different from anything else, yet are absolutely delicious (and still in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot!). The red beer has a strong aroma of toffee apples, but is also very bitter for a German beer, and possibly slightly sour. It’s not very carbonated (like a lot of beers in this part of the world). It’s incredibly refreshing and more-ish.

It was also pleasing to see (during one of our many afternoon sessions there) the number of locals coming in to buy beer to takeaway. You can go on a brewery tour and even watch a play in the small theatre attached. There’s also a distillery where they make several different types of schnapps.

The closest Landbierparadies outlet to the centre is probably the one on Rothenburger Strasse. It has one draft “landbier” on tap and around 30 in bottles. See our earlier blog for more on Landbierparadies. If you’re hunting for souvenirs, their shop on Galganhofstrasse (about 10-15 minutes walk south of the main station) is an excellent place not just for local beers but also for original stone mugs and glasses at very reasonable (i.e. not touristy!) prices.

Other areas for pubs etc

The area around St Sebaldus church (between the Hauptmarkt and the castle) is a great place for wandering. The pubs can be quite touristy, but it’s a great place for food (particularly Nuremberg sausages). For something different, there’s a trendy cafe attached to some kind of arts centre, near the Rathaus, which has several varieties from the organic Neumarkt Lammsbrau brewery. Unfortunately, we can’t remember the name of the cafe or the street…

There’s also a good area for pubs to the east of Konigstrasse – lots of small bars with beer from local breweries such as St Georgen and Kuchlbauer.

Notes & further links
1. Link to GoogleMap with the above places marked and full addresses.

2. The Franconia Beer Guide is a comprehensive database of the 300 or so breweries in Franconia; it also contains news, articles and a downloadable tour guide. You can upload details of your own beer trips or read other people’s. Very useful.

3. Deutsche Bahn website is very easy to use for looking up train times and even booking fares. If you want to get to Nuremberg by train from the UK, you can get Eurostar to Brussels, and then use this site to get a ticket from Brussels to Nuremberg via Cologne. If you get the connections right, you could get from London to Nuremberg in around 9 hours.

If you are travelling around Franconia, then the “Bayern ticket” is an excellent deal. For 27 Euros, up to 5 people can travel between 9am and 3am the following morning on any local trains. Read here for more.

4. There’s more information about types of beer in Bamburg and Franconia here, written by John Conen, author of CAMRA’s “Bamberf and Franconia: Germany’s Brewing Heartland”.

5. Here’s another page listing Nuremberg pubs.

Nice pubs near stations #1: Victoria Station, London

UPDATE APRIL 2012: These days, if you’re at Victoria, you’re fifteen minutes’ walk from Cask, arguably London’s best pub.

I thought it would be good to start collecting information about nice pubs near stations. There’s nothing more frustrating than having an hour to kill at a station and no idea where to head for a decent brew, so I hope this is of some use.

First up, Victoria Station, London. If you only have 20 minutes or so, your best choice is probably the Wetherspoons in the station itself. Head outside the station and it doesn’t look particularly hopeful. However, there are some excellent pubs in the vicinity, if you know where to look.

5 minutes walk away
This will get you as far as the Jugged Hare on Vauxhall Bridge Road, an excellent Fullers Ale and Pie House. Alternatively, you could head for the Cardinal, a Sam Smiths pub near Westminster Cathedral, but it’s only five minutes if you know exactly where you’re going…

10 minutes walk away
The Horse and Groom is a charming Shepherd’s Neame pub tucked away in a Belgravia Mews. Listen to the locals discuss the price of diamonds.

15 minutes walk away
Head down Buckingham Palace Rd (away from the Palace) and eventually you get to the Rising Sun, a Young’s pub on Ebury Bridge Rd. Last time I went, they did tasty cheap pizza as well as most of the Young’s range.

Alternatively, head into deepest Belgravia for the Star Tavern. This is a great Fullers pub with a decent menu, hidden behind the Austrian embassy.

Google Map link to all these pubs.

Boak

Nice places to drink in Regensburg, East Bavaria

Kneitinger Bock

Regensburg is one of my favourite cities. It’s beautiful (a medieval bridge and town centre spanning the Danube) with an oddly “Latin” feel. Apparently it’s known as “the northernmost city of Italy”, which could be because of the mild climate, the Italian-style architecture, or perhaps the hundreds of Italian restaurants and ice-cream cafes.

One thing that is resolutely German, however, is the availability of fantastic beer. There are three breweries in town – Spital, Bishofshof and Kneitinger – plus lots of local producers with outlets in town. There are hundreds, if not thousands of places to drink, so these suggestions are not supposed to be exhaustive – just enough for a taster. See link below for a Google map of the area.

Spitalgarten

A large beer garden on one of Regensburg’s islands, serving, unsurprisingly, Spitalbrau. Helles and Weizen very nice, but the pils is outstanding – very distinct hop flavour and aroma, which distinguishes it from other beers of this style.

There’s another beer garden, “Alte Linde”, slightly closer to the town centre, which all the guidebooks rate. They serve Kneitinger.

Kneitinger

The brewery and pub are connected; the pub itself has several sections, from a rough and ready beer hall to a more upmarket restaurant area. It’s an interesting building – presumably it was once a stable or something similar, as the floor of the “beer hall” bit is cobbles. Kneitinger do an Edelpils, a Dunkel, and a Bock.

The Bock is something special – it’s dark, rich and chocolatey, and they’re justifiably proud of it. It’s featured in Michael “The Beerhunter” Jackson’s Great Beer Guide. Amazon link

Bishofshof

You can drink Bishofshof within the Bishofshof (Bishop’s Palace) itself. We also found a lovely quiet beer garden just round the corner from Kneitinger which had the full Bischofshof range together with Weltenberger Klosterbrau (the two breweries are related, though I don’t know who owns who). Weltenberger Barock-Dunkel and Dunkle-Weiss both make it into Michael Jackson’s 500.

Fuerstliches Brauhaus

This seems to be a spin-off from Thurn und Taxis, a brewery which used to be based in Regensburg. They brew their own on the premises and also stock the full T&T range. Nice airey beer hall, with a picturesque beer garden set in the T&T castle grounds.

Zum Augustiner

A beer hall and garden stocking Thurn & Taxis.

Links

Google Map of Regensburg with these pubs marked

Spital, including cheesy picture from Spital beer garden – check out the virtual brewery tour!

Kneitinger (in German)

Bischofshof (in German)

Weltenburger Kloster (in German)

 

Wikitravel – Regensburg

Boak