Mainz Pt 1 — Eisgrub

We’re still struggling to get internet access but here, from the cosy Wi-Fi enabled Cafe New York in Bamberg, are a couple of quick posts.

Mainz is not a beer destination, but we knew that before we came. It does have loads of great pubs in the Altstadt, but they’re pretty much all focussed on the local wine. But if there’s more to your life than beer, then Mainz is a nice place to base yourself to explore Rhineland villages etc (though Koblenz is probably more cutesy).

The beer is mostly mass-produced nationals: Radeburger, Bitburger etc, and Binding from Frankfurt (rather dull, we thought).

Eisgrubbrau, a brewpub on Weissliliengasse near the Altstadt, is therefore the beer geek’s first port of call. It’s a very cosy place, with lots of little rooms. The food’s good, and the beer is pretty good for a modern brewpub. They do a dunkles-pils, which has a chewy stout-like body, roasted malt and toffee flavours, with some sour notes too. We preferred the Helles-Maerzen, which was very malty and ale like. Toffee, seeds and cereals.

Mainz Pt 2. — a Bridge too Far

We were tipped off the existence of a second, out-of-the-way brewpub in Mainz by this website.

Brauhaus Castel is in Mainz-Kastel, on the other side of the Rhine and technically in another state (Hesse, rather than Rhineland-Pfalz). We walked, enjoying the beautiful sunset over a river full of huge cargo barges, and the sound of Greece vs Russia on the air from the open air screens by the river.

It took a while, once we’d detoured around the, erm, ‘grey’ bit on the map.

If you take on this trek yourself, head for the middle stretch of the Otto-Suhr Ring where it meets Boelckestrasse and turn right past KFC, the Beate Uhse out-of-town erotic superstore and some open country, and you’ll find the pub nestled in a quiet corner off the main road.

It’s got a great atmosphere. Perhaps a bit kitsch inside, but with some nice trellises and plants outside that create a far more Arcadian feel than the industrial-estate surroundings might suggest.

The beer? Not so good, to be frank. The dunkel reminded us of our homebrew (not always a good thing) and had too much crystal malt. The EM Special (a European Championship seasonal) was a bit sweet, boasting “light hopping” on the menu. The wheat beer was the best of the bunch, with lots of banana aromas and a nice punch of bitterness.

We can’t, in all honesty, recommend trekking out here, but if you’re stuck in Mainz for any length of time, or are just an incorrigible ticker, it’s worth a visit.

Our top tip: the much more convenient and just as idyllic beer garden in the grounds of the Roman museum by the river (on Grosse Bleiche), where we very much enjoyed the Erbacher Pils. It looks like another dull regional lager, but knocked our socks off with a lot of bitterness and tons of what might almost have been Goldings aroma. We were surrounded by grand, red baroque buildings and serenaded by a scarily proficient youth orchestra. And, what’s more, a proportion of our spend went to maintaining the museum.

First encounters with Belgian beer and the Dove revisited

Boon beer at the Dove pub, hackneyRon’s been posting a fair few reminiscences recently, including a couple of posts on first encountering Belgian beer – here, and here.

My first encounters were not so cool. Around about the turn of the century, when Leffe and Hoegaarden were beginning to appear in trendy London pubs, a mate suggested going to the Dove, Hackney for her birthday.

Having got a bus to the really rough bit of Hackney, and walked underneath some dodgy railway arches to get there, I was already in a bad mood that she hadn’t suggested somewhere closer to home. I got even grumpier when I saw what was on offer – weird foreign stuff at MORE THAN £4 A PINT!!! The barstaff did try to explain some rubbish about how in Belgium you drank it from nice small glasses, but I wasn’t having any of it. And it tasted weird.

I can’t remember exactly what I drank – I think I had a fruit beer (don’t people always when they’re faced with a Belgian beer menu for the first time?) and a Delirium Tremens, because the elephants were cool. We moaned to my friend for having brought us there for quite some time afterwards.

I’m always sceptical about people who claim they’ve always been into cool stuff. I’m happy to admit to being a philistine. And I think my experience is illustrative of the difficulties that Belgian beer faces in gaining acceptance in the UK, particularly the insistence on the pint as the only measure that makes sense.

Anyway, I went back to the Dove a year or so later, when I was a bit more open to it (i.e. had a job and could afford it). I picked beers with odd names (Slag Pils! Mort Subite!) and funny beer glasses (Kwak pipes aplenty), and enjoyed the food. It became a bit of a treat. Then it became the victim of its own success, and the last time I went there before today I remember the service being dreadful, the food so-so, the beer a bit off and the whole place full of smoke and screeching media types.

Then, having watched “In Bruges” earlier this week (we liked it) we got a bit of craving for Belgian beers in “gay glasses” (to paraphrase the film) and decided it was time for a return.

We’ve learnt from past experience that places in London can go from being great to lousy to great again — the power of the internet, perhaps, as bar managers respond to comments on review websites and blogs? At any rate, the Dove was in top form today – superb food, and a great selection of Belgian beers on tap and in bottles. They also had six or so British ales on, included Oregon Best from Crouch Vale, a delicious homage to American pale ales.

The staff look like they’re all in trendy bands, but manage to hold it together long enough to carefully serve your beer in the right glasses.

It’s a very cosy spot, full of nooks and crannies and reminiscent of a pub in Ghent we went to. With the smoking ban in place, it’s an extremely pleasant place to spend a gloomy afternoon and gently souse one’s liver. Highly recommended.

We may blog more about some of the bonkers Belgian brews we had, including one that tasted like Heinz spaghetti…

Boak

Here’s a map to the Dove.

Green beer – good gimmick?

Green beer by Stringberd at FlickrNo, I’m not talking about environmental issues for once. During the recent spell of hot weather, I ended up in Dogget’s Coat and Badge, by Blackfriars bridge. With around a fifteen minute wait to get to the bar, I told my friend to get me the first ale she could see.

She came back with Sign of Spring, by Stonehenge Ales. It was very green.

I’ve had green beers before, most notably Berliner Kindl-Weiss mit schuss, and something Polish with some additive in it. I expect green beers to taste of something other than beer, so it was quite confusing to my senses to realise that this beer was just a normal, rather pleasant, ale. Trouble is, I was so focused on it not tasting green that I can’t really remember what it did taste like.

The advantage of colouring your beer green is that it attracts attention – at least two people asked me what I was drinking, and a few more were staring at it. So perhaps it’s a shrewd marketing gimmick. On the other hand, as with silly names, any kind of gimmick with beer automatically makes me think the beer itself won’t be any good. For example, Andreea reviewed a green beer on her blog recently, where the only point of interest seemed to be its colour.

So is it a good gimmick? If I’d known the beer was green, I probably wouldn’t have ordered it. Then again, at least I remembered it.

Boak

Dogget’s Coat and Badge is right next to Blackfriars bridge and has fabulous river views. I’d always assumed it would be awful, for some reason, probably to do with the queues, but actually, it’s pretty decent. They had at least three real ales on (not your usual suspects either), and Fruli on tap. It’s made me decide to (re)visit all these riverside pubs that I’d written off in the past.

Stonehenge Ales seem like a very interesting lot. I’ve had their Danish Dynamite before and thought it was lovely, although I can’t remember many details about it. (Pale and hoppy?) Unfortunately, their website appears to be malfunctioning at the moment, so I haven’t included a link, but you can read Adrian Tierney-Jones on Stonehenge and other small West Country breweries here. UPDATE: they’ve fixed the site, which you can find here.

Photo courtesy of Stringberd at Flickr, under a Creative Commons license.

German beer festival at Zeitgeist

What better use of a day’s holiday than to pretend you’re in Germany? And how much easier when someone has gone and laid on a German beer festival for you, complete with many beers dispensed Franconian-style out of little wooden barrels.

This excellent little festival was brought to us by Zeitgeist, a great German pub in Vauxhall, Stonch’s beer blog, and Bier-Mania, who organise beer trips to Belgium, Germany and beyond.

This won’t be a detailed review, as we drank too much to remember many details — as did everyone else, by the sound of it … there are now no more festival beers left.

We remember a large range of beer from the Bolten-Brauerei from outside Duesseldorf, with their Alt being particularly nice. Hofmann Export Dunkel Lagerbier was a great example of the complexity that Franconian Dunkels can deliver. Our stand-out favourite was a Dunkel-Rauch by SternBrau-Scheubel which had a gorgeous Maerzen-like malt flavour and amber colour, with a hefty hoppiness and a subtle but complex smoke taste.

We thought the mix of people and the atmosphere was great – some tickers, some trendies, some locals, but everyone getting into it. It was the kind of place you could bring non-beer geeks to (we did) without worrying about whether they’d have a good time.

Also, the excellent range of Brotzeit really helped line the stomach – Obatzda is an acquired taste, but I love the stuff, and they make it well here.

This was easily one of my favourite festivals of all time. Do it again, chaps!

Boak

For another perspective, see Allyson’s write-up on her Impy Malting blog.

Ron Pattinson blogged about Hofmann here.