Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Apostolic beer

I'm always on the look-out for the ultimate bevvying vessel. When you run a bar it pays to have your own personal mug. That way you won't get your own pish mixed up with the riff-raff's, and can keep it cold when the duties of bartending unexpectedly cause a hiatus in the proper business of boozing. Also noone can tell whether you're drinking a beer or a massive gin and tonic.

This example at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge is perhaps my favourite yet. Dating from the late 17th century and originating from near Bayreuth in Franconia, it features all Twelve Apostles and a merchant's monogram ("HB"). Delightful.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Two Copenhagen brewpubs (incorporating Beer of the Week #15)

This week I visited Copenhagen for the first time. I was a guest of Carlsberg, invited to a very special event and dinner at their old brewery complex. More on that later in the week (they spent a fair whack entertaining me, the least I can do is give the whole thing a write-up).

Whilst in the Danish capital I visited two brewpubs, consecutively, on Tuesday afternoon. Let's go.

A freshly poured "Lazarite IPA" at Warpigs, Copenhegan
A joint venture between world famous Danish gypsy brewer Mikkeler and Three Floyds of Indiana, USA, Warpigs is as hip as can be. It's housed in long, thin premises in a former wholesale unit in the meat packing district.

It had friendly American-accented staff, very agreeable American music and American barbecue food. I didn't eat, but it smelled delightful, and the chefs looked very industrious in the open kitchen, despite there being only three or four takers at 1pm.

I hadn't had a bev in three days, so the first beer didn't touch the sides. Both of the house-brewed IPAs I tried were tasty, but came with barely any head at all, served in squat tumblers at a high price even by Scandi standards (about £7 for 40cl).

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my visit. Warpigs is undeniably likeable: a warm welcome from genuinely enthusiastic staff goes a long way.

Sadly, as in many of the trendier brewery taprooms in London, what you're presented with as a beer just isn't good enough for those of us who aren't new to this lark.

A perfect strong stout at BrewPub København
Situated at lower ground floor level on a street of tall, distinctly belle epoque architecture, BrewPub København was less American Midwest and more Mitteleuropa than where I'd just been.

Inside, it was far more expensively appointed - and far less cool - than Warpigs. A few tourists picked at meals as a lone barman took care of the tail end of lunch service.

I tried their Copenhagen Lager first. It was unfiltered, hazy and refreshing. But sadly it suffered from a crippling fault: a phenolic flavour I've always understood to be the result of a mishap at the fermentation stage.

By this time I was in conversation with the barman. He was certainly the manager, if not the owner, judging by his commitment. He poured me generous tasters of their American inspired hoppy ales. I enjoyed them, but was drawn to the brown ale and the stout on offer.

The Smoked Brown delivered what it promised, though not in spectacular fashion. As my host explained, it wasn't intended to emulate Schlenkerla's forthright bacon flavour, but instead had a restrained note of tobacco on top of a solid malt base. Decent stuff.

The 6.8% CPH Stout was tremendous, however. It was definitely my Beer of the Week. It's hard to describe a perfect strong stout without using the same old descriptors - dry, roasted etc - but this hit the spot in every way.

Best of all, the beers at BrewPub København were poured in the correct manner: a proper head, beer mat underneath, a look of pride on the barman's face. That stuff's all very important to me, and if you want to appreciate beer it should be to you too.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Achtung, Hofbrauhaus!

I missed this in last week's news: the owner of the Hofbrauhaus in Munich has lost a court battle after trying to cancel an event booking he'd taken. A judge ordered Herr Steinberg to honour the contract. The Guardian covered the story.

There's going to be hell on here, guaranteed.
Why's that so interesting? The booking in question was made by Alternative für Deutschland, a populist political party frequently described as "anti-immigrant" by its opponents. The beerhall owner regretted his decision after realising protests from left-wing activists would surely result if the event went ahead.

You'd think, considering Hofbrauhaus is known as having been a haunt of Adolf Hitler, Herr Steinberg would have been more careful before scribbling the AfD's details in the reservations book.

I doubt the whole affair will put the hordes of tourists who pack the place out throughout the year, though. He might need a few extra lads on the door that night though: there's bound to be a bit of chew.

What this whole affair demonstrates is a simple rule I've learned the hard way a a pub landlord: people who try to make bookings are far more likely to be a pain in the arse than walk-ins.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Beer of the week #14

A revival of this feature from last year: the best beer I enjoyed this week on draught, in a pub or bar. This is unlikely to happen every week, but let's see how we get on.

Troubadour Obscura
Imperial Stout
One half at the Dovetail, Clerkenwell
8.5% abv, £4.80 a half

A glorious beer, poured beautifully: a typically Flemish riot of flavours, including some dark fruit, nuts and even a touch of aniseed, all finished off with a really stout-y dry finish. Obscura was satisfying from beginning to end.

If the staff hadn't rung the bell early and made such a show of trying to shut the bar before actual time I'd have lashed into another.

This is why Belgian brewers deserve such respect: they create truly complex beer to be sipped and savoured.

In contrast, when craft brewers in the modern, international mould produce something strong, as often as not one doesn't get an increased range of discernible flavours: everything's just amped up a few notches, with the addition of harsh alcohol burn.

Sunday, 15 May 2016


On Tuesday I'm flying to Copenhagen to attend this event at Carlsberg on Wednesday. If you'd like to suggest a nice historic pub or beerhall I should visit tonight, I'm all ears.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Strongbow Dark Fruits

It's popped up on bars around the country, securing market share for a fizzy cider brand on the slide. Strongbow Dark Fruits is enjoying strong sales, but it's not likely readers of this blog will have tried it (I know I haven't). Our correspondent in the field EllieQ has, and here are her thoughts:

It's early Friday evening, and I'm in Liverpool waiting for my friend to arrive from Manchester because we're going to see the Manic Street Preachers play their album 'Everything Must Go', on this its 20th anniversary year. Innit mad how quickly time flies?

Obviously I've plumped for a Wetherspoons: The Great Northern at Liverpool Lime Street station.

Because I'm not a London dweller, I love JDW - there's no music (and no fucking wretch on acoustic guitar either), but the bars are always buzzing with chatter, every demographic on our fair earth pops in every now and again, and the bar is reasonable. All stuff I didn't need to tell anyone, but I feel like 'Spoons gets a bad rap.

This Great Northern is just so nice. It's situated opposite St George's Hall, and emulates Victorian splendour, harking back to a time when we made the move from country to city, railways began and Liverpool and Manchester didn't have to piss about fighting over a canal, just stick it on a train and have done.

There are chandeliers, exposed brick, TVs with BBC news and fruities - all encapsulating that magical time of industrial excitement. The view's pretty good as well.

Loads of beers on offer here, of course, it's a Wetherspoon. The bar wraps round the middle of the room in an L shape, and if you're smart you'll go round the corner - more ales on show and no queue. Not just a pretty face.

I actually had a very stressful day and was working from 7am, so I went for a Strongbow Dark Fruits. I am obsessed with this stuff, after having a good decade and a half of boozing and fully rejecting the bad apple. £2.99 and you can proper gulp it down, the tiny bubbles providing instant refreshment 

I was going to pretend I'd ordered some kind of ale, because the picture looks a little bit brown, but I'm sure the average Stonch reader isn't a mug.

Anyway, Strongbow Dark Fruits, try it la! 

This isn't the first time cider has featured on Stonch's Beer Blog: a highlight is this visit in 2007 to Castlings Heath Cottage, a tiny cider producer in Suffolk.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Oast House, Manchester: a Budvar tankovna

As you know I'm a proper melt for a tankovna: a pub serving unpasteurised Czech lager direct from big fuck off tanks lined with plazzy bags. I've written about them before here and here and here and here and here (hobby horse alert). So far most of the UK examples have dispensed Pilsner Urquell, but Budvar recently installed tanks in a pre-existing bar in Manchester. We sent North West correspondent Ellie Q to check it out. Here's her field report:

The bar

I visited The Oast House on a wet Tuesday evening in May (welcome to Manchester), under instruction from Stonch himself, who informed me they had jumped on the tank beer craze and I should go and check it out.

The Oast House is such a weird bar, in such a weird place. It's modelled on a 16th century hop roasting gaff, and looks totally out of place flanked by brutalist buildings and designer clothes shops. It's owned by Living Ventures, who are responsible for most of Manchester and beyond's crowd-pleasing bars and restaurants.

Spinningfields is Manchester's answer to 'The City', I guess, and somewhere I don't spend much time (although this is the second time I've been here in two days).

Spinningfields is the kind of place you would meet a Tinder date, in a Living Ventures bar, because that's how crowd-pleasing they are. Inoffensive spaces for people with no personality, because you never know what cool, handsome David off your dating app is actually like in real life.

I had to sit at the bar because the measly amount of tables inside were all full. I did ask a man in a suit if I could sit at his table, but he told me someone was sitting there (I watched for about half an hour, no one came).

They have an enormous outside area at the Oast House, and despite my dislike for the place, they've got everything right, really. Who doesn't like an expensive bevvy in the outdoors?

They have a 'live musician' playing - a guy with an acoustic guitar who knows three chords, a pet peeve of mine due to the fact that, on Mondays, my upstairs neighbour likes to play three chord dross on his guitar and then have really loud sex with his girlfriend. Every Monday. This isn't the only reason I hate it, obviously I also hate it because there is nothing worse than someone bashing on an acoustic guitar, decimating great songs. He was also wearing a pork pie hat.

The beer menu here is absolutely vast, and very intimidating, not to mention written in the tiniest font ever and printed really close together. None of the fridges have lights on, so you can't do my favourite thing and pick the one with the nicest label - a trick I also employ for choosing wine, and it has never let me down yet. If you care about your branding, chances are you care about what's in the bottle.

The beer

Full disclosure time - I don't really care about tank beer, I was forced to do this. 

It was £10 for two pints, and I didn't even get to expense them. I hope you appreciate this review, because I'm used to spending £3.25 on a massive bottle of Tsingtao in Wetherspoons.

The Budvar is really nice - not freeze-your-brains-out cold, but a lovely temperature that quenches the thirst. You could easily sink a pint of this stuff in a minute or two. It's quite sweet with a dry finish. 

In here I don't really see the point in selling it as 'tankovne pivo', because they've shoved the tanks inside a tiny side-entrance where no one can really see them. There's plenty of Budvar branding outside and on the taps, so the message of what you're drinking isn't totally lost, though I don't think any of the people here really give a shit that the Oast House has jumped on the tank fad.

Ellie Q is a Scouser (of the blue variety) domiciled in Manchester.