The Liberty Belle Micropub, Ely

photo 3On a visit to the cathedral city of Ely, Cambridgeshire, we headed to the Liberty Belle micropub for a beer. This small and cosy pub on Forehill is decked out with old memorabilia including a petrol pump, a bus stop, and old metal trade signs. The tiny wooden bar area on the raised level doesn’t have any hand pumps; instead, there is a blackboard on the wall near the door detailing the ales available, and the barman heads into the cellar to pull the pints straight from the cask, then delivers them to your table. You can ring the big brass ‘liberty belle’ which dominates the pub to attract his attention if you need serving.

photo 1There are just a handful of tables in the micropub; some in the large windows looking out onto the street, and some at the back of the pub, on the slightly darker raised level. We sat at a table by the window. Two other groups of people were sitting by the windows – one a group of lads in their 40s, and two men snacking on pies and hard boiled eggs to accompany their beers.

photo 2The cask ales are sourced from relatively local brewers, and beers available that day were Jo C’s Norfolk Kiwi, Humpty Dumpty Railway Sleeper, Batemans Hooker, Mauldons Blackberry Porter, Grain 3.1.6, and Batemans XXXB – a pretty good selection for a micropub – all priced around the £3.80 a pint mark. The Norfolk Kiwi was a tasty full bodied golden ale with delicious fruity hops, and the very pale 3.1.6 from Grain was floral with citrus notes and incredibly moreish.

The Liberty Belle is a lovely atmospheric pub, and the window seats are perfect for watching the world go by. It would be great to see more free-of-tie micropubs popping up to rival the big pub chains which seem to be dominating the towns and cities nowadays.

During the summer season, the Liberty Belle runs boat cruises along the Ouse – it was a pity that this was a March afternoon and we were a couple of weeks too early. We’ll just have to head back soon to take to the water – after sinking a few more ales in the micropub…

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Published in: on March 11, 2015 at 6:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Yorkshire Dales pubs

I thought I’d finish the year off with an epic post which I was actually meant to publish months ago – July in fact. We took a trip to the Dales in June, and visited plenty of pubs during our stay, which happened to coincide with the run-up to the Tour de France. It would’ve been a shame not to publish the post, even though our visit took place 6 months ago, and being the last day of the year, I thought if I don’t publish it now, I never will. So, here is it.

IMG_1610In June we headed up to the Yorkshire Dales, a lovely part of the world, and during our trip we visited some great pubs. Upon arrival we found out that the village where we were staying (Aysgarth, in lovely Wensleydale) was on Stage 1 of the Tour de France route, which was passing through two weeks later; there was lots of bunting, yellow bikes, and tiny knitted jerseys dotted around the streets and draped around trees, and over houses and pubs pretty much everywhere we went. Here are some of the pubs when we were there.

Aysgarth

George and Dragon: This pub in the village where we are staying is on the main A road, although it doesn’t feel like a main road. It has a small outdoor terrace, and inside it is decorated in an olde-worlde style, with dark wood, brasses, lamps, and cosy snugs. On the bar was a house beer, George and Dragon, brewed by Yorkshire Dales brewery down the road in Askrigg, as well as Black Sheep, which was available in almost every pub we visited. The G&D was smooth and malty and easy to drink; it went well with the fantastic food on offer.

IMG_1619Aysgarth Falls Hotel: This ivy-covered hotel, close to the famous Aysgarth Falls, has several drinking areas – a modern bar area, a courtyard terrace, benches out the front facing the road and fields, and a pretty outdoor back patio in front of the conservatory dining area. There were several ales on draft, including Wensleydale’s Semerwater, a blonde, refreshing ale, and the delicious Salamander MudPuppy, a chestnut ale with rich malty flavours. Black Sheep’s Vélo was also on, a Tour de France-themed light golden beer brewed with Cascade, coriander and orange.

Carperby

IMG_1550The Wheatsheaf: This pub/hotel in the little village close to Aysgarth is famous for being the honeymoon destination for James Herriot and his wife – this is displayed on the front of the hotel and elsewhere so you can’t fail to notice this. IMG_1751It’s a pleasant place and was popular with diners when we visited – we ordered some tasty Black Sheep Velo and munched on some chips while sitting on the benches outside and watched the world go by.

Hardraw

IMG_1576Green Dragon
: This old, dark, traditional pub full of stuffed animals – reminiscent of the Queens Head in Newton, Cambridgeshire – is the gateway to Hardraw Force waterfall. Visitors pay £2.50 at the bar for tickets to see the waterfall, and it can only be accessed through the pub (it’s worth seeing). The front of the pub was covered in bunting, and the outdoor benches are a great spot to sink a pint in the sun. There’s plenty of seating inside, and a roaring fire (even in June). IMG_1687The evening we were there two musicians with guitars and mouth organs set up on the table next to us and played some Dylan songs which we all sang along to. There were four beers on draft, including two from the Yorkshire Dales brewery. The YD Nappa Scar would have been a really nice bitter, with tasty caramel flavours coming through, but it didn’t have much condition and was probably at its end. I then went for a Theakstons Best, which everyone seemed to be drinking and was fine. Overall the Green Dragon was a nice pub, and the larger than life landlord was a friendly and helpful chap.

Dent

IMG_1667Sun Inn: This lovely old whitewashed pub in a pretty cobbled village which felt miles from anywhere is a proper down to earth boozer with locals chatting at the bar. IMG_1663

One of the locals recommended the Kirkby Lonsdale Tiffin Gold, saying that everyone there was drinking it which had to be a good sign. It was beautiful and full of flavour at 3.6% – mellow hops, great condition, wonderful aroma. Kirkby Lonsdale Monumental was also on.

IMG_1669 IMG_1674George and Dragon
: Just across the street from the Sun is the George and Dragon, the Dent Brewery Tap. This pub has loads of Dent beers on tap – Porter, Aviator, Golden Fleece – but we could only stay for one unfortunately. I chose the Aviator which was tasty; we sat in the bar and watched some World Cup as we drank. There’s also a large dining room out the back, decorated in light wood. These two village pubs deserve more time spent in them; next time we’ll make sure we stay overnight in this village!

West Witton

IMG_1833 Fox and Hounds: This village close to Aysgarth is lucky to have this lovely proper little pub in the middle of its high street. As we wound our way through the corridors to get to the bar we saw the landlord pouring and testing beer, holding it up, deciding it wasn’t quite ready, and making sure the clip was turned around.  It was good to visibly see someone taking so much care over the beer.IMG_1834 I ordered a Yorkshire Dales Brewery Tour de Yorkshire Dales beer, and the citra hops hit me even before my first sip.  Very lemony and grapefruity, on a nice delicate body of malt so it wasn’t completely hop heavy – delicious. Black Sheep Velo was on, as well as Black Sheep Bitter.

 

Tan Hill

IMG_1597 IMG_1596 Tan Hill Inn: This pub, the highest in the country, took a bit of getting to. When we were in Hardraw, we thought ‘Oh, it’s only just up the road!” That road happened to be the Buttertubs Pass, a very long, steep, winding road with crazy hairpin bends that goes up to wild Swaledale from cute Wensleydale, and where one of the Tour de France’s ‘King of the Mountains’ races took place. Luckily the weather was great; I wouldn’t fancy the journey in a rainstorm. Qhen we got to the top, and reached the village of Keld, we realised it was even further up – 4 more miles up these desolate roads with no houses, cars, pretty countryside in sight, just moorland.  And these are Yorkshire miles – they last longer than normal ones.

IMG_1592When we finally saw a remote building on top of a hill, we nearly jumped for joy. The pub is 1732 feet above sea level, and really is miles from anywhere. When we entered the pub we saw that the open fire was blazing – it’s lit all year round for weary travellers. The main bar feels ancient and is furnished with dark wood; there is a more modern (but still old fashioned) lounge bar next door, complete with piano. By the bar is a sheet of A4 listing all the highest pubs in the country, as well as the lowest. The barman was chatty and friendly, and recommended the Black Sheep Velo. I ended up choosing the Bitter and and we sat outside with the chickens squawking around us as we gazed out over the bleak moorland.  We bought some bottles of Tan Hill Inn beer by Dent Brewery, and left to continue our journey around Swaledale.

Muker

IMG_1789Farmer’s Arms: This pretty Swaledale stone village – the prettiest in the dale, some say – is home to the lovely Farmer’s Arms pub, set amongst a cluster of houses, shops and a church. We sat on the picnic benches out the front and gazed up at the hills whilst drinking a Buttertubs by Yorkshire Dales, a blonde and relatively dry ale.

Bainbridge

IMG_1549The Rose and Crown: This pub is located in a great setting, close to Hawes and overlooking a lovely village green and the remains of a Roman hill fort. The sparse bar was showing the World Cup when we visited; next door to this there are some olde worlde rooms serving dinner. We sat out the front to take in the views whilst sipping on some refreshing Golden Sheep. Theakstons Lightfoot was also on draft.

Thoralby

IMG_1872The George: This a lovely ancient and small stone pub is tucked away in this quiet little village near Aysgarth. It was immaculate, and even though it was so small that the loos were located outside, they were immaculate too – nothing was out of place. The food was great, and the two beers we tried – Northallerton Gun Dog and Yorkshire Dales Howgate – were on good form. The Gun Dog was a red-style ale, with lots of sherbet flavours – gorgeous; reminiscent of a Buntingford beer. The Howgate was nice and light, but one woman kept saying how sharp she thought it was. I liked it. Great pub, great service, and really good beer.

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East Witton

IMG_1735Cover Bridge Inn: Situated south of Leyburn, this pub on a sharp corner is located next to the River Cover, and the pub garden is large, pretty and well-manicured, and leads down to the river where there is a lovely stone bridge. The pub serves several well-kept ales including Theakstons Best, Old Peculiar, and the gorgeous Thornbridge Jaipur amongst others.

Askrigg

IMG_1710The King’s Head: This pub in this grey stone village between Hawes and Leyburn is famous for being the pub in All Creatures Great and Small, the Drovers Arms, but although it’s quite pretty on the outside (and was covered in Tour de France bunting) it’s not as atmospheric as I previously imagined on the inside. IMG_1545Sure, the big fireplace in the old bar is attractive, although there are candles burning inside rather than logs, and when you look at the All Creatures pics on the walls you can imagine what it would have been like once upon a time, but a lot of the soul of what once made it a traditional Yorkshire pub has gone – and the droning music playing on the stereo didn’t help re-create the atmosphere I was looking for. Having said that, it is quite a nice place, and the food served in the modern dining area at the front is said to be really good. Two Yorkshire Dales beers were on, one a house brew. I would go back; I just wish it still looked and felt like a traditional old pub.

IMG_1706The White Rose: In the middle of the High Street, this pub/hotel has quite a large bar area and a conservatory dining room. Beers on the bar included a couple from Yorkshire Dales Brewery: Askrigg Bitter and Askrigg Ales. We had the Bitter, which was very nice; we’d had it in a bottle before and it’s a lovely, hoppy, refreshing beer. The barman said the Ale is less ‘in your face’ than the bitter – less hoppy and more traditional.

IMG_1713We popped down the road, went up a lane, and came across the Yorkshire Dales Brewery, with beer brewing in a little shed. We told the brewer how much we were enjoying his beers, and suggested he sends some down to Cambridge!

Worton

IMG_1852IMG_1841Victoria Inn: This tiny village on the main A road between Aysgarth and Hawes is home to one pub, the most eccentric, interesting, unusual pub we visited on the trip. A springer spaniel called Hendrix greeted us at the door at around 2pm when we visited, the landlord put the lights on when we entered, his elderly mum came into the room thinking it was her friend coming to pick her up – it felt a bit like we were interrupting their family life. The pub really stood out for us – it was like stepping back in time. The fireplace is decorated in red tiles – the previous landlord (this landlord’s dad) used to dry sheep by the fire, and a picture on the wall shows this. Stags heads decorate the walls, and there is plenty of dark wood and a beamed ceiling. The side room is home to a pool table, and felt like somebody’s living room.

The landlord didn’t talk much, but he was pleasant enough, and whistled a lot when on the phone to his supplier. I asked him what he recommended, and he said ‘The Theakston’s OK’. So I had that. We settled down on the old chair by the fireplace, and soaked in the unique atmosphere. There aren’t many places like this left anymore.


So that was our trip. I love the Dales, and will be back to explore the beautiful National Park even further and visit even more pubs that we passed by and didn’t get a chance to have a drink in. Cheers!

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Published in: on December 31, 2014 at 12:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Golden Pints 2014

82ca1-goldenpintslogoIt’s that time of year again when I rack my brains trying to remember the best beers I have tried over the last year to nominate for the Golden Pints awards. So here are my choices. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few good ones, but that’s probably because I was having such a nice time drinking them that I never noted them down.

Best UK cask beer: Dark Star Hophead. A tasty, hoppy, easy drinking session beer that I’ve had quite a lot of over the past year.

Best UK keg beer: Magic Rock/Toccalmatto Custard Pie. Heaven in a glass. Brew this again guys pleeeease/per favore!

Yorkshire BlackoutBest UK bottled/canned beer: The Great Yorkshire Brewery’s Yorkshire Blackout bottle/Beavertown Gamma Ray can. Yorkshire Blackout, with its deep chocolate notes, was discovered on a trip to the Dales earlier this year, and we just stocked up again on a recent trip to York – a beautiful bottle of beer. I’ve had many many cans of Gamma Ray (the last one being on Christmas Day) and I just love it – a wonderful hoppy American-style session beer.

Best overseas draught beer: Lagunitas IPA. On draught regularly in the Cambridge Brewhouse, and it’s beautiful stuff with lots of lovely tropical fruit flavours.

Best overseas bottled/canned beer: Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA bottle/Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi can. Finest Kind is a great US IPA, easy to drink and a go-to beer when I want those American IPA flavours. Same goes for the tasty Modus Hoperandi.

Best collaboration brew: Magic Rock/Toccalmatto Custard Pie. As mentioned above.

Best overall beer for 2014: Magic Rock/Toccalmatto Custard Pie. See above. Sorry if this is getting boring.

MAGIC-ROCK-carnivalBest branding, pumpclip or label: Magic Rock artwork.

Best UK brewery: Magic Rock.

Best overseas brewery: A tough one. I’d say Port Brewing, CA, USA. I love their gorgeous Wipeout IPA.

Best new brewery opening 2014: Hillside Brewery, Gloucestershire. The brewers of the lovely resinously hoppy Centurion and many other great beers. Hard to believe they are a new brewery.

Pub/bar of the year: Pivni, York. Lots of space on 3 levels, quirky seating areas, lots of great beers on keg and cask, good atmosphere.

photo 4 (3)

Hopinator in the Mash Tun, Norwich

Best new pub/bar opening 2014: Mash Tun, Norwich. Clean and fresh decor, good beer, good food, and oh that hopinator/infusinator..!

Best beer and food pairing: Champagne truffles with the deliciously rich Founders Breakfast Stout. Works like a dream.

Beer festival of the year: Cambridge Beer Festival. It’s big, it’s in the middle of a park with lots of seating and grass to sit on, it has over 200 beers, and it’s on for almost a week.

Supermarket of the year: Waitrose. Always an interesting choice.

Independent retailer of the year: Trembling Madness, York. Sooo many beers to choose from.

Online retailer of the year: Beers of Europe, nr Kings Lynn, Norfolk. Reliable and lots of choice.

Best beer book or magazine: BEER. Always a good read.

Best beer blog or website: Pints and Pubs. Lots of well-researched pub history, quirky facts, and he really brings the history to life.

Best beer twitterer: Broadford Brewer. Always find his tweets amusing, beer related or not.

Best beer app: I don’t really use beer apps, but I’d say when I’m in the capital Craft Beer London occasionally comes in handy.

Best brewery website/social media: Magic Rock. Informative website, interesting blog.

Published in: on December 30, 2014 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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London, York and Norwich pubs

Over the festive period we made a few trips to a few different cities, and had a few beers when there. Here’s a pick of some great pubs that we visited in each city during our travels.

London

Old Coffee HouseLondon was the first festive trip of the season, and after a trek to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland we headed into the West End for a much deserved beer. The Old Coffee House was the first stop, a pub run by Brodie’s Brewery from Leyton and situated down Beak Street, just off Regent Street. It was pretty busy on a Saturday lunchtime, but we managed to get the last free table (we needed a sit down after all that Winter Wonderland wandering), settling down with a Brodie’s Kiwi on cask – I wanted to try their keg version but it wasn’t on unfortunately. It’s a lovely old dark wood pub, with paintings and memorabilia dotted all over the walls, lots of vintage mirrors, chandelier lamps, a couple of screens for sports, and even a guitar hanging from the ceiling just above my head. As expected, there are lots of Brodie’s beers on at the bar, both cask and keg, including the likes of Dalston Black, London Fields Pale Ale, and Bethnal Green Bitter. Kiwi IPA – almost double the strength of the session Kiwi I was drinking – was on keg also, but also not available that afternoon. We’ll be back for it!

photo 2

 

Craft Beer CoAnother great pub is Craft Beer Co Covent Garden, which is located at the top of Endell Street where it meets High Holborn. It’s light and contemporary, with quite a long, narrow bar area upstairs, and instead of tables (there’s no room) there are mostly bar stools lining the shelf-style tables against windows and walls – but there is a larger, smart seating area downstairs, but with a different atmosphere. There are 45 taps, cask and keg, and lots of bottles in fridges, so it’s pretty difficult to choose what to drink, and out of beers from breweries such as Burning Sky, Marble, Thornbridge and Wild Beer, I took a while to decide as we only had time to stay for one. I opted for a Siren Sound Wave IPA on keg, bursting with tropical hops – lovely. We also left with a bottle of the deliciously hoppy Port Brewing Wipeout IPA.

Exterior - Craft Beer Co Covent Garden

York

photo 2 (2)There are so many great pubs in York – a mixture of historic inns and modern tap rooms. One good one is Pivni, located close to the famous Shambles in an ancient building with lots of dark wooden beams on three floors – but despite its history, it also feels fresh and modern, and has lots of great beers on cask and keg. Over a couple of visits during the busy Christmas market period in the city we tried Victory Prima Pils, Magic Rock Acrobat, a tasty saison with apricot and tarragon, and Summer Wine Zenith, a citrussy pale ale. This pub is friendly and cosy, and one of my pubs of choice in the city.

photo 1 (2)

photo 4 (2)The York Tap is another great find. It’s a light and airy Victorian pub right next to York train station, with a oval bar in the centre and an attractive stained glass skylight. It was heaving when we arrived on the Saturday afternoon (I think a train load of football supporters had just arrived just before we did). There were mainly cask ales, and several keg beers too, including Sierra Nevada Mandatory, a beer brewed with mandarins, and a nice and easy drinking Brass Castle and York Tap collaboration, Oatmeal Pale. I also had a Summer Wine Oregon, a West Coast Pale Ale, which had tasty sherbet and citrus flavours but lacked some condition.

photo 2 (3) photo 1 (3)

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Another pub which deserves a mention is Ye Old Shambles Tavern, which is, you’ve guessed it, located on the Shambles, but actually isn’t an old tavern at all – it’s only been in the guise of a pub for a year, previously just a cafe and gift shop – although you’d think there’d been a pub there for centuries. It still sells gifts, but now the walls around the small bar are covered in bottles of beer from Yorkshire breweries that you can purchase, and there are three hand pumps selling beers from Rudgate, including their own Shambles house beer. There are just a few bar stools, but there is also a cosy back room also, and if you want a beer you have to sit down to drink – that was one of the council’s odd laws when they were granting the new license. You also have to eat as well, so everyone is served complimentary sandwiches and crisps after taking a seat! There’s a food menu also. It’s a charming, atmospheric place, and I highly recommend a visit – just make sure you arrive before 9pm if you want a beer, as the door is locked at that time and they are not allowed to let anyone else in – another one of those odd laws..

photo 3 (2)
Norwich

photo 4 (3)

I’ve written about Norwich pubs several times, but there’s no harm in mentioning some again. The Mash Tun was a new one for us – this is run by the same Redwell guys who run the fantastic Tap House around the corner – it’s larger than it looks, and with exposed brickwork throughout and a clean finish, it’s a great looking contemporary pub with a big beer list. Keg beers are chalked onto a blackboard, with cask beers from breweries such as Crate on at the bar. But the main feature in the pub is the hopinator/infusinator, which on the evening we visited was crammed with mango and kiwi and had Magic Rock Acrobat running through it, so you end up with an Acrobat – which is already full of tarragon and mango flavours – infused with even more fruity delights. Delicious. We also went for a Weird Beard Five O Clock Shadow, a beautiful strong IPA loaded with resinous hops. There was no going down in ABV after that.

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Finally, we took a bus out to the Plasterers, one of our favourite pubs just slightly out of the city centre. It was all very festive and lovely, with a proper Christmas tree and lots of Crimble music playing. As usual, there was a great beer selection, including Green Jack Golden Best, Five Points Hook Island Red on keg, Brass Castle Sunshine IPA on keg (a beautiful beer from Yorkshire) and a wonderful, rich breakfast stout from Siren called Broken Dream. A fine way to end an evening!

Published in: on December 20, 2014 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Halloween pubs and beer

Beer in the Blue

Halloween beers in the Cambridge Blue

There were plenty of scary beers and scary-looking people out last night around Cambridge on our mini Halloween pub crawl. It was good to see that so many pubs had embraced the fright night theme, with bar staff dressed up in their most terrifying costumes, and beers having suitably gruesome names and pump clips.

First stop was the Cambridge Blue, which was fantastically decorated for Halloween as usual. The marquee was decked out for a children’s Halloween party, and there were lots of costumed kids filtering through the pub, broomsticks and all, as we enjoyed our beers. Köstritzer Six out of the 14 cask beers were Halloween themed, with ales such as Brains Open Casket, Hales Brewing Black Heart, Wolf Brewery Werewolf, and Hop & Soul Pumpkin on draught. I went for a Cameron’s Thirst Blood, a tasty ruby ale with caramel and dark fruit flavours. Hales Black Heart was really nice, a black IPA which thankfully wasn’t too hoppy (I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this style) and with the flavour and aroma of roasted coffee beans. I also went for a Köstrizer on keg, I really like this smooth and chocolatey German black lager.

Next stop was the Blue Moon, the sister pub to the Blue. Again, this was decorated for the season, with a party (adults this time) taking place later that evening. We got a Tiny Rebel Cwtch (that’s not a typo; it’s Welsh for hug) and a Castle Rock Most Haunted, and ended up sitting in the middle of a literary group doing an open mic, where one guy was reading excerpts from Dracula – very apt. The Most Haunted was a pumpkin porter, dark with lots of clove flavours, but not too overwhelming. The Cwtch was as good as all the other Tiny Rebel beers I’ve tried – an amber beer bursting with tropical hops, and served freezing cold from the keg. Lovely.

Elm Tree bar staffThe Elm Tree was the next pub en route, and this pub is always well decorated for Halloween, with witches hats attached to the ceiling alongside giant spiders, and pumpkin lights and tinsel everywhere – these decs are put up a good week or two before the day itself. The bar staff were well dressed for the occasion too. We went for Belgian beer, despite the 10 hand pumps – the smooth caramel flavours of St Bernardus Pater 6 goes well with this time of year.

Free Press pumpkinLast up was the Free Press, which had a wonderful big pumpkin on the bar with lovely pop out eyes and big wide mouth with a pipe hanging out, and a mop head for hair – fantastic. We had some bottles of Rogue Dead Guy, a great beer from one of my favourite US breweries – lots of spicy caramel flavours and hop fruitiness. It’s quite a strong one at 6.6%, so after a couple of those it was time to call it a night.

It was great to see so many pubs making the effort for Halloween, one of my favourite times of year. I guess we’ll be drinking plenty of fright night themed beers over the next week in the pubs – but then it won’t be long until the festive beers start appearing! Happy Halloween/Samhain!

St Neots Beer Festival – Booze on the Ouse

The 42nd St Neots Beer and Cider Festival, organised by Huntingdonshire CAMRA, took place Thursday 13th to Saturday 15th March at the Priory Centre. We’d never actually been to the festival before, so on this sunny Saturday we decided to take the bus to St Neots.

The easy 40-minute bus ride on the X5 from Cambridge took us to the market square, which is a 5 minute walk away from the venue by the river. We arrived around 12.30 and were pleased to find that it wasn’t jam packed at this early hour, unlike the Ely beer festival was at midday in February!

Beer casks, courtesy of @pintsandpubs

Beer casks, courtesy of @pintsandpubs

The main hall was half filled with chairs and tables, which was great to see – lots of space to sit, drink and chat. At the back was a farmers market type stall selling ploughmans – cheeses, olives, bread, all lovely and fresh looking, and a hot stew (not veggie, unfortunately).  Along the side and back were the ales  (over 60 available over the course of the fest) and ciders, bottled foreign and local beer (including a festival special from Draycott) and a tombola thrown in for good measure (we had a few goes, and no, we didn’t win anything). The signs leading to ‘the smoking area’ actually led to a lovely little riverside terrace where we sat in the sun enjoying our beers.

The staff were really friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere was relaxed and chilled out. I was pleased to see that they were serving thirds – it meant that I could try a few more beers…

Grain beer, St Neots Some beers that I really enjoyed:
Hopshackle Kinesis – Light, golden and hoppy – at only 3.8% it was an easy drinking beer to start with.
Skinners Splendid Tackle – My beer of the fest – fresh, hoppy, honey flavours, very mellow and English tasting, and very moreish.
Bexar County Café Pequeño – Lots of flavour packed into this little 2.8% unfined coffee stout. Went down very easily.
Bexar County American Pale – A tasty golden strong ale (5.7%) with lots of hops. Didn’t taste its abv at the start, but felt it warming me up after a few more sips!
Grain Year of Hops: Cascade -Big hop aroma and flavour. Only 4.4% but full bodied and nicely balanced.

We tried a few more decent beers, including Mighty Oak English Oak, and one that I wasn’t so keen on, Mauldons Lemon Adder, with too much ginger and strong lemon flavours for my taste – but according to bar staff it was going down very well!

A great, well-organised little festival and one we’ll definitely go back to next time – and at a mere 40-minute bus ride from Cambridge there really is no excuse not to…

Terrace, St Neots

Published in: on March 16, 2014 at 8:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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Golden Pints 2013

It’s December, which means it’s time for this year’s Golden Pints awards:

Best UK Cask Beer
1st) Cambridge Moonshine Ison. Wonderful, resinously hoppy beer from a great brewer.
2nd) Oakham Green Devil. Always wonderful to find this fruity IPA on draft. Such a shame they stopped bottling it.
Honourable mention: Bexar San Jacinto – a hop monster from this Texan brewer based in Peterborough doing in-your-face exciting things with beer.

Best UK Keg Beer
1st) Buxton Wyoming Sheep Ranch. Fantastic beer, first sampled at the launch event of the beer at Euston Tap, and I’ve had it several times since (on keg at Norwich Tap was the last occasion, and very nice it was too).
2nd) Summer Wine Pacer. Light and easy drinking with lots of floral hops.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
1st) Any of Buxton’s bottled beers really, from their IPAs such as Axe Edge and Wild Boar to their Rednik Stout. I’ll settle on Buxton Axe Edge today, but that could change tomorrow…
2nd)  Magic Rock Rapture. A fruity red ale, one of my go-to beers.
Honourable mention:  Thornbridge Jaipur – another go-to beer, citrus hops and full bodied.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
1st) Ithaca Flower Power (NY, USA). I had this in Salem, MA, and Boston, MA. Loaded with fruity and floral hops, golden, drinks SO easily, wonderfully balanced, I could go on…
2nd) Maine Beer Co Peeper (ME, USA). I drank this in New York, Portland, ME and Boston, MA. Fresh hops, sweet and delicate, wonderfully crafted beer.
Honourable mentions: The lovely Mendocino Imperial IPA (CA, USA) and the fantastic Lagunitas IPA (CA, USA) with its tropical fruit flavours. And De Praal Mary should also get a mention, a wonderful barley wine from the Netherlands. Wow to all five of these beers.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
1st) Green Flash West Coast IPA (CA, USA). Intensely hoppy, my sort of beer.
2nd) Ithaca Flower Power. Ditto
Honourable mention: St Bernadus 6 -Pater. A go-to beer when I’m after something velvety and comforting.

Best Collaboration Brew
Hard to call.. I haven’t had that many, and none have particularly stuck in my mind.

Best Overall Beer
Ithaca Flower Power. Just lovely.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
1st) Grain Brewery wooden pump clips in general – you can immediately see if there’s a Grain beer on at the bar.
2nd) Magic Rock – I like the carnival/funfair style of their designs.
Honourable mention: Buntingford Brewery, for the witty and sometimes rambling wording on their pump clips.

Best UK Brewery
1st) Buxton. Consistently great.
2nd) Magic Rock. Love their beers, keg or cask.
Honourable mention: Partizan. They are are doing great things with beer; I haven’t had a bad one from them

Best Overseas Brewery
I’d have to go with Rogue (OR, USA) – I’ve had many of their beers on draft and in bottles, and I love the Dry Hopped St Rogue Red, Mocha Porter, Juniper Pale Ale, Brutal IPA… the list goes on…
2) St Bernardus, Belgium – high quality, easy-drinking beer.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013
Redwell in Norwich, even though strictly speaking they opened towards the end of 2012. Great little brewery that sells good quality keg beer and lager and hosts many events in its small and cute space.

Pub/Bar of the Year
InternationalMcSorley’s Old Ale House, NYC. Wonderful atmosphere with sawdust on the floor, banter from the barman, dusty antiques and newspaper cuttings all over the walls, and when you order one beer (light or dark) you receive two, whether you like it or not.
Closer to homeThe Free Press, Cambridge (quality beer, banter and atmosphere) and the Elm Tree, Cambridge (cosy, candlelit den and lots of Belgian beer).

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013

Pint Shop, Cambridge, for the large range of high quality hard-to-get-hold-of keg and cask beer from breweries far and wide.

Beer Festival of the Year

Cambridge Beer Festival. Great beer and crowd, and fantastic location on Jesus Green – you can’t beat drinking beer on the grass in the sun.

Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose. Good selection of beer from the likes of Thornbridge, BrewDog and Fullers.

Independent Retailer of the Year
Bacchanalia, Cambridge. Nice and local with a good range of local and national beers, as well as beers from Europe and the USA.

Online Retailer of the Year
Beers of Europe. Fast delivery and a good selection of beers.

Best Beer Book or Magazine
CAMRA’s quarterly BEER magazine. An interesting read.

Best Beer Blog or Website
pintsandpubs.wordpress.com. Lots of well researched pub history, amusing anecdotes, and random interesting information about beer and breweries. Always an enjoyable, informative read.

Best Beer App
Craft Beer London. Well, it was useful when visiting London! I don’t tend to use beer apps much.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
@pintsandpubs .

Best Brewery Website/Social media
For social media I’ll go for Buntingford Brewery – the blog posts are very amusing, dry, witty, and ever so slightly sarcastic.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Thai green curry with a light, refreshing Oakham Citra.

The Pint Shop and the Blue Moon – two new Cambridge pubs!

This has been a pretty exciting few days for Cambridge – two new pubs have opened a mere day apart, and they both sell decent beer. Hurrah!

 First of all, the brand new Pint Shop opened its doors on Monday 4th November,  and then the Blue Moon on Norfolk Street (formerly the Man on the Moon) had its opening night on Tuesday 5th November – just in time to welcome in the crowds after the fireworks.

The Pint Shop, Peas Hill

Cask 'snug' barPint Shop (opposite Jamie’s Italian and a few doors away from the Corn Exchange) is an exciting addition to the Cambridge pub scene. Specialising in quality beer, with 10 beers on keg and 6 on cask from some of the most exciting breweries in the country and beyond, it also sells locally-produced food and about 45 gins; it’s slogan is Meat, Bread, Beer. As I am a veggie I’ve sampled the last two, which are great, and I understand the first one is pretty good too – if you eat meat.

Keg barWe went to the pre-launch party on the previous Thursday (Halloween) to see the place in all its splendour after massive renovation work to convert it from office to pub. They’ve done a fine job in creating a great space with nice touches; there’s a light and spacious bar area with giant beer chalkboard, a ‘snug’ style small cask beer bar, a surprise terrace garden out the back (I can’t wait for summer already) two sleek and simple, cosy and candlelit dining rooms (separate to the main bars) and lots of seating in every available nook and cranny. There are bar snacks such as chips and curry sauce and fennel pork scratchings, and their specially-baked bread and butter is wonderful (now I don’t usually enthuse about bread, but this one is g-o-o-d – and a perfect beer soaker-upper!)

There were about 6 of the potential 16 beers available at the pre-launch event including the light and easy-drinking Kernel Table Beer and the much stronger but fantastic Rogue Dead Guy Pale Ale from Oregon, USA. There was also Adnams Dry Hop Lager on keg, and their Old Ale on cask (which seemed to be going down very well). The house gin is Adnams Copper House gin, and was served with juniper berries and was very tasty.

Beer board in Pint ShopThe opening night saw all 16 beers on, and on Tuesday night, before the fireworks, I had a delightful De Molen Vuur & Vlam on keg, one of my favourites from the Netherlands, and a very tasty Buxton SPA on cask – hoppy, sweet, and moreishly delicious.

The staff have all been well trained, having attended several training sessions including beer tasting run by Mark Dredge (which we walked in on) as well as gin and wine tasting. It’s a hard life!

It’s great to see this former office building converted into a pub – we were lucky enough to be shown around by Rich and Benny before the renovation work started where they were enthusiastically explaining their vision and showing us the plans, so it’s wonderful to see it all come together so well. Good luck guys, it’s what Cambridge has been waiting for…

The Blue Moon, Norfolk Street

The Blue Moon is the new baby of Jethro and Terry from the Cambridge Blue and The Three Horseshoes, Stapleford. This former dive music venue/bar had squatters in between the last owners leaving and Jethro and Terry moving in, which was a shame for them when they just wanted to get stuck into the renovation, but it finally all came together and they were in there for a good few weeks stripping the front bar and making it their own. When we went in on Tuesday we were pleasantly surprised; what was once quite a run-down bar was much fresher feeling, with old sepia images of old Cambridge pubs on the walls, candles on every table, and  music playing on the stereo in the background. It’s simple and still only half-finished, but they’ve made a huge difference already.

Blue Moon - Redwell Pale AleThe line of 10 keg beers is the central focus on the bar, and a few cask ales also feature including old favourites Oakham Citra and Inferno. I had a Redwell Pale Ale on keg, an easy drinking beer with tropical hop flavours. The Harbour IPA at 6% was great; pretty potent and full-flavoured. Fruli strawberry beer was also on tap as well as Köstritzer, Duvel, and Brooklyn Lager.  So plenty to try.

Jethro and Terri’s empire keeps growing and they work hard, so I wish them the best of luck with their three pubs. I understand the beer selection is going to get very exciting at the Blue Moon so I am looking forward to that – watch this space!

It’s fantastic in this economic climate to see two new pubs springing up in the space of two days in Cambridge – one brand new one, and one much improved. Could this be the sign of things to come? Wishful thinking perhaps, but now I’m just happy that the choice of pubs in this city where you can find good beer has suddenly increased. Cheers to that!

40th Cambridge Beer Festival

Birthday CakeSo the Cambridge Beer Festival has come and gone, and this year it celebrated 40 years. At the end of the trade session on the Monday evening, a cake was wheeled out, everyone sang Happy Birthday, Bert Kenward the festival organiser had his photo taken with the cake for Cambridge News, then we all munched on it – it was gone in minutes (it was very yummy).

Cake demolished

Behind the barThis year I did a few shifts behind the bar as well as enjoying the festival from the right side of the bar (or the ‘wrong’ side, as another volunteer kept telling me). I worked on Hester’s bar, selling beers from breweries M to P, from Milton brewery to Plain Ales. Beers that flew out from this bar when I was working were Oakham Hare & Hedgehog, Moonshine Heavenly Matter, Old Bear Honeypot, and Moor Freddy Walker. Moor Dark Alliance was a popular one too along with Oakham Scarlet Macaw, Oakham Dreamcatcher and Oakham Midnight Mild. Pretty much all the Oakhams then. All good beers.

Magic Rck Curious  Beers behind the bar

Beer tasting panelI was involved in a blind beer tasting session between sessions on Wednesday, judging 8 East Anglian stouts with the favourite to be put forward to the champion stout category at the Great British Beer Festival in August. We were a panel of 6, including bar manager Steve, Will the editor of CAMRA’s ALE magazine, and @pintsandpubs. It was a lot of fun, but we still don’t know which stouts we tried as it was all very top secret so I can’t elaborate any further apart from saying my favourite was number 5 – smooth, roasty and easy drinking! We think we guessed what the strongest one, number 8, was – but I couldn’t possibly tell you or I’d have to kill you.

Sunny day Weather-wise, we had a mixed bag. Monday started off quite mild, although grey. Tuesday wasn’t a bad day either, a bit cloudy though. Wednesday was nice and sunny and I got slightly sunburnt, although it became chilly later in the evening. Broom!Thursday and Friday afternoons were pretty dire with heavy showers, and on a couple of occasions the rain came into the marquee near the pillars by the bars – a volunteer kept it at bay with a broom, much to the amusement of us lot behind the bar. So it became pretty muddy outside quite quickly. But on Saturday it all changed – the sun came out and stayed out, and we were in it all day as we weren’t working. I got burnt again, and everyone had a jolly good time.

BeersSo, favourite beers. I enjoyed a lot of light golden beers this year – the pale, dry and hoppy Oakham Hare and Hedgehog, the lovely sweet and grapefruity Moonshine Heavenly Matter, Bexar County Brewery Vaquero, a summery beer bursting with floral hops, and the golden Old Bear Honeypot, a honey ale. I also liked Buxton Moor Top with light citrus flavours, and Magic Rock Curious with US citrus hops. But Bishop Nick Heresy was my overall favourite, as it was at the East Anglian Beer Festival. It’s a mellow, warm, comforting, proper English beer with Challenger and Goldings hops. It’s just wonderful.

Strong hoppy beers I enjoyed were the 7% Hopshackle Resination as usual, Black Iris Intergalactic IPA, 6% with strong apricot flavours, and Oakham Dreamcatcher, 6.9%, a dark amber beer with strong peach and berry flavours.

As far as dark beers go, Moor Old Freddy Walker, 7.3%, was sublime – a well-blended, thick, stouty old ale that pours like Guinness (one satisfied customer kept coming back for pint after pint every lunchtime session as he loved it so much). Moor Dark Alliance was great, a dark coffee flavoured and hoppy beer, although so rich I could only drink a small amount  (that’s where the new third pint measures come in handy – good move Cambridge CAMRA!). I also enjoyed Bexar County Seis Banderas, a strong and roasty American stout at 7.3%.

Beers on the bar

One draft foreign beer which stood out for me was De Prael Mary, where I tried for the first time in Amsterdam in the De Prael taproom. It’s a barley wine at 9.7% with sweet and strong deep peach flavours – beautiful, and goes down very smoothly.

The beers of the festival were announced yesterday, and the joint winners were….. drum roll please….. Moor Freddy Walker, and Oakham Dreamcatcher. Wonderful beers and well deserved. Looks like our lunchtime customer who ordered pint after pint of Old Freddy had great taste. Same again? Don’t mind if I do!

Serving Old Freddy Walker

Beer and Bars in Amsterdam

Beer in Amsterdam

We decided to take a relaxing weekend break in Amsterdam to stroll around the canals, sit in cafes, and drink Dutch beer. And when I say Dutch beer, I don’t mean Heineken.

There are lots of great beer bars and beer-cafes in the capital of the Netherlands, with new ones popping up all the time or reinventing themselves. As well as the big names like Amstel, you can find micro-brewed Dutch beer, as well as bars that serve American beer, British ales and Belgian beer– a bit of everything really. So we decided to track down as many as time allowed.

The first pub we visited was In de Wildeman in the city centre, in the middle of a maze of narrow crowded streets off the main drag of Niewezidjes Voorburgwal. The pub was located on a busy strip with a coffee shop opposite and a Wok to Walk around the corner (a favourite place for noodles when in Amsterdam – yum). It was a Saturday night and the pub was pretty busy. We sat in the main bar and took in our surroundings.

It’s an attractive building with a tiled floor, lots of dark wood, and large windows. There are three areas in the pub –the main bar where we were sitting (the best spot), a raised level decorated with empty barrels, and a pretty, quieter bar around the other side. There were some casks on top of the bar serving Dutch real ale, as well as 18 taps and 250 bottles from the UK, US, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. A board above the door displayed a long list of beers available. It seemed that most beers were over 5% and were priced from €3.20 for 25cl, quite expensive compared to prices I’m used to in the UK (where presently it’s around £1.70/80 for a half pint in Cambridge). The Dutch don’t tend to drink beer in pint glasses – it’s generally the ‘vaasje’ size glass, the 25cl, which suits me fine. It’s only really tourists that drink pints.

I opted for a Ramses IBIS on draft at 5.3%, a Belgian style wheat beer – it wasn’t too bad, quite tasty with hints of peach. Not really one of my favourite styles though. @pintsandpubs had a Ramses Hop on cask at 6.6%, which I thought was much nicer – apparently pacific gem hops in there and peachy flavours but with an earthy element. We also tried a De Prael Doe Maar Hop on cask at 7%, which I really didn’t like. This amber scotch ale had a lovely hoppy aroma, but it’s a shame that this didn’t follow through with the flavour. It was very yeasty, some caramel, but a very odd element that I couldn’t put my finger on – it was like fresh hops gone sour. Not one for me. In fact, neither of us could finish it.

We moved out of the narrow streets to emerge back onto the main tram thoroughfare of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal to seek out the Beer Temple. This is the only American beer bar in the city and has 30 beers on draft (not all of which are American) and over 60 US beers in bottles. The building was  quite small, long, narrow, modern, and dimly lit, which is always nice. The beers were chalked onto a board above the bar, and the barman patiently waited while I told him that ‘we might be some time’. I tried a few beers, on a quest for something nice and hoppy, and one that he offered me turned out to be BrewDog’s 5am Saint, which I wasn’t going to turn down, but I explained that I wanted to try something different. There were beers from Flying Dog, Left Hand and Mikkeler, and they were selling beers in all sizes, from 15cl for barley wines such as Southern Tier’s Back Burner (€3.50) to 42 cl for Bridge Road’s Bling IPA at 5.8% (€9). Prices started at €3.50 for 25 cl of Leffe Blonde.

I ended up with a non-American beer after all that, a Weihenstephaner Pale Ale at 5.5%, which was OK, tasted of bananas, nothing particularly special. @pintsandpubs had a Mikkeller Sort Gul at 7.5%, an absolutely gorgeous black IPA. I have a bit of an internal battle with black IPAs at times, but this one was just great – nicely balanced, rounded, beautiful roasted smoky flavours with lovely Citra flavours. I should’ve gone for that one.

Just around the corner from the Beer Temple is a bottle shop called De Bierkoning. It had a massive selection of Dutch beers, Belgian beers, beer from the UK (BrewDog, Crouch Vale, Fullers, even The Kernel), the US, and the rest of Europe. The Dutch and Belgian beer was nice and cheap, with De Molen ranging from just under €2 to €5 a bottle. But the Mikkeller beer was still expensive – is there anywhere where you can find it for a decent price? We picked up some De Molen and more Dutch beer to take back to the apartment. Another cheap place for bottled beer is the local supermarket – the Albert Heijn in the Jordaan was selling La Trappe, Westmalle and Duvel for next to nothing, with some beer less than a euro per bottle. Bargain.

The next day after a stroll around the Red Light District we tracked down the Brouwerij de Prael‘s ‘Proeflokaal‘, or tasting room, tucked away in a little run-down alleyway (Oudezijds Armsteeg) behind the brewery itself which is located one of the main Red Light canals, Oudezijds Voorburgwal (at least it’s one of the main RL canals at the moment but things may change very soon around there – but that’s another story). This modern, light and airy tasting room has lots  of exposed brickwork and tiles, dark wooden floors, 3 very different feeling levels, a tiled bar and shiny stainless steel taps. Some of the beers I wanted to try weren’t on, such as the Zwarte Riek, a milk stout, and the Nick 7 Simon IPA, but after several tasters from the very nice lady behind the bar I ended up with a Mary at 9.7%, a barley wine with strong orange and citrus flavours with a hint of coriander. It was beautiful, rich and warming. @pintsandpubs had a Johnny, a refreshing kolsch at 5.7%, a cloudy blonde beer with some spice, peach and lemon flavours, and quite yeasty. A nice amount of carbonation too. We sat in the comfy armchairs on the middle level with a candle on the table, overlooking the main bar and another bar at the back.  A nice afternoon stop-off.

That evening we headed to Arendsnest, a bar that sells only Dutch beer and run by Peter van de Arend who set up the Beer Temple. This lovely bar, with its dark polished wood, sparkling glassware, smartly-dressed staff and cosy atmosphere, is situated on a quiet section of one of the lovely stately canals, Herengracht – blink and you’ll walk straight past the bar.  There are over 30 taps and over 120 bottles to choose from. I perused the chalkboard, offering beers from the likes of De Molen, Jopen, T’Ij and Texels, and went for a Kompaan 20, a brewery from the Hague, at 5.2%. This beer was pleasant enough, inoffensive, nothing special – just light and sweet with banana flavours. I decided at this point that this was it for me with the plain blonde beers – I was getting a bit fed up with them. I tried a Texels Bock at 6.5 which others in the bar were drinking. It was dark amber and spicy but too sweet, so I ended up with a De 7 Deugden Bock + Spring, a deep dark bock with lots of spicy notes, a big foamy head, smooth and moreish.  This was more like it. @pintsandpubs had a De Molen Engels, 4.5% – this amber beer from this fantastic brewery was as good as usual, with tropical hop flavours bursting out of the glass. This was followed by a Snab Pale Ale at 6.2%, with rich malt flavours, US hops and bitter finish. What a great bar.

We’d walked past De Bekeerder Suster, a brewpub, the previous day, and although it was on my list of bars to visit it didn’t entice us in and we headed elsewhere. However, the next day was cold, the two pubs we wanted to go to were closed, and we just so happened to end up back in that area near the Kloveniersburgwal canal. We were told this bar opened at 3, so we ended up back there at 2 minutes past. As well as selling beers from their own brewery such as Blonde Ros, White Ros and Manke Monk (a great sounding tripel) there were also beers from Heineken, Palm, La Chouffe, as well as lots of bottled Belgian beers and a handful from the US and Europe. We wanted to try one of their brews, so we both chose the beer of the month, Bock Ros, a lovely deep ruby bock beer at 6.5%, only available in autumn. This was a beautiful spicy beer, with caramel flavours, an aroma of demerera sugar, very smooth and quite sweet.

The building was lovely too, with the walls painted with artwork, dark brown wood, dim lighting, art deco lamps, glowing candles on every table (I like that about Amsterdam, candles lit even in the middle of the day) and shiny copper brewing vessels at the back of the pub, overlooked by a portrait of the Bekeerde Suster, or the Converted Sister. It just goes to show that appearances can be deceiving, as from the outside this place just looked like a regular cafe.

That evening on our way to eat in the Jordaan we stopped off on Prinsengracht at Het Bruine Paard, or brown horse. It was teeming with locals and we could hardly get to the bar – but we managed to order an Amstel Bock at 7% for about €4 each and took our drinks outside, overlooking the lovely canal. It was OK, not as good as the other bocks I had tried, and although it was creamy and sugary with lots of caramel flavours, it was slightly dull. Never mind. The setting was nice and it was good to see a bustling locals bar.

We had to fly home the following day, but before heading to the airport we found ourselves close to In de Wildeman again so thought it would be rude not to at least pop in for a quick drink. It was empty, completely different to our Saturday night there, and the casks had gone from on top of the bar. As soon as I spotted De Molen Vuur & Vlaam, 6.2%, on the board nothing else mattered – this is one of my favourite beers from this brewery, and I had only tried it from the bottle, never on draft – if there was one beer I hoped I’d find in Amsterdam, it was this one. What a find. It was full of big citrus hop flavours, yet mellow at the same time. A well-rounded, bitter-sweet beer which went down far too easily – so much so that another one was in order. @pintsandpubs had the Ayinger Celebrator at 6.7%, a dark, rich and roasted malt beer, with silky caramel  liquorice flavours. But nothing could entice me away from the Vuur & Vlaam. A great way to finish off our trip.

So that was it, off home, but we unfortunately couldn’t take any beers back with us as we had hand luggage only – come on airlines, change the carry-on liquid allowance! It’s good to know that there are lots of great bars with decent beer worth visiting in Amsterdam – I’m missing them already…

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