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!

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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