Monday, 16 October 2017

Three go to Oktoberfest - Part Two

Continuing the narrative from where we left off last time, we were now  inside  Oktoberfest, and it was still only 11.30 am. The grounds were relatively quiet, and visitors were just trickling in slowly, so what to do next?  Well a beer wasn’t the first thing on any of our minds. Coffee plus something to eat seemed a far better idea, especially as breakfast wasn’t included in our hotel booking.

Salvation came in the form of Bodo’s Backstube, a “tent” decked out in the style of an Alpine chalet, serving coffee and various cakes. Eileen went for a large slice of Apfel Strudel, whilst the lad and I chose a Kirschwasser (Cherry Schnapps) Donut. Not exactly the healthiest of breakfasts, but something at least to line the stomach with.

Inside Bodo's
We sat inside Bodo’s for twenty minutes or so, polishing off our cake and finishing our coffee. When we emerged, the festival grounds were starting to fill up. We had a good wander around, taking in the Augustiner “tent”, the Ochsenbraterei; a large “tent”, specialising in roast oxen, along with Spaten beer. The outside Biergarten area of the latter looked pretty full, so we thought we perhaps ought to head for a “tent” ourselves, before all the seats were taken.

A bit more information, plus some handy tips here. The “tents", referred to in parentheses are not really tents at all; certainly not in the traditional meaning of the word. They are large and spacious, semi-permanent structures, constructed mainly from wood, along with various other materials. They are erected each year, specially for Oktoberfest, and then at the end of the event, are dismantled, removed from the site and stored in various warehouses, ready for the following year.

The festival site - before the tents are erected
The word “Zelt” means a tent in German, and the one we were heading for was the Hacker-Festzelt. This “tent” has been at Oktoberfest since 1907, and is particularly popular with young Bavarian drinkers. Nearly all of them are decked out in traditional costume, or “Tracht”.  This means Lederhosen, checked shirt and white or beige socks for the men, and Dirndls for the women. With the latter, the skirt should come down to just below the knee, rather than above it, and there is a whole etiquette, mainly relating to marital status, surrounding which side the bow should be tied.

Now some important information, so please pay attention. Unless you have a seat; either inside or outside one of the tents, you will not be served. There is none of the vertical drinking common at UK beer festivals, and you will not be allowed to wander around carrying your mug of beer. By “seat” I mean a long bench, in front of an equally long wooden table. Typically there will be room for 10 average sized people, on each table (five along each bench.).

If, like us, you visit mid-week and arrive early, you will not have a problem finding a seat. If your visit is planned for the evening, or at the weekend, then it is almost essential to reserve a seat in advance. This is particularly important if you are part of a large group, as with a bit of patience, “couples" can normally be squeezed in somewhere – especially if  you ask nicely.

Reservations normally open in April for the upcoming Oktoberfest, and must be made to the individual tents. Full details can be found online, here. The reservation itself is free of charge., but it is usual for each person to buy vouchers for a certain amount of beverages and food (in most cases two litres of beer and one roast chicken). These are valid only for the current Oktoberfest and have to be paid in advance. The vouchers can be redeemed inside the tent.

Of course, visitors are free to eat and drink more than the amount that has been paid in advance. It should be noted that reservations are not for a complete day but for a specific time-slot, which will be confirmed with the reservation. This is to allow more groups of people to celebrate inside the beer tent.

Back to the Hacker-Festzelt, and I am sorry to report that we were refused entry. This wasn’t because the tent was full, or that the seats were all reserved; the reason we were unable to gain access was we were all carrying bottles of water! To us, the water was a sensible precaution. We were going to be drinking some quite strong beer. The sun was shining and temperatures were forecast to hit the mid 20’s. Drinking lots of water seemed the sensible thing to do, but because water is available INSIDE the "tent" (at inflated coast, no doubt), the management weren’t keen for people to be bringing their own in.

I don’t know whether this applies to all the tents, or just certain ones, but all was not lost as, just in front of the tent was an outdoor beer-garden area, and there were some spaces available. We grabbed space on the end of a table, stuck our water bottles on the ground, by our feet and waited for the waitress to come and take our order.

This didn’t take long, but the lady, who came to our table was slightly more advanced in years than the young Frauleins I alluded to earlier. She was quick and efficient though, and I have to say that the staff who work the tables at Oktoberfest deserve every Euro they are paid. Treat them politely, tip them well – but not too generously, and they will see you alright. Our waitress brought two foaming Maβ Krugs of Hacker-Pschorr Festbier for Matt and I, plus an equal measure (and an equal price), of alcohol-free beer for Mrs PBT’s.

According to one survey at least, Hacker-Pschorr came out top of the Festbiers, but that’s just one survey. All the Oktoberfest beers will be good, full-bodied, well-rounded and with the right balance between malt and hops. Matt and I certainly enjoyed our Maβ Krugs, and Eileen enjoyed hers; even though I had to finish it, mixing what was left in her glass with what was left in mine.

It was very pleasant sitting out in the warm, late-September sunshine, taking in  the atmosphere and enjoying the general ambience. Our waitress returned and asked if we wanted anything to eat? Something solid inside, apart from a Cherry Schnapps Donut, seemed a good idea. Eileen and I both had a plate of local (Fränkische), sausages, with potato salad; Matt had roast pork in gravy, with one of those spongy potato dumplings (Kartoffel-Knödel).

It’s worth mentioning here that at Oktoberfest, you pay for your food and drink when they are brought to your table; unlike the practise in most German pubs and restaurants, where you pay before you leave. This makes perfect sense, given the high numbers of people coming and going, and I prefer this anyway, as it saves hanging around waiting for the final bill to appear.

One thing I did do before leaving, was nip inside the tent. With no water bottle in hand, and no bag either, I was not challenged and was able to wander around taking as many photographs as I wished. It was pretty hectic inside and was full of mainly young locals, the majority wearing "Trachten".

The Hacker-Festzelt can accommodate up to 9,300 people, which is a similar number to the other large “tents”. There are fourteen of these; seven of which are operated by the breweries, and the rest by independent landlords. There are also around 10 smaller “tents”.

We had a wander around afterwards, but didn’t have any more beer. I calculated that finding a “tent” with a free table, and then ordering  and consuming another litre of beer would take at least an hour, and as we were due to head for Regensburg, for the main part of the holiday, I also had the responsibility of guiding the family to the station, buying the tickets and making sure we boarded the right train.

We did a rough circuit of the site before making our way towards the exit, taking in such traditional fairground attractions as the “Haunted House”, the motor-cycle “Wall of Death” and one of those “try your strength” machines, where you have to bring a large wooden mallet crashing down on a “puck” in an attempt to ring the bell at the top of a tower. We also all bought ourselves an Oktoberfest hat, and I shall be wearing mine whilst working at next weekend’s Spa Valley Beer Festival.

The main thing we discovered about  Oktoberfest was just how accessible the whole thing is and,  having now “learned the ropes”, I would definitely go again but this time spend a bit longer there.  

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Three go to Oktoberfest - Part One

In my last post I wrote about the series of events which led to us attending our first Oktoberfest; serendipity; if you like! Here, I want to offer some tips and advice for “first timers”; small things which we picked up on which would make future visits that little bit more enjoyable, and as stress free as possible.

This is going to be quite a lengthy article, so for those with short attention spans, or just better things to do with their time, I have divided it into two. Here is Part One.

Let’s kick off with Oktoberfest itself. The story of how the event came into being is well-documented, and can easily be found both online, and in various books. Moses Wolff’s excellent “Meet me in Munich”, which I referred to in the previous article, is a must for anyone seriously contemplating a visit to Oktoberfest.

This particularly applies to those contemplating a visit either with a small group of friends or, as we did, as a family. There are various travel companies who organise trips for larger groups, and these will normally offer the complete package of flights, accommodation and meals. If, like me, you prefer to do your own thing, then the process is quite straight forward, particularly with a little planning and the sort of advice I am about to reveal.

First, the event is free. Obviously you will have to buy your beer and food, but unlike most British beer festivals, there is no admission charge. The costs involved in providing the “temporary” infra-structure”, paying the staff and the all the other ancillary charges involved in putting on this mammoth festival, are recouped  by the price of the beer (and to a lesser extent the food).

This year a litre, or Maβ of beer cost €10.80. This equates, at current exchange rates, to just over £5.40 a pint. Expensive you might think, but you are getting a specially-brewed Festbier which is around 6% ABV, waitress service – all those good-looking Frauleins in their traditional Dirndls, bringing armfuls of beer to your table are definitely worth the additional cost, plus the atmosphere, camaraderie and general ambience of the whole event.

Second, there is a lot more to the event than the drinking of copious amounts of beer. We enjoyed just walking around, looking at the stalls selling snacks and souvenirs, the various side-shows, shooting galleries plus other fairground attractions.

We personally steered away from the latter, as none of us enjoy being spun round at high speed, turned upside down or dropped from a great height, but if this sort of thing floats your boat, then do give the rides a try – preferably before you’ve had a skinful of beer and a roast pork knuckle!

Don’t turn up expecting a CAMRA-style beer festival, with dozens, if not hundreds of different beers on sale. The only brewers allowed to serve their beers at Oktoberfest are those within the city limits. This effectively means just six brewers are represented, and these are Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten.

Even here there are tie ups as Hacker-Pschorr are part of the same group as Paulaner, and the same applies to Löwenbräu and Spaten. Augustiner are still family owned, whilst Hofbräu are owned by the state of Bavaria. Other brewers have tried to get round these limitations by opening breweries within Munich, but the city council moved the goal posts by stating only those established before 1970 could supply beer to Oktoberfest.

There is also none of the samplings in half, or even third of a pint glasses, which are common place at UK beer festivals. At Oktoberfest it is litres only – as my wife found out! On the plus side there is no deposit on the glasses, so no queuing for glasses and no waiting for a refund at the end.

Some more practical tips now. Security has been ramped up in recent years; for obvious reasons. We were aware that rucksacks are not allowed, so we left ours back at the hotel. Large bags are also banned, but there is some obvious confusion as to what constitutes a “large bag”. Eileen certainly didn’t think her Cath Kidston handbag fell into this category, but one of the security people checking all visitors at the entrance (there are several entrances, dotted right round the site), had other ideas. This necessitated a trip to one of the baggage depositories, a €4 charge for leaving the bag and a very disgruntled wife.

"How am I supposed to carry my purse, passport, cigarette lighter etc?" Was her earnest plea. I placated her, once we were inside by purchasing a small bag, capable of accommodating all the accoutrements and other paraphernalia the female of the species normally carries around with her! The result, a happy Mrs PBT’s and a happy me!

Part Two, follows shortly.

Friday, 13 October 2017

We didn't mean to go to Oktoberfest!

We didn’t originally plan to go to Oktoberfest, in fact it happened virtually by accident; not that many people actually believe this statement! Both family and work colleagues thought I had arranged our holiday deliberately to coincide with the "grand-daddy" of all beer festivals, and the best known and most famous event of its kind in the world. This was not the case, as I am about to point out.

When choosing our holiday, and planning the travel arrangements, I originally wanted to visit somewhere else in Germany, for what would be my fourth trip to the Federal Republic in a year. I settled on Heidelberg; a city which had all the attributes I was looking for – historic buildings, attractive setting, a good general ambience, plus some good places in which to enjoy a few beers.

The last attribute could apply to almost anywhere in Germany, but Heidelberg seemed both desirable and relatively easy to get to. My wife however, had other ideas, and expressed a strong desire to return to Regensburg; the attractive medieval city, on the banks of the River Danube, which we had visited last year. I was not averse to the idea, so being the dutiful and at times compliant husband, I agreed and set about making the travel arrangements and booking the accommodation.

Last year we flew to Nuremberg from Stansted, using Ryan Air, and then took the train to Regensburg. There is only one flight a day in each direction and whilst this worked out well in 2016, the timings this year necessitated either a very early start, or an overnight stop. The family also expressed a wish not to fly back on a Sunday, as they wanted a day to recuperate from the holiday, before returning to work (light-weights!).

Son Matthew had left it late to book his leave, meaning we were looking at the last week in September, rather than my preferred option of the first week. This was the same week as last year, and also happened to coincide with the last week of Oktoberfest. Because of this clash I at first, deliberately steered clear of Munich as our point of entry because I thought (wrongly as it turned out) that flights and accommodation would be expensive.

Something happened to make me change my mind, and that was Eileen having to go into work on the Monday to sort out the men’s wages and pay various contractors. She works, on a self-employed basis, for a firm of scaffolders, and is responsible for the admin and office side of the operation. She has no deputy, and although I’d suggested her sorting out these financial matters the day before, this was not practical.  

Not paying the workforce was obviously out of the question, but what was possible was her going in for the morning and us to then take a flight later in the day. As it happened, there was a suitable, early-evening flight from Gatwick with Easy Jet, and what’s more it was dirt cheap. All that was needed was somewhere to stay for the night in the city. I found a decent hotel, offering rooms at a fairly reasonable rate, close to the main station. Matt’s friend had stayed there a couple of times, and we had met up with him there on our last visit to Munich,  back in February.

I booked us in for the night, and then booked a four night stay in Regensburg, at the same well-appointed hotel, right in the heart of the old town, where we had stayed the previous year. With a late evening flight back booked for the Saturday evening, the stage as set for three and a half days in Regensburg, sandwiched between two half days in the Bavarian capital. All that was left then was to think of something to do in Munich for late Tuesday morning/early afternoon.

I thought of a bit of sight-seeing, followed by some shopping, before rounding things off with lunch (plus a few beers at one of the city’s excellent beer-gardens). I was looking at a tram-ride out to the Englischer Garten when the brainwave struck; why not call in at Oktoberfest instead?

The festival site, or Theresienwiese (Wiesn), was only about 15 minutes walk from the hotel, and a similar distance from the station. We could leave our bags at the hotel and then nip along to Oktoberfest. We were in town, we were close by, it was the perfect opportunity and, as the saying goes, “It would be rude not to!”.

I spent a few weeks genning up on all things Oktoberfest, and in this I was ably assisted by the excellent “Meet me in Munich”“A Beer Lover’s Guide to Oktoberfest”, by Moses Wolff. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone contemplating a visit to Oktoberfest, as not only is it packed with just about everything you need to know, it is written with care, devotion plus just the right amount of humour, by a native of Munich, who still lives in the city and is a regular (and frequent), visitor to Oktoberfest.

The book changed my perception of the event from something I thought of as just a glorified “piss-up”, to what it really is, namely the world’s largest folk festival, travelling fun-fair and a celebration of all things Bavarian. Of course beer features highly on the agenda,  and the event wouldn’t be Oktoberfest without it, but I soon discovered there are plenty of other things to see and do, besides necking back Maβ Krug’s of high-octane beer, and it was this which helped me sell our proposed visit to the family.

Matt  didn’t need much persuasion, although as he later confided he was pleasantly surprised to discover it was not just a crowd of mainly blokes, sitting in an enormous beer hall, swilling litre-sized mugs of beer. Eileen too enjoyed the experience and was quite taken aback to learn I hadn’t been before. “I didn’t realise you were an Oktoberfest virgin”, she told me as we wandered down to the Wiesn, “We’d better get along there quick, and lose our virginity before anyone catches on.”
And that’s where, for the time being at least, we will leave this narrative about the world’s biggest beer festival. Next time I describe our experience of this slightly crazy, but fun-filled event, along with some useful tips and practical information for other would be first time visitors, keen to lose their “Oktoberfest virginity”.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Longevity awards

The Dovecote - 25 years in the GBG

Last month I posted an article about the five pubs which have appeared in every edition of CAMRA’s best-selling Good Beer Guide. That’s 45 editions and 45 years continuous entry.

Now that takes some doing, and is one hell of an achievement, but here in West Kent we have a few longstanding entries of our own, and earlier in the week, the local branch awarded certificates to two of them. I was amongst those present when the awards were handed over, and here is my report.

First up, and celebrating 20 consecutive years in the Guide, was the Dovecote at Capel. Now Capel is little more than a row of houses, the odd farm plus a 13th Century church, close to the village of Five Oak Green, three miles to the east of Tonbridge. The Dovecote forms part of the aforementioned row of houses and, whilst little is know about its history, is a fine country pub.
With very few chimney pots in the immediate vicinity, the Dovecote has to offer something special to attract custom, and it does this by stocking a range of up to six cask ales, alongside what it describes as “good traditional, locally-sourced homely food, in a cosy atmosphere”.

I have known the pub for the past 30 years, and little has changed apart from the installation of an ingenious system for serving cask-beer by gravity. This was devised by a former landlord, and it involves the casks being kept in a temperature-controlled room, immediately behind the bar. Extra-long cask taps protrude through the dividing wall, and out through false barrel ends, made out of wood, set into the wall. The result, beer kept at just the right temperature, and served in the most natural way possible – straight from the cask.
Harvey’s Sussex Best and Gales HSB (now brewed by Fuller’s, of course), are the two regular beers, alongside something from Tonbridge Brewery. When we called in on Tuesday evening, Old Dairy Copper Top and Fuller’s Oliver’s Island were also on sale. I opted for the latter, and can report it was in excellent condition (3.5 NBSS). This was my first taste of this beer on cask; although I am pretty certain I have tried it in bottled-form.

For those of us still working, (not many amongst a branch of mainly retirees), it was rather a rush getting to the Dovecote for the 7pm presentation, but a non-working friend, very kindly gave me a lift. We joined half dozen or so other members who’d arrived ahead of us, also by car.

Charlie, the landlord had been tipped off about our visit, but I think that even he was unsure that the pub had clocked up that many years in the guide. The bar was still fairly quiet, so branch chairman Craig, went ahead with the presentation, along with the usual congratulatory speech. Charlie was thrilled with the award, and thanked us for coming. We would have liked to have stayed longer, but we had another presentation to make that evening; this time to a back-street local in Tunbridge Wells.

We set off, in two cars, and made our way to Mount Sion; a short distance up from the town’s High Street. This is an area of narrow and in places part cobbled streets, with a mix of substantial early Victorian houses and charming, cosy cottages, which is often referred to as the “Village” area of Tunbridge Wells. Despite the obvious parking problems, it is a very desirable, but rather expensive, part of the town in which to live.

We made our way to the Grove Tavern, in Little Mount Sion; a tiny and cosy “L”-shaped pub which is a contender for the title of the oldest pub in Tunbridge Wells. The Grove is a drinkers and a sports enthusiast’s pub, which  attracts its own loyal crowd of regulars, but with an open fire in winter, and some lively conversation at the bar, visitors are soon made to feel at home here.

Grove Tavern - 15 years in the GBG
The pub is ably run by landlord Steve Baxter, with help from wife Jane and sometimes their daughter as well. The Grove is celebrating its 15th year in the Good Beer Guide, and once again it fell to chairman Craig to make the presentation. There was a much larger CAMRA contingent present, than there had been at the Dovecote; unsurprisingly really given the pub’s central location. There was also a good crowd of regulars in the bar as well.

The Grove stocks Harvey’s Sussex Best and Taylor’s Landlord as its regular beers, with a couple of guest ales normally on sale alongside. On Tuesday these were Templar, from Pilgrim Brewery, plus a 4.2% Green Hop Ale from Wantsum Brewery. I made the mistake of choosing the latter, which was foolish, given that I have never been a fan of Wantsum beers.

My instincts were correct, and the beer had a peculiar “woody” taste which at first I put down to the green hops, before recognising this undesirable, off-tasting characteristic. I wasn’t the only person who was unimpressed with this beer, but the excellent pint of Landlord I had after, made up for it.

As mentioned it was a good turn-out and Steve was obviously pleased with his well-deserved award. I didn’t stay too much longer, as I took advantage of my friend’s offer of a lift back to Tonbridge. It was a “school-night” after all, so I was quite pleased to be home, shortly before 10.30 pm.

It had been an enjoyable evening though, and it was particularly good to see two quite diverse pubs, which are almost polar opposites, doing so well.

Monday, 9 October 2017

On your bike!

Yesterday (Sunday), I achieved a minor ambition by cycling from my home in Tonbridge, to the village of Sevenoaks Weald. Now this isn’t a particularly long ride, and neither is it that arduous.

Three and a half decades ago, I would have thought nothing of covering that sort of distance, as most weekends I regularly went for much longer cycle rides. That was when I was living in south London, and even back then there was a beer-related purpose behind jumping onto the saddle and heading off into the Surrey, or even sometimes the Kent countryside.

Cycling out to a country pub, with the possibility of a new beer on offer, was not only a great way of exploring new places, but was a great way of escaping the hustle and bustle of the big city.

That was then, and this is now and despite giving my bike a complete overhaul, and treating it to new tyres and new inner tubes, I really haven’t been out on it as much as I would have liked this summer. The lousy weather in July and August didn’t help, and there was plenty to do in both house and garden, but sometimes you just have to say, “Sod it, these things can wait”, and bite the bullet.

I already had the route to Weald, mapped out in my mind’s eye, and after checking the distance on Google Maps (6.5 miles), and seeing that the estimated journey time by bike, was just 38 minutes, off I went.

Sixty minutes later I rode into Weald village, and five minutes after that I was propping my bike up against the wall of the Windmill pub and hurrying inside for a well-earned pint. In case you hadn’t already guessed, the Windmill was my intended destination all along, and it was a pint of Larkin’s Green-Hopped Best Bitter I was after.
I was to be disappointed in that particular quest as it had all sold out, but by way of compensation there was a pint of Kent Brewery Session Pale 3.7% with my name on it, waiting to be pulled at the bar. After paying for my pint, I went back outside to drink it. I hadn’t locked the bike up, so wanted to keep an eye on it, but more importantly I was rather warm after my exertions, and wanted to cool down.

Matt the landlord followed me out, mainly to say hello. I told him I had cycled over from Tonbridge and he remarked that such a feat was worthy of at least two pints! In the end I only had a pint and a half. The Session Pale was excellent, pale in colour, and absolutely bursting with citrus hops.

I was tempted to go for the Green-Hop offering from the same brewery, but at 6.0%, the  Green Giant IPA would not have been a good idea  on two wheels, and narrow roads to navigate. Instead I opted for Brew York,  a 4.9% American Pale Ale from York-based, Brew York. It was darker than the Kent Brewery beer, and much maltier in character.

I bought a packet of Piper’s Sea Salt Crisps to go with my beer and was in crisp heaven. I rarely see crisps from this king of crisp manufacturers, but when I do I never overlook them. I sat back outside again. The pub was busy inside, mainly with diners, although there were a handful of serious drinkers clustered around the bar.

And so to the return journey. I retraced my route back along Scabharbour Road, before turning off down the intriguingly named Egg Pie Lane. This is a route my friends and I have often taken on foot, as it leads back towards Hildenborough station. It is quite a narrow lane and there are some impressive looking houses scattered at intervals along its length.

I was able to free-wheel for much of the way. I hadn’t really noticed the steady climb on the outward journey (apart from the last section), so this was a real  bonus for me. Much of the ride back down through Hildenborough, and into Tonbridge, was also downhill as well. This is one of several roads in the area where there is a dedicated cycle lane, sharing the pavement with pedestrians, so I really flew back along this part of the route.

I was back in Tonbridge in time to pick up a few bits of shopping, before arriving back home. I pushed my bike up the hill on the last stretch, but 13 miles wasn’t a bad run for someone who hasn’t done a lot of cycling recently. Next time I do the ride, I will persuade my old walking friend Eric to accompany me, as I’m sure he’ll enjoy both the ride and the destination.

One final thing. I am a reluctant convert to cycle helmets. I never liked the thought of wearing one; preferring instead to feel the wind rushing through my hair. I was given one for Christmas, so thought I ought to wear it. I know it makes sense, and I know that in the event of a tumble a helmet could make all the difference. I am not as young either as I was when I set off on those rides out of London, three and a half decades ago, and I doubt my reflexes are quite as sharp as they were then.

I still don’t like wearing one though, as despite helmets being vented, my head still feels very hot with one on, but c’est la vie!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

World’s Best Beers

I first came across the work of Ben Mc Farland and Tom Sandham when I purchased the "Good Beer Guide to West Coast USA". Published by CAMRA in 2008, the book acted as a beacon which sparked a desire to visit California, Oregon and Washington State, and experience the amazing beer scene there. Rather tardily, I have not yet achieved this desire, but I certainly intend to.

Ben and Tom’s easy-going, but highly informative, style was one of the driving forces behind my desire to “Go West,” so after being contacted by publishers Jacqui Small and asked if I would like to review a copy of the duo’s latest title, I of course jumped at the chance.

Their new book is titled the “World’s Best Beers,” and having now had the chance to cast my eye over this handsomely illustrated, hardback book, here are a few of my thoughts.

The first point to note is the book’s sub-title of “1,000 Un-missable Brews from Portland to Prague.” With that amount of different beers to get through, Ben and Tom certainly had their work cut out. However, the pair describe themselves as “the thinking drinkers”, with a philosophy of “drinking less but drinking better”, and it is this which has enabled them to work their way through such a amazing line-up of beers, and live to tell the tale.

The second point is this is actually the second edition of this title; the first having appeared in 2009. With over 500 new beers, there has been a lot of changes, so I have to wonder which ones have fallen by the wayside.

Now down to the nitty-gritty, and the real substance of the book. As the title suggests, this is truly a global guide, so the main bulk is  divided first into continents (Europe, the Americas,  Australia & New Zealand, and finally Asia & the rest of the World), and then into countries.

Ben and Tom
All the world’s great brewing nations and their beers are described, and this is where the authors’ prowess comes into play, by selecting what they regard as the best each country/region has to offer in terms of great beers.

Each chosen beer is annotated by a photo of the relevant bottle, and sometimes by one of the beer in a glass as well. The location of the brewery concerned is given, in terms of city/town/state/area, plus a succinct write-up, which tells the reader all he or she needs to know about each beer. There are also sections on brewing, beer-styles, drinking vessels plus informative guides to storing and pouring beer, where to drink it and what to eat with it.

This latter section is particularly noteworthy as  it starts off by examining the principles behind beer and food matching, before moving on to pairings such as beer and cheese, beer and chocolate plus beer and burgers. It then looks at beer with certain types of national cuisine, including Scandinavian, Mexican and Spanish. Finally it looks at the vexed problem of what types of beer work best with desserts.

The book is broken up by a number of in-depth profiles of some of the breweries, plus some rather more obvious pages, such as introductions to each country. So is it a coffee-table book, or a serious treatise on beer?

My money is on the latter, and with 1,000 different beers to choose from, there is certainly something for everyone. I haven’t had time to check right through yet, but there are many of my own personal favourites amongst those listed. I therefore feel the book is pitched at just the  right level;  challenging and technical enough to draw in those new to the world of beer and brewing, but not so basic as to put off the real beer enthusiasts.

So, if I had not been sent a copy of this book to review, would I buy it? This is a difficult question to answer, as I really like it and know, that even though I've read countless books on the subject, I would still learn things from this one.

And there lies the problem; I already have shelves full of books about beer, and the £25 cover price sounds a bit steep. However, perhaps I am a little out of touch with regard to book prices, and whilst I don’t really want to be pushing business the way of a certain on-line retailing giant, I’m sure that with a little initiative, the book can be obtained for less than the published cover price.

So, as I am now the proud owner of this informative guide, the question is rather immaterial. If I had not received a copy though, the “World’s Best Beers” would certainly be on my Christmas present list, and if a friend or family member had decided to buy it for me for me, then I would have been extremely grateful.

I can't say fairer than that, and if I've whetted your appetite and you fancy getting hold of a copy, the details are opposite:

Disclaimer: I was approached by the publishers Jacqui Small, and asked if I would review this book. For doing so I received a complimentary copy, but did not allow this to influence my review in any way.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Old Dairy at the Old Fire Station

Tucked away in the maze of streets behind Tonbridge’s imposing 13th Century castle, the Old Fire Station saw its last fire engine depart back in 1986, when the Fire & Rescue Service moved to a modern and purpose-built facility on the town’s industrial estate. After standing empty for three decades, and following extensive renovation work, the iconic building was given a new lease of life.

Two years ago, virtually to the day, the sensitively restored building opened its doors for the first time, and launched itself as the town's pop-up and event space. Since that day back in 2015, the venue has hosted various events, including fine dining evenings, its own cider festival and numerous “tap-takeovers.”

Rather fittingly Tonbridge Old Fire Station (TOFS), played host to Old Dairy Brewery this weekend, for a “tap-takeover” which showcased the best of the brewery’s beers. Friday evening was also a friend’s birthday, so half-dozen or so of us met up in the ground floor bar to help him celebrate.

A number of Old Dairy beers are on regular sale at TOFS, but in keg form only. On this occasion the brewery’s cask ales were highlighted alongside offerings from Old Dairy’s “craft range.” The latter beers have recently been launched under the name of the “Cattle-Shed Brewery,” a move which could be viewed as either a clever marketing trick, or just jumping on the craft-beer band wagon.

I stuck with cask, especially as Old Dairy had brought along three of their “Green Hop” ales. I was keen to get stuck into the latter, as having been away for the first half of “Kent Green-Hop Fortnight,” and also not attending this year’s Canterbury Food & Drink Festival – where virtually all of Kent’s Green-Hop Ales are exhibited, I felt I had missed out on my “Green Hop” fix.

There were two beers brewed at 4.0%, plus an additional one at 6.5%. All were brewed to showcase a particular variety of hop. I started with the Challenger, before moving onto the slightly more “earthy” Bullion. Both were really good, well-balanced as well as refreshing. They certainly slipped down a treat.

The bar area was relatively crowded, with the sort of discerning people one has begun to expect at these events, and most were getting stuck into the excellent beers. The majority of our party had arrived earlier than me, so they’d been able to grab a table. It was good to catch up with friends, and to swap tales of recent holidays as well as discussing arrangements for the forthcoming Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival; an event most of us are involved with in one form or another.

After two very good pints of hoppy, resinous beer it was time to move onto the Green Horn IPA. At 6.5% it was perhaps a little risky going for a full pint, but I was glad I did, as the beer was excellent. It was well-hopped and this was balanced by sweet, chewy malt, combined with thick resinous hop oils which coated the inside of the mouth. Priced, like all the beers, at £3.50 a pint or £2 a half, this superb Green Hop beer represented real value for money.

As mentioned earlier I stuck with the cask, and that was the advice a couple of my friends said they would pass on to Old Dairy. There was a feeling that whilst the brewery “do” cask extremely well, the same could not be said of their Cattle-Shed range. I didn’t try any of them, so can't really comment, but it might be that the brewery are still finding their feet when it comes to "craft-beer".

Towards the end of the evening,  most of our group drifted off to Fuggles. Two of us stayed though, thinking that Fuggles would be crowded and noisy. We both had things we wanted to do the following morning, so we wisely decided that one more beer at TOFS would be a better idea than several more strong ones at Fuggles. I restricted myself to a half of that old favourite from Old Dairy, the 4.8% Blue Top IPA.

I called back to the Old Fire Station briefly this afternoon, primarily because I wanted to take some photos in daylight, but also to grab a rather nice cup of coffee. Mid-afternoon, the place was rather quiet, but I suspect things will lived up this evening.

The “tap takeover” ends later tonight and I’m sure it has been a great success for both “oldies.” We can no doubt look forward to many similar events; such is the beauty and appeal of this flexible "pop-up" and event space.