Great British Beer Festival 2014

Great British Beer Festival 2014“This is the best time there’s ever been to drink beer in Britain,” according to beer writer, Pete Brown. He’s right, and one of the best places to experience beers from across these isles and beyond is the annual Great British Beer Festival at Olympia, London (12-16 Aug).

There isn’t just beer on offer. You can buy Viking drinking horns and picture yourself in Game of Thrones, or eat super spicy Scorpion Death Chilli Chocolate (go on, I dare you). I also bet that come 10pm you have to haul yourself back from buying a t-shirt which you’ll regret buying in the morning…

Here are a few six-second reviews which I made on the night. A special shout goes out to two Sussex brewers: Harveys for its silky smooth Prince of Denmark imperial stout, Northumberland for Main Seam Mild and Hastings Brewery for its porter.

I thoroughly recommend everyone who loves beer and can get to London gets along to GBBF.

 Kasteel Rouge (Belgium)

[correction, this is not a lambic style as I say in the piece]


Harveys’ Prince of Denmark (Sussex, England)

 Hastings Brewery Porter

Beer Review: Green’s gluten-free Pilsner and Golden Ale

Gluten free beer

Two of Green’s gluten-free range

People sensitive to gluten will be delighted with the growing range of gluten-free beers available on the market. Suffolk’s St. Peter’s Brewery has sold its G-Free range since 2007, just a year before coeliac Derek Green launched his Green’s line made with de-glutenised sweet mash.

Green’s gluten-free beer range – brewed in Belgium, no less – now includes Premium Pils, Golden Ale, Export Lite Lager, Blond, Dark Ale, Amber, Discovery, IPA and Lager Dry Hopped in 330ml bottles. I got hold of a Premium Pils and a Golden Ale from Sainsbury’s and this is what I thought:

Green’s Premium Pilsner (4.5%)

On pouring this straw-coloured pilsner explodes into life with effervescence. This vivacious head dissipates almost as quickly as it comes, leaving a lightly-carbonated beer which is crisp and light, and goes down smoothly with a sharp lemon kick.

Green’s Golden Ale (4.8%)

This top-fermented ale has a pretty rich character. Toffee in colour and medium in body, caramel malt is the dominant flavour, co-piloted by the some serious bitter hops cajoling for attention. It reminds me a lot of the Curious IPA from Kent.

I have seen rumours that gluten-free beers impart a ‘tart’ flavour. I didn’t get that from these two, you wouldn’t notice the difference between these and regular wheat/barley-based beers. I look forward to sourcing and trying the rest of Green’s beer.

Blood, Betting and Baiting: The Dark History of London’s Pubs

Gambling London pubsThe British pub is a social arena like no other: a place of both conflict and comfort – rivalry and camaraderie – and where all troubles can be washed down with a pint of ale. Gaming has always been integral to the pub scene, since it too creates bonds and breaks the monotony of daily life. But don’t think it’s always been backgammon or tiddlywinks… There’s a dark, and often violent, history behind some of London’s longest-standing watering holes. [Guest Post – author Luke Rees]

Today pool and darts are the most popular bar sports, but back in the 18th and 19th centuries it was games like skittles (an early version of 10-pin bowling) and cribbage (a popular card game) that were the favourites to play. If you wanted to get an idea of what it was like, a skittles alley still survives in the basement of the Freemason Arms near Hampstead Heath, but of course patrons are no longer permitted to play for money.

Gambling became illegal in public houses with the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, but a number of British pubs still display evidence of the rich gambling culture that used to exist. The Queens Head in Piccadilly, for example, has an old photograph hanging on one of its walls displaying an assembly of hatted gentlemen and their dogs. Don’t be misled by the refined composure of the scene though, this pub used to be the setting for ratting – a grisly contest where bets were placed on how many rats a dog could maul within a certain time.

Around the mid-19th century, gentlemen and commoners alike (known collectively as ‘the fancy’) would gather in pubs like The Queens Head to watch the most ferocious dogs fight it out in the rat pit. A notorious bull and terrier called Billy is reputed to of killed 100 rats in 5:30 minutes – that’s one every 3.3 seconds!

Eventually towards the end of the century, with indictments led by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), rat baiting was eradicated and The Queens Head refashioned itself as a meeting place for pedigree dog owners (hence the picture on the wall). Interestingly, this meeting place for gentlemen to exhibit their dogs soon evolved into the society that founded Crufts.

Dog and Duck Soho

The Dog and Duck, Soho

A number of seemingly innocent London pub names have a much darker history to them. For example, the animals on the sign of The Dog and Duck in Soho may appear to be friendly, but in fact the pub name references another ugly blood sport: duck baiting. This involved releasing a pinioned duck into a pond, so that it is able to sit on the water but not fly away. A dog would then be let loose into the pond and bets would be placed as to how long it would take the canine to catch the duck, whose only means of escape was to dive under the water. George Orwell was a famous regular at this pub – could its name have provided any inspiration for his allegorical novella ‘Animal Farm’? Probably not.

Humans themselves were also integrated in the culture of bloodletting for money, with bare-knuckle fighting being commonplace in a number of establishments. The Lamb & Flag by Covent Garden developed a particularly brutal reputation for pugilism, even earning itself the nickname ‘The Bucket of Blood’.

Gambling at this time was a dangerous business, as stakes were extremely high. A culture that prized honour and reputation above all else inevitably resulted in a number of cheap and violent deaths. The Grenadier pub in Belgravia is said to be haunted by the ghost of a subaltern from the Duke of Wellington’s regiment, who was caught cheating at cards and subsequently beaten to death by his colleagues.

FortunaDavid Wilkes, Head of Communications at Euro Palace Casino and gambling history enthusiast, has pointed out that, “in the rigid Victorian social hierarchy it seems men stuck at the bottom of the pile were willing to risk great amounts in order to ameliorate their circumstances. Seeing no hope or justice in their predicament, people would offer their entire lives up to Fate. These were most certainly ‘hard times’, and although our modern age isn’t free from social inequality, the playing field is much more level than it was back then.”

For those members of the landed gentry in 1800s, gambling wasn’t so much a matter of life and death but instead a fashionable form of conspicuous consumption. Whereas the poor working classes were confined to gambling in London’s ‘copper hells’, the aristocracy were permitted to spend their extensive disposable incomes in clubs like Whites’ and Brooks’, known as ‘golden halls’.

Wagering was a deep and often absurd compulsion in these clubs, with men wasting huge sums of money on all kinds of strange fancies. Horace Walpole recollected an infamous bet made between two of White’s members that a man could survive for 12 hours under water. Allegedly the men hired a ‘desperate fellow’, sunk him a ship, and never heard from him again (the stake was £1500). Other times it appears men would bet simply in order to combat boredom. For example, ‘April, 1819. Sir Joseph Copley bets Mr Horace Sermour five guineas, that Lord Temple has a legitimate child before Mr. Neville.’

Gambling is a rich part of London’s cultural heritage, at the same time horrific and ridiculous. This writer is certainly glad that all of the more violent games have been lost to history, but perhaps wouldn’t mind seeing skittles make a comeback.

If you’re interested in London’s historic pubs, then check out our historic East London pub crawl.

Brazilian Beer Review: Baden Baden

Copacabana World Cup

Copacabana Beach

Think Brazilian beer and I’m sure you’ll think Brahma or, if you’ve been there, Itaipava or Antarctica. But there is a growing craft beer scene or cerveja gourmet, as it’s called. One of those is Baden Baden, although it has been part of drinks giant Brazil Kirin since 2007.

It won’t surprise you that it was the Germans that started brewing in Brazil first, back in the 1830s. Baden Baden was the first recognised microbrewer in the country and the São Paulo brewery has churned out a whole line of beers which have picked up awards across the world. As part of my World Cup Diaries series in Brazil, I sought out some local beers and found Baden Baden’s range at a princely 13 Reals for each 600ml bottle (£3.82) in Copacabana. That’s more than most bottled beer in the UK in a country whose gross domestic product per capita is a third of the UK’s.

First thing to note is that the quality was pleasingly high. When your competition is mass-produced lagers it may not be hard to stand out, but Baden Baden excels, in my view. I really enjoyed its range, especially the heavier Stout and Chocolate varieties.

The Baden Baden beer range includes:

Baden Baden Cristal

Baden Baden Cristal

Cristal (5%)

A great traditional pilsner. It’s really clean, not too crisp but with a smoothness that reminds me of a golden ale. Not too much carbonation but there’s some slightly chewy maltiness in there to slap your lips over. There are some nicely balanced hops and it is ever so slightly heavy going, but a massive step up from the lagers on offer in Brazil which dominate the beer market.

Red Ale (9.2%)

This knock-out is as heavy in texture as it is in ABV. It has a wonderful, blood-like deep russet hue, supported by a wonderful and strong nose of toasted almonds and marshmallow. Bitter hops dominate the flavour and there’s a slight medicinal feel but very satisfying.

Stout (7.5%)

This blew me away. OMG. No wonder it’s won awards all over the world. It’s an Irish style dry stout with an aromatic chocolate and black malt nose. Once your sense of smell has been suitably satisfied, again bitter hops come to the fore to lead the flavour. The texture is outstanding, really solid, almost oily. This would be very popular in the UK and Ireland (hint, hint…).

Baden Baden Weiss

Baden Baden Weiss

Weiss (5.2%)

Call me an ignoramus, but for me there isn’t a great deal of variety between Weissbiers. It’s not like you get the same range as you do with porters or IPAs. Anyway, on a hot day (i.e. most days in Brazil, even in the winter) it’s pretty refreshing as it’s very light-bodied for a Weissbier. This is very well balanced throughout. Not too heavy.

Chocolate (6.0%)

This limited edition beer has – as you’d hope – an overwhelming chocolate nose with a hint of nuttiness. It’s light-medium bodied and there are burned and chocolate malt notes, very toast with a hint of marshmallow yeast and plenty of bitter hops.

World Cup Diaries: Perspective

Today I learned a new Portuguese word – greve – which means ‘strike’. It’s the reason I couldn’t enter a museum today and it is a common problem here as Brazilians express their opposition to the amount of public money spent on hosting this World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Money they feel could have been spent on other more pressing endeavours.

This one picture below probably sums up a lot of the reasons behind this anger. I took it from the Maracanã stadium ahead of Spain’s elimination by Chile. You can see streams of fans coming out of the station, each of whom have spent at least US$60 on their ticket, while behind them a favela clings to the hillside. A fifth of Rio’s residents live in favelas. [Continues...]

Maracanã favela

A favela overlooks the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro

Creating a diversion

Chile fans Maracanã

Some Chilean fans tried to bust their way into the Maracanã stadium just beneath me

Watch John Oliver’s excellent explanation of the World Cup and you’ll see how the old adage that ‘football is a religion’ comes out.

Don’t forget, ‘fan’ is short for ‘fanatic’, and perhaps it’s this fanaticism that drove some Chileans without tickets this evening to make a desperate – and ultimately futile – attempt to get into the Maracanã. Was it worth the trouble they could now be in? Just to watch a football match.

Champions no more

Chile fans Maracanã

Chile fans made for a fantastic atmosphere at the Maracanã

Aside from that handful of attempted gatecrashers, I can’t fault the Chilean fans I’ve seen here. Tens of thousands of them in fine voice enjoying the time of their lives.

It was virtually a home game for them and many locals and other neutrals joined in, the Brazilians especially enjoyed dishing out abuse for Spain’s Brazilian-born striker Diego Costa.

Chile’s fans were a vital twelfth man, creating an electric and good-natured atmosphere and their team visibly responded, creating trouble from the off.

Spain - to the taunts of ‘eliminado’ from the crowd – were bullied and harried, and prevented from bossing the game. They looked a team beyond their peak. They’ve been fantastic, laying to rest the ‘underachievers’ tag reserved for Spain, but now some of those players will have to call time and take satisfaction in the incredible achievements of back-to-back Euros and World Cup 2010.

Attention now turns onto the two great has-beens of world football: England v Uruguay. If England could muster just a tenth of what Chile’s fans can, it will make for a great match. This tournament is wide open, if either of these talented teams can get their game together and get through this round who knows how far they could go?

World Cup Diaries: A Bit Chile Out

Copacobana football fans

Brazilian fans head for the Fan Fest on Copacabana beach

There’s a reason I entered the World Cup ballot for first round matches. It’s because, in my experience, every World Cup since Mexico ’86 has become increasingly negative from the knock-out stages. The last few finals in particular have been absolute dross.

Another benefit of being here during the first round is that everyone is here and there are matches on every day. When you’re not desperately avoiding a brand desperately asking you to use their Twitter hashtag, you can enjoy looking at each other’s club crests to understand what weird and wonderful team that might be: Peñarol of Montevideo, Uruguay? Newell’s Old Boys of Rosario, Argentina? Maybe it’s Chile’s wonderfully-named Colo Colo?

Talking of “¡Chi-Chi-Chi, Le-Le-Le!”, their fans have taken over the Avenida Atlântica in Copacabana now that their team is in town to play Spain at the Maracanã – a match I will be at. They replace the noisy neighbours Argentina, whose fans I wrote about earlier this week, and most of the estimated 10,000 Chileans on the strip appeared totally disinterested in Brazil’s match with Mexico and instead marched, danced and sang their way along the Avenida Atlântica [Continues...]

Chile fans mundial Brasil 2014

Chileans take over the Avenida Atlântica in Copacabana

They’re going to make for a cracking atmosphere at the Maracanã and it will be interesting to see which way the locals go. There is a splattering of Spanish around and I will be supporting them (I lived in Spain for two years), but I expect the game to be a cracker. Spain – the reigning world champions and back-to-back European champions – need to bounce back from a 5-1 shock reverse to the Netherlands, so they will have to go for it. Chile are a very exciting team in their own right. I can’t wait!

Brazil, on the other hand, look toothless and ordinary. They had a lot of decisions in their favour against Croatia and against Mexico looked vulnerable. Brazilian press are already saying Mexico played as a ‘wall’ – and the ‘keeper was outstanding (speaking as one of the fraternity) – but they also caused Brazil problems.

I haven’t enjoyed watching Brazil since the Zico/Socrates/Falcão days in 1986 – one of those “best teams never to have won the World Cup” alongside Platini’s France of the same era and Cruyff’s Netherlands. Brazil have obviously had bags of talent since then and won the trophy twice, but without the flair, abandon and attractiveness of what we know as ‘Brazil’. I’m not convinced they have enough to win it, especially up front.

This is a very open tournament and hopefully will be the better for it.

World Cup Diaries: Argentina v Brazil fans

Argentina fans Ipanema

Argentina fans pose on Ipanema beach ahead of their match with Bosnia

I’m in Rio de Janeiro this week, and – as covered in my first post yesterday – the city is a sea of sky blue and white as noisy neighbours from the south streamed into occupy Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. What a great contrast in a bright Rio sun: the blue and white of Argentina and the canary yellow and green of Brazil.

These two great rivals came together at the Maracanã stadium, not on the pitch but in the stands, and it was a fascinating contest. Brazil, remember, have five World Cups (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002) and Argentina have two (1978 and 1986).

A Brazilian Reasons…

As anyone who has read the excellent Soccernomics knows, there are many reasons Brazil produces such great footballers. One is due to the availability of young working class men. Brazil has a growing population of 200+ million people, many of whom live in poverty. In England, we have an ever-shrinking pool of working class men to nurture as footballers, Soccernomics argues.

Just one sole World Cup half a century ago is embarrassing, but we do have other priorities and talents – like creating some of the world’s greatest music and inventing important stuff like the internet – but Brazil felt obliged to take a little pot of its own at the one World Cup [see below video].

The old cliché about futebol being a religion in Brazil may explain why Brazilians react like this when their team scores:

This is how my neighborhood sounds when Brazil scores in the World Cup from Claus Wahlers on Vimeo.

The Brazilian press cited Roy Hodgson’s remarks about not wanting to play in Manaus as a reason the locals backed Italy on Saturday night against England. These Brazilians can get really partisan: they’re vocal and don’t miss a swipe at their southern rivals. I attended Argentina v Bosnia at the hallowed Maracanã, and it was clear from the off who the locals wanted to win.

“Five times champions,” they taunted the quarter or so of the crowd who must have been supporting Argentina. “Argentina, you need to wait, your time will come,” they added. [Continues...]

Maracana Stadium Rio

The famous Maracanã stadium, Rio de Janeiro

Sunday was Argentina’s opening match against Bosnia-Herzegovina, making its World Cup debut against the two-time champions. The press had billed this match as ‘Lío de Janeiro’ as it is time for Lionel Messi to deliver on his tag as the world’s best player, which he did with a virtuoso second Argentine goal. Seeing Messi score at the Maracanã was worth the fee alone, and a special goal too.

Argentinians are fiercely patriotic. Being an Argentinian fan involves a lot of jumping up and down, waving of forearms and flicking of the wrists. They have a set repertoire of songs and just keep going. They did well not to get riled by the overwhelming jeers from the Rio crowd backing Bosnia.

Both sets of fans have energy, wit and humour, and I wish matches in England had half of the noise, colour and vibrancy of what I witnessed at the Maracanã.

World Cup Diaries: First Impressions of Rio de Janeiro

Copacabana World Cup

Copacabana Beach

I’m in Rio de Janeiro until late June. This is my first – and probably last for a long time – World Cup.

I will be keeping a diary of events but Saturday was my first full 24 hours in a city that has proved itself something of an enigma.

In ‘Rio 40 Graus’ (Rio 40°), an ode to her home town, Brazilian singer Fernanda Abreu sings: “Wonderful city, stuck in purgatory between beauty and chaos”, which kind of sums up Rio. From the moment you arrive at Rio’s Galeão airport you can see the challenges Brazil faces for yourself as you race past mile upon mile of favela hidden behind Perspex and concrete. The infrastructure here is pretty rudimentary for the host city of many World Cup matches and the Olympic Games in 2016.

For now, there appears to be a truce between the restless public angry at billions of dollars spend on stadia that could have been spent on schools. To understand the full complexity of hosting a World Cup, watch US TV host John Oliver attempt to explain the World Cup and FIFA to an American audience [continues...]

Fifa protests Brazil

Not everyone in Brazil is happy the World Cup is here.

At the Copacabana

Sticking with the FIFA theme, you can get logo-bombed by sponsors at the Fan Fest, or do what we did for England v Italy and enjoy the local hospitality to watch matches.

I actually really enjoyed watching England playing with abandon in a tournament for the first time probably since France ‘98. There was none of the fear and defensiveness shown against the same opponents just two years ago in the Euros.

Argentina fans Brazil 2014

Argentina fans are parked all along Copacabana beach and are in fine voice

As Brazil’s neighbours, there are thousands upon thousands of Argentinians camped out across the city. During an England match, we couldn’t expect any generosity from their fans, but the vibe was generally amicable and I cannot wait for my first match at the Maracanã stadium tonight: Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Argentinians will probably sing ‘Él que no salta es un inglés’ – anyone not jumping is English – and I may well play dumb if sat among them and just enjoy the football. It’s Messi at the Maracanã after a day on Ipanema beach. With that prospect, who’s got time for politics?

Footnote on beer: Had to drink Brahma, Chopp and Antarctica yesterday, but there is a local craft beer scene here in Brazil and I have found somewhere that sells them, so look out for a review this week.


Historic East London Pub Crawl

Christ Church Spitalfields

Christ Church, Spitalfields, in the heart of London’s old East End

The fog of Dickens’ East London has made way for the glass and steel of the world’s leading financial centre and trendy media types on fixie bikes, but you can still experience the East London of yore in wonderfully preserved pockets. You just need to know where to look. Considering a third of East End buildings were destroyed during the Blitz and the brutalism of post-war town planning that followed, we should be grateful that the pubs on this tour are still standing at all.

This pub crawl in total is 3.7 miles (6km) in length, and takes in five historic pubs as well as the famous Cable Street Mural, starting in Spitalfields and ending by the lapping banks of the Thames. There is a map at the foot of this page.

Starting point: Ten Bells, Spitalfields

Nearest tube/station: Liverpool Street (Central Line), Aldgate East (District Line)

The Ten Bells will forever be associated with Jack the Ripper and the murders of two of his victims, Annie Chapman and Mary Kelly. The ten bells in question are a nod to the clangers at the magnificent Hawksmoor-designed Christ Church next door.

Ten Bells Spitalfields

The famous Ten Bells, Spitalfields

You really step back in time when you enter the Ten Bells; the high ceiling, wooden central bar, massive, etched windows letting mellow evening light in. My gran, a native of Bethnal Green (more on her later) used to tell of how the pubs around this area were thick with the cigarette smoke of market traders and the ceilings tarred yellow as a result. The Ten Bells strikes the right balance of being a modern pub while retaining a lot of the old school, down-at-heel feel, which is one of the reasons it’s one of my favourite pubs anywhere.

Oh, and they serve Truman’s beer, which recreates the recipes of the original Truman Brewery of nearby Brick Lane. The Runner and the Three Threads porter are particularly impressive.

Trumans Runner

Truman’s – a revived East End beer

Watch your head on the way down to the toilet and entertain yourself with the graffiti scribbled on its walls.

Second pub: Carpenter’s Arms, 73 Cheshire Street, E2

From the Ten Bells, wander through the film set-like streets up Brick Lane past the Old Truman Brewery itself and take a right after the railway tracks onto Cheshire Street.

We’ve left Victorian London behind for now and are going to experience the criminal underworld of the 1960s East End. The Carpenter’s Arms at 73 Cheshire Street was quite famously a gift of the notorious Kray twins to their mother Violet.

It’s now an award-winning free house in the middle of trendy East London, saved from developers who wanted to put up flats there. 1-0 to history. As a free house, the pub stocks beer from all over the world, including a massive selection from Belgium.

Third pub: Blind Beggar, Whitechapel Road

You cannot escape the shadow of the Krays in this part of town and, having headed south down their old stamping ground on Vallance Road (they lived for a while at no. 178), take a left onto Whitechapel Road and visit The Blind Beggar.

The ‘blind beggar’ in question is mediaeval landlord Henry de Montfort who, after losing his sight at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, is reputed to have begged on the crossroads and become known as the ‘Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green’.

This is where Ronnie Kray shot alleged rival gang informant George Cornell in front of witnesses. It’s also the site where William Booth’s sermon led to the creation of the Salvation Army.

Cable Street Mural

A copper takes a punch on the Cable Street Mural

Fourth pub: The Prospect of Whitby, Wapping

As you head south towards the river through Stepney, take a brief detour on Cable Street (see below map) to view the Cable Street Mural. This Guernica-esque mural commemorates the Battle of Cable Street (1936), which saw hundreds of local activists clash with police and ultimately prevented a planned march through Stepney – an area with many immigrants – by Mosley’s fascists.

When I was a teenager going through a Goth phase I wore dark clothing a lot, and my gran (alluded to above) remarked; “If you saw some fella in a black shirt round our manor in my day you’d knock his bleedin’ ‘ead off!”  – I guess she must have been there.

Keep wandering south to the river and reward your long haul with a pint at the famous Prospect of Whitby. This is possibly London’s oldest and most famous Thames-side pub, dates from 1520 and has entertained the likes of Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens and the painter J M W Turner. It’s a traditional boozer with knock-out river views and a great selection of cask ale.

You may want to enjoy the food and view and call time on your pub crawl here. If not, why not press onto Limehouse?

Fifth and final pub: The Grapes, Limehouse

Head east along the Thames and you’ll come to The Grapes at Limehouse, formerly the heart of London’s docklands and notorious for its Chinese-run opium dens in the Victorian era. This pub has stood here since 1583 and was even used in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend as the model for The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters.

Enjoy the stretches of river and views across Canary Wharf and reflect on the journey you have been on, with London past and present stretched out before you; a mighty city that keeps reinventing itself but leaves gems of its rich past behind for us all to witness.

If you enjoy London’s history and pubs, then you can read more on London’s best historic pubs and also explore London’s best riverside pubs. Please leave your tips in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you.

Historic East London Pub Crawl Map

Dutch Beer Review: Brouwerij Troost

Brouwerij Troost

Brouwerij Troost, Amsterdam (Photo:

I was in Amsterdam this week completing something of a hat trick of local brewery fayre. After previous visits to the excellent Brouwerij ‘t Ij and sampling the De Prael range, it was the turn of Brouwerij Troost.

Brouwerij Troost is a hop, skip and jump from the Van Gogh museum on the verge where old Amsterdam meets more modern suburbs in ‘The Pipe’ (De Pijp). It translates as ‘comfort’ – that’s the name of the square which houses the brewpub but it kind of works too as a place to hang out with good company – supported by its pipe logo.

Inside is the regular minimalism of the modern brewpub; well spaced-out tables with the Holy Grail of the brewery itself behind glass at one end.

Brouwerij Troost majors on three staple beers: Blonde, Weizen (wheat) and an IPA. It has a Saison available soon but it wasn’t on the menu when I visited.

“[The Dutch] do not have such crazy things as the Belgians are not as strict as the Germans, but we look for the ingredients across the border,” the company says.

Brouwerij Troost’s goal is to make seven beers available on tap this year, including a Tripel and Double IPA and a Bok style.

Brouwerij Troost Blonde

Brouwerij Troost Blonde

Brouwerij Troost Blonde (4.8%)

Light enough and about as light as beer gets in the Netherlands, this blonde style is a real thirst quencher. It’s made with German noble hops but it is fairly well-balanced. “A flavourful substitute lager,” according to its makers.

Brouwerij Troost Weizen (4.7%)

Another light one, this wheat beer is made in the traditional German style according to the Reinheitsgebot. Wheat malt makes up half the content and, as you would perhaps expect, is a fairly cloudy affair. It’s definitely a yeast-led flavour with hints of banana, but otherwise unspectacular.

Brouwerij Troost IPA

Brouwerij Troost IPA

Brouwerij Troost IPA (6.5%)

This was my first and favourite of the Brouwerij Troost offering. It’s got a lovely red hue to it and solid head. As a recreation of the American style IPA this comes loaded with Amarillo and Cascade hops to give it a floral quality but a distinct bitterness.

“The hipsters brought [IPA] from America to the Netherlands,” the company says. We have something to thank hipsters for…

Speaking personally, De Prael is my favourite of the three Amsterdam brewers I have visited, with Brouwerij ’t Ij as the most original venue. Troost is a lovely venue though, and would make a great local.

How to find Brouwerij Troost, Amsterdam


Dutch Beer Review: De Prael, Amsterdam

De Prael beer

Three Dutch masters

I come to Amsterdam a couple of times a year and, as you’d expect with Germans and Belgians for neighbours, the Dutch can turn their hand to producing a decent pint. Heineken is to Amsterdam what Guinness is to Dublin, but let’s take the big boys with the Champions League-sized marketing budgets out of the equation for a second and give some airtime to Amsterdam’s brewpubs.

On previous visits I have been to Brouwerij ‘t Ij (pronounced ‘Brow-er-ay tie’) – and got the t-shirt (no, really, I have), and this week I hope to get to Brouwerij Troost, but tonight belongs to De Prael.

Brouwerij De Prael, Amsterdam

De Prael Zwarte Riek

De Prael Zwarte Riek

De Prael is based right in the heart of Amsterdam, near the Centraal Station. It’s got a really nice drop-like logo and proudly displays the three crosses of the Amsterdam flag in its wares. Contrary to what you might think, what with Amsterdam’s reputation, the ‘XXX’ is actually rumoured to be either representative of the triple threat the city faced in mediaeval times of fire, flood and plague, or an ancient lord’s personal heraldry. Whatever it stands for, it’s everywhere in Amsterdam.

I found a stash of De Prael beers at a supermarket I often go to in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport so to reward a wonderful early summer evening jog around Vondelpark I have dipped into three of De Prael’s offering.

De Prael Zwarte Riek (4.9%)

This milk stout’s name translates as ‘Black Prong’ and is as smooth as you could wish for. The nose has that sweet malt Marmite-esque-ness that is loaded with promise. The initial hit is a malt punch, but then if you allow it to swill around in your mouth you can enjoy the subtle, inoffensive smokiness and a hint of bitter hops. Absolutely first class.

De Prael Nick & Simon (6.1%)

De Prael Nick & Simon

De Prael Nick & Simon

It was the Flemish from just down the road in what is now Belgium who first introduced hops to Kent, so it is only fitting that the East Kent Golding hop has returned to the Low Countries to help produce this “Lowlands India Pale Ale”.

This is alive with active yeasts and the first thing that sprang to mind was strawberry yoghurt. Great lacing and a real fruity hum, but they didn’t hold back on the ABV. Take this one slowly!

De Prael Willeke (7.5%)

I’m sure there’s a joke here about knock-out blondes, but this blonde tripel style beer is a stonking 7.5%. It promises to be ‘warm and embracing’; this is a character-laden beer and the hops win. There’s a grassy hint in the nose and a certain raw ecology in the taste.

De Prael does a large range, so look out for them when in Amsterdam.

Madrid bar review: Fábrica Maravillas

Fabrica Maravillas

Two of Fabrica Maravillas’ beers

Many moons ago I was a student in Madrid, and I recently chronicled my 18-year struggle to find a decent pint in Spain. Thanks to the craft beer revolution, even in recession-smashed Spain there is room for disruption what was a pretty generic beer market.

The area in which we students used to stumble hang out was around Malasaña to the north of Gran Via, a veritable mess on a Friday or Saturday night. I remember it as dark place where the deep orange neon intruded upon onerous shadows. Malasaña is famous for its vibrant counter-culture and, of course, where there are hipsters there is craft beer.

The Fábrica Maravillas brewpub opened in 2012 and is a welcome oasis in a barrio drenched in lager, wine and hideous kalimotxo (red wine and cola mixed). For this alone I would salute them. I popped in to try out its range and now salute them even more.

Fabrica Maravillas Madrid

Imperial measures

The set-up is minimalist, typical of the American-style brick wall speakeasy with prices on glass rather than a chalkboard. Through the glass you can see the cisterns hard at work, another key feature of the modern brewpub. I like it. It’s akin to seeing the kitchen at Wagamama. And there’s an apparently penchant for leaving small denomination coins in the brick walls.

Talking hops at Fábrica Maravillas

I love being able to talk to educated bar staff about beer, especially in random places where I don’t expect it, as with my recent trip to Rome’s Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fá. The lady behind the bar asked me what lúpulos (hops) I liked and that guided my choice of beer.

Fabrica Maravillas Madrid

Obligatory selfie

I opted for a Citra-led Malasaña Ale over a Calypso pale ale and it didn’t disappoint. Having tried, I know Citra is a hard hop to lock down, it’s so acidic. Overplay it and you’re finished. This cloudy amber number boasts a spicy fruitcake nose and is bitter to the point of sharp.

If you’re into saisons, which Fábrica Maravillas also makes, then this might be up your street.

Next up was the American India Pale Ale, which is really malt-forward. It’s a lovely tawny-toffee colour with a floaty head that sticks around. The caramel malt really leads this one and it’s quite chewy (not a bad thing at all). The hop compliment well but sit in the background to provide the odd lemony whisper.

I didn’t get around to the others – a saison and an imperial stout among them – but I will doubtless be back and hopefully next time I’ll make it to midnight at the oasis.

How to find Fábrica Maravillas, Madrid

Spain comes to the craft beer revolution

Spanish craft beer

Spanish craft beer is in the ascendency

I love Spain. I worked out that I have lived in the country for 5.2% of my life, which includes a year as a student in Madrid and another later stint based in Valencia. Two things were sadly remiss during this time: cricket and good beer. We may have to wait a while for cricket to catch on in Spain but I’m delighted to report that good beer is here and – as elsewhere – infiltrating the mainstream.

When I was a student in the Spanish capital in the late nineties I struggled for ales. All that was on offer were the heavy lagers of Mahou, Aguila Amstel, Estrella Damm et al, and short of forking out a fiver on a bloaty pint of Guinness in one of the many Oirish pubs popping up all over the city, my only choice for a decent beer was a weekly visit to Marks & Spencer (no longer there) in the business district.

I believe this was when I began discovering wine – through sheer desperation.

Anyway, fast forward to 2014 and I am back in Madrid where an impromptu visit to the El Corte Inglés supermarket threw up not one but FOUR bottles of cerveza artesanal (craft beer) from across the country. Added to that, I’ve found a brewpub which I’m going to visit.

¡Bienvenido España a la revolución de cerveza artesanal!

Here’s what I made of the bottles I bought tonight:

Islena de Ibiza

We’re going to Ibiza…

Isleña – Ibiza (4.8%)

I love this turn of phrase tipo Ale – it’s an ale style from Ibiza designed to keep revellers refreshed. I can certainly see it doing that. It’s smooth with a nice bitter-sweet balance. Honey notes run throughout, from the colour to the nose to the taste. All the while, cheeky lemon and lime fight to be heard. Materials are sourced from the island itself and the distinctive bottle is designed to protect the beer from the fierce Spanish sun. Read more here.

Torquemada 25 – Castilla (5.5%)

Torquemada is based in Castilla y León, north of Madrid near the cathedral city of Burgos. Its 25 Pale Ale is a bitter hop fest. The nose has grassy bitterness all over it, which heightened preparedness for a bitter hop attack on the tongue. It’s a cloudy amber colour with good lacing but on drinking that bitterness really does punch hard, with the marshmallow yeastiness weighing in to take a swing as well. Boom! Read more here.

Sagra Bohio

Sagra Bohio from the historic city of Toledo

Ballut – Badajoz (5.3%)

From the west of Spain comes Cerveza Ballut, which contains miel (honey), according to the ingredients list. It’s got a Belgian feel to it – bubbly, richly amber in colour and that sharp lemon meringue nose that comes with yeasty Trappistes. The experience, however, is very different to built expectations. The texture is light, the flavour hits late and it’s definitely got notes of honey – but strangely not as much as the Isleña, for my money. The lemon is sweet and it overrides everything else. I like this one. I’m going to take my time about it.

Sagra Bohío – Toledo (10.4%)

This one comes in a posh, dark bottle that just forces you to respect it. Even before you read the strength (10.4%) and that a Michelin star chef helped design it. Sagra comes from Toledo, a wonderful medieval city south of Madrid (I recommend a day trip), and has a large line of beers. Bohío is meant to accompany any meal, in particular dessert, is a ‘triple malt barley wine’.

I’m actually quite intimidated but it dark, moodiness. “Come and drink me if you dare,” it whispers in my ear. It’s properly regal. One whiff of the nose and you pick up rich chocolate airs mixed with a strangely exotic note, like black bean sauce. It is the smoothest, creamiest beer you could wish for and there’s a hypnotic whisky slant which makes me think it’s time to call it a night.

Tomorrow I will visit a brewpub but I am delighted to see Spain coming into the craft beer fold. Spain’s beer market is ripe for disruption, despite its economic woes. I might even be tempted back here for a third stint…

Book Review: The Craft Beer Revolution

craft beer revolution bookIt is already widely recognised that the UK’s new wave of microbrewing was inspired largely by the US craft beer revival of the 70s, 80s and 90s. What may not be quite so well-known on either side of the pond is just what a struggle it was to create that US craft beer revolution in the first place. A new book out this month chronicles the many and protracted challenges US craft brewers faced as they sought to bring new varieties of beer to a market saturated by AB inBev and MillerCoors. Indeed, many battles are still being fought.

The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers is Transforming the World’s Favourite Drink was written by Steve Hindy, co-founder of the Brooklyn Brewery, and hits the shelves later this month.

In many ways, the British and American beer drinker shares a common destiny; it was British beer and British beer enthusiasts – like the late beer writer Michael Jackson – who helped inspired the American new wave, which in turn took off over here. Thanks to tax hikes we’re both drinking less beer but, crucially, better beer than we used to. And we’re all sticking two fingers up to the big brewers or, as Hindy calls it, “the quest by a band of Davids to bring down the Goliaths”.

The Guest Ale was sent a review copy and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The American Revolution

San Francisco tram

San Francisco is the birth place of the US new wave of brewers

In 1965, there was just one microbrewery in the US. In 1984, there were 18. In 2014 there are more than 2,600 microbreweries controlling 10 per cent of the US beer market. Hindy, himself a veteran at the heart of the revolution, believes microbreweries could control almost a third (30%) of the market in the next 25 years.

The book starts at the beginning of the journey, when Fritz Maytag bought and revived San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery in 1965. It covers the impact Charlie Papazian’s book The Complete Joy of Homebrewing had on inspiring a new generation of brewers to experiment firstly in their homes and later in a commercial environment.

Names pop up which have become household favourites for many of us: Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewery, Goose Island, Harpoon, Dogfish Head, as well as the brew giants attempts at creating ‘craft’ beers of their own in response, such as MillerCoors’ Blue Moon.

Harpoon IPA

Harpoon IPA from Boston

Hindy sheds some light on the dog-eat-dog nature of the US brewing industry during this period of unprecedented change, from lobbyists in government to in-fighting, which contrasts with the overarching theme of togetherness among the new brewers as new organisations and conferences were formed to support the groundswell. He also credits the media and bloggers with helping spread the message of craft beer.



The Craft Beer Revolution really is a revelation and shows what a debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who fought to revive brewing in the US, which in turn helped kickstart the massive diversification in brewing which we’ve seen in Britain – now home to more than a thousand breweries.

The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers is Transforming the World’s Favourite Drink is out on 20 May 2014. I enjoyed it and recommend it to any true beer historian.