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: www.brouwerijtroost.nl)

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.

Beer Review: Hawkes Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Hawkes-web-imageHaving just written about Germany’s ‘beer purity law’, here’s a beer that wouldn’t fly over there: Hawkes Alcoholic Ginger Beer, from London. The guys at Hawkes were good enough to send me a bottle.

Its name derives from the original ginger beer sellers of Victorian London, the Hawkers, and started life as an idea on the kitchen table and has honourable charitable ethic.

It’s easy on the eye and the palate. Wonderful amber hue and zesty (as you’d expect) ginger nose, at 4% it’s extremely quaffable.

While it’s perfectly fine as a standalone, this is made for mixing: ice, mint etc., for summer.

 

German Beer Review: Naïv, Frankfurt

Naïv Keller-Bier

Naïv Keller-Bier

This month, my work took me to Frankfurt. The city sticks in my mind for two reasons:

1) firstly, it’s where I (twice now) have broken my ‘land speed record’ with cab drivers hitting 170kph plus on the autobahn (I wouldn’t mind so much if the car in front wasn’t just three metres ahead)

2) secondly, for the football club Eintracht Frankfurt, which England fans in the 90s will remember was the club of Andreas Möller, who did that ridiculous strut celebration after scoring the winning pen against England in the Euro ’96 semis

Anyway, Frankfurt is a city where people come to do business, so lacks the vibrancy of Berlin or Hamburg, but at least its Altstadt (old town) is home to the Naïv brewpub, which stocks more than 20 varieties of international beer and two of its own hausbier.

German beer and German law

Naïv Land-Bier

Naïv Land-Bier

Germany, as many of you know, has the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law from the Middle Ages which restricts brewers to the four core ingredients of water, hops, malt and yeast.

While one could argue this restricts German brewers from using zany adjuncts as many US brewers do, it also means Germans have had to be creative within these confines.

Naïv makes two beers: the dark Keller-Bier (Cellar Beer) and the organic Land-Bier (Country Beer), both of which weigh in at the same 5% ABV so reasonably drinkable without blowing your head off.

The Keller-Bier is incredibly malt-forward and was definitely my favourite of the two. It’s almost like a grainy stout with a lick of caramel malt to take the edge of a bitter hop note. It looks pretty enticing too (picture), all dark and velvety!

The Land-Keller is just a pleasant lager beer. Nothing much to be said for it except it is fairly true its description as süffig (light and sweet). This goes down pretty well.

If you happen to find yourself in Frankfurt and bursting for a  decent beer, you could do worse than Naïv. It’s pretty central, too.

Prost!

How to find the bar

Viennese Bar Review: 1516 Brewing Company

1516 canopy

The 1516 Brewing Company, Vienna.

Vienna is one of those cities that makes you feel more intelligent as you stroll its elegant streets.

It seems that every venue you pass has some historic claim to fame; the café where Freud, Trotsky and Lenin drank, or the place where Mozart, Beethoven or Strauss debuted. We even popped into some actor’s bar. “World famous in Austria,” as my colleague joked.

Left to my own devices I found myself seeking out locations where The Third Man was set, incessantly whistling Ultravox, or suppressing the teen-like urge to titter at the word kunst (art) when observing the mastery of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

It’s just as well that my Austrian colleagues were ready to show me just one of Vienna’s many fine drinking establishments to stop my head spinning in its own Viennese whirl.

1516 Brewing Company

1516 Brewing Company Eejit

1516 Brewing Company’s ‘Eejit’

On a bend in the Schwarzenbergstraße in Vienna’s first district is the 1516 Brewing Company, a brewpub with a distinctly international feel. Not only do accents vary from the German and English-speaking worlds (including the Anglophone bar staff), but the beers also take characteristics from all over the world.

From its extensive beer menu I overlooked the nods to the New World by opting for a traditional Austrian lager beer, a nice crisp Helles Vollbier that reminded me of my place in the world. It is just a relative hop, skip and jump across the Czech border to Plzen, the home of the Pilsner style.

I then migrated onto Weisse (white) beer, a hop-forward, Cascade-loaded meringue fest.

The obsession with hops followed through into the Irish style stout named ‘Eejit’ (idiot), which prompted a brief episode of Father Ted flashbacks. This was, again, hopped up and felt more like one of those black IPAs. In true Austrian style it came with a humungous head. Great aroma though, plus great depth.

There was another one after that but by then I wasn’t paying too much attention. Rest assured that, like Austria’s favourite son, I’ll be back.

Let’s remind ourselves of that Orson Welles quote from The Third Man (below). Look out for the beer ad behind…

How to find 1516 Brewing Company

Italian Bar Review: Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà

Ma Che Siete Venuti a FaTucked away on the west bank of the Tiber in Rome is Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà, an intimate venue in the lively Trastevere district and a safe distance from the main throng of tourists across the river. I was in Rome for the Six Nations rugby, to take in the wealth of antiquities, and to act on a tip-off from my friend Tony from The Alternative Tipple blog that Italy’s emerging craft beer scene is among the most exciting to be found anywhere.

I wandered in off the Via Benedetta and away from 24°C heat to the welcome shade of the wooden and minimalist surrounds of Ma Che… The entire place cannot hold many more than sixty people, yet has rave write-ups on RateBeer.com – proving once again how valuable a good review can be to a venue when potential audiences are researching on Google.

This particular afternoon there was just me, a young American couple and older pair huddled around our glasses this particular Monday afternoon. Suffice to say this isn’t their busiest hour – in fact, I think I rather got in the way of their restocking.

Roma fans tifosi

The bar takes its name from a Roman football taunt

What’s in a name?

The barman – and to my eternal regret I didn’t get his name – spoke excellent English and was clearly both passionate and knowledgeable about beer.

Apparently, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà translates from Roman slang into “What are you still doing here?” and is a popular football chant for teams to sing to opposing fans when they have a healthy lead.

 

Ma Che… has been around since 2000 but since 2004 has focussed solely on working with microbreweries from Italy and across the world. You’ll find no Heineken or Guinness here; in fact a lot of beer here will often be the only place in Italy that you can find even some its domestic beer brands.

Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa

Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa stocks a wide range of Italian and international microbreweries’ beers

Made in Italy

And it was those Italian brands which have flown under the radar for so long that I was searching for. The barman – a worldly 36 years-old despite his student grunge appearance – explained that to make beer in Italy was an expensive business due to taxes imposed on imported materials, such as hops, which often come from Slovakia.

The choice was reduced due to the bar having an event recently, but it was the middle of the day so I didn’t have room for too much anyway.

First up was a relatively light American pale ale from Robb de Matt (5.5%) of Milan, which had all the hallmarks you’d expect of the American style pale ale. It came with a wonderful amber colour and silky head. The nose was way more exciting than the taste. Citrus and pine danced around and took it in turns for prominence. Having been teased by these aromatic hops I was surprised at how bitter and chewy the beer was.

I was then treated to a couple of tasters: the bitter-sweet Bergamotto Special (5%) witbier style with a ridiculously lime overtone and an Extraomnes Tripel, but to be honest I was already captivated by my next half.

It was a black velvet Imperial Stout. I love Imperial Stouts; they rarely disappoint and if the flavour’s not up to much the strength will soon get you more interested. This Ducato Black Jack Verdi from Soragna in northern Italy weighed in at 9% on tap, not the strongest Imperial Stout out there but still a hefty beast. It’s smooth and what it lacks in body depth is makes up for in its smoky – almost rauchbier-esque nose.

Before bidding my hosts arrivederci I was convinced to part with another €6 on a unique sour beer called BeerBera (8%) from Turin. This fruit beer is fermented in wood with the addition of Barbera grapes with no added yeast.

BeerBera

BeerBera

I don’t usually go for sours, but this turned me. The nose is powerful, almost overbearing, with strong wine notes from the grapes. The body was reminiscent of that of a mid-priced champagne; it didn’t quite dance off the tongue but there was enough fizz to tickle. The classic acidic character that usually puts me off sours never quite offended if anything it made me take time and appreciate the yeast-forward complexity of this beer.

We need more of these Italian beers in the UK. But when in Rome, be sure to get down to Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà. “What are you still doing here?” Probably enjoying Italy’s fabulous beer… Salute!

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Welsh Beer Special: Cwrw Llŷn

Me (left) and my mate Robbie earning our beer up Snowdon.

Me (left) and my mate Robbie earning our beer up Snowdon.

I first came across Cwrw Llŷn after a punishing day completing the Snowdon Horseshoe in 30°C last summer. At that point it was Snowdon’s Purple Moose beer that came to the rescue, but I also stacked up on Cwrw Llŷn to bring back down the M6 with me.

Several months on, I’ve dusted down the three bottles I brought in Beddgelert, Snowdonia, and even found a Wales rugby fan, Gary Andrews, to help review then.

The three we review are:

Brenin Enlli (4%):  a copper-coloured session bitter

Cochyn (4.5%): a ruby ale

Seithenyn (4.2%): a floral golden ale

This is what Gary made of them via six-second Vines:

Beer Review: 60°North and Skipper’s Ticket by Lerwick Brewery

60°North by Lerwick Brewery

60°North by Lerwick Brewery

What comes to mind when you think of Shetland; The eponymous detective series, perhaps? Stunted ponies and burning Viking boats, maybe? What about beer?

I recently interviewed Shetland’s Lerwick Brewery about the challenges of making and distributing beer from an island closer to Bergen, Norway, than it is to Edinburgh. The company was kind enough to send me some samples of its 60°North and Skipper’s Ticket beers.

Firstly, I’m really impressed with the branding. Both beers come in slick 330ml bottles which remind me of those other brewers from the far north, Einstök Ölgerd from Iceland. So, the eyes are impressed. What about the taste buds?

60°North (4.8%)

This is Lerwick’s golden, Pilsner-style lager beer, and is named after the latitude of the Shetland Isles. Perle hops are deployed at the bittering stage and that old mainstay of Pilsners – Saaz – are used to add aroma and flavour. Wonderfully effervescent, this beer is wonderfully crisp, clear and light bodied for its strength. You can really tell the quality of the water. This is one of the most pleasant lagers you could wish to find.

Skipper's Ticket by Lerwick Brewery

Skipper’s Ticket by Lerwick Brewery

Skipper’s Ticket (4%)

Named in honour of Shetland’s fishermen and mariners, Skipper’s Ticket is a red ale made from Scottish barley malt combined with a hop mix of Williamette and Savinski Goldings. Whereas the crisp clearness complements the 60°North Pilsner wonderfully well, the Skipper’s Ticket lacked a bit of body for me. Some nice spicy nutmeg notes in there but I would have liked a little more oomph.

That’s just a taste thing. With no isinglass, both beers are suitable for vegans.

Hungarian Beer Review: Stari Sörfőzde

I highly recommend a visit to Budapest and, while you’re there, be sure to check out some Hungarian beer (“sör”), of which there is plenty, believe me. Hungary has a proud brewing tradition, although its market is largely dominated nowadays by light lagers created by corporate brewers.

Stari hungarian beerSo, the Stari Sörfőzde selection I came across in the spectacular citadel on the Buda side of the Danube was quite a bonus. Stari is a small brewery in the town of Tapolca, part of a wider catering operation, but it makes some pretty handy sör, including a Weissbier (wheat beer) style, an “Irish Red” and fruit varieties, such as Plum. I picked up these five bottles. From left to right they are Premium Pils, Meggysör (fruit beer), Plum, Irish Red, White Horse (Weissbeer).

The Pils is clean and crisp, possibly the only one of the five one would want to drink in bulk. While fruit beers in general don’t typically hold much appeal for me, the cherry-rich Meggysör does at least have an air of authenticity about it. The Plum tasted more like marzipan, in my view, very yeast and fruit-forward. The White Horse was light and very agreeable while the Irish Red was a little heavy going. In short – try them all, but the Pils is the cleanest. Here’s a six-second overview: