Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Why I'm Over Beer Festivals

When your body clock is fucked and you're laying awake at 5am, your brain goes into overdrive. You start to ponder the questions, trials and hardships life throws at you; that big project you've got on, and whether you'll pass your appraisal at work, but then when you finally accept that you can't tackle any of those issues right now you start thinking about trivial shit.

Like Beer Festivals.

In February, I went to two conversely different beer festivals in two countries. The National Winter Ales Festival in Norwich, England; and Braukunst Live in Munich, Germany; and both experiences led me to the conclusion that I am over beer festivals. I'm not saying either were particularly bad festivals (hey remember London's Brewing from 2013?) but I'm just over them and here is why:

You have your two main kinds of festival Local/Regional CAMRA festival & Craft Beer Festival so let's start with the former.

CAMRA Festival (Norwich Beer Fest/NWAF):

Back when I was 18, the Norwich pub scene was pretty much dead. Don't get me wrong, we had plenty of pubs - indeed possibly more than we do now due to closures - but we didn't have much variety in those pubs. Pubs just generally didn't seem to have access to much other than the normal local breweries, large regionals and occasionally something like Dark Star (other than maybe the Fat Cat), so a beer festival was exciting. A beer festival managed to get lesser known beers from what were then known as microbreweries* and trying all of these new beers was incredible.

The thing is, now in Norwich we have SO MUCH CHOICE with the likes of The Plasterers, Brewdog & The Reindeer (the list could go on) who each do their own thing incredibly well by getting in wonderful beers, from independent craft breweries through a network of great independent wholesalers like Jolly Good Beer. You've also got the choice of going to shops like Harper Wells, or ordering from Beers of Europe to buy bottles and cans to drink in the comfort of your own home.

To get the choice that you had at beer festivals back in 2007 you no longer have to elbow your way through an overcrowded church hall**, just to get to the bar and find out there's nothing you want to drink right in front of you. You can sit in a pub and hear your friends; you can have a decent beer at home with your dinner; there's just so much choice available that the beer festival has become obsolete.

Modern Craft Festival (Braukunst Live):

Now there are essentially three types of Modern Craft Beer Festivals; The pay for entry and drink unlimited thimble fulls of anything you want (London Craft Beer Festival; Copenhagen Beer Celebration); the ones that are similar to CAMRA ones where you can actually buy a full glass of beer (Craft Beer Rising; Leeds International Beer Festival); and ones like the one I went to a month ago where you pay an entry fee then either pay for tiny pours in cash or with tokens.

See, Braukunst Live was fun but an expensive affair, well for entry anyway. €20 (plus booking fee) entry, then a fiver for a glass and 5 tokens for beer that nowhere it was explained we could use them.

Beer was generally €1 for a 100ml pour which to be honest, wasn't bad considering in craft beer bars in Germany you will regularly pay €5 for a 330ml pour, and there were some great breweries and beers but I just can't seem to get over the fact that I COULDN'T BUY A FULL FUCKING GLASS OF BEER.

I want to stand and savour the beer, not have one mouthful and be like "Huh, OK that was good but I could have done with more" and it almost seems selfish and embarrassing to go back and buy more when there are probably limited supplies.

Quirky venue, too, which didn't do it any favours when it was crowded. Who picks a fucking transport museum for a beer festival? Sure you can move some exhibits but not great big fucking trams that are hard to manouvre around when there are so many people, and so many tight squeezes to get to bars.

Of course, there were good beers, many of which we can't get back home. The Stone Berlin Skull Jacked Triple IPA was clearly the beer of the festival, rocking up at a rather weighty 9.1% and packed full of tropical fruits, with surprisingly low bitterness, and given the choice I would have filled my goddamn Teku with it. BRLO are another favourite of the modern Germans of mine and I got to try their German IPA which could not be complained at. Many other beers that I would have loved a full glass of, but it just wasn't a thing because of this craft beer ticking culture.

A mouthful of beer is fine when you're doing a bottle share with the guys at home, because that's what it's all about, but at a busy festival I don't want to get so little beer that I almost die of thirst whilst waiting for my next beer.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm having a beer life crisis; I'd rather be in a pub where I'm free to drink as much or as little as I want, whether it's a third, a half or a pint and not be limited to small pours or whatever the festival organisers want to drink, without a thought for anyone else.


*for the modern drinker, that's what we called 'craft brewery' back in the day.
**exception for NWAF due to the fact is was dead because a lack of any kind of marketing.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Craft Beer is a Cult



"a person or thing that is popular or fashionable among a particular group or section of society"

I'm fascinated with cults. From Heaven's Gate to Scientology to the one I've been a part of for many years, craft beer.

I criticised those who froth from the mouth over special releases in my last post, knowing full well it was hypocritical because I've been like that.

I've been a part of a cult.

What I've learnt from cults from books and documentaries is this:
  • You devote the vast majority of time to them
  • You spend a fuck load of money getting involved in them
  • You feel pressured into constantly taking part, and not defecting to something other followers are taught to believe are inferior
  • You preach about them to pretty much everyone you meet, regardless of whether they care, almost trying to recruit them
It all works on levels, and you have to pass each one to be worthy:

Pub > Local CAMRA Festival > Out of Town Beer Day Trips > A Craft Festival in London/Manchester > A foreign craft beer holiday > Copenhagen Beer Celebration

Crap Lager > Brown Bitter > More Exciting Cask Beer > Bottled Local Beer > National Beer > International Beer > The latest special release in the UK > That almost inaccessible mythical Whale that everyone across the world wants.

Does that sound familiar? Well that's craft beer.

You can probably argue against it, as people in cults frequently do... "It's not a cult, it's a collective" and you'd be wrong.

Marketing and advertising isn't a thing in the craft beer cult. Marketing and advertising is a thing that the big players still do, because the real people who influence what you drink are the beer communicators or the cult leaders.

I've followed it. I've been in the craft beer cult. Hell, I've been a voice in the craft beer cult. I got out because it's not healthy because it's an obsession to always get to the next level of craft.

I've thought about this long and hard and I just wonder why everyone is obsessed with moving up the ladder of craftiness. I wonder why I ever was.

Much like other cults where you're pressured into spending more money on programs and the greater good in order to get to the next level, in craft beer there is peer pressure to get the latest release or go to the cool craft beer festivals.

Sure you can tell me "But Nate I really want to go to these festivals and drink these beers" and sure, you probably do, like other cult followers want to get to the next level but people are telling you that you should go there and drink this, and if nobody, none of your friends were going you wouldn't.

There's an order, and most naturally follow it. I've followed it for the most part. You've been influenced and pressured into thinking you need to be a part of it. You're no longer happy unless it's sought after. Unless it's popular.


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Special Releases? That's Fake News

I'm not a Trump supporter. Not by a long way. I voted Remain, of course I fucking did.

I'm sure most of you feel the same, but most of you are also fucking idiots.

Getting sucked in by the next special release, the special release that is just a ruse. You see, the thing is, these beers already exist. They're nothing special.

You're not creating a trend.

You're just following the crowd.

Special releases are irrelevant.

There are Double IPAs that rival Cloudwater's v3543643636* or whatever the fuck number it's up to now, I'm sure you've had one that's better but it's not what everyone else it's drinking so you don't fucking care.

Because nobody else is drinking it, you don't talk about it.

The minute beer people who are popular drink it and rave about it, you'll talk about it.

Stop talking about FOMO. The Fear of Missing Out. You've not missed out on shit.

It's Just a Beer.


Beer is no longer about enjoyment. It's about being cool. The cool thing to do is get the latest release and go running. Fuck the latest release. I don't run.

Drink what's available.

Drink with your friends because they matter.

Come drink a Carling with me.

It. Is. Just. Fucking. Beer.


*For the record, I have enjoyed several Cloudwater DIPAs. This was just an example beer of the hype wankery that ensures pointlessly

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

A Day in Bamberg with Hans, Nick and Alec

On the Friday of my recent trip to Germany with Alec and Hans, the now legendary Stick man, we decided to take a trip to Bamberg, a destination that has long been on my hit list.

Bamberg I had been told is one of the ultimate beer destinations in Germany and luckily is only 45 minutes on the train from Nuremberg (regardless of whether you get the RE or S2). We picked up our Tagesticket Plus (all regions) for €19 (for both of us, not each) and boarded the RE train at the Hauptbahnhof.

We arrived in Bamberg at around 10:45 and went in search of our first brewpub, Mahrs Brau. We followed Google Maps which seemingly took us through what looked like an industrial estate and found the pub. It was before midday yet it was already bustling with local people chatting and chugging beer, but we managed to find a seat in the back room. The beer I'd been told I needed to have here was "U" which you order by saying "Ah Ooh" so ordering "Zwei Ah Ooh" felt a bit weird being English as it's like you're ordering two of one. Fucks sake. I'm overthinking the language thing. U arrived bright orangey golden, the aroma of peppery yet leafy German hops, slightly caramel flavoured and I was in love. It was so good that we didn't even mind accidentally ordering a second.

We finished these and headed to Keesman, another Brewpub, where we bumped into Nick outside. We wandered through the Schwemme into the main, tiny little pub, and there didn't appear to be any seats so we wandered back out. We were about to order a beer from the hatch and stand in the Schwemme drinking it but Nick spotted some people leaving so we took a dive for their now empty seats. As I've mentioned before, in Germany they don't have the fear of sitting at the same table as strangers like most English people have. Alec and I had a Helles here and we both went for the Schnitzel with Potato Salad for lunch; the schnitzel I think was better than the one in Landbierparadies I had earlier in the year yet the potato salad was quite low on the list (not the worst of the weekend). After we'd finished, Nick insisted that we had to have a Bock since it's Bockbier Season so we did, despite me previously telling Nick I don't really like Bocks but it was wonderful and unlike any I've had - it wasn't as sweet, but just as boozy.

Nick sent us on our way whilst he had another beer and gave us rough directions through the picturesque surroundings of Bamberg where we were to meet him at Klosterbrau. Nick was on his bike so we figured we'd arrive at the same time, yet when we arrived he was somehow already there. Probably due to us being tourists and taking three thousand photos on the way. I liked this pub, but the beer was probably the worst of the day. The Schwarzbier was OK but not amazing; sure it was like a dark, roasty lager but had something about it, like chewing pennies. The Bockbier was better, but again not my favourite.

More walking (this time with Nick) and up some winding streets, past Random Alleys, then up a hill and we made it to Griefenklau where disappointingly the garden wasn't open so we couldn't see what Nick proclaimed has an amazing view. Ah well, I guess a house brewed Lager was on the cards whilst sitting next to an elderly German couple. Of course, they didn't speak a word of English but the lady was absolutely obsessed with Hans the stick man and engaged in conversation with Nick about what exactly Hans is. We finally determined that the German word for Mascot is quite close to English and is 'Maskottchen'.

We finished our beers and headed on our way to the famous Schlenkerla which has been on my bucket list for several years and it turns out I hated the place. We had to sit in the Schwemme, which wasn't a problem, but queuing at the hatch to get a beer was annoying and having to pay like a €3 deposit for an unremarkable unbranded glass that wasn't even worthy to steal and thus forcing us to queue up for our deposit, was. That said, the Rauchbier Marzen from the wooden barrel was quite worth the effort as was seeing yet another lady get obsessed over Hans.

Next we popped into a craft beer bottle shop which was brilliant because I was finally able to buy yet more Fuller's and Greene King beer in Germany. Result!

Next pub was Spezial which I had been told was pretty good and I wasn't disappointed. It was here that we met up with Nick's friends from Nebraska and we joked and laughed and had some beers. The Rauchbier here I thought was even better than Schlenkerla, no kidding, and I could happily come back and sink several pints. I believe I also had a lager here but memory is slightly hazy.

Final Bamberg stop was a quick one in the Schwemme at Fassla and one of the best of the day if memory serves.

We got the train back to Nuremberg and wandered to the Landbierparadies on Wodenstrasse, one that I'd not been to before. We had a couple of beers and ended up discussing Brexit with a German man who was of the "Britain is full of idiots" persuasion, which we agreed with.

After that we wandered back towards the centre and stumbled upon a proper metal bar called Bela Lugosi and it was exactly what you wanted from a metal bar... dirty, full, brutal music and bottles of cheap Gruner Vollbier.

After that I was a little inebriated and passed out back at the hotel. So much beer, so little food.

Bamberg, just in that one day became one of my favourite places I've ever been to. It's beautiful, the beer is cheap and I will return... next month I reckon.


Friday, 28 October 2016

Prague 2016 - Day 3.5 - Back to Prague

After a sleep in our private cabin on the train, we finally arrived back in Prague; thankfully not having a similar situation as we did in Germany where we woke up after our destination.

It was a Tuesday evening so of course we decided to continue drinking because what else even is there to do?

We decided to head to the one place that everyone bangs on about... Zly Casy which was quite a way away. It's a massive 45 tap craft beer bar spread over 3 floors and really does have something for everyone.

The first thing I noticed when I went in was that they had Magic Rock Rapture on tap but that's not what I was there for...

The one beer I REALLY wanted was a beer I had last time I was in Prague Matuska Raptor IPA and goddamn, I found it and it was glorious. Definitely a rival to any UK or US brewed American IPA. Juicy as fuck. I honestly could not tell you what Sammie had as I clearly didn't check into it on Untappd.

We then decided to check out the other two bars below... the middle one was full and looked more like it was table service focused but the bottom one allowed us to perch at the bar and take in our surroundings. It was brilliant, with empty beer bottles lining the shelves and walls including basically every Brewdog bottle that had ever existed.

I had Uneticke Pivo 12 Degree, a beer that people had told me about and it was a delicious, typically Czech, grassy lager with a bit of fruitiness. Sammie obviously had to find an Imperial Stout which was from FALK:ON Brewery; it was dark, chocolatey, full of coffee and red berries. Loved it.

It was getting quite late and Sammie was drunk/tired but I was pretty amped still so I ambled along for another couple of Staropramens at Pivnice U Mejly which I'd fallen in love with over the course of the week before heading to the hotel for some much needed rest.


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Prague 2016 Day 3 - Budvar Brewery & Ceske Budejovice

Awake slightly later than planned, with a slight hangover we eventually made it to the 9:30am train to Ceske Budjovice. Train tickets are cheap in the Czech Republic - we each bought an unlimited all day ticket on the entire Czech rail network which cost around £18 each.

Trains in CZ are clean, spacious and efficient; in fact I believe we got to Ceske Budjovice early.

We arrived and Google Maps wasn't being much help with public transport so we just decided to take the half hour walk to the brewery on the outskirts of the city.

We arrived and met Jan who has been working for the brewery for 42 years; he used to work in the lab but he's retired now and just does tours, which seems like a nice job. Now, a little bit of disclosure here - We didn't pay for our tour; we got a private tour for blogging purposes after I started chatting to the Budvar UK twitter account.

The scale of the Budvar Brewery was incredible and I've never really seen anything like it aside from maybe Pilsner Urquell last year. Jan explained the history of the brewery, showed us the massive maturation tanks, the fermenters, the brewhouse and the bottling plant.

Some of my favourite facts from the tour:

  • The water used for brewing is drawn from wells that are deep below the brewery
  • The water is some of the softest in the world
  • The CO2 given off during fermentation is used to carbonate the bottles of beer
My favourite part of the tour was being given unfiltered, unpasteurised Budvar directly from the maturation tanks. We each ended up having 4 glasses (well, plastic cups) which is 3 more than on a regular tour. Jan said "You've got two hands, and therefore you need two beers" and who was I to refuse.

After the tour we were led to the restaurant where they'd booked us a table. I started by drinking the Krausened Lager which is unfiltered and so fresh, crisp, slightly creamy and just delicious whilst Sammie went for the Tmavy because as mentioned before, she's a dark beer fiend. We then ordered some food - I went for a classic bavarian (sorry) dish of roast pork, cabbage, potato dumplings and cabbage which was delicious, before having another couple of beers - The Classic and the Original. We were going to have another beer but decided to head off.

On a hot day it was nice to wander down the street with brewery fresh cans of Budvar. We had a look in a shopping mall which was a bit odd. It was like it was built in the communist era, still functional yet still not complete.

We then found our way through the beautiful pastel buildings to Minipivovar Krajinska 27 where we settled down for a bit. I just wanted the 12 Degree Lager which was mighty refreshing whilst Sammie decided on the tasting flight of 6 beers. I've got to say, I wish I would have gone for a pint of their IPA as it was the most delicious on the board. We bought two bottles of the 27 Degree Special Doppelbock to take home and went on our way.

We wandered through the streets and eventually stopped at another little Budvar place for a couple more pints of Krausened Lager before getting the train back to Prague for more shenanigans...

Whilst we're on the subject, Budvar has just launched a new website called Czech Stories which is Budvar's guide to the Czech Republic which is full of wonderful stories and videos: http://czechstories.com/


Disclaimer: Budvar UK invited me to the brewery for a tour and paid for our lunch and beers. I can guarantee that freebies did not affect my opinion because I have enjoyed drinking Budvar for years. The rest of the trip was paid for by Sammie and simultaneously this does not affect my opinion of her.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Prague 2016 - Day One & Two

After I visited Prague last year, I vowed that I would visit every single year and thus far I've stuck true to my word.

Sammie had decided to buy us a holiday to Prague for my birthday, which was nice of her, so it was last week we set off.

We had a fairly late flight on Monday, meaning that we didn't land in Prague until 10:30pm, but we made sure to get to the airport with enough time to have a couple of pints of Brooklyn Lager. When we landed we were picked up by our taxi - the driver being surprised that I knew the Czech for Good Evening - and dropped at our hotel.

After check in, we popped to tesco to grab some snacks and some beers before heading out to a bar. I had a bottle of Primator India Pale Ale which having loved their Weizen, was also delicious, whilst Sammie had a bottle of Herold Black Lager, which was nice and roasty.

We then headed to Hells Bells, a metal bar on Na Belide in Smichov, which is hidden below ground in a crypt. It was a typically ideal dirty dive bar, metal memorabilia everywhere, including a giant Eddie flag on the ceiling. The beer selection was made up of four Staropramen beers and their own Hells Bells 14 Degree IPA made by local brewery Bad Flash. We started with a pint of Staropramen 11 Degree Lager which is much much much nicer than the stuff we get over here, because it's generally a better beer and it's only brewed two blocks away! We hadn't noticed their own beer until that point so we decided to go for that next - fresh, citrusy hops, served in their own branded straight pint glass. It was delicious. We wanted another here but the angry metal man behind the bar evidently just wanted to head home so we left. We saw that Pivnice U Mejly across the road was opened, so we stopped and had another few pints of Staropramen 11 degree - the atmosphere here was brilliant. Local barflies, propping up against the bar, all chatting, smoking, drinking beer and doing shots of Jagerneister, the man behind the bar also partaking.

We then headed back to the hotel for a couple of beers and called it a night.

The next morning, we got up, had a bite to eat and then headed to the zoo, getting lost along the way. The zoo involved animals, hotdogs (presumably not made from zoo animals) and a few pints of Kozel 11 Degree which again, is better than the shit we get in the U.K.

After the zoo we headed to Prague Beer Museum on Dlouha which I've head good things about, but we weren't fans. 30 beers on draught seems good, but the beer tasted old and dusty, as if the lines hadn't been cleaned properly. I had a Vysoky Chlumek Flying Cloud IPA which tasted like an old American import - sweet, malty and devoid of hops. Sammie had Kocour Cherry Lager which was alright but sweet and left a weird film in the mouth.

Next stop was the fairly new Craft House which is right in the town centre. Very clean, bright and open space with 25 draught beers and a nice Czech bottle selection. Seats were comfortable, and there was a mixed clientele. I had Permon Easy Hopper Citra which was an in your face yet subtle session IPA with lashings of tropical fruits whilst Sammie had Fabrica RARA Smocze Oczy, a juicy American Pale Ale at 5.2%.

Next we moved into a favourite of mine, Beer Geek Bar, which Sammie was really impressed with. We love the way they have the changing beers on LCD displays above the bar, so they can change at any moment. I really wanted some Matuska Raptor, but there was none so I settled for the juice monster that is Matuska Apollo Galaxy; Galaxy is one of my favourite hops and its peachiness did not disappoint. Sammie had a Ginger Lager by Faltus which I didn't mind for a ginger beer as it wasn't burning my throat. We had another in here... mine was Raven Farmhand Saison which contained all of the funk you'd want from a saison with lashings of mango and blood orange whilst Sammie settled for Podlesi Podlesky Mikes 13 a chocolatey black lager.

Our next stop was another craft beer bar, Illegal Beer, where we had to walk down a street lined with the kind of strip clubs that mug off tourists, in order to get there. Sammie had Raven White IPA which she ended up spilling across the table with her wild drunken hand gestures as she explained something - it was a very solid White IPA and I wish I could have found it again that trip. I had Lobec IPA which was nice but very subtle.

We then headed back to Andel and went to Bernard Pub, another of my favourites in Prague. Bernard make so many awesome lagers. I started with the Unfiltered 10 Degree which was very light and I sunk it within around 5 minutes whilst Sammie slowly drank her Amber Lager; I don't usually like Amber beers but this was something I could get on with. I then moved on to the 12 Degree Lager which is one of the finest lagers in all the land, and I believe I had another one.

After this, Sammie decided to head back to the hotel whilst I tried to get some Tankovna Urquell but to no avail as most places were closing, so I popped into U Buldoka for a regular Pilsner Urquell on tap, which was nice and satisfying. U Buldoka was a very nice bar, a nice atmosphere and buzz going on, friendly staff, football memorabilia and a wall full of football scarves. I sunk my pint then figured I'd have a quick one in Pivnice U Mejly again before heading back to the hotel to join Sammie for some bottles and cans.

We went to bed, later than we intended to for the next day was an early train to Budvar...