So this year has been a strange one for me. Medical reasons have prevented me from going on beery tours this year and for the last third of the year I have been hardly able to drink due to damned medication but for what it’s … Continue reading 2016 Golden Pints Awards @Hoppytweets
I’ve been wanting to write about my adventure to Borefts for a while but just haven’t had the time. I wish I done this when it was fresher in my mind but here goes.
From the start I have to say that it is without a doubt the greatest beer festival I have been to so far. (I’ve been told by those in the know that that it is indeed the best in the world and I’m certainly not disputing it!) It is about an hour outside of Amsterdam on a rather splendid double decker train in the beautiful Bodegraven, home of DeMolen brewery, who are the organisers of the event.
It is held on the last weekend in September which meant a rather frantic drive to the airport after work! It was incredibly easy to get to, simply jump on a train heading towards Utrecht at Schiphol airport and disembark at the tiny Bodegraven train station. Think rural Northumberalnd and you’re on the right track! It’s easy enough to find the Demolen brewery- simply follow the hordes of wobbly, happy folk walking in the opposite direction, all clutching their wonderful festival glasses. Myself and my travelling companion arrived at around about 8.30, bearing in mind it closes up shop at ten each night. We paid for a handful of tokens and received our thimbles (glasses!) and head towards the pop up bars. It was still reasonably busy at this time but it was easy enough to get to any bar and grab a fantastic beverage.
First up was Brewdog and it was nice to see Captain James serving the drinks to the excited beer drinkers. Not another damned saison was on offer which was a cracking opening drink, followed by Lizard Bride which is one of my favourite beers of the year. (It’s a super sour IPA!). I tried to engage James in conversation about his TV show Brewdogs but he seemed relucant- I’m sure he was tired and was a little sick of strangers trying to talk to him by the time I arrived so I wasn’t too emotionally wounded!
Next door to the Brewdog stand was the incredible Brewski from Sweden. They were serving up a superb range of IPAs, pales and berliner weisses. The crowning glory was Tropic Sneeze which is a tropical berlinner weisse. It’s seriously delicious- sherberty, tart and huge hits of mango, pineapple and other exotic fruits. My good friend, Martin was so in love with this beer that I’m pretty sure he drank the rest of the keg!
The sheer amount of breweries there was staggering- Burning Sky were showing off their exceptional selection of wild beers, Lervig had a mind blowing barrel aged barley wine, Magic Rock were showcasing Pina Collision, Grapefruit Highwire and Clown Juice amongst other gems and Omnipollo were hidden away so expertly that I missed them o the first night. Hugely disappointing as I missed the Ice cream IPA collab with Buxton.
The festival closed at 10 so we dragged our luggage to the De Molen brewery bar under the historic windmill.
Inside the bar, which was now crammed with happy, beery folk, the atmosphere was buzzing. Songs were being sung, possibly of Viking origin, laughter could be heard all around and beer was being served. Well two beers were- dark or pale! I opted for dark which turned out to be a 10% imperial stout. This wasn’t such a good decision after a day at work, a plane and train journey, several beers beforehand and not a great deal of food! Anyway, we got friendly with a couple and their friend who were from Holland and were amazed that we had actually heard of the festival! We spent a good few hours drinking and conversing (I’m not sure how coherent any of this was mind) and a good time was had by all. By now it was time to head back to the Tulip Inn, Bodegraven. I’d recommend staying there if you are planning on going to the festival.
The next morning we woke up at a reasonable 10 am and decided to stroll back down to the festival area. The festival wasn’t kicking off until 12pm but we were on a mission to find some freshly baked pretzels. We didn’t find any. One of the things I learned on my weekend is that Holland does not dig freshly baked pretzels!
Bodegraven itself is a beautiful town with a bridge and canal going right through the middle. Very expensive yachts can be seen moored up by the bridge during the day. We spent a good few hours walking around the town; it is immaculately clean and the people are so friendly. Make sure that you take the time to explore; you won’t regret it.
Back at De Molen, the festival was in full swing. Armed with our trusty glasses we set the goal of making it until 6pm! We sampled some exceptional beers during the day (including an 18.6% eisbock from De Molen themselves) as well as some fabulous food. There is everything from handcrafted double cooked chips to Thai noodles and sushi to huge, meaty sausages. Another life saver was the readily available ‘plastic aged’ water!
We actually made it past 6pm and met up with a friend off Twitter, who suggested I go in the first place. We decided to go to the De Molen shop which has some sensational offerings.
Such as this from Cascade Brewing, pricey but sour, tart and delicious. (Very hard to get a hold of too!)
We managed to find Omnipollo on the Saturday evening and tried the lemonade sour and raspberry and strawberry smoothies- all three were excellent. However, I’m so sad that I missed the Buxton collab on the Friday.
There were so many beers to choose from but the selection of imperial stouts and sours was really impressive. It’s also lovely to be served beer by the brewer or owner of the brewery themselves. There is also a merch shop which sold all manner of beer geeky goodness. Oh and one stand was selling beer sorbets. The Jackhammer one was mind blowing!
The atmosphere at the festival is so friendly and calm. Yes people have ‘had a few’ but there is no arguing or idiots fleeing around. It’s people enjoying sensational beer and each other’s company. People from all over the world, including the US, had made the journey to visit this secret gem of a festival. On top of the beer on offer you are free to walk around the De Molen brewery itself.
It was simply the best weekend I’ve had and I’m going to make the trip again next year. On the way back to the airport on Sunday we bumped into a couple of American’s looking for directions. Turned out it was the owner of Cascade brewing!
So for what it’s worth…
I haven’t had every amazing beer or been to every event so from what I’ve sampled this year here it is…
Best kegged beer- SWB Mauna Kea- so much tropical punch in every single sip.
Best UK bottled beer- Brew Dog Born to Die- each batch has been incredible, especially the last one.
Best UK can- Brew Dog Jackhammer- quite simply stunning and continually one of my favourite beers.
Best overall beer- Brew Dog Born To Die- the last batch was the best UK produced IPA I’ve had. If it was an American release it would be GLOBAL!
Best overseas bottled beer- had so many this year thanks to @TheAleTrail and the star of the show was New Glarus Serendipity- wow I wish I could get this stuff flowing from my taps!
Best overseas can- Focal Banger from the Alchemist- quite simply the best beer I’ve ever tasted.
Best UK brewery- Buxton- they have a great tap house and keep turning out stunning beers with no fanfare at all.
I have to mention Northern Alchemy too as they are simply amazing and create sensational beers in the tiniest space you can imagine. Their Marmalade and Assam Tea IPA is easily in my top ten this year.
Best collab- Buxton/Tool Coral Seas- the saltiest damn gose I’ve sampled.
Best new UK brewery- Vocation- each release has been simply stunning. Keep them coming guys.
Best overseas brewery- Stone- I have loved each Enjoy By release but the April one blew me away.
Best supermarket- is there any choice? M and S by a mile. I only wish each store would stock the same beers.
Best bottle shop- Rehills of Jesmond- prices that beat everyone else and Sonny will try his hardest to get whatever beer I keep badgering him for. It’s now a second home. They just need to install that growler fill station.
Best Twitterer- this is a hard one. Over the last year I honestly feel that I have made an entirely new group of completely fabulous friends and this is coming from someone who doesn’t like people too much! @TheAleTrail and @Andy911 have gone from virtual friends to real ones! (And I’m very pleased to have met them). They are both a fountain of knowledge on all things beer. I have also been fortunate enough to meet @MylesLambert, @Weordie and @300lbCyclist, all are superb guys and again great beery dudes. @MindlessPizza, I actually feel as though I went on holiday with him and his photos are simply stunning. @UKBeerNetwork and @GoodBeerTweet helped me get into this Twitter thing properly and I thank them both so much. As for @Tribod and @HoptomisticDude- what can I say? Thank you both for your friendship and all the bloody laughs we have had this year. There has been many a time when the wife has come into the kitchen and found me wiping tears of laughter away from my face before asking me what the bloody hell I was doing. (The hamster episode was a particular favourite). You are both truly fabulous guys who really know your beery stuff. However for services to humanity I have to choose @CraftBeerHour as Tom has literally created a sensation! He’s also a bloody nice bloke to boot and I hope to meet him again real soon. (If I missed anyone I’m really sorry).
Beer festival of the year- My God Borefts by miles. If any of you haven’t been then do so. It’s like being transported to a different world. Thanks to @TheAleTrail and @Andy911 for getting me there.
Last but not least, Best Bar- Newcastle has great, great craft beer bars but my spiritual home is Brew Dog Newcastle. The quality of the beer they pour is fabulous, their staff are all knowledgeable and friendly but their crown jewel is in their amazing general manager- Jill!
Well that’s it folks- thanks for reading.
Four trains! Four trains to get from Newcastle to Buxton- I mean it is 2015 isn’t it? Anyway after meeting up with my friend Steve (@tweetinghops) at Stockport, we embarked on the final train to Buxton. Arriving just before two pm we sought out our lodgings- The Queen’s Head, nice room but questionable bar. Straight after that it was down to the Buxton Tap House for some light refreshments. Two halves of Axe Edge later (fantastic by the way) we tried Spa pale ale on cask. We weren’t impressed- far more lively on keg! The bar itself was small but cosy with an exceptional array of bottles and taps. More on that later. Anyway after a brief chat with the bar dude we discovered it was going to cost thirty quid in a taxi to Thornbridge! It’s like 12 miles. Checking out the bus timetable we realised we had missed the hourly bus by seven minutes. Perhaps checking that before seeking out Axe Edge may have been a more economical plan.
So the taxi turned up and asked if we knew where the brewery was! Not a good sign. Driving out of Buxton, the driver said that he thinks the tap house get their beer from somewhere local. I was like- yeah the Buxton Brewery; they own the bar! It appears that both Buxton and Thornbridge are secrets in the Peak District. After establishing that the summer of ’77 was the best ever summer we arrived at Bakewell- that of the tarts. We appeared to have over shot our trajectory a tad. Thankfully, a passing American tourist knew exactly where the brewery was and directed the local of fifty plus years without hesitation. You can always trust an American to hunt out their craft!
After walking through an industrial estate which resembled the set of a SyFy zombie movie, we found Thornbridge tucked away in the far corner. Browsing the shop, we discovered that the beers on offer were no cheaper than a good bottle shop. In fact many of the guests were ridiculously priced. Sierra Nevada Torpedo at over £3.50 a bottle; er it’s £2 in M and S dudes. We were greeted by our tour guy who was a nice enough sales rep for the brewery but seemed ill at ease with public talking. He was nice enough to give us a Cocoa Wonderland which is a sensational chocolate stout. It didn’t last long.
The tour got underway and it was a seriously interesting way to spend part of the afternoon. You get to go around the control room, the lab, the main brewery and the highlight- the barrel ageing room. Walking in, the smell of glorious Four Roses bourbon hits your nose instantly. We learned that they contained a Belgian beauty which had been ageing for fourteen months. I pushed for a taster but he wasn’t going for it at all. Shame but I had to ask. The pinball table (Lethal Weapon 3) and camper van were also cool additions to this wonderful room which was floor to ceiling with hundreds of bourbon barrels. We were also told that the last Wednesday of every month they invite pop up food sellers and have a general party. Like what’s wrong with a Saturday? Back in the shop, we were treated to more Cocoa Wonderland but we needed to head to Bakewell to locate our bus back to Buxton. At least we hoped that was the case as nobody seemed particularly knowledgeable about their exact existence! Anyway- the tour was great and I recommend it to any beer enthusiast.
After waiting an additional twenty five minutes for the bus, we were heading back to Buxton. We head back to the tap house where we met up with Chris from Sheffield (he of last adventure). He had come to meet us for tea as he was heading to far off shores the next day. More Axe Edge and we ordered food. What can I say- it was seriously good. the kind that is small but you want to eat everything on it. We opted for the nachos covered in chilli, the pulled pork, sausage and bacon bun things and the shin beef chilli. All seriously delicious. Chris departed so Steve and I got to sampling the wonderful Buxton offerings. Very Far Skyline- an aged Berlinner Weisse was not in the chiller but the lovely bar person said that she would put a couple in for us for later on. We sampled Experimental on tap (a super IPA/Sour hybrid) and Buxton/Omnipollo Stolen Fruit. A tart grapefruit and key lime sour. The staff in the tap house were extremely friendly and very knowledgeable and proud of their brewery. They should be!
After a few more Axe Edge (why not) we ventured out into Buxton itself. Right next door to the tap house is a canny little bar/eatery which has a few Thornbridge taps on. We sampled I Love You Will You Marry Me- a rather pleasant fruit blonde and Halycyon- an incredible double IPA. We ventured to a few more bars and then back to our Very Far Skyline at the Tap House. Unfortunately another bar staffer had sold our bottles to some dude who worked at Thornbridge and carried some clout due to the fact that he was wearing a Russian River t-shirt. (Yes- he had been !) Anyway I didn’t care much about his superior craft status- I was having those bottles and was ready for a fight. (Not a physical one as I’m not that way inclined.) To be honest, he was rather a cool dude and handed them over once he realised that we had travelled from afar and he could come into the Tap House any time he wished. Bloody show off but an all round cool guy.
Getting back to the room, we settled in for a night of The Last Boy Scout which we actually saw together in Nottingham back in ’91! At this point it was clear that a double bourbon and Coke was needed. Getting dressed, albeit sans shoes and socks, I head to the Queen’s Head bar to order. Alright, I wasn’t wearing shoes and socks but upon arrival I was accused of breaking the fire escape door thingy by Mr Bouncer- like really! I’ve got no shoes and socks on; how could I have been in the bar- exited the bar seconds earlier and then returned to said bar? Anyway- I managed to protest my innocence and got to the bar-shoeless- unnoticed. Returning to the room, it was clear that Steve wasn’t going to last much longer so I had two double bourbon and Cokes and the rest of the Last Boy Scout to watch.
Train time again- heading back to Huddersfield (again) and taking Steve to Magic Rock Tap Room for a glass of Pina Collision. The weather in Huddersfield was considerably better than the Peak District but I needed a belt- badly. I was wearing my pants youth style. Hanging around my arse! Long story and walk cut short- Primark saved the day. Next stop the Sportsman and a quick Magic Rock Grapefruit High Wire. Now that’s breakfast!
Steve was pretty excited about Magic Rock and so he should be. Upon entering the smell coming from Banh Mi Booth Vietnamese street food van was incredible. We went in to the tap house and last week’s bar dude recognised me (nice touch) but there was no Pina Collision (not good). Salty Kiss gose is superb anytime but when the sun is shining it’s exceptional.
After a wonderful afternoon at Magic Rock again, we decided it was time to hit the train again and venture to Manchester. On the train, I started to Google craft bars and the Port Street Beer House came up tops. After checking their website and beer list I nearly passed out. Cigar City Jai Alai on tap and Dogfishead 90 minute IPA in bottles. Freeze time- like what? Really? How? Who cares, let’s go!
Okay, I’m from Newcastle and you can walk top to bottom in fifteen minutes tops and that’s if you’re walking slow. Manchester- not so much. We came out of Piccadilly to bedlam. All the tram lines were being ‘done’ or something like that. Anyway it was time for Google maps to save the day. Or not! Steve’s iPhone 4s and my 5c produced two different routes to the bar. Both said 0.2 miles and 6 minutes walking. 35 minutes later we arrived, the routes were obviously based on Manchester from the 90s. Getting in the small yet spectacular bar I noticed straight away- no Jai Alai on tap. The conversation went something like this: So is your website up to date? Well we add beers but don’t tend to take them off. So there was no 90 minute IPA either. Come on Ports Street Beer House-sort your website out! However, they did have Against The Grain Bo and Luke. This is one of the most sought after barrel aged beers in the world. It was 25 quid for a 750ml bottle. It wasn’t the price putting us off; it was the 13% at 5pm. I’m sorry to say that we decided against it. However, there were many other great beers on offer.
Next up- Marble Arch Inn. Now this is some real history. It’s where Marble brewery started. The bonus- just around the corner on Google maps! 45 minutes of walking and about 4 miles later we arrived!
The doll was getting some action from a hen party but the beer was sensational. Again- a must visit for any beer geek.
So now we decided to head to Brewdog- part of my mission to visit everyone in the UK. Google maps informed us it was 15 minutes away. Just under an hour later we arrived. Either Steve and I have a total brain freeze when it comes to Google maps or it doesn’t actually work that well. Elvis Juice and Summer Wine Brewery superb Mauna Kea five tropical fruits IPA. Okay- now to find Beermoth, the legendary bottle shop which was just around the corner- on Google Maps! Over half an hour later we found the place. It was amazing. Downstairs they had a bar where you could choose your beers and drink them.
We had a good chat to one of the Beermoth dudes who was a brewer with Quantum and had recently brewed a beer with the exceptional Northern Alchemy (from Newcastle- more about them in future blogs hopefully). We discussed the pineapple and habanero sour which literally destroys your throat as you drink it. By the time we left Beermoth it was time to find food. Back to Brewdog and superb burgers and loving dogs!
Okay- it had been an epic day but now it was heading near 9pm and time to head back to Buxton. Obviously what we needed was more beer.
Because what you need, really need after a full day of craftness is three imperial stouts. All I can end with is that Yellow Belly is one of the finest beers I’ve ever tasted and The Living End could stand up tall next to Founders legendary KBS. Oh and if you are in Buxton on a Sunday after a weekend of excessive exploration, the Tap House do delicious Sunday dinners!
So a good friend of mine from school recently got in touch after a few years in Cyprus. We got on to talking about craft beer and Brewdog. I mentioned that I have a mission to visit every UK bar so we organised a weekend at his to visit Brewdog Sheffield and The Sheffield tap. I was pretty excited and then he appeared at another friend’s 40th last weekend. He explained that the plan had been organised- I was confused as I thought we already had a plan. Turned out he’d organised this beer train trip from Sheffield to Huddersfield. My heart sank. You see the thing is that whereas I’m utterly obsessed with craft beer,I have found it’s destroyed my ability to enjoy other drinks. I try cask beer every now and again but I just don’t get it- it’s way too watery for my liking but I know- other opinions are available. Anyway, after this bombshell- the whole train journey to several outstanding ‘real ale’ pubs he let me know that we were going with a huge group of his fellow workers- all high school teachers! Two things about me- one, I’m a teacher myself so if I want to go out with a bunch of other teachers it will be the ones that I work with and like. Two- I’m not great at getting on with people I find boring; that is- people who don’t share my obsessive interests! So the weekend was planned and I was not looking forward to it one bit.
I got down to Sheffield after a very hectic last day of term; I was exhausted. We went to the local where the craft selection was zero so I opted to try cask again- a Samuel Adams summer pale ale. It wasn’t good; watery and lifeless but at least it tasted as though it had been near some hops. So my mate’s wife asked me if I was looking forward to getting up early. I was like- what? Turned out we were getting on the train at 9 am! I thought it was an evening thing.
The next morning we arrived at the train station to find what I can only describe as the extras from the Vicar of Dibly (and a dog) waiting for us. I thought- be brave and start a conversation so I did with the guy who had organised the whole thing. We got onto talking about train journeys (exciting-I know) and I told him about my recent trip to the Brewdog agm. He said to me- Brewdog, two words- too hoppy. Well that was the end of that friendship before it even began.
We arrived at the first pub in Huddersfield at 11 am and I had to say that I was about to eat a huge slice of humble pie. The Sportsman is a superb venue with a great selection of beers on cask and keg, including Magic Rock. Although, I had to admit defeat that 11am was too early for Big Top. I opted for the excellent Heart and Soul on keg from Vocational brewery. It was very, very good. I got to talking with the bar dude who went on to inform me that Magic Rock was ten minutes down the road. I felt a need to change the battle plan.
Luckily Chris, afore mentioned friend, sensed that the other pubs on the trail wouldn’t have the level of selection as this and he was curious to see what Magic Rock was all about. After a swift lunch we ditched the Vicar of Diblys and headed down the road.
Upon seeing the Magic Rock sign next left, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve. We walked round and followed the signs to the tap room. In the forecourt was a bloody pop up smoke house- damn, why had we just eaten? We went to the bar and were greeted with a rather exceptional board. There it was, Salty Kiss! The last time I had tried it was the 2014 Brewdog AGM and it I remember it being utterly fantastic. I have since become rather partial to a Gose but they are sadly hard to get a hold of. Sitting there in this haven of craft excellence, I decided to be cheeky and put on Twitter that I would love to go into the brewery itself, which is still under construction. Seconds later the tweet returned- We can make that happen. So off we went for a look around and it was great to see how much this amazing brewery has grown. The equipment they have is large and shiny and mesmerising. It was turning out to be a rather excellent day. We stayed there for a few hours sampling some of the finest craft beer produced in the UK. The crowning glory was Pina Collision which is a sour/wild collab with Stillwater. It smelled like an amplified pear drop and its taste is a pineapple, citrus, bitter avalanche. It was bloody fantastic!
Heading back to the station, a little more wobbly, we decided that missing all the other pubs and going straight back to Sheffield would be a fine idea. We got back at around 4pm and head straight to Brewdog. After a quick half of vagabond pale ale and a few turns on the free pinball we headed to the Devonshire Cat. Now this is a great bar; huge selection of taps and bottles from around the UK and the world. I was about to grab a Founders All Day IPA when I noticed Fyne Ales Jarl on cask. I always remember all round beer guru, The Ale Trail, telling me how fantastic this was when I told him about me disliking cask. Bloody hell he was right. Smooth and not thin, it was utterly delicious and quaffable. So much so that I grabbed another.
From there we stumbled to the Sheffield Tap, another sensational drinking emporium. Their bottle selection is like Aladdin’s cave. After a Tuatara pale ale, Brodies hackney Red and a Yeastie Boys tea leaf IPA it really was getting on for home time.
So what can I say- Sheffield is an amazing city; the sun was glorious; Magic Rock Tap Room is a must for any craft enthusiast and I had a bloody excellent day. Just a pity that Magic Rock had sold out of their wonderful growlers!