Showing: 1 - 6 of 6 RESULTS

A guide to Prague’s Brew Pubs

Introduction

I hope that this article may be helpful in guiding readers to a number of fine pivnices/hostinecs/hospodas – words that equate to pub in Czech – in Prague and Brno and in providing some tips on travelling to and within the Czech Republic and in finding accommodation.

I first visited Prague in November 1996 armed with a copy of the excellent Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic written by Graham Lees, a founder member of Camra, and will never forget paying £1.60 for eight half litres of Gambrinus in a pub that is now unfortunately closed.

There have been a lot of changes in Prague, and the Czech Republic, over the last 10 years but the “Golden City “ it is still a great place to visit and has much to offer for the discerning drinker.

Practicalities

You can fly to Prague with any number of airlines including BA, CSA, BMI and EasyJet from various airports around the UK and an excellent web-site for finding good value fares is Travel Jungle. All flights arrive at Ruzyne Airport from which there are various ways of travelling into Prague. I would suggest that you consider investing in a travel pass on sale at a desk in the airport, available for 1, 3 and 7 days and costing 80, 250 and 280 Crowns respectively, and then take the 119 bus to Dejvicka Metro station which is 4 stops on line A from the centre of Prague making sure that you validate your ticket / pass on the bus! On a recent trip to Prague I meet 3 American students who, having been charged 650 Crowns for a taxi ride that should have cost 200 Crowns, were on the same day each fined 500 Crowns for travelling without a ticket on a tram! A travel pass allows you to travel on the efficient Metro system and the comprehensive Tram and Bus networks and is a much better bet than travelling by taxi as Prague taxi drivers have a well-deserved reputation for fleecing non-Czech speaking customers. For accommodation in Prague and the rest of the Czech republic I can strongly recommend hostels and apartments to suit all pockets.

An Introduction to drinking in Prague

You may feel somewhat taken aback by the apparent strength of the beer on sale in the many hundreds/thousands of pubs in Prague! If you work on the basis that their 10% and 12% pretty much equates to our 4% and 5% you will be OK. As in most of Europe you pay for your beer(s) when you leave the pub. The current exchange rate is around 45 Crowns to the Stirling and beer in and around Prague costs anything from 18 to 90 Crowns for a half litre. A few useful words in “pub“ Czech are;

  • Pivo – Beer
  • Prosim – Please
  • Dobry Den – Hello / Good Day
  • Dekuju – Thank You
  • Platit Prosim – Can we pay please
  • Jidlo – Food
  • Opening hours vary but you are unlikely to ever encounter a problem getting a Pivo in the centre of Prague!

Brewpubs on the 22 and 23 tram routes

Three of the four brew pubs that I am going to recommend are very easily accessible from the 22 and 23 trams. If you board the tram at IP Pavlova, Metro Line C and slightly south of the centre of Prague, and get off at the next stop heading west, eg towards the river and the castle, which is Stipanska then you are a few yards from the Pivovarsky Dum. Opened in 1998 this is probably Prague’s premier brew pub and offers 0.5 litre of it’s own tasty svetle and cerne – light and dark – pivo for a fairly reasonable 31 Crowns. For the same price, but you only get .3 of a litre, they offer a range of at times quirky beers that may include sour cherry, coffee, banana, wheat, nettle, “beer champagne“ and herb the last of which reminded me somewhat of a cough medicine from my younger days. If you are feeling particularly thirsty then a Zirafa – a pipe of beer – of 4 litres of the svetle and cerne can be bought for the price of 3.5 litres (if you like this idea similar deals are on offer at the excellent C K Browar brewpub in Krakow and Bar Fusser in Nuremburg) and the beers can be soaked up with some typically filling Czech cuisine. The friendly English speaking staff will also be happy to sell you bottled beer and souvenirs and brewery trips can be arranged.

A few minutes walk, heading more or less back to IP Pavlova, takes you to the excellent U Havrana at 6 Halkova Ulice a much more traditional pivnice serving Kozel beer – probably familiar to many of you from various Wetherspoon’s pubs – but at a much happier price and with the added benefit that the Havrana is open 24/7!

A couple of stops further going into the centre of Prague brings you to Narodni Tridna tram and Metro stops. Look out for the large Tesco’s shop and look to your left just beyond the crossroads and you will see the sign for U Medvidku at Na Perstyne 5. Which includes 0.5 litres of Budvar 12 and Regent Dark 12 for 26 Crowns together with a small brewing museum and a shop selling a wide range of beer related items. Walk right to the end of the beer hall and up some steps and you will find yourself in the Pivovar U Bulovky. The majority of which is only in Czech at the moment provides details of the beer on offer which is brewed in the Vienna Red style and very nice it was to at 49 Crowns for a 0.5 litre. The beer was served straight from a barrel, so is likely to be of particular interest to members of the SPBW, and further information is available in an article in a recent edition of What’s Brewing.

Get back on the tram and enjoy the view as you travel across the river Vlatava and then go uphill to the right hand side of the Hrad (Castle) and as the tram bears left alight and make your way to the Klasterni Pivovar. For a map and further details. Founded in 1140 this attractively located brewpub offers St Norbert Amber and Dark beers for 49 Crowns. I particularly like the Dark beer which has coffee undertones and a smooth finish but do note that you only get 0.4 of a litre! Draft Budvar and bottles of Erdinger Weiss are also available and there is an extensive range of Czech dishes on the menu. Very much on the tourist trail as it is the pub does, however, retain a pleasant ambiance and monks from the local abbey can sometimes be seen enjoying a contemplative Pivo or two.

A Brewpub on the 24 tram route

It is well worth travelling a little further out from the centre of Prague on a tram 24 to visit the Pivovar Bulovky. A Czech friend advises that if you board a tram 24 going towards Ladvi at Vaclavske Namesti then the 13th stop is Bulovka and the pub, at 17 Bulovka, is a couple of minutes walk down the hill and is adjacent to a hospital. The website provides details of the considerable range of beers that are brewed the majority of which, at any one time, are available as lahvove pivo – bottled beer. Of the two beers available on draught, at 26 crowns a 0.5 litre, during my last visit in October 2005 the svelte pub premium was pleasant without being overly exciting but the wheat beer was an excellent drink being zesty and refreshing although without the flavours of banana and cloves which characterise a number of wheat beers from Bavaria. The pub itself would not be out of place in Bavaria with lots of wood panelling and hearty food available but it did not appear that an English language menu is available so having a menu decoder, or a Czech speaker, with you will definitely pay dividends! My Czech friends consider this to be the best brewpub in Prague and I would definitely recommend that you do take a trip out from the centre, it should take about 25/30 minutes, to sample some of the beers although another option would be stay in the small Pension attached to the pub details of which are on the web-site. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noted that there is a connection between this pub and the “pub within a pub“ at U Medviku in the centre of Prague.

Other Brewpubs in Prague

It is a number of years since I have visited either the Novometsky Pivovar, at 20 Vodickova, or U Fleku, at 11 Kremencova, so I can’t provide details of their current beers and prices. Both pubs are very much on the tourist trail, I tried to get a Pivo at the Novometsky one day earlier this year but 2 coach loads of Spanish tourists arrived at the same time as my friend and I did which made it impossible to get served, but they are definitely worth visiting and I would be interested in peoples opinions of the beers that they serve. A further brewpub, somewhat further from the centre of Prague, that I did visit a few years ago and would have no hesitation in going back to is U Bezousko at 5 Kvetnova Namesti in the southern suburb of Pruhonice. Take Metro C to Opatov and then a 10 minute bus ride to Pruhonice.

A brewpub in Brno

If you find yourself in the Czech Republic’s second city, a train from Prague takes about 3 hours and train fares are remarkably good value, make sure that you do not miss the Pegas brewpub/hotel at 4 Jabuska . Dark, light and wheat beers of a truly excellent quality are on offer and I have also had the pleasure of drinking honey and ginger beers in this bustling establishment which is about 10 minutes walk from the station but there is no guarantee that these “special“ beers will be available throughout the year.

I hope that you find these notes useful and would be interested in any feedback that people might like to provide. If I know you then I would also be happy to lend you my rather dog-eared copy of Graham Lee’s Prague/Czech Republic beer guide which will point you in the direction of many hundreds of other fine drinking establishments across the Czech Republic.

A Yen for Ji-biru


World class beer is not, necessarily, something that is usually associated with Japan, and certainly not with Korea, but a recent 10 day trip to Seoul, Tokyo and various points in-between certainly opened my eyes to the delights of ji-biiru, otherwise known as Japanese craft beer.

Information on the Internet

Did you know that Japanese breweries won 10 medals, more than their counterparts from the Czech Republic, Holland and the UK, at the 2008 Beer World cup? I didn’t until I started doing some research on the Net in preparation for a week’s holiday in Japan.

I knew that there are four major, or macro, breweries in Japan; Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory and Asahi but I didn’t know that the first brewery in Japan opened as late as 1876. I was also not aware that craft, or micro, breweries first took off in Japan in the mid 1990’s, following a change to the law regarding the minimum size of a commercial brewery, and that there are now @ 250 craft breweries in operation.

By far the best source of information I found about Japanese beer and breweries, and I’m not just saying this because I met Glenn Scroggins in the Baird brewery tap in Tokyo, is the bi-monthly Brews News. Here is the place to find out about the history and development of j-biiru, get information on forthcoming festivals and details of pubs/restaurants that serve quality beer from Japan and around the world.

Also well worth a browse, IMHO, is the web-site for Baird brewery.

Information on beer in Korea is somewhat limited but I was able to establish that the Platinum micro-brewery has two pubs in Seoul.

The cost of Ji-biiru?

Japan does have a reputation as being an expensive place to visit and for British tourists the pound’s recent slide against the yen has been seriously bad news. I was fortunate enough to buy my 7 day J-Rail pass, good value at £145, when the exchange rate was 200 yen to the pound. Even at the 130/135 rate in early January 2009 sub-way fares across Japan were cheaper than in London and a decent hotel in Kyoto was cheaper than the equivalent in, say, Cambridge. Sadly, beer is expensive! You will need to be prepared to spend @ £7 for a pint so, unless you’re reading this article in Norway, a few beers in Japan is going to cost considerably more than a few beers back at home.

Drinking in Tokyo
Baird Taproom in TokyoThe first pub I visited in Tokyo only opened on the 11th of May 2008 but I’m sure that if I lived in Tokyo, or anywhere near Tokyo, I’d be a regular visitor to Baird’s Nakameguro taproom. First, it’s really easy to find – which is not always the case in Japan – see the web-site for a map and second, 9 beers are available all the year round along with 6 seasonal beers. At 900 Yen for a pint I was disappointed not to be served in a lined glass but I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the quality of the various beers that I tried. An eponymous Nakameguro bitter, 3.8 abv, was a good starter with a fresh, soft palate and a citrusy nose and I really enjoyed a Teckoko IPA at 5.8 abv which wasn’t really like other IPA’s I have tried with, again, a soft palate, a floral nose and a lingering semi-spicy after taste. A Jubilation ale, at 7.0 abv, didn’t really drink it’s strength for me but had a lovely smooth, soft – again -and figgy feel and my favourite was the Yabai Yabai Strong Scotch ale, 7.4 abv, with a rich, malty body and a gorgeous Christmas cake nose.

John Bush with Aoki-San at the Popeye ClubThe brewer’s interest in beer styles from around the world is demonstrated by the use of yeast from the Rochefort brewery in a Dubbel style beer and that 40% of the malt used in the Smoke Dark lager is sourced from Bamberg. Sadly, I didn’t try either of these beers, having to catch a bullet train back to Kyoto, but would very much welcome the chance to try some more Baird beers in Tokyo or at the original Fishmarket taproom in Numazu.

A couple of days later I was back in Tokyo and made my way out to Ryogoku a handy 4 stops, although you have to change lines, from the central station. Ryogoku is home to the excellent Edo-Tokyo museum, well worth a visit to learn more about the edo and meiji periods of Tokyo’s history, and to the famous Ryogoku sumo stadium. It is also home to Japan’s premier location for ji-biiru, the Popeye club, which is only a 3 minute walk from the station. See here for lots of information and a very useful map.

70 beers at the Popeye ClubAs can be seen from the photo this fine establishment now serves @ 70 beers on tap from breweries all over Japan. Prices are not cheap, particularly as a half pint is 9 fluid ounces and a pint is 16, but when in Rome… amongst the beers I tried was the 5.9 abv Divine Vamp IBA – I believe this is a ” house ” beer – which packed a punch with an IBU of 60. The burnt nose initially reminded me of Ellezelloise’s excellent Hercule and although, to me, it wasn’t quite as memorable as that classic Belgian beer it was certainly very good. Other highlights included a 5.0 abv Hakusekikan Scottish Smoked Ale, if I had closed my eyes I could almost have been savouring a draught rauchbier in Bamberg’s Spezial brewpub albeit this beer had a higher level of carbonation, and a 5.0 abv Sumida Brewing Porter which had a coffee nose and a smooth, cold coffee body. It is clear that the pub attracts a lot of beer aficionados from around the world, the proprietor, Aoki San, advised me that the late, great Michael Jackson had visited 5 times, and I received a very warm welcome. A photo shows me, having sampled a few beers, standing behind the bar with Aoki San.

There are a number of other pubs that I would like to have visited. I was fortunate enough to meet Glenn Scroggins, a regular contributor to ” Brews News “, in the Baird Taproom and he recommended the Aldgate and the Bulldog together with the Cheers bar in nearby Yokohama. You might want to have a look at ratebeer.com for further reviews and recommendations.

Mixed fortunes in Kyoto and Osaka

Beer Belly bar in Osaka – ClosedOsaka is only 15 minutes by bullet train from Kyoto and I had read a number of positive reviews, and received a recommendation from Glen Scroggins, about the Beer Belly pub in Higobashi. It wasn’t the easiest place to locate, I ended up getting some directions from the friendly staff in the local YHA, but I did eventually find the pub which is a couple of minutes walk from a science museum and a strange looking gallery of modern art. The museum and the art gallery were both closed as it was the day after a bank holiday so I whiled away an hour in a local coffee shop eagerly awaiting an opportunity to try some beers from the local Minoh brewery and other ji-biiru delights. Sadly, it turned out that the Beer Belly was closed as well and in the absence of a plan B I headed back to Kyoto. I can advise that it’s actually very easy to find the Beer Belly, take exit 3 from the Higobashi metro which brings you out by the APA hotel then turn left and walk for about 150 yards and you will seen the sign as shown in this rather dull photo! There are various other options for ji-biiru in Osaka, which are detailed on the brews news web-site.

Kyoto is a city of high culture, with an amazing 17 Unesco World Heritage sites and over 1600 Buddhist temples, and a really interesting place to stay but, sadly, it does not appear to have much in the way of a “beer” culture. I wasn’t able to find any pubs that specialised in craft beer but did manage to buy some interesting bottles of beer in the Isetan store at Kyoto station.

From the Kizakura brewery I was able to sample Blue Nile, White Nile, and Ruby Nile beers. The 5.0 abv Blue Nile had lively carbonation, a semi-hazy body and a fruit – peach / apricot – nose. The 5% abv White Nile had less carbonation, a much clearer body and a sharper taste. The 7% abv Ruby Nile was my favourite with an amber appearance and a spicy, warming and lingering taste.

I was also able to try 4 beers from the Kyoto Craft Kinshimasamune brewery. Their Gosho beer, 5.% abv, is described as being a Kolsch style but it didn’t remind me of any of the Kolsch beers that I have tried in Cologne. Nevertheless, it was quite a nice bitter with the taste of a fruit similar to a greengage. The 4.0 abv Kauro had been brewed for the brewery’s 10th anniversary, by 2 lady brewers, and seemed to me to be very similar to the Gosho. The 5.0 abv Heain beer is described as being a Schwarz style but was the least impressive of the 4 beers as although it was a dark beer with a burnt nose the predominant taste was still that of a greengage. In contrast, the Hanamuchi, also at 5.0 % abv and described as being of an Alt style was a tasty best bitter and the fruit taste was considerably less pronounced.

I would have liked to try these beers in a pub, or two, rather than in my hotel room but was glad to have the opportunity to sample some local beers in Kyoto.

Busan

Busan is a large, bustling city on the south east coast of Korea with an interesting fish market, and a ferry service to Hakata in Japan, but what does it offer to the discerning drinker? If my, admittedly very limited, experience is anything to go by the answer is not a great deal.

The Barony Brauhaus is reasonably easy to find, being in the street behind the back of the large Lotte department store, and drinks there are certainly cheaper than they are in Japan at 4,000 won a half-litre, around £2.50, but the two beers on offer are not overly exciting. The first beer I tried was described as a Kolsch but was more like a wheat beer being hazy, rather sweet and having vanilla tones. Quite refreshing but not a beer I would like to spend an entire evening drinking. The second beer was described as an Alt and had a dark brown colour, a neutral aroma and caramel tones but with a disappointingly thin taste.

Seoul
Seoul is a buzzing city with lots to see and a really good metro system. Sports fans can visit the World Cup Stadium and Park and the Olympic Park, the Changdeokgung Palace is a World Heritage Site that is well worth visiting and there are some great saunas. But what of the beer?

Platinum Beer Factory in SeoulThe two Platinum brew pubs offer the same range of seven beers at 5,000 won for 360 cc. My overall impression was that the brewery is perhaps trying to “be all things to all people” and not always fully succeeding but you have to admire their ambition. A 4.1 abv Cream Stout was pleasant but not overly creamy, the 4.5 abv Platinum beer was quite crisp and hoppy, with an amber body but lacked any depth of flavour. A 4.7 abv Wheat beer was rather good, although served too cold in my opinion, and the 4.7 abv Pilsner was pleasant without being overly exciting. A 5.1 abv Belgian White was overly sweet and rather thin and the 5.5 abv Brown Ale had a pleasant burnt nose and sweet finish but was also rather thin. My favourite beer was the 8.4 abv Morphine, a strong – obviously! but surprisingly drinkable Belgian style blonde that reminded me of a Villers Triple.

So, if you’re a regular drinker of Ji-biiru and / or are an aficionado of German, Belgian or Czech beers I doubt that you would rave about the Platinum beers but if you find yourself in Seoul they’re certainly worth sampling.

Lambic beer


All of the best bars in Brussels have an impressive list of bottled beers: usually upwards of 30 to, in one case, over 2000, but more usually in the hundreds. However, I will concentrate on draught beers, most particularly my favourite lambic beers, in which wooden casks play a key role.

Briefly, lambic beer is produced by spontaneous fermentation using wild yeasts from the atmosphere. The wort is poured into large shallow open trays and when cooled is transferred to oak casks for further fermentation and maturation over several months: up to three years in some cases. This oak ageing process gives a very lactic taste to the beer. Old hops are used more for their preservative powers than for flavour. After a year the lambic is considered to be young. The longer the fermentation continues in the cask, the more sugar is converted to alcohol, and the sourer the beer becomes. Blending old and new lambics produces geuze beers. Fruit beers such as Kriek (cherry), Framboise (raspberry), or Peche (peach) are produced by steeping the fruit in lambic beer in the oak casks. Faro is a lambic, which has been additionally sweetened with brown sugar, to produce a secondary fermentation. Due to a recent Belgian legislation change, beers which use lambic technique somewhere along the process are allowed to be called lambic. This means that some of the more commercial labels such as Belle Vue, particularly with their fruit-flavoured ranges, tarnish the reputation of the 100% lambic producers.

Brussels bars
In the spectacular Grand Place is the Brasseurs brewpub. This is a multi-level wood-panelled bar. The best choice is a sample pallet with Speciale Blonde, a 6% fermented beer, Grand Place White, a 5.2%, wheat beer Grand Place Brune 8 % and Brussels Tripel, a blonde beer also 8%. Also in the Grande Place is the Brewers’ Guild House, a brewery museum dating from 1695. After a small tour you can enjoy a pils and a Kriek. This is something of a blind tasting, as the museum is not allowed to say who brews these, so as not to be seen as promoting a particular brewer.

Opposite the Mannekin Pis statue is Poechenellekelder, whose theme is hundreds of puppet models of the famous little flasher, as well as many murals and posters. In here I had Lindemans Faro, a sweetened, filtered lambic beer.

Next stop in a hard-to-find alley off Rue des Bourchers is Estaminet Toone, an atmospheric, dimly-lit, wooden-decorated bar, with its own puppet theatre. This had Kwak and Mort Subite Kriek on draught. The toffee-flavoured Kwak is served in a glass shaped like a chemist’s retort, held in a wooden frame.

La Becasse, a late- nineteenth-century brown café, with a backdrop of dark wooden panelling has sweetish Timmermans Lambic, and Kriek, served in ceramic jugs, by waiters wearing the traditional aprons.

On either side of the Bourse (stock exchange) are Le Cirio and Falstaff. Cirio is an ornate café bar with gold fittings on a red felt background, serving Liefmans. Falstaff is a well-preserved end of nineteenth-century traditional bar, with glass-framed dividers, traditional wood panelling and ornate mirrors, and stained glass windows depicting Shakespeare’s bon viveur, Falstaff. The beer list, sadly, is quite standard, with Belle Vue Kriek on tap. Also nearby is Soleil a pavement café bar with a young clientèle and a fairly basic beer list.

Another old-fashioned brown café near the Bourse is Au Bon Vieux Temps, which has very ornate wood panelling and carvings in dark wood and sold De Kirsch Pils and Morte Subite Kriek. The café with the most spectacular beer list is Delerium, in an alleyway off the main fish restaurant area; this has over 2000 bottles available, from all over the world. Twelve beers were on tap with the Huyghe brewery well represented. Pink Killer, a grapefruit flavoured beer from Silly brewery, was an unusual draught.

The Morte Subite café is another end of nineteenth-century bar. It is a long bar with wooden panels and benches, serving Morte Subite Geuze, Peche, Faro and Kriek on draught.

Spinnekopke is a brown café with a large pavement area. It has a very good menu and serves draught Cantillon beers, including a Faro which they blend themselves.

The Paon Royal “Royal Peacock” is also close to the Bourse, near St Catherine’s Church. This is a good place to eat, horse (cheval) being a particular speciality. This is quite cramped and very busy at lunchtimes. The De Koninck on draught is very good. La Paon closes at 10.30. Most of the bars open up very early in the morning, so may not do late opening, although it usually isn’t a problem getting in at least one of the good ones in the central area up to about 1 am.

A couple of blocks beyond the Manekin Pis from the Grande Place, in the Marolles area, is Porte Noir, a brick-lined, candle-lit atmospheric cellar. This is the only bar in Belgium to have St Feuillien Tripel, a superb hoppy 8.5% blonde beer, on draught. . Next door to this is La Fleur en Papier Doree, where Rene Magritte used to drink. This is another friendly atmospheric café bar in which the Kriek was pleasant.

Heading uphill and out towards the Palace of Justice, we find Warm Water, a Giradin specialist café bar, and a great place for a substantial brunch. Most of the furniture, fittings and tablecloths are decorated green. This is the only bar which sells Giradin Faro on draught.

Nearby is the gourmet bar Restobieres. Alain, the proprietor and chef, handpicks unusual draught beers and the menu is excellent and unusual. I had veal liver and kidney and Kerkom Bink Blonde. La Rulles Triple was also on Draught. Alain’s bar is also a mini-museum, with many artefacts celebrating Belgian history and the Royal family. We were given an impromptu guided tour as well as mein host’s impersonation of Mr Chouff. Alain tipped us off that, sadly, the famous Zageman bar is going to close down forever.

No trip to Brussels is complete without a tour of the Cantillon brewery in the Anderlecht district. This is a traditional lambic brewery. An explanatory leaflet and labels in English guide you through the beer-making process and you can try a sample of their beer afterwards. Cantillon lambics are an acquired taste as the older ones retain very little sugar and are sour and complex. The tasting palate included lambic, geuze, faro, kriek and framboise. These tended to be newer beers so as not to frighten the tourists, but some fellow visitors obviously did not share my love of lambic.

Nearby is La Laboureur, this is a basic café bar near the Eurostar station, but the Greek food and the draught sweetish lambic, served in ceramic mugs, are recommended.

There are some interesting bars in the Ixelles area of the city towards the South West, beyond La Porte de Namur. Le Châtelain, an impressive wooden and tiled floor café bar featuring large ceramic models and paintings of jazz musicians sold De Koninck on draught and had a bottle list of about 40.

Les Brassins, a brasserie restaurant bar, had a list of about 75
beers, and a very good menu. The Ultime Atome is a young, trendy, art deco bar and restaurant with around 100 beers on the list. The Beer Mania is an off licence with a difference. You can choose a bottle from the list of 400 and ask for it to be opened, and drink it at comfortable tables at the back of the large premises. While we were there a bottle of fermenting lambic exploded, spraying beer and glass around: a fairly common occurrence we were informed.

L’Horloge Du Sud is an African restaurant bar popular with students and has at least 40 beers on its menu. A feature of bars around this area was the sweet draught Pecheresse, a commercial peach-flavoured lambic produced by Lindemanns.

Stoumelings, a wood-panelled traditional local bar, had this and Celis White on draught. The Celis pump-clip bore an “Austin Texas” label, but this may because the original Brussels brewer took the brewing of this to the USA for a short while, before returning home.

The Art Nouveau-dominated St Gilles district, south of the Petit Ring, has some interesting bars. La Porteuse de l’Eau has a grand spiral staircase and stained glass windows in the ceiling as well as the walls. The large domed glass ceiling is particularly impressive. The beer list was small but the Bush Pesche wasn’t too sweet. Verschuren, a basic café, reminded me of a station bar, but they did have the sour amber Rodenbach available on draught.

Ho Chi Minh City’s micro-breweries


After a month doing voluntary work in Cambodia, a beautiful and beguiling country but sadly not noted for the quality of its beer, I recently spent three days in Ho Chi Minh City (AKA Saigon) a vibrant city with excellent museums and bustling markets which also boasts a number of micro-breweries.

As a frequent visitor to Prague the first drinking establishment I visited in HCMC had to be the Hoavien Brauhaus. This large and welcoming microbrewery / restaurant opened in 1996 and has been brewing its own beer since September 2001. It can be found at 28 D Mac Dinh Chi, which is around a 10 minute walk from the centre of HCMC.

The web-site advises that the beers, a Lager and a Dark Lager, are made from premium ingredients imported from the Czech Republic, with a Czech head brewer in situ, and the results are certainly impressive. The Lager appears rather cloudy when served but quickly clears to an attractive lightish brown rather than golden colour. It has a somewhat neutral aroma, a fresh and hoppy palate and a smooth aftertaste. A half-litre costs 20,000 Vietnamese dong so around 60 pence. The Dark Lager, slightly more expensive at 24,000 dong for a half-litre, has a dense head with again a rather neutral aroma followed by a smooth, chocolaty palate and a warm aftertaste. I was told that the Lager has an ABV of 4.4% and suspect the Dark Lager is around 5.0%.

The menu includes a number of Czech staples such as bramboraky and knedlicky (potatoes and dumplings) together with a wide range of tempting Vietnamese and other Asian specialities and an excellent meal can be had for around £3.00. A range of souvenir glasses, including ones from Kozel and Pilsner Urquell, and T-shirts are on sale at very reasonable prices the only “blott on the landscape” being a selection of glasses engraved with the red devils of Manchester United! In short the Hoavien Brauhaus will be of interest to anyone who appreciates Czech beer and I was particularly impressed to be given a complimentary becherovka, a very popular drink in the Czech Republic, on my first visit to this fine beer hall.

After a pivo or three at the Hoavien Brauhaus you can cross the road and walk about 50 yards to 35 Mac Dinh Chi the home of the Hops Brauhaus and Restaurant. I was told that this excellent establishment which has a clear Germanic influence has only been open for just over a year, and it certainly wasn’t as busy as the Hoavien, but the beer was the best that I have sampled in South East Asia. The friendly manager, Bien, told me that the Dark beer, a bargain at 24,000 dong for a half-litre, has an ABV of around 5.5%. The beer is very dark with a liquorish aroma, full bodied and satisfying palate and a toffee finish. It reminded me somewhat of the Schwarzla brewed at Bamberg’s Klosterbrau brewery. You can also sample their Yellow beer at 20,000 dong for a half-litre. This pleasant beer remained rather cloudy in the glass, had a distinctly hoppy aroma and palate but a rather sweet finish. 33 cl bottles of three Paulaner beers including Salvator are available at 26,000 dong and the comprehensive menu represents very good value. I did suggest to Bien that renaming their second beer Amber or Blonde rather than Yellow might make it more attractive to English speaking tourists and will be interested to see if they choose to do so.

A visit to HCMC would not be complete without sampling the ubiquitous Bia Hoi (fresh beer) which is available at a wide range of outlets and is, I was told, enjoyed across the length and breadth of Vietnam. The beer is brewed commercially without preservatives and certainly lives up to its name with a low level of carbonation. I have read in an article on the internet that Bia Hoi is sometimes brewed with up to 50% rice adjunct but have no way of judging the accuracy, or otherwise, of this statement. The beer I sampled at a Bia Hoi bar near my hotel would be unlikely to win many awards at any CAMRA festival but was, after a long morning’s sightseeing, certainly very refreshing and a real bargain at 6,500 dong, around 20 pence, for a litre. The only negative factor was that the friendly waitresses, and a number of the other customers, insisted on putting chunks of ice into my glass at regular intervals.

A google search suggests that there are at least two other extant micro-breweries in HCMC, namely the Lion brewery and the Asia brewery, but sadly I did not have the time to visit either of them. I hope, however, to return to Vietnam later this year and will be looking to sample their beers then.

A trip to Vietnam is unlikely to feature highly on any western beer tourist’s agenda, notwithstanding the price of the Bia Hoi(!) but I don’t think that any beer lover who finds him or herself in HCMC will be disappointed if they spend some time visiting the Hoavein and Hops beer houses in Mac Dinh Chi.

Zythos Beer Festival 2008


I know that there was a sizeable contingent of West Middlesex branch members at this year’s Zythos BierFestival, as the various photographs demonstrate, but I hope that this review of the beery delights of Antwerp, a small area in Brussels and the Stadfeestzaal in Sint-Niklaas might encourage even more people to consider attending next year’s festival.

Setting out bright and early on Friday the 29th of February from the new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras my friend Chris, a St Albans branch member, and I had the good fortune to board the 8.05 am train to Brussels at the same time as John Rooth, West Middlesex branch member and the national secretary of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW).

Chris and John RoothA handy benefit of travelling to Brussels by Eurostar is that your return ticket entitles you to a return journey to any station in Belgium. However, rather than heading off to Antwerp straightaway we decided to visit a couple of pubs that John had ticked on a recent visit to Brussels which are both within 10 minutes walk of Midi station. Our first port of call was the Brocante, 170 Rue Blaes, which is a truly smoky brown bar. The contrast between smoke-free pubs in Britain and one of the smokiest bars in Brussels is quite remarkable. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a beer in this basic but friendly pub ; the first photo shows Chris enjoying an Orval and John tucking into a Girardin Kriek. I cleansed my palate with an excellent Hanssens Oude Kriek. Walking a couple of hundred yards up the road back to the station we stopped off at the rather more refined Skieven Architek, 50 Place de Jeu de Balle, a welcoming bar/restaurant/ brew pub. Chris and John tried the house blonde whilst I went for the stronger house brown. Both beers were of good quality and this is definitely a place worth popping into if you are waiting for a train at Midi station.

There are, of course, many other fine specialist beer bars in Brussels a goodly number of which are detailed in John Rooth’s article on our branch web-site.

Chris and John (Bush)Moving on to Antwerp our first port of call had to the Kulminator, 32 Vleminckveld, a truly unique bar which, as far as I can see, has not changed one iota in the 13 and a half years since I first visited Antwerp in 1994 . I cashed in my birthday drink voucher – some 4,500 beer lovers are registered on their birthday database – and had a superb Avec les Bons Vouex from my favourite Belgian brewery, Dupont, whilst Chris enjoyed a very fine 2003 Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin. Old beers, some from deceased breweries, are a feature of the wonderful telephone directory sized beer menu, which details the 600 plus beers on offer. John Rooth, who had arranged to meet some other members of the SPBW hierarchy during the course of the evening, was steadily working his way through a number of the excellent Lambics on offer.

After a couple more drinks with John we headed off to the Waagstuk, 20 Stadswaag, to meet up with a couple of Belgian friends I first met in Cambodia. Located to the north of the centre of the city the Waagstuk offers some 80 beers in a very civilised setting. The beer range includes a house beer called Zeppelin which is an excellent 8% stout brewed, according to Tim Webb’s Good Beer Guide to Belgium, by the Proef brewery and a number of trappist beers to include the elusive Westverleteren Extra 8. Westverleteren beers have always been hard to track down and the Westverleteren Abt 12 being voted the world’s best beer by readers of ratebeer.com a couple of years ago – the Extra 8 came 3rd – has only added to their rarity. The Waagstuk also offers good wholesome Belgian “pub grub” at reasonable prices and is definitely not to be missed.

SPBW OutingThe following morning we took the train, a journey of some 20 minutes, to Sint -Niklaas and were once again lucky enough to bump into John Rooth who was accompanied by Bill English. The venue for the festival is a stone’s throw from the station and we joined the queue for the festival. Having missed the last couple of festivals I was most impressed to find that first, there was an English language programme and second, Camra members were entitled to two extra tokens. A token (jeton) entitles you to a 15cl serving of any of the beers on offer and costs 1.20 Euros which the way the exchange rate is going is the best part of a £1.00.

Turning to the beers on offer there were 54 brewery bars and a Trappist bar offering beers from 5 of the 6 Belgian Trappist breweries – no prizes for guessing which one was absent ! Some 230 different beers were available including Lambics, Trappists, Abbey beers, Wheat beers, Oak Aged ales, Brown Ales & Stouts, Saisons, Winter beers and Honey beers. It was difficult to know where to start and it is equally difficult to select the highlights from the 50 or 60 beers that I tried over the 2 days of the festival. At a push my top five would be – in no particular order ;

Bersalis ; Oude Beersel.
Saint – Monon Brune ; Saint – Monon.
Hercule ; Ellezelloise
WinterKonnick ; De Konnick.
Bonsecours Blonde ; Caulier.
Having said that there were a considerable number of old favourites that I did not have the time to try.

Why, you may ask, should there be an English programme at a Belgian beer festival? The answer is that the festival attracts a growing number of English speaking customers. From our branch you can see photo’s “show-casing” John Rooth, Bill English, Graham Harrison and a very tall friend, Dave Kernick, Simon Croome and Jackie Eves. Staff from last year’s Ealing Beer festival who were spotted included Vic Beale, Adam Miller, Bryan Betts, Tom Maderios and a wide-awake Brian Pipe.

Taking our leave of John and Bill, who caught the last train back at 11.30pm, Chris and I headed back to Antwerp in the early evening and headed up to the Groote Witte Arend at 18 Reynderstraat. Although the range of beers on offer does not begin to compare with the Kulminator or the Waagstuk it is a really elegant courtyard bar – albeit the weather didn’t allow us to sit in the courtyard ! and we relaxed over a good meal and a few glasses of the excellent, and aforementioned, WinterKonnick.

Back on the train again to Sint Niklaas the following morning and we found that John and Bill had beaten us to the festival and had also managed to save us a couple of seats. A considerable number of beers were sampled before we returned to Antwerp and caught a train to Turnhout, a fairly small town up near the Dutch border. A friendly local helped us to locate the Spytighen Duvel, a great bar with over 300 beers on offer. In all honesty we weren’t able to do the “mournful devil” full justice given the number of beers we had tried at the festival and that, it being a Sunday, the last train back to Antwerp was just after 9.00 pm. Definitely a place to return to!

Busy Dupont barFeeling a little tired on the Monday morning we settled for a bolleke in the Oud Arsenaal, 4 Maria Pijpelincxstraat, followed by a couple more WinterKonnicks back at the Groote Witte Arend. Please note that the Belgian beer shop a couple of doors down from the Oud Arsenaal has closed but you can by a decent range of beers, at reasonable prices, in the pub.

One slight disappointment was that the excellent “Rag-Time” band who used to play at the OBP 24 hour beer festivals in Antwerp have not made it over to Sint Niklaas but I was pleased to see a display of Belgian Morris Dancing on the Saturday afternoon. The last couple of photo’s show some of the Morris Dancers in action and a snap of the Dupont bar.

Hope to see you there next year – the 7th & 8th of March 2009.

The Load of Hay

The Load of Hay, the only free house in Uxbridge, is truly free. It is located near Brunel University on Villiers Street, just a few meters from Cleveland Road. It’s well worth looking for, as it has won numerous CAMRA Pub of the Year awards.

It was originally built on the site where the Elthorne Light Militia officers’ mess and stables were located. Since the 1870s, it has been a public building. Its name comes from the fact that the pub’s main public area was once stables. It is also a non-smoking section. A cozy front lounge is also available that is open to the public. However, it can be reserved for private functions.

Although it was sold to a new owner in September 2003, the commitment to keeping real ale in top condition has not diminished. Fuller’s London Pride real ale is the most popular and best-selling. There are normally three guest beers. They are typically from small breweries but are always independent.

The pub is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 11:30 p.m.

Daily food is served from noon to 2:45pm and from 7pm on Sundays to 9pm. For Sunday lunches, reservations are strongly recommended. Each year, there are four themed food nights that feature food from different regions or countries.

The pub boasts three darts leagues. Darts is very popular.

On Tuesdays there is a quiz, and every Saturday there is live music.

A small parking lot is available, but it is usually within walking distance of the pub if it is full.

The U3 buses travel down Cleveland Road. Buses heading towards Uxbridge can stop at Villiers Street. However, if you are coming from Uxbridge, the closest stop is in The Greenway. The 607 and 207 buses stop at Hillingdon Road, just before the Greenway junction. It is approximately a five-minute walk from the pub. You can also use the U5 or 222 to Cowley Mill Road. This stop is located outside the ChilternView pub. However, you will need an A-Z to navigate the back streets. It takes about 7 minutes to walk there.

Three years later, the Branch presented the pub with an award for being in the Good Beer Guide for ten consecutive year. Although we considered giving the pub a certificate for 13 consecutive years, the pub’s owners felt that it would be very strange and preferred a ten year one. The chairman explained that they would only need to wait 12 years before receiving a certificate for a ten- or 25-year period. .