2015, my year in beer. Part one.

For me, 2015 started like pretty much every year before it, on January the 1st.  However, this year we were in Cardiff with friends and I was warming up for the New Year and also a visit to a Brewdog bar, funnily enough the one in Cardiff.  As you’ll know this was to be my first visit to one of their establishments and I was like a child on Christmas Eve who could not sleep with excitement.

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When we arrived, I was not disappointed either.  The whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable and it was a pleasure to go there and sample the beer.  The staff were also fantastic.  Following my visit I put hand to keyboard and wrote Hoppy Craftmas, which just ended up as another entry in my blog, which at the time I felt wasn’t really getting the response I would have liked.  Now I realised that I couldn’t expect the world to drop everything and home in on my blog overnight, after all I had only been compiling it for a few months, but I felt that I had to improve things and I really wanted them to too.

In steps Twitter.  After the visit to Brewdog, we were out and having a few drinks with some friends and the subject of my blog was mentioned.  I happened to be the only person in the room who didn’t have a Twitter account, I wasn’t that bothered about this to be honest, as I didn’t see what the fuss was about!

So, right then, my wife tweeted Brewdog and shared my blog post with them.  She received a reply almost instantly and I couldn’t believe it!  Somebody, who I’ve mentioned in my blog, is actually reading it!  Right there and then I logged on to Twitter and set up an account.  But who to follow?  I knew plenty of breweries and other beery stuff but where do you start?  The remainder of my evening and the journey home was spent with phone in hand trawling through the apparently endless list of breweries on Twitter.  This was fantastic, and I followed everybody who sprung to mind.

Later in January, my wife and I were due to go to London for her birthday, and I, being the caring husband that I am, thought I’d leave her for a few hours and go and do some drinking.  I, like so many other people, went to Bermondsey and cruised the beer  mile, on foot.  On the way over I thought, right, don’t drink too much, you have to write something afterwards.

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And write something I did, and on arrival at The Kernel, with trusty phone in one hand and a beer in the other, I set about making a few notes of what I was going through.  What I came up with was Bermondsey Arches Breweries.

However, two or three beers down, I ventured back to the bar and thought I’d take their Saison. Not really knowing much about the style and having never tried one before, I ordered.  Wow! Initially I didn’t know what to make of it, that flavour was so intense and sharp, and like none of the pales that preceded it, I almost poured it away!  I really wasn’t sure about it to be honest, which is why I didn’t include it in my piece about the visit.

Looking back, I find it strange though, because I absolutely love a Saison now and if it wasn’t for this first taste that opened my eyes to the style, I would probably never have tried more.

Back home and sat on Twitter, again, I discovered Goodbeertweets and Imdrinkingnow, great pages who people tweet and share the beer they’re drinking, fantastic idea.  It was through this that got me tweeting more about the beer that I was drinking, and sharing it in the process without having to give any of it away either!  Genius!

Brewdog were also tweeting about what people were drinking, and I tweeted them a picture of their Russian Doll set that I had bought a few weeks earlier.  The reply I received was totally unexpected.

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Originally I hadn’t intended on writing anything about these beers, but seeing as they’d asked, I will!!  And yes, my wife was in Berlin that weekend, and my Date with the Russians was on.  But I still don’t really know where the inspiration behind the idea came from!  The post just happened, and it ended up requiring hardly any editing!

Following this, I didn’t know what to write about.  And then I saw that Innis & Gunn were about to release a beer that coincided with the film Fifty Shades of Grey.  The beer was to be called 50 Shades of Green.  I have to admit now that I’m a sucker for something that would appear to be a little rare or slightly different, so I opened my wallet and bought a bottle.  I’m not going to repeat the price, but those who know, know.

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I was expecting to be blown away by this beer, but unfortunately I wasn’t, and I really craved something that I could get my teeth into.

We had a trip to Budapest booked with the same friends we spent New Year with and I couldn’t wait.  On the days leading up to the holiday we researched places to go, namely beer places, but some nice restaurants too.  I had no idea that there was any sort of craft scene in Budapest, but as it happens, there is.

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The beers I tasted here were amazing, and I felt right at home in Léhütös,  The events of our trip also spawned my next post, Budapest? But I don’t even like George Ezra! Which, done from memory was rather tricky, yet yielded a result that I was happy with.  But looking back, I knew I should have taken notes as we went.

After this, I went in search of my next topic, so bring on Citra Session.

The Citra Session

Citra containing beers are everywhere, but what I was interested in was the single hop varieties that would allow the hop to be itself.  I collected what I thought were six, single hop Citra beers, only to find that one of them was only dry hopped with Citra and contained other hops in the brewing process.  I was massively disappointed with this as Citra Star by Anarchy Brew is a fantastic little beer which offered so much flavour!  It was a shame that I couldn’t include it.

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This piece took over two months to put together and to this day has been my most viewed entry, with nearly five hundred views to date.  I felt like a minor celebrity in the days after posting; the number of favourites and retweets just kept on growing!  And a few people I spoke to were amazed I received a response from The Kernel, as they tend to shy away from social media.  But the response I got was fantastic, and I am so grateful to them and the other contributors alike.

But now I was really stuck.  Where on earth do I take my blog after this?  I felt mentally exhausted and was completely clueless about what subject to do next!

Budapest? But I don’t even like George Ezra!

Over the Easter weekend, four of us made the journey to Budapest. This is somewhere that I’ve not been to before and my only knowledge of the place has been learnt from watching the Formula 1 when it’s been to the Hungaroring. Now I could bore you with my, ahem, encyclopaedic knowledge of F1, but, in true Murray Walker style, I need to interrupt myself and talk about our holiday.

The flight over was pretty uneventful, but that didn’t stop Ryanair from blasting out a fanfare on landing. As if to say, “We made it, aren’t you lucky we survived?” Well yes, clearly, but was it really necessary?

By the time we arrived at the hotel, time had ticked on a fair way so it was straight to bed for a good nights sleep all ready for the first day!

Conveniently, our hotel was situated right next to Keleti Station, which boasts train, tram and metro services, so off we walked to our first destination which happened to be a local flea market. This ended up being presented like a typical car boot sale but without the cars. Quite a lot of local tat but strangely an awful lot of English music and DVDs; legitimate copies of course.

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One stand however did catch my eye, one that was riddled with model trains! This takes me back to my childhood, I used to love my train set. I sometimes wish I still had it all, set up in the loft, but unfortunately for me my wife has decided to turn the loft into a guest room! And now the only thing I get to keep up there, among the random boxes and Christmas decorations, is my little stash of Jaipur X, just don’t tell any guests it’s there!

Once I’d stopped reminiscing, we wandered off through City Park and found a little, well, fairly well established market next to Vajdahunyad Castle which offered some amazing looking fare! My wife had been fascinated by Chimney cake, so to keep her quiet we found a vendor and she indulged.

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A little further through the market I caught my first glimpse of Hungarian Craft Beer. It’s only about 11am, so lets get a beer.

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The choice was superb, and though the menu was partly written in English, even I struggled to choose something to quench my morning thirst. I decided on the Lehmann Haziser, a nice crisp and fruity pilsner which went down really well on the fresh but sunny morning.

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After a little more walking, the health app on my wife’s iPhone 6 is going hell for leather now, we made our way down into the more central part of Budapest. Taking the walking option was quite nice, the architecture is special and there was quite an abundance of Metro stations along our chosen route, but we strutted on.

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We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm and couldn’t decide whether to buy a jacket, get something to eat and sit inside or remain outdoors. Common sense reigned supreme and we sat outside with some hearty food and a drink. We had stumbled across what could almost be described as a Christmas market, like we’d have at home, except this one was open when we needed it to be.

Diced pork knuckle with new potatoes and a pint of Borsodi was the order of the moment, which was immensely satisfying, and extinct just as rapidly as the snow storm that had brought us here.

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Following a rather aimless walk we stumbled across a bar called Csendes. This place has to be unique. Where else can you enjoy your drink whilst sat in a bath tub, other than at home of course. And my choice of beer; Soproni Demon. This was delicious, really smooth and malty, with a whole load of liquorice chucked into it’s deep, dark redness.

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On to the evening, and my wife, being the organised soul that she is, had found somewhere for us to partake in some supper. Sophie and Bens Bistro on Kaldy Gyiula utca was it, and on entering we were greeted like friends and shown to our seats, which we could choose, not that they were quiet, we were just given the choice instead of being told, ‘you will sit there’ and’ sit down now’

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The decor was smart and not excessive, but the choice of food on the other hand did make us stop and think for a while. So whilst we made up our minds, we ordered drinks, standard. Being the inquisitive one amongst us, I decided to opt for the drink with the most bizarre name, Rothbeer Pyromania. Even the waiter said, you do know this is a dark beer? Well I didn’t, but now I really want it. And boy did it live up to it’s name. (By this point I had clearly become adept at choosing the dark beers, and purely by chance I had picked another fantastic beer.) Beautiful copper red colour, sublime caramel and smokey, open fire-esque flavour. I was not expecting this at all. Forget the food, I’m on this all night.

But let’s not dismiss the food too quickly, the hand cut chips were truly breathtaking, and the burgers were simply to die for. This place really proves that it’s not that difficult to deliver outstanding food in the form of something as simple as burger and chips.

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The next day we decided to do some touristy stuff and headed for the funicular railway that led up to Buda Castle. Unfortunately for the iPhone we decided to use the Metro to get a little closer to our destination.

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From the top of the hill you get a superb view of both Buda and Pest; the two towns separated by the mighty Danube. Apparently we’d consumed too much alcohol by this point so coffee it was. Actually quite nice too, and feeling refreshed by our caffeine buzz we headed back down the hill and on the hunt for some lunch.

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Almost by chance we found a place called The For Sale Pub, which as it happens, isn’t. The interior of this place is interesting to say the least. Hand written notes in every conceivable language litter the walls and ceilings, and even a few cigarette packets too.

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We managed to get a table and sat for lunch. And I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen a menu with quite so many choices, well over 120 in fact. We eventually ordered, and whilst we waited, consumed the numerous monkey nuts that sat in the middle of our table. Now like any good Briton, we placed the spent shells in the candle containing bowl on the table, only to be told to throw them on the floor! Was this really the normal practice we should adopt? It seemed so, and became quite amusing just launching the shells floorwards.

Once we’d fought our way through the mountain of food that we were dealt, we found ourselves on the hunt for a dessert. The New York Cafe was the place to head, and head there we did. The approach to the Cafe was like any normal walk to an eatery. But on arrival we found ourselves gazing skywards and totally awestruck by the chandeliers and ceilings.

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We’d only come here for pudding but somehow I managed to shoehorn a beer into our appointment. Yet another dark beer, Staropramen Dark. Now this was a perfect match with the chosen chocolate dessert.

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Later that evening we headed back out for a few drinks and possibly some food. We headed back to the area around Sophie and Bens where we found quite a swanky wine bar. I had no choice but to drink some wine as that’s all they sold! I’m just glad I avoided the embarrassment of asking for a beer; after my wife asked for a cocktail I kept my mouth shut!

Next stop was a proper bar, that sold proper drinks. And I was rather intrigued by a local beer; Tavoli Galaxis. This appeared to be a single hop IPA hopped with just Galaxy. Now this, after the wine was like a breath of fresh air, and the bartender described it as a Hungarian hand crafted beer. Now this I really like. Single hop beers can really be let down by their malt content but this, this is immense. I really struggled to take it slowly, and just craved more.

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So how on earth do you follow this? Easy as it happens. We venture into what would appear to the only craft beer bar in the whole of Budapest. There may be others, but I couldn’t find them!

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Lehuto, on Hollo utca. Quite a small place, down a few stairs and fairly well tucked away. You really need to know this place is here or you’d just pass it by. Now if I said the previous bar was a proper bar, then I was wrong, Lehuto is a proper bar. It felt like a home from home, beer menu up on a chalk board and a huge bottle list on the wall.

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I was like a kid in a sweet shop, where on earth do you begin with such a choice? Well, I opted for the Zodiak Rye IPA. Not too strong and tasting was sublime. Really citrusy with a light bitterness and quite full at the same time. This was an awesome opener to what would become my evening. Following this I went for the Zodiak Rye stout. At 8.2% it looks to be quite a substantial drink, but you are greeted by a chocolatey, fruity beer that’s so easy drinking at the same time. But you daren’t spill any, it’s so viscous it would be like the Great Molasses Flood of Boston re-enacted here in Budapest!

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So how do you follow two great beers such as these? Well, the Kaltenecker Chopper IPA is exactly how I did it. Gorgeous biscuity, caramel and grassy aroma, coupled to a bread taste which is light and so smooth. For an IPA from the bottle it’s good and malty and the hops add a nice bitterness to it. This is a truly satisfying and wholesome beer.

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I could have stayed in Lehuto’s all night, but I couldn’t be selfish so we pressed on to our last bar. Again I opted for the Galaxis, but more important here was the music. The song playing was Dirty Vegas, Days Go By. I absolutely love this song, I’ve not heard it for years and it really made my night in a bizarre kind of way.

I say it was our last bar, but on the way back to the hotel we were seduced by a place, the name of which I forget, but the drink we consumed will never be forgotten. I won’t go into it too much and will just leave you with one word, Unicum…..

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Our final day was to be cut short by the fact our plane left during the afternoon, but fear not we had a place to eat lunch all pre booked. It was just a matter of finding it. Now I thought Lehuto was easy to miss but this place, Zeller, was even easier to pass by. But we’re so glad we didn’t. We lowered ourselves into the restaurant from the street via a number of stairs, and oh my were we in for a treat.

We were shown to our seat, a nice booth, by a simply perfect waitress. If I could have taken her home, I would have. She was French but living in Budapest, and the warm feeling she created inside made the walk all the more worth it. And I wasn’t the only one who felt it.

We were offered a glass of their own sparkling wine, which was similar to a Prosecco. This was absolutely delicious and the elderflower flavour was just sublime.

The food menu was concise enough to offer a good choice, but not so much that you were left struggling to decide what to eat. I opted for the fish of the day, which was salmon served with pak choy. When the food arrived it was like looking at a photograph, the presentation was perfect and the portion size was just right.

All this and they even manage to squeeze in the own brand of beer; Zeller Sor.  Advertised as Irish Red, it is in actual fact Stari Ir Voros.  This beer is beautifully buttery, caramelly and so smooth; being served in a wine glass really sets it off too.

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It’s not hard to understand why Zeller, according to Trip Advisor, is the number one restaurant in Budapest.  The whole experience from start to finish is so relaxing and enjoyable, and we found ourselves never wanting to leave.

But leave we must, and off back to the hotel we headed to pack for the journey home.

The flight home was, again, pretty uneventful, all except for the landing.  We swayed from one side to the next and came in at a fair lick.  The thrust reversers were working overtime, and we only just managed to scrub our velocity before reaching taxiing speed and making the sharp turn off the runway.

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Now I know what the fanfare is for…..