The Cretan Craft. Part 1.

Through The Grapevine

With their initial crowd funding target of £35,000 now making its way into the history books, Crossed Anchors Brewery have completely surpassed all their expectations and are now a fully up and running 6 barrel brewery.  And with two awards under their belt, the future’s looking promising.

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At the launch party, a good number of the invited investors came down to find out exactly what they have helped to create, and of course to sample the resultant beer.

In their home at Exmouths Grapevine, which also incorporates Ruby Burgers, the three are a trio which offers everything.

Arguably the best burger joint ever to grace Exeter, Ruby weren’t a slouch when it came to beer either.  Prior to their relocation, I knew of no other restaurant to offer Brooklyn Local 1.  And I’m yet to find another, although, I do wonder where all THAT beer went after the move?

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The Grapevine itself is a fantastic pub, a proper pub.  With a good selection of cask beer, and a worldwide collection of bottles, you’ll be hard pushed to find something that won’t satisfy.  On the bar today were two of Crossed Anchors offerings, Cascade SMASH Hopburst and Weisse Guy.

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However, I was going to be drinking these from a different set of casks, namely the gravity casks in the brewery itself.

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As Adrian receives his dose of Billy banana and Charlie clove, in the form of Weisse Guy, I’m instantly surrounded by an aura of Cascade aroma that’s just erupted from the slightest tweaking of the SMASH’s tap.  It’s incredible, and it doesn’t stop there, I can feel the beer fizzing and tingling away along the sides of my tongue as it’s wholesome 3.8% wriggles its way deeper.  This beer is fantastic, I think I’m gonna need a refill pretty soon.

Back in the pub, Paddy and Olly make their speeches, mainly to thank the people who have put in a lot of effort to help them get where they are today, and also to thank their wives for putting up with their endless beery wittering.

But, at the end of the day, just look where that support can get you.  And you can do your bit too, by either visiting The Grapevine to sample some brewery fresh beer, or grab some bottles from various local suppliers such as Hops & Crafts, Darts Farm, Greendale and Joshua’s.

And watch out Bristol and Plymouth, the Anchors are coming for you!

A pint

Sitting before me is a pint.  A pint of beer.  Of what beer is of no consequence.

It’s just a pint, or is it?

It’s inviting.
It’s inclusive.
It’s exclusive.
It’s beautiful.
It’s admirable.
It’s enough.
It’s not enough.
It’s game changing.
It’s ice breaking.
It’s face breaking.
It’s heart breaking.
It’s heart healing.
It’s mind healing.
It’s evoking.
It’s provoking.
It’s challenging.
It’s normal.

It’s just a pint, or is it?

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…..

Bermondsey Arches Breweries.

My wife’s birthday falls far too close to Christmas. I’ve put in numerous requests for it to be moved, but every year it ends up being too bloody close. I’d love for there to be a bit more time between the two, but no, I have to deal with it.
So, this time we had a few days planned in London to celebrate and I wanted to get to Bermondsey and visit The Kernel, Brew By Numbers and Anspach & Hobday, and she’d have to just deal with it.

I’ve wanted to go to Saturday at The Kernel for a few years now, and I was fully primed to take the opportunity whilst we were in London. Initially, I hadn’t realised just how close The Kernel was to a few other breweries. This had now worked to my advantage and my day was planned around visiting the three breweries all within spitting distance of each other. The wife and I went our separate ways at Victoria and I made my way on the tube to Bermondsey.

Now I’ve always promised that I would never do the whole ‘this beer tasted like this’ and ‘the smell reminded me of blah blah blah’, but, as you read on, you’ll realise that you cannot come to Bermondsey, drink it’s beer and contemplate writing about it without doing the whole…..

First up was the Kernel, handily only a few minutes walk from the tube. I opened up my day with the single hop Mosaic pale. Straight from the brewery, you cannot get any fresher than this. And this freshness is what my whole day was about. Like my experience of Punk IPA on draft, except this is brewery fresh beer. This is something I’ve never had the honour of sampling to this extent before and a visit here will open your eyes, and mouth. This is not just a swift two thirds with your mates, this is an experience, as you are about to find out.

Back to the Mosaic, visually a light, and slightly cloudy straw colour with a faint green hue. Fresh tropical fruit smell and a really clean but slightly dulled citrus taste. After taste similar to refreshers sweets and it leaves your tongue buzzing, and craving another sip,well mouthfull! This I could drink all day long.

Mosaic is definitely one of my favourite hops, along with Fuggle, but that’s just a name thing. Although Mosaic is a fairly new hop, I can see this becoming a classic very quickly.

This was followed by the New Zealand Cascade pale. This is a lot more bitter than the mosaic and has quite a tang to it. It’s palette scrubbing and very refreshing. You receive a light tickle on the roof of your mouth from the carbonation, but this softens out with the more you drink and it keeps the taste buds alive.
My first Saturday at The Kernel did not disappoint.

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Brew By Numbers were my second brewery of the day. And what can I say, the staff here are awesome, not that the Kernel’s weren’t, so friendly and welcoming. It was like being on a beer date; I was introduced to their beer, and then I lost my BBN virginity. And it was their Session IPA, Citra that took it.

This had pretty much run out on arrival but I got the end of the keg as a taster. Oh my word. The aroma this beer gives off is amazing, I could stand here all day and just sniff this; if this beer was glue, then I’d get what all the fuss was about. Fresh citrus, pineapple and some further tropical fruitiness bunged in; it’s just sublime. Tasting is like a breathe of fresh beer air. It’s clean, smooth and immensely satisfying with a slightly bitter end.

Why on earth would you drink lager when you can have this? At 3.9% it’s lighter than your average lager but not even the best lager can compete! I say best lager on the loosest possible terms. Are there really any good lagers out there? Or have I just not found them yet?

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The traditional porter is so earthy, has the aroma of black coffee and a hint of light soy sauce. The coffee gets deeper on initial tasting then tails off into a gorgeous bitter chocolate finish. Love it.

The black IPA with Yakima valley hops, this beer is sublime. Coffee in colour with a fine light brown head. Visually like a porter, but it’s in disguise; It’s much fresher, brighter in the mouth and less viscous. Quite a fruity finish and so refreshing at the same time.I will always hark back to the first time I tried Yakima hops at the Meantime Brewery in their Yakima Red and I’ve been hooked ever since.

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And I can’t forget to mention the scotch eggs that are available. Scotch egg and a beer? Perfect. Also, you pay a £3 deposit for your glass. This means you can return the glass for your tube fare or take it home and add it to your collection!

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Final brewery of the day was Anspach and Hobday. And their triple hop pale was the beer of choice. Served colder than at BBN, The aroma is outstanding, more complex and fruity. This makes it a lot more punchy on the nose. In the mouth there’s a nice fruity bitterness with a fresh cut grassy edge. Colder is much more refreshing. Same Citra hop as BBN, but with Mosaic and Simcoe added, and brewed to a slightly higher abv. This definitely has more grunt to it. Maybe it’s the temperature or the additional hops, but with the greater bitterness this is much more satisfying. Another fantastic all day beer with an after taste that lingers for a long time, all the way back to Victoria from Bermondsey in fact, and beyond.

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My visit to the three breweries was fantastic, if you are ever in London and you need to lose the wife for a few hours, (don’t let her read this) then you must head over to Bermondsey, on any Saturday, and sample some proper brewery fresh beer.
Don’t forget to also bring a bag that’s actually capable of carrying as many bottles as you can possibly fit in it. The bottle choice offered by all the breweries is quite spectacular, and can offer a slightly different range of beers to those available on tap.

Hoppy Craftmas.

So this is christmas and what have we here; fortunately for you, nothing tainted by Bob Geldof or Simon Cowell.

I’m sure you’d love me to bang on about how amazing Christmas is but I’m not, it was all about New Year for me!

So once we’d got all that fuzzy Christmas gumpf out the way we had a few days planned in Cardiff with friends over New Year.  I had one request, and that was to visit the Brewdog bar.  We’d been wandering round Cardiff on New Years Day and I was hungry and in dire need of some refreshment.  After a quick visit to the Gourmet Burger Kitchen we made our way to the bar.  A little tucked away but still within an easy walk of the station and the castle.

I’d been craving a visit to this place for months, and I was not disappointed when we arrived.  The beer menu laid out above the bar like an old fashioned cinema listing; All the beers, and guest’s included, are nicely legible.  I’d imagined that’d be very useful later……

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We found a seat, a nice booth, and fathomed what we’d take.

I have to say now, the staff here are amazing.  It had been raining and the bar tender offered me a tissue to wipe my glasses; this is something that has never been offered to me before, not even in any restaurant, ever. Fact.

Now we all know Punk IPA is great, but you can’t just opt for the safe bet.  Although, I’d never sampled the Punk on draft so I was intrigued.  I was offered a taste and, oh my, I was simply blown away.  You may think you know this beer, but I can tell you now, if you’ve not had this on draft you do not know it and you are clueless about it’s full potential.  The aroma is sublime, the hops just burst out and the snifter it’s offered in can barely contain it.  The mouth feel you receive truly is something else, you get that proper draft pulled effect which a bottle can never replicate.  Punk, on draft, takes it to another level.

At this point I was quite happy to settle for a pint, but the tender had other ideas.  He asked what type of beers I liked and offered samples of his recommendations.  IPA I said, he duly responded and presented another snifter containing just enough Stone IPA.  This is a beer that I’ve never tried before and again I was put back in my seat, and that’s quite a feat considering I was stood up!  The pine and fruit aromas emitted by the Stone are sublime; why on earth doesn’t Olbas oil smell this good?

I learnt a little trick for beer tasting tonight, which was to swirl the glass, take a good long sniff through the nose, place it in your mouth, let it swim around and then swallow.  Now the most important part after swallowing is to keep the mouth closed and exhale thorough the nose.  This just lights up the back of your throat and gives the beer a second coming.  I’d never done this before but I recommend you try.

The tasting continued and next up was Ruination by Stone; simply another mind-blowingly fantastic US style India Pale.  I opted for a half, took my seat and tried so hard to savour the hoppy bitterness.  I was dying to get back to the bar and let the tasting session continue, but no, I remained seated and politely supped my beer.  Ruination is a superb name for a beer, it’s like a slap in the face to all the piss poor US and UK breweries out there.

On nearing the end of this beer, I peered over to the bar and tried, and struggled to decide what could and should follow.  The tasting session that followed was immense, with snifters of Russian Doll barley wine, Cocoa Psycho, Brixton Porter, Santa Paws, Brodies Southside Zester; this is very interesting, kind of like a lime cordial but in beer form.  And the list goes on, Stone Go To IPA, Dieu Du Ciel Corne Du Diable and Alesmiths Speedway Stout; the list continued on and to be honest I began to lose track at this point.  We ended up with around fifteen tasters and I can only thank the bar staff for allowing it.

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The experience of tonight’s visit is one I’ll never forget and Brewdog have lived up to their name.  Visiting one of their bars is an unpressured experience and their knowledgeable staff really make you feel welcome.  If you’re not sure about beer or are too afraid to ask, then your local Brewdog bar is the place to go.

Hanlons bar and restaurant open for service!

So last Friday night saw the opening of the bar and restaurant at Hanlons Brewery. This is a new venture for the brewery and one I had been looking forward to for a while. As you’ll know, I’ve always loved their produce and this was a chance to sample their brews, at source, and also to taste some food cooked with their beers. I booked my place, yes a lone place, but one where I knew I was never going to be alone.

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I arrived and felt at home instantly, it was so nice to walk up the stairs and into a bar packed full of people there for the support of the brewery. I headed to my table, yes, I had a whole table, all to myself! Where else can you go and receive this kind of attention? Well clearly lots of places, but they won’t have the character, nor the ambience, of being sat deep within in the brewery, surrounded by vats crammed full of the exact reasons that brought you there. Looking out from the bar you can see right down into the brewery, and when you take your seat down there, being surrounded by blue lights, makes you feel like something really special is happening, and it is, just peer up through the windows above, and it’s all right there, but all around you, something is brewing.

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The nights food was a set menu, as will be the plan for the following weeks, but this is a set menu that you’ll love. Steak and ale pie cooked with Port Stout, served with Yellow Hammer bread! I say it was served with bread, but to be honest it was served with butter and a side of bread. Imagine your student days, where you don’t have a butter knife, so are forced into serving a whole block of butter with your bread; It certainly beats the poxy cube you receive with your toasted tea cake on a traditional coffee morning. Anyway, back to the food. I was so ready for this, and nothing was going to stop me from enjoying it. It was like something my nan had cooked, so amazingly homely, comforting and of superb quality. For an opening night, Hanlons really have set the bar high, good luck chaps, lets hope you keep this up for the foreseeable future.IMG_2537

And coming away with some Hanlons goodies really topped the night off.