I first drank in the Brugs Beertje in Bruges in 1985. I didn’t realise at the time that it was then only a couple of years old: it already felt like a classic beer venue, small, comfortable as an old suede gardening glove, welcoming as your favourite cousin, the walls lathered in Belgian brewery memorabilia, the selection of hopped beverages extensive and eclectic.
At the time, it was pretty much unknown outside Bruges: I was guided to it by a pamphlet listing the city’s beer outlets that I picked up in the Bruges tourist office while trying to find a hotel. Would the tourist office in any British city have carried a list of good local bars and pubs in 1985? Would the tourist office in any British city carry a list of good local bars and pubs today? Not, I think.
Despite Britain and Belgium each being soaked in beer culture to their respective marrows, there still, 40-plus years after the founding of an organisation specifically set up to encourage appreciation of British beer, seems something much more celebratory about Belgium’s relationship with beer than you find among the British generally. Belgians seem far keener to announce to everybody their beery wonders than we do in Britain, eager to hand you the massive beer menu when you sit down in the bar, cafe or restaurant, happy to let you know that this little country of 11 million is one of the four or five greatest brewing nations in the world, and pleased to point out that they make more unusual beer styles than anywhere else, too. Continue reading →
The people that provide my blogging software, WordPress, have just added a slideshow capability, so I though I would try it out with some pictures from what was the second-to-last ever trip round Young’s brewery in Wandsworth, South London, in September 2006. The following week brewing ceased on the Ram Brewery site after, probably, at least 450 years of continuous ale and beer making. Sadly, two days after our trip, John Young, the chairman of Young’s, died of cancer, aged 85.
I am, unfortunately, a rubbish photographer with no particular idea what I’m doing (I remember the “doh!” feeling after my ex-brother-in-law, who, to be fair, is a well-known and award-winning sculptor, took a photograph on my camera that was vastly superior to anything I had ever achieved with it). But there are a few interesting pics here among the vaguely all right ones.
As a bonus, at the very end there’s a photograph from the air of the brewery site in 1930: note the trolleybuses in the bottom right hand corner, going up Garrett Lane (off which I used to live, in the 1980s: you could tell which way the wind was blowing, at that time, by sniffing the air, since the Kenco coffee factory was to the south, a gin distillery stood to the east and Young’s rose to the north, each giving their own distinctive aroma to the Wandsworth funk. All, alas, are now closed.)
The Procrustean nonsense of defining rigid categories that every beer must fit into is well illustrated by The Leveller, one of the brews with Civil War-themed names from the Springhead brewery, at Sutton-on-Trent, near Newark, in Nottinghamshire.
The Leveller is brewed, like almost all Springhead’s beers, with Maris Otter malt, plus, in this case, some roasted malt and some amber malt as well – enough to give a mid-oak colour, but not as dark as a brown ale and without the ruddy cornelian hues that are apparent in darker bitters and dark winter warmers.
While Northdown hops bring a fair degree of bitterness to the party, the roast grain is present in sufficient quantity to give a distinct toasty, almost coffee flavour, which kicks the beer out of the circle marked “bitter” (though Camra, apparently unable to find another home for it, awarded The Leveller a runner-up place at the Great British Beer Festival in the “best bitter” category.)
If The Leveller isn’t a bitter, though, it doesn’t have the sweetness, or the rotundity of mouthfeel, or any hint of chocolate, that might let it slip comfortably into the circles on the Venn diagram of beer styles marked “brown ales” or “milds”.