It seems daft to own a really beautiful pub with great beers and not keep this blog going in some form. So I'll start posting again very soon. For now, here's a picture of a pint of Rothaus Pils - my house lager from the Black Forest - in my beer garden this afternoon.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know I love East Sussex.
On Tuesday I bought the freehold of a pub in that county. I first visited it five years ago, after a punishing 35 mile, 11 hour yomp from Pevensey to Rye (the 1066 Country Walk). I remember ordering two pints ofOld Dairy ale as soon as I got to the bar, and smashing the first back in two gulps as soon as it was placed in front of me.
Rye's Ypres Castle Inn (known as the "Wipers" locally) is a 17th century pub adjacent to and below the medieval fortification of the same name. It's got a big beer garden on the town's old ramparts, and a cosy interior with log fires. I live there now, and already I'm really enjoying running it.
The Wipers has a fantastic reputation for cask ale, being an established entry in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide. Once I add a great lager and some sort of pale, hoppy keg number it'll have a well rounded beer offer.
Heres an article Martyn Cornell, aka Zythophile, sent me about my new pub, published in 1948:
I visited Uerige myself on Wednesday for the first time.
For me, it had less to do with beer, and more to do with Auf Wiedersehen Pet.
If you're British and you're a stranger to the adventures of Dennis, Neville, Oz, Moxy, Bomber, Barry and Wayne, you should hang your head in shame. The writing's about as tight as a Wizard's sleeve and nothing ever really happens, but that's not the point. It's simply magnificent (just like the Seven themselves). I was pleased to find that Uerige was almost exactly as it was in the 80s, when that scene with Tim Healy, Michael Elphick and Jimmy Nail was filmed.
We sat in the central lobby, adjacent to the room where the tap man furiously dispenses the house brew from a wooden cask. Düsseldorf's distinctive beer style - brown altbier - isn't really to my taste, nor are the tiny glasses they serve it in, but there's no denying the magic of Uerige.
We watched the waiters rush past with their trays to the different dining rooms and to the drinking area where people stood around barrels. It was easy to see who was a tourist and who was a local, the latter outnumbering the former by a good margin.
Just by our perch the fresh barrels were rolled along the floor. There was a little stone step for the waiter to negotiate. It was heavily worn down, just like a staircase in an old cathedral. I was lost in thought as I imagined all the beer that's passed that way, and then enjoyed by people in this place for so many decades and in exactly the same fashion.
Out of context, I wouldn't have been too enamoured with the beer or the little glasses. But in that moment I offered a prayer of thanksgiving that some things never change.
My spell living full time in Italy has come to an end, more or less. Life's about to change entirely, yet again.
As I've travelled around the country, I've encountered lots of different beers that warrant a mention here, but not their own blog post. Here are half a dozen of them. All are Italian artisanal brews.
I enjoyed Ferus - from Pisan brewery "La Gilda dei Nani Birrai" (the Guild of Dwarf Brewers) - at my favourite bar in Pontremoli, a beautiful, tiny city in my own home province of Massa-Carrara. The Games Workshop-style label isn't my bag, but the beer inside the bottle is delightful, being a competently brewed wheat ale.
I'll probably never find out what was really going on with the house beer in Struttura Birra, a soullessly modern bar in Prato. I think it was some sort of unfiltered, hoppy lager, but I can't be sure. Perhaps I asked the barman where it was brewed, but if I did I can't remember the answer. Even the strength remains a mystery: the handwritten badge on the tap said "% alc...it depends!".
Marco Motta - host at Pizzeria Birreria Il Ponte in the village of Ponte a Cappiano, west of Florence - was one of the best, kindest people I met when I walked to Rome on the Via Francigena. From his great selection of craft beers, I chose ToccalmattoMaciste, an 8.5% IPA packed with New World hops to accompany an excellent pizza (mascarpone and speck, almost always my choice).
I was happy to return to Bolzano in the Alto Adige this year, and sad to leave. I softened the blow before boarding a train south by nipping into one of the city's two superb brewpubs, Batzen Bräu, for a late morning sharpener. Instead of opting for a lager, I had a chew on their excellent Whiskey Porter.
Brùton of Lucca first featured on this blog nearly a decade ago, when the brewery was less than two years old. I visited founder Iacopo Lenci at his place for the first time this year (though we've met before at beer festivals and events), and took a case of his 75cl bottles home. The dark and complex barley wine was my favourite. The name - Dieci - is a reference to the knockout alcoholic content (10% abv).
On a trip to Venice, I stayed in a hotel that was supposed to evoke the sexy opulence of La Serenissima in her later, decadent years. Instead, our room was more like Liberace's boudoir. In the minibar were bottles of craft beer from the Veneto. Ivan Borsato's Formenton is Belgian-style wheat beer with orange and coriander.
I enjoyed all of the beers above, but I doubt I'll ever drink any of them again. That's fine, though: to me they each belong in a certain place, and a particular, happy moment.
As more and more craft brewers cater for those who prefer extreme tastes and styles, it's gratifying to see the brewer of Pacer - a fine session beer I wrote about here last year - speaking sense on twitter.
Social media is of course partly to blame in the first place: these days the voices of the most obsessive and imbalanced are amplified more than ever before. It must be terribly distracting if you're running a small, somewhat isolated business like a microbrewery.
Those who listen to such noise - particularly on beer ratings websites - will be those who flounder. Wiser chaps - like the brewer quoted above - will surely prosper.
In case you aren't up with the lingo, a "DIPA" is a "Double IPA", and invariably refers to a madly strong beer that's supposed to be really hoppy but ends up tasting like a sweet, sticky mess. Before all this nonsense took hold we'd probably have called most of them barley wines.
Genoa still has the feel of a great city, albeit diminished from its former status as a world power. The warren of narrow, medieval streets near the harbour is said to be the largest and most populous old town in Europe today.
Wandering those dark alleyways is an unforgettable experience. Unlike its sometime rival Venice, Genoa is nothing like an open air museum. Instead, you'll experience a present that's truly an accretion of the past.
On Via di Scurreria, a side street just off the cathedral square, there's a craft beer bar you can enjoy after a day spent exploring.
Scurreria Beer & Bagel sounds terribly Americanised, but the beer selection's drawn from small producers in Italy, Germany and also the UK (they had Marble Bitter from Manchester on handpump when I visited).
The pub opened at 6pm, attracting a few barflies from the off. I sat on a table on the narrow alley that runs down the side of the building. From around a dozen choices on tap, I had two beers from Brauerei Knoblach of Franconia, followed by a Brewfist Spaceman IPA from Lombardy. By the time I left to go for dinner, the place was full.
Brauerei Knoblach's Raüschla lager
The tegestological collection around the walls tickled me: close to each other I spotted beermats from the Old Fountain and the Fox & Anchor - pubs familiar to me in east central London - alongside those from places I've visited in Italy, such as Birrificio Italiano and Hopfen & Co.
I fancy these mats will have been collected by the owner during his own beer travels. It's something I think I'll copy when I get my next pub.
Panther Brewery's Golden Panther (3.7% abv). Enjoyed at the refectory of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
If you're Catholic (Anglo or Roman) you're likely to have visited Little Walsingham in North Norfolk.
Otherwise, you may not be aware of it. The village's Marian shrine is one of the most important in the world.
Its role as a major pilgrimage destination was interrupted at the Reformation, but was revived slowly from the end of the 19th century.
Today, this tremendously beautiful English village is dominated by the rebuilt shrine. Most of the businesses around cater for visitors to it, not least the pubs.
However, you don't need to leave the confines of the sanctuary's grounds to enjoy a pint of real ale.
The airy and modern pilgrim's refectory has a lone handpump serving Golden Panther, brewed in Reepham, halfway between Walsingham and Norwich.
When we'd finished our visit to the shrine, we found ourselves a table in the sunny courtyard of the refectory. I was reticent to order a beer: it was just before the stroke of noon, and boozing didn't seem terribly appropriate.
It was only when two jolly priests - momentarily separated from their accompanying parishioners - steamed past us holding pints that I came to a decision.
At the counter, I let another of their colleagues go ahead of me ("after you, Father"). He, too, opted for a jar of ale. He saw me smile and said "the fridge is full of horrible sugary things, and it's too hot for tea, so bugger it!"
With a clerical seal of approval, I sat and drained two pints of beautiful cask beer in the sun, full of gratitude for all that was around me.
Orzo Bruno, Pisa's quasi-brewpub, has been a welcome retreat for me this year. When passing through the city to and from the airport or other parts of Italy, I've dropped in of an early evening. You'll find it on a seedy back alley alongside other bars, one street back from the Borgo Stretto with its more elegant shops, cafes and gelaterie.
Even if you're among the first customers when the shutters go up at 7pm, the pub fills up quickly thanks to the free buffet consisting solely of massive crostini / bruschette. It's best not to think too much about the quality: the flavours are big and it suits the beery, studenty vibe.
The half dozen house beers are brewed off-site at Birrificio Artigiana, outside the city but still in the Province of Pisa. They're a touch rough around the edges, but agreeable and varied in style. A half litre is priced way below the norm for craft beer in Italy, at €4.10-€4.30 (indeed, the more standard measure - a 40cl media - would set you back €5 or more in most comparable venues).
Valdera - a reasonable stab at an ESB at 5% abv - is served with a pompa inglese (real ale-style handpump) and therefore best avoided in the height of summer. The rest are on dispensed using conventional keg taps. The house lager Martesana (also 5%) is probably the best bet, but the 6% American-style IPA Wombat is worth a squirt too. I've tried and enjoyed the 7% red honey beer Montemagno, but only when half-cut on the more conventional brews.
One thing you can't fault Orzo Bruno on is presentation of every beer: the two lads who serve on spend time building the perfect head, and the glassware - tall, German-style handle mugs or English nonic pints - is first class. You need to be patient to let them work their magic, though. It's worth the wait.
NB. the sole bog at Orzo Bruno is moody af, but at least there's an actual toilet, as opposed to one of those tiled holes in the floor you see in other Italian bars. That particular variety of plumbing is something I'll never truly come to terms with.
Bury St Edmunds is a lovely place. I suspect a lot of Suffolkers would be happier if it were their county town instead of the less charming Ipswich.
Despite not being a city, it's been the seat of a bishop since 1914, when the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich was created, and the parish church of St James was elevated to cathedral status. Bury wears this relatively recent distinction well, and looks and feels like a somewhat scaled down version of of England's historic cathedral cities.
During a visit there last year I spent a pleasant afternoon at the Beerhouse, a spartan but friendly drinker's pub on a roundabout near the station. It's one of a group of four local pubs that are supplied by their own microbrewery, Brewshed.
This time, I went to their much swankier gaff right by the cathedral. The One Bull is thought to be Bury's oldest pub. It's been cleaned up, painted in light colours and filled with soft furnishings for a gastropub effect. It would, perhaps, look a touch naff in London, but it's clear the formula has worked in its local market. The bar was busy with drinkers, and all the tables were full of diners.
It's cute that such an upstart outfit as Brewshed operates in the shadow of Greene King, the most successful of all of England's old family brewers (indeed it's a truly national brand now). Owning its own pubs means the beer has a certain outlet. I wish more microbrewers would acquire pubs (and not just open soulless "taprooms" for nerds). They'd be so much easier to take seriously then: they could stop moaning about the beer tie excluding them from the market, and they'd also have a direct link to the drinking public. I think their beer would improve as a result.
Dopolavoro is an easy word - and concept - to translate from Italian: "after work". You'll sometimes see bars bearing this name throughout the country, most notably by railway stations.
I visited one of them with my pal Jack in early spring, when we passed through Siena while walking to Rome on the Via Francigena. It was tucked away by the side of the station, but appeared to be open to the general public, despite the working man's club vibe.
Some off-duty railwaymen were inside enjoying coffee, but they were outnumbered by retired gents playing cards under the shade of the trees outside. We toasted our arrival in the city with two cold 66cl Moretti bottles. In these simple surroundings, they set us back just €2.50 each - magic.
My limited research suggests these workers' bars were a creation of the Fascist era. In 1925 a national federation - the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro (OND) - was created. This was formally taken over by the Fascist party in 1927. By 1939 it had nearly 4 million members.
The clubs were more than just boozers, providing games rooms, staging cultural events and even giving assistance to the poor. Most of all they were fun. This passage from Modern Italy, 1871 to the Present by Martin Clark sums up the appeal of the OND movement:
"It was the first time in Italian history that mass leisure activities had existed, let alone been encouraged and subsidised by politicians. And it was not too solemn. The Dopolavoro was fun, not propaganda; it was recreation not self-improvement. Some Fascists worried about this, and high-minded Italian bourgeois looked down on it all as irredeemably vulgar, but Mussolini knew better."
Enjoying beers at the Dopolavoro Ferroviario by Siena's railway station.
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