Saturday, October 14, 2006


A Prima Primitive

The works of the Flemish primitives are respected worldwide, much like the current status of Belgian beer among connoisseurs.

The wildest (or weirdest) of the painters was probably Hieronymus Bosch from 's-Hertogenbosch in present-day Netherlands, with his gruesome and surreal depictions of hell.

Motifs from his paintings can now be found on the Vlaamse Primitief series of wild ales from De Proefbrouwerij in Lochristi, Oost-Vlaanderen. On their web site the US crafts beer importer, The Shelton Brothers, great ambassadors (and, indirectly, I would believe, sometimes even lifesavers) of Belgian breweries, have a description of six variants available.

On a recent trip to the vicinity of the brewery this beer tourist discovered yet another version, as can be seen in the picture. From the 75 cl bottle poured a quite clear, pale golden-coloured beer with a fluffy, white head. Sour fruit aroma, brettanomyces, very leathery Orval-like, but more fruity. Flavours are very bitter, yet some sweet fruitiness remains. Creamy texture, long dry finish, good carbonation. The label may depicts Hell (something for the Norwegian teetotaler movement?), but inside the bottle hides a heavenly brew.

The bottle was bought in one of those off-the-beaten track Belgian beer cafes that make you feel you have deserved every drop of beer you end up tasting. De Bierkamer is a countryside café in Kluizen, about half an hours bus ride north of Gent. After you get off the bus from Gent, you still have a 600 meter walk alongside the highway to reach this beer haven. With corn fields on each side and not too much traffic it is a pleasant enough walk passing by the odd sight of a garden with deer. In the distance the refineries of the busy port of Gent are visible - you are in the wild of densely populated Vlaanderen.

The next village after Kluizen is Ertvelde, home of the industrious Brouwerij Van Steenberge. The best of this brewery dominates the 100 plus beer menu of De Bierkamer, but treasures from smaller breweries from all over Belgium are also to be found. Do not expect any primitive lagers, though- only quality is allowed into the highly presentable beer list.

It is indeed a highly civilized place to enjoy a wild ale...

Friday, October 06, 2006


On the Narrow Path

The Rake is one of the latest beer bars of interest in London. The address is Winchester Walk, a lane connecting the spirit with spirits- the Southwark Cathedral with the Vinopolis.

It is just behind the Borough Market, even sharing some of its facilities. Yet it is surprisingly quiet compared to other pubs in the vicinity. Appearantly, few seems to have found the narrow path to Beerdom.

Maybe just as well, as the place is one of the tiniest around- only helped by a beer garden that is almost double the size of the interior.

You are probably not there for the interior and its design, anyway. Brass enthusiasts should definitely stay away- the furniture is IKEA-style wood and, appropriately, space economical. What is more important are the treasures behind the bar- several taps (including two handpumps reserved for changing ales- Dark Star Hophead and Over the Moon during my visit) and not least a fridge tempting you with a view of more than 100 different bottles. These represent some of the finest beers around, many imported, as you would expect from a pub owned by the people behind the Utobeer market stall.

For now The Rake is closed on Mondays, but this is said to change. Rumours also say that there may be new Rake's opening around town in the near future, specifically near The Tower of London and later on near Covent Garden. With The Rake Londoners have got a highway, not only to Helles, but to most of the world's major beer styles.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Winds of Change

London's craft brew scene has seen quite a few changes over the last year or so. Most attention has been given to the departures, notably the closure of Young's Ram brewery in Wandsworth, paradoxically at the same time celebrating 175 years of business with a decent Anniversary Ale.

This beer tourist mourned in particular the move of Onlyfinebeer and The Pitfield Beer Shop from East London to Essex. They were two reliable sources for craft beers to bring back home. (You can still have bottles ordered online and delivered to your hotel, but I find it more pleasant to browse the shop shelves).

Not all is bad news, though. The Pitfield Beer Shop moved together with its Brewery to a village north of Colchester. In the process they have expanded into cider and perry brewing. Their brews can still be purchased from a bottle shop in Old Street, not far from their old Pitfield premises. The Real Ale shop in Twickenham, which opened in early 2005, is run by very competent staff and dedicated to great British ales.

Also, I have previously described the promise of the Southwark area, and will follow up with a more detailed review of one newcomer beer bar, The Rake, shortly.

Hampstead may seem like a world apart with its guarded homes and Mercedeses. A posh wine-drinking neighbourhood, maybe, but craft beer has found a lucky home there in The Horseshoe brewpub. Opened a few months ago by Australian brewer McLaughlin, it offers its two alternating brews on draught. For a young brew their Best definitely showed some promise. Add to it casks of Admans, decent bottled beers and very good food and you should be well saddled for the evening so to speak.

And if the thirst persists there is always the Young's house The Flask just a block away, where the bell is still rung for the last orders. Something never changes in this great capital city.

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