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Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Two in Ghent

The East Flanders city of Ghent (or rather Gent to its Flemish inhabitants and Gand if you're from Wallonia) is arguably the best beer destination in Belgium. A large, growing and varied selection of bars and cafes combines with a hugely attractive city centre to make for an essential visit.  I go every year for the very enjoyable Gents Beer Festival run by the indefatigable Gentse Biervereniging (which very loosely translates as Ghent Beer Club). It's usually on a middle Saturday in August (the 18th this year) and I really do recommend it.

Since 2009 Ghent's attractions have included Annick de Splenter's Gentse Stadsbrouwerij (1 Rembert Doedesreef) and you can drop into the brewery for a drink and perhaps a bite to eat. The essentially hop-less Gentse Gruut beers are popular enough - you'll see them promoted at numerous bars around town - but for me they have been beers to respect rather than enjoy. Now, however, two new brew-pubs have opened, although the term 'brew-pub' hardly does justice to one of them. Both opened just a bit too late to get in the latest edition of Good Beer Guide Belgium.

This opened in February and is run by two lovely people, Jolien D'Hollander and Benjamin Nuytten (who is the brewer). 

It's at 70a Oudburg, an attractive street lined with interesting shops and places to eat, and is easily walkable from the city centre. On the way there you'll pass Aba-jour (20 Oudburg), a good food and beer stop, and just off on Kalversteeg, the remarkable Velootje which everyone needs to visit once.

Painted an anonymous grey, with not the best signage, Brouwbar is easy to walk past but please don't as it's a little gem. It's also not very big but the outside terrace is a very amenable spot - and do look out for the re-cycled key-kegs which have been converted to hold plants plus displays of malt and hops (and and some now function as stools too).

You can see the small brewing kit at the back of the bar and from this emerges a range of very well-made beers.  A Sorachi Saison (6.6%) had herbal notes from Sorachi Ace,that most divisive of hops (for the record I'm a fan)
while the IPA (5.6%) was nicely balanced, in a good way. Both were very refreshing.  A return visit featured Drifters Ale (6.8%) brewed in conjunction with the bar across the road. This is a NEIPA with a touch of rum cask about it - an odd combination which worked very well with just a hint of spirit in the background. The Session Ale at a modest 3.8% had both good body and hop character.

It's all quite low-key and relaxed which for me is part of its attraction - the relaxation can extend to the service so don't be afraid to go to the bar and ask for a beer.  Brouwbar is closed Monday to Wednesday, and open 4-11pm Thursday to Saturday, 12-7pm on Sundays.

DOK Brewing
Low-key is certainly not the way you'd describe the other entrant to Ghent's brewing scene. The term 'brew-pub' hardly does it justice either.

Like many other cities, Ghent is regenerating the old dock area, which is to the north east of the city centre, and when you visit it's very apparent  it has received a great deal of inward investment, and this is ongoing. Dok Noord seems to be the epicentre and you'd find DOK Brewing in Hal 16 at Dok Noord 4b. It's a skillful conversion of the old transformer building which served the city docks and combines some of the distressed original fabric with elegant modern touches - visit at night and the chandeliers are sure to impress.

This is a multi-purpose venue and apart from the brewery, which takes centre stage, there's an Italian restaurant, a bakery (mainly lunchtime only I think), a patisserie (Pattiserie Bostoen) and RØK, a smokery and BBQ. I can testify to the quality of the patisserie and, notably, RØK where the whole mackerel is highly recommend.  But I digress.

The vessels and bar of DOK Brewing are the main focus here with no fewer than 30 taps dispensing around four DOK beers, a cider, a cocktail (!) and a spectrum of guest beers from around Belgium and elsewhere. Cuvée De Ranke on draft was a rare treat.

DOK Brewing opened on 19 May and is a project by beer sommelier Daniella Provost, along with Janos de Baets (who is the main brewer) and Dimitri Messiaen . The beers are very modern - a Baltic Porter (6%) had a good body with a dry, roast character that was pitched at just the right level. The newly launched Beta Pale (5%) was well balanced and very refreshing at
40 IBU.  In the tanks were a Kellerbier, a Brut IPA (a collaboration with Brussels' L'Ermitage nano-brewery) and Outlaw, a New England IPA. All very on trend.

I'm going to stick my neck out and say there's nothing else like this in Belgium at the moment and I found it hugely appealing, returning several times. It's open from 11.00am every day and getting there is quite easy really. 

Tram 4 will take you to Heilg Kerst - then walk down Doornzellestraat to the docks, turn left and enter the complex where you see the Delhaize sign and keep walking straight on.  Alternatively buses 5 (and 8 during the day) will drop you at the Dok Noord stop which is at the dock end of  Doornzellestraat.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

From The Archives

Welcome to a new feature here at JC's Beer Blog. I have been editing a local CAMRA magazine, Opening Times, for just over 30 years and each month I will be reproducing the 'Stagger' from that time.  So here we go with the Stagger from the July 1988 issue. It covered Clayton and was written by Stuart Ballantyne. The photos show the pubs as they are today.

This month's Stagger around Clayton and East Manchester began at the Strawberry Duck, a former Wilson's pub on Crabtree Lane. Now a free house, the Strawberry Duck won the prestigious Pub of the Month award in September 1986 so a high standard was expected. We were not disappointed, with the Holts Bitter scoring above average, but unusually no-one tried the Wilson's Bitter or the Webster's Green Label. Minor renovations to the pub were in progress with the small kitchen being extended to provide more catering facilities.

Quite a walk next to the Folkestone, a Boddies pub on Folkestone Road (off North Road). A large inter-wars pub with separate bar and lounge, considerable use has been made of wood paneling which looks to be an original feature. The stained glass panels above the bar were also impressive. It was refreshing to be served by a licensee who topped up our glasses without having to be asked. Both the bitter and the mild were well kept. In such a traditional pub the disco and video seemed quite out of place. The pub is a good example of its type but some of the fittings looked a bit tired and it would benefit from sensitive refurbishment. 

Returning to Ashton New Road, we found ourselves in the Greens Arms. Unfortunately the exterior refurbishment hasn't been carried through to the inside which had a shabby, run-down feel. Open-plan with pool table, disco and barely over-age clientele, the atmosphere was not pleasant. A request for 'bitter' has the barman reaching for the Webster's and he didn't seem too pleased when we insisted on Wilson's. We needn't have bothered as we struggled to drink it and the Green label was even worse.

Continuing down the road towards Manchester we came to the Grove, a traditional, but plain, Holts boozer. As often with Holts pubs, the beer was the cheapest of the evening and scored the highest marks so far, the mild being very good and the bitter excellent. Unusually for most pubs today, the vault was far bigger than the lounge and that was where we chose to drink, A nice touch was the WW! memorial on the vault wall. 

Pressing on, we retraced our steps and turned into Clayton Lane for our next port of call - the Church Inn. Cask beers are Stones Bitter and Bass Light, but neither were highly thought of, with Stones scoring just below average and Bass Light just above. The Church has been done up in recent years and so has our next stop, Chesters' Bridge Inn a few yards further down.

The Bridge is pleasantly decorated and having just left the Church it was tempting to draw comparisons between the two pubs as they are similar in many ways. The Bridge got my vote as it is bigger, lighter and airier. The Chesters' bitter went off halfway through our order, and some of us had to wait for the new barrel. The beer scores were low but this could be because some of us caught the bottom of the barrel. The mild was keg and went untried.

Heading back towards the New Road, we turned left into Croft Street to visit the Victoria. A busy open-plan Wilson's pub, the renovations to the Victoria have taken over two years and the care taken shows. The pub was sensibly kept open throughout and the old regulars have been joined by many new ones, the pub was heaving. The Wilson's bitter and mild scored above average and nobody was disappointed that the Websters was off.

A short walk to Ashton New Road and the Derby Arms. This was  not proving a good night for Chesters as again we found that the beer was off, so we had to take our trade elsewhere.

Passing the keg-only Sir Humphrey Chetham and the closed Why Not (getting thirsty by now), we pressed on towards the city centre.

We finally came to Rowsley Street and the Britannia. After such a long walk we were glad to find ourselves in such a friendly, traditional boozer. The windows still testify to the former Groves & Whitnall ownership, from whom it passed to Greenalls, who in turn sold it to Lees as a no-hoper. Despite being a long way from any houses the pub is far from being a no-hoper and was packed on our visit. The Lees bitter was considered good with the mild surpassing this as very good. All in all, a worthy winner of April's Pub of the Month award. If you've not yet tried the Britannia, then it's about time you did.

And so ended a most interesting and varied night. As usual the comments simply reflect how we found things on the night, try the pubs for yourself and make up your own mind. 

What happened next?

History has not been kind to the pubs of Clayton. Some still survive and among those is the Strawberry Duck on Crabtree Lane. It's won awards as a community local and still serves Holts Bitter.  

The Folkestone was closed, burnt out and demolished. New housing now occupies the site. The Greens Arms struggled on and then had a brief existence as the Star Showbar (and you can see the sign on the front of the now-derelict building pictured above).

The Grove also continues to thrive as a Holts house and the war memorial remains on the vault wall. No such luck with the Church. After Manchester City moved to East Manchester from Maine Road in 2003, the pub was renamed the Blue Moon. Not that it did much good as it soon closed and was demolished in late 2007. The site is shown here.

The Bridge Inn remains open, looks to be doing well but no longer sells cask beer. After that it's downhill all the way. The Victoria looks like it should be open but appearances are deceptive. It closed in February 2010 but as you can see the building is in good order.

The Derby Arms traded for longer than most but finally closed its doors five years ago and has now been converted into shops. The sign remains as a poignant reminder of past glories.  Across the road the Sir Humphrey Chetham closed down around the turn of the century and has also been converted to shop premises.

The same issue of Opening Times reported the reopening of the Why Not as the Little Bradford. It thrived in this guise and received a CAMRA 'Pub of the Month' award in December 1992. However the December 1992 issue of Opening Times also included extensive coverage of the threat to its existence by Manchester's Olympic ambitions. It wasn't the Olympic Stadium that saw it off though but the general redevelopment of East Manchester. It's not easy to pinpoint the pub's site but it's probably under the tram tracks at Velopark.

That just leaves the Britannia. This really was a superb local and I have many happy memories of it. When Manchester City moved to East Manchester it was taken over by former City player Mike Summerbee who renamed it Summerbees, revamped it in cafe-bar style and removed the cask beer. It didn't end well. After a short spell as 'Maine Road' the building was bought by Manchester City and demolished in 2010. As you can see the site remains vacant.


Monday, 13 August 2018

Dutch Beer of the Week

Epe Bier Collectief Rein Quadrupel

Apologies for the hiatus. Luckily I recently stopped work so now have more time to devote to beery matters. This means that JC's Beer Blog should have a more regular and permanent existence. As a result I have a couple of additional features planned which I hope you like. However to kick off let's have a new Dutch Beer of the Week - and this one's a little beauty.

I admit to knowing very little about the Epe Bier Collectief. Tim Skelton's Beer in the Netherlands tells me they are hobbyists who turned professional in 2012 and who borrow other breweries to make what are well-regarded beers. The website tells me that said hobbyists are Henk Overbosch (who is the brewer and 'driving force'), Henk Wesselink, Maarten de Groot and Edwin Raben.

As you'll see from the website they make an interesting range of beers - some in more modern styles and some with a nod to tradition. Rein, I think, combines the two.  They made it at the Sallandse Landbier Brouwerij which is the home to a number of Dutch cuckoo brewers but I see they have also brewed at De Molen which is clearly some sort of seal of approval.

So, what's it like, Bloody good  but I guess you'll want a bit more than that. It's a lovely dark chestnut and there's a malty sweetness on the nose with hints of honey and caramel. As you drink there's more malty sweetness, with hints of nuts, caramel and dried fruit. It doesn't cloy though and I see the hop grist includes Mount Hood and Citra, along with Styrian Goldings and Premiant, and I'm guessing they give this the necessary lift. The finish is suitably warming - which is what I'd expect for a 9% beer in this style.

I'll be looking out for more Epe Bier Collectief beers nest time I'm in the Netherlands - I commend them to you.