There were no CAMAL research trips abroad in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 or 2020
As, since its inception 32 years earlier, CAMAL had religiously embarked on a research trip based on Bamberg each decade, it seemed only fitting that efforts should be redoubled to revive our annual tours, which had fallen by the wayside of late, ten years on from the previous trip there. Accordingly, once five potential attendees had been identified, thus making the trip viable, specific dates were agreed and arrangements made to fly from the UK via Munich in Germany and, thence, overland on to Bamberg. Unhappily, only three members were able to make it in the end, our Chairman losing enthusiasm before departure but, more seriously, Bill English had been found to have been cruelly taken away from us within the six weeks or so before we left in mid-October [Obituary on relevant website page]. In fact, the shorter duration of three nights abroad had been skewed somewhat to one side of the selected weekend to assist Bill with his remaining leave entitlement given that he was just a few months away from retirement when he’d died.
Another problem – but one anticipated – was that, as all available beer guides for Germany were already some years beyond reliable currency, there would be a need for some real ‘cutting-edge’ research undertaken though the extent of this requirement was unpredictable! Fortunately, though, some amendments had been posted on-line updating Steve Thomas’ CAMRA GBG Germany but, as we were to find out, these were occasionally deficient but, at least, acted as a warning that all might not be as could be expected! Rendezvousing in Bamberg, as one flew from Stansted with the others flying in from Heathrow, the three attendees, comprising Hugh Armstrong, Bryn Philpott and myself, managed to keep the CAMAL flag flying abroad after five years when no foreign trips had been undertaken and, significantly, at the fourth held in our spiritual home in Franconia.
BAMBERG Whilst the Home Counties contingent awaited the arrival of our East Anglian member, we made for the taps of the Heller, Robespierre and Spezial breweries (and one other ex-tap), all located along the eastern Stephansberg perimeter of the rock outcrop upon which the city’s gothic Cathedral had been built. With one exception (The Störenkeller), two of the four were listed as being open on a Sunday, and we’d also speculated that, maybe, the The Wilde-Rose-Keller, nominally only open on that day between May & September inclusive, might have extended its times into a further month – if we were lucky!
However, as a clear demonstration of the perils in relying on 8-12-year old guide information, our optimism couldn’t have been more comprehensively dashed as not only was this tap firmly shut but both The Klösterbrau and The Spezial-Keller were also similarly closed (when they ‘should’ have been open!). Obviously, drinking between religious services on The Sabbath was no longer de riguer and, retracing our steps and continuing past the Cathedral – which also appeared bolted and barred – to its north side, we then found The Torchuster to be gloomily vacant too. But, at least, there was a sign on the door suggesting that this Sunday closure here was a one-off aberration and that it would be open again, to serve beers from seven Bamberg breweries, from the next day. Not the most auspicious of starts but, resolving to return there another time, we were not only getting thirsty but hungry too so returned to the city centre and ventured into The – open – Kachelofen. Sitting outside within sight of our next two bars – it being a warm evening and imbibing on Rauchbier – we got talking to one of the locals and the subject of the world-famous smoked beers brewed in the city arose. ‘Only for the (beer) tourists’, he said, adding that, ‘it’s like drinking the distilled smell and taste of dusty church pews!’ Having both eaten and established that Hugh was still en route, we drank in The Ambräusianum before meeting up with him in The Alt-Ringlein. Finally, on the way back to our respective hotels, a final nightcap in The Stilbrüch was indulged in.
Bryn & I had booked into Am Brauerei-Dreieck, just around the corner from The Brauereis Keesman and Mahrs-Bräu (opposite each other), partly on the strength of the name itself but there was as little of a presumed defunct brewery to be seen in the actualité as there was on its website. Externally, there was a yard with traces that could have betrayed its former function had that been accessible. But, back in 2008, it was considered that there were 12 active breweries as it was speculated that Weyermann’s Maltings, by the station, had joined the pantheon of that select band of brewers in the city. A widely-syndicated article amongst various CAMRA magazines in summer 2018 had confirmed their commercial brewing status as The Weyermann Brauerei today but a Newssheet obtained from Zum Sternla, which we obtained on the Tuesday evening, listed all 11 breweries in operation now and that this figure had matched those extant ten years previously. Then, it had been assumed that The Maisel Brauerei, although confirmed as being open in 2006, was simply moribund two years later and was to have resumed brewing – so had been included in the total of a dozen given – but that aspiration had not been realised in the intervening decade.
Also, on Tuesday night, we’d visited The Fäßla, or ‘Little Barrel’, and, on the previous evening for food and its ambience, The Schlenkerla, the tap for Heller-Bräu Trum KG, to more accurately name the brewery half a mile away. But, without doubt, the most memorable hostelry which we visited in concluding our Monday research, was The Torchuster, which was open just as the handbill posted the previous day had suggested. Originally a disco, it had been relaunched in 2005 in the guise of a traditional bar, much akin to a micropub, and the somewhat eccentric owner, Thomas Gruße, had filled what is certainly the smallest bar in Bamberg with brewery enamels, mirrors and much other ephemera besides. As an ex-roadie (and, thus, slightly deaf), he treated us to some of the most iconic album music of the 1970s & 1980s, played from vinyl, and washed down with a few of the best beers available in the city, including Keesman’s and Mahrs-Bräu’s brews. Although we were the first to frequent (and prop up) the bar that night, the other dozen or so seats soon filled up with more customers who were all almost immediately introduced as relatives of the proprietor! The ‘craic’ there as we good-naturedly inter-reacted with each other as if we were guests in a family’s front room simply made this visit one of those never-to-be-forgotten pub sessions of a lifetime and we were still talking about it long after we returned to the UK! And, it meant that we never did get to (re)visit either Keesman’s or Mahrs-Bräu’s taprooms even though Bryn and myself invariably walked past them on our way back to our hotel late each night!
NORTH & WEST Our first full day in this part of Bavaria saw us take a train to Schweinfurt, an industrial town downstream from Bamberg along the River Main. Despite the walk from the main (Hbf) station being somewhat unprepossessing, once we‘d emerged into a vast market square, the transformation was amazing, with a particularly fine mediæval Rathhaus at the south end and The (modernish) Brauhaus am Markt at its northern extent. Nominally the tap for the nearby Brauerei Brauhaus, one of the updates to hand had suggested that the brewery had ceased functioning but any replacement beers were presently unknown. We can thus confirm that The Mönschof range from Franconia’s largest brewery, Kulmbacher, was now the standard fare there and, coupled with some copious food, they went down very well indeed with the Landbier being particularly notable. But, whereas there was another brewery in the town, Roth, its tap, Zum Roth, was closed on a Monday (according to our guide information), so we didn’t try to locate it. Besides, an hourly local train was due soon at the much closer Stadt rail station so we made tracks for that instead.
Our destination was Zeil, where the esteemed Brauerei Göller was to be found. Taking a bit of finding amongst the back lanes of the village, their taproom was somewhat minimalist when compared with the much larger biergarten beyond, situated below a twin-towered church high up on the adjacent hillside. We therefore drank some of their fine range, including a Dunkel and their Kellerbier (the latter from a (fake?) wooden barrel set up outside), in a particularly fine setting, enhanced by the autumnal hues of the nearby wooded slopes in the clear, though waning, afternoon sunlight.
Next, our final stop on the way back to base, was at Oberhaid where the Wagner brewery was located. With their beer range believed to be only available at just two outlets, both in the town, we sought out their Bierkeller hostelry first, located to the west of the station. Whereas all the other patrons were sat outside, we ventured into the middle of three rooms, flanked by a small front bar on one side and a huge bierhalle across a corridor, for functions, on the other. Whilst imbibing on their Kellerbier, amongst others, the owner engaged with us in some amiable banter that included some excruciating jokes! But, all too soon, it was time to move on and try to reach Zum Hannla, the Wagner brewery tap sited to the east of the station. However, with the sun setting and the pavement petering out along an increasingly busy peak-time road, the consensus was that, as we’d be returning later along the same, albeit street-lit, road but otherwise after dark, we would leave their beers for another time and return to Bamberg via an imminently-due train instead.
SOUTH & EAST Bamberg is situated close to the confluence of the Rivers Main and Pegnitz and, the following morning, we took a local train southwards along the latter upstream to Eggolsheim. Actually in Neuses an der Pegnitz, the station here was about a mile away from Eggolsheim itself where The Schwarzes Kreuz brewpub was located and, although the brewery side had closed a few years previously, according to the CAMRA updates we had, it was a shock to find that the retail side had subsequently shut too. A notice in the doorway indicated that this had occurred with effect from 1ST January 2017. So, after a short amble around the village that failed to unearth any alternative bar, we started our return walk to catch the next train south to Forchheim. It appeared from a leaflet acquired from what purported to be the centre of Eggolsheim that the area was a hotspot for schnapps (gin) distilling but, if the one address which we passed en route to the station was anything to go by, it was no more than a private house!
Ten years previously, CAMAL had also visited Forchheim – on a Saturday –and, as the group had been thwarted by time constraints from being able to enjoy brews from the Brauerei Josef Grief in their adjacent taproom before it closed for the rest of the day, we resolved to rectify this omission. For once, fortune was on our side and, as we approached the end of the vehicular cul-de-sac wherein the brewery was located, it was a hive of activity with fork-lift trucks still loading various drays parked in the street. Only open all-day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the tap was winding down ready to close again at 2pm, as in 2008 (we being there on a Tuesday, of course, this time), but not before we were able to enjoy an autumnal seasonal ale or two, amongst others in their range.
In the town centre, we aimed for The Hebandanz as it ‘should’ have been open but had to venture into Brauerei Neder’s taproom instead which ‘should’ have been closed on this, its Ruhetag, day. It appeared the two, almost adjacent, brewery taps had swapped their once-a-week day closures if our guide information was originally correct! The Neder was, perhaps unsurprisingly, particularly busy and still exhibiting its somewhat basic charms with efficient waiters and waitresses bustling about taking orders for both food and drink. Further back along the street just traversed, however, Brauerei Eichorn was to be found but, as its tap was also scheduled to be closed on a Tuesday (and Wednesday), there was no need to double-back this time. All of which suggested that the one bar that continued to open in the town centre on a Tuesday was clearly struggling to cope with demand!
We then took the truncated diesel-operated branch line to Ebermannstadt, a small town in the foothills of the Franconian Jura which gave it a distinct Alpine aspect. Originally, the route had provided an alternative link to Bayreuth but a preservation group, the Dampfbahn Fränkische Schweiz (the Franconian Switzerland Steam Railway) based at Ebermannstadt’s now joint station, had reopened a section of the line further along the River Wiesent valley as far as Behringersmühle in recent years. But, neither occasional steam nor diesel services were in operation as we were well out of season! Both the breweries and their taps facing each other in Ebermannstadt, at one corner of the market place, were meant be open on a Tuesday (which was one of the reasons for our visit that day!) with The Sonnenbräu taking a Ruhetag on a Wednesday. But, just our luck, it’s bar had changed to taking a day out of commission on a Tuesday instead (despite the hotel there remaining open), leaving us to partake of a very late lunch and imbibe the various brews from Brauerei Schwannenbräu instead. And, after a tour of the picturesque town centre wherein we inspected an unusual scoop wheel that still lifted water for public supply from the river, we returned to the station for a train back to Forchheim and, thence, return to our base.
MUNICH To and from Bamberg, all attendees passed through this city and the pair originating in London, having just missed an hourly fast train on the Sunday of arrival, thus had time to visit The Augustiner-Keller near the station. Despite having one of the most popular biergartens in the country, seating up to 5,000 people under dozens of mature trees and often dispensing beer from wooden casks, we contented ourselves with drinking Augustiner-Bräu Dunkel inside as we were hampered with our baggage.
On our way home three days later, however, we were able to avail ourselves of the left luggage lockers and explore the city centre in more depth. And, although Hugh had stayed closer to Bamberg station than the others, he hadn’t managed to catch the same train south as Bryn and myself so, with 60 minutes to spare until he caught up with us, a whistle-stop sightseeing tour of the centre, including inside the Cathedral, was indulged upon. A brief reunion for lunch, however, at The Nürnberger Bratwurst Glöckl was achieved and, on this occasion, we did sit outside with the huge edifice of the Cathedral, or Frauenkirche, looming up alongside. Naturally, the house speciality sausages, cooked over an open fire, and served with a wholegrain mustard were ordered, accompanied by Augustiner Hell dispensed from a wooden barrel, before we had to retrieve our luggage and get to the airport.
Besides, there was one other attraction to seek out and that was the only micro-brewery and pub in an aerodrome anywhere in the world! The Airbräu, situated above and some way away from the local S-Bahn railway station, was not immediately obvious but, once found, was worth every cent of trouble in locating it, not least because all the beers available, including a Wießbier and seasonals, were an extremely reasonable €3 (£2.70) each, making this also one of the best-value bars anywhere in the world, let alone at an international airport! Seating was around a number of gleaming copper brew kettles though, under a high glass roof, there was, apparently, an all-weather biergarten. All too soon, our flights were called and it was time to leave Germany and this part of the Reich which has such a draw on CAMAL.
Throughout our trip, we had been blessed with what, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s there, had been called ‘Hitler Weather’, seemingly endless days of unbroken, warm, sunshine and, for October, unseasonably clement nights, all of which helped to counteract the occasional disappointments we’d endured, from brewery and pub closures and to changes in some of the quirky, daily (but, alas, not seasonal!), opening policies but which were more than compensated for by the atmospheric vibes, sounds and other memorable tastes and experiences savoured in others, notably in those bars, micropubs, biergartens and brewhouses that we could and did visit.
^ Proof of CAMAL's mediæval origins!
VIENNA & BRATISLAVA
Wien (Vienna) is a notable world capital perhaps made most recently famous by Carol Reed’s direction of Graham Greene’s screenplay for (and subsequent book of) ‘The Third Man’ in his 1949 film starring Orson Welles as Harry Lime and Joseph Cotton as Holly Martins together with a notable score played on the zither by Anton Karas. Set in immediate aftermath of World War II when the country was partitioned for the next 10 years in a similar way to Germany, the denouement between these characters took place on a ferris wheel in the Prater fairground. The 115-year old wheel still exists today and the CAMAL party, who all stayed at a nearby hotel, spent their last morning aboard. Vienna had also facilitated the talents of a number of not inconsequential composers such as Beethoven, Brahms, Hadyn, Mozart and Schubert during its heyday as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire following its saving from the Turkish hordes in 1683 through the intervention of the greatest Polish king, Jan Sobieski, and his cavalry routing the Vizier’s troops. The centuries that followed saw the building of much of the elegant Vienna that still exists today such that the capital of Austria is a major tourist draw, the city centre being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Also part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and similarly on the banks of the River Danube but 40 miles downstream, Bratislava was, prior to 1919, known as Pressburg and is the only international capital considered to be on the border with another state (Austria). The capital of Slovakia, it was predominantly a part of Hungary over many centuries (and even the Hungarian capital) but became second only to Prague once the Czechoslovak army had occupied the free city, a status it enjoyed only briefly after World War I, earlier that same year. Subsequently falling to Communist rule after the Second World War, it gained independence, along with the Slovak state, four years after that regime toppled in 1989 during the so-called ‘Velvet Divorce’ with the Czechs. Dominated by a huge fortress, the Turks had also besieged and damaged this city but had similarly failed to conquer it and, although also bombed by the Allies during World War II, has retained many historic buildings, likewise some being rebuilt, and, owing to its years under the Soviet yoke, is comparatively unspoilt and uncommercialised having only recently emerged as a tourist destination in its own right.
However, neither Austria nor Slovakia are on most people’s radar when it comes to either the production or consumption of beer but a recent boom in reviving old breweries and launching small, new, local breweries has made both a magnet for beer tourists eager to travel far and wide to sample new and different brews. Numerous plans to open new breweries and pubs across Slovakia prove that this trend is still on the rise. Thus, in addition to their abundance of wine destinations, Slovakia seems set to catch up with its Niederösterreich neighbour, in adding beer to its list of attractions, but, despite this recent trend, the beer scene there was found to be not as extensive as that in Vienna yet and, with one exception, only the central part of Bratislava was visited. Vienna, somewhat surprising in the variety of bars and availability of differing styles, is divided into a number of ‘quartiers’ and those recommended bars and brewpubs visited are considered under the appropriate district. Nonetheless, extensive use of public transport in both cities – buses, trams & U-bahns in Vienna and buses & trolleybuses in Bratislava (where trams are also in evidence) – was made by the CAMAL party whilst in each metropolis.
As with many world cities sporting ex-patriot communities, Vienna has its cluster of ostensibly Irish or Scottish-themed bars. One of the best was O’Connors Oak Bar, Rennweg 95, this being an Irish pub and diner serving the usual suspects (Guinness & Murphy’s Stout as well as London Pride) but, also, five more locale ales, also on tap, of which Puntigamer Panther was amongst those consumed. One could also purchase O’Hara’s bottled Irish products at a price!!
A good tram ride back towards the centre from this south-eastern quartier, despite the apparent proximity of addresses, the Salm Bräu Brewery & Restaurant, Rennweg 8, was found adjacent to Belvedere Castle, a seat of the former Bohemian Court. Previously a vineyard and then – though not concurrently(!) – a convent and a monastery, the stabling block of the Georgian Hall became a brewery in 1994. Despite football being screened inside, we were able to procure a table in the courtyard and, to the delight of our tour organiser, sampling trays of all five beers, 1842 Pils, Wiener Márzen, Helles, Wiezenher Weissbier and Bohemian Mixed could also be obtained along with substantial victuals.
At the Bieramt, Am Heumarkt 3, despite its unprepossessing exterior, a large beer hall was within together with a separate smokers’ area accessed (as were the toilets) through an automatic sliding glass screen. We occupied a large table complete with its own beer dispense tap and drain in the centre in the main section to imbibe on König Ludwig Dünkel where a helpful bartender allowed us to consult a 2013 Bier Guide to Austria compiled by one Conrad Siedl. At the Wieden Bræu, Waagaße 5, another brewpub, the Wieden Bräu Dark was drunk.
The centre of the city produced just a few pickings and Charlie P’s, Wahringerstraße 3, was another Irish bar with mainly imported Eireann beer which included O’Hara’s Pale Ale. The Zattl Wirtshaus & Biergarten, Schottengaße 3, produced a Kozel Dark, an imported Czech beer, which we consumed al fresco along with some food. The Leupold, Schottengaße 7, produced a Schhwechater Zwickl Naturtrüb whereas Ottakringer Dunkles was found at the Bierhof, Haarhofgaße 3, and drunk in the outside street veranda. The Naglergaße 13 address, in Pattinson’s guide, was considered misleading.
Conversely, the Blackshorn Irish Pub address, Naglergaße 7, was ‘right on the money’ as this was an eclectic bar at the far end of a short alleyway filled with breweriana from across the British Isles, not just Eire. However, foregoing more homespun imports, a Schladminger and an imported Czech lager, Starobrno, were consumed here.
Our Saturday tour started promisingly with a tram ride around the northern inner city perimeter to the west side but our first call, at the Verde 1080, Josefstadterstraße 27, drew a blank as it had turned into a beer store and was closed for restocking. Centimeter I, Lenagaße 11, proved a hit, a seasonal Stiegl Herbst-Gold being drunk and, as the name implies, was part of a chain of about half a dozen or so similar outlets. However, as we were to find out later, not all had been numbered consecutively and one had even closed down!! The Einstein (Café Bierbeisl), Rathausplatz 3, was found with difficulty as the street extends further north beyond the forecourt of the Rathaus than most maps implied but Hirter 1270er was drunk on the street terrace of what was a particularly opulent bar.
Our initial rendezvous with those who had travelled earlier and independently from the main party had been effected at the Gasthaus Wienia, Fugbachgaße 7, a basic locals’ bar close to our hotel where only Gösser Lager was imbibed. However, such was the keenness of one of our number, Hibernian Bill, to order, that upon entering Gasthof Hansey, Heinestraße 42, Gemschiter Satz, an Austrian white wine, was procured for all in error!! Facing the nearby Praterstern station, this was a particularly impressive bar cum restaurant with a notable green-tiled exterior and its name embossed within a tiled frieze above. Unfortunately, we never made a note of the available beer range within!!
Across the station plaza, through the station itself and, at the far end of the famous Prater fairground, the Schwiezerhaus, Praterstern 116, was located, where some Grieskirchner Dunkles was consumed along with massive schweinhaxes (roasted pork knuckles). This was a popular eatery very much in the style of a German beer garden with benches under awnings for al fresco drinking and eating. However, the Wieselburger Bierinsel, Praterstern 11, was no more, having been subsumed by yet more fairground rides, upon which some of the group by now felt brave enough to sample a couple of the more extreme attractions!!
After a brief diversion via an Indian restaurant, the Zipfer Urtup, also in Heinestraße, en route back to our base just for a beer, we concluded our first evening at our hotel, the Kunstshof, Müfeldgasse 13, where bottled Zwette Dunkles, amongst others, could be obtained and the entrance doors still betrayed evidence of a previous incarnation as the Hotel Reichshof.
Museum & Town Hall
Centimeter II, Stiftgaße 4, was considered by most as the 1ST real pub, as opposed to bar, that we had ventured into during the expedition and decorated in the same style as others in the chain and a similar beer range. Here, most had Hirchter Morcl or Murauer Sieirergold and some a potato soup contained in a huge bread roll hollowed out (and with a cutaway lid) to contain (and access) the tasty broth within. The amount proved too much for all who attempted the feast!!
The nearby Stern Bräu, Siebenstraße 19, impressively had seven different ales brewed on the premises, all available through founts, including a Prager (sic) Dunkles, a potent Chilli Bier, and a Bamberger Rauchbier, the last-mentioned far more reminiscent of the pungent original bottled tasting by your scribe when first discovering this style than subsequent sampling of tap versions in Bamberg in 2008.
Opera & Naschmarkt
In our Easyjet in-flight magazine, reference had been made to an artisan Italian bar recently-opened in Vienna (ironic given that Rome had been one of the suggestions for the 2013 research trip!!) but, typically, gave only vague directions as to where it might be situated.
On our first morning, we wandered around the locality given and, in amongst the various market stalls, thought we had found it. La Piazzetta, Naschmarktstand 191, however, proved a false hope, despite its four unlabelled taps, and a bottled Hirchter Morcl (Vollbier) was consumed but not before our trip guide had tried to buy wine from one of the nearby stalls. Despite the impressive array of wooden casks on display, they only contained myriad varieties of vinegar!!
Eventually, Bar Italia, Mariahilferstraße 19-21, was found along one of the main shopping streets to the north but, alas, only had bottled beers currently available despite its two prominent founts. Birra Amarcord La Gradisca and Hopfenkönig Pils Scloss Eggenberg were consumed in this modern street-level bar, betraying the fact that more locale beers were also available, but not that there was a basement night club down a steep stairway at the back.
Schottenring & Alsergrund
To the north of the city, the Highlander Brauerei, Sobieski Platz 4, had no discernible Scottish theme except in a customer’s tartan shopping trolley!! At this real pub and brewery, Highlander Stout plus Marzen-Zwickl, a Zwickl Lager and a Wiezen Naturtrüb were available. Another excellent brewpub, just beyond the Franz-Josef Bahnhof, was the Lichtenthaler Bräu, Liechtensteinstraße 108, which sported an amiable and jokey, blonde, barmaid dispensing a range which included a Belgian Dark Strong, a Brown Porter and a West Coast Pale Ale as well as two others.
Also in the same street, but at 44, Centimeter III had, at one time, existed, but it was difficult to think the extant building with that number had ever been a pub. Consultation with a later entry on Pattinson’s website confirmed its closure and also the existence of a couple more Centimeters in Vienna (a(n) IV and a VII but not, apparently, a V or a VI!!).
At Krah Krah, Rabensteig 8, we had managed to link up with our German contingent and joined them with a Grieskirchner Dunkel Vollmunddiger. Next door, Bermuda Bräu, Rabensteig 10, had Ottakringer Dunkles and an old sign which gave the brewery address as Aktien-Gesellschaff (J & J Knffner, Wien); both were small, characterful, bars with extensive pavement drinking facilities.
In contrast, Pfundl das Gasthaus, Bäckerstraße 22, had a beer garden opposite and a Zwickl aus Zwettl to imbibe and, right on the edge of the district at the entrance to Landstraße Wien Mitte station, we found that the Interspar Café & Bar, Hauptstraße 1D, had become the Bier Kutschin but with no discernible beer to be had for non-diners. Whether or not in its previous format it had anything to do with the ubiquitous Spar supermarkets that are commonplace throughout Vienna, we will never now know but, certainly, its new name held out more, albeit unfulfilled, promise.
The Gösser Bierklinik, Steindlgaße 4, was another alley-pub serving food and beers from eight taps where, respectively, most had a goulash soup & an apfel strudel washed down with a Gösser Stiftsbräu Dark. Close to the Donaukanal and located through to the west side of Rudolf’s Park, the Æra das Lokal, Gonzagaße 11, had an imported Czech Starobrno, marketed as an ‘Alt Brunner’, but it was noticeably gassier than that at the Blackshorn.
At the Stadthranerei Schwarzenberg, Schellingaße 14, brewing was in full progress with the pervasive aroma of malt in the atmosphere and football screens in operation (though with the sound thankfully off). Their Dunkles was consumed here with three others, G’Mischtes (a honey beer), Wiezen and Helles also available. At the 1516 brewpub, Schwarzenburgerstraße 2, or, according to Pattinson, Krugerstraße 18, four regular beers were available plus three seasonal specals including an Eejit’s Oatmeal Stout!! Finally, at the Brasserie Stadt Boden, Krugerstraße 8, Ottakringer Specialzen was selected from a range that had seven others on tap in this sausage speciality bistro.
With no information regarding opening hours, it appeared initially, at least, that a Sunday had been the wrong day to choose for a Slovakian excursion. The Zámocký Pivovar (Castle Brewery), Zámocká 13, was closed along with its restaurant; on all other days, the brewery and restaurant were open from 5pm and 11am respectively. We did, however, find two outlets of the Meštiansky Pivovar (Burgess Brewery), Drevana 8 and Dunajska 21, brewpubs and restaurants open. Both served Bratislavský Ležiak, a very hoppy lager, and Bratislavský Bubák, a darker, maltier, concoction, in 0.4l measures, the latter outlet being in the middle of a park despite the address.
Adjacent to the country terminus of trolleybus routes 204 & 207, the Patrón Dark, at the Patrónsky Pivovar, Brnianska 57, was akin to a porter whilst the Patrón itself was more citrusy rather than dominantly hoppy. However, it was evident that waitresses here and back within the city walls could have benefitted from a course at a ‘charm school’ as none were so surly and lacking in patience, whilst we were consulting unfamiliar beer menus, as those in the Slovak Pub, Obchodná 62, where Zlatý Bažant Tanktovy was, as the name implies, a tank beer using a ‘bag in a box’ system of dispense thereby preventing any contact between the beer and oxygen in the air.
We then found the Starosloviensky Pivovar, Vysoká 15, to be closed on the Sabbath whereas the Stará Sladovna, Cintorinska 32, to have possibly changed its name to Mamut, still hidden within the Mammoth Old Maltings. Nearly opposite, at Cintorinska 19, was a newish looking bar which looked more inviting but only seemed to display Budweiser Budvar signing liberally on the exterior but with no obvious name and, as time was by now running short, we made tracks by trolleybus back to the station and Vienna.
Less prevalent than in Austria, excessive rounding for 0.3l measures, as opposed to 0.5l, was still noticeable in Bratislava but not to the extent of (say) €3.20 and €4.00 respectively (commonplace in Vienna). Whilst this may have something more to do with the lesser tourist status of Slovakia, this is not to excuse the increasing trend in the UK to emulate this dubious practice – moving away from a strict division of the full price per pint for halves – in the same way that voluntary tipping is being replaced by compulsory service charges being added to bills; both may merely reflect cultural differences in Bohemia developed over many decades or even centuries.
Help from Pattinson’s, the Vienna bars and brewpubs website and the 2013 Bier Guide to Austria, published by media.net, is acknowledged as, indeed, thanks are also due to John White, ‘Gazza’ Prescott and the Slovak Beer Guide for advice and recommendations.
A RETURN TO THE RHINELAND
Although nominally based in Düßeldorf (Dusseldorf), this year’s CAMAL expedition effectively reprised the 2004 Cologne trip, at least for the first 2½ days. Part of the main contingent of eight, three who had arrived by air, rather than by Eurostar and connecting regional trains, also repeated a visit to Bönn, albeit for daylight hours only before their departure home much later than the others on the same day. But, instead of Aachen, the only new water treaded was to Duisburg this time, a coal mining port in the western Rühr notable today for housing the German Inland Waterways Museum.
However, the main centres of this Rhineland industrialised zone, all heavily targeted by Allied bombing in the Second World War, remain the cities of Düßeldorf and Cologne. Both have many similarities, having reconstructed Aldstadts, or old towns, wherein most of the better bars are still located, together with the full panoply of transport modes, ranging from regional and suburban railways through trams increasingly disappearing underground to become U-bahns and the inevitable bendy-buses, to fleets of identical, cream-coloured, Mercedes taxis. Düßeldorf is to mustard (Löwensenf) in Germany what Norwich is to mustard in the UK whereas Cologne is to black pudding over there (Kölscher Kaviar) what Bury is to black pudding here!
And each still maintains its unique, idiosyncratic, beer style to the virtual exclusion of all others but whose methods of dispense and serving are identical. Whereas in Cologne, there is Kölsch (a light coloured near-lager), Düßeldorf exhibits Altbier, or ‘old beer’, which is probably more akin to British real ale than any other German offering. As with Kölsch, this is invariably between 4.5% and 5.0% ABV and filtered but, instead, is reddish-brown in colour and, still following pre-19TH century practice, is top-fermented, but only for an initial fast and warm period, before being cold-conditioned, or lagered, over a lengthier time.
In each city, though, both styles were still being invariably tapped from firkin-sized wooden casks tipped at an angle on the bar counters, the profusion of which should surely send members of the mis-named Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, of whom some of the CAMAL party were members, into paroxysms of delight!
However, as that organisation is no longer true to its mantra (if, indeed, it ever was!), they remained just content and gratified (along with the rest of us) to see that tradition was being maintained in that, in both Düßeldorf and Cologne, the individual beers continued to be invariably served by blue-aproned waiters to tables in minimalist 0.2l or 0.25l (between 1/3 and ½ pint) glasses who still made a record of individual and collective purchases by marking beermats to be totalled at the final reckoning.
Fortunately, carrying around trays able to contain ten or more of these small but tall drinking vessels by a central handle meant that one’s patrolling waiter, or Köbe, would readily substitute empty glasses, or near-empty ones, with filled replacements unless a drip-mat had been placed on the top to signify that one had finished.
Conversely, though, we were unable to sample a stronger variation of the Düßeldorf Alts at the same price which are made available on only a very few occasions per year by each of the four extant breweries in the city. These “secret” brews were previously advertised on just the day beforehand and, then, on the day itself by Uerige as ‘sticke’ (and ‘doppel sticke’), Schlüßel as ‘stike’, Schümacher as ‘latzenbier’ and Füchschen as ‘weinachtsbier’, this last-mentioned being a seasonal brew available on draught on Christmas Eve only. However, our sojourn, coinciding as it did with the Munich Oktoberfest, meant that a couple of ‘festbier’s could be sampled along the way instead.
As most of the bars visited in Düßeldorf, Cologne and Bonn were described in detail in CAMAL NEWS No. 39, no apology is made if what follows appears little more than a listing, except where our ‘cutting-edge’ research uncovered more information, or for Duisburg.
Schümacher’s Alt was sampled at their Stammhaus on the first evening where marvelously tender Schweinhaxes (pork knuckles) with sauté potatoes provided an accompaniment for most of the group along with a typically inconclusive game being screened between the Düßeldorf and Schwarbe football teams which resulted in a 2-2 draw. As the bar was particularly busy, the later arrivals (who had flown in from Gatwick) had to sit separately from the railway ‘plebs’ virtually all evening!!
We were, however, united sufficiently the following day to be able to try the Schümacher Jung beer, at only 2.9% ABV, in their Guldener Keßel outlet in the heart of the old town. Much paler in comparison to the Alt, though not noticeably hoppier, the Jung was a refreshing alternative worth seeking out.
By the time we had all got there, the research group had grown by the welcome addition of two of CAMAL’s overseas members for the weekend at the Brauerei Schiffen, or ‘Little Ship’ brewery, which ceased production in 1975 and, instead, provided Frankenheim Alt from nearby Nuess. Frankenheim used to be based in Düßeldorf as well until they relocated in 1991 but their brewery tap, close to the city’s surburban railway stop at Wehrahn, provided a fitting collective finalé to our expedition on our return from Duisburg two days later. This was an excellent multi-roomed pub where liver knopfel (dumplings) and warm strudel were consumed amongst other delicacies.
Back to Saturday, and Uerige’s Alt and Weizen beers were, unsurprisingly, found at Im Uerigen where our gourmand tastebuds were also assailed by a pea and ham soup, again in multi-roomed surroundings. A much more recent outlet, the Uerige Treff in Carsch-Haus was found unusually located in the basement of the Carsch-Haus department store. Reminiscent of the ‘Green Man’ pub in the lower ground floor of Harrods, this was a superb, small-scale, recreation of their brewpub with many wooden barrels and stained glass panelling to disguise its actual location, amidst a food court, but was not as overpriced as its London equivalent!! [The ‘Green Man’ pub in Harrods’ basement closed c.2011/2 - Newsletter Editor]
At the Brauerei Schlüßel, a tour was ongoing but, as the CAMAL party had not pre-booked, we could only watch and drink their Alt as luckier souls, on a stag ‘do’, eventually joined a long table laid out next to our own where, untypically, waitresses attended one’s bibulous and culinary needs.
Füchschen’s (or ‘Little Fox’s’) Alt was sampled at both the Brauerei Zur Uel and their tap, the Brauerei Füchschen. As with the Guldener Keßel, the former was a previous brewery but taken over by its near-neighbour, also in Ratingerstraße. The latter had an impressive wooden interior beyond a small taproom with the Alt supplied by the on-site brewery from where customers could even buy similar-sized barrels to those used on the bar counter filled with Altbier to take away!!
In the same street, Schlößer Alt, although brewed by Brinkhoff in Dortmund nowadays, could have been sampled in the Zum Goldener Einhorn (visited in 2004) but, as it wasn’t on this year’s itinerary, when your scribe ventured in, the displeasure of our tour organiser for the day soon became apparent!!
Whereas the Füchschen tap had a separate smoking lobby to one side, also in the same street and redolent of a Dutch smoking bar, was the Kreuzherrenk occupying a corner spot almost within sight of the Rhine. Only the ‘jet set’ contingent ventured in here, at the end of our day’s exertions, for a night cap of Frankenheim Alt in the Düßeldorf Aldstadt.
Mention must also be made of closed and reopened bars encountered. One version of Pattinson’s guide recommended a Pilsner Urquell outlet, in Grabenstraße, but we found this to be defunct as a pub (though it had been open as Gastätte in 2004). Another version had the Czech-beer bar listed in Marktstraße but indicated it as being closed. However, the Kulinarische Brauereiaußchank had reopened, still advertising Pilsner Urquell on the outside, leading one to suppose that the Grabenstraße premises were, perhaps, only a temporary resiting whilst the Marktstraße pub had been subjected to a protracted refurbishment.
Of course, we ventured into the reopened bar if only for some variety from the ubiquitous Alts but had earlier forgone a chance to sample the other Schlößer Alt, Jonges Naturtrübe, at the Monopoly as it hadn’t opened for business yet – our long-suffering organiser having misread its Saturday opening hours – and omitted the Diebel’s Faßkeller as it was no longer named as such and was horrendously busy and noisy.
Diebel’s brewery, the world’s largest producer of Altbier, is located just across the Rhine from here in Issum, and brews forty times more Alt than all four of the remaining breweries in Düßeldorf combined!!
Their recently-opened Diebel’s Im Hafen tied pub was the main draw for the CAMAL researchers. Located on the harbourfront in a huge, old, warehouse, meals were had by all including goulash soup and the day’s special, curry wurst, washed down by Diebel’s Altbier and Franziskaner Weißbier.
En route from the station, we had already ventured into Heinrich’s Im Wicküler, a smoking-bar free house where Heinrich himself seemed conspicuous by his absence but an interesting selection of Früh Kölsch (from Cologne), locally-brewed but national König Pils and Diebel’s Altbier were all present and correct. Our next port of call, also just north of the station, the Litfaßsaule-Homberg, seemed to have been demolished as we walked the full length of its supposed address, in Saarstraße, in vain.
However, in the centre of the town, the Webster-Brauhaus sported massive copper founts, with disused diaphragm pump-type glass measuring cylinders (each containing, perhaps, 1 litre of liquid), dispensing Blond and Braun in a pseudo-Bavarian ambience. A Festbier, although advertised, was unavailable on the day. Also within sight of St. Joseph’s Church, and almost next door, was the Grammatikoff, housed in the same premises as the former HundertMeister, this previous incarnation having fallen bankrupt in recent times, apparently. A less-extreme range than before included König Pils (known as KöPi here at least) and Diebel’s Altbier again.
On the way back to the station, where we’d hoped that the Brahaus Schacht 4⁄8 had reopened (but fearing the worst), we ventured completely off-piste from either Ron Pattinson’s or Steve Thomas’ guides and visited the Dell-Klause, in Dellstraße, a small locals’ bar dispensing the same beers on draught as above. Upon trying the doors of the Schacht brewpub without success, we also ventured into the Goldener Hahn, a welcoming hotel bar along Friedrich-Wilhelm Straße where we availed ourselves of Frankenheim Alt and more KöPi.
By this time, another bar commemorating the town’s coal-mining past, the Paulaner Botschaft in Duisburg that we understood had also closed, was felt to be too far over on the wrong side of the tracks to check out so we elected to take the train back to the environs of Düßeldorf instead.
Although Duisburg was somewhat disappointing and even tawdry in places – the recession accounting for at least two closures, a bankruptcy and, possibly, even a demolition – there remains enough to interest beer tourists for a reasonable day out given excellent weather to walk the harbourfront (as CAMAL enjoyed) and avoid having to visit the lego museum (that we passed by)!!
It was, in fact, Früh Kölsch which we initially sought out upon our arrival in Köln, as the locals would have it, in the Früh am Dom, located immediately beyond the impressive cathedral in an almost direct line through it from the station. A former brewpub, it has seemingly become multi-roomed by expanding into neighbouring premises and any vestigial anterooms above and behind to cater for the hoards of tourists who venture in. Again, a former brewhouse since unfriendly bombs caused production to cease in 1942, the Brauhaus Sion provided their sole beer, Sion Kölsch, which has been sourced from at least four different breweries since. At Peter’s Brauhaus, brewing of Peter’s Kölsch there ceased as recently as 2004 but this had only been a revival of brewing on the site by Peter & Bambeck over the previous decade. An unusual sorekapperzupp, or sauerkraut soup, was indulged in by yours truly here where a beer lift brought fresh casks onto the bar in the taproom.
The Privatbrauerei Gaffel-Haus was accessed through its rear entrance rather than directly from the Alter Markt square which it fronts. The Gaffel Kölsch was, unusually, supplied through a fount rather than a barrel and the downstairs toilets were definitely a ‘pay as you go’ facility, not universal in the Ruhr but particularly prolific in Cologne for some reason. A brewery in its own right until 1889, the Sünner im Walfisch has been the tap forSünner Kölsch only since 1996. Smaller than most multi-roomed establishments, the CAMAL group managed to displace a couple to gain sole occupancy of the front snug here where we were able to watch a 5 litre tube, or ‘tower’, of the beer being filled to the 3 litre mark.
The Bierhaus en d’r Salzgass ceased to be a brewery in 1907 and a pub completely in the 1970s before 2003 saw a revival in its fortunes. In a scenario similar to that which reputedly befell the Smith brothers, John and Samuel, in Tadcaster in the 19TH century, this pub reopened in retaliation for the owner of the Aldstadt Päffgen deciding to start his own brewery as a result of a family dispute. As proprietor of what was already the smallest of the Cologne breweries, Rudolf Päffgen thus needed a reliable outlet for his beer, Päffgen Kölsch, whereas Max Päffgen had a ready outlet but no beer so he had to establish a micro-brewery in Kellershöhn, 20km away to the south-east of Cologne instead. A variety of food was eaten in the Bierhaus en d’r Salzgass but, in lieu of an apple sauce accompaniment, some herbal schnapps was offered – and accepted – in compensation!!
To complete our sampling of an eighth Kölsch, and our Sabbath tour of the city appropriately, the CAMAL party had to visit the renamed Aldstadt Päffgen, or Pfaffen Brauerei nowadays. Pfaffen itself suggests a ‘religious fellow’ and the interior is particularly ornate with ecclesiastical caricatures in stained glass friezes and tables supported by a variety of brass monk-like figures. That their Kölsch was served directly from wooden barrels provoked little reaction from the SPBW contingent or from the local populace for that matter as, apart from ourselves, the bar was otherwise empty.
Just earlier, at the Gilden-Brauhaus which shares its site as two pubs in one with the Zum Sankt Peter (not to be mistaken for Peter’s Brauhaus), we had tried the Gilden Kölsch. Not is all it seems as the Gilden,Peter’s and Sion beers are all brewed at the Kolner Verbund Brauereien, who also brew six other Kölsch beers, all at 4.8% ABV or thereabouts. Other breweries produce at least seven more, making one suppose that the city is awash with the stuff. In one day, CAMAL only managed a third of what was available which was quite creditable as the possé barely managed about half the 20+ brews produced when based in the city eight years previously.
Overall, it has to be said that the Kölsch beers of Cologne displayed less individuality in terms of flavour and colour than did their Alt equivalents from Düßeldorf which, despite the vastly greater number of these available, seem almost homogeneous in comparison and not too indistinguishable from Pils.
As a respite from the traditional Cologne brew, we also recommend the Haxenhaus zur Rheingarten, a smallish bar, again akin to a Dutch brown bar, though non-smoking, complete with pictures of the riverfront, including the pub, when flooded. The Paulaner Oktoberfestbier was available here alongside the Gaffel Kölsch. Nearby, on higher ground, was a basic free house, the Biermuseum, with an extensive range of fifty beers, many of which were draught rather than bottled. The rather tatty surroundings were redeemed by a friendly and professional mulatto barmaid who served us with Hofbraü Oktoberfest, Acht Schlenkerla Rauchbier and Körtrizer Schwarzbier amongst others.
Just one bar was visited in this cultural city, the former capital of West Germany, namely Bönnsch, a central brewpub with four beers available, all excepting the (typically cloudy) Weißbier served in strange ‘Beethoven’ 0.2l glasses supposedly shaped to represent the composer’s profile.
We also indulged in huge Wiener Schnitzels here washed down by Naturlich und Hefetrüb (very pleasant, sharply hoppy and unfiltered), Na Klar (sourish but lacking depth) and Festbier (a special seasonal and the clearest of all). With the brewing process fully underway, the birthplace of Germany’s most famous mæstro nearby could only draw one of our number away from the pervading aroma of malt, hops and hot liquor – fine surroundings in which to conclude our Rhineland odyssey.
Only the remnants of the CAMAL group had ventured further south beyond Cologne to Bönn but, for a while, it looked as though the ‘jet set’ might have been joined by the main group as they had inexplicably alighted from the train one stop too soon at the suburban halt on the other side of the massive bridge over the River Rhine that forms the northern approach to the main station. Had we all done this a couple of days previously to obtain better views of the cathedral, or Dom, it would have been understandable but, with less than 15 minutes to make their connection from an already late-running service, this detour was cutting matters a little too fine!!
ANTWERP & BEYOND
Antwerp (Part I)
Otherwise, Antwerpen in Dutch or Anders in French, this most northern Belgian province features the country’s largest harbour on the River Schelde, despite the proximity of Rotterdam at its estuary with the North Sea, in the city of the same name which has a population of 450,000. Uncompromisingly maritime in character, many of the CAMAL participants on the trip chose to stay at the International Zeemanshuis in the old town which even featured its own cinema, restaurant and bar (which was visited by some of the group independently).
Our Thursday arrival in the city was unanimously via Eurostar to Brussels and onward regional railway connections to Antwerp Centraal station. This already impressive terminus had been added to with additional levels in the 20TH century but, in the middle of this century’s first decade, was increased in capacity by a subterranean international tier to accept TGV and other through services at platforms which still command a view of the original station’s stunning architecture under the original overall roof past the other three levels. Whereas the station bar, the Royal Café, only offered ordinary beer and food, its internal décor, comprising high ceilings and glass chandeliers, was at least as impressive as the superb station itself. Right outside were the city’s famed zoological gardens whose entrance was marked by animal sculptures presumably clad in copper not least of which, for CAMAL News, was the one that features on this edition’s front cover!
Our first evening involved a sortie to the nearby (for the majority) Waagstuk. Located in a gentrified square, this 1548 vintage former coaching inn featured numerous Whitbread trays on display together with an adopted beer, Zeppelin Stout, which is named after the L217 Sachsen blimp but now brewed by Van Steenbergerather than De Prœf nowadays. Also imbibed was some Schelde Hopruiter, a draught guest beer which failed to get a mention on the extensive beer list or on the Schelde brewery beermats available at the bar. Unfortunately, Bryn Philpott managed to knock over a Zeppelin Stout glass when settling the bill and some older women at an adjacent table were startled so much that they immediately took flight and vacated the premises!
Somewhat closer to the city centre, The Highlander café, was also visited by the group and, aside from 100 or more malt whiskies available, also offered a sweetish McEwan’s Scotch brewed by Palm served in pewter tankards. Whereas the landlord was authentic Scots, his wife hailed from Huddersfield, but the home-prepared and cooked chicken breast, wrapped in haggis, with a cream and whisky sauce – which most had – certainly hit the spot! The Quenten Matsijs was not only notable for being Belgium’s oldest continuously-licenced bar, built in 1565, but also for a table game, akin to a cross between Northamptonshire cheese skittles and bar billiards, called ‘Torp’ played there. An ornately carved wooden back, together with protective shrouds and netting, connected to a well-worn wooden bed incised by a number of round holes. Small metal discs, about 4oz in weight, had to be lobbed into these openings which varied in difficulty (and thus value), the 12TH being the most trying. Such was our awe at Bill English’s prowess, even managing to score the most difficult slot at only his second attempt, that the Maredsous Bruin was unremarkable by comparison.
On the Friday, we took a short train ride from Antwerp to this small, historic, town that lies at the confluence of the Rivers Grote Nete and Kleine Nete both of which merge into the River Nete. Our first port of call was the Extra, a bistro-café opposite the station (Mike Bird – not on this trip – would have approved!). It has to be said that this wasn’t the friendliest of places, at least on first impressions. However, one should NOT order tap water as it was not free and any such request likely to arouse the ire of the lady owner (although she did patiently explain why gratis water could not be offered). The beer list on draft and in bottle was good, though. We all tried Dormaal Amber, an autumnal seasonal beer, a top fermenting 7.5% ale, brewed by Hof Ten Dormaal, a farm brewery, with a new Wit Goud supplementing an unfiltered Withoofbier in the available range.
From there, we made our way along the shopping precinct into the main square and then through to Zimmerplein. This wide boulevard housed not only numerous bars & restaurants but also the spectacular Zimmer clock, which has 12 smaller dials surrounding a much larger central one. These clocks display a great deal of information; tides, phases of the moon, zodiac signs, times on every continent and a great deal more. On the north side was the Babbel & Co bar which had an excellent beer list (especially bottled Lambics) and a helpful proprietor. The majority opted for Hanssen’s Gueze and/or Kriek here.
We then had a good feed – for most, cucumber soup followed by a memorable goulash – in the Tinto next door which occupied the premises of a formerly recommended bar (the Delfin). Crossing the bridge over the River(s) Nete on which the town museum is located and, opposite the large 14TH century gothic church of St. Gummarus, is the Sterk Water bar whose speciality is a very large genever list from at least three producers, including a ‘buy four, get one free’ offer which tempted us to indulge several times! This bar was thankfully still open following the suicide of its owner earlier in 2011 where Affligem Blond & Dubbel were the group’s predominant beer choice.
Heading back into town, all but one of the party were diverted into a pleasant local brown bar but unexceptional – so it remains nameless – thereby failing to honour subsequent meeting commitments as your editor made a third – this time successful – attempt to obtain a good photograph of the aforementioned clock tower in the rare afternoon sunshine. The rendezvous at the Eetcafé Handelshof, adjacent to the Extra, unfulfilled though arranged (and a Leffé Bruin drunk), your scribe made his way to the station for the already paid-for (by all) short train journey to:
Just off the far end of the High Street in this old market town is the Afgrond (or “Abyss”), a small rustic café with an ambience that betrays its 18TH Century farm building origins, albeit with 1960s music – mainly The Who – playing in the background. With an eclectic beer list, including a few favourites but many unusual offerings, this bar certainly lived up to expectations and, as a pleasant couple of hours were spent selecting and sampling many hitherto previously undiscovered bottled beers by your editor, can be highly recommended.
Antwerp (Part II)
Whereas your scribe revisited the Waagstuk upon his return to Antwerp, the remaining party had disembarked at Antwerp Berchem instead and, in the rain about 600m away through the Turkish area, found the Camargue. Consisting of a single long room with a small, enclosed, terrace at the rear, this pleasant bistro also had more than a touch of a Dutch brown café about it and offered a fairly standard but satisfactory draught list and some excellent, basic, local Belgian food. As the hospitality was good, they apparently lingered there for a while.
Saturday dawned with the promise of no better weather so a pub crawl around our base city, partly in the company of long-term Antwerp resident, Jill, whom Bill had arranged to meet at the Oud Arsenaal, was arranged. Our first port of call was an excellent ‘proper’ bar established by De Konink in 1924 and still exuded its inter-war charm. Diagonally opposite, the recommended Horta had now become a drinks-with-meals-only establishment so we frequented the Herk and Vagant instead. The former was a dimly-lit, three-roomed, café whereas the latter featured a single saloon and a large genever and likeur selection which included monthly specials but, at both, Rochefort 8th was imbibed.
At the Groote Witte Arend, Slaapmutske Bruin was drunk but, from Ron Pattinson’s guide, we forwent the monthly food promotions there in favour of the Cuveeke and Wore Jacob, both Dutch-style brown bars albeit with limited beer ranges. However, the nearby Stormineeke had become a failed cocktail bar – Elmundo – as evidenced by the ‘for sale’ sign outside and the Rooden Conink was boarded up! At the Miniatuurke, where Le Chouffe was consumed, this tiny bar made up for the lack of space by squeezing in two storeys and vies with the Cuveeke (above) for the accolade of being Antwerp’s smallest licensed premises. Chimay 9 attracted at the Den Engel whereas Mœder Overste was our predominant choice at the Paters Væctje, both cafés being in the shadow of Antwerp’s splendid Cathedral of Our Lady. With the latter bar’s name translating as the “Monk’s Casket”, we kept up the ecclesiastical theme at the Elfe Gebod, or “11TH Commandment”. Here, this restaurant-cum-bar was awash with religious paraphernalia including statues, icons, altars and even a pulpit(!) where we took a sumptuous meal to avoid falling foul of that Christian stricture to ‘remember to eat and drink well’. Finally, at the Pelikaan, loud music and a boisterous clientèle meant that we took our Rochefort 8˚(again) outside since we could – at last, the weather was dry!
On the Sunday, we all (excepting your editor who had some gap-filling to the east of Antwerp to indulge in!) made an excursion to the City of Ghent (about an hour away on the train). This city, with a population of about 600,000, lies on the River Leie and is the capital of East Flanders. Our first port of call was Dulle Griet, an atmospheric pub, on the largest square in the city and with an equally impressive beer list and a tricky spiral staircase route to the facilities. Moving on into the centre, the Waterhuis aan de Bierkant is a must-not-miss, being an atmospheric, candlelit, bar with a spectacular view of the river and has a very large selection of draughts and bottles.
We should probably have eaten in the adjoining place but, after a bit of misdirection, we landed up in another square surrounded by spectacularly huge gothic churches. We tried to locate the Glengarry, a Scottish bar which reputedly had a very large malt whisky list, but, as it was closed for a private function, we made our way back to eat at the Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, or its adjacency, but found that we had missed both cut-off times. The nearby famed Genever Bar was also closed on Sundays! Nevertheless, we then found a gem upon crossing the river; the Abu-Jour café bar which had excellent food and drink and a wide beer list, including Dupont on draught. Being mainly candle-lit, it was somewhat dark, but featured an enclosed terrace overlooking the river. [Tim Webb’s GBG Belgium can rightfully lay claim to “cutting-edge” research here, however, ten years ago!] Heading back to the station, we went in Verdronken Land, a quiet brown tapas bar with an interesting beer list, before returning to our base in Antwerp.
Whilst awaiting our onward Monday evening connections through the Channel Tunnel, we were able to indulge in a pub crawl around parts of the Belgian capital. Initially, the area around the administrative area of the European Union (colloquially known as Euroland) was favoured where, after a short Metro journey, we ventured into the Taverne La Galia and Les Fous de Terroir. Both were fairly anonymous bistro bars located in the bases of modern office blocks where Haact Mystic Kriek and Cuvée des Trolls were consumed and, at the latter, some useful packing to counteract the exertions to come
After retracing our earlier Metro journey, we then found ourselves in the multi-cultural Anderlecht area of the city. De Skieven Architek was named after Joseph Pœlært, a 19TH century architect responsible for many fine buildings in the city, including the nearby Palace of Justice, and, in 1863, for the renovated fire station which houses the pub. Two house beers, ‘n Architek and ‘n Pœlært are brewed specifically for the bar – which doubles up as a newsagent – by the increasingly prolific Van Steenberge brewery. At the basic Brocante, where Oud Bœrsel Kriek was drunk amongst others, the public bar ambience was accentuated by the formica bar and table tops and fluorescent lighting to such a degree that it could almost be a Joseph Holt outlet! However, three disappointments then followed in quick succession. Het Warm Water, Plœgman’s and Galiaall were all shut, the first-mentioned perhaps permanently (although, despite a ‘for sale’ sign outside, may have still been open from 7pm Thu-Sun only) with the others just because it was a Monday. Rapid consultation of our various guides suggested that the next possible outlet should have opened at 4pm but, upon presenting ourselves there promptly, we were informed that Monday opening was an hour later.
Retracing our steps up the hill to the junction, we ventured into the unlisted Le Forestier which, although it had a somewhat limited beer range, held sufficient interest (Chimay Bleue) to tempt us to eating a meal there including an excellent cream Waterzooi soup. The outside exhibited superb Bières Wieleman’s tiling, largely intact under the awning. Sated, we were then able to access La Porte Noir which was certainly our “ Last Port in a Storm” and was a fitting cellar bar to finish our tour within! Reasonably subdued music – predominantly Irish folk morphing into progressive rock – accompanied a five-year old Oud Bœrsel Kriek Vielle which, in having a best before date of 2026(!), was very smooth with a more chewy flavour than earlier. A 2004-vintage Boon Oude Gueze was also favoured, with a best before date of 2027(!), though its lively head soon dissipated and exhibited a harsher taste than the Kriek.
Possibly, the Monday was our most campaigning day as a group yet and finished by noting, as we made our way back to the Midi (French) or Zuid (Dutch) station, that the famed Labourer, which has been shut for most of this century, may have reopened as La Ruche now. But there was no time to investigate since our train embarkation time was nigh which was just as well as problems with Eurostar meant that the terminal was awash with delayed passengers from cancellations earlier in the day, making progress through customs excruciatingly slow, although all of our party just about got aboard before our booked departure left on time.
Paul Dabrowski (with contributions by John Rooth)
There was no CAMAL research trip in 2010
AMSTERDAM & ENVIRONS
Some believe that the Dutch are those Europeans who most resemble the British both in terms of outlook and attitudes. Whilst this may or may not be true as regards nationality traits, it is almost certainly accurate as regards their traditional watering holes.
These are the ‘dark brown’ cafés, so-called because they were (and are) invariably narrow but deep, single-roomed, bars with smoke-stained walls and thus have the look and feel of typical British town centre boozers which, of course, we in the United Kingdom have probably already lost too many to makeovers and replacement by converted banks and post offices. Whilst many bars in Holland still preserve this well-worn look, they are partly able to do this because the Dutch have adopted a sensible compromise to the draconian anti-smoking legislation enacted in the UK a few years back. Their pubs can simply elect to remain either smoking establishments or become wholly non-smoking meaning that it has been mainly those food-orientated venues which have banned the conspicuous consumption of nicotine. But, strangely, no legislation was passed to restrict the smoking of other nefarious substances for which the Dutch are well-renowned! Thus no bar has become completely smoke-free, even those that may claim to be!
As elsewhere in Europe, though, The Netherlands is also spawning newer, more gastro-type, ‘light brown’ bars or cafés which should help to redress the imbalance between Holland, where there is a population 50% higher than neighbouring Belgium, but having 30% fewer beer outlets. The Netherlands also has, in part compensation, perhaps, a greater number of off-licences than any other country outside the UK and the CAMAL party visited at least two during its travails, one in Amsterdam and another in Utrecht.
Despite CAMAL having previously visited Amsterdam thirteen years earlier, altogether, a creditable eight members made the trip assembling in the city centre after, mostly, making their independent travel and, to a lesser extent, accommodation arrangements. However, not all were present at the same time as the pair forming our German contingent left to be replaced by an English individual during the course of Sunday over the intervening weekend.
More so than on other trips, perhaps, our adopted home for the week dominated proceedings to such an extent that bars in Amsterdam were visited every day we were there if only to start or finish proceedings with a Jenever berry gin! One of the world’s great cities, opinion even amongst the Dutch themselves is divided over whether it is their country’s real capital or an embarrassment of faded grandeur tolerated only by its historical significance but the consensus amongst the CAMAL party was that they loved it! Maybe, making a return visit there, for older members at least, was yet more proof of that.
However, as all arrived by train at the main Centraal station, even those who had flown to Schipol airport, first impressions were spoilt by the seemingly perpetual building works and hoardings guarding remaining tram tracks across all the vast station forecourt. This tended to make navigation and rendezvous somewhat difficult especially when we elected to take rail-borne trips to nearby cities and towns rather than stay in the capital of North Holland itself.
Breweries & Brewery Taps
Close to the city’s eastern waterfront, in a converted bathhouse surmounted by a windmill, is ’T Ij brewery, founded in 1985 and often referred to as ‘the egg’ because the undefined Ij in Dutch also sounds similar to ‘ei’ (ie ‘egg’), likewise pronounced ‘eye’. In fact, the brewery logo, an ostrich, plays on this fact and, with one of the CAMAL members there, including his son (who’d joined us for the afternoon), there were at least three birds present, four if the progenitor’s Ring epithet of ‘Woodpecker’ was also taken into account! The brewery tap, Het Ij Prœflokaal, proved an eminently suitable hostelry in which to imbibe some of the best of the new breed brews now available in Holland of which the Bock (an autumnal dark beer) was somewhat less impressive than the Plzen (a very hoppy and fruity Czech-style lager) to consider just two of the beers offered within.
Back towards the centre, De Bekeerde Suster is the former Maxilliaans brewery and bar renamed – which had originally opened in 1992 – where the impressive brewing equipment, right in the heart of the drinking area, has been retained in full use. Now opening at 3pm rather than noon, the somewhat similar beer range on draught also fills large stoppered bottles as before.
The one official brewery tour CAMAL undertook was at the Brouwerij de Præl (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 30) which is an even newer brewing facility, originally located to the south-west of Amsterdam, but, as part of a “social investment initiative” sponsored by the city authorities, had, in 2008, been induced to relocate into the midst of the Red Light district. An artisanal brewery, so-called because anything that can be done by hand, will be done by hand, this philosophy even extended to bottling and labelling the many beers produced on site. We sampled a Johnny, Mary and a Willeke (all brews being named after Dutch singers of sentimental songs and ballads) in the brewery shop although a new brewery outlet bar was still under construction at the rear of the premises. Our informative guide also told us that the canal quay outside was originally used to unload German export beers since, until recently, Amsterdam has never really had a brewing reputation; instead, the city traditionally accepted beers from other parts of The Netherlands and surrounding countries, including the UK.
Dark Brown Bars
Whereas, in 1996, the Inn de Wildeman was CAMAL’s favoured watering hole (also revisited in 2009), the Old Nickel, run by a friendly Scots/Dutch couple, was used frequently this time, if only for its proximity to the station, but did offer ’T Ij Columbus and Rodenbach Vlaams Rood Bruin amongst its wares. Next door, the In de Olofspoort,which didn’t open until 5pm, was an ancient Jenever house but, diagonally opposite, the Hotel International (c/o Nieuwebrugsteeg & Warmœsstraat) enabled us to sample a surprisingly good and assertive Amstel Bock, a Heineken brew, available here some five weeks earlier than its official launch date!
Of the others, the Café Belgique (ancient and tiny), the Café Karpershœk (oldest city bar), De Schutter (an atypically large, first floor, pub), the Dorkortje (smallest city pub), the Haven van Texel (waterfront terrace and food), and the Wijnand Fockink Prœverij (characterful despite restricted opening hours) were considered particularly worth visiting by the group. The Café Gollem (old fashioned and candlelit) was also notable for the Cracked Kettle off licence opposite whereas De Pilsner Club, known colloquially as De Engelse Reet (or English Arse!), was significant for having no bar. Beers here, served by a very attentive host from a back room through a doorway, included Von Vollenhœven Stout which is only brewed a few times a year, apparently.
Light Brown Bars
De Beiaard, a spilt-level modern street café, provided your scribe with his first taste of a Dutch beer on the trip during the first evening as they act as the outlet for four ‘home brews’ including De Manke Monnick but the origins of their beers are unknown. However, ‘beer of the month’ was the UK’s Wychwood Hobgoblin complete with copious notes for the ale and history – from Clinches through Glenny to today’s Brakspears/Wychwood amalgam - of the Witney brewery which produces it! The related Arendsnest (or Eagle’s Nest) offered excellent bar snacks including cheeses served with cutting boards – reminiscent of the spits for ham hocks enjoyed in Poland in 2007 – amongst the 120 or so beers available! This had been the site of the original De Beiaard twenty or more years ago but the new owner would seem to have succeeded in his aim to keep the place ‘on the map’ by stocking at least one beer from every Dutch brewery.
However, it was ’T Loosje, complete with its fabulous tiled mural interior, which became more often than not CAMAL’s default pub for the week. An ornate bar serving a fine beer range, and an old pipe stove, similar to a German ‘kachelhofen’, completed the effect. Nearby was De Ooievaar, translating as ‘the Stork’, a good bar with, perhaps, over-friendly patrons although Amsterdam’s famed Red Light district had to be negotiated first!
The Boulevard was unable to be visited by the party as an early foray out to the eastern docks area on the Saturday revealed that it didn’t open until 2pm but yours truly managed a drink there on a rare free morning later on particularly as it is housed in the waiting rooms of the old Amsterdam Ost station (for harbour workers’) which closed in 1937. This disappointment (for most) was easily compensated by the not-so-nearby Ponteneur, a light & airy bar with excellent Champignons Zœp and Appeltaarte, though it was, of course, its predeliction for stocking Belgian beers that was the real draw!
CAMAL’s main find of the trip, justifying its intended mission to undertake ‘cutting-edge’ research abroad, was the Beer T’Emple (see cover) which was a newly-opened pub with outside drinking benches specialising in American artisan brews. Blackjack Porter, Left Hand’s Milk Stout and a Yeti Imperial Stout were just a handful of the rare and unusual beers sampled. However, its immediate environs were notable in housing some discreet overspill from the supposed clean-up of the traditional Red Light area!
On the Monday afternoon, we took a comparatively expensive train ride to visit this town, the principal settlement in the Gelderland province but, probably, more famous for Allied paratroop exploits which, in 1944, effectively sealed the liberation of The Netherlands in a decisive battle with the Nazis.
However, it was the Moortgat, off the central church square, that was our objective, other than the bridge (which was still too far!!), although the town’s trolleybuses did briefly distract your scribe upon arrival. This atmospheric dark brown café is a Belgian, Dutch & German beer cornucopia and, unsurprisingly, the adopted home of the local branch of PINT, the Dutch beer consumers’ group, founded in 1981. Indeed, a meeting of that society was being held in the bar that evening but, before it started, the CAMAL group had moved on to the Café de Beugel, slightly closer to the main railway station, where the Grimbergen Bruin was good and complemented by excellent, reasonably-priced, food.
As with Amsterdam’s main station, Haarlem’s was a veritable building site, hardly an advertisement for this, the second city of North Holland, despite possessing a superb trainshed which was completely overpowered by the massed guardrailings around it. Foregoing also the Franz Hals museum, the CAMAL party concentrated mainly on those bars and café’s grouped around the Groote Markt, built around an impressive Groote Kerk which possesses the largest organ in the world, allegedly.
However, two recommended outlets were no more, the Café 1900 now selling denim clothing and De Beiaard (a former sister pub to that extant in Amsterdam) caffeine-based products instead. More or less opposite the latter, the Melkwoud didn’t open until 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, so we availed ourselves of the Studio to provide most with their first sample of the local Jopen beer range (the Arendsnest in Amsterdam having provided this author’s first taste of their range on the preceding Friday). The Hoppenbier boasted a high proportion of wheat and oats in the mash and was extremely good but, even this hazy, spiced, ale, was eclipsed by their superb Extra Stout which we tried in the Melkwoud a little later and elsewhere! Whereas the Studio is a splendid conversion of a 1930s cinema foyer, the Melkwoud is a darker sort of brown café with a faded, but still impressive, ceiling mural; however, neither offered anything more than minimal food. Just to the north of both was the Bruxelles, a formerly-recommended bar but now more of a restaurant, set in an unspoilt cobbled lane, without pavements, that also enabled the group to try their third Jopen beer, Adriaan, a sweeter, lighter, ale but still packing an ABV of 5%.
After some great food here, including garlic and potato soup followed by lamb racks for most, the Inn den Liven, back in the market square, provided the ‘Ruud de Vries’ jazz band to accompany more Jopen Extra Stout in an ex-fishmongers’ shop or ‘Vischhandel’. Back towards the station, the Café Koops produced some Jopen Special, where we learnt that a ‘Jopen’ is an old measure for 256 litres, and the Café Briljant the Czaar Peter beer from Alternatieve Bierbrowers.
With all the Haarlems Biergenootschap recipés dating from the Middle Ages, the Jopen beer range definitely impressed and were, overall, a fitting testament to the claim that they are authentically ‘traditional Haarlem beers’.
The university city and capital of Utrecht province could well be considered a microcosm of Amsterdam inasmuch as it is also interspersed by waterways – even the main street has as many bridges to span the chasm of the incised central canal as it has name changes(!) – and all CAMAL’s exploits involved walking along both banks to visit numerous cafés, brewery bars and even an off-licence! However, to access this particularly picturesque city centre, dominated by the omnipresent St. Michael’s Cathedral, a horrible accretion of a vast shopping mall had to be negotiated first en-route from the station.
Some of the bars here were decidedly upmarket; however, this did not always extend to the standards of service where, at our first port of call at the Café Olivier, yours truly ended up drinking one Celis White whilst wearing another due to a particularly inept waiter! In contrast, the Oudæn, where half our party consumed mountains of mussels, is an absurdly grand Bohemian bar dating from the 14TH century and acts as the outlet for beers brewed elsewhere in artisan canalside premises. Whereas the Oudæn Pils was somewhat lacking, the Wheat beer certainly exemplified the style and can be recommended even if the opulent premises and brewery are owned by a Heineken subsidiary, the Krasnapolsky hotel group.
Prior to this sumptuous lunch, however, CAMAL had visited both the Ledig Erf bar and Bert’s Bierhaus which, despite the name, was actually an off-licence. Contrasting with the Bruxelles in Haarlem, the former was originally a restaurant, going beery over a decade ago, and only offering sandwiches now in either the smallish street corner building or larger canalside terrace across the street. Bert’s Bierhaus is in a road just to the east of the canal back towards the centre and is a must-see draw if only for the vast range of regular and unusual bottled beers it carries, over 800 at the last count, and other brewing ephemera besides.
Nearer still to completing our circuit but opening later than any of our guidebooks had suggested, at 5.30pm (on a Tuesday at any rate), the Kafé België was notable for living up (or down) to its noisy, eclectic, student-based clientèle and promise of up to 200 beers. Of the twenty or so on draught, the Kliene Duimje (literally ‘small little thumb’!) Porter 2008 was magnificent and only eclipsed by the Hanssens Artisanaal Oude Kriek.
It will be noted that, in the foregoing, fuller descriptions have been concentrated on those less well-visited locations outside of Amsterdam itself as CAMAL’s previous foray to that city in 1996 was well-documented at the time and addresses elsewhere since (see below). Thus, street names have not been quoted for virtually all breweries, bars and cafés mentioned as these are readily available through either Ron Pattinson’s website pages (1996 & 2009), Hugh Shipman’s Amsterdam Beer Café Guide (1999) and/or Tim Webb’s Belgium and Holland GBG (2002 edition) except where our ‘cutting-edge’ research uncovered new venues that we recommend. Thanks are also due to the two Johns (Rooth & Shore) for their advance planning and tolerance in accommodating necessary, but all-too-inevitable, ad-hoc itinerary changes which made for a particularly memorable trip!