Wednesday 29 April 2020

Wednesday beer — Westmalle Tripel

The first Belgian beer I ever drunk was Stella Artois. I was 15, it was in a hotel in Ostend during my first holiday on the European mainland. I can’t remember much about it but I did like it (I recall a little off-licence right next to Harringay Station in the late 1980s that used to sell little bottles of imported Stella, which I loved. I didn’t know that it used to be dry-hopped then, which perhaps explained my brief devotion to it). 

It was during this time when I really started to enjoy beers from Belgium. First of all there was Duvel, thanks to a friend who worked in Eindhoven (I know it’s not in Belgium but he introduced me to it, and one night we had eight bottles, which is not to be recommended if my hangover the next day was anything to go by). Other beers followed: Chimay, Dupont, Orval and Hoegaarden, the latter being hard to avoid in early 90s London. Since then I have been over many times, visited breweries, interviewed brewers and remain devoted to many of its beers (though my love for Belgian beer is not blind, there are some stinkers). 

I was last over in November and am currently hankering after Belgium, especially as I recently bought a copy of The Belgian Beer Book, by Erik Verdonck and Luc de Raedemaeker. It’s massive, full of lots of lovely photos as well as plenty of text on the beers, bars and drinking cultures of both Flanders and Wallonia. When it arrived last week, I just sat there, flicking through the pages, and my thirst for Belgian beer continued to evolve and has since taken me by the hand and led me to my Wednesday beer, Westmalle Tripel, bottles of which I have been getting delivered from Exeter’s fantastic bottle shop Hops + Crafts

Trappist brewing for me is a collaboration between the sacred world of Cistercian monks and the profane one of commercial brewing, a bridge between the spiritual and the temporal. After all isn’t brewing just another form of prayer, doing the same thing, day after day, with maybe the odd change of words or recipe? And for me, Westmalle Tripel is one of the most generously flavoured and elegantly structured of this union of beers, a corn gold apparition that shimmers in its Grail-like glass beneath a well-blessed billowing head of snow-white foam. There is lemon, barley sugar and a siren call of sweet orange on the nose, while on the palate there is rich orange, a hint of peach, malt sweetness and a Mousse-like mouth feel, before it finishes with a sprightly hop tingle that makes me want to dive straight back into the glass. 

I visited Westmalle five years ago. Actually, a correction: I visited the onsite cafe/restaurant but the closest I got to the brewery was on an autumnal walk around the site with a group of judges from the Brussels Beer Challenge. Apparently, some of us were jumping in the air with the aim of seeing over the wall and getting a glimpse of the brewing kit. Maybe this is how I got the photo below — I should have bought a stepladder. Next time I will, unless, of course, I’m allowed in the brewery.

Monday 27 April 2020

When you go to the pub

I think they’re open
You go to the pub to meet people or get away from people, but when you cannot go to the pub you sit in the kitchen, or in the back garden or perhaps in the front room, where shelves and shelves of books might be your only company. But the ambience still works as you pour yourself a glass of something from Duration or Lost and Grounded or Thornbridge or whoever’s beer you have in front of you and the characters from the books emerge from their word-ridden hiding places and begin to chatter and charm and put a balm on the harm that being locked up in at home can inflict on your soul.

You go to the pub to try out beers from breweries whose ethos or output is appealing to you, whose judicious mix of hops and malt and well thought out regime of fermentation is a wonder and worth spending money on. But when you cannot go to the pub, you go online and find the beers that you like and love and spend some money and hopefully bring a smile to a brewer’s face. And as you sit there with a book and the characters spring out of the pages with the agility of acrobats you say to yourself softly, that this isn’t bad, but you still miss the pub.

You go to the pub as a home from home, somewhere soothing and comfortable and whether you’re on your own or with a band of like-minded souls, you are home. But when you cannot go to the pub and you’re stuck at home, you try your best to give your home a comfort zone similar to the pub, whether it’s getting stuck in on Zoom or crunching out the words on your laptop with those who want to talk or shout or rave or just pretend to clink glasses with the object of sociability in mind. Or maybe you just listen to the stories and tales and histories that emerge from the books and characters you are spending your time with.

But when you eventually return to the pub it’ll be good not to forget what it was like when you couldn’t go to the pub and maybe, just maybe, you’ll not take things for granted again and give thanks to those invisible folk who kept you company during these trying times. 

Friday 24 April 2020

Travel stories — Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà

Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà on the night I visited 
So it’s like the early part of 2014, the first week of March to be exact, and on a sunny Saturday morning I’ve just boarded the 6.59am train from Rimini that goes all the way to Rome and gets in at half ten, and I’ve never been to Rome before but I’m only there for 36 hours, the first of three cities I’m going to visit by train over the next six days, on assignment for a travel article, so it’s Rome first, then Florence, and I’ve never forgotten the time back in 1990, when I drove from London to Tuscany via Paris with a then girlfriend and when we got to Tuscany I kept seeing signs for Firenze and wondering where it was, and I’m going to finish off in Venice where naturally I’m going to be thinking Don’t Look Now and funeral boats gliding along the canals, though back in Rome, I have a job to do and that’s about wandering through the famous places with my notebook and jotting down impressions, people’s behaviour, overheard conversations (English of course, my language skills diminish by the day) and which restaurants and bars can be recommended, but by the early evening, I have a full notebook and it’s time to relax and I go to a bar, which is an easy choice for me because I have wanted to go there for several years.

So six years ago, Italian craft beer was cool stuff, was becoming established, and Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà in the Trastevere district was seen as one of the coolest bars in the country, which was where I went twice during my very short stay in Rome, first time on the Saturday evening where I felt it had the feel of compact log cabin, a couple of rooms, wooden floor, chalk board with names of beers, lots of Lambrata, whose beers I have always enjoyed since visiting the brewery in 2008, and there was a real sense of a pub about the place, which was a contrast to the chrome and minimalist craft joints that were springing up all over the UK (well ok London, Leeds, Manchester etc), people greeting each other and I sat at the bar watching Ireland play Scotland in the Six Nations, while the music of Nick Drake played in the background and a couple of Brits talked about sour beers close to me. 

Next morning, Sunday, I went back, after visiting the Vatican Square where people were gathering for something or other, and it was the first day of the bar’s famous Franconian beer festival, which if I hadn’t have to get a train to Florence, would have been my home for a few hours, but I still managed to spend 90 minutes reconnecting with the previous night’s pub atmosphere, in the company of several beers including Schlenkerla’s dark chestnut coloured Fasten Bier, which had a quiet and reflective smokiness on the nose that somehow made me think of a wooden box that had once held smoked herrings ready to be shipped out of an old Hanseatic port, while the palate had an appetising smokiness and a malt stickiness, all of which were as well integrated as the parts in my Apple laptop, but were much more exciting, and as I drunk deeply of this beer I knew that if I didn’t leave soon I would miss my train and there was this slight tremor of rebellion about throwing everything up in the air and just changing my life, but that moment passed and a couple of hours later I was in a five-star hotel in Firenze/Florence/whatever ready for the next stage of my journey.

Have you ever found a pub or bar so sublime that you have considered throwing up in the air all your best laid plans and thought I’m staying? I have several times but that’s a different story. 

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Wednesday Beer — Lost and Grounded/Burnt Mill Big Thaw 2, 6.8%

Enough hops for you?
When I first started writing about beer back in 1996 my beer tasting notes basically followed what everyone else at the time was writing — the beer was malty, hoppy, fruity, very drinkable or various combinations of the theme. Then I started visiting breweries and began making connections, especially when it came to putting my nose in a big sack of hops. And given others were using the descriptor, I started to use the phrase hop-sack quite often, as in these words on Brakspear’s Live Organic sometime in the late 1990s: ‘Almost like putting your nose in a hop-sack.’ Sometime in the next decade, however, I stopped using it after a newer crop of beer writers suggested it maybe it was redundant given that very few people that we were writing for had smelt a sack of hops, so that was that.

I thought of the descriptor the other day when engaging with this exceptional collaboration of a West Coast-style IPA from Lost and Grounded and Burnt Mill. I felt the aromatics were resinous, oily, tropically fruity (mango, guava) and — here we go — had a raw hop note, a straight to the source character, as if there was no filter between the hops in their raw, pelletised state and their presence in the beer. I thought-hop sack with fear (because I have a visceral fear of using cliches), though the aroma from pellets is less intense than that of whole flower hops. But you would know what I meant if you had ever put your nose in a silver foil-like bag of hop pellets. Beyond the expression of the hops, this beer is a delight to drink and to study and to have and to hold, with its pizzazz, zest and general air of hop and malt showtime on the nose and the palate. It’s bold but light and has a good mid-palate malt bridge between the tropical fruit at the front and the suave piny bitterness in the finish. This is a beer that is bilingual in the way it talks the language of malt and hops with equal articulation. Hop-sack? Whatever. 

Monday 20 April 2020

Not so much waxing lyrical about pubs

I just like this picture
I am prone to wax lyrical about pubs but here are few of the things I recall, either personally, or have been told about, that are not so lyrical. Fun at the time maybe — or maybe not — and I suspect there will be more stories like this. 

The time when a mate of mine was in a North Wales pub and someone was glassed and then bled to death in front of him. He had nothing to do with the fight but was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

The time in a rural pub in Somerset when my wife and I were eating a meal and someone on the same table lit up a gasper and basically turned what was a pleasing meal into something of a smoked ordeal.

The time when a gay friend of mine (as well as me and a then girlfriend) were thrown out of a pub because the landlord (yes it was a man) was mocking a copy of Gay Times that had been left at the bar and my friend said something along the lines of, ‘if your mind is as small as your cock, then you have problems’. As an aside, Sean kindled my interest my lifelong interest and passion in Ulysses.

The evening I spent in the French House in Soho waiting for a girlfriend and talking with another music journalist who had a white chalky line of coke under his nose — I didn’t want to say anything and besides this was Soho in the late 80s. 

The time a mate of mine broke such an evil gust of wind that most of the pub moved to the other end of the bar leaving us two there, obvious culprits. Oddly enough it was the same pub that I recall meeting with a couple of members of the band I was in then and one of them said, ‘have you heard, Ian Curtis has killed himself’. The Elm Tree in Cambridge if you must know.

The pub in Hampstead whose condom machine fell off the wall just after I put the money in and at the same time someone came into the loo. I suspect it was a metaphor for the relationship I was then in anyway.  

The pub in Devon where the landlord (long moved on you’ll be glad to know) told the bar-person to pull the sole cask beer through the taps, ‘as it hadn’t been served for a couple of days’. I sat there with a pint of Sarson’s while our then Jack Russell tried to take on the pub dog. I never went in again even though my mother-in-law, who used to babysit for us then, lived across the road.

And of course the classic: the time my wife asked a landlord in a pub just outside Dolgellau (where I have many members of my family in the ground) if she could have a Bloody Mary, and he replied, ‘you can have anything the bloody well want’. I think he was English, as is my wife. 

We all have joyous and positive experiences of the pub but sometimes it is good to remember when it wasn’t always that way.  

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Wednesday beer — Saison Dupont (with a little nod to Orval)

Dupont’s bottling line when I visited
the brewery in the autumn of 2009
I had an Orval at the weekend and as soon as I smelt it in the glass, the words ‘This is Belgium’ crash-landed amongst my thoughts; for me the aromatics of orange peel and that rusticity you often find out in the country on approaching a farm were Belgium. You can get that with quite a few key beers, which immediately remind you of their home country; Pilsner Urquell and Schneider Weisse. 

Last weekend, I also had a bottle of Saison Dupont and the same crash bang wallop of word association trampled through the undergrowth of my mind. I just loved the austereness on the palate, the flintiness, the herbal-like spice, the restraint on sweetness, the champagne-like effervescence and the quick dry and spicy finish. This was Belgium (or Wallonia if you want be pedantic and someone undoubtedly will be) and even though I was in Exeter I knew one of the first places I will be visiting when I travel again will be Flanders and Wallonia. 

I visited the brewery as well as Cazeau for an article on saison that was my first ever commissioned article from All About Beer — if you are so inclined you can read it here.  

Monday 13 April 2020


I fancied a little romp of writing fun and so flicked through the ancient pages of the copy of Roget’s Thesaurus I always have next to my desk with the aim of picking a word and then writing something on it— and so as if by the kind of magic we once used to enjoy as part of our lives, expectation jumped out, a choice as easy and decisive as a lion immediately deciding that the biped in front of him was just right for supper. 

So here is expectation — and what I thought of was a trip to The Bridge Inn in Topsham before Christmas, where a brewer friend and I would be subjecting several pints to our benevolent gaze. This is one of my favourite pubs, a place where I feel at home, a place where I’ve never had a bad glass of cask and a place where I feel comfortable whether I’m sitting with a book or chatting away about nothing in particular (usually with other people, I don’t think I’d feel happy holding a noisy conversation with myself). 

So where does expectation fit in? Here goes: I was early, 10 minutes before the opening time of 6pm (the pub keeps old school hours). I stood in the darkened car park, looking out northwards, watching the light of an approaching plane to Exeter airport and then turned to the pub, which was still dark. 

Then, happily, lights began to appear, a figure moved behind the window, and all of a sudden I felt this sudden expectation of opening time, of how much I looked forward to the first pint of the evening, and of the comfort and wood-fire warmth of the parlour where I would drink my pint. What beers would be on? Let there be a beer as strong as the hammer arm of a blacksmith, as bitter as Vermouth and as dark as the reed beds and river that lay just beyond the pub. My expectations went into overdrive and my mood (it was midwinter and I was very much in a cocooning mood) suddenly changed — I was looking forward to the evening.

I always feel an expectation and anticipation of the first pint in a pub, especially in one such as the Bridge Inn. There is familiarity but there is also a sense of wonder in what the evening will bring, beyond the beers that you will drink. Who will you talk with, what stories will you hear, what feeling of warmth and belonging with be engendered? And how many pints will be sufficient unto the day thereof? That’s the meaning of expectation. 

Friday 10 April 2020

Travel stories — the senses

So there I was thinking about how we use all our senses in evaluating beer and thinking about the taste, the aromatics and the finish when I suddenly thought that perhaps to get the full sensory nature of beer I would have to deconstruct it, take it to bits and put those bits on an imaginary worktop and evaluate everything. 

So what did I mean by this? Let me take SIGHT — for a start there are the various tones and hues of the beers we drink, the palette of colours with which each beer style represents itself, such as the TV show host gleam of golden ale, the brooding, bad-tempered poetics of an imperial stout, the hazy-sunset-end-of-a-day-with-the-weather-about-to-turn of a juicy DDH and all the shades and circumstances and turns of phrase and collaborations of colour in between. So that’s sight sorted, or is it? I then thought about what we see when we drink our beers in various bars and pubs, the various colour moods of these homes from homes, including the sombre browns that sit unbidden in the memory of an ancient aunt’s parlour from a visit during childhood, or the verdant greens and blue skies of a beer garden on a perfect day, which we always remember and wish to recreate (oh if only we could). The ground and the earth and the green and the gold of the fields of barley and hops; the shimmer and shiver of water before it takes hold of the mash and transfigures the boil and turns our dreams into a presence in the glass (and let us not forget the pale jaundiced yellow of the transformative yeast). 

So then I thought about SMELL — starting with the aromatics of the raw materials at the base of beer production, the perfume of hop-picking, the dusty throat catch of the harvest in a field of barley, the silence of barley as it sits in a bag (some suggestion of dust), then the chiming fruitiness of crushed hop pellets, dust to dust, beer to beer, the echo of a vibrancy and floral energy from whole flower hops. Then I thought about the aromatics of the production process — the smell of Weetabix or any other grainy breakfast cereal during the mash, decoction or otherwise, and the warm infusion of cereal and spice during the boil. The aromatics of the beer, whatever the style, in the glass and the aromatics of the aftermath (split beer, the pub in the morning, the leftovers in the glass, the breath of the newly awoken); but on a more positive note let us finish with the aromatics of a freshly poured glass of beer, whatever the style — this is the hook that draws us into the glass.  

So then I thought about TASTE — the sweetness of pale malt when chewed prior to its great dive into the mash, the remnants hiding away like partisans in the forest that has become your teeth, the no-you-don’t-put hops-in-your-mouth taboo learnt from the first brewery visit, the acrid nature and the coffee bean just ground world of black and chocolate malt and the ghostly nothingness of soft water (I tried Budvar’s once straight from the source and thought it so) verses the liver salts nature of hard water, and once brewed the spice and the floral petting of the hops, the fruitiness, whatever part of the world it originates from, the effect of fermentation, soft fruits, raspberry, apricot, strawberry perhaps. And, of course, we cannot forget when thinking about taste that we should forget the effect of the beer and its base metals on the palate — the fullness, the thinness, the intermediate space, the dryness, the bitterness like a suitor abandoned at the altar or an memory of a hurt once done. All of this we must think of. Oh, and all the various faults that we can find in a beer, from the popcorn Saturday-night-at-the-cinema butterscotch of diacetyl to the I’ve-got-a-little-bit-of-sick-in-my-mouth effect of a taste of butyric-infected beer.

Then there is SOUND — the machinery that drives the collection of barley and hops, the tractor all on its ownsome in a field of barley where sea frets visit when the temperature is much cooler than this afternoon in the late summer or the early autumn; the hiss and the clang and the drive belts of progress that mark out the brewing process, the silence, reminiscent of a church in between services, of fermentation, whether short or long; the clang and tinkle of the racking and bottling rooms, before the lorry or van takes the beer away to the pub or bar from where it is dispensed amid the sounds of voices, the bark of TVs and — then, reverently — the soft, pliant groan of appreciation. 

And finally, let us consider TOUCH — the rub of hops between hands, whether it’s the crumpled green powder of pellets or the leafy crackle of whole flowers; then there is the bullet-hardness of barley grains, both between fingers and crunched (or attempted to be crunched) in the mouth, the inherent danger of the hot water during the boil, the stickiness of spilt beer, the dimpled surface of a handled glass, the upright smoothness of a sleeve the bulbous shoulder of a nonic a crime against aesthetics, the simplicity and delicacy of a stemmed glass, the smooth surface of a polished table top or brass railing, the shake of hands or the hug of welcome when friends meet each other. 

Remember when we used to do that? We will again. 


Wednesday 8 April 2020

Wednesday beer — Cheshire Brewhouse Gibraltar Porter, 8.1%

Here is a porter from Cheshire Brewhouse, based on a 1889 recipe from Mew Langton Brewery, which plied its trade in Newport on the Isle of Wight and was eventually acquired by Strong in 1965 and shuttered four years later. It’s a muscular, robust kind of porter with plenty of toffee, dark fruits (currants, raisins) and coffee on the nose, while it has more coffee, chocolate, a charred dark fruitiness (maybe dark plums in a crumble?), a slight roastiness and berry notes on the palate before finishing sweetish, dry and bitter. It is also soft and silky in its mouth feel —I see it as a reclining kind of beer, which is what you would be doing on your comfortable divan after several of these. 

As I drank and thought about this beer, another strand of thinking emerged, on porter, about how modern porter represents heritage, resurrection, revivalism, survival, sleekness and elegance, creaminess, soothing hands on the brow, sullenness, versatility, generosity, history, bats flitting through the twilight, the hug of remembrance and comfort and solitude and fortitude that darkness brings and then I came to the word changeling, the old idea of a newly born baby being replaced in its cot by a wily, rough and corrupted substitute.

I then moved onto thinking about how our modern tastes might not have liked porter in the 19th century and that its contemporary re-imagining is almost like a changeling in reverse, the wily, rough and corrupted porter variants of the Victorian age being replaced by a more pleasing and sweeter-smiling child. And then further along the thought process I ask myself the question — are all the traditional and historic beers that today’s breweries are playing with resurrected changelings?

Changeling or not, this delicious porter is available from

Monday 6 April 2020

By way of Southend Pier

Time is an essential ingredient of this pub, which first started receiving travellers sometime in the 16th century (though not before a local landowner was burnt at the stake for heresy at the back of the inn in 1553). As the village was on the main coaching road between a busy county town and a fording place over the river that goods, animals and people upstream, we can imagine the rumble of wheels, the call of the driver, the sound of the horses, steam rising off their flanks on an early morning, plus the promise of a warming drink and something nourishing to eat. 

The licensee’s parents came to the pub in 1938, when it lacked electricity and running water. There was snug at the back of the bar, were women used to sit as was the fashion then, in order, it is told, to avoid  the prying eyes of village men, especially one who was noted as a bit of a rake. ‘You had to watch him,’ recalls the licensee, ‘one story I recall about him was when he was old and I asked him where he went to for his honeymoon. He looked at me and said, “to bed, of course”.’ 

This has always been an agricultural area, though time once more has changed the surrounding countryside, but it is still a place of stories about the farmers and the men who worked their fields and the head cowman who would come in during calving. ‘He would ask for two bitters, one would be the expensive one and the other the cheaper. I think my mother once asked why he bought two bottles and he said one was for him and the other was for the cow, which was supposed to help with the calving. Of course the farmer paid for it.’ 

Then there was the tale about the two locals who during the harvest would work nine miles away. ‘My dad noticed that they did this long walk every day and also noticed that when they set off one would walk ahead of the other. He asked why and the reply was that if they talked during the walk they would have nothing to talk about during the day!’

The pub is an outstanding example of survival and prosperity. The world has changed and the village inn that survives on selling beer and the odd snack is a rare thing; now it has developed an enviable reputation for its food, which you could argue is reflected in it current interior layout. It remains traditional within: flagstones, timber paneling, ceiling beams and a sense of comfort and joy. One part of the main bar is devoted to the contemplation of time with a glass of beer or wine, a chat with friends or a leisurely read of a newspaper. The second has more of the feel of a dining space with tables arranged as neatly as a parade of guardsmen.

Time flows like a river, but it’s easy to sit in the pub’s main bar, a pint of beer (this is about the moment rather than tapping in) to hand and remember the men and women that have passed through its doors over the centuries. And if you listen carefully you might hear a tinkle of laughter as a long-dead regular tells a tale of the day he went to Tilbury by way of Southend Pier. 

Adapted from London Local Pubs, published 2015

Friday 3 April 2020

Travel stories: rural pubs

We all have our memories of the way we walked, possibly ran, or even cycled, in the search for a rural pub (that someone somewhere told us about). For me, one memory is of a lane, to the left of which the ethereal curves of a field of uncut grass waving in the breeze, can be seen through a self-isolating cordon of bent and twisted trees, planted several generations ago when the people who bore the name that maybe I would one day also bear worked in fields like these. In the blue sky, the sun tick-tocked its way towards the south and ahead of me, roughly in a southeasterly direction, a hippo-like hump of a hill awaited, over which the lane, its track, like the badly hidden bald patch of a low comedian, invited me to follow.

Sometimes the way to a rural pub is the actual pleasure as opposed to the pub that you have chosen finally to visit. It’s the walk through a bucolic landscape, often in a lonely place, a challenge to which you hope your boots will cope (oh how you wished you’d put some dubbin on them), that lays down the anticipation for what you hope will be the cool interior of a rural pub, where the beer is just one bitter, but what a hitter of a bitter it is. Or it might be brewed around the back, somewhere in the village, or it might just be an enticing couple of beers that will hold your attention for a couple of hours (what do you mean you want food, haven’t you brought sandwiches with you?). 

My favourite rural pubs have included the Salutation at Ham, a short walk from Berkeley, but whose views of the distant hills of the Forest of Dean and the knowledge that the River Severn continues on its slow stately progress in between sharpens the appetite for beer brewed onsite; then there was the Locks in Geldeston, down river from Beccles, an out-of-the-way pub that has grown around a lock keeper’s cottage from the 19th century and at which bargees on the River Waveney at the bottom of the garden used to stop for a pint during the time of Queen Victoria; or it could be the London Inn in the Exmoor village of Molland, to which I once walked 10 miles to and back, in July, without taking any water with me. 

I have experienced other trails to rural pubs, forgotten over time, in the company of a walk or a climb through heather or bracken, over rocky tracks or along the coast, where the blue-grey surface of the sea seems like the back of a behemoth, which is mainly hidden from view. But I have forgotten them or they are recorded in a journal that now lies gathering dust in the attic of my soul.

Let’s end on a positive note though — I am already planning my next walk to a rural pub, when freedom of movement is not a stranger — Dartmoor or the South Devon coast perhaps? But until then my memories and imagination will free me for my roaming. Oh and where was that walk to a rural pub that I started off writing about? Like Orwell’s Moon Under Water, it is a fiction, a wish and a exercise in perfection. Or is it?

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Wednesday beer — Bitburger X Sierra Nevada Triple Hop’d Lager, 5.8%

Who would have thought it, boring old Bitburger whose beer is easy to drink but can cause a sigh of desperation if it is the only beer on the tap — who would have thought that the brewery would have combined with Sierra Nevada towards the end of 2019 (for the second time), ordered in locally grown Cascade, their unique hop blend Bitburger Siegelhopfen (also locally grown), alongside Chinook and Centennial to come up with this elegant lager, dressed up and pomaded as if ready for a night on the town, but cool enough to have a copy of Kafka in the side pocket. I suppose I’m being unfair to Bitburger by calling them boring, as its signature beer is crisp and refreshing, slightly bitter in the finish but — I suppose here’s the damning word — rather inoffensive, even if it’s one of the best selling draft beers in the German market. But what about this beer, I hear from an echo in the cave that is beer writing these days? Ok then, I detect guava and a suggestion of lavender on the nose, accompanied by a floral headiness, plus some spice in the background. Swig after swig reveals tropical fruit (that guava again) alongside a breadiness (or the aromas of baking you get when standing across the road from a bakery), plus herbal suggestions and a lingering bitter finish. This is a friendly and fulsome beer, which engages itself with the palate reminiscent of the joy of two old friends meeting for the first time in ages — I now have a plate and a knife and fork and on that plate are the words ‘boring old Bitburger’. Anyone got any condiments?