I was going to write a blow by blow account of my trip to Paris last December, but instead I’m just going to skim through everywhere we went. I’d written down most of what we go up to on the Friday, but to be honest, it was a load of crap. So here’s my thought on all the places we visited over the weekend of December 2nd to 4th:

The Eurostar
The main benefit of getting the Eurostar, is that you can take your own beer with you, as there’s not the same security restrictions as going by plane. I took a four pack of Punk IPA cans, packed carefully into a small cool bag along with an ice pack. If you don’t want to take your own beer, then you can always buy cold beer from Sourced Market in St Pancras. I bought some Camden Town bottles on the way back and should really have bought some of The Kernel bottles they had on the way out, as they’d gone by the Sunday afternoon.

If you don’t take your own beer and get thirsty on the train, it’s €5 for a can of Stella, you know taking your own makes sense…

The Frog & Rosbif, 116 Rue Saint-Denis
This was our first port of call, mainly as I’d heard varying reports about the quality of the beer and didn’t want to come here later on and be disappointed. At first glance, it looked pretty much like a British pub, but there was certain things that meant you could tell it was a pastiche. All the bumf on the tables and walls was in English, which was a bit weird and gave me the impression that this was a pub for foreigners, rather than locals.

I had a pint of the Maison Blanche, served with slice of lemon. I thought it was pretty forgettable and less interesting than Hoegaarden, which says a lot. Phil had a pint of Parislytic, which we both agreed was a nitro keg horror show. Neither of us noticed that they actually had a single hand pull in the midst of all the keg fonts, a pint of that might have been a better option. They had free wi-fi and we managed to sit next to a wall socket, so I could charge my phone.

HTB Hall’s Beer Tavern, 68 Rue Saint-Denis
The bar is on the right as you walk in, with a row of tables along the left hand wall, after a bit, it opens out into a back room full of tables. It reminded me a lot of those thin American bars you get in big cities. We plonked ourselves down opposite the bar, next to a plug socket, so I could continue charging my phone and pursued the beer menu. It was extensive, but contained nothing to quicken the heart, being comprised of major multinational brands and a load of Belgian stuff. Keg fonts for La Chouffe, Delirium Tremens and Chimay nested cheek and jowl with fonts for Carling Black Label, you get the idea.

I had a pint of La Chouffe, Phil had a pint of Chimay Triple, both were served in branded pint glasses, shame the brands were for different beer, think of a well known Irish stout brand. I’m assuming they keep the correct branded glasses for those drinking out of bottles. The main reason we didn’t drink from bottles was the cost, it was significantly cheaper to have a pint, than have two bottles. They also had free wi-fi, which was nice, but I didn’t really feel comfortable and welcome in the place and I can’t really put my finger on why.

La Cave à Bulles, 45 Rue Quincampoix
Just a quick note on this place, as I want to go into it a bit more in a separate blog post. One thing you’ll realise as you trawl all the Paris bars, is the lack of French beer, this shop practically redresses the balance all on its own. Run by a friendly and jovial chap called Simon, we ran all the places we were going to visit past him and he made a few suggestions. The main one being ditch the planned crawl and buy some tickets to a beer festival on a boat, so we did.

Au Trappiste, 4 Rue St Denis
With a name like Au Trappiste, you sort of know what kind of beer you’re going to get, before you cross the threshold. With 20 taps and an extensive bottle menu, this place majors in selling Belgian beer, in fact, I can’t remember if it sold anything else. Clad almost head to toe in wood, with matching wooden tables and chairs, it felt a bit like being in a wooden lodge, all be it, a cheap one with loads of cheap looking lighted colour panels on the walls.

We decided to eat here, but with a menu not exactly welcoming vegetarians, I plumped for a large plate of chips and a tub of mayonnaise, which went perfectly with my pint of Lindemans Gueuze, so that was me sorted. We ate upstairs, which felt a bit like eating in a wooden McBurger franchise, it was just a bit weirdly sterile for my tastes.

We ended coming back here later, so I had another pint of gueuze, this time instead of a nice dimpled mug, I got a branded pint glass, again the brand was for a well known Irish beverage. All the branded glassware looked like it was saved for those drinking from bottles, but just like Hall’s Beer Tavern, if you were having more than one, this worked out more expensive than a pint of draught.

The staff also seemed pretty incompetent when it came to change a keg, my gueuze ran out mid pour and it took nearly ten minutes of faffing and multiple members of staff to change it.

Les Soirées Maltées – Les Bières de Noël 2011, Bateau Six Huit, 33 Quai de Montebello
I’m only going to mention this briefly, as I want to cover it it in a separate blog post. However, it’s not often you get to go to a beer festival in a foreign country, let alone one on a boat in the shadow of Notre Dame.

Le Sous Bock Tavern, 49 Rue Saint-Honoré
We headed here after the beer festival for a nightcap before heading back to the hotel. This was one of the bars that Simon in La Cave à Bulles had said to avoid, so we approached with some trepidation. It wasn’t quite pitch black inside, but it wasn’t far off, with only some weird purple black light kind of things illuminating the interior. We walked along the bar to check out what beer they had, but to be honest, we just turned round and walked out. There was nothing on that we couldn’t have got from Hall’s Beer Tavern or Au Trappist and since both of them were slightly more welcoming, being properly illuminated and quiet, we left and headed back to Au Trappist. This place seems to get good reviews on all the rating sites, so your mileage may vary, but on this night we weren’t impressed.

La Gueuze, 19 Rue Soufflot
Saturday dawned all blustery and drizzly, so we headed to here to get some lunch and some gueuze. When we go there the door was locked, but after a quite shake, the proprietor came and opened up, it wasn’t like we were early or anything it being after their official opening time. The style of the place was a bit of a mish mash, with lots of wood like Au Trappist, but a similar layout to Hall’s Beer Tavern, with some seating at the front and down the side of the bar, before opening out into a large light and airy back room.

After perusing the menu, which was unsurprisingly pretty crap for vegetarians, we decided not to eat there, as it wasn’t very cheap and didn’t sound particularly great. I ordered a bottle of Mort Subite, which was pleasant enough and Phil had a bottle of Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus. The cork on Phil’s bottle didn’t come out cleanly and instead of using a cloth to get the bits out of the neck, he just stuck his finger in and wiped them off. We didn’t stay for a second drink…

Godjo, 8 Rue de l’École Polytechnique
I’m mentioning this very, very compact Ethiopian restaurant, not because we drank any beer, we didn’t, but because the food was sensational. We were originally going to come here for dinner on the Friday night, but got side tracked by the beer festival, I’m really glad we hunted it out and came for lunch on the Saturday. Ethiopian food is all about sharing, but since Phil eats dead animals, I wasn’t about to share a plate, so had one all to myself and I’m so glad I did, the lentils were to die for. If you’re going to go, I’d try and book a table (if you can), as there’s hardly enough room to swing a cat inside.

On the way there we passed an English theme pub called The Bombardier, which was selling what looked like keg Bombardier and Directors, we paused by on the other side of the road…

Brewberry, 18 Rue Pot de Fer
Our second last port of call was to this compact shop cum bar, which if I’m being honest, would have been our only port of call if we come to it first. Selling beer from all over the world, but majoring in European breweries, its main advantage over La Cave à Bulles, is that you can drink beer on the premises. It’s such a great wee place, that it will get a blog post all of its own.

After Brewberry, we headed back to La Cave à Bulles for a meet the brewer with La Brasserie du Mont Salève, which I’ll cover in a later blog. After that, we had to attend a black tie dinner on the Saturday evening and caught the Eurostar just after lunch on the Sunday, so there wasn’t really any further opportunity to explore.

I feel like we only scratched the surface of beer in Paris, but at the same time, I feel like we also hit the two most important places and if I went again, I probably wouldn’t go anywhere other than La Cave à Bulles and Brewberry. For my money, Paris is far too fixated on the major multinational brands and anything that comes out of Belgium. It could really do with a few more outlets for French craft beer, as that’s what I really wanted to drink and apart from Brewberry, we really didn’t get the chance, as none of the bars were stocking it. Don’t get me wrong, I like a Lambic or Trappist ale as much as the next man, but sometimes I just want to try the local beer and apart from Brewberry, nowhere could deliver on that simple need.

So if you’re heading to Paris and want to drink some French beer, head to Brewberry. If you want to bring back some French beer, then head to La Cave à Bulles as well. Until someone opens something like CASK Pub & Kitchen or The Craft Beer Co. in Paris, these two places are your best opportunity to try really good artisan French beer.

My First GBBF

Don't drink Hophead...

It’s amazing how time flies as it’s now been over a week since I went to the trade session of the GBBF, my first ever visit. I’d been saying that I’d go since 1999, so it was about time really. I had to get a later train to London than the friends I was going with, that coupled with the fact that I was getting my trade ticket from @jamesbwxm, who wasn’t going to get there until 13:00, all meant that I had time for a quick half in The Euston Tap before I had to head to Earls Court. I was after a nice cool unfiltered Bernard, but the Thornbridge Versa caught my eye and I plumped for a half of that and very nice it was too.

Sandstone Sweep and Hardknott Sooty...While standing at the bar I noticed someone a few places down who looked vaguely familiar, it turned out to be Richard Burhouse from myBreweryTap and Magic Rock Brewing fame. This was the first opportunity of the day to put a face to someone who I only know from social media, or being a customer of. I joined Rich and his colleagues outside to finish our beers and then headed to Earls Court with them on the tube.

This turned out to be a shrewd move as we got there before @jamesbwxm, but Rich had a few spare tickets, so I managed to sponge one off him, for which I’m most grateful. Once inside I realised that I knew a few of the orange shirt wearing stewards from the Cambridge beer festivals, so I went one way, while Rich and co went the other. I never saw them again, which meant I couldn’t buy them a beer, maybe next year.

Ian, Terri (from The Cambridge Blue), Toby and Bov....My first impressions upon walking in the hall aren’t fit for publication, they involved quite a bit of swearing. I knew it was going to be big, but I just didn’t realise how big. While I managed to get a free program, got to have some benefit to the CAMRA membership, I didn’t bother consulting it, I just went for a quick wander around the cavernous interior to see what was where.

I really wasn’t sure what I was going to drink until I got there, I was conflicted between trying all the British cask ale that I can’t normal get in Cambridge, or drinking the more esoteric world beers that I’d probably never see again. Given the vast size of the hall and the weird way the beers were distributed amongst all the bars, what’s wrong with alphabetical by brewery anyway…? I decided to try two British cask beers that I really wanted to try and then move onto the world beer.

Andy Mogg, Craig Garvie and Simon Johnson...After wandering for a while, I eventually ended up on the bar that had the festivals sole Moor beer, shame it had a "not on till later" sign, so I headed for the Thornbridge bar and had a half of Chiron (how are you supposed to pronounce that…? Ch-ee-ron Ch-iron, Ki-ron…?). Once I had a beer, I set off to find my friends, which turned out to not be that difficult. There were in one of the seating areas in a small enclave of Cambridge beer festival people, so I could finally dump my rucsac and get some suggestions for beers to try.

It was at this point I started to recognise people I only know via Twitter and other social media, wandering around. I’m not going to name check everyone, but it was nice to met you all. I think it’s human nature to form preconceived ideas about what people are like and I have to admit that I’m quite bad at doing that. I expected quite a few people to be taller, smaller, fatter, thinner, grumpy, cheery, you get the picture, so it was nice to have the vast majority of my preconceived ideas shattered. I’d like to say everyone I met was really nice, but after insulting both Jonathan Queally and Adrian Tierney-Jones within thirty seconds of meeting them, it wasn’t surprising they both looked at me like I was a creature that had just appeared from a black lagoon…

In need of more beer...In the end I split my drinking mainly between the Czech beers and the US cask beers, with the odd European thrown in for fun. I had tastes of loads more, some were fabulous, some a bit meh, one even looked like someone had been sick in the glass. I did plan of buy some of those I tasted, but for some annoying reason they took two of the US cask beers off, even though they weren’t finished (those would have been the Stone SoCal and the Green Flash Palete Wrecker).

Eventually it was time to leave, where the time had gone I have no idea. Loads of people had decamped hours before to Cask Pub & Kitchen, but we needed to head back to Cambridge. I was getting a lift home, so there wasn’t the opportunity to hit one of the excellent London pubs. We had to make do with a sneaky half in The Devonshire Arms before heading home.

I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my first visit to GBBF, but I’m still not sure what I thought of it, I’m not sure if I actually liked it or not. I certainly enjoyed myself and I drank some cracking beer, but then I didn’t have to pay to get in, it wasn’t massively crowded and I did have access to a seat. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed myself as much if I’d had to pay to get in and it had been really, really hot and busy.

A fridge full of Budvar...I suppose I’m a small event kind of person, I’d never do the London Triathlon for example, I’d rather do the Bedford Classic, it’s smaller and more intimate. I think I feel the same way about the GBBF, it was too big for me, too much aimless wandering around trying to find the beer I wanted to try. I’m sure the organisers have their reasons for setting it up like that and for splitting up Bières Sans Frontières into four separate bars, I’d just do it differently (I know I’m not the only one who thinks that putting all the UK beer out alphabetically by brewery would be a better idea).

The range of beer was fantastic though, as were the people I met (when I wasn’t insulting them) and I did have a good time. I’m just not sure if I’m being overly critical of what I thought about it because I’ve never been before and it didn’t quite meet up with what I was expecting. I suppose the only way to find out, is to go back next year.

These are the beers that I actually bought while at the GBBF:

Cambridge Beer Festival

Chips, mayo and Orval. Perfection.

After being a punter at the beer festival on Monday night and Wednesday lunchtime, I was back on Thursday night and all day Saturday to work. Normally I would be behind the bar selling awesome British cask ale, but this year I decided to work the foreign beer bar instead. I worked the same bar at the winter beer festival, but it’s small change compared to the summer festival, so I knew I was in for some hard work.

Thursday night was pretty constant and not really knowing where anything was in the fridges, meant for a challenging first hour or so. Saturday was a different kettle of fish, it started out slow then peaked and troughed throughout the rest of the day. The peaks were manic at times with large groups of blokes looking for cooking lager substitutes and gaggles of girls unsure of what to have.

The thing I like best about working the beer festival is the chance to evangelise to the punters about beer and working the foreign bar means you get a different sort of punter to evangelise to. I spent most of my time telling people they needed a Dead Guy in their life, quite a few took the recommendation and we sold out early Saturday evening.

Another benefit of working the foreign bar is drinking the beer that you’re selling. Normally I’d be trying all sorts of British real ale, but this festival I was knocking back the lambic with gusto. I also managed to try some Orval with chips ‘n’ mayo, it goes really well but I didn’t take any notes, so I’ll have to repeat the pairing, which will be an immense hardship…

I crashed at my friend Toby’s house after both sessions, I got to bed earlier on the Saturday as we stayed up nattering and drinking beer on the Thursday. Toby opened a few corking beers, Liefmans Goudenband on the Thursday, a Cantillon Saint Lamvinus and a 1985 Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardys Ale on the Saturday. The Thomas Hardys Ale was spectacular, utterly, utterly amazing and a realisation that ageing beer can produce phenomenal results.

For my part I took along my open bottle of BrewDog’s Sink The Bismark! and some Williams Brothers Fraoch 20 on the Thursday. Saturday saw me take in a bottle of Montegioco La Mummia for The Lambic Monster to try. "A fucking good attempt" was his view, which happened to be shared by the other who tried it.

This was the first time I’ve taken beer to a beer festival, rather than just drinking what’s available. It was great to share awesome beer with other people who’re passionate about beer. I’ll definitely be taking some more to the next festival I work, I’ll also be sticking a few bottles away and forgetting about them for a decade or two, just to see what happens.

  • RateBeer Girardin
  • Gueuze (Black Label), 5%, 375ml

Other beers I drank after the festival closed:

  • RateBeer Montegioco
  • La Mummia Rifermentata, 4.8%, 1/2 pint
  • RateBeer Eldridge Pope
  • Thomas Hardys Ale, 11.7%, a sip or two…

High Tide Fresh Hop IPA

It was my wife’s birthday on Sunday, so we were all round at her parents for a big celebration lunch. When we finally waddled home, no-one was in the mood for a large dinner, so once I had the kids off to bed I cracked open a Port Brewing High Tide Fresh Hop IPA and sat down to relax. Port Brewing High Tide... After a few sips of this big hoppy beer, I knew that if I wanted to drink more then I’d need to eat something. So it was a perfect opportunity to see if a big IPA would go with chips ‘n’ mayo.

High Tide Fresh Hop IPA is lovely, it’s big, bitter and morish, but it doesn’t go well with chips ‘n’ mayo. The cloying fatty mouth feel of the mayo that was so easily cleared by both Mikkeller It’s Alive! and Cantillon Gauze, it left totally untouched by the High Tide. In fact, I’d say the mouthfeel is made worse due to the resiny nature of the hops, so you end up with a fatty, bitter cloying mouth feel, which isn’t the best.

I’m not sure big IPAs are the way forward for chips ‘n’ mayo to be honest, so I’ll chalk this one down to experience and move on.

Roma: Notte Tre

Degustazione @ Bir & Fud, RomaI enjoyed last night so much, I decided to repeat the experience, but tonight I took four of my work colleagues along. It’s been a long day, we started at 07:30 and finally packed up at 19:00, so I was really in need of some good beer and food. Hornbeer Black Magic WomanWe headed straight or Bir & Fud where I’d managed to get an Italian colleague to make a reservation, I’m glad we did as they were packed to the rafters when we left, so we’d never have got a table.

I could only entice one of my colleagues to cross the road and pop into Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà for a couple more. I had a really nice dark beer, Black Magic Woman from Hornbeer, which I followed up with a Cantillon Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek 2007Lou Pepe Kriek 2007. I should probably have had then the other way round, but never mind.

I’d like to go back tomorrow, but I need to find some bubble wrap and a few more bottles to take home with me. It looks like I might be back next week, so there is the potential for taking even more beer back home, we’ll have ot wait and see.

Cantillon c’est Bon!

Cantillon Gueuze...I’ve decided that I need to find the perfect beer to go with chips and mayonnaise. Last time out it was Mikkeller It’s Alive! and I was bemoaning the fact that I really wanted a Cantillon Gauze. For lunch today, I managed somehow to arrange just that combination, chips and mayonnaise with Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio.

I would live to say they are a match made in haven, but they’re not. The Cantillon is too sour and kept swamping the chips and mayo. This could just be the fact that it’s been years since my last lambic, so the sourness was really noticeable. I’d try it again, but I think I’d rather try an Orval, or another It’s Alive! first.

It’s Alive!

I’m not particularly big on beer and food pairings to be honest, I doubt I’ll be writing many more. I have read with interest other peoples attempts, both successful and not quite so successful, to pair beer and food and always wished I had the taste buds to manage it myself. Mikkeller It's Alive! After spending a few hours driving to and from a pub lunch, all I wanted for dinner was a huge plate of chips, a healthy dollop of mayonnaise and a Cantillon Gauze.

We stopped off at a supermarket on the way home for some supplies, one of which was a bag of oven chips. I’d rather deep fry my own, but my wife wont have it for some reason, so I have to make do with either packet oven baked, or home made oven roasted. So I had some chips and I had some mayonnaise, the only thing I didn’t have was any Cantillon, but then I remembered that I had a big bottle of Mikkeller It’s Alive!, evidently it’s a tribute to Orval, so I thought I’d give that try.

I love chips and mayonnaise, it’s a match made in haven and from now on, I want a beer like Mikkeller‘s It’s Alive! when I eat them. It was awesome, It’s Alive! is quite similar to Orval, however, I found it to be a bit smoother, but just as palette cleansing. I was amazed at how well the chips, mayonnaise and beer worked together in perfect harmony, there might be something to this beer and food pairing for my taste buds after all.

Playing It Safe

I’ve been playing it safe recently when it’s come to the choice of bottled beer I’ve been drinking. I could point to various reason why this is, but it essentially boils down to playing it safe.

For example, I’m a big fan of Lambic beers, especially anything from Cantillon, I can’t tell you the last time I had one it was so long ago. This problem extends to practically all bottle conditioned beers, as I don’t have room to store much beer at home I tend to buy stuff to drink that night. Bottle conditioned beer isn’t in a fit state after being bounced around in a pannier during the hour it takes me to cycle home, hence the playing it safe.

I have decided that enough is enough and I’m going to take a stand and stop playing it safe. It’s time to stop drinking golden blonde beers like Fullers Discovery, Adnams Explorer and Wychwood WychCraft, it’s also time to stop picking up three or four BrewDog Punk IPA’s when they’re on special. It’s time to start trying new beers and it’s definitely time to get back to drinking beer that is bottle conditioned.

I need a project, something that will challenge me to try new beers from breweries I didn’t know existed. I need something that will force me to stop buying beer in Tesco and start visiting the Jug & Firkin¹ again (I think I’ve been in Cambridge long enough to keep calling it by its original name). I need something that will get me excited about beer again and I have got the perfect thing in mind.

While I like trying beer from all over the world, we have such a large choice here in the UK, that I thought I should really do something that expands my knowledge and appreciation of it. So I’ve bought a copy of the seventh edition of The Good Bottled Beer Guide by Jeff Evans (published by CAMRA) and I intend to try all the beers listed in it. This is a long term project as there are hundreds and hundreds of beers listed, I’m sure some of the beers will become unavailable as the brewery will close, for example, and new breweries will open or existing breweries will produce new beers, so it will probably turn into something quite fluid over time.

To keep me honest and on the straight and narrow I intend to document my progress through the book in this blog. Exactly what format that will take is yet to be decided, as is how I plan to work my way through the list, alphabetical, by beer style, random…? One thing is for sure, it’ll be a very tasty journey.

¹ Now called Bacchanalia