Pub of the Month 2011
Last Updated : 01/06/11
The Beer of the Month pages are here...
If any of the winners actually wants a certificate commemorating this great event in their careers then let me know and I'll see what I can knock up in Paintshop Pro...
've had so much fun writing my beer of the month series I thought I'd add yet another flavour to the pot, so to speak, in the form of this natural progression to pub of the month! I do a lot of travelling and pub visits so think that when I find a really exceptional pub (or bar, or brewpub...) then I should tell you all about it. So, here they are...
Pub of the Month - March 2011
|Pub: Czeska Baszta||Where: Warszawa, Poland|
|Address: Wieżyca A-22 Mostu Poniatowskiego (read below to make sense of this!)|
Details: A bar literally built into the huge bridge and surprisingly cosy inside! A huge range of Czech beer is on offer including rare micros on tap; an essential visit.
This month’s pub may possibly rate as the most difficult to find I’ve ever featured! When you know where it is then it’s easy, but picture yourself in the following situation…
It’s dark and it’s your first evening in Warsaw. You know there’s a new Czech beer bar somewhere near, at or on the Most Poniatowskiego (a hefty stone and steel bridge over the Vistula river) but you don’t really know where it is even after much research! You approach the bridge from below and search the surrounding area but find nothing resembling a bar, peer into the unusual shopping centre built on two levels underneath the huge bridge… and still see nothing resembling a bar. You then go for a walk through dimly-lit, slightly dodgy carparks under the bridge itself until you decide that there is nothing there and give up on that idea… finally, you ascend some steps up onto the deck of the bridge itself and it’s tramstop, seeing nothing remotely bar-like in the process whereupon, disheartened as it’s your birthday and you really wanted to scoop some beers, take the next plastic tram back to the hotel where you drink bottled winners instead...
Sound familiar? Well, if you’re a hardened Euroscooper then yes, you’ve probably been in a similar situation yourself, so have I, but rarely has it taken two of us so long to find a bar! The following evening we continued the search – in daylight this time – but still failed to locate it and so, in a fit of desperation, went into the shopping centre where we thought the address finally made sense… but when we located where we thought the bar would be instead of scoops we found a closed shop! After a superb Pierogi meal at a café inside the shopping centre I asked a lass in an Alkohole shop if she knew where the bar was whereupon, despite me not quite understanding her Polish tirade and frantic gesticulating, we realised that we may be a lot closer to our target than we thought!
Beneath the bridge, leading onto ulica Solec (the road we’d walked down the previous evening), is a mammoth set of concrete steps leading upwards. At the first landing we turned right up a much narrower and far less promising set of stairs and – amazingly – there it was! An industrial-strength door was set into the wall of the bridge with no sign visible from the stairs themselves and only an A4 sheet of paper affixed to it giving any indication that this was the correct place, whilst another displayed the opening times and another shouted something in Polish which I didn’t understand; no matter, we’d found it, even if it didn’t open for another hour… as long as that Polish sign didn’t say they were closed for holidays!
When we returned the door still looked ominously closed and locked but, as I gingerly pushed at it, it eased open to revel a hubbub of sounds and joviality within; obviously this was a bar you needed to know about and wasn’t one you would simply walk past and decided to visit… I think this is what they call a “destination venue”! Inside was small and full of people rummaging through the fridges and queuing at the small bar to be served so, as Sue went to find a seat, I joined the queue and peered around; it was your usual beery bar with beer memorabilia strewn across the walls and lots of cosy nooks and crannies in which to consume your scoops which belied the fact that we were underneath a 1940’s bridge in a concrete box!
The two guys at the bar were dispensing beer at a furious pace although, to be honest, I didn’t know what beers to expect apart from hoping for something rare; imagine my surprise when I saw, alongside a dud Černá Horá brew, Qásek Světlý Ležák 12° and Hukvaldská 12°, both total scoops for me and both micros from the Ostrava area… as those who like fuβball are wont to say, “Back of the net
After the normal initial communication issues with the barstaff we were sorted and spent a happy couple of hours ensconced in the depths of the bar sat with some Poles who were well into their craft beer (which is presumably why they were in there, plus they also had a “beer notebook”…), sampling beers from tap and bottles from the fridges. The atmosphere was lively yet friendly, the beer was good (and rare!), the locals sociable and the owners very impressed that we’d managed to find the place and also with my compliments about their beer range and bar… All too soon it was time to leave, however, as we had a cache of bottles back at the hotel which needed scooping owing to this being, sadly, our final evening in Warszawa and I was gutted that we’d not managed to find this cracking little bar the previous evening and been able to enjoy two sessions in there… but, then again, maybe a sign visible from somewhere other than a narrow dark concrete corridor would help?!
So, what’s so good about Czeska Baszta? Many things, my friends, many things are good, but it’s main positive attributes are it’s excellent beer range with plenty of scoops in the fridges and three rare Czech (usually micro) beers on tap which, so I was told, are generally nepasterowane, it also has an interior that belies it being a concrete box slung under a big fuck-off bridge and is surprisingly cosy, plus the locals – on our visit, at least – were friendly and genuinely interested in chatting with us.
The food is limited to Czech bar snacks but looked decent enough, the owners are very sociable and well into their beer (one of them speaks decent English) but, most of all, you get the feeling of being in a place that you’ve earned a visit to and not simply walked past… put simply it’s a great pub with a palpable love for good beer and should be at the top of every beer scooper’s pub list when visiting Warszawa.
I suppose it’s a little sad that a great bar in Poland needs to sell Czech beer (not that Czech beer is a bad thing, it’s just sad there aren’t enough good Polish beers around at present) but, until the Polish brewing scene catches up with the demand for quality beer in it’s homeland, Czech will do just fine; after all, if the locals get a taste for quality craft beer then they’ll start demanding it in their other pubs, further stimulating a local micro-brewing scene… and that’s a win-win situation as management twats are wont to say.
Also: Hillgrove Porter Stores in Bristol is a lovely old pub dispensing a wide range – around a dozen – cask ales from owner Dawkins alongside guest ales from far and wide; my favourite new UK pub for quite a while and one I’m definitely going to visit again!
Pub of the Month - February 2011
|Pub: Against the Grain||Where: Dublin, Ireland|
|Address: 11 Wexford Street|
Details: Owned by the new Bay brewery in Galway, this corner pub has a large range of Irish beer on tap, around a dozen, including the rare Bay beers plus guests from most Irish micros and even a cask ale, too... an essential visit.
Although, scoops-wise, this month’s award should go to the amazing drinkstore.ie beer shop on Stoneybatter, Dublin, which has just about every Irish beer in existence plus many more rare American, Belgian, British and many other brews somehow shoehorned into a very small space indeed, shops aren’t considered owing to the lack of “drink on premises” facilities although, if this is allowed, then they are very much considered… but as drinkstore.ie doesn’t offer such a luxury – and I’ve no idea where they would fit it if they did so – I’ll have to think of somewhere else instead.
Step forwards, then, Against the Grain, a corner pub close to St Stephen’s Green in southern Dublin which is owned by the Galway-based Bay brewery and forms part of a very decent-sounding chain of pubs which sell large ranges of Irish craft beer in addition to good food and their own (pretty good) beers. We visited late afternoon and found it fairly quiet but that was a bonus with the city centre being rammed with rugby fans! Scanning the bar, I soon realised that we’d arrived at probably the best beer pub in Dublin (I’d consider the Bull & Castle or L Mulligan Grocer as the other contenders) with around a dozen Irish beers on tap plus one on cask, too, with Dungarvan Copper Coast Red doing the honours. Other choices included two Bay beers, several Whitewaters, Trouble Brewing Ór, Franciscan Well Phúca, Carlow Stout and a few other Belgian and US beers; altogether then, a great choice of ales and one I’d not have believed I would ever see in Dublin just a few years ago!
We sampled half a dozen beers and all were in good condition and not too expensive either, although that’s a very relative thing in Dublin! The food was just what we needed and came from a short list of Irish staples served up in large portions in what we term at home to be “Beige bowls”, those round Mason dishes you see in crockery shops, and was just what we wanted to help ease the beers down; I think I preferred the food in L Mulligan although that was a lot more expensive and more “Gastropub” so, if it’s basic food you want – and a big portion of it – then this place is a good choice!
It’s easy to reach by public transport, too, with the Luas Green line terminating a five-minute walk away and plenty of buses passing the front door on their way to/from the city centre meaning that, despite seeming to be a way from the action, the pub is a mere five minutes on the bus from O’Connell bridge and about the same – on foot – from the southern end of Grafton Street (and therefore about ten minutes’ stroll from Porterhouse Central and O’Neills).
As you may have guessed from the above Dublin is exploding into beery life these days and there are now quite a few pubs where you can investigate Irish craft beer; in a way it’s a shame to have to choose one over the others as Against the Grain, L Mulligan and the Bull & Castle are all very good indeed, but on the basis that the beer range here seemed to be slightly more adventurous and the food perfect beer-soak material I’ll go with Against the Grain as my February POTM and can’t wait to return to Dublin in a year or so to see how the craft beer revolution is fermenting… and, going on the last few months, it’ll be in rude health with several new brewers set to open in the south of Ireland!
And you thought Ireland only had Guinness and Smithwicks, eh? Not any more… visit Against the Grain and learn!
Pub of the Month - January 2011
|Pub: 2D2DSPUMA||Where: Barcelona, Cataluña, Spain|
|Address: Calle Manigua 8, Barcelona. In the North of the city but easy to reach via Metro or bus.|
Details: Superb scooper’s bar attached to an amazing beer shop which, between them, sell just about every craft beer brewed in Spain at the moment… the essential visit when in town although note that it’s a fair way out in the North close to Maragall or Congrès metro stops. Bar: Mon-Thu 18:00 to 00:00, Fri-Sat 18:00-02:00. Shop: Mon-Sat 10:00-14:00 and 17:30-21:00. Both closed on Sunday and holidays.
After visiting Barcelona and witnessing it’s burgeoning craft beer revolution there was no real doubt that most of my beers of the month and my pub of the month would be from there… and it’s panned out exactly as predicted!
Barcelona has possessed, for a long time, more than it’s share of fantastic bars serving wine and Belgian beers but now has a small but growing number of pubs which serve the exponentially increasing number of Catalan – and increasingly other Spanish – craft beers, mainly in bottle-conditioned form although occasionally on tap. The two best ones have a shop involved, too, in one case (La Cervecita nuestra de cada dia) the bar and shop are in the same room whilst at my pub of the month (which only just edged it!) the shop is next door.
The bizarrely named 2D2DSPUMA (I’ve no idea what it means before you ask) is therefore my pub of the month for January 2011 and what an amazing place it is! I’ll begin with the shop next door which has a bewildering array of beers from Cataluña, Valencia and elsewhere in Spain plus what seems to be the obligatory large-size homebrew kit aimed, presumably, at small-scale commercial brewers; I say this as on several websites of small Catalan brewers I’ve seen fermenters which are quite obviously homebrew in origin… Homebrew kit won’t be what you’re after, however, and the beer range is amazing… not quite as comprehensive as the amazing beer shop Rosses I Torrades (which I can't praise enough apart from to say it's so good it wouldn't be out of place in Italy!) down in the city centre but there are several beers featured here – mainly from Valencian brewers – which you won’t find in RiT and vice-versa meaning a visit to both is pretty much compulsory! To explain exactly how good the range is let me put it this way… after buying 16 from Rosses I Torrades and drinking more in bars we still left well over a dozen Catalan brews on the shelves here through lack of hotel room drinking time…
The bar of the same name is next door and, although it’s a very recent addition, looks as if it’s been there for a good while and works well. It’s basically a long room with the bar along the left-hand side and a limited amount of tables along the other plus a few stools along the bar and in the front window, which is where we sat. There were three beers on tap during our visit; Agullons Pura Pale, Clandestinas 4 Maltes and, bizarrely, a De Molen Imperial Stout, plus fridges full of random bottles of beer. I say random as the bottles seemed to be stacked in there without much semblance of order, but this isn’t a major issue as all you need to do is either peer into the fridges and point or read the beer menu and ask for what you want! I think that just about everything next door in the shop is available to drink in and, if it’s not in the fridge, I’m sure they would bring you one round to drink if you asked nicely!
We had bottles from Bleder (Barcelona), Domus (Toledo), Mudéjar (Zaragoza), Zulogaarden (cuckoo at Bleder) and CCM (Montseny) plus the two draught Catalan brews and all were impressive with the Zulogaarden Norai Porter edging top place pushed hard by the Bleder Foc de Drac and CCM EcoLupulus. It was a relaxed and enjoyable evening perched at the end of the bar drinking huge scoops and watching others enthusiastically going for the craft beer, but the surprise of the evening were the Patatas Bravas; technically speaking the dish on offer here isn’t Patatas Bravas but, still, who can fault a big wooden platter heaped with herb-roasted potato wedges and served with eight different sauces? It was the perfect meal to accompany excellent beers in a superb bar and thus 2D2DSPUMA walks away with my pub of the month award…