Pub of the Month
Last Updated : 28/12/09
The Beer of the Month pages are here...
'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...
Previous pub of the month pages for 2008 are here.
The year's winners were -
January 2009 : BQ, Milan
February 2009 : Royal Blenheim, Oxford
March 2009 : Hops & Barley, Berlin
April 2009 : North Bar, Leeds
May 2009 : Bakusyu club Popeye, Tokyo
June 2009 : Monk’s Café Sveavägen, Stockholm
July 2009 : Star, Huddersfield
August 2009 : None awarded
September 2009 : Bar La Pause, Genoa
October 2009 : Český Ráj, Wrocław
November 2009 : Wellington, Birmingham
December 2009 : Sheffield Tap, Sheffield
With the overall winning pub being the superb Popeye in Tokyo. The Harlequin was my favourite "scooping" pub of the year yet again!
Pub of the Month - December 2009
|Pub: Sheffield Tap||Where: Sheffield, South Yorkshire|
|Address: Platform 1B, Sheffield Midland Station|
Details: A renovated waiting room which oozes opulence, this is yet another superb addition to the Sheffield real ale scene and well worth a look.
Whether you're waiting for a train or not this bar is an essential visit. Hidden away around the side of the station and not immediately obvious (walk around the left-hand side of the entrance to find the door) this recently re-opened bar is, when it's quiet, a great place to relax with a beer from one of the eight handpumps - at present all Thornbridge although guests are promised - or from the large list of bottles in the many glowing fridges behind the bar, all scribed in a leather-bound book which is very Belgian in it's appearance.
Owned by the same people as the excellent Pivo bar in York, the tap opened in early December although, owing to issues with the rail companies, access from the platform isn't open and you'll have to go out of the station then in via the entrance on Sheaf Street; don't you just love the bureaucracy of our privatised railways?
Enough about the place, what's the beer like? Well, if you like Thornbridge beers (and most people do) then you're in for a treat with up to eight on cask - although some pumps should go over to guest beers if rumours are to be believed - plus an imposing row of "thrash-handle" eye-level taps dispensing various keg beers including Meantime. As if this weren't enough there's also a row of fridges stretching the whole width of the bar containing around 250 bottled beers from all over the world although, and this is a relatively minor gripe from someone who's travelled a fair bit, there's a lot of "padding" in the list and I'd love to see better, more interesting beers rather than the same stuff you can get in Tesco and most other bars which sell Belgian "fruit beer".
That said, you've got a lovely interior, 200+ bottles, 8 cask ales (including, if you're lucky, Raven) plus the taps too and, even in a city where a dozen handpumps doesn't guarantee you a place in the highest echelon of pubs such is the high standard, this is a bar - for it's a bar and most certainly not a pub - which is an essential stop on the circuit. There might not be a shedload of scoops for the more experienced Foreign beer scooper or the range of the city's freehouses on the cask front, but it's still a place I intend to frequent whenever I get the chance!
Pub of the Month - November 2009
|Pub: Wellington||Where: Birmingham|
|Address: Bennet's Hill, City Centre|
Details: The pub Brum needed all those years! A converted winebar, now five years old, which packs an impressive 16 handpulls onto the long bar.
Looking back at my previous pubs of the month I can't believe I've never picked the "Welly" before, but maybe it's because I rarely go to Brum unless I'm working there that I seem to overlook this undeniably great pub. This, then, is why it's the first time for the Welly here and I've been making up for lost time with over a dozen visits during November on account of three weeks in the city centre.
The story goes thus; five years back scooping in Brum was the Anchor, and the Anchor was the law. If you didn't like the pub/beer range/condition (and there's lots who didn't) then you had nowhere else to go. All of a sudden, a new bar appeared in the city centre with an amazing dozen handpulls from which proceeded to flow a superb range of guest beers that gave the Anchor a well-deserved kick up the arse (they've upped their game considerably these days) and turned the city's scooping options on their head overnight. The pumps soon blossomed to sixteen and the guests continued to flow and, amazingly, the pub even linked it's once unique flatscreen TV of beers into it's website meaning you could "virtually" scoop the beer... well, maybe not, but you could check what was on the pumps before visiting meaning less wasted journeys all round.
So, sixteen pumps, loads of guest beers, what could possibly go wrong? Well, many people complain about the prices in the Welly, and who I am I to argue? They are undeniably on the high side of Brum's real ale pub prices but, in fairness, are still lower than many of the shit bars along Broad Street and also are unfairly compared to the (not bad) Briar Rose McSpoons just along the street. That said, a few pints in here can quickly add up! Then there's the question of the beers not being as interesting as they used to be although, not being a regular visitor, I can only go by my infrequent visits which suggest that it's still a good range albeit with not as many "new" brews as there used to be.
All this said, however, the main improvement in the Welly was brought about by the smoking ban which totally transformed the bar (for it's a bar, not a pub, even now - it's previous incarnation lives on!) from a hot, smoky asthma-hazard to a place which could do with a touch of air-conditioning! A visit now is much more pleasurable and, all the above taken into consideration, there are still 16 beers on sale most days of which ten or so change with fairly quick regularity; I'm a bit of an "empty book" merchant these days as far as UK beers go, but I scooped two on every visit so they must be doing something right.
You may be fooled into thinking, having read the diatribe above, that I don't like the Welly, but you'd be wrong. I can forgive the prices to a certain degree as the costs where it is must be astronomical (and I could always go to the Anchor if I really disliked the cost) and I still think the range is good enough for the casual scooper such as myself to score on every visit and rake in some rare beers into the bargain, plus the smoking ban has made a visit much less onerous than it used to be!
So, with it's 5th birthday in December, let's celebrate the variety and choice the Wellington has brought to Brum's pub scene for, without it, every visit to the city would still involve those long, damp and dreary walks out to Digbeth as a matter of course not choice. It may be expensive, it may not have a good a range of scoops as it used to, but I still enjoy my visits to the Wellington and it's undeniably a great scooping pub, one I hope continues to prosper for many years to come.
Pub of the Month - October 2009
|Pub: Český Ráj||Where: Wrocław, Poland|
|Address: Wojciecha Bogusławskiego 9.|
Details: Small, cosy bar in a railway arch which majors on rare Czech micro beers from it's 8 taps and has a definite scooping mentality!
We went to Wroclaw with not a lot of hope of finding scoops outside the established list of the Spiż brewpub, Bierhalle and Academus bars plus the city’s many bottle shops, but we did have a teasing recommendation from Steve Westby that Bogusławskiego was the street to go for Czech beers. Now we don’t generally visit a country hoping to scoop beers from a neighbouring one but, once we’d cleared up everything beer-wise in the city centre (which didn’t take long!), it was time to check out this intriguing tip-off and see what was to be found under the arches.
I say “under the arches” as Bogusławskiego is akin to Dircksenstraße in Berlin in being a run of bars and restaurants built into a railway viaduct and is famous in Wroclaw as a “bar crawl” area much the same way as Broad Street is in Brum, so my expectations of finding any good beer there, never mind scoops, were rock-bottom. We arrived at Arkady tramstop and, after risking life and limb crossing the busy dual carriageway of Šwidnicka, we took a wander along the viaduct to see what was happening there on a cold, wet Friday night.
We passed a few bars with some surprisingly good Czech beers on tap including “Pub 55” with Svijany and Rohozec before coming across, almost at the end of the run of bars, the Český Ráj. The name means “Czech paradise” and refers, I assume, to the amazing range of beers on tap inside although from outside it didn’t give much away apart from a sign announcing Svijany Pivo was on sale and so, as the bar looked cosy and warm (and it was pretty cold and damp outside), we decided on a swift half before further investigation of the promising row of arches.
Once inside I headed for the bar but before I even reached it I clocked a sure sign of craft beer, a Kocour barrel sat on the bar! For those who don’t know Kocour are a tiny Czech micro who make some of the most interesting beers in the country so, understandably, I was amazed to see one of their kegs here. As I reached the bar the row of eight taps made themselves known and, as I read along the line with what must have been barely concealed amazement, I knew that we’d found our base for the evening as, of the eight beers on, I’d never heard of three and the rest I’d happily drink again… except maybe the wheat beer! (Just in case you don't believe me how good this range was, how's this for a tap selection: Rychnov Minipivovar Zilvar 10° and Kněžna 12°, Dobruška Staročeský Rampušák 12° Kvasnicový, Krakonoš 12° Kvasnicový, Svijany Kněžna, Kocour Pale Ale, Náchod Primator Pšeničné and Ů Hušků Běleč nad Orlicí CAR Kvasnicový. If you know anything about Czech beer you’ll know how good this list is!)
With only a few words of English likely to be spoken outside of the city centre I switched to my halting Polish which managed to achieve it’s intention in that I was soon furnished with glasses of two of my scoops. I won’t bother listing tasting notes for all the beers we drank as there’s plenty of that kind of thing on here already, but I’ll just say that I scored five rare Czech beers that evening and the barstaff even alerted me when a new one had come on that I might not have seen; if that’s not the scooping gene in action I don’t know what is! We stayed for a good few hours, drank some good micro-brewed beer, and generally enjoyed the atmosphere in somewhere that I’m really glad we took the effort in finding.
There’s a lot written about “beer hunting” but most of this seems to be following the well-worn trail and isn’t really hunting at all, much the same as looking at animals in a zoo is cheating compared to searching them out in their natural habitat. Real beer hunting, to me at least, involves getting out into uncharted territory and finding places that few (if any) scoopers have visited before and then sharing this information with the community in the hope that my efforts will generate a steady stream of eager beer-drinking customers to the door of those places which deserve to be better known in the world of beer tourism. Michael Jackson (who famously drank "beer, not Pepsi") did a lot of this and I hope that I can follow in his footsteps in bringing to the attention of those who care some excellent bars such as this one that would otherwise be overlooked.
See the bar on my Wrocław Google map here.
An honourable mention must also go to the Isle of Man's premier scooping hotspot, the Sidings in Castletown, although when I say "hotspot" you need to have been to the Island to know just how poor it is for craft beer (although there's a lot more cask ale around than there used to be, admittedly) and this bar, with it's ten handpumps, has the widest range of beer anywhere I've seen on the island and, more importantly scoop-wise, is one of a handful of places you might pick up a winner besides the locally-brewed ales. In the grand scheme of things it's not somewhere I'd rush to but, if you're on the Island and fancy a winner, it's the first place I'd recommend!
Pub of the Month - September 2009
|Pub: Bar La Pausa||Where: Genoa, Liguria, Italy|
|Address: Via Assarotti, 12/R|
Details: Roadside bar with more than a passing interest in Italian craft beer.
In the four years between our visits to Genoa the city has blossomed into craft beer life and no fewer than three brewpubs have appeared along with, more recently, a number of beer bars which cater to the Italians’ growing love of “birra artigianale”. The three brewpubs are passable if unexciting with Birrifico Genovese and it’s Exultate tap probably making the best quality and most interesting beers although, if we’d stuck with these, then we would have missed out on a cracking little bar which we only visited after overriding our laziness and trekking out there…
Genoa is an amazing city with more character squeezed into it’s narrow claustrophobic Medieval alleyways than most cities can dream of possessing but, outside of the historic core, the streets widen, the sky becomes visible again and it’s possible to walk in a straight line without bumping into locals going about their business and scooters carrying far more payload than your average cruise missile. La Pausa is in such a wide boulevard, out in the North of the city, although such is Genoa’s compact nature it’s only a five-minute stroll from the superb Birra8 shop in the rapture of Victorian ironwork that is the Galleria Mazzini.
After crossing the busy roundabout of Piazza Corvetto via the subway (kamikaze scooters were swarming like mosquitoes making standard road crossing a perilous activity) the bar is in the first block of buildings on your left with a convenient neon sign to guide you in. At first it looks like a thousand other Italian bars with locals stopping off for a swift espresso (which is pretty good too, I must add) or that bizarre mixture of Prosecco and pink stuff they drink at every opportunity, but look behind the bar to the shelf stocked with 75cl bottles of craft beer and you’ll see why I’ve brought you here.
The bottles on the shelf may be difficult to distinguish so have a rummage around in the fridge to the right of the bar where the beers are kept cool (well, that’s what I did and the landlord didn’t seem to mind one bit) and see what he’s got in stock. I’m assuming the range varies as there are some impressively rare Italian bottles arranged around the walls – and in just about every nook one could be shoehorned – and I required at least three of those on sale that evening with a couple more being brews we’d bought from Beer8 on the first evening. Fortuitously, we were also in time for Aperitivo and so a mammoth array of food was stacked on the bar in front of us once I’d selected a beer from the fridge.
We drank Morgana birra col fondo which was a pale, grainy brew with a dry, spritzy malt character leading to a pleasant smack of bitterness in the refreshingly spicy and almost Saison-like finish and was also a brewery scoop coming from a very new micro in the Veneto region. Prices here are, as in all Italian bars, expensive for craft beer but if something’s worth drinking then it’s worth paying for... all €13 of it! If this sounds like an outrageous price for just over a pint of beer then I’d agree that it is, but you don’t come to Italy for cheap beer... if that’s what you want, go to Lithuania!
So, in my opinion, La Pausa is the best bar we found for craft beer in Genoa with a sociable and keen owner, a decent range of beers (which looks as though it varies) and it’s relatively close to the centre too. It’s not a specialist beer bar as such but, despite this, it makes a big thing of Italian craft beer and for this it deserves support.
Other decent pubs visited in September
include 28 Erbe, also in Genoa, which may have won the title had the
sheer volume of bottles stacked around the place actually been on sale...
well, maybe they were, but after a spell where they tried to convince us
that draught Menabrea is “craft beer” (it’s not really, although it’s not
that bad) we went for a bottle of Saison from new local micro Civet which
was pretty decent although the barman had no idea how to pour it and we
ended up with very cloudy beer in our glasses! Other scoops may have been
available but, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t see any lists so I assume
they are either for locals only or the range varies.
Back in Blighty, the Kelham Island Tavern in Sheffield impressed – as usual – with it’s diverse beer range and Henderson’s relish Yorkshire crisps whilst the Dragon in Worcester continues to keep up it’s good standard of both quality and range with various Pictish single-hop beers passing through recently. One unusual bar, although it’s not there now being temporary so I can’t really recommend it, was the Gloucestershire craft brewers’ stand at the Worcester food fair which sold half a dozen cask ales from Gloucestershire served by some of the brewers themselves; being called a “CAMRA ticker” by the brewer from Stanway was a real honour!
See the bar on my Genovese Google map here.
Pub of the Month - August 2009
Erm... there isn't one this month! The reason is that I've not really been anywhere interesting enough to dish out an award as prestigious as this to, so I'll just not bother...
Normal service should be resumed next month as we're off to Genoa!
Pub of the Month - July 2009
|Pub: Star||Where: Huddersfield, West Yorkshire|
|Address: 7 Albert Street, Folly Hall|
Details: Superb "proper" little pub down past the Rat & Ratchet which has an excellent range of beers at all times and the best pub beer festivals in the UK with 45 beers on handpull out the back in a tent. An all-round quality pub.
Even though Huddersfield is one of my favourite drinking towns in the UK I must admit that I’ve not been to the Star as often as I should have. Okay, it only opened in it’s present guise in 2002 long after I used to be a regular around town in the Old Court and suchlike, but even on recent visits it’s always seemed a long trek down to Folly Hall from the Rat…
Well, a visit to the pub’s recent beer festival confirmed to me that I really must make this place an essential stop in a town with too many of those already! The beer range at the festival was superb with more scoops than I could possibly drink and, even better, all beers served via handpull so they didn’t resemble ditchwater like the offerings at so many pub festivals from the cask do! I think there were over 50 beers on offer that evening and, as we sheltered in the tent from typically Yorkshire driving rain, I realised that I can’t think of another pub with festivals anywhere near as well-run and with such a good beer list as the Star’s are. But, it’s not all about the festivals… the pub always has eight or so cask beers available with many being new breweries and/or beers; just check the website for what’s coming up! And, even if you visit when there’s nothing on the guest list you fancy, there’s always Pictish Brewer’s Gold to turn to, and Pictish is never a bad thing.
So, my new goal is to visit the Star whenever I’m in Huddersfield and to appreciate the hard work which is undoubtedly put into such a successful and well-run pub such as this; some pubs have great beer, some top food, some a wonderful landlord, but pubs which do everything well are hard to find and this is one of those rare species. If you’ve not been I’d recommend a day out around Huddersfield amongst the many great ale houses, but make sure you don’t make my usual mistake of leaning out of the door at the Rat & Ratchet, face screwed up against the perpetual rain, convincing myself it’s just too far down (or, more truthfully, back up) that hill… it isn’t, just get yourself to the Star!
Have a look at my Huddersfield beer map here.
Pub of the Month - June 2009
|Pub: Monk’s Café Sveavägen||Where: Stockholm, Sweden|
|Address: Sveavägen 39|
Details: Modern bar with a large range of beer on tap and a simply superb bottled range including genuinely huge winners including beers from Argentina and Italy. One of the most varied and interesting ranges I've seen in a long time. See it on my Stockholm map.
We visited some great bars in Stockholm and it was a difficult choice to pick a favourite; would I go for the large tap list and bustling atmosphere of the Glenfiddich Warehouse, or maybe the relaxed olde-worlde charm of the Man in the Moon, or even the interesting home-made beers in the Monk’s café brewpub… and let’s not forget the civilised yet sociable Tegnérs Gömställe bar?
All of these excellent bars have their plus points and I’d be happy to visit any of them again, but another place really stood out for it’s amazing beer range on both tap and – especially – in bottle, the Monk’s café Sveavägen. Outside it’s just another street-corner bar with some seating on the pavement but as soon as you cross the threshold it’s beer manifesto becomes obvious with fridges full of bizarre and huge scoops from around the world, and I really do mean around the world: I’ve rarely seen micro-brewed beer from Argentina outside the Americas and certainly not from tiny micros down in Tierra del Fuego namely Beagle and Cape Horn!
Inside is plain, modern and not particularly interesting but serves it’s purpose well in that there are plenty of tables, the bar is long and it’s easy to see what’s in the fridges and on tap! There are around 20 beers on tap, give or take a few, including some rare Swedish micros and always four or five from the sister brewpub a short walk away including many of the one-offs, but it’s the bottled range that runs into the hundreds and, luckily, it comes as what looks like a frequently-updated printed list giving all the information you need about each brew including the price and bottle size.
This list really is a thing of wonder; I don’t think I’ve seen so many of the world’s great and good beer-wise on one list with, by and large, an absence of crap! The names of all the huge scoops were more than I can remember but I recall a huge range of Molen from the Netherlands, Del Borgo from Italy, the two Argentinean brewers already mentioned, Craft of Athens, Taps of Istanbul… it’s just a shame this bar is in Sweden as the prices are slightly prohibitive although not excessive compared to the other bars around the area, but that’s just the way it is there! If this bar were in the UK I predict it would go down a storm with beer lovers but, being where it is, it’s largely overlooked by foreign scoopers as Stockholm isn’t on many people’s beer radar – although it should be!
So, a fantastic beer range on tap and in bottle, good bar snacks to soak it all up (nachos and chips!), a handy location for public transport and a clutch of other excellent bars nearby plus a relaxed, sociable atmosphere make this pub an absolute winner in a city with many other worthy beery attractions. Okay, so Sweden is expensive for drinking in bars, but if you accept that you’re going to die one day and therefore you might as well spend it whilst you can enjoy it, then you’ll probably have a much better time; it helped me that my last trip had been to Tokyo which “enjoys” a similar price structure!
Overall, then, a fantastic beer range shoehorned into a nice little bar which I’d be happy to have as my local… very happy indeed… and to work through the bottled list alone would take weeks if not months!
Pub of the Month - May 2009
|Pub: Bakusyu club Popeye||Where: Tokyo, Japan|
|Address: 2-18-7 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku, Tokyo.|
Details: Quite simply, the best scooping pub in Japan and for a long way around! 70 beers on tap, 3 on cask... you get the picture. JR Sobu line 3 minutes' walk, Toei Oedo metro line 5 minutes. See it on my Tokyo map here...
It's a telling sign that, 9 times out of 10, when I've been off on my foreign scooping trips a pub from the visit invariably makes the POTM. This is, in part, explained by me not getting out as much in the UK as I used to, but also a telling comment on the standards of the UK pub scene, even those which are in the top 1% tick-wise and, by definition, the ones I frequent most often.
This month is no exception and oh, lordy lordy, do I have a whopper for you. Granted, you can't exactly take a train there on a whim as getting to this Mecca of beervana will take you at least 14 hours and cost almost as much as a single from London to St Albans (off-peak), but it ticked (sorry!) all the relevant boxes in my criteria for excellent scooping pubs namely:
a superb beer list,
very friendly landlord,
close to public transport,
and plenty of hops!
Add to this three cask ales (on handpull from pins in a Flowerpot-esque glassed-in cellar behind the bar) plus maybe one more on gravity and guest beers you won't see anywhere else in the city then you'll begin to realise why this place is so good and highly regarded by everyone who’s been there.
But it's not just these things – worthy though they are – that make it a very serious contender for one of the world's top five specialist beer bars; imagine being in the situation where your bar is the best for 6,000 miles, in this case all the way from the One Pint Pub in Helsinki right across the almost inconceivably vast desolate expanse of Siberia to the West coast of America, and you'll realise just how good Bakusyu club Popeye in Tokyo is; honestly, it really is that good...
First up I've no idea why the bar is called Popeye, no idea whatsoever, but there are no obvious Olive Oyl or Bluto images anywhere and the bar trades on it's huge beer range of which the majority seem to be guest beers which change regularly. The bar is situated in Ryogoku, just to the east of Tokyo's centre across the Sumida river, in an area which houses the city’s Sumo stadium and also many of the “stables” where Sumo wrestlers train (which I assume means eat a lot) but, despite being in such a tourist-infested area and only 3 minutes from Ryogoku station (on the JR Sobu line) and 5 minutes from the nearest Oedo line metro, it's location down a small road south of the station makes it somewhere which you must know is there rather than find by accident, an attribute of most of the best beer bars in my opinion as I hate random normals talking up my scooping space!
The bar isn't immediately obvious, being up a flight of steps, although after being in Tokyo for a while you'll soon be “scooping in 3D” as if you manage to find an address (you'll know what this means when you try!) then the bar could be down in the basement or anywhere upwards as far as the rafters. It does have a sign in English, however, which is an improvement on some of the bars I tried to find... anyhow, when you do find it the bar will invariably be rammed full of people and you'll be greeted by cries of “Irashaimase” from the scurrying waiters which translates as nothing more scary than “welcome”. If you're alone and look like you're a beer enthusiast then you'll generally be seated at the bar which isn't a bad thing as Popeye is table service – plus you're also closer to the barstaff which means that you can order your beers easier and check out the handpulls – although it’s not quiet there: the barstaff shout “Hai!” (yes) to confirm every order and they get a lot of orders…!
You'll be given a small dish of appetisers such as tempura shrimp or Bombay potato which isn't free as you pay for it as a “table charge”, very common in Japan, which you can munch on as you study the extensive beer menu. This comes as a photocopied double-sided sheet of A4 with the beers listed under style and, very importantly, it’s in English too as anyone who's tried to decipher a Japanese beer menu (me for example!) will tell you. There's also a chalkboard with the beers listed although the sheet is generally done fresh every day such is the rapid turnover so I'd probably go with the sheet for accuracy.
Your ticking options are a half (9oz), a pint (14oz) or a 10-glass sampler which is a bargain at ¥3000 (around £19); this may seem expensive for approximately 100ml of each beer but, believe me, it's by far the cheapest way of scooping beers in a city where the average pint is £4 and can reach £10! Such is the range of micro-beers that most scoopers will go for the 10-glass sampler; the staff speak some English so you should be able to get across that you want this, I found the best way is to write down a list of the 10 beers you fancy and have a couple more in reserve just in case some have run out since the list was printed!
There should be 70-ish beers on sale – yes, 70 – which vary from some more mundane stuff through a swathe of imports from America (Stone, Hair of the Dog etc) and Belgium to what I imagine you'd be there for, the Japanese scoops. Likewise, these range from more common brews (although Asahi provide, uniquely, their 8% stout on draught) up to rare micros from all over Japan which is where the real excitement lies. Aoki-san, the master of the house, keeps a great bar and is a real hop lover, trying to have at least two of his cask ales IPAs, sometimes with extra hopping, although as almost all – if not all – of the beers on sale are unfiltered and unpasteurised you'll not be short of anything to drink unless you're one of these anally-retentive CAMRA types who won't drink ”keg” beer even though the “keg” you'll drink in here will generally be better than most cask ale in the UK. If this is you, then you’ll be relieved to know that three handpulled beers are on sale and sometimes another beer straight from the cask itself. There is also a bottled beer menu which I didn’t have time to scrutinize, although I did get to try a bottle of one of Aoki-san’s house beers when someone else ordered it!
The bar serves food which, apparently, is decent without being anything special and it looked fine to me although it's mainly Western-style stuff rather than Japanese. Between 17:00 and 20:00 when you order a pint of any beer marked with a crown you get a free half-plate of food (called “O'tsukare sama set”) for free which is a good way to acquire some bonus sustenance if you like drinking full measures! Prices are, for Tokyo, average to above average for beer although you're paying for rare beers often trucked in a fair old distance so, personally, I'd rather pay a bit extra than have to drink the same beer every visit! One other peculiarity is that prices are in “Cask and Cutler” money in that they aren't rounded up or down to the nearest ten yen so rather than ¥800 you may see ¥834; this is more of a curiosity than a real problem and adds to the quirkiness of the place. The bar's website also has a monthly special money-off coupon which you can print out and use to get a particular beer half-price.
The bar has a loyalty card which may be offered to you when you pay; you don’t get much discount but it’s worth getting simply to see your name written in Japanese on the back of a gold card which isn't something money can easily buy and a great bragging item to flash to your “flat earth society” friends upon your return home! Sitting at the bar with a tasting tray of mainly excellent Japanese craft beer in front of me, listening to the frantic hustle going on all around, and knowing that it was a hell of a long way to somewhere as good and 6,000 miles home was a memory that will remain with me for a very long time!
So, to sum up, Popeye is a superb specialist beer bar – plus it’s a scooper's pub even if they don’t know what this means – just out of the centre of Tokyo which has the best beer range for thousands of miles in any direction, is easy to get to and find, isn't too scary for the beer tourist, serves up sample trays enabling you to beat the price per pint, is run by genial and genuinely friendly master Aoki-san and is a shining beacon for Japanese craft beer in a city which is suddenly waking up to the very fine craft brews being made in Japan with a blossoming of ji-biiru (this literally means regional beer although it's taken to refer to craft beer) bars.
If you're in Tokyo, or anywhere within a thousand miles of the place, then do yourself a favour and get to Bakusyu club Popeye. It's one of the world's best specialist beer bars with an atmosphere that can't adequately be described in words; a quote I've heard said that to visit Japan is to visit another planet and, whilst this may be overstating things just a bit, it was certainly nothing like anywhere I've been thus far and as such – for the adventurous scooper at least – means that Japan, and therefore Popeye, is an essential visit plus you'll be getting in on the upwards curve of one of the world's fastest-growing craft beer cultures which is always a fascinating time to witness.
Pub of the Month - April 2009
|Pub: North Bar||Where: Leeds|
|Address: 24 New Briggate|
Details: Long and thin shop conversion (presumably) which has a good range of Foreign bottles (and taps) plus four changing yet always good cask ales including some right whoppers! See it on my Leeds map here...
As their website proudly states, "Since opening in 1997, North has had over 1000 different beers on draught... making it one of the leading beer bars in Britain! Nothing brewed under licence, everything direct from the country of origin"... these statements alone should make you want to visit right away, well they do me! It's a strange place which doesn't really fit into any pre-prepared pigeonhole, but is all the better for that, and at present is probably my favourite bar in Leeds.
The bar is comprised of one long thin room which looks like a shop conversion, the bartop sprouts many taps dispensing Foreign draught beers of the more interesting variety (Liefmans Oude Bruin, anyone?) but it's with the bottle list that it really excels as, alongside the usual suspects, there's an increasingly adventurous range of unusual beer from across Europe and, sometimes, the world with a few eyebrow-raisers sitting in the long row of fridges behind the bar. Guest bottles make frequent appearances so make sure you peer into the chilly recesses for any labels than look unusual as I'm not sure the menu is always 100% up-to-date.
On the cask ale front the number of beers has expanded to four with Roosters Wild Mule being the house beer (not a bad choice at all IMO!) with three guest beers generally including a stout. The preferred house style seems to be "plenty of hops" so expect to see some lupulous beauties on the pumps and, although it's not the aim of the bar (for it's definitely a bar and not a pub), maybe even the odd scoop too although you may simply have to settle for some excellent beer rather than a winner... which isn't really such a big hardship with so much good beer on sale! It's not cheap, let me warn you of that, but I'm sure there will be many who won't baulk at paying prices which reflect the quality of much of the beer on sale.
I'm not sure that I could put a finger on one particular thing that I like about the North Bar, rather it's a combination of many things done well come together to make it relatively unique in the UK and a great place to enjoy some quality UK and Foreign beers in a relaxed atmosphere. The food, including the rare sight of a Belgian snack-style kaasplate plus lots of pies, looked good and there's something extremely satisfying in drinking beer in a place which quite obviously cares about the quality of their service and for these reasons it remains one of my favourite bars in Leeds which must be the best it's been for many a year, perhaps ever, in relation to quality beer and quality pubs, with the North Bar firmly in the top echelon.
If you've not yet visited, give it a try; it's not for everyone and those who like traditional boozers may hate it, but I think that it fulfils it's niche in the market admirably and, as such, the North Bar fully deserves it's success. Plus, if you needed any more encouragement to visit, they sell Seabrooks crisps...!
Pub of the Month - March 2009
|Pub: Hops & Barley||Where: Friedrichshain, Berlin|
|Address: Wühlischstraße 38, Friedrichshain|
Details: New brewpub in the old East of the city with a refreshingly adventurous attitude to brewing and some lovely special beers. Find it on my Berlin map here...
Hops & Barley is a relatively new brewpub in the eastern part of Berlin that’s been converted from a butcher’s shop in a very sympathetic way; there are two front rooms decorated in a kind of rustic style with tiles around the small brewplant against one wall. There may be more room out back but I didn’t get that far! Unusually, they also make their own cider – which, for obvious reasons, I didn’t try despite being offered a free sample – and as well as the standard “holy trinity” found in German brewpubs of pils, dunkel and weiss they also sell a constantly changing special which can, looking at their list of beers thus far, be almost anything!
We met up with Ratebeerian ChrisO and his partner in there and, as soon as we’d joined them, the brewer came over and told us that there were only two litres left of his current special, Brown ale, although he had a sample with him which was left with us to evaluate. We worked our way through all his beers, all of which were good examples of brewing skill, and even the weiss was to my taste! Suddenly the brewer re-appeared with a glass of the next special, Bernstein, which turned out to be the best beer I had during our trip and cemented this new brewpub into my favourites through good beer and the sociability of the owners.
Don’t go thinking that this award is for free beer, though, as it most definitely isn’t, it’s for a great little bar that brews what is probably the most interesting and best range of beer in Berlin (along with Brewbaker in Bellevue) and is somewhere I’d return to again just to see what their latest special was if they’re all as good as the two we had during our couple of hours in there. Unusually for a German brewpub they don’t do food, probably owing to space, although snacks such as boulette are available to aid your consumption of beer and, anyway, the immediate area has a plethora of food options and it’s not a million miles from Alexanderplatz and the cluster of brewpubs there.
So, I now have a new favourite of Berlin’s 15 brewpubs and can’t wait to return to one of Europe’s most interesting cities to further my research… a mere 37 scoops this time, with ten of them courtesy of the bizarre Bier-Spezialitäten-Laden at Karl-Marx-Allee 56, Freidrichshain. This must be one of the most unusual beer shops around as it’s situated in the former “palaces of the workers” next to Strausbergerplatz U5 station and, in our experience and that of other visitors, there’s generally a crowd of dubious-looking skinheads drinking out of bottles around the shop although the owner is sociable enough and speaks a little English which makes things easier! The beer range stretches to well over a hundred German beers with many rare boks and specials featured, so if you’re in the market for some “room scoops” when in Berlin this is a fairly cheap option from where to obtain your winners and see some local Ossie culture in action!
Pub of the Month - February 2009
|Pub: Royal Blenheim||Where: Oxford|
|Address: 13 St. Ebbes|
Details: White Horse brewery have recently taken on this city-centre pub and it now serves up to ten beers including some decent guests.
Oxford's latest “scooper's” pub adds to the growing number of boozers which offer a good choice of guest ales for those who care about such things and is a large corner house, recently taken over by White Horse brewery, who have installed ten handpumps onto the bar from which flow a surprisingly decent range of beers. Okay, this is no Harlequin or New Oxford, but that's not the point at issue here; it's doubtful Oxford could support such a pub and this is about as far along the line as the city gets towards a stalwart tickers magnet!
It's all very Tudor on the outside and obviously recently refurbished inside with lots of dark wood and the usual free house detritus such as a beer chalkboard, but what should draw you here is the beer range. Four beers are generally from White Horse, including all their seasonals, with the remainder being guest beers from, when I was last there, a right motley collection of brewers including Festival, Derventio and Rhymney. The landlord is Welsh (Cardiff valleys I think) and seems to be amazingly sociable towards scoopers and has, on two occasions now, offered – totally unprompted, I must add – to get beers from the cellar and even gone through a list of what's down there, what's tapped, what's on next and what is coming up; this is very impressive and just shows how an enthusiastic landlord can make the difference between a good pub and a very good one.
As I've already said don't expect to score dozens of massive winners, but there's a good chance you'll get something (maybe from the cellar if you're in luck!) plus, with the new McSpoons, Aldates Tavern and Far from the Madding Crowd only a few minutes walk away, the Royal Blenheim is a very welcome addition to the Oxford real ale scene and here's to the beer range improving even further in the future and adding to what is already one of the UK's most improved beer cities in the last couple of years; a wander around Oxford's cask ale pubs is now something to look forwards to, very different from the dark days when every pub sold Morrells and Courage: those who remember such times will know just how far the city has come beer-wise since then!
My Scooper's map of Oxford is here... A phot is here :
Pub of the Month - January 2009
|Pub: BQ||Where: Milan, Italy|
|Address: Via Losanna 36|
Details: New scooping pub in the suburbs of Milan run by local beer expert and enthusiast Paolo Polli. Without doubt the best scooping bar in town with 20 taps!
It's not often that we stumble upon such a superb place without gen; after all, the hours I spend in front of the PC before each trip are spent researching everything about our destination and not playing "Hellfire" as Sue says! So, our evenings in Milan were pre-planned before we visited and that was that I thought... until we ventured into local beer bigwig Paolo Polli's Enoteca Decanter bar to see what was on sale in there. He told us about a new bar he'd opened nearby called BQ (Birra Artigianale di Qualità) and so we resolved to visit the next evening.
We arrived at just before opening time to see the place in darkness with absolutely no sign of life whatsoever; not a good start, then! We hung around dodgily for ten minutes in the vain hope that someone would come and open up, but just as we were thinking about giving up a man strode up to the shutters and, recognising us, gave a cheery wave... Paolo was here! He'd soon opened up and while he busied himself preparing the bar for customers I looked at the taps in disbelief; 20 beers on tap isn't something you see that often in Europe and, if truth be told, it felt like I was back in New York in one of the many specialist beer bars there!
The list was made up of 9 Italian micro beers (most of which I'd never heard of!) with the balance being a right old mix of stuff from Ireland, Belgium and even the USA! Reading the menu informed us that there was another beer on sale, cask-conditioned, in the form of an IPA from Italian micro Orso Verde and so we settled down to a few hours of scooping the various beers on offer in the stupendously sensible 10cl measures available as I'd decided that drinking more of each scoop would take too long and we'd probably not find the tram stop afterwards!
Now don't go to BQ with any expectations of it being a cosy little bar with beams, trailing hops and all that malarkey - it's a neon-lit, white-walled minimalist place with only photos of brewing to give any indication of what it's all about, but that doesn't bother me in the slightest; we went for the beer not to critique the décor and, apart from a couple which were a touch cloudy and/or tired, the beers we tried (15 in all!) were served into lined tasting glasses and varied from "not to our taste" in the case of Freccia Fenicia Zenero (a ginger wheat beer...) via the decent Henquet Natalissia, White Dog Yellow Fever and Orso Verde Rebelde (on cask) to the delicious Flying Dog Imperial Porter, Verhaege Duchesse and Bi-Du Jehol.
So, to surmise, BQ is a cracking modern bar at the bottom on a tall block of flats that looks nothing like the temple to good beer that it actually is but, once you get into the swing of tasting the beers, you'll find a range unsurpassed for a long, long way... Rome, perhaps? BQ is open from 12:00-15:00 and 19:00-02:00 daily and is well-served by the city's excellent (if a touch unfathomable) transport system operated by ATM, see my Milan beer gen for how to get there.
I've archived the previous entries off to here, but to save you wasting your valuable time looking at them I've surmised the gen thus;
January 2008 : Ma che siete venuti a fà, Rome, Italy
February 2008 : Pivovarský Klub, Praha, Czech Republic
March 2008 : Dragon, Worcester
April 2008 : New Oxford, Salford
May 2008 : Blind Tiger, New York
June 2008 : Haket bar och sån´t, Göteborg, Sweden
July 2008 : Crown, Stockport
August 2008 : Station / King's Head, Huddersfield
September 2008 : Harlequin, Sheffield
October 2008 : Anchor, Digbeth, Birmingham
November 2008 : První Pivní Tramway, Spořilov, Praha, Czech Republic
December 2008 : Mochyn Du, Cardiff
With the overall winning pub being the superb Ma che siete venuti a fà (Football Pub) in Rome and best brewpub the out-of-town yet excellent Richter, Prague. The Harlequin was my favourite "scooping" pub of the year.