My looooords!! Get into that seminar!The "Vital Spark", Para handy's famous puffer.A load of casks outside the Evening Star in Brighton.Seminars - even better at 09:00 in the morning!A Plane, funnily enoughA scooping book.  Well thumbed too.A cask on-stillage at a beer festival.Kleuver's brauhaus winnersOtley Arms, TreforestA big Praha Tatra T3 in the snow

  Pub of the Month 

Last Updated : 27/03/11

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...

Previous pub of the month pages for 2008 and 2009 are here.

2010's winners were -

  • January 2010 : Pibar, Lausanne, Switzerland

  • February 2010 : Cask Pub & Kitchen, Pimlico, London

  • March 2010 : BQ - Birra Artigianale di Qualitŕ, Milan, Italy

  • April 2010 : Degustatornia. Gdansk and Gdynia, Poland

  • May 2010 : Green Dragon, Portland, Oregon, USA

  • June 2010 : Bartons Arms, Aston, Birmingham

  • July 2010 : Kelham Island Tavern, Sheffield

  • August 2010 : William IV, Leyton, London

  • September 2010 : Alaus Namai, Vilnius, Lithuania

  • October 2010 : t'Arendsnest, Amsterdam, Netherlands

  • November 2010 : Old Oak, Horsley Woodhouse, Derbyshire

  • December 2010 : Rutland Arms, Sheffield

With the overall winning pub being the fantastic Alaus Namai in Vilnius, Lithuania.  The Rutland Arms was my favourite UK "scooping" pub of the year.

Pub of the Month - December 2010

Pub: Rutland Arms Where: Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Address: 86 Brown Street, Sheffield (close to the rail station)

Details: City centre pub with lovely tiled frontage which is quickly becoming a must-visit in this already superbly beery city.  See it on my Google map here.

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

I vaguely recollect, in the “old days” of scooping in Sheffield back in 1994 or similar arcane times, visiting this pub in search of a scoop only to find it had just run off… I remember it being a strangely-shaped pub but that’s about it, probably due to there being nothing else on the bar I wanted to drink at the time meaning the visit occupied a very brief duration of my time, but still it was sad to hear, five years back, that the pub was to close.  Well, now it’s reopened and is increasingly building it’s reputation on locally-sourced cask ale and delicious-looking food (which I’ve not yet sampled but will get around to soon!).  In charge is Andy and he seems to know exactly what drinkers want and, going on the increasing number of customers on our regular visits, he’s getting it right! 

The building itself is an attractively tiled structure occupying a rounded junction just along from the rail station in an area increasingly being moved upmarket by new offices, student centres and cinemas and, thus, is very conspicuous with it’s 1900’s Gilmour’s tiled façade opposed to the bland soulless glass and concrete edifices of more recent times which surround it.   Inside is definitely a strange shape but none the worse for that and it’s certainly got a lot of character, much more so than some of the pubs over the other side of town around Kelham Island… well, that’s enough about the pub, let’s just say that it’s a cracking old tiled pub surrounded by modern kak and it’s increasingly popular, now for the beer!

Selling local beer is a good thing for many pubs as it allows them to be a lot more “green” in their beer sourcing (depending on the distance they cast their net in ordering beer) and also allows the landlord to get to know the brewers themselves rather than a wholesaler.  I must declare an interest here as the Rutland sells our Steel City beer fairly regularly, but our beer is a mere fraction of what flows through the eight pumps with ale from Sheffield Brewery, the Brew Company, Raw, Spire, Mallinsons, Blue Monkey, Acorn and Blue Bee recently seen on the bar plus some more national stuff such as Greene King for the unadventurous.  The beer is kept in pretty good condition – Dave and I should know, being fussy bastards, and we visit regularly – and, more importantly scoop-wise, seems to be getting more adventurous in it’s scarcity and choice.  Andy has (we think) pretty much a free reign to order whatever he likes so this is a very welcome development.

So, overall, a pub on the up with a good (and getting better) range of cask ales, food which looks and sounds excellent and a location within five minutes’ walk of Sheffield rail station; the Rutland is already becoming a part of the infamous Sheffield Scooping circuit – as if we needed another pub! – and here’s hoping it maintains the trend and gets even better during 2011!

Oh, and the jukebox is bloody superb… shed-loads of Goth and Alternative stuff on there and it’s cheap, too!  Just make sure Fletch isn’t sat next to you as he’ll drown it out… !

Pub of the Month - November 2010

Pub: The Old Oak Inn Where: Horsley Woodhouse, Derbyshire
Address: 176 Main Street, Horsley Woodhouse

Details: Superb village pub with an amazing range of locally-produced cask ales.

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

Imagine the perfect village pub owned by a local micro-brewer with a huge range of beers on handpull.  Then imagine a separate back bar with even more beers on gravity dispense – with plenty of scoops featuring – and then add on the fact you can reach this pub via a bus which stops right outside the front door and links it to one of the UK’s better beer cities.  Then, imagine half a dozen other pubs within five miles with similar beer manifestos and you have the beginnings of a beery nirvana. 

But, this place doesn’t exist, surely?  Nowhere could have all these things, could it? I didn’t think anywhere could be as good as the Old Oak is but, believe me, it has all these things and more with the RuRAD bar (rural real ale, a local institution, weekends only) out the back being one of the best places to drink interesting cask ale I’ve seen in a very long time.  Surely there’s a catch, though?  Surely the beer quality is poor, or maybe the landlord is a miserable git?  Wrong on both counts… the beer quality has been uniformly excellent on my frequent visits over the last six months and Tracy the landlady has a genuine aptitude for the job in hand.  So, where exactly is this wondrous pub?

Horsley Woodhouse isn’t somewhere I’d heard of – and I’ve heard of, and been to, a hell of a lot of places in the UK during my 20 years’ beer scooping career – and nor have that many other people, but this pub deserves to be far better known amongst the beer scooping fraternity.  It can be reached from Derby via the Trent Barton Amberline bus which runs every hour during the day although the evening service is pretty poor… however, a good day out can be had with visits to the nearby Hunters at Kilburn (the bus stops right outside again) and, with a little more planning, the Amber Valley brewery tap in Ripley, the Talbot Taphouse, the Poet and Castle in Codnor, the Queen’s Head in Heanor plus more I’ve forgotten about just at this moment… this is one serious beer crawl although the star of the show must be this superb pub which does everything right and, in alliance with the nearby hostelries, makes a visit to Derby seem more attractive than is has since the mid-90’s.

So, get yourself along to the Old Oak and sample the Leadmill / Bottle Brook beers on the front bar then the guest beers from (mainly) local brewers out the back and see just what a good scoopers pub this is, especially during their frequent beer festivals; an essential visit...

Pub of the Month - October 2010

Pub: t'Arendsnest Where: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Address: Herengracht 90

Details: Famous bar which, at one point, sold a beer from every Dutch micro... before the current wave of new ones!  Still the best choice of Dutch beer on the planet and still a classic pub.

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

This pub is unique.  Peter van der Arend's hommage to Dutch beer began life over ten years ago in a failed pub which had never quite lived up to it's billing as a beer destination; well, he certainly changed all that!

If you've not visited - and, if so, why not? - let me explain a few things.  Amsterdam has always (well, since I've been going there) had a decent beer scene in direct contrast to the majority of the Netherlands where bland lager and indifferent ales rule.  The big problem was, back in the 1990's, the lack of a proper Dutch brewing scene as the dominance of Heineken, Grolsch and La Trappe meant that most Dutch beer sold was from one of these three companies although this still made up a small percentage of the total "quality" beer sector which was dominated, as you might expect, by beers from the southern neighbour, Belgium.  Some micros existed but, on the whole, their beers were usually badly made/infected/homebrewy/bloody awful (and sometimes all of these at once!).

So, when Peter started Arendsnest (Eagle's nest), a lot of people expected him to fail as he concentrated solely on Dutch brewers which, at the time rightly, had a bad reputation and those who wanted craft beer drank Belgian.  Well, I'm glad to say that the pub is still there and better than ever with over 30 Dutch beers on tap and a huge bottle list from which the desperate empty-book merchant could harvest the majority of Dutch brewers,,, although this would probably take more than one session!  One amusing touch to the menu is a list of brewers whose products they cannot get and an apology to that effect... but hey, most of them are there and that's what matters!

Set alongside the pretty Herengracht canal, almost in the Jordaan district, this bar is far enough away from the centre not to be overrun with casual passers by of the Ing-er-lish variety but, nevertheless, has become a must-visit for the surprisingly large number of foreign beer lovers who visit the city and, as such, you'll probably find English being spoken as commonly as Dutch, a sign that the pub aims at beer lovers of all nationalities not just those of Dutch extraction who, in many cases, still have some convincing to do that anything is better than Belgian beer!

I must admit a huge liking for the pub, it's atmosphere, beer range, snacks (the bitterballen are delicious!) and general laid-back, cozy air (the Germans would call it gemütlich) but, most of all, the vision of the man who decided to open a bar in hommage to a beer scene which, at the time, was still experiencing growing pains but has since blossomed into an interesting rival to that in Belgium and has repaid his belief back many times over.  There are other beer specialist bars in Amsterdam, some even selling Dutch beers, but t'Arendsnest is still my favourite in the city scoop-wise and long may it remain so!


Mentions in Dispatches must also go to Peter's other enterprise, the Beer Temple, which showcases foreign (i.e. non Dutch!) beers in a very American setting with a huge tap array and big bottle list.  No tour of Amsterdam could fail to mention In de Wildeman, a classic beer bar which has good scooping potential, whilst in the UK Otley brewery's Bunch of Grapes in Pontypridd impressed greatly with their pale ale festival and is a cracker of a pub to visit at any time with all one-off Otley beers passing through plus interesting guests too.

Pub of the Month - September 2010

Pub: Alaus Namai Where: Vilnius, Lithuania
Address: A. Goštauto 8

Details: Cellar bar which offers over a dozen Lithuanian brews including some of the rare and (sometimes) bizarre Kaimiškas farmhouse beers.  See it on my Vilnius & Kaunas Google map.

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

There I was, thinking I'd never again be able to say I'd been scooping in the Beer House (since the one in Manchester is now called the Angel and, I've just found out, under threat of demolition for some shitty building scheme in the old Co-op carpark*), when I find another beer house... and this one is just as superb, just as beery, just as filled with rare scoops, just as non-touristy and slightly downmarket as the Manchester one ever was except this one is over a thousand miles from my first ever scooping "base camp".

If you've not guessed by now - and you really need to wake up if you haven't - Alaus Namai means, roughly, "Beer House" and this new bar (it opened in 2008) on the riverside in Vilnius is a worthy successor to my favourite-ever pub.  It has everything the Manchester one had and some things are scarily similar (although not the deep-fried pig's ears, I never saw those on Angel Street!) although first impressions aren't good with a nondescript door leading down some nondescript stairs into the bowels of a nondescript building.

Once inside, however, things get interesting.  It's all dim lighting and about the beer - I'm not sure they sell anything else - although you may catch live music on the right (or wrong, depending on your views) night; we witnessed traditional Lithuanian folk music which I still can't get out of my head two weeks later... bloody fiddles and stampy dancing... sorry, I digress, on most nights - and I do mean nights, it's open until 05:00 Thursday to Saturday - it looks as if you, and everyone else, will be there for the beer and the beer alone!

As to the beer, well that's where the Beer House really shines.  Up to sixteen Lithuanian beers on tap, almost all unpasteurised and unfiltered - and the amazingly helpful English menu tells you the brewer, filtration and pasteurisation status and tasting notes - including two of the holy grail of Lithuanian beers, the until recently almost impossible-to-find "Kaimiškas" beers made up in the rural north of the country by licensed individuals, often farmers, and it's only now they are becoming more available in mainstream bars.  The two usually on offer are both amazing drinks and although I loved one and merely liked the other, they're both fascinating pieces of history in a glass and must be sampled by any serious beer scooper; the Jovarų, in particular, was stunningly complex and even merited another 0.4 litre!

The food is just what you need when scooping although a liking for lard and garlic (or unusual parts of a pig) is pretty much compulsory!  We love the basic beer snack Kepta Juoda Duonėle which is, basically, black bread fried with garlic... absolutely delicious and a perfect accompaniment to an evening supping rare beers!  It's relatively easy to reach, too, and even better you can take a trolleybus to within 100 metres of the door!  The stop you need is Kražių, although nothing goes there directly from the main rail station so you'll either have to change somewhere or not mind walking.  Use this excellent site to work out your best move... single tickets can be bought on the buses otherwise you need an electronic card to charge up with 3-day tickets from the little shacks (either the dedicated transport kiosk or any Lietuvos spauda kiosk) near the station and you'll pay 8LVL for the privilege!  Best to buy singles onboard, then...

One final good point is that the bar isn't on the tourist trail so you're unlikely to be rubbing shoulders with any stag parties, just locals in for the beer and music... so, overall, a beer scooper's heaven with over a dozen beers - almost all unfiltered and unpasteurised - plus good food and no feckin' Ing-er-lish tossers to ruin things. 

Go, just go... it's a superb bar and one I feel lives up to the original Manchester Beer House in every aspect apart from it not being in Manchester!


* - actually it isn't, but they had me worried for a minute...

Pub of the Month - August 2010

Pub: William IV Where: Leyton, London
Address: 816 High Road, Leyton, East London

Details: Brewery tap for the impressive Brodie's brewery out back with around eight beers on at a time.

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

Let's get this straight, this isn't your average scooper's pub in that there are no guest beers here just the products of the brewery out back.  This, generally, would disqualify any pub from being a winner here but in the case of the William IV it's definitely a case of the beer - and, importantly, the huge range - more than making up for new breweries.

Up to a dozen (usually around eight to ten) cask ales are on sale at any one time from the constantly evolving Brodie's range which could include the deliciously sessionable Citra at 3.1% or all manner of experimental pale ales, fruit beers and beers made with - for example - nuts in the mash in a very Italian style!  There is also a fridge filled with bottle-conditioned Brodie's beers which means you can sample those which aren't on or even claw-back some of those you've missed; we managed to sample a Wimbledon beer flavoured with strawberry and vanilla, a blueberry wheat beer, a mild, the aforementioned pecan nut ale and several other more "normal" brews... and that's without mentioning the handpulls!

It's a proper old boozer out in the east end but down-at-heel it isn't, with an almost palatial Victorian facade and interior reminding me of several of the better Edinburgh pubs, although if you visit when Orient are at home expect a crowded bar!  The locals seemed friendly enough, the beers are - for London - amazingly cheap at Ł2 a pint and it's an all-round cracking pub which should be on everyone's list when visiting London.

Okay, so you might not scoop a dozen every time, but with the constantly-changing Brodie's beer range, you're pretty much guaranteed something of interest when you visit.

Pub of the Month - July 2010

Pub: Kelham Island Tavern Where: Sheffield
Address: 62 Russell Street, Shalesmoor

Details: Cracking scooper's pub right in the middle of the "Valley of Beer" crawl with a whole load of beers on handpull including new and rare beers.

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

I can't quite work out why I've omitted to honour the KIT before so, finally, here we go!

There can't be many beer scoopers who haven't been to Sheffield - and they're not real scoopers if they haven't been in my opinion! - so I'm assuming we all know what the KIT is about; a dozen or so cask ales, great pub food and a big ginger cat called Frank who took up residence after the floods and managed to stay.  What's amazing is that, not so many years ago, this was a boarded up pub destined, so it seemed, for demolition and the transformation into such a temple to cask ale has been nothing short of remarkable and it's a testament to the efforts and vision of all the staff at the KIT that this has happened and the pub is seemingly ever busier with beer lovers (although that's not such a great thing when you're trying to get in of a Saturday night!).

Okay, so the beer range may not be as adventurous as it used to be, but there's still a wide selection of cask ales from, generally, the better end of the micro-brewing spectrum and I don't think I've ever managed to score a zero in there yet scoops-wise, an envious record indeed.  The house beers include the sublime Pictish Brewer's Gold amongst others and, considering that this is one of the only places in Sheffield to do wholesome pub food - including Henderson's relish - it's place on the circuit must be enshrined for all eternity.

Oh, and Camra seem to like the place too but don't worry, it's rarely packed with jazz-loving morris dancing weirdy beardies, just ordinary Sheffield folk - and scoopers - enjoying the atmosphere of a pub which revels in it's place in the world... and not many do that these days.

Pub of the Month - June 2010

Pub: Bartons Arms Where: Birmingham
Address: High Street, Aston

Details: Absolutely glorious example of Victorian pub architecture and, if more interest were needed, it's owned by Oakham... Citra and Thai food?  Bliss...

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

I almost didn't give an award this month as nowhere really hit the spot as a top scooping pub but then, thinking about things, everything fell together and I realised that a pub doesn't have to have shed-loads of winners to be a great pub as long as it has interesting seasonals from the owning brewery, the odd guest, fantastic Thai food and a decor straight out of the Orient Express... of course, I'm rambling about the Bartons Arms in Aston, which is a classic pub in every sense although not exactly a scooping hotspot.

So, why have I chosen it?  Basically because I have a huge soft spot for Oakham beer and, with half a dozen on sale including all seasonals, you'll probably need something unless you're really desperate in which case I'd simply decamp to the Anchor.  I scooped two beers, Oakham Tranquility and Birds Back of the Net, and if Oakham Chinook had been stillaged we could have blagged that too.  Add in Oakham's trademark excellent Thai food - which goes great with Citra let me tell you - and you're onto a good thing.

I hadn't realised just how easy it is to get to the Bartons by bus (57 from near Moor St) so I'll definitely be there more often and, if you like hops and Thai food, you should too; okay, it's not a scooperfest, but every now and again there's the need for sheer quality rather than yet another mid-brown crystal malt and fuggles clone.

See it on my Birmingham Google map here...

Pub of the Month - May 2010

Pub: Green Dragon Where: Portland, Oregon, USA
Address: 928 SE 9th Avenue (Just North of the junction with SE Yamhill).

Details: Excellent scooping bar which has 50 changing beers on two bars and offers the best, if not widest, range of scoops in "Beervana".

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

Not for nothing is Portland tagged "Beervana" and, if you've been there, you'll know that craft beer is everywhere and has seemingly impregnated itself into the very fibre of existence out in the Pacific North-West with more craft beer being sold than industrial beer, one of the very few places in the world (at present) where this is the case.  There are brewpubs everywhere, even in the most post-industrial and unpromising neighbourhoods, and overall the city exudes an air of being very at-ease with it's relationship with proper beer.

Not only are there over 40 brewpubs in Portland itself (in an area approximately the size of Sheffield) but the surrounding countryside offers up dozens of others giving Oregon a good claim to the title of "Beeriest place on the planet".  I spent a mere four days there in May and was amazed by the amount of beer around and, consequently, we only managed to get to around half of the places I had listed on my mammoth three-page "hitlist" although we still scooped around 150 beers in that time!  With time of the essence we concentrated on the brewpubs where the eight glass samplers provided an easy method of bumping up the scooping tally although we did manage two visits to this bizarre place and with very good reason - the amazing beer list.

Now I'm not going to say the Green Dragon is in a nice area, it's not, although the post-industrial shabby low-rise lockups all around do give it an interesting feel.  It's not a dodgy area, though, and deceptively close to the city centre with a ride on bus 15 (this travels outbound along Belmont, one block north, and inbound along Morrison one block further north) taking a mere ten minutes from the transport mall in the city centre meaning there's no excuse not to take a ride out here and soak up some culture!  (In addition, the Hair of the Dog and Lucky Labrador brewpubs are only five minutes' walk away and the same 15 bus will take you to Belmont Station and the Horse Brass pub in ten minutes).

So, what's the gen?  The first thing you'll see is a big green Anderson shelter-esque construction then the bar next door situated in what looks to be, in common with many of Portland's beery places, in an old garage complete with large roll-up door.  Inside is a bar with 19 beers on tap and one handpull; this seemed good enough on it's own to warrant a lengthy stay but, as we peered into the depths of the room, we saw another bar at the back with another 30 - yes, thirty - beers on tap, all different than those on the front bar!  These beers were from micro brewers all over Oregon and the west coast and I was pleased to see that, despite the pub being owned by Rogue, there were only two of their beers on sale out of 50! (I don't really like Rogue beers and, anyhow, I've scooped most of 'em already!).

I must state that we didn't have many outstanding beers in the 16 we tried although this wasn't due to any fault of the bar's cellarmanship, it was simply due to the beers we chose being rare/new breweries/big scoops and, consequently, some were from less good brewers or were less good beers, but this does not in any way put me off recommending the bar to anyone looking for a good range of beers in Portland as, looking at the lists, there were plenty of good beers available it was just that we chose the "scooper's" beers and were unlucky!  The beer range changes by the hour as beers run off and new ones come one and there's even an "on the plate" list chalked on the cellar door which shows those due to come on next!

A major bonus is that they serve "flights" or tasting trays of beer for reasonable prices; simply choose four beers and you'll be handed a tray of four modestly-sized glasses from which you can scoop away easily and, more importantly, without becoming too pissed to scoop as drinking pints of 7% beer isn't a recipe for a long and fruitful day's scooping!  Prices are slightly above average for Portland which means around $5 to $6 a pint for most beers; note that it's common practice throughout the states to charge the same price for most beers but to serve stronger ones in smaller glasses.  This will generally be shown on the list alongside the beer as "12oz" or suchlike, this tells you that you'll get a smaller glass if you choose to drink that way but, with scooping flights available and 50 beers to choose from, why would you want to do that?

A brewery is in process of being installed but, in the meantime, there's a tiny "testplant" which is used once a week to produce bizarre and different beers with, generally, one being available at a time until it runs off.  On our visit the beer was King Ghidorah which, to be honest, wasn't pleasant at all, but they're just beginning so I'll let them off!  There is also a distillery next door, Integrity Spirits, whose products are on sale in the bar; if you're a Simpsons fan I dare you not to snigger at Lovejoy Vodka!  (A cursory glance at a Portland streetmap will show just how many characters Matt Groening, a Portlander himself, lifted from the city's streets... Lovejoy, Burns, Kearney, Flanders and Quimby are all there!).

So, all in all, this is a proper, hardcore scooping bar in the interesting Southeast of Portland with easy access to the city centre via bus 15 a mere block away (every 15 minutes or so), around 50 beers on tap with many being rare and/or new, and many other brewpubs within a short walking distance or bus ride of the front door.  Yes, Henry's taphouse has more beers vom faß (100), but the range and rarity of those on sale at the Green Dragon more than make up for the numerical shortfall and I can pretty much guarantee that, unless you're a real top man on Pacific Northwest US beers, you'll find a decent amount of winners on the bars in the Green Dragon making a visit here pretty much a necessity when in Portland and, in a city with so many top-class beer destinations, this is high praise indeed.

Close but no cigar.

A rather close second comes the 4th Avenue Tavern in New York for it's extensive range of rare brews, sociable staff and locals plus free popcorn!  Henry's in Portland had 100 beers on tap although they could in reality have sold 25 and scrapped most of the dross and I didn't really like the "trendy" feel to the place although the ice rink around the bartop was well bizarre!  The Horse Brass in Portland also comes close with an excellent range of mainly local brews (although some craptacular UK beers made us laugh too!) and I enjoyed the Ginger Man in New York a lot more this time around and it's a shame the Blind Tiger had a Rogue Festival on else that might have come close.

Pub of the Month - April 2010

Pub: Degustatornia Where: Gdańsk and Gdynia, Poland
Address: Grodzka 16, Gdańsk  and Świętojańska 130, Gdynia

Details: Two branches of a new chain of bars in Northern Poland which aims to serve at least a dozen beers on tap and 100+ in bottle!  See my map...

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

What a turnaround Northern Poland has experienced, craft beer-wise, during the last five years.  We last visited Gdańsk in 2006 the beer scene there was, to put it mildly, almost non-existent with no brewpubs, no specialist beer bars, no beer shops and only the existence of adventurous local brewer Amber providing relief with their solid and, in some cases very good, beers.

Now the city - which must rate as one of the most under-appreciated and unknown classics of Europe - has it's very own brewpub in a pristinely renovated granary which serves pale, dark and wheat beers at tourist prices to wealthy locals and German day-trippers but this award isn't for them, it's for a new chain of bars which is striking out where no-one has been before and offering a dozen beers on tap plus anything from 100 to 150 in bottle and, amazingly, the majority of these are from smaller Polish brewers.  The original bar opened in the industrial port city of Gdynia, a place very few tourists visit, and now a second has opened in the much more touristy city of Gdańsk.  Both bars are quite different with the Gdynia one being a cellar bar which majors on draught beers with an amazing array of 20 or so pumps (the beers on sale are displayed on cards on the taps and above the bar) whilst the Gdańsk branch makes more of it's bottle range with large fridges containing beers from an impressively long list, although not all are available at all times.

We visited both bars and although I preferred the "pubbiness" of the Gdynia bar more - plus the tap selection was better - the Gdańsk bar is far easier to get to and therefore the one most scoopers will visit, although with the SKM train linking Gdańsk and Gdynia Wzgórze Św. Maksymiliana (the stop before Gdynia main station) every ten minutes and only taking half an hour it's not really that far off the beaten track to visit both.  The only major issue with the bars is the lack of proper food, although nibbles such as nachos (in reality a pile of doritos with salsa) or cheese is the only option, but in a country full of cheap milk bars (bar mleczny) just about everywhere this isn't a big a problem as you'd expect.  Okay, enough of the travel semantics, what are the bars like to drink in and, more importantly, what about scooping potential?

The answer is, in both cases, good and very good.  Whilst both are very different bars both have - for Poland, especially - huge ranges of beer and, more importantly, these ranges don't include too much crap and very little multinational swill.  Most draught beers are from Poland as is around half of the bottled range with the remainder from countries such as Slovakia, Ukraine, the Baltics, Germany and even the UK!  For most scoopers, though, it's the Polish selection you'll be concentrating on and there are some absolute gems on the list including, for example, small-brewer beers such as Bartek jasne, Gościszewo Viva Hel and the rare Amber Żywe niefiltrowane (unfiltered and unpasteurised) on tap (if you're lucky!), and in bottle whoppers including beers from Cornelius, GAB, Koreb and Konstancin.  If you're after Baltic Porters - and who isn't? - there's a good selection of those on offer plus a growing list of unpasteurised and/or unfiltered beer.

So, Degustatornia is a chain of bars with, by the looks of things and our experiences (packed out with young locals most nights), a great future in providing micro-brewed beer to those Poles who have had to make do with industrial swill for a long time.  Not so many years ago it looked as if the Multinationals had the Polish beer market sewn up tight but now, as in almost every other country in the world, customers are demanding local, natural products and there is a new breed of small brewer ready to provide it.  The only thing missing used to be a dedicated craft beer bar but, in my opinion, the two Degustatornia bars tick all the boxes for us Euroscoopers and those locals and tourists in search of craft beer and I hope they continue to expand and follow the same path in future.

A worthy mention must go to the Hole in the Wall at Southsea, Portsmouth, which would have walked it this month had I not gone to Poland...

Pub of the Month - March 2010

Pub: BQ - Birra Artigianale di Qualitŕ Where: Milan, Lombardia, Italy
Address: Via Losanna 36

Details: The best "scooping" pub in the North of Italy goes from strength to strength; 20 beers on tap plus others on handpull/cask too.  Open 12:00-15:00 and 19:00-02:00 daily.

Score: Absolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beerAbsolutely unmissable and superb bar / beer

Just over a year after our chancing upon BQ the first time, we visited again and, if anything, it's now even better!  Paolo Polli welcomed us again and his obvious pride and passion for the place is great to see.  The 20 taps are still pouring forth superb artisanal beers from Italy and beyond - we scooped 15 beers that evening! - and now there is a handpull on the bar plus another cask beer from the back room in addition to Girardin oude lambic and kriekenlambic from their "bagbox" dispensers, plus a range of bottled beer from Italian micros which is rather impressive too!

So, how could this temple to beer get any better?  Well, maybe some of the staff could be trained a little more and the changing of finished beers and the menu could be improved (how about a big TV or chalkboard of what's on like the Welly in Brum?) but these are minor niggles really and take nothing away from BQ's amazing commitment to craft beer and spreading the word about it to the masses.  Prices are the same as last year, reasonable for Milano especially the "3x10cl for €4" deal, and overall I can't think of many places with as much love for beer (Popeye in Tokyo and Ma che siete venuti a fŕ in Rome are two which spring to mind) and such a huge, varied range as this place has.

The decor is still pretty much bare walls and striplights, not your cosy little bar by any means, but the huge expanse of wall now has large photos of the brewing process on it plus there are display cabinets of bottled beers opposite the bar which reminded me immediately of Porterhouse in Dublin.  You can stand at the bar, just, where you get a better impression of what's on, although it's table service and this is what you're supposed to do!  Paolo told us that this year the bar will be moved to the rear of the building, opening up the whole area into one (a big improvement IMO) and more taps / handpulls will be installed to cater for increased demand for beers.  I imagine the bar will be closed for a while during these works so, if you're visiting, keep an eye on the website to check what's happening and what beers are currently on tap; I like to look at the beer list and slaver over my keyboard wishing I were there at least once a week...

So, here's to our next visit to one of my favourite beer bars I've visited thus far on my travels and, if you've not yet ventured to Italy, just go and experience a craft beer revolution in full ferment with Milan right at the centre of it all; see my guide to the city's beery delights here, so now just get yourself there and see how good it is for yourself... you won't go thirsty in Milan, let me put it that way!

I feel really unfair in not mentioning Hop, my second-favourite bar in Milan, which can't compete with BQ in number of beers but, even so, is a superb little bar and stocks ten draught Italian micro-brewed beers with most being from Lambrate (never a bad thing!) plus three or four guest beers.  During our visit to Hop we visited during aperitivo and received, along with our cheaper medias of beer, delicious toasted bruschettas which we munched on happily.  The beer, too, was superb with Lambrate's superb Ligera pale ale simply oozing raw CTZ hop oils and was so good I had to have another!  You might not scoop as many beers in Hop as you will in BQ but it's an essential visit when in town.

Pub of the Month - February 2010

Pub: Cask Pub & Kitchen Where: Pimlico, London
Address: 6 Charlwood Street

Details: Once a keg-only pub now an unashamedly upmarket one with eight cask ales plus a growing range of Foreign, especially German, beer on tap and in bottle; a huge gain for London.

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

I know, I know... London's all expensive beer, flat pints, pearly geezers, city twats and insufficient public transport, isn't it?  The only decent pubs are in Borough Market and they charge the earth for their beer...

London has come a long way in the last few years.  Yes, the old favourites such as the Wenlock and Market Porter are still there and as busy as ever, but a whole raft of new places is beginning to emerge and some of them are extremely good indeed, for example the Bree Louise at Euston, Edgar Wallace at Temple, Castle at Chancery Lane, Southampton Arms up by Crouch Hill and Old Fountain at Old Street.  It seems as if Londoners are finally, after many false starts and years of indifference, waking up to the fact that a good pub serving craft-brewed ale is a thing to support not ignore.

My first visit to London for over two years was a chance for me to try out as many of the "shiny shiny" as possible within the constraints of my consumption and time limits!  After visiting the Bree Louise, where four decent beers were supped, I made my way via the Victoria line down to Pimlico and trudged along in the drizzle until I found what looked to be a very unpromising-looking building tacked onto the end of some vaguely dubious-looking flats; was this really the place which was getting London's in-the-know beer people all excited?

Inside was dimly-lit and stripped-down modern although all I was really interested in, not being a critic of interior design, were the eight handpulls on the bar!  Four, as I'd heard, dispensed Thornbridge beers (sadly no scoops) whilst the others hosted an eclectic range of vaguely local guest beers including Harwich Phoenix APA, Twickenham Sundancer and Two Bridges Golden Cygnet.  I worked my way through the beers and all were in great condition, not always the case in London, whilst explaining to the barman that I was visiting on recommendation which he seemed surprised about!  Well, I explained, when you make such an impact in such a short time tongues will begin to wag...

Okay, the beer was expensive (I think over Ł3 a pint), but so what?  I'd much rather pay this for well-kept scoops than slightly less for Fullers or suchlike, besides when you've regularly paid €12 a bottle for craft beer in Italy Ł1.70 a half isn't likely to break the bank by comparison.  With so much more to do I had to cut short my visit and, unfortunately, I didn't have time to get into the German bottled beers - which were far more interesting than your standard bottle list - but the next time I'm in London I'll be back at the Cask & Kitchen as it might just be the next big thing in town.  Okay, it doesn't have the huge turnover of the Porter or eclectic range of the Wenlock, but it deserves supporting for making a stand for craft beer in an area not renowned for it and I hope they succeed - going on my experience on a wet Thursday afternoon they deserve to.

Pub of the Month - January 2010

Pub: Pibar Where: Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland
Address: Rue du Valentin 62.  Map

Details: Tiny bar out to the north of the city with the best range of locally-brewed beer for miles.  Opens Monday 18:30-midnight, Tue-Sat 17:30-02:00, closed Sunday. 

Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !

Well, I never expected this.  After a week in Basel where the beer scene was just about the same as during my previous visit 2 years back I was off to Lausanne with scant regard paid to beery research as, with it being in the French sector of the country, just how much beeriness could there possibly be?  We'd visited the city's two brewpubs even further back in the prehistory of our European trips (during 2005 which, for us, is virtually Jurassic) and although there were a few micro-brewers mentioned on the net nothing else had shown itself during our time in town, so I steeled myself for nine days of drinking average (and very dud) Trois Brasseurs and Chateau beers.

After arriving into Geneva via Paris (which remains one of my least liked airports, if you've an hour or two I'll explain) a colleague and I took the train to Lausanne where I wasn't particularly surprised to see that the opposite bank of Lac Leman was shrouded in mist - which resolutely refused to budge during the following eight days - denying me some glorious photos of the lake from any number of vantage points around the city.  To compensate, and utilising the amazingly sensible Swiss habit of a free city "all-line" travel pass given by every hotel, I scratched the city's extensive trolleybus system whilst watching out for possible beery bars although I saw only one, a small place with a Chimay sign outside, not my idea of craft beer but still I half-heartedly marked it on my map for checking out later in the week.

All went to plan for the first few days until I found myself at work with a few hours to spare and a wide-open internet just begging to be surfed.  With the help of Bov's gen-packed site I began to trawl through the websites of the local micros and, to my shock, some bars were mentioned that stocked craft beer!  One name in particular cropped up during my search, that of the intriguingly-named Pibar (pi as in the Greek letter and bar as in bar), and so armed with a hastily scribbled map off I went on trolleybus No.1 whereupon I realised that this bar was the one I'd seen on my very first evening and neglected to investigate thus far; well, now was the time for some proper beer-hunting!

The bar was tiny inside and very... well, red in decor and looked as if it was relatively new (apparently it used to be called Bar Boucanier which was also famous for it's beer) and, having just opened, empty apart from a few early-door customers.  I perched myself at the bar and studied the fridges and beer menu whereupon I felt my pulse quicken; I'd only gone and found a scooping pub in Lausanne!  The list contained well over a dozen Swiss craft beers including the mysterious local Dr Gabs, adventurous Faiseurs de Bičre, highly regarded Trois Dames, over-rated (in my opinion!) BFM plus, as a bonus, small chalkboards announced the arrival of yet another local brewer to the already packed fridges; Jorat!  This was going to be a night to remember...

The barman, who I assume is also part-owner, spoke very little English but my French had, during the preceding few days, evolved to a level permitting me to order things so I worked my way through half a dozen brews plus a delicious plate of tapas, prepared fresh in the tiny kitchen by my new friend.  As I scored my winners the bar slowly filled up (which, given it's size, didn't take long) and it was heartening to see that despite 99% of the clientele being under 30 - making me probably the oldest geezer in the place - they almost all seemed to be beer-lovers and pored over the menus with great deliberation before ordering their chosen beverage.  Many went for the pretty decent Belgian range although the local Dr Gabs brews seemed to be popular, particularly the Ténébreuse stout, although Trois Dames topping the bill for me, in particular their IPA and Brown IPA, both of which oozed citrussy, fruity hops; not something I'd expected in Switzerland, I must admit...

Eventually it was time to leave and so, wishing the barstaff (who probably wondered when I was going to piss off and stop slurring away in atrocious schoolboy French at them) good night, I clumped off down the precipitous hill back to the centre of Lausanne and then on to my hotel where, over deliciously Beamish-esque (mid 90's, obviously) bottle of Trois Dames Black Stout, I reflected that I'd almost missed out on what must be one of the most beery places in the whole of Switzerland!  You might expect in bar that small to find a couple of craft beers but Pibar seems to go all-out for the city's "beer destination" prize and, in my opinion, walks it; not many bars have that much love for beer, so many beery customers and all-round craft beer vibe as Pibar has and, for these reasons, it's dangerously close to my top-five bars of all time on the strength of just three visits in a week!

If you're in Lausanne, or anywhere near, do yourself a favour and get to Pibar, perch yourself at the bar and work your way through the impressive beer list.  Some staff speak English, some don't, but love of beer overrides such unimportant matters and this place has that flowing out the door and down the hill.  All they need to do is lose the bottles of Greede King IPA...

To get to this bastion of craft beer take trolleybus 1 from the station (northbound, direction Blécherette) to Druey College, 50 metres up the hill, although be aware the southbound stop is a little distance further up along Av. Druey (the left-hand fork).  To be honest, the hill is so steep it's easy enough to walk back to Place Riponne in five minutes although walking up isn't advised if you value your lungs...!

Inside Pibar Lausanne Pibar from the steep Rue outside!

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 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 in 2009...


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