A fine trip. We met old friends and made new ones. While in Belgium we attended some very cool festivals, visited a number of breweries, and sampled the world’s most unique and special beers. Can’t say enough about England – beautiful countryside & cities, great culture, and wonderful public houses.
Below is a listing of the pubs, breweries, and festivals we visited. There’s a lot! Although it may seem all we did was sample the fine libations that Belgium and England have to offer, we spent much of each day hitting the museums and tourist sites, and walking – a lot of walking. Honest.
Earl of Derby
Live and Let Live
Hop Beer Shop
Might Oak Tap Room
Barrowboy & Banker
Craft Beer Company
Crown & Anchor
Friend of the Hand
Hope & Sirloin
Hung, Drawn & Quartered
Lord John Russell
Prince William Henry
London Breweries (micros)
Anspach & Hobday
Brew by Numbers
Gueuze & Kriek Festival – ‘Night of the Great Thirst’
Rondje Roodbruin – Flanders Red/Brown Fest
Zythos Bier Festival
Belgium Breweries & Blenders
Omer Vander Ghinste
pic: Our final pub stop in London – Mabel’s Tavern
Saturday, April 30th.
Big day today – the London Amateur competition is being held at the Ubrew location in Bermondsey, South London. It’s a pretty good-sized event with 350+ entries from across the UK and the republic of Ireland that’s a BJCP certified competition. I’m judging and Ryan is assisting as a steward.
My tasting categories couldn’t have worked out better. The first grouping was Specialty American IPAs, one with which I am intimately familiar. I’m paired with Sarah, president of the Welsh amateur group. The entries are uniformly well crafted with a few quite outstanding. Clearly less focus on hop presence that would be expected back home – not surprising, I guess. My second grouping was English Porters, not a style seen much in the US. Again, uniformly good-quality entries.
The ‘Bermondsey Mile’ refers to a mile-long stretch of Bermondsey Road that is the center of the London micro scene. The road parallels an elevated railway, under which arched columns have been converted to brewery and tap-house space. On Saturdays, the breweries all open for visits and tastings. It’s quite a scene and is considered a must-do for beer tourists.
Alex, one of our fellow travelers on the Belgian tour, lives in Bersmondey and volunteered to hook up with us after the competition and point out the Mile’s highlights. He knows all the brewers so we get special attention and discounts. A good man! Some really nice offerings: Southwark, Anspach & Hobday, and Brew-By-Numbers were standouts.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening working our way back to the hotel. It’s a great city to walk with history, architecture and pubs almost every corner. It’s been a blast.
Pics: London Amateur Competition, Bermondsey brewery, Alex – our ‘guide’, Jesmond Hotel
Friday, April 29th
We head out to the West End today. Ryan has located one of the few remaining police boxes in london so we depark at Earl’s Court for a photo opp.
Just down the road is my favorite traditional pub, the Churchill Arms. Very cool interior with multiple tributes to the Queen’s 90th, burning fires in a couple of the rooms, a nice set of cask options, and great food. Oddly enough, the menu is all Thai. I’ve been looking for something hot and got it big-time.
While at the Churchill, I spotted an advert for a book ‘Pub Dogs of London’. A regular in the pub suggests I try the local bookstore and grab the last copy. Hilarious with a number of the hounds featured from the Chuchill itself. While there, ‘Busters’ owner stops in and graciously autographs his page. Love it!
We’re walking as much as we can and wander through Kensington down to the museum cluster where we check out the Victoria and Albert, Science, and Natural History museums. The Victoria and Albert Museum is especially wonderful. I’s really hard to believe there’s no admission fees for such beautiful facilities. While passing through Trafalgar Square we run into Jean-Paul, from Toronto, and one of our fellow travelers in Belgium. He’s just come from the pub we’re heading to, the ‘Harp’, one of the finest London has to offer. How we connected there given there were a few thousand in the square is a pleasant mystery.
pics: Churchill Arms, ditto, Flaming Tuba, Police Box
Some culture interspersed with pubs today.
The Tate Modern on the south bank has been a target for Ryan and I since we started planning this trip. It’s an easy underground to Blakfriar’s Station and walk across the Thames to the museum. The free admission policy always surprises me, especially for such a well-respected museum. Good stuff – a lot of really special modern work along with some pretty wierd installations.
After lunch at one of the Fuller pubs (The Prince William Henry), we hike down to the Imperial War Museum – about a 30 minute walk . The WWI and Holocast exhibits are outstanding and quite moving.
It’s a pleasant, but cool evening so we take our time walking back to the hotel with an occasional pub stop along the way. Thankfully, there’s plenty of CAMRA rated places to choose from!
pics: ‘3 eggs’ at the Tate, Parliament, Ben, Argyll Arms
Our hotel is well situated – close to a number of under ground stations, restaurants, and pubs. Breakfast is in a common area with full English or more healthy options. They provide a same day laundry service at 7 GBP per load that should keep me from having to wash socks in the sink for the rest of the trip.
We toured the Tower of London in the morning. It looks quite different from when Mary and I were there in ’14 during the WWI centennial. Then, the entire moat was filled with red poppies in remembrance of the war dead. Our tour guide was hilarious – he really got into the gory details of the executions and tortures. The kids loved it. We did the ‘Tower Bridge Experience’ in the afternoon which included a visit to the engine room. Reminded me of the 4-stand mill basements at Gary Works.
Shaun hooked up with us at the Euston Tap after he got off work. After a few pub stops and an excellent Indian dinner we bid him farewell and headed back to the ranch.
Pics: Euston Tap, Bree Louise, Eggs, Tower scene
We had a few hours to kill in Chelmsford before we catch our train back to London.
Neither of us felt like a hotel meal. so we headed down to one of the local pubs, the Plough, across from the train station for something with a more local vibe. Great place with a CAMRA designation, cool interior and a fine full English for breakfast. We walk to, and tour the beautiful Chelmsford cathedral. Gorgeous. The stained glass on both sides of the entry are a tribute to the American military.
A short train and metro ride and we’re at our lodging, the family-owned Jemson Hotel in Bloomsbury. The British Museum provides hours of stimulation. Thanks to our personal pub planner, Ed Vidunas, we locate and enjoy some of the best London has to offer. Thanks Ed! and also thanks for a great write-up of our evening’s activities by Ryan .
Pics: the Plough, Chelmsford glass, British Museum
A nice finish to another fine Podge tour.
As always, the bus stopped at the incredible ‘Dranken Geers’ beer store in Oostakker so the English folk can avoid local taxes and load up on some of the beers from Dranken’s fabulous collection of Belgian and French beers. The prices are crazy – 1.5 euro on average for beers we would pay 8-10 dollars for in PA. Of course, Ryan and I are constraind by PA’s medieval import restrictions and luggage weight. Breaks a traveling man’s heart. Our friends, Shaun and Carol, show no mercy and load up to the max.
Our luck with the weather, until now, has been wonderful with blue skies and mild temps. Not so today as we got the full monty – rain, sun, hail, wind. Just like home!
Our last brewery tour was at the smallest producer in Belgium – the Microbrouwerij Urthel in Oostakker, a very rural farming community. No GPS here – they might not have electricity! Inspite of the nasty weather (rain, hail, gale force wind), we enjoy a tasting of Urthel’s micros and a tour of the brewery (mine might be bigger). Really cool, creative people who also run a restaurant in a nearby town where we share our final meal as a tour group.
Our drive to Calais and through the Chunnel were uneventful. We bid our traveling companions a fond farwell on arrival in Chelmsford and have a last pint with Shaun and Carol before our short walk to our lodging near the train depot. One of those trips you wish could never end.
Pics: Microbrouwerij Urthel, Vikings at Dranken Geers, Podge & Ryan & Siobhan, De Hoppeschuur
Oh yea! The biennial ‘Rondje Roodbruin’ or Red-Brown Tour. The tour is an open house at each of the four breweries in West Flanders who manufacture the Flanders Red and ‘Oud Brune’ beers. Rare and very special.
All the facilities are quite interesting. Rodenbach and Omer Vander Ghinste are large, modern operations. Verhaeghe and de Brabandere and smaller shops with fun, local character. Each of the breweries provided a tour, samples, food, and entertainment. All used what looked like forests of huge, oaken foeders (French oak) for aging. Many were over 100 years old. Amazing!
pics are: Verhaeghe foeders; Ryan, Shaun, & Mike at Omer; Omer band; food truck
Today is the Zythos beer festival. On the way we stop at the ‘Volkscafe’ in Gooik, pronounced ‘Hoyk’, a traditional cafe and cultural center in the heart of the beautiful Senne valley. The cafe is a favorite with cyclists and beer tourists alike. In the men’s room, a beer glass holder is conveniently located abive the urinals. A very civilized culture.
Across the yard from the cafe is one of the premier lambic blenders, de Cam. While there, another local brewer arrives, selling beer out of his trunk – gotta love it.
Zythos is Belgium’s premier beer festival, held in Leuven, a major university town. Very popular. Over 80 breweries and 500 beers. Nice.
A pretty full day in Payottenland, home of lambiek and guezue, in the Senne valley. This is beautiful country with rolling hills, orchards, and small farms.
Beersel is a short drive from our hotel in Aalst. Our first stop is at the Centre de Lambiek – a museum and visitor center dedicated to lambiek brewing and blending. Also in Beersel is the wonderful 3Fonteinen restaurant and brewery. Armand Debelder, the famous and legendary father of the modern lambiek renaissance is at his shop – very cool! We dined in the restaurant – rabbit stewed in guezue for me, Flemish stew for Ryan.
Just down the road is ‘Oud Beersel’ a guezue blender brought back to life and now considered one of the most respected of the ‘Geuzestekerij’.
We finish at the beer festival with the best name ever – ‘the Night of the Great Thirst’, the international geuze and kriek festival of the Payottenland. All the lambiek angd gueze blenders are represented. The festival quickly desends into a communal sharing of purchases – great fun!
pics: the ‘Great Thirst’, friends in a foeder, Oud Beersel tour, Armand