“I set out to navigate Milan’s subway network in search of an authentic Italian beer experience.”Read More
Part of what I enjoy most about going on holiday or going traveling is the opportunity to seek out and explore different bars, breweries and beer cultures across the world. To me, there is no greater joy than seeing how many beer-related activities I can squeeze into a holiday with family or friends before they cotton on and insist we do something touristy. However, as is often the case when returning from holiday, life catches up with me, and these experiences don't get written about. Sometimes I just don't have the time to write a 1,000 word article detailing every bar, cafe or brewpub you simply have to visit in a given city, area or country, let alone edit 25 or more photos to show the destination at its very best.
That's why I'm starting a new series of articles titled Destinations. These short pieces will hopefully provide a small snapshot of a brewery, bar, pub or venue from my travels that I think is worthy of shouting about. Destinations will run alongside my regular 'In Conversation With...' series, as well as the longer form travel and opinion pieces that make up Beeson On Beer.
The first destination I want to feature is Brouwcafé de Molen, birthplace of one of the Netherlands' most sought out breweries; Brouwerij de Molen. I took a trip to Amsterdam with some old friends from university back in May, and one day we decided to take the train 30-odd kilometers south to the small town of Bodegraven to visit the brewery site.
A ten minute walk from the train station lies a stunning white windmill that gives De Molen its name. It was here, around twelve and a half years ago, that Menno Olivier set up his microbrewery, converting old dairy farm equipment into a brew kit capable of producing 600 litres at a time. The windmill is now a cafe and taproom for De Molen's beer, with production having moved to a much larger site (producing up to 10,000 litres per brew) just up the road about five and a half years ago.
When we arrive on-site, the cafe owner Colin Hoeffnagel kindly shows us around the impressive new brewery, but it is the original cafe with which I fall in love. 20 taps adorn the back wall, pouring a range of De Molen and beers from elsewhere in the Netherlands, whilst the kitchen serves up a range of locally inspired dishes; from Dutch croquets to cheese platters that come with mustard made with the brewery's own beer. Each year, De Molen also hosts the Borefts Beer Festival (sadly no longer at the cafe site), where breweries from across Europe including Belgium's De Struise Brouwers bring rare special releases for the lucky residents and tourists to sample.
We seat ourselves by the window of the cafe, overlooking the picturesque canal (The Oude Rijn) which runs alongside the windmill, ferrying boats east to Utrecht or west towards the North Sea. Despite it being early in the day, the beers are soon flowing. Among the De Molen beers we try are Frank & Vrij, a big juicy Vermont IPA that is akin to being smacked in the face with a mouthful of new world hops, and Verdeel & Heers, an 11.2% Bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout fermented with Brettanomyces yeast.
Brouwcafé de Molen is as picturesque a location to drink beer as any I have ever visited on my travels, and when the beer tastes as good as De Molen's does, there really is no excuse not to visit.
Wild Beer at Wapping Wharf, Units 6-8 Gaol Ferry Steps Bristol BS1 5WE 01172395693. Meal for two (with drinks): £45
Bristol has always been one of my favourite places in the UK. I hold fond memories of the city from my university days, in which we would often take the train from Exeter and embark on an epic pub crawl, catching the last train back with empty pockets and muddled heads. Returning to the city last week, I decided to head over to the previously unexplored Wapping Wharf for lunch. Stopping by at Wild Beer Co’s restaurant, which opened on the harbour in the summer of 2016, seemed like the only sensible choice.
The bar-come-restaurant is just one of several trendy new foodie hangouts that have sprung up as part of the redevelopment of the Wapping Wharf quarter. The bar is located inside a large, L-shaped, glass-fronted building facing out over the harbour, a stone's throw from the reconstruction of John Cabot's famous ship The Matthew. A gigantic mural painting depicting what looks like a sloth poseidon and a pirate rooster riding a fish adorns the back wall, whilst an open-view kitchen wafts delicious smells across the bar.
The food offering reflects the bar's nautical theme, with a variety of fish-based dishes being provided by Hook Restaurants, a Dublin-based start up that also have a restaurant in Camden Town. Fish & Chips are served in either crispy Japanese panko breadcrumbs or Tempura batter and accompanied by seaweed salted chips, whilst there are also Chicken and vegetarian options for those not so seafood inclined. The prices are very reasonable, with mains ranging between £10-12 and sides/snacks from £3 and up. There is no table service, however, so orders have to be made when buying drinks at the bar.
And what of the bar? It boasts an impressive twenty two draught lines, and easily double that number of canned and bottled beers. Around half of the keg selection is Wild Beer Co beers, whilst the other half is a mixture of the traditional (Titanic Porter) and the more obscure (Mad Hatter Liverpool Tart). Prices are again very agreeable, ranging from £2.50 to around £5 for a third, half or two-thirds of a pint. I pay £2.80 for two-thirds of Sleeping Lemons, Wild Beer Co's 3.6 per cent Gose, brewed with preserved lemons. The wine and spirits list is none too shabby either, and I'm particularly tempted by the prospect of the Sleeping Lemons Gin, distilled in collaboration with Psychopomp micro-distillery, but refrain out of sympathy for my companion who has to drive us home later.
Casting our eyes to the menu, I'm caught by the mug of clams cooked in Sleeping Lemons, from the specials menu (£6) but instead opt for the panko fish tacos (£11). My companion plays it safe and goes for the classic panko fish & chips with homemade tartare sauce.
After a short 15 minute or so wait, our food arrives. The catch of the day is coley, a sustainable cod substitute. The tacos are just two in number (a little disappointing), but are packed full of red cabbage, salsa and chipotle and served with a generous portion of seaweed salted chips. The panko breadcrumbs are heavenly, bringing a real crispy bite to the soft, white fish, whilst the chipotle adds a hearty kick of spice. The chips are a little on the cold side, and could have done with being a little crispier in my opinion, but are still pleasant when dipped in the fiery chipotle sauce. My companion's fish tastes a little drab in comparison with my lively tacos, but is certainly far better than your average chip-shop offering. The zesty, clean and tart Sleeping Lemons is a perfect foil for the fishy dishes, and I could easily have sunk several more and happily watched the world outside go by.
The desert menu isn't exactly what you would call extensive, with Salted Caramel Millionaire Tart (£5) being the only option at present. We decide against having one, but I'm reliably informed that it is an extravagantly rich but delightful after-dinner treat.
On the whole, I was pretty impressed with Wild Beer Co's set up at Wapping Wharf. The tacos were absolutely sublime and the beer selection was good enough to stand up to the likes of the nearby Small Bar and Famous Royal Navy Volunteer. It's a great place to stop off on a sunny day for an extravagant lunch or early dinner, and I can imagine it is going to make an killing come this summer.
It's about 12:20pm on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend and my brother Josh and I have just stepped off the train from Cardiff, slightly hungover after one beer too many in the Urban Tap House the night before. We make our way to the arrivals boards and locate the platform on which the train carrying the rest of The University of Exeter's Real Ale Society will soon arrive. The train pulls in and a group of burly men dressed in sailors uniforms stumble off, chanting boisterously and already looking somewhat worse for wear.
Luckily this isn't my friends, but a group on a stag-do. "I hope they're not headed where we're heading," I remark to Josh, who laughs nervously in agreement. Thankfully, that was the last we saw of the band of merry men, who unlike us, obviously weren't as fussed about sussing out the best beer Bristol has to offer. A few minutes later, the remaining twelve members of our group appear and we set off in search of liquid refreshment to soothe our aching heads.
On our way to our first stop, I chat to Ed, a close friend who I helped to set up the society with in our first year of university. Having started out as just a small group of friends who enjoyed drinking and needed an excuse for more frequent visits to the pub, the society has grown exponentially and now has over 120 paying members. We reminisce about some of our memories from the last three years, including a similar trip taken a year ago. “The weather isn’t quite as nice as last year,” I say nervously; having prepared for the worst after seeing storms had been forecast. “Yeah, but we’ve got a lot more society money to spend!” Ed retorts jovially, before showing me a considerable sum of money in a plastic wallet. “That’s all for today?” I exclaim, “It’s going to be a long day….”
Our first port of call is The Moor Brewery Tap, located about a ten minute walk from the station. As we approach, I wonder aloud just exactly how much of my short adult life has been spent seeking out obscure watering holes on industrial estates, much to the amusement of the rest of the group. Since opening in 2014 after the brewery moved into the city from Pitney, The Moor Tap has become one of my favourite spots to drink at, and is a staple of any visit to Bristol. The Tap is a single rectangular room bolted onto the front of the brewery, decorated with a mixture of Moor merchandise and Star Wars paraphernalia. Featuring ten keg lines of Moor’s beers on rotation, as well as cans, bottles, growlers and T shirts to take away, it’s the ideal place for us to start our crawl.
We pile into the small room and order thirteen halves straight away. The majority of the group plump for So’Hop, a 4.1% Pale hopped entirely with Southern Hemisphere hops that slides down our thirsty gullets all too quickly. On the day of our visit, the Tap are hosting a three day party with live music, street food and two new beers. Unfortunately for us, Friday’s food offering – MEATliquour burgers – don’t arrive until 5pm. Fortunately for us, however, the first of their new beers - Pale Modern Ale – is already on the bar ready for us to sample. A real juicy banger of a Pale Ale, with a little more of a malty backbone than the So’Hop, PMA is the ideal second half pint of the day. We stay at Moor until around half two, and even then are reluctant to leave, so good is the beer, company and hospitality. We even get to meet Baz, the resident brewery dog, although he seemed more interested in eating our packed lunches than saying hello to us.
Thoroughly refreshed and feeling very content, we leave Moor behind and head further into the industrial estate to visit Left Handed Giant Brewing Company, who very kindly agreed to open their brewery tap early to accommodate for our visit. With only five beers on tap, the selection isn’t quite as extensive as Moor, but the US Pale ale is as good as anything I’d had up to that point in the day. Jack, Bruce and Eddie are hard at work when we arrive, but are only to happy to show us around the site whilst we enjoy their beers. Jack takes us into the back and shows us their 200 litre brew-kit which they use to test their recipes and make some of their more experimental brews. Having opened early in 2015, they use commercial brewing equipment from other breweries to make the majority of their beer and supply Small Bar on King Street as well as numerous other pubs in the South-West. With the weather holding up for the time being, we head outside to enjoy some more beers and play basketball with an improvised hoop attached to a fork-lift that had been set up by Jack and Eddie that very afternoon.
All too quickly we had to move on. With time of the essence and lots of pubs still to visit, we bid farewell to Left Handed Giant and head for town. Next up was a quick visit to Brewdog Bristol on the bank of the river. We arrive somewhat flustered and just in time, with the heavens promptly opening and drenching the masses that had just finished work for the weekend. Initially we decide to just stay for the one drink before heading to King Street, but Joshua has other ideas, using his Brewdog bucks to purchase four beers including a half of Stone’s latest Russian Imperial Stout. With the weather trapping us for the time being, we all take it in turns to steal sips of Joshua’s beer and make light work of our own drinks. The bar was soon heaving with thirsty punters and we make our escape during a brief break in the downpour and make the short walk to King Street.
I never fully understood the expression “Like a kid in a candy shop” until I first visited King Street back in 2014. The sheer number of superb pubs to chose from, all located within a two minute or so walk from each other, is a beer geek’s paradise, and we waste no time in heading for The Beer Emporium to continue boozing. The bar is located entirely underground and has an almost Belgian feel to it, which is definitely not a bad thing to try and imitate. After drinking almost exclusively keg beers until this point, I opt for New Bristol brewery’s Japan, a 4.8% Pale with Japanese Green Tea, which is in excellent condition on cask and has a very floral and slightly sweet taste. We only stay for the one half in the Emporium, mainly due to the effects of a solid five hours of drinking with only packed lunches to sustain us.
Before we could get dinner and settle for the evening, we had one more stop to make. The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer is an old fashioned-looking pub located just up the road from The Beer Emporium, and the previous night had hosted a Siren tap takeover, with 29 beers from the Berkshire based brewery on tap. At this point in proceedings, I make the very sensible decision to go for The Chardonnay barrel aged version of Life’s a Peach, coming in at a whopping 8% proof. Needless to say, this knocks me out of action for a while, so I retreat outside to enjoy a spot of people watching on the bustling King Street whilst the rest of the group seeks out dinner.
Our final pub of the day is just across the road and is probably my favourite out of the plethora on offer on King Street. Small Bar is everything a proper pub should be, with superb beer choice, excellent spirits, and most importantly at this point, good grub. I grab a token from Ed to exchange for a third of Omega, a 6% Belgian sour from Brouwerij Alvinne and order a Butternut squash with cheese, hand-cut fries and salsa. I am soon cursing my vegetarian diet, however, when a disappointingly undercooked squash arrives twenty five minutes or so later. Nonetheless, this small blip on my day is soon remedied by the purchase of half a Cloudwater Imperial Stout; we're firmly into the silly beer part of the evening by this point. I'm the only one feeling a little worse for wear, with Joshua having bitten off more than he could chew in Brewdog and drunkenly announcing he had to go home, before promptly returning twenty minutes later and continuing to drink. We round off the evening with a swift half of Siren Caribbean Chocolate Cake in The Volunteer before running through the rain back to the station in time to catch the train back to Exeter.
All in all, it is a fantastically boozy day out and a fitting send off to cap three brilliant years of involvement with the Real Ale Society. A special thanks must go to Ed for steering the ship so admirably throughout his time as President, and to the bar staff, owners and brewers at all the brilliant pubs, breweries and tap-rooms we visited over the course of the day, and those we didn't have the time to make it to. Bristol truly is an incredible city for beer, and my only regret would be not making the trip more often throughout my three years of university in Exeter.
“I like it because I can drink several pints of it and not fall over on the way home,” laughs Alex Grieg, as he takes the first sip of Kent session pale from a jug. We’re sat on a pair of slightly tired looking red sofas in the back-end of Fuggles Beer Café, the artisan pub-come-bar owned and run by Alex in Tunbridge Wells. Approaching it’s third birthday in November, Fuggles has become one of the most popular haunts in the town, as well as gaining a reputation for having the most varied and exciting beer selection in the South-East outside of London. The pub now boasts over a hundred beers on tap and in bottles and can rightly claim to be at the very forefront of the craft beer movement. I sat down with Alex to ask him about exactly why he thinks Fuggles has been so successful, and what he has in store for the future. Alex’s story is similar to that of many within the beer industry, having worked in the trade for over twelve years. Starting out working in an off license at the age of eighteen, before moving up through the ranks of Pitcher & Piano, Indian Pale Ale wasn’t a term he had even heard of in his twenties. “I was a lager drinker like most of us probably were – Kroenenbourg was my tipple of choice at the time,” he tells me, “but then, when I was working in Chester, I had my first craft beer – a Brooklyn lager.” However, it wasn’t until the second beer; Goose Island Honkers, an English style bitter that Alex was truly converted to the cause; “I’d never tried anything like it; it was well hopped, it was well balanced. It was fantastic at the time.” Enthused, Alex left Pitcher & Piano, came back home to Tunbridge Wells and took a job in a pub called The Wells Kitchen: “that’s where the craft beer thing really started for me.”
Now a passionate advocate about the merits of good beer, Alex needed an outlet. Working at St. John’s Yard, he began to plot an escape. “I’d worked with some not particularly nice people (although not at St. John's Yard) and it got to the point where it was getting me down and I wasn’t happy,” he says, “so I had to do something for myself.” That something, as it turns out, was Fuggles. With £40,000 scrapped together – half from his Mother and Grandmother, half from a Government backed loan, Alex rented a run-down shoe-shop in the middle of Tunbridge Wells, and turned it into a “fairly threadbare” beer café, opening its doors to the public in November 2013.
Fuggles was an instant hit. Initially serving four cask ales, ten keg beers and a number of bottles from Belgium and the UK, the pub enjoyed a huge level of success within the local community and was soon expanding to serve a range of spirits and whiskies. The pub now boasts over forty different gins, and a similar number of whiskies, something which Alex tells me was a hugely important factor in the success of the business: “It (the gin) was something at the time which was really growing and I could see that it was a really great add-on to what we already did,” he notes. “As a bar, as a pub overall, it meant we appealed to more people that improved the atmosphere and everything else we were doing, I think.”
As we chat, I order a cheese and ale toastie from the food menu. Made with local farmhouse cheddar and Belgian Westmalle ale, as well as four types of leek and onion, the sandwiches are freshly prepared each morning, and are served alongside a range of cheese and charcuterie boards as the main food offerings in the pub. “All we wanted to do was something that was simple to prepare, tasted good, easy to put on a plate and went really well with the products we were selling,” Alex admits, “it was as simple as that. We never had room for a kitchen, so we had to keep it small.” Nonetheless, he takes does pride in giving a platform to local businesses, with many of the products sold coming from the surrounding areas in Kent. “Local provenance and local products are vital to what we do. We’ve got some fantastic breweries and some fantastic food producers within thirty miles or so of us – that’s amazing, we’re so lucky. It’s not our sole focus, but it’s lovely to have local products and to know where it comes from, and it’s nice to know and support the guys that make it, who are only round the corner.”
Of course, the main focus of Fuggles, is, and always will be beer. Naming the pub after a local hop was a obvious way of ensuring the pub and its bartenders never forget their original purpose, but watching the staff at work, it’s evident that probably won’t ever be an issue. “I’m adamant that staff know what they’re selling and how it tastes and how to sell that to a customer,” Alex says. Now in his early thirties, sporting a receding hairline and an obligatory bushy beard, he very much fits the bill of a craft beer pub owner. Watching the (predominately also bearded) barstaff chat with customers and recommend styles based on their preferences, it’s immediately evident that Alex invests a lot of time in training his staff. “A lot of the time the customers come to the bar and they’ll ask for a beer and they’re not sure want they want,” he explains. “They’ll ask for something light and hoppy for example and we need to be able to interpret that as bartenders and know what they mean by it. It’s largely to enhance the customer experience and service; we have to be able to offer customers the right product.”
On the particular day of my visit, Alex and his staff are busy preparing the bar for that evening’s event; a tap takeover with ten beers from Buxton Brewery. A brewery at the very vanguard of the beer movement in the UK, Alex is excited for his punters to try their new Belgian range. “One of the reasons we really wanted to get them down is that we specialise in Belgian beer and Buxton have just completed their range of Belgian inspired beers. We felt it was the perfect time to get them down to really showcase what they were doing with the influence they’ve had from Belgium alongside their core range and specials.” Amongst the beers available to try from the Derbyshire brewery are their Belgian Tripel and new Double IPA, Kingmaker. “Buxton are without a doubt up there in terms of UK breweries in general. They’re up there in the top ten quite happily sitting alongside Cloudwater, Magic Rock, Dark Star, Beavertown, Arbor, Kernel, Burning Sky etc,” Alex enthuses. “Its nice to give our core beer drinkers something to showcase a brewery that we really respect and really like.”
Alex explains the main reason he initially decided to feature Belgian beers in Fuggles came after being inspired by numerous visits to the country. “There’s almost a theatre around the way the Belgians serve their beer,” he says, “you get the correct glassware, the way the beer is poured and the effort that goes into it. Also the flavours and drinkability of some of the stronger beers just blew my mind and I really wanted to showcase that.” There certainly does seem to be an almost Belgian-feel to the bar, with its dimmed lighting and rustic, cobbled together furniture. A number of signs from various breweries adorn the walls, and dotted on each table is a candle in an independently brewed spirit bottle. Nonetheless, Alex is determined that the focus on Belgian and British beers does not limit Fuggles’ range, and has recently expanded to include beers from breweries such as De Molen and Kees brewery in Holland.
Part of the reason behind Fuggles’ immense success has been down to the pub’s ability to create a brand for itself, with the beer café now stocking T-shirts, bar-blades and growlers, enabling drinkers to take home up to two litres of their favourite draft beer with a twenty-five per cent discount. “When you open up a business like Fuggles you’re effectively creating a high street brand,” Alex states, “and you have to get your name out there and get people talking about your business; it’s free advertising basically!” Refusing to compare the Fuggles brand to that of high-intensity and outlandish breweries such as Brewdog, who have made a name for themselves through their ‘punk ethos’ as much as through their beer, he prefers to label his own strategy as more of “a slow cooking form of viral marketing.”
Despite being a huge success both financially and with local punters, Fuggles hasn’t always quite found favour with some more traditional beer drinkers, finishing runner up two years in a row in West Kent CAMRA’s pub of the year awards, despite Alex’s frankly obsessive nature when it comes to the condition of his cask ale (as we speak he tests his pint with a thermometer before declaring irritably that it is “just the wrong side of twelve degrees” before sending a co-worker down to the cellar to investigate.) “We’ve had a lot of really good press, we keep coming runner up in various things,” he acknowledges, “which obviously its nice but I’d love to win at some point – West Kent CAMRA if you’re listening, seriously, come on!”
On the topic of CAMRA’s future, a topic that has been the subject of much debate within the beer community in recent weeks, Alex has mixed feelings. He is unequivocally an advocate of promoting cask beer, “I think what’s fantastic about cask is that it’s a uniquely British product – there’s nobody else really doing it - I think it’s an underrated art form,” but questions the policy which has seen the organisation promote badly-conditioned beers on cask over more reliable keg beers. “I wish they (CAMRA) would focus more on cask beer in the marketplace. Generally they’re a good thing for the industry but they’re pushing a product that is so indifferent in so many pubs and that frustrates me," he sighs, "it’s not easy to go up to a Landlord and say: ‘Your beer tastes like shit mate, sort it out.’ but at the same time if the beer is too warm or it tastes like vinegar, I think that as part of the campaign maybe they ought to be mentioning it.” On what he would like to see the organisation do more of in the future, Alex is clear: “I think there’s an educational thing CAMRA could do, it’s members are very knowledgeable and they certainly know how beer should be tasting. That’s what I’d really like to see CAMRA doing – Improving the quality of cask ale.”
Whilst we are on the topic of the future, I enquire as to whether Alex believes the level of growth we have seen in the beer industry is sustainable, and in what direction he thinks the next step ought to be for UK breweries. “I’d like to hope that the industry will keep growing and keep expanding as it has done,” he replies, “and I hope breweries will continue to be more experimental and continue to revive old historical styles of beer.” He does think, however, that there remains room for improvement in terms of the quality of beer being produced by some breweries. “There’s a few breweries out there doing a huge load of new beers and collaborations yet the actual quality of the beer is not great, they’re just trying to get their name out there rather than focusing on making a really good core range and making that really solid and consistent.” Indeed, he warns that unless this standard can be met, some breweries will fall behind. “New breweries are opening left right and centre with a lot of money behind them such as Cloudwater, and the beer has been largely fantastic so far. That’s the benchmark. If you cant keep up with that you’ll struggle to create a long term, viable brewery.”
And what does the future hold for Fuggles? Rumours of expansion have been on the cards for some time now, with the pub having hosted a pop-up bar throughout November last year in Tonbridge Fire-station. “Yes, we’d love to expand,” Alex says coyly, “Hopefully by the end of the summer we’ll be able to get cracking on Fuggles number two.” On the location of this new bar, he refuses to be drawn, but tells me it will almost certainly be local. In the meantime, however, with more tap-takeovers, a beer club launching and a big refurbishment in the pipeline, the team have more than enough to be getting on with. “It should be enough to keep me busy until Autumn, I hope!” Alex laughs, before excusing himself to prepare for the evening's tap takeover. If I take one thing away from our talk, it’s that Fuggles certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Devon usually gets quite a bad rap when it comes to beer. Traditionally the home of cider drinkers, beer in this part of the country tends to be of the bland, watery and brown variety, with little variety or innovation. It's oft been said to me that the craft beer revolution appears to have almost entirely passed the county by, preferring to set up shop in Bristol, Cardiff and parts of Cornwall instead.
Sometimes, however, little gems such as the Teign Cellars in Newton Abbott and The Beer Cellar in Exeter, crop up and help to fill the void. On a trip to Totnes this weekend, I found another such gem in the form of Totnes Brew Co. and its bottle shop, The Beer Library. A good half hour train ride outside of Exeter, Totnes is very much your traditional picturesque sleepy Devonian town. Amongst other things, it boasts some cute coffee shops, a hip record store (Drift) and one rather excellent brew-pub. Totnes Brew Co and The Beer Library occupy two neighbouring buildings at the top of the high street, situated just under the shadow of the castle.
The Beer Library, the former location of the pub before it opened up next door, boasts a large range of predominantly British and American beers, alongside wine and artisan spirits. All the familiar faces are there, with cans from the likes of Beavertown, Magic Rock, Vocation alongside bottles from Bristol Beer Factory, Brew by Numbers and more. The prices are reasonable, with most of the bottles coming in at under £3, and some under £2.50. The range isn't outstanding, probably due to the difficulty in finding suppliers who will bring pioneering craftbeers to a sleepy town in Devon, where demand is unlikely to be sky high. However, there are some nice touches, such as a suggestion board for new beers, and mixed four packs of cans for £10. Overall, The Beer Library doesn't quite have the selection to make the trip worthwhile on its own, but has an excellent choice for a small shop in a remote town.
Next door in Totnes Brew Co., three cask and two keg lines offer up the kind of draught selection you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Devon, as well as a healthy bottle and can selection of its own. On my particular visit, Vocation Brewery Bread & Butter and Wild Beer Co. Bibble were the highlights. As part of #Tryanuary, all cask beers are £3 a pint, and all bottles and cans are just £4 - excellent value for money in an area where competition isn't exactly fierce. The pub itself is rustically decorated, and also serves meat and cheese platters (although I didn't actually see any being consumed during my visit). They also brew a selection of their own beer (hence the name), which is served at the pub. I wasn't exactly blown away by 'Rear Admiral' their 4.2% double bitter, but would certainly like to try some more of their beer in the future. My only criticism of the pub was that it was a little small, and I imagine it could end up becoming quite cramped on a busier evening. It would be great to see The Beer Library and the pub connected as a single venue, something the employee at the former tells me could be a possibility in the future.
On the whole, these two independent beer venues are well worth taking the train out of Exeter to visit. It may well be the case that pubs and bottle shops like these are two a penny in cities where craft beer is round every corner, but for a small village in Devon to have such a selection is nothing short of remarkable.
Tunbridge Wells is spoilt for choice when it comes to beer. For a relatively small town, the number of good quality pubs - from traditional boozers like The Grove Tavern and The Bedford to hip new crafty hotspots like Fuggles Beer Cafe - is nothing short of remarkable. The newest such joint in town is The Pantiles Tap, which opened in November 2014. Situated just opposite the Corn Exchange in the Pantiles, and in the cellar of a former hotel, The Pantiles Tap is a stripped back, no frills attached tap-room style pub, with a rotating selection of some of the best beer from in the UK and abroad.
I must profess to being somewhat a regular at 'The Tap', having made the watering hole a regular stop off point on the way home from the centre of town. One of the nicest things about the pub for me is that due to its primary focus on beer and (recently) cider, it doesn't attract anywhere near as many of the problematic clientele as some of the other bars in town - something that really pays dividends during the manic festive period.
Run by Geoff Wentworth and his wife Jo, the pub itself is very minimalist, with little decor and rather harsh lighting that doesn't exactly give off a cosy ambience. For me, however, this is all part of The Tap's charm, which gives off a distinctly Eastern-European vibe. With a selection of eight Keg beers and six cask lines, it is second only to Fuggles in terms of variety and choice in Tunbridge Wells. Over the last year, beers from the likes of Magic Rock, Beavertown, Thornbridge, Brewdog, Stone and more have been regulars on the taps, whilst a large fridge opposite the bar holds a wide variety of bottled beers from across the world - although these don't come cheap, with no takeout option available.
On this particular visit just before Christmas, the beer selection was an absolute treat, with beers from Wild Beer Co, Dark Star, Anarchy Brew Co, Beavertown, Magic Rock and more gracing the line-up. I opted to start with Partizan Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales 2015 Rainbow Project collaboration, Real Time Saison. A 6.6% Saison brewed with Kaffir lime, lemongrass and grapefruit Zest, this is a beer that couldn't be further from your average best bitter. Although a tad on the flat side, the beer pours a hazy golden yellow colour and is extremely refreshing. There is a definite tartness, with the grapefruit zest and lime really cutting through and dominating the flavour. An excellent palette cleansing beer for sure.
Next up, I decided to go with a reliable old favourite and have a half of Beavertown's 8-Ball Rye IPA. Far from being a safe bet, however, the 8-Ball came up incredibly juicy this particular evening and I ended up going back for a second half. At 6.2%, it's far from a session strength beer, but the combination of spicy rye malts and fruity hop flavours make it extremely hard to resist.
I ended the evening with Magic Rock's Custard Pie, a 6.7% Wit beer brewed in collaboration with Italian brewery Birra Toccalmatoo. Another fairly light blonde coloured beer, Custard Pie is brewed using US Hefe Yeast and New Zealand and US Hops, with vanilla added during the dry-hopping phase. This results in a dominant belgian-esque banana flavour, with some more subtly fruit undertones (think lime and apricots). I have to confess that it was a little too sweet for my liking, but certainly an intriguing beer that serves as further evidence that Magic Rock are at the forefront of the craft revolution.
The Pantiles Tap is not a pub in the traditional sense. The lack of spirits and limited selection of wine, combined with not serving food (bar the occasional cheese roll and some excellent bar snacks) means that it is difficult to recommend the pub as the ideal destination for a date or romantic night out. However, if you are lucky enough to have friends who enjoy great beer, then you would be hard pressed to find another pub in Tunbridge Wells with the selection, variety and passion for beer that are self evident in everything The Tap does.