It's one of those titles that every child in school has to write an essay about at some point. It has been many years since I did and I thought I was long overdue.
This year, I stayed in Europe. I had already gone diving in Croatia at the beginning of summer and at the end, I went to France and Spain. I'm cheating here somewhat because it was technically autumn when I went as it was mid-September when I went but a little creative licence never hurt anyone.
This was a road trip and while not quite as epic as my original grand plan, it was still a lot of driving.
After we got off the ferry at Roscoff, I drove to Bordeaux and arrived sometime in the evening. Once we checked in to our hotel, I went off in search of beer. I had looked things up beforehand and my options were limited. There was a beer bar somewhere called Lucifer but I realised it was a longer walk than anticipated so we switched instead and went to the Frog & Rosbiff, one of many brewpubs in this French chain. Thankfully, the beer was very different to what I have previously experienced and it was all excellent. A worthy stop if you are in the area.
I would say that the servings are hit and miss. Most of them included a lot of extra foam so weren't full measures. The French speakers got the same treatment and as it turned out, it was just the norm the further south I went.
The next stop was Barcelona where we spent 3 fantastic nights. All research indicated that BierCaB was the best place to be and it was indeed our first stop. They have this awesome digital beer board that if configured correctly will not only display what's on tap, it will also show the levels of the kegs and any social media happenings. The keg fill levels didn't look to be working but the social media part was. You could see untapped checkins and twitter action. It did rotate old data as the next day we were in, we also saw tweets from the day before. It also automatically updates the website with the current tap list so if you are sitting out of view of the tap list, you can use the free Wi-Fi on your phone to view the list while waiting for a server to come and take your order.
One of the many beers I had in BierCaB was De Molen's Mühle & Bahnhof. It's a Gose and really smelled like a margarita with prunes and other dark fruit, salt and quite a toasted malt aroma. It tasted like a mix of salt and booze. Which is to say, a lot better than my description. Lots of prune, very salty. Perhaps a little over the top on the salt actually. Doesn't seem 9.2 though, I downed it pretty quickly.
Fellow blogger Beermack described BierCaB as one of his top 5 bars in the world. Personally, I thought it was excellent but I didn't even think it was the best bar in Barcelona and I have been to many bars that surpass it in every way.
There are many things to like about BierCaB. The décor, the beer selection, the atmosphere to some degree and even the food. The food is awesome. It's not cheap but a lot of care and effort has gone in to the menu. The best patatas bravas in Barcelona perhaps. There were also things I didn't like. Just like in Bordeaux, there was a lazy attitude to serving measures where two beers of the same size measure arrived with vastly different beer to head ratios. That aside, we had a great time both nights we were there and will be back. In fact, I believe my wife is heading there next year with some friends and I know she will be heading there.
A quick lunch pit stop on of the days and a random find with our tapas. The brewery is Barcino and there was a pale ale and a wheat beer so we tried both. Gotico Pale Ale & Bogatell Wheat. Both were tasty enough but not exciting in any way. Still, it's always great to drink local when rambling about a foreign city.
My absolute favourite place was Ale & Hop in a quiet, unassuming part of town. We initially got there too early so we went back to the hotel for a couple of hours to freshen up before returning just after opening time. It was already full at the bar so we went in back because it was time to eat.
Ale & Hop has an all vegetarian menu. I'm not a vegan and would never become one but I have dabbled with vegetarianism from time to time and do like interesting vegetarian dishes. You just can't argue with some good humus and something to dip with. It makes a great starter.
We both ordered burgers and sweet potato fries. My wife went for a sort of Mexican style burger made from various beans.
I went a little more adventurous and tried a beetroot burger. Sure enough, it turned out to be purple. It tasted interesting, very earthy as you might expect. My friend Brendan is a home brewer and brews a beetroot ale that's basically an English pale ale with beetroot. It's a pink beer and the beetroot adds the same earthiness to the beer. I reckon they would be a pairing from heaven. The only issue I had with the burger was that it didn't hold together very well and broke apart very easily.
One of the highlight beers on tap was Nomada Royal Imperial Porter. It's a 10% beer imperial stout. I found it incredibly sweet and it seemed like it finished at a very high gravity. There's more than a fair bit if lactose/milk to it. Bitter burnt and caramel finish. Great desert beer but I wonder is it really better classified as an imperial milk stout (porter)?
Now, this is why Ale & Hop was my favourite place in Barcelona. Firstly, the music. It was awesome! Whoever was in charge of the playlist had a very similar taste in music to myself and my wife. Lots of 80s rock. That just created a cool atmosphere though. Was there as many taps as BirCaB? Not even close as we are talking 10 taps versus 30. Both had a great bottle selection but I didn't even try and compare them so in terms of range, Ale & Hop isn't a patch on BierCaB but you know what? I would drink in Ale & Hop over BierCaB any day. The reason is simple. The staff give a crap! The bar man was very busy and perhaps he spent a little more time serving a very pretty girl but here's where it mattered. He served the beer with precision, attention to detail and professionalism. Every pour was measured, the head whipped off with a knife and then topped up as needed. There was no laziness, no glasses with 4 inches of head. Every beer had exactly the same beer to head ratio. This was the only bar during the entire trip where I found this to be the case.
Ale & Hop, I fully expect to be back there some day.
On the way back to Ireland, I picked up a rather large and expensive pop up tent for €99. It's French made and unlike other instant tents, this has been designed to be camped in, not for beer festivals. Dual layer, Waterproof and windproof up to hurricane levels, tested in wind tunnels etc. Quechua tents are innovative and with a little practice, quite easy to fold back down. The reason I had to buy a tent was that on the way back, I had the Beoir camping weekend. I arrived back in Rosslare on Saturday morning, dropped my wife at the bus stop in Arklow where she would head in to Dublin to meet friends and stay the night. I then drove to Redcross and pitched my tent in moments at the Rivervalley camp site.
Rivervalley camp site is home to Mickey Finn’s Pub and more importantly. to the Wicklow Brewery which was only open a few weeks. The beer was ready so we sat down at the bar and ordered some pints and were told we could head in to the brewery. Our scheduled tour wasn't until later but myself and Kevin who had arrived the same time as me were treated to a private tour by the brewer.
The brewery is a very impressive piece of kit. Everything is precise and clean. It's easy to operate. It's actually the most impressive Irish brew kit I have seen. Many Irish breweries have been using old kits from older breweries who either closed down before the craft beer boom set in or else from larger breweries that have traded up. This was a custom designed piece of German engineering and was recommended by Shane Long from the Franciscan Well brewery. Shane spends a lot of time helping new breweries get set up. His own brewery is financially secure as part of the Molson Coors family now so it's great that he shares his time and experience with the new guys.
Each batch can be 15HL and there are 4 fermenters. Three are 30HL with one smaller 15HL down the back. There are already plans to expand and perhaps start selling beyond their own premises.
How's the beer? Well, it's all very well made. The brewer is also German so it shows in his beer. It's all clean and well made but is never going to excite. The IPA needs more hops and will probably receive said treatment. It is the first batch after all so I imagine some tweaking will occur.
Some people did have a bad time when a shift change saw an old cranky bar man take over. Apparently, he started screaming abuse at his younger colleague in front of a packed bar and was acting like it was the customers fault that he was serving craft beer, something he seemed to disdain.
I missed all this because he had kicked me out when I brought in food from the on site chipper. I had been directed there for food by the brewer? I wasn't too bothered as it was a lovely night and I enjoyed my chips outside but everyone else had enough of him and left so we ended up going across the road for Guinness in a more relaxed setting. It was a shame to leave and I will not let it put me off going back.
We made up for the Guinness by sitting outside the tents tasting many craft beers and some homebrew under the stars until about 2am. We could still hear the live music in Mickey Finn's until just before we went to bed. It sounds like everyone had a great time.
So that's it, how I spent my "summer" holidays. I believe I will be in Florida for Christmas and then Iceland in January. For now, be content that I brought a load of Spanish and French beer home in the car along with many cases of wine and a mass of credit card debt that I am still recovering from.