Lucky Buddha – from China

Flag of ChinaNi hao! Today’s featured beer is Lucky Buddha from China. Every beer is easily distinguishable by its unique label. There are relatively few breweries however, which go to the trouble of making the bottle the distinguishing feature.

Yesterday, my fiancée took me to a musical in London’s West End theatre district as a birthday treat and afterwards we popped into the lively and elegant Circus cocktail bar which is situated nearby. Whilst the venue naturally specialises in cocktails, I did discover on the menu Lucky Buddha, which I was eager to give a try, particularly given the eye-catching detail that goes into the bottle.  I could go on a bit more about the bottle, but I suspect you’ll be more interested in hearing about what lies within it……

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Lucky Buddha

Lucky Buddha, which is brewed in China at the Thousand Island Lake, is a very mild lager with a singular crisp and refreshing taste. It doesn’t hold its head, but it certainly keeps its flavour, right from the first sip to the last. The colour is a very pale hue of gold and looking closely at the the ornate glass it was served in above, it could easily have been mistaken for whisky. Rest assured however, the taste is unmistakably that of a lager. I had Lucky Buddha on its own, but I suspect it’d be a great beer to compliment a range of foods, particularly spicy dishes.

Me in Circus (Covent Garden

Me enjoying Lucky Buddha!

Cheers!

F

Savour British Saison

With temperatures hitting 19C, it feels like summer has finally arrived in London! I’ve always associated zesty beers with a warm climate as I’m sure many other beer lovers do and Savour certainly hits the mark on zestiness. When I first read the description on the bottle, I was half expecting a taste not dissimilar to Hoegaarden, but alas I was to discover that this beer has quite a singular flavour. Left to linger on the tongue for a moment or two, Savour Saison delivers an instantaneously satisfying burst of flavour, with perhaps the most striking feature being the unmistakably pronounced lemongrass. Afterwards you’ll detect the distinct bitter aftertaste. All in all, I’d rate this beer as good as any of its counterparts you’ll find on the continent.

Savour British Saison

 

Cheers!

F

1936 – Beer from the Swiss Alps

Swiss FlagGrüezi! Today’s featured beer is 1936, a distinctly mild pilsner from Switzerland. I picked it up a few weeks ago at my favourite beer repository near Soho in central London and have been eager to give it a try.

The 1936 brewery proudly describes the key ingredient as being ‘crystal spring water from the Alps’ which I think is certainly noticeable given the distinctly crisp and refreshing taste. 1936 has no detectable hints of any particular flavour other than what you would typically expect for a pilsner. Nevertheless, given the range of pils/lagers on the market, it’s nice to occasionally land upon something a bit more traditional. 1936 beer.JPG

I enjoyed this beer on its own, but given its mild flavour, I expect 1936 would go particularly well with food which I may well put to the test soon……

Cheers!

F

 

Portsmouth – Battleships, Gunboats & Grog!

Did you know that in the golden age of sail, a seaman in the Royal Navy was entitled to a ration of 6.5 pints of beer per day? OK, pretty poor quality beer in all likelihood. When the beer supplies ran out, sailors would depend upon an alcoholic cocktail known as grog which comprised rum, water and lime juice; the latter being added not for flavour, but to ward of the dreaded disease known as scurvy.

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A grog barrel

I’ve always had a fascination with the age of sail and for this reason, decided to pay a visit to what is arguably the most famous harbour of that era, Portsmouth. P1280321.JPGYou won’t come across a story about Admiral Horatio Nelson or (the fictional) Horatio Hornblower without hearing Portsmouth mentioned at least a dozen times. While the town has of course changed considerably from that remarkable era, it has nevertheless preserved much of its built heritage impeccably, from Admiral Nelson’s famous flagship the HMS Victory to the only surviving gunship of the First World War.

I decided to purchase the ‘Portsmouth Historic Dockyard All Attractions’ ticket which costs £24 but is well worth the price given the huge amount to see.

HMS Warrior
Have you heard of the HMS Warrior? Perhaps not. Launched in 1859, Warrior hasn’t gone down in the annals of history with more famous ships like the Victory, the Titanic or the Bismarck. HMS Warrior didn’t fight in any glorious battles or sink in tragic circumstances, but she does hold the distinction of being the first iron-clad warship and therefore in many respects, the template for the modern naval vessel.

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HMS Warrior

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Above decks she seems like any ordinary sailing vessel from the era, but below decks she is quite opulent; well, for those of loftier rank anyway!

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Dining in style aboard HMS Warrior


HMS Victory – 6 pints a day!

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HMS Victory from the stern

Having long had a particular fascination with the swashbuckling era of Nelson and Napoleon, I was very eager to visit the HMS Victory. Notwithstanding her age, Victory is still in fact a serving naval vessel, being the flagship for the First Sea Lord, the head of the Royal Navy.

Despite the hardships experienced by the men aboard, from brutal discipline to horrific battle-inflicted injuries to rotten food, there were apparently a few perks of the job. According to http://www.hms-victory.com: “The men’s daily ration included 6 ½ pints of beer, though if they were serving away from home waters this might be replaced by a pint of wine, or a half-pint of rum”. Not too shabby as bonus schemes go really. Though you must also remember that being drunk aboard was an extremely serious offence which could lead to a flogging or worse……

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Gourmet cooking: rotten beef, salted pork and ‘hard tack biscuits’

 

HMS M.33 – Last surviving gunship from the First World War
One of the more fascinating exhibits you’ll find in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a peculiar ship by the very uninspiring name of M.33. Small and not particularly striking as ships go, M.33 nonetheless played a very important role during the First World War as a ‘monitor class ship’ – essentially a floating gun platform. Built in only six weeks, M.33 and her sister ships saw plenty of action, including at the gruesome Gallipoli Campaign. As with all other vessels in the Dockyard, M.33 is faithfully restored and fascinating to visit.

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HMS M.33

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A spartan officer’s cabin aboard M.33

Conditions aboard were very basic; apparently men were not intended to remain aboard for more than a few weeks but ended up doing so for several years owing to the outbreak of war which of course was expected to be over in a matter of months.

 

 

To give you an idea of just how much detail has gone into restoring the vessel, her hold is all stocked up with provisions authentic to the early 1900s.

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Provisions for sea

After spending most of the day at the Dockyard, I decided to sample the local pub grub. I had an excellent lunch of bangers and mash with a pint of Oakham Ale in the lively Ship Anson pub which is located about five minutes walk from the entrance to the Dockyard and very close to the train station.

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The Ship Anson Pub

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Pint of Oakham Ale and pub lunch!

Of course, before leaving Portsmouth to return to London, I picked up a souvenir….

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Jutland Battle Ale (Cerne Abbas Brewery)

Cheers!

A Beer Sabbatical…..

I’ve lived in London coming on two and a half years. However, as with many others who have made this mystifying metropolis a home, I’ve discovered that there is much of London Town that I’ve yet to, well, discover.

Walking briskly through central London’s labyrinthine streets, squares and ‘circuses’, my eye is oftentimes drawn to a bizarre building or a peculiar pub which I make a mental note to return to visit, but sadly rarely do.

Taking advantage of a week’s holidays I was due, I’ve decided to take some time to go back and explore those places which have peeked my attention. Needless to say, I will also endeavour to sample the city’s more obscure ales, whether locally brewed or imported from afar!

National Army Museum
On Tuesday, I visited the recently re-opened National Army Museum which is about 10 minutes’ walk from Sloane Square tube station. It may not be as well known as the magnificent Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, but, as with most of London’s myriad of museums, the Army Museum is free and certainly well worth a visit.

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National Army Museum

Having worked in a museum myself many years ago, I know the sensitivities involved in presenting the past in a way which is both impartial and inoffensive to all communities and cultures. The National Army Museum, in my opinion, does so impeccably. You won’t find floor after floor filled with guns, tanks and other high-tec military hardware. The Museum instead focuses on the life stories of individual servicemen and women in a way which is both innovative and genuinely engaging.

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Screens telling the stories of individual soldiers

In perhaps another departure from your typical military museum, there is an entire section dedicated to how the Army is perceived within society both in peacetime as well as in wartime. This exhibition showcases a large selection of newspaper clips, news reports, magazine articles and protest banners.

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Society and the Army

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Society & the Army

An army aperitif anyone?
One very bizarre exhibit which caught my attention was an Army recipe card for cocktails! I’ve heard of the Molotov Cocktail, but I must say the notion of the Army aperitif  took me by surprise. In case you were wondering, NAAFI stands for The Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes and according to Wikipedia, is an organisation created by the British government in 1921 to run recreational establishments needed by the British Armed Forces, and to sell goods to servicemen and their families.

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Ching ching!

The National Army Museum is well worth a visit and a credit to the staff who run it. They have planned a series of talks and seminars which I’ll certainly been keeping an eye on.

Pub spotting…. in Whitehall?

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The Old Shades, Whitehall

When you think of Whitehall, what’s the first thing that normally pops into your mind? For me it would be: Downing Street, the Treasury and the machinery of government busily rattling away. You might be surprised to know that Whitehall has in fact got some terrific authentic old-world pubs as good as any you’ll find elsewhere. One which stands out for me in particular is The Old Shades. I’ve walked past this pub on many’s an occasion and took it to be a potential tourist trap given its proximity to Westminster and Trafalgar Square. But, with some free time on my hands, I decided to finally go inside for a look.

I’m pleased to say that my expectations were completely wrong. This pub not only serves a terrific selection of ales like Yellow Hammer , it also has some very tasteful decor which fits perfectly with the political history of the neighbourhood. Adorning the walls are replica paintings of some towering figures like Benjamin Disraeli, prime minister during the nineteenth century.

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Having a pint with Benjamin Disraeli

 

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Yellow Hammer Ale

Just a few minutes walk a little further up in the direction of Trafalgar Square you’ll find another charming pub called Chandos. It can get very crowded in the evenings, especially given its location between two of London’s biggest tourist attractions – Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square.

 

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Samuel Smith’s bitter ale

Nevertheless, if you manage to visit at a quiet time as I did, you’ll find a great selection of beers on tap and a nice relaxed atmosphere away from the hustle and bustle outside. I’m not a major fan of bitter ales I must admit, but I thought I’d give one a try which I hadn’t sampled before…. and was pleasantly surprised!

Cheers!

F

 

 

Jersey – Brews & Bovine Beauty

The word ‘liberation’ has a special resonance in Jersey, a small scenic island situated in the English Channel alongside its sister Channel Islands of Guernsey, Alderney and Sark just off the north coast of France. For a small island, Jersey has had its fair share of battles, invasions and occupations, from Napoleon to the Nazis. Nowadays, thankfully, the island faces invaders armed with nothing more dangerous than a selfie-stick and of course beer-enthusiasts such as yours truly.

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Flag of Jersey

I’ve lived on the European continent for many years and in the UK for coming up to two and a half. Until last week however, I had never set foot on the Channel Islands. Travelling with my fiancée and her parents, we spent four days in Jersey, based in the main town, St. Helier. Quite unlike its better known namesake in the USA, Jersey is an eclectic mix of English and Norman French history and culture. While on the one hand, you’ll find an abundance of quintessentially British features such as red pillar post boxes, cask ales, curry houses and fish & chips, street and place names have however, an unmistakably French ring with Avenue des this or Place du that every which way you turn.

Jersey street sign

Street sign – en francais

 

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Abundance of Ales

Liberation Ale

Being a beer lover, with a particular zeal for less well-known ales, I was delighted to discover that, despite its small size, Jersey can boast not one, but two delicious beers. I mentioned already the significance of the word ‘liberation’ in Jersey. Chilling in the hotel bar with my fiancée on our first evening listening to an excellent local jazz band, I discovered the very tasty Liberation Ale. Light and zesty, with a distinct citrus aftertaste, Liberation is a must-try for beer-enthusiasts visiting the island.

Pouring Liberation Ale

Liberation Ale

Beer taps and bullet holes

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The Peirson, Royale Square

Jersey is dotted with an abundance of charming old-world pubs, each with its own unique character and story to tell. While some pubs may pride themselves on having a live-in cat, or a table where a famous person once sat and plotted a revolution or penned a famous song, there are few pubs which can boast 18th century musket shot holes in its walls. But the Peirson, situated in Royal Square, still bears its battle scars from a centuries past battle between British and Napoleonic French forces back in the turbulent year of 1781.

If admiring musket holes isn’t your thing, the Peirson is also a great spot to park yourself for a quick pint of the local ale and watch the world pass by…….

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The Peirson

St. Helier and the towns nearby boast some other charming pubs such as the Cock & Bottle and The Old Court House, with the latter famous for being – you’ve guessed it – an old court house. It’s also known for its staring role in the 1980’s TV detective series Bergerac.

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The Old Court House

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The Cock & Bottle in St. Helier

Outside of St. Helier, we discovered a couple of other gems of pubs. Driving around the island, we made a pit-stop at the charming Le Moulin de Lecq situated in St. Ouen. It was here that I tasted another of Jersey’s tasty home grown brews, called Breda Royal Lager. Le Moulin de Lecq is teeming with old word pub charm, with an array of excellent beers, warm decor, proper pub grub and friendly enthusiastic staff. The building itself is also quite unique, being a former fuller’s mill, with the largest water wheel found on the island of Jersey.

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Le Moulin de Lecq

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Le Moulin de Lecq – cosy interior

The pub appears also to be particularly popular with the local seagulls who obviously appreciate the beer as much as I did……

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Even seagulls appreciate a good beer……

The Jersey Cow

Have you heard of the Jersey Cow? She is, reputedly, the most attractive of all cows. Before leaving the island, we sought out to discover a specimen of this bovine beauty to see for ourselves. Would she really outshine a Holstein Friesian and take the crown in a cattle version of Miss Universe? I’ll let you decide……

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Mooo….what a beauty.

 

Jersey is a very short (45 minute) flight from London and an ideal spot for a short break for both beer-connoisseurs and non-connoisseurs alike. Well worth a visit!

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Cheers!

 

And so ends my first blog post; the first of many I hope! Thanks for reading, and please do leave your thoughts!

F

 

One more beer lover….

I’ve loved beer for as long as I can remember. OK, that’s obviously not entirely true. I’ve loved beer since I’ve been old enough to drink beer, or to be more precise, old enough to afford to drink good beer. I first however developed a real appreciation for good beer back at the turn of the decade, when I moved to the brewing centre of the known universe, Belgium.
Faced with a bleak economy and few job prospects and having just completed a master’s degree in International Relations, I decided to pack my bags and head for Brussels to do an unpaid internship. I didn’t speak a word of French, but luckily for me, through quirk of linguistic evolution, the French translation for beer, ‘biere‘ sounds exactly the same to the naked ear as its English counterpart. Things were looking up. Next in my quest to expand my linguistic armory was ‘Je voudrai‘, which means ‘I would like‘. An extremely useful verb, which, when coupled with ‘biere‘, conveniently enables one to express ones desire for a beer.

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Over the course of four years living in a land famed for not only beer but also chocolate, French Fries (yet another passion of mine) and some very peculiar urinating statues, my love of beer grew only deeper and more exquisite.

I now live in London and my passion for beer is as strong as ever. After many years exploring hoppy delights and posting the odd photo on Twitter or Instagram, I’ve decided to put digital pen to paper. I am not the first person to commit to the digital domain my thoughts about the wonderful world of beer and brewing and I’ll certainly not be the last. I do hope however that there is room enough in the beer blogging community for one more!

Fintan