The Lakes

April this year saw me in Darkest North Wales on a walking trip. After spending a night out in the hills, my companion and myself were ready for some ale so we headed for the nearest largish place, which turned out to be Porthmadog. Two places are listed in the 2005 Good Beer Guide.

We headed to the first, the Ship, but this was unfortunately boarded up, oh no! The second place is called Spooners Bar and is part of the complex of the Ffestiniog Railway station. Doing food, and having between five and seven ales on, this place was a real find - especially as on sampling different ales, we found all to be in good condition.

We also found another pub doing a good pint of Deuchars IPA, across a little square near the harbour. Unfortunately, it didn't look as if the rest of the town had much to offer, apart from an excellent Indian Restaurant.

Another town we tried in North Wales was Capel Curig. It has two pubs, the first being the Cobdon`s Hotel, which usually tries to have a welsh micro on, and is well worth a look. The other pub, further along the village going coastwards is not in the GBG, but keeps its three ales well (try the Castle Eden) and also has Hoegaarden and Leffe on tap. The food was also good, but a little pricey.

Late July saw me first of all in Keswick in the Northern area of the Lake District. Keswick is a market town, but in my view is a better place to stay than Windermere or Bowness as you get a bit more of the character of the lakes.

The pubs are better as well, but dominated by Jennings (now W&D of course!). The best pub in Keswick, also deservedly in the GBG, is the Dog and Gun, just off the Market Place. This is a free house selling Yates Bitter, Theakston Best (yuucch), Theakston Old Peculiar (not what it once was) and two guest beers usually, and can range from the mundane to the oohhhh, nice! Food is limited, but if you don't have their renowned Hungarian Goulash, you will kick yourself! Flagstone floors and a cosy atmosphere complete the pub.

Down to the other end of the street, is the Bank Tavern, which is probably the best of the Jennings pubs, with four Jennings beers and two guest beers, which on this visit were (wait for it) Abbott and Bombardier, NOOOOOO. They did have the Jennings Mild on though which made up for it! A pleasant pub, if a little pricey and a good place for food.

The other pubs in Keswick certainly are not bad, with an ex Whitbread style Hogshead, about 4 more Jennings pubs and a Thwaites pub. Bus links are pretty good to anywhere else in the Lakes here, so if it is possible to get to some of the more remote pubs, you are best basing yourselves here. Hourly buses go to Penrith and Cockermouth (handy for a tour round Jennings brewery, well worth it).

Ambleside has a couple of good Robinson's pubs, but the Lambic Monster's other known tips for the lakes are Coniston Village and the Black Bull, brewery tap for the Coniston Brewery (other pubs in the village look good as well), and also the Wasdale Head Inn, Wasdale Head, which is a pig to get to but worth it, as it has its own brewery, good food, helpful friendly staff and excellent ale (four of their own and two Cumbria Guest beers). On my last visit, Yates Bitter And Hawkshead bitter were on offer alongside Great Gable Wasdale, Scawfell, Yewbarrow, and new at the time, LIAR a light mild Wahoo!. This was excellent and certainly rivalled Tim Taylor Golden Best. Just the thing after a trog up Scafell then across to Scafell Pike!

Also worth trying just out of the hills is the Manor Arms in Broughton in Furness and the Prince Of Wales at Foxfield (home of Tigertops Brewery), about a mile or two from Broughton .

However, many people tell me that there are lots of excellent places in the Lakes, and they are not all in the GBG. Why not use your GBG as a base and explore the Lakes?

From the Lakes though I was headed to Fort William in Scotland, as Ben Nevis was calling.

Fort William

Fort William only appear to have about six pubs and only two of them appear to do real ale. The first is the Sports Bar, which has three handpumps, two ales being from Isle Of Skye brewery (yum) and Tetley (oh well). Tucked under a shop at the Northern end of the High Street it is a cosy little bar with basic food.

The second pub is called the Grog and Gruel and is owned by the same people who run the Claciag Inn (which we also visited!). The Grog is a bare floor pub specialising in Scottish ales. While we were there they had on brews from Atlas, An Teallach and Fraoch. All the beers were good, kept in excellent condition. Good, basic food was also available. There is a restaurant upstairs, but best to book as this was always busy.

The following day saw us tackling Ben Nevis the hard way via the Comte Arrett. After walking up and down the biggest mountain in the UK, we were about ready for a beer (or 10!). We had noticed a building just after starting on the initial path. On the way down this turned out to be a pub called the Ben Nevis Inn. Although not in the GBG, a quick "do you fancy a beer" saw us heading into this pub, expecting only keg beer. Imagine our delight when hiding on the bar is a solitary handpump dispensing a very well kept Atlas Latitude. Barman "here look like a couple of thirsty guys", Lambic monster "never mind a pint, pass the barrel..." Anyway, this looked like a very nice place to stop, a cosy beamed building doing what looked and smelt like good food, very quickly filled up with tired thirsty hill walkers. It was back to Fort William, although I'm sure the Ben Nevis Inn has a halo over it...

The following day saw us in a place called Kinlocheven, which just happens to house a very good climbing centre with an ice wall and ... yup, a brewery. Atlas Brewery looks like a fabulous little place, peering through the window you can see the fermenting vessels etc. Unfortunately the front door was locked and we couldn't see anyone, so we headed out to make a quick stop at the Clachaig Inn just outside of Glencoe, it's an almost must stop for people after tackling the Anon Cegach set of ridges.

Multi roomed, it does live music, good food and cracking ale. Again it appears to specialise in Scottish beers. It's worth finding for the location alone!

Awards

My next two trips have been abroad again. August saw me back in Bamberg, having organised a trip for some friends. I won't go into this in any detail as all details can be found in my previous jottings, I didn't actually get anywhere new in Bamberg. Except for a new brew pub, almost next door to Schlenkerla, whose beers need a bit of work as they were rather bland, Bamberg Hasn't changed. Look, just go there OK, you don't know what you're missing!

However, it was my happy duty to present the owner/brewer of Schlenkerla with an award of Joint Winner of the Best Foreign Beer at this years summer festival.

Brussels

My other trip very recently was to Brussels. A trip out on the Friday night saw us take in Zageman, which is a lovely tiny brown cafe. I wanted to get there as rumour has it that it is closing next year, for shame! It bills itself as the home of the amateur lambic drinker, just the place for a Lambic monster then! Unfortunately it closes at 8pm. So to the new Bier Circus, which is just down the road from the old one, i.e. just down the same street.

Although now very food orientated, you can still go into the side area and drink a few beers. The beer range is still excellent, as is the service. Also, we ate, and the food is really good, and not bad prices, especially for Brussels.

Next stop was the Delirium, just off the Grand Place, which boasts and has over 2000 beers. However, no table service, and just out of curiosity, I ordered one of my favourite German beers. It was out of date, though only just. That is the problem with having too many beers, turnover. Having said that a nice place, with some interesting draught beers, particularly a beer made with genever (gin). Different, defiantly different!

After a couple in here we headed over to Poechenellekelder, which has upped its beer range slightly and is still a classic bar. A couple of excellent brews were willed away here before heading off to bed.

Saturday saw us on a bus heading out of Brussels to a village about 10 miles from Brussels centre called Gooik. I digress for a moment here. 10 miles for 5 people (single) for just under 9 euros, (HELLO STAGECOACH ARE YOU LISTENING!!) i.e 5 people for a 10 mile trip for less than £1.50 per person! Now that's cheap! Good old Belgians, they don't want you to use public transport?!

Sorry, anyway we were in Gooik to present the certificate to De Cam brewery as they were the other winner of the Best Foreign Beer at the summer festival. We walked in to the bar on the brewery, sat down and ordered a beer. Upon asking if the brewer was about, to be told that he only comes in on Sundays, ah. "can I leave this for him" showing the certificate, "hang on I'll ring him", after a quick phone call he is on his way down.

At this point another gentleman wanders over, looks at the certificate and promptly gets on the phone. Next thing I know the local press have turned up! then the brewer shows up and shows us around the brewery . Happy Lambic monster. At the same time there are a couple of lads playing Flemish bagpipes. The afternoon drew to a close and we had to head off for a bus. After stopping in a lovely bar on the way back to the stop we headed back into Brussels to find, of all things, a beer festival. It turned out to be a small number of German beers in a very rowdy tent, so we headed back to the Bier Circus and then a small bar on the corner near where we were staying before bed.

Sunday saw a very mellow day, with a few beers in central Brussels and some sightseeing. Some of the bars that don't necessarily make it into the Belgian GBG or just, but are well worth willing some time away in.

Monday was a quick scoot round before heading home on the Eurostar. A very memorable weekend this one.

Anyway, as I have been knobbled to run the Winter fest in January, I probably won't get away any more this year, but the Lambic Monster will continue his wanderings in 2006. Watch out for the write-ups!

Prost
The Lambic Monster