The pubs of Lindisfarne

After spending a couple of days exploring the bright lights of Newcastle, we drove onto somewhere completely different – the Holy Island, Lindisfarne.

I’d wanted to visit to see the historic sites so beer wasn’t my highest priority on this leg of our trip, but Lindisfarne does have a couple of pubs – and even a brewery! Here’s a little guide. Continue reading

The Grove and Magic Rock Tap, Huddersfield

Living in Manchester means that I’m not only spoiled in terms of places to drink good beer in the city itself, but also the excellent transport links providing easy access to many other cities and towns.

With a free day, we decided to hop on the train and take a trip to Huddersfield for a visit to the Magic Rock Tap. It’s not my first trip to Magic Rock Tap as I visited last year for the Rainbow Project launch but it was my first experience visiting on a ‘normal’ day as opposed to a special event.

Continue reading

Five great beer bars in Reykjavik

We’ve just got back from our second trip to Iceland – it was a multi-destination adventure that involved staying in seven different places across the country with a total of four nights spent in Reykjavik. It may be an expensive city but it’s also a very fun one and has plenty of places to get a decent beer. We visited a fair number of the bars while we were there, but here’s just five of the best places to drink beer in Reykjavik in my humble view.

Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik
Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik

I had to start with Mikkeller! Located in an attic on top of a restaurant (keep climbing, it’s not on the ground floor!), it’s a bit hidden away but was popular with both locals and visitors on each occasion we popped in. It’s the fourth Mikkeller bar I’ve visited now and the beer selection didn’t disappoint with the 20 taps dominated by Mikkeller and To Ol beers for the majority of the time we were there. I say majority as they held a Chicago tap takeover the day after our first weekend in Reykjavik and when we returned, there were still some US beers available.

Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik

A fairly cosy venue, the main bar is in one room with the seating in another. This is a larger space featuring a wall filled with Mikkeller posters in frames, plenty of seating and a relaxed atmosphere. It’s not cheap but it’s a great place to spend a few hours.

Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik

Micro Bar
Micro Bar Reykjavik

Micro Bar featured heavily in the post I did on beer in Iceland last year, and as we enjoyed it so much we decided to stay in the hotel which houses it (City Center Hotel) on our return to Reykjavik. It’s operated by brewery Gaedingur who are based in the countryside near Skagafjordur in North Iceland, and as a result their taps are dominated by their own beers but they also feature other Icelandic and international brands.

Micro Bar Reykjavik

They also have one experimental beer on, which was a Berliner Weiss during our stay. Boards of five or ten tasters are on offer if you want to sample the whole range and they also have a varied selection of bottles.

MIcro Bar Reykjavik

**Update November 2015 –
I’ve just found out that Micro Bar has moved to a bigger site in Reykjavik! They’re now located at Vesturgata 2 which is just around the corner from City Center Hotel opposite the Tourist Information centre. We’ll have to make a return visit to Reykjavík to check it out!

Kaldi Bar
Kaldi Bar Reykjavik

Located off one of the main shopping streets of Reykjavik, Kaldi looks deceptively small from the outside but do venture in! Alongside the main bar, there is a cosy snug room at the back and a small terrace out back. It feels rustic and intimate although it can get quite crowded but the beers are excellent and the staff friendly and helpful. Another bonus of Kaldi Bar is that they have a happy hour where a selection of their large beers are available for 700isk (about £3.50).
Kaldi Bar Reykjavik

Skuli
Skuli Craft Beer Bar Reykjavik

As a result of spending so much time in Mikkeller , we only actually had one drink in Skuli but it was a great little bar and the majority of patrons were locals. Most of the beers on keg were from Borg Brugghus but they also have options from Belgian brewers along with the likes of Mikkeller, To Ol and Omnipollo on too. It also has an outdoor seating area – which is very useful as we popped in about 10pm on a Friday evening and it was rammed (hence the lack of pics)! They also do a happy hour.
Skuli Craft Beer Bar Reykjavik

Kex
Kex Bar Reykjavik

When we travel, we generally stick to fairly mid-range accommodation but we decided to go for a night in Kex as it comes very highly rated and looked quite a fun and quirky place to stay. It was my first ever stay in a hostel (we didn’t stay in a dorm, we had a private double room although the bathrooms were shared – I don’t think I’m quite ready to sleep in a room with 14 strangers!) and I was impressed. It’s a huge building (a former biscuit factory) and alongside its accommodation, there is a bar open to all on the first floor. With an industrial theme, the Kex bar fits with its building and has a good atmosphere. On draught they mainly have Einstok but they also have one special on and while we were there it was Omnipollo’s Leon. We only had one in there before heading out for food, but when we returned later on it was bustling.
Kex Bar Reykjavik

Bonus: Vinbudin
Vinbudin Austurstraeti

Only low alcohol booze is available in your standard shop or supermarket, so it’s the off licence you have to head to for anything stronger. Although they have some odd opening times, it’s worth a visit if you can find one. We popped into the one on Austurstraeti where we found a good selection of Icelandic beers along with Mikkeller available. Different shops have different beer on offer as well – for example, we visited one Vinbudin in the north of Iceland that had a lot of Gaedingur so although it’s pricier than the shop at Keflavik Airport, it could be worth a visit for something a bit different to take home.

Wondering what else you can do in Iceland’s capital that doesn’t involve alcohol? See my guide to the ten things you need to do in Reykjavik on my other blog Jollies and Jaunts.

A beer-filled adventure in Cologne

One of my guilty pleasures in life is Taylor Swift, I bloody love her. And it’s because of Taylor Swift that we ended up spending a few days in Cologne earlier this year – I bought tickets for the 1989 tour date in the city (at a much cheaper price than the Manchester tickets were) with the intention of combining it with a bit of a boozy holiday, so that’s what we did.

One of the joys of Cologne is that they basically only sell one type of beer – Kolsch – which makes ordering so much easier and quicker. It’s basically a pale lager and is served in 0.2l glasses as it goes flat quickly.  In the city’s beer halls, it’s served by waiters who wander round with a specially-designed holder for the glasses popping a new drink down for customers when their glass is looking a bit empty. All drinks are marked down on beer mats, and when you’ve had enough the idea is you put your mat on top of your glass. In practice, you don’t really need to do this in most places as they can usually tell when you’re an idiotic tourist who can’t speak the language/understand how it works and they ask you.

During our time in Cologne, we explored many of the city’s drinking establishments so here’s a little guide to some of the places we visited and the ones I’d say are the best bars and beer halls in Cologne.

Gaffel am Dom

It’s one of the more famous brewers of Kolsch, and one you can probably get here in the UK. The beer hall is just opposite the main train station, so it does attract a large number of tourists. But we didn’t see any coach parties/tour groups, which is good, and there were also a few regulars who looked like they came in every day for their lunch. A good place to start off in Cologne, and plenty of seating.

Gaffel am Dom

Brauhaus Früh am Dom

Probably the other internationally-known Kolsch producer, Früh’s beer hall was absolutely huge with a number of different rooms and areas (although some are reserved just for diners) along with a beer garden. As the name suggests, it is very close to the Catherdral. We only visited once as it was OK, but we felt there were better places.

Brauhaus Fruh am Dom

Hellers Brauhaus

This was a much less touristy spot as it was further out and was one of our favourites. It has a large conservatory style seating area with long benches, plants and a fountain, and as we’d heard it was very popular we got in there early for dinner. The food was excellent (hearty portions – as you get everywhere in Germany!) and unlike other breweries in Cologne, they make more than one type of beer! Alongside the Kolsch you could get a Pils, an Altbier (controversial!), a Weiss (which is not a wheat beer, it’s an unfiltered version of Kolsch) and a Weizen. One absolute joy I discovered on the menu was Weizen with additional banana juice – I’m a huge fan of banana flavours so I loved it but I don’t think it would appeal to everyone. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in Cologne.

Hellers Brauhaus food Hellers Brauhaus Hellers Kolsch at Hellers Brauhaus Hellers Weizen with banana

In the area around Hellers, there’s also a few bars which we visited – Stiefel, Umbruch and Tankstelle. I’m still not 100% sure if you’re meant to go to the bar or wait for table service at these types of places and they usually only have one type of beer on offer (Kolsch from one of the bigger breweries generally). If you want to avoid the tourists and hang out with the locals, these are the places to do it.

Weissbrau

This was probably the German equivalent of going to an Irish-themed bar in the UK – it was dedicated to all things Bavarian. It had Hefeweizen on offer (nice beer) but it was very quiet and the staff seemed bored. I guess it’s just not the type of thing they’re into in Cologne, and if you’re after somewhere with a bit of atmosphere, you’d probably want to look elsewhere.

Hefeweizen at Weissbrau

Brauhaus Sion

This is another centrally located beer hall that’s quite popular with tourists. It was another one we only popped into for a drink and Sion seems to appear fairly regularly at Piccadilly Tap, so I’d already tried it but felt we had to go for it while we were there. Food looked pretty good, but probably not somewhere we’d rush back to.

Sion Kolsch at Brauhaus Sion

Malzmühle

This is up there as one of my favourite beer halls in Cologne.It gives nothing away from the outside – you can’t see through the windows and it’s an old, wooden rotating door to enter. But it was fabulous. It was traditional, atmospheric and full of lovely features and most importantly, excellent Kolsch – and a Weizen! We also tried the food which was absolutely huge and delicious. It’s a pretty special place – and if you get a seat by the front, it’s fun to watch the reactions of people as they come through the door.

Muhlen Kolsch at Malzmuhle Food at Malzmuhle Muhlen Weizen

Peters Brauhaus

This is one of the nicest looking beer halls in Cologne – if you want to have a look they have a full tour on their website. The decor was lovely, in particular the large, brightly-coloured dome in the main room. We ate there one evening and the experience was only slightly marred by the fact that we seemed to have been placed in a designated tourists’ room and the only other people in the room were a large family with a baby (who we were seated right next to which was a bit frustrating when there was plenty of space and no one really wants to be near someone else’s child in a beer hall) and a group including one American chap who wanted the whole room to hear his boring story. But, we liked the place and returned again for a drink. This time it was standing room only at the bar, so it felt a bit more like what we’re used to!

Peters Brauhaus Hearty grub at Peters Brauhaus Peters' Kolsch

Braustelle

Our trip to Braustelle was our only use of Cologne’s U-Bahn and it was very much worth the trip. This would fairly be described as a ‘craft beer brewery’ as it’s not just Kolsch you’ll get here. They do do a Kolsch (Helios), but they’re quite experimental and had plenty of interesting beers on their eight taps. Herbs feature quite often, as do barrel-aged options. A number of the choices weren’t my thing at all – including sours and rye beers – but after a few days only drinking Kolsch, I was hankering for something else and this place really hit the spot. It’s only small and got very busy on our visit (and it appears to be table service, even if you’re only drinking), but it’s worth making the underground journey for. Try the Pink Panther.

Braustelle

Braustelle Pink Panther at Braustelle Weizen at Braustelle

Thiebalds Eck

A nice little neighbourhood bar which was slightly off the beaten track but close to Neumarkt. The beer was Reissdorf, the atmosphere was friendly – we were the only non-locals but no one cared. A highlight was the locals all getting up and dancing to Europop. Great if you want somewhere more authentic and less touristy.

image

Bei d’r Tant

Close to Theibalds Eck but on the main street, this was an odd little bar. Its clientele seemed mainly to be men on business trips when we were there, and Ross got laughed at by the bar man by ordering something which turned out to be the equivalent of shandy followed by a bottle of Franziskaner. The downstairs bar area looked nice with benches built into the walls with little tables, and lots of dark wood and I found myself enjoying the music as it played a selection of tracks I have on my iPod including Rick Astley, Simple Plan and Abba. The Kolsch on offer was Gaffel.

DSC_0886

Gaststatte Lommerzheim

This was quite possibly one of my favourite places. It’s on the other side of the river from the Dom/Old Town but on the same side as the Lanxess Arena, so we popped in for food before the Taylor Swift gig. It was very full but we managed to squeeze on the end of a table in the courtyard sat opposite an old German chap who was merrily making his way through a number of glasses of Kolsch. The food was excellent and the portions absolutely gigantic. It wasn’t rare for me not to be able to finish German-sized meals, but here even Ross couldn’t finish. This was the only place where you definitely had to follow the coaster on glass rule – the waiters and waitresses were so efficient that a new drink would appear once you’d made it about halfway through your current one. The atmosphere was excellent with diverse customers – from families with (well behaved) kids, to couples, to older groups of men – although we were the only non-Germans. A highlight for me was aforementioned gent opposite us laughing at Ross when he burped then proceeding to tell all the waiters something which we assumed was about us English people not being able to handle their portions and then trying to explain to us in broken English how funny he found it. I liked him.

On a side note as I’ve mentioned the Lanxess Arena, the beer was OK for a gig venue. I had a few bottles of Maisel Weiss and it wasn’t particularly expensive. Compare this to the Manchester Arena which I went to a few days later (OK, I ended up getting Manchester tickets too), where I got absolutely ripped off for a a Newcastle Brown Ale and a bottle of water that I wasn’t even allowed to keep the bloody lid for.

Brauhaus Sünner im Walfisch

Another centrally located beer hall full of character, we dined at this place two nights in a row as we liked it that much. It wasn’t the biggest beer hall we visited, but it had plenty of seating and was moderately busy on both our visits. We sat ourselves at the back in a tiny little table hidden under an alcove underneath the stairs. It felt private and intimate, but not cut off from the rest of the bar. Alongside their Kolsch, Sünner also make a wheat beer which was very well done and another welcome break from the fizzy Kolsch.

Sunner im Walfisch Sunner im Walfisch Sunner im Walfisch

 

Brauhaus Gilden im Zims

It’s very centrally located and as a result, gets very very busy. We tried to visit once but found it full, but a few days later we were in. I liked the look of the building as it was so old and we’d found a seat at the front of the bar by the barrels so we could see the beer being poured, but the Kolsch (Gilden) definitely wasn’t my favourite. A nice feature is the guide to Cologne heroes featured in the menu.

image

 

This is nowhere near exhaustive, and it’s not even every place we visited. Some spots we only popped in for a drink and I didn’t spend enough time in them to properly judge/remember them, so I’ve not included them. But if you’re looking for a great European city with good beer, hearty grub and plenty to do, I highly recommend Cologne.

 

And a little mention for Dusseldorf:

Flights between Manchester and Dusseldorf were at much better times than services to Cologne and cheaper, so we flew into Dusseldorf and got the train over. Trains to Cologne are about every half an hour and take 40 odd minutes. We decided to spend a day visiting Dusseldorf to see the famous ‘longest bar in the world’ I’d heard so much about. I’m not a fan of Altbier so I didn’t really enjoy the beer as much – with the exception of the Kurzer Alt at Brauerei Kurzer which is worth trying if you’re visiting. Another recommendation is Uerige, a really lovely old pub in the heart of the old town. We sat in the Brauhof, or Courtyard (it’s inside) and it had a great atmosphere with a mix of local older gents popping in for one on their way home, couples eating and larger groups. Dusseldorf also has plenty of cocktail and sports bars, if that’s your thing instead.

Thornbridge Brewery and Buxton Tap House

Only just over an hour away from Manchester, Buxton is in the heart of the Peak District and surrounded by hills and rolling countryside. But more importantly, it’s home to Buxton Brewery (and their tap house) and is very close to Thornbridge Brewery in nearby Bakewell, which is why we decided to spend a weekend in the town.

We kicked off with the Thornbridge Brewery tour on Friday afternoon. They run tours twice a week and you do need to book in advance. It costs £7.50 which includes your glass and a couple of a free drinks.

On arrival to their site (£30 in a taxi from Buxton), we walked through the shop, paid and then made our way to the bar where we were offered a half. They’ve got two kegs and one cask available along with a few bottles in a fridge. Bayern, I Love You Will U Marry Me? were on keg during our visit and Sequoia was on cask.

Thornbridge Brewery - bar

After a beer, the tour started with an intro to the brewery. They were originally set up within Thornbridge Hall when the owners bought the site and brewing started at its current location a few years later. The older site is still used for experimenting with new brews.

Thornbridge Brewery tour - introduction

We then got on our hi-vis vests and went out back to the brewery.

Hi-vis at Thornbridge Brewery Thornbridge Brewery - exterior

Throughout the tour, it is obvious that this is a brewery that hasn’t shied away from spending cash. All of the equipment looked very modern and technology played a huge part in the brewery process.

View of inside Thornbridge Brewery

This was most evident in the control room where you could see the computer systems which keep the tanks under control and monitor everything.

Monitors in the control room at Thornbridge Brewery Testing lab at Thornbridge Brewery

They’ve also got their own bottling line to keep everything in house and plenty of storage room.

Part of the tour took us over to a second building where they’re currently storing a new collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery – known as Serpent. It’s ageing away in Bourbon barrels and although they’re keeping their cards close to their chest, they’re aiming to release it soon. The sheer amount of barrels was an impressive sight to see!

New beer 'Serpent' ageing in bourbon barrels at Thornbridge Brewery Barrels at Thornbridge Brewery

After the tour, we went back to the bar and shop area where we made some bottle purchases and sampled a few more beers. It would’ve been nice for more beers on keg/cask, but as they don’t open very often I can see why they only offer a couple. It was an interesting tour as some work was still ongoing in the brewery – most other tours I’ve been on seem to be when they’re not too busy. In total, we were there for about two hours and had three halves each.

During the two and a half days we were in Buxton, the vast majority of our time was spent in Buxton Tap House mainly as a result of the sheer amount of choice – eight keg, five/six cask and a good selection of bottles.

Buxton Tap House - beer list

The draught beers were all Buxton but the bottles featured a number of other UK and international breweries (including my beloved Mikkeller) and were all available to take away with a 20% discount.

Buxton Tap House - casks  Keg beers at Buxton Tap House

The bar itself is spacious and modern and has a mix of seating including tables and chairs, and couches. It was also always fairly busy – probably due to the limited number of options in the town. Some food is also served – burgers (inc veggie option), sandwiches and some sides such as macaroni cheese and cheesy nachos.Buxton Tap House

The highlight of the weekend beer-wise was Yellow Belly – a Buxton Brewery collaboration with Omnipollo. It’s an 11% peanut butter and biscuit – without actually using either of those ingredients – stout with an amazing chocolatey smell and big, biscuity flavours which are just sensational. Wow. And I’m generally not a fan of dark beers. Coming in at £4.35 for 1/3, it’s not cheap but so worth it. Ross picked up a bottle to bring back but I think he’ll be holding on to that for a while!

Sadly, it looks like we picked the wrong date to visit as this Thursday they’re hosting an Omnipollo takeover! It would’ve been nice to sample more of theirs, but what can you do.

But, even without the additional Omnipollo beers, Buxton Tap House was great place to visit and with fairly regular trains to Manchester it’d be easy enough for a day trip – so go and visit!

Ulverston pub crawl

At the beginning of this year, we decided to book a trip for our anniversary. Our criteria was that the place we picked had to have a train station and a brewery. We’d originally gone for Buxton but not one B&B would take single night stays during the weekend (ridiculous!), and instead decided to go to Ulverston in the south of Cumbria.

It’s a fairly small town and probably less on the tourist trail than other destinations within Cumbria, but it was a nice little place by the sea and for its size, there’s definitely decent amount of pubs in Ulverston.

It was a easy enough journey from Manchester (it’s on the Preston – Barrow train line so has a fairly frequent service) and after a stroll around the town, our first port of call was The Mill.

This is owned by Lancaster Brewery (we went on their tour earlier this year) and has a very distinctive feature – a moving waterwheel in the middle of the pub! Set within the very heart of the site, it really helps to keep the history of the building alive. We also heard a family come in and ask the manager some questions about the wheel and the building’s past so it seems it’s not just on show for the drinkers.

The Mill Ulverston

It also had a cute terrace, although it was a bit chilly to sit out there.

The Mill Ulverston

Beer-wise, there were a few handpumps – unsurprisingly, mainly serving Lancaster’s beers – so although it was a good pub to see, we decided to just stay for one as there wasn’t a plethora of options.

Our second stop off was Old Friends. We mainly popped in as it was on the way up to our accommodation (Candlewyck B&B, very cute place. excellent breakfast!) and we were their first customers of the day as it was just opening its doors as we wandered up.

Old Friends Ulverston

It has everything a pub should have – good selection of beers including local options, plenty of seating across two rooms, board games, a beer garden and a cat – Max. The beers on while we were there included Hawkhead’s Lakeland Lager as well as options from Stringers in Ulverston and Barngates Brewery in Ambleside.

Max - Old Friends, Ulverston

It looks to be a family-run establishment and we were warmly welcomed. It was very much a community pub with various events taking place – including a gig in the beer garden that afternoon – and on Sundays it also serves a roast, the only food it does.

Old Friends Ulverston

After checking in to our accommodation, we had a stroll down the canal. As it’s next to the GlaxoSmithKline factory, it’s not the most picturesque waterway but it’s pleasant enough for a wander around and leads right down to the sea.

As we reached the coast, Ross said this would be a good place for a pub – and lo and behold, there was one! The Bay Horse faces across the bay, and is a freehouse so we were hoping for some local beer.

The Bay Horse Ulverston

Unfortunately, the beer selection was just dull and uninspired – three handpumps with only two of them on, serving Jennings’ Cumberland Ale and a Help for Heroes special from Marston. As the inn had a significantly-sized restaurant and accommodation on site, I can’t help but thinking they should have put more effort into their beer choices to encourage people to stay.

Despite the disappointing beers, the pub itself was quite an appealing place with a traditional main bar with a large conservatory for dining offering views across the bay. The main bar area wasn’t particularly well laid out as if you stood at one section of the bar you were blocking the way to the toilets and the other section, where the handpumps were, had a table right in front of it which was occupied by a family.

Bay Horse, Ulverston

Not somewhere worth making a special effort to go to (unless the food is good, we can’t vouch for that), but if you’re there anyway it’s OK.

We dined that evening at the Farmers Arms, which was recommended to us by our accommodation. A salmon-coloured building at the main square of the town, it served excellent food in huuuge portions. It did have some local ales on, but the bar was too busy to really check them out so I just went for the waitress’ recommendation – The Welly by Healeys which appears to be a local microbrewery within a pub but there’s not much info about them online.

Food at the Farmers, Ulverston

Walking off our dinner, we headed on over to The Swan. This is slightly outside the town centre, but only a ten minute stroll away – but according to some of the locals we overheard it’s a considered quite a walk back to the main part of town.

The Swan Inn, Ulverston

It’s a very traditional style of pub and if you’re into cask ales, this is the place for you! With about ten handpumps on as well as a few beers on keg, it had plenty of choice although disappointingly the majority of the cask beers seemed to be by Moorhouses (nothing wrong with them, but we can get them easy enough in Manchester so I was looking for something more local).

Beer inside The Swan, Ulverston

But despite its decent range it was fairly quiet, even though it was Saturday evening. This is a shame because the sheer amount of beers on offer outnumbered anywhere else in the town. I notice it has no internet presence at all and does seem to be aimed squarely at locals so maybe some more promotion would encourage visitors to come and check it out.

View of Ulverston from The Swan

View of Ulverston from The Swan

On the way back into the main town centre, our next stop was the Stan Laurel Inn. Named after Ulverston’s most famous son, it’s quite popular as a food establishment and was very family friendly with children welcomed even of an evening. There’s the main bar with a few cosy tables, a larger room out the back with a pool table and darts, and a restaurant area. There’s also a couple of seats outside but it’s not particularly inspiring (and it’s the staff car park) so it’s more for the smokers than for use as a beer garden.

The Stan Laurel Inn, Ulverston

It had six ales on offer, including My Home Town by Ulverston so it was good to try something by them.

Food menu at the Stan Laurel Inn

 

Our penultimate port of call for the evening was The Devonshire Arms. It was about a five minute walk through a mainly residential area (and under a large railway bridge) to reach this little pub.

From the outside, it looks quite unassuming and gives no hint of the secret you find within…

And then when you enter, you’re hit by the decor – the whole inside of the pub is painted a rather distinctive/eye-catching/blinding/quirky/hideous/memorable/striking/obtrustive (choose your own adjective) shade of bright green!

Devonshire Arms Ulverston

 

But don’t hold that against it, it’s a very good pub and was one of the busiest non-food establishments we visited.

The Devonshire Arms Ulverston

 

As for its beer offer, I was pleasantly surprised. Five cask ales, including three from Cumbrian Legendary Ales, were available as were some keg choices.

The bar at the Devonshire Arms, Ulverston

 

Despite the questionable decor (which to be honest, I stopped noticing pretty quickly), I enjoyed this quirky little place – how often do you spend any amount of time in a place completely painted lime green!

As it was getting on at this point we popped back to Old Friends for a few more and a game of Scrabble before calling it a night.

Old Friends Ulverston

 

Ulverston may not be a huge town, but there are plenty of places where you can get a good pint which is probably as a result of its brewing heritage. During our stay, one place we couldn’t help but notice was the former Hartley’s Brewery.

Hartley's Brewery, Ulverston

Set just off one of the main roads into town, these historic buildings have just been left to decay.

Hartley's Brewery, Ulverston

There’s a plaque commemorating the site’s past (brewing started at the site in 1755, it became Hartley’s in 1919, then bought by Robinsons in 1982 and brewing was stopped just nine years later) and the old buildings still stand, along with a large Hartley’s ‘ghost’ sign. Apparently some parts of it are still in use, possibly as a distribution site for Robinsons. There’s some interesting images on urban exploration site 28 Days Later taken inside the site from a few years ago.

Hartley's Brewery ghost sign, Ulverston

I did wonder how such a large site could be left as it is for so many years and what (if any) plans there are for it’s future, and it looks like sadly like it’s going to be wasted and turned into a bloody supermarket! I know I’m not a local and maybe there is support in the area for a Tesco or the like, but I find the whole ‘turn anything into a superstore’ mentality of most developers tiresome. Surely Robinsons could turn it into a visitor attraction like they’ve done at their site in Stockport, make it an arts centre like the former Tetley site in Leeds or just sell it to another brewery? To me a bland supermarket seems such a pointless use of a historic site and I do hope a better purpose is found for it.

Living in Manchester means we are spoiled for choice when it comes to beer and although Ulverston couldn’t compete on the same level, I was pleasantly surprised by the choice available and the number of good little pubs so the town is definitely worth a visit for beer lovers.

A beer lover’s guide to Iceland

Last autumn we had a Scandinavian holiday and spent time in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Iceland. Being a very lazy blogger, I’ve so far only got round to posting about the Danish part of our holiday (although I have had a half-finished Sweden post saved in my drafts for months!) but with the opening of the glorious Mikkeller in Reykjavik, now seems a good time to blog about some of Iceland’s other beery delights.

Iceland’s beer scene isn’t as developed as some other countries (well, beer was banned until 1989 so they’ve got some catching up to do) but there are a number of breweries and a decent number of bars especially in Reykjavik. There’s also an Icelandic beers badge on Untappd (the delightfully named Brew Lagoon).

The most well-known Icelandic brewery outside of the island is probably Einstok – some of their beers are usually available in Booths.

We spent a few days in Reykjavik then hired a car and drove the south of the island to Vik, before heading back to the airport via the Blue Lagoon. Here are some of my recommendations for places you should visit in Iceland for beer:

Keflavik Airport

A good place to start, because this is where most visitors will arrive. It’s about 40 minutes away from Reykjavik (the capital does have its own airport but it’s mainly for domestic flights) and there are frequent bus services. But the most important thing to note is the duty free shop. It is also tax free, so prices can be about 15% cheaper than anywhere else on the island. The shops are on both sides – when we landed the shop at arrivals was full of Icelanders stocking up. and we got some to drink in the hotel (Einstok Arctic Berry Ale, it was lovely). Not beer-related but another useful tip – if you go to the Blue Lagoon (more on than that later), they have a large shop at departures selling the products which are on sale at the Lagoon’s gift shop but at a much cheaper price.

 

Vinbudin

Alcohol is not on sale in regular shops, you can only buy it at the state-owned off licence chain Vinbudin. It has about 50 shops across the island. We didn’t go to any during our visit – we didn’t spot any when we were in Reykjavik and although we spotted one while we were driving through a town (I can’t remember which one), it had very limited opening hours, so I’d recommend buying beer at the airport if you’re not planning on going out too much.

 

Micro Bar

Micro Bar was our drinking establishment of choice while we were in Reykjavik.

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It’s located within a hotel, so has a mix of clientele and definitely had the best selection out of all the places we visited. It has a number of beers on keg, as well as a huge list of bottles – but be prepared to pay for it!

 

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Prices for the keg options weren’t too bad but some of the bottles were on the steep side so we stayed away from these. The draught beers seemed to change quite regularly so if you’re in the city for a fair amount of time there should be something new for you to try. They also do flights if you’re keen to sample everything.

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Frederiksen Ale House

This was the first venue we visited in Reykjavik and we had dinner here on the first evening. The bar itself is quite large with plenty of seating, and the majority of the visitors seemed to be locals.

It had Einstok, Viking and Thule on draught – these are the three brands which pop up pretty much anywhere you are. Viking and Thule are OK, but I definitely prefer Einstok. And while we were there, it was happy hour and it was two for one on pints. I’ve just had a look at the prices on their website, it’s about £4.80 for a pint normally, so can’t complain for the price!

The food was excellent too – I can’t remember what he had, but here’s Ross’:

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And I went for fish and chips (excuse the blurry pic!):

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Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar

Located on a little side street off a street with many bars/cafes, this is a cosy little spot. It’s known for Brio, its own beer which has scooped a number of prizes – although I didn’t try it (I went for a wheat beer by Borg Brugghús instead). It seems more the type of places where locals would drink rather than tourists, and had the vibe of being more of a community place instead of a cool craft bar.

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Blue Lagoon

I’ve got to mention the Blue Lagoon. The guidebooks say it’s touristy, and it is, but we both enjoyed ourselves while there. It did wonders for my ezcema and it was lovely to swim round in the warm water (it was raining while we were there, but this didn’t detract from our enjoyable – in fact it made it a bit better because it was noticeably quieter). You’re given a wristband which is used to open and close your locker and to pay for anything while you’re in there. This is particularly useful as there is a bar in the water! It’s not got a huge range, but there is beer which is nice. There’s something very satisfying about enjoying a pint while relaxing in warm water. Two non-beer tips – 1. you can buy face masks at the bar but there are tubs of it for free around the lagoon and 2. you can take phones/cameras in with you but it just means you’ll have to keep one arm up in the air, so don’t bother!

Northern Light Inn

We decided to do the Blue Lagoon at the end of our trip, and is it in the middle of nowhere. The town of Grindavik is about a 10 minute drive away (we found it as we needed to put fuel in the hire car before returning it), and the Blue Lagoon does have a hotel. But there is also the Northern Light Inn which is about a 3 minute drive away from the lagoon. We stayed here and loved it! It’s got a restaurant and honesty bar  so you can get some decent booze (bottles of Einstok and wine mainly), and also provides useful services including free transfers to the Blue Lagoon and the airport as well as a Northern Lights wake up call. It wasn’t cheap but our hire car company (Blue Car Rental) gave us the option of returning the car at the Blue Lagoon so the free airport transfer made it a good deal for us.

 

So there are some of my tips for enjoying Iceland if you’re a beer lover. It’s by no means an exhaustive list but I hope it helps someone out! Before we visited, I didn’t know what to expect from the beer scene in Iceland – especially after being spoiled by Copenhagen. But there are some very good bars and amazing beer (the lovely water probably helps) so although it can be a bit pricey, it’s definitely worth it. As proof of this, we’re planning on going back this year to see more of the island and obviously visit the new Mikkeller bar!

To finish off, here’s an image of one of the most fantastic places we visited – Jökulsárlón. It had a real ethereal feel to it and is somewhere that really has to be seen to be believed!

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