Tuesday, 7 November 2017

We Had Joy, We Had Fun, We Had Craft Beer In The Sun...

Jane and I have been really fortunate to enjoy two Mediterranean breaks this year, both times we found ourselves returning to previous haunts. Firstly, in June, we visited Malta and Gozo, following up with a September excursion to Cyprus, which took in the Paphos area as well as an overnight stay in The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. As was expected, the weather was fabulous in our chosen locales during our visits which was very encouraging for us to move in the direction of liquid refreshment. So, out and about, what did we discover on our re-visits to these wonderfully picturesque and very hospitable Island nations lapped by the Blue Azure sea.Well, let's find out.

Malta and Gozo

After spending a week on Honeymoon here last year, and enjoying a few of the beers ( Reviewed Here ) we decided to return for a fortnight this year, and soak up a bit more of what the islands had to offer. I was especially on the lookout, as always, for a few different beers and ales, and craft ale bars, which my research had showed me existed across the Islands. We arrived late evening at our resort, so had a low key first night. Staying in Mellieha again , we sank a couple of Farson's Hop Leaf  beers and Cisk  Lagers locally, before turning in. Tomorrow I would have my "beer radar" tuned in and turned on and the search for new beers to review would start in earnest.
Catching up with Farson's
A trip to the supermarket the following day threw up the usual Farson's offerings, but I did manage to get my hands on a trio of this brewers' beers that I had managed to miss out on last year. First up was Farson's "Double Red". This 6.8%  Premium Strong Ale has a big, bold sweet malt body but is well balanced with a back hop bitterness. The hop bitterness carries on to the finish and helps create a rather palatable brew, especially in the hot sunshine. The second brew was Farson's India Pale Ale 5.7% This is a light, quite floral IPA with just a hint of hoppy bitterness at the back. There is some well balanced malt sweetness within the body, and I found it a very enjoyable beer. At 9%, Cisk Strong was the last of the three I sampled, which puts my tastings of this brewer's wares up to a round dozen. Strong is quite sweet, but not cloying, and there is a dark fruit lacing to the opening. The high ABV is quite well disguised and the finish has a sort of sherry barrel infused warmth. I was surprised at how drinkable this one was, especially after some "cheap" beers I have suffered at these inflated strengths. Speaking of which, may I introduce to you Cody's. These beers are brewed by Oettinger Bier Gruppe, Germany and the two I purchased from the local supermarket were very cheap. Cody's Extra Super Strong, 12%, was very sweet, sickly, and every percent of alcohol within was evident. Spicy on the back of the palate, but not in a nice way, which leads to an unbalanced alcohol burnt finish at the back of the throat. This was not a good brew. The "lighter" 8.9% Super Strong was a touch more palatable, but was still too sweet, cloyingly so, and still imparted an awful alcohol burn as it went down. I felt these were beers made for a certain market, those who wanted to reach a certain state of stupor as quickly as possible for whatever reason. I wouldn't have them again. They were certainly not to MY liking, but each to their own.
Other bargain bucket beers we encountered included a refreshing but rather thin and watery lager, imported from Poland's Van Pur SA, by the name of Barley Classic. At 4% it merely acted like flavoured water in the heat, and as cheap as 50 cents in some places, I could see why it sold. We also encountered the EU brewed (no specific location but for Malta's Cassa Camilleri), 1565 Victory Lager. This, brew at 4.5%, was another no frills, average Euro-beer, which was slightly sweet, medium grass notes at the back with an OK, medium finish. We also discovered, in the Spinola Bay Labour Party bar, cans of Zagorka Special Lager.This, too, was a run of the mill beer. Imported from Bulgaria, it slaked a thirst, but very little else.
You must be wondering by now if, besides some of the Farson's range, there are any half decent beers in this small archipelago. Well I can tell you that Craft Ales and Bars are available, especially if you do limited research beforehand. Lord Chambray, based in Gozo, Phoenix Raw Beer, produced in Naxxar, and Stretta, a Euro-brewed beer made from a Maltese recipe, are all in evidence if you look beyond the numerous tourist bars, and in Sliema there is a micro-brewery and pub, The Brew, which is now producing its own beers. So, are any of them any good? I'll begin with the Lord Chambray beers, or rather the ones I didn't get round to sampling last time.

Lord Chambray Special Bitter. 3.8%
Quite a nice brew, with a good dry bitterness throughout. The finish has a reasonable citrus twang to it. I would say this is nearer a Pale Ale in style than a Bitter. An enjoyable beer.

Lord Chambray Golden Bay 5.2%
Another refreshing brew, with medium malt and hop notes. To be honest, I found this one just a touch on the plain side. Pleasant, but just lacking in interest.

Lord Chambray Winter Ale 8%
I really liked this one, my favourite from the Lord Chambray Brewery. Full flavoured, with dark fruit and a medium sweet malt combination at the outset. The spice kicks in next, with cinnamon and nutmeg springing out to announce themselves. The finish is smooth and packed with fruity flavours and a good bitterness that creeps in. A very good winter ale, drank in near 30 Celsius.

That concludes this brewery's beers, with the exception of Flinder's Rose, which is a seasonal brew which wasn't available when we were there. All in all, they are not too bad at all. They are available at quite a few bars, restaurants and the bigger supermarkets. They are not the cheapest of beers, but they are worth a try if you come across them. The other Maltese Craft Ales I have included below.

Stretta India Pale Ale No 1 6.3%
Stretta & Rust
 in La Bottega
A confusing bloodline precedes this beer, crafted from a Maltese recipe. The bottle label states "Brewed & Bottled: Brouuwerij Troost Westergas, ....Amsterdam" but on line sources state the brewer as Opperbacco, an Italian micro-brewer. Whoever brewed this IPA, they certainly did a good job of it. Smooth malt at the outset with floral notes coming through, just a hint of oranges is detectable at the back. There is a wave of tropical fruits, some yeast esters, then a long, crisp citrus edge that works its way to the bitter and dry long finish. Very nice. We still have the new Stretta Muzajk Atlantic Pale Ale to sample the next time we visit.

The Phoenix Raw Beer
A collection of 4 beers, brewed in Naxxar. These bottle conditioned ales are reasonably easy to find, mostly in the craft bars around the island. Here are my reviews of the range.

Blonde, Floral Ale. 4.7%
Quite effervescent on uncapping. First taste is sweet malt. There are veins of honey, yeast esters and soft fruit also in the opening mouthful. This then leads to a more balanced bitter-sweet finish with a touch of grassiness right towards the end. Not bad, just a tad too sweet for my palate at the start.

Rust Rabat Ale. 3.9%
An English style Bitter with good malt and a hint spice tones and the start. Hoppy and dry at the finish with a hint of citrus bitterness. Quite well balanced.

Rubin Double Ale (Dubbel). 6.5%
Rich roast malt opening with toffee and caramel enveloping the taste-buds. Dark fruits linger and spice combines with citrus notes  towards the reasonably long finish, which is crisp and very dry.

Tar Robust Porter. 5.1%
The first thing noticeable is the carbonation, but after the opening gush, chocolate, coffee and cinder toffee creeps out. It is quite well balanced and eventually yields some dark fruit at the back. A good bitter dryness is at the finish.

All taken into consideration, these are not too bad. Are they World award winning ales? I doubt it, but they are not bad beers at all. They are an enjoyable distraction from the usual and I would not hesitate to have another of any of the range. I do think the fizz needs sorting out a bit though, which is going to be hard to control in these temperatures, I would imagine.

The Brew Bar and Grill.
A micro-brewery and bar  producing its own beers on the waterfront in Sliema. On our couple of visits, it had 5 of its 6 beers on tap. The missing beer during our stay was Vienna a 5% Pale Ale.

Pilsner. 4.8%
This is a nicely hop bittered beer, with just a hint of tartness to add interest. Long bitter and dry at the end with a touch of yeast esters towards the final fling. Very refreshing.

Honey. 5.3%
Sweet, but not cloying, with a nice caramel taste before the floral honey notes arrive. The finish is nice, bitter and long. Quite nice, if you are a fan of honey beers.

Dark. 5.5%
Chocolate and dark fruits are the backbone of this one. After the well balanced opening sweetness comes a good bitterness, which is carried on to the end and leaves a tart aftertaste. Simple opening, complex finish. Nice one.

Golden Ale. 6%
A fruity and quite creamy ale. Berries at the back and nice yeast esters at the finish. Very refreshing.

Ginger Ale. 4.5%
Now, if you were expecting a "Crabbies" style ginger beer, forget it. This is a good malty beer with a nice rounded pale ale styled taste, but with a subtle ginger infusion. It is extremely well balanced and the infusion of ginger at the back really works well.

The Beer Menu in
67 Kapitali
Not a bad selection of "home" beers, but add to that a quite adequate selection of International beers, spirits and cocktails, this is a good place to drop anchor, people watching, with the dramatic backcloth of Valletta's skyline and Manoel Island, and enjoy the sun and beer. Speaking of bars, there are an increasing number of Craft Ale bars dotted around the Island. Starting in Sliema, well, just next door in neighbouring Gzira, just a 10 minute walk from The Brew, we found Good Thaimes. This laid back bar is tucked away just a street back from the main road and just beyond the entrance to Manoel Island. It has another reasonable selection of International bottled beers, among them quite a few Belgian brews and a good selection of the Maltese Craft Ales. One we missed out on was
The Hole in the Wall, which also gets good reviews for its ales. Across in Valletta, the Craft Ale scene is also beginning to take off. We had a couple of day trips here and enjoyed the hospitality of two really good bars. First, La Bottega, in Merchants Street. This is a small coffee shop styled bar. On entering, the array of beers available soon manifests themselves to you from the shelves. The staff are very friendly and have a good knowledge. It is another place to watch the world pass by, accompanied by a good cold Craft Ale. The next bar on our list of the Capital was 67 Kapitali. Now this is a must-visit place for beer drinkers. Owned by English ex-pats Lena and Dom, this bar, in Bakery Street, has a wonderful vibe. it is also the only place we saw Craft beers on tap, and an excellent selection of beers from all over the world. Lena and Dom are really serious about beer, and never shy from answering any questions about the cafe-bar's wares.The rest of the staff we met were also enthusiastic about their beers and ales too. A truly excellent way to unwind in Valletta. There are a few other bars in the city offering Craft Ales, StrEat Whisky Bar and Bistro and Gugar Hangout Bar are two of the others nearby although we didn't have chance to visit them. St Julian's Band Club, Spinola Bay, is a good bar to drop into in St Julian's. Along with the usual Farson's selections, one will find a fridge of Craft Ales too. This being a local band club, the prices are cheaper than many of the surrounding hostelries, although Tony's Bar, just across the way from here, also offers a limited number of Craft Ales at a reasonable price. All taken in to account, this was another enjoyable break in Malta and Gozo, a place we hope to return to again in the future.

Cyprus. Both sides of the Green Line.

The last time we were in Cyprus (Here) we stayed in the centre of Paphos and were lucky enough to be shown around by good friends of ours, taking in, among other highlights, the great Aphrodite's Rock Micro-Brewery and Brewpub based in nearby Tsada, which produces some very good Real Ales on the Island, not to mention fantastic meals. This time we wanted to see what other beery offerings were out there. During our previous visits, we had always enjoyed the two best selling Cypriot brewed beers, Keo and Leon, and this time they again tasted just as good in the heat of The Med. We were based just south of Paphos airport in the village of Mandria, at the home of our friends with a very loose schedule, apart from an overnight stay over the "Green Line" in The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus later in the week. Arriving late on Sunday evening meant our first foray out was not until Monday afternoon. We were offered the use of the car, after chauffeuring Geordie, one of our hosts, to the beautiful Aphrodite's Hills Golf Club for a round. Golf isn't our "gig", so this type of round was not for us, so after a little while, we were again on the B6 road, heading towards the British Sovereign Base Area of Cyprus around Episkopi, eventually stopping at The Bottle Shop, a lovely well stocked off licence on the outskirts of Ypsonas, near Kolossi. I had heard of a brewery around here, True Ale, run by a Russian family, which was producing four bottled craft beers, so this shop offered a good starting point to find them. Unfortunately, I was informed by the shop proprietor of some "exploding" bottle issues with their wares so these, we were told, had been recalled. That meant we had drawn a blank on them on this occasion. More of that to come. Whilst we were here I decided to grab a couple of beers anyway, it would be daft not to, and eventually I decided to pick, amongst the ample bottled stock, two beers from Belgium. We sampled these later, back at base camp, although Jane, who had chosen her favourite Cypriot tipple, ouzo, back at the shop, declined, preferring to enjoy that instead. First up was Floreffe Bierre d'abbaye Prima Melior, 8%, a beer with sweet caramel as its backbone, followed by liquorice and dark fruits lurking before a very long slightly bitter finish. Next, Waterloo Triple Blonde from Anthony Martin Brewery. This is a lovely fruity brew with some yeast esters at the back, with a floral kick coming through. The finish is very dry and moreish. A mixed start to my Craft Ale quest then. I would eventually track the True Ale beers a little closer to our holiday base, at The Wooden Pub 1 in Paphos a few days later. After the wait, and anticipation, I was reasonably pleased to actually have them in front of me. How did they fare? Well, not so good. Here are my reviews.

Muddy Water ?
True Ale Porter. 4.5%
A very thin tasting brew, slight hints of liquorice and a faint dark fruits lacing, but not much else. It is very lively, in fact too lively which is reflected in the dirty-looking pour. It is not a memorable beer at all.

True Ale Blonde Ale. 2.5%
A touch of orange and soft fruits in the opening taste, bread and yeast esters then seep in. The flavours are too subtle and this, again, gives it a very thin taste on the palate. The finish is very short and leaves very little to get excited about.

True Ale Pale. 3%
This one is easily summed up. It is better to be concise about these as one would struggle to expand further. This Pale is a bit fruity, a bit yeasty, a bit boring.

True Ale Wheat. 3%
Three down, one to go. Surely this one will bowl me over. This was served with a slice of orange, as suggested by the knowledgeable staff member who served me, which was a good idea. The beer had no taste at all, pre and post orange slice, but the orange slice was very nice and refreshing.

I had been given fair warning by the bar staff that these were not the best beers on offer here, this is a Aphrodite's Rock Brewery pub after all, but if you don't try, you can't comment. I was also advised about the high price too. I have to agree that these beers have a long way to go before I would sample them again. They are too expensive, coming in at €5.90 a bottle, too weak in ABV and just lacking in any taste. Add to that the vesuvius style uncapping and you can see major improvements are needed. I hope these problems can be ironed out and, maybe, my next visit will yield a few positives for this brewery.

The outlets for Craft Ales in the Paphos area is a touch limited, although most supermarkets sell one or two British bottled beers. The beers in the bars are the usual suspects, although more are stocking the Aphrodite's Rock beers, which is good to see. Incidentally, Aphrodite's Rock have also opened a second outlet in the resort, The Wooden Pub 2, just standing back from the Tomb of the King's Road, which is very good to see. On our previous visit to Paphos, Everards' Beacon, brewed under licence on Cyprus, was on tap in a few bars but this trip we noticed that this seems to have been replaced by Wadworth's 6X. We assumed this is by similar agreement. There is, however, an excellent Beer and Cider shop, by the name of The Beer Sellar, on the edge of the main town, heading towards Geroskipou (Anthipolochagou Georgiou Savva 34, to be more accurate) This is owned by Athos, who also has The Old Fishing Shack Pub. Now, if you want to talk passionately about ale, beer and cider, surrounded by  a massive selection of world beers, and stock up on a few bottles, this is the place to go. Athos will share his knowledge freely to like-minded connoisseurs of the brewers art and steer you in the right direction. On our visit we managed to pick up a great selection of beers from the Greek Micro-brewer Septem. Each represents a days of the week. As we know, the eighth day was when the Big Man upstairs created beer. Here is my sampling notes.

Septem Monday's Pilsner. 5%
A nice well hopped Pilsner, with lovely grassy back-taste. There is a smooth fruitiness, a hint of citrus and a rounded bitterness at the finish. A very well balanced beer, and a very refreshing  Pilsner.

Septem Wednesday's Wheat IPA. 6%
Bitter orange and sweet caramel are the opening gambit of this IPA. Citrus zest gently envelops the palate soon afterwards. The citrus zest then drives this beer to a dry and bitter finish. A really good IPA.

Septem Thursday's Premium Red Ale Beer. 4.5%
A big malty brew with dark fruits and caramel combining to give this beer a real solid base. There is a tingle of spice evident which stimulates the taste-buds with gentle warmth. The finish is very long and dry.

Septem Friday's Pale Ale. 4.7%
A really nice pale,with a smooth rather earthy taste. A touch of grass, some floral notes at the back and a lovely bittersweet finish that is incredibly well balanced.

Septem Saturday's Porter. 5.5%
Roasted malt and slight burnt toffee hints are in the opening to this beer, which adds a nice backcloth to the ensuing coffee and slight chocolate flavours. Sitting at the back there lurks an almost red grape type richness that carries on into the long, warming and dry finish. One to savour.

Septem Sunday's Honey Golden Beer. 6.5%.
A rather sweet beer with caramel malt opening before a real whoosh of honey takes over. This then leads to a bitter-sweet and quite dry finish. I am not a big fan of honeyed beers but I did rather like this one.

Eighth Day, but not a
 week ending.
Septem Eighth Day IPA. 7%
This brew opens with a good tropical fruit taste, some yeast esters are also present and give it a real depth of flavour. There is a lovely creaminess on the palate and this all eases through to a wonderful dry bitterness at the finish. This is a really solid brew and one I enjoyed greatly.

Septem Lava Imperial India Red Ale. 9%
Well, you will probably notice that Tuesday is missing. I don't know if it was there in the first place! Anyway, in its absence I chose this one. Lava taste quite like a Scotch Ale at the outset, with traits of rich dark fruits coming through turning it almost into a Christmas cake in a glass (without the lumps!). At the back the smooth rich flavour has a port wine kick to it. The high ABV is very well hidden and  makes it very drinkable indeed.

This is a good selection of beers from this Evia, Greece based Micro-brewery. They are packed with well balanced flavours and seem to cover most bases and styles. I would gladly give them all a second sampling next time around. Another couple of beers we picked up at The Beer Sellar were Marea Blonde, 4.5% from Elixi Brewery, which was filled with floral notes, some peach hints and yeast esters at the back, and a collaboration brew from the Newcastle and Caledonian  Breweries. The collaboration beer, Caley Amber Ale, 6.5%, was quite a sweet tasting beer at the start, with the malt slowly ebbing to allow a hint of fruit and some citrus bitterness through. The finish is increasingly dry and quite long, making it a very interesting and quite complex ale.

Whilst in Cyprus, we had planned a night, over the Green Line, in The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. We had been across the border in the past, using the the Famagusta crossing and Ledra Street in Nicosia. This time we would be crossing at Kato Pyrgos, up towards Morphou Bay. We arrived via the picturesque road passing through Polis,and  Pomis and were very much surprised to find only a single car waiting in front of us. The paperwork was swiftly dealt with and within 10 minutes we were through and admiring more stunning scenes as we drove up into the mountains, before gradually winding our way down towards the coast and our destination, Lapta. We booked into our hotel and then ordered a beer. I had heard of a brewery here, Lion's Heart, but this had subsequently closed, so our options on the beer front would be mainly from Anadolu Efes Brewery in Turkey. Whilst there we managed to sample the following beers.

Efes Pilsen. 5%
Malty at first, some grass tones and a reasonable, but short lived, bitter finish. Refreshing, but ordinary, lager. A welcome beer in the heat.

Efes 100% Malt 5%
A moderately sweet beer, some slight honey style traits, a hint of a metallic twang at the back, but overall another drinkable, but average, brew.

Efes Xtra. 7.5%
Very sweet, quite metallic and unbalanced throughout. An acquired taste but not mine.

Efes Xtra Shot 9%
Quite similar to Xtra but more sickly sweet than that. The metallic taste is still there, very distracting and making it more unbalanced. A beer to forget in a hurry although others may think otherwise.

Bomonti Red Ale. 5.3% ( brewed by Efes)
To be fair, not bad. A wave of caramel malt leads before a nice bitterness, and hints of citrus, leads you to a bittersweet and reasonably long finish.

Bomonti Filtresiz. 4.8% ( Efes )
A clean and crisp lager taste with some grass, and slight citrus notes at the back. There are bread-like tones that come through and the finish is slightly sweet but dry. Not too bad at all.

Tuborg Gold 5% ( Túrk Tuborg/Carlsberg)
A sweet caramel opening with a touch of fruitiness before a balanced bitterness takes over. I thought this was a fairly decent beer.

There are plenty of bars and restaurants in Northern Cyprus, Kyrenia, especially, is a bustling place full of watering holes. Craft Ales, though, are not so prevalent. On our visit, we didn't find a single establishment stocking any of these brews. That is not to say they are not available, but just quite hard to find. A nice place to visit, but not a beer tourism hot-spot.

Malta, Gozo, Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have quite a lot in common, beautiful beaches lapped by the azure sea, hot summer sunshine and that laid back Mediterranean way of life. There are differences when it comes to the beer drinking culture though. The Maltese Islands seem to have embraced the Craft Ale revolution, with Valletta seemingly leading the way with cafe bars being "The" places to chill. Most major villages and towns have at least one outlet for the local craft brews, which is quite promising. Cisk will still be top of the bill, but years of Farson's producing the other varied brews in their portfolio has given the "other" styles more of a chance of getting a foothold in the market. The Paphos area of Cyprus, on the other hand, is a place one has to do a little bit of leg-work and research to help you discover a few Craft ale bars, although the Real Ales from Aphrodite's Rock Brewery are getting more freely available, especially the bottle conditioned brews. It is usually quite rewarding when a new outlet for beers and ales is found here on your travels though. Keo and Leon, understandably, will still probably remain the top sellers across the whole of the south of the island for the time being, though, because, let's face it, it is very hard not to enjoy cold lager in that heat. Northern Cyprus,admitedly, certainly has a lot more to do, but I am sure, eventually, things will change.
I must just mention at this juncture the bars of Mandria, and neighbouring Kouklia. For two small villages each boasts a good handful of eating and drinking venues. The competition in each location certainly helps boost portion sizes and keeps the beer prices down. Kouklia also boasts Fozzie's Bar, although we merely share a name, not any profit!

Our next overseas trip will take us to a slightly cooler part of the Continent, Poznan, in Poland, which, we are reliably informed, has a lot to offer the beer tourist. We will soon find out.

Cheers, and keep it "Real"