Celebrating beer in Copenhagen

It’s been a while since CBC and a lot has happened since then which has taken my attention away from writing this blog post. I actually started writing it soon after I returned from Denmark in May! I’ve devoted a lot of my time to training for my longest cycle-ride ever and decided to have a total career change which took a lot of procrastinating, research, debate etc.  I almost canned this blog post altogether but that would have been silly – I had written most of it before I got distracted by other things and I really wanted to share with you my thoughts on what I think has been the best CBC so far and some of the great new food and drink happening around Copenhagen. I hope you enjoy and maybe if you’re thinking of heading out there for CBC 2017 I can convince you and I’ll see you there!


It’s Tuesday May 10th and I’m on the 17:13 to Gatwick. ‘I’m beginning to regret bringing this beer’ says my long-suffering boyfriend. ‘Why?’ I ask. He replies with a serious tone ‘It’s fecking awesome but it’s going to break me.’ And so the journey to the fifth annual Copenhagen Beer Celebration begins. The beer in question? A rather exquisite 2014 Melange no.3 (16.9% ABV)from The Bruery. It had been on the shelf long enough; better to drink it now before the sheer volume of beer rarities and curiosities spoils our tastebuds once more. Bursting with dark fruits, this blend of Black Tuesday, White Oak Sap and Anniversary was aged on bourbon barrels to deliver a spicy vanilla loveliness. Perfect to take a while over on the Southampton to Gatwick train via Banham, possibly the stoppingest railway service in the entire UK, even the world. We weren’t in a hurry since we’d be flying the next day.

Landing in Copenhagen felt all too familiar. As a newcomer to craft beer five or six years ago, Mikkeller was one of my early discoveries; my first ever trip to The Cask was by chance on the same day as the Mikkeller Black tap takeover, with the keg lines given over to a selection of iterations of the Black series I have not since seen equaled. One sip of the tequila barrel-aged version was all it took and the Danish brewer had captivated yet another fan. Fast-forward to 2016 and I’m touching down for my third Copenhagen Beer Celebration and possibly fifth or sixth visit to Copenhagen (I’m starting to lose count).

IMG_20160513_151813

Since my first visit in 2013, CBC has grown almost at pace with the growth of Mikkeller’s empire in the city. 2016 was the first year in the new venue of the Øksnehallen in Halmtorvet, an impressive former meat-market conveniently located a short walk from the central railway station and more importantly my hotel. Despite the larger venue, high demand from beer nerds across the globe means tickets are difficult to get hold of, selling out in minutes for some sessions. It’s no wonder; each session promises an entirely different selection from the world’s very best breweries and the ticket price includes as many samples as you can drink in the allotted time-slot.

As well as the bigger, better venue, 2016 also saw even more incredible events popping up across the city which would make it worthwhile to turn up even without tickets for the festival including a death metal concert, themed dinners and meet-the-brewer evenings.

Dark Lord Day

Sleep-deprived and fresh off the flight what better way to get into the spirit of CBC than a visit to the original Mikkeller bar on Viktoriagade where they just happened to be celebrating a Dark Lord Day of their own, hundreds of miles across the Atlantic from the original event in Munster Indianapolis. Three Floyds‘s Russian Imperial Stout has become legendary not only for its huge flavors and expertly barrel-aged variations, but also for being a notorious pain in the arse to get hold of. It’s only available once a year at a festival held at the brewery and tickets sell out well in advance. This year, the ticket price included four bottles of the standard Dark Lord 2016 and only one of the barrel aged rarities. The opportunity to try four versions in Copenhagen was an opportunity that surely would have made aficionados back home weep then.

IMG_20160511_121555

Dark Lord – not a bad start to CBC week

At 150DKK for a third and 15% ABV, this was going to be one to savor but I just about justified the cost by considering that the 50cl bottles start from 666DKK in Copenhagen and the only other option would be a slightly more pricey flight to Indianapolis. Between me and the boy, we managed to try all four. The base ‘Dark Lord 2016’ was an expertly executed imperial stout with a background level of bitterness and a hint of tobacco. Of the special editions, the stand-out for me was ‘Quit Hitting Yourself’ which had been aged in Porto and Madeira barrels and had a super-sweet, rich fruitcake flavor with a hint of peach. ‘Ronaldo,’ aged in Madeira barrels with tart Michigan cherries, benefited from a sour spike whilst retaining the Madeira sweetness. For those with less of a sweet tooth, the muscat barrel aged ‘Dwarven Power Bottom’ had more of a cacao bitterness but was still so indulgent you could probably stand a spoon in it. If you go to CBC and wonder why the Three Floyds stand generally has a queue running the length of the hall, you have your answer here.

Hill Farmstead Day

As if Mikkeller hadn’t already spoiled us enough by bringing the legendary Dark Lord to Vesterbro, the very next day Warpigs, the BBQ mecca co-owned with Three Floyds, played host to Hill Farmstead. Another unmissable event; normally the only way to get hold of this brewery’s world-famous beers is to go to their brewery in Vermont. This one had even more of a crazy buzz than Dark Lord Day. We arrived 20 minutes early and the queue was already an hour long! Creeping forward in the queue, slowly, slowly, it started to become apparent that this was not going to be a case of choosing from a carefully curated selection of five or ten. Between the main bar and the fire engine serving outside, there had to be a choice of 40 or more. We frantically started to search Rate Beer for advice but it seemed there was no sensible way to choose. They consistently produce excellent beer and scores are generally in the high 90s. The only way to do it was to choose the ones with the best names and buy a lot of them – there was no way we were queuing for another hour! Sadly my Untappd history doesn’t reveal what I actually tried and there’s way too many to remember but the stand-outs that I do recall were the abundantly chocolaty stout Beyond Good and Evil and the slightly spiced vanilla porter Twilight of the Idols, both chosen for their names which are an homage to mustachioed philosopher Friedrich Niezsche.

Copenhagen – beyond CBC

Over the years we’ve been coming back to Copenhagen, despite it already being one of the most awesome cities on the planet, we just keep finding new things! Whether or not you visit for the festival, here’s just some of my favorite places you can visit all year round:

The Mikkeller Empire

Ramen To Biiru Vesterbro

Ramen To Biiru Vesterbro

The next time somebody comes back from Copenhagen showing off about all the lovely Carlsberg they had at the brewery and telling me what a great place Denmark is for beer because of it and ‘no I didn’t see…Mikkeller…what’s that?,’ I may actually have to kick them so hard they go flying all the way back. How can anyone say ‘I love beer/I had so much beer in Copenhagen/isn’t Copenhagen great for beer’ and not at least have one Mikkeller beer?! OK, when I first made the trip back in 2013 there was only the original snug little premises on Viktoriagade and Mikkeller & Friends out at Stefansgade but in only three years they’re almost as ubiquitous as 7-elevens! The theme throughout the Mikkeller empire is still excellent beer but recent ventures have included a stand-alone bottle shop in Torvehallerne, ramen bars, a cocktail bar, fine dining at Øl & Brød, messy meaty dining at Warpigs and even a bar dedicated to Belgian Lambics.

Dat ramen tho

Dat ramen tho

If like me you’re a fan of Tonkotsu and Bone Daddies, Ramen to Biiru is simply a must-visit. Although both branches are fairly new, the dark furnishing and red neon lights add a ‘been-there-forever’ cosyness. Place your order on the friendly machine by the door and take your ticket to the till to pay – no chance of misunderstandings or that heart-sinking moment when you realize the waitress didn’t hear your request for 3 extra eggs. As is the case for all great ramen bars, the broth is unique to the chain and the recipe is a closely-guarded secret, but it’s rich and delicious and extra awesome if you order the yuzu special that’s frequently on the menu. Whatever you choose, you’ll get amazingly springy noodles and you can even choose the level of spice. As expected, there’s plenty of exciting beer to choose from including a light yuzu beer that comes in a frozen tankard.

Mikropolis is the answer to a painful dilemma which many of us will have suffered; beer or cocktails? So many arguments over where to go next on a night out could be avoided if there was one of these in every town. This joint effort between Mikkeller and To Øl is a cozy haven with 10 ever-changing beer taps, an expertly curated bottle selection and a choice of ten delicious cocktails, some of which come and go with the seasons. Expect unexpected ingredients including combinations using beer as a mixer presented exquisitely with fresh garnishes. Don’t expect the average Pina Colada or Sex on the Beach because you won’t find them here. Chin chin!

Himmeriget

Himmeriget

Himmeriget

In an understated old florist’s shop on Frederiksberg, nestled beside the chic Avenue Hotel, you will find an unmissable but easy to miss bar owned by Mikkeller’s Evil Twin, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. This little gem retains the green tiles and is decorated with leafy house-plants here and there as a reminder of the unit’s former-life but instead of paper and florist-wire you will now see behind the counter ten ever-changing taps of incredible beer. Choose wisely because you’re really going to want to have a good long sit-down with the best bottle list you have probably ever seen. In fact, make sure you go with friends – you’ll probably not want to stop at one so it’s a good idea to have people to share with. Although Copenhagen can have a reputation for being expensive, the prices at Himmeriget are pretty keen and especially so considering the rarity of some of the bottles on the menu. We were excited to finally track down Prairie‘s Coolship Truck, a wild collab with Evil Twin that was made with the help of a mash-tun driven around on a pickup truck and was limited to only 800 bottles. As a barrel-age-everything kind of girl, I was also super-stoked to get to try the Pappy Van Winkle editions of Evil Twin’s Imperial Biscotti Break and Even More Jesus. If all that gets too much you are more than welcome to order a pizza to be delivered from the friendly local pizzeria.

Papirøen

Papirøen

Papirøen

Ever looked across the water from the The Royal Danish Playhouse and wondered why exactly are hundreds of people gathered around outside a scruffy old warehouse every day? Known as Papirøen (Paper Island), this one-time paper store now houses Copenhagen Street Food, a collection of 35 food outlets and bars serving exceptional food from around the world at ridiculously keen prices. Having spent the morning sight-seeing, we arrived hungry just before opening at 12pm but as we approached the building we thought we’d made a mistake. Some of the stands were setting up but where were the customers? Then suddenly from out of nowhere the whole of Copenhagen started to show up, filling every spare bench and deckchair and ledge with lively conversation and laughter. The space lends itself to sociable dining; tables are communal and the atmosphere’s informal with DJs playing upbeat music. They get sunlight from 11am to sunset so it’s no wonder their outside area is so popular during the summer months. It was difficult to choose just one thing but having spent a large portion of the trip drinking beer I was keen to eat something nutritious and wholesome. I was glad I picked a braised beef egg-roll from Brass. It’s a bit like a burrito but full of amazing meat, raw veg and sauce and instead of a tortilla the wrap is a thin egg omelette studded with onion seeds. I’ve literally become obsessed with perfecting the technique to make them at home. There’s also several cheesesteak outlets serving some of the best sweet potato fries I’ve tasted outside of Canada, sushi, Mexican, smørrebrød, burgers, vegan. It’s definitely somewhere you’ll want to go back to and now that the new Inderhavnsbroen bridge is finally open the trip is even shorter.

Torvehallerne

Seriously delicious tacos

Seriously delicious tacos

Being a bit of a caffeine-head, I made myself familiar with this temple of international foodie delights that is Torvehallerne on my first visit to CPH to visit the renowned Coffee Collective for a much-needed wake-up after the indulgence of CBC. It’s not a place you can just stop for coffee though; this indoor super market containing no less than sixty food and drink stands needs to be explored. Here, you will find traditional Danish produce such as the porridge bar Grod alongside innovative healthy food at PALEO and international delights from just about every corner of the world. If you love to cook and you’ve booked into a standard hotel, you’ll regret not having access to a kitchen when you see the beautiful fresh produce including hard-to-find ingredients from overseas. Make sure you don’t miss the food carts outside or you’ll miss Hija de Sanchez, the Mexican stand responsible for possibly the best tacos you will ever eat. The owner Rosio Sanchez was previously a pastry chef at Noma and the place had been highly recommended by Grand Tour Cookbook chef Hannah Grant when we met her in London. Recommendations or not, I challenge you to walk past and smell that masa without stopping for a snack. The seasonal menu changes daily but there’s normally three small dishes to choose from. While you wait for your order, it’s not too far to pop back inside to pick up a beer at the Mikkeller & Friends bottle shop, then enjoy at one of the picnic tables outside. Perfect.

Brus

IMAG0714The new concept beer-and-food-lovers-paradise from To Øl puts some of the best things in life under one roof and it celebrated its launch during CBC week. The beautiful old iron foundry and locomotive factory has been converted to a bar, restaurant, brewery and general store so you can even take home exceptional beer and ingredients. Flowing from the 33 taps you will find a combination of beers from To Øl, Mikkeller and a whole host of friends as well as house-made sodas and Mikkropolis cocktails. The restaurant is already developing a reputation as one of the best in Copenhagen; I found myself wishing I hadn’t had a hotel breakfast after all when I met with friends for the ‘Hangover Brunch’ and enviously eyed up some of the best eggs and avocado I’ve seen whilst sipping on my Bloody Mary.


My CBC beer list

In case you were interested, here’s the list of what I tried at CBC 2016

Blue session

7venth Sun – Sebastian’s Saint Sunwhere (collab with Freigeist and Saint Sunwhere) Brett saison with peppercorn & grapefruit 7%

7venth Sun – Rum BA Mangrove – double IPA 10%

All In – I Milk your Drinkshake (collab with Loc) – milkshake IPA 6%

Arizona Wilderness – American Presidential Stout BA – Russian imperial stout 11%

Arizona Wilderness – Barley Wine 9.8%

Boxing Cat – Bare Knuckle Barleywine – BA Cognac 13.2%

Casita – Sopresa – Sour wild ale 4.5%

Casita – Bebe Me – Ale with orange, lavender and chamomile 5%

Cigar City – Good Gourd Almighty – BA Bourbon Imperial Pumpkin Ale 9.4%

Crooked Stave – Persica – Golden sour with peaches 6&

Cycle – Wednesday – Cognac BA Stout with cinnamon and hazelnut 10.5%

Det Lille Bryggeri – The Stay Puft – Imperial stout with marshmallows, coconut, chocolate and seasalt 13%

Faction – NYX – BA imperial stout 12%

Fonta Flora – Razzmatazz – Appelation wild ale with raspberries 5.9%

Ghost Brewing – Black Magic Vanilla Sky – Imperial stout 11.5%

Hoppin Frog – Infusion A – Peanut butter chocolate coffee porter 6.2%

Jackie O’s – Dark Apparition – BA Bourbon Russian imperial stout 11.5%

Jackie O’s – Dark Apparition – BA Bourbon Russian imperial stout conditioned on vanilla and coffee beans 11.5%

Modern Times – Monsters Park – BA Bourbon stout with coffee 13%

Omnipollo – Anagram (collab with Dugges) – Blueberry cheesecake stout topped with soft-serve 12%

Sahtipaja – Babushka Maria Ay Caramba – Imperial stout 12%

Surly – Nein – Dark smoked hefeweizen 10%

Tired Hands – Lemmynade – Oak fermented lemon saison 5.8%

Westbrook – Lemon Coconut Weisse Weisse Baby – Berliner weisse 3%

Green session

7venth Sun – Yule Shoot Your Eye Out (collab with Point Ybel) – Brett saison with spruce tips, orange zest and cranberry 5.8%

7venth Sun – Red D’or – Raspberry belgian golden 7.9%

All In – Hustle – Hazelnut imperial stout 9.8%

Arizona Wilderness – Superstition – Oatmeal coffee stout 6.5%

Boneyard – Suge Knife – Imperial stout 13%

Boxing Cat – Thrilla in Manilla – Fruited Berliner weisse 3.7%

Brewski – Buen Coco Para El Papa Vale – Russian imperial stout 12.5%

Buxton – Blue Wolf – Black sour with blueberries and blackberries 4.2%

Cigar City – Cubana Espresso – Brown ale with coffee, chocolate and vanilla 5.5%

Crooked Stave – Salvador Cybies – Dark sour ale with cherries 9%

Cycle – Tuesday – Maple cinnamon coffee imperial stout (ABV unknown)

Det Lille Bryggeri – Humlemord 13 Hops Kill – DIPA 9.4%

Gigantic – Ume Umai – Black rice with plum beer 7.5%

Jackie O’s – Turtle Fudge – BA bourbon imperial porter 11.5%

Lervig –  Blabaer Tonka Sur – sour ale with local organic blueberry juice and fruity Australian hops 7.8%

Magic Rock – Bearded Lady – BA desert imperial stout with cacao, vanilla and cinnamon 10.5%

Mikkeller – We Bleed Coffee – Blend of three coffee stouts made with coffee from Dark Matter, Coffee Collective and Koppi (ABV unknown)

Modern  Times – Aztec Mummy – Tequila barrel aged gose 5%

Omnipollo – Bianca Blueberry Lassi Gose topped with soft-serve 3.5%

Perennial – Abrazas – Imperial stout brewed with ancho chilies, cinnamon, vanilla beans and coco nibs 10%

Poppels – Double Oatmeal Stout Coffee Edition 10%

Side Project – Biere du Pays – Tart Missouri table beer 4%

Tired Hands – Motherboard Hovership – Imperial blueberry stout 12%

To Øl – Mr Orange – ESB style ale with grapefruits, tangerines and mandarins 7%

Westbrook – 2015 BA Mexican Coconut Cake – Imperial stout 11%

Advertisements

Tryanuary – the Southampton edition

Southampton hasn’t always been a great town for beer but thank goodness this little town’s fortunes are changing. With the rise and rise of the micropub, the best beer emporium on the South Coast and a beautiful brewpub housed in a medieval warehouse, there’s never been a better time to get out there for a drink or two. So Southamptonites, this Tryanuary there’s plenty to be cheerful about.

Bitter Virtue

Continental corner

Continental corner at Bitter Virtue

Having just celebrated it’s 18th birthday, this hoppy haven should need no introduction for the beer-loving population of Southampton. If you haven’t been there, save your excuses, I don’t want to hear them. Next time you’re thirsty, get down there and let the expert team of Chris, Anne and Claire guide you on an adventure across the world of IPAs, ESBs, porters, geuzes, saisons, stouts, you name it… This is a place run out of genuine love of beer by people who really know their stuff and are always happy to share their recommendations. They stock the best selection of real ales from local and national breweries alongside traditional continental styles as well as experimental craft brews. Highlights include Siren, Buxton, Magic Rock, Cloudwater, Tilquin, De Molen, De Struise, Rogue and To Ol, with takeaway cask from a revolving selection including Dark Star and Bowmans. Check their website for the latest arrivals and make sure you check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

The Butchers Hook

The board of beer at The Butcher's Hook

The board of beer at The Butcher’s Hook

Until March 2014, the majority of my beer consumption here in Southampton was at home thanks to Bitter Virtue. That all changed with the arrival of the city’s first micro-pub run by local beer enthusiasts Anthony Nicholls and Daniel Richardson in a former butcher’s shop in Bitterne. The much anticipated opening night weekend saw queues out the door and beer selling out faster than they could restock and it hasn’t calmed down that much since. Luckily, the locals of Bitterne are a friendly bunch and there’s normally room for everyone to squeeze in at the communal tables. With room for only three keg and four cask beers, the guys can be relied upon to choose their selection well so there’s generally a good range of styles but check out their great range of bottles too.  You can see what’s new on their ever-changing menu here.

 

The Dancing Man

The Dancing Man Brewery

The Dancing Man Brewery

Way back in 2012 the guys at the Platform Tavern said ‘you know what – we want to start making beer that we want to sell’ so that’s what they did. The Dancing Man brewery began in one of their disused kitchens and quickly developed a superb reputation for some delicious brews. Only a year later, a proposal was submitted to turn a  nearby grade two listed medieval wool house into a new brew pub and last year it became a reality. It would be worth a visit just to see how exquisitely they have restored the building which has previously had such diverse uses as a prison, transport company offices and maritime museum. Walking in it’s impossible not to be impressed by the grand wooden staircase or warmed by the inviting fairy lights and candles. Apparently the food is wonderful (which I’ve sadly yet to experience) but the beer selection alone merits a visit. Standout house-beers include Last Waltz, a roasty, fruity black IPA (5.3%ABV) and bitter citrus-hopped IPA Big Casino (5%) (which is the first of their brews to be canned) but watch out for some great guests from the likes of Siren and Vibrant Forest. Be sure to pop in on a Friday if you can to see what concoction they’re putting through the Randal!

Tryanuary – the Leeds edition

January has always been a month for reflections on the year gone by and resolutions for the year ahead. In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to give up alcohol for the month. For some, this is a challenging way to raise money for charities or just be a little healthier but for many independent breweries, bottle shops and pubs it can be a pretty long month. In fact, after the buzz of the party season, January can get pretty dull and the grey days can seem never-ending for most of us.

To encourage us to support independent businesses and brighten up our days, the wonderful chaps behind Hop on the Bike came up with an alternative to Dryanuary. Welcome to Tryanuary, a month of discovery and exploration rather than deprivation. The idea is simple; try something new and share the experience using the #tryanury hashtag on social media.

This isn’t about drinking more.
It’s about trying something different.
Tasting something new.
Experiencing something interesting.

If you need some inspiration, over the rest of January I’ll be sharing some of my favorite independent beery hangouts with you, starting with the glorious city of Leeds where I made a few new discoveries of my own over Christmas.

Northern Monk – The Refectory  

Housed in an impressive Grade II listed mill, the Northern Monk Refectory

IMG_20151220_104422

The impressive old mill

offers up to 20 beers on tap at any time alongside a beautifully curated selection of bottles from the best local and international breweries.

 

Northern Monk prides itself on a progressive approach to ingredients. Whilst they can serve you a perfectly well-executed pale ale or IPA for example, my advice is to try something a bit different. One of the stand-outs on the bar during our visit was the Parsnip and Black Pepper Dunkelweiss

IMG_20151220_110936

Proper kipper and egg

(6% ABV) which had a sweet, earthy flavor. The Smokey Plums (6% ABV) was also impressive with rich Christmas aromas and a gentle Russian Caravan smokiness.

With stacks of books and board games as well as ping-pong tables, it’s easy to loose an afternoon here. Food is provided by the excellent Grub & Grog who source all of their ingredients locally and use organic ingredients where possible. We dropped in for one of their legendary breakfasts; my perfectly runny poached egg and smoked kipper on delicious rustic bread was so incredible, we almost ended up going back the next day!

 

Bundobust

What do you get when the award-winning Indian restaurant, Prashad and

IMG_20151220_175044

Feel free to get carried away!

the home-from-home Bradford micropub The Sparrow Bier Cafe decide to go into business together in the most up-and-coming area of Leeds? Well I guess the only sensible outcome is Bundobust, a leading craft-beer destination serving up mindblowingly addictive Indian snacks. The extensive vegetarian food menu features small portions of heaven which I recommend must be ordered by the dozen and shared with your most valued companions. There’s a few standards like the massala dosa and dhal with rice but my advice is to be adventurous and order something slightly unusual. The perfectly spiced and battered okra fries will leave you wondering why anyone wastes time on stupid potato chips and the idli sambhar, is just so ridiculously delicious you’ll be licking the pot clean. Oh I almost forgot to mention the beer. With guest kegs from the likes of Mikkeller and Magic Rock and a well-curated selection of bottles it’s unlikely you’ll have trouble finding something to wash down all that delicious food.

 

Tall Boys Beer Market

Tucked away in the Thornton Arcade, just meters away from the madness

fern

Learn your ferns

of the high street, you’ll find this unique oasis of beer, coffee and artisan bread and cakes. Four taps serve an ever-rotating selection of craft beers which you can enjoy in the relaxed lounge upstairs or whilst you browse the incredible bottle selection, or you can even fill a growler to take home. We discovered this place on our last morning in Leeds but there were so many bottles we wanted that we just hadn’t seen before that it warranted a risky last-minute shopping spree at precisely 11am (when off-licence sales start) before the wild dash to our booked train. Luckily, they open a lot earlier (08:00) so we were able to chill out with coffee and cake (supplied by our friends at Grub & Grog) upstairs and enjoy the seasonal space collaboration with The Plant Room featuring calming ferns and local art and furnishings.

 

No such thing as bad weather?

Rule #9//

If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work.

As a year-round cycle commuter, out of all the Velominati’s rules, Rule 9 is my mantra. And Rule 5. But then Rule 5 is for everyone right. OK so if you believe John Ruskin then ‘sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.’ Yes to sunshine, yes to rain, wind….oh yeah sure there’s nothing  I love more than furious pedaling to move at approximately walking-pace and snow? So pretty when it falls from the sky, how funny when it tickles my nose. Then it turns to ice. Remember that bit where Bambi’s on the ice? Yeah that’s me. Every year. Except I’m clipped into my pedals. Every year.

Saturday December 12th was Rapha‘s annual Rule 9 day for women, Braver than the Elements. In recognition of the fact that for most cyclists, winter changes our riding habits, the luxury cycling brand extends an invitation ‘to all women who ride to step out into conditions you might otherwise shy away from.’ Why just women? Cycling is still a male-dominated sport; according to British Cycling statistics there are now more than three times as many men cycling as women. It’s easy for anyone to be put off by the cold and the dark and it can be hard to get back on the bike after months off. Could ‘Braver than the Elements’ motivate women to challenge themselves to keep cycling through the colder months? 37 organised events around the world with a photo competition and wide participation via social media certainly go some way to enable a sense of camaraderie that reaches across continents, even for those riding alone.

Since there was no organised ride near me and I hadn’t summoned up the organisational skills to do anything about it, I embarked on my battle against the elements with my long-suffering boyfriend for company. With my monthly Strava Gran Fondo badge (and my pride) on the line, I was committed to 100km. Wind gusts were forecast to reach up to 40mph so it wasn’t going to be easy. Living in a city center, we are somewhat sheltered from the elements, but out on the open heath land of the outskirts of the New Forest there’s nowhere to hide. The first climb of the day, a subtle, steady grind, never worth more than three or four gear changes, became a monstrous peak worthy of inclusion in one of Simon Warren‘s top 100s. I wrestled my bike away from the ditches that the over-enthusiastic road camber seemed determined to tip me into and grinded the pedals to the summit only to be rewarded with a slight descent which demanded just as much effort as the climb. The shelter of the trees was my far-off oasis, beckoning with loving arms and whispering leaves. With streaming eyes I somehow made my way into the sweet relief of the forest. The ups and downs of the road didn’t matter now that the trees would protect me.

...and breathe!

…and breathe!

Reaching my old favorite roads around Beaulieu felt like a victory against the elements. Wiping away the tears from my windswept face, I stopped to commemorate the day with a picture at St Leonards Grange, dismounting to sidestep a rather suspicious-looking and rather large horse (I’m braver than the elements but not brave enough to risk a kicking). It was here that we saw our first fellow cyclists of the day, a club ride making it look easy. Damn them and their drafting. I don’t follow, I lead and that’s what I did. I led us round an old familiar loop feeling clever that in the direction we were going the wind would helpfully propel us from behind. How I chortled at the poor old chap struggling the other way, gripping the handlebars, head down. ‘It’s harder this way,’ he shouted. Funny. Until the next loop where I took a wrong turn and we ended up coming back on the same road. Of course I tried to imply I’d taken us the hard way deliberately. Remember Rule 5?

After several choppy loops and some exciting interactions with the New Forest’s excellent drivers, we were kindly aided on the long road home by a wind that for once was in our favor but reaching the shelter of the apartment block I dismally noted the number on my Garmin. 99.14km. In the face of adversity, failure is not an option but having faced up to the grueling wind, having come so far, my laps of the car park felt like victory laps (rather than ‘oh hell I’ve miscalculated my 100km route’ laps).

With my trusty Beast safely locked away (you name your bikes too right?) it was time for hot chocolate and a leisurely scroll through the Braver than the Elements photos from the rest of the world, feeling proud to have joined so many strong women at least in spirit for a badass ride but disappointed to have only seen two women on my local route. Watch out though New Forest – next year I’m getting myself organised and I will lead a ride, come rain or shine (but preferably rain right?) because there’s strength in numbers.

Adventure Time

Enjoying a mid-ride snack :)

Enjoying a mid-ride snack 🙂

As a self-confessed Strava addict, this weekend’s long bike ride was very much inspired by the current Adventure Challenge. Just in case you’re not familiar, Strava is a fabulous app you can download onto your smartphone or synchronize with a GPS device to track your every cycle ride or run. Set up clubs or connect with friends and you can see each other’s routes and compete on segments of road or trail. Apart from my endless quest to capture those QOMs (Queen of the Mountains which, the award for fastest girl on a segment), I’ve become slightly obsessed by badges which are earned by completing challenges. They’re not even real physical badges but that congratulatory email that comes through after a long ride is (sadly) the cherry on top of an awesome day in the saddle.

To earn the latest ‘Adventure Challenge’ badge, Strava says we should go exploring and ride a route we haven’t ridden, taking photos along the way. Being the adventurous type, it sounded like an awesome idea to me so I turned to my expert navigator boyfriend and together we agreed on a 150km route (the length’s important – there’s also the Gran Fondo badge to earn!). Despite a super-chilly start, the day soon became beautifully spring-like as we sailed past bright green fields and luscious forests out of Southampton and up to historic Salisbury where we devoured delicious cakes at Boston Tea Party before heading out for the home leg. Having negotiated our way back out through the Salisbury one-way system, we enjoyed tackling one of the few notable hills in the New Forest at Blissford,  and meandered home through the pretty hamlets and villages, dodging ponies and donkeys as we went.

A good day’s riding makes for thirsty work and, as we all know, beer never tastes better than at the end of a ride. Having made a brief stop at home for food and showers, we continued the adventurous theme for the day and headed out to the new and only brewpub in Southampton, The Dancing Man. As a reluctant Southampton resident, I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoften find it difficult to find many nice things to say about the city. It’s dirty and boring and smells of wee and marijuana and for a long time there was nowhere to go to drink good beer. Thankfully, however, I now have three good things to say about Southampton. 1) we have the ridiculously tiny but incredible Butcher’s Hook 2) we have one of the best bottle shops in the country, Bitter Virtue and 3) we have the Dancing Man! Bet you wish you were here now!

When I heard the people behind the Platform Tavern (great beer but not a big fan of the entertainment because I am a killjoy) were buying the city’s only surviving medieval Wool House, I was terribly excited, not only because their beers had so far been a massive success but also because I had always been curious about the building but never been in. The Wool House was built after the French raid of 1338 by Cistercian Monks from Beaulieu Abbey and has had a variety of uses including a prison for French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. A building with such a rich history deserved loving restoration and the Dancing Man Brewery have totally nailed it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking in it’s impossible not to be impressed by the grand wooden staircase or warmed by the inviting fairy lights and candles. The two floors have been designed with a feeling of openness whilst retaining a cozy, rustic look, perfectly mixing the old and the modern. The move of brewing production to the larger space has obviously been a success. Being admittedly a little tired from our adventures, we only had one beer each so I went for a Last Waltz (5.3%), the house black IPA which was just incredibly fresh and delicious. Just think of the big bitter hops and hedgerow berries of Brewdog’s Libertine but then imagine it from a cask. Crazy stuff and without a doubt the best real ale I’ve had in a very long time. The boy went for local favorite Vibrant Forest‘s flagship porter, Black Forest, again expertly kept and served even if it wasn’t brewed on site.

So is there anything bad to say about such a gorgeous new addition to the city? Well, there was the small matter of most of the taps being off. For our needs there was enough to choose from but for a longer session we might have been stuck but perhaps on a Sunday evening this was just a sign that Southampton is thirsty for great beer and maybe the weekend hoards had almost drunk them dry. Nevertheless, I’ll be looking forward to my next visit and having had a good look at the delicious-looking menu I’ll definitely be back for food.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Loving the lighting!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Do I have to go back out there? The candles are so cozy!

 

Here's where the magic happens

Here’s where the magic happens

The Revolution Is Now

As a leisure cyclist for 6 years and commuter for roughly three of those, I’m a relative newcomer to cycling as a

Never thought watching one woman ride round a track for an hour would be this engaging!

Never thought watching one woman ride round a track for an hour would be this engaging!

spectator sport. How exciting could it be? Of course, the success of Team GB at 2012 introduced cycling to a whole new audience and I was one of them. I was lucky enough to see the Olympic BMX finals, but it was the track that really got me hooked. During the BMX events spectators were allowed to use the bathrooms in the velodrome next door and this was the first time I’d actually seen a track in real life. It wasn’t the wall-of-death steep banking or the scale of the place that grabbed me. Walking in just days from so many Team GB golds it was the atmosphere and the memories of what I’d been following at every opportunity on the television (or sneaking glimpses at my desk). It was breathtaking and inspiring. The re-opening of the Lee Valley Velodrome in March 2013 means I am now only a short train-ride away from world-class events.

A regular event at the velodrome is the Revolution Series which features an elite championship for the men over the course of the series, sprint and endurance events for men and women and a ‘Hoy’s Future Stars’ competition for the junior hopefuls. There’s UCI Points up for grabs to add to the drama.

Lining up for the men's keirin. Max Levy (in the white) won both the race and best kit (I think anyway)

Lining up for the men’s keirin. Max Levy (in the white) won both the race and best kit (I think anyway)

The series takes place over 6 events hosted in Manchester, Glasgow and London. The Revolution attracts some pretty big names – Ed Clancy, Peter Kennaugh and Jack Bobridge to name a few although the girls have put on the most engaging performance lately. At stage one back in October I witnessed some incredible racing between two personal cycling heroines, Marianne Vos and Laura Trott. The most recent event was extra-extraordinary thanks to the awe-inspiring attempt at the hour record by Dame Sarah Storey. OK she didn’t quite get the overall record but she still came away with the Masters (senior) and UK records and I think we could all feel it when she finally got the opportunity to sit in a comfy chair and instead slumped lifeless to the ground. I haven’t witnessed such an electrifyingly enthusiastic crowd since I was at the Olympic Taekwondo when Jade Jones took gold.

Of course, I don’t go to the velodrome for the booze. Being a sports venue it’s got to please everyone but at least has a local pale and IPA from Meantime at £5 for a pint. Not badly priced in a venue but not a particularly flavorsome offering. I always look back to the first Revolution hosted there with fond memories, back when the beer was provided by Look Mum No Hands. Thankfully we’d made a stop at Bottle Dog for a few sneaky walking beers, one of which was Snakecharmer from local brewers One Mile End who, unlike Meantime, don’t seem to be afraid of chucking a few hops in. At a modest 5.7% ABV this was a flavor-packed juicy sweety with ultra fruity hops.

Of course, if you didn’t plan ahead there’s always the Tap East, resident craft beer haven in the soulless temple of consumerism that is Westfield. On the 6 cask and 10 keg taps you’re likely to find a number of dull crowd-pleasers for the broken-down shopper to toss down their parched gullet in an attempt to forget the apocalypse is happening around them. However you’re also likely to find at least one or two little gems. On the day we were there the best thing on the bar was Drink Me – Pimiento & Rosemary from the Scouser Mad Hatter Brewing Company which was an incredibly well-executed wit enriched with aromatic rosemary. It made me want a Sunday roast to eat with it even though I don’t really even do roasts. Yummy!

We definitely saved the best till last and the beer of the weekend was on the way back to the train at The Craft. Having missed the Wild Beer tap takeover the previous night, we headed in and to our delight there was still plenty left including the beer I was most excited about. As the girl who can clear a chip-shop-sized jar of gherkins in less than 48 hours, I had high hopes when I found out that one of my favorite breweries were making a beery tribute to my favorite snack and they did not disappoint. Cool as a Gherkin, at 2.9% ABV, is a beer I could happily drink all day and beyond but I’d be just as happy with a bourbon chaser on the side. Tangy, sour, dill gherkin deliciousness –  what a way to end an amazing weekend.

 

 

A hoppy home is a happy home

As a long-term renter, I sometimes think about what I would do if I owned my own place. Then I realize that all this gallivanting around, going to awesome places and doing awesome things means I’m too busy to even look for a house, let alone pack up all my stuff and move over there! But what if….

I could make light shades from beer kegs like they did at the Hare & Hounds in Brighton…

Chand-a-beer (OK I'll think of a better name)

Chand-a-beer (OK I’ll think of a better name)

Or I could put all those empty bottles to good use and run a rope light behind them like at the American Beer Temple, Amsterdam…

Put off the walk of shame to the recycling bin for a while

Put off the walk of shame to the recycling bin for a while

Maybe instead of taps in the bathroom I can have beer taps like at Brouwerij de Proeflokaal in Amsterdam…

Just water in these sadly

Just water in these sadly

Of course I’d want to continue the theme outdoors. Maybe I’d wheel out the bicycle bar in the summer time like they do at the Velo Cafe, Brighton?

My kind of bike!

My kind of bike!

And who needs boring gardening when you can construct low-maintenance plants from glass bottles like on this house-boat in Amsterdam…

Feeling slightly Christmassy!

Feeling slightly Christmassy!

And, on the Christmassy theme, here’s a beery decoration I made…

Beery Christmas!

Beery Christmas!

And finally, is there anything else you can do with all those bottle caps…?

Get drinking!

Get drinking!