London – the whirlwind beer tour…

How can we call ourselves beer geeks and not have spent any time in London, one of the beer capitols of the world. It’s hard to explain; Merideth and I have been to Europe numerous times and for some reason we have spent very little time in a city that is one of the jewels of the continent, if not the world.

This trip we tried to rectify the situation, albeit slowly. On a trip to Normandy, we stopped over in London on the front and back ends, spending two days total in London. Following is the highlights of our first (and not last) London beer adventure.

Day One

A pint of Double Chocolate at the Youngs Brewery

What is the first thing Chris and Merideth do when they are in London? British Museum? Buckingham Palace? Westminster Abbey? No, we head straight to the Young’s Brewery.

This part of our London adventure was short; we were leaving for Paris the next day and so I was anxious to get some pints. Merideth and I arrived in London around 12:30pm and after checking into our hotel at the airport and having a quick shower, we headed to central London. By 3:30pm we were at the Young’s Brewery taproom [East Putney tube] where I enjoyed some wonderful cask ales and Merideth had a Double Chocolate.

For the first time, Merideth had the Double Chocolate on draft and says she is “never drinking it from the bottle again…”

After Young’s, we hopped back on the Underground and headed for Parson’s Green, the location of the famous White Horse Pub [Parson’s Green tube]. The White Horse is a big part of the real ale revival in England and has a great selection of beers as well as good food.

Despite the jetlag starting to kick in, we headed to the West End and had some beers at the a-bit-too-hip Mash  [Oxford Circus tube] as well as popping into The Guinea,  a Young’s house whose building dates to the 1400s. We ended up finishing our evening at The Star  [Knightsbridge tube], a Fullers house with great food and a friendly staff.

Day Two
We returned to London ten days later and after a major delay getting through passport control, we again headed straight for central London in the late afternoon.

We started out at the Brew Wharf  [London Bridge tube], a brewpub with only one beer, a cask bitter, but also with a impressive selection of guest beers.

Trad session at the Hemmingford Arms

We are big fans of the London punk band Neck [London-Irish Psycho-Ceilídh] and members of the band regularly play a trad session  at the Hemingford Arms in Islington [Caledonian Road tube]. So after Brew Wharf, we hopped on the tube and headed for Islington. The Hemingford was a great pub and we enjoyed wonderful ales, Thai food and Irish music.

When we were trying to find the ‘Hemy’, a Londoner came up to us and asked us where the Hemingford Arms was. He was going there for “Hazel’s birthday party”. So, the Londoner followed us to the pub and later in the evening, Merideth even got to wish Hazel “Happy Birthday”.

Day Three
This was the last day our trip, we were flying back to California the next day. So, we actually did some of the normal tourist things; British Museum, Imperial War Museum, walked along the Thames, etc.

We did lunch at a brewpub called Bunker  [Covent Garden tube].

Our afternoon WAS supposed to be taken up by a trad session at the London branch of the Porterhouse. I am a great fan of the Porterhouse; I think they make the best beer in Ireland and when we are in Dublin, we are frequently/always found at the Porterhouse in Temple Bar. In fact, we almost exclusively drink there. So, it is hard for me to say something bad about them… but… We get there at 3:20 on a Sunday afternoon and they would not let me in because I was wearing shorts!! Merideth and I have seen pubs in Dublin that have dress codes at night (but not the Porterhouse) but this was the first time we have ever seen a dress code during the day. NO OTHER pub in London had a problem with letting me in that day. Merideth actually went in because we were potentially meeting the cousin of a friend and saw that the place was practically empty. It must be nice to be able to turn away business from dedicated customers. We were quite angry and I can only hope that my non-admission was just the whim of the no-neck Neanderthal working the door. When Merideth and I have a pub, only people wearing shorts will be allowed in.

We ended up back at the Star and met a really great London-Irish couple. It was one of those great moments where we went in for a pint and stayed for four. The craic was great that evening. So, there was a silver lining in not getting into the Porterhouse; we would not have gone back to the Star if I had gotten in.

Overall, we had a great time in London. We met some great people; the cask ales were great and we can’t wait to visit London again.

Our First Oktoberfest

After years of talking about going, Merideth and I finally attended our first Oktoberfest in September 2005. We waited so long to attend out of the dislike of huge crowds, poor planning (on my part) in our German trips and mostly fear; fear of being disappointed by the holy grail of beer events. Prior to going (and even after), we were told about 2 hour queues and 12 euro beers. So, with a bit of apprehension, we left the comforts our our hotel and headed down to the Theresienwiese.

About to walk into Oktoberfest for the first time...

Oktoberfest was great! We went for the first three days of the 2005 festival and had the time of our lives. So following, is our impressions of the event plus, hopefully, some helpful advice.

First of all, the best piece of advice I found when researching Oktoberfest was to go with an open mind. If you go with the idea that you are going to go a specific tent, long lines might disappoint you. But if you go with the idea that whatever happens, happens, you will have a great time.

With this piece of advice in mind, Merideth and I went for the first time opening day in the middle afternoon. The lines were not too bad – the opening weekend crowds were small due to cool weather – but we decided to sit outside at the Ochsenbrateri (Spaten).

I have to admit, I was somewhat nervous when I got to Oktoberfest; I wasn’t quite sure what to do or where to go. So, we basically went into the first place we came to. So, I am feeling a bit nervous and we turn into the Ochsenbrateri and some guy is already being wheeled out on a stretcher… barely 3 hours after the event started!

Our first Oktoberfest friends...

We ended spending 6 hours there and met a lot of great people… some fellow Californians, an Australian couple and a group of Austrian teenagers (16 is the drinking age).

After spending Sunday recovering from Saturday night by making our pilgrimage hike to Andechs, we returned to Oktoberfest Sunday evening with the idea that we were going to take it easy, just going to check it out and see what happens.

The lines were non-existent (but the tents were packed) and we ended up having an extended stay in the Hofbrau Festhalle. The tent was very crowded but some fellow Americans hailed us down and we ended up sitting with them and having another wonderful multi-liter evening.

It pays to wear your Dropkick Murphys shirt at Oktoberfest. The reason the two guys hailed us down was that they were fellow DKM fans.

Half the fun of Oktoberfest is checking out the tents.

We finished up our first Oktoberfest on a Monday afternoon just walking around, recovering from the previous night (some of us more than others) and checking out everything we had missed in the bustle of the evening. The daytime is much mellower [‘mellower’ being a very relative term. Oktoberfest ‘mellow’ is still pretty high on the wild meter] and gives you the opportunity to check out all the tents plus the other daytime activities. Not to be missed are the brewery’s horse-drawn beer wagons!

With a big smile and somewhat heavy heart, we left Munich the next day and headed for Austria. We told ourselves we were going to be back at Oktoberfest… soon…

Click here for all the images of Oktoberfest.

Helpful Tidbits

  • Instead of taking the U-bahn to Theresienwiese, take the S-bahn to Hackerbrucke. It’s a 5 minute walk (follow everyone else) but the station is far less crowded.
  • The Munich subway is on the honor system but pay for your ticket. Not having a ticket is a 40 Euro fine.
  • Just go! It’s free, there is some great food available in the stalls and the people watching is great.
  • Unless you are in a group of 12 or more, don’t worry about reservations because they don’t accept them.
  • Especially during the day, if you see a reserved table with some empty seats, just ask the people if you can sit there. A lot of the time, the answer will be yes.
  • Be friendly. It’s hard sometimes for us Americans but you meet some great people.
  • The crowds are really dependent on the time of the week you go. If you go to a popular bar anywhere on a Friday or Saturday night, you expect it to be crowded. Well, it’s the same with Oktoberfest. That is why I recommend going on an off night, such as a Sunday.
  • The liters go down surprisingly fast so pace yourself. Oktoberfest is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • The greatest idea in the history of mankind… Combining drinking huge amounts of beer with spinning, whirling carnival rides.