Thursday, 8 October 2015

Algarvian Delights......via Didsbury

As anyone who has been following me on Google + or Twitter, (God only knows why!), will have determined, The Beermonster and T'other Arf have been away on their jolly holidays. Our destination of choice ? The beautiful, sun drenched Algarve region of Portugal, but more of that to follow later. Because of our 8am departure from Manchester Airport, we decided to to stay the night in Didsbury, the Britannia Country House Hotel, to be precise, a place we had stayed at before. Arriving here can be quite a pain at times, as the parking is very tight, with a fag papers width left between cars in the main parking areas, and our experience was just the same. After 20 minutes of swearing, cussing and raised blood pressure caused by driving round, checking, and double checking the available spaces would accommodate my vehicle, we eventually squeezed in, sucked our bellies in to get out the car, and after counting to ten, de-stressed. That was it for my jalopy for the next 15 days. Check-in was easy, and the room, although not luxurious, was sufficient, clean and tidy, for our one night stay. We dumped our luggage and then out-out to see what Didsbury on a Saturday early evening can offer two weary travellers. Our first port of call was The Didsbury Lounge located in Barlow Moor Road. This isn't my usual type of haunt, a Cocktail Bar bedecked in bibliographical wallpaper, but we were on holiday, and I thought I would treat T'other 'Arf to a special drink. I have to admit this was a quite relaxing place, and the service quite good. Jane eventually decided on a Basil Grand, a cocktail containing Chambord, Grand Marnier, Vodka, fresh strawberries, Basil and Cranberry juice, whilst I settled on a pint of Warsteiner “Premium Verum”. The Pilsner beer was very refreshing and
German beer and cocktails ?
It must be Holiday Time.
robust, with a slight tartness in the finish along with a clean hop bitterness. The cocktail was also enjoyed with many a “Hmm” and “Aah”, although my limited sampling of it seemed a little sweet. Oh well, at least she enjoyed it. It is, I have to say, not cheap in here, the cocktail was £8-00 and the beer over £4-00, but that does not detract from the experience. I would definitely pop in again for a “special” drink. Next up was The Nelson, just a little way down the road. This is a real old fashioned working man's boozer, a complete change to the “Lounge” visited earlier. This pub has screens dotted around the interior of the front bar, showing sport, England's 6-0 walloping of San Marino was on some screens, vying with Ch4 racing on the others, and, on our visit, only one real ale was on, although we were told it usually has a couple more on. The beer we had in here was the 4% Jenning's “Cumberland Ale” which was in good form, with a nice caramel back taste and light fruitiness in the dry finish. The locals in here are very chatty, and we were told that the Karaoke nights are not to be missed. Next time, maybe, next time !
After leaving here, we took a left, and headed down Wilmslow Road, stopping briefly at Tesco's for our lotto ticket, before dropping anchor at The Slug and Lettuce, a rather modern looking pub carrying Cask Marque accreditation. The staff are very pleasant, and the bar offers two real ales. Our first choice, Robinson's “Trooper”, was more suited to sprinkling on your chips than drinking, but, after taking them back, we were given a sincere apology, and our beer was changed to Wells “Bombardier”. This was a good pint, and, as reviewed in the past, I shall not wax lyrically of it's nature. We left here, by-passed The Station, which looked incredibly busy, and back-tracked up to The Stokers' Arms. This pub successfully mixes the old with the modern in its d├ęcor. The clientele seemed to be a good mix of ages too, and the bar had a reasonable selection of beers, not only cask, but craft beers from the keg and bottle were also available. We chose the Caledonian Brewery “Deuchars IPA”, at 3.8%, in this busy, vibrant pub, which is a good session beer. With fruit and hops balancing the initial hopped taste, which leads to a long bitter finish, this amber coloured beer is worth all the plaudits it receives. This is a pub worth visiting again in the future. At this point, looking back over the road towards The Station, curiosity got the better of us. The England football match was well over, but this place was still very busy, with a good crowd milling about outside. We decided to pop over and have a peep. On entering here, it was evident that this was, in fact, an Irish pub. Not an Irish theme pub, but a genuine Irish pub. It transpired that the Saturday we were there was a big sporting day in the calendar. I can definitely say I have never been in an atmosphere so Irish in my life, and enjoyed the banter and friendliness shown towards us immensely. The staff, who beavered away behind the small bar, never missed a single person, and we were served swiftly with a pint and a half of Marston's “Burton Bitter” 3.8%. To be fair, it is a pretty bland brew, with just a hint of caramel and bread. It never really gets much past that really, with a slightly sweet and average finish. It is OK as a session beer, but that's about it. We were really enjoying the “craic” in here, so Jane surprised me with my pre-holiday drink, a double Powers “Gold Label” Irish Whiskey, stating “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, So, when in Didsbury, I did what the Irish were doing. There is a sense among the nonsense somewhere! This was a fantastic treat, and the spicy warmth that follows the gentle smoothness in the initial taste was noted, and greatly appreciated. It was now dusk, and having not eaten since breakfast, we decided on one more up this end of town, before moving a little closer to our hotel for something to eat. So we popped across to The Dog and Partridge, another great little boozer in this neck of the woods. This pub/sports bar, also attracting a wide range of drinkers, was very busy, but, again we were served quickly, and soon found a corner table. The beers we chose here were Salopian “Lemon Dream”, a 4.5% Wheat Ale, which was bright, refreshing with a slight lagerish taste, with a nice hoppy finish following the light bitterness. The lemon was there, but not overpowering, making it a well balanced Ale. Jane's tipple was a half of Adnam's “Southwold Bitter”, 3.7% and displaying a nice bitterness and a dry, thirst quenching finish. As with all the pubs we had visited in this session, we could easily have stayed for another, but, espying a taxi at the rank across the road, and food calling, we finished up, jumped into a cab and headed to The Woodstock, back in Barley Moor Road. We had visited this pub on our last visit, and found it to be very cosy and welcoming. It is a multi-roomed inn, all interlinked and has a large outdoor area as well, and carries 4 or five real ales on tap. Food is also a big part of this pub, and the fares on offer are all pub classics, and seasonal specialities. We chose the lasagne and fish and chips to eat, both excellently cooked and delivered to our table within 20 minutes, which was impressive, as the pub was heaving, with a good many out for meals. T'other 'Arf decided on a soft drink in here while I couldn't resist a pint, or probably two, of “Wainwright's Golden Ale”, from Thwaite's. This 4.1% beer is full of citrus flavours, with just a hint of the malted sweetness holding things together in the background. A slight fruitiness is evident, but this is a well balanced beer throughout. Good on its own, but marvellous with a meal.
We had really enjoyed our session in Didsbury, and we know of a few more good pubs also in this area, so a return will be eagerly anticipated. The pubs we visited all had a good, friendly atmosphere to savour, and, on the whole, the beer wasn't too bad either. Then, just like Zebedee once said “Boing....Time for bed” We were being picked up at 04-30 the following morning, so we slowly ambled back to the hotel. If in the area, or staying in one of the local “airport” hotels, you can do far worse than have a night out in this neck of the woods, so why not fill your boots, and give it a go.

Top Beer-Portuguese Special.

After a short, uneventful flight, thanks to those lovely people from Jet2 Holidays, our Portugal trip started. ( I had collected my bottle from Duty Free on the way out, a bottle of “Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey”, which, during the course of the next 14 days was savoured during the late evenings. I found this a rather nice Whiskey for the price. The nose was slightly nutty, whilst the taste was of sweet malt, with smooth honey in the background. Hints of smokiness are there, but not too overpowering.) We stayed at the Estrela do Vau in Praia do Vau, about half way between Praia da Rocha, and Alvor, part of the Portimao district of The Algarve. The area here is simply beautiful, with azure blue seas, miles of beaches, some well hidden and a joy to find, all sculptured by the natural rock formations. When the photographs of The Algarve appear in the holiday brochures, you can bet your bottom dollar they will feature the rocky creations synonymous with this location. The Algarvian food, with peri-peri chicken, bachalau, cataplanas and sardines available in most restaurants, alongside family favourite recipes and dishes with foreign influences, this is a gastronomical paradise. A mention, too, for the excellent wines. Vinho Verde, a fresh tasting, slightly sparkling wine is a particular favourite of ours, which is available in supermarkets, and resort liquor shops for as little as 1.40 euros (£ 1-05p). The most we paid for a bottle I believe was 3.75 euros (£ 2-77p). We had lovely house reds, whites and rose wines, none disappointed, and the Port, sweet and warming, was a pleasure at the end of a warm day. I am surprised there are not more of these excellent wines on sale in the UK ( besides the Port and Mateus of course). The local spirits and liqueurs range is varied, with the usual suspects of home produced whiskey, vodka, gin etc available quite cheaply in the shops, alongside the more expensive “branded” spirits. Mixers are most definitely required, even for the whiskies, I would suggest. The local brandies are worth a mention, and the Medronho, or Portuguese Fire-water, is certainly an experience to taste, and lives up to its name ! One local beverage, and possibly the biggest tourists' exported drink, is Beirao, a secret blend of herbs and spices and magic ! The sweet taste, followed by a warm spicy tingle, certainly make this a wonderful aperitif.
Part of the Portugal Front Line
Now for the main part of this blog, those beers. First of all, if you want English/Irish beers, they are available, but, as they are imported, you will pay extra. We had the misfortune to purchase a pint and half of an Irish Bitter in a bar, as we were on a trip, and couldn't see any local brews on the bar. We paid 7-80 Euros for the privilege, which worked out at £ 5-75 !. A huge difference to the 90c bar we found in Alvor ( 70p), although that was the price only up to 8pm. The two main brands available in most bars, cafes and restaurants are Super Bock and Sagres. Both are usually on sale via tap, or bottles. The other main Portuguese beer brand, sold mainly in shops and supermarkets, but not so much in the bars is Cristal. Other brands are available, but not so prolifically. So here goes.

Unicer ( Now part of the Carlsberg Group)

Super Bock (Original) 5.2%
Probably the most popular beer, by sales, in Portugal. It is available in cans, bottles and draught nearly everywhere you go. The taste is slightly sweet, and leaves a fresh, clean taste in the mouth. The hops are not very prominent, but there is just a hint of fruit in the finish. It isn't a punchy taste, some may describe it as bland, but on a hot day it is more than welcome to find a cold glass of this beer heading towards your table.

Super Bock Stout 5%
This is not like a typical British/Irish stout. It is a lot thinner, almost like a Mild, but I found it quite acceptable. Some chocolate flavour comes through, and the medium finish is quite satisfying.

Super Bock Abadia 6.4%
This is quite a good beer. It is described as a Dark Wheat Beer. The malty sweetness in the initial mouthful and the fruity back taste gives this beer the slight characteristics of an English Brown Ale. The finish was quite long and made a pleasant change.

Unicer, under the Super Bock banner, also produce a “Classic” at 5.8%, a strong lager, and “Green”, a 4% beer with lemon. There are also 4 “special selection” brews available, promoted as “Seleccao 1927”. Unfortunately, I didn't get to sample these. They also do low alcohol varieties of the the most popular brands.

Cristal Pilsner Lager 5.1%
Unicer's “other” brand. I only saw this in shops and supermarkets, in bottles, but I found it a very good beer, and an easy drinking drink. There is a hint more malt in the flavour, followed by a reasonable hoppy bitterness. A very refreshing Pilsner.

Central de Cervejas. (Part of the Heineken Group)

Sagres (Pale Lager) 5%
This competes for pump and fridge space in all the major bars with the Super Bock equivalent, and, rather like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, some opt for one over the other, with no changing back. A slightly more malty taste than Super Bock, but still unmistakeably a lager. It is clean and refreshing on the palate, with a touch of bitterness in the satisfying finish.

Sagres Preta 4.1%
This black lager, whilst still quite thin, has a good burnt malt and caramel taste at the fore. There was a bitter-sweetness in the finish and was quite moreish. I liked this style, and thought it a very refreshing beer.

Sagres Bohemia 6.2%
This amber coloured beer displayed a nice fruitiness in the aroma and first taste, along with a fair malty hit, but the flavours soon dissipated at the finish. Still a good beer though.

Again, there a low alcohol variants of these beers, and a Sagres Radler, 2%, along with “Special Editions”

Font Salem (Damm) Brewery

Euro beer.
Kings Brau 4.8%
I found some tins of this in the local supermarket, and, to be fair, although a touch bland, with average malt flavour, and a hint of bitterness, on a hot afternoon, it wasn't that bad. Cheap and cheerful and better than some English lagers !

A Crafty Portuguese
And now, 2 bottled beers I managed to pick up on our travels around the shops in Portimao. The first was a Scottish styled beer, brewed in Belgium and sold in Portugal, truly an International collaboration. This was “Gordon's Finest Scotch Highland Ale”, an Ale of 8% from the Anthony Martin Brewery, which was full of big , rich fruit flavours, accompanied with an almost black treacle sweetness, that leads to a lovely bitterness in the finish. This is a beer that has a big punchy flavour. A good beer to discover. The other beer, at 7%, was brewed by Quinta dos Alvos, and is a Portuguese Artesan Ale called “Marafana IPA”. The colour is dark, and a touch cloudy, with a tropical fruitiness first in the aroma and then throughout. There are hints of pear in the finish, but, for an IPA, it lacked bitterness. It was OK, and the most promising thing is that breweries in this locality are experimenting with craft and bottle conditioned beers.We also found the odd restaurant selling the German Erdinger Wheat beer, and, the Barcelona brewed, Estrella “Galicia” from Hijos de Rivera. I liked the 5.5% Estrella, with a nice malt sweetness, followed by a controlled bitterness in the finish. All in all, our experiences of drinking in The Algarve, although mostly lager driven, was certainly far from unpleasant, and now we are in the fingers of a cold damp British Autumn, they are sorely missed.

Cheers and keep it “Real”.

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