Friday, 19 August 2016

Malta. Sun, Beer and Olly's last outing.

This, I suppose, is just a continuum (Ooh, there is another word, besides vacuum, that contains 2 consecutive u's) from my last post (Here) .After we got married, we shot off to Didsbury, to stay overnight at The Britannia Country House Hotel, before jetting off to Malta the following day. On the way, travelling via our favoured of Doncaster, Barnsley and then over the the Pennines on the Woodhead Pass, we decided to drop anchor for a spot of lunch. Just past the Flouch roundabout on the A628 there lies a Country Inn and Hotel, of which I have often wondered what was lurking behind their doors, as I, on many occasions have driven along this route. We agreed that this looked as good a place as any to have a break, and we were soon settled inside The Dog and Partridge, a 16th Century hostelry with hotel, restaurant and a reasonable range of cask ales. We ordered a couple of sandwiches off the lunch bar menu, and settled down to wait with our chosen ales. Jane chose the 3.8% “Barnsley Bitter” from the Acorn Brewery, a bitter disappointingly served in our last write up, this half pint though was much better. A rich malt taste, with caramel and a hint of biscuit precedes a medium sweet, and balanced dry finish. My tipple, also shared by T'other 'Arf, was from the Bradfield Brewery, “Farmer's Blonde”, 4% ABV. Fresh and zesty, this was a good thirst quencher, with just a tad of summer fruits on the palate with reasonable citrus and a slight oiliness detectable. It was a shame we couldn't have had a little longer here, but our absolutely huge, and delicious, sandwiches had arrived, and been eagerly devoured, and I was driving, so it was time to move on. Within an hour we were at our hotel in Didsbury. We had a meal booked for later that evening, which meant we could have a wander round this now more familiar part of Greater Manchester. We started off in The Art of Tea, a Cafe Bar on Barley Moor Road. Although not a cask lover's paradise, this bar has quite a reasonable selection of bottled beer, and amongst these we chose to sample the ever popular 5.9% IPA from Thornbridge, “Jaipur”, with its lovely plum and peach fruitiness balancing the zesty citrus backbone. It is as good in a bottle as it is in cask form. Jane had a 6% Organic Cider, with a nice red apple taste and a good bitter-sweetness, fromWyld Wood, whilst I finished on a Tickety Brew “Coffee Anise Porter”. At 5.1%, the porter was a delightful beer, with, obviously, coffee and a spice punch to the smooth sweetness in the malt. A really good beer. We're beginning to enjoy this cafe culture of drinking, although the prices for civility and a relaxing ambience do seem a shekel or two more than the traditional pub scene. Our next ports of call were The Slug and Lettuce ( Wells “Bombardier” were the drinks tasted in here), then the very Irish pub, The Station, for a Power's Whiskey, before partaking in a couple of cocktails, A Devil's Manhattan and a Porn Star Martini, in The Didsbury Lounge (Pubs Reviewed Here) We then moved back up towards our hotel, and enjoyed a lovely meal in Albert's Restaurant, ultimately finishing off at The Woodstock with Thwaite's “Waiwright's Golden Ale”. A lovely evening indeed.
The following day we set off to Manchester Airport, after a stroll around the grounds at the hotel, sharing our taxi transfer with another couple from our location. We alighted at Terminal 1, collecting our hold luggage and cabin bag from the driver at the boot,checked in and headed to security. “I'll just take your tablet out of this bag” said I, followed by “How much coffee are you taking?” as I discovered a huge jar in the top of the case. “Just a little bag full, it's in the hold bag though”. Oh dear, or words to that effect, as the realisation of having the wrong case, with our holiday documents, Euros and Pounds Sterling along with the car and house keys now elsewhere on the airport. “Ring somebody!” Jane exasperatedly shrieked. “Ring the taxi”
“What? He'll be on the motorway now, and won't have time to search his boot, or find who he dropped off” “
“Well, ring the taxi firm, the hotel, err.....”
It was then a voice said “Oh great, I've found you. I looked for my husband's medication and realised it was the wrong bag.” After a few deep breaths, sighs and skipped heartbeats and many a Thank you, we were both reunited with the correct bags. Note to self: Make sure to ID and mark ALL your bags!
We needed a drink. Terminal 1 has a few options for food and drink, mostly fizzy keg rubbish at high prices, but the departure lounge upper level does have The Grain Loft,which serves cask ales, mostly from local breweries. So, after a quick pint of “fizz” lager in Cafe Balzar, downstairs, we popped up the escalator for a “proper” pint. In here we went for a Weetwood “Cheshire Cat” a 4% Blonde Ale, which is packed with citrus and zest, but has a nice rounded bitter-sweetness throughout, and a “Manchester Bitter”, 4.3% from the Marble Brewery. After a nice citrus burst, this beer leads to a lovely dry bitterness, and is very easy drinking. I did finish off on another ale, but it was presented to me by T'other 'arf as I returned to our table after a visit. Because it was so busy at the bar Jane was unsure which one she had chosen, and I wasn't about to push through a crowd to find out. It was very good all the same.
We then proceeded to our gate, onto our aircraft and, a touch later than planned, Jet2 whisked us to the lovely Islands of Malta.


We stayed in the town of Mellieha at The Solana Hotel. We found it a wonderful friendly place. The rooms to the rear are much quieter than those on the roadside front. The facilities are more than adequate, with restaurants and bars, 2 swimming pools, the outdoor one giving a splendid rooftop view of the local church, spa and staff who are really helpful. The area has the usual collection of bars, restaurants and cafe bars, and we did manage to visit a few. Most serve the Island's most popular lager beer, Simonds Farsons “Cisk.” It is often in bottles or cans, but is also available on tap in a few outlets. The Farsons range is quite broad, to be fair, and I have reviewed most of the range below.

Cisk Lager Beer. 4.2%
Not a bad thirst quencher to be honest. There is malt, and a grassiness is noticeable. There is a definite astringency in the finish. This is available in various guises, the bottle and can versions are similar, but the keg variant is certainly more lively, and feels fresher on the palate.

Cisk Export. 5%
A bit more bite than the ordinary lager, but the taste is basically the same. My tasting was bottle only, but it is also available in cans.

Cisk Excel Low Carbohydrate Lager 4.2%
Not too bad, really. A little lighter in carbonation, and hints of bread are noticeable in the finish.

Cisk Pilsner. 5.5%
Now this is a good beer. A touch more malt taste to it, with a nice earthy back taste. The finish is dry, reasonably bitter finish. There are also light floral notes in the aroma. Very refreshing.

Farsons Hopleaf Pale Ale. 3.8%
This Golden coloured Pale Ale has a touch of citrus, followed by caramel in the initial tasting. A faint nuttiness is determinable, but it is not a big punchy pale ale taste, more an average bitter. OK, but not a memorable beer.

Farsons Blue Label Ale 3.3%
Not bad, really. It is rather Mild like, but with hints of an old Nut Brown Ale. The nutty maltiness carries through to the finish, but doesn't overpower. There is a reasonable bitterness in the dry finish. I did have this on tap in Valletta and found it quite smooth and creamy, more so than the canned version.

Farsons Lacto Milk Stout. 3.8%
A rather thin stout which pours almost black in the glass. The taste is quite sweet, with raisins and other dark fruit coming to the fore. There is a slight coffee hint and the finish has a good dry bitter-sweetness. Overall, not bad at all.

Cisk Chill Lemon flavoured Lager. 4%
Chill comes in two types, Berry and lemon. I chose the latter. Reading some reviews, this has been a heavily criticised brew. Personally, we thought it made a pleasant change. Admittedly, there is not a strong lager taste to it, but it does rear its malty head at the end. The lemon is unavoidably constant, and there is also a lot of sweetness. OK, I wouldn't order it on a wet, cold Wednesday night in Grimsby, but in 30 degrees Celsius, looking out at Mellieha Bay in the distance, just the job.

Cisk Shandy 2.2%
Yes! I tried a shandy. It was quite refreshing, and I was very hot. It also made me reminisce about growing up and, as a pre-teenage brat, enjoying a Shandy Bass as a treat with the “gang” on the local park. This one was very similar to that drink of yesteryear, still lodged in my memory, but didn't come with bits of picnic sandwich floating about in it. The sharp citrus of the lemonade perfectly tempers the maltiness from the beer, and, although I would sooner have a beer most times, it made a refreshing change.

The Island of Gozo and its Craft Beers

We had a day out on Gozo, visiting the capital, Victoria, and wandering around the streets and, eventually up to the Citadel. This is a lovely island, quieter and less busy than the main island, which, itself, can hardly be described as hectic. There are plenty of food and drink distractions around the area, giving it a nice cosmopolitan feel, and it is rather agreeable to sit back with a nice cold beer just watching the world go by. I was aware of a Craft Beer brewery on the island, Lord Chambray Microbrewery, but knew we wouldn't have enough time to find and visit it. Fortunately, walking back to the Bus Station, we popped into a tourist craft shop and, lo and behold, 3 of the brews produced by the brewery were stocked there. They weren't cheap, though, costing over 4 Euros per 330 ml bottle. The three beers I sampled were;-

Lord Chambray San Blas English IPA 5.7%
The first of these bottle conditioned beers was a full blooded IPA, with hints of tangerine and slight grapefruit strains. The overall taste is very citrus driven and the finish increasingly dry. The balance is very good, with the bitterness not too heavy, but definitely present.

Lord Chambray Fungus Rock Dark Ale/Stout 5.5%
Not too bad a dark beer, but more like a Black IPA than a Stout, I thought. The roast malt has hints of liquorice and a good bitter-sweetness. There was a slight floral aroma which also returns in the dry finishing taste.

Lord Chambray Blue Lagoon Blanch/Witbier 5%
Orange and coriander a very noticeable in this, the best of the three brews sampled. Spice and a touch of yeast esters are also prominent. The beer is very well balanced with hints of darker fruits in the long satisfyingly dry finish.

All in all, not a bad selection from the Lord Chambray Brewery. They aren't the most brilliant craft beers you will sample, nor are they terrible, nowhere near, just pleasing to find, and worth a punt. There are more beers in their portfolio, and I hope to track these down when we re-visit The Maltese Islands, hopefully next year.


Just a quick run down of a few bars we visited whilst in Malta. As in so many Mediterranean resorts, there are quite a few outlets selling beer, not just “pubs”, but a host of other places with bars, or even just a fridge and a counter. I won't include every hostelry we visited, just a few we really enjoyed.
In Mellieha we discovered a few good ones. First up was The Cross Keys, a bar and adjoining pizzeria. We popped in the pub for a quick drink before nipping for a pizza next door. Inside, we were served by one of the most amiable of barmen. Sorry, I didn't catch his name, but he was friendly, talkative, interested in our meagre lives, but not pushy or obtrusive. A native of The Emerald Isle, he gave us a few tips about the island and places worth a visit. He is certainly an asset to this great establishment, and, although we didn't get time to pop back in until our last night, he remembered us and greeted us with a wonderful Irish warmth. The pizzas were to die for too.
Just around the corner from our hotel was Charlie's Bar. There is a pool, and outside area to relax in during the day. The bar itself is It has an unmistakeably British feel to it, and is run by two ex-pats, Michael and Mary. Walk in a stranger and walk out a friend. On the main street, there are a few reasonable bars, Bar 120 has a bit of more modern music on and is worth a look, and further down you will find Greystones Pub and Restaurant. Up towards the Parish Church of Mellieha, sits Square Bar, set in a quieter part of the town, but the real “gem” is just across from here. The Imperial Band Club is open to tourists, and is a place where locals, band members and proud supporters, gather, set the World to rights and relax over a cold beer. (The Mellieha Imperial Band perform all over the World) The view is of the Church, which is a wonderful sight during the day, but absolutely captivating when lit up at night. The prices are cheap and the service efficient. One quirkier place is at the Pergola Hotel. This is The Cave Bar, which just about describes exactly what it is.A bar in a cave.

The Pub, Valletta.
Valletta, the capital, has wealth of drinking establishments within the city, and also offers cheap ferry links across the magnificent The Grand Harbour to the Three Cities (Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea and Cospicua) and across to Sliema, via the Marsamxett Harbour. This gives you even more choice. Sliema, very much a bustling resort, has the usual array of cocktail bars and tourist pubs and those cafe bars too. We popped into two of the latter on our visit, Black Gold and Tony's Bar, both overlooking the harbour with great views of Valletta across the water. A very nice way to watch the World, and his Wife, pass by. The Three Cities area is a mixture of expensive yachts, with seafront apartments, and quiet Mediterranean squares among the sprawl of domesticity. We found the lovely sun trap, Victory Square, in Birgu just a short amble from the waterfront and perched in the sun to enjoy a delightful light lunch and, of course, a few beers, at Cafe du Brazil. A very nice lunch indeed, with excellent food and efficient service. Back in the Valletta, I had one place I wanted to visit, and after a couple of stops along the way, we found The Pub. Why was it on my list? Well, hell-raiser, brilliant actor and the original Beermonster, Oliver Reed, star of stage, screen and many a bar, took his last drink in this pub before departing this Earth back in 1999. After abstaining from the booze for a few months, he was filming the film “Gladiator” in Malta. During a break, he was enjoying a few casual beers in this establishment when the crew of a Royal Navy frigate descended on it. Legend has it, and who is to doubt it, that a drinking competition broke out and, after several bottles of rum, many a beer and a few other drinks were partaken of, poor old Olly's ticker gave way. He was rushed to hospital but could not be revived A tragic but some may say, fitting end.The Pub is very, shall we say, “earthy”. It is not a venue for best suits and party dresses. The ambience though is warming and the walls are, along with the Oliver Reed memorabilia, adorned with hat bands of the various HM and Commonwealth Naval ships whose crews have visited this place over the years. One quick story. I could have sat anywhere inside on our visit. I just plumped down, with an excellent pint of draught “Blue Label”, and thought no more of it. After nipping to the loo before leaving, Jane enquired ”Do you know where you've been sitting for the last half hour ?” Thinking it may possibly have been Mr Reed's last perch, but still really at a loss, I invited an answer.
Coincidental seating plan in The Pub.

“Look” Jane replied, pointing to the hat band, among the hundreds in here, of HMS GRIMSBY.
What were the chances of that.

Well that is my review of Malta and Gozo. Some but not all of the beers to be found, a few of the bars we discovered on our visit, and a bit of the feel of this lovely sun drenched craggy Island group in the middle Mediterranean Sea. We loved our visit, and have already vowed to return. I will also return with a few more posts and reviews in the beermonster's blog very soon.

Until then, Cheers and keep it “Real”