The Trip Begins

This seems as good a place as any to document my work trip through London, all of Belgium (with a side trip north to La Trappe), and then onward to Cologne, Germany to wrap things up. Much thanks to Artisanal Imports for the opportunity to meet with our amazing portfolio of suppliers. 

Our first order of business after overnight flights from the States involved a presentation and cider drinking with Henry Chevallier of Aspall Cyders. Before that though, we needed a few pints of English ale to settle into our brief English stop. 

We settled into the Euston Flyer for Fuller’s and Butcombe ales. The Butcombe pale was a solid rendition of the English pale and the Fuller’s ESB tasted as I recalled it from American pubs and from my last visit here in 2000. We also had another pint at at a Fuller’s house inside St. Pancras station while visiting what appeared to be Platform 9 and 3/4 of Harry Potter fame. That was a goofy detour but the Butcombe bitter had a less soft hop profile than the Fuller’s that meshed well with a beautiful London summer day walking around Camden. While the Euston Flyer had a very familiar pub feel, the St. Pancras bar (name forthcoming) had more of kitsche small town Inn feel with barrels and nooks and crannies, yet sat atop the train station. All the beers were off beer engines. Honestly, preferred serving style is the proper cask pull, for almost all the classic British styles (including even our American version of the IPA). 

It is hard to get used to the Tied Houses system of England, which I understand I should expect in some form in Belgium too. Fuller’s works with our Veltins from Germany (Grevenstein), and brings in Sierra Nevada too. I wonder how this alters margins, since distribution and warehousing arrangements can be negotiated and importers and distribution networks are arranged differently. I’ll have to interrogate a boss or two for some more information. 

Our afternoon with Aspall’s Henry went as expected. The 8th generation ciderman is an erudite and well traveled Englishman with a great charm to him, as well as a sense of humor that handles 6 Americans with ease. I hope to snag him for a Chicago market visit soon, as we do love our Aspall back home. I won’t get into the Chevallier-Aspall history now, but it was fascinating to talk about additives that many cider makers use to produce an inferior product. The English countryside that slides by off this Eurostar train I’m writing from evokes the farmlands of America, and makes the connection for me between an agricultural product like Aspall cyders and the land from which it is sourced. 

More later, but the rest of the evening included trying an English-only Aspall release called Harry Sparrow (named for a former long-time head cider maker) and Dark Star brewing company’s Hophead Golden Ale. 

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