After twenty or so years away I don’t know many people in my hometown of Barrow-in-Furness. One Barrovian I do know is TV’s Dave “Hairy Biker” Myers. Of course he’s a food geek in a big way but he’s also partial to beer, and lots of it, especially if it’s Belgian. I originally knew Dave as a customer when I worked for Utobeer at Borough Market. We had one of those “I know your accent” moments while he was buying some bottles of Kwak. I later interviewed Dave and his telly partner Simon King for Beers of the World.
I bumped into Dave at the weekend in the town centre and our chat drifted gradually to an almost telepathic “fancy the pub tonight?” meeting of minds. The pub in question was the Prince of Wales at Foxfield, ticker paradise, beer geek nirvana.
On the train on the way up we talked about Westvleterens. Dave hadn’t had them. I had. After a couple of pints to warm up our palates we started to browse the bottle list. I asked the barman if the list was up to date. “Er, not quite. It’s a bit obscure, you might not have heard of it. We’ve got some bottles of Westvleteren 8.” Crikey, we thought, this is an opportunity not to be missed.
Although, as a bar-owner, I’d stocked the full range of Trappist beers I’d never got round to doing a side-by-side comparison of Rocheforts and Westvleterens. I’ve long had a suspicion that Rocheforts are better and that Westvleterens, although utterly excellent beer, play a trick on the minds of drinkers by their rarity and cult status.
We all sampled the Westvletern 8 first – yup, we all confirmed, brilliant beer. The Rochefort 8 was opened, poured and passed around. Blimey! The fruit! The hop character! The malt! The finish! Rochefort had comprehensively trounced the Westvleteren. First round knock-out. The tasters: me; Dave Myers; Dave’s partner Lil; Lil’s son Serg and friend Ben Steel (big Rochefort fan) agreed unanimously – victory to Rochefort! I suppose, on reflection, a busy, bustling pub with lots of background distraction isn’t the place to studiously taste legendarily complex beers: the subtleties of WV may have fared better in quiet surroundings. Nonetheless the margin of victory was large.
We went on to enjoy several more beers and miss the last train back to Barrow (10.15pm). Dave Bailey had turned up and kindly offered to go 40 or so miles out of his way in his monster truck to get us home. Telly Dave and Lil invited us in for nibbles and a coffee. We tucked into an array of sublime smoked salmon, duck and chicken from the smokery at Haverigg Prison (you’ll be hearing about this in future). Forgetting the cuppa we sampled beers from Brewpub Dave’s very promising trial-bottling of his new beers. A “Red IPA” would seem to be a stunner but at 1.30am after a cracking night in the pub tastebuds were jaded. The drink moved on. Lil – who is Romanian – insisted we try a shot of the 60% abv plum spirit “Palinca”. It had turned into one of those nights. The kind of night you should have grown out of by the age of 25. It was brilliant.
[In the bleary cold light of the following day I found I'd left a note to myself: it said "Swinefever Ratzenberger". Go figure.]