SCAC Odyssey 103 (Part 1: Bristol to Utrecht)


SCAC Odyssey 101 (Amsterdam Paradiso - May 2011)

Towards the end of end of 2011 Slim Cessna’s Auto Club announced that they would be undertaking a tour of Europe during January of 2012 – naturally, I had to get to a gig or two. A scan of the 15 date tour schedule revealed that I’d be returning to the Netherlands: the last 2 dates of the tour were on Friday & Saturday nights in Utrecht and Leiden and the lovely Dutch rail service meant that Amsterdam could be used as a base… an epic journey was beginning to take shape…

I was scheduled to fly out of Bristol at 9am so was faced with three getting to the airport choices: catch the first Friday train out of Swindon and hope hope hope for no delays; get an £80 taxi; book a cheap hotel then get a train to Bristol on the Thursday evening and hit the Seven Stars… it wasn’t a difficult choice.

Bristol... but nowhere near the Seven Stars

The Seven Stars has been open since the late 1600s and for every year it has existed it has won the CAMRA Bristol & District Pub Of The Year Award… well, that might be a bit of an untruth but it has won the award a few times and is the current reigning champion. Previously, I’d only been to the Seven Stars for a pre-gig beverage before popping next door to the Fleece but I’d long thought I should pay it a dedicated visit. It’s a small pub but even when it’s packed it never feels crowded – even when people are chucking darts and shooting pool – and although it has a faint resemblance to a ‘local’ back-street boozer it always feels relaxed and friendly and has a very broad and varied clientelle. Of course, the quality of the beer on offer is what truly makes a pub worth visiting and, as it is a geniune Free House, providing great beer is something that the Seven Star excels at. With eight ales on offer it’s not hard to find a few you want to sample and by the time I’d walked the few steps from door to bar I’d clocked three that I would definitely be purchasing: Junga, Virtue and Smoked Porter.

First up was the Junga (6.5%) – a single hop IPA from Arbor Ales. I’m a big fan of Arbor – one of my favourite brewers of 2011 – and whenever I see their beers on tap I have to have (at least) a pint, so the Junga was the natural starter. I wasn’t disappointed: for a beer with a reasonably decent ABV it slides down the throat beautifully and flavor-wise it packs in a lovely amount of citrus hop tang coupled with a vibrant fresh and green bitterness. I was tempted to have another pint but decided to move on.

Virtue (4.2%) by Bristol Beer Factory is billed as a mix of old world and new world hops. Sadly, I wasn’t convinced by this and felt it tasted a bit too old fashioned old world despite the hop mix but I did find the flavour started to build pleastanly with each drop… but not enough for me switch brews once the glass was empty.

Smoked Porter (5.4%) by Dark Star is based on an idea plucked from the imagination of Doug Odell. The initial blast was very smoky but it soon settled down which surprised me and left me feeling a little let down as the first few mouthfuls were lovely but it all-in-all it was still a very tasty pint. Do Dark Star brew and lacklustre beers? I don’t believe they do.

Drunken Bum Chic

Last orders were called and as the pump clips of the five other beers were failing to intice me I decided to finish with another pint of Junga – the definite beer of the evening. One tasty pint later I sauntered back to the hotel. Back at base I poured my takeaway bottle of Orval into the plastic tumbler from the bathroom and clambered into bed to watch whatever the telly was prepared to offer – the best option was a documentary about musicals which I must admit I found damn enjoyable. By then it was another day so I turned out the light to catch some zeds as in about twelve the serious drinking would commence.

The alarm went off at 6am and I felt pretty crap – not crap enough to switch off the alarm and fall back asleep but crap enough to press the snooze twice. A quick but hot shower would return me to full health… no. A quick but cold walk to the airport bus would return me to full health… no. Some shut eye on the bus… hold on hold on… a beer and breakfast at the airport is exactly what’s required – I can cope with a fuzzy head until then. Despite it still being dark the bus journey was a visually enjoyable one – the highpoint being a pub in Bedminster that looked like it was open for business despite it not even being 7am. I arrived at the airport and breezed through security and headed for the bar for the much deserved and desired beer and breakfast. Hmmm… the website for the airport bar listed ‘lots of local brews’ as one of it’s selling points. Well, the most local beer they had on offer was Greene King IPA but it was sitting on an isolated and neglected part of the bar and it’s not that good at best of times so I decided to give it a miss. As I was heading to Amsterdam I decided to get a pint of Amstel (not that I’d actually drink the stuff when there) but it was off so I scanned the fridge and the best I could find was a bottle of Becks. It was probably about two decades since I’d last had a Becks… I think I’ll leave it longer until I have another – there was practically no taste but what little taste there was still managed to taste cheap. But at least the breakfast arrived quickly and was hot an edible.

We boarded the plane on time and all was looking good for a speedy departure but then the captain announced that control at Schiphol had ordered us to remain grounded until 20 minutes after our scheduled departure time (BOO!) but thanks to a favourable tail-wind we would still arrive 5 minutes before our scheduled arrival (YEAH!) I love flying over the Netherlands on a clear day. It so looks cool and fantastically ordered – like some actual thought has gone into the place, which of course it has. When you’re wandering along Dutch canals it’s strangely easy to forget just how much water the country hosts but when you’re up in a plane it becomes beautifully obvious. Stunning.

At the Sign of the In de Wildeman

We landed on time and after a ten minute bus journey to the terminal I whizzed through passport control and jumped on a train to Amsterdam Centraal. A short walk later and I was sitting at a table of In de Wildeman supping a TIPA (10%) by Bierbrouwerij Emilisse – I thought I may as well get the day’s proper proceedings off to a fairly mellow start. In de Wildeman is a traditional ‘brown’ Amsterdam bar and has been in existence since 1690 – it’s a great place with an astounding beer list. The TIPA (Triple India Pale Ale) was a delicious beer and one that could sit happily alongside it’s cousins from the States. Next up was Klap van de Molen (9%) by Brouwerij De Molen. De Molen are one of those breweries that almost everyone is raving about but I must confess that this was the first of their beers that I’d tried and had I realised beforehand that it was a ‘Winter Ale’ I probably wouldn’t have bothered as it is a style that I’m not too keen on… but with that said, it was still a palatable enoungh beverage and it certainly won’t discourage me from trying more De Molen brews. For my third beer I decided to lower the ABV slightly and order the house beer: Wildeman Farmhouse IPA (7.5%), which is brewed in honour of the pub by US brewer Flying Dog. It’s a delicious beer: tasting like a good solid IPA mixed with exotic sherbet – really light and refreshing… if a friend ever announces that they’re too pished and they’ve decided to go home just give them one of these and then they’ll be good to go for another dozen or so beers (maybe). Next up, and this time in the company of my newly arrived mate, was a N’Ice Chouffe (10%), a dark and brooding brew from Brasserie d’Achouffe. We still had some of the cheese that I ordered with the De Molen (Klap Cheese) so we decided to wash it down with another beer – I decided to go out where I came in got another TIPA.

A short walk later and we were in our home for the next two nights: the Hotel International. It’s a very basic hotel but it’s clean and in a fantastic location and the downstairs bar usually has at least one beer on tap from the excellent De Prael. My friend had brought a bottle of Abstrakt AB:03 with him, which we shared in the room – I’m not sure it had aged as well as was planned but it was still a decent brew with a nice bit of fruit sourness that’s chased by the bite of the whisky casks.

Bags dumped and beer drunk we headed “next door” to Elfde Gebold (The 11th Commandment), a bar that specialises in Trappist beer… a  quick non-Trappist Gordons Christmas (8.8%) later and we were heading back to Centraal Station. We needed some travelling beers but the best we could muster at the station was a few cans of  Belgium’s best selling beer, Jupiler (5.2%).

The train was one of those fantastic double decker ones and we opted to take a seat upstairs on the off-chance we’d see some nice scenery even though it was pitch black. Within 45mins we were stumbling into the first Utrecht bar we came across: Cafe de Zaak. It was a bright and modern bar populated by friendly people. We orderd a couple of Straffe Hendrik Trippels (9%), a beer I’d only previously had from the bottle and found to have an unpleasant metallic taste but thankfully on draught it was much more enjoyable. Being a clever young man I’d printed out a map and the directions from Utrecht train staition to the gig venue but being a drunken dickhead I’d left them on the bed of the hotel. My mate asked the barmaid for directions and she suggested we speak to someone else who she knew would be able to give as near perfect directions, which he did. Of course, near perfect directions are only great when you’re sober enough to remember them… my mate gave it a good go but as I was feeling pretty drunk I’d pretty much stopped listening by the second left. But we did stumble past the Occupy Utrecht site and end up outside Cafe Belgie, the place that had been recommended to me by a couple of Twitter users as the place to go for good beer in Utrecht. Time was ticking on and we still had to eat before the gig but there’s always enough time for another beer…. Cafe Belgie is a long but reasonably narrow bar and it’s very bright and noisey and the beer list is extensive and impressive – a great place to meet your mates and drink and talk (loudly) and laugh. We had the house beer: Kamikaze – Cafe Belgie Special (6%), a tasty and easy drinking IPA… from what I remember. We walked back to the train station and hailed a taxi.

Technology is great but it can be a pain in ass when it doesn’t work: our taxi driver had never heard of dB’S, so we passed him the gig flyer and he tapped the postcode into his TomTom but that came back a blank – if it isn’t on TomTom it obviously doesn’t exist. Thankfully, he was a friendly and helpful chap (which was all more admirable conisdering he didn’t really speak English and therefore we didn’t have a common language) – he phoned his base and the operator there cleary knew dB’S and quickly rattled off a load of directions and ten minutes later we were there.  All the stress and panic that we weren’t going to get there on time was quickly quashed when we read the stage times that were on the door – the Auto Club wouldn’t be on stage until 10.35pm… plenty time for a quick beer and some food! One Chouffe-Bok (6.6%) later and we were back on the streets.

We headed back into town but not the way the taxi had brought us. After trudging up Amsterdamsestraatweg for 20 or so minutes we came across a Chinese restuarant that the guy who gave us directions back at Cafe de Zaak has said was the best in town – I think it was called Minki. It looked like somebody had just set up a few tables in a shop twenty years ago and hadn’t bothered doing anything else to it since then, including tidying up (but it was clean). I can’t remember exactly what we ate but in involved duck and noodles and fizzy water and maybe beef and was quite tasty. Then it was back to the venue.

dB’s is housed in an old bus depot and is therefore a large sprawling space. The actual venue where the gig was to be held was quite small which makes me think that there must be a bigger space that is used by bands that command a more sizeable following. The venue is also home to a large conservatory which seemed to be popular with merry-makers who weren’t there for the band but just to hang and drink. We bought a beer – this time just a standard Chouffe (8%) – bought our stamp on the hand then went into the gig room. There were a couple a guys on stage but whatever they were doing it was doing it for us so we left the room and stood around watching people come and go and shoot pool. At 10.30 I bought 4 bottles of Westmalle Dubbel (7%) and we returned to the gig room to take our position. Sadly, along with the map, I’d also left my camera back at the hotel so there would be no pictorial document of this gig.

The Auto Club took to the stage and the group of people near the front of the stage went wild for finest live band on the planet.  The sound was pretty poor where I was standing so I moved to the back of the room to hear what it was like by the mixing desk – it wasn’t much better. The sound man was trying his best though: I watched him slide and twist some knobs and buttons and then raise his hands in despair as the band kicked-up a gear and moved off in an entirely different direction. “Why doesn’t my mixing desk have a pre-set for feedback banjo?!?” At this point I started to feel a bit hot and spinny so popped outside for some fresh air and to cool down. I sat on the kerb beside a cool old estate car that had wooden trim on the outside and finished by last bottle of Westmalle. Then I got a text message from my mate that said: “You better still be in here” (as I discovered later the band were playing Children of the Lord). A few minutes later I went back in and politely pushed my way to near the front and lost myself in the music… as always the band finished their set with He, Roger Williams – always the finest moment of my gig-going life. A couple of encores later and another Auto Club gig was over – once again they’d played through crappy sound and ended up owning every single person in the room! The band exited stage left and we quickly deaparted the venue so we could catch the last train (from Zuilen station) back to Amsterdam…

Here's One I Took Earlier (Antwerp Trix - May 2011)


… all photography by landells except In de Wildeman …


~ by landells on January 28, 2012.

One Response to “SCAC Odyssey 103 (Part 1: Bristol to Utrecht)”

  1. Everyone Is Guilty

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