Something for the weekend?

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Spotted in my local Carrefour:

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A bottle of The Singleton for only 125TL. That’s £32, or $48 at current exchange rates.

This is pretty decent value for Turkey, where imported spirits can be pricey. You can even see in this photo that Talisker 10 Year Old is twice as expensive at 250TL/£64/$96, and Lagavulin is an eye-watering 320TL.

The Singleton isn’t the super-sexiest of single malts in terms of marketing, but it’s a good quality, pleasant example of the Dufftown style, so I may well have to rescue a bottle of this for regular dramming purposes.

Further exploration of the craft beer scene

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I have updated my useful and highly-regarded Istanbul Craft Beer Bar Hitlist with the following entries. It’s a tough job sometimes.

Taproom, Nişantaşi

Milli Reasürans Çarşısı D:12, Nişantaşı

Visiting Taproom, in an arcade off Teşvikiye Cd. in the upmarket Nişantaşı neighbourhood, was a disappointment as I had been hoping for a relatively local outpost of good-quality beer-supping. It’s a small bar, open to the arcade, and without a great deal of atmosphere. They are supposed to have a selection of draft beers brewed by Taps available (this is an offshoot of the Taps Bebek brewhouse), but only had pilsner. As we were sitting with our beers, we noticed kegs of Tuborg being carried behind the bar, so presumably they’re not even selling their own beers anymore. They did have a small selection of bottles of expensive imported craft beers.

Ayı

Moda Caddesi No. 60, Kadıköy

Ayı means ‘bear’, which brings to my mind an image of burly gay men, but I believe this is not the intended effect. Instead, you should think of an ursine- and wood-themed bar, quite trendy, with a decent selection of bottled beers and Weihenstephan on draft. It’s definitely a bar worth checking out if you’re on the Asian side of the city.

Istanbul Craft Beer Bar Hitlist

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These are the bars in Istanbul that I know of that sell craft beer (or at least beer that isn’t solely big Turkish or international brand lager). There are depressingly few entries so far, so I will gladly add to this list if you let me know of any other candidates.

The Bosphorus Brewing Company

Yildiz Posta Caddesi, Gayrettepe

The BBC feels a bit like an up-market British pub, except that it’s in Gayrettepe. Beers that they brew onsite include a decent IPA (Istanbul Pale Ale, obviously) and a stout (Karbon). You can also eat British-style pub food. I thought that the food was a bit pricey, and the beer isn’t amazingly cheap either at 16TL-18TL, but being able to get a draft IPA is precious.

Taps Bebek

Cevdet Paşa Cd No:119, Bebek

Taps are the oldest microbrewer in Turkey and mostly sell their beer at this restaurant and bar on the waterfront in Bebek – typically four or so options are available. My experience here involved brutally bad EDM music at loud volumes; your mileage may vary.

Taproom, Nişantaşi

Milli Reasürans Çarşısı D:12, Nişantaşı

This remains on the list as this bar is recommended by The Internet and Mr. Google, but on this occasion they are sadly wrong in their convictions. Poor atmosphere and only Tuborg on draft.

United Pub, Beşiktaş

Köyiçi Meydan Sok. No: 10, Beşiktaş

This is a decent bar in the heart of Beşiktaş, offering a good variety of bottled beers and Weihenstephan on draft.

Belfast Irish Pub, Kadıkoy

Dr.Esat Işık Cad.No:28/1 Kadıköy

There is a pretty broad selection of bottled imported craft beer available here, albeit slightly pricey.

Ayı

Moda Caddesi No. 60, Kadıköy

Ayı means ‘bear’, which brings to my mind an image of burly gay men, but I believe this is not the intended effect. Instead, you should think of an ursine- and wood-themed bar, quite trendy, with a decent selection of bottled beers and Weihenstephan on draft. It’s definitely a bar worth checking out if you’re on the Asian side of the city.

Port Shield, Sultanahmet

Ebusuud Caddesi, Sultanahmet (next to the Gulhane tram stop)

This is a pretty dingy British-style pub in the heart of the tourist district. They have a menu offering about 30 imported bottled beers. A Brewdog 5am Saint is 26TL, and a nip of single malt whisky is 40TL – 50TL.

Solera Winery

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solera (1)

Situated on Yeni Çarşı Caddesi, just a few minutes’ walk from the hustle and bustle of Istiklal, this place is a great little find. It’s a small specialist wine bar, with a varied selection of local and international wines available by the glass and by the bottle. It has a relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere, aided by the muted lighting and low-key music. The walls are covered with black and white photos of somewhere that looks like China: I’m not sure why.

We visited on a Wednesday evening so we didn’t voyage too extensively through the wine list. We opted for two Turkish red wines that neither of us had seen before, an Öküzgözü/Boğazkere blend by Sevilen, and a Kalecik Karası by Pamukkale. These are Anatolian varieties of grape that are not found anywhere else outside of Turkey, and produce interesting wines that tend towards the dry and robust. I enjoy them when done well, but they are certainly a different style when compared with a typical UK supermarket bottle. Here, I got black forest fruit and pepper from the Öküzgözü/Boğazkere; the Kalecik Karası didn’t seem to have much nose but did have cherry and strawberry on the palate. Both were pretty reasonable value at 13TL for a glass.

I think I will enjoy returning here to explore the rest of the menu. I did notice that they have a fairly thorough selection of Turasan wines, which to me is a good sign as this has been my favourite brand of Turkish wine so far. Other customers were enjoying nice looking plates of cheese and meat along with their wines: another reason to return.

Location: Yeni Çarşı Caddesi No. 44 (off Istiklal, just down from Galatasaray Lisesi).

Vefa Bozacısı

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It’s October and there is beginning to be a coolness and a dampness in the air. I stopped wearing shorts several weeks ago and today I even took a jacket with me when I stepped out of the house. It’s the time of year when your appetites change and you no longer chase the light, fruity tastes of summer and you instead have a hankering for something a bit more substantial, as you build up your reserves for the coming winter months. In Turkey, that means you have an excuse for drinking boza, a drink made from fermented millet. For a Westerner, it’s an alien experience. It’s a thick, gloopy drink, sweet and acid like sherbert, and with a low alcohol content (somewhere around 1% or 2%). You sprinkle it with cinnamon, top it with roasted chickpeas (leblebi) and slowly consume it with a spoon: it really is like a little meal in a glass.

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Founded in 1876, visited by Ataturk way back in the early days of the Turkish Republic, and still run by the same family, Vefa Bozacısı in the Fatih district is the iconic place to go and try boza. It’s also the only place that I know of that sells it. It’s located just a few (albeit not particularly salubrious) streets away from the Suleymaniye mosque, and is well worth a visit. The bar itself doesn’t appear to have changed much since Ataturk’s day. It’s old-fashioned, with marble-topped tables and white smock-wearing staff. You can buy some still-warm leblebi from the specialist seller across the street, before picking up a glass of boza at the bar and sitting down at a table to enjoy it, surrounded by families of Turks. It always seems quite busy. Each spoonful of boza seems to slightly tingle on the tongue, and underneath the sweetness and the warmth of the cinnamon there is a taste that reminds me of horses and barns. This, I presume, is the millet.

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You will see that the chickpeas are resting on top of the boza, which should give you an idea of the consistency of this drink.

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Price: 3TL for 1 glass.

Getting there: Katip Celebi Cad. No:104/1, Vefa, Istanbul 34470. It’s close to the Laleli-Üniversitesi stop on the T1 tram line, and the Vezneciler metro station. 

Beginnings

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Until last year I lived in Paradise. Not the literal one, of course, with angels and the endless lounging around on clouds, but an earthly one more acceptable to a beardy bloke from the North of England.

I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s a compact capital city of half a million souls. It was the home of the Enlightenment, of philosophers, writers and economists. It has a medieval heart overlooked by a castle on a rocky crag, surrounded by bold Georgian architecture. More importantly, there are over 700 pubs. Scotland is also home to over 100 whisky distilleries, so good quality single malt is widely available.

A wet and windy city in the British Isles is not most people’s idea of an earthly paradise. Neither was it mine at the time, although I did enjoy it very much as a place to live, and I stayed there for 15 years. However, I have since moved to Istanbul. This is a great city. It’s huge, and energetic, and suffused with incredible history, as it was the seat of empires for a millennia and a half: Greek, Roman, Christian, Ottoman, Muslim. Its geography is spectacular, as the city is bisected by the Bosphorus and straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia. The food is amazing, a diverse cuisine from all the corners of the old Ottoman empire, with an emphasis on good quality ingredients. There is one thing about living in Istanbul, however, that makes me nostalgic for my Scottish home.

It’s a terrible place to get a drink.

I miss decent beer. I’ve always been an ale drinker, and my social life in the UK tended to revolve around the pub. My favourite place to meet friends would be a traditional real ale pub, all dark wood and comfort and a selection of cask-conditioned, hand-pulled beers. I would normally start by picking one that I’d never tried before and then I would work my way along the rank of taps. Here, things are different. The beer market is dominated by two big brands, Efes and Tuborg. It’s not unusual to go to a bar and be presented with the choice of just one of these. You will get a glass of something cold and wet and meh.

I miss whisky. I was a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in the UK. They specialise in releasing single cask versions of rather fine whisky, and have two members only bars in Edinburgh where you can go and sample your way merrily through their catalogue. My wife and I had one of our first dates there (she turned out to be a keeper). Whisky is a rare and luxurious product here in Turkey. People are instead keen on raki, an aniseed-based spirit, which is not quite the same.

I miss fine wine. I thoroughly enjoy a glass of red from the Ribera del Duero, or the Cotes de Rhone. A bold Portuguese Douro, or a well-balanced Kiwi Pinot Noir. Maybe something white in the summer: a crisp Sancerre, a cheeky Picpoul de Pinet. Here in Turkey… let’s just say the wine industry faces some challenges.

However, the picture isn’t entirely bleak in my new life. There are rumours of craft beer, and brew pubs. Vineyards being coaxed into new life. Imported specialities appearing tucked away on shelves.

I will investigate.