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Friday 23 May 2014

Top 20 Pubs Part III

So, for numbers 6 to 10, and five pubs very much north of Watford, and all from different cities/towns, starting with... 

At number 6, The Wellington, close by Shalesmoor tram stop in Sheffield, and very much in the heartland of real ales in the city, a pub with a brewery next door and out back, well it's now moved site due to a disagreement with the landlord, I do believe, and is now situated in nearby Neepsend. Whatever, the brewery is still very much a going concern, ie Little Ale Cart, and, though they do vary their styles of ale now and then with the odd stout or mild, they are expert at producing exceptional pale hoppy ales (my preferred style, you may have guessed by now), which they brew quite a few barrels of. Another fine characteristic of this pub is that they do not sell keg beer, though they usually have a bottle of lager available for the desperate. 

Considering the glut of great pubs and excellent ales in Sheffield, why have I chosen this pub, and the only pub out of the 20 I have actually been banned from in the past, (I made a 'tasteless' joke, apparently, that the then landlady was not meant to hear, so said in her absence, but told to her out of context by someone who since became known as "The Shalesmoor Snitch") so high up on the list? I first found the Welly, in its previous existence as "The Cask & Cutler" in late 1995 or very early 1996, probably the latter. It is a 'bog basic' pub, no music, no machines, but plenty of character and characters! I love it, and recently returned 4 months ago, and had a great Saturday evening drinking there, following a bit of an early 'crawl', but I knew virtually every person in there really well, it was like I'd never moved away from Sheffield 3 years previous, it felt like home, so that is why. 

At number 7, and across the Pennines in Liverpool, is The Philharmonic (website), a grade II listed late Victorian art nouveau building opposite the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. I have visited this fine pub with friends before and after football matches, have been there on my own, and have met up with friends just to meet up there! I have even been sent a message 'on the spur of the moment' asking where a facebook friend should drink whilst in Liverpool, this was my immediate response, and I was rewarded by being linked into quite a few photographs of the interior, and generous thanks and plaudits! Well, it is pretty impressive and, being a Nicholsons house (though originally built for the local brewer, Robert Cain), you are assured of many good real ales, and it has a renowned restaurant upstairs too.  

Something else it has is an impressive interior, with stained glass windows, copper panels, wood panelling, stucco ceilings. and a mosaic bar counter. There are a number of different seating areas, and rooms, including a large lounge seating room with comfortable chairs and sofas you could live in. It also has a very famous mens marbled toilet, that women are invited to visit (though not to use), but with the proviso they ask a member of staff before they enter; presumably to avoid embarrassment... This is one of many excellent pubs in Liverpool, and the exterior isn't boring either!

Further up the country, at number 8, is the Bodega (website) in Newcastle. The Bodega has a long long bar, 2 Victorian stained glass domes in the ceiling, elaborately tiled flooring, and various seating and alcoves for those not wanting to stand at the bar. I've been here before and after football matches, to Sunderland as well as nearby St James' Park. The last time I visited with my mate, Teapot Dave, who had given me a lift (cheers Dave!) via Tynemouth, where we had had a few pints and left the car, he'd sensibly stopped drinking, quite right too. Anyway, I was enjoying the crackin' ale and company of the very pleasant young manageress, when Dave dragged me out of the pub! I'm not sure if he was more bored with not drinking, or with me chatting to the lass; you have to know the 'Teapot' to understand what I'm getting at...

Oh yes, 8 real ales are available here, including Durham Magus as one of the 2 regular ales, an ale I was really enjoying on that particular visit, an excellent ale, indeed, that I first experienced in 1996 at the Cask & Welly in Sheffield (see above); the other regular ale being the local Big Lamp Prince Bishop Ale. The also have 2 dedicated handpumps to the Scottish brewer, Fyne Ales, and one of my old favourites, Oakham; more of in the final part of this series of blogs. Consequently, you not only have the 4 great regular and semi-regular ales, but another 4 guest ales too. Why wouldn't I want to return to this fine hostelry, one of many decent pubs in Newcastle to boot?      

At number 9, and heading a bit southwards to Burslem, suburb of Stoke, is The Bulls Head (website), close to Port Vale FC, not really a benefit, unless going to the match, when this is well worth visiting before the match, if not afterwards as well. When I first came here I was amazed that they sold filled bread rolls for just £1 each, also that opposing fans happily stood side by side in the pub and chatted football and ale; whereas it is not always so friendly in other parts of Burslem post-match. Indeed, this is the only place to visit on match day, in my experience, also we've been here before matches against Stoke City too, catching a taxi to the Britannia Stadium from the pub.

From the doorway you can look over towards the Titanic Brewery, a wee way away, this being their 'brewery tap'. Consequently, regular ales include Titanic Steerage, Anchor Bitter, Iceberg, and White Star, and has been Everards Tiger when I visited last, though may be different now. With their own seasonal ales and guest beers, 9 different real ales are provided in total, plus up to 10 real ciders! The staff have always been reyt friendly, and the island bar is in the middle of a warm pub, split into 2 rooms. Despite the match day concerns, I so want to get back here, I really do!


Finally, for today, at number 10 is the Crown Inn in Stockport up in the North West. The Pub sits under a massive railway viaduct that dates back to the 1840s, and originally was 3 separate cottages dating back to the late 18th century that are now joined up to form the pub. Because of this history, there are 4 separate rooms radiating from the often very busy bar. This is quite a basic pub again, do not expect 'plush' here, just basic 'pub grub', up to 16 ever-changing ales from a well-managed cellar, real cider, and a warm, friendly, and well-informed bar staff.

I've been here before and after matches at Stockport County, and met up with friends who support The Blades before and after they'd gone to watch their match at Stoke, it's certainly worth returning to. Far enough away from the station that you have to know it's here, but near enough to catch a train within a short time, without having to rush! All the above, most notably the ales and warm atmosphere, add up to wanting me to return here very soon, cheers m'dears!

Friday 16 May 2014

Top 20 pubs Part II

This covers numbers 11 to 15 from my list (see the previous blog for 16-20), and doesn't have the domination of Devon pubs this time, but has more pubs from the South East of England. However, number 11 is a Devon pub... 

So, this blog's Devon pub and number 11 is The Bridge Inn at Topsham (website), the village being on the River Exe, though The Bridge is actually by a bridge over a smaller river, the Clyst. This is a historic inn, much of it built in the 16th century, though the family that run the pub have only been here since 1897! The Queen visited the pub in 1998, though I also have memories of the Queen Mother visiting, and pouring a pint, quite a few years previous. I first visited in 1985 with my ex-wife, Julie, whilst working and living in Exeter, when I was presented with my first ever beer 'menu'. Other memories of that first visit included listening to 2 farmers whose dialect meant neither of us could understand what they were saying, so not really listening at all, and that in those days it closed at 10.30pm (Winter Time, so out of tourist season).  

This is a crackin' old building, full of atmosphere, with the staff serving up to 9 ales fetched directly from the cellar, as they are 'pulled' by gravity straight from the cask, plus they have real ciders; they also have a newer extension at the back where some ales are also served by handpump, but this is from a seasonally opened separate bar. Ales available are regularly from local microbreweries, and the one regular ale is the 3.8% Branscombe Vale Branoc. I have visited The Bridge Inn many times, either by driving here, or by catching the train direct from Exeter, consequently allowing for proper drinking at this and other pubs in Topsham. However, I haven't visited for some time, and believe it is a different generation of the family in charge now, who I do hope to visit and drink with very soon! 

At number 12 is the Kelham Island Tavern in Sheffield (website), a pub resurrected by Trevor and Lewis in 2002, having been closed for quite a while (I seem to remember it being called the Swan or something, though happy to be corrected). Since then, they have won the Sheffield CAMRA Pub of the Year many times, no mean feat in Sheffield, and are the current 2014 PotY! Indeed, during those 12 years they have also TWICE won the National CAMRA Pub of the Year, an even greater feat... So, what have they got to offer? 13 real ales, many from local microbreweries, indeed, 3 of their 4 regular ales are from Sheffield brewers, including from Bradfield Brewery, where my old colleague at Kelham Island Brewery (round the corner from the pub, but no connection business-wise), Paul, now works.  

But it's more than that... They serve excellent ales, real ciders, decent food, have live music and other events, and I have fond memories of winning a few quid at dominoes here too. They have also created a friendly warm pub, where women feel happy to visit, though also the real ale brigade too, plus many other regulars and visitors in a rather eclectic mix. Indeed, when I visited earlier this year, I had the usual amusing 'hello' from Dave behind the bar, don't ask, and a good chat with Trevor too, and I also knew quite a few folk there, and not just the 2 lads I came in with. Oh yes! They have a 'no swearing' policy, with heavy fines for those who flout the mores. So, I have been back recently, and felt as welcome as ever, and I do need to return again before I die, hopefully many many times! 

OK, back to the 3 pubs in the South East, starting with The Snowdrop Inn in Lewes (website) at number 13, and in Sussex actually. This is a great pub, and I've been to The Snowdrop on quite a number of occasions, alone and with friends and/or family, mostly to do with long walks, being a 'tourist', or just a Lewes 'pub crawl', and also before and after football matches at Albion's newish ground in Falmer (next station on the line to Brighton). Crackin' staff, including some very interesting lasses, good food, beer festivals and well conditioned ales, why wouldn't you want to return?  

So, to the ales, a very important factor, and the new 'kid on the block', well, not so new now, but certainly, in my opinion, the current best brewer of pale and hoppy ales in East Sussex, Burning Sky, provide the regular ales here now; so expect to see at least Plateau and Aurora pumpclips on the bar, and probably one of their 'crafty kegs' too. Also, served in specially manufactured 'lined' straight glasses with the names of Burning Sky and The Snowdrop Inn on opposite sides of the glass; I'm looking forward to their next beer festival, and trusting I shall be able to purchase one of these glasses, as suggested to me by bar staff recently; OK I've a few glasses already, but these ones are quality. Anyway, up to 6 excellent ales, real cider, good food, friendly staff etc etc... this is a pub I want to return to again and again!  

Across the border to Kent now, and the Red Lion in Snargate is at number 14, and which I believe my last blog that included comments referring to it was the one about pubs with no keg beers, but that isn't the only reason why... The Red Lion is another 16th century pub, with a farm next door and a church opposite, and not much else around, but the population of Snargate is listed as 102 persons, so I'm guessing there are some other farms and houses thereabouts that aren't so obvious. One of its charms is that it is in the middle of nowhere, in-between Walland and Romney Marshes, and the closest you can get to it by public transport is a little over a mile to the south at Brenzett, and next is 2 miles to the north at Appledore.

Another charm is the building, of course, with a captivating room at the back, and much more, evidence of this being a museum to the past, certainly to the 1940s; you have to visit to see it and appreciate what I mean.  This has been in the same family's hands for a little over 100 years, and is known locally, and further afield, as Doris's, the landlady being the daughter-in-law of the original family owner I do believe. However, her own daughter is more likely to be serving up your ales these days, both lovely people. The ales you'll be served will probably be from a local microbrewery like Goachers, and are served from the 4 handpumps on the antique marble bar, plus a couple of real ciders. I've not been for a while, so shall have to organise another wander into the marshes of Kent very soon. 

Back across to Sussex and the 15th pub on the list is The Evening Star (website), just a couple of minutes walk from the railway station in Brighton, and the 'flagship' pub of Dark Star Brewery. As I've said before, I first tasted Dark Star Hophead when I lived in Sheffield, quite a few years ago now, and have even acquired the nickname of 'Hophead Steve' in the Dolphin in Hastings, for some reason, since moving to the South Coast... One of the first places I visited when in Brighton following many years absence had to be The Evening Star, of course, and I have returned, a few times since, to this unpretentious hostelry. 

Obviously, I'm going to say excellent ales are served up here, ie 7 ales from handpump (plus usually a perry and cider); 4 ales usually being from Dark Star, and another 3 guest ales. The bar staff really do know their business, and regularly are involved with the brewery, and involved in collaborative brews with other brewers, such as Magic Rock and Brodies. Always friendly, with an eclectic mix of customers and, following an earlier in the day visit to the beer festival in Hove one year, I was tolerated by virtually everyone in here, staff and punters alike! Consequently, of course I want to return again... 

Cheers for now, numbers 6 to 10 coming up soon, with an even greater variation of pub and from 5 different cities and towns! 

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Top 20 pubs Part I

What pub is my favourite? I was recently asked! How to answer, as I've been to so many great pubs over the years? So, I thought, which pubs do I want to return to before I die? Then, I thought, OK let's think of 10, no 20... but I kept thinking of more! Anyway, I've decided to go for the first 20 that came to mind, excluding any where I currently live in Hastings, though I could immediately add the Swan & Rushes in Leicester or Ye Olde Black Boy in Hull, indeed, I could carry on adding, so I've decided to leave it to the first 20 I thought of. In order of merit, starting with numbers 16-20...

At number 16 is the Peter Tavy Inn (website), a 15th century pub on the western edge of Dartmoor, and, as found in many small village pubs, close by the church. The Peter Tavy Inn has been in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide for many years, and is just one of the 5 Devon pubs that came to mind for my top 20; I do have many great memories of visiting and living in Devon. I'm not sure when I first discovered this wonderful building and public house, I certainly visited here in the 1980s, when I lived in Exeter, but may have visited when staying with Devonian friends, Steve and Jude, in the 70s! Up to 5 real ales on at a time, with the latest 3 regulars being Dartmoor Jail Ale (4.8%), Tavy Ideal Pale Ale (4.8%), and Branscombe Vale Summa That (5%); you'll notice, all Devon ales, and brewed close by too. Guest ales can also come from nearby, or sometimes from further afield. 

This is in a tiny wee village, usually driven to, but I have walked there when I lived in Tavistock. Why do I chose this Inn in my 20? Well, I've many happy memories of visiting, it sells crackin' ales, and good food too, lovely building, and good to sit outside too. Strangely, I remember once visiting and seeing, for the first time ever, a tight sparkler being used to dispense Tetleys Bitter! If you are in the area, the Peter Tavy Inn certainly is worth visiting, and I do want to re-visit here before I die...   

At number 17 is the Dolphin Hotel, down near the water at the Barbican in Plymouth, so another Devon pub, and one that I did first visit in the late 1970s! This is another CAMRA Good Beer Guide regular for years, and my first memory was of the many kilderkins of Bass stillaged behind the bar, serving the ale straight from the cask, and always in crackin' form too. I have been back many times since, including most recently before a match against Argyle, and sincerely hope I haven't had my last pint there. They sell other ales from handpumps too, with up to 7 guests, plus St Austell Tribute (4.2%) as a second regular ale.

The Dolphin is often described as a bit basic, which it is, but it's also very clean and well-lived in, however, the walls are adorned with many original works donated by Beryl Cook, who used to frequent the pub; as the picture here shows! Also nearby is Cap'n Jaspers (website), renowned for good value food, particularly visited after a few pints. I remember it as a caravan type stall when I first ate there, but it is more static now in a purpose built unit. Whatever, The Dolphin's close proximity to the Barbican, and involvement with the local fishing industry, makes this a very special pub to visit when in Plymouth, I look forward to my next pint there! 

My 18th pub is the Honest Lawyer in Scunthorpe. Amusingly, Adam, of the FILO brewing businesses in Hastings, recently asked how many of the pubs I write about on my website (www.beer-meister.co.uk) I have actually visited? Of course, it's not all, though quite a few, but I do get recommendations from friends and other people I meet too. My brother, Dan, asked Adam to quiz me about any town and I'd give a suggestion. Adam thought he'd done me with Scunthorpe, so was amazed when I immediately replied with the Honest Lawyer, which I have, indeed, visited and wish to do so again, particularly as the landlord retired recently, so I'd like to compare how it changes after a year or two more. 

I've been here before and after football matches at Scunthorpe, and Alan certainly kept a tight ship with up to 8 excellent ales, and very good bar grub too, indeed, the pub had a well known restaurant upstairs too (The 'Gallows'). It is surprisingly roomy for such a narrow building, going back quite a distance, and used to have some of the best barmaids, and fittest, I'd ever met, quite a number being from Europe. Alan even used to phone up for taxis for people going to the match, I loved the place. Apparently, the ownership hasn't actually altered too much, though the new publican only has 3 real ales on sale now. An up-to-date report would be most welcomed, but, whatever, I do wish to return here before I die!  

Number 19 is a pub I have regularly reported on, as regular readers will be well aware of, and is The Bricklayers Arms (website), built in Putney in 1826, and a regular winner of the CAMRA London Pub of the Year. The Bricklayers is another 'basic' pub, I don't go in for frills so much, but like to see that pubs are clean and tidy, 'traditional' if you like, and who keep ales in excellent condition! Consequently, The Bricklayers comes into the reckoning, and I call it my 'Putney Local', it has regular beer festivals, as can be seen from its website, and the landlady, Becky, is regularly off on a charity fund raising adventure, cycling the Great Wall or whatever, but the pub stays true to her wishes when she's away. 

I first drank here at the start of the 1980s, when I still lived in London, and seem to remember it selling Fullers London Pride in those days; since then it's been a pubco pub, a Timothy Taylors pub, and now as a genuine 'free house' sells up to 10 real ales from microbreweries. Typically, there will be 6 different ales or so from a single brewery, followed by 6 or so from another, at a time, eg recently from Twickenham, Dark Star, Blackjack and Oakham breweries, with other ales from here and there. I am sure I shall return here many times, and very soon, and am amazed myself that I've placed it down at number 19, but that just shows how many great pubs there are in this country, and I hope to find many more before I die!  

Down at number 20 is the only pub on this page that I've actually worked at, though for a previous owner 2 or 3 times removed, the summer before I went to university down in Plymouth, so another Devonian pleasure! The Boringdon Arms is in Turnchapel, the other side of the River Plym 'estuary' from the Barbican in Plymouth, and from where you can catch a 'water taxi' between the two. This 18th century pub has a garden at the rear carved into the cliff/rock face, and a lovely peaceful garden it is too, certainly early in the morning and before the pub opens. I worked here in 1992 when the opening hours moved to 'all day' and they used to sell Butcombe Bitter (4%) as a regular ale, and their other regular ale was brewed by Smiles Brewery, which closed in 2005, sadly, but which was then re-badged and called Golden Guinea and sold for just £1.05 a pint (get it? A Guinea). Now the regular ales appear to be from Cornish breweries Sharps and St Austell. 

The Boringdon Arms still provides good value B&B, I believe, and crackin' food too. In the 1990s they used to have curries produced using a curry paste that an older Jack Tar made up for them, and if you managed to finish the hottest one, you got it free and received a special certificate... It was hot! I loved the position, the building, the ales and the food, and I often stayed overnight following a late evening shift, had a great breakfast, went for an early morning walk up on top, then sat out in the garden once I'd finished preparing the bar for the day... Work the lunchtime shift, then catch the bus back to Tavistock via Plymouth, great memories, and I want to return! 

I'm looking forward to more anecdotes and Part II, cheers! 

Friday 2 May 2014

Another FILO Beer Festival this weekend!

The First In Last Out (FILO), High Street, Hastings 'old town' has yet another beer festival this May Public Holiday weekend, and it has already started...

As with the recent beer festival, their own ales are available, as usual, plus an extra dozen from other breweries, including a few I don't know: Kirkby Lonsdale Tiffin Gold (3.6%), Elland Lambo's First Pint (4%), Williams Brothers April Thesis (4.2%), Beachy Head Legless Rambler (5%), plus many others well known and loved, notably Dark Star Revelation (5.7%).