Manchester and Buxton pubs

Last month we took a trip to Manchester, and then to Buxton in the Peak District. Here are some of the pubs we visited.

Manchester

Port Street Beer House

PortStreetBeerHouseThe Port Street Beer House on Port Street in the ‘hip’ Northern Quarter was probably my favourite pub in Manchester. Set in a little terraced street, and shuttered up during the day so you would hardly know it was there, this two-floor pub has a good selection of beer on tap and keg. Downstairs was pretty busy on the Friday evening when we were there, and upstairs was more spacious with big comfy seating and large tables. The Hawkshead IPA on keg was beautiful with thick resinous hops, the Founders All Day IPA on keg was light, hoppy, and easy drinking, and the Cloudwater Session IPA was deliciously moreish. Here’s a pic of some of the beers they had on that evening, taken from their Facebook page.

Beer Studio Bar and Kitchen

This new bar is located in studentville, or Fallowfield – take the bus right through Curry Mile from the city centre, and it’s further along Wilmslow Road. One part of this impressive big building, once a church, is the 256 bar, and the other part is the Beer Studio, a Hydes pub designed in a modern ‘craft beer bar’ style, with a tiled bar, bricks, stressed wood, and a board listing lots of beers. Most beers are bottled, but there were several on draft (they mention that they have 23, but I can’t remember seeing as many as that on our visit) and I was pleased to see Flying Dog Pale Ale on draft amongst the other not-very-exciting offerings such as Amstel, Tiger, and Erdinger. A nice – and incredibly loud – bar on this Saturday night.

Piccadilly Tap

IMG_1200We were lucky enough to arrive in Manchester on the day this new beer bar was opening. We just happened to be in Beermoth (great bottle shop) buying beer when the guy behind the counter told us this new bar was opening at 4pm. By 4.30 we were near the station trying to find it, and then spotted people drinking beer in what looked to be a dark, closed shop in a 60s looking shopping arcade, known as Gateway House. Inside it was pretty bare, and rough and ready, but functional – the few tables were taken, so it was standing room only. A large bar circles the top end of the space with keg and cask lines at the back and some along the sides near the tills. A large blackboard detailed the ever-changing beers on keg (around 20) and cask (7). I went for a lovely Summer Wine Redwood, rich, spicy and full of berry flavours. The Saison Dupont was pretty good too (@pintsandpubs thought it was ‘superb’). Other beers included Lagunitas IMG_1204IPA, Magic Rock High Wire. I didn’t enjoy the Bristol Beer Factory Sorachi on cask – I just really don’t like the Sorachi hop flavour, but I keep trying it in the vague hope that my tastebuds will change their mind (they never do). It’s a great place with decent beers at pretty reasonable prices, but go there expecting to stand while you’re drinking, unless you get there early.

Night and Day Cafe

IMG_1228I only came to this bar in the Northern Quarter, located near Afflecks and lots of record shops, in the daytime  so can’t comment on the ‘night’ part, but I really liked it. It reminded me of the Central Saloon bar in Seattle. It had a chilled out vibe, and people were eating brunch. We just had a coffee (very nice) and soaked up the atmosphere, and I can’t even comment on what beers they had on (a few on draft), but it was just a very cool place with great décor and friendly staff. The back of the bar is a stage area, and there was a sold out gig taking place that evening. I’ll go there at night next time.

Brew Dog Manchester

This bar is a typical Brew Dog bar with its industrial decor, graffiti, bags of malt dotted around, etc. I liked it. It was busy on a Saturday afternoon, but there was loads of seating on the ground floor and more upstairs. We munched on chips and drank tasty 5AM Red Ale (formerly 5AM Saint), Mikkeller Tomahawk, a really beautiful single hop IPA, and a Brew Dog This is Lager, which isn’t really one I’d go for again – not to my taste.

Crown and Kettle

IMG_1241Located just over the road from Oldham St on the edge of the Northern Quarter, this is a proper pub that serves real ales. This Grade II listed pub has an ornate, stunning ceiling in the main bar and back bar, covered in netting to protect us from any errant falling masonry I suspect. A Smiths CD was playing in the background – very apt. There were several ales on at the bar – we had Wild Beer Fresh, a pale citrus hopped ale Wild Beer Millionaire, a chocolate and salted caramel stout – too rich for me – and Caveman Citra.

Buxton

A few weeks after Manchester, we headed back up north to Buxton, the ‘Gateway of the Peak District’. This spa town has around 16 pubs to explore, and it’s only about an hour from Manchester, so it’s possible to do both places on a trip to that area. On the way to Buxton we popped to Hartington; the village shop stocks lots of decent Thornbridge beer including Thornbridge Jaipur X, Bearded Theory, and Bear State (we picked up more Bear State from the Thornbridge Brewery, just outside Bakewell, as it was so good – the brewery is worth a visit).

Buxton Tap House

IMG_1269 The tap house for Buxton Brewery was the pub of this trip. Located just round the corner of the Crescent, on George St, it’s dimly lit around the bar area, with exposed brickwork in the walls, and quite bright in the area to the right where the walls are painted white. Fairy lights run along the bar giving it a lovely atmosphere. There’s a small outdoor seating area out the back too. There were 8 beers on keg and 6 on cask, including Ring Your Mother XS, a soured mild, and Tap House Lager, a variant of Moravka lager, brewed at Taddington. We sampled several, including Axe Edge on cask, High Tor on both keg and cask, and Rough C’s. Axe Edge was delicious, but could have been slightly colder. High Tor was nicer on cask as the spicy favours came out more and it was rounder and more delicate, even though it was lovely on keg, where the hops punched you in the face a bit more. Rough C’s is a colab with Brew Dog, and this amber lager was very tasty with caramel flavours.

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The Old Courthouse Wine and Coffee Bar

A couple of doors down from the Buxton Tap in the Old Courthouse complex is a Thornbridge bar – people up in these parts are lucky to have Thornbridge and Buxton brewing on their doorstep. It reminded me of a little Parisian cellar bar/cafe, with chandeliers, old pictures, low vaulted ceiling, comfy leather sofas and chairs, and flowers and candles in wine bottles on the tables. There were three Thornbridge beers on keg, including American Sister and Made North. I had the Made North, which was easy drinking if a little thin, and it was less than £4 a pint – great prices for keg beer compared to what we are used to in Cambridge. The American was less tasty – the ‘new worldy’ hops were a bit overbearing, it’s ‘brewed with experimental hops from across the pond’. I’d like to know what particular variety of hops they are so I can avoid them in future. I’d like to have seen something like Jaipur X on tap, but I know the taps are constantly rotating so it’s just chance what you get.

The Ale Stop – micro pub

IMG_1277This small pub housed in a former wine shop just off Buxton’s market square is cute, and more spacious than you’d think, but doesn’t particularly feel like a pub, probably because it is still quite new, even though pump clips are stuck on the walls to give it a pubby atmosphere. The walls are brightly painted, and it’s a nice little space. The bar has three beers on cask available, as well as bottled beers and ciders. We had a Hopcraft Deutsch Projekt, with orange/fruity flavours and a bit of spice (didn’t really like it) and a Cornish Crown SPA, a golden and relatively dry beer.

The Cheshire Cheese

This Titanic Brewery pub was holding a beer festival on our visit, with casks lined up at a bar at the side of the pub. It’s pretty spacious, with some nice features and rounded windows creating pleasant rounded seating areas. It was busy but we managed to get a seat. We had a Salopian beer from the festival casks which was slightly flat unfortunately, and Wreckage, a strong Titanic ale at 7.2% which is a winter warmer – it tasted more of sherry than beer, and had nutty, spicy flavours.

Cat and Fiddle Inn, Wildboarclough, between Buxton and Macclesfield

The second highest pub in the country (the first being the Tan Hill Inn). Unfortunately, when we visited it was so foggy and rainy that we couldn’t see the view to admire it, which was the whole point in going really. Shame. We sat inside in the main bar on a comfy shabby sofa and drank the one and only Robinson’s beer, which was rather uninspiring, so much so that we don’t remember its name. The other large bar is a wooden panelled dining room. A lot of live gigs take place at the pub; several posters on display advertised the various bands about to play. It would have been nice to see this pub in its traditional state, before its refurb which turned it into more of a dining pub.

Three Stags Heads, Wardlow Mires

IMG_1295This is a proper traditional pub, with a historic interior, completely unchanged for years – it’s on CAMRA’s National Inventory of unspoilt pubs. The landlord Jeff is a character, and he took great pride in his pub, cleaning the iron range and throwing coal on the fire before taking a seat in his chair by the fire accompanied by his three lurchers who occasionally jumped onto the tables. The four cask ales were all from Abbeydale Brewery; one called Black Lurcher, at 8%, is named after one of the dogs and brewed exclusively for this pub. The Abbeydale Absolution was in great condition. Don’t try to order lager in here or the landlord will politely ask you to leave (he probably won’t ask you politely actually) – there’s a sign by the bar telling you not to ask for it.

three-stagsThis pub really feels as if you are in the middle of nowhere, despite the fact it’s on a busy A road – once you enter you step back in time. As well as the main bar with its stone flagged floor there are two other rooms; one with a fireplace, and the other displaying pottery made by the landlords. We were there as soon as it opened at 12 (well, when they unlocked the door about 12.20), but it would be great to see the place jam-packed in the evening with locals. There really aren’t many pubs like this left anymore, unfortunately.

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Published in: on May 16, 2015 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Liberty Belle Micropub, Ely

photo 3On a visit to the cathedral city of Ely, Cambridgeshire, we headed to the Liberty Belle micropub for a beer. This small and cosy pub on Forehill is decked out with old memorabilia including a petrol pump, a bus stop, and old metal trade signs. The tiny wooden bar area on the raised level doesn’t have any hand pumps; instead, there is a blackboard on the wall near the door detailing the ales available, and the barman heads into the cellar to pull the pints straight from the cask, then delivers them to your table. You can ring the big brass ‘liberty belle’ which dominates the pub to attract his attention if you need serving.

photo 1There are just a handful of tables in the micropub; some in the large windows looking out onto the street, and some at the back of the pub, on the slightly darker raised level. We sat at a table by the window. Two other groups of people were sitting by the windows – one a group of lads in their 40s, and two men snacking on pies and hard boiled eggs to accompany their beers.

photo 2The cask ales are sourced from relatively local brewers, and beers available that day were Jo C’s Norfolk Kiwi, Humpty Dumpty Railway Sleeper, Batemans Hooker, Mauldons Blackberry Porter, Grain 3.1.6, and Batemans XXXB – a pretty good selection for a micropub – all priced around the £3.80 a pint mark. The Norfolk Kiwi was a tasty full bodied golden ale with delicious fruity hops, and the very pale 3.1.6 from Grain was floral with citrus notes and incredibly moreish.

The Liberty Belle is a lovely atmospheric pub, and the window seats are perfect for watching the world go by. It would be great to see more free-of-tie micropubs popping up to rival the big pub chains which seem to be dominating the towns and cities nowadays.

During the summer season, the Liberty Belle runs boat cruises along the Ouse – it was a pity that this was a March afternoon and we were a couple of weeks too early. We’ll just have to head back soon to take to the water – after sinking a few more ales in the micropub…

Published in: on March 11, 2015 at 6:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Yorkshire Dales pubs

I thought I’d finish the year off with an epic post which I was actually meant to publish months ago – July in fact. We took a trip to the Dales in June, and visited plenty of pubs during our stay, which happened to coincide with the run-up to the Tour de France. It would’ve been a shame not to publish the post, even though our visit took place 6 months ago, and being the last day of the year, I thought if I don’t publish it now, I never will. So, here is it.

IMG_1610In June we headed up to the Yorkshire Dales, a lovely part of the world, and during our trip we visited some great pubs. Upon arrival we found out that the village where we were staying (Aysgarth, in lovely Wensleydale) was on Stage 1 of the Tour de France route, which was passing through two weeks later; there was lots of bunting, yellow bikes, and tiny knitted jerseys dotted around the streets and draped around trees, and over houses and pubs pretty much everywhere we went. Here are some of the pubs when we were there.

Aysgarth

George and Dragon: This pub in the village where we are staying is on the main A road, although it doesn’t feel like a main road. It has a small outdoor terrace, and inside it is decorated in an olde-worlde style, with dark wood, brasses, lamps, and cosy snugs. On the bar was a house beer, George and Dragon, brewed by Yorkshire Dales brewery down the road in Askrigg, as well as Black Sheep, which was available in almost every pub we visited. The G&D was smooth and malty and easy to drink; it went well with the fantastic food on offer.

IMG_1619Aysgarth Falls Hotel: This ivy-covered hotel, close to the famous Aysgarth Falls, has several drinking areas – a modern bar area, a courtyard terrace, benches out the front facing the road and fields, and a pretty outdoor back patio in front of the conservatory dining area. There were several ales on draft, including Wensleydale’s Semerwater, a blonde, refreshing ale, and the delicious Salamander MudPuppy, a chestnut ale with rich malty flavours. Black Sheep’s Vélo was also on, a Tour de France-themed light golden beer brewed with Cascade, coriander and orange.

Carperby

IMG_1550The Wheatsheaf: This pub/hotel in the little village close to Aysgarth is famous for being the honeymoon destination for James Herriot and his wife – this is displayed on the front of the hotel and elsewhere so you can’t fail to notice this. IMG_1751It’s a pleasant place and was popular with diners when we visited – we ordered some tasty Black Sheep Velo and munched on some chips while sitting on the benches outside and watched the world go by.

Hardraw

IMG_1576Green Dragon
: This old, dark, traditional pub full of stuffed animals – reminiscent of the Queens Head in Newton, Cambridgeshire – is the gateway to Hardraw Force waterfall. Visitors pay £2.50 at the bar for tickets to see the waterfall, and it can only be accessed through the pub (it’s worth seeing). The front of the pub was covered in bunting, and the outdoor benches are a great spot to sink a pint in the sun. There’s plenty of seating inside, and a roaring fire (even in June). IMG_1687The evening we were there two musicians with guitars and mouth organs set up on the table next to us and played some Dylan songs which we all sang along to. There were four beers on draft, including two from the Yorkshire Dales brewery. The YD Nappa Scar would have been a really nice bitter, with tasty caramel flavours coming through, but it didn’t have much condition and was probably at its end. I then went for a Theakstons Best, which everyone seemed to be drinking and was fine. Overall the Green Dragon was a nice pub, and the larger than life landlord was a friendly and helpful chap.

Dent

IMG_1667Sun Inn: This lovely old whitewashed pub in a pretty cobbled village which felt miles from anywhere is a proper down to earth boozer with locals chatting at the bar. IMG_1663

One of the locals recommended the Kirkby Lonsdale Tiffin Gold, saying that everyone there was drinking it which had to be a good sign. It was beautiful and full of flavour at 3.6% – mellow hops, great condition, wonderful aroma. Kirkby Lonsdale Monumental was also on.

IMG_1669 IMG_1674George and Dragon
: Just across the street from the Sun is the George and Dragon, the Dent Brewery Tap. This pub has loads of Dent beers on tap – Porter, Aviator, Golden Fleece – but we could only stay for one unfortunately. I chose the Aviator which was tasty; we sat in the bar and watched some World Cup as we drank. There’s also a large dining room out the back, decorated in light wood. These two village pubs deserve more time spent in them; next time we’ll make sure we stay overnight in this village!

West Witton

IMG_1833 Fox and Hounds: This village close to Aysgarth is lucky to have this lovely proper little pub in the middle of its high street. As we wound our way through the corridors to get to the bar we saw the landlord pouring and testing beer, holding it up, deciding it wasn’t quite ready, and making sure the clip was turned around.  It was good to visibly see someone taking so much care over the beer.IMG_1834 I ordered a Yorkshire Dales Brewery Tour de Yorkshire Dales beer, and the citra hops hit me even before my first sip.  Very lemony and grapefruity, on a nice delicate body of malt so it wasn’t completely hop heavy – delicious. Black Sheep Velo was on, as well as Black Sheep Bitter.

 

Tan Hill

IMG_1597 IMG_1596 Tan Hill Inn: This pub, the highest in the country, took a bit of getting to. When we were in Hardraw, we thought ‘Oh, it’s only just up the road!” That road happened to be the Buttertubs Pass, a very long, steep, winding road with crazy hairpin bends that goes up to wild Swaledale from cute Wensleydale, and where one of the Tour de France’s ‘King of the Mountains’ races took place. Luckily the weather was great; I wouldn’t fancy the journey in a rainstorm. Qhen we got to the top, and reached the village of Keld, we realised it was even further up – 4 more miles up these desolate roads with no houses, cars, pretty countryside in sight, just moorland.  And these are Yorkshire miles – they last longer than normal ones.

IMG_1592When we finally saw a remote building on top of a hill, we nearly jumped for joy. The pub is 1732 feet above sea level, and really is miles from anywhere. When we entered the pub we saw that the open fire was blazing – it’s lit all year round for weary travellers. The main bar feels ancient and is furnished with dark wood; there is a more modern (but still old fashioned) lounge bar next door, complete with piano. By the bar is a sheet of A4 listing all the highest pubs in the country, as well as the lowest. The barman was chatty and friendly, and recommended the Black Sheep Velo. I ended up choosing the Bitter and and we sat outside with the chickens squawking around us as we gazed out over the bleak moorland.  We bought some bottles of Tan Hill Inn beer by Dent Brewery, and left to continue our journey around Swaledale.

Muker

IMG_1789Farmer’s Arms: This pretty Swaledale stone village – the prettiest in the dale, some say – is home to the lovely Farmer’s Arms pub, set amongst a cluster of houses, shops and a church. We sat on the picnic benches out the front and gazed up at the hills whilst drinking a Buttertubs by Yorkshire Dales, a blonde and relatively dry ale.

Bainbridge

IMG_1549The Rose and Crown: This pub is located in a great setting, close to Hawes and overlooking a lovely village green and the remains of a Roman hill fort. The sparse bar was showing the World Cup when we visited; next door to this there are some olde worlde rooms serving dinner. We sat out the front to take in the views whilst sipping on some refreshing Golden Sheep. Theakstons Lightfoot was also on draft.

Thoralby

IMG_1872The George: This a lovely ancient and small stone pub is tucked away in this quiet little village near Aysgarth. It was immaculate, and even though it was so small that the loos were located outside, they were immaculate too – nothing was out of place. The food was great, and the two beers we tried – Northallerton Gun Dog and Yorkshire Dales Howgate – were on good form. The Gun Dog was a red-style ale, with lots of sherbet flavours – gorgeous; reminiscent of a Buntingford beer. The Howgate was nice and light, but one woman kept saying how sharp she thought it was. I liked it. Great pub, great service, and really good beer.

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East Witton

IMG_1735Cover Bridge Inn: Situated south of Leyburn, this pub on a sharp corner is located next to the River Cover, and the pub garden is large, pretty and well-manicured, and leads down to the river where there is a lovely stone bridge. The pub serves several well-kept ales including Theakstons Best, Old Peculiar, and the gorgeous Thornbridge Jaipur amongst others.

Askrigg

IMG_1710The King’s Head: This pub in this grey stone village between Hawes and Leyburn is famous for being the pub in All Creatures Great and Small, the Drovers Arms, but although it’s quite pretty on the outside (and was covered in Tour de France bunting) it’s not as atmospheric as I previously imagined on the inside. IMG_1545Sure, the big fireplace in the old bar is attractive, although there are candles burning inside rather than logs, and when you look at the All Creatures pics on the walls you can imagine what it would have been like once upon a time, but a lot of the soul of what once made it a traditional Yorkshire pub has gone – and the droning music playing on the stereo didn’t help re-create the atmosphere I was looking for. Having said that, it is quite a nice place, and the food served in the modern dining area at the front is said to be really good. Two Yorkshire Dales beers were on, one a house brew. I would go back; I just wish it still looked and felt like a traditional old pub.

IMG_1706The White Rose: In the middle of the High Street, this pub/hotel has quite a large bar area and a conservatory dining room. Beers on the bar included a couple from Yorkshire Dales Brewery: Askrigg Bitter and Askrigg Ales. We had the Bitter, which was very nice; we’d had it in a bottle before and it’s a lovely, hoppy, refreshing beer. The barman said the Ale is less ‘in your face’ than the bitter – less hoppy and more traditional.

IMG_1713We popped down the road, went up a lane, and came across the Yorkshire Dales Brewery, with beer brewing in a little shed. We told the brewer how much we were enjoying his beers, and suggested he sends some down to Cambridge!

Worton

IMG_1852IMG_1841Victoria Inn: This tiny village on the main A road between Aysgarth and Hawes is home to one pub, the most eccentric, interesting, unusual pub we visited on the trip. A springer spaniel called Hendrix greeted us at the door at around 2pm when we visited, the landlord put the lights on when we entered, his elderly mum came into the room thinking it was her friend coming to pick her up – it felt a bit like we were interrupting their family life. The pub really stood out for us – it was like stepping back in time. The fireplace is decorated in red tiles – the previous landlord (this landlord’s dad) used to dry sheep by the fire, and a picture on the wall shows this. Stags heads decorate the walls, and there is plenty of dark wood and a beamed ceiling. The side room is home to a pool table, and felt like somebody’s living room.

The landlord didn’t talk much, but he was pleasant enough, and whistled a lot when on the phone to his supplier. I asked him what he recommended, and he said ‘The Theakston’s OK’. So I had that. We settled down on the old chair by the fireplace, and soaked in the unique atmosphere. There aren’t many places like this left anymore.


So that was our trip. I love the Dales, and will be back to explore the beautiful National Park even further and visit even more pubs that we passed by and didn’t get a chance to have a drink in. Cheers!

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Published in: on December 31, 2014 at 12:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Golden Pints 2014

82ca1-goldenpintslogoIt’s that time of year again when I rack my brains trying to remember the best beers I have tried over the last year to nominate for the Golden Pints awards. So here are my choices. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few good ones, but that’s probably because I was having such a nice time drinking them that I never noted them down.

Best UK cask beer: Dark Star Hophead. A tasty, hoppy, easy drinking session beer that I’ve had quite a lot of over the past year.

Best UK keg beer: Magic Rock/Toccalmatto Custard Pie. Heaven in a glass. Brew this again guys pleeeease/per favore!

Yorkshire BlackoutBest UK bottled/canned beer: The Great Yorkshire Brewery’s Yorkshire Blackout bottle/Beavertown Gamma Ray can. Yorkshire Blackout, with its deep chocolate notes, was discovered on a trip to the Dales earlier this year, and we just stocked up again on a recent trip to York – a beautiful bottle of beer. I’ve had many many cans of Gamma Ray (the last one being on Christmas Day) and I just love it – a wonderful hoppy American-style session beer.

Best overseas draught beer: Lagunitas IPA. On draught regularly in the Cambridge Brewhouse, and it’s beautiful stuff with lots of lovely tropical fruit flavours.

Best overseas bottled/canned beer: Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA bottle/Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi can. Finest Kind is a great US IPA, easy to drink and a go-to beer when I want those American IPA flavours. Same goes for the tasty Modus Hoperandi.

Best collaboration brew: Magic Rock/Toccalmatto Custard Pie. As mentioned above.

Best overall beer for 2014: Magic Rock/Toccalmatto Custard Pie. See above. Sorry if this is getting boring.

MAGIC-ROCK-carnivalBest branding, pumpclip or label: Magic Rock artwork.

Best UK brewery: Magic Rock.

Best overseas brewery: A tough one. I’d say Port Brewing, CA, USA. I love their gorgeous Wipeout IPA.

Best new brewery opening 2014: Hillside Brewery, Gloucestershire. The brewers of the lovely resinously hoppy Centurion and many other great beers. Hard to believe they are a new brewery.

Pub/bar of the year: Pivni, York. Lots of space on 3 levels, quirky seating areas, lots of great beers on keg and cask, good atmosphere.

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Hopinator in the Mash Tun, Norwich

Best new pub/bar opening 2014: Mash Tun, Norwich. Clean and fresh decor, good beer, good food, and oh that hopinator/infusinator..!

Best beer and food pairing: Champagne truffles with the deliciously rich Founders Breakfast Stout. Works like a dream.

Beer festival of the year: Cambridge Beer Festival. It’s big, it’s in the middle of a park with lots of seating and grass to sit on, it has over 200 beers, and it’s on for almost a week.

Supermarket of the year: Waitrose. Always an interesting choice.

Independent retailer of the year: Trembling Madness, York. Sooo many beers to choose from.

Online retailer of the year: Beers of Europe, nr Kings Lynn, Norfolk. Reliable and lots of choice.

Best beer book or magazine: BEER. Always a good read.

Best beer blog or website: Pints and Pubs. Lots of well-researched pub history, quirky facts, and he really brings the history to life.

Best beer twitterer: Broadford Brewer. Always find his tweets amusing, beer related or not.

Best beer app: I don’t really use beer apps, but I’d say when I’m in the capital Craft Beer London occasionally comes in handy.

Best brewery website/social media: Magic Rock. Informative website, interesting blog.

Published in: on December 30, 2014 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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London, York and Norwich pubs

Over the festive period we made a few trips to a few different cities, and had a few beers when there. Here’s a pick of some great pubs that we visited in each city during our travels.

London

Old Coffee HouseLondon was the first festive trip of the season, and after a trek to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland we headed into the West End for a much deserved beer. The Old Coffee House was the first stop, a pub run by Brodie’s Brewery from Leyton and situated down Beak Street, just off Regent Street. It was pretty busy on a Saturday lunchtime, but we managed to get the last free table (we needed a sit down after all that Winter Wonderland wandering), settling down with a Brodie’s Kiwi on cask – I wanted to try their keg version but it wasn’t on unfortunately. It’s a lovely old dark wood pub, with paintings and memorabilia dotted all over the walls, lots of vintage mirrors, chandelier lamps, a couple of screens for sports, and even a guitar hanging from the ceiling just above my head. As expected, there are lots of Brodie’s beers on at the bar, both cask and keg, including the likes of Dalston Black, London Fields Pale Ale, and Bethnal Green Bitter. Kiwi IPA – almost double the strength of the session Kiwi I was drinking – was on keg also, but also not available that afternoon. We’ll be back for it!

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Craft Beer CoAnother great pub is Craft Beer Co Covent Garden, which is located at the top of Endell Street where it meets High Holborn. It’s light and contemporary, with quite a long, narrow bar area upstairs, and instead of tables (there’s no room) there are mostly bar stools lining the shelf-style tables against windows and walls – but there is a larger, smart seating area downstairs, but with a different atmosphere. There are 45 taps, cask and keg, and lots of bottles in fridges, so it’s pretty difficult to choose what to drink, and out of beers from breweries such as Burning Sky, Marble, Thornbridge and Wild Beer, I took a while to decide as we only had time to stay for one. I opted for a Siren Sound Wave IPA on keg, bursting with tropical hops – lovely. We also left with a bottle of the deliciously hoppy Port Brewing Wipeout IPA.

Exterior - Craft Beer Co Covent Garden

York

photo 2 (2)There are so many great pubs in York – a mixture of historic inns and modern tap rooms. One good one is Pivni, located close to the famous Shambles in an ancient building with lots of dark wooden beams on three floors – but despite its history, it also feels fresh and modern, and has lots of great beers on cask and keg. Over a couple of visits during the busy Christmas market period in the city we tried Victory Prima Pils, Magic Rock Acrobat, a tasty saison with apricot and tarragon, and Summer Wine Zenith, a citrussy pale ale. This pub is friendly and cosy, and one of my pubs of choice in the city.

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photo 4 (2)The York Tap is another great find. It’s a light and airy Victorian pub right next to York train station, with a oval bar in the centre and an attractive stained glass skylight. It was heaving when we arrived on the Saturday afternoon (I think a train load of football supporters had just arrived just before we did). There were mainly cask ales, and several keg beers too, including Sierra Nevada Mandatory, a beer brewed with mandarins, and a nice and easy drinking Brass Castle and York Tap collaboration, Oatmeal Pale. I also had a Summer Wine Oregon, a West Coast Pale Ale, which had tasty sherbet and citrus flavours but lacked some condition.

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Another pub which deserves a mention is Ye Old Shambles Tavern, which is, you’ve guessed it, located on the Shambles, but actually isn’t an old tavern at all – it’s only been in the guise of a pub for a year, previously just a cafe and gift shop – although you’d think there’d been a pub there for centuries. It still sells gifts, but now the walls around the small bar are covered in bottles of beer from Yorkshire breweries that you can purchase, and there are three hand pumps selling beers from Rudgate, including their own Shambles house beer. There are just a few bar stools, but there is also a cosy back room also, and if you want a beer you have to sit down to drink – that was one of the council’s odd laws when they were granting the new license. You also have to eat as well, so everyone is served complimentary sandwiches and crisps after taking a seat! There’s a food menu also. It’s a charming, atmospheric place, and I highly recommend a visit – just make sure you arrive before 9pm if you want a beer, as the door is locked at that time and they are not allowed to let anyone else in – another one of those odd laws..

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Norwich

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I’ve written about Norwich pubs several times, but there’s no harm in mentioning some again. The Mash Tun was a new one for us – this is run by the same Redwell guys who run the fantastic Tap House around the corner – it’s larger than it looks, and with exposed brickwork throughout and a clean finish, it’s a great looking contemporary pub with a big beer list. Keg beers are chalked onto a blackboard, with cask beers from breweries such as Crate on at the bar. But the main feature in the pub is the hopinator/infusinator, which on the evening we visited was crammed with mango and kiwi and had Magic Rock Acrobat running through it, so you end up with an Acrobat – which is already full of tarragon and mango flavours – infused with even more fruity delights. Delicious. We also went for a Weird Beard Five O Clock Shadow, a beautiful strong IPA loaded with resinous hops. There was no going down in ABV after that.

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Finally, we took a bus out to the Plasterers, one of our favourite pubs just slightly out of the city centre. It was all very festive and lovely, with a proper Christmas tree and lots of Crimble music playing. As usual, there was a great beer selection, including Green Jack Golden Best, Five Points Hook Island Red on keg, Brass Castle Sunshine IPA on keg (a beautiful beer from Yorkshire) and a wonderful, rich breakfast stout from Siren called Broken Dream. A fine way to end an evening!

Published in: on December 20, 2014 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Halloween pubs and beer

Beer in the Blue

Halloween beers in the Cambridge Blue

There were plenty of scary beers and scary-looking people out last night around Cambridge on our mini Halloween pub crawl. It was good to see that so many pubs had embraced the fright night theme, with bar staff dressed up in their most terrifying costumes, and beers having suitably gruesome names and pump clips.

First stop was the Cambridge Blue, which was fantastically decorated for Halloween as usual. The marquee was decked out for a children’s Halloween party, and there were lots of costumed kids filtering through the pub, broomsticks and all, as we enjoyed our beers. Köstritzer Six out of the 14 cask beers were Halloween themed, with ales such as Brains Open Casket, Hales Brewing Black Heart, Wolf Brewery Werewolf, and Hop & Soul Pumpkin on draught. I went for a Cameron’s Thirst Blood, a tasty ruby ale with caramel and dark fruit flavours. Hales Black Heart was really nice, a black IPA which thankfully wasn’t too hoppy (I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this style) and with the flavour and aroma of roasted coffee beans. I also went for a Köstrizer on keg, I really like this smooth and chocolatey German black lager.

Next stop was the Blue Moon, the sister pub to the Blue. Again, this was decorated for the season, with a party (adults this time) taking place later that evening. We got a Tiny Rebel Cwtch (that’s not a typo; it’s Welsh for hug) and a Castle Rock Most Haunted, and ended up sitting in the middle of a literary group doing an open mic, where one guy was reading excerpts from Dracula – very apt. The Most Haunted was a pumpkin porter, dark with lots of clove flavours, but not too overwhelming. The Cwtch was as good as all the other Tiny Rebel beers I’ve tried – an amber beer bursting with tropical hops, and served freezing cold from the keg. Lovely.

Elm Tree bar staffThe Elm Tree was the next pub en route, and this pub is always well decorated for Halloween, with witches hats attached to the ceiling alongside giant spiders, and pumpkin lights and tinsel everywhere – these decs are put up a good week or two before the day itself. The bar staff were well dressed for the occasion too. We went for Belgian beer, despite the 10 hand pumps – the smooth caramel flavours of St Bernardus Pater 6 goes well with this time of year.

Free Press pumpkinLast up was the Free Press, which had a wonderful big pumpkin on the bar with lovely pop out eyes and big wide mouth with a pipe hanging out, and a mop head for hair – fantastic. We had some bottles of Rogue Dead Guy, a great beer from one of my favourite US breweries – lots of spicy caramel flavours and hop fruitiness. It’s quite a strong one at 6.6%, so after a couple of those it was time to call it a night.

It was great to see so many pubs making the effort for Halloween, one of my favourite times of year. I guess we’ll be drinking plenty of fright night themed beers over the next week in the pubs – but then it won’t be long until the festive beers start appearing! Happy Halloween/Samhain!

Porto Beers and Bars

Last month we headed out to Porto, Portugal, for a long weekend. We didn’t have high expectations for the beer there as the micro-brewing revolution that has reached many parts of Europe hasn’t quite hit that area yet – Sagres and Super Bock are the big beer names there (when we asked our taxi driver what his favourite beer was, he replied “Ah, I love Super Bock”!) And of course, Porto is all about the port wine, which is fantastic (especially the white port). But there were a few surprise beer discoveries along the way, and some decent pubs/bars too. Here are some of the bars we visited and the beers we tried.

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Uma Velha Tinha Um Gato

IMG_0922Or, loosely translated, ‘A Grandmother had a Cat’. Yes, I know. When I asked the smiling waiter why the bar had such a strange name, I was told it was because a grandmother had a cat. OK.

This was one of a handful of bars on the lovely Praça da Ribeira, overlooking the Douro River in Porto’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was our first evening there; we sat at a table gazing out across the river at the twinkling lights of the port houses reflected in the dark water. I ordered a Super Bock stout which I enjoyed; it didn’t have the fullest body, but it was pleasantly creamy and easy to drink, and by the time I reached the end of the bottle I was left wanting more.

Galeria de Paris

IMG_1076This brown wooden cafe bar, in the student/night life area of the city centre on Rua Galeria de Paris, was a pleasant surprise, with lots of old collectables in cases around the room such as computers, toys, telephones, dolls, and even half a car sticking out of the wall. The ornate golden tap on the bar served Sagres. We ordered two bottles; one of Sagres Preta (stout) and a regular Super Bock (€3.50 for both – bargain).

IMG_1077The Preta was very drinkable – there were more roasted flavours than the Super Bock stout and it had more body, although I didn’t necessarily prefer it over the Super Bock; both were decent enough stouts. The regular Super Bock was pleasant enough, as far as lagers go. I’m not particularly a lager fan, but I did enjoy the sweet caramel finish.

We’d been in the cafe/bar for about 20 minutes when the waitresses began to put tablecloths on empty tables, transforming the place into an evening restaurant with only a few simple pieces of material. When it was just our table and another that were still occupied, with the waitresses lingering in the corners, tablecloths in hand, we decided it was time to move on.

Mercearia das Flores

IMG_1074This little light and airy deli/cafe on Rua das Flores was a breath of fresh air – it sold all kinds of Portuguese produce, including the ubiquitous port, but surprisingly, it also sold bottles of locally-brewed beer (actually, it wasn’t a surprise – that’s why we came here in the first place). Beers from Porto brewer Os Tres Cervejeros lined the shelves (brand name Sovina) with varieties including an IPA, a helles, a stout, a wheat beer, and an amber. They also do a seasonal Bock and Christmas beer.

IMG_0864There were also beers from Cerveja Letra brewery – beers brewed by two scientists from Braga, down the road from Porto, with each of their beers named after a letter: Letra A, Letra B;  you get the picture. Their beers included a wheat beer (Letra A) pilsner (B), a stout (C), and a red ale (D).

We munched on lovely lupin beans (they go so well with beer) and a sheep’s cheese sandwich (which tasted of the smell of the country) whilst drinking Sovina Helles on draft – a clean, refreshing, delicate lager. We were told that their draft Sovina beer changes as soon as the cask runs out, so we tried our best to help it along its way, but despite our keen efforts we had to be content with buying the other varieties in bottles.

IMG_1057Out of the bottles we purchased, the Letra B (pilsner) stood out, this cloudy beer packed with lovely sherbet and floral flavours. Delicious. The Sovina IPA was thirst quenching, but would’ve been even better if loaded with more hops. The stout was rich and pleasant. All in all, these beers were a great find.

The ladies in the deli also told us about new artisan beers that had just been produced by brewery Vadia, not far from Porto, so we searched them out in a nearby restaurant and bought the Vadia Ruiva. It wasn’t massively impressive – not a bad beer, but not that exciting either – but these are beers from a brand new brewer, and that’s a great thing to see in itself in Portugal.

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Caves de Cerveja

IMG_1027On the opposite side of the river from Porto, in Gaia where the port houses dominate, there is a large beer bar/restaurant at the far end of the Cais de Gaia waterfront (just keep walking…). A contemporary building in a modern entertainment complex, it is themed as a microbrewery, with faux brewery equipment by the doorway, producing a strange bright green liquid – just a gimmick (I hope…). But in reality the beers available are brewed by big producers Unicer and Republica da Cerveja.

IMG_1022It’s a pleasant environment, with large picture windows, a long stainless steel bar with several taps, decent enough food (such as the famous francesinha sandwich served in beer and tomato sauce) and friendly waiters.

IMG_1026We munched on fries whilst perusing the beer menu, and ordered small glasses of several of them – handily, the beers were offered in a choice of pour size. The creamy stout was good, but I reckon it was the Super Bock stout in disguise. The Abadia Super Bock was strangely just like Super Bock, although it’s meant to be stronger, and a wheat beer; it was a challenge to tell any difference. The Puro Malte (100 % malt, it says on the tasting notes) was just an uninteresting light lager (for me). The Cerveja Artisenal was very similar to Super Bock, but just a touch sharper. So all in all, the stout was the best. To be fair, as I don’t particularly enjoy lager beers, I’m not really the best judge on these styles – but all I can say is, give me the Sovina Helles over these lagers any time.

While we were there we learnt that mixing beer with soft drinks is popular: mixing beer with 7up is called panache, with Coca-Cola it’s called diesel, and with gooseberry it‘s called tango. You learn something new every day.

Casa da Horta

IMG_1089Whilst not a bar, this establishment – a cultural and environmental association that aims to promote sustainable and alternative ways of living – has a vegan/veggie restaurant that just happens to serve bottles of Sovina. We enjoyed a bottle of organic Sovina IPA in a cave-like basement setting surrounded by local artwork and dreadlocked staff whilst enjoying a soya and veg stew with rice. Nice.

A few other beer bars/pubs to visit

There are many, many bars in Porto – far too many to mention – but these listed below are beer-oriented (if you want port and wine then every other bar offers them; they’re pretty easy to find). We didn’t have time to visit the bars below, but they were firmly on our beer to-do list.

Bonaparte, Foz do Douro
A popular Irish style pub in the popular suburbian seaside setting of Foz, a short tram or bus ride away from the city centre on the main road (Av. do Brasil) opposite Praia de Luz beach cafe. Guinness and bottled beer available.

Ryan‘s Irish Pub
Another Irish pub on one of the main streets (Rua Infante D. Henrique) close to Porto’s waterfront. Narrow and long, dimly lit, stools lining the wooden bar, and Guinness on tap as well as Kilkenny and bottles of beer available.

Portobeer, at Porto Palacio Hotel 
A contemporary restaurant/’beer hall’ in this 5 star hotel a little out of the city centre. More restaurant than bar (with veggie francesinhas on offer) plus a large-ish beer list, including regulars Sagres and Super Bock.

 

Porto is a wonderful place to visit, and I have no doubt that in a few years the beer scene will have evolved dramatically. The country is on the verge of a major change with regards to beer, and with breweries such as Os Tres Cervejeros, Vadia, and Cerveja Letra already making an impact, the number of artisan brewers can only increase, and beer in Portugal can only get better. And that’s an exciting thought.

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Published in: on April 28, 2014 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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St Neots Beer Festival – Booze on the Ouse

The 42nd St Neots Beer and Cider Festival, organised by Huntingdonshire CAMRA, took place Thursday 13th to Saturday 15th March at the Priory Centre. We’d never actually been to the festival before, so on this sunny Saturday we decided to take the bus to St Neots.

The easy 40-minute bus ride on the X5 from Cambridge took us to the market square, which is a 5 minute walk away from the venue by the river. We arrived around 12.30 and were pleased to find that it wasn’t jam packed at this early hour, unlike the Ely beer festival was at midday in February!

Beer casks, courtesy of @pintsandpubs

Beer casks, courtesy of @pintsandpubs

The main hall was half filled with chairs and tables, which was great to see – lots of space to sit, drink and chat. At the back was a farmers market type stall selling ploughmans – cheeses, olives, bread, all lovely and fresh looking, and a hot stew (not veggie, unfortunately).  Along the side and back were the ales  (over 60 available over the course of the fest) and ciders, bottled foreign and local beer (including a festival special from Draycott) and a tombola thrown in for good measure (we had a few goes, and no, we didn’t win anything). The signs leading to ‘the smoking area’ actually led to a lovely little riverside terrace where we sat in the sun enjoying our beers.

The staff were really friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere was relaxed and chilled out. I was pleased to see that they were serving thirds – it meant that I could try a few more beers…

Grain beer, St Neots Some beers that I really enjoyed:
Hopshackle Kinesis – Light, golden and hoppy – at only 3.8% it was an easy drinking beer to start with.
Skinners Splendid Tackle – My beer of the fest – fresh, hoppy, honey flavours, very mellow and English tasting, and very moreish.
Bexar County Café Pequeño – Lots of flavour packed into this little 2.8% unfined coffee stout. Went down very easily.
Bexar County American Pale – A tasty golden strong ale (5.7%) with lots of hops. Didn’t taste its abv at the start, but felt it warming me up after a few more sips!
Grain Year of Hops: Cascade -Big hop aroma and flavour. Only 4.4% but full bodied and nicely balanced.

We tried a few more decent beers, including Mighty Oak English Oak, and one that I wasn’t so keen on, Mauldons Lemon Adder, with too much ginger and strong lemon flavours for my taste – but according to bar staff it was going down very well!

A great, well-organised little festival and one we’ll definitely go back to next time – and at a mere 40-minute bus ride from Cambridge there really is no excuse not to…

Terrace, St Neots

Published in: on March 16, 2014 at 8:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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Golden Pints 2013

It’s December, which means it’s time for this year’s Golden Pints awards:

Best UK Cask Beer
1st) Cambridge Moonshine Ison. Wonderful, resinously hoppy beer from a great brewer.
2nd) Oakham Green Devil. Always wonderful to find this fruity IPA on draft. Such a shame they stopped bottling it.
Honourable mention: Bexar San Jacinto – a hop monster from this Texan brewer based in Peterborough doing in-your-face exciting things with beer.

Best UK Keg Beer
1st) Buxton Wyoming Sheep Ranch. Fantastic beer, first sampled at the launch event of the beer at Euston Tap, and I’ve had it several times since (on keg at Norwich Tap was the last occasion, and very nice it was too).
2nd) Summer Wine Pacer. Light and easy drinking with lots of floral hops.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
1st) Any of Buxton’s bottled beers really, from their IPAs such as Axe Edge and Wild Boar to their Rednik Stout. I’ll settle on Buxton Axe Edge today, but that could change tomorrow…
2nd)  Magic Rock Rapture. A fruity red ale, one of my go-to beers.
Honourable mention:  Thornbridge Jaipur – another go-to beer, citrus hops and full bodied.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
1st) Ithaca Flower Power (NY, USA). I had this in Salem, MA, and Boston, MA. Loaded with fruity and floral hops, golden, drinks SO easily, wonderfully balanced, I could go on…
2nd) Maine Beer Co Peeper (ME, USA). I drank this in New York, Portland, ME and Boston, MA. Fresh hops, sweet and delicate, wonderfully crafted beer.
Honourable mentions: The lovely Mendocino Imperial IPA (CA, USA) and the fantastic Lagunitas IPA (CA, USA) with its tropical fruit flavours. And De Praal Mary should also get a mention, a wonderful barley wine from the Netherlands. Wow to all five of these beers.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
1st) Green Flash West Coast IPA (CA, USA). Intensely hoppy, my sort of beer.
2nd) Ithaca Flower Power. Ditto
Honourable mention: St Bernadus 6 -Pater. A go-to beer when I’m after something velvety and comforting.

Best Collaboration Brew
Hard to call.. I haven’t had that many, and none have particularly stuck in my mind.

Best Overall Beer
Ithaca Flower Power. Just lovely.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
1st) Grain Brewery wooden pump clips in general – you can immediately see if there’s a Grain beer on at the bar.
2nd) Magic Rock – I like the carnival/funfair style of their designs.
Honourable mention: Buntingford Brewery, for the witty and sometimes rambling wording on their pump clips.

Best UK Brewery
1st) Buxton. Consistently great.
2nd) Magic Rock. Love their beers, keg or cask.
Honourable mention: Partizan. They are are doing great things with beer; I haven’t had a bad one from them

Best Overseas Brewery
I’d have to go with Rogue (OR, USA) – I’ve had many of their beers on draft and in bottles, and I love the Dry Hopped St Rogue Red, Mocha Porter, Juniper Pale Ale, Brutal IPA… the list goes on…
2) St Bernardus, Belgium – high quality, easy-drinking beer.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013
Redwell in Norwich, even though strictly speaking they opened towards the end of 2012. Great little brewery that sells good quality keg beer and lager and hosts many events in its small and cute space.

Pub/Bar of the Year
InternationalMcSorley’s Old Ale House, NYC. Wonderful atmosphere with sawdust on the floor, banter from the barman, dusty antiques and newspaper cuttings all over the walls, and when you order one beer (light or dark) you receive two, whether you like it or not.
Closer to homeThe Free Press, Cambridge (quality beer, banter and atmosphere) and the Elm Tree, Cambridge (cosy, candlelit den and lots of Belgian beer).

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013

Pint Shop, Cambridge, for the large range of high quality hard-to-get-hold-of keg and cask beer from breweries far and wide.

Beer Festival of the Year

Cambridge Beer Festival. Great beer and crowd, and fantastic location on Jesus Green – you can’t beat drinking beer on the grass in the sun.

Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose. Good selection of beer from the likes of Thornbridge, BrewDog and Fullers.

Independent Retailer of the Year
Bacchanalia, Cambridge. Nice and local with a good range of local and national beers, as well as beers from Europe and the USA.

Online Retailer of the Year
Beers of Europe. Fast delivery and a good selection of beers.

Best Beer Book or Magazine
CAMRA’s quarterly BEER magazine. An interesting read.

Best Beer Blog or Website
pintsandpubs.wordpress.com. Lots of well researched pub history, amusing anecdotes, and random interesting information about beer and breweries. Always an enjoyable, informative read.

Best Beer App
Craft Beer London. Well, it was useful when visiting London! I don’t tend to use beer apps much.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
@pintsandpubs .

Best Brewery Website/Social media
For social media I’ll go for Buntingford Brewery – the blog posts are very amusing, dry, witty, and ever so slightly sarcastic.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Thai green curry with a light, refreshing Oakham Citra.

East Coast USA beers and bars – New York, Salem, Boston and Portland

In September we headed over to East Coast USA and visited bars and bottle shops in New York, Salem, Boston, and Portland, Maine – here are the bars we visited and beers we tried. (This post  is very long – you have been warned..!)

New York

Greenwich Village

Blind Tiger beer boardThe Blind Tiger

We visited this bar several times when we were in New York.  This dimly-lit dark wooden one-room bar was atmospheric and had a great beer choice, with 28 craft beers on tap plus 3 cask ales which were chalked on a few blackboards behind the bar. The bar was busy on every visit, but the later it got the busier and louder it became. Me and pintsandpubs sat at the bar and worked our way through some of the beers on offer.

Blind Tiger beersTwo Brothers Bitter End APA,  5.2%, was a pleasant malty caramel beer from Illinois with lots of hops. It wasn’t quite as APA-tasting as I’d have liked – it didn’t really slap me around the face with its massive hop flavours – but it was tasty nonetheless. Troegs Perpetual IPA, 7.5%, from Pennsylvania didn’t taste its ABV; it was quite light with hints of peach and orange. Again, I would have preferred more of a hop kick. However, the Mendocino Imperial IPA, 8.0%, was more like it – this West Coast IPA certainly delivered. Bursting with hops, both in the aroma and flavour, made for a wonderful taste experience. Delicious!

Blind Tiger interiorEmpire Amber, 5.5% from New York, was enjoyable – a caramel malty beer which was light and very easy-drinking. I wasn’t too impressed with Weyerbacker Last Chance IPA, a session beer which didn’t have much going on – it was sweet and sour at the same time, and I found the hops to be too astringent for me. But Barrier Medulla, 7.1%, really stood out. This beer is known as an English IPA, but it’s more American Imperial IPA; it’s wonderfully strong and malty with beautiful resinous hops and caramel flavours. Barrier, from Oceanside, New York, is a great brewery doing exciting things with beer, which seemed to be the opinion of everyone we spoke to in NYC.

White horse tavern White Horse Tavern

This lovely old pub on Hudson Street is where Kerouac got thrown out of when drunk (he lived in an apartment opposite), where Bob Dylan used to hang out, and where Dylan Thomas had his last drink before dying later that night. The dark wood interior is beautifully kept, especially the large polished bar, and there are photos on the walls and paintings of white horses. White Horse barIt’s a place that could tell a tale or two, and history oozes from the walls. The bottles of tomato ketchup on every table sticks in my mind; they seemed glaringly out of place in this ornate and old fashioned pub – but I guess it caters more for diners than drinkers nowadays. We settled on a table outside and had a $7 pint of Lagunitas IPA, with its juicy tropical fruit hop flavours. A very refreshing, delicate, and underrated beer.

Rabbit Club entranceRabbit Club 124

This subterranean speakeasy-style bar is located on well-known MacDougal, a few doors down from where the old Gas Light Cafe was situated (the reason I wanted to visit was to try to picture what the Gas Light might once have looked like, where Dylan played and Kerouac recited poetry). It’s easily missed, and located underneath a taqueria sign – look out for the black door and small writing above it saying ‘rabbit club craft beer bar’ (and a painting of a rabbit, which is a slight give-away) then descend the steep steps. I was expecting the door to be closed and that we’d have to ring a bell, which I’d heard about,  but it looks like they’ve changed all that – the door was open, which was slightly disappointing and ruined the anticipation somewhat! It’s dark, dingy, shows no sport (which has to be a first) and surprisingly, a relatively new addition to the bar scene on this busy street – I’d have thought it dated back to those Kerouac times, but no. Rabbit Club interior

Rabbits are painted on the black walls, figures of rabbits are scattered on the shelf behind the bar, and candles cast dim light. This is a great place to come if you like Belgian beers – it has probably the biggest selection of Belgian bottles in the area – but they are not cheap, as to be expected.  I fancied a draft US beer, but unfortunately both draft beers needed changing – Founders All Day IPA and a Bear Republic brown ale. I ended up having Evil Twin Hipster Pale Ale in a can, a light and fruity, easy-drinking hoppy beer.

Carmine Street Beers

This new beer shop was very close to where we were staying in the West Village. It’s nice and bright, has a great selection of beers, and had a lovely seasonal window display!

Carmine Street beers Beers

 Kettle of Fish

Neon Bar signOn Christopher’s Street, a few doors from where Kerouac once fell off a fire escape on a nearby house, is the Kettle of Fish, the third location of the bar which was previously frequented by Dylan when it was on MacDougal St next to the old Gas Light Cafe. If you descend a few steps you enter the relatively dark wooden bar, with old photos of the old Kettle on the walls, fairy lights everywhere, and the original neon Bar sign around the corner.Kettle of Fish It’s large – much larger than you think when you walk to the other, quieter, side. We sat at the bar and had a Red Hook IPA, 6.2%, on draft, which was nice, hoppy and easy drinking but didn’t have an awful lot going on compared to some of the other brews we’d tried.

Old Kettle of Fish

Old Kettle of Fish

Lower East Side

Top Hops draft beersTop Hops Beer Shop

This taproom/bottle shop is located in the Lower East Side on Orchard St, just a block from lively and once edgy Ludlow St where musicians and artists used to hang out in bars and venues such as Luna Lounge and Max Fish, before they shut down and relocated to Brooklyn.

Outside Top Hops

Although you might head to Top Hops for the 700-odd bottles on sale, I would go just for the taproom – there are about 20 taps selling US and imported craft beer, with the beers available all chalked up on the board behind the long curvy stainless steel bar along with beer style and ABV. The bar tender was friendly and helpful, and gave me a few tasters before I decided on the Founders All Day IPA, a light hoppy session IPA at 5%. Carton Boat Beer across the water in New Jersey was another great find, another session beer and paler than the All Day IPA. Needless to say, we left the bar with several bottles.

Top Hops bar

Hell’s Kitchen/Theater District

Pony BarPony Bar

This mid-town bar close to Times Square which sells ‘All American Craft Beer’ was pretty noisy by the time we arrived in the evening with sports showing on TV and loud shouty conversations taking place. Pony bar beersHowever, the beer list was really extensive, including beers like Mendocino Pumpkin Ale, Barrier Imposter Pilsner and Abita Pecan Harvest – the beers, brewery names and pour size were displayed in neon lights on a couple of boards behind the bar. I went for a Cricket Hill Big Little IPA, a slightly floral session IPA, which to be honest could’ve done with a bit more ooomph; I maybe should’ve realised from the use of the word ‘little’ in the name that it wasn’t going to be as big and exciting as I would have liked. The bar soon became even noisier and packed, so we moved on after another beer.

Outside Pony Bar

House of Brews

Chelsea Hop AngelThis was a nice lamp-lit bar filled with dark shiny wood, rows of bottles above the bar, and TVs showing sport. They have around 100 beers on their beer list; most of these are bottles from around the world including beers from Belgium and the UK (Young’s Double Chocolate Stout made the list, which was interesting to see). House of Brews beers

The small draft beer list included Bronx Pale Ale and Founders Centennial IPA.  I opted for a Chelsea Hop Angel IPA, 6.8%, brewed in New York, for $7 a pint, which I really enjoyed – an easy drinking smooth and hoppy beer with lots of malt and hints of caramel.

East Village

Mc Sorley’s Old Ale House

McSorleysMcSorley’s has to be one of my favourite pubs in NYC. It’s old, and the old photos and framed newspaper cuttings covering the walls and dusty ornaments on and around the bar are testament to its age.  There’s a pair of handcuffs locked to the bar, allegedly Houdini’s. Light and dark

Sawdust covers the floor, grafitti is carved into the wood, and there is an unforgettable aroma of wood chippings mixed with old beer, which has stayed with me to this day. If you order a beer you get not one but two half pint glass tankards – they serve their own house brews, ‘light’ and  ‘dark’ – for $5.50. Both were good beers, but I really loved the easy drinking dark – smooth and quite creamy with a hint of smoke; delicious. We went back for several more and stayed much longer than we had intended.

Bar area Bar and sawdust  Locals at bar Bar

Jimmy’s Number 43

Inside Jimmy'sThis subterranean bar a few doors down from McSorleys couldn’t be more different. From the outside it doesn’t look that inviting, with lots of metal grating, but once you get down those stairs then it’s warm, cosy and has tons of bottles, and a good draft beer list including Six Point Apollo Wheat (Brooklyn) and their Beljam Wheat. Jimmy's Beer listWe had a beautiful Firestone Walker Double Jack Imperial IPA, 9.5%, which was bursting with resinous hops, followed by a dark rich and strong (10%) Thornbridge Hall Bracia from our own shores. Not ideal beers to have one after the other with my tolerance levels suffering after having had several in McSorley’s previously, but it all made for a great evening.

Jimmy's by day Jimmy's by night

Good Beer

This friendly craft beer shop with tons of great bottles including Green Flash, Anderson Valley and Founders (shame about the lack of space in our cases, although we did manage to squeeze a few more in) also had several beers on tap including Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin IPA and the lovely Maine MO. This beautifully delicate pale beer is fresh and fruity, refreshing and zingy, and is just wonderful –  a beer you could just keep on drinking.

Good Beer bottles Outside Good Beer

Brooklyn

The Owl FarmOwl Farm

This pub is over the river in Brooklyn and a short stroll from the  4th Avenue/9th Street subway. Long, narrow and painted burgundy and white inside, with exposed brick, wooden floor and low hanging lights, this sleek pub-style bar showing sports (as usual) had 28 beers on tap from the likes of Evil Twin, Stone and Narragansett.

Inside Owl FarmI had a Stone Levitation after several tasters – not a new beer for me, but one that I always like to go to. We also had a Stone Enjoy by 9.13.13 – a limited edition beer. At 11% it probably wasn’t the best beer to have just before attempting to walk back to Manhattan over Brooklyn Bridge…!

Beer board in Owl Farm  Beer

Brooklyn Bridge

Salem

Beer Works Bar Salem Beer Works

After moving on to the small and historic ‘Witch City’ of Salem it was great to find this down-to-earth sprawling modern bar filled with stainless steel, sports screens, large booths, and a big beer list, all brewed by the Beer Works. I didn’t really have any expectations, but was really surprised – I enjoyed all their beers. The Double Pale Ale was strong at 8.5% and was a great full-flavoured imperial IPA, but I actually preferred the Back Bay IPA, a fantastic 6.5% beer that cut through everything, even after drinking the Double. Witch City Red, 5%, was gorgeous, like drinking a fruity sherbet, and the Salem American Pale Ale 5.5% reminded me of London Pride which I didn’t expect or want (don’t get me wrong, London Pride is a good beer; I just wanted something more American). I just wish I’d had more time to try their other beers, including Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale, Black Bay Stout, Bay State ESB – the list goes on…

Beer list 1 Beer list 2

Howling Wolf Taqueria

Howling WolfThe great thing about restaurants in these parts is that they always seem to have great beer on offer. This Mexican joint didn’t disappoint, and we shared a tasting tray/flight of beers including Shipyard Pumpkin Ale, Ithaca Flower Power, Allagash Black, and one other which escapes me. Ithaca Flower Power, 7.5%, had to be my favourite out of the four – strong but easy drinking, bursting with citrus hops and floral flavours, and as in-your-face as they come. I didn’t enjoy the spicy Shipyard as I’m not a great fan of cinnamon, and the Allagash Black was OK, but after the Ithaca there really was no contest.

Quality Liquors

This bottle shop on Gedney Street sold a good range of craft beers, including some seasonal pumpkin ales from Dogfish Head Pumpkin beersand Weyerbacher, bottles from Maine Beer Co and Pretty Things.

Beers 1

Salem Witch Museum

Portland ME

Great Lost Bear

Outside Great Lost BearAfter a 2.5 hour train journey from Salem to Boston we got straight on a bus to Bier Cellar, an excellent bottle shop on Forest Avenue, and realised this pub was a 10-minute walk up the road, so we decided to visit it. This dull-looking warehouse building with a bear painted on one wall surprised us as we went inside, with its neon lights, an eating area separated from the long bar with etched glass, and beer signs dotted around everywhere – very colourful and pretty. And a big beer list with 69 taps. The first thing the hostess said to us, pointing at our large brown paper bag of beer from Bier Cellar, was “You’re not planning on drinking that in here, are you?” Urr, no, why would we do that, what with your massive selection of draft beers…? “Well I thought that might be something you do where you come from” she stated unsmilingly. Ohhhkay…

Great Lost Bear barDespite the odd welcome, it was a nice place. We ordered some Maine Peeper (gorgeous delicately hopped and fresh, like all their beers) and munched on fries whilst drinking Sebago Fry’s Leap, an absolutely wonderful IPA, Six Point Simcoe IPA, which was almost as good as the Fry’s Leap, Funky Bow So Folkin Hoppy, which wasn’t really, even though it was a decent IPA, and Magic Hat Not Quite Pale Ale, which I can’t say we liked – it was like a malty bitter but not a great one at that which was a shame.

Beer list Taster flight

Novare Res Bier Cafe

Novare ResThis ‘bier cafe’ is tucked down a little alleyway off Lower Exchange Street, one of the main shopping streets running down towards the port. It was well presented, with candles on all the tables creating a cosy and relaxed atmosphere. The food looked good, but not much for veggies so we passed. They have around 30 taps and over 500 bottles, plus a couple of hand pumps. We had more lovely Maine Peeper, and a Marshall Wharf Pale Ale, which was too sulphurous and not to my taste. We could’ve stayed longer, but there were more places to seek out on our mini Portland crawl.

Thirsty Pig

Thirsty PigThis place for sausage lovers in the centre of town also does lots of great beer. We were pleased to discover it sold veggie hot dogs, so along with one of those smothered in onions and ketcup (pintsandpubs regretted asking for one with hot sauce, which ended up being so hot that it killed his taste buds), we enjoyed some more Maine MO, as lovely and fruity as ever, and some Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA, which was sweet and malty and a bit too sulphurous but with a pleasant after taste. There were about 10 draft beers available as well as lots of bottles, and the friendly staff offered tasters. A nice patio area out back overlooked the back end of Portland’s downtown redbrick buildings- very similar to buildings in England, actually. Nice place.

Gritty McDuff’s

Grittys beersStyled as an English pub, this microbrewery and restaurant is the sort of place you can imagine long-gone sailors hanging out outside in the gas-lit cobbles of dark old fashioned Wharf Street. The downstairs bar (Wharf Street level) is small and ‘gritty’, and upstairs (Fore St level) is noisier, larger, brighter, and full of locals and visitors.

Some of the locals are part of the Mug Club; their numbered mugs hang from the ceiling of the bar, they pay $75 a year to join, and they receive cheap beer and special deals on Sundays and Tuesdays; the bar tender fishes the mugs down with a giant hook which was very entertaining to watch.Mugs! I ordered a Gritty’s Pub Style Pale Ale which was light, hoppy and quite weak, and pintsandpubs had a Maine’s Best IPA which was darker, maltier and quite rich – both were decent beers. I liked Gritty’s, and loved atmospheric Wharf Street with its gas lamps.

Outside Gritty's, Wharf St

Wharf St

Boston

Downtown

StoddardsStoddard’s

The first pub we visited upon arrival in Boston, our final city, was Stoddard’s ‘Fine Food and Ale’. This was quite an elegant bar, with plenty of dark polished wood and chandeliers, and about 20 shiny taps along the bar which we couldn’t get to due to the crowds. There were many diners and not much room to sit though, so we perched on a bench near the door and ordered a bottle of Maine Beer Co Lunch, which pintsandpubs had been searching for since NYC. It was filled with mellow hops, maybe not quite as fresh as the MO and Peeper – Maine beers have to be drunk within days or at the most a couple of weeks after they are brewed to taste them at their best – but it was still a great choice.

Beacon Hill

Tip Tap Room

Tip Tap - Ballast Point Sculpin This bar on Cambridge Road, on the edge of pretty Beacon Hill with its gas lamps and cobbled streets, was a pleasant surprise, with about 36 taps stretching around the long sprawling bar. It was heaving with diners and drinkers, and we managed to grab the two last seats at the stainless steel bar (the hostess sitting diners said it was busy because it was ‘hump’ day – Wednesday, when everyone comes out as its midweek –  we’d never heard of this before in the UK!). Beer list

I had a lovely Ballast Point Sculpin, a very nice 7%  IPA that I’d last enjoyed at the GBBF in August. Pintsandpubs had a massively hoppy Port Brewing Wipeout IPA, 7%, which he raved about, and we then had a Founders Double Trouble, 9.4%, which although was rich and resinous it didn’t quite match up to the well crafted Wipeout;  the strong alcohol flavours were not very well disguised.

The Sevens Ale House

Sevens Ale HouseOutside SevensThis pub on Charles St, Beacon Hill, is a locals pub – not your touristy pub like some others in town. It’s long and narrow, quite dark, full of old faded wood, sports photos, breweriana, and has locals propping up the bar drinking beer or munching on food and watching sport on TV. I ordered the house beer Sevens Dark Ale, which was actually Dark Munich brewed by Harpoon – a strong dark beer, similar to McSorley’s dark, but a fair bit stronger. Harpoon IPA was also on, as was Sam Adams Boston Lager.

Cambridge

Cambridge Brewing Company, Cambridge

CBC This brewery-restaurant is located across the river from Boston in Cambridge on Kendall Square , just a few subway stops from the centre of Boston on the red line. We went there to meet some friends, and found them at the back of the light and airy pub next to some bags of grain and close to some large shiny brewing vessels.

I had a Tall Tale Pale Ale, a pleasant beer with Cascade and Centennial hops, followed by a See You Next Tuesday, which although billed as a pale-amber beer was more of a dark bitter to me. CBC beer listA bit too spicy and malty and not as hoppy as I would’ve liked; I couldn’t really taste all the citrus hops. I preferred pintsandpubs Mind Left Body, a wonderfully hoppy bitter with a slightly sour finish. The food was great, service was good, the atmosphere was pleasant, and all in all it was a lovely evening with friends in the ‘other’ Cambridge.

Back Bay

The Salty Pig

Salty PigOpposite the Back Bay station and the entrance to Copley Square mall, the Salty Pig is apparently a good place to eat meat (which we don’t) but it also happens to have a good beer selection.  I fancied something relatively weak as a nightcap after our evening out in Cambridge, so I went for a 21st Amendment Bitter American at 4.4% which was light with lots of lemon hops. Salty Pig beersPintsandpubs had a Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA, 7%, which he loved, resinously hoppy – a great beer. Sport was showing on TVs behind the bar again, of course, and people around us were enjoying munching on ‘salty pig parts’. All in all, it was a decent place with a good atmosphere and close to where we were staying, so a nice short walk back.

Allston

Sunset Grill and Tap

Sunset Grill and TapThe Sunset Grill and Tap is one of those pubs that you have to go to when in Boston, and we did save the best til last; this was probably my favourite bar in the city. Although not in central Boston, it is worth the trek out to trendy Allston, although it took the longest time to get there – our own fault, we decided to head there during rush hour. Crowds were gathered in the underground T stations waiting for green line trains which were all clustered together waiting for the trains in front to move forwards. It must’ve took an hour to get from central Boston (Park St) to Packard’s Corner in Allston, which would have taken half the time if we’d travelled off peak. Anyway, back to the pub.

Outside SunsetThe exterior is painted in bright colours depicting a bar scene. The inside is cavernous and colourful with lots of neon lights and pictures, and there are over 100 beers on tap, and hundreds of bottles.

BeersThe beer menu is several pages long. You can choose a set menu of flights of beer, create your own flights, or just order a pint. We ordered lots of food (nachos, fries, burgers) and pintsandpubs ordered his favourite, Maine Peeper,  and I went for a delicious Green Flash West Coast IPA, as gorgeous and as resinously hoppy as ever. Sunset beers

Other beers included the beautifully fresh Ithaca Flower Power, my beer of the trip, Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp which had live yeast and it showed – far too yeasty for me – Green Flash Symposium Ale, 7%, which had an unusual hop grassy flavour but was tasty, Smuttynose Rhye IPA which was OK with slightly spicy notes but not quite as lip-smacking as the rest, and Green Flash Le Freak, a lovely strong Belgian style ale. A great place to spend our last evening in Boston.

So that was the end of our trip. We managed to bring some beers back with us, one of them being my favourite, Ithaca Flower Power, as well as some Maine beers. Unfortunately, these are all gone now, so I guess we need to start planning another trip soon. Better start saving up…

Swan Boats, Boston

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