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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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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The Pint Shop and the Blue Moon – two new Cambridge pubs!

This has been a pretty exciting few days for Cambridge – two new pubs have opened a mere day apart, and they both sell decent beer. Hurrah!

 First of all, the brand new Pint Shop opened its doors on Monday 4th November,  and then the Blue Moon on Norfolk Street (formerly the Man on the Moon) had its opening night on Tuesday 5th November – just in time to welcome in the crowds after the fireworks.

The Pint Shop, Peas Hill

Cask 'snug' barPint Shop (opposite Jamie’s Italian and a few doors away from the Corn Exchange) is an exciting addition to the Cambridge pub scene. Specialising in quality beer, with 10 beers on keg and 6 on cask from some of the most exciting breweries in the country and beyond, it also sells locally-produced food and about 45 gins; it’s slogan is Meat, Bread, Beer. As I am a veggie I’ve sampled the last two, which are great, and I understand the first one is pretty good too – if you eat meat.

Keg barWe went to the pre-launch party on the previous Thursday (Halloween) to see the place in all its splendour after massive renovation work to convert it from office to pub. They’ve done a fine job in creating a great space with nice touches; there’s a light and spacious bar area with giant beer chalkboard, a ‘snug’ style small cask beer bar, a surprise terrace garden out the back (I can’t wait for summer already) two sleek and simple, cosy and candlelit dining rooms (separate to the main bars) and lots of seating in every available nook and cranny. There are bar snacks such as chips and curry sauce and fennel pork scratchings, and their specially-baked bread and butter is wonderful (now I don’t usually enthuse about bread, but this one is g-o-o-d – and a perfect beer soaker-upper!)

There were about 6 of the potential 16 beers available at the pre-launch event including the light and easy-drinking Kernel Table Beer and the much stronger but fantastic Rogue Dead Guy Pale Ale from Oregon, USA. There was also Adnams Dry Hop Lager on keg, and their Old Ale on cask (which seemed to be going down very well). The house gin is Adnams Copper House gin, and was served with juniper berries and was very tasty.

Beer board in Pint ShopThe opening night saw all 16 beers on, and on Tuesday night, before the fireworks, I had a delightful De Molen Vuur & Vlam on keg, one of my favourites from the Netherlands, and a very tasty Buxton SPA on cask – hoppy, sweet, and moreishly delicious.

The staff have all been well trained, having attended several training sessions including beer tasting run by Mark Dredge (which we walked in on) as well as gin and wine tasting. It’s a hard life!

It’s great to see this former office building converted into a pub – we were lucky enough to be shown around by Rich and Benny before the renovation work started where they were enthusiastically explaining their vision and showing us the plans, so it’s wonderful to see it all come together so well. Good luck guys, it’s what Cambridge has been waiting for…

The Blue Moon, Norfolk Street

The Blue Moon is the new baby of Jethro and Terry from the Cambridge Blue and The Three Horseshoes, Stapleford. This former dive music venue/bar had squatters in between the last owners leaving and Jethro and Terry moving in, which was a shame for them when they just wanted to get stuck into the renovation, but it finally all came together and they were in there for a good few weeks stripping the front bar and making it their own. When we went in on Tuesday we were pleasantly surprised; what was once quite a run-down bar was much fresher feeling, with old sepia images of old Cambridge pubs on the walls, candles on every table, and  music playing on the stereo in the background. It’s simple and still only half-finished, but they’ve made a huge difference already.

Blue Moon - Redwell Pale AleThe line of 10 keg beers is the central focus on the bar, and a few cask ales also feature including old favourites Oakham Citra and Inferno. I had a Redwell Pale Ale on keg, an easy drinking beer with tropical hop flavours. The Harbour IPA at 6% was great; pretty potent and full-flavoured. Fruli strawberry beer was also on tap as well as Köstritzer, Duvel, and Brooklyn Lager.  So plenty to try.

Jethro and Terri’s empire keeps growing and they work hard, so I wish them the best of luck with their three pubs. I understand the beer selection is going to get very exciting at the Blue Moon so I am looking forward to that – watch this space!

It’s fantastic in this economic climate to see two new pubs springing up in the space of two days in Cambridge – one brand new one, and one much improved. Could this be the sign of things to come? Wishful thinking perhaps, but now I’m just happy that the choice of pubs in this city where you can find good beer has suddenly increased. Cheers to that!

Beer and Bars in Amsterdam

Beer in Amsterdam

We decided to take a relaxing weekend break in Amsterdam to stroll around the canals, sit in cafes, and drink Dutch beer. And when I say Dutch beer, I don’t mean Heineken.

There are lots of great beer bars and beer-cafes in the capital of the Netherlands, with new ones popping up all the time or reinventing themselves. As well as the big names like Amstel, you can find micro-brewed Dutch beer, as well as bars that serve American beer, British ales and Belgian beer– a bit of everything really. So we decided to track down as many as time allowed.

The first pub we visited was In de Wildeman in the city centre, in the middle of a maze of narrow crowded streets off the main drag of Niewezidjes Voorburgwal. The pub was located on a busy strip with a coffee shop opposite and a Wok to Walk around the corner (a favourite place for noodles when in Amsterdam – yum). It was a Saturday night and the pub was pretty busy. We sat in the main bar and took in our surroundings.

It’s an attractive building with a tiled floor, lots of dark wood, and large windows. There are three areas in the pub –the main bar where we were sitting (the best spot), a raised level decorated with empty barrels, and a pretty, quieter bar around the other side. There were some casks on top of the bar serving Dutch real ale, as well as 18 taps and 250 bottles from the UK, US, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. A board above the door displayed a long list of beers available. It seemed that most beers were over 5% and were priced from €3.20 for 25cl, quite expensive compared to prices I’m used to in the UK (where presently it’s around £1.70/80 for a half pint in Cambridge). The Dutch don’t tend to drink beer in pint glasses – it’s generally the ‘vaasje’ size glass, the 25cl, which suits me fine. It’s only really tourists that drink pints.

I opted for a Ramses IBIS on draft at 5.3%, a Belgian style wheat beer – it wasn’t too bad, quite tasty with hints of peach. Not really one of my favourite styles though. @pintsandpubs had a Ramses Hop on cask at 6.6%, which I thought was much nicer – apparently pacific gem hops in there and peachy flavours but with an earthy element. We also tried a De Prael Doe Maar Hop on cask at 7%, which I really didn’t like. This amber scotch ale had a lovely hoppy aroma, but it’s a shame that this didn’t follow through with the flavour. It was very yeasty, some caramel, but a very odd element that I couldn’t put my finger on – it was like fresh hops gone sour. Not one for me. In fact, neither of us could finish it.

We moved out of the narrow streets to emerge back onto the main tram thoroughfare of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal to seek out the Beer Temple. This is the only American beer bar in the city and has 30 beers on draft (not all of which are American) and over 60 US beers in bottles. The building was  quite small, long, narrow, modern, and dimly lit, which is always nice. The beers were chalked onto a board above the bar, and the barman patiently waited while I told him that ‘we might be some time’. I tried a few beers, on a quest for something nice and hoppy, and one that he offered me turned out to be BrewDog’s 5am Saint, which I wasn’t going to turn down, but I explained that I wanted to try something different. There were beers from Flying Dog, Left Hand and Mikkeler, and they were selling beers in all sizes, from 15cl for barley wines such as Southern Tier’s Back Burner (€3.50) to 42 cl for Bridge Road’s Bling IPA at 5.8% (€9). Prices started at €3.50 for 25 cl of Leffe Blonde.

I ended up with a non-American beer after all that, a Weihenstephaner Pale Ale at 5.5%, which was OK, tasted of bananas, nothing particularly special. @pintsandpubs had a Mikkeller Sort Gul at 7.5%, an absolutely gorgeous black IPA. I have a bit of an internal battle with black IPAs at times, but this one was just great – nicely balanced, rounded, beautiful roasted smoky flavours with lovely Citra flavours. I should’ve gone for that one.

Just around the corner from the Beer Temple is a bottle shop called De Bierkoning. It had a massive selection of Dutch beers, Belgian beers, beer from the UK (BrewDog, Crouch Vale, Fullers, even The Kernel), the US, and the rest of Europe. The Dutch and Belgian beer was nice and cheap, with De Molen ranging from just under €2 to €5 a bottle. But the Mikkeller beer was still expensive – is there anywhere where you can find it for a decent price? We picked up some De Molen and more Dutch beer to take back to the apartment. Another cheap place for bottled beer is the local supermarket – the Albert Heijn in the Jordaan was selling La Trappe, Westmalle and Duvel for next to nothing, with some beer less than a euro per bottle. Bargain.

The next day after a stroll around the Red Light District we tracked down the Brouwerij de Prael‘s ‘Proeflokaal‘, or tasting room, tucked away in a little run-down alleyway (Oudezijds Armsteeg) behind the brewery itself which is located one of the main Red Light canals, Oudezijds Voorburgwal (at least it’s one of the main RL canals at the moment but things may change very soon around there – but that’s another story). This modern, light and airy tasting room has lots  of exposed brickwork and tiles, dark wooden floors, 3 very different feeling levels, a tiled bar and shiny stainless steel taps. Some of the beers I wanted to try weren’t on, such as the Zwarte Riek, a milk stout, and the Nick 7 Simon IPA, but after several tasters from the very nice lady behind the bar I ended up with a Mary at 9.7%, a barley wine with strong orange and citrus flavours with a hint of coriander. It was beautiful, rich and warming. @pintsandpubs had a Johnny, a refreshing kolsch at 5.7%, a cloudy blonde beer with some spice, peach and lemon flavours, and quite yeasty. A nice amount of carbonation too. We sat in the comfy armchairs on the middle level with a candle on the table, overlooking the main bar and another bar at the back.  A nice afternoon stop-off.

That evening we headed to Arendsnest, a bar that sells only Dutch beer and run by Peter van de Arend who set up the Beer Temple. This lovely bar, with its dark polished wood, sparkling glassware, smartly-dressed staff and cosy atmosphere, is situated on a quiet section of one of the lovely stately canals, Herengracht – blink and you’ll walk straight past the bar.  There are over 30 taps and over 120 bottles to choose from. I perused the chalkboard, offering beers from the likes of De Molen, Jopen, T’Ij and Texels, and went for a Kompaan 20, a brewery from the Hague, at 5.2%. This beer was pleasant enough, inoffensive, nothing special – just light and sweet with banana flavours. I decided at this point that this was it for me with the plain blonde beers – I was getting a bit fed up with them. I tried a Texels Bock at 6.5 which others in the bar were drinking. It was dark amber and spicy but too sweet, so I ended up with a De 7 Deugden Bock + Spring, a deep dark bock with lots of spicy notes, a big foamy head, smooth and moreish.  This was more like it. @pintsandpubs had a De Molen Engels, 4.5% – this amber beer from this fantastic brewery was as good as usual, with tropical hop flavours bursting out of the glass. This was followed by a Snab Pale Ale at 6.2%, with rich malt flavours, US hops and bitter finish. What a great bar.

We’d walked past De Bekeerder Suster, a brewpub, the previous day, and although it was on my list of bars to visit it didn’t entice us in and we headed elsewhere. However, the next day was cold, the two pubs we wanted to go to were closed, and we just so happened to end up back in that area near the Kloveniersburgwal canal. We were told this bar opened at 3, so we ended up back there at 2 minutes past. As well as selling beers from their own brewery such as Blonde Ros, White Ros and Manke Monk (a great sounding tripel) there were also beers from Heineken, Palm, La Chouffe, as well as lots of bottled Belgian beers and a handful from the US and Europe. We wanted to try one of their brews, so we both chose the beer of the month, Bock Ros, a lovely deep ruby bock beer at 6.5%, only available in autumn. This was a beautiful spicy beer, with caramel flavours, an aroma of demerera sugar, very smooth and quite sweet.

The building was lovely too, with the walls painted with artwork, dark brown wood, dim lighting, art deco lamps, glowing candles on every table (I like that about Amsterdam, candles lit even in the middle of the day) and shiny copper brewing vessels at the back of the pub, overlooked by a portrait of the Bekeerde Suster, or the Converted Sister. It just goes to show that appearances can be deceiving, as from the outside this place just looked like a regular cafe.

That evening on our way to eat in the Jordaan we stopped off on Prinsengracht at Het Bruine Paard, or brown horse. It was teeming with locals and we could hardly get to the bar – but we managed to order an Amstel Bock at 7% for about €4 each and took our drinks outside, overlooking the lovely canal. It was OK, not as good as the other bocks I had tried, and although it was creamy and sugary with lots of caramel flavours, it was slightly dull. Never mind. The setting was nice and it was good to see a bustling locals bar.

We had to fly home the following day, but before heading to the airport we found ourselves close to In de Wildeman again so thought it would be rude not to at least pop in for a quick drink. It was empty, completely different to our Saturday night there, and the casks had gone from on top of the bar. As soon as I spotted De Molen Vuur & Vlaam, 6.2%, on the board nothing else mattered – this is one of my favourite beers from this brewery, and I had only tried it from the bottle, never on draft – if there was one beer I hoped I’d find in Amsterdam, it was this one. What a find. It was full of big citrus hop flavours, yet mellow at the same time. A well-rounded, bitter-sweet beer which went down far too easily – so much so that another one was in order. @pintsandpubs had the Ayinger Celebrator at 6.7%, a dark, rich and roasted malt beer, with silky caramel  liquorice flavours. But nothing could entice me away from the Vuur & Vlaam. A great way to finish off our trip.

So that was it, off home, but we unfortunately couldn’t take any beers back with us as we had hand luggage only – come on airlines, change the carry-on liquid allowance! It’s good to know that there are lots of great bars with decent beer worth visiting in Amsterdam – I’m missing them already…

The Barge Inn, Honeystreet – Croppie HQ

After having just returned from a trip to Wiltshire and Somerset where we visited lots of great pubs I thought I’d write about one of them – the Barge Inn in Honeystreet.

This pub, located in the magical landscape of the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire, is a pub like no other. If you approach from the north you drive through a prehistoric landscape of burial mounds and ancient settlements. You then reach the cusp of a hill and start descending; you might be lucky enough to spot a crop circle or two as this area seems to attract them – maybe something to do with being halfway between Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle.  Just outside the village of Alton Barnes you’ll spot a sign for the Barge Inn. Once you take the turn you’ll feel you have taken the wrong road as you drive hesitantly through a sawmill and are surrounded by planks of wood – how can there be a pub round here? But then as you are just about to turn back, you come across it – the Barge Inn, a 200-year old inn located right next to the Kennet and Avon Canal, overlooking the White Horse of Alton Barnes carved into the hillside.

The newly refurbished pub, CAMRA local ‘Pub of the Year’ 2012, is now run by the Barge Inn Community Group after being revamped with a Big Lottery Fund Grant and featured on BBC Village SOS. But this is a pub with a difference. It’s known as Crop Circle Central, or Croppie HQ. Everything looks perfectly normal from the outside – nice grassy canal-side beer garden with a great view of the white horse, large camping area out the back, big barn being built on the side to house a new arts space – but once you step inside and walk around the bar you will spot the crop circle room. This room’s walls are covered with photos of crop circles discovered in the surrounding area –and there are a lot of them. The crop circle images vary from simple plain circles to intricate geometric patterns  that would challenge even the most experienced mathematician – every shape and size of circle is displayed in this room, with dates when the photos were taken. I actually remember one crop circle appearing in a field next to the campsite years ago, and everyone flocking over to see it to take photos.

The ceiling in this room features a beautiful mural of the surrounding mystical landscape painted by artist Vince Palmer, showing Silbury Hill, Avebury, Stonehenge, Barbury Castle,  the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water – and of course, crop circles. The mural was painted in 1997, but was updated when the renovation work took place and one of the walls was taken out (the back bar used to be a separate room, but is now more open plan). The ceiling looks as great as it ever did, with new little touches added, such as a constellation above Silbury Hill and the odd UFO.

The pub as a whole looks a lot smarter since the renovation and is still very welcoming. This is the place to come if you are a crop circle aficionado, whether you just see the circles as great works of art, or consider them to be coded messages from other worlds. Whatever you believe, you’re sure to experience the special energy that hangs around this place.

The beer on tap is brewed by Honeystreet Ales. Beers available were Croppie, 1810 (the year when the first pint was served) and Roswell. They’ve also brewed a green beer called Alien Abduction, but that was a limited edition beer so it wasn’t available.

Croppie Ale

I chose a Croppie, ordered some chunky chips, and sat out in the garden, staring across at the white horse on the facing hill and watched a canal boat mooring. The Croppie was really tasty, quite a malty drink with some hop and sweet caramel flavours. @pintsandpubs ordered a Roswell. And upon one sip of his Roswell I went straight in and ordered myself one. What a beer. It tasted magical – that was the word I kept repeating, sheer magic in a glass. Sherbet, grass, lemon, honey, herbs, and resins – it conjured up everything magical about the mystical landscape, crop circles, UFOs, the white horse… I could’ve drunk it all day. Seriously.

Kennet and Avon Canal

I went in to investigate and to ask whether they bottled Roswell or Croppie. Alas, no. But I did discover after some digging that Honeystreet Ales are actually brewed by the Danish Stonehenge Ales brewer and MD, Stig Anker Andresen, and after having tried more Stonehenge ales in Marlborough that evening (Danish Dynamite) I discovered that they are one of my new favourite breweries. Now I just need to track down some of their bottles. Should’ve done that when I was in Wiltshire really, would’ve made things much easier.

White Horse

For a pub with a difference then track down the Barge Inn if you are in Wiltshire, and enjoy a pint of Roswell for me whilst admiring the white horse from a canal-side table in the beer garden. Oh, and watch out for those little green men…

Published in: on September 21, 2012 at 4:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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More Norfolk Pubs

Last year I wrote a post about visiting some of the many Norfolk pubs. Well, I have been back to Norfolk, and surprise, surprise, I visited more pubs. Some were the same old favourites like the Fat Cat, the Plough and the Brick Kilns, but many were different. Here are some of the new pubs I visited.

The Murderers / Gardeners Arms, Norwich

The Murderers / Gardeners Arms

The Murderers / Gardeners Arms

This pub which encompasses two adjacent buildings and has two names was holding a beer festival when we visited during the City of Ale festival, a 10-day event that many Norwich pubs participated in to showcase the wonderful ale brewed in the area. This lovely olde-worlde bustling pub is full of nooks and crannies and I love it – I could spend ages gazing at the little higgledy-piggeldy snugs and  the crooked beamed ceilings. There was a large choice of beer on offer – I went for a Tipples Lady Evelyn, which was refreshingly hoppy with quite an unusual flavour, and @pintsandpubs had a Golden Triangle Pale Ale with gorgeous Cascade and Summit hops – very Oakham Citra-esque. We then shared some Green Jack Ripper upon realising it was 8.5% – very resinous, tasty but dangerous!

Beer list

Beer list

The White Lion, Norwich

White Lion Norwich

White Lion Norwich, courtesy of http://www.individualpubs.co.uk

A visit to this pub was recommended by Rob, manager of the Elm Tree, Cambridge, and upon entering I realised I knew Ben, the manager. Nice surprise. He runs this Milton pub with Becky, and they have done a great job turning this unassuming little boozer just outside the city centre into a really cosy space with games room and lounge area and friendly locals –  plus great beer and cider. It recently won the CAMRA’s East Anglia Regional Cider Pub of The Year 2012. Lots of Milton beers were on tap, however, I enjoyed a lovely Brewshed Junga from this great brewery in Bury St Edmunds, an easy drinking bitter brewed with the Polish hop Junga. This pub is definitely worth a visit.

The Plasterers Arms, Norwich

Plasterers Bar

Plasterers Bar

This pub is a short stroll from the city centre down a little side street. Once inside it’s very bright, nicely decorated, and loads of beers on tap. The young managers are really friendly and don’t mind you sampling tasters. I went for a Hardknott Katalyst, but to be honest this wasn’t to my taste – flavours of asparagus and celery, both of which I dislike. So I swapped it for a Golden Triangle City Gold, which was refreshing and light and hoppy with a smokiness which reminded me of Fat Cat Bitter, one of my favourites. Nice pub and worth a stroll out to.

Plasterers Beer list

Plasterers Beer list

The Coach and Horses, Norwich

Coach and Horses

Coach and Horses

This is the home of the Chalk Hill Brewery, and I had a pleasant Chalk Hill Brewery Tap Bitter at only 3.6% – this also reminded me a lot of Fat Cat Bitter, with its smoky flavours. They brew 5 other beers, including a 5% mild. The pub itself is a lively young feeling sort of establishment, with its pale wood and red walls and TV screens to watch the sport. I found the metal pump clips really difficult to read until I got really close to them  – or maybe that was just me after a few too many during the City of Ale events…

Fat Cat and Canary, Norwich

Fat Cat and Canary Bar

Fat Cat and Canary Bar

Fat Cat and Canary

Fat Cat and Canary

The latest offering from the Fat Cat group is their third pub in Norwich – just slightly outside the city centre (as they all are) at Thorpe St Andrew – an easy bus ride from the city (we got the 123). It’s only been open for a few weeks (at the time of writing), and they have done a fantastic job turning the former Mustard Pot pub into an almost exact replica of the Fat Cat on West End Street, with the same black and white tiled floor, red walls, breweriana everywhere and lots of Fat Cat beers and guests on tap. And it was busy, just like the others. I went for a Crouch Vale Yakima Gold, beautiful US hop flavours (I had already had some Fat Cat beers in the other Fat Cat pub, the Bitter and Cougar being some of my favourites). I love this mini chain, and it appears that everyone else does too.

The Nelson Head, Horsey

Nelson Head

Nelson Head

The bar

The bar

This little pub is located on a small no-through-road near Horsey Wind Pump, and is my sort of pub. Inside its one large room, with long tables on the left and a dining area to the right, plus a tucked away cute dining room. There were fairy lights around the fireplace, and the open fire was roaring and the smell of smoke was beautiful (it was cold outside despite the fact it was June).  I particularly loved the beer garden – in a field opposite, through a bunting-covered archway (we visited during the Jubilee celebrations). Fantastic views. I had a Woodfordes Wherry, and @pintsandpubs had a Nelsons Revenge. it was very nice indeed. One to return to.

To the beer garden

To the beer garden

The Kings Head, Coltishall

The Kings Head

The Kings Head

Tipples Redhead

Tipples Redhead

This pub is next to the riverside pub The Rising Sun, but is very different in character. It’s a lovely dark wood building, but the tables are laid out neatly for diners and there was a firm focus on food –  it makes you feel like you had to stand at the bar, which was certainly the busiest area with locals chatting and laughing. However, we took a seat at one of the set-out tables, and after the waitress asked us if we were dining and we said no she was kind enough to clear it for us. We both enjoyed a wonderful Tipples Redhead – lovely spicy berry flavours.

Litchfield Arms, Yarmouth

The Litchfield Arms

The Litchfield Arms

We popped to this backstreet boozer in Southtown (far from the tourist area) as @pintsandpubs went to college just down the road. It’s not a pub that’s in the good beer guide, or any beer guide for that matter – it’s just a simple little corner pub with small windows you can’t really look into, and it looks slightly daunting to be honest. But once inside it was very nice. The barmaid (or possibly landlady) was very friendly, there were children inside as a Jubilee disco type thing was going on in the corner with a DJ playing 80s tunes next to a dancing area (such as Eddy Grant’s ♪ I don’t wanna dance ♪, and nobody was, at least at that point). We had some GK IPA as that was the only ale available, but it was on a ‘smooth or flat’ pump which the barmaid quite liked, and I have to say it may be one of the tastiest IPAs I have ever had the pleasure in drinking (flat). A pleasant surprise.

The Maltsters, Ranworth

The Maltsters

The Maltsters

The location of this pub is wonderful – opposite Malthouse Broad. I can just imagine going past in my boat, spotting this pub, and not wanting to travel any further. It’s a large building with a pleasant seating area outside, with an outdoor pool table under its own gazebo. I enjoyed a lovely home-made veggie lasagne inside next to one of the porthole round windows in the right hand bar and drank a hoppy Crouch Vale Brewers Gold – very tasty and a friendly atmosphere. The left hand side of the large pub is more modern and is really a dining area – children were playing in this raised section. Really nice pub.

White Horse, Neatishead

The White Horse

The White Horse

WherryA traditional pub in this little village which probably hasn’t changed much over the years. There are a few stuffed birds dotted about, and the small bar areas feel quite bare and old fashioned (in a good way). There were a few locals in the pub, chatting and reading their papers, and I enjoyed a Wherry and a bag of crisps whilst we talked to them. It feels like this is a proper pub that has stood the test of time, and is now the only remaining pub in this pretty village.

The Old Hall, Sea Palling

The Old Hall

The Old Hall

Inside the Old Hall

Inside the Old Hall

We have driven past this large old pub several times but never stopped, so this time we thought we’d pop in for a half. It used to be a farm house but has only been a pub for about 50 years. The inside area is divided up into a couple of bars and a dining area. We sat at the bar and chatted to the landlord who told us about the little blind barking dog that one of the locals had bought in and had sat upon a bar stool – don’t get too close as he bites! he said. He also said the pub was haunted. The pub is full of beams, fairy lights, and many chalkboards with dining options for that evening. I had an Adnams Ghost Ship (in keeping with the haunted pub theme I have eerily just realised), a light and tasty easy drinking session beer from this Suffolk brewery. I’m glad we dropped in at last.

The New Inn, Rockland St Mary

The New Inn

The New Inn

Another pub in a lovely location, opposite the river at Rockland St Mary. It’s light and airy inside with stripped wooden floor. I chose an Adnams Ghost Ship again and sat outside opposite the river watching a little girl rowing her dog along the river in a little dinghy, her dad keeping a close eye on her from his large boat. Great spot and nice looking pub.

The Ship, Mundesley

The Ship

The Ship

Ship beer garden

Ship beer garden

This little seaside resort has a pub in a wonderful spot, on the cliffs looking down on the beach and sea from its large grassy beer garden. Inside it’s a traditional pub with a dining area and conservatory, and the food was reasonably priced. I had a Wherry and @pintsandpubs had a Nelsons Revenge (nice and fruity and full flavoured) and we took them outside to take advantage of the great views. It was a bit breezy, but that didn’t put us off – it’s not often you get a view like that from a beer garden.

Uncle Stuart’s Brewery, Wroxham Barns

Uncle Stuart's Beers

Uncle Stuart’s Beers

The brewery

The brewery

This isn’t a pub as such, but the Wroxham Barns craft centre has its own little brewery and bar called Uncle Stuart’s. There is a bottle shop selling their beers, plus a little bar, brewery room and outdoor courtyard where you can enjoy the beer. On tap there were three beers: Winter Ale, Queen’s English IPA and Wroxham Barns Bitter which I went for – easy drinking with caramel flavours, very nice. I had a sample of the IPA which was also very good, resinous smoky flavours. A cute little place.

The shop

The shop

The Gunton Arms, Thorpe Market

Gunton Arms lounge

Gunton Arms lounge

The Gunton Arms

The Gunton Arms

The last pub we visited on this trip, and what a great one it was. The approach is down a driveway to the Gunton Hall estate, a thousand acre deer park which is stunning in itself – especially when you see the massive beer garden with views of the park and herds of deer, and its own outdoor bar and BBQ area. Inside is equally as stunning, with a traditional lounge area with comfy sofas, a dark wood bar area with pool table, and a classy restaurant with open fire and a chef who cooks in front of the diners. I enjoyed a Green Jack Orange Wheat Beer, a hoppy and spicy beer brewed with Citra hops with subtle hints of orange and marmalade. It was served in a traditional dimpled tankard, and tasted all the better for it. A wonderful find, and I can’t wait to go back when its warm enough to sit outside and soak up the views (come on British summer, it’s mid-June – time to start warming up now!)

Beer garden

Beer garden

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