Friday, 26 July 2013

Review of Marks & Spencer regional ales

My beer cupboard was empty and with no local bottle shop I decided to give the Marks and Spencer range of bottled beers a try.  It is a few years I think since M&S began selling their own branded range of beers that have been brewed by regional breweries from all over the country.  This range has grown substantially since the original launch which can only mean they have proved popular.  My review consists of a selection of three IPAs and three golden ales.  

1.  Citra IPA 4.9% ABV (brewed by Oakham Ales)  

Oakham Ales Citra is a fantastic beer.  The cask version is a 4.2% ABV brew and in bottles it is slightly stronger at 4.6% ABV.  This version produced for M&S is stronger still at 4.9% ABV but I was expecting it to be very similar to their own branded version.  I wasn't disappointed.  The unbeatable citra taste was prevalent throughout but there was no harsh bitterness with it which my wife was delighted about.  She is not a fan of the hoppy citra taste normally but she always gives them a try and her comment 'this is the best Citra I've tasted' is high praise indeed.  It is quite some time since I've tried the Oakham version, something I must put right soon, but I found this beer as good as the original.  A little more rounded perhaps and the extra strength is noticeable.  I expected to award this beer 10/10 and indeed I do.  Top marks.

2.  Southwold Summer IPA 6.8% ABV (brewed by Adnams)  

I'm not sure what I was expecting with this beer.  I love the malty taste of Adnams beers so would this be something hoppier?  It had a deep golden colour and a strong fruity aroma.  It had quite a rich taste with lots of complex sweet fruits coming through.  It reminded me a little of the Youngs Special London Ale you can get in bottles (6.4% ABV) and which I love.  I'm not quite sure about this being the perfect Summer drink.  I think it would be ideal in the Autumn to be honest when you have a need for something a bit stronger to lead you into the dark Winter months.  It is certainly an interesting beer and one I would like to drink more of (as with all Adnams beers!!).  Score 8/10. 

3.  Staffordshire IPA 5.5% ABV (brewed by Marstons)  

Oh dear.  This is not good at all.  One reason I like to give my wife a taste of all my bottled beers is because she has no preconceptions about them.  She has a taste for beer, especially the stronger, darker and maltier ones.  However, whereas I may have some expectation of whether I might like a beer by either the style of beer or by who brews it, Carolyn will not.  This is partly because I don't tell her what it is until after she has tried it and also because the name of the brewery will probably mean nothing to her.  When I handed this beer to her she just went 'Urgh that's tasteless'.  Spot on. Actually there was some fruitiness to it and a somewhat harsh bitter aftertaste once you found your way down the glass a little but none of it was pleasant.  I cannot believe this is 5.5% ABV.  Very disappointing and a score of 3/10.  

4.  Sovereign Golden Ale 5.0% ABV (brewed by Elgoods)  

This beer is very interesting.  It is a single hopped variety and I must confess to not knowing too much about the Sovereign hop.  I have discovered that it is British and was released as recently as 2006.  The beer has a distinctive fruity aroma which carries into the taste but there are also floral and earthy notes in there too with some sourness.  My wife liked it and we both agreed it had some gooseberry notes giving the tart tang to it.  Elgoods beers rarely let me down and this is a definite hit and I give it a rating of 8/10.      

5.  Sussex Golden Ale 3.8% ABV (brewed by Hepworths)  

Hepworths of Horsham began brewing in 2000 following the demise of King & Barnes.  Andy Hepworth was the former K&B head brewer and has continued brewing in the town with great success.  This particular beer is described as a traditional Sussex bitter brewed with local barley and hops.  It is certainly a lovely golden colour with a nice somewhat biscuity aroma.  The initial taste is quite mellow with some floral notes.  The bitterness is quite restrained and the finish is actually a little fruity.  King & Barnes Old and Festive were both particular favourites of mine but their Sussex Bitter was quite bland.  This is better and quite drinkable.  Score 6/10.       

6.  Brewers Gold 4.0% ABV (brewed by Crouch Vale)  

This is another single hopped beer using the classic German Hallertau hop. The beer has a lovely pale colour to it making it more blonde than golden.  The aroma is a little earthy and the initial taste is both earthy and lemony.  There is a little sweetness to it and very little bittereness.  The finish is quite dry and earthy.  There is absolutely nothing to dislike about it.  A refreshing beer perfect for Summer.  I give it a score of 7/10.      

This trip to M&S has unearthed some lovely beers.  They have certainly found a winning formula by approaching some of the best independent breweries from all over the UK to produce a range of regional beers.  Only one of these six beers disappointed and I would be happy to try the remaining five again.  If you are looking for an alternative to standard supermarket bottled ales they are certainly worth checking out and if, like me, you live in an area devoid of specialist bottle shops it is probably your best option at finding something a little bit different.

Happy drinking.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Lacons Ales flying high

When I began blogging a year ago the last thing I expected was to receive any free beer.  If my writings help anyone try a new beer or explore a new pub from my recommendations then that is reward enough.  However, when a package of beer gets delivered to your home it would be rude to send it back.  The only thing to do is to drink it and write about it.  

When I visited Norwich City of Ale back in May the festival coincided with the rebirth of the Lacons name.  Lacons was a victim of a time when Whitbreads were embarking on a destructive tour of Britain by buying up and closing many local breweries.  It is 45 years since the Lacons name disappeared but the name has now been revived and the falcon logo has been modernised and is flying once more.

I said a few kind words in my blog post of my visit to Norwich concerning the Lacons launch.  Both myself and my two friends thought their Encore (3.8% ABV) was the best beer of the weekend.  The Legacy (4.4% ABV) was enjoyed by one of my friends too so I was delighted to receive this package of the three Lacons beers to enjoy.  Time to panic though.  What if I don't like them?  A comment of 'thanks for the beers you sent but they were truly awful' would not go down too well.  Oh well.  Here goes.        

I tried them in the correct order (increasing strength) so the first one was the Encore.  This was the only beer of the weekend in Norwich that received my gold award.  The bottled version has the same delightful citrussy aroma.  The flavour of those citra hops are a joy which impart an immediate hit of grapefruit.  It is soon balanced by a little lemon and some earthiness.  The cask version had a long dry finish but I found the bottled version to be more mellow and restrained.  A lovely refreshing beer.  Score 9/10.   

The Legacy (4.4% ABV) came next.  As you can see this is a much paler beer and the citrussy flavours are slightly different.  The grapefruit notes are replaced my a more lemony hit with hints of elderflower there too.  It has a more earthy taste to it which was extremely pleasant.  I found it to be a little drier in the finish than the Encore with less bitterness.  This would be an awesome cask beer and this bottled version gets a score of 8/10.    

The Affinity (4.8% ABV) is the one beer I was yet to try in the Lacons range.  The appearance is of a more traditional English bitter with a darker chestnut colour.  It is much more complex with little aroma.  The initial taste is of a richer fruit flavour with hints of mango and passion fruit.  There was a little spiciness which gave it an interesting twist.  It was very smooth with a fruity bitter finish.  My wife is not a fan of the modern citrussy beers and so this one was her favourite.  For me it receives the lowest score of 7/10 but this is simply down to personal taste.  It is still a lovely interesting beer.

So Lacons Ales of Great Yarmouth are flying high again and this falcon will hopefully continue to soar to great heights once more.  The three beers have a range of strengths but I would probably have found it difficult to determine these strengths from the taste.  With a blind tasting I would probably have guessed that all three were around the 4.2 - 4.4% ABV mark.  The Encore has a superb full flavour for a 3.8% beer whereas I found the Affinity to not quite offer the richness of a 4.8% beer.  For anyone visiting the Norfolk coast this Summer these are three beers you should hunt down and consume.  I will have to hope that they begin to make their way a great deal further south. 

Happy drinking.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Surrey/Hants Border CAMRA LocAle Summer Pub Trail 2013

The Hants/Surrey Borders CAMRA LocAle Pub trail is complete.  I began the trail back in July and the trail card is now full of stamps and has been sent off to claim my prize.  I'm looking forward to receiving my T-shirt.  Unfortunately I forgot to indicate the T-shirt size I required but hopefully they will realise there are no Western Sussex CAMRA members that would fit into a t-shirt that is anything less than XL.  Probably not strictly true but close enough.  

Across the 24 pubs I managed to find 23 different LocAles to drink with the Hogs Back TEA the only beer I had to have twice.  These 23 beers came from 14 different local breweries.  Six of these are based in Surrey, five in Hampshire, two in West Sussex and one in Berkshire.  Two of these beers won my gold medal award, three won my silver award and a further five picked up a bronze.   

Gold Medal winners

Tillingbourne The Source (Swan Inn, Chiddingfold) 
Langham Brewery Arapaho (Prince Arthur, Fleet)

Silver Medal winners

Surrey Hills Greensand IPA (White Hart, Tongham)
Surrey Hills Shere Drop (The Parrot Inn, Shalford)
Triple fff Moondance (White Lion, Aldershot)

Bronze Medal winners

Bowman Elderado (Prince of Wales, Farnborough)
Hogs Back TEA (Lord Nelson, Farnham)
Itchen Valley Hampshire Tigers (Jolly Sailor, Farnham)
West Berkshire Jethro's Wheat Aeld (Mr Bumble, Blackwater)
Triple fff Alton's Pride (The Tweseldown, Church Crookham)

Sadly there were quite a few pints that were not in such good condition.  I won't mention those again here but they are all documented below.  
The pub that takes my award as the best on the trail has to be the Jolly Sailor in Farnham.  This friendly local, slightly away from the bustling town centre, is a Greene King pub but it had a fantastic selection of four LocAles to choose from when I visited and the two I sampled were both in excellent condition.  There are many pubs I would happily visit again and only two or three I would avoid (well three actually if I'm being honest).  If you read through to the end I'm sure you will guess the ones I am referring to.         
Pub 24 - Jolly Farmer, Bramley

The end of the trail has arrived.  It is a short hop to the Jolly Farmer in Bramley as you head away from Guildford towards Horsham on the A281.  The floral display outside the Jolly Farmer was looking particularly resplendent and added to the fact it was an attractive building it made for a very welcoming sight.  Inside, the bar area was very rustic with seating areas off to both sides at the front.  The bar area was central and to the right of the bar the pub extended a long way to the back.  There are lots of beams and the ceilings are adorned with beer mats and pump clips.  It is a delightful village pub with everything you expect from such an establishment.       

The beer selection was good.  Two beers from the Cottage Brewery of Somerset sat alongside Youngs Bitter and a selection from Slaters of Staffordshire.  The single LocAle was WJ King's Horsham Best (3.8% ABV).  This is a very malty beer with quite a nutty character to it.  For some reason it was served at a very low temperature and it was coming to the end of the barrel which is the reason I would award it just 6/10.  This is a beer I enjoy though and it would normally get a higher score from me.   

Pub 23 - The Parrot Inn, Shalford

The final two pubs are very close to each other so I was able to knock them off together.  The first of these is The Parrot Inn located in Shalford, a village to the south-east of Guildford.  The pub looked a bit tatty from the outside and the building would not win any prizes for architectural beauty.  The frontage was a mass of white UPVC windows and the entrance to the side matched them perfectly.  There was a pleasant courtyard garden off to the left of the entrance and there were additional tables on the green outside.  

There were two distinct areas inside.  Near to the bar were a number of low tables with worn soft chunky chairs and two-seater sofas.  In the bright sunny area with views out of the delightful UPVC windows the layout was more formal for dining.  

The beer selection was quite uninspired with Brakspears, Doom Bar and London Pride alongside the single LocAle, Surrey Hills Shere Drop (4.2% ABV).  There was no complaint regarding the condition of the Shere Drop though.  It was in perfect condition.  It had a lovely clear light  brown colour and the initial taste was quite hoppy and spicy with a little fruitiness coming through.  This all gave way to a superb long dry bitter finish.  This beer was so close to perfection and I awarded it a 9/10.

The Parrot Inn could probably do with a little updating and some reconstruction but it was fairly popular and they serve an excellent pint so there are plenty of positives.         

Pub 22 - Herbert Wells, Woking

There is no picture of this pub because I made a very quick stop on my way home from Heathrow on Friday evening.  Also, there is no need to show a picture of this pub because it is a Wetherspoons so I'm sure you can picture it yourself.  

I wasn't really looking forward to having to enter the centre of Woking on a Friday night but fortunately I was able to park outside.  It wasn't as busy I expected and I got served immediately and while one guy poured my pint another fetched the stamp.  Who said it was difficult to get served in a Wetherspoons?    

As it was Friday 13th I appropriately chose a beer called Friday the 13th (4.3% ABV) brewed by Hogs Back.  The other LocAles came from Ascot Ales (Posh Pooch) and another from Hogs Back, the classic TEA.  I know nothing about the beer Friday the 13th as it isn't mentioned on their website but it had a nice malty base to it with plenty of caramel sweetness.  It was quite similar to TEA in many respects and I would give it a 7/10.  It was certainly easy to drink and in five minutes I was out of there and on my way home.    

Herbert Wells is an above average Wetherspoons pub but I was glad I could get this visit over and done with quickly as it isn't an easy place to get to from where I live.  I now have two pubs left to visit and the trail will be done and dusted.  

Pub 21 - The Merry Harriers, Hambledon

Switftly moving on from the Crossways Inn I made my way to The Merry Harriers.  This pub is about a mile off the A283 between Chiddingfold and Witley in the pretty village of Hambledon.    From the outside this pub looked like a classic village local.  Inside it is equally pleasing.  To the right there is a small dining area. The bar area is quite spacious with plenty of low beams and a beautiful and massive inglenook fireplace.  It has plenty of rustic charm and a row of handpumps featuring no less than five LocAles.  Two from Tillingbourne sat alongside Shere Drop from Surrey Hills, Pilgrims Progress and an offering from WJ King. This pub certainly improved my mood.  I was probably a little early as they were advertising a weekend beer festival in the vast garden at the back of the pub with 25 ales featured.  However, when you are driving and can only manage a pint the five LocAles were more than enough.

I desperately wanted a pint of the Tillingbourne Hop Troll IPA but I have not come across the Pilgrim Brewery on this trail so far.  Pilgrim have been brewing in Reigate since 1985 having moved from the nearby village of Woldingham.  I always enjoyed their beers when I tried them but it is many years since I last encountered them.  This therefore had to be my choice.  Pilgrim's Progress (4.0% ABV) is a lovely looking beer.  It has a lovely deep chestnut colour with a gentle malty aroma.  The initial taste is malty but there is a lovely sweet spiciness to it which gives way to a pleasing bitter finish.  Quite a complex beer and I awarded it an 8/10.            

The Merry Harriers is a pub well worth seeking out.  It is an authentic village local with no pretentiousness at all that welcomes drinkers and diners alike to enjoy their locally sourced ales and food.  This is indeed a very simple but effective selling point.    

Pub 20 - Crossways Inn, Churt

Back on the trail after a three week hiatus and I could not have chosen a worse pub.  The pub lies on the main road between Farnham and Hindhead and the building is far from inspiring  The original building is quite small and the bit to the side with a flat roof looks like an ill-conceived afterthought.  The bar is small and the decor is drab and dated.  The clientele is certainly mixed.  The age range was vast and the cheery barman was trying to bring life into the place.  Not sure this was possible with some of the locals but top marks for trying.  Yes I am probably being grumpy here but I'm writing this after I tasted the beer.

The only LocAle on offer was Bowman's Warbler (4.8% ABV).  It did not look particularly clear in the glass and it was too warm.  It had a sweet sickly taste to it that was quite unpleasant.  I decided to leave half of it and move on to the next pub.  Having enjoyed beers from Bowman before on this trail I can only assume the beer should not have tasted like this.  It was certainly hazy and warm so nowhere near how it should be.  It is even more disappointing when I discovered that this pub actually appears in the new Good Beer Guide.  This is one pub I will not visiting again though and I could only award the beer a score of 3/10.      

Pub 19 - Duke of Cambridge, Tilford

Tomorrow I start my holiday and my trail card is put away for a couple of weeks before I can visit the final five pubs.  Today my lunchtime drive took me to the immaculate village of Tilford that has everything you would expect from such a place.  Village cricket green.  Tick.  Green overlooked by pub. Tick. Village stores run by the community.  Tick.  Babbling brook crossed by an old bridge. Tick.  Famous resident. Tick (Lord Coe).

The Duke of Cambridge is sadly not the pub overlooking the village green. Leaving the village towards Hindhead the pub is about half a mile on your left.  It is an attractive looking beige building that will probably be difficult to keep clean due to it being so close to the road.  Entering into the car park you see the pub in all its glory.  Covered terrace, a further open terrace and masses of outside tables in a large family area too.  One of the best pub gardens I've come across and on a sunny day like today it is perfect.

The inside area has every table set for dining so there is no hiding what sort of clientele they are aiming for.  It has a single open plan area wrapping itself around a central bar.  I was visiting on a Tuesday lunchtime and many of the outside tables were taken up by people dining so I can only imagine the food is first class.  The beers available are from the Marstons stable.  A house beer (Summer Ale) brewed by Marstons, a Wychwood beer (Rascal) and Marstons Pedigree (currently unavailable) all sit alongside the one LocAle (Hogs Back T.E.A).  It is therefore the first time on this trail that I have to choose a pint I have previously encountered.

The beer was not in perfect condition.  It had a slight tang to it that comes when a beer is past its best.  I think I awarded this beer an 8/10 last time but today it would struggle to reach a 7. Disappointing.

I drive past the the Duke of Cambridge twice a day going to and from work and it was good to finally see inside.  It would not be a pub I would visit again unless I was eating as that is obviously where their strength lies.  However, on a perfect sunny day it is worth calling in to enjoy their garden.  

Pub 18 - White Lion, Aldershot

With my company wanting me to work from home after I return from my holiday I am trying to get as many pubs done as possible in the two days left before I go away.  Therefore, this was my first two-pub day as I visited this Aldershot pub on my way home.  The White Lion is a street corner local on the outskirts of town near the Blackwater Valley relief road.  With one pub planned for tomorrow lunchtime that will leave me with just five pubs to visit when I resume the trail at the end of August.  

The White Lion is a small traditional pub with a snug saloon bar (pictured) with a larger public bar.  It is one of two pubs owned by the local Alton brewery Triple fff.  The public bar has the usual accompaniments of fruit machines and TV as well as a jukebox which is a rarity these days.  The simple decor is enhanced by numerous pictures and models of scooters.  A very homely pub and highly recommended. 

The LocAle beer selection was from Triple fff of course but sadly the Citra Sonic (4.0% ABV) had all been consumed over the weekend so for the second time today I was left disappointed.  The Alton's Pride (3.8% ABV) is a lovely malty session bitter which I recently enjoyed so today I went for the amber coloured Moondance (4.2% ABV).  This is a fruitier and hoppier bitter with some sweet floral notes to it.  It is brewed with US Cascade hops and it has a superb long bitter aftertaste.  This beer won the Champion Beer of Britain in 2002 and it is a lovely pint that has always been a favourite of mine. Today I awarded it a mark of 9/10.           

The White Lion is a timeless pub.  A classic street corner local that is sadly harder to find these days.  With great beer guaranteed from the excellent Triple fff Brewery this is a pub I will happily visit again.

Pub 17 - Crown Inn, Horsell

Same pub name and the same driving direction from Aldershot as pub no.15.  This particular Crown Inn is located in the Surrey village of Horsell close to the town of Woking.  Getting out of my car I could immediately smell the hops so today must be a brew day at this Surrey brewpub.  The disappointment of not finding any of their own beers on though was massive.  The bloody locals had finished it all off over the weekend!!

The pub looks a little scruffy from the outside but all was explained when the brewer came to offer his apologies at having none of his beers available for me to try.  The Crown Inn is owned by Punch Taverns and investment in their pubs is not high up on their list of priorities.  The friendly brewer did not have a good thing to say about them but they are taking advantage of their one LocAle allowance by brewing their own in a three quarter barrel plant in the kitchen.  They began brewing within the last year under the name of Thurstons Brewery and they already have plans to expand to a 4-barrel plant (possibly next door).

The pub has two similar sized bars and both are traditional with little in the way of modern comforts.  At the back there is a large garden which included a covered area (presumably for smokers) as well as climbing equipment for kids.

There were two 'Punch provided' beers available from Ringwood and Dartmoor breweries.  A fourth handpump was turned round.  The one LocAle was DB Number One (4.2% ABV) from the Dorking Brewery so that was my selection by default.  It is a pleasant chestnut coloured traditional best bitter.  It is a decent balanced session beer but it was nothing too special either so I awarded it a 6/10.  Those who know me by now will realise that balanced beers are not my favourites.  I like heavily hopped beers or strong malty beers and those that try and balance the two tend to pass me by.  I certainly preferred the Dry Hop Gold that I tried last week from the same brewer.

The Crown Inn is a good honest village boozer that is trying to make the most of the cards dealt to them by Punch Taverns.  I am looking forward to a return at some point so I can sample the house beers.  

Pub 16 - Jolly Sailor, Farnham

I had to find my way around the Farnham one-way system to reach the Jolly Sailor.  It is located in West Street as you leave the town centre towards the West (strangely).  With limited parking at the pub (space for a couple of cars) I was fortunate to find a space on the road a few yards away. Upon first sight I had great misgivings when I saw the Greene King sign.  Surely this will not be a LocAle oasis.  How wrong could I have possibly been?

From the outside it looks like a standard town centre pub.  There is a constructed deck off to the side for outdoor drinking (and smoking).  Inside it is traditional with a touch of modern comfort. The array of handpumps made my heart leap for joy.  The Greene King IPA pump had cobwebs on it as it was standing alongside four awesome LocAles.  The Triple fff Citra Sonic (4.1% ABV) and the Tillingbourne Hop Troll IPA (4.8% ABV) are two beers I am desperate to try.  The Ascot Ales Posh Pooch (4.2% ABV) and Itchen Valley Hampshire Tigers (4.6% ABV) made for a very impressive quartet.  Having not tried any Itchen Valley beers on the trail thus far I decided to ignore my cravings for some citrussy hops and chose a pint of the Hampshire Tigers.  

The beer was impressive.  It had a nice chestnut colour to it.  It had a lovely malty biscuity base combined with a rich fruitiness with a little caramel in there too.  It uses the English Progress hop and this gave a traditional bitter finish to it.  I have not tried any beer from this brewery, which is based in the small Hampshire town of New Alresford, for many years.  It was good to put that right and I awarded the beer a score of 8/10.

Before I left I had to have a swift half of the Tillingbourne Hop Troll IPA (4.8% ABV).  I still have to visit the Triple fff pub so I hope to find the Citra Sonic available there.  Having only a half means I do not award it a score but if this quick taste is anything to go by it will be a certain 10/10. It was a superb pale citrussy hoppy beer with some earthiness too combining for one of the finest beers I have tried ever.  It was really that good.  Having awarded this brewery a top score recently with their 3.5% ABV beer The Source, I am very excited by what I am tasting from them.  A tremendous discovery for which I have this trail to thank.

The Jolly Sailor is probably my favourite pub on the trail so far.  A superb town centre pub with a friendly barmaid who knew about the beer she was selling.  To be fair I did not test her knowledge of the Greene King IPA but there's probably not much call for it.  The choice and quality of their LocAles was more than enough for me.    

Pub 15 - The Crown Inn, Knaphill

My lunchtime trip today took me into totally new territory.  Knaphill is between Woking and Junction 3 of the M3.  It is close to the National Shooting Centre at Bisley as well as various areas set aside for army training.  The Crown Inn is situated on the High Street and looks very neat and tidy from the outside.  

There is a car park to the rear as well as a garden with a covered barbecue area.  Entering the pub from the car park you come into the single L-shaped bar.  At one end is a more public bar area with a red pool table. The other line of the 'L' is a smarter more comfortable seating area.  The picture below is taken in here looking back twoards the bar.  It is all very modern and tastefully decorated.    

I caused a bit of excitement among the couple running the pub as I was the first person they have had in on the trail.  The lady excitedly stamped my card whilst the man poured me a pint of Bowman Ales Swift One (3.8% ABV).  The other LocAle available was Uphams Punter and a third pump had Black Sheep Bitter from Masham in Yorkshire.  This was my second beer from Bowman on the trail and it is one I had tried and enjoyed elsewhere too.  It is a hoppy session bitter with a distinctly floral lemony taste.  It is not overpowering though and there is a lovely gentle bitter finish.  I was also delighted that it was in excellent condition having had one or two pints that weren't quite so good recently.  This beer I awarded a 7/10.          

This was a very pleasant drive out for a lunchtime pint.  The Crown Inn is a lovely relaxing pub and Swift One is a nice refreshing beer.  Hopefully they will get some more trailers along soon and get to use that stamp again.

Pub 14 - The Refectory, Milford

Wow this pub looks mightily impressive.  The pub is located less than a mile from the Milford interchange on the A3 South of Guildford.  The picture below is the side of the pub where you enter it from the car park. The main building runs perpendicular to this end and it is like an extremely long medieval banqueting hall. Very high wooden beams stretch across the width of the building which was originally a cattle barn belonging to Milford House nearby.  As well as all of the wooden beams there are open fireplaces with lots of comfortable leather seating.  One end of this vast building is set aside for dining but there was still acres of space to relax with a quiet pint as well as all of the outside space.  The grounds are immaculately kept providing outdoor seating areas on all sides.  

The Refectory is part of the Brunning and Price pub group and most of their pubs are found in the North West of England.  It is a pub group I know nothing about but if they are all as impressive as this one then they have nothing in common with Enterprise Inns !!         

The LocAle beer selection was impressive.  There was Dark Star Hophead, Hogs Back TEA and WJ King Summer Ale in addition to my selection from the Dorking Brewery.  This was another new brewery for me to discover and the beer available was Gold at 3.8% ABV.  It was disappointing that the beer was a little cloudy and a little on the warm side but it had a lovely taste.  Plenty of fruity flavours mingled with a rich spicy hoppiness.  It may not have been served in perfect condition but it was a very nice beer and I awarded it a mark of 7/10 giving room for improvement when I find it on peak form.  

The Refectory is a place worth visiting just to experience the grandness of the building.  Add a good choice of LocAles, a tasty menu and acres of space in which to relax inside and out then you surely have a winning combination.

Pub 13 - Bat and Ball, Boundstone

I visited the Bat and Ball a few months ago and wrote a review of it then so if you want to read it you can click here.  It is a delightful pub located on the outskirts of Farnham with a single downside of having to drive a few hundred yards along an unmade road.  My car survived the first trip there so I risked it once more. The shaded area in the garden was more shaded as the greenery over the pergolas had filled out enormously from my last visit.  It certainly makes for a pleasant outdoor experience.

The available LocAles list was brimming over with two from Bowmans, Gold Muddler from Andwell, Sprinter from Upham Ales and Hogs Back TEA.  I was yet to sample the Upham Ales on this trail so that was my choice.  At 3.8% ABV it is a perfect lunchtime drink.  It has a lovely clear look to it with a light brown colouration.  The taste was a little hoppy with quite a sharp spicy bitterness to it but this gave way to a somewhat fruity finish.  All in all it was a very nice pint of beer and I awarded it an easy 7/10.   

The Bat and Ball is a superb pub and is highly recommended for those people looking for a good choice of local real ales.  The delightful garden is an obvious asset at this time of year so get yourself down there before the Summer is over.

Pub 12 - RSVP, Camberley

I used to work along London Road in Camberley and it has always been a very depressing road.  It is constantly snarled up with traffic and every building seems to have seen better days.  There are a few new office blocks and a Premier Inn now but it hasn't really improved its shabby look.  RSVP is located at the town centre end of London Road and it is a large imposing building that certainly looks like it needs somebody to care for it.  The adjacent nightclub and the advertised rooms for just £25 per night did not help my first impression either.  

The bar itself is a large cavernous room that is better than it appears on the outside.  At one end there is a section set aside for pool and round the corner at the other end is a dining area.  The bit in the middle is quite empty around the actual bar with tables around the outside.  There is a large screen TV along with one or two smaller ones strategically placed.  

The available LocAle was Royal IPA (4.6% ABV) from the nearby Ascot Ales (based in Camberley and not Ascot).  The other two ales came from Cottage Brewing of Somerset.  I was taken aback when I was charged just £1.99 for the pint.  Blimey somebody undercutting Wetherspoons.  That's a first.  I retired to a seat with the promise of a search for the trail stamp that had gone missing.  

The beer itself was not in perfect condition being a little cloudy.  It was quite dark for an IPA with an extreme earthy bitterness that I did not find particularly pleasant.  It was not 'off' like the pint I had in the Half Moon at Windlesham but it just wasn't to my taste.  My previous experience of Ascot Ales was a superb pint of Penguin Porter so I guess it is just a case of you cannot love every beer and I scored it a mark of 5/10.

The RSVP is a pub that seems to be catering to a certain clientele by offering basement prices for everything. Personally, I would rather they charged a little more for the beer and served it in better condition.  However, the bar staff who served me were extremely friendly and the promised search for the trail stamp was a success and the young lady came over to stamp my card.  That now brings me to the halfway mark in the trail with a couple of months still to go.    

Pub 11 - Half Moon, Windlesham

The Half Moon at Windlesham is found on the right hand side as you enter the village when approaching it from junction 3 of the M3.  You would not think you were within a mile of such a busy interchange though. The pub itself looks OK on the outside.  The main building has a modern single storey addition off to the left which I assume is for diners.  The bar I walked into was bustling and cramped so  not a good first impression.

After ordering my pint and getting my trail card stamped twice (yes once again the person behind the bar could not remember which pub they were working at) I retired to a much quieter, much larger and more basic bar.  The single serving area serviced both bars and whereas the small serving area in the first bar was cramped and busy, the one in here was spacious and empty.  Looking at the awful basic dated decor I could understand why people avoided this area though.  Too many tables and those awful clunky chairs gave the impression that the room was so full of furniture there was no room for actual people.  

The only LocAle selection was Kings Gold (4.2% ABV).  Horsham based WJ King were formed by Bill King exactly one year after the closure of my beloved King & Barnes by Hall & Woodhouse in 2000 (I was working in Horsham at the time).  Bill King retired recently and the brewery is now under new ownership but the focus on quality hand-crafted ales remains.  I am not going to review this beer because it was 'on the cusp'.  Just about drinkable but I'm sure it was on its last legs.  This is unforgivable.  If I ran a pub I would sample all my beers at the start of the day and remove those that had gone or were 'on the turn'.  This obviously does not happen at the Half Moon.  I was debating whether to return it but not knowing the pub and having no alternative (as you can see from the beermat!!) that was LocAle I persevered.  This was very disappointing though because I love WJ King's beers and this particular ale was a beer I had not tried before.  Hopefully I will find some more beer from this brewer later on the trail.       

Pub number 11 was a big disappointment.  A pub with dubious decor and poor beer quality.  Without a doubt this is the worst pub so far.  Hopefully, as I approach the half way mark, this will be a one-off. 

Pub 10 - Swan Inn, Chiddingfold

The Swan Inn, Chiddingfold is on my way home so I made a quick stop this evening to a pub I have driven past hundreds of times without visiting.  It is described as a boutique hotel, bar and restaurant and it is certainly an attractive building on the outside and tastefully laid out inside.  It is situated on the A283 midway between Guildford and Petworth and it is on the right hand side of the road as you enter the village from the South.  The owners took the pub on three years ago after running a pub/restaurant in Knightsbridge and it sounds like they had quite a challenge following the mess the previous owners had made of it.      

In addition to the regular Adnams Bitter there were two LocAles available.  These were Surrey Hills Shere Drop (4.2% ABV) and The Source from Tillingbourne at 3.3% ABV.  The latter was a brewery totally new to me but the owner was able to give me lots of information about them and they apparently took over the premises of Surrey Hills when this brewery moved due to expansion.  The name comes from the close proximity of the brewery to the source of the River Tillingbourne in the Surrey Hills.  It was good to chat with such a knowledgeable owner who has taken the trouble to explore the local beer scene and try out ales from various local breweries on the bar.  The rotating guests have also included beers from Langham and Dark Star to name just a couple.    

I went for a pint of The Source as it was a perfect strength for driving.  It was a superb pint the was served in perfect condition.  It has a full hoppy taste with plenty of citrussy and floral flavours before giving way to a gentle refreshing bitter finish.  There was absolutely nothing to dislike about this pint and I would award it an easy 10/10.      

The Swan Inn is a modern village bar/restaurant and whilst it may appear to be concentrating on the food and accommodation offerings it certainly isn't neglecting the person who just wants to enjoy a pint or two of locally sourced beers.  The owner knows the local beer scene and is providing a selection of ales that are served in excellent condition judging by the evidence of this evening.  It is a pub I will certainly go back to.

Pub 9 - Nelson Arms, Farnham

The Prince of Wales decided to stamp the space allocated to this pub last week so I thought I'd better visit it to get this error rectified.  Farnham is a lovely town dominated by the castle.  It is also home to an excellent annual beer festival held in The Maltings which I attended many years ago. The Nelson Arms is located in Castle Street in the castle's shadow.  The pub dates back to the 16th century and I was lucky to be able to park nearby (although the parking spaces are metered).

The friendly landlord found his stamp and the error from last week was suitably corrected.  The pub is a delight. There are lots of low beams keeping watch over large wooden tables with an assortment of high backed wooden benches, large comfortable chairs and a sofa or two.  Separating the bar area with the main seating area was a beautiful open fireplace and from here you could see out the back to a paved patio area. I wasn't eating but the special of a rack of ribs with chips and salad was a tempting offer.      

The pub had a choice of three LocAles.  I've already tried the Andwell Gold Muddler previously on the trail and at the last pub I tried a beer from Bowman Ales so today I went for the Hogs Back TEA (4.2% ABV). TEA of course stands for Traditional English Ale and it is a fair description.  It has a lovely malty base that is quite rich with some toffee notes.  The bitterness is quite subtle and never raises its head too far and the finish is actually a little sweet.  It is extremely robust and full-bodied.  It is a beer I have always enjoyed and today it was also served in the appropriate glass so I can give it a score of 8/10.

Town centres used to be full of pubs like the Nelson Arms.  Nowadays they are harder to find so when you do come acrosss one it is well worth remembering.       

Pub 8 - Prince of Wales, Farnborough

Things do not always go as planned when doing an ale trail.  Today I intended to visit the White Lion in Aldershot.  I never thought about checking the opening hours and when I got there the doors were locked.  Why would a pub not open until on a Friday lunchtime?  A ten minute drive to Farnborough brought me to one of my favourite pubs in Hampshire.  I first visited this pub back in the early 1990s when I was in a visiting quiz team and it hasn't changed at all in the intervening years.  

The Prince of Wales is a family-run free house set in a quiet residential part of Farnborough.  It has two similar-sized comfortable bars with traditional decor.  It has tables outside both out front and out the back too.  It is my third visit to this pub since I've been back working in Aldershot.  The range of ten beers includes five regulars from Youngs, Hop Back, Dark Star, Ringwood and Fullers.  The five guest beers are always from interesting micros.  This pub always seems to be busy and, although I'm not indulging today, the food has been excellent when I have eaten here previously.      

Bowmans Elderado (3.5% ABV) was the only available LocAle today so I ordered a pint.  The barman then stamped my card in the space allocated for the Nelson Arms in Farnham.  This always seems to happen at least once on every ale trail I've ever done.  Perhaps he works in both pubs and forgot where he was. Bowmans Ales began brewing in 2006 and they are located in the Meon Valley area of Hampshire. Elderado won the Hampshire Beer of the Year 2010.  

Due to the fact that this was not my intended destination today my lunch hour was diminishing fast so I had to drink quickly.  Luckily Elderado is a light refreshing session bitter so it slipped down easily.  It has a lovely pale golden colour with a subtle hoppy aroma.  It is brewed with elder flowers but this is not a heavy floral beer at all and it gave a nice light bitter finish.  I gave it a mark of 8/10.  

The Prince of Wales is a gem of a pub.  It is a timeless, well run community pub enjoyed by locals of all ages.  For the real ale drinker it is a premier destination and it is quite rightly a Good Beer Guide regular.  I can't praise it highly enough.

Pub 7 - Mr Bumble, Blackwater

Today I decided to risk my life by visiting Mr Bumble in Blackwater.  The roundabout straight out of hell dominates the village.  Whatever character the village may have had has long since been destroyed by the numerous superstores and industrial units close to the Blackwater roundabout resulting in constant road noise and honking of horns as drivers become confused about which lane they should be in.  The close proximity of junction 4 of the M3 does not aid its cause either.  Mr Bumble is located on the A30 London Road a few hundred yards from the roundabout next door to a Lidl supermarket.  There are a few parking spaces to the side of the pub and a small outside drinking area to the rear.    

I must say I was presently surprised when I entered the pub.  The decor was quite dark although everything was neat and tidy.  The single bar was large but there were separate little areas including a nice small snug with leather sofas.  Following the bar round you came to a large area with a couple of pool tables and the sporting theme was further enhanced with a large screen for Sky Sports and a couple of dartboards.  Mr Bumble was a character in Oliver Twist so as you would expect the theme of the pub was Dickensian with quite a few framed prints and references to further characters from the pen of Charles Dickens.  

The beer selection was between three beers from the relatively local West Berkshire Brewery and Fullers London Pride.  I obviously had to go for one of the West Berkshire beers.  There were two of their regulars, Mr Chubbs Lunchtime Bitter (3.7% ABV) and Good Old Boy (4.0% ABV) alongside the July special Jethro's Wheat Aeld (4.2% ABV).  I chose the latter and my trail card was duly stamped.  

I was delighted to see the beer came in the correct glass but it did look a bit lifeless with no head to speak of but it had a pleasant straw colour to it.  It had a nice floral aroma to it and the taste was rather interesting and very pleasant.  There was a distinct floral taste to it alongside a lovely mellow sweetness.  It did not appear to be too heavily hopped but there was a nice subtle bitterness in the aftertaste.  The beer is named after Jethro Tull, the inventor of the seed drill.  It is brewed with wheat and fresh local elderflower and this interesting mix has certainly delivered a beer with character and a refreshing summery taste and I gave it a mark of 8/10.     

Mr Bumble is a pub that suffers from its location but it is well worth visiting.  It is a friendly local with beers from an excellent local brewery.  It is a world away from the previous pub, The Mulberry, and if it wasn't for this trail I probably would never have visited this pub.  That is why pub trails are so much fun.
Pub 6 - Mulberry Inn, Chiddingfold

The Mulberry Inn is sort of on my way home from work and is probably the closest pub on the trail to where I live on the South coast.  As it is open all day it is a perfect place to pop in on my way home.  It used to be called the Rams Nest and it is situated on the A283 between Guildford and Petworth on the delightfully named Cripplecrutch Hill near Ramster Gardens and Rams Nest Common close to the border with West Sussex. 


The pub is owned by Radio 2 DJ and occasional One Show host Chris Evans who lives nearby.  There is no sign of him today as I approach what is a lovely looking pub with a splendid verandah along the front which wraps around both sides of the building too.  To the right is a superb garden with the area closest to the pub covered with a large marquee.  Inside there is a comfortable bar area and a choice of three beers all of which were LocAles. There was T.E.A from the Hogs Back Brewery and both Sundowner and Hip Hop from the Langham Brewery which is less than 10 miles away across the border in the Sussex village of Lodsworth. The Hip Hop (4.0% ABV) is something I've been wanting to try for some time so I ordered my pint and obtained a sticker (yes no common stamp at this pub) for my trail card.

I sat towards the rear of the pub, part of which was laid out for dining, but there were plenty of tables to sit and drink at too without feeling like an inconvenience for not wanting to eat.  The decor was modern and, as my wife would tell you, the wall colour was totally to my taste.  It was all beautifully done.

My pint of Hip Hop came in a nice tall glass but it was a little hazy.  It was a modern pale blonde beer with a lovely aroma of grapefruit.  The immediate taste was citrussy but this gave way to a more earthy taste with a rather sweet finish to it.  I'm not convinced I was trying it at its very best which gives me an excuse to search for more of it so I can compare.  However, it was still good enough to obtain a rating of 8/10.   

On the pub's website Chris Evans says 'I love my pub'.  It is easy to see why.  So if you are ever driving along Cripplecrutch Hill in need of refreshment call in and stop a while.  You will not be disappointed.

Pub 5 - Falkners Arms, Fleet

The Falkners Arms is located on the Ancells Farm estate on the outskirts of Fleet.  No doubt built at the same time as the estate some 20 plus years ago at a guess it is strange in that it is a single storey establishment.  The pub seems to cater to the local community well with Sky Sports and free wi-fi advertised and at the front there is an outdoor drinking area.

The pub is wedged in between a playing field with a childrens playground and a row of shops with a Tesco Express.  Fearing the worst, I stepped inside.  The bar is long and the open plan of the bar area is broken up with a wall housing a large-screen TV.  The staff are certainly friendly and there is a choice of four real ales.  London Pride, Doom Bar and Marstons Pedigree are certainly not very exciting or imaginative but it does have a LocAle which is why it is on the trail.  A pint of Andwells Gold Muddler (3.9% ABV) was requested and a trail stamp was found and my card was duly marked.  The temperature outside was simply sweltering so with a lovely cool pint in hand I went to sit in the sun.  

Andwells Gold Muddler is described as a golden blonde beer.  I'm not quite sure how a beer can be both golden and blonde but I would describe it as a golden beer.  There wasn't a great deal of aroma and the beer took some time to clear.  It was probably slightly past its best but it was certainly not off and it was lovely and cool.  It had a very slight fruity taste to it with a slight bitter aftertaste but overall it was all a bit bland so I awarded it a score of 5/10.

So a bland pint in a bland pub would probably sum up pub number five.  However, that would not tell the whole story.  The pub may be uninteresting but it is well maintained and well run from what I observed and, for a Monday lunchtime, it was fairly busy.  The beer was not the best but at least I did not have to drink the Doom Bar so for that I can be truly thankful.

Pub 4 - White Hart, Tongham

From the outside the White Hart, Tongham appears to have few redeeming features.  A large imposing pub advertising Sky Sports coverage does not fill me with confidence.  Entering from the car park I enter a games room featuring a pool table and a bar with no handpumps.  Am I in the right place?  My eyes go up to a blackboard above the bar with a list of four real ales of which three can be considered to be in the LocAle range.  The Hogs Back TEA is brewed just down the road, the Andwell is just across the border in Hampshire and the Surrey Hills Greensand IPA is not far away either.  Ringwood 49er completed the quartet of available beers.

A 4.6% ABV IPA sounded appealing so I went for a pint of the Greensand.  A signature AND a stamp on my card was duly obtained and with pint in hand I took a wander around the large three-roomed pub before deciding to sit in the back garden. From the games room you walk through to a dining room and here you can head out to the paved outside drinking area at the front or continue heading left to reach a large public bar with TV.  All three rooms are served by a central bar area and the handpumps can be found facing the public bar.

The back garden had a mix of grass and concrete.  Tongham is a village on the outskirts of Aldershot so it is not your ideal English village and the area around the pub is quite urban so it is overlooked by residential houses.  There is a purpose-built BBQ area, a covered seating area which is probably popular with smokers in all seasons and a long stretch of lawn with six or seven wooden tables.  All-in-all they are making the most of what they have to play with so I am happy to report that my first impressions were crap.

So what of the beer itself?  Surrey Hills began brewing in 2005 at the Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking and surprisingly this is the first pint that I can remember having from this particular brewery.  It took a while to settle but it became a very inviting golden colour.  The fact that it was served in a Surrey Hills Brewery glass added to the excellent first impression.  There was a fresh hoppy aroma wafting from it and the first taste was delightful.  It appeared quite fruity initially but that soon gave way to an intense bitter hoppiness that I was expecting.  The aftertaste was long and a little dry.  This was very close to perfection in a pint glass and I awarded it a 9/10.

The good people of Tongham are lucky to have a local pub that offers something for everyone. The White Hart may appear a little scruffy as you drive past but with an excellent range of cask ales it should not be ignored.

Pub 3 - The Golden Pot, Eversley

It is yet another beautiful day so I have decided a nice drive to the most northerly pub on the trail is called for.  The Golden Pot is located in the picturesque village of Eversley.  It is in Hampshire but not far from the border with Berkshire.  It is located on the Reading Road that runs straight through this pretty village.

From the outside it certainly looks like a very pleasant pub.  There are tables and seating all the way across the front.  Inside there is a single bar that is sort of split between two rooms that are open to each other.  Dining is the main feature with many tables set for lunch with menus.  Boring is the word that springs to mind. Very very dull.  The beer selection isn't too bad though with the choice of LocAle beers consisting of the three handpumps shown below.

I had been hoping to find a beer from the Andwell Brewing Company since I began this trail.  This North Hampshire micro is based a few miles away near the village of Hook close to junction 5 of the M3.  I therefore asked for a pint of the King John (4.2% ABV) which was served in the correct glass.  The glass shelf above the bar was full of glasses representing a selection of local breweries which was good to see.

The poor lady behind the bar was run off her feet.  She was the only person working and she had to sort out the diners as well as serving drinks. I was eventually served and of course she could not find an official CAMRA stamp and did not know about the trail but a signature and any old stamp lying around sufficed.  I then retired to an outside table at the front to enjoy some sunshine.

The beer had a nice copper colour to it.  It had a slight malty taste which was soon balanced by a slight rich fruitiness with hints of orange.  There was then a long bitter aftertaste which was kept in check by the malty base.  A very fine balanced beer which I awarded a score of 7/10. 

Pub 2 - Prince Arthur, Fleet

What can you say about this second pub?  Well, it's a pub in Fleet High Street and, as with the majority of High Street pubs nowadays, it's a Wetherspoons.  Inside, it looks like a Wetherspoons.  Not much else I can say really.  A little smaller than most but it has the same decor and the same excellent beer selection.  The lady behind the bar managed to locate the stamp for my trail card so that was a plus point.        

There was a choice of two LocAle beers.  The Arapaho (4.9% ABV) from the West Sussex brewer Langhams and the Hambledon Bitter (4.0% ABV) from Hampshire's Itchen Valley.  Both beers were new to me but I went for the Arapaho because my West Sussex CAMRA friends rave about the brewery.  The Hambledon I'm sure will be available further along the trail.  My only experience of Langham beer has been in bottles so I was looking forward to finally trying a cask beer.      

As you can see below it bears all the hallmarks of a classic American Pale Ale.  It looked beautiful and the taste did not disappoint one bit.  The hoppiness hit me straight away.  An instant delightful bitterness. The beer was so smooth it had an almost creamy texture to it and there was quite a peachy fruity note nestled in there too.  The long  bitter aftertaste was simply stunning.  This beer was very special and I could not award it anything other than a gold medal 10/10 rating.  Fantastic!  

The beer was enjoyed in the patio garden at the rear of the pub.  The sunshine was full on and the area may have been paved but there was plenty of greenery and flowers to give it a garden feel.  It is noticeable that since the smoking ban in pubs the garden areas are full of smokers.  This was very apparent today.  It did not detract from enjoying my pint though.  

Pub 1 - The Tweseldown, Church Crookham

A nice easy start for me this one and it is a pub I have visited once before a few years ago.  Turning left out of the office I keep going until I pass the Tweseldown point-to-point racecourse and there it is.  Two entrances at the front lead to the public bar and the lounge respectively.  I entered into the bar which was quite gloomy.  There was a red pool table and plenty of wooden tables.  All was quiet so I walked through the connecting door into the lounge / dining area.  

Fullers London Pride and Morlands Speckled Hen were available but the LocAle choice was the excellent Alton's Pride (3.8% ABV) from the Hampshire brewer Triple FFF.  I had a pint of this in Chichester recently and awarded it my prestigious gold medal.  It did not seem to be on quite such excellent form today but it was still very good nonetheless and it was served in the appropiate glass too.  A traditional malty bitter with plenty of caramel flavour with a lovely bitter finish.  The landlord was very friendly and was pleased to be a part of the trail but, as with most trails, the pub did not have a stamp so he scrawled his signature on my sheet instead.      

The lounge was less gloomy and it had quite a few customers enjoying the food but I took my pint out into the garden to enjoy some sunshine.  The garden was off to the side and had plenty of tables but even at this time of the day when the sun is nearly at its highest most of them were in the shade.  

The rear of the pub has a dining / function room called The Barn so the overall size of the place is quite considerable.  It's a decent pub that is probably in need of a little updating and the garden could do with some attention but overall not a bad start to the trail.