Thursday, 27 September 2012

Patriot Ales

Another week, another brewery.  The West Midlands is awash with them.  Tonight I ventured out to the southern tip of Warwickshire and the village of Whichford.  Voted County Pub of the Year 2012 by CAMRA Warwickshire my hopes were high.

Firstly, before I begin on the pub and the beer, those of you who have read my previous posts will note that I have been full of praise for nearly every place I have visited and every beer I have consumed.  Tonight I have a few gripes. 

The Norman Knight has an idyllic location.  Sat opposite the village green it is a lovely building.  A Norman knight (!!??) sits on his horse outside and a suit of armour stands up on your left as you enter the pub.  Inside the pub is full of lovely wooden benches, nooks and crannies and a lovely rustic atmosphere.  So what's my problem you may well ask.  Firstly, one of my pet hates.  The pub was fairly quiet and nobody was waiting to be served but it took me a full five minutes to order a pint.  The reasons were numerous.  In order to be seen by the barman I had to gatecrash a group of people standing at the bar with no intention of moving from their spot so someone could reach the bar and ask for a pint.  Aaarrgh.  Secondly, when I did give up and just barge in the barman disappeared to try and locate some missing menus along with two other members of staff leaving the bar unattended.  After returning from his fruitless search he preceded to stand around doing nothing for a further minute before looking to see if anyone was waiting.

Needless to say, my mood was not good when I ordered my pint. Patriot began brewing in 2010 with a small four barrel plant and it is located next to the pub.  Tonight they only had two of their beers available,  the Kiwi (4.1%ABV) and the Settle For Bronze (4.0%ABV).  No indication from the pump clips as to the style of each beer so I settled for the bronze.  It looked quite pleasant with a small head and a lovely bronzed appearance (the clue is in the name).  By the time I sat down the head had disappeared and it had rather a flat taste.  I'd heard beers referred to as dishwater before but not often come across them.  I won't be quite so harsh on this beer but it did nothing for me.  The taste was slightly sweet with a little bitterness coming through but it was decidedly flat and lifeless.

Upon leaving the pub I was very disappointed.  The outside garden is beautiful and the village is lovely.  I was expecting the pub and the beer to match the surroundings but sadly it didn't.  Perhaps I just caught it on a bad day.  However, I will not be returning to find out.
Upon my return to Stratford-on-Avon my mood improved considerably with a pint of Sadler's Thin Ice at the Golden Bee.  This was my least favourite beer when I did my brewing experience at this lovely brewery near Stourbridge, West Midlands.  However, I have had it a couple of times since and it is beautiful.  Hoppy with citrus flavours bursting through it is both refreshing and tasty and the opposite of my earlier beer of the evening. 

Happy drinking.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Clarendon Arms, Kenilworth

Tonight I  visited a pub I found out about on Twitter.  For those of you not into the amazing world of Twitter, it is a fabulous marketing tool for all businesses.  Any business not using it needs their head testing.  The Clarendon Arms obviously uses it to good effect and any pub that actively promote themselves must surely be a pub worth visiting.

Kenilworth is situated between Coventry and Warwick just off the A46.  I have visited the excellent castle many, many years ago and as the address of the pub is Castle Hill I was expecting it to be located nearby.  I was not wrong.  I drove through the centre of Kenilworth, a pleasant enough looking town, and headed left up towards the castle.  Following a sharp right turn, the castle looms on the left and a large pub called The Queen & Castle is on the right.  Turning right at this pub you will notice The Clarendon Arms as a tiny narrow pub next to the large car park of the pub next door.  What an idyllic setting this pub has.  With a collection of thatched cottages opposite and the castle across the main road you would think you were in a very English village rather than being on the outskirts of a town.

The front of the pub has a lovely stained glass window.  Entering the door to the left there is a quiet front room off to the right and walking straight on you come to the bar.  It has a modern look but with a traditional feel to it.  Comfortable seating around solid wooden tables on a wooden floor is a common theme throughout.  The pub may look small and it is narrow but it goes back a fair distance.  Beyond the bar there is a further bar/dining area and it also has an upstairs function room.  The available beers tonight were Hook Norton (Hooky Gold), Sharps (Doom Bar), Wye Valley (Butty Bach) and Purity (Mad Goose).  I chose the latter, a pale hoppy brer (4.2%ABV) with a bitter finish. 

I have sampled Purity beers a number of times.  I find them to be quite traditional beers.  All are well-balanced with a bitter finish and very drinkable.  The brewery is situated in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside.  It appears to be a very ethical company with an environmentally-friendly water treatment system.  Their website can give you more information about this.  This USP has probably been a key reason behind their rapid growth as they now supply hundreds of outlets.  You certainly won't have difficulty finding their beers within the pubs of Warwickshire and beyond.

Overall, a pleasant drink in an excellent pub.  The Clarendon Arms is a pub you should visit if you are in the area.  I was not eating tonight but next time I visit I will ensure I am hungry because the menu is very tempting with classic pub fayre.  Tonight was 'pie night' which is a good reason alone for going back.  I'm glad I made the journey out here and you will not be disappointed either.

Happy drinking.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Wood Farm Brewery

Tonight brought back memories of trips to New England.  I decided to drive out to the Wood Farm Brewery near Rugby close to the Leicestershire/Warwickshire border.  Less than a mile from the Old Fosse Way it appears to be situated in the middle of nowhere.  In reality it is very close to the village of Frolesworth where my mum was born and which I know very well.  The nearest place to the brewery though is the village of Willey but being set in 35 acres of farmland and approaching from the Old Fosse Way you do not see any signs of this or any other village.  Immediately upon seeing the modern barn conversion that houses the pub and brewery my memories of a number of micro breweries in New England came flooding back.  In particular, the place reminded me of the Long Trail Brewing Co of Vermont.

Upon entering, the smell of brewing attacks your senses.  I absolutely love the smell of hops.  The very spacious area in front of you leads to the bar and a window at the back gives fine views of the 16 barrel plant that creates the seven different ales.  To the left the stairs lead you up to a seating area which overlooks the downstairs bar.  I had already decided a carry out pack of three bottles would provide ample opportunity to sample their beers at a more leisurely pace so a single pint would keep me going before driving back to Stratford-on-Avon.  I chose their premium bitter Union (4.6% ABV).  It was a pale coloured beer with citrus notes but it also had a very pleasant bitter aftertaste.

More about the beer over the weekend when I enjoy the three bottles I purchased.  What you might want to know now is whether the pub is worth visiting?  The answer is a resounding yes.  Food is to the fore.  The plates of food coming out of the kitchen looked particularly appetising.  With the pub's location it is impossible to rely on drinkers to bring in the required profits.  Brewery tours (with food) are advertised and the Christmas menus were already out and looked to be excellent value.  Outside the pub has a large garden with plenty of wooden tables so a Summer visit would be a good idea too.  Once again, the locals and staff were friendly.  I am still not used to these friendly greetings from both sides of the bar.  I was offered free samples before choosing which bottles to purchase which was a nice gesture. 

Overall, this is an operation definitely worth a visit.  They have obviously made a large investment in both the pub and the brewery and it you won't be disappointed when making the drive out there.  It may not be a pub you would have as your local due to the location but when you want a good meal with a fine ale to wash it down it is worth checking out.

Happy drinking.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Old Thatched Tavern

For me, pubs are a sanctuary.  A place to go for a quiet pint or, if I am with family or friends, a place to have a good conversation without being distracted.  The Old Thatched Tavern in Stratford-on-Avon is a lovely pub.  When I first visited it was owned by Enterprise Inns but earlier this year it was bought by Fullers, the Chiswick brewer.  For me, this should have been a reason to jump for joy.  Gales HSB is the first beer I fell in love with.  I was concerned when Gales were bought by Fullers and the brewery was closed but I still think it is a lovely beer.  The opportunity to drink it in one of my favourite pubs in Stratford-on-Avon is surely too good to be true?

Yes, the Old Thatched Tavern is a lovely pub.  However, it does have one irritating problem.  The pub bore!  I am a very chilled out person and not easily annoyed.  Life is too short to get stressed out about minor irritations.  However, there is one person in this pub who makes it such an unenjoyable place to pop in for a quiet drink.  I used to go in for a pint on a weekly basis.  However, he is always in there when I visit.  Tonight was my first visit for well over a month but he was in there again with his group of friends.  The bar is very small and his group sit in the centre.  However, his voice is the one that dominates and carries to all corners of the pub.  His volume control is distinctly lacking.  In a large pub I may not find it such an issue.  However, he is a loud man in a small pub and it puts me off going in there.  Sad but that's the way it is.

Tonight I gave the HSB a miss to try my first taste of the Seafarers Ale (3.6% ABV).  Well it is International Talk Like A Pirate Day!  It's a very pleasant pale coloured bitter.  Citrus undertones but with a pleasantly bitter aftertaste combine to produce a good session beer.  HSB, Red Fox and London Pride were the other available beers tonight but I had to give my ears a rest so I departed for the Bear at the Swan's Nest where I was delighted to see Citra (4.2% ABV) was still available.  Brewed by Oakham Ales the beer is named after the very distinctive hop that goes into it.  I got to know about this hop during my brewing experience at Sadlers Ales as I spent ages breaking it up to go into their lovely JPA.  A sharp grapefruit tang to it makes it a very hoppy beer with a very refreshing clean taste.

Could the loveliness of these hoppy beers render a man speechless?  There is one man I would like to try it out on.

Happy drinking.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Old Fourpenny Shop Hotel, Warwick

Today the Good Beer Guide 2013 was officially launched so I decided to visit a pub that is not in it (but was in the 2012 edition).  My copy of the new guide arrived two weeks ago so I have already done plenty of exploring with it.  Besides, I have been meaning to visit this particular pub for the past few months. 

Approaching Warwick from junction 15 of the M40 you pass three pubs on the left-hand side.  The Racehorse has a gigantic horse perched outside so the close proximity of Warwick racecourse isn't too surprising.  As you near the town with the castle on the right you turn left into Crompton Street and immediately you see the racecourse in front of you.  The Old Fourpenny Shop Hotel is on the left-hand side in a residential street. 

The pub has a totally different feel to The Wild Boar I visited last night.  A large split-level bar had plenty of room and it was very comfortable, traditional and quiet.  It is also a hotel offering eleven rooms which I am sure are full when race meetings are on.  Think of racing and you immediately think of the Irish.  The landlord is a jovial Irish fellow and he informed me about the beer and the Old Pie Factory brewery.  Both himself and another pub in nearby Five Ways, The Case Is Altered, were wanting to start a brewing operation so they established the brewery in an old Fleur-de-lys pie factory three miles away. 

Two beers from the Old Pie Factory Brewery (Pale and Bitter) were available.  The other beers were from the West Country.  RCH Pitchfork sat alongside two beers from the Cottage Brewing Company of Somerset.  I opted for the house Bitter (3.9% ABV) which was a very pleasant traditional bitter and I am sure it would make a good session beer.  It had a delightful colour and aroma and it went down smoothly.  A room for the night would have meant sampling all five ales but not tonight.

Back in Stratford-on-Avon there was time for a pint of Sadlers JPA (the beer I know how to brew!!) at the local Wetherspoons.  However, I have now made two visits to Warwick on consecutive evenings and there is still plenty to explore so there will be a few more visits before the end of the year.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Wild Boar Cask Ale House and Brewery, Warwick

I have been meaning to go to Warwick for a few months.  The only Good Beer Guide 2013 entry for Warwick is The Wild Boar.  It is described as being the Slaughterhouse Brewery Tap but it also has its own 2 barrel plant which they use for special brews.  The brewery began production in 2003 in a former slaughterhouse so it isn't difficult to imagine where the name comes from.  They say that 95% of their deliveries are within a 5 mile radius of Warwick which is probably why I've not found their beers anywhere I've been before as this is the first pub I've visited within that small area.   

The pub is easy to find and it is very close to Warwick railway station.  It is in a residential area so it has a friendly local feel but it is also very welcoming to others.  I have really struck lucky with my trips recently.  Last week I discovered The Weatheroak Brewery tap, The Victoria Works, in Studley.  Tonight I found another gem of a pub.  It has a real community feel to it similar to The West End in Stratford-on-Avon.  It was early in the evening on a Wednesday but both the front and back bars were busy which is always a good sign.  The pub is certainly an excellent discovery and if you are ever in Warwick then pay it a visit.

The first dilemma was which beer to choose.  The full array of beers from the Slaughterhouse Brewery were available along with a few specials which I assumed were brewed in-house.  I like trying something new and the Space Trotter (4.3% ABV) was described as being made with organic oats.  It is dark brown in colour and has a slightly sweetish taste.  It was pleasant but I would not make it a regular.  I will definitely revisit Warwick soon though to try one of their regular beers.  The Wild Boar, at 5.2% ABV, sounds particularly inviting.

I have been to quite a few pubs now in and around Stratford-on-Avon and the difference in friendliness between here and home is enormous.  The young lady who served me tonight in The Wild Boar was no exception.  Very friendly and welcoming.  I have lived down South too long where indifferent service is the norm.  The difference extends though to the pub regulars.  It is not unusual to feel uneasy walking into a new pub back home where the locals will 'check you out' with a long glare.  There is absolutely none of that in the West Midlands.  It has taken some getting used to but I'm beginning to like it.

Happy drinking.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Weatheroak Brewery

Last week I went to the Coach and Horses at Weatheroak Hill.  That pub was the original home of the Weatheroak Brewery when it began in 1997.  In 2007 the brewery required new premises due to expansion and in 2008 it ended up in the village of Studley, a few miles to the south of the original home.  This year it acquired the Nags Head, a pub very close to the industrial unit that houses the brewery and thereby serving as the brewery tap.  The Coach and Horses still had the space to house a brewery and this gave birth to the Weatheroak Hill Brewery.

Tonight I ventured out to Studley to visit the Weatheroak Brewery tap, now renamed The Victoria Works (, to make a comparison with the Coach and Horses.  To be fair, the pubs seem to be catering for a different crowd.  The Coach and Horses had a modern dining area and comfortable bar.  The Victoria Works is a real drinkers pub but it still has plenty of comfort.  Entering from the car park the lounge area to the left had comfortable leather sofas and solid wooden tables.  The bar was arrived at by stepping down a few steps and it had plenty of reading material.  A rack of newspapers, a shelf of CAMRA Good Beer Guides and plenty of CAMRA lealfets as well as the latest copy of Pint Taken, the Worcestershire County CAMRA newsletter.  This is my kind of pub.  The full range of Weatheroak beers was available along with a guest ale (tonight it was Lager It Ain't from the Cannon Royall Brewery).

The pub beat the Coach and Horses by a fraction then but what about the beer?  I had 5 to choose from and the Victoria Works (4.3% ABV) was advertising itself as a champion beer at a local beer festival in 2010 so that's what I chose.  It was pale coloured but packed with hops giving it a delightful bitter taste.  It had a very clear appearance and a lovely smooth finish.  Same strength as the WHB I tried at the Weatheroak Hill brewery but a totally different beer.

Last week I was more than happy with the Coach and Horses.  A delightful pub with good beer.  Tonight I went to a pub I would love as my local.  Excellent beer, comfortable surroundings and totally unpretentious.  If I had to choose to revisit only one of them, then the Victoria Works would win on all counts.  Very highly recommended.

Happy drinking.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Woodforde's Brewery

I fell in love with Woodforde's beers from a relatively young age.  I began working in Norwich in 1989 when the brewery moved to their present site in the beautiful Broadland village of Woodbastwick.  The brewery was therefore very new when a work colleague of mine organised a brewery trip.  A minibus took the 15 of us to this delightful village for a start.  These were the days when brewery trips were free!!  Brewery founder, Ray Ashworth, began by filling our glasses and then gave us a short trip around what was then a very small brewery.  Back in the sampling room he brought out plates of food to soak up many more beer samples.  We stayed there until and I have no idea how many pints we consumed.  I fell in love with Wherry, Baldrick (no longer available), Norfolk Nog and Headcracker.  The latter is an amazingly complex barley wine (7.0% ABV).  I have not managed to find it for a few years but my memories of it will never fade.

Alongside the brewery is the Fur and Feather Inn, the brewery tap.  The beautiful thatched building was converted from a row of three cottages and provides excellent food alongside the full range of Woodforde's beers.  I have not visited Norfolk for nearly four years but every time I go to the area I ensure that I visit the pub and the adjoining brewery visitor centre.  Norfolk is a beautiful county and Norwich is a fantastic city for real ale.  CAMRA's AGM is visiting Norwich next year and hopefully I will be there too. 

This preamble leads me to the trip I made tonight.  Last week, Shakespeare CAMRA recommended visiting the Horseshoe Inn, Shipston-on_stour, where Woodforde's Wherry was available at £2.60 a pint.  I've rarely found Woodforde's available outside of East Anglia so how could I turn this down?  I was just hoping that it would still be available as it was nearly a week since I was given the news.  I was not disappointed.  Wye Valley HPA and Sharp's Doom Bar Bitter were also available but for me there was only one option.  Wherry comes in at only 3.8% ABV but it has a great flavour.  Like the Headcracker, I find it quite complex with a great mix of flavours.  The pub itself is near the centre of a very picturesque market town.  The old building houses a central bar area.  To the left there is an area set aside for dining and to the right was a further bar area with a large fireplace and a back room with a large TV screen.  Very welcoming and very comfortable and well worth the short drive from Stratford-on-Avon.  Well worth a visit.

When I returned to Stratford-on-Avon I was still thirsty so I visited my local Wetherspoons and I was delighted to see my favourite Sadlers Ales beer Red IPA (5.7% ABV) available.  A perfect pint to follow on from the Woodforde's Wherry.

Happy drinking.


Monday, 3 September 2012

Good Beer Guide 2013

One of the best things I signed up to with CAMRA was the Good Beer Guide subscription.  With so many new breweries springing up every year it is now an essential purchase.  The 2013 edition was launched last week and my copy was waiting for me when I got home last Friday. 

The only advantage of working away from home is the freedom to do as I please in the evenings.  I have been working in Stratford-on-Avon for a number of months now and I have already managed to find many new beers and pubs.  I still haven't been to all the places I want to and now I notice there are three new breweries in Warwickshire to discover.  Added to that there are two new breweries in the West Midlands and three in Worcestershire.  With family in Leicestershire there is one more new brewery I could possibly check out there too. 

This constant expansion of the number of independent breweries has got me thinking.  Is it possible to sample a pint from every UK independent brewery?  I haven't counted how many there are but I'm guessing it is in excess of a thousand so assuming I have a pint from a different brewery every day it would take me 3-4 years.  During that time there could be at least a hundred new breweries started up too.  Is it therefore an impossible task?  We'll find out.  As from September 1st I will make a conscious effort to track what I drink.  To force myself out into pubs and beer festivals I will not count bottled beers I drink at home.  I will allow myself to only drink halves though when at a beer festival as that is my norm. 

Tonight I went to my favourite Stratford-on-Avon pub, The Bear (at the Swan's Nest) and consumed pint number one.  A delicious traditional bitter from the Hobsons Brewery of Shropshire (3.8% ABV).  It had a classic bitter taste and it was most enjoyable.  A great start to the week.

I won't mention my challenge again until this time next year except to say I predict that I will never complete it.  However, it will be fun trying.

Happy drinking.