Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Gold medal beers update

February has been an excellent month for quality beers.  I have been awarding gold medals out on a regular basis and there have been quite a few near misses too.  I won't normally do an update each month but as it is now 6 months since I began my quest to sample a pint of draft beer from as many different breweries as possible I thought it would be a good idea to issue my latest awards along with an update on how my quest is going.

Firstly, I will dish out my latest batch of gold medals.  In alphabetical order these are :-

Abbeydale Moonshine (4.2% ABV).  I had a pint of this last night in The Oak at Warwick.  An absolutely superb pint served in perfect condition.  It is a very pale, hoppy beer with hints of grapefruit.  I love the hoppiness and it is extremely refreshing.  No hesitation in awarding a gold to this one.

Black Sheep Best Bitter (3.8% ABV).  This beer really surprised me.  It looked like a traditional session bitter with a beautiful deep chestnut colour.  It had a fantastic crisp bitterness, a spicy fruitiness followed by a long bitter finish and aftertaste.  I could not imagine this beer being any better in Masham.  It was perfection and it was also consumed in The Oak at Warwick.  Testament to a superbly managed cellar.

Byatts Brewery Urban Red (4.5% ABV).  This beer was found at the Benjamin Satchwell, one of two Wetherspoons pubs in Leamington.  I do tend to love red beers and this was a perfect example.  A rich ruby colour, a subtle malty taste and plenty of spicy fruits and a gentle bitter aftertaste. 

Byatts Brewery XK Dark (3.5% ABV).  The second award for the fabulous Byatts Brewery of Coventry.  This was a very surprising beer as I was expecting a mild but it had an intense roast bitterness along with a slight sweetness making it taste more like a stout.  A complex yet stunning beer.  This was consumed in the excellent Wild Boar in Warwick, a pub that is rapidly becoming my favourite in Warwickshire.

Sadlers Ales Red IPA (5.7% ABV).  This was my favourite Sadlers beer when I did my brewing experience with them and I was delighted to see it served in perfect condition at The Golden Bee in Stratford-on-Avon with its lovely rich chestnut colour.  It has a big malty taste finely balanced with a full hop flavour.  This is my third gold award to Sadlers Ales following on from their JPA and Mud City Stout.  Now I'm excited to hear that they are brewing a Mud City Russian Stout next month at 9.9% ABV. 

Wood Brewery Shropshire Lad (4.5% ABV).  An unplanned stop at the Coach and Horses, Weatheroak Hill last week threw up this lovely beer.  This was a massive surprise as I have had this beer before at beer festivals and was not expecting this.  A rich malty beer packed with flavour with a subtle bitterness.  It was served in magnificent condition.     

Six gold awards in a month has set a record I think and there were some very near misses from the Slaughterhouse Brewery, Wye Valley, Warwickshire Beer Co. and Yeovil Ales.  Special mention must go to the pubs that have served these fine beers in such excellent condition.  The Oak and The Wild Boar in Warwick have never served me a poor point.  The same can be said for the Golden Bee in Stratford-on-Avon. 

So how is my quest coming along.  In six months I have managed to drink a pint of draft beer in a pub from 90 different breweries.  With over a thousand breweries now in the UK I have a long way to go but I expect to hit the hundred mark in the next few weeks.  I have tried 132 different beers and awarded 24 gold medals.  With my time working in Warwickshire coming to an end I have ticked off all but four breweries from this fine county and working somewhere else will give me new opportunities.  You can be sure I will be here letting you know the good and the bad from whatever I come across.

Happy drinking.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cape of Good Hope, Warwick

Last night I decided to catch the train to Warwick again.  It's easy to get to from Stratford-on-Avon and there are still some pubs I wanted to explore as well as visiting an old favourite.  Tonight my main aim was to visit the Cape of Good Hope.  Leaving the station I turned left past the Wild Boar and the hospital.  It was a good walk up to the pub as it is on the outskirts of town by the canal.  I've always liked waterside pubs.  They have a relaxed feel to them and seem lost in time.  The Cape of Good Hope is a perfect example.

Entering from the canal towpath you enter a small traditional public bar.  It was quiet with a few locals stood around the bar.  There was a dartboard off to the left with a TV screen showing Arsenal's humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich.  I walked through into the lounge.  This was a larger room but not excessively so and the tables were laid out for informal dining.  There was a friendly welcome from the landlord as I decided which of the beers to try.  Greene King Abbot, Hook Norton Hooky Gold, Church Farm Porter, Wye Valley Butty Bach and the house beer Two Llocks (brewed by Church End Brewery) made it a difficult choice.  Assuming I could not get it elsewhere I chose the house beer.  It was a very pleasant looking golden ale coming in at 4.0% ABV.  It was well balanced with a nice fruity taste.  A good choice.  I returned to the bar and sat at a vacant table and enjoyed the pint.          

It can be difficult to assess a pub on a quiet Tuesday evening, especially one which is probably very popular in the Summer months with canal users.  However, the choice of beers was excellent and the one I had was very well kept.  There was a very friendly welcome and a lovely relaxed atmosphere.  It was well worth the walk from Warwick station and it is a pub I will surely visit again.  I would strongly recommend that you check it out if you are ever in the area.

Leaving the Cape of Good Hope I headed for the town centre.  In the Market Place I was not surprised to see that The Tilted Wig was closed.  This was given a scathing review in an earlier post and tonight I popped in to the Thomas Lloyd next door, a very poorly kept Wetherspoons.  I chose a pint of Cotswold Best, a beer I have tried before and enjoyed, but it was also very poorly kept.  Wetherspoons pubs can be excellent.  The Golden Bee in Stratford-on-Avon is a perfect example of how good they can be.  The Thomas Lloyd is at the other end of the spectrum.  The staff were more interested in chatting among themselves even when serving.  The pub felt dirty and half of it was closed off with tables on chairs.  The beer selection wasn't great and the one I had was not very good.  Definitely a pub to avoid.

To finish off the evening I stopped off at the fabulous Wild Boar.  The beer was fantastic and the choice was amazing.  Tonight I sat in the snug where I had a perfect view of the pubs microbrewery, used by Slaughterhouse to brew beers in addition to their regular range brewed nearby in a former slaughterhouse (hence the name).  I first tried a pint of Essington Gold (4.4% ABV) from the Morton Brewery.  I'd never heard of this brewery before but it was a very plesant hoppy golden bitter.  There was also time to try the Slaughterhouse Pacific Pale Ale (4.2% ABV) which was a gently hopped  beer with a crisp bitter finish.  Both beers were delightful.  I absolutely love this pub and I can't wait to make another trip here.  It is the best pub in Warwick but along with The Oak, the Cape of Good Hope comes a very close second.  All in all it was an excellent evening.

Happy drinking.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

More Leamington Spa / Warwick pubs

On my first visit to Leamington Spa it was apparent there was more to see.  My second trip last week saw me visit a further three pubs.  My first stop, The Somerville Arms, was the furthest from the station.  It was located in a quiet street in the NE quadrant of this delightful town.  It is a fine Victorian building.  It was certainly friendly and busy too for such an early hour.  To the front was a comfortable bar with dartboard to the left and the bar area to the right.  At the back is a smaller snug.  There was a lovely looking row of handpumps with four offerings from Everards alongside Wadworths 6X and two from Adnams (Bitter and Broadside).  I chose a pint of Wadworths 6X (4.3% ABV) as it is probably years since I last tried this popular beer.  It is a particularly malty ale with a pleasant subtle bitterness.  It has never been a particular favourite of mine but it is easy to appreciate and enjoy.

Overall, this was an excellent start to the evening.  It is easy to see why the Somerville Arms was awarded the local CAMRA pub of the year in 2011.  It has lots of wooden panelling.  The wooden bench seat in the front window was very comfortable and there was plenty more wooden tables and chairs scattered around although most were occupied.  It is a genuine backstreet local that is more than welcoming to strangers.

I then retraced my steps before heading down a wide avenue with a central pathway.  Off to the right I soon saw a likely looking pub but upon closer inspection The Sausage looked a bit garish.  I'm not sure who would call their pub The Sausage (or The Sozzled Sausage as I read on a different sign) but either way you know what you are probably going to find once you step inside.  The decor proved to be pretty horrendous.  The same disgusting wallpaper pretending to be bookshelves as I witnessed in The Tilted Wig in Warwick did not improve my mood.  The beer choice was UBU or Darling Buds (4.0% ABV) from Warwickshire Beer Co.  I chose the latter and it was ok if a little warm.  I was convinced it should have tasted better though. 

I did not hang around in The Sausage for long so after downing my pint I headed into the town centre.  I only had time for one more stop so it was a choice of two Spoons.  I chose the Benjamin Satchwell and I wasn't disappointed.  The pub had a dartboard (in a very inconvenient position) but the pub was so big you could have played 5-a-side football in it.  Not much to add about the pub really.  It was a typical Wetherspoons with a good choice of beers and I chose Byatt's Urban Red (4.5% ABV).  This was an amazing beer.  A lovely deep auburn colour, a lovely balance of malt and hops and a subtle bitter finish.  A fabulous beer to end the evening with.

Last night I decided to make my third trip to Leamington and from the station I headed off to the west back to Warwick.  My first stop was the Coventry Arms.  It appeared to be a quiet street corner local and upon entering I discovered a large sofa'd area with a big screen on the wall.  The bar area was to the left with high tables and stools (a bit low for the tables) and further on there was a more basic bar area.  My first impression was very good and the choice of beers was excellent too.  UBU and Wadworth 6X were available as well as my beer from last week, Darling Buds.  OK I had to try it again and discover whether it was a proper pint or not last week.  This time it was served at a perfect temperature and it was a lovely pale, hoppy bitter with plenty of citrus flavours.  That definitely answered my question. 

The loveliness of the bar staff and an imminent pub quiz was not enough to detain me as I had a long walk back to Warwick and two or three more pubs to visit.  Next time perhaps.  It is certainly a pub to visit again due to the comfortable surroundings, the excellent beer and the friendliness of the staff.  A perfect combination.

I knew where I was ending the pub crawl and I had one other pub in mind but I thought I'd see what else I discovered en route.  I have no idea where the border between Warwick and Leamington exists but I think I was in Warwick when I came across the Lord Nelson.  Situated on the main road this street corner pub looked ok but once inside it was not very pleasant for a number of reasons.  The bar to the left had a redundant pool table and there was a lone guy sitting morosely at his laptop.  The lounge could be viewed through the serving area and was also sparsely populated. 

The bar had no handpumps but I saw a couple in the lounge and I was offered Wadworths Old Henry or Everards Beacon.  I chose the latter expecting the worst but it was actually a very pleasant pint and served in good condition.  It is a Cask Marque pub so I guess it should not have been such a huge surprise.  Once I had my pint I found an empty table (I had plenty to choose from) but finding a chair that did not have bits missing or was sturdy enough proved a bit more difficult.  I sat down warily and enjoyed the beer.  The barman walking from bar to bar singing as he went did not improve the atmosphere but I guess it did give me something to distract me from the depressing decor all around me.

I left the Lord Nelson feeling a little deflated and because I drank my pint fairly quickly to get myself out of there I decided I had time for two more stops.  I was soon in Warwick where I visited my two favourite pubs in the town which I have described in an earlier post.  The Oak is a tiny gem of a pub and I chose a pint of Black Sheep Bitter (3.8%ABV).  I cannot imagine getting served a better pint of Black Sheep even if I was in Masham.  It was a glorious pint.  An absolutely fantastic chestnut coloured beer with an intense bitterness.  A perfect session beer.

Leaving The Oak my mood had greatly improved and I had time for a pint in the Wild Boar, Warwick's best pub.  As well as the usual Slaughterhouse beers they had two from Byatts as well as a Batemans beer with a rugby themed name.  I'd always wanted to try the Byatts XL Dark (3.5% ABV)  so that is what I went for.  I was expecting a mild but I'm not sure what it was really as it had much more roasted malt flavours as well as a lovely crisp bitterness that I would not have expected.  It was beautiful and it was served in perfect condition too.

Overall, I was a little spoiled by my third visit to Leamington (and Warwick this time).  All four beers were excellent as were three of the four pubs.  The towns are certainly joined at the hip as the border is indistinguishable but the centres are distinctly different.  Warwick is the older partner with its splendid castle and Leamington has a fine Georgian grandeur with wide avenues and canals.  Both towns have plenty to offer the beer lover as well as being steeped in history so I would recommend a trip to both towns if you get a chance.

Happy drinking.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Little Chester Ale House micropub

My interest in micropubs began about a year ago with an article in the Daily Telegraph.  It seemed a simple idea and the article suggested it was something that would probably grow.  That got me thinking because I have always wanted to run a pub and with retirement approaching in the next 5-10 years this seemed the sort of thing I could do to keep me busy. 

A year further down the line and I thought it was time to do more reasearch.  The current concentration of micropubs seems to be centred on either Kent or the East Midlands.  Kent is miles away from both where I work and where I live so my destination of choice was Little Chester Ale House in Derby.  Despite being born and raised in Loughborough, a short drive from Derby, I have never been to a pub in the city or driven into it.  It is therefore a city I know nothing about except for one trip to the old Baseball Ground many years ago. 

Little Chester is situated within a mile of the city centre.  Apparently it used to be a dry cleaners and is on a fairly busy road on a corner with a side street of terraced houses overlooking a very pleasant green.  From the outside it looks like a pub albeit a small one.  The central door leads you into what I would consider to be a nice cosy snug but this is the main bar.  The bar had four handpumps so the place has a cellar.  Many micropubs serve beer straight from the barrel but not here.  The beers available were all new to me so I was spoilt for choice.  I've described the magical pint of Great Heck Dr Rudis that I chose in my last post.  What is important to describe here is the service.  I was immediately asked if I had tried the beer before and when I answered in the negative was firmly told I had to try a sample first.  Service at its best.

The bar area was tiny.  There was a small fridge underneath the counter with a few bottles of wine and soft drinks.  Bottles of cider were also available.  No optics from what I could see.  No food except for a few classic bar snacks.  All in all a very tidy ale house.  The front room was all I was expecting and it had four or five tables with basic wooden chairs.  Nicely decorated and a very pleasant atmosphere with a gathering of about a dozen customers chatting away.  Off to the side of the bar was another small table and at the back was an even snugger snug with a single table and a few stools and chairs.  Overall it could probably cater for 30-40 cusotmers at a time.

My first experience of micropubs is therefore very positive.  I can see why they are taking off from a customers perspective.  I wish I had one local to me.  From an economical standpoint I wonder how much money they can turn over.  They obviously cannot cater for coach parties but their overheads must be tiny compared to many pubs and considering I visited early on a Thursday evening I have been to many larger pubs at this time of day and seen fewer customers.  When I visited, the opening hours of Little Chesters was Thursday thru Sunday but they do have plans for all week opening. 

The thing I really like about Little Chester is they keep things simple yet despite the simplicity the customer is made to feel important.  It is that emphasis on giving what the customer wants that will see a continued growth in the number of micropubs.  It would be nice to see the day when every town has a micropub or two as well as a Wetherspoons.  As for my future plans, I am going to do more research and it is now at the forefront of my mind.  If any micropub owners out there would like to assist me with a business plan I'd be happy to talk about it over a few pints.

Until that day comes, happy drinking.