Friday, 29 November 2013

Marston's Pub Sell-off

News came out this week that 'pub operator and independent brewer' Marston's is selling 202 pubs to NewRiver Retail for £90million.  The company is disposing of wet-led pubs as they believe people only go to pubs to eat nowadays.  Coming from a company that has bought quite a few breweries in the past decade (Jennings, Wychwood, Ringwood) it makes me wonder why they didn't save their money so they could buy a nice profitable restaurant chain instead.  Why buy breweries if nobody goes to drink?  It may be the case that people no longer go into Marston's pubs to drink but that may be due to the quality of beer they are selling.  They seem to have become experts at turning decent beer brands into pale imitations of their former selves with the once superb Ringwood Old Thumper being the latest victim.  

This move has a number of implications of course.  Firstly, what will happen to these pubs?  On the NewRiver Retail website you will see pictures of a Tesco Express and a Co-op.  Not exactly a budding pub company.  If you are in any doubt then read this.  This is a wanton abandonment by Marston's to the local communities that these pubs serve.  Secondly, what does it say about the future of Jennings, Wychwood and Ringwood breweries?  They are owned by a pub company with significantly fewer outlets and a company that insists people do not go to pubs to drink any more.  How long it will it be before these breweries are cast aside?

I grew up on Marston's Pedigree.  My first local pub was, and still is, a Marston's pub and when I went to Southampton University I found myself another Marston's pub to frequent.  Pedigree was a lovely beer and it is very sad to see the company head in such a direction.  Whereas I used to seek out their pubs I now try and avoid them.  The sad truth is that people who do go to Marston's pubs are probably going there for something other than what there is to drink.  However, for them to say people no longer go to pubs just to drink is just crap.  

I hope CAMRA will be campaigning against this move.  Local communities do not need any more supermarkets.  We are inundated with them.  Within a two mile radius of where I live there are at least four Co-ops and three Tesco Express.  I do not need these.  They all sell the same stuff and one would suffice.  My nearest pub is a mile away.  Communities need pubs.  Every pub should be safeguarded as an 'Asset of Community Value' BY DEFAULT.  Any company wanting to change the use of a pub to something else would therefore have to prove that the pub is no longer wanted by their community.  How many would be able to prove this?  People love pubs even if they are not regular pubgoers.  How many people love their local Tesco Express?  It is time to stand up for all pubs and the communities they serve.  


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Blue Monkey Brewery

It is about a year since I visited the new Organ Grinder pub in Loughborough and you can read my review of the pub here.  My closing words of this post were 'it will certainly educate the local students as to what a real pub is all about'.  One year later and my sister decided to hold her 50th birthday party at the pub and this gave me a perfect opportunity to see how the pub is doing and, more importantly, to sample a range of the Blue Monkey beers, an opportunity not possible in the past due to driving.

Let's start with the pub itself though.  I was certainly correct about it educating the local students.  The place was buzzing with a young crowd and the youthful and eager staff were probably students working for some extra cash too.  There had been no noticeable changes to it.  I did not notice a guest beer this time but with up to eight Blue Monkey beers available this was not a problem at all.  The party was in the function room upstairs.  This room was a good size extending the full length of the pub with sofas mixed in among the various wooden tables and chairs.  It had its own bar with a single beer on tap so for me I still used the bar downstairs.  Quite rightly the pub is in the 2014 Good Beer Guide and the future of this pub now seems assured.  

The first beer of the evening I chose was the BG Sips (4.0% ABV).  This light golden ale is a perfect session beer with plenty of fruity hops in both the aroma and the taste.  This hoppy bitterness lasted throughout and it gave off a crisp bitter finish.  My eye had already found the word Citra on the Infinity pump clip so that was the second pint of the evening taken care of.  This was superb.  Everything I wish for in a pale beer packed with Citra hops.  Bursting with zingy citrus aromas and flavour and a good strength too (4.6% ABV).  If that wasn't enough though I had also spied an Infinity Plus One (5.6% ABV) for my next pint.  The girl pouring it said it was coming to an end so she asked me to try it first.  I was in luck.  It was still in lovely condition and it had a much fuller and rounded flavour than the Infinity Plus One Minus One (or plain old Infinity if you must).  There was still the noticeable Citra hoppy aroma but it had more fruit in the taste with passion fruit and mango coming through.  It was more golden in colour too and this beer received my top marks.  I absolutely loved it.  I rounded off the evening with a pint of their 'revolutionary stout' Guerilla (4.9% ABV).  This was a lovely change from the hops I had been quaffing earlier with a lovely biscuity and roasted malt base with subtle hints of raisin and liquorice before giving off a restrained coffee bitterness at the end.  It was so incredibly smooth and totally divine.

Blue Monkey beers are quite rightly making a name for themselves and added to the quality of their pubs they have a very bright future.  If you ever see them available give them a try.  You won't be disappointed.

Happy drinking.



Friday, 22 November 2013

Dorchester Pub Crawl

I met Martin, my best mate, drinking buddy and Saints fan, at Southampton University and after graduating he moved back to his home town of Dorchester and I went all over the place.  We joined CAMRA and from the mid 80s we began meeting up annually for the GBBF.  We meet up in Southampton too as often as possible for the football and beers but it is the trips to Dorchester that I particularly enjoy.  Dorchester is a bit of a sleepy town and thirty years ago it was dominated by the Eldridge Pope brewery.  Martin was never a fan of his hometown brewery but I did like a drop of Royal Oak.  This was my first visit to the town since the brewery redevelopment has been uncovered.  Flats, shops and restaurants are now housed within the complex with the usual Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Zizzis and Wagamama already open for business.  It's all a bit generic but the building still looks magnificent.            

Dorchester has always had a decent pub selection despite a somewhat restricted beer choice at times.  The now closed White Hart was the only outlet of Hall & Woodhouse that I can remember and the remainder were dominated by Eldridge Pope and Devenish.  Things began to improve with the opening of brewpub Tom Browns in 1987 and the pubs we trawled round on Tuesday have been part of the chequered history of Dorchester pubs but which now represent the best available.

We began in Goldies (formerly the Borough Arms) as England were playing Germany and this pub has a TV centred on the far wall of the compact bar area.  This is a former Eldridge Pope pub and Martin tells me it has always been known by both names as long as he can remember.  Martin is a mine of information and tells me a Mr Goldie owned the building back in Edwardian times and despite attempts to rename it the Goldie's name lives on and now the Borough Arms has been pushed aside. 

You enter into a comfortable lounge area which is served from the single serving area via a small gap in the wall which serves as the bar.  The handpumps can only be seen from the public bar though which is reached through a gap in the wall to your immediate left.  The public bar has bare stone walls and a nice bay window but it is small with room for no more than 20 to sit in comfortably.  The saloon is larger and used to house a splendid bar billiards table but sadly this is long gone.     

With a full football match to sit through there was time for a relaxing couple of pints here and we both began with the Town Mill Black Ven, a 5.0% ABV porter brewed along the coast at Lyme Regis.  This was a lovely start to the evening.  It was very warming with strong liquorice notes along with some blackcurrant and raisin notes in the mix too.  It was smooth and easy to drink and we both gave this high marks.  

My second pint came from the local Piddle Brewery.  Jimmy Riddle is a 3.7% bitter that was very poor indeed.  A lifeless glass of brown liquid with no sign of any hops.  Flat malty dishwater is the best description I can come up with.  Martin was equally unimpressed.  He did drink it quick it enough however to manage a third pint before the final whistle.  This was a pale golden beer called Sunbeam from Banks's.  I did not sample it but it looked a damn sight better than the Piddle and Martin described it as 'OK'.  A man of few words.  The other beers available were the awful Doom Bar and something equally bland from Ringwood. 

It was a short walk down the road to our next port of call, Tom Browns.  This pub was called The Chequers when it closed in the mid 1970s.  It was closed for over a year before a Mr Finch bought it and it was reopened as The Sandpiper.  This obviously didn't work too well and he changed it into a wine bar.  This again did not last and in 1987 he turned it into a brewpub.  The pub was renamed Tom Browns and the beers were brewed under the Goldfinch name.  It instantly proved to be a success and when in Dorchester it is normally my first port of call.  Following the sad death of Mr Finch a few years ago the pub was snapped up by Dorset Brewing Company as their brewery tap and the Goldfinch beers are now brewed offsite at DBC's nearby brewery on the outskirts of town.           

Tom Browns features in my top ten of very special pubs and I have been enjoying coming here for over twenty years now.  For Martin it is one of his two regular haunts and he always has the Tom Browns, a 4.0% traditional bitter.  I normally go for the Midnight Blinder unless they have a guest beer I fancy trying.  Tonight I went for the usual only to find it has now become a stout.  When did that happen?  The strength of the beer remains the same at 5.0% ABV.  I certainly wasn't complaining though once I tasted it as it is a cracking stout.  Superbly smooth, full bodied and well balanced with some subtle bitter coffee notes and a malty biscuity base.  Superb.     

The pub itself really hasn't changed a great deal in 20+ years.  It has a tasteful basic decor in the large single bar area.  To the back there is a skittle alley and at the rear there is apparently a lovely garden that I have never seen.  One notable item missing this time is the jukebox.  Where has it gone?  Martin informs me it is now in the skittle alley which is not much use.  Bring it back into the bar !!      

The walk to the third pub was equally short.  Back towards Goldies and across the road The Blue Raddle sits just off the main road.  This is yet another pub with a chequered history and one which has had its share of closures and former names.  Originally The Dolphin it was shut for a couple of years before reopening as The Gun Room.  This changed to the Country Gentleman before changing once again to The Blue Raddle in the 90s.  Since then it has always been a pub worth visiting.

You enter into a small comfortable lounge and the bar runs down the right hand side of the pub which serves all the various seating areas which are separated by wooden panelling creating a nice cosy feel.  There is a further separate room towards the back so it is deceptively spacious overall.  It always seems to be bustling and very friendly when I have visited and this evening was no exception.  In the past I have eaten here and the food is all locally sourced and cooked to order and quite superb.       

The beer selection is always interesting and mainly sourced from the West Country.  They certainly were this evening.  There were beers from St Austell, Otter and I think I spotted Doom Bar in there too sadly.  There were a couple of beers from Bath Ales as well as Branoc (3.8% ABV) from Devon brewer Branscombe Vale.  I chose the latter as it was new to me and I was delighted to see it served in a branded glass.  The beer itself initially tasted quite bland but that was probably because it was coming after the Midnight Blinder.  There was a distinct caramel maltiness with some sweet fruits to it and finally I was able to detect a pleasing bitter finish.  Overall quite a pleasant traditional English bitter.                

With ten minutes to go before last orders we were deliberating where to finish up when DBC Ales tweeted me suggesting we went back to Tom Browns for a final beer.  What a good idea.  The plan was to end up at Martin's other local, The Bakers Arms.  This is a former Eldridge Pope house dominated by beers from the Marstons stable and coupled with the fact it was a decent walk and not guaranteed to be open the prospect of another beer at 'Toms' was too enticing.

For our second visit I introduced Martin to the wonders of Dark Star as they had the wonderful Revelation (5.7% ABV) as a guest.  How is it I ask?  'OK' came the reply.  He needs to get out more!!  I went for a DBC special called Smokin' Bock.  This is a 6.0% ABV beer that is absolutely superb.  There were lots of rich fruit flavours with some orange sweetness giving a very slight sour taste to it but the malty base gave it a well bodied and warming feeling to it.  A perfect end to another excellent evening in Dorchester so time to raise a glass to Martin for yet again showing me round the best that Dorchester has to offer.  Cheers.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Beers from the Dark Side Part One

My recent order at Ales By Mail consisted largely of dark beers.  Winter is nearly upon us so what better time than to try some beers from the dark side.  Milds, stouts, porters, old ales and barley wines are all beer styles that I love, especially when the days are dark and chilly, and this selection covers most of these.  As with most of my bottled beer reviews I am trying all of these beers for the first time.   

Ilkley Black (3.7% ABV)

Let's begin with a mild from a brewery I absolutely love.  This was the first time I have tried one of their darker offerings and Ilkley Black is a classic mild.  It is not totally black as there is a bit of a deep ruby tinge to it but it is close enough to warrant the name.  It has a lovely malty, nutty aroma to it which is more than you get from a lot of milds.  For a low strength beer it has quite a rich taste and there are some burnt caramel notes to it in addition to hints of forest fruits and liquorice.  Very easy to drink this one and very easy to like too and it gets a score of 9/10.       

Kernel Export Stout London 1890 (7.2% ABV)

Definitely pumping up the strength with this one from the superb Kernel Brewery.  As with the Ilkley, this was my first trip to the dark side with this brewery and I was not left disappointed.  It is as thick and dark as used engine oil and it clung to the insides of my mouth for ages.  It is not a sweet stout.  Instead it has plenty of roasted coffee bitterness to it along with hints of raisin and bitter chocolate.  It took a little getting used to the bitterness but I was in love with it by the time I got to the bottom of the glass.  This one picked up a score of 8/10.     

Chocolate Marble (5.5% ABV)

This was my first bottled beer from this Manchester micro.  Having tried their superb IPA Dobber in cask last month I was eager to try more from them and from the description I was keen to give this beer a go.  It is jet black in colour with a healthy frothy creamy head to it.  This was much smoother and substantially less bitter than the Kernel.  There were hints of coffee, milk chocolate and liquorice but I found it to be quite mild overall.  It was so easy to drink.  It may be totally different to the Kernel but when it comes to marking it gets the same score as the Kernel with an 8/10.

Bristol Beer Factory Ultimate Stout (7.7% ABV)

This is the final stout in this first session from my Ales By Mail order.  I discovered the beers from this micro earlier this year when I discovered their wonderful Barley Mow pub in Bristol.  What an awesome pub that is and I awarded all of the Bristol Beer Factory ales I tried over my three visits top marks (Bitter Californian, Independence and Acer).  I have since tried their Milk Stout locally which also scored highly so this Ultimate Stout was yet another beer I was looking forward to.  Coming in at an impressive 7.7% ABV it comes closest to matching the Sadlers Mud City Stout that I adore.  It is a superb sweet stout that is very rich with big hints of molasses.  There are also the expected chocolate and raisin notes in there too.  For such a strong beer it is so smooth and easy to drink.  This is my favourite stout of the three and picks up a score of 9/10.          

Meantime Chocolate Porter (6.5% ABV)

This next one was found in Waitrose so I was happy to give this a go and add a porter to my trip to the dark side.  Meantime are making a name for themselves with their appealing bottles and this one is no exception.  I have tried their IPA before and I absolutely loved it so I was hoping for more of the same from this one.  It is very well named as there is a distinct chocolate taste in there although the aroma was quite bland.  There were also raisin notes in there and a little spiciness to it also.  It does not taste as potent as the strength suggests though and it did not have the smoothness of the Chocolate Marble.  I like it, but it does not match up to some other porters I have tried.  I would therefore give it a score of 7/10.          

Hepworth Classic Old Ale (4.8% ABV)

When I lived in Horsham I was always on the lookout for the first sign of Winter.  This would be the arrival of King and Barnes Old Ale and I would drink vast quantities of it.  At a little over 4.0% ABV it was a perfect session beer and I cannot understand why Hall and Woodhouse did not try to recreate this awesome beer but it did leave the door open for WJ King and Hepworths to brew their own versions.  Andy Hepworth was the head brewer at K&B and since establishing Hepworths in 2001 the Classic Old Ale has filled the gap left by the closure of K&B.  At 4.8% ABV it is slightly stronger than the original but it is still a lovely smooth winter warmer.  It has plenty of roasted malt character along with a nice gentle bitter finish.  As with all winter warmers though I find that the bottled versions do not quite match up to the cask versions and so this only picks up a score of 8/10.  To drink a cask old ale find the Harveys Old and you will see what I mean.  This is a 10/10 beer and is so very similar to the old K&B version so old ale in Sussex very much lives on.            

So this ends my review of my first consignment of dark beers.  With plenty more in my cupboard waiting to be consumed there will be a part two so I won't be dishing out any awards yet in these categories but the Bristol Beer Factory leads the way so far if I had to choose a winner from this lot.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Ales By Mail

Beer is one item I have never been inclined to buy online.  I would much rather make a trip to a specialist beer shop and have a good browse.  When it comes to bottled beers I have some favourite breweries but I am also keen to always try something new.  A quality beer shop enables me to do this whenever I get the opportunity.  However, there are simply not enough specialist beer shops and where I live there is a total lack.  My invitation to appear on the Beer O'Clock Show brought things to a head.  I needed to find a bottle of Rogue Mocha Porter and the chance of finding one locally was zero so I had to source one from the internet.  

After a brief scan of adverts in What's Brewing and a quick google I came up with five online beer specialists to check out.  My first criteria for deciding which company to use was obviously one which had the Rogue beer in stock.  That was the only beer I had to buy.  I then compiled a list of twelve breweries whose beers I would like to include on my order and took it from there.  These twelve breweries were my favourite ones of those I regularly found to be available at the excellent Cotteridge Wines in Birmingham.  I discovered this shop when I was working near Birmingham last year and I used it for all my bottled beer purchases for over a year.  The company that could deliver me the majority of my wishlist would get my order.

1)  Real Ale Warehouse (   

The website had a great look to it and navigating around was simple.  The search facility was easy to use and so I quickly discovered there was no Rogue beers available.  This company was immediately ruled out but I went through the my list of twelve breweries and only beers from Otley were available.  Delivery was £6.99 and there was a minimum order of 12 bottles so that was that.

2)  The Real Ale Store (

This website had less appeal and the delivery charge was higher at £7.95.  The minimum order here was 8 bottles.  The Rogue Mocha Porter was available at £3.25 so that was a good start.  The search facility was a little frustrating.  Typing in Rogue it came up with a number which I assumed was the number of items found but when clicking on it the number returned bore no relation to it.  However, the one I wanted was there so I moved on to my wishlist.  My first try was Buxton.      This gave me a return of 16 for  Buxton Brewery and 4 for Buxton Ales.  Selecting Buxton Brewery I got the following

Whoops, our bad...

The page you requested was not found, and we have a fine guess why.
  • If you typed the URL directly, please make sure the spelling is correct.
  • If you clicked on a link to get here, the link is outdated.
Clicking on Buxton Ales I was shown a Thornbridge Mixed Case (very nice but not what I was after this time), a Sam Smiths Selection Box and a Het Anker Gouden Caroulus Mixed Pack.  This was not going well.  I then went through my remaining list and found bugger all.  OK next ......

3)  Beer Hawk (  

The home page of Beer Hawk was excellent.  The delivery charge was £6.99 and they clearly stated that orders over £50 came with free delivery.  This was attractive as my wishlist would have put my order close to this figure and I was sure I could supplement it with a few cheeky additions.  The search facility was good and there was no search request returning unrelated items.  Rogue Mocha Porter was available at £2.99 so that was a good start.  Going down my wishlist I had some successes with beers from Kernel, Ilkley, Marble and Durham all available.  Four out of twelve may seem poor but after my first two attempts I was encouraged by it.  These four breweries were probably the ones at the top of my wishlist so Beer Hawk is a possible contender.  

4)  Ales By Mail (           

Ales By Mail had an OK website and the search facility was OK too.  I preferred Beer Hawk's look and feel but I was not put off by this one.  One thing I did find frustrating was no obvious mention of delivery charges.  The search facility was again OK as it did the job without bringing up unrelated items to what I asked for.  Rogue Mocha Porter was available at £2.99 so this was the same as Beer Hawk.  With my wishlist they did well with six breweries out of the twelve I wanted.  They could supply me Partizan, Bristol Beer Factory and Weird Beard and the only one they did not have that Beer Hawk could supply was Durham.  This was a tough decision.  Durham Brewery is my favourite brewery when it comes to bottled beer and was top of my wishlist.

5)  Beers of Europe (  

Beers of Europe are not strictly an online beer specialist as they have a retail outlet too but I thought I would give them a go as they reputedly have a massive selection.  However, they failed at the first hurdle in my search for the Rogue Mocha Porter which returned lots of items for Rouge.  I do not like search facilities that try to second guess me by asking if I meant to type in something different.  

Your search 'Rogue' did not match any products. Did you mean: Rouge.

Here the delivery charge was £7.49 and of my wishlist they could supply me with Sadlers, Bristol Beer Factory and Ilkley.  Not an online option for me then but I really wish I lived nearby to them.

That concluded my research.  Of the five companies listed I will probably only choose to use two of them in future.  For my first order though I chose Ales By Mail as they did come top in the number of breweries I was seeking.  It did not take me long to register and checkout my order.  It was only here though that I discovered the delivery charge was £6.99 although I later found it hidden away in the FAQ section.  There is no mention of free delivery for a certain amount so I assume the cost is a flat £6.99 or possibly more for larger orders.  In addition to my wishlist beers I selected 4 others and then all I had to do was wait for the box to arrive.  A few days later there was a knock on the door and standing there was a man with a box of beer for me all beautifully packaged and in perfect condition.  These will all be reviewed over time of course.

So will I be buying more beer online?  Yes I definitely will but it is apparent to me that for certain UK beers it is probably better to use the brewery website and buy direct.  I will shortly be putting in an order for Christmas and I may choose Beer Hawk for that one as I must have some Durham Brewery beer with my turkey.  However, I will also try the Durham Brewery website too to see how costs compare and I will write about that experience too.  Beer Hawk and Ales By Mail do have a decent selection that I would be delighted to find in a specialist shop though and their beer descriptions do make it easy to browse for new beers to try.  I may not be a regular customer of any of them but I am sure I will be using them both in the future or at least until a local shop magically appears.


Friday, 1 November 2013

Twenty Very Special Pubs

About a year ago I compiled a list of twenty pubs that were special to me.  After my last post regarding crap pubs I thought I should follow it up with an update of this list of special pubs.  I have been to lots of superb pubs in the past year and some of these are now worthy of inclusion.  These are pubs I will always return to when I am in their area.  They do not have one common factor that makes them special except that they are all very special to me.  It may be well over a decade since I have visited some of them but quality lasts and I believe that those listed continue unchanged. 

1)  The Royal Oak, Great Glen

This pub is still my number one for the simple reason it is where my dad grew up.  His father, Alfred, ran the pub during World War II when it was tied to NBC (Northampton Brewing Company).  I imagine that running a pub during this time was neither easy nor healthy and my dad lost his parents when he was in his early teens.  Many times when I was growing up me and my brothers and sister would sit outisde this pub in the car while our parents went for a drink meeting old friends.  I last visited the pub about a year ago and I was delighted to see that the pub has been lovingly refurbished.  It is situated in the heart of the old village of Great Glen just off the A6 south of Leicester.  It is a tiny pub with comfortable red leather sofas at the front (with resident dog stretched out on one of them) and a roaring fire at the back.  The beer selection was Fullers London Pride, Greene King IPA and the local Steamin' Billy.  I chose the latter and it was served in lovely condition.  I would love to see this pub in the Good Beer Guide.     

2)  Fat Cat, Norwich

I've worked in Norwich for a number of years and my last stint there was in 1998.  Norwich was once renowned as the city with a pub for every day of the year.  The number had fallen to about 240 when I first worked there but I managed to visit more than half of them.  It isn't just quantity here either.  There are many quality pubs in the city and this is my favourite.  Located outside the inner ring road it is a traditional street corner local that has an amazing array of beers available.  Every evening I would have about 20 ales to choose from and the selection was constantly changing.  The pub has won CAMRA's National Pub of the Year competition twice and it is easy to see why.  This is a pub you must visit if you are ever in Norwich.

3)  The Guildford Arms, Edinburgh

This pub would be worthy of inclusion just for the original Victorian architecture complete with revolving door entrance.  It has a large standing area around the bar but there is plenty of seating too where you can spend hours supping one or two of the ten real ales including many from small Scottish microbreweries whilst admiring the spectacular high ceiling, ornate cornices and wooden screens.  It's now ten years since I visited Edinburgh but this pub is timeless.       

4)  The Glue Pot, Swindon

Swindon gets a lot of bad press and most of my colleagues thought they had lucked out when they were sent to Swindon.  Staying at the central Holiday Inn Express for 3 months I discovered this gem a short walk from the hotel.  Located in the centre of Brunel's Railway Village, built in the 1840s, this street corner local, like the surrounding area, is a step back into the past.  The full range of Hop Back Brewery beers are available along with local guest beers.  It may be a small pub but it packs a big punch.  Very friendly, fairly quiet during the week when I was there and always an excellent pint.  If you are ever in Swindon and feeling exasperated by the awful 1960s architecture take a short walk to The Glue Pot.

5)  The Bow Bar, Edinburgh

I make no excuse for including a second Edinburgh bar in my top ten.  The city is awash with fine pubs but I spent many evenings walking between this pub and the Guildford Arms.  The Bow Bar is situated near the Scottish Parliament building and it is a tiny one-roomed bar with a fine selection of beers to choose from.  If you like whiskey (I don't) then you can choose from around 200 malts here too.  It often got busy but by choosing the right times I usually found a seat to relax in.  I could then sit and watch as the place filled up with a lively crowd of enthusiastic drinkers.         

6)  Porterhouse, Dublin

I spent 18 months in Dublin and within the first month one of my colleagues had taken me to 17 different pubs for lunch within a mile of the office alongside the canal.  The lunchtime food was always excellent and after a while I opted for Murphys ahead of Guiness to accompany the meal.  That was it though.  Every pub had the same choice and however delightful most of them were it was not exactly overflowing with choice.  Then I discovered the Porterhouse on the outskirts of Temple Bar.  It was a good two mile walk for me but for the best part of a year I made the four mile round trip to this excellent brewpub three or four times a week.  The beers may have been targeted towards the locals with a stout and a porter and a tradtional Irish red but they did also produce a couple of fine cask-conditioned bitters. 

7)  Swan in the Rushes, Loughborough

This pub is situated in the town of my birth and the town where I spent the first 18 years of my life and where I began going into pubs.  In the late 1970s Loughborough had plenty of town centre pubs where you could get served if you were under 18.  This pub was not one of my locals though.  It was a rather depressing Shipstones pub called The Charnwood and I had left home for the big wide world when it was rescued and reopened under a new name and a new ethos.  It immediately became my pub of choice when going home and it serves the full range of Castle Rock beers alongside a large selection of guest ales.  It has a traditional bar to the right and a slightly more comfortable lounge to the left with a third room to the rear.  It is always busy and it is always a pleasure to visit.      

8)  Wild Boar,Warwick

This is a recent addition to my top ten.  It really is a fantastic pub and towards the end of my stint at Stratford-upon-Avon earlier this year I began to make the train journey to Warwick in preference to visiting one of the few decent pubs in Statford.  The close proximity to the station certainly helped and it was the pub I chose to have some leaving drinks at when my time in Stratford came to an end.  It is a  friendly locals pub showcasing the excellent beers from the Slaughterhouse Brewery.  It also has its own microbrewery which is used to produce house specials.  The pub consists of a main front bar with a small wood-panelled snug behind.  Further back there is a function room that has regular music nights.  The microbrewery can be seen from the snug.  In addition to the Slaughterhouse beers they have four or five ever changing guest beers which are always served in perfect condition.  Read my review of this pub here.

9)  Tom Browns, Dorchester

My best friend lives in Dorchester and it was he who educated me into drinking real ale as much as anyone.  We met in the final year of university and since then we have met up regularly for the GBBF and Saints games as well as numerous other occasions.  When I visit him in his home town, Tom Browns is always a regular stop.  It opened up as a brewpub in the late 1980s if my memory serves me right and although it has gone through a change of ownership in recent years following the sad death of the founder, it is now once again my friends local and a pub well worth visiting with an excellent selection of beers and it is largely unchanged from when I first visited twenty or so years ago.  It has a strong local following but it is very welcoming too.  It is now managed by Dorset Brewing Co and the beers are brewed off-site just outside Dorchester.              

10)  Maypole, Yapton

I moved to Yapton in 1997 and this pub quickly became my local.  It is the current venue for the Western Sussex CAMRA meetings every two months so despite having moved away from the village I am now regularly going back to this excellent pub and it is therefore another recent entry to my top ten.  It is hard to find down a road that leads to nowhere but it is well worth searching for.  Their range of beers is constantly changing so you will always find something new to try.  There is a basic public bar with darts and pool and a smaller lounge which has a cosier feel to it.  There is a traditional skittle alley that can be hired out and which is also used for our CAMRA meetings.  In the Summer months you can enjoy the recently constructed large decked garden area too.  It is a totally unpretentious pub and I love it.  Read my review of this pub here.       
Bubbling under the top ten are the following pubs.  Some of these I have visited more recently and some of them are favourites from the past that could not quite match the current incumbents.  They are all worth visiting though if you find yourselves near one of them.

11)  The Windsor Castle, Lye

The Sadlers Ales brewery tap is a tremendous pub with the full range of Sadlers Ales fantastic beers.  Even without the brewery it makes a perfect pub with welcoming staff, excellent food and comfortable modern decor.  It also now does accommodation so you can enjoy the full range of Sadlers Ales without having to worry about how you will get home!!

12)  The Victoria Works, Studley

Another excellent brewery tap.  Brewery taps are always worth visiting and the Weatheroak Brewery tap is one I am constantly raving about and one that I revisited as often as possible when I was working in Stratford-on-Avon.   

After a short spell working in Bristol earlier this year this pub moves straight into my top twenty.  This pub is absolutely perfect and you can click here to read my review of it.

Stratford-on-Avon is sparse when it comes to good pubs so I was delighted to discover this excellent pub within the Swan's Nest Hotel.  Enter through the revolving door and the door to your immediate left takes you into the pub.  The bar has fine array of 8 handpumps, 4 of which showcase local microbreweries.  

A rural brewery tap and I never tire of walking in and seeing the complete range of Woodforde's magnificent beers.  Situated in the tiny village of Woodbastwick in the Norfolk Broads this beautiful thatched pub is well worth seeking out.  

16)  The Sole Bay Inn, Southwold

Located across the green from the brewery in Southwold this pub is a little more upmarket now than when I first visited this fine Adnams pub but it is still worth seeking out.  It is probably the most photographed pub in the UK as it is dwarfed by the towering lighthouse across the road that dominates this picturesque Suffolk town.

17)  The Rockstone, Southampton

For many years The Alexandra was my chosen destination for a pint or two before a Saints game.  This has now been replaced by the Rockstone and so this is a new entry in my top twenty.  A city pub with the feel of a village local serving an excellent range of beers from local microbreweries as well as a house beer brewed by Sadlers Ales.  A superb pub reviewed here.      

Micropubs are opening up all over the place and this is my favourite one of those I have visited so far.  It is the perfect place to enjoy a quiet pint of one of their constantly changing beers.  Every town should have a micropub.  Read my review of it here.    

19)  BB Rovers, Austin, Texas

A home from home when I worked there in 1989.  Over 300 bottled beers from all around the world as well as many beers from American micros on tap.  My name still appears on the board listing the members of their '101 Club'.    

20)  The Griffin, Loughborough

My first local when I was 'under 18'.  It was an excellent town centre Marstons pub and it probably still is although it has been smartened up.

I have been to many more wonderful pubs but the ones listed are special and always will be.  If you ever visit one of them I hope you have a good time and enjoy an excellent pint.

Happy drinking.