Monday, 27 March 2017

Cambridge City Centre pubs

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Cambridge with The Lovely Jemma and friends. We had a great day despite the throngs of tourists and the annoyingly long walk from the train station to the town centre. Sadly the wet weather meant we weren't able to enjoy a punt down the River Cam, but we did meet our tourist obligations by paying a visit to the impressive Kings College before succumbing to the lure of the many excellent pubs. I've written about the pubs on the outskirts of the city centre before, but on this visit we managed to visit a few boozers in the middle of all the action.

We started with The Mill, a small two room pub in a busy location right by the majority of the punt launches. The place was packed when we popped in at lunchtime. I started things local with a pint of the Cambridge Brewing Co King's Parade, which is brewed at their sister pub. After the first few sups The Lovely Jemma noticed there was something unusual at the bottom of my glass. On closer inspection it turned out to be a nail! I've found strange things in a beer glass before but never one of those. It was a good job Jemma noticed it or I probably would have drunk and choked on it without a second thought. I went through the typically British reaction of not wanting to cause a fuss and thinking maybe the nail should be there - perhaps it was a bizarre Cambridge initiation or maybe the brewer specifies a nail must be served with the beer which wouldn't surprise me these days. When getting the beer changed the staff could offer no explanation on how the nail ended up in the glass, so it will forever remain a unsavoury mystery. The nail might have added something to the beer though, as the replacement pint didn't taste as good as the first one. The experience was a bit off putting and eventually the crammed and noisy pub got a bit much for us so we moved on.

We next popped in to Pint Shop with the intention of getting lunch in the restaurant at the back. After being told there was a ninety minute wait for a table we decided to try our luck in the smart, modern "pub" area, which serves a selection of bar food rather than the full restaurant menu. There was a long list of beers displayed on a huge blackboard, with around 10 keg and 5 cask. To the shame of my CAMRA membership I stuck with keg as the selection on offer was so strong. I started with the Kiwi IPA from Summer Wine which was excellent, a super hoppy and fruity treat. After enjoying a tasty sausage roll and chips with curry sauce I had a very pleasant half of the Sleeping Lemons Export Gose from the Wild Beer Co which had an excellent balance of fruity flavours and didn't make my eyes water too much with the sourness. The food and beer were excellent, but the prices were a little too high even for this jaded Londoner. A small portion of chips and curry sauce for £4 is right on the edge of "rip off" territory. But I guess as long as mugs like me keep buying it, they'll keep selling it for those prices. Overall though this was an excellent pub, with a cosy and friendly atmosphere, good food and an excellent beer list chosen with care.

We finished off the day at The Maypole, a modern and bright pub with an appealing terrace about a ten minute walk from Kings College. I went back to cask here and enjoyed a Nene Valley Australian IPA, an easy drinking fruity brew. A good selection of American beers, and an excellent selection of Belgium beers were available in can and bottle. After a half of Grain Brewery Slate, an excellent smoked dark beer, it was time to call it a day. Feeling a bit tired and lazy we decided to get an Uber back to the station. I know they're a evil company but it's just so easy to use their app. I look forward to returning to Cambridge soon - and will hopefully get a punt ride in next time!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Ramblers Rest, Chislehurst

Chislehurst is a pretty, well to do suburb right on the border of South East London and Kent. It's a deceptively large place, with the train station a good 20 minute walk from the main high street and shops. There is plenty of money in the area and there are always rumours around that Chislehurst is home to many a villain who made good. With many of the mansions blocked off behind large gates I do wonder if there is shifty business going on that the owners would like everybody to keep away from. Of course the more likely reason for the gates is that they just don't want plebs like me oohing and aahing at their impressive properties.

I've written about several pubs in Chislehurst before, and to be honest not much has changed since that write up. The Ramblers Rest, a quaint weather-boarded pub about halfway between the station and the high street, had eluded me and I managed to pay a visit a few weeks ago. The pub should be an easy 25 minute walk from my house, but unfortunately a detour is required as the direct route is blocked off by the scourge of the countryside - the golf course. I imagine before golf courses and private gated roads made themselves known in Chislehurst it was possible to have a nice ramble to the pub, but now the most direct route involves walking through a wooded area right next to a major road.

The pub is split into two rooms consisting of a large dining and drinking area on the lower level, and a smaller area geared towards drinkers on the upper level. The bar spreads over the two rooms. A couple of TV's show the sport (rugby when I visited.) A older, male regular was propping up the bar chatting to the young, female bar staff. The beer selection was fairly average, with four handpumps alongside the usual collection of lagers and fizzy ciders. The ale choice was mainly boring brown bitters, and I tried a pint of the "house ale," actually a mass produced brew by the Caledonian Brewery. It was fine, a little bit more malty than yer Doom Bars and London Pride. Service was friendly.

Overall the pub is a decent local, and with no shops or tourist attractions nearby I imagine it has to offer a consistent and reliable experience to keep the local residents dropping in. Despite being right in the middle of a wealthy area it was surprisingly down to earth, perhaps even a little shabby in some parts of the pub. This is not a place with lots to distract from conversation, and it looked like the other customers were happy with this. Although I wouldn't make a special effort to go back, this boozer is worth popping in if you happen to be walking (or rambling) in the area.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Transpennine Rail Ale Trail

The Transpennine rail ale trail is a stretch of pubs on the journey from Leeds to Manchester. It was made popular by that beer program starring Oz Clarke and James May. I never actually watched the show as Oz and James make me irrationally angry, but I imagine they were perfect for a show about beers and pubs as they both look like they would do a good job at being insufferable pub bores, and I'm speaking from experience here. Details of the "official" trail can be found here.

There have been plenty of horror stories about the trail since it got popular, with tales of punters pissing into local residents gardens, vandalising trains, and performing satanic rituals in abandoned mills in chocolate box Yorkshire villages (the last one may not be true.) I was a little apprehensive as we were doing the trail on a Saturday, traditionally the day when all the Fosters lads are hitting the pubs, but was also looking forward to visit some excellent sounding pubs.

Our first stop was the Cellar Bar in Batley, an entirely forgettable pub with a middling ale selection. We got in at 11:45am and  already there was a bunch of lads, including one in a fetching grass skirt, at the pool table looking fairly merry, which set the tone for the rest of the day. We swiftly moved on to Dewsbury to visit the West Riding Refreshment Rooms. Situated on the platform this was a much better bet, with a well chosen selection of cask and keg ales. As luck would have it we were there for the local "Westival" festival, so as well as the ten or so ales available in the pub, the pub was also a real ale concession as part of the festival, with an additional fifteen ales on often. My half of Sorachi from the talented Bristol Beer Factory was in good form, and  Treasure IPA from Yorkshire lads Great Heck was a tasty, hoppy treat. The ivy covered exterior of the pub is a delight to look at, and the cosy interior with train paraphernalia scattered about is also a pleasure. A brass band came on stage as part of the festival, clearly laid on for us Londoners to cement the fact that we were in Yorkshire. It was even pouring down with rain! I had a great time here.

Back on the train and alighting at Mirfield, we skipped the recommended pub and walked in the opposite direction to The Flowerpot, a CAMRA Pub of the Year (POTY) winner. This turned out to be a good idea as the trail participants were growing in number and drunkenness. It also helped that The Flowerpot was probably the best pub of the day. A fine looking stone building nestled in a pretty village, this Otley brewery owned pub serves a selection of their ales and also had some good guest ales on. The interior of the pub is full of cosy corners to enjoy a sup. My pint of White Rat took its time to settle, I'm not used to this as in London pubs the beer generally comes out ready to drink. I prefer the thrill of the settle myself. The end result was a very tasty pale ale. After a surprisingly injury free turn on the darts board it was time to head on to the next stop.

Arriving in Huddersfield, we again skipped the pub on the ale trail website and walked the ten or so minutes to The Grove. I'd read some reports that some people doing the trail don't bother venturing any further on the trail after hitting this pub, and walking in I could see why. This cosy two room pub has a superb selection of cask and keg beers available, with a dazzling amount of handpumps on the horseshoe shaped bar. I tried the collaboration brew It's Magic by  Fyne Ales and Magic Rock, two of my favourite breweries as they produce consistently good beer. It was a malty treat, and my second pint Durham Lightning Rod was a pleasingly hoppy session pale ale. Sadly we hadto move on but I look forward to returning to this lovely temple to beer in the future.

Our last stop before Manchester was Marsden, where we were supposed to visit the Riverhead Brewery TapUnfortunately the place was jam packed with braying, loud mouthed assholes. Clearly the other punters on the ale trail had been hitting the beers hard and fast, and were hassling both customers and staff. It was sad to see. I necked a Riverhead Brewery Fly Weight and we escaped up the road to The Shakespeare. The Dizzy Blonde I ordered was pure vinegar soup, and was swiftly returned for a Tetleys Dark Mild on keg, which was about as good as can be expected. This was not a great pub by any stretch of the imagination but it was quiet and had a pool table so I couldn't complain too much.

The train from Marsden to Manchester was a bit of a nightmare, and the sober customers were looking very uncomfortable on a train packed with braying ale trailers. I say "ale" trailers, from what I'd seen in the pubs most weren't drinking the ales at all - lager was the order of the day. We arrived in Manchester in one piece and had a great dinner at Red's True Barbecue - I'd never eaten so much meat in one sitting in my life and their inhouse IPA was also pretty damn good.

I enjoyed the ale trail but if I was to do it again it would definitely be during the week. My advice if you're doing it on a weekend is start as early as possible and call it quits around 3pm - the pubs are just too busy, and the customers too boorish after then. The two stand out pubs (The Flowerpot and The Grove) weren't even on the "official" trail and it was well worth straying off the beaten path. I would definitely prioritise those two pubs if you're doing the trail.