Wikio - Top Blogs - Wine and beer The Real Ale Girl: October 2011

Saturday 29 October 2011

Its good up North!

I had another moment of North envy this week. I can remember two occasions when I have suffered from this affliction before.

First, was North London envy, when for the only time ever, I wished I lived north of the river. Nothing to do with living near a tube station or any of the rest of that North/South of the river divide nonsense.No, it was because The Southampton Arms is in North London and I wanted to be near it so that I could go there everyday and bask in its loveliness at every opportunity. Life would just be so much better if spare moments were spent there, rather than Lewisham Wetherspoons.

Then, this Northern desire stretched a bit further, up into the North of the country, on a trip to Sheffield. Here was a city which knew what is was doing in pubs and brewing- even the student bars had a huge range of ale, and the city is bursting with pub heritage gems and microbreweries. I blogged about my awe and wonder at the time- here it is if you fancy it.

I wasn’t expecting to have one of these Northern urges this week. After five hours on a delayed, stinking, sweaty coach from Victoria, we pulled into Manchester Coach Station and I was fed up, not excited. I had discovered through Twitter, on the way, that The SIBA Great Northern Beer Festival was in town during the trip but we were visiting a friend who isn’t currently drinking much, who had also put thought into planning activities for our trip. I had the distinct feeling I wouldn’t be going to that festival.

And then, about seven minutes later, I felt like a selfish, ungrateful cow for even letting these thoughts enter my mind. Not only did he think we could fit the SIBA fest in, we were also scheduled a visit to the Didsbury Beer Festival, a Manchester city centre pub crawl, a drive around hard to reach village pubs in the Peak District, and to start it all off, a crawl from the City Centre to Didsbury, where he lives, stopping at six pubs between the two. I guess this friend does know us well- after 50 hours, when boarding the coach back down South, we had visited 25 different pubs, two beer festivals and had 69 different beers.

And here is where the envy sets in. I remembered the feeling from Sheffield- walking into a pub that from the outside looks like a dull old boozer which my have a couple of common ales on to please the old locals, only to find three, five, eight or more pumps with beers from local breweries seldom found in London, seasonal specials and rare delights.

The city centre to Didsbury crawl took us into the Friendship Inn, full of students watching football, and drinking Hydes’ Hubble Bubble Halloween special. In the Victoria, in Withington, we had Queen’s Peach Treat and Hornbeam’s Top Hop Bitter. The old blokes at the bar were drinking Guinness, even though Hydes’ Owd Oak was on.

The next morning, our not-drinking-much driving friend had devised a mother of a peaks drive, which took in swooping lanes, sudden fog, thousands of sheep and some absolutely amazing pubs.

My favourites were both called The Old (or Ye Olde) Cheshire Cheese. One was in Hope, with ales from Bradfield Brewery, 5 Rivers in Sheffield and Peak Ales. The other was in Castleton, a pretty, touristy village, absolutely brimming with pubs. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese had more from Bradfield and Peak Ales, as well Wincle and Thornbridge beers. Another village pub, The Nags Head, had a ‘Beer Tapas’ scheme, allowing you to try third of their ales, served in a nifty wooden glass holder. There are no Castleton pubs in the Good Beer Guide, proof that you can’t just live by the book.

Friday took us into Manchester City Centre, and there really are pubs everywhere you look. The Mancunians are a spoilt bunch, they really are- from cool beer dedicated bars like The Knott, Cask, The Port Street Beer House to more traditional boozers like The Ape and Apple and The Rising Sun, not to mention a beer haven in the Arndale Market, the Micro Bar (three dark ales on, in an indoor market!)

We made it to both the Didsbury and Great Northern Beer Festivals, by the way. There were fun, they had spectacular ranges of lovely Northern beer and they could easily warrant a blog post of their own. However it was all those pubs that really gave me the North envy this time; who needs beer festivals when you have this many great pubs on your doorstep?

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Good beer comes to town!

Once upon a time, on a Friday night about 3 years ago, we had no plans (a rare phenomenon, one which leaves us feeling quite discombobulated). We decided to go on a pub crawl along one of the local main roads, which had, at that time, 5 pubs along a walkable stretch. Now, please bear in mind this was a few years back, we were young and delirious with Friday night euphoria and keen to get just a bit merry. So we banned any drink that we normally order, ruling we must choose the weird, the unusual and the usually downright avoidable. This was also because we knew there would be no decent beer available in any of these pubs, having stood at their bars with a choice of Carling, John Smiths or Guinness on many occasions. Therefore, we consumed WKD blue, Archers and lemonade Malibu, pre-mixed Sex on the beach and Snakebite. The hangover was hell. But we had a lot of fun, met some pleasant landlords and played the most despicable game of pool ever. But the sad part of this tale is that we were not alone in our weird drinking- we were among many drinking WKD that night. There wasn’t a lot of choice, to be frank. Good beer was hard to come by in Lewisham in 2008.
We had a similar night last week, but this time round, we tried no less than 11 different cask ales across three pubs all within a mile of our flat. Ok, two Wetherspoons in the midst of their ale festival featured , but I know of at least four more local pubs where we could have had more, had we had more time (and weren’t quite so drunk already).

The current popularity of cask beer is well documented and much discussed, but I can’t pretend I didn’t feel more than a little bit excited being able to stroll into The Ravensbourne Arms at 11.20pm and see delights from Daniel Thwaites, Brewdog, and Redemption on the bar. Within walking distance! A mere 0.8 miles from my sofa. A sofa I will be spending very little time on now that we have local pubs rocking good beer.