Saturday, 15 September 2018

BRAPA - A Dent'on my Good Beer Guide (Part One of Two)

Shady card players in Cheshire Cheese, Hyde
Friday 14th September then, and the time had finally come.  We were in GBG 2019 territory, it had been released the previous day and the lucky few already had their paper based copies. 

I left for work too early on the Friday morning to see if Mr Postie had bunged one through my custom sized extended letterbox, and for now, had to soldier on with the updated Good Beer Guide App, and my disguised 2018 edition ......

My fellow passengers on the L**ds to Manchester service, it has to be said, stared in a confused way as I prepared this photo.

But if this evening was the unofficial launch of my 2019 pub ticking, it couldn't have started much worse!  My train to Rose Hill Marple was due off platform 1, and slightly delayed.   I hopped on and all seemed well as I chuckled at two young ladies discussing Ikea and boring birthdays as we powered through Guide Bridge and other familiar places, til I saw Flowery Field.  We aren't due to stop here!  Nooooo, I was ON THE WRONG TRAIN.

Seems my train was the front carriages, and must have sped off 2 mins before the one I was on.  I had to think quick and recover before I ended up back in Glossop, so hopped off at Godley.

Now, a pub called Godley Hall had just been de-guided so I didn't consider this (there IS no Godley haha!), but a 1.7 mile walk took me to GBG regular, the Cheshire Cheese in the Gee Cross area of Hyde, and what's more, I could get back to Woodley/Romiley from there and get 'back on track'.  Phew! 

Okay, so I got briefly lost again on a walkers footpath trying to be clever, but eventually I reached the pub and it was still light outside (I must also mention I was carrying a 'work laptop' in a huge rucksack so being mugged was the last thing I wanted tonight!)

Cheshire Cheese, Gee Cross, Hyde

Note the 'old' GBG 2018 sticker on arrival, nice to feel me and the pub were in sync, despite it's definite inclusion in the 2019 edition.  I wandered in to find a glorious old school local, business people and tradies all drinking, laughing and chatting together.  I counted my loose change.  £3.50.  Surely that'd be enough for a pint of Silver King in a pub in this part of the world, so when she charges £3.55 and notices my hangdog expression, she asks what's wrong with me, so I tell her all (well, not ALL, we'd be there all night, just about the change situation).  "Oh go on, I'll put the 5p in miself" she says as I'm scrabbling around looking for a note.  As I thank her and make a lame 'getting rid of change' comment, the three barflies looks of contempt were a picture.  One looked at me like this was my 'routine' I do in every pub.  It's not a bad idea really, it certainly painted this pub in a good light.  I can't imagine a Brewdog or Beerhouse & Kitchen doing this.  As I sat in the corner by the door (where I belong!), some men with paint stained clothes played cards and laughed a bit too raucously, especially when someone made a joke about "he's been looking for you on Companies House!"  Suspicious.  The pub quietened down significantly as people sloped of home for their dinner, so I followed suit, shouting thanks at the barmaid who was crouched down behind the bar doing whatever barmaids do, and probably scaring her to death but I wanted her to know I was grateful!

Note I highlighted the 2018 GBG but wrote a note in case it becomes a historically significant document!

And in a nice moment of GBG serendipity, a pub in the 2019 GBG which hadn't been in the 2018 edition, also listed under Hyde, was just down the road so it hadn't worked out too badly at all.

After all, pub ticking legend Duncan Mackay flew down to London on GBG release date for some intense ticking, and in his first pub, he had to take the ale back cos it was off.  And in the next pub, they forgot to bring his food out so he had no choice to ask for a free pint to compensate him for the emotional trauma caused.  I wonder what misfortune befell Martin Taylor on his debut 2019 outing?

Joshua Bradley, Hyde

As I stepped up to take the second of these two photos, a car swung into the huge car park and nearly ran me down.  The woman grinned like "well that's what you get if you take photos of pubs" and I wondered if this was a bad omen.  Took a while to navigate my way around the grassy area and into the pub.  Now, if you 'hid' any reference to 'Hydes' I'd have sworn I was in a Brunning & Price pub.  The grand set back location kind of 'in its own grounds', the dining interior but with a definite commitment to ale and drinkers, sweeping staircases, high ceilings.  Yes, I'm aware many Hydes pubs have tried to go a bit down the craft & dining route, but nothing on this scale, and let's face it, generally not done this well!  Even the clientele were the same, lots of tans and white teeth, people who come out for a posh dining experience but two glasses of Prosecco in, forget themselves and switch back to rough as fuck harridans and ogres, which make them a lot more bearable.  After some pitifully slow service, I took my (very good) Hydes Original (£3.10, paid it in full!) to a distinct drinkers area to the front right where some bloke had just offered to buy a round for the first time in years, so they were all contemplating which spiced rum to order.  The music was awful, even for a Friday evening, though i enjoyed a bit of Billy Ocean a bit too much and a barman laughed at me.  Friendly place this, in the loos with my rucksack, a bloke said to his mate 'ey up, he's got a rucksack' and then concluded 'not worth your while blowing the two of us up!' which I knew was a terrorism joke, but I didn't really get his logic.  Presumably he thought I needed to wait til I got in a more crowded area.  An interesting end to an okay pub experience, though easily weakest pub of night.

Notes so I could add it to the 2018 GBG, but I forgot to highlight it green! 
It  was becoming clear that my hopes of going to Rose Hill and doing two Marple pubs was now unwise, as the last train was about 9:30pm and not 11pm as I'd hoped.

I did contemplate a walk to Romiley and do the micropub there, but I decided to err on the side of caution and walk to nearby Woodley and get back more to an area with more regular services back to Manchester Piccadilly.  

Well that makes sense doesn't it?  What could possibly go wrong?  Find out later this evening in part two where we'll also have a GBG update .....


Thursday, 13 September 2018

BRAPA - Loves, Labours and Lambic Lunches : A Leeds Pre-emptive Trio

Anyone seen the new Good Beer Guide yet?  Anyone at all?  It isn't funny anymore!

As Martin "RM" "Retired Martin" Taylor put it in his post-punk apocalyptic classic 'The Ploughman of Werrington' "this has been the hardest two weeks of my life" and even if he was kidding, I'm not.

Stuck in limbo, praying for the letterbox drop no later than Friday 14th, all that remains is to go to my darkest place, Leeds. 

I was born there, I work there, I'll probably die there.  But joking aside, if I am, it's a classic pubby city full of quirky friendly folk.  It is only the L**ds Utd football team I despise, and pub-wise I'd go as far as to say it is more likely to provide you with a heartening glow than a similar day in York, if like me, you are into 'people' more than 'ale' itself.

After all, it is home to legends like Richard Coldwell who several months ago tipped me off about the following pre-emptive.  I was going to wait to see if it appeared in the 2019 GBG and make it my first unofficial 'tick' (without breaking embargo, obviously) but in the current climate, I couldn't wait any longer.

It was a sunny breezy Friday evening after a tough-as-nails week at work and after hopping across to Burley Park, it was about 10 mins down the slope.

Bielsa-Bub, threatening to make the White Shite good, what a devil!

How had I never been here before was my first question, it was huge, looked glorious from the outside, and the Tetley's lamp of course is a stamp of approval for any pub in my recent experience:

LOVES - Cardigan Arms, Kirkstall, Leeds

Inside, it was immediately apparent I was in somewhere special.  That central bar area with rooms off to all corners, frosted glass, mosaic floors, high ceilings, staircases, a bit like a larger Grove down Holbeck way, or Three Pigeons in Halifax, or the Swan in York, a bit like that Stork place in Birkenhead or probably several Lancs or West Midlands pubs I can't quite bring to mind.  At the bar, L**ds were playing Middlesbrough in a Friday night kick off and a man said he'd been offered free tickets, but still couldn't bring himself to go, another bloke commenting their good form probably won't last.  It was nice to hear this doubt and skepticism, rather than the usual bragging and 'champions of europe in 5 years' I have to endure at work.  I saw a bright room with a glinting Bass mirror, but it all seemed a bit too obvious so I went for an empty darker one, such a tough week I wasn't in sociable mood.  The ale was ace, Kirkstall brewery have taken this place on and they are one of my faves anyway, stuff like Three Swords, Dissolution, Black Band Porter, wow, I don't normally talk beer but you have to admire them.  I was almost asleep horizontal on the bench seating when a barmaid finally walked in to see if there were any empties or crisp packets to clear up!  I'd been so still, flies were circling me like they thought I was a corpse.  The menu even did a vegan option I sent my sister in case she wants to come here instead of some namby pamby cafe for her next feed.   Rarely for BRAPA, I went back up for a second pint.  Shocking to return to MY room and find two couples now inhabiting my space.  I nearly asked them to piss off but remembered it wasn't actually mine.  But that is what a pub this great can do to you! 

That Burley Park-York train journey takes forever, I'd probably have been better changing at L**ds but I missed the train and it was dark when I finally got back home, it really is nearly Autumn! 

Fast forward to the following Tuesday night and I got into L**ds station after work to find ALL the trains back to York cancelled.  Trains have been appalling since June.  Still, a good opportunity to pop into the newly vamped 'White Rose' in the station.

Back in the day, I had many filthy pints of Davenports in there, but now it was called 'Beer House & Kitchen' so with a name like that, whatever it's shortcomings, I expected a range of ales to make a pre-emptive shout for future years ......

LABOURS - The Beer House Pub & Kitchen, Leeds

So I was quite surprised to see just the two beers on, Greene King IPA and Old Speckled Hen.  No Romford Pele (or Leeds equivalent, Thomas Brolin Bitter?)  That was the least I'd expected!  Oh well, a surly barmaid pulled me a Hen and the staff stared in disgust as a scruffy man shuffled around the room, hitting each fruit machine in the hope free money popped out, and then left making a weird squelching noise out of his mouth.  The other customers were either alcoholics or southern businessmen in pinstripe suits talking loudly into phones like it was the 80's or Dom Joly was making a comeback.  My beer was dreadful, not vinegar but left a horrible dryness in my gob, like it had cleaning fluid in it.  £4.40 a pint too.  FML!  The station Wetherspoons had never seemed so inviting.  I realised a train was running, I couldn't down this beer, but I tried, missed my train, and realised I'd left my £9.95 of Sainsburys shopping on the pub bench, so some scroat somewhere is enjoying Special K cereal bars, iced coffees, Bernard Matthews turkey breast and a bag of rocket leaves!  Oh, and the brickwork wallpaper was seriously tragic.  Even the Station Inn at Habrough was blushing.

Fast forward now to Friday just gone, and I was thinking 'BRAPA succession planning'.  Who could take the helm when I am no more? 

Well, look no further than my new work buddy Megan.  She nicked my good beer guide, commented on why I hadn't done more pub ticks in Devon (they all say that!), bemoaned the fact that in geography at school, she'd only learnt about earthquakes and not British places, and to top it off, told me she was getting bored of her usual tipple, pints of Carling.  A Wakefield lass you see.

So as part of a new Friday lunchtime venture, we decided to do a different ale pub to give her an intro to BRAPA and real ale life.  This was on the premise she first gave me my 'Heron Foods' debut, where I bought cottage cheese and a reusable carrier bag which cost nearly the same.

That's how to live!

We went to a place I'd been to before, but felt has a shot of GBG inclusion one year .....

LAMBIC LUNCHES - Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds

Yeh, CAMRA is lapping up this kind of place at the moment.  You walk in, everyone is under the age of 30, huge pizzas are being freshly made to your right, people sit on benches like they're in some kind of commune/soup kitchen/hostel, a range of expensive hoppy ales are on, plenty of crafty kegs, and the staff always ask you if you are 'staying in' (even if it is snowing like shit) because there is a  roof terrace and they give you it in plastic cups if so.  The first time I came here was to watch a punk gig, it's a top live music venue too, and that night, Cerebral Ballzy and OFF! were amazing.  Today, Megan's eyes strayed towards the lager pumps but our barmaid was a proper star, very engaging and helpful, so I asked her to give Megan a try of the keg Five Points Pale.  "Ugggh, too smoky" she says,  "you might mean hoppy" I beersplained to her like a twat.  I explain to the barmaid I'm trying to convert Megan to real ale and by coincidence, the barmaid tells us she's recently gone from lager to ale herself, but warns you have to do these things in stages!  And apparently, fruit beers are the way to start.  So a Peach Timmermans it was, I thought about trying to say something intelligent about lambic brewing styles I don't understand but no one likes a wise-arse so I kept quiet.  "We'll have ya on the stouts n porters by Christmas ho ho ho!" i said accidentally sounding like Santa, but the barmaid told me even she'd not reached that level yet!  Was a weird but great chat looking back.  Because Megan is always too hot (but often cold, or hungry), we went for the plastic glass roof terrace option, and felt like we were at some festival crossed between Blackpool and Ibiza.  And it wasn't just us.  The only other two up here, two middle aged ladies took out a selfie stick, put their shades on, took their jackets off, and started snapping away like they were pretending they were in a Spanish resort.  I told Megan this was classic BRAPA observation you've gotta 'capture' in these places.  Wasps (twasps) then started buzzing around and trying to hurt us, but this was a positive experience and proof if it is needed Belgrave has some serious potential for 2020 inclusion.

Selfie stick fun at a distance

Megan and my Heron Foods bag enjoying their unofficial BRAPA debuts
We've got a new pub in mind for this Friday with a 'special guest' who hates plastic packaging, so more on that when it happens, unless the 2019 GBG gives me something new and central to go at (like it did with Wapentake last year) but that's all for now.  I can't even plan my Saturday outing as things stand, never mind a Fri eve Greater Manc trip.

STOP PRESS - Official GBG release date TODAY Thursday 13th Sept, no paper copy yet but good news is the App (not the easiest thing to use since the upgrade) HAS been updated so at least I can 'search' for what pubs I need to do in a given area.  Fri evening trip to follow.....


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

BRAPA - Cometh the Stour, Cometh the Pubman : Part Two (Never Trust a Pub by it's Sign)

Halfway through the day, and there was no way that me or Dad and his Plantagenitis fancied the half an hour walk back from Amblecote to Stourbridge, especially as the rain was now tipping it down in a more tippy manner than Tippy Hedren going on a tour of Tipton.

Here's our bus tickets, we loved them at the time:

And special thanks to the couple in front who returned a tenner which fell out of my pocket as we got off the bus.

Squinting through the rain, our next pub had a sign which made us both think it was going to be dire:

And more to the point, what am I up to? 
1484 / 2227.  Waggon & Horses, Stourbridge

But if the Barbridge and the two pubs in Amblecote had slightly failed to capture that true magical of nature of what makes West Midlands boozers so great, then this one achieved it in droves!  It all started with a friendly welcome from the barmaid, it was 14:14 and I made a comment "it sounds like we've been drinking all day!" in relation to something Dad had said.  "Some people do!" said the barmaid, and I acted 'genuinely' shocked at these monsters as she told me some start at 9am, though when we sat down, I conveniently remembered within a second we'd been drinking at 9:01am at the Draughtsman Doncaster a few weeks ago, and at 12:20am in Leeds station Wetherspoons even more recently.  Dad's eyes were glazed and staring into the middle distance, well the bar area, I thought he was eyeing up the barmaid, but turned out he'd seen his fave pub food 'filled rolls' or 'cobs' as the strange woodland Midland folk call them.  I always wonder if they get corn on the cob, are they disappointed by the lack of bready goodness?  Cheese n Onion is the perfect option with a gorgeous standard pint of Brummie muck in my opinion, and soon we were wolfing them down.  The pub, to a man (and woman) was totally friendly, though perhaps not a man to the left of the bar who was obviously the 'gaffer' enjoying some down time with a 'don't you dare disturb me' expression, and who can blame him, though a bit of a shame as we gently dared each other to ask how can such a great pub have such a crap pub sign?  And our seat, despite being bench seating, was nicely encased in a wooden panelly area to give it an element of privacy.  A pub that had everything, superb! 

The ace barmaid serves someone as a foreground man 'thinks' West Midlands 'thoughts'.

The 'moment of contentment' today was sat here

"He's going in for the pint but it is just too far away!"

Next we had a little bit of a walk up a road near some green leafy bits to get to what might prove to be my final 'tick' of the 2018 GBG, not that I'm pressuring the TWAMRA Printing Press Privilege Haters to get their revitalised little arses into gear or anything ......... 

I'm trying to copy QE1's expression if you wondered

1485 / 2228.  Royal Exchange, Stourbridge

And if the Waggon & Horses was a step in the right direction, we achieved 'peak' West Midlands pub scene here.  Exactly as you'd picture a basic boozer in your mind's eye.  Bathams Mild or Bathams Bitter, that is your choice, cheap as chips, we got one of each, one a slightly darker shade of brown than the other.  If you come in winter, you get XXX, the continental choice.  Old men lined the walls, chatting gently and laughing, like ghosts from a previous age.  It was like the pub totally disarmed me, my ability to observe, take notes, even get pictures to do the place justice all just seemed to take a back seat.  Nothing seemed to matter apart from being in the moment and enjoying the beer.  I both love it and hate it when that happens!  Though I guess the alcohol was kicking in by now.  The loos were outside, always a top sign, and everyone said hello, or whatever the Brummie/Black Country equivalent is, it sounded a bit like "Arrghahaaryoww!"  Ask EL, he'll know.  But it was nice.  And if it does end up being the last time I take the green highlighter pen to a pub in the 2018 Good Beer Guide, it was a fitting way to end an epic 2017/18 season.

Now ya see 'im

Now ya don't!

As someone once said, now for something totally different ..... 

The conundrum was 'should we do one more pub in Stourbridge, or get back to the centre of Brum and get in one of the two pre-emptives in a CAMRA mag we'd nabbed?

The latter bet seemed to be safer, and Dad assured me that this pub wouldn't have GBG staying power ..... so we'll hold him to that!

Anything called the Red House Boutique must be treated with caution .... probably

Whilst I had a 'power nap' (i.e. zonked out from too much Bathams) Dad continued his research so that when we got there, he knew EXACTLY what he was doing......

Kilder, Birmingham

So just behind Moor Street station built into a railway arch (of course), was this modern benchy pret a manger style place full of crafty love.  Our hipstery barman was in for a shock, as Dad strode confidently up to the bar and asked for two pints of 'CBS'.  Barman, open mouthed, ' mean the Canadian Breakfast Stout .... we ..... errrm, it's, errrm not on!'  Oh dear, said Dad, looking as disappointed as a 23 year old beardo who's realised he's left the house with no socks on and had woken up with a Jackson Pollock painting back tattoo.  Long story short, they had a Burning Soul Breakfast Stout.  "Well, I guess it'll have to do" mused Dad and soon we were sat on some pile-giving wooden bench supping the stuff out of those weird glasses.  Royal Exchange to Kilder, is like going from the Sahara to the Arctic Circle in 5 minutes!   The place, to give credit where it's due, had a warmth and relaxed atmosphere you may not expect, beer quality and the clientele were mainly young and shambled around like they were groping around for their calling in life, you know the type who probably could tell you all about quantum physics but have no idea how much a pint of milk costs.  Others spoke sternly about shared beers like lovers buying their first property together.  I went back up for a Grapefruit beer, under 3% and gorgeous, well if you like grapefruit more than beer.  Refreshing.  I should probably pop it on Untappd for the likes,  but no time for that, back to York!

It ain't CBS but it'll do 

Our cactus is very unimpressive

"If you're here for the CBS, turned back around now"

There might be cask ale, why else would it be in CAMRA mag (shocked face)

People sharing our bench like it's perfectly acceptable

The now stout covered article which made Dad a hero here

Angelic beer chatter

Grapefruit, a bit like Bathams mild in the sense that people call it beer
And there we go.  All up to date blog-wise unless you count recent L**ds pre-emptives which is going to become more of a 'thing' in the coming months I hope.  More on that tomorrow if I write that up.   The GBG can't be far away now.......