Sunday, 8 February 2015

BRAPA - Stockport Part 1

Greater Manchester maintained it's position as my third most popular pub county as I visited 5 of the 13 mainly Robinson's pubs in the always superb market town of Stockport.

Dad was my designated travelling companion for the day (Ben stayed in Manc), the lines between BRAPA and football have never been more blurred as Hull City were away to Man City but I had been thinking like a Hull City striker i.e. "outside the box" haha, hence a trip out to Stockport.

Despite his schoolboy error of not realising most York trains were now Victoria bound rather than Piccadilly, we were soon in Stockport for 11am.

575 - ROBINSONS BREWERY VISITORS CENTRE, Stockport - There was only one logical place to start, and having negotiated an upstairs central reception around a museumy style area, we were directed downstairs, where a friendly young bar chap served us from a full range of Robinsons ales, very much an unfashionable brewery in the current climate of high packed trendy hoppy beers and crazy flavoured darks.  This only drew me closer, plenty of memories of my early real ale days in towns like Stockport and Preston drinking ales from this fine brewery.  I went for what I think was the seasonal guest, a 3.9% Voodoo Dawn, red and as high quality as you could wish for.  Dad said the same about his Unicorn (depsite a weird floaty black thing in it), but baulked at the idea of a handled dimple glass claiming it is not the 1970's!  Okay, so the bar itself was a bit sterile despite the back upholstered bit, but we could learn about the brewery.  The stand out fact for me was that their well is as deep as the Blackpool Tower is high.  I found the toilets, as directed behind a large copper, which wasn't a tall policeman but in fact, a big thing used for brewing beer in.  Ho ho.

Approaching the fantastic Robinson's Brewery in Stockport
576 - ARDEN ARMS, Stockport - Isn't it a shame when a gem of a pub lets itself down, thus damaging your memory of it?  This is what happened here at my most highly anticipated pub of the day, having read about it in my heritage guide and it had that superb old skool north west layout with tiled hallway around the bar, with little ornate rooms off to each side.  Unusual pub quirks included a snug you could only get to by asking permission to firstly walk behind the bar, and the handpumps were actually behind the bar too, meaning Dad was nearly heading for the exit thinking no ales were available.  A little old woman/landlady with no people skills asked if we were dining, and when we said not, she indicated we could sit on stools at the bar and drink.  But we found a non-reserved table for two in the back room and settled down to a pint of Robinson's Double Hop which packed a punch.  However, things changed when this same poisoned dwarf lady moved us for a family wishing to dine.  They hadn't booked, she didn't ask, we were simply usurped and were NOT amused.  Dad went to complain, I tried to diffuse the situation as the landlord joked we could sit on the stairs, which didn't go down well with Dad who wasn't laughing.  I declared we'd sit at another table until the diners turned up, and all was fine, except the damage was done.  Were there really no spaces for drinkers in a pub championed as a heritage real ale pub?  I understand these days, after a chat in Osmotherley last week, how pubs struggle to survive without the food aspect, but it was more the manner in which it was done that was annoying.  In Southfields, Tom and myself were moved for diners but they were nice about it, and made sure they found us a place to sit.  So with Dad still chuntering, it was time to move on.  I didn't return my glass to the bar.

Dad gets ready to do battle with the dining v drinking brigade
577 - BOAR'S HEAD, Stockport - Hidden behind the ghost town of a market place, almost totally hidden by all the empty stalls, was our next pub.  Just when I'd been worried the day would be one-dimensionally Robinson's based, this one turned out to be a Sam Smith's pub - huzzah (I think), OBB all round at cheap prices.  Sam Smith's have spent a lot of money (probably a real strain for them!) on restoring this pub to how it might have looked in the bygone era, and I have to say, they may well have installed the clientele as it was typically Sam's with loads of old characterful lads and ladies, all jovial and having a great time - that was the real difference between this and Hull's morgue like Blue Bell and Rugby Tavern, for example.  It was the perfect tonic after the Arden Arms, no food worries here, just a proper no frills boozer.  It was almost standing room only too, this must be where all the market traders were.  We found some stools in a corner, and improvised in front of a roaring real fire using the mantelpiece and other stools as our "table".  We were the two youngest people there.  We then discovered lots of other rooms on the other side of the pub, a tardis like building.  It wasn't even a stunning pint by OBB standards, but this was a classic pub atmosphere, how I hope they can recreate this in places when I'm Dad's age and it hasn't died off.  

Boar's Head hidden behind the market stalls.
578 - SWAN WITH TWO NECKS, Stockport - Behind the Merseyway shopping precinct, we found this wonderful Heritage pub with a long thin corridor leading to the bar, and stools lining the corridor further down to create some interesting places to enjoy your drink.  I'd opted for a beer I had to have, Old Tom, an 8.6% classic barley wine.  I'd been given a round of applause the only other time I'd ordered this (in Crewe, Boxing Day 2005 which made Billy's Paynter's wonder goal feel like a dream).  No round of applause here, Dad got a half and whilst we told the staff we'd share the two, I ended up having the whole pint.  We found a beautiful side room with, natural light given by a rare "lantern window" as Dad was told by a frail old man having a pint with his daughter.  A transvestite was also present with an improbably deep voice, creating an interesting quirky atmosphere, with a few other old regulars and a couple having a meal, Dad noted no-one had to be moved seats in the process!  It was the right conditions to drink a pint slowly, just as well with the Old Tom, but time was ticking on so we left via the superb outdoor toilets (another dying art of pubbage) so much enthused, we trotted on, crossing the M6 which disects the town.

A bit of free advertising for my place of employment as Dad strides purposefully onwards
579 - CROWN INN, Stockport - A Stockport real ale institution, nay, a NATIONAL real ale institution was our final pub of the day under the shadow of the railway viaduct and with everyone from GK Smooth of Untappd fame to Christine (in India) commenting on it, how could this be my first visit?  A jaw dropping array of 16 handpumps, Dad left me to it and it was so busy, I had plenty of time to choose a couple of good ones.  The pub was multi-roomed, bare boarded, must've almost been verging on Heritage itself as I enjoyed a superb very local pint of Stockporter.  Still strong, yet incredibly drinkable after the Old Tom which didn't kick in til the train home.  I found Dad in a room towards the back of the pub, engaging a group of Man City fans in conversation, all season ticket holders claiming they "were sick of being let down" by their club so Dad had been telling them they didn't know what misery was until you've supported Hull City!  We had a good chat as I explained BRAPA and the other groups in the room were chipping in, as they tried to convince us to join them in Heaton Norris just to the North.  True, I did need two BRAPA ticks here, it was a three minute walk, but we had a train calling and I still have 8 Stockport pubs to do, so we politely declined the offer.  Can't wait for my next visit to this town - top quality BRAPping.  

Under the viaduct real ale by numbers, at the wonderful Crown.

Luckily, Dad woke me as we arrived at Leeds where we had to change having caught a Hull train home, the Old Tom had really kicked in.  No York Tap pint needed tonight, just a cup of strong tea and a nap before MOTD.  


1 comment:

  1. You've captured the pubby merits of Stockport very well Simon (and the reality that Man City fans will never be happy. NB Hull were robbed that day.

    Your experience on the Arden caught the eye, but I was glad you rated the beer in the Visitors Centre as highly as I did.