Sunday 16 August 2015

BRAPA - Wolverhampton

After a much less painful cross-country train to Wolverhampton via Birmingham (me and Dad found Tom at Dudley Port), we arrived just after 10am for one of those classic "bought train tickets in advance but then evil Sky Murdoch empire moved the game but didn't want to waste train tickets so went anyway" scenarios.  Good news for BRAPA of course, as it allowed us to do the kind of 'out of town' pubs you simply wouldn't have time for on a match day.  We did start central however .....

731.  Hog's Head, Wolverhampton

I love that feeling of going into that first pub of the day, at an anti-social drinking hour with the sun shining, the birds singing, that stale pub morning smell, and the pub not really ready for customers.  Tom and Dad felt that this place had all the hallmarks of a Wetherspoons, and whilst it was obviously part of a chain, the range and quality of local ales told you it was a step above.  The plan had been for a breakfast here but my fruit bread n cheese had done the trick, so i cannot review the food.  We sat in a raised area (it was a huge pub anyway) and you only imagine how busy and grimy this place might get post-match due to Molineux proximity.  I won the inadvertant quiz "guess what Tom's scribblings on an envelope mean", and then I noticed Simon was hosting a quiz on Thursday anyway.  The toilets were in a state of disrepair with sinks and urinals hanging off the walls, and a ladder in a cubicle.  My Dandelion and Burdock themed porter lacked D&B flavour but was still very good.  Barmaid and other staff seemed relatively friendly (one even said "hi" unprompted) in a town that's not the most hospitable in the West Midlands.  A solid start to the day's proceedings.

Me and Tom ready to get BRAPA ticking at the Hog's Head
We then walked past Molineux into a suburb of Wolverhampton called (Theo) Whitmore Reans which even in daylight, is one of the most intimidating places on earth.  It made Leytonstone, Wakefield, Thornton Heath and Salford seem like the Planet Cute.  I'm sure we witnessed a car being broken into on the main road in full view of everyone!

732.  Stile Inn, Wolverhampton

And what a crazy, rough diamond of a pub this was, in-keeping with the area but brilliant at the same time.  We entered one of those gold old fashioned West Midlands pubs (those with corridors and different rooms) where the excellent red haired landlady was presiding over three crazy gents - one signing punk hits of the 70's to himself - and our presence must have been incredibly alien.  But then, surely they get away fans on matchdays?  Landlady excelled herself by firstly asking if we were CAMRA members so we could get a discount, she also mentioned a Cask Marque scheme we could get stamps on, she ate a bowl of tomatoes (not sure why but this helped her greatness), mentioned how the beer cooler had broken and were our pints alright (they were) and sold Tom a filled roll having asked if he was our designated driver due to his blackcurrant leanings.  Beer was cheap, you could get 5 pints of Harvest Pale for £10 (a stunning offer).  I went to the loo and noticed an L shaped bowling green out the back - this pub was full of surprises!  We had to be shuffled along slightly to make way for the biggest most elaborate Karaoke equipment which was being set up in readiness for later - the man even said I could test it out for them - I politely declined!  The Karaoke incident unnerved Dad a bit but as Tom said, this is exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to encounter in a real, proper pub like this.  Wonderful stuff.

Bowling green out the back of the Stile
733.  Newhampton, Wolverhampton

Still in Whitmore Reans but on a nicer side road, we found a pub which was virtually The Stile but with a few of the rough edges polished off.  I really could leave the description at that.  Honestly, you go to 730 BRAPA pubs without seeing a bowling green, and then you get two in two!  We entered a main bar but quite busy and with limited space, so we moved to a side room showing Southampton v Everton on a huge screen.  I came to the conclusion this was NOT the same "mystery Wolverhampton pub" I'd been to when Jay Jay Okocha starred in a Hull City evening win (more on that later).  This had way too loud commentary and was detracting from the pub's true essence, so we moved outside to a glorious beer garden alongside the bowling green with plants, flowers, an apple tree, a pear tree, a plum tree AND a set of stocks - presumably so you can throw rotten fruit off the trees at your friends / enemies.  The beer was great, from Three Tuns in Shropshire.  Dad was raving about it which slightly surprised me because I picked up the element of sweetness which has blighted his 2015 ale drinking.  But yes, it was a cut above anything else we'd had so far.  Although Dad indicated he was happy to stay here for the day, I had to read him the BRAPA riot act for there was much to do .....

A glorious pint of Three Tuns Pale Ale, just ask Dad!

Dad was already thinking about his train home so I felt a bit bad making him walk 1.7 miles into Tettenhall (I didn't realise he was on an open ticket at this stage) for our next leg of the Wolverhampton suburbs crawl.  I walked 1.8 miles, having missed the pub and had to be "hailed" back!

734.  Hail to the Ale, Wolverhampton

I'm getting the hang of these micro pubs now, and I generally like what I see though a few things concern me.  A lot aren't actually that small (this was almost as big as Hereford's 'Beer in Hand'), they seem to have a problem stocking blackcurrant cordial (poor Tom had to have water), they have limited and often unisex toilets, they have good staff who know their stuff, and a clientele which is 30 or 40 somethings discerning middle class drinkers.  Beer range and quality was as good as anything we had all day, and still feeling sorry for Dad, I volunteered to swap my excellent pale for the not quite as good but still enjoyable "Snapshot" by the ever reliable Burton Bridge.  There was also a bit too much "dog loving" going on which always irritates me a bit.  Give me a pub cat love in any day.  Dad must have been building up Dutch Courage as he unwisely revealed to Tom the true extent of his ticketing complications (if I'm being polite) and to see Tom so visibly shaken was certainly one of the highlights in a great day.  I liked this place a lot, and would recommend the long walk.  

I'm no Al Murray fan but "cheers to beers, hail to ale" anyway!
Still in Tettenhall but "over t'other side", me & Tom strode out here with Dad having gone for his earlier train back than the one we were on. How lucky he was!

735.  Dog & Gun, Wolverhampton

Oh dear.  Oh dear.  Oh dear.  Oh dear.  11 months plus since the last GBG publication, and the risks of encountering a bit of a dud are growing by the day, but this was NOT good.  It started worryingly as it took me about 7 minutes to locate a member of staff to serve me.  And this was in a busy sterile Ember Inn with quite a few diners and drinkers milling about.  And then the barmaid that did arrive had an underlying aggression about her which stopped me asking if the sign "the beer is settling in the cellar" really did mean "not yet available".  I prefer Wetherspoons more honest approach, but why even have the pumps showing AT ALL?  This made a range of 5 standard ales into a range of 2 standard ales.  No disputing the quality of my Brakspear (which had only just come back on itself) but just not my favourite tipple.  We went to sit outside in the large seating area to the side of the pub, not a beer garden but smartly done.  Two nacho girls pretty much "moved house" just so they could sit in the remaining slither of sun, but then the fun really started.  A man who was with his girlfriend was "grabbed by the throat" by a thuggish looking member of staff.  What sparked this I cannot say but watching the drama, you did tend to come down on the side of the couple, who clearly weren't as aggressive as the staff, now joined by my barmaid and another one.  Rather than trying to calm things down or stop a scene being created, they were simply there to defend the assailant and argue with the couple.  Tom may even have heard the assailant telling the couple "I'll firebomb your house!"  It was a very unsavoury incident and the pub should be ashamed.  Good entertainment though.

Drama about to unfurl at the Dog & Gun.

A long walk back towards town followed, I was dying for a wee so what good luck not only to stumble upon pub, but another GBG tick, and what's more, the Combermere Arms which I "must" have visited on that "winning at Wolves" evening many moons ago.  

736.  Combermere Arms, Wolverhampton

Alas, it was NOT the pub in question so as Tom had predicted, I'd been to a totally different one on Okocha night.  Oh well!  This was a fantastic pub of tiny little rooms with the friendliest vibe we'd encountered all day, a nice note to end on.  As Tom said, you could really see how this had once been someone's house, so nice for once to see the walls not knocked through.  We sat in a side room as a drank my half of "Gravity" (cannot trace the brewer or exact name but was on in Hog's Head too), and had some brief chatter with the other people in the room.  There was even a tree growing in the Gents for heaven's sake.  A great pub worthy of more attention.  Might get another half in next time I'm back here just to show my gratitude.

From the camera of a Tom - me outside friendly Combermere
So, I must declare I'm back on pub number 735 and delete the phantom pub I reviewed in the archives as either Newhampton or Combermere.  Chindit?  Well, still six Wolverhampton pubs to do but only one of them way out of town now so a useful and fun BRAPA day.  Let's hope we play them next season, as I see we have just drawn 1-1.  Wonder what Hog's Head is like about now?  

Midweek BRAPA will probably be more like end of week BRAPA as I'm thinking how to organise a chaotic first week back at work.  And then Charlton next Saturday!



  1. Not only did I think that the Hog's Head "had all the hallmarks of a Wetherspoons", I actually thought it was a 'Spoons until I noticed the menus were different. Local beer isn't necessarily a clue, the Yarborough regularly has Tom Woods for instance.

    The Dog and Gun was possibly the comedy highlight of the season. Do you know of any bookies where I can put a tenner on it for worst pub of the year in the BRAPA annual awards. And a fiver for Sinbad as pet of the year while I'm at it.

    I don't really commend the outside drinking area. Yes it was nice, but it was probably just because it was a nice day and the village green opposite. It was identical furniture to every other outdoor Ember area I've seen, and I reckon if they could have had another row of parking spaces, they would have done. Great aggro though.

  2. Once you've become a 730 plus BRAPA geek like me, you'll always be able to spot a Wetherspoons range, with it's Ruddles, Marstons Pedigree, and keg Devil's something or other. Hog's Head was primarily West Mids micro joy.

    A BRAPA bookies, now there's a thought! Still over 4 months of pub ticking to come, I wouldn't be on either category but it'd take something very noteworthy to be more terrible than Dog & Gun.

    I always try and write a balanced report where possible, the outside drinking area was the highlight so I thought I'd be be nice. You never know, I might get fire-bombed otherwise!

  3. It is a fair point about the lack of genereic Witherspoons Ruddles County, but then I presumed that in standard 'Spoons fashion there would be another bank of hidden pumps around the corner.

    You get longer odds betting early. I won't get anything longer than evens come the end of the season, in fact I think I'd struggle now.

    The highlight of the Dog and Gun was clearly the comedy locals. I don't believe in being nice except in exceptional circumstances. In fact, is Dog and Gun just a part of a list of somebody's weaponary?