Wednesday 30 September 2015

BRAPA - Battle of the Bridge (Hebden v Sowerby)

The West Yorkshire Midweek BRAPA trail is showing no signs of slowing anytime soon as we cracked on with three more valuable ticks on Tuesday night, and as if to signify Autumn is now officially upon us, I was ticking "after dark" for the first time in the 2016 GBG season.

I'd been to Hebden Bridge in June for a third time, but I was off to deepest West Yorks once more as it had a new tick, a pub described someone at work as "real" and one of my top BRAPsters as "cute".  It was time to investigate the truth ......

697.  Fox & Goose, Hebden Bridge

At the bottom of the steep climb to Heptonstall, it was a fair 10-15 mins from the station but worth the trek, and mercifully not too uphill as my legs still hadn't recovered from Saturday's "jaunt".  Now run by the community, a big CAMRA success story, this pub actually featured in the 2015 GBG errrm features so maybe I was a bit silly to ignore the obvious pre-emptive signs.  It was lovely and old, very much the traditional blueprint of what I've come to expect on my midweek travels, with a few little rooms off to the side but a focal bar with a few jolly locals seamlessly chatting with staff, they probably swap roles on a daily basis.  I was immediately engaged in conversation with a grey bearded old man - he smelt a bit funny so we sat across the room from each other and he disapproved of my decision to drink the new red Ossett Ale "Victoria" as he lied to me and claimed he brewed one of the other beers in his own bathtub!  We were soon onto subjects like banks, PPI, scams and this organically evolved into conversations about fish, steampunk and (at my insistence) the weather!  But the pub really did feel like the place where strangers would chat to each other, and other locals came in and out saying "hi" and "bye" as though I was a regular.  The man was more interesting than your average old man drinker, though he didn't bat an eyelid about my BRAPA challenge and had very short term memory loss.  Still, I'd had enough of 'chat' after a long day at work and left hastily!

Arriving at community run favourite, the Fox & Goose
I had time before my train for a swift half in the Old Gate.  On 30th June, I commented I'd like to see this as an indoor venue and it was more to my liking.  The barman was very friendly, perhaps a bit too OTT with the "what style beers do you like", and there was a bit of a dog and baby love in, and a mad moment where a tiny dog tried to attack a huge lumbering one, but this is a good place.

A few minutes on the train back towards Leeds found me in Sowerby Bridge for a third BRAPA trip.  The original plan had been to go to Hebden Bridge's new micro pub Calan's but I made the school boy error of not realising it was closed Mon and Tue so a trip to SB seemed to suddenly make more sense than the remaining Mirfield tick......

698.  Works, Sowerby Bridge

I'm a positive person, and my previous trips to Sowerby have both been first class.  The people, the pub staff, the locals, a very friendly and pretty town.  But I'm not stupid, I knew something less perfect was bound to lie below the surface.  Somewhere where the wankers hang out.  And by jove I think I found it here!  I really despised it, and it sounds harsh now in the cold light of day, I can't quite put my finger on why.  Maybe it was entering the building, cackling women outside or the middle aged woman who turned 180 degrees exorcist-esque to see who I was, and then span her skull back towards the bar.  Or maybe it was the barmaid, who looked at me with twisted contempt and reminded me of an awful woman I used to work with, we'll call her Vicky Bastard just for poetic effect.  Or was it the fact that this was a huge barn of a building, previously a joinery, where the locals (inbred Tim Taylor drinkers) insisted on huddling together blocking the bar, when the amount of empty space on offer was ridiculous.  And if this wasn't enough, a huge sweeping staircase leads to glass door which acts as a "function room" with the claim "a great place to do business over a drink".  And then two dogs were unleashed and the simpletons all gawped as these two out of control hounds ran amok.  At least a young Patrick Kielty thanked me as I put my glass back on the bar (Miss Bastard was chatting to friends), never to return.  What a load of old rubbish!  Yet, I can see why it's in the Guide.  BUT Puzzle Hall every single time for me.

Locals and idiot dog cram the bar at the Works.
Dusk had fallen now over Sowerby Bridge and I was back at the railway station, at another pub I'd seen twice and thought "hmmm, pre-emptive?" but then ignored my instincts.  Now it's GBG listed.

699.  Jubilee Refreshment Rooms, Sowerby Bridge

Ahhh, this was more like it, no inclusivity here.  Simply a bored young bar man desperate for customers to make his evening go quicker.  4 old locals on a circular table in one corner, and one nervous looking couple nearer the bar.  A very basic but pleasing place, not just a pub, a bit like Carnforth station and the Sheffield Tap mixed together.  I saw sweets, cake, and even a quite amazing range of teas that would put my window display at work to shame!  Oh, and they had 3 or 4 beers on so I had the gorgeous fruity Rainbow one from Elland which I enjoyed at Castleford last year.  A big banner proclaimed they were celebrating the building's 175th anniversary.  Take that Fox in Shipley!   Apparently, it took 12 years to get permission to make this a pub - and worth the wait it is if you are ever passing this way.  There was some cooked food but unpretentious looking, a "Turkey Lurker" whatever the 'eck that is - sandwich perhaps?  The place had a great musty pub old building smell too, and after the traumas of the Works, it was nice to see Sowerby Bridge has still got it! 

The basic almost tea room / post office / tourist info style entrance to Jubilee.

So then, almost back to the 700 mark which will happen in Nottingham on Saturday and this time, it won't be a Wetherspoons that used to be a Clydesdale Bank Headquarters, I can almost guarantee you of that!  But the plans for that day keep evolving, so keep your ear to the ground and I'll look forward to giving you a Nottingham report on Sunday. 

As for West Yorkshire, Horbury Bridge is up next - a midweek Heavy Woolen trip next Tuesday?  I think I can combine it with Middlestown and feel I should probably invite Richard and Jason from work as they've been integral to the previous two BRAPA trips out here.  

See you soon, Si

Monday 28 September 2015

BRAPA - Micro Pubs : a special report

Good evening all,

If I'm going to stay on top of this challenge to tick off every GBG (Good Beer Guide) listed pub in the UK on a year to year basis, I'll need to keep my finger on the pulse in terms of pub culture.

And as we speak, here in September 2015, the buzz phrase of the moment is "micro pub".  Since receiving the new 2016 GBG, it's evident how many are appearing as new pubs for me to tick off.  It's important, therefore, that I embrace them, which is just as well because I have been very impressed with what I've seen of them so far........

So What is a Micro Pub? 

Okay, so they may lack the traditional feel of a historic old pub but their aims are simple and create a perfect pub atmosphere.  They are freehouses so they sell an interesting range of cask ales.  They shun all electronic devices and TV's so conversation is the only hubbub you get here.  I find the average micro pub goer seems to be between 30-45, a good male and female mix, seem quite a discerning bunch, not normally annoying!  The food they sell is traditional pub snacks like scotch eggs and pork pies, no gastro nonsense or restauranty feel which as you might know by now, is my overriding pet hate in BRAPA pubs.

Note there is nothing specifically listed about dimensions of the building, I guess micro as in "microbrewery" and minimalistic as much as literal "size".

Possible downsides (for a small percentage of my readership) seems to be a lack of blackcurrant cordial(!) whilst the obligatory one unisex toilet is the thing I most dislike, especially with my bladder!

Why Have They Got So Popular Suddenly? 

Having read the wonderful "In Search of the Perfect Pub" (which is probably already out of date but does touch on this 'phenomena'), it's like a mini pub revolution, almost like a protest.  This is because pubs are generally tied by pub companies and breweries and licensees have to pay extortionate amounts and cannot even put on the beers that they are passionate about.  Also, there are so many microbreweries producing amazing new beers who can't flog them to pubs because of this tie.  You only have to look at somewhere like the Black Swan in York to see how frustrating this is.  The same 5 biggish branded beers for many years now, all have had their moment in the sun, but now unless they are kept extremely well, seem rather old and tired.  The pub meanwhile, is a superb old building that admittedly, a micro pub is going to struggle to recreate the atmosphere of, especially on a cold winter's night where the roaring fire comes into it's own.  But overall, I count myself blessed to be embarking on BRAPA just as the micro pub revolution is taking off.

Micro Pubs BRAPA History

My first was the micropub that opened third - the Just Beer Micropub in Newark but I didn't really enjoy it due to "Chris Irvin Syndrome" and I didn't know micro pubs were going to be a "thing" then.  My second experience on Ulverston A-Z day was in the Snug in Carnforth, the eleventh to open.  This epitomized what is great about them.  Tiny but lots of exciting beer, a man giving us free pasties, friendly staff and locals, very basic and unpretentious.

In the last year, I've been to some crackers.  Beverley's Chequers stands out, as does Hereford's "Beer in Hand", Wolverhampton's "Hail to the Ale", the "Cuckoo" in Toddington and the "Gravity Station" in Cardiff to name a few.

Micro Pubs BRAPA Future

In BRAPA terms, at the moment they are probably most valuable as pre-emptives but I will be keeping the list on Wikipedia close to me as a point of referral, though even I can see 3 or 4 that are missing from their list that I am aware of.  There must be 150 plus by now.

Kent seems to be the main county for micro pubs (where the founder opened the first one) but I'd argue they are most relevant in places where real ale doesn't do so well.  This might explain why York doesn't have one yet (and probably shouldn't) but Middlebrough suddenly has FOUR.  Yes, not just the GBG listed Dr Phil's but the Twisted Lip which a girl told me about on Saturday, and two others I've noticed too!

I should be going to one in Hebden Bridge tomorrow but alas, no, more on that story on Wednesday!

I'll leave you with a nice stat I've nicked off Wikipedia (that's a reference by the way).  Only 0.4% of pubs selling real ale are micro pubs.  BUT 3 of the 16 CAMRA finalists for pub of the year are micro pubs, probably because they can afford to focus on keeping quality local microbrews in fine condition with none of the rubbish that goes with it.

Long live the micro pub.  I'm only just scratching the surface.


Sunday 27 September 2015

BRAPA - Return to the Esk Valley

"Hanging with the sheep" - walking to Beck Hole from Goathland

51 weeks ago this weekend, I had my most traumatic BRAPA trip to date.  Firstly, Grosmont's Crossing Club was closed.  Then I broke a toe attempting to 'wade' through water to Beck Hole and was forced to abandon this.  No phone signal then meant I got lost in Castleton Moor, before my Good Beer Guide App broke in Whitby so I couldn't find my way around the pubs!  

So as I boarded the X40 bus from York station to Goathland, it's fair to say I was a bit worried about what might be in store.  It was a gruelling and stuffy journey at the top of the double decker bus, with a series of old duffers demanding the windows be closed because "there was a draught!"  I got talking to the nice lady next to me, explaining BRAPA, discussing the history of real ale, helping her figure out her smartphone, life working for a radio station and producing music in Jamaica.  It was quite an eclectic mix, and helped the journey seem less painful!  

I alighted the bus at Goathland (home of Heartbeat i.e. Aidensfield) and was soon walking the 0.9 miles to Beck Hole where I've never seen so many sheep lining the roads, munching on the grass, and generally not being scared of humans at all.

693.  Birch Hall Inn, Beck Hole

I often find myself "managing expectations" with pubs that are supposed to be classics, in case they disappoint.  No such worries here, "WOW WHAT A PUB!" is all I can say.  Well, not 'all' obviously.  I went down a little outdoor corridor and into an unlikely looking room with a tiny hatch where a nice woman served me a choice of three beers or a cider.  The pub also does simple snacks, plus beer cake and sweets.  They even had their own (overpriced) t-shirts for £15 a pop.  I initially went outside where there were some benches overlooking the Murk Esk and I could hear a steam train nearby, but not quite see it.  Everyone who came in (apart from "Computer Jones" who scowled at everyone and sat in the corner with his cheese roll) was ultra-friendly and I was soon explaining BRAPA.  I was also on door duty when people with drinks needed to get outside.  I tried a pint of the Beckswatter, their own locally brewed ale from North Yorkshire Brewery, and then, figuring I'd never come here again, sampled half an Umbel ale (a bit flowery) whilst chatting to a friendly deaf man with an ordanance survey map and love of Black Sheep.  Great pub, great BRAPA tick too.

Cheers!  My pint and the Murk Esk outdoors in Beck Hole.
Next up came the key moment of the day.  Would Grosmont's Crossing Club be open?  After all, there was a steam gala on in the village. But before that, came the signs of "road closed" and I soon realised that last year's 'impassable road' issues were not really caused by heavy rainfall, but by the fact that I was actually required to cross a ford!  In two places!  

It was no worse than last year, but with sturdy walking boots this time, I braced myself and despite some slippy rocks, I edged gradually across and didn't fall in, got a bit wet, but nothing too drastic.  Up at Grosmont, I then had an agonising wait as the crossing was down as some train enthusiasts were taking photos of some grand old looking train.  

694.  Crossing Club, Grosmont

I think I earned it, and the club was open!  Hurrah, and it was perhaps a stupid question when I got upstairs and asked friendly curly headed host and his two train-geek friends (I'm a pub geek so I'm allowed to say that!) if I could come in for a drink.  Well, has a Consett Furnace Bitter ever tasted better?, as the bottom of my trouser legs dried out!  It was such a cool little place, tonnes of pump clips on the ceiling and even more railway memorabilia.  Instead of the usual piped music, they even had piped steam train noises!  As if we needed them today.  A nice young couple from Middlesbrough called Louise and Josh came in so I wasn't the only customer, and Louise asked all the questions about the pub so I didn't have to.  Being a co-operative, the community own it so I guess our curly headed host was what you'd call a "steward".  Also turns out that pub across the road is charging £4 a pint, when it is about £2.70 in here, how does that work?  Ridiculous, and it can't have had the charm of this place.  After a bit more spreading of the BRAPA word & handing out my cards, it was time to crack on as I had quite a tight walking schedule today.  Great club this, good things come to those who wait!  

Indoor view of the Crossing Club, when I was the only customer for a bit! 
More uphill walking (it seemed to be either steep up or steep down) made the 1.5 miles to Egton seem a lot longer.  Egton felt a lot like a lot of those "North" North Yorkshire villages with a road through the centre and two swathes of perfectly pristine grass on either side, with a few pretty cottages, buildings and of course, a pub! 

695.  Wheatsheaf, Egton

The day had so far been so excellent, there had to be a bit of a "come-down" and it started here when a family sat outdoors had a dog that absolutely hated me.  It wasn't even a scary dog.  I tried to appease it by saying it was in my pub photo (see below) but the family just demanded £5 for photographing rights!  I assumed they were joking and just laughed.  And then, the "long suffering" landlord told me to close the front door as it gets stuck and causes a though draught that makes all the other doors slam.  The man seemed totally fed up, telling a local "I've been here 15 years now and not much longer!", he certainly must have had chance to do something about the door by now.  He must be doing something right though, for my GBG tells me he has 29 continuous years of Guide recognition, even if he is a miserable sod.  Plus he's a total hypocrite because when he wanted to clear up glasses from the dog family outside, he was quite happy for the door to remain stuck open!  From what I could tell from the clatter of cutlery, half the pub was taken up by food whilst I was lucky to be alone in the cosy front bar which must be amazing in winter with the fire in.  As it was, I was burning up from another long uphill walk but was too scared of the dog to sit outside!  And then the landlord asked me how my Howardian Gold ale was, to show maybe he wasn't all bad. 

In Egton, note the EVIL dog on the right hand side.

A three mile walk to Lealholm was the final push of the day, more undulating roads with no pavements, amidst sometimes beautiful, sometimes barren landscapes.  I took me about an hour so I had about half an hour in my final pub as the railway station was only 3 minutes walk.  

696.  Board Inn, Lealholm

So with my phone battery dead and my legs totally shot, I arrived exhausted at this pub, which had come highly recommended by the Grosmont steward.  And I do think it was a slight step up from the Egton Wheatsheaf.  Is it any wonder if my state of exhaustion that I totally didn't see the sign on the right hand bar saying the room was closed (this led through to a restaurant which is currently closed for refurb, and the landlady was constantly turning away phone calls from potential diners).  Anyway, she was friendly sort, and didn't stop me sitting on perhaps the comfiest settee ever on my own in this side room.  Ordinarily, I'd have gone through to the bar on the left hand side and been more sociable, as there was a nice group of locals chatting in there.  I did wave at a local old man(!) but I was just so exhausted, I needed 30 mins of down time, and finding out Hull City had taken the lead was a nice bonus and for w while, I thought my "lucky" wristband was going to be "lucky" and I'd have to wear it for every single BRAPA trip when we are playing a home game.  But maybe not..... My beer was from North Yorkshire brewery and tasted suspiciously like the Beckswatter, maybe a bit fuller bodied and the landlady told me they are based in Pinchinthorpe which really is North North Yorkshire.  It was time to get back to the station, could NOT afford to miss this train.

Over the bridge of the River Esk, the very nice Board Inn
So, after a quick change at Boro' and Eaglescliffe, I was back in York just after 7pm for a swift half in the York Tap before a bit of Sainsbury's shopping, sorted me washing, had tea and straight to bed.  A really great BRAPA day out, not at all easy, back breaking in places, but I wish they all went to plan as well as this one! 

See you on Wednesday for the latest from West Yorkshire.  September has been a record breaking month, 33 new pubs now (breaking the previous record last summer of 31) and still a couple to come, it's all good.



Thursday 24 September 2015

BRAPA - Saltaire & Shipley

Although Wednesday was my quarterly gig night (I write a review for the bank newsletter), the recent publication of the 2016 GBG meant I could get a couple of new BRAPA ticks without venturing too far from Leeds city centre.

An incredibly rammed 17:25 service eventually had me alighting at a grey and drizzly Saltaire, similar weather conditions as on my previous visit here in December 2013.  I always feel more guilty about drinking here than anywhere else as Sir Titus Salt (who built it for his workers) was a great believer in abstinence and it seems an insult to his legacy that alcohol can be sold here!

But I won't complain too much .....

691.  Hop, Saltaire

One of the ever growing number of modern Ossett 'Hops', this is as bright and shiny as they come but with perhaps a more homely ambiance than the ones in Sheffield and Leeds at least.  A big square high roofed barn of a building with big shiny glass windows, the barmaid was a friendly lass and got some top 'bantz' going with me by asking if it was raining as I seemed like a drowned rat (it was only spitting but my new Chinese leather jacket has that dramatic effect!)  I ordered a strong 6% IPA from Great Heck which was gorgeous, and sat on a high stool in amongst the rabble.  This consisted mainly of some mis-matched work colleagues having awkward after work drinks, the kind where someone laughs hysterically and then there is silence for next 5 minutes.  It was fun to watch their pain!  I then found out this pub used to be a tram shed, and things started to make more sense.  Like York's modern but atmospheric Hop, it also has a pizzeria attached and perhaps an upstairs you can get to, it was hard to tell.  Much recommended though as I painfully had to down the last few third of my IPA as my train awaited.

Another Ossett Hop to add to the collection.
In truth, I could have walked to the next pub (0.9 miles)  in pretty much exactly the same time it took me to get to Saltaire station, go 4 minutes to Shipley, and walk up the bank but I was feeling lazy and had to conserve energy for the gig.

692.  Fox, Shipley

It was all go in this small cafe bar when I arrived as they were celebrating their second birthday.  I ordered the 'birthday ale' to get into the swing of things, brewed by the seemingly never before heard of 'Beespoke' brewery.  The quirky barman was a nice chap but he asked me why I hadn't bought a present for the fox.  A girl at the bar then introduced me to the fox, Jesus, because "he looks down on you from high".  Though he looked pretty well stuffed to me!  Despite the hubbub of happy post-work drinkers, I commandeered a good sized table in the middle of the room and realised I'd have to drink this 5.1%er fairly speedily as well.  This was a BRAPA return to Shipley for me, having been here in June 2014 and it was nice to see traffic lights have now been invented in the town.  I was intruiged to see this not referred to as a "micro pub" (the buzz industry phrase of the moment), perhaps a little too big but that doesn't normally stop them.  Maybe it was having TWO toilets?  Perhaps they even did blackcurrant cordial.  I didn't have time to find out as my train back to Leeds was due in 7 minutes.  A very nice little addition to the West Yorks drinking scene.

The fox "Jesus" - it's my party and I'll cry if I want to. 
Back to Leeds then, down Call Lane and I quite enjoyed the Oporto venue.  Pre-emptive tick it wasn't, well actually you never can tell.  It was bottles only but there was a decent if extortionately priced selection.  The barman was helpful and I sampled Charles Wells DNA, Leeds Hellfire (which I didn't enjoy) and Anchor Porter from San Francisco at £5.50!   The bands were all good (Bulletproof Bomb, Viola Beach and Elephant Trees) and it was a good night all round.

A not very pre-emptive tick at Oporto, but give it 50 years! 

It is officially autumn, officially my favourite season of the year.  So what lays in store for BRAPA?

1.  On Saturday, Beck Hole, Grosmont (if open), Egton and Lealholm.  There was Danby potential but after last year's farce, I'm not going to rely on 4 train connections to 'make' with less than 10 mins between them, plus Tom suggested Danby had Middlesbrough away potential.  I just hope Grosmont comes good.  I had contemplated Whitby's remaining two but it might be nice to combine these with the two in Robin Hood's Bay at a later date.  

2.  Next midweek night should see my second trip of the year to Hebden Bridge with Mirfield potential.  No reason why I can't crack on with Tuesday midweek WY BRAPA's throughout October.

3. Nottingham Forest a week on Saturday, am going to bring it down to three pre-match pubs as I felt 4 was too ambitious with the walking / time allowed.  Sir John Borlase Warren, Falcon Inn and Organ Grinder - all very close together which is good, all 12 noon openers not so great so may have to join the BRAPA Crapper for one in VAT & Fiddle.  Newshouse potential after the game.  

4.  Dad is back in 'East Yorkshire' chauffeur role on the 10th as I start to tick off the first two of the remaining 5 which have now reappeared since the 2016 GBG was published.  I'm going to a wedding evening do on this day, could the new Headingley tick be a good place to meet the four ladies I'm going with?  Would they mind?  Do I even care?   

5.  Sheff Wed we are boycotting so Loxley, Hillsbrough Hotel and a couple of others Kelham Island way looks good for that one.  However, am feeling the Isle of Axholme thing I'd arranged with Tom on the Sunday may be a step too far and probably will give it a miss. 

6.  The 24th sees part VIII of my Bedfordshire trip, this time using Bedford as a base (where I have a new pub to do) and then bussing to villages like Renhold, Felmersham, Sharnbrook and the like.  Depends how many I can squeeze in for time.  Will need some serious planning for that one. 

7.  I've booked a couple of days off for a pre-Hallowe'en spooky BRAPA date (watch this space), 

8.  And finally, a horror show trip to MK Dons.  Could I be cheeky and ask that we cross the border into Beds to get the vital Salford tick?  Unless I do it on 24th.  To be fair, there 2 or 3 MK pubs to do anyway so should be fine, but will need a chat with Dad.

So as you can see, plenty to keep me going.  I was getting a bit disillusioned around GBG publication time, but I've very much got my BRAPA mojo back now and October could be a very productive month, though September will take some beating!  


Monday 21 September 2015

BRAPA : the archives (311-320)

You lot are gluttons for punishment ain't ya?

Now that we have finished the "book-work", here's ten more from wonderful West Yorks as we venture into lovely L**ds....

311.  King's Head, Huddersfield

Throughout the noughties, I always found it strange how out of Huddersfield's two station pubs, this one seemed to be more popular with the GBG compilers than the Head of Steam which I used to love and have used for both football and Transpenine crawls.  In fact, it wasn't until me, JW2 and Krzb came on our Transpenine day out on 13th Feb 2010 that I actually gave it a chance!  We didn't 'get it' at all, washing hanging up to dry, dog bowls, clutter, disorganised staff, and strange spartan room with minimal decor, or even chairs and tables.  We commented on the beer quality being great, but it was with some relief that we returned to the HoS where train delays meant we actually were happy to be stuck here for quite some time!  And that was that until a 2015 trip on the way back from a midweek BRAPA where I decided it was still GBG listed and I should give it a chance, and this time the mental lightbulb clicked.  It hadn't changed, but I soon realised the layout was unique and wonderful with great features which seemed to work even better on a quiet Tuesday evening.  My Purple Moose anniversary beer went down a treat, and the young Asian barman was a friendly type, whilst the other locals all propped up the bar and smiled nervously from the corner of their mouths recognising one of their own.  A pub criminally under used by me, so I'm telling you, make sure you give it a visit!

A great ale in the much neglected (by me) King's Head
312.  Crowd of Favours, Leeds

Like all new pubs that come under my radar, I gave this a chance to "bed in" before my first visit despite some excitable murmurings from work people.  To be fair, the name sounded pretentious and put me off, and a quick scan at the 'clipboard' menu on my first visit, alone on Wednesday 7th August, did nothing to dissuade me.  Fondue fonts called things like "crowd of cheese" and "a favour of chocolate" seemed ridiculous.  It is a Leeds brewery pub and it's a nice smart conversion of a chippie no less, but like most of their pubs, a teeny bit lacking in true pubbub.  Anyway, I was waiting for girls to get ready for Emily's birthday meal at nearby Las Iguanas, so I drank a strong Green Devil IPA and something stouty, both over 6% and everyone claimed I was drunk at the meal! A month to the day, I brought Dad here and we had a very enjoyable Eggs Benedict breakfast and he was well impressed as we sampled a couple of Leeds ales too.  Leeds Pale when well kept is a classic, don't let the critics dissuade you.  Less than a month later, I was here again!  This time with Mark Bennett from work but it was too busy and we had to stand on a Friday night.  And finally, Emily's birthday drinks a year on in Aug 2014, Hipsters dominated the scene and despite really good staff and some nice food, we could barely hear each other over the din.  Good but not my fave.

Eggs Benedict (my fave breakfast), Crowd of Favours, 7/9/13.
313.  Duck and Drake, Leeds

When I got my first GBG in Dec 2001, it made sense working in Leeds to start trying to visit those pubs on lunchtimes although being a 1999 guide, it was all a bit hit n miss to see which were still open/good/accessible.  However, this pub wasn't then in the 2002 GBG which I probably got spring/summer of that same year.  So it makes a bit more sense to me that my first memorable visit here was with John Watson II, probably more late 2003 on a dark night when he'd travelled over to join me for one of our 'Leeds new pub nights'.  We were amazed by the huge room, high ceilings, amount of guest ales (still a novelty in these early days), and it was very spit n sawdust and very smokey - a proper rough working man's pub you might say.  There was a band setting up, we were forced to move, and I think John lost an item of clothing in the ensuing melee which was surely pinched.  I also remember a dodgy Black Sheep clock with two sheep humping each other.  I then neglected it on the whole for nearly 10 years, though I visited once on my own and once with Dan Midwood and Mark Dobson on our LLAC (Leeds Lunchtime Ale Challenge) about 2007, I wasn't impressed and the beer range seemed to have deteriorated.  However, it was more recently been taken over by former excellent landlord of Judges LodgingS and Royal Oak (in York), Andy "Judge" Yuill.  He is quite a character and he's made this pub brilliant again, still a big emphasis on live music in that main bar, lots of memorabilia, and an acoustic guitar acting as toilet door!  Ales are superb and great to see an old pub in the GBG for Leeds with all these modern ones dominating.  I've been here a few times in last three years, most notably with Dad straight after our Crowd of Favours breakfast 7th Sept 2013.  Andy was on great form having great banter (not that you're allowed to use that word anymore  .... reclaim the word!) with all these grizzled ancient locals!  Top pub if you like them 'real'.

314.  Friends of Ham, Leeds

23rd May 2013 and it was nice to find a compromise with my work friend Emily (who lets face it, finds places like Brigantes and Mr Foley's a bit too 'pubby') for somewhere to go where we could enjoy real ale, fruit beers and good food.  In the early days, I kind of tolerated it as it depended on whether you could get a comfy seat downstairs as it's popularity grew amongst fake bookcase wallpaper and board games.  On a work night out in Dec '13, I almost got thrown out for saving a seat for 4 for too long!  By our early 2014 visit, it was heaving and we had to share a bench with a couple on a first date - awkward!  So I was almost pleased when they announced they were closing for a few weeks to extend into the upstairs.  Even though it is still busy, at least you feel you can breathe now.  You've also got to be strategic.  The staff are quirky and might try and give you table service so I make sure I run straight to the bar as their menus don't really reflect the real ales on!  Food is simple, meat or cheese boards with bread and things like figs, chutney and oil, but they still try to make it foreign and exotic sounding.  If I visited it as a one off in a different town on a BRAPA day, I'd be highly critical, but as I've learnt the ropes, I kind of love it.  Beer always superb.

Emrack seemingly drinking a candle - FoH, 22nd December 2014.
315.  Hop, Leeds

To follow the usual trend, I heard about this pub immediately when it opened in 2010 but shelved it for a good year, probably until 6th Sept 2012 when main Leeds work drinking buddy Emily did an "OMG Si how have you never been here" moment and we went for a post-work Thursday night drink.  I immediately loved the place, especially the upstairs with it's "whispering gallery", punk artwork, plus don't forget the amazing pie, mash and pint offer which Mark Dobson taught me about on 27/9/12 when he gave me what felt like a 'careers meeting' here!  Even before this, I brought Jig here after our C is for Carnforth day on 15h Sept 2012, meant I'd visited it 3 times in 3 weeks!  I also brought Rebecca here but it was a weird poker night so we were only allowed to sit downstairs near a door and be offered gambling chips we weren't really interested in.  My fave times though have been with Dad, most notably on that 7th Sept 2013 and he was waxing even more lyrical than me about the place.  One of my favourite things is the location, under the Dark Arches you are under Platform 17 and the walk to get there is like being in a Batman film, but with more Ossett beer.  On Leeds Utd days avoid, I was once turned away, it is full of 'jokers' haha.  

Downstairs in Hop with Rebecca, 15th May 2014.
316.  North, Leeds

Or "North Bar" as anyone normal calls it.  I think I've got the date nailed on this one.  I was very stingey back in 2003 and when the new GBG came out in Sept '02, I let John Watson II buy it and just kept going in to Waterstones on work lunchtimes and making notes - it wouldn't happen now!  Anyway, as it isn't in the 2002 GBG, am hoping I'm right in saying 2003 is the first edition it appeared in.  I was given an extended lunch on Christmas Eve 2002 in those stupid days where they didn't let us work through and leave early, so I made the most of it by coming here "on my own!"  Confusing entrance just like the Guide said, 'blink and you'll miss it' (I did several times) but went into this modern long thin European bottles and keg bar with the odd handpull.  The range of handpulls has improved over the years.  It was cold as I sat in the only seat available, near the open front door, on Christmas Eve for heaven's sake!  I've been here more than any other Leeds real ale venue since I started work in Leeds.  Me and Piper come here for catch ups on Fridays about once a quarter.  Highlights include a Romanian telling us to mind his drink cos he had bad diarrheoa (and then apologising when he realised me and Mark Dobson were eating).  Also, I was once here on a really busy Friday night trying to get to the bar when suddenly there was a screech as girls had recognised Dan from Big Brother (he was bald, gay and from Hull), there was a parting of the waves and I exploited it to get served quicker than anyone else - top pubbing!  It's a great place.

A pint of Mutual Aid with Piper, Jan 15, hailstorm, in OUR window seat

317.  Palace, Leeds

I can vividly remember walking around Leeds probably in early 2002 using my GBG to try and direct me to this pub.  Problem is, I didn't realise Kirkgate stretched right to the city boundary where there's a church and a stone to mark it.  How much I persevered, I'm not sure but I definitely came here with John Watson II on the same night as our Duck & Drake visit.  We'll say Oct 2003 again but I suspect it may have been sooner.  Whatever, I know JW2 was very impressed and for a while it was his top pub in Leeds.  However, throughout the noughties, it had a reputation for having really slow staff, the GBG even commented on it and when me and Mark Dobson came on a LLAC (Leeds Lunchtime Ale Challenge) day in 2007 (a good 20 min stride from the bank!) we were kept waiting for so long, we were late back even drinking a pint in quick time.  Another memorable time was starting, I think, a sister Lu birthday do here after an Italian meal where we learnt about the ghost of a grey lady, who was actually a man dressed up as he went on stage playing the part in days cos women weren't allowed!  It's now a Nicholson's pub so the beer range doesn't seem as exciting as it was, but pub is unchanged otherwise, staff improved, and last time here in Oct 2014 I got told off by an old crone for drawing a curtain to make it dark!  Oh well, 

318.  Reliance, Leeds

When I read about the then 'Reliance Reading Rooms' (as it was then uncooly known) opening and appearing in the GBG, I was excited and surprised as it's location was very close to the back of Brunswick Point, where I was working at the time.  I had a couple of flimsy challenges on the go around then, one was "Beat the Christmas Shoppers" (BCS) where every working day in December 2004(?), I vowed to go to a different pub so I didn't get crushed by the idiot masses.  It didn't last for health reasons!  Another was "A Happy New Year of drinking" (Jan 2006?) where I tried to have one drink every day of the year (it didn't last due to health reasons).  I think my first visit to Reliance was one of these two, probably Dec' 04 (if it had indeed opened and appeared in the 2005 GBG, more research may be needed as all their webpages don't tell me).  It's a lunchtime place to me, I liked walking into the sunny North Bar-esque place (I wasn't used to "real ale bars" in those days) and a few neanderthal versions of hipsters stared at me, but they had a few good ales on the bar and friendly young barmaids, plus a tricky looking food ordering area to the left.  The huge glass windows and the main road meant for quite a novel drinking experience, a bit like drinking on a ring road I reported to work people when I got back.  I brought JW2 here for one of our later "Leeds ale nights" and I was most recently here in 2012 when the Nancy-gang invited me to lunch at the nearby Greedy Pig, and once, we came for a nice drink here instead (well, I was the only one who got ale and posh chips!). 

319.  Scarbrough Hotel, Leeds

Another early and oft visited Leeds pub, I surely had no problem finding this on my 'lunchtime meanderings' and am gonna stick my neck out on this one and say summer 2002.  It certainly is a pub which makes me think of sunny evenings.  "Ho ho ho, not the Scarbrough Taps, why would you wanna go there!" screeched my Premium work colleagues when I referred to it as one of Leeds finest real ale pubs.  But it really was.  It had a real golden age where it was regularly heaving, I remember feeling it was a bit of an institution and almost like I wasn't worthy.  Plus I could never get to the bar to see the vast range of ales on.  It was a prime pre-gig meeting place for me and friends circa 2004-07 where we'd have a ham n pineapple melt before watching someone like Flogging Molly at the Cockpit.  Once we saw lead singer Dave King and the nice lady one (who he somehow later married) having food and drinks here like us.  Did they get together over a Roosters Yankee and Ham n Pineapple Melt?  In June 2007, I had a mad month of being ID'd everywhere I went having not been before or since for years!  Being ID'd here was the final straw and I stormed out.  This place has lost it's magic in recent years, now a Nicholson's and with modern trendier bars selling the kind of revolutionary ales that this used to, it has fallen behind and before a 2012 gig, I came here on my own about 8pm and the place was almost deserted, I even got an armchair,  And no melts on the menu! 

320.  Stick or Twist, Leeds

Actually, sorry North Bar, I think this is my most visited pub in Leeds!  Located between both my old and new work buildings, it is the start of every work night out and these days, we sometimes don't leave, not that I go on many now that BRAPA controls my life (oh dear!) and the building of the Leeds Arena has made it as busy as Scarbrough Hotel used to be, on gig nights.  But where did it all begin?  Well, in the very early ale days (Nov-Dec 2001), the GBG pub around work was called The Londoner and I had two decent visits before a drugs raid we all watched from the window, and it was razed to the ground and is now student accomodation!  But I'm sure my first work Christmas do - Dec 22nd 2001(?) started here - I got ridiculously drunk that night, lost my wallet, forgot what city I was in.  However, it had a reputation for being shite then and I got a lot of "stick" for being a real ale drinker as people (who now drink ale!) told me "it all tastes the same".  Well it does when you don't clean your lines.  It stayed questionable up to about the smoking ban (though the raised left area was always non smoking) and then remarkably, ale improved circa July '07.  I did keep telling people, but it wasn't til it got in the GBG that it started getting the credit it deserved.  And a fully deserved regular entrant now, you don't Leeds many other 'Spoons getting in so am quite lucky really.  The people are still quite scroaty, but you can't have everything. 

21/3/14 - after work drinks, giving Sal Hop an Untappd demo in the Stick.

Well, that was a great trip down memory lane.  Forget BRAPA, who's up for a L**ds scum ale trail?

I've still got 5 more White Shite pubs to review, and then we'll move into broader West Yorkshire again, we'll see how it goes.  


Sunday 20 September 2015

BRAPA - "Detox" day in North Yorkshire

After a crazy last week of Lewes, Brighton, London, Cardiff, Manchester and the York Beer Festival, it's fair to say I wasn't feeling at my best as I boarded the ridiculously crowded bus at Skipton (there was a war-themed event on in Grassington),  I also had a bit of man-flu, so when a know-it-all Yorkshire family Dad starting talking on subjects like bus tickets and Sam Smith's pubs, I was worn out and not in the mood to humour him.  At least my main fellow passenger, 'the Asian Rambler' (as he probably isn't known) was a calmer soul who's only concern was the weather.

It was a huge relief to 'alight' at Kilnsey, a beautiful Dales village, and with the warm early Autumn sun beating down, I was feeling a bit better about the 4 mile walk in front of me - no pavements of course meant it was always a lively trek!

By the time I finally arrived in Arncliffe for my next alphabetical North Yorks 'tick', I was exhausted but ready for pint, food and a couple of hours of downtime.  I just hoped the pub was a good one .....

What a relief!  I've finally reached Arncliffe

689.  Falcon Inn, Arncliffe

And it didn't disappoint.  I was soon "well in" with the landlord by commending his decision to un-brand the Tim Taylor Boltmaker back to the original "Best Bitter", a move which also went down well with Mrs Falcon who was more in charge of bringing food outside.  This was an unspoilt no-frills pub which was actually the original "Woolpack" in Emmerdale Farm, but it didn't milk it like Askrigg's All Creatures Great and Small theme.  The Best Bitter was served straight from a jug and was delicious.  I sat outside on the village green with the hills all around, it was so tranquil at this point and I sat in the sun reading and getting bronzed (burnt).  I went in for a swift half of Dark Horse Hetton Pale, the only other ale on and it was even nicer, apart from when a wasp drowned in it.  The calm was spoilt when a young guy in Range Rover ("Prick Prince Harry") arrived and was noisy and posh with his friend and Grandad.  I learnt that last week, John Inverdale had been in this pub (no doubt to abuse French tennis women for being ugly) and Eric Cantona was fishing near here - what a nightmare scenario.  Speaking of which, a chavvy Wedding Party soon arrived to disrupt the calm further (third time recently, do wedding planners consult the GBG these days?) so I had to guard my picnic bench carefully.  Even they, though, couldn't spoil a classic BRAPA pub experience.

The excellent Falcon in Arncliffe

Back in Kilnsey half an hour before the bus after an even livelier walk, waving at cars, chatting to bikes, scowling at motorbikes, I thought I should probably sample their village pub as a pre-emptive of sorts.......

Tennants Arms, Kilnsey

It didn't look stunning apart from the backdrop with abseilers all over this sheer rock-face at the rear of the pub.  Some people and their leisure pursuits eh?  I'd rather be BRAPping any day!  Anyway, I entered this dark pub geared up for food with the traditional country North Yorks knives, forks and placemats everywhere.  I was glad to see a couple of ales, so had a half of Otter Bitter all the way from Devon, served by a blonde barmaid with a child's voice, and I smuggled two Cheese n Onion pasties in the main food room!  I think she noticed but didn't say anything on the matter.  Again, the tranquility was broken when a group of middle aged annoying Yorkshire men descended on the bar like a pack of particularly upbeat Zombies, but I was on my way anyway.

50 minutes of painful bussing later, I was back in Skipton for my second trip here this year, third pub trip here in total ..... as there is a new pub in the guide.

690.  Beer Engine, Skipton

Skipton has lots of pubs (no Sam Smith's ones sadly for annoying bus man) but it didn't stop this new micro pub being 'packed' on a Saturday afternoon.  It was bigger than the Cardiff one, but smaller than most I've visited this year so being 'packed' probably means about 20-25 people were present.  It had a pleasing range of ales but I chose badly as I didn't enjoy my bland Dawkins Green Barrel.  I was pleased just to a) find a stool for my bag b) find a wall to lean on c) work the sliding door to the loo and d) be allowed to rest my drink on the bar temporarily to find out Hull City had been disappointing as usual.  Like most micro pubs, the average age of clientele was probably about 40-45 and it was a real friendly vibe, nice staff, you'd think this was an old Skipton institution that had been open for centuries, well, if you were blind maybe!  I probably got the timing wrong, but a welcome addition to the Skipton ale scene.

Micro fun in Skipton - note a lot of people out and in!
Well, in coming back to Skipton I had burnt my bridges of getting my Hubberholme tick.  Too much effort.  I could have got off at Keighley and got a bus to Cross Hills.  Too much effort.  And by the time I reached Saltaire and Shipley, I also remembered I had no money left so stayed on til Leeds, went to MaccyD's, back to York, and pretty much straight to bed by 8pm with Lemsip - exhausted!

Coming Soon

September continues to yield a huge amount of ticks and we are back on the midweek trail Wednesday (instead of the usual Tuesday as I have a gig to attend in Leeds).  I have not made a final decision but it won't be too far out of Leeds.

And next Saturday will probably (but not definitely) be my second shot at Beck Hole & Grosmont.  The Grosmont pub only opens daytime on special occasions and there is a steam gala on so it may be too good an opportunity to pass up - especially as the war weekend clashes with a Hull City day.  It should also give me the chance to get out on the train to places like Danby, Egton, Lealholm or even Whitby again so I'll have to do my usual thorough planning and hope it isn't a nightmare like last year's attempt.  Really, I should be doing Austwick (it's near Clapham) as this is my final North Yorkshire "A"

And September concludes a week on Tuesday with a return trip to Hebden Bridge and possibly somewhere else.  

A few days quiet recovery is all I'm interested in now though!  



Friday 18 September 2015

BRAPA - Cardiff / Manchester

A 76 minute train delay / cancellation meant any hopes of an adventurous outer Cardiff day had to be shelved for another year.

Let's just say that by the time I finally arrived into the now bright n shiny frighteningly modern version of Wales' most European city, and checked into my Travelodge, I was like a coiled spring ready for BRAPA action!

683.  Pen & Wig, Cardiff

Opposite the law courts in quite a serene and leafy area of the city, I did at least make some effort to leave the city centre proper to get this tick in.  It had the feel of a student pub to me, well a very well kept and clean one, if you've ever had the misfortune to go to York's Keystones, imagine a posher version of that.  Two friendly bar chaps were on had to serve me, it was very quiet on this Tuesday afternoon, and a decent range of ales all had those little jars next to them so you could see what colour your beer was going to be, something that really spoils the surprise for me, but is useful to people like my Dad for example.  Having said all this, I ordered a beer called 'Bronze' which pretty much came out black.  I sat in the front window and the only other customer of note was a girl with a plate of sausage and chips.  Thing was, she seemed more happy chatting to her friend on her mobile phone and I reckon in the half an hour I was there, she ate a grand total of two chips and they must've been cold.  I can only think she was a member of staff and the meal was complimentary!  My friend then messaged me to say his Mum was a regular in here 42 years ago in other interesting trivia.

Pen & Wig - law courts, students, untouched sausage and chips.
684.  Gravity Station, Cardiff

Hidden away behind a shopping centre, I found this micro pub which, uninkeeping for 2015 pubbing, was actually "micro" being one fairly small room only.  The keg beers were to the fore, the cask to the back (boo minus point!) so I had to be careful but the beer was dispensed straight from the barrel and the taps were actually 'taps', like you'd find in a kitchen or bathroom - very novel!  It was like a bottle/can shop too with a really good selection along two walls.  I ordered a gorgeous pint of "Sharks against Surfers" (very orangey) from the new local Hopcraft (terrible name) brewery and quizzed the barman about Hopcraft's new pub up near Queen Street.  He reminded me of a guy I used to work with and sadly, had the same lack of social skills and our chat died after about 90 seconds.  Still, it was a great relaxing place to sit and have a drink, especially when a man with a wife he bought online left the place.  There was one huge copper table in the middle of the room which seemed to be for all customers.  A late moment of drama occurred when a toddler ran in only to be restrained by his Mum, who then criticised the smell of the pub, and in a moment of perfect karma, was promptly headbutted by her son.  A satisfying end to a satisfying pub.

Arriving at the quirky Gravity station, Cardiff's first micro pub.

685.  Rummer Tavern, Cardiff

I'd received an intriguing text message from Christine (who seemed to be doing her own more successful Cardiff pub tour) earlier in the day who told me this pub was "rubbish" and the bold statement "won't be in the 2017 GBG" and I should go to the new pre-emptive Hopcraft instead.  Obviously, this just made me want to sample the Rummer Tavern even more, reverse psychology at work perhaps.  But was her assessment right?   I entered a very old looking building (Cardiff's oldest pub allegedly, full of tudor style beams) and it was deliciously darkly lit, with a long thin walk through to the bar with another interesting (and surprising range of local ales) and my Digger's Gold by the excellent Grey Trees which I'd previously enjoyed in Hereford, was lovely and bitter.  There was a good hubbub too, with a few other customers chatting away and the feeling of ghosts of centuries old drinkers all around.  So, in conclusion, not in my opinion!  Cracker, Goat Major-esque.

Rummer - atmospheric fun opposite Cardiff Castle
686.  Lansdowne, Cardiff

Time was moving on swiftly and with the new Ninian Park on the far side of the city, I decided to stride out to my main pre-match pub.  I'd heard that it attracts the "more discerning Cardiff City fan" so wanted to get in early so I could get a good seat.  What I hadn't realised is that "discerning" and "Cardiff City fan" don't really go hand in hand so the pub was quiet for the most part.  It was very much the Hull's Wellington of Cardiff pubs, a little bit out of the way but easily walkable to the ground, and felt like the Welly in it's hey day with a wooden floor, a cracking range of ales, and staff that seemed to be have an element of those characters of old.  There was Welsh Sophie, Welsh Vicky, Welsh Janette, Welsh Angela, Welsh Carter, Welsh Dylan from Magic Roundabout - only Welsh Rich was missing and I could live with that.  However, the key phrase here was "Yey Hayley!" invented by a little girl for one of the barmaid's, who first seemed flattered by it, then embarrassed, then annoyed.  By the time Christine arrived having escaped the S.S. in their dodgy Brains pub the Butchers Arms, I gave her a run down of the beers and when Hayley came to serve her, I said "you have to say Yay Hayley", Hayley looked like she wanted to stab me in the eye.  Nevertheless, beers like Bristol's Milk Stout and the hard to pronounce Llandogo Trow Ale underlined this as pub of the day and surely the best in Cardiff.  They did food, but you can't have everything!  

Quality pre-match drinks at the Lansdowne

Then, something weird happened, Hull City played well and won away from home.

So it was time for a celebratory post-match pint so with Christine and Chris D in tow, we found a pub between ground and city centre up near Sophia Gardens Cricket Ground.  You can guess the name?

687.  Cricketers, Cardif

A bit like Pen & Wig, it had a very open plan interior which I have to confess I'm not a fan of, but it worked very well here, with book cases and just nice understated decor meaning it still felt that we were in a cosy place.  The beers were from a brewery called Evan Evans, who I read bought out Archers of Swindon who's beers I used to love and see them everywhere (even Hull) in my early real ale drinking days.  I was equally impressed with the unpronouncable Cwrw which I had kindly bought for me.  Still, beer always taste better after a victory.  We reviewed the match and the Cardiff pubs (I managed to get in how I'd enjoyed the Rummer Tavern!) and it was the perfect end to my trip to Cardiff.  Chris D thought I could maybe push myself for one more city centre 'tick' before closing time but truth be told, I'd had enough and it was time for supper and a good night's sleep!

Post match celebrations outside the Cricketers.
688.  Molly House, Manchester

The following day, despite York Beer Festival looming like a gigantic boozy mess, I'd given myself a good 70 minutes in Manc before my change of trains and decided to walk to the gay district where I'd heard great things about this pub for a couple of years now, let's say it was one of those 'monkey off my back ticks'.  There was controversy on the walk to it in Sackville Gardens where an angry woman with a mobile phone accused a bewildered man of letting his "mutt" attack her gentle little dog and she had it all on video!  The pub was a much more serene place, and I was the only customer and a bit like the Lansdowne in Cardiff, apparently attracts "the more discerning gay drinker!"  It definitely had class and style with nice decor, a great range of ales with an emphasis on the always good Beartown brewery and my blueberry ale was an absolute joy.  It almost felt like a micro pub as it was one small room only, and the one unisex toilet was called the 'water closet', presumably so people can say "I've just come out of the closet ha ha ha".  Or maybe not.  Great place.

Excellent Manchester between train pubbing at the Molly House.
So, I'm all beered out now after York Beer Festival following on from Cardiff and Brighton, I feel like I've barely stopped travelling/drinking in the last week.  

Still, BRAPA returns tomorrow for a very low key day which is about exercise, fresh air and scenery as much as pubbing.  Stay tuned for Sunday's report.


Monday 14 September 2015

BRAPA Code of Conduct - updated for 2016

Before I scare anyone with this title, I'd like to assure you that the only person who has to adhere to this (fairly tongue-in-cheek) code of conduct is me, myself and Si.

The reason I put it on a blog post is that I have in last two years made some silly mistakes, been ill-disciplined, and want to 'tighten things up' a bit.  I hope it is instructive and may be even amusing to you in places, if slightly rambling!

Planning with Care

I often moan to people at work, bleary eyed in the morning, "I spend more time planning BRAPA than actually visiting the pubs!" but planning is, in effect, all part of the fun.

Firstly (I'm assuming you've booked your travel tickets well in advance, and also got any train tickets out of the machine in advance, don't rush on the day!), work out which pub is your main focus of the day, this might be for alphabetical reasons, to complete a page in the GBG, because it is a Heritage pub, or it's a "oh my god Si how haven't you visited it yet" pub.  It could be a multitude of reasons.  Anyway, make one pub the focal point of your day, your MUST visit pub.

It might be a good idea to try and visit the most difficult or furthest away pub first and work your way back in.  Write down all train times, bus times, estimated times spent walking, waiting and in the pub itself (27 minutes should be your minimum time planned to spend in a pub).  It should be planned with military precision.

Make detailed notes re busses, what number, what time, where the stop is. What platforms or direction a train will be going in (re busses, google maps is your friend here, re trains, where does it terminate eventually).   You can't have too much in this category.

Write all this down, step by step to see if it works in theory.  Even if you are having a "city" day with say, more than enough central pubs to visit, don't be complacent.  Record a planned pub route and stick to it.  In your more sober state in planning mode, your decision making will be better than doing things on a whim a few pints in.  Can you get out to a village or two (see "pub strategy section")

If something just doesn't fit in terms of busses, trains, walking, you may have to decrease your number of planned pubs in a day, it's not an admission of defeat, it is sensible.  Remember you have a lifetime to complete this.

Number of Pubs

A moot point that requires discipline.  3 is a minimum for any full day out, 7 is too many (unless it is "broken up" by another event) so make six your optimum but 5 is more than acceptable aswell.  4 is a good result on a tricky rural day involving walking and busses.  On an evening trip, 1 is acceptable if an "out of the way" tick but I'd look for 2 or 3, no more than that if you have work the next day.

BRAPA Survival Kit

To be packed on the night before any full BRAPA day (this does NOT include football match days, car trips or midweek nights though some things should be packed).

1.  Little red notebook - Ryman's is your friend, it rhymes with Simon.  Stock up on these.
2.  Your iPhone - evil they may be, but invaluable in so many ways i won't bore you with here.
3.  Portable Charger - best invention ever, just keep it close to your person at all times, and ensure it is charged itself the night before your trip.
4.  The physical Good Beer Guide - More of a prop really, as we'll see in a later section, but it's always satisfying to "tick the pub" IN the pub!
5.  Food & drink (oh and kitchen roll, thanks Dad for that late inclusion!) - Keeping yourself rehydrated and with a lined stomach is essential, and will be covered in it's own section.
6.  The "red pen" - a yellow highlighter, again Ryman's who are one of my unofficial sponsors can help here, again for satisfying "ticking on the day" and it can also be interactive.
7.  Oyster Card - if going anywhere remotely near London, even if you don't plan on going through it, things can change with travel and transport.
8.  A pen - to make notes in your little red notebook, someone might give you a good pub tip for example (see "local knowledge")
9.  Headphones - because odds are there will be someone annoying on the train at some point who you want to block out.
10.  BRAPA business cards - to share the joy of this blog with the general public, take a stash of these (see "BRAPA" pub etiquette).

N.B. If you are going "rural", you may even wish to take extra steps to ensure this fraught day isn't a disaster.  Spare socks, walking boots, a compass, a couple of taxi numbers, sturdy trousers, maybe even draw yourself a rough map (a lifesaver at Castleton Moor in '14) as you cannot rely on mobile phone coverage all the time.  You are the Bear Grylls & Ray Mears of pubbing!

On the Day / Food & Drink

Give yourself plenty of time in the morning, double check you've packed everything, got your food out of the fridge, heated pasties up etc, got all your travel tickets,  If you are staying overnight, do you also have a wash bag, spare undies and any booking confirmation if applicable.

If you have time, make yourself a cooked breakfast to line your stomach, otherwise heat something up to have mid morning like a cornish pasty or sausage roll.  I'd take at least one bottle of cold drink but try and get something juicy whilst out as well.  I also find a banana is a good super food to have first thing.  Cheese blocks are good (I learnt that from Spooks season one!)  Otherwise, stodge all the way!  Keep away from caffeine - tea, coffee and energy drinks, even super fruit juices are a nightmare on the morning of a BRAPA day, avoid.  Also, draw out more cash than you think you will need, maybe best to do this the day before aswell.

City. Town and Pub Etiquette

I think of Portillo's railway journeys.  As you arrive in your new city, town, village, shithole and eventually pub, walk around with head up, shoulders back, look people on the eye, smile - you own this day, you ARE BRAPA!  Today, you are twice as tall, twice as intelligent, twice as attractive, twice as popular.  Believe it.

Take a nice photo of the pub, don't be self conscious of locals outside or cars in traffic.  Carry on regardless.  They may even offer to take your photo or suspect you are a pub tourist and talk to you as though you are a simpleton which is totally fine.  Act naive rather than cocky/ full of knowledge,  Let them have their moment of glory.  No-one likes a smart arse.

In the pub, get straight to the bar (unless you are dying for a wee), say hi to any barflies and be friendly to the staff.   Stroke any pets even though dogs scare you.  Humour them (locals, not dogs) if they tell a bad joke, accept offers of free tasters if alone (not in company) and maybe ask questions about a rare local brew.  You don't really care, but it might lead to more chat.  If the barmaid is a young pretty brunette, try and rate her bottom out of ten without being caught (there is a BRAPA "end of year awards" ceremony to consider).

So do you want to talk to these people?  Well, my unscientific research shows me 4 out of 5 BRAPA pubs (80%) are generally a case of getting your drink and sitting down, drinking it and leaving.  So if you sniff half a chance of a chat, take it,  Try and lead it to a BRAPwardly direction.  People are nearly always interested in BRAPA.  Have confidence in your challenge.  Also, don't be immediately put off by locals or a lack of reception, don't sit in the furthest darkest corner unless it's full of hipsters.  Give people a chance at a later time to include you in things.

Use your Good Beer Guide as a prop.  Put it on the table in full view.  Now people know why you are here.  People like a route into conversation.  It's like wearing a football top, having a dog or a baby, or wearing a t-shirt saying "kick me!"  In fact, there is now BRAPA clothing.  Wear it!  Also now is a good time to get your BRAPA cards out before you forget.  Someone may even see your shiny case and demand their own card, once they realise it isn't a vanity mirror.  If you are chatting to staff or locals, perhaps ask them to "red pen" your pub, make them feeling included in BRAPA history, though don't be sad if they refuse - some people are very lazy I've found!  

When you leave the pub, take your glass back to the bar and try to make sure you say a cheery goodbye to someone, anyone.  But don't be too needy, in any of the above steps.  Walk out as you walked in, with head held high.  If you need the loo, make a joke out of how difficult it is to find toilets in new pubs.  This is particularly hilarious in JD Wetherspoons establishments, female friendly pubs in Silsden or Glasgow branches of Nicholson's.

Local Knowledge

Relating to the above, if you do meet people in pubs or on busses etc, don't underestimate them - they might be able to advise you on a "pre-emptive tick", give you a lift to your next pub or recommend a good local brew, so even if they don't seem like the kind of dream desert island partner you were hoping for, understand their value.

Drinking Strategy

A pint measure in each pub is your standard drinking amount.  If you want to nurse a half, that's fine.  If you want a pint of water, that is fine too.  There is no rule, but you should be in the pub for 30 mins strictly speaking, well 25 absolute minimum!  Always listen to your body, if you are feeling a bit woozy as the day comes towards the close, you are probably worse than you think and you should rehydrate if you have nothing in your bag.  Perhaps order a pint of water AND a pint of beer if you don't want to admit defeat, but careful of your bladder if you have a long bus journey ahead of you.  Maybe smuggle some food too if the pub isn't too geared up for food, or at least ask for some crisps unless you are in a Mayfair Monster Munch situation (see pub 681).  I HATE memory gaps and let's face it, how can you do the pub justice in your blog if you are too pissed to remember?  You owe it to yourself, BRAPA and the pub in question.  Don't be an idiot, don't bring the challenge into disrepute.
In a similar vein, avoid "additional pre or mid BRAPA drinks".  Football ground pre match or half time?  No!  20 mins to spare in train station with real ale pub before you're first tick?  No!

GBG Pub Strategy

On deciding what pubs to visit in general, there is a real balance to be had between "doing all the easy ones" and making your life overly difficult.  You are quite young, fit n healthy so it stands to reason to get some of the long hikes in before that hip replacement op is needed.  Despite living in North Yorkshire, this has provided some of my most challenging pubs to date showing that it is all about transport links.  An easy pub would have a nearby train station, an average pub would have a bus, and a difficult one would have neither or an incredibly tardy one, and probably no phone reception (see Eversholt).  A really easy pub may also have a football team in the same division as Hull City, to make pubs easy to visit on these "bonus" days, but don't let certain BRAPsters have you believe that a trip to Oban should be put on hold because "we'll probably draw them in the Anglo-Scottish non league Cup in the year 2032".  What I mean is, if YOU want a day out in Newcastle city centre for the hell of it, just do it!  You rule the roost.  If people want to be disapproving, stuff 'em.  Self righteousness rules.

I currently am focussing on North & South Yorkshire (because they are local to me) and Berkshire, because I have alphabetical OCD and I get a thrill from ticking the first pages of the GBG in a vague order.  I will gradually spread the net further, and move house to a different part of the country to make other counties easier to achieve.

Hull City, NFFD's, midweek and an army of BRAPsters

You might find that Hull City away games have become glorified BRAPA days.  This is generally a good thing.  The complication of other people is an errrm complication, but nice to have company some times and the key here is to "get in first" with an email outlining what pubs YOU will be visiting as part of BRAPA.  So if someone replies with "well, I'm staying in the VAT and Fiddle all day" (just to throw a random example out there), then that is their prerogative and if they want to be a "BRAPper Crapper" (someone who dissents on a BRAPA day out), that is fine.  And if an enthusiastic BRAPster comes up with an overly ambitious pre-match plan which leaves you worrying about getting to the ground for 3pm, then remember you are in control.  That's the whole point.  And herein lies the real key - "BRAPA should be fun, not a steeplechase, not a running race, not a box ticking exercise, but a hobby, a pursuit, relaxed but with an overall long-term aim", and something you could do well to remind not only others, but yourself as well.

This is where NFFD (Non Football Football days) come in.  Tired of paying high ticket prices to watch Hull City lose in an identikit stadium when you could be in peaceful beautiful countryside with sheep bleating, approaching a Green Owl with nestling fire and real cat?  Then get your June fixture list, identify the games you WANT to go to, and on something terribly boring (I won't name teams for fear of offending readers), plan a normal solo BRAPA day but then invite your Dad's and Tom's of this world along to be guides, chauffeurs, travel experts, photo takers, fine drinking companions.  In a barren football month, do this twice a month on-season, once in car, once public transport, with your other two days to yourself (in the summer, remember the value of friendship - in winter, they'll have to wait(!) and go to beer festivals monthly between May-July.

Other things may come to light too so remember to be flexible.  Mum might want a 'walking trip' which involves a BRAPA pub or three (she might not be aware until the day).  The sister might fancy her 5 yearly trip to a Market Towns Tavern.  Her all knowing boyfriend might want to take me to a pre-emptive in his hometown of Hemsworth.  Friends might want to discover new pubs not far from York, or the one with North Eastern leanings might want to immerse himself in his native land.  Pissed up work men might want a trip to some edgy Northern town in the summer, young work females might join on a West Yorks midweek night.  Someone may suggest combining BRAPA with a women's football game, or a random trip to an owl sanctuary/crisp factory (not one and the same venue).  Or Untappd people might want to meet up in person for real ale local to them.  BRAPA really can be sociable you see, I just have to remember to ask!

Social Media and BRAPA

"The chains that Marley forged in life, he now wears in death", to use a Scrooge / Gaslight Anthem analogy.  And that is sometimes how I feel about effin' social media.  I'm on Untappd, Twitter AND Instagram.

Yet, when you are sat in that 80% of pubs alone with no social interaction, it is nice to do an Untappd check-in to get that semblance of recognition from your followers, it's a nice way to pass 5 minutes.  Plus, the followers are primarily interested in pubs and beers so it fits best.

Twitter has become a revelation for spreading the word, I have a different group on here of passionate pub and beer enthusiasts, all with witty and interesting views on the world of pubbing. It is the most valuable in terms of promoting BRAPA.  But I do find it a bit of a needy App.  "Oooh look at me CAMRA expert / local celeb / brewery / festival .... I'm doing a thing, please like meeeee!"  You get the gist.

And Instagram, my favourite in terms of "creating the post and checking in", but my 5 followers mean it is a lonely existence but ironically the format fits BRAPA so better than the other two.

And if I'm doing all 3 in every pub, then I'm not going to be sociable to strangers anyway. Re Untappd,  sometimes, making a note of beer and details and then "typing it up" later is the healthiest idea on a BRAPA day, but it loses the nice immediacy of the situation.  A double-edged sword.

BRAPA and "downtime"

BRAPA is a lifestyle, not just something you do on Saturday's an occasional Tuesday's and then say "hey ho" I'll not think about it for the rest of the week.  Look at all that planning that is needed!  Train bookings, social media, blogging, it's a full time profession I tell thee.

You therefore need to look after yourself on these "downtime" days.  Plenty of exercise, work on that emerging beer belly, weights, abs, squats, jogging etc etc.  Eat healthy, your liver may be more prone to cirrhosis with all that ale so here's a few foody steps I take - avocado, tomatoes, turmeric, berries, cottage cheese, oily fish.  Get that metabolism going fast, and keep that liver strong and healthy.  Lovely stuff!  It does require discipline and motivation, but you'll never still be trekking 8 miles to Anchor in Shropshire at 62 years old if you are having a lifetime of health problems.


I hope you enjoyed this definition/rant/mission statement of what BRAPA is all about.

Sadly, there are still people out there who think BRAPA is an excuse for me just to drink lots of beer, but the thrill of another new pub is the prime motivation, whether it is a young hipsters bar, a brand new micro pub, a haunted fake-tudor coaching inn, another bloody Wetherspoons, a gorgeous heritage pub, a glorified farmhouse, a street corner local, they are all as exciting and as valuable as the one which preceded it.  Who knows what awaits me as I push open that door?

I see pubs as the closest thing as an extension to home, so unique and quite weird if you think about it .... go into a building, stand at this "bar", ask a stranger for a drink, pass over some money, note loads of people are doing the same thing, go and sit or stand somewhere else, it is a weird concept but beautiful.  In this modern age, I feel the value of preservation more and more as I get older, if I just wanted great beers, I'd simply walk within a 0.2 mile radius of my York flat and be very satisfied thanks very much!  Brigantes, Swan, Slip, Golden Ball - that's 4 high quality GBG pubs a stone's throw away from my flat.

I also love the challenge, the chase, the effort to get to a pub 4 miles from anywhere in a village that no one every goes to, the crazy uphill walk through a damp forest, the wild wind, the rain teeming down, coming over the hill as sheep part in all directions and there it is on the horizon, the next pub on the list.......