16 categories this year, we'll build up gradually towards the most important "BRAPA Pub of the Year" award.
16. Brunette of the Year Award - Winner - NEW INN ALEHOUSE & KITCHEN, Biggleswade
Let's get this nonsense over with quickly as I have no memory for this type of thing (faces), however nice the brunette, but the Brunette BRAPA committee (BBC - i.e. Tom) insist and seem to think Snowdrop (Lewes) and Royal Standard (Blackheath) deserve special mentions. I remember neither so will opt for the brunette in New Inn because she was (a) nice (b) lovely and (c) talked to me about my missing candle! Well, there you go. Honorary mention for barmaid at Sair in Linthwaite who was interested and supportive of BRAPA and gave me a local CAMRA magazine. If there was a blonde of the year (which there isn't), it'd be the lovely young lady at No Sign Bar in Swansea. Now I feel like Father Ted judging a lovely girls competition. Thanks a lot!
|There's a brunette in there if you look closely!|
I couldn't work out whether this was the best or worst experience of the BRAPA year so ended up giving it the comedy award! 13th June 2015 and I found myself on a tiny bus explaining BRAPA to a bunch of pensioners who'd just had there weekly trip to Tesco and were returning to Eversholt. Rain wasn't forecast but the heaven's opened, the Green Man was okay, then Google Maps did something it's never done before or since and "made me" walk across about 10 fields, through a forest, past some sheep and horses to get to Toddington. The rain was incessant, I was NOT dressed for the occasion and mud and water was right up to my knees so when I arrived at Oddfellows, Toddington I was the oddest fellow there and used up all their paper hand towels. Across the village green in the Cuckoo, I found a better toilet and it became the first pub I took my trousers off in as I made full use of the hand dryers and micro pub range of soap dispensers. Traumatic.
|Horses indicating the way to Toddington, but I was wet n fed up by this point!|
I might be biased in the favour of a good pub cat, but then they are the best pet (obviously), and so it is that I understand how they operate so when I spied Colonel Chambers (not it's real name) watching me from under a table, I sat in the far corner, yawn and half looked at it all unimpressed, just like cats do to humans. 10 mins later, it ambled over for a chin scratch, cuddle and stroke and then disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. Textbook BRAPA pet behaviour! Honorable mentions must go to Charlie Green (Parrot) in Sewerby's Ship and also to the characterful dog Sinbad in the Beer in Hand, Hereford but both were a little bit too needy.
|Pub Pet of the Year is Colonel Chambers in the Steampacket, Knottingley!|
13. BRAPA "Day From Hell" Award - Winner - Luton, 14th November 2015
Not so much a day from hell in the sense of last year's Whitby catastrophe (there was nothing that bad) but this day was just a massive disappointment from start to finish. From 20 mins trying to get served in the London Hatter to the woeful X30 bus service to my bladder constantly failing on me, to a horrific wet roadside walk near Whipsnade (nice pub though) where I'd have been safer in the lion's enclosure, to the English Rose was was probably the most boring BRAPA pub of the year, and it all culminated in a bus to Wigmore Road which never actually stopped anywhere near the Wigmore Arms and had me going round in a circle like a muppet, and now makes my final Bedfordshire trip this Saturday that much more difficult. It was just a rubbish day from start to finish!
|The only good part of my "day from hell" in Luton was in Whipsnade!|
Absolutely loved this place! First pub of the day is always great because I'm fresh, sober and ready for a pint, and a pint of Bradfield Farmers Blonde in their own pub doesn't get much better. Combine that with a real fire, a cooked breakfast, great company, a death list competition and just a really cosy all round pub (though not quite sure why everyone was SHOUTING so much!), a winning combination in anyone's money. Honorable mentions, the Swan With Two Nicks in Stockport was amazing (the pint of Old Tom helped), the Moorbrook in Preston was superb and Nottingham was probably the most consistently good day out, every pub a gem in it's own way and the people were even friendly and that hardly ever happens in the East Midlands unless you go to Derby when it's a full moon!
|It's Bradfield Farmers heaven in Loxley|
11. BRAPA Pub Person of the Year - Winner - B.G. Everitt (aka DAD!)
Oh dear, nepotism abounds but let me just say that without Dad's chauffeuring and great company this year, I'd never have managed to enjoy so many great pubs, particularly in rural East Yorkshire which has been a revelation to me. The highlight has to be when he'd got this new car for just one day and I was demanding he dodges cyclists up a tight country lane in search of the Gait at Millington. Legendary stuff. Loads of people have been supportive this year, but here's some honorable mentions to the best of the rest ..... Tom Irvin for his unswerving support, constant input and "never let up, never say die" attitude to all aspects of BRAPA. Christine Andrew for helping me in my hour of need when the GBG Privilege Club messed up my order, selflessly giving me her 2016 GBG until the official release date which allowed me to crack on in early September which was a key time. Retired Martin for his support and making me realise how powerful Twitter can be to help get BRAPA "out there" and all the other Twitterers, Untappders and Instgramers who've recognised BRAPA in 2015. Christina Sidery for being the most enthusiastic work colleague re BRAPA and accompanying me to Kirkstall and Headingley despite not liking real ale. Oh, and Shirley and Hannah North for the lift to the impossible to get to Chequers in Ledsham even though their own car broke down! And all those who've accompanied me in any BRAPA pub. Even Mummy Ev started to "get it" despite naggings about my liver getting damaged, and was determined to get me to North Cave for that tricky 4pm opener, the White Hart. I feel emotional. Oh dear, I've turned into Gwynth Paltrow.
|Dad waves to acknowledge his BRAPA Pub Person of the Year Award|
And whilst we're on the subject of people, those who you meet on your travels. Nothing more heart warming (well, apart from maybe the pub itself, the ale, a real fire, the toilets, a bag of crisps....) okay but seriously, they shape all the best days out, especially when I'm travelling alone which is how I most like BRAPA to be honest. And in Chequers in Wrestlingworth, I found myself in a spot of bother as I was in rural East Bedfordshire with no bus, no phone signal, and 6 miles from civilisation. It was a new barmaid's first day so she struggled to help (the other staff were allegedly burying a body in the garden), but engaged the barfly locals in chat about it only to realise there are no taxi services in the area either! Luckily, Tony, a chap who may well have had about 10 pints, drove me to Sandy and introduced me to all his "friends" at the William Peel and then made me go to a pre-emptive Greene King tick too. Awfully good of him, even if he didn't lock my bag in his car because "people from Sandy are honest", hmmm. Honorable mentions to the two elderly chaps at Chequers in Wootton who drove me to Kempston as I'd lost track of time a bit(!) Also to everyone at the Puzzle Hall in Sowerby Bridge who were so friendly and chatty, I got a pork pie out of it and handed a record number of BRAPA cards out to strangers. And to Ossett Lizzie who was so friendly when I visited the Bingley Arms in Horbury Bridge.
9. Outdoor Drinking Experience of the Year - Winner - Golden Fleece, Bradshaw
When I was picturing a beer festival in the garden of my own "Moon Under Water" (i.e. perfect pub), the Green Owl, I was drawing most inspiration from here. It was still quite early in the year but unlike summer, the weather was glorious in rural Halifax land, and I was soon enjoying glorious dark ales from the Revolutions brewery which all have reference to bands/musicians. Plus they had a local beer for about £1.50 a pint or something crazy. Even a strange young man who lied on the bench next to me talking angrily to himself couldn't spoil it as the pub garden seemed at one with the fields behind where sheep grazed and farmers toiled in the heat. I could've stayed a lot longer! Honorable mentions must go to some other superb, almost worthy winners, in Falcon, Arncliffe the Red Lion in Fenny Stratford, Brewers Pride in Ossett and March Hare in Dunton. Any of those could've won on another year with less strong competition.
|Idyllic outdoor drinking at the Golden Fleece.|
The standard of West Yorkshire pubs never fails to stagger me, especially when compared to North Yorkshire and Bedfordshire (just getting a dig in there) and my Tuesday evenings after work have nearly always been a joy with some breathtaking pubs and beers. What set 6th October apart was that it went above and beyond good. First, I bumped into Bryan (work's biggest ale fan) who told me about his own Amsterdam BRAPA style challenge, he then had great local knowledge to help me negotiate Wakefield, a pleasing session at Little Bull, Middlestown and then despite a shortish walk to the magnificent Bingley Arms, Horbury Bridge, the heaven's opened to reveal the biggest and most dramatic thunderstorm of the year, plus the pub was on a little old bridge over the river. Before you could say "Elland! Tadcaster!" I had crossed a death trap of a road, a crazy but nice old man at the bar told me how he hated everyone in the pub, then I warmed myself up on the fantastic fire, a docile dog Brian fell asleep on my feet and a nice lady called Ossett Lizzie chatted to me (coincidentally) about Ossett brewery and made me feel very welcome with the thunder crashing around. I just caught my bus with a second to spare and was back in Wakefield for a pint from Five Towns in Harry's Bar, and it was one of the pints of the year (but not eligible for a BRAPA award sadly, as if they care!)
|Torrential rain as I cross the road to the magnificent Bingley Arms|
This is all about that 'most contented' moment of the day, which I tend to mainly notice on my solo missions and often happens in pubs where I haven't expected a great deal from. Austwick was a prime example of this, sounding like some horrific Thwaites gastropub in the GBG but actually having a fantastic bar area. I got sat in a raised but above where I could see what was going on, feel like part of the 'scene', but also smuggle a scotch egg or two despite a dangerous looking corridor looming to my left, where knives and forks clattered and pristine white shirted 12 year old waitresses scurried up and down their warrens like Watership Down outcasts. So benevolent was my mood that I gave up my entire upper area for a couple who were wanting food but struggling to get comfy on those silly barrel tables in the bar (there was no room down the corridor). Altruism is supposed to make you feel good, but reality hit when I realised no one really gave a shit. Back in the main bar, people just carried on scowling and drinking their £4 Wainwright, it is rural North Yorkshire after all. But for one moment, I couldn't have been more content! Similar moments of joy were encountered at both Bedford Arms in Souldrop and Morning Star in Lincoln, mainly due to real fires and nice people.
|A great pub moment awaits in Austwick, North Yorks.|
Rewind to a snowy January lunchtime in the villages around Northallerton (yes, I KNOW it is rural North Yorkshire before you say anything!), and it was probably the most sociable BRAPA day of the year, but one of the most expensive as a dearth of buses meant I used taxis mainly (walking wasn't an option on that ice and snow). The landlord here was just so good, he welcomed me like a long lost son, gave me a history of the pub, showed me books and explained about the local CAMRA, talked about the lack of trade and how only when coast to coast walkers come in do they do very well. He then topped it off by offering to nip over the road and get his wife to make me a sandwich, Now that doesn't happen in Wetherspoons! Okay, so he then left me with his mute sidekick and I had time to reflect on the scary prospect of pubs like this dying, but wow, what a great chap. Loads of honorary mentions, here's the three best I can think of .... Black Lion in Leighton Buzzard, lovely camp chap, had a beer fest on, I said I was only here for drink and didn't want to join, but still took me through the ENTIRE menu, gave me tasters of about 10, and then when I fell asleep in a 10% stout, he gave me a glass of water to bring me round whilst locals looked on sympathetically in what was "most embarrassing BRAPA moment of the year. King William IV, Nottingham, wow what a way to start a fantastic pub day out and the young ginger haired landlord was such a lovely chap, he improved an already superb pub by being great, explaining the ales, showing us the beer garden on the roof, and giving us his local knowledge about other great Nottingham pubs. And also, Plough in Bolnhurst which looked horrifically gastro but despite me being the only non diner, they helped me get out through a conservatory door I shouldn't have done, kept bringing me bowls of crisps and smiling. I wish every food pub treated their drinkers like this, very rare!
|Inside the homely and now award winning(!) White Swan, Danby Wiske|
5. BRAPA Worst Staff of the Year Award - Arden Arms, Stockport
I'd been so looking forward to this heritage pub having read about it in my new book, after all, Bath Hotel in Sheffield had been wonderful so what could go wrong here, especially as the pub looked gorgeous and the pumps seemed to be inside the bar which must be rare. Space was at a premium on a lunchtime, with a few old locals happy to lean on the bar and chat to the staff. Two visitors like us didn't want to, sat in a quiet room to the back, but were moved for invisible diners - it was madness and when the landlord told us we could "sit on the stairs", it was not a joke that we found particularly funny and I thought Dad was going to clothes line him on the way out. Luckily, the day massively improved after that. Dishonorable mentions should go to the Dolphin in Robin Hood's Bay which was a microcosm of all that is wrong with touristy pubs - too lazy to get open and cleaned up on time but had door open so shouted at me for going in, and when they finally did open, served everyone at about one mile an hour plus it was a very average pub anyway. The Works in Sowerby Bridge for somehow making me feel the least welcome in any pub all year, the Dog & Gun in Wolverhampton, more on that place later and the Nag's Head in Preston, East Yorkshire who had the surliest barmaid of the year who is so mean, she seemed to be trying to freeze the local pensioners to death by not putting any heating on and barking at Dad for not knowing J20 flavours off by heart. Rubbish!
|Dad with a sense of foreboding as we enter the Arden Arms|
4. BRAPA Worst Pint of the Year Award - Haven Arms, Hedon
Other people who've been here have been quite complimentary of the beer here, so I guess we just got unlucky but I can only judge it on my own experience. After all, some very enthusiastic locals at the bar were lapping them all up, even I think recommending stuff. So we went for a "Golden Pair" which we thought was a take on the word "Pear" which would explain the weird fruity fermented taste so we struggled through three quarters of it thinking we were having a very specialist Perry until Untappd revealed the truth, so a bit unlucky in that we otherwise may have taken it back straight away, got it exchanged, and started again with this memory all but erased. As you'd expect from the GBG, beer quality has generally been spot on, even when I might be choosing an ale I'm not that fond of. Another stand out poor experience was the New Inn at Thornton, near Bradford where not only me, but a couple of locals were also having pints exchanged, and not even the same ale. There seemed to be a lot of Acorn (Barnsley) beers on and these were all well kept so one conspiracy was that they were doing it deliberately to 'do down' the guest brews. Well, I wasn't convinced by that, no evidence they were even tied to Acorn, and in any case, it was out of the GBG for 2016. Another I might mention is Grants in Accrington, they brew their own 'Big Clock' beers, staff and locals were ace, it was cosy if modern, smelt of mash (NOT potato) but the beers were all disgusting!
|Happy me - before I drank my worst BRAPA pint of the year.|
3. BRAPA Pint of the Year Award - Sam Smith's OBB, Victoria Hotel, Thornton Cleveleys
You might think I am being contrary but whilst at the Punk Festival in Blackpool, I took a trip on the tram up this way, found a stunning huge pub (they have some great pubs do the evil SS) and despite the barmaid disappearing for an age despite much bell ringing, she returned with the finest pints of OBB me and Krzb Britain had ever tasted, and living in York, we have tried a lot! So strong, so flavoursome, and when I returned home to 'red pen' my GBG, I discovered that it comes straight from the cask which must explain it. We went to another Sam's house in Bispham straight after and the contrast was stark, despite their being nothing wrong with the Sam's. I could also have done this category scientifically, and seen what I gave the highest rating to on Untappd. That would be a pint of Chocolate and Vanilla Stout I had in Rutland Arms, Sheffield with Dad in January, Amazing pub too. Another pint that had me purring was a Windswept from Lossiemouth in the Moorings (Krakatoa) in Aberdeen - it was purple and fruity but because I was under a neon light at the time, I couldn't tell the difference til it hit my lips - amazing taste sensation and I don't even like fruit beer much!
|Me about to taste my BRAPA Pint of the Year|
2. BRAPA Worst Pub of the Year Award - Dog & Gun, Wolverhampton
It's a total no-brainer this year, a bit like everyone associated with this poor excuse for a pub in the Tettenhall district of the city (not worth the walk). No wonder the good but frankly overrated Hail to the Ale is/was a contender for CAMRA pub of the year. It was me and Tom and from the outset it looked like some identikit chain nonsense. Whilst Tom went to the loo, I tried to get served. Nearly all the beers were "settling in the cellar". Not "coming soon" or "not available", it's not much good to me if it's settling in a cellar, you may as well tell me it's on holiday in Timbuktu. Tom told me all Ember Inns were crap, I told him this was a sweeping generalisation based on poor Grimsby experiences but this pub did nothing to assuage his fears. No staff were in sight, I was stood there about 10 mins and when she did turn up, she had an air of mild threat about her - the pub was pretty busy which made the lack of staff even more surprising. Only sitting outdoors in the sun could save us now, whilst some horsey students asked the staff to move their wine because they were too much in the shade, as we sat on horrible wicker chairs with a rope seemingly stopping us from dropping into the car park and breaking our necks which would have been preferable than two minutes more here. And then the ultimate as a perfectly innocent young couple got grabbed by the throat by a bouncer who'd appeared from nowhere (this was mid afternoon by the way), the chavvy barmaid egged on the bouncer as he "threatened to firebomb their house!" in full view of us all outside - it was simply horrific from start to finish. It's not in the 2016 GBG. Two other pubs which I also found incredibly shite on my trip were the Albion in Skipton and the Bay Horse in Great Heck, you know when you just wonder how a pub ever got in the GBG in the first place.
|How little I knew about what was about to unfurl in the pub behind me!|
1. BRAPA Pub of the Year ......
And so it is with great pleasure that I once again say that it is IMPOSSIBLE to pick a winner in this category so I've been through my entire list and jotted down a few that really made me think "wow" whilst I was there - probably because they combined someof the following factors - great beer / great proper pub atmos / great staff / great clientele / top toilets / top snacks / top garden / cosy hubbub. Well, here's a short shortlist ......
Strugglers, Lincoln. Grill, Aberdeen. Moorings, Aberdeen. Boot and Shoe, Ellerton. Puzzle Hall, Sowerby Bridge. Sair, Linthwaite. White Swan, Stokesley. Goodmanham Arms, Goodmanham, Peacock, Derby, Beer in Hand, Hereford, Bingley Arms, Horbury Bridge, Bath Hotel, Sheffield. Nags Head, Loxley. Pelton Arms, East Greenwich. Birch Hall Inn, Beck Hole. Whelans, Asselby. King William IV, Nottingham. Old Tom's, Gracechurch Street.
And the winner (just), is Boot & Shoe in Ellerton, I was just gobsmacked when we walked in here in the most remote village ever to find such a bustling happy scene, their own beers, a tree growing through the pub, funny locals, a really old fashioned style serving hatch, and the news Hull City were losing did not sadden me even 1%! Wonderful, how it got de-guided I'll never know (well, I will if I ask my Hull CAMRA pub officer friend) but congrats.
|Me posing at the 2015 BRAPA Pub of the Year|
Thanks for sticking with it til the end, see you soon for more pub reviews!