Greetings! Happy New Year, and all that guff. Welcome to BRAPA towers for our fourth end of year awards ceremony when I look back and wonder, what has been great in the world of Good Beer Guide pub ticking, and what has been terrible.
So sit back, pour yourself a cask Cloudwater or Mango Milkshake DIPA (unless you are reading this on NYD morning, in which case I apologise but not really), grab the cocktail sausages and the spam twild fritters and pineapple on sticks, and enjoy.
I can picture you all here with me sat at circular tables making origami swans out of napkins ..... look, there's the Stockport gang, they've even employed their own beer wench to pour them OBB from the jug, Mudgie has a cat on his knee and is stroking it studiously, and what is John Clarke doing? Weighing beer guides I think. One of my fave Twitter posts of the year that. Hang on, who's that bloke and how did he smuggle Carling in?
I could go on like this all night, talking about my North American friends joining us via a video link, Martin Taylor hiding in a shadowy corner, Protz chanting 'where were you at St Albans?' John Depeche Modem showing off his septic leg, but you'd rather hear about the awards. Wouldn't you?
|Cat pic to try and encourage you to keep concentrating|
BRAPA 'BEST TRIP' OF THE YEAR
There's been some classic trips this year. In June, a liver-shattering double header took me to Cornwall and then Cambridgeshire in a two week stint I've been recovering from ever since. A day in Burton on Trent made me appreciate why people bang on about it as a great pub town. Dorset in October is the runner up. Places like Bridport, Weymouth and Portland - so weird and wonderful. But the overall winner is the Isle of Man back in Feb. What a place that was! The pace of life is gentle and slow, the folk are friendly or just plain mad, the pubs are so old school and fabulous, and the scenery even in snowy freezing Feb was wonderful, not forgetting the great hospitality of David Halliwell who drove me round some of the tougher pubs and was great company. I was ONE pub away from doing the whole island, so cruel that the Railway Station Hotel in Port St Mary wasn't open Friday lunchtime. And the GBG still thinks it is. But that couldn't sour an all time BRAPA great.
|Sidings, Castletown. Last pub of great IOM adventure|
BRAPA MIDWEEK MOMENT OF THE YEAR
When I say midweek, I kind of mean Friday too as in 2018, I started preferring Friday to Tuesday as it gave me a bit more freedom to travel further afield, and didn't prolong the working week like Tuesday's had. And it was one of my more outlandish trips which wins the award, when I went to Oldham via Delph where a brass band festival was on, I broke my phone due to water damage from the heavy rain, and even though none of my ales in Oldham were that cracking, the pubs were full of the craziest lovely Lancs folk you could hope to hide from in a corner. I even booked an impromptu Travelodge at 10pm from Wetherspoons and stayed overnight as I was off to Cheshire the following day anyway. Great experience.
|Hi-vis bloke in Carrion Crow and me were great mates for 27.5 mins, our bladders in perfect sync.|
BRAPA FOOTBALL DAY OF THE YEAR
Some of you might know, I support Hull City AFC and this year has been another tough one with the evil Allams still at the helm though at least we end on a high with six straight wins and beating filthy dirty L**ds at their place, amazing when you think they are the basically Champions of Europe. Of course, we'll sell all our best players in Jan and not replace them and slide back towards relegation, so let's enjoy it while we can!
I guess Hull City are BRAPA crappers in a way, taking out a chunk of Saturday afternoon when I could be visiting all manner of weird and wonderful pubs so I plan my away days sporadically around pub ticking.
My favourite day this year was 6th May, my birthday (thanks for remembering!) when we went to Brentford on the last day of the season with Father BRAPA, Ben and the legend himself Thomas J. Irvin. Not saying the pubs or the football were that good, the Powderkeg was ridiculous, but my Waterloo Tap, I felt so happy, I was almost emotional, and that's basically in a metal under the railway arch high stooled monstrosity. But there was something beautiful about it in that moment, trust me! (unless I was drunk but I doubt that).
|Powderkeg, Clapham Junction. Scaring me with highest prices and lack of cask beer.|
BRAPA COMEDY MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Isn't going into a pub just one constant comedy sketch? I mean, it is if you keep your eyes and ears open, a chance to see people at their most vulnerable, ooops, I mean relaxed, being themselves as much as they are in their own homes in many cases, yet in a 'public house', and there is nothing more fascinating than people.
Too many moments to choose from, many forgotten without re-reading all my blogs and I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Walking into the Botwell Inn, Hayes, a Wetherspoons, to find the staff having their heads shaved for charity was amusing in the extreme. Watching a lady having a date with a mannequins head in the Stag's Head, Fitzrovia, was another example of London not being boring. The whole of my time in the Regal Moon in Rochdale, another 'Spoons, was comedy gold, but the overall winner is the Steamer in Fleetwood where I knew Syd Little worked, but didn't know he was going to be there and the pub were going to settle down to watch him on the Real Marigold Hotel on the BBC. Perfect timing. And then a couple drove me to my next pub, bonus!
|Monkey documentary in the Steamer about to pave the way for greater things|
PRE-EMPTIVE PUB OF THE YEAR
There's been some fine pubs I've visited that haven't been in the Good Beer Guide .... can you believe it?! I'm joking of course, the selection process doesn't always seem to be spot on. Especially when you go down to say, West Cornwall, and you think the local TWAMRA's might as well be playing pin the tail on the donkey with a map of the county and the pubs. Sometimes East Yorkshire seem as bizarre, but who am I to say, I visit once and wham, bam, thankyou pub, that's it. Love 'em n leave 'em. Whereas some poor folk return to pubs time after time after time. I don't get it man!
Of course, some pubs are brand new so haven't had chance to get in the GBG yet and are great hopes for the future, and there are some that were in many years ago but haven't been back since. Possibly because the fact they sell 'old man's' beers isn't approved of, however well kept. Maybe the landlady told the local TWAMRA to fuck off and they are now punishing everyone by not putting it in the Guide. Some may have fallen on hard times but a refurb has breathed fresh life into the pubby corpse.
I had a great year in terms of pubs I did Jan-Aug being in the new 2019 GBG. Cardigan Arms in Kirkstall stands out as an absolute classic. The Angarrack Arms near Hayle in Cornwall where I stayed in the summer was unfashionably brilliant, friendliest pub I stepped in all week. And tips for the future, Albert's Ale Thing in Blackpool and Vintage in Hull are going to thrill you all in years to come.
But my overall winner was a late recommendation from Mr McWilliam whilst pub ticking in Marple Bridge, the Northumberland Arms, so glad I squeezed it in even it didn't make the 2019 GBG, surely a shoo in for 2020?
BRAPA PUB PET OF THE YEAR
Not sure if it is just me but the humble pub pet is feeling like a bit of a throwback now, not something you see nearly enough. Even pub dogs (not to be confused with visiting twogs) were a bit scarce in 2018. And I don't know why, they certainly add something.
I think Tim Martin should employ 'Spoons hounds in each of his outlets, they could have a book like their carpets do. They should be plucked from charities and ancient, the type no family would adopt. Wheezy, patchy fur, struggling as they reach to lick their arseholes ..... and that's just the regulars.
And imagine how much more delightful your chilly unfeeling micropub could be if it had a kitten shitting in the corner? I'd review it that little bit more kindly.
And I'm positively amazed that Antic pubs don't have some Retro-difficult-to-keep-scorpion or similar reptilian thing in a warm tank as standard.
No, I had a good run on Saturday's in Sept-Oct where pub cats started appearing regularly, the best of which was Matey, the pub cat in the excellent Plume of Feathers in Greenwich. Scratching the staff who didn't know cat boundaries, a real characterful moody gem of a kitty.
BRAPA NIGHTMARE TRIP OF THE YEAR
A harder category to judge than previous years, perhaps because I'm not visiting Bedfordshire or Buckinghamshire every other Saturday!
Many of my problems have been self inflicted, gave myself two days where I ended up walking over 15 miles, one around Runcorn, one around the Wirral, luckily there were some good pubs but I totally killed myself on those occasions.
Deciding to have a week in Cambs straight after a week in Cornwall sort of finished me off. I started moaning about defencless lovely pubs like Geldart and Haymakers, and this shot of me kneeling on the Six Bells toilet floor in Fulbourn said it all:
But ultimately, if we take things as a whole, who can forget PROJECT CALYPSO? 4 weeks sent to London for work, brilliant for pub ticking numbers but I insisted on ticking at least 3 a night no matter how crazy work got. And London pubs are a breed all of their own. Narrow staircases down to the bogs, water dispensers to keep you hydrated between pints, expectations you'll pay by card, beards, checked shirts, beer not really worthy of a Good Beer Guide, oh you could almost do a bingo card.
|You don't get this sort of thing in Wigan|
BRAPA OUTDOOR PUB EXPERIENCE
I'm not really a fan of outdoor drinking, I'd rather stay pale and interesting in the summer months, get a feel for the pub atmosphere plus it's easier to hear locals indoors! But on some occasions, the pub might be so lacking in hubbub, you may as well be sat out in a giant car park as fag ash blows into your face - the Old Boat House in Astley post-refurbishment would be a good example. Quite often, you are forced outside simply due to lack of any room inside, Heaton Hops at Heaton Chapel springs to mind. But sometimes, the scenery and weather combined kind of force you out. Gurnard's Head Hotel in Treen Cornwall was a great example, but my overall winner was the Hare & Hounds at Waytown in rural Dorset. Great views, well into October by this time but great weather and after four weeks in London, I felt my Dorset holiday really started here.
|Guest ticker at Waytown|
BRAPA SCARIEST CLIENTELE AWARD
Good grief! I think I'm getting acclimatised to even some of the weirdest pub atmosphere's in the UK now, and it must be said, there was nowhere to match last year's North & South Wales Bank in Wrexham.
But there were some interesting ones. The Old Market Inn in Douglas, well I was glad I was in the other room, but partly sad too, and don't forget Bridge Inn in Laxey when I first arrived. The whole of Wigan scared me as it likes to do annually. Some of the more remote Fen towns of Cambridgeshire were odd, especially the Ship in Chatteris where locals didn't like my six webbed toes on each hand comment even though I was sort of joking. But overall, it is back to Dorset we go for the Royal Portland Arms in Portland. A mind blowing selection of folk that felt like ghosts from another time!
|Leather Gandalf and reluctant purple server in action|
BRAPA BAD STAFF AWARD
I'm pleased to say not many spring to mind, no real permanent scars. Plenty of PISS barmaids, people who couldn't be arsed, but more good ones than bad. The landlady in Cross Keys in Tutbury was a bit terrifying, she had an understated sulkiness like a malevolent spirit in waiting. But my winner this year is the landlord from the Greyhound in Hartshill, between Stoke and Newcastle under Lyme, what a miserable bloke he was, really hated us too!
|Hopes were high as I prepared to go in, but I didn't know what was in store ......|
BRAPA BEST PINT OF THE YEAR AWARD
Beer. It's a funny thing isn't it? You walk into a pub and are forced to ask for this usually brown murky liquid to be pulled into a pint glass by a complete stranger who could be a poisoner for all you know, and then you have to actually pay for it, and then sit there and finish it! Some people enjoy it. Madness.
I don't remember too many of my pints, but when they are really good quality, I'm caught a bit off guard and tend to remember them.
This year, the pint that most amazed me was in the White House, a big rural pub high above Littleborough in that East Lancs area not far from the West Yorkshire border. I'd walked after work with guest BRAPee Karl, a Smirnoff Ice drinker, and I guess in the drizzle and uphill walk, a pint was likely to taste good, but this, I think Farmers Blonde or something reliable I'd had before, and it wasn't even a pubby pub but a dining place full of old duffers. The Red Lion down in Littleborough itself was similarly brilliant, and an even better pub.
|The only remaining photo of 'pint of the year'|
Most of the dodgy beer I had this year coincided with that very hot spell of weather we had June/July time, when pubs might complain something along the lines of it being hard to keep their cellar cool or some poppycock. I don't know, they might have a point, but I will just point out that at the height of the heat, I went on a pub crawl of St Helens and I didn't get anything other than top quality throughout (unless you count the Red Cat at Crank, which was deservedly de-guided two months later).
Quite often though, if the returned pint is accepted with good grace, it can even be a boost to the pub, as I'll praise the staff for it, as happened in say, the Geldart in Cambridge or the Plungington Hotel in Preston.
If I don't say anything but should (Gate Clock in Greenwich, Fisherman's Cottage in Reading), I've only got myself to blame but end up harbouring resentment til I leave! But when I say something, it is obviously shite, but they still make a fuss, like this Poulton Elk classic:
|"Maybe it's supposed to look like this" she said!|
But the overall winner / loser is the Victory Inn at Towan Cross in Cornwall. Lovely old pub, friendly German barmaid, but despite returning one pint, the second was just as bad but I didn't have the heart to return this too. I should've done!
|Great pub, shame about the ale|
PUB MAN/WOMAN/PERSON OF UNSPECIFIED GENDER OF THE YEAR
Well, it is 2018 and I don't want to be accused of being unwoke do I? Firstly, thanks for all the support reading my blog, liking and retweeting my twitter ramblings, look, I'm drunk and emotional now, I've been on the ale for the last few hours and it is nearly midnight.
Martin Taylor has already said he refuses to accept the award this year which is slightly presumptuous of him, wonderful chauffeuring or not. Father BRAPA is being made to prove himself on 24th March before he is back in contention, and Tom Irvin needs to learn to drive and take me to every pub in Cumbria before he can win again.
Met lots of great people this year, always amazes me when I meet beer people off twitter they are nice. Pub Curmudgeon, Bert Kenward n missus, Christine Taylor, that recurring paisley jewel Matthew Lawrenson, the Southworth Bros (a bit like Bros but their version of Silent Night is better), Lincoln Pub Man, David Halliwell and many more, and hope to tick off the likes of Lager, Crilly, Tovich, Tandleman and more soon. Nearest miss was Pauline Sharp, who hid in a Weymouth caravan park til I'd returned to York, which was a nice touch.
|Me and that recurring Paisley jewel|
Big thanks to my friend Christine Andrew for doing an excellent BRAPA feature (based on our wonderful summer trip to Cleethorpes) in North Lincs premier TWAMRA mag Iron Brew , order your copy today, it really does rock:
And also big thanks to Steve Halstead for Grand Central ticket help to make those London ticks all that more achievable. Gawd, how Paltrow was that? Right, back in your box Si!
Oh, a winner? Well, bit embarrassing but I guess we'll have to say me. Simon Roger Everitt. Never made fun of myself for needing the loo 3 times in one pub, and never once refused the challenge of going in the 447 GBG I shamefully achieved this year!
THE BRAPA PEOPLES PEOPLE OF THE YEAR AWARD
And whilst we are on the subject of folk, those I met out and about who made pubbing worth it. All those guest tickers, members of staff and strange people I made friends with in pubs.
Early in the year, it has to be in the Ginger Hall at Sulby in the Isle of Man where Laura the barmaid made me welcome, then introduced me to a bloke who was taking over the pub, he then drove me to Ramsey and took me to his current pub, the Trafalgar where he bought me a pint and left me with the locals! That was the highlight.
|Me and a Ramsey local dude|
|Comberton, Three Horseshoes - as landlady ticks the GBG|
And closer to home in L**ds, I briefly worried about the BRAPA legacy if I was mowed down by a tractor on a rural Cornwall country lane, so I interviewed for potential replacements:
The candidates did well, but overall, I decided to try and stay alive and keep going for another year so sorry, you are stuck with me.
And in terms of single friendliest pub improved no end by great locals and staff, it was the Vine Inn in Market Deeping, which is scarily in Lincs, but did a fantastic job on the day:
BRAPA WORST PUB EXPERIENCE 2018
Right, we're at the business end of the awards ceremony now!
As I always say, plenty more great pubs than rubbish ones, but enough rubbish ones to give me something to ponder.
The Marine Hotel in Hornsea, what is that doing in the GBG? Edgbaston's Physician - giving Brunning & Price a bad name. Station Inn at Habrough, utterly dreadful all rounder. Gate Clock at Greenwich, utter puke! One of the worst 'Spoons I've ever witnessed. Willow Walk at Victoria, so boring it had absolutely nothing to say about it, yet I suppose not the worst. Henry Addington, Canary Wharf. Some said I was harsh, but imagine having to spend your life here? A few Micros I found it hard to abide. Early Doors in Skipton, Last Heretic in Burton, Hops & Barley in Lincoln, just chilly nothingness about them, not forgetting Burning Soul Brewery, caskless garage lock up of limited hours and limited everything. But let's be honest, the worst of the worst was the Waterside in Leigh.
No redeeming features inside or out.
BRAPA BEST PUB EXPERIENCE 2018
So I've trawled back through 447 pubs in the GBG I've done this year, and here's a kind of shortlist cos I can't keep writing this blog for ever, it is nearly 1am for heaven's sake!
Green Man, Leighton Bromswold
Royal Oak (Th' Heights), Delph
Red Lion, Littleborough
Waggon & Horses / Royal Exchange, Stourbridge
White Hart, Shifnal
Blue Anchor, Helston
Turk's Head, St Helens
Chequers, Little Gransden
Board Inn, Bridlington
White House Hotel, Peel
Lazy Landlord, Liscard
Magazine Hotel, New Brighton
Lord Nelson, Urmston
Raven Hotel, Wigan
There's probably others, but I'll let you pick a favourite. Am tempted to say Blue Anchor cos it is famous, was highly anticipated for years by me, which usually means a let down, but still maintained a magical feel. So there we go, see you in 2019!