Pub of the Year Award 2016

Seeing as it’s that time of the year for my local CAMRA branch to award their Pub of the Year 2017, I thought I’d look back over the pubs I’ve visited over the last year and choose my favourites.

I’m a beer ticker – I like to try as many different beers as possible and as such I’ve ranked my top ten pubs in order of the number of ticks that I’ve had there.  I’ve not included beer festivals.  Ticking isn’t the be all and end all of pub life, but it just so happens that I rather do like the pubs I’ve visited.

1. Tapped, Leeds
Since it opened, Tapped has been in my top ten ticking pubs but has never made number 1.  Knowledgeable staff, good range of beers – some brewed on site, excellent home made ‘real’ pizzas and a clean and bright environment.  What more could you ask for?

2. Friends of Ham, Leeds
Since they opened, FoH has been my top ticking pub each year but sadly, pipped to second place by their friends round the corner.  What have they got going for them?  Again, knowledgeable staff, brilliant beers and perhaps the big selling point for me – they do a taster tray of 3 or 6 beers for a set price, and that can prove quite economical for the dearer beers.

3. Piw Paw Parkingowa and Piw Paw – Foksal – Warszawa – Top non-UK pub
Both these branches of Piw Paw are entitled to their own place in my beery top ten, but as they are very similar, I’ve included them as one.  If I were to combine the number of ticks from both then they would have smashed number one place.

Both have a really good selection of beers (Parkingowa have 64 and Foksal have 90-odd).   Staff can be a bit surly at times but the absolute best thing they do is tasting glasses – just a mouthful – for 1zl – about 20p!

4. Cask Corner, Doncaster – top Doncaster pub
Often features in my top ten and usually have a good range of beers.  Only thing that lets them down in my opinion is the loos and the music.  They have a lot of live rock which really isn’t my cup of tea but there’s nowhere to get out of the way of the bands and because of the layout of the pub, the bar gets crowded when a band is on and it can be difficult to get served.  One big plus point is the staff (there seems to be a theme here…)

5. Brunswick, Derby
Great brew pub – ever changing range of beers and convenient for Derby station.

6. Sportsman, Huddersfield
I really enjoy coming to the Sportsman.  Usually the first port of call in Huddersfield, a nice spot to drown my sorrows after not managing to meet Felix the Huddersfield Station Cat.  Great beers, third pints, brilliant staff and has this strange sort of atmosphere.  It’s a traditional pub, but doesn’t seem to attract the sort daytime drinkers that a lot of pubs do.  It’s a bit like the Belgian vibe where couples, friends and folk on their own pop in to try great beers, have a couple and then move on.

7. Red Lion, Doncaster
JDW spent a fortune refurbishing this pub and I like it.  One of the only decent outside drinking areas in Doncaster and used to have a really nice, warm indoor fire pit until some idiot decided to wreak it.  Only downside is that the fairly narrow channel between the front of the pub and the main area at the back is where a lot of drinkers congregate.

8. Sheffield Tap
Very convenient stopping off point between trains.  Took a long time to convince the wife that we did actually have to change at Sheffield!  Sister pub of the number one place, it too has good beers and staff.

9. Marketplace Alehouse & Deli
Quirky little place in Doncaster Market place and yes, you’ve guessed it, great beer, great staff and brilliant food.  Only a small range of beers compared to some others in the top ten but a constantly changing selection.

10. Gatehouse, Doncaster
I suprised myself at Gatehouse featuring, but it does.  I dont seem to frequent as often as I used but but clearly do.  As with all JDW branches, quality seems to depend on the latest manager.  There’s been a change here at Gatehouse but still seems to be up and down.

11.Doncaster Brewery Tap
I decided to also include the 11th place pub as I thought it was worth a special mention.  For a while, they’ve only served their own beer but now do have one guest on the bar.  They don’t produce a different beer every week (much to my dismay!) like some places do, but concentrate on brewing the beers they do really well.  It’s probably one of the only pubs in Doncaster that I will call in when I know there isn’t a tick – why?  I don’t know – just a good blend of ambience with good cheer thrown in from customer and manager / brewer alike.

Bermondsey Beer Mile

Yesterday, I visited the Bermondsey Beer Mile (here’s a map).  I’ve heard a lot about it so thought I’d see what all the fuss was about.  For the uninitiated, much of the railway line out of London Bridge is built up with arches underneath.  Some of these arches are road and pedestrian tunnels but most are small businesses – including a number of breweries and beer ‘places’.

I followed the route the opposite way round to most of the maps, so jumped on a train to South Bermondsey which was ‘interesting’ as Millwall were at home and that’s the nearest station to their ground!

I missed out Fourpure – sorry guys!  Nothing against your beer but you’re slightly off route and I was already pushed for time, so first stop was EeBria to try a couple of beers from Orbit as they had a tap takeover.  Good beers, reasonable venue and had a nice chat to Orbit’s brewer.

Next stop was a few arches down at Partizan.  I like their beers generally – a good selection of styles and aren’t afraid to do crazy things with fruit, herbs and the like.  However, first grumble of the day – they only served beer in two-third pints.  I didn’t want two-thirds – I wanted one-third.  What if I wanted just a half.  No – I had to drink the measure they wanted me to have.  I still had one though and took away a couple of bottles.

Moving on, next stop after the longest walk on the route would have been Kernel, but they no longer open as a tap, only as a beer shop and close at 1400.  The reasons are on the picture shown on Stonch’s Beer Blog.  More about Stonch’s beer blog later…

Not too much further was Brew by Numbers.  I was looking forward to visiting there as I like their beers but unfortunately, and grumble number 2, was the queue.  Yes, it’s great that they’re doing well and people want to visit, but a queue that was snaking out of the brewery and had at least 40 people in it was crackers.  There weren’t that many staff serving so it was moving very slowly indeed, so I opted just to get a couple of bottles to takeaway as that had a separate queue.  If you’re always that bust, and I’m told you are, then why not do something about it?  Put extra staff on; become ticket only; do a Kernel and not open at all.

On the opposite site of the railway but via a walk via the nearest tunnel, was UBREW – a different concept with them renting out small scale brewery equipment, space and expertise to allow budding brewers to pop along and brew their own beer – home brew I suppose, but not at home.  They did have some of the bottles brewed there on sale, but they weren’t priced.  The draught beer were all brews from elsewhere and a repeat of grumble 1 – beer only served in two-third pints.

After UBREW ubrewand on the home stretch was The Bottle Shop.  They had a really good selection as well as Moor beers on draught (tap takeover) along with a few others.  Good news as they offered beers in sizes the customer wanted, apart from the really strong ones which were only available in smaller measures.  One beer I chose only had prices for half and pint, but they were happy to serve me a third – thanks!

Anspach & Hobday - spot the stout!
Anspach & Hobday – spot the stout!

A couple of doors down is the Anspach & Hobday brewery.  Again, beer in whatever measure you wanted and I opted for three thirds as there were some really exciting sounding beers – I had Experimental IPSaison, Sour Dryhop and White Coffee Milk Stout.  If you’d closed your eyes and drunk the latter, you’d have sworn that it was dark!

Last stop was Southwark Brewery.  These were a bit different as most of their beers were cask – nearly every othersouthwark during the day had been keg.  Again, beer in any size the customer wanted and plenty of space to sit down.  There was something about Southwark though – it was so much more chilled than most of the other venues.  Their beers weren’t necessarily the best – I’m not saying they were bad but the quality everywhere was good but for me, a good beer experience is not just about the beer – it’s about the venue, staff, ambiance, toilets and so on.

As Stonch said in that blog post – ‘beer bloggers Boak and Bailey reported on this phenomenon, quoting beer enthusiasts whose noses have been put out of joint by “boozy stag dos” and “huge groups of lads getting pretty drunk”. I’ve done the Mile twice, and on both occasions that was certainly our game: getting hooned up on a sunny day’.  Yes, I saw all of that, along with people who were just ‘there’ – they clearly there to be seen.  In one venue, a tweed jacketed youth came in with two pretty young women – only he had a beer and at that didn’t really didn’t seem to like either.  They had no interest what so ever.

To one extent or another, that was pretty much the same everywhere to one extent or another, apart from Southwark.  People were there for the beer, not to be seen.

So – would I go again?  Maybe.  Bearded hipsters I can put up with.  People who don’t really enjoy being there I can’t.  Brewers / shops – employ extra staff if you need it and serve beer in glass sizes that people want, not that you say.

 

 

 

 

Everyday’s a festival in Leeds

I like Leeds.  There’s an amazing selection of pubs within minutes of the station.  In fact, out of these 7, the furthest one is no more than 3 minutes walk away!  Yes, there are other great pubs but when I do my Leeds mini-crawl, these are the ones that feature.  Why bother trekking further afield or visit a festival – there’s nearly 100 beers available!

Brewery Tap

18-24 New Station Street, Leeds LS1 5DL
Mon – Thu 12-23; Fri-Sat 11-00; Sun 12-22:30
Beers: 6 cask, 7 keg, bottles

One of the Leeds city centre outlets for Leeds Brewery beers and also brews their own lager on site.  A reasonable selection of beers but can get very busy.

Friends of Ham

4-8 New Station Street, Leeds LS1 5DL
Mon-Wed 11-11; Thu-Sat 11-00; Sun 11-22
Beers: 4 cask, 10 keg, bottles

For the last two years, Friends of Ham have been my top UK beer ticking pub!  No mean feat when you consider it’s a half hour train ride away.  A great choice of beers and knowledgeable staff.  Prices aren’t the world’s best, but not really much different to others in the area – you might pay more than you would normally, but then you wouldn’t neck a something like an 11% stout!  The tasting trays can work out to be excellent value, especially for the stronger beers.  On the other hand, you pay for what you get- usually great beer served by people who know what they’re on about (gormless staff is one of my gripes – see this post).

Tapped Leeds

51 Boar Lane, Leeds LS1 5EL
Mon-Wed 11-23; Thu 11-00; Fri-Sat 11-01; Sun 11-23
Beers: 13 cask, 14 keg, bottles

Certainly the biggest venue in my mini crawl of Leeds, this place doesn’t do things by halves.  27 draught beers, 100+ bottles, pizzas freshly cooked in a proper pizza shiny pizza oven, oh – and they brew their own beer on site.

Again, an excellent range of beers – sometimes too good and they sadly don’t sell third pints, except for the strongest beers.  Once again, great staff who know what they’re on about.

The Griffin

31 Boar Lane, Leeds LS1 5DF
Mon-Fri 11-00; Sat-Sun 09-00
Beers: 4 cask

Bit of a change here at The Griffin.  All the other pubs so far have been part of the ‘new wave’ beer movement.  This place is definitely more old school.  It’s owned by the Taylor Walker group.  Quite often, the beers aren’t uncommon but it still has great 1870s architecture.

Bundobust

6 Mill Hill, Leeds LS1 5DQ
Mon-Thu 12-23; Fri-Sat 12-00; Sun 12-22
Beers: 1 cask, 12 keg, bottles

Wowee – what do you get if you mix beer (mainly keg) and Indian street food?  Bundobust!  Now, I’m still not entirely convinced about mixing spicy food and beer, but these guys at Bundobust do it remarkably well.  The food isn’t your standard run of of mill ‘Indian’ but more authentic South Indian vegetarian food.  Back to the old ‘great beer and great staff that know what they’re on about’ again.  Just watch out for the beer on the permanent Mikkeller tap – it can be pricey!

Head of Steam

12 Mill Hill, Leeds LS1 5DQ
Mon-Thu 11-00; Fri-Sat 11-01; Sunday 12-23
Beers: 7 cask, 11 keg, bottles

Bit of a strange mix this one – it’s more of a traditional boozer that has a number of keg taps, but tend not to be new era British keg beers but rather more run of the mill Belgian, German and American ones – not that there’s anything wrong with these.  Yes – knowledgeable staff.

Scarbrough Hotel

Bishopsgate Street, Leeds LS1 5DY
Mon-Thu 10-00; Fri-Sat 10-01; Sun 08-22
Beers: 8 cask

And – the final pub on the route (or the first if you go the other way round) is the Scarbrough Arms.  Definitely one of the old breed of boozers but as can be expected in a Nicholson’s pub, not a bad beer choice at all.  Sadly, not in keeping with the knowledgeable staff though- with some of them it’s quite difficult to get them to understand your order.  One plus point is the Nicholson’s mobile app that gives cut price beer!

 

Beer count: 43 cask, 54 keg.  Grand total – 97!

Cask Pub vs Keg Pub

There’s a lot these days surrounding the cask versus keg debate. Personally, I don’t mind keg beer as long is it is good. I don’t like bad keg or cask beer, but I do like good beer, be it keg or cask.

However, in my travels around the UK, I’ve started to see a distinction between the types of pub that serve keg beers and those that are cask only. So many times, you can walk into a ‘traditional’ pub and ask what a beer is like, only to be met with “soz mate – I don’t like ale”. On the other hand, go into a pub that serves keg beer – ‘craft beer’ if you prefer – and quite often, staff know what they’re on about. I’ve just been into the excellent Friends of Ham in Leeds and a customer came in and asked for a particular type of beer. The server showed the customer which were which and then went on to describe what they were like. From what I understand, staff only get a job in this bar if they know and like beer. This though seems to be the norm amongst the growing trend of ‘craft beer’ bars.

So, even if you don’t like keg beer, if you pop into somewhere that serves both styles, you’ll probably get far more knowledge ‘behind the bar’ in one of those craft places.

Wetherspoons, third pints and the beer festival

Twice a year, JD Wetherpoon hold a beer festival. At that festival, third pints are available, and generally people have them in threes, although you can order different quantities.

CAMRA members receive a number of vouchers each year to use at Wetherspoon’s and these may be redeemed against a pint of real ale. Unless you want three thirds as the system doesn’t recognise it as a pint.

I emailed head office and they replied saying yes, vouchers were valid with three thirds (subject to a couple of conditions).  This is the letter.

The grand pop rip off

Now, this blog was supposed to be about beer and food. This post however, is a whinge about a soft drinks.

The other night in a Doncaster pub, I wanted a drink of lemonade. I was served with R Whites, out of a 2l bottle and it cost £1.25 for a half pint glass.

More recently, I had some draught R Whites, and this was £2.50 for a pint.

I realise pubs have overheads, but £2.50 per pint???

According to mysupermarket.com, the beverage is 80p per 2l bottle at Tesco and Asda, and 97p in Sainsburys. Allowing for ice, I was probably served 275ml, which works out at 11p. Being charged £1.25 works out more that 1000% markup!!!

I’ve not shopped around, but using Google, the first people to show R Whites lemonade postmix (alesdistribution.com), allowing 1 part postmix to 6 parts water, 500ml of drink to the customer works out about the same price as the bottle.

Yes, ice, glass washing, gas and staff costs all cost money, but this is an absolute rip off and doing nothing towards supporting those who don’t really want to drink for various reasons – health, driving etc. Beer is cheaper!

Oh, and don’t get me started on the pub that charged a pound for a pint of soda water…