Saturday, 24 September 2016

A true thoroughbred

People have sometimes criticised this blog for its negative tone, although in a sense that’s the point. However, I’ve always highlighted things that I feel positive about, and one pub that is richly deserving of praise is the Black Horse at Clapton-in-Gordano in North Somerset. I’ve reviewed this on my Real Pubs blog, and said that “I don’t think I’ve been in any other that comes closer to my personal vision of the ideal pub.” A recent visit only served to confirm this opinion.

I’m not saying that this is the best pub in the UK, or even the best pub in Somerset. But it’s hard to think of any other than more suits my personal taste. So what are the reasons for this?

  • It’s an unashamedly old-fashioned, historic pub, with dark wood, slate and tiled floors, old settles, a massive inglenook fireplace, horse brasses and old sporting guns on the walls. I don’t care how authentic it is – it just oozes tradition. Not surprisingly, it eschews piped music and television.

  • It has a sensible approach to beer range tailored to customer preference. Currently it has Courage Best, Butcombe Bitter, Otter Bitter and Bath Ales Gem as permanent beers, plus one rotating guest, often a bit stronger. All eminently drinkable local favourites, not weird experimental stuff. The Courage and Butcombe, which I assume are the best sellers, are on gravity, the others on handpump. I always like to come across well-kept, fresh beer dispensed directly from the cask. It’s good to see a nod to the pub’s brewery ownership heritage by continuing to serve Courage. And the Charles Wells version comfortably equals the one-time Bristol brew.

  • It serves food, but doesn’t allow it to dominate. Food is only available at lunchtimes, and not on Sundays. The menu mainly comprises sandwiches and snacks, with a couple of daily specials. It’s also good value for money, with rolls with hot fillings around £4.50, and paninis £5.95. I always like to see that kind of informal, snacky food in pubs. £4.50 for a lavishly-filled black pudding and mushroom roll was very reasonable!

  • It’s unashamedly a genteel pub. While I may extol the virtues of Sam Smith’s down-to-earth urban boozers, I always feel slightly out of place there. This is somewhere that I, as a middle-class gent, feel at home. Not full of pretentious, money-obsessed tossers, just normal middle-of-the-road country people. The South of England seems to do this kind of middle-class village or rural wet-led pub far better than the north – see also the Queen’s Head at Newton. This is what I used to love about the Nursery, my local pub, before it was ruined by food, TV sport and piped music. On the other hand, in the evenings, when all the eaters are long gone, I’d bet there’s some robust country conversation. And it’s always good to see a couple of old boys chewing the fat in a cosy corner.

So, a maximum number of Mudgie boxes ticked.

Astonishingly, according to WhatPub, it’s owned by Enterprise Inns. That just goes to prove that being in pub company hands is no bar to excellence. If you’re anywhere near, and have the opportunity to make a visit, please do. You won’t be disappointed. It’s known locally as “The Kicker” and its website can be found here.

14 comments:

  1. That beer looks like it could do with a bit of sparkling, he said standing well back...

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  2. The Kicker is a cracking pub and I wish I could get there more often. Plus it has settles! Bench seating is all well and good but you can't beat a good settle.

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  3. Lots of great sounding aspects to this pub, but Bitter, Bitter, Bitter, and er, yet another Bitter? The fact I like three of those four doesn't mean want to drink bitter all the time. Not much space in one rotating guest pump for the times one fancies a Pale, IPA, Porter or Stout... let alone some weird experimental stuff ;-). If was in my neck of the woods suspect that would make it a once a month drop in type venue rather than a more regular haunt.

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    1. It doesn't set out to be a beer exhibition pub - it sells what its customers want to drink. No point in having stuff hanging round that doesn't shift.

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    2. I agree. If that's what the customers at that pub want, one can't argue. Though know several pubs where regular customers get to vote for one new beer at a time to supplement the normal 'house' beers, and surprising (or perhaps not surprising) how adventurous they can be :-).
      Since we are talking of ideals: in a five cask pub mine would be two bitters, with two light beers and one dark in the summer, switching to one light and two dark in the winter.
      You didn't mention if the Black Horse carries a hand-pump or gravity cider. Don't drink it much myself these days, but when back in the West Country remains the preferred drink of about 20- 25% of family and friends from both genders still living there over beer and wines. Again, my ideal pub would offer one so all our party was catered for.

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    3. The Black Horse does have a rotating guest beer, which I imagine might be of a different strength or style - I didn't make a note of what it was on this occasion.

      There's no recent tradition of drinking dark beers in that part of the country, and indeed in general non-specialist pubs tend to find they simply don't sell. Locally, family brewer licensees have told me that, if their brewery has a dark beer as one of their seasonals, they pass on it because of lack of demand.

      It's also worth mentioning that the Crown at Churchill, which isn't too far away, and is another excellent pub, in effect sells seven or eight bitters in the 3.6% - 4.5% strength range.

      The Black Horse certainly does sell traditional cider. In the original write-up that I linked to, I mentioned "old boys in here drinking bright orange cloudy cider on a Monday lunchtime."

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  4. It looks idyllic. My idea of pub heaven!

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  5. Negative tone? That's BS. You must take wrong uns to task and when something good happens, post it. Simple.

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  6. As an Enterprise pub there won't be a great range of cask styles to choose from, still less at sensible wholesale prices.

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  7. A favourite of my wife when she regularly worked near there; I'm glad to hear it hasn't changed. Hardly ever in the Beer Guide, these days, which is odd.

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  8. A picture says a thousand words. Whilst undoubtedly ticking Mudgies boxes, the photo is of an empty room with 2 old codgers who will be six feet under within a decade. Good luck with that business plan. I shall look out for the pub tat on Ebay around 2019 for my shed, the pot tankards are nice.

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    1. There's a never-ending supply of codgers, Cookie. Give it twenty years and you will be your dad.

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  9. Well this was a nice read! :) I think the nearest I've found to my 'ideal pub' is the Burton Bridge Brewery in Burton-on-Trent (quite similar in style to the above tbh).

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  10. I'd say the thing that really sets the Black Horse apart from many other traditional pubs of great character is its food offer - exactly how pub food should be done, in my view.

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