As seems to have become an annual tradition, I’ll offer a few highs and lows of 2016. Not really “Golden Pints”, as it’s much more about pub experiences. Here is last year’s. And I’ve done more than twice as many blog posts in 2016 as I did in 2015.
Best new pub visited – Queen’s Head, Newton, Cambridgeshire. This is one of only five pubs remaining that have been in every edition of the Good Beer Guide. It doesn’t immediately strike you as being that special, but it’s a good example of a village pub that successfully manages to combine a modest food offer with a thriving drinks trade, and had a very congenial atmosphere. For some reason, the middle-class, mostly wet-led pub is something often encountered in the South of England, but very rarely around here.
Honourable runner up – The Vaults, Uttoxeter. A long, thin pub with a highly characterful interior that stretches a long way back from the Market Place along the original burgage plot. And a shrine to Draught Bass.
I also at last managed to visit the famous Vine (aka Bull & Bladder) in Brierley Hill, Batham’s brewery tap, which did not disappoint. But that’s more a pilgrimage than a discovery.
Best pub revisit – Black Horse, Clapton-in-Gordano. A highly characterful, ancient pub that manages to combine good beer, high-quality, but not over-obtrusive food, and a very congenial, genteel atmosphere.
Pub photo of the year – Hare & Hounds, Shudehill, Manchester. A proper old-school boozer.
Best pub cat – Porter in the Swan, Holmes Chapel, who “likes his dinner”. See separate post. However, unfortunately local resident Michael Harris inquired about his whereabouts and was told that he hasn’t been seen for four months. Still, it was a privilege to have met him.
CAMRA event – awarding the local branch Pub of the Year to the Boar’s Head in Stockport. This is a superb, characterful pub that is everything a “proper pub” should be. But it’s a Sam Smith’s pub, with only the one cask beer, and that not to many people’s taste. There was predictable outrage on FaceBook.
Beery event – meeting up for the first time with various people from the blogosphere at the trade session of Manchester Beer Festival including Jeff Bell (aka Stonch), Nick aus Erlangen, Matthew Lawrenson of Seeingthelizards and “Arthur Scargill” from Knutsford.
New beer – during the course of a year, I drink lots of new beers once, and honestly they rarely stick in the mind. But one bottled beer that made an impression was McEwan’s Champion Whisky Edition. The standard McEwan’s Champion is hailed as a surviving example of the classic Burton style, but it’s a little too heavy and sweet for my taste. However, at 5.8% the Whisky Edition is a notably lighter and drier beer with a distinct hint of spirit that makes an ideal winter warmer.
Best Pub refurbishment – Swan, Holmes Chapel. Sam Smith’s have spent a lot of money returning what had become a rather tired and shabby pub to being a warren of small rooms, each with its own character. And they restored cask Old Brewery Bitter. Robinson’s please note when you’re “removing obstructing internal walls”.
Worst Pub refurbishment – Holly Bush, Bollington. This was a National Inventory pub with a classic original bar with sliding glass screens, which Robinson’s completely removed to open it out. Yes, the pub had been closed for a while and needed some freshening up, but surely this could have been done without such an act of architectural vandalism.
Best Pub(ish) Food – Friends of Ham, Leeds. A bar that really sets out to do something individual and distinctive on the food front rather than just offering the same identikit menu. Absolutely superb meat and cheese. Not cheap, but definitely worth paying for the quality.
Best Ploughmans – Prince Albert, Broadstairs. Yes, it was served on a slate, but it included three different cheeses, plenty of bread and a full range of pickles including brown, mustard, pickled onions and gherkins. I left a bit of cheese and was asked whether I would like more bread.
Best pub banter – The Talbot, Muck Wenlock, where there were a group of young mothers with (fairly) well-behaved offspring. One, talking of her dieting plans, said "I'm back on the shakes next week", in response to which an old boy piped up "I 'as them ev'ry mornin!"
Saddest pub loss – the Waterloo just off Hillgate in Stockport, where I spotted this pub dog on last year’s Hillgate Stagger. Another decent traditional local that has fallen victim to Robinson’s savage pub cull and drive upmarket. As I’ve said during the year, Robinsons seem to have little interest in offering their urban tenants a package that allows them to be remotely price-competitive.
Beer and Pub Blogger – Simon Everitt of BRAPA. I’d come across Simon’s blog before before, but it’s only this year I’ve really followed his GBG-ticking exploits closely. If you’re doing all the pubs in the GBG, you have to take the rough with the smooth, and he certainly doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to the rough. I wonder how many of them ever let him back. Do you know what a P.I.S.S barmaid means? I let him have all my Spoons tokens, which I normally struggle to use anyway, as I’m sure he’ll make better use of them.
Also an honourable mention to Deeekos of Boozy Procrastinator who is prepared to tackle difficult topics that many other bloggers shy away from, for example this one about deserting your locals for the beery delights of the big city.
Best political event – the Brexit vote in June. In fact, probably the best political event of my entire lifetime, not just 2016. And, joyously, the results were announced on my birthday. The British people at last rose up, told the arrogant, sneering political élite where to stick it, and freed themselves from the vile, corrupt, undemocratic, sclerotic European Union. As I suggested back then, resentment of the smoking ban and similar infractions may well have had a part to play.
Sadly, some pathetic sore losers are still skriking about it six months later. If you’re one of them, there are plenty of other places on the Internet to vent your spleen. But you won’t be doing it here.
Best tourist attraction – SS Great Britain, in Bristol, an absolutely unique original historical artefact that genuinely changed the world. Unfortunately, lack of time meant I wasn’t able to get to the famous “cat pub”, the Bag O’Nails, which is only just over the river.
A close second was Walmer Castle near Deal in Kent, originally an artillery fort built by Henry VIII which was converted into a cosy residence for the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and has close associations with the Duke of Wellington and Churchill.