Monday, 27 February 2017

Selling hippy wigs in Woolworth’s

Hydes Brewery have recently carried out a major refurbishment of one of their pubs, the Old Star on Cheadle High Street (the Cheshire one, not the Staffordshire one) and renamed it the James Watts. “Who?” you may well ask. Well, it’s not the steam engine pioneer, and it’s not the outspoken founder of BrewDog. No, it’s named after a local worthy who was Mayor of Manchester from 1855 to 1857.

And, according to the sign on the front, he was also a “Master of Craft”. Yes, that’s right, Hydes have decided to revamp an old-fashioned local as a trendy craft beer bar. Changing a long-established and familiar pub name always strikes me as a bit of a desperate attempt to appear “with it”. In the real ale boom of around 1990, I recall Whitbread rebranding some of their pubs as “Tut’n’Shive” alehouses, including the long-closed Chapel House in Heaton Chapel which couldn’t even prosper as a Tesco Express. That came across as an exercise in bandwagon-jumping at the tail end of a trend, and is this really any different?

I wasn’t taking detailed notes, but there were maybe six handpumps featuring a range of different beers, but, significantly, nothing whatsoever from the Hydes range, not even their Beer Studio “craft” range. The two I spotted were Ilkley Mary Jane (which I’d seen in Wetherspoons the other day) and a beer from Three Bs Brewery of Blackburn that I think was called Bee’s Knees. The latter, at £3.10, was a pleasant but unremarkable pale bitter. There were eight keg taps including Kozel and Jaipur. I didn’t spot any mainstream lagers, but there was a “Vier” variant of one of the well-known German brands which I suppose would have to satisfy the cooking lager enthusiast. On each table was a beer menu listing an exhaustive selection of bottled beers.

It’s years since I’d last been in the Old Star, so I’m not entirely sure what it was like before, but it can be said with total certainly that Hydes have made the interior far worse. It is dominated by barrels being used as posing tables, with a long row opposite the bar and some more in what was once the vault at the front right. There’s just a small oasis of bench seating for older customers at the front right, plus a few loose tables right at the back. There was a group who presumably were survivors from the old pub who were saying “Well, I suppose if you try all the beers, you might find one you like”. It was also, on my visit, extremely dimly lit.

No doubt the neophytes and Year Zero enthusiasts will be creaming their pants over it, but to my mind it offers a profoundly uncongenial pub environment where I wouldn’t want to linger any longer than I had to. It’s also puzzling why Hydes feel so ashamed of their own beers that they dare not show their face. If you want a decent pint in comfortable surroundings in Cheadle, you would be much better advised to choose Hydes’ other pub, the Crown, even though it is a shop conversion from a few decades ago. And it seems that some of the locals aren’t too impressed, as the pub has already been the subject of a machete attack. Hopefully not from a disillusioned Carling drinker.

At the same time, Punch Taverns have recently refurbished the Dog & Partridge in Heaton Mersey. It’s a big improvement, with plenty of comfortable seating, even including some benches, and relatively little at posing height. The décor makes extensive use of wood, etched glass and warm colours. They’ve also reintroduced cask beer, but as it’s only Doom Bar, Abbot and Dizzy Blonde, there’s nothing for the beards to get excited about. But I know which pub I think provides the nicer drinking environment.

18 comments:

  1. "No doubt the neophytes and Year Zero enthusiasts will be creaming their pants over it..."

    Can't imagine anyone who is militantly into Craft Beer culture being excited about this either, TBH. Sound distinctly half-arsed as any kind of attempt at a craft beer bar. The question these days has to be whether any pretender is doing something better or cheaper than Spoons and as the draught beers you list are all fairly regularly on rotation there, along with a plenty of bottles to be getting on with, it doesn't sound likely.

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    1. A local "official" CAMRA source was enthusing about it, and saying what an improvement it was.

      Signficantly, there isn't a Spoons in Cheadle, although I believe they have sniffed round a couple of properties, and one there would undoubtedly prove successful.

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    2. Thinking about it, it's actually surprising quite how many of the UK's real craft-geek destination pubs are pretty classically pubby - yer Southampton Arms, York Tap, Grove, Marble Arch sort of places. Of the really highly regarded places, I wouldn't be surprised if about half of them would pass for smart Sam Smiths pubs if you hid the taps.

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    3. Or rather, it's not that surprising, because craft beer geeks are human too, and a reasonable proportion of them probably quite like a nice, comfortable, homely environment in which to compare notes on barrel-aged sours.

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    4. Agreed. The hipster stereotype is overplayed. It's perfectly possible to enjoy progressive beer in a traditional setting.

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    5. So you don't actually have to have somewhere that looks like a converted industrial unit and where you have to perch on metal spikes to sell craft beer.

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    6. Nope - Magnet, Marble Arch, Smithfield Tavern, Crown & Kettle...

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  2. Was the machete attack a local CAMRA walla upset he was not given a sticker for his Panini bitter challenge win a t-shirt sticker album?

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    1. There was a similar attack in a Cheadle pub a few years ago... somebody chucked out of a pub (can't remember which one), went home to get a knife, came back to the pub and stabbed someone - to death. Cheadle's not somewhere I go often for a pint!

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  3. The Star was (in my experience) a pretty awful, depressing place - a low point for a village not blessed with convivial pubs (there's the Red Lion but I've stopped going there after one too many terrible pints of cask ale).

    It would be hard for a refurb not to improve it, and the tap list sounds pretty decent. There's something about Cheadle which makes pubs not quite function; certainly it has no pub to match The Horse And Farrier in neighbouring Gatley.

    Regarding the Beer Studio range, again from experience these tend to be pretty awful attempts at modern styles, which being neither fish nor fowl fail on all counts.

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    1. Cheadle has always lacked a stand-out pub - currently I'd say the Crown, Red Lion and possibly White Hart are the best of the bunch.

      I've enjoyed many of the Beer Studio beers, especially the paler ones that aim for subtlety rather than an in-your-face hop attack.

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  4. I have never been to The Old Star so wouldn`t know what it looked like pre-`furb. I probably will not visit anytime soon either, but it is sad in my opinion for a well established brewery such as Hydes with its heritage to have to go down the route of trying to look like a trendy craft bar. The locals must be dismayed. And to not even feature their own cask products is really pitiable..

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  5. I like the sound of the increased beer range but it seems Hydes may have lost the plot somewhat. I used to frequent the Star semi-regularly at one time and have some good memories of it. I can see a trip to Cheadle coming up in the future.

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  6. I first went in the Old Star one afternoon in 1989 when I was working as an office junior for a solicitors' firm at the other end of the village. There was a group of old men in the vault playing cribbage over pints of mild and I felt as though I'd stepped back into the 1950's. I usually drank in the Crown which was round the corner from the office and, as you say, a much more convivial place.

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    1. Definitely an old codger's pub. My only visit to the Star was some time back in the 1990s. The pub was quiet apart from a sectioned off area at the back which was busy with a group of old men having an allotment meeting; nowt wrong with that! The beer was good, as is usually the case with Hydes, and I think that the Star has the best frontage of all of the Cheadle High Street pubs - although they have defaced it a little with the temporary-looking sign for the new "beer house".

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  7. There was also a rather attractive painted sign for the Old Star Inn on the side of the pub, which looked as though it was of some age, but has now been removed. You can still see it on Google StreetView.

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  8. Hyde's should be ashamed to call themselves a brewery now many of their estate dont sell their own beer which was very good. The likes of the Rendezvous in St Helens and another in Prescot used to have the full range. Good bitter and mild now gone

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  9. The Blocked Dwarf1 March 2017 at 00:02

    O/T Mudgie, this https://cfrankdavis.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/the-sistine-chapel-of-tobacco-control/#comment-138041 might be of interest to you if you haven't seen it before.

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