Saturday, 4 November 2017

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

I wrote up last month’s trip to Leicester with what Richard Coldwell rightly described as a “straight bat”. I adopted the style I use for reports of Staggers (local CAMRA organised pub crawls) in Opening Times, where I describe each pub as I find it, but don’t actually make any criticism unless there’s something obviously wrong in terms of quality of beer, food or service. The only thing that fell into this category was the plainly vinegary Old Original in the Globe, which was changed without demur, just as you would expect a well-run pub to do. I recognise the distinction between whether a pub is not to my personal taste, and whether it has fallen short in what it sets out to do.

I have to say I enjoy going on pub crawls of this kind as a leisure activity, visiting new pubs and reacquainting myself with more familiar ones. Every pub has something of interest, whether in its beer range, atmosphere or clientele, and so long as I’ve got a comfortable seat and a reasonable pint, and my ears are not being assailed by pounding hip-hop or screaming children, I’m happy enough. Whether it’s somewhere I’d actually choose to return to is another matter, of course.

As Richard has done an individual post on his blog for each pub we visited giving his own thoughts, I thought it might be interesting to offer some more personal opinions.

  • Ale Wagon. I had a good pint, but can’t really say I’m a great fan of that type of slightly distressed, bare-boards alehouse. It all seems a bit 1987. Plus they can on a larger scale suffer from the same issue of monocultural clientele as micropubs. It would be interesting to see it at a busier time – is it all blokes with beards and beer guts, or does it attract a wider customer base?
    Beer: Hoskins Brothers HOB Bitter. NBSS 4

  • Bowling Green. Yes, it’s something of a Wetherspoon’s clone, but it does what it sets out to do, and was the busiest pub of all those we visited. It’s still fairly characterful at the front, and I had a decent pint, although drinking Robinson’s in Leicester is a bit of a busman’s holiday. As a notoriously pernickety eater, my steak was actually very enjoyable, and good to see spiral fries offered as an alternative to the so often soggy and flabby standard chips.
    Beer: Robinson’s Dark Vader. NBSS 3

  • Blue Boar: Really more a small conventional pub than a micropub, and very nicely done in a woody style reminiscent of Joule’s interiors. Plenty of comfortable bench seating around two walls, and while the clientele was a bit monocultural, it was people like us. Eight beers seemed a little over-ambitious, but the one we had was good, and owner Kieran Lyons gives the impression of someone who knows what he’s doing. I could happily spend a fair bit of time in here.
    Beer: Titanic Kölsch. NBSS 4

  • Globe (pictured above). As a pub, probably my favourite of the day, with a rambling interior featuring plenty of nooks and crannies, and a particularly congenial snug at the front. Had the kind of mixed clientele you would hope to find in a city-centre pub at the tail end of lunchtime. One poor beer was willingly changed, but the replacement didn’t really pull up any trees. It has to be admitted that all of Everards’ beers are a touch lacking in distinctive character.
    Beer: Everards Tiger. NBSS 2.5

  • Black Horse. A nice little two-roomer with a characterful front bar featuring a wood floor. Some tasteful (to me) music playing. Friendly, chatty licensee. And it had a cat. Unfortunately, as it was four o’clock in the afternoon, we were about the only customers.
    Beer: Everards Old Original. NBSS 3

  • West End Brewery. Very much “brewpub by numbers”, although at least it offered comfortable seating, beermats, a Bass plaque on the wall and free comics. The beers didn’t come across as anything out of the ordinary. Not a place I would personally choose to drink.
    Beer: West End Copper Ale. NBSS 3

  • Criterion. To me, the least impressive pub of the day, and it was hard to see what it was trying to achieve. As Richard said, it came across as an odd combination of Student Union bar and run-down estate pub, and the closed-off front room was a bit offputting as you walked in through the door. But they did play Jethro Tull!
    Beer: Market Harborough Best. NBSS 3

  • King’s Head. I liked this rather more than some of the others, and thought it was a nice cosy little pub. Black Country Ales produce some tasteful pub refurbishments, but unfortunately their own beers are a bit lacklustre, and they often seem to have too many on the bar in total – ten in this case. Not surprisingly, my pint proved to be a little tired. But it did have a cat, and a celebrated one at that.
    Beer: Oakham Bishop’s Farewell. NBSS 2.5
As we were buying in pairs, I didn’t take much note of the prices. Nothing stood out as being either particularly cheap or particularly expensive. The one price I do recall is paying £3.10 for two halves in the West End Brewery, which struck me as reasonable for that type of venue.

In conclusion, I have to agree with Richard that Leicester overall proved a little disappointing. Plenty of decent pubs, but not a lot that was outstanding in terms of either beer or historic interest. From experience, I’d say that Derby and Nottingham, which are cities of a broadly similar size, have more to offer on both fronts.

12 comments:

  1. I'm glad you did a pub-by-pub beer scoring. As you said at the tine, nothing bad but little exceptional.My NBSS scores very similar to yours (didn't rate the Kolsch as high).


    In defence of Leicester there's more we saw on our pub-focused trip, the Space Museum for one, but it's no Stockport.

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    1. Which reminds me that I really should enter all those scores on WhatPub.

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  2. Why have a blog unless you are going to be candid in regard to your opinion from the off?

    I get that your Opening Times magazine is a campaign & basically propaganda with the pub crawl write ups bearing little relation to the actual pubs or experience of the night & offering a sanitised account lest you offend the pub, brewery or put off anyone from visiting & thus get accused of "not supporting pubs" but a blog is always your personal view? Good or bad?

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    1. My experience of blogs is that only the comments sections seem to require "candid" opinions. Relentlessly so.

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    2. Is it "have a go at Mudgie morning" today?

      I deliberately write this blog in a style that has an eye on publication rather than just being a polemical brain-dump, and to my mind it's all the better for it.

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  3. As I initially wrote, Leicester is like it's football team - I don't think anyone dislikes them and I'm sure everyone was rooting for them when they won the league, but really everyone knows that they are not a big time Premier League side, and are prone to yo-yo between the top two divisions. The day reflected this, in the city's architecture, it's bewildering lack of trade and the pubs & beers. One commentator on social media berated me for going on a Tuesday in the middle of the month - no wonder it was quiet! This says so much to me about the local economy, which will have a massive influence on pub trade. I was particularly saddened to see a recent, twice local CAMRA POTY almost devoid of customers at 7pm. Surely the good folk of Leicester, particularly the discerning, pop into one of their accoladed pubs for a pint or two on the way home? I can only make comparisons with The Kirkstall Bridge which was LeedsCAMRA POTY until this year, even though it's a couple of miles out of the centre in LS4, it's still busy, even at 7pm on a Tuesday night. Again economics and socio political factors play a huge impact.

    It's nice to see a comparison of beer quality, all three of us were never more than half a point away, which is reassuring, particularly when I like to use, for e.g. 3.5+ , or nearer 3.5 than 4. I know we discussed having a broader points spread available, although there are positives and negatives.

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    1. I'm not familiar with the Kirkstall Bridge, but I suspect it's that rather than the King's Head that may be the outlier in terms of the level of trade at 7 pm on a Tuesday. Anyway, I did a whole separate post about increasingly empty pubs.

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    2. Maybe the good people of leicester have a different opinion on what constitutes a good pub that the local CAMRA branch & frequent those establishments?

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    3. Well, on the evidence of that visit, their favourite pub seemed to be the Spoons-a-like ;-)

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  4. Re: Ale Waggon. What have you got against 1987? Apart from the General Election I thought ti was a good year. :-)

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  5. Thanks again for the mention. I can't comment on other pubs in Leicester critically myself as i'm sure you'll understand :)

    I'd agree that both Derby and Nottingham have better pubs and more people using them. Leicester is not a city that's well known for pubs or beer. It's getting slightly better but it will never be Leeds. The backlash on social media against the blogs was just local pride coupled with knowing more about the pubs and having more context to judge them than the bloggers.

    However, 3 fresh pairs of eyes have been very enlightening and given me a lot to think about, particularly in the How Many Handpumps department (for the record the boar has 9) and i'll post my thoughts on this soon, on beer and pubs forum probably.

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