Monday, 8 October 2018

On the sauce in Worcester - Part 2

We pick up the story of our day out in Worcester having just left the Plough, which I wrote about in Part 1. Crossing over the High Street, we reached the Eagle Vaults, a street-corner pub with an impressive tiled facade advertising Mitchells & Butlers’ Gold Medal Ales. It’s one of three pubs on this crawl that appears in the 1978 Good Beer Guide, where it’s described as “A friendly pub with an unspoilt Victorian bar” and sells M&B Brew XI and Mild. It’s now a Banks’s/Marston’s pub, with Banks’s Amber Bitter, Sunbeam, Boondoggle and Eagle IPA. I had a pretty good pint of Amber, although others weren’t so impressed with the Sunbeam.

It still has the impressive, unspoilt bar and, although presumably knocked through a little, still qualifies for a regional entry on CAMRA’s National Inventory. The lounge side had a selection of traditional pub games including quoits and table skittles. We caught up here with the stragglers whose journey from Cambridge had presumably been delayed by being bogged down in the Fens. It was now mid-afternoon, and groups of traditional drinking customers were starting to drift in.

Now came the division in the camp that Martin refers to here. So far we’d successfully been relying on navigation by seat of the pants based on vague memories – “I think it’s somewhere down here.” However, this method now came unstuck. The Eagle Vaults is on Friar Street, a long historic street running parallel to the High Street, which further north morphs into New Street. Consensus was that the next pub, the Cardinal’s Hat, was somewhere to the north on the right. However, after we’d walked for five minutes and reached the next pub after that, it dawned on us that we should have been going the other way. This resulted in a breakaway group muttering “sod that for a game of soldiers” and deciding to decamp to the new craft bar, the Oil Basin Brewhouse, to rejoin us later.

However, a party of committed stalwarts were determined to stick to the script and retraced our steps back past the Eagle Vaults to the Cardinal’s Hat. This has an impressive Tudor timbered facade, with a high-quality 1930s internal refit that qualifies it for a regional entry on the National Inventory. It was once a Davenport’s pub, and featured in the 1978 Good Beer Guide, described tersely as “Timbered pub in a back street”, with Davenports Bitter on the bar. I remember coming in here on a visit in 1992 when they were playing tracks from Jethro Tull’s then-new album “Catfish Rising”.

Spotted on the wall of the gents' in the Cardinal's Hat

However, first impressions were not favourable, as the front bar had incongruously been fitted out with high-level posing tables. We retreated to the more comfortable surroundings of the wood-panelled snug at the rear, but noted that we were the only customers. The beer range was Salopian Lemon Dream, Prescott Hill Climb and Autumn, North Cotswold The Tempest and Purity Mad Goose, none of which struck us as particularly memorable. There were some amusing pictures on the wall of the gents’, but the overall impression was one of unfulfilled potential. It sounded like they had more fun in the Oil Basin.

Heading up New Street for the third time we were eventually able to pay our visit to the King Charles II. Right next door to the Georgian Swan With Two Nicks, this is another ancient half-timbered building that claims the eponymous king escaped from it following the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Internally it has been more opened out than the Cardinal’s Hat, but retains plenty of dark wood and an impressive historic fireplace. There were a reasonable number of customers in, but we were able to find seats at a table by the window, where one of my companions rescued me from a beetle that was advancing menacingly up my shirt front.

It’s leased by Craddocks Brewery and offers a somewhat jawdropping array of their ales on about nine handpumps ranged around the bar. This brought to mind my visit to their other pub, the Talbot in Drotiwich, last year, where I questioned whether they were spreading themselves too thinly. Many of the beers appear to be very similar to others, and did the pub really have the turnover to keep every single one in good condition? We tried three – Saxon Gold, King’s Escape and North Star – none of which were particularly impressive, with the last-mentioned, described as an American IPA, perhaps shading it. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that a bit more focus in the beer range would be desirable.

The splinter group arrived just as we were drinking up, so we followed an initially dubious-looking short cut through ASDA’s car park to reach the Firefly on Lowesmoor. This is a pub housed in an impressive Georgian building that apparently was once the residence of the manager of the adjoining vinegar works. We hoped that wouldn’t be an augury for the quality of the beer. Reached via a short flight of steps, the interior is very much in modern craft bar style and rather belies the external appearance. The handpumps are rather oddly located, well set back from the front of the bar at a lower level, which makes them a little difficult to see. They dispensed the distinctly murky Siren Suspended in Rainbows, Mallinsons Dreaming, New Bristol Pineapple Pale and Enville White. I had at least heard of the Enville White, which was decent enough, but the others very much fell into the category of “OK if you like that sort of thing”. One person ended up with the Pineapple Pale after failing to spot the Enville, possibly because the pumpclips were a bit hard to see.

The Tything is a long Georgian street leading north from Foregate Street station away from the city centre, featuring several pubs. Our initial intention had been to make the final call the Dragon, run by Church End Brewery, but a late change of plan resulted from the Lamb & Flag, a few doors further up, appearing as a new entry in the 2019 Good Beer Guide. This was another entry in the 1978 edition, when it was a Marston’s pub serving Pedigree and Burton Bitter, described as “Lively, friendly city pub.” I vaguely recalled coming here on a train trip from university in the late 1970s.

Now it’s run by Two Crafty Brewers, and offered their American Pale and Golden Beast alongside Wye Valley HPA, which was OK, and Greene King Yardbird – I think there was some kind of partial tie with GK. It’s a long, thin pub running well back from the narrow street frontage, although the interior has been much modernised. We were able to find some seats around a table towards the rear. The soundtrack included “Horse With No Name” by America, which brought back more memories of the 1970s, but to be honest was regarded as a poor Neil Young pastiche even when originally released. From here it was a ten minute walk back to the station for the train home, which turned out to be ten minutes late, so I could have had more time in the pub. Some of those who were staying overnight called in to the Dragon afterwards.

So another highly enjoyable day out, with the quality and variety of the company as always being one of the best aspects. The pub of the day was the Plough, something on which I think all of us who visited it agreed, while the biggest disappointment was the Paul Pry, a lovely pub that let itself down by the poorest beer we had all day. Hopefully those who run it will read this, and the other blogs about it, and take note. This underlines that the Good Beer Guide is by no means infallible in terms of leading you to a consistently good pint, and the fact that it was Wednesday lunchtime and afternoon shouldn’t really be put forward as an excuse. Looking around, there were plenty of other pubs in Worcester that would merit further investigation.

9 comments:

  1. Nice Tull and Neil Young references. Agree with your assessment on beer, though would be interested to have compared it with a Friday night. The lack of traditional brown bitters in the Beer Guide pubs is a disappointment. MT

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    1. A good summary of an excellent day out with some good pubs, unfortunately with less good beer. I did like the Paul Pry but The Plough beats it, my beer there was the best cask of the day,the Green Swan, I did find some good keg in Hop Lords and The Oil Basin. The lack of traditional brown bitters in the Beer Guide pubs was a bonus for me.

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie9 October 2018 at 07:07

      Whatever is and isn't in the Beer Guide isn't really of any consequence to me nowadays.

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    3. It isn't for me in familiar places, but it's a useful starting point when planning a visit to somewhere you don't know well. Plus of course one of our number was after GBG ticks! I have to say the last four pubs on this crawl, three of which are in the current GBG and the other in last year's, were all a bit underwhelming.

      Maybe there's a gap in the market for the "Proper Pub Guide" ;-)

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    4. The Stafford Mudgie9 October 2018 at 10:07

      Yes, "How about ‘CAMRA’s Guide to Proper Pubs'?" is what I posted elsewhere on 8th December 2017, a comment that got a positive response from a quite well known beer author.

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  2. Sounds like a good day out, I wish I could have joined you but mid-week crawls are impossible for me (except when England are in the World Cup semi-final!) Worcester is a place we occasionally visit on boating holidays so, some of the pubs I recognised, but many I've not been to - next time we're there it will give us some more ideas!

    If the dates fall favourably, I'll definitely join you on other crawls!

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  3. Oh wassail, oh wassail, all over the town,
    Our toast it is white, and our ale it is brown...

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie11 October 2018 at 01:50

      Our beer in Paul Pry, it caused a frown ...

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    2. It's a pity, that the pagan, North-Germanic rite of wassailing - when in return for intoxicating liquor the visiting singers would entertain with hearty, earthy songs - has been sanitised into namby-pamby carol-singing, really.

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