Monday, 17 June 2019

In the land of Bass and Pedi - Part 1

The Staffordshire market town of Uttoxeter is best known for its racecourse and being the home of JCB and Elkes Biscuits. The name will also be familiar to travellers from the roundabout creating a bottleneck on the A50 between Stoke and Derby. It has a reputation for being somewhat insular and behind the times, which is reflected in its pub stock still being mainly composed of traditional boozers, and dominated by the Burton classics of Draught Bass and Marston’s Pedigree. This made it a contrast with some of our earlier Beer & Fubs Forum Proper Days Out, which have aimed to cover a wide variety of beers and types of pub.

Our numbers were somewhat depleted, but four of us managed to meet up on Stoke Station, where Paul Mudge had time for a swift drop of Titanic Cherry Mild in their Bod bar on the southbound plaftform. We then had a 25-minute train ride through the lush but rather waterlogged East Staffordshire countryside to Uttoxeter, where the station lies between the racecourse and the town instelf. A short walk past Waitrose and the long-closed Wheatsheaf pub brought us to our first port of call, Wetherspoon’s Old Swan just off the market place.

The name suggests it may have been an old coaching inn, but in fact a little research reveals that it was previously a furniture store. It has a fairly typical Wetherspoon interior, with the bar along the left-hand wall, and a variety of comfortable seating areas at a slightly higher level spreading out to the right. It had a rather elegant carpet in a wavy pattern, and pictures and photos by local artists on the wall. Even just after 11 am, it was reasonably busy, although the clientele seemed to be more gentlefolk enjoying a morning coffee than the hardcore morning Spoons boozers on the John Smith’s Smooth.

It avoided the frequent Wetherspoon’s problem of having too many beers on the bar by sensibly limiting the number of cask lines to six – the usual suspects of Doom Bar, Ruddles and Abbot, together with the local Lymestone Foundation Stone, Rudgate Ruby Mild and Pheasantry Mikado Mild. Despite reports of declining beer quality in some Wetherspoon’s branches, both the Foundation Stone and Ruby Mild were in very good nick.

We then moved on to the Olde Talbot, which dominates the market place from the western end. It’s an old gabled inn claiming to date from the 16th century, with a projecting ground floor. The interior is L-shaped, with three comfortable seating areas along the front and a more Spartan public bar area to the right which seemed to be set up for live music. The wood-panelled section to the left by the bar counter was particularly congenial. There was a sign saying “Cash Only”, which the friendly barmaid told us could cause problems on race days, although there are a couple of banks with cashpoints within fifty yards.

The beer range was Doom Bar and Bass, so not surprisingly it was a round of four pints of Bass, which came to £14.20, £3.55 a pint seeming to be the going rate for that beer in the town. Perhaps surprisingly, Peter Allen, who had spent most of his life as a confirmed lager drinker, revealed that it was his first ever taste of Bass. It proved to be in excellent condition and indeed turned out to be the best Bass of the day. The soundtrack included Marianne Fathfull’s version of “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan”.

Apart from Wetherspoon’s, there seems to be very little pub food on offer in Uttoxeter town centre, although there are a couple of modern dining pubs on the outskirts near the bypass. We had therefore arranged our lunch stop at the Bank House, a seventeen-bedroom residential hotel just to the east of the market place opposite the parish church. It’s an impressive redbrick thre-storey Georgian building dating from 1777, which in fact was the town’s first bank. Through the front door, there is a dining room on the left and a long, congenial bar area on the right with bench seating along the front windows. There was a golden retriever belonging to one of the customers asleep in the middle of the floor.

There were two cask beers on the bar, Pedigree and Bates Pale Ale from Little Eaton Brewery just north of Derby. A couple of us went for the Bates Pale Ale, but unfortunately it was well past its best. However, it was changed without demur for the Pedigree, which really was in very good form, and proved to be not only the best Pedigree of the day, but the best beer of all. This proved that this beer, although sometimes dismissed as not being what it was, can still shine when properly looked after. This was also Peter’s first ever tasting of Pedigree.

The menu featured a range of traditional British dishes, from which we selected fish, scampi and rump steak, all coming with chips, and all priced at £10 or below. We also managed to squeeze in a couple of starters and one dessert. The food was also very good, and was possibly the best we’ve had on these trips, where finding pub lunches that rise above the adequate can be difficult. We had a chat with the chef who was very keen to make us welcome.

We then returned to the market place to the Vaults, which is perhaps Uttoxeter’s classic pub. A narrow, shop-like frontage conceals a pub of great character running a long way back from the street. There’s a front bar area where most of the drinkers seem to gather, a middle room with a devil amongst the tailors game, and a larger lounge at the rear with bench seating and a dartboard. The outside toilets are yet further back on a passageway running along the side of the pub. It was fairly busy for early afternoon, with an all-too-familiar discussion about ailments taking place amongst some of the customers. “There’s no point in having Challenge 25 in here,” said the barmaid, “you wouldn’t even need Challenge 50!”

It’s renowned as a stronghold of Bass, and in the past proudly displayed a row of five Bass handpumps along the bar, as shown in the photo (not mine) above. Guest beers have been introduced in recent years, and my Twitter header photo shows one pump for Robinson’s Wizard flanked by four for Bass. Today’s guest beer was Marston’s EPA, but all of use plumped for the Bass, which didn’t disappoint, although it was slightly shaded in quality by the Olde Talbot. The jamjars to show the colour of the beer, including one for each Bass pump, seemed rather superfluous.

To be continued...

30 comments:

  1. Proper beer, brewed by brewers in white coats, sold in proper pubs, run by professionals. I'm all for the new wave of craft pubs and beer but you can't beat tradition. Anyway, Union-brewed Pedigree has to be one of the most 'craft' beers available given the absolutely unique way it's brewed, and to keep Cookie happy, it pongs.

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  2. £3.55? They're sending a message it looks like.

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  3. "through the lush but rather waterlogged East Staffordshire countryside"

    Technically, the lushness is due in part to the amount of water. ;)

    "There was a sign saying “Cash Only”"

    Is that common over there? I don't recall seeing many cash only places over here.

    "£3.55 a pint seeming to be the going rate for that beer in the town."

    A bit steep that I would think. For over there anyway. For over here that would be about average.

    "This was also Peter’s first ever tasting of Pedigree."

    Did he have ales everywhere? :)

    "“There’s no point in having Challenge 25 in here,” said the barmaid, “you wouldn’t even need Challenge 50!”"

    I have no idea what that means. But, from context, (slow golf clap). :)

    "The jamjars to show the colour of the beer, including one for each Bass pump, seemed rather superfluous."

    LOL, indeed!

    And, on a personal note, I'm very jealous of the fact you can saunter between multiple pubs with barely a two minute walk between each!


    Cheers

    PS - "There’s a front bar areas "

    I'm guessing there was just one front bar area?

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    Replies
    1. "Callenge 25" is a scheme whereby, to combat underage drinking, bar staff are supposed to require anyone who looks under 25 to prove their age.

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    2. Same over here. Two pieces of ID (at least one with photo) is they think you look under 25. Applies to both bars and liquor stores.

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    3. I dislike being asked for proof of age. No-one asks for it where I am because they know.

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  4. A fair number of pubs apart from Sam Smith's are cash only, although as I always pay for beer in pubs with cash I don't tend to notice unless I spot a sign.

    £3.55 isn't "steep", although I'd say it's towards the top end of the normal range for that area. Pedigree in general seemed to be £3.50.

    Peter did revert to Carling towards the end - he's happy to drink cask beer now, but unlike Paul and me tends to prefer the citrussy ones.

    Uttoxeter is unusual even amongst Engish market towns for the close proximity of pubs in the town centre - there are nine within five minutes' walk of each other, seven of which are effectively on the market place.

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    Replies
    1. Ta Mudge. Appreciate take the time to reply.

      Cheers

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    2. I've been working in London a fair amount this year, and usually have a bit of a pub crawl on a Friday before heading home, I've noticed that in central London almost everyone pays by contactless, I think the days of cash maybe numbered in the capital.

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    3. London is increasingly detached from the rest of the country, though.

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    4. A lot of us northerners don't like London, but without London we'd be more knackered than someone at the end of the London Marathon.

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    5. Economically, maybe, but that doesn't mean it's becoming ever more culturally distinct.

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    6. London is wanker central.

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    7. Can you run that by me again? The two sides of the writing do not make any sense. It's salad when put together.

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  5. Would you pay £3.55 in a Smiths or a Spoons?

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    1. If Sam Smiths was £3.55 I'd happily pay that for what is a classic Yorkshire bitter and served from wood to boot. I wouldn't pay £3.55 in a Spoons for anything because the surroundings and general retail offer isn't worth it.

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    2. £3.55 is the norm; it's Spoons and Sam's that are the outliers. And, even apart from the beer, I'd happily pay £3.55 in Sam's for the general pub atmosphere - comfortable seating, no TV sport or piped music, and in most cases few if any screaming children and not wall-to-wall dining. But you might not get such an "interesting" mix of customers ;-)

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  6. We need a draught bass guide.

    Set up the Campaign for Bass as set to, fellas.

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  7. One of my great days out is to buy a Derbyshire Wayfarer at £6.50 and take the train from Chinley or New Mills through the lovely Dore valley to Sheffield. Pint at the Station Tap then on to Derby for another pint at the Brunswick.
    Then on to Uttoxeter where I used to dine at Mario's Italian Cafe. But he, like so many publicans, succumbed to the "evenings only" disease" and I had to use 'spoons, so your tip about the Bank House is welcome.
    Then back to Derby and a side trip to Burton and The Coopers before sleeping the way home.

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    Replies
    1. The Stafford Mudgie18 June 2019 at 21:21

      DCBW,
      Yes, on two days in April I used that £6.50 Derbyshire Wayfarer ticket to get round plenty of pubs in Buxton, Chesterfield, Derby, Hathersage, Ilkeston, New Mills, Whaley Bridge and Sheffield.

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  8. I've been to old Talbot once and only pub in uttoxeter I've been too... terrific �� back then so consistent. Liked the look of the place and good work converting Pete to Bass from Carling ����look forward to part 2...
    Britain Beermat

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    Replies
    1. You would have enjoyed Uttoxeter, especially the Smithfield which I'll get to later.

      Pete eventually had his fill of Bass and Pedi and switched back to that other Burton classic ;-)

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    2. Ha ha ��

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  9. Sounds like a really good day Peter with some Proper Pubs, shame I wasn't up to it. Ticketty Split shafted me on the ticket too - £10 admin fee charged on a £26 refund!

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    1. For train fees, consider taking a look at LNER if you can't get a cheap ticket. No fees.

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    2. Booking directly with the train operator might be more hassle but it's usually cheaper.

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  10. I remember going in the Vaults on my one visit to Uttoxeter a few years ago, en route to Rocester FC, feeling distinctly queasy as the locals were discussing their and their friends' ailments in gruesome detail.

    That has drowned out all other memories of the pub, but, obviously, not much has changed.

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    Replies
    1. This particular conversation, as much as I could overhear, involved having injections in the stomach, which wasn't really the ideal thing you want to hear immediately after your lunch.

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie22 June 2019 at 19:45

      I could think of worse places for injections.

      Delete

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