My best pub experience (in an unfamiliar pub) was the Barrels in Hereford, a city not generally known for the quality of its pubs. This is Wye Valley Brewery’s flagship tied house, selling the full range of their own beers, together with guests and cider, at notably good-value prices. It’s a spacious, four-square pub with a good choice of rooms, a lively atmosphere and a varied clientele ranging from Bohemians to businessmen. On a dry Monday evening it was noticeable how the extensive, part-covered courtyard at the rear was absolutely full of groups of smokers and their friends.
I’ll also congratulate Joules Brewery on their sensitive refurbishment of the Royal Oak in Eccleshall, Staffordshire, which I haven’t previously mentioned on here. This is a striking pub on the main street of this small town with a distinctive arcaded frontage. I don’t know what it was like before, but they have given it a very congenial, pubby interior with a main bar, snug and lounge/dining area making much use of dark wood. It sells Joule’s three cask beers – Blonde, Pale Ale and Slumbering Monk.
Most memorable pint of the year was a superb drop of Batham’s Best Bitter in the Great Western in Wolverhampton (currently featuring in a Sky Sports darts trailer). And an honourable mention to drinking BrewDog’s Avery Brown Dredge in the Magnet in Stockport. Brewery-conditioned bottled lager at a CAMRA meeting – whatever next?
Saddest event of the year was the closure of one of my local pubs, the Four Heatons (formerly the Moss Rose). While it had declined in recent years, in the 1990s this featured in the Good Beer Guide for a number of years and was a classic example of a thriving, down-to-earth boozer. It’s still standing, but with the windows now covered by metal, not wood. There can be little doubt that this pub was kicked over the edge by the smoking ban.