Saturday 16 January 2016

Boar’s Ahead

A few jaws must have dropped last Thursday night at the news that the Stockport & South Manchester Branch of CAMRA had chosen as its Pub of the Year for 2016* the Boar's Head on Stockport Market Place, a Sam Smith's tied house.

It’s rare that such an award goes to a family brewer’s pub at all, and especially to one outside the well-known local four of Holts, Hydes, Lees and Robinsons, that is well-known for its eccentric and secretive management style What’s more, it only serves one real ale, and one that very much goes against the current pale and hoppy trend.

But it serves that one beer consistently well, meriting a place in the Good Beer Guide for the past three years. Last year we had a tour of the extensive cellars and saw the row of wooden barrels of Old Brewery Bitter on the stillage. Yes, full 36-gallon barrels. How many pubs still have the turnover to justify them? There was, of course, also an extensive array of kegs – it serves eight different keg beers, plus cider. Cellar tours proved very popular during Stockport Beer Week in September.

It always seems busy, even when other nearby pubs are quiet, and is heaving on market days. Vast quantities of beer are shifted – it must be amongst the top pubs in Stockport for sheer volume of beer sold. It has been run for seven years by Terry and Sue Wild, who provide a warm welcome and also have a team of cheerful and enthusiastic staff. There’s a wide cross-section of customers, and it's the kind of place where complete strangers will start chatting to each other, the absence of TV football and piped music making this much easier.

It may be difficult to define a "proper pub", but this certainly qualifies. Plus it's cheaper than the Wetherspoons a couple of hundred yards away, with Old Brewery Bitter currently just £1.80 a pint. I wrote about a lunchtime visit last year here - I wonder if the pub cat will make an appearance on the presentation night.

It would be dull if all Pubs of the Year were of the same type, and it makes a refreshing change to see one selected on the basis of atmosphere and welcome rather than number of different beers.

I was going to do a post about how people have a kind of mental image of pubs, which increasingly varies from the reality, except in Sam’s pubs. In many areas, they’re becoming about the only places where you can enjoy a quiet drink and a chat in comfortable, cosy surroundings. So many others are now dominated by food, or TV sport, or are specialist beer outlets with a narrow clientele. This award rather makes my point for me.

* It should be pointed out that the Pub of the Year is chosen from the previous year’s twelve Pubs of the Month, and that Ye Olde Vic in Edgeley, which has been the subject of a community buyout, was a strong second.


  1. How dare your local branch members vote for a pub they happen to like that serves decent bitter ain't a rip off and is welcoming to all.

    They should vote for a pub the little hobbit type beardie people that sniff beer and hold it up to the light seem to go for, because it's them what'll award the national gong.

  2. sounds like the sort of place I could drink a gallon in and miss my connection to wherever I’m going

  3. Sounds good to me. If I ever find myself in Stockport, I'm in there

  4. Frankie Faux Pas17 January 2016 at 06:23

    You and Stonch should get a room for your Sam Smiths love-in.
    But crikey,£1.80 for a pint! I paid €7.50 for a pint of Galway Hooker in a shithole of an Irish pub the stag party I was on insisted we visit in Bordeaux last night.You can get real hookers cheaper than that.

  5. I'm holding off on going here until the end of my tenure in Manchester so I leave with happy memories, unsullied by toil and the nonsense of craft beer

  6. @Frankie - it was a love-in including quite a few other members of the local CAMRA branch.

    And if you think the OBB's cheap, the 2.8% keg light and dark milds are, I think, still only £1.34 a pint. Cheapest regularly priced draught beer in Britain, probably.

  7. The Boar’s Head sounds a worthy winner of your branch Pub of the Year Award. I appreciate Humphrey Smith has come in for a lot of criticism lately – although we are rarely told his side of the story, but Samuel Smiths are doing a lot of things right with both their beer and their pubs.

    I’m amazed they are still using 36 gallon barrels, and wooden ones at that. Must be a nightmare manoeuvring them up onto the stillage! But all power to their elbow; OBB at £1.80 a pint; no wonder the place is so popular.

    It’s also good to see a pub being selected on other criteria than having an extensive range of micro-brewery beers. A place “where you can enjoy a quiet drink and a chat in comfortable, cosy surroundings”. Sounds like my sort of pub!

  8. That's a surprise! Great stuff. I worked here 10 years or so ago under the previous managers, the OBB was £1.22 then. Glad to see the place is doing well, was starting to feel a bit run down by the time I left Stockport. Will make a point of visiting next time we're back visiting family.

    I do remember lugging the barrels around and helping get them on the gantry. Our pub in Durham only uses firkins and we have a hoist - much easier on the back! And the fingers for that matter - I recall there was a relief manager who had two broken fingers a few days after arriving...

  9. I was astonished but delighted to hear this; brewery-owned pubs, let alone those with only one beer, very rarely get a look in for annual CAMRA awards. It's a proper pub, and I look forward to seeing whether the OBB is as good as it used to be soon.

  10. Timothy Goodacre19 January 2016 at 16:13

    This is excellent news ! So good to see Sam Smith's getting the merit they deserve. Excellent beer at very reasonable prices.

  11. I'm so pleased to hear this news because on my trip last year, it stood out even amidst the quality of Stockport as a pub of the day, and up there with the other great Sam's pubs like Glossop, Bishopthorpe's Ebor, Wellington in York, the Thornton Cleveleys one where the beer tastes even better and one near either London or Tower Bridge.


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