As in previous years, I offer a summary of some of the notable points of 2017. Last year’s is here. It can’t really be called “Golden Pints” as it’s really much more about pubs, pussycats, people and policies. During 2017 I have visited 183 different pubs, of which 95 were new to me, compared with 154 and 64 in 2016. In the remaining days of the year I’ll be adding a few to the total, most notably on the legendary Hillgate Stagger this coming Friday, but I don’t think I’ll be going to any more pubs that I haven’t already visited.
Best New Pub Visited – the Holly Bush at Makeney in Derbyshire. Although it isn’t too far from me, for some reason I’d never previously got round to visiting it, possibly because it’s a bit off the obvious Peak District tourist track. It’s a great example of how a superb unspoilt pub interior, that appears on CAMRA’s National Inventory, can be combined with a thriving, enterprising pub offering high-quality beer and food. It’s also one of the rare pubs still offering beer from the jug.
An honourable runner-up was the Hop Pole in Crewe, a classic community local with a warm welcome and a largely unspoilt multi-roomed interior, plus that increasingly rare feature, its own bowling green.
Best Pub Revisit – a couple of classic unspoilt Sam Smith’s pubs in East Yorkshire, the White Horse (Nellie’s) in Beverley and the Olde Blue Bell in Hull, neither of which I had been to for thirty years. The photo shows an archetypal group of pub codgers in the Olde Blue Bell. “If it weren’t for all these modern medical treatments, most of us’d be dead,” one of them said, cheerfully.
Best Pub Cat – has to be Felix of the Boar’s Head in Stockport, who was a close runner-up last year. Big, elderly, fluffy and cantankerous, he’s a real character. I haven’t in general come across a huge number of pub cats on my travels, but I did encounter Chairman Meow in the King’s Head in Leicester, who has something of a claim to fame.
Sobering News of the Year was being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at the end of February. This wasn’t a total surprise, given that my father had it, but even so it gives cause to think and reflect. I wrote about it in more detail here. It doesn’t debar you from drinking, and indeed I’ve visited more pubs, both new and in total, this year than last. However, it makes it more important to take general care of your health, and I have succeeded in reducing my beer consumption during the March-November period, compared with last year, by over 20%, mostly by drinking less at home and cutting out the odd extra pint that didn’t add much to the experience. There’s also a problem in distinguishing the genuine health advice specific to diabetics from the general messages which, as I’ve extensively dissected over the past ten years, are often highly questionable.
2017 saw the Tenth Anniversary of This Blog, which I reflected on here with a summary of some of my favourite posts. I was also honoured to be awarded third place amongst British beer blogs by Vuelio, as shown in the sidebar. I’ve not managed as many posts as in 2016, but I’ve continued to address a variety of meaty subjects. If I had to pick one post from the year, it would be The Undercutting Fallacy, about the delusional argument that “cheap supermarket alcohol” is a major factor in the decline of pubs. The number and quality of comments continues to be very gratifying. However, sadly, I have had to reiterate the point that “The comment facility is not provided as a platform for personal attacks on the blog author.” If you want to disagree in a cogent and polite manner, fine; if you want to have a go, you will be doing it elsewhere.
My Twitter Account has gone from strength to strength. In May I passed 3500 followers, which I wrote about here, and the figure is now approaching 4000, so plenty of people seem to like it. I was nominated as the Worst Person on Beer Twitter which, considering the source, I consider something of an accolade. It was also in relation to a tweet praising the use of traditional customary measurements, one of my favourite themes. As I said in the linked post, success on Twitter is as much about what you don’t say as what you do. Again, I’m happy to engage in intelligent debate, but if you start getting abusive you’ll be unfollowed and muted.
I was instrumental in setting up the Beer and Pubs Forum, which was intended as a replacement for the now defunct CAMRA Forum. Yes, CAMRA have now created the new Discourse Forum, but that is an entirely different animal that is focused on CAMRA policy and admin and eschews any general or lighthearted discussion. It may not be the busiest forum in the world, but it ticks over nicely, and allows the stalwarts from the old forum, plus a few newcomers, to enjoy general discussions about their beer and pub experiences. Why not give it a go – we don’t bite!
A great success of this forum has been in organising several trips out, to Macclesfield, Birmingham and Crewe. The Birmingham one in particular attracted people from as far apart as Stockport, Stafford, Cambridge, Reading and Frome in Somerset. It’s always good to meet people you’ve only previously encountered via the Internet, and without exception they turn out to be nicer and less combative than their online personae. We’re hoping to arrange further meets in the New Year, with one pencilled in for Oxford in February.
It was also a good year for Networking in a wider sense. I met fellow bloggers Duncan Mackay, Peter Allen and Richard Coldwell for the first time, although I haven’t yet managed to engineer an encounter with Simon Everitt of BRAPA fame, despite having offered to drive him to some of the less accessible pubs in Cheshire and North Wales. I’ve also met quite a number of people, too many to list, who I’ve only previously encountered via Twitter. Richard Coldwell, Martin Taylor and I, together with Paul Mudge, did a memorable Three Bloggers' Trip to Leicester.
Best Ploughman’s – the Anchor in Sevenoaks, Kent. Nothing fancy – just cheese, crusty roll, a bit of salad and a selection of pickles including a whole gherkin, and excellent value at a mere fiver. Other noteworthy pub food included a good straightforward cheese & pickle sandwich in the Black Swan, Devizes, steak in the Bowling Green in Leicester, and two meals in Mandarina in Macclesfield. But I encountered the perennial problems of being unable to find decent lunchtime sandwiches, and having to fall back on Wetherspoon’s, and of pubs failing to display menus outside.
Worst Service – every year produces a spectacular example of truly terrible service, generally in an independently-run restaurant. There seems to be something about being a single diner that leads to being completely forgotten. Last year was the Istanbul Turkish restaurant in Shrewsbury, while this year’s crown goes to La Lanterna pizza house in Banbury. Read it and weep, then go to Pizza Express instead.
Beer and Pub Blog – Life After Football. Written by former professional footballer Ian Clarkson, this concentrates on visting proper pubs in the Midlands. Although he likes his cask beer, especially Bass and Pedigree, it stands aside from the usual perspective of the “beer world”. Also a shout out to indefatigable pub crawler Alan Winfield of The Never Ending Pub Crawl, who managed to annoy a lot of people with some forthright comments on a craft beer encountered in Falmouth, but is now facing serious health problems. Best wishes to Alan that everything’s sorted out.
Beer and Pub Book – 20th Century Pub by Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey. This is a thoroughly researched but eminently readable survey of the development of the British pub from the turn of the last century to the present day, which I reviewed here.
Best Campaigning Initiative – Drinkers’ Voice UK. At last an independent non-industry campaign has been created to defend the interests of responsible consumers of alcoholic drinks against the hysterical and exaggerated claims of the public health lobby. Let’s hope it goes from strength to strength in 2018.
Worst Public Policy – Minimum Pricing in Scotland, which was approved by the Supreme Court and is planned to come into force at the beginning of May next year. It represents an ill-thought-out, one-size-fits-all approach that is unlikely to be effective in addressing alcohol abuse and will make the lives of many people of limited means just that bit more miserable. It was depressing to see many people who claim to be supporters of pubs welcome it, even though they’re likely to be next on the list. But it has certainly exposed who in the world of beer writing and commentary are Repulsive, Elitist Snobs.
Most Depressing Anniversary – ten years since the introduction of the Blanket Smoking Ban in England. This has ripped the guts out of the bottom end of the pub trade, and set a worrying precedent for action against alcohol, but many people remain in complete denial on the subject. The downside for ordinary, working-class pubs was poignantly summed up in this guest post from Liam the Brewer.
Best Tourist Attraction – not the obvious stately homes and castles, but the church of St Mary the Virgin in Banbury. I’ve driven through Banbury many times, but had never really noticed it, being hidden behind trees. It’s a magnificent square, domed Georgian church, which includes amongst its attractions the Arctic Windows, depicting scenes of polar exploration. If you’re ever in Banbury, make sure you pay a visit.
A strong runner-up was Scotney Castle in Kent, which is a conscious and very successful Victorian attempt to create a picturesque romantic ruin, which I managed to visit in the ideal conditions of a sunny Autumn afternoon.
Best Revisit – Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire. I’d been here a couple of times before, but not for over twenty-five years. It’s a stunning place, one of Britain’s most impressive ruins, but the feature that really caught my attention was the erection of a modern steel staircase right up to the top of the dominant Leicester’s Tower (shown in the picture), offering stunning views across the surrounding countryside.