Category Archives: pubs

Boak & Bailey’s Golden Pints 2014

Prompted by Andy Mogg at Beer Reviews, here are our nominations for the best bevvies, bars, book and blogs in the world of beer in 2014.

Bearing in mind that we live a long way from where the action is and haven’t been abroad, our choices are perhaps a bit parochial and conservative. In general, though we try to keep a bit of distance and remain objective, you might also want to cross-reference this lot against our disclosure page. And who knows how this list might have looked if we’d written it yesterday, or tomorrow.

Best UK Cask Beer: St Austell Proper Job

Proper Job pump clip.After much over-thinking, we decided that we wanted to recognise a beer from one of our local breweries, of which we have drunk several pints every week, usually at the Yacht Inn in Penzance, and which consistently delighted us — that is, made us say ‘Ooh!’ and ‘Ah!’ The peachy, pithy, juicy aroma gets us every time, laid over a clean, fresh-tasting beer with no rough-edges at all. Through compromise rather than design, it’s been an American-style IPA at session strength for some years, which is now apparently all the rage. We expect to drink lots more of it in 2015.

Best UK Keg Beer: Brew By Numbers Cucumber & Juniper Saison

Brew by Numbers Cucumber and Juniper Saison.At first, we struggled to think of any keg beers we’d drunk often enough to form a strong opinion — we dabbled with a lot of one-off glasses in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and London, but didn’t go back for seconds of many or any. Then we recalled this beer which we enjoyed back in June and liked enough to seek out for a second session. A gimmicky beer from a brewery whose beers we don’t find universally brilliant, it nonetheless knocked us for six — the beer equivalent of a classic ‘fruit cup’. (We have also found it good in bottles, but not as good as from the keg.)

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Thornbridge Tzara

Thornbridge beer bottle caps.The most convincing Kölsch you’ll taste outside Cologne and, debates over style and stylistic sub-divisions aside, one of the best lager beers around. The most impressive thing about it is the malt character — solid enough to chew on. Not flashy but classy, and a real demonstration of brewing skill. (Here’s what we said back in February.)

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Bars That Brew, Brewers With Bars

When we were in the research phase of Brew Britannia during 2013 we thought we observed a nascent trend: the cutting out of middle men.

A few years ago, there was a fairly cosy relationship between brewers, bar owners and distributors serving a nascent  ‘craft beer’ (definition 2) market, each taking a slice of the cost of a third of IPA.

But brewers seem often to feel frustrated at the fact that their reputation so often relies on the care with which their product is presented by third parties — assuming, of course, that they can even get any pubs or bars to stock their beer. The building of a tap room or the acquisition of a tied pub is an obvious solution to these problems.

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Refurbishment and the Narrative of Decline

The Star Inn, aka the Star Hotel, at the top of Market Jew Street in Penzance, has taken us on an emotional roller-coaster-ride over the last couple of years.

Its location ought to have made it successful: it sits where the four central roads (Green Market, Chapel Street, Causewayhead and Market Jew Street) converge in the very centre of town, around the grand late-Georgian domed market hall. On any week-night in the summer season, groups of hungry tourists can be observed there, looking for a decent but informal place for dinner; and out of season, it’s got plenty of passing trade from shoppers.

For a long time, however, the Star was not in a position to capitalise on its location, as it was a tatty-looking pubco property with peeling paint, grubby windows, dim-lighting, and a vaguely unwelcoming air. Tourists gave it a swerve, heading (often reluctantly, we sensed) into the nearby Wetherspoons, or one of the slightly posher restaurants on Chapel Street.

Then, last year, the Star shut down and was boarded up. We tend not to get over-emotional about pubs closing but this really was a sad sight, and bad news for a town which, from some angles, can look as if it is collapsing. The pubco began to advertise for tenants, promising a refurbishment, the computer-generated images of which were at odds with the hulking wreck upon which they were mounted.

Last winter’s storms didn’t help, either, battering and drenching a building which was already crumbling until its side wall began to bulge and emergency scaffolding had to be erected to prevent an outright collapse. We spent the whole summer expecting it to be demolished.

Then, to our surprise, the promised refurbishment actually got underway. The scaffolding came down revealing fresh plasterwork and repaired stone and brick-work. Hand-painted lettering appeared on the whitewash signalling an upgrade: this was to be a pub with aspirations. It was reborn — which doesn’t feel too strong a word — at the end of November.

It’s not, frankly, our kind of pub. For one thing, the beer is unexciting — Deuchar’s IPA, Caledonian 80′ and one guest ale, alongside the usual line-up of lagers/Guinness and their extra cold variants. The décor is also rather corporate and bland, reminding us of a Greene King pub we visited in Ipswich.

Nonetheless, it is just what the town centre needs, filling an otherwise dead spot with light and life, and giving off warm vibes.  It is welcoming, has a solid mainstream offer, and is run cheerfully and efficiently. We suspect it will do well, especially with families who are not otherwise especially well served in town.

It’s also an example of how the pubs here (we can’t speak for the rest of the country) resist the narrative of decline: we haven’t noticed a single pub close and stay closed. Instead, they come back cleaner, sturdier, and better equipped to serve the modern market.

NB. This Star Inn is not to be confused with the one at Crowlas, a village near Penzance, where we go to enjoy Potion 9 when we can scrape together the bus fare.

UPDATE 08/12/2014 10:00: we remembered one! The Peruvian Arms, a back-street pub, closed a couple of years ago and has, so far, stayed shut. There have been signs of a possible refurb in the last six months, though.

QUOTE: Women in Pubs, 1968

To the Editor of A Monthly Bulletin

The inn life of England is one of the few things that makes me feel optimistic about the future. It seems to me that here there has been real progress since the war. As a woman, sometimes driving long distances alone, I now no longer need to take picnic lunches with all the paraphernalia of thermos flasks and sandwiches. I can have the fun of stopping at an attractive inn — truly they are as nice as your descriptions of them — and enjoy a drink and a sandwich, with no sense of embarrassment as a single woman in a bar. The increase in civilisation in this respect is to me quite remarkable. I remember the time when one entered a dingy tavern, smelling of stale beer only to feel an acute atmosphere of suspicion, not to say hostility. This to me is ‘progress’ in the best sense, and, therefore, very welcome indeed.

MRS. M. PHILIPS, J.P.

From the Brewers’ Society pub propaganda magazine, December 1968. (With thanks to Martyn Cornell for very kindly donating his spare copies.)

Alternate Spoons in the Craft Continuum

We went to our local Wetherspoon pub twice last weekend and found its craft makeover quite startling.

As usual, what drew us through the door in the first instance was a craving for beer that isn’t local. Oh, yes, local beer is great, and very worthy, and all that, but blimey, can it get monotonous. During the regular Spoons real ale festivals, even our fairly conservative branch usually has something pale, hoppy and from up north on offer. On this occasion, Rooster’s Union Gap, at a mere £2.25 a pint, fit the bill admirably.

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