On a recent business trip to Cheshire, I got billetted in Frodsham. My taxi driver volunteered the information that the pubs in town were decent and recommended the Helter Skelter.
It’s pointedly a “real ale pub” but with an extremely mixed clientele and a genuinely relaxed atmosphere. There were lots of lads and ladies drinking lager, some middle-aged couples on a double date, a few old ladies on a night out and, of course, a huddle of men with beards having an earnest conversation over a notebook.
The beer was in astoundingly good condition. Phoenix’s West Coast IPA offered a late taste of summer and lived up to its marketing (a weaker Liberty Ale?) and Dark Star Espresso Stout was sweeter and chewier than from the bottle.
The beer was served with a sparkler, as you’d expect in that part of the world, but here it just seemed to give the head some body without turning it into shaving foam. I’m coming round to the idea.
What is this pub getting right? Friendly staff, for one thing. Lots of information, for another — a board behind the bar with a guide to the colour of the beers on offer is a stroke of genius. It helps that they’re not trying to beervangelise to anyone: there are no scary signs telling people off for not liking real ale, for example, and you can get a pint of Stella if that’s what you want.
And a bit of quiet background music doesn’t hurt, either.