A real ale pub that doesn’t feel weird

Dark Star Espresso Stout
Dark Star Espresso Stout

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.

Good call.

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.

Bailey

13 thoughts on “A real ale pub that doesn’t feel weird”

  1. Oh, don’t worry — I’m going to be up in that area lots in the coming months, and did clock the Netherton as a prospect.

  2. Makes me feel reet proud when our Northern hostelries get appreciated. Tis true we’ve had beer colour boards for many a year round this way. Another thing London could do with?

    The Slide (as the HS is locally known as), is a great pub which, sadly, doesn’t feature in the GBG. The name refers to the attraction that use to be at the top of Frodsham Hill.

    Netherton Hall is very pleasant-I’ve got a picture of Tandleman stuffing his face sat outside, just to prove it! However, IMO, we lost a valuable guest ale outlet when Lees took it over.

  3. Tyson — long time no, er, see. Why isn’t it in GBG, do you know? We heard about a pub in London that’s apparently got tons of real ale but isn’t included either, though loads of absolutely toss pubs are.

  4. A very good question. And sadly, one I don’t know the answer to. The mysteries and motives of Camra run deep and all that…

  5. I don’t hold out much hope of an answer to this – Cheshire is way off piste for me. I have sent carrier pigeons to the North West for comment.

    Even if it were in London, I probably would not know explicitly why an individual pub made it into the book and another did not. I would have to ask the local branch for comment and even then could not guarantee an answer that would satisfy the missing pub or its fans.

    However, on a more general point, the GBG often throws up this sort of thing – one often comes across a great pub that does not make the cut for whatever reason.

    Generally I think that pubs with quality real ale are improving and increasing in number, the book can only take about 4,500 – less than 10% of Britain’s pub population.

    Like pub of the year judging, it is never an exact science. Sometimes there might even be selection mistakes. I still think the GBG gives an overall good spread of pubs where good beer can be found and I always use it ahead of any other guide when travelling.

    Cheers, Steve (CAMRA Regional Director, London)

  6. Steve — thanks for an illuminating response. I must admit that I’d assumed any pub with real ale made it in by default because there are so many Wetherspoons and Greene King pubs in there, many of which I know from experience aren’t that great. But, yes, we wouldn’t be without our copy for all that, and do use it a lot when we’re going to places we don’t know well.

  7. Carrier pigeon has e-returned. I think the most appropriate way to make that information known is to write a more general post on my blog. I will cover this in the next couple of days. Steve

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