Stumbling Upon a Gem

Sandford Park Alehouse

We went to Cheltenham to look at buildings and so did no research whatsoever into pubs and beer, but luck was on our side when we found the Sandford Park Alehouse.

After an hour or two’s nos­ing around, we even­tu­al­ly got hun­gry and thirsty, at which point, we saw a sign out­side a plain-look­ing, white-paint­ed build­ing: CHEESE TOASTIES £4.99. ‘That’ll do,’ we said, and went in.

Imme­di­ate­ly, our Spidey-sens­es began to tin­gle: a map of Bel­gium? As in the coun­try where the beer comes from? Our first glimpse of the bar con­firmed our sus­pi­cion: some­how, we had man­aged to stum­ble upon Chel­tenham’s own ‘craft beer bar’.

Sandford Park Alehouse: bar.

A bright, airy, mul­ti-room pub with décor just cosy enough to pre­vent it feel­ing ster­ile, enlivened con­sid­er­ably by maps on every wall. It remind­ed us, in fact, of Cask in Pim­li­co before it got its cor­po­rate makeover.

There was also lots of beer, though the selec­tion was­n’t as large as at some bet­ter-known bars, and was per­haps also (thank­ful­ly?) a touch more con­ser­v­a­tive. A row of hand pumps offered cask ales from mul­ti­ple Gold­en Pint nom­i­nees Oakham, among oth­ers. We could­n’t fault the con­di­tion of Oakham Cit­ra or Crouch Vale Brew­er’s Gold, though we wish we had­n’t drunk them in that order. (You can’t come back down the hop-lad­der.)

zwicklThe real high­light was a kegged beer from Ger­many, via a row of taps behind the bar. Bayreuther Bier­brauerei Zwickl, at £3.90 a pint, did­n’t seem exor­bi­tant­ly priced (we pay £3.40+ for Doom Bar in Pen­zance) but we hes­i­tat­ed until the bar­man leaned over con­spir­a­to­ri­al­ly and said, ‘It’s served in one of these’, wav­ing a nar­row, han­dled ceram­ic mug. ‘Peo­ple who like this beer real­ly love it,’ he told us, and he was right. It was a Bavar­i­an hol­i­day in a jug – a lit­tle sweet­ness, gen­tle lemon-rind notes, and just enough dry­ness at the end to prompt anoth­er swig. It was prob­a­bly (inten­tion­al­ly) cloudy, but we could­n’t tell, and did­n’t care.

Once we’d got com­fort­able under a fas­ci­nat­ing map of the Mid­dle East, it was hard to move, and we drank one more than we had intend­ed as we observed the crowd. The peo­ple around us were a lit­tle more mid­dle-aged and tweedy than at the ‘craft’ places in Bris­tol, per­haps, but then that might just be Chel­tenham. We, hurtling into mid­dle age (though not yet into tweed), felt quite at home.

On the basis of this first vis­it, it felt as if the Sand­ford Park Ale­house might as well have been designed with us in mind, and, when we vis­it Chel­tenham again, it will be with the spe­cif­ic inten­tion of ver­i­fy­ing that feel­ing with a sec­ond equal­ly lengthy ses­sion in the same cosy cor­ner.

The Sand­ford Park Ale­house is at 20 High Street, ten min­utes walk from the city cen­tre, and 30 min­utes from the sta­tion.

16 thoughts on “Stumbling Upon a Gem”

  1. Aktien Zwickl was one of my favourite every­day quaf­fers in Ger­many, along with the same brew­ery’s Aktien Land­bier Frankisch Dunkel. The stein’s nice too!

  2. Hur­rah for tweed. Also I think that’s what I liked about the place, it felt like a good Chel­tenham pub that also hap­pened to offer qual­i­ty craft beer, rather than being a designed ‘des­ti­na­tion’ – The Brew­er’s Gold was dead good as was the oth­er Oakham beer, and next time will def­i­nite­ly give the food a try, espe­cial­ly the cheeses­teak.

  3. Now this is use­ful. I may need to do a mis­sion to Chel­tenham soon so will keep this in my back pock­et.

    I am read­ing your blog for the first time in years and am leav­ing com­ments on all the posts. It will get annoy­ing I’m sure.

    1. These days, it’s Ray Bai­ley and Jes­si­ca Boak. Pseu­do­nyms orig­i­nal­ly because we both had employ­ers who weren’t keen on staff blog­ging; now it’s most­ly because, hav­ing invest­ed eight years in them, it’d be daft to try to pro­mote a book with­out them.

  4. looks great, well done. Great sub­ject mat­ter. I had­n’t heard hide nor hair from you two for years, not until you very kind­ly sent me that scan of the pub guide fea­tur­ing the Fin­bor­ough to my twit­ter account! I was­n’t aware you’d moved away from Lon­don – at least I know now you weren’t just avoid­ing the Gun­nies!

  5. Looks like a real­ly good place. I don’t know Chel­tenham, in fact I’ve nev­er set foot in the place, but if I’m ever down that way, I’ll def­i­nite­ly call in.

  6. Moved from Chel­tenham about 18 ago months ago, not long before the SPA opened. Been back a cou­ple of times and enjoyed the beer there great­ly. Good town for nice, com­fort­able booz­ers, can be hard to find the exot­ic or new wave ‘craft’ brew­eries but some of the good local stuff from Prescott, Hob­sons, Wye Val­ley, Puri­ty, Cotswold Spring etc is usu­al­ly on tap some­where and in good con­di­tion.

    Did you get round to vis­it­ing Favourite Beers, an excel­lent bot­tle shop about 5 mins walk from the SPA?

    1. No, we did­n’t make it to Favourite Beers – had bought too many books so no room for lug­ging bot­tles about, and we have a decent shop in Truro now, any­way.

Comments are closed.