pubs Somerset

Drinking with Dad in the backstreets of Highbridge

Drinking ale with my dad in a down-to-earth backstreet pub in a small town in Somerset was just what I needed, it turns out.

Dad’s been unwell for large chunks of the past year. Lying awake in the small hours fretting about him, I frequently found myself thinking: “What if we’ve had our last trip to the pub together?”

In Brighton a couple of months ago we did make it to the pub, and made the best of it, but he still wasn’t himself, and needed a wheelchair to get around. I wondered if he’d only come out for my sake.

But there have been encouraging signs in the past few weeks. The wheelchair has gone into storage and he’s started eating, as Mum says, like a bloody horse.

When I went down to Somerset on Saturday to take them out for lunch, however, I was still expecting that we’d have one or two drinks as we ate, and that would be it.

Instead, he did something so characteristically himself that I could have cried: he decided, out of the blue, that we were going to visit some pubs, and started issuing directions to Mum, our designated driver.

First, we checked out a country pub that used to have good Butcombe Bitter a decade or so ago. But it was a wash-out – simultaneously pretentious, and grotty, with all the atmosphere of a council storage shed. The passive-aggressive signs on every surface did nothing to help.

Dad was not in the mood for giving up, though. “I know where we’re going,” he said. “The Globe.”

“In Highbridge?” asked Mum. “Is it even still there?”

I was able to confirm that, yes, it is, having walked past it on Boxing Day – the first time I’d ever noticed it, despite having spent some time living in Highbridge as a kid.

Highbridge is an old railway and market town which has been absorbed into nearby Burnham-on-Sea.

And The Globe is a simple Victorian building surrounded by a new red-brick housing estate, on a road that doesn’t really go anywhere.

As we pulled up outside it was immediately clear that, if nothing else, this pub would be more lively than the previous one. The picnic tables on the pavement outside were crowded with people enjoying the spring sunshine, smoking, vaping, and laughing with each other.

Inside, it’s dominated by TVs and a pool table. The floor has bare boards and the walls and ceiling are decorated with:

  • football memorabilia, mostly Liverpool FC
  • joke signs
  • pictures of Elvis
  • electric guitars

Almost everyone was drinking lager but there was a single cask ale pump which Dad zeroed in on. He was disappointed not to find Butcombe Bitter but Cheddar Ales Gorge Best would do. The pints we were served were topped with an inch or so of beautiful froth.

We took a table a little distance from the bar and Dad turned to watch the football. Then he tasted the beer and turned back to me with a look of absolute delight on his face. He declared it a good pint. A little after that, he declared it a good pub, too.

Mum told me that they used to drink there 40 years ago, when I was small, if they could convince my grandparents to babysit. Highbridge has never had many pubs but there was just about a crawl, if they included hotel bars.

Some of the people in the pub also looked as if they’d been drinking there for 40 years, possibly continuously. I was pleased to hear the traditional local greeting “‘Ow be on?” delivered in earnest for the first time in years.

By my frame of reference, it felt like a Bridgwater pub: not ‘rough’, although I suspect some might read it that way, but straightforward, without pretence.

And yet it was also spotlessly clean, especially the gents toilet, which had a selection of aftershave and deodorant, along with proper soap, boiling hot water, and a functional hand dryer. (This should not feel like a pleasant surprise.)

The other killer feature? Pints of exceptionally good cask ale, in exceptionally good condition, were £3.50.

That’s probably why, after Mum had said we ought to be going, then went to the toilet, Dad leapt up and rushed to the bar to line up two more pints before she could get back, like a naughty kid. And watching him swagger up to the counter I thought, “There he is, he’s back.”

We’re going to take Jess sometime, and play euchre, though I doubt she’ll feel quite as at home as Mum and Dad, or as me. It’s the kind of pub I grew up in, and around, and doesn’t have a hint of London about it.

But then there are pubs Jess likes where I don’t feel completely at ease, which I believe she’s going to write about soon.

beer reviews bottled beer Somerset

Saisons Pt 9: We Lied, But This Really Is it

This is absolutely, positively, really the last of the UK-brewed saisons we’re planning to taste before the big final ‘taste off’ and the subject is Cheddar Ales Firewitch.

“Seriously — this is still going!?” We meant to wrap up before we took our month off but… didn’t. And then, mucking about in Somerset, we came across bottles of Firewitch, and realised we’d have to include it. That’s not least because Adrian Tierney-Jones told us we really ought to. (He has written about it here and, we believe, will be including it in his tasting session at GBBF.)

We bought three 500ml bottles of this 4.8% ABV beer @ £2.50 each from the tiny shop attached to Millwhite’s Cider Farm in Rooksbridge, Somerset, not far from where it is brewed. The first we drank the same day, without taking notes, but had a strong gut reaction: THIS IS GOOD STUFF.

Ray Stantz from Ghostbusters in 'ecto goggles'.
Beer-tasting apparatus.

Back home, several weeks later, with our protective beer-tasting and hint-and-note-recording apparatus in place, that reaction was the same. Even being poured into two glasses from one bottle, it stayed pretty clear — the haze in the photo above is mostly condensation — and was an appealing golden colour. The carbonation was high but there was no fizzing or gushing, and the head was almost chewily stable.

The backbone of this beer’s flavour is pithy, bracing, citric bitterness: grapefruit, we thought. (But not in the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing ‘juicy banger‘ sense — more as in ‘Blimey, this is a bit much at breakfast time!’). It might possibly be too bitter for some, in fact. There was also some dry-porridge-oat, bran-flake cereal character, and a touch of plain salt and pepper that it would be a bit much to call ‘spiciness’.

It wouldn’t quite pass for Belgian but nor is it a wacky ‘reinvention’ of anything — it’s just a solid, tasteful, practical beer that we could easily spend a whole evening drinking, especially given its very civilised alcoholic strength. It’s a definite contender.

Somerset and saison are a good match, we reckon. It’s an industrial-rural county where, in summer, dust, pollen and motorway pollution get in your throat. Cider can deal with that, of course, but beer with a touch of funk and a bit of fizz is perfect as well.

Next up in this series, a footnote: we’re going to taste a couple of Belgian saisons and some American ones to calibrate before the final event.