The best pub in Britain, according to Twitter

On Saturday night, Tony Naylor declared the Old Bridge, Ripponden, ‘arguably Britain’s best pub’:

That prompt­ed us to ask our Twit­ter fol­low­ers, slight­ly mis­chie­vous­ly, we must admit, to place their votes for Britain’s best pub.

When the replies start­ed to tum­ble in, we realised the results might actu­al­ly be some­what mean­ing­ful, as cer­tain pubs got mul­ti­ple votes, and the names of cool-sound­ing pubs we’d nev­er vis­it­ed popped up.

So, we’ve decid­ed to sort through the answers and turn them into a to-do list.

Notes

We dis­count­ed pubs that nom­i­nat­ed them­selves, obvi­ous­ly.

There were a sur­pris­ing num­ber of votes for Orwell’s the Moon Under Water, or sim­i­lar­ly whim­si­cal per­fect pubs of the imag­i­na­tion. Love­ly stuff but basi­cal­ly a smart-arsed way of cop­ping out of answer­ing.

Where peo­ple named mul­ti­ple pubs, we’ve ignored all but the first one men­tioned in their Tweet. That’ll teach ’em.

We noticed one satir­i­cal answer – the Wether­spoon in Pre­ston that was con­tro­ver­sial­ly named best pub in town last week – but oth­ers might have slipped through the net.

The list

First, here’s a list of all the pubs that got more than one nom­i­na­tion – a very decent list, which over­laps with our per­son­al favourites to some degree.

  1. The Great West­ern, Wolver­hamp­ton
  2. The Hope, Car­shal­ton
  3. The Grove, Hud­der­s­field
  4. The Free Trade Inn, New­cas­tle
  5. The Bell, Ald­worth
  6. The Old Ship, Sea­hous­es
  7. The Ship & Mitre, Liv­er­pool

(We real­ly must get to the Hope. This is get­ting embar­rass­ing.)

Now, here’s the full list.

You might not like every pub sug­gest­ed but the point is, to some­one, some­where, these pubs were spe­cial enough to war­rant a response, which means they’re prob­a­bly at least worth stick­ing a nose into if you find your­self in the area.

On Lists

Collage: nine pubs.

We contributed to a list that appeared in the Guardian yesterday in a special travel supplement billed as The 50 Best UK Pubs.

As these things always do, it has gen­er­at­ed some pas­sion­ate com­men­tary – why only three pubs in Scot­land? Why only one in Birm­ing­ham, or the whole of Sus­sex? Why not my local, or the pub run?

And we haven’t dared look a the com­ments sec­tion online – that’s just what we’ve gleaned from Twit­ter.

Although we’ve writ­ten plen­ty of lists our­selves…

…this is the first time we’ve been involved in one of these big pieces in a nation­al pub­li­ca­tion and it’s been inter­est­ing to see the work­ings from the inside, so we thought we’d share a few obser­va­tions.

Fifty pubs isn’t many

Why only one pub in [LOCATION]? Why only [NUMBER] in [REGION]?

Inter­est­ing ques­tions. We took a moment to do the sums on this: it’s because 50 pubs equates to about half a pub for each UK coun­ty, or 0.6 pubs for every town/city with a pop­u­la­tion over 100,000.

That means that inevitably some places are going to get left out, and even those that are list­ed are going to feel under­rep­re­sent­ed to peo­ple who know them well.

The list has to be man­age­able, too. Most pubs are impor­tant or spe­cial in some way, to some­one, but soon­er or lat­er you have to get off the fence and give a straight answer: if you’ve only got so much time, don’t go there, go here.

And that’s before you take into account oth­er require­ments of a list like this, i.e. the need for geo­graph­i­cal spread, and to cater to a range of tastes.

Not ‘the best’

Even if the head­line says The Best, and the accom­pa­ny­ing social media, and even if that’s what we’re all con­di­tioned to assume a list rep­re­sents…

Scott Aukerman's chronological list of Star Wars films to which someone replies "WRONG" assuming it is a ranking.

…peo­ple who write these things nev­er intend them to be that, because how could they be? Pubs are even more sub­jec­tive than, say, films, or books.

They can feel dif­fer­ent on Wednes­day lunchtime than Fri­day evening. Some are great in tourist sea­son but ter­ri­ble out, and vice ver­sa. Between a reviewer’s vis­it and pub­li­ca­tion they can change beer list, staff, man­age­ment or own­er­ship.

But The Best is just how head­lines and titles work, like it or not – full of superla­tives and hyper­bole, bold and punchy.

When we’re writ­ing here on the blog, where we are our own edi­tors, we can afford to be more sub­tle, using “our favourites” and oth­er codes intend­ed to con­vey that your mileage may vary.

But we’d get more clicks if we said The Best, and prob­a­bly more again for The Worst. Nation­al news­pa­pers, which rely on traf­fic and clicks, can’t afford to be so snooti­ly high-mind­ed.

Not just about beer

If you think it’s all about beer, most lists like this are going to dis­ap­point you. We think a pub with no excit­ing beer can still be a great pub. It can cer­tain­ly have a great view, or a great Sun­day roast, or deep his­to­ry, and so on.

Arti­cles in nation­al news­pa­pers aren’t aimed at hard­core beer geeks.

The usual suspects

There’s a rea­son the same pubs crop up on these lists time and again: they are pubs that lots of writ­ers gen­uine­ly like, and that there’s there­fore good rea­son to sus­pect lots of oth­er peo­ple will also like them.

We’ve been to lots of pubs we kind of liked, and found kind of inter­est­ing, but we wouldn’t dream of send­ing any­one else there with­out a lot of caveats.

Write your own list

It’s become a bit of a cliche to bat away crit­i­cism with a vari­a­tion on: “This is my list. If you don’t like it, write your own.”

But that is lit­er­al­ly a thing any­one can do.

Not enough Birm­ing­ham pubs on the list? We’d love to read and book­mark any take on Top Ten Birm­ing­ham Pubs.

(But a list of every halfway decent pub in Birm­ing­ham is basi­cal­ly use­less – you have to be cru­el and leave some out or it’s just the Yel­low Pages.)

Not enough “unsung pubs”? That’s a great idea for an arti­cle – which are the best pubs that nev­er get on to these lists? And what is it about them the pre­vents them achiev­ing wide acclaim?

Lists are nonsense

We nev­er take lists seri­ous­ly. They’re fun, a par­tic­u­lar angle on the world that you can enjoy for a moment, then ignore.

Or, of course, rail against. That’s the most fun of all.

These are a Few of our Favourite Pubs

Over a few beers the other week we found ourselves making a list of pubs we love and find ourselves longing to be in.

It’s not The Best Pubs, it’s not a Top Ten, it’s just some pubs we like enough to feel wist­ful for. We’ve been tin­ker­ing with it since and decid­ed to share it.

Brains bitter at the City Arms, Cardiff.
The City Arms, Cardiff

10–12 Quay St, CF10 1EA
This is, in fact, the pub where we had the con­ver­sa­tion. It was our first vis­it but love at first pint. The per­fect mix of old school, new school, cask and keg, it just felt com­plete­ly right to us. Worn in and unpre­ten­tious, but not cur­mud­geon­ly, and serv­ing a rev­e­la­to­ry point of Brains Bit­ter. (Not SA.) Is it an insti­tu­tion? We assume it’s an insti­tu­tion.

The Brunswick, Derby.
The Brunswick Inn, Derby

1 Rail­way Ter­race, DE1 2RU
We loved this first time, and it’s still great. Flag­stones, pale cask ale, cradling cor­ners, a view over the rail­way, and the mur­mur of love­ly local accents. Worth break­ing a train jour­ney for.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “These are a Few of our Favourite Pubs”

The Most Important British Craft Beers?

British beer bottle cap.

In response to an article listing ‘The 25 Most Important American Craft Beers’ Michael Lally at Bush Craft Beer has challenged his readers to think about what might be on a Brit-centric version of that list:

I think we can define ‘craft’ rel­a­tive­ly loose­ly and ‘impor­tant’ in a sim­i­lar way to our US col­leagues: It’s one that either changed con­sumer tastes or how brew­eries approach mak­ing beer. There are a few obvi­ous ones: Punk IPA by Brew­dog, Jaipur by Thorn­bridge, ESB by Fullers.

There’s a sur­vey you can respond to includ­ing space to make your own sug­ges­tions but here’s some food for thought from us.

1. Traquair House Ale (1965)

Arguably the very first ‘micro­brew­ery’ was Traquair House which com­menced pro­duc­tion in 1965. It demon­strat­ed that it was pos­si­ble for small brew­eries to be opened despite pre­vail­ing indus­try trends, and also that small inde­pen­dent brew­eries could often do more inter­est­ing things than their bit­ter- and lager-focused Big Six peers – this beer was (and is) at a hefty ABV and very rich.

2. Litchborough Bitter (1974)

Anoth­er brew­ery with a strong claim to being the first micro­brew­ery was Bill Urquhart’s Litch­bor­ough based in the vil­lage of that name near Northamp­ton. The beer itself doesn’t seem to have been espe­cial­ly excit­ing but the busi­ness mod­el, and Mr Urquhart’s mentoring/consultancy, direct­ly inspired the micro­brew­ery boom that fol­lowed.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Most Impor­tant British Craft Beers?”

A Mixed Case of History

British beer bottle cap.

If you were to go to your local spe­cial­ist beer shop or an online beer retail­er you could put togeth­er quite an inter­est­ing mixed case of rea­son­ably easy-to-find beers which would each tell part of the sto­ry of ‘alter­na­tive’ British beer in the last fifty years.

1. Wor­thing­ton White Shield (India Pale Ale) – one of a hand­ful of ‘bot­tle-con­di­tioned’ or ‘sed­i­ment’ beers remain­ing by the sev­en­ties and an inspi­ra­tion behind the IPA boom of the last twen­ty or so years. Alter­na­tives: this was the emer­gency pur­chase for a real ale drinker in a keg-only pub; after White Shield, they’d resort to Guin­ness, so maybe that?

2. Courage Impe­r­i­al Russ­ian Stout – anoth­er bot­tle-con­di­tioned sur­vivor of the sev­en­ties, new­ly res­ur­rect­ed, which held the torch for impe­r­i­al stout through a peri­od when bit­ter was king. Alter­na­tives: Harvey’s Impe­r­i­al Extra Dou­ble Stout.

3. Chi­may Red – one of the first real­ly excit­ing ‘world beers’ import­ed into the UK. To bet­ter appre­ci­ate it, imag­ine that you have only ever tast­ed about six beers in total in your entire life, five of which were bit­ters between 3% and 3.8% ABV. Alter­na­tives: West­malle Dubbel.

4. Theakston’s Old Peculi­er – the cult beer of the nine­teen-sev­en­ties, sold at a pre­mi­um in the hippest real ale pubs, and renowned for its ter­ri­fy­ing strength. (5.6% ABV doesn’t seem so scary today.)

5. Anchor Steam – by the end of the sev­en­ties, the coolest import­ed beer in Britain, wow­ing vis­i­tors at the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val in 1979 with its sim­i­lar­i­ty to Eng­lish beer (brown!) and dis­sim­i­lar­i­ty to Bud­weis­er. Alter­na­tives: Ger­man Alt­bier was also very cool at around this time for the same rea­sons.

6. But­combe Bit­ter – a sur­viv­ing exam­ple of a late sev­en­ties ‘real ale rev­o­lu­tion’ bit­ter. We don’t know the recipe, but, hav­ing spo­ken to Mar­tin Sykes from Sel­by and Patrick Fitz­patrick from Godson’s, a theme begins to emerge: pale malt with a lit­tle black for colour; Fug­gles and Gold­ings hops; yeast from the back door of a larg­er region­al brew­ery.

7. Rams­gate Brew­ery (Gadd’s) Dog­bolter– one of David ‘Firkin’ Bruce’s most famous beers was Dog­bolter. Every Firkin brew­er made it dif­fer­ent­ly aim­ing for a broad spec­i­fi­ca­tion of ‘heavy and dark’, and Eddie Gadd, who learned to brew with Firkin, con­tin­ues to make it to his per­son­al recipe.

8. Hop­back Sum­mer Light­ning – if not the first ‘gold­en’ ale, then at least the one that inspired both Sean Franklin and Bren­dan Dob­bin to brew ‘pale and hop­py’. Alter­na­tive: Exmoor Gold.

9. Sier­ra Neva­da Pale Ale – the oth­er key inspi­ra­tion behind ‘pale and hop­py’ cask ales. Again, it helps if you can imag­ine that you’ve nev­er tast­ed Cas­cade hops before – per­haps spend a week drink­ing John Smith’s bit­ter to recal­i­brate your palate?

10. Rooster’s Yan­kee – an ear­ly ‘pale and hop­py’, now brewed by Sean Franklin’s suc­ces­sors at the brew­ery he found­ed in the mid-nineties.

11. Free­dom Lager – arguably the first ‘craft lager’, in the sense that it was as much about pack­ag­ing and pre­sen­ta­tion as it was the beer. Orig­i­nal­ly brewed by Alas­tair Hook in West Lon­don, we can’t vouch for how close­ly its cur­rent incar­na­tion match­es the orig­i­nal, but still… Alter­na­tives: Mean­time Pil­sner or Lon­don Lager.

12. Nether­gate Umbel Ale – there were a few brew­eries exper­i­ment­ing with Bel­gian-inspired ingre­di­ents in the nineties and Umbel, which con­tains corian­der, is a sur­viv­ing exam­ple of that trend. Alter­na­tives: St Austell Cloud­ed Yel­low.

13. Anchor Lib­er­ty IPA – first brewed in 1975 one of the influ­ences upon the resur­gence of IPA in the UK from the mid-nineties. We’ve seen peo­ple ask if it’s become less bit­ter and aro­mat­ic: the answer is, prob­a­bly not, but it cer­tain­ly has a lot more com­pe­ti­tion these days. Alter­na­tives: Goose Island IPA.

14. St Austell Prop­er Job IPA – like a lot of peo­ple, much as we love it, we thought this was a big region­al brew­ery jump­ing on the US-influ­enced IPA band­wag­on. In fact, it was one of the ear­li­est such beers to appear in the UK. Alter­na­tives: Marston’s Old Empire, Thorn­bridge Jaipur.

15. Brew­dog Hard­core IPA – inspired by US brew­ery Stone in every detail down to the label blurb, this is a great exam­ple of the IPA esca­la­tion which took place after 2005.

16. Wild Beer Co. Ninkasi – the end of beer as we know it? Made with ten per cent apple juice and, fer­ment­ed with wild yeast, and pre­sent­ed like cham­pagne, it’s no won­der the brew­ers refer to it, rather point­ed­ly, as a ‘cel­e­bra­to­ry drink’. (Dis­clo­sure.)

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we don’t think there is a sin­gle online retail­er which stocks all of these beers, but Beer Ritz has sev­er­al, as does Beer Mer­chants.

Notes:

  • This isn’t a list of the best beers or best brew­eries; if we’ve not men­tioned a beer or brew­ery, it doesn’t mean we don’t like them.
  • Some of these beers are very dif­fer­ent to when they were first brewed.
  • We’re still research­ing some of this, hence the vague­ness in places.
  • It’s OBVIOUSLY not com­pre­hen­sive.
  • It slight­ly defeats the object to drink beers from the ‘real ale rev­o­lu­tion’ from the bot­tle rather than on cask…