Friday, July 29, 2011

No. 70 The Bear's Paw

Visited on 28/7/11. From ‘the Egerton’ it was up the hill, round the corner, through the estate, into the cul-de-sac, out of the cul-de-sac around the mulberry bush and along the lane to this place, our next stop on the Upton ‘grande boucle’. Despite being tucked away in the middle of God knows where, ‘the Bear’s Paw’ is another big pub – and yet again, it was absolutely packed. I dunno, maybe it’s packed every night, but the reason most people were there on this occasion was to take part in what is clearly a popular pub quiz. We reckon there were over a hundred in there – and not one of them under the age of forty five ! “Shushhhhh” “…WHAT IS PYROPHOBIA THE FEAR OF ? …THAT WAS QUESTION 73, WHAT IS PYROPHOBIA THE FEAR OF ?” * The tension was palpable, whatever that means. I was scared to get my mobile phone out for fear of being branded a cheat – and we weren’t even in the quiz ! I tell you what though – we certainly made sure we ‘qualified’ for the free butties. Very nice. Real ale is available here – Greene King Abbott or IPA and it was OK ish without being particularly inspiring I suppose. Still, it was good to see so many people out even though they were arguing about the shape of the Nepalese flag and asking for plus or minus an inch on the circumference of an association football. If I’m not mistaken there was more than a whiff of ‘Hai Karate’ in the room as well with maybe even a hint of ‘Blue Stratos’ !

* Pirates – get it down !

[Phoenix Nights for the uninitiated]   

No. 69 The Egerton Arms (Bache)

Visited on 28/7/11. From ‘the Frog’ it was a short ride down the hill to the Egerton Arms, where the current management appears to be hell bent on transforming what used to be a half decent boozer into a glorified fast-food outlet. The massive fan-shaped menus placed in the centre of every table are clearly designed to convey the message that you really should eat stuff or leave – the ‘stuff’ being sterilised pre-portioned menu items prepared off site and then nuked or deep fried on the premises. You almost feel uncomfortable just having a pint to be honest. And the ale’s nothing to write home about either – once more the ubiquitous ‘fast cask’ and flavourless Marston’s EPA (Extremely Poor Ale) was the only real ale on offer. Were there any positive aspects ? Well the staff were all very polite, it must be said. I feel sorry for them really, having to work in such a soulless place. Next…  

No. 68 The Frog

Visited on 28/7/11. Blimey, Upton’s posh. The bits we cycled through were anyway – but that’s not really reflected in the pubs, which by and large are ordinary unpretentious community locals, ‘the Frog’ being a good example. Despite having many of the trappings of a rather tired formula ‘PubCo’ pub, it’s got a few things going for it as well. For a start, it’s a nice 1930s building and the inside is well designed, spacious and tidy. It’s obviously popular and was busy when we arrived. Most importantly though, it does decent ale – on this occasion Weetwood Cheshire Cat – the old ‘Tarporley tonsil tickler’. You might want to use that in your branding Mr. Weeto if you’re looking in. Or maybe you won’t. Anyhow, we were enjoying a round in the rather pleasant beer garden and noticed that from the back the pub looks like it was once a railway station. Was this actually the case pre Dr. Beecham maybe ? Who knows ? Who cares ? Well, obviously we do or I wouldn’t have mentioned it. These things are important. As we walked back through the pub to get to the main road, I couldn’t help noticing the landlady had a bit of a miserable gob on [can I get away with that Ed ?]. Lord knows what was up with her. Maybe something to do with the fact that the pub’s up for sale. Maybe not. It would be a good one for somebody to buy and convert into a free-house though, surely. Doesn’t need much doing to it. Maybe it was just the lease that was being advertised. Bleedin’ hell, I can’t be certain. Watch this space.  

No. 67 The Wheatsheaf

Visited on 28/7/11. On a warm summer evening what better way is there to while away a couple of hours than to trundle round a few pubs on a velocipede ? Answer: There isn’t. Our tour of Upton began here at this huge community pub up near the Zoo. After some debate, we decided that this is in fact Chester’s biggest pub. It might be, it might not. Who’s going to argue ? Frankly, who cares ? Anyhow, like many similar establishments, it’s been turned into a ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ food outlet - in this case under the ‘Sizzling Pub’ brand. I’d never eat in a place like this but I guess the name suggests everything is fried. Mmm, healthy. It looks like and is branded in a similar way to No. 62 The Peacock (Flaming Grill), but there the comparison pretty much ends. For a start it’s popular – we reckoned there were about a hundred people in when we arrived. Also, the staff are more mature, polite and efficient. It’s brighter and a bit more sympathetically decorated an’ all. The only real ale on was the unremarkable, vaguely lageresque and probably ‘fast cask’ Marston’s EPA, but it was in reasonable nick to be fair. Not our kind of place, but a hundred people on a Thursday night ?! They’re obviously doing something right. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

No. 66 Kash

Visited on 14/7/11. Kash is a new bar located in the building on Brook street that used to house Donato & Sandro’s. It doesn’t have the feel of a traditional pub because the basic structure remains that of a restaurant. However, although an extensive menu is available, the focus is very much on beer. Blueball beer to be precise, as Kash is the first bar to be opened by this microbrewery from Runcorn. Two cask ales were on and that’s where we started. I’m rubbish at this beer reviewing lark because I can’t even remember what they were called, although one was a very pale and to be honest, fairly tasteless summer type ale, but the second, in contrast was a superb amber ale with a fruity aroma loaded with hops - twas excellent. What’s really interesting about Blueball though is that in common with other so-called ‘craft’ brewers, they’re quite willing to break the ‘keg taboo’ and serve beer pressurised with carbon di oxide. In fact, they insist that some beers are more suited to being served in what they term ‘the American style’. Let’s be clear on this though – Blueball keg ales are unfiltered, unpasteurised and untreated. Heineken it aint ! Four of ‘em were on offer and we went for the Zeppelin – a German style wheat beer which is absolutely superb. I’ll be honest, we had several – and at 5.5%, it’s probably a beer you shouldn’t ever drink several of ! Although we were late out and still depleted in terms of numbers due to holidays, I think it’s fair to say we had a good night ! I hope this place is a success, because the ale really is something new and exciting. Love the branding too – check out the pump label artwork. Plans are in place to extend the bar I believe – which is absolutely essential. Also, they’ve got some good promotional ideas in the pipeline such as cask ale at £2 per pint on Tuesdays. A beer festival with a German theme, provisionally named the ‘OktoberChest’ has also been suggested. Although that might have been by us. And it might have been on the way home come to think of it. Can’t really remember…

Friday, July 8, 2011

No. 65 The Custom House

Visited on 7/7/11. Back in the bad old days before the micro-brewery movement had gained any traction, ‘the Custom House’ was a dependable old school boozer where you were always guaranteed a decent pint – and a decent atmosphere as well to boot. The modernisation which has taken place since then hasn’t enhanced the place to any great extent, but nor has it ruined it. They’ve made better use of the space around the back I suppose, and most importantly they’ve kept the small room (not really a snug) at the front. Also, there’s a much wider choice of ales available now, although admittedly, they’re all still from the Marston’s stable - Marston’s Pedigree, Marston’s EPA (see ‘Fat Cat’), Jennings Cumberland ale, Jennings Cocker Hoop and Wychwood Hobgoblin all being present. Between us we tried the lot - apart from the EPA obviously. They were all in good nick an’ all, with the Cocker Hoop probably coming out on top. This place might have lost some of it’s character, but it remains an oasis of traditional pub culture in a city centre street that’s increasingly becoming a wine bar quarter. We’ll get to the more ‘clubby’ establishments at a later date no doubt …might have to wear cravats. 

No. 64 The Fat Cat

Visited on 7/7/11. Heading into town but still on lower Watergate street, we arrived at ‘the Fat Cat’, a wine bar-cum-bistro sort of affair. I seem to recall that it used to be more of a drinking venue, but now very much has the feel of a restaurant about it. In fact, the first thing we were asked (very courteously by the way) was whether or not we’d be eating. We said no and ordered up a round of the only real ale they had on, despite there being three handpumps on the bar. The ale in question was Marstons EPA – an interesting brew. Interesting in that it’s almost completely devoid of taste, despite being described in various notes as ‘hoppy’, ‘zingy’ and all sorts of other such rubbish. Fact is, it’s a real ale brewed to simulate lager, with a view presumably, to winning over customers who prefer severely uninteresting and mass marketed beer styles. Not quite us then. It was as hot as hell in there as well. Gawd knows what it’s like in the summer. Oh hang on…

No. 63 The Watergate Inn

Visited on 7/7/11. This pub is built adjacent to the racecourse, so it lives a double life. On race days it will be packed to the hilt, and the rest of the time it lies quiet. Very quiet. In fact, when we arrived, it was empty. Also, there didn’t appear to be any sign of initiatives underway aimed at attracting punters in between meetings – no bands or quizzes advertised for example. Perhaps the race days generate sufficient income and they don’t have to try the rest of the time. There are certainly plenty of them in the calendar these days. It’s an attractive building from the outside, but when you walk through the door, it all looks a bit shabby. We sat in a sort of bench-seated alcove. The seats were broken and the table was sticky. However, there is one major thing that rescues this place to some extent and that’s the ale - just a single  handpump on the bar, but it was dispensing the highly acceptable Titanic Sundeck – a dry, hoppy summer beer. Most pleasant. We almost stayed for a second round in fact. Almost.

Friday, July 1, 2011

We're back ! CBP at the Little Oak Beer Festival

Visited on 30/6/11. Despite the fact that it was a bit quiet when we visited this place in April (No. 33), we decided to give it another go when we heard they were having a beer festival. Good decision. Excellent decision in fact. I think it’s fair to say that first and foremost, on the CBP we’re a bunch of miserable bastards, so fulsome praise doesn’t come easily. However, after spending an absolutely cracking evening in here on what was the festival’s opening night, it’s difficult to be in any way critical. It really was a very well organised event – the perfect small beer festival in fact. So, let’s start with the ale. A special bar fitted with cask stillage, coolers and handpumps had been constructed on the back patio and a dozen ales were available here, plus 3 coiderrs. This was complimented by a further 4 or 5 ales at the normal bar. So none of that luke warm cloudy swill dribbling out of barrels nonsense. The selection of ales was impressive and covered most styles, ranging from conventional session bitters, through ruby and amber ales to high octane IPAs. A mild, a stout and a porter were thrown in for good measure and local microbreweries were well represented. Gladiator from Chester Ales is an old fashioned session bitter and was a good place to start, but a couple of early highlights were Gypsy’s Kiss and the Little Oak Special, a beer brewed for the occasion – both by local microbrewery WC. Sadly, this is the last time WC beers will be seen in public, as this most micro of microbreweries has now closed it’s doors. Inevitably though, whenever it is present, it’s impossible to ignore the legend that is Thornbridge Jaipur and sure enough, by ten o’clock we’d racked up the first round. That’s where it finished for the Captain Sensible wing of the CBP, but for the others, just one pint of this near perfect ale was never going to be enough. As a consequence, one or two of us were more than a little ‘Jaipured’ by the time we left. The live music for the occasion was provided by Thom Kirkpatrick with his 21st century one-man band – a unique and highly entertaining act and a cut above your average pub singer. After 5 minutes, I gave up figuring out how he managed to sing his own backing vocals and play a guitar without touching it. We simply watched and listened in awe. Electronic wizardry or smoke and mirrors ? I don’t care. It was great stuff. All in all this was a fantastic event and it just goes to show what imaginative people can achieve when they’re allowed to break free, albeit temporarily, from the yoke of the Pubco. Rumour has it that there’ll be another Little Oak beer festival before the end of the year. I certainly hope so and indeed if this is the case, you can rest assured we’ll be back. Again.