I have been out and about a few times since I came home from the other side of the world and intend to tell you what beery delights I have found.
On Wednesday I was meeting Christingpher, from the world of illustration, in the Bath Hotel. It was to be my first pint of delicious UK real ale in over 9 days and I was looking forward to it. So much so that I arrived early, and had a quick chat with the barman, as well as ordering a pint.
Thornbridge wise there was Kipling, Brother Rabbit, and St Petersburg, with Puja, Versa and Tsara on Keykeg. Guests included Saltaire Cascadian Black and Harbour brewing co Light, plus Sheffield Blanco Blonde. I had heard good things about Harbour beers but was worried that my first foray back into British real ale might supply me with more malt and less hops than the Craft Pilsner what with the brewery's Cornish origins. So I opted for a taste. As it turned out it was 3.6%, with some malt but a pleasant dry bitterness in the finish, so I had a pint. A perfect starter.
Christingpher meanwhile turned up to set out his stall early on - he had a pint of St Petersburg. I tried some of his and now know for certain that it really isn't the beer that Thornbridge started out with - its all a bit modern hoppy stout rather than traditional Russian dreadnought, and its lost some of the balance of the flag bearer original. Shame.
Next I tried the Cascadian Balck which I had enjoyed at Magna but it was poor, and I also, by way of comparison, tasted the Thornbridge Kipling, and Brother Rabbit. Largely underwhelmed by the tide of safe tired flavours that morphed rather than mingled in the Rabbit, I was even more despondent about ex hoppy beer Kipling. Now, like Jaipur, it seems destined to be a malty golden ale with no citrus hops. Jesus wept.
A pint of Versa saved the day, being as it was brilliant, and Christingpher sensibly opted for half of water after finishing his hoppy stout. My third choice, having dismissed all of the real ale options, and not fancying Puja, was a bottle of Halcyon. Thats right. A bottle. Even this was hazy, perhaps evidence of too much hop debris, but where Kipling, Jaipur and others fail, Halcyon continues to impress. That a bottle was the best beer on offer was a shame, although the Harbour Light was pleasant enough.
Thursday found me in the 3 Cranes Queen Street prior to a business meeting at Shakespeares. Lustin for stout from Blue Bee tempted me as always, but as soon as someone mentioned Cavendish it was settled - a pint of Welbeck Abbey brewery's finest in a handled glass followed.
I enjoyed this brew talking to regulars Leighton and Gareth, along with London based Paul who was filling in 3 hours awaiting his train, on subjects as diverse as diabetes glassware and Stones bitter. Another excellent visit was capped off with a half of Proper Ansome from Clearwater Brewery in, erm, well is it Devon or Cornwall?. Either way, it was, although pleasant, decidedly Cornish in style, and despite its descriptor, not exactly dark. Nae mind.
At Shakesperares Fluffy joined me for important talks and we had a couple of beers from a decent range, although one or two too many Osset offerings were proffered. I had a pint of Abbeydale Deception to start and an excellent pint of Ascot Ales Anastasia stout. This is the weaker 5.0% version but lacked some of the rounded sweeter malt of the one I tried at the Kelham Island Tavern, but it was still a nice drop.
Dada next, Jamie and Emily were in residence, but another cask ale disappointment prevailed. I spotted a McConnells Irish stout pumpclip, one of my least often tried but favourite Thornbridge beers, but that went off, and the Brother Rabbit and Lord Marples were too depressing to contemplate, so me and Fluff defaulted to the rather more expensive option of pints of Schlenkerla Rauchbier, which was excellent.
In the mood for dark real ale we headed to Henry's next, as usual Bass and the house beer were on offer along with about 7 guests. We found two good pints, me a Great Heck Heckstra Pale Ale, which was very good, and Fluff the Wood Street Brewery Golden Larch at 4.5%. Both beers were in good nick, and sensibly priced at £2.80 a pint, but we really craved dark beer.
The Rutland proved our saviour in this respect, offering two fine choices, including Dark Star Hophead, but crucially Lustin for stout from Blue Bee and a rather less commendable chilli stout from the Brew Company, which was really hard to drink. Two pints of Lustin were devoured whilst the quiz finished, with serial winner Geoff and the rest of his team scooping the prize for the 470th time this year. Luckily Geoff and Sarah very kindly offered me a lift, so I was back in time to fall asleep creating a snack. Which was nice.
Finally, today I went to a pub for lunch, like what respectable folks do. Said venue was the University Arms, now sporting its own logo and half refurbished loos, as well as new upstairs seating. The menu is greatly enlarged since my regular visits in 2009 and 2010, a little more pricey but the fare much better.
My beef lasagna came with a huge pile of perfectly crispy thick chips, salad and garlic bread, which I slowly ploughed my way through with a pint of Nook Brewhouse Summer Bitter, which had a refreshing lemon hoppy edge. I followed this with their deliciously smooth oat malt stout, which was simply divine.
All in all a good reintroduction to real ale then, if you overlook some puzzlingly poor Thornbridge performances, and a good catch up with friends, making this an enjoyable return home.