this rather unprepossessing description is not a reflection of myself and Mr P outside the Ship on Shalesmoor, nor myself and Davefromtshop fruitlessly waiting outside the Crown and Glove, but instead relates to an important night in the continuing evolution of Thornbridge brewery into an ever so slightly but not really much larger pub running company.
The principal joy of reporting this is the opportunity to "declare" a gift which could be seen to influence my writing, erm, unless you read all of what I am about to tell you that is. You see, young James of DAda fame had a spare ticket which he generously gave me so that I could be part of this joyous metamorphosis. It entitled me to a free pint or two, so I was very grateful, and I wouldn't have entertained the idea of attending had I not had it, so essentially its a freebie. I like freebies. They taste fab....
So it was then, on a damp misty night, I walked to Psalter Lane, to behold the spectacle of a refurbished pub opening its doors to an impatient public. Gleaming lights, toasty warmth, local beer and industry hoi-polloi provided the sparkling backdrop to this occasion, with crowds jostling to be the first to visit the newly opened pub. Inside I expected to see elephants delivering beer barrels, the finest musicians, and beer served in antique tankards.
Well, to be fair, that's not what happened. There was men in suits, chairs you couldn't sit on because coats lived there, and the smell of food And, as it turned out, the pub had already reopened recently (or maybe only earlier that day) and what I was attending, press card in hat and lamp flash Rolliflex in hand, was in fact a "do" organised by those Thornbridge folks. Here's how it played out....
The Stags Head, as it was originally called, was first licensed in 1805 and has been run by generations of the Mackenzie family, whose crest features the beast (thanks to the Europeana website for this info, click the link for an old photo).
Inside are three areas/rooms, one on the right having a large window sized space in the wall, making it more a distinct area than a room, with the area to the left housing a fire and the bar at the end. At the side of the bar is the panelled snug, and the access to the loos and the conservatory is off to your right. One interesting feature is the right hand curve of the bar - bearing in mind I can't recall whether it was there prior to the refurbishment, it looks very similar to the one at the Lamb in Eccles, a sort of 30's train carriage sort of effect, floor to ceiling, with dark wood. The rest of the bar is opened out and quite modern however.
I didn't get chance to appreciate the what I believe is new panelling in the snug since it was rammed all the time I was there, as indeed was the pub in general. It certainly seems like that would be the place to make your own on a visit though, much like the amazing snug on the right at Fagans which seems to be constantly occupied.
And now, the important bit. The slaking. Being unaware of the form at such occasions I was quite surprised not to be tapped for my ticket on entry, and it was only when I bumped into James after nearly an hour that I realised the ticket was for drinks, and that anything approaching a do would be going on in the conservatory later.
To rein in my anticpation, I started with a pint of Wild Swan since I haven't had it for a while. It was £2.80 a pint which isn't bad for the area (I'm thinking of the Union and Lescar here) and was a decent drop. I also had a half of the Thornbridge Celluloid Screams, a special beer brewed to coincide with a horror movie event organised by the Showroom cinema. This was a surprise I admit, since it was quite dark but not typified by roast malt, having a peculiar but enjoyable red malt flavour. Its a beer I think I'll have again.
Once I worked out the ticket idea (and acquired another one from a bloke on his way out, very kind) I had a pint of the Jaipur. It wasn't as dire as it has been but still seemed average compared to its glory days, even when served in a handled glass (not that this changes the flavour, it just seems more, erm, right...). It was also cloudy - I had three pints in all, over about 2 hours and all carried a haze, so it couldn't have been the beginning or end of a particular cask. Perhaps rumours about overly dry hopped Thornbridge beers never clearing are accurate?
I only stayed an hour or two as I really only knew one person, James, who was networking, and besides which I was very hungry by now. The do, such as it was, seemed mainly to comprise of a man in a pullover playing grim 70's to 90's funk too loud in the conservatory to an audience of up to four people. It didn't really make sense. Being a pub relaunch virgin I don't know what usually happens but this wasn't what I was expecting at all!
Overall then the Stags Head doesn't seem any better or worse to me, although I reckon the snug is noteworthy, However, I have only ever been twice before this event, so its difficult to estimate the scope of any alterations. My first visit was when I was about 20 and I probably didn't care about anything other than the range of beers, my second was earlier this year, which now I think about it was the first time I heard that the pub was to be run by Thornbridge.
Beers wise, the lack of Bombardier or other national dross is a bonus, and it looks like Thornbridge seasonals or specials will appear from time to time so I think the beer range is already looking better. What the regulars will make of nothing but Thornbridge remains to be seen of course.
The other thing is that whilst its obvious as a pub owning brewery to have a brand, many features seem to crop up in almost all Thornbridge run pubs. Even the best ideas lose their shine when repeated too often, so Thornbridge may need to keep an eye on not becoming the new Ember Inns in terms of pub design.
The mixture of dark wood and light pastel colours (thankfully no dark grey!), the ostentatious mirrors and picture frames, the large tables, and the tiled fireplaces, all conspire to make this feel like another Greystones, Coach and Horses or Hallamshire House. Against which backdrop, another feather in the cap for DAda is that even if you don't like the decor in there, its certainly nothing like any other Thornbridge venue.
One last note - I went outside to take a phone call leaving my pint glass with probably a third in, and my jacket. When I got back the beer was gone! Luckily the guy sat across from me said he'd pointed out the error of taking my beer to the staff and the gent who I think is the manager came back with what was effectively a half, and apologised. Now that's how you deal with wrongly taking away unfinished drinks. It could have been reopening night special service but it was good to see.
Maybe I'll pop back in a few months to see how things are going....