it struck me writing about cask only pubs that as an aficionado of unspoilt boozers it was actually harder to think of those selling just real ale. Whether you like t or not, in pubs with restricted hours or that are well out of the way, a cask is a slightly dumb idea. Wastage. Disappointment. Ullage. Not good.
The thing is, many in the beer blogging fraternity consider that one of the central, if not the primary considerations for a pub being good, is that it sells the fine drink. Whilst I conceded there is a mix of criteria for greatness, I increasingly find myself visiting truly amazing pubs, both interior and atmosphere wise, that haven't a drop (I'd like) to drink.
Before I continue I must add the long closed Hop Pole at Risbury in Herefordshire to my list of none keg pubs. There was only room at the bar for the landlord. I saw bottles of cider, but his cask was kept in a pin under the stairs as you came in. Woods Parish Bitter, at £1.10 a pint. Very agreeable!
So here is a list of some cracking unmissable pubs that don't sell real ale. I think if you can get over that, you will be warmly rewarded.
The Royal Cottage Inn, A53 Leek Road, near Upper Hulme. According to Ken at the Quiet Woman, Cliff's Dad used to serve Worthington from the barrel (more likely the jug) in this isolated moorland pub, where it is claimed that anyone in their 50's to 70's now would certainly have earned their drinking stripes. Cliff senior apparently used to be up and down the stairs to the cellar non stop fetching ale for throngs of customers. Now the restrictive opening hours means that even smooth flow Tetleys is a gamble - if it's not sold at the popular music nights on the last Friday of every month. Well worth a visit despite all of the above - Friday and Saturday, 20.00 til no-ones in.
The Duke Of York Leysters Herefordshire. A quintessential unspoilt pub with two rooms and an ancient bar, with just Bass Toby Ale for drinking, plus bottles. One of the longest established family pub ownerships in the UK, the unchanging pace and appearance of life here is something rare these days. Not too restricted opening hours, and always part of community events, its well worth popping in, especially if you are visiting the excellent Talbot at Knightwick for heady freshly hopped ales followed by the Sun at Leintwardine.
Railway Tavern, Kincardine, Scotland. An amazing pub the size of a matchbox, one doorway in with a room at each side (but mainly only the left hand used), with a tiny bar and a long table in the window. Room for about 16 in the main room. An amazing surviving small wet led pub that is well worth a visit, if nothing else to note the natural ebb and flow of conversation between regulars who I imagine have been drinking together for decades. Tennents Ale and Heavy plus lager on here, plus a limited spirits choice. A full review from 2011 is here.
The Seven Stars, Halfway House, Shropshire (now closed). This is, or really, this was, a very unusual set up of a public bar adjoining a hotel in a separate building. Am not sure why the hotel would not have had a bar, but wonder if maybe the Seven Stars was the destination for a more down at heel traveler - maybe the hotel bar was ostentatiously exclusive?
Me and Wee Fatha visited in 2003 and it was one of a kind. The landlord and landlady were in the kitchen behind a closed door. We sat on giant settles just to the side of the fireplace and the door to the toilets to our right (a tiled bit of wall on the detached house next door, with a screen to hide you from the road, but no provision for sitting down!), and we listened in on the radio for a good few minutes before Wee Fatha went to order our drinks.
An old lady opened the door and said "Yes?" and WF responded that he would like a couple of beers. The landlady agreed but he wanted to know what the beer was. This was not a good question. Without a flicker of sarcasm or irony of the lack of information that repeating the same information provided, she reiterated that it was "beer". Three times. Only, it wasn't strictly beer. Like an odd under-mixed beer concentrate it was hardly recognisable as the Burtonwood they served next door. And it didn't bloody matter. The place was completely unique.
Goat, Llanfihangel Yng Ngwynfa, near Welshpool Wales. Recently a venue for Dimpled Mug, if anything the interior in the bar seems more modern than when me and Wee Fatha and Wee Keefy visited in 2001. The first room is unmistakably domestic, the second, now with a rashly installed bar (about 30 years ago?) is still barely a pub room. We only got to visit because when we called them the lady who answered the phone said that her cousin was coming in specially on the Saturday lunch to clean the pub, so even though they didn't usually open she would leave the door unlocked so we could come and visit. Bottles of Marstons with not a hand pump to be seen. And only one sign, on the right hand wall, proclaiming the word "Goat". Brilliant.
Vine, Tunstall ,Staffordshire. An amazing back street local in the Pitts Hill area, very hard to find if you are expecting to see it from the road, since its tucked away round a corner. A dwindling army of regulars attends mainly in the right hand bar room; sadly the older female customers have now passed away and the lounge on the left, which in 2001 was just that, is more prosaic in its appearance, whereas before it had table cloths, doilies, cushion covers, curtains and tea pots.
So as this eulogy doesn't run forever I must also briefly make mention of the Fiddichside Inn at Craigallachie, near Abelour Aberdeenshire, the now sadly long closed Colliers Arms at Mossley, the Lion Royal Hotel at Rhayader, Wales, The Mawson , Brunswick, Manchester, the Cornewall Arms, Clodock, Herefordshire, and in a cheeky move, am going to once again include the Cider House, Defford, Worcestershire. Coz it dunt sell beer at all.
All are stunning examples of pubs that stand out for being unusual, isolated, ultra traditional and interesting in equal measure. Anyone who knows me can vouch for my love of real ale, but these are venues that encapsulate the better features of pubs gone by. They are unswervingly tilling a course that means they remind people of what pubs used to be like, and indeed what they can be like.
A last special mention should go to the Red Lion in Wensley, Derbyshire. Now closed (as far as I can ascertain, although its been difficult to tell for years) the Red Lion was a unique pub. And that's borderline euphemistic. I went in once with Chala, and Wee Keefy has been in twice with Ralphus. When we went there was no draught beer (even the keg fonts were covered with towels, al-a the Station Hotel on the Wicker Sheffield) and the only canned beer other than Guinness seemed to be Youngers Tartan Special.
We walked in muddy from a climb down the dale and were immediately greeted with a sign insisting we removed our footwear and placed plastic bags round our feet. Once inside there were possibly two rooms plus toilets. The Ladies had no running water so having fallen on her arse down the hill Chala had to wash her hands behind the bar. The gents did at least have cold water.
A couple sat to our right with a pot of tea and a plate of sandwiches, every flavour of which had beetroot in. There were formica tables and hollow cylinder chairs (made of bent metal pipe) and an old Mackeson sign, plus the smell of soup. And tea. And fear of photographs, as we discovered. The pub struggled on until the last year or two, gaining notoriety for its "special" - half a pint of milk mixed with a can of Guinness, which, apparently, you had only 30 seconds to drink before it congealed. Ralphus was a fan. I cannot realistically explain why.
Irrespective of the odd tale above, I would still strongly urge you to seek out interesting and unspoilt pubs, even if they don't sell real ale. After all, you can always have a decent pint somewhere nearby afterwards. Though, chances are, you'll not find a glass of special....