yesterday I set off on a not particularly well planned yomp to Ripley to drink some beer at the Talbot Taphouse, now owned and operated by Amber Ales Brewery nearby. Here is how it all panned out.
My East Midlands Journey Planner told me quite clearly that the quickest way to Ripley was a train to Alfreton, wait 20 minutes and get a bus to Ripley. About an hour and 20 from Station to pub I reckoned. But where's the fun in that? Much better to guesstimate my way there based on half remembered timetable information and suffer the slings and arrows of misfortune along the way.
I set off at midday and on arriving at the Interchange decided to wait 20 minutes for the X17 to Matlock, instead of walking to the Station to find an equally long wait there. This would, as the timetable showed, "conveniently" get in to Chesterfield 2 minutes after the Red Arrow had left, thus affording me the chance of a pint in Chez first. The thing about Chesterfield is its made entirely of direction confusing magnets and shapeshifting streets. I can't find a chuffing road or pub I want for love nor money. Somehow though, wandering for 10 minutes, I came to the Royal Oak, which I'd heard was OK these days.
I had never been in before, and initially sat in the top bar, which is separate to the rest of the pub, but at least does have five handpumps on the bar. I opted for a pint of the 3.6% Buxton Moor Top Pale (£3.00), a refreshing very hoppy beer that went down superbly for my first of the day. I didn't stay long, but on leaving noted that I could really do with a loo trip so went in the bottom half (etc), and ordered a half of the Otter (possibly the same price, not sure if unjustifiable half premium added) and had the shortest of visits finishing off this radically different but pleasant brown brew before hot footing it to catch the Red Arrow.
What I like abut the Red Arrow is that its rabidly punctual. At 13.49, a minute before departure, an older couple started running towards the bus - passengers started to, in ever increasing frequencies of panic, point out to the driver that some passengers were approaching. On heroically reaching the bus the driver said "hurry up please because we have to leave" before closing the doors behind them and setting off. This may seem odd, but I get the feeling the timetable is based on the smooth passage of the bus along all of its route, so there's no time for dawdling.
Before leaving the house I was trying to recall the name of the pub in Higham. According to the Internet it was the Greyhound - I knew it wasn't, because there are two, and it aint that one! The Internet, where everything is true, then told me it was called the Three Horseshoes. So this is all I had, along with a half remembered mental picture of the pub being near the cross. The Red Arrow follows the main road which passes the Greyhound, but then bypasses the old village centre. My only gripe about the Red Arrow is that its coaches don't seem to have a bell - anyone getting off thus far had just got up and announced their desire to disembark. I did this at seeing the Greyhound, and then waited 5 minutes for the bus to set off a goodly distance round the corner away from Higham village.
On disembarking I asked a woman walking her dog which way the Greyhound was (the pub, not the dog) - beccause I wasn't sure the other pub was the Three Horseshoes, and I knew it was near the Greyhound. she told me, and when I asked about the Three Horseshoes, she gave it another name, like a restaurant, even when I queried what the other pub was called. She seemed quite sure there was only one pub in Higham, so I gave up and started walking.
Luckily on reaching the village I spotted the cross, and soon the Crown came into veiw. This redoubtable old pub has had a modest makeover and a bit of a tidy up, but still retains a traditional interior (and a quaintly tiny entrance) of two separate sections with a bar in the middle and a third room on the right. On the bar were Bombardier, Brains SA and Buxton Spa. I had a pint of this (4.5%, £3.30 a pint) and some crisps since, alas, I had missed the food. I sat down facing the bar and the fireplace, and caught up on insulin, photographs and writing up my beers.
I was here for a good half hour, noting the comings and goings of the staff and also that it was soon near empty with only me in. I decided to walk slowly up to the Greyhound next, and wondered as I did why someone in the same village seemed unable to recall that the Crown existed - and why did she call the Three Horseshoes (wherever that was) Santo's?
The Greyhound has a massive car park and a prominent Taverners table sign leaving you in no doubt of its style and sales intentions. Inside is one massive room with a few distinguishable areas, and every table set for diners. This is not a drinkers pub. Its unnaturally warm, and the beer range is disheartening fare, but there is a real cider, Westons Old Rosie. The four real ales are Jennings Cumberland, Pedigree, Hobgoblin and Brakspears bitter. Having found this on such good form at the Miners Standard in Winster its immediately obvious the half I bought was either green or subject to some sort of miraculous dequalitising (no, that's not a word) gas which makes it extremely drab. A pub that does exactly what it sets out to, nothing more.
Tap House of Delights
On arriving in Ripley I quickly got some brief directions to Butterly hill and found my self at the Talbot. Described as a Flat Iron style for its unusual shape, it was similar to the Three Tuns in Sheffield and Baltic Fleet in Liverpool, and was mainly reminiscent of a ship.
Whilst I wait for him to resurface I peruse the programme - there are about 20 Amber Ales beers on and guests from around the UK including Raw, Oakham, Black Iris and Nutbrook. I started proceedings with a pint of Amber Ales Barnes Wallis, a drinkable 4.something percent IPA style beer that went down very well and was packed with flavour. I then went for a couple of halves - in fact, I had several, so for the sake of convenience I'll list them for you here :
Nutbrook Same Again 4.5%
Amber/Naked Revolution 5.5%
Dry hopped Imperial IPA 6.5%
Brewers Breakfast 6.5%
Derbyshire Gold 4.?%
Black Iris Klazny 4.5%
Raw/Somebody Else's collaboration beer of unrememberable name
All beers listed without a brewery are Amber Ales. Percentages supplied are a mixture of guesswork and fact. Prices ranged from £2.80 for Derbyshire Gold to £3.30 or so fpr the plus 6% beers.
During my encampment near the door I got chatting to a couple next to me who were sampling the beers using the increasingly popular 3rd of a pint sharing boards. Their first selection included the Amber Ales damson porter, which they had been warned by the barman was a bit,erm, fruity (or thick and cloudy as described by them), Ginger Blonde also from Amber and the Nutbrook same again. The name of this beer caused a little confusion when related to me, as I couldn't work out why they had three 3rds and two were the same beer.....
John and Denise were from near Ripley and out for a short session before Denise had to get back for practice in her folk group, Peasants Revolt (the card for which I hope I haven't lost as it has a recommendation for a really good pub to try). Unfortunately for Denise she was driving, but John made every effort, utilising the convenient smaller measures, to try most of the beers that I didn't buy including the Oakham summat, and the Braggert, which we all agreed was a bit weird. although me and John didn't dislike it I recall - it soon became apparent that as a rule of thumb, if Denise pulled a face, John would like the beer.
I spent about 3 hours in the Tap House overall and had a really enjoyable time, my experience made all the more enjoyable by the warmth and conversation of Denise and John - thanks both. All too soon though, having survived on a pork pie and a sausage roll, I decided it was time to find food. I headed off up into the town via the Crest of the Wave, where I got some chips and curry sauce to tide me over (no pun intended ).
I checked the times of the Red Arrow then went for a quick Half in the Red Lion, which I thought was a Wetherspoons but am not sure! Here I got to try a half of another of the blogosphere's most talked about ales, the Hawkshead Windemere Pale Ale at 3.5%, a delicious refreshing hoppy beer perhaps benefiting from it being a little cool in the warmth of the pub.
Return to chez
I was soon back on the Red Arrow and back in Chesterfield. I had wanted to go to the Rose and Crown at Brampton but needed some cash and a loo visit first. I found the Market Inn on the Market Place which had been recommended to me earlier as selling local beers, but what I found was a range of national brews, with a few exceptions. I had a half of the Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted (£1.50) and stayed for a brief drink, given that it was completely rammed.
I also went back to the Royal Oak for a last half, having given up on my Brampton plan due to mild inebriation and a lack of directions or transport to Chatsworth Road. This time I had a half of the Moor Top again, although had I been a bit less tired I may have had the Jaipur which I have now not had for many months.
Sheffield Tap House
I was back in Sheffield soon enough and headed straight round the corner for the Tap. As usual there was a good range of beers on with an emphasis on Magic Rock and Orkney, plus one from Roosters. Beer ticker extraordinaire Brian was again in their and informed me that he was cock a hoop at seeing the Roosters. I myself had a far greater prize in my sights - Magic Rock Dark Arts on cask.
I had a half of this and their excellent High Wire IPA sat in the back room, this time mercifully avoiding the wobbly tables. (please note the above photograph is deliberately taken at a jaunty angle). The Dark Arts is allowed to be a much more complex beer in cask. The keg dispense maybe hinders its warmer flavours simply by virtue of the temperature served at but the keg version was also much less rounded. Yes, there are astringent hops and bitterness to both but there were other more subtle flavours in the Cask version.
Not the number of alcoholic units consumed that day, but my final destination, arriving at Harrisons just as they were about to close earlier than planned, based on a slow day. I remarked to Barraharri that I had been puzzled all day to see pubs closed, even ones that would normally open on both a Sunday and a Friday (in case they were mysteriously applying often less helpful Sunday hours). Although this was frustrating, perhaps the lack of customers anticipated by the closed venues was the experience of those that opened?
Here I had a pint of the Abbeydale Brewery Now Then, a pale 4.1% beer brewed to celebrate Now Then magazine in Sheffield. Alas my misfortune at arriving so late meant I had only time for a quick half, but this was an enjoyable beer to finish on.
Finally, the Internet led mystery of the Three Horseshoes can probably be explained thus - the RuRad "In the Sticks" magazine I picked up in the Talbot reported that the Three Horseshoes at nearby Wessington had been de-licensed and sold to a local builder. I did get in there once, on my walk to Ashover a couple of years ago, and they were selling the equally doomed Wild Walker beers. Its a crying shame that another rural pub has been sold for what will inevitably be housing stock, no doubt sold well outside the price range of the locals who would most benefit from buying a house or flat in the area.
Overall this was a fantastic day out encompassing a great new pub or 2 and a fantastic range of beers at the Tap House beer festival. Lets see whether he rest of the Easter weekend can live up to the Goodness of Friday.