On Sunday I left late afternoon for a meander around Broomhill heading for the bright lights of town. Here's what happened when I visited some old faces, a new pub, and associated "other" venues en route.
First I had to take a relentlessly long frustrating trip on the dawdle tractor which made me especially thirsty on arrival. Not that I was intending to rush. I had no timetable (much like the 52 bus). I had a tardy Sunday pace about me. I had nothing much of a plan and ultimately no agenda. So no change there then. I do however intensely dislike spending twice as long as is necessary doing something that could be done in half the time. Clearly I needed exercise and refreshment.
I started my wander at the Fox and Duck. I haven't been in for about 18 years and noticed it was much erm, smaller? It was also much less busy than it used to be, when me and various mates tried getting in most New Year's Eves in the nineties, often carrying pints from elsewhere, sometimes underage or inebriated, often both, once carrying the words to all of Auld Lang Syne, and usually with almost no money.
On the bar now there were three real ales including Moonshine, Hobgoblin and Adnams Broadside. I went with the Adnams, a half of which was £1.50, and the pleasant malty smoothness reminded me of almost every beer that I drank in the era of my more frequent visits here. The pub was actually quite relaxing, and, mercifully, devoid of the smell of chips. I like chips, but the stagnant chip fat whiff of nearby student pub the Nottingham House haunts my memories even now, like Rivelin Cafe in the 1980's. I was glad I was spared that olfactory memory, but unsure how much that owed to the Fox no longer being owned by the students union....
On round the corner next to the distinctly un - bright lights of The Place. My first visit, I knew it was a new (ahem) build pub aimed at students so adjusted my expectations accordingly. Inside, with the surround sound echo of huge TV screens on every side of the room, I spotted a decent if similar beer range was offered, but with the addition of Jaipur at £1.50 a half. Even the slightly ominous threat of cellar cool, which usually indicates a cellar based in the arctic, did not ruin a very palatable and well kept Thornbridge ale. Still missing most of its better ingredients, but now seemingly getting slightly more likeable on cask (or am I just no longer able to remember how good it used to taste?)
Off down Nile Street and past the Rutland Hotel, which I considered might have a bar but couldn't be bothered finding out if it sold real ale, I made a snap decision to visit the old art block of King Teds school, now The Francis Newton on Clarkehouse Road. I'd last been when it was Aunt Sally's and only because my mate got a Spirit Group (shudder) discount. No real ale was available then, alas, but theres now a Locale sign on the wall and its run by Wetherspoons.
Inside its still pretty foody but there are 4 real ales and 1 cider with every pump utilised. Are you listening, other Spoons? Not a turned round pump clip to be seen!
I had two halves here, one of the Adnams Fisherman, AKA Old, and one of the very enjoyable Exmoor Gold. Exmoor Gold was one of the first beers I tried at Archer Road Beer Stop in 1994, and has always carried a sort of connoisseurs reputation for me. It was possibly different to how I remember but none the worse for it. The other beers were Wood Street Larch Bitter and Exmoor Fox; all beers were £2.00 a pint, and, they sold 3rd pint measures.
I sat down in a comfy seat and read the beer festival leaflet with interest. Its fair to say that nothing really appeals about a Spoons festival, possibly an opinion formed on the basis of some of their more grim hostelries, but I have to admit to a sneaking admiration for the range of beers available, and the wealth of collaborations, even if they all seemed to be between overseas brewers I'd never heard of and big UK Nationals. I decided I'd have to stop by a bigger Spoons later to try and find some of the range...
Soon I was crossing the ring road and heading down the dark side streets to Convent Walk, popping out at the Bath Hotel. I had been expecting to be starting my exploring at 12.00 in town and had queried whether the pub would be open at 16.00 as advertised - alas no response from Twitter... Perhaps it seemed like a hopeless cause to confirm the dreaded facts, since when I arrived at nearly 18.00, I was the only customer.
Luckily the wearisome Allgates cere-ale had disappeared, but the Marble bitter was wrong on so many levels, so I went for a pint of the Brock, which was £2.90. It was a pleasant if unremarkable beer, not eliciting the excitement that it used to, and left me feeling a little forlorn at how there was so little on sale in the Bath these days that I wanted to drink. Its a fabulous old pub that I love, but I'm starting to run out of things I can be bothered to drink in there of late. If I encounter another ropey Allgates 3.9% beer or a malty Kipling I might have to withdraw my custom in protest. And then where would I be?!
Well, certainly not in my next venue that's for sure. Having been wooed by the exotica alluded to in the beer festival programme I sought out a Spoons with a large number of handpumps, that being the Bankers Draft, where I'd had a decent Pewsey Vale offering last time out. This time however, there were only 3 real ales available - Abbott, a Milestone Ruby something, and Batemans Combined Harvest, plus 2 "Available soon" pump clips.
Whilst the above moniker is marginally less annoying than simply leaving the pumpclip turned round when the beer's run out, the tawdry range did nothing for me, and not using 7 handpumps, albeit on a Sunday night seems a very poor show.
Off to ever reliable haunt the Rutland Arms next, with rumours of a decent dark beer afoot. I had a pint of the Vigilante Brewing Co Dark and Stormy Stout, plus a half of the rather strong Black Iris Intergalactic IPA (6.0%). The dark and stormy suffered slightly from hype and the flavour smash of the strangely creamy but delightfully balanced IPA, and was a bit listless by the end. But I enjoyed my chat with Paultous the boy barman and my pickled egg with chilli sauce. How my Dad managed to consume half a tub of this oddness with his rambling mates back in the day is beyond me. I only bought it out of curiosity, and to find that the Rutland didn't have an egg fork made the experience much less enjoyable than it could perhaps have been.
I refer only to the experience of the egg, of course, since the Rutland delivered on all fronts as always, although, thinking about it - get some bleedin pork pies in....
My final port of call was the Sheffield Tap. Here I had a half of the Tapped Brew Co NZ and a pint of Gadds Number 7. The Tapped was also nearing retirement which was a shame, and I think someone had sneaked in and stolen the Kiwi hops, but it is still trial brews at present (opening December the sign proclaims).
Sadly the Gadds was possibly more of a let down just because of its surprising lack of flavour. I dearly wanted the Tap to blow me away with a beast of a stout but in the end I soaked up my disappointment with a very enjoyable half of the Titanic Cappuccino stout.
So all in all a great bit of exercise with a few pubs thrown in, and some equally exciting, surprising and marginally disappointing beers along the way. Nice to see a range of real ales available where previously there were few, and at sensible prices.