before me and Wee Fatha buggered off round half of Cheshire on Saturday (its worth pointing out at this late stage that I had to dissuade him from heading to Chester for the last few pubs!) we joined Wee Keefy for the annual spectacle of our Christmas meal, always, unfailingly, held in a pub, and featuring plenty of beer. Just like a Christmas meal should.
Previous years have found us at the Crispin in Ashover, the Butchers at Marsh Lane and the Old Poets Corner, also in Ashover. This year it was the turn of the Packhorse Inn at Crowdecote, on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border.
Nestling in beautiful Dovedale on a bend in the road its an idyllic place to pop in for a pint or a bite to eat, which makes it all the more surprising that its taken so damned long for the place to gain plaudits, and to put decent real ales on the bar. Luckily our new found hobby of visiting the Royal Cottage means we are regularly in the area seeking refreshment, so we decided to make this the venue for the admittedly very early Christmas meal for the menfolk of the clan.
Being a beer blog of course irrelevances such as food aren't really high up on the reprting agenda. Which is ironic because, as it turned out, despite my excited anticipation and Fatha and Keefy enjoying theirs my meal was really disappointing. That said, its cost was taken off the bill without fuss, and apologies forthcoming without question. Its a shame I didn't enjoy my food so much, but I appreciated the pubs approach to sorting the matter out, and better still the beer. Of which we had plenty.
Wee Keefy likes a malty slightly sweet pint as we know, and was smitten with the Cottage, erm, something with an "e" in it. The letter E that is. Meanwhile driver Wee Fatha was on a half or two of the pleasant Titanic Night to Remember. And drinking for two (for WF, am not pregnant) I dispensed with many pints of the fearsomely excellent Bottlebrook Mellow Yellow. Which, I only noticed on getting home, was 5.7%....
Bottlebrook is a brewery I don't come across too often and I have only previously encountered their offerings at beer festivals - which is maybe why I don't usually rate them. This offering overturned that opinion in some style. Meanwhile, Tetley made up the range along with a real cider so there was something for everyone, unless you wanted a stout or porter I suppose. In short the quality of this line up more than matched that which we found on our last visit, and will hope to find on our next.
A real bonus is that the pub is very handily situated nearly opposite a lane that runs into Earl Sterndale, so it seemed churlish not to pop up the hill for a pint or two at the Quiet Woman. Parking on a lake of ice outside we somehow contrived to avoid falling on our arses en route inside, where we got chatting to Ken and the regulars. Sat by the fire, we enjoyed supping Jennings Dark Mild (for WF and WK), and a pint and a half of the very enjoyable and quaffable Wincle Brewery Rambler for me.
I also got to take home an excellent Quiet Woman pork pie for Saturday's exploring, which I am pleased to report came in very handy, as did mixed packs of the Quiet Woman themed bottles that the other two purchased. One surprising note though was that the Quiet Woman is now selling guests from Pins. I can't be certain, but I reckon they must have had a decent throughput in the past (Mansfield Mild (?), Marstons Bitter, Pedigree and Old Rodger being sold on my first visit in 1994) and despite it being dreadful weather, it seemed quiet enough to make buying in pins sound like a necessity.
I don't think for a moment that this classic old pub is teetering on the brink, but it was sobering to consider how much trade seems to have declined. All the more reason to venture out more often then...
So, thus passed an enjoyable annual event featuring great company and fantastic beers on the edge of the Staffordshire Moorlands. Which I'm happy to report is becoming a bit of a habit these days.