Thursday, 14 January 2016

Crewe’s Worst Pubs - Update

Crewe Beer Blog has not done much in the way of updates of late. But there have been some changes since the original 2012 survey - many of them concerning the five pubs that I judged to be the worst on offer.
War memorial, Crewe

There is good news, but first of all, a lot of not very good news.

The Rockwood closed not long after I visited, the pub was later demolished, and was replaced by a housing development. And that original 1930s interior went in the skip with everything else.

The Cumberland Arms is still there, but is no longer a pub, having become residential accommodation, including a large extension on what had been the car park.

The Victoria is slowly decaying, having closed for the last time and spent a very long time being sold.

The Bridge Inn had the lease up last time I passed, its future uncertain.

But the good news is that the Raven at Brookhouse is not only still going, but thriving. How could this be? Simples. Now apparently free of tie, there is little changed inside, the outside still looks a bit faded, but it’s all down to the beer, and the service.

Four regularly rotating cask beers are on at any time: I’ve sampled Offbeat Outlandish Pale and Dark Star Partridge on two recent visits. And the service is good. Plus they don’t run out of stuff. For live music fans, there are bands playing every weekend.

Very little was needed to turn Crewe’s worst pub into one of its best. Which the Raven very definitely now is. It gets better: there is more good news concerning the south side of town, which I’ll cover in a future post.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

En Tour - Craft Beer In Lisbon

Time was when beer in southern European countries was all about a few big combines giving the drinking public nothing more than a choice between one industrially produced lager-style beer, and another. There would be darker coloured variants, but little more. In Portugal, that until recently meant a choice between Sagres and Super Bock.
Praça do Comércio, Lisbon

Fortunately, craft beer has arrived in Lisbon, and there are now several brewers in this burgeoning niche market. The number of specialist bars is small - there are only two in Lisbon thus far - but both are worth visiting. Here’s where you need to head to, and what you can expect to find there.

Cerveteca Lisboa - the first, the best, and on busy days the busiest, craft beer outlet in town. It’s located in the Bairro Alto district, and finding it from the central Baixa area, or that around the Rossio, can be difficult without your trusty smartphone and Google Maps.

Easiest way to get there from the area around the Largo do Carmo and Largo de Camões: head up the Rua do Loreto, turn right after the top of the hill into Rua de O Século, then left into Rua Academia das Ciéncias, right at the end into Rua São Marçal, bear right to continue on that road, across the next crossroads, and Cerveteca is ahead and to your left. The signage is understated and only visible close up.

The number of beers on tap goes into double figures: on my first visit I tried the PS Brewery Equinox IPA (excellent) and a smaller glass of de Moelen Tsarina Porter. Two days later it looked like a completely fresh slate of beers, and I sampled Aroeira Bruta “Lisbon Pale Ale” (also excellent) and Passarola Rye Amber, very smooth drinking, and also very strong.

There is a small menu of food items, and the staff will provide a bag for you to take away bottles. Cerveteca is open every day.

LisBeer - convenient for those staying in the Baixa and Rossio areas, this bar is just off the south-east corner of the Baixa at the foot of the Alfama. You can see the doorway from the street. It doesn’t open on Mondays.

The number of beers on tap was smaller than at Cerveteca, and there was no sign of anything local, but the bottle beer selection is very good and the staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I sampled a Gulden Draak and a Tripel Karmeliet - both very enjoyable.

LisBeer is close enough to the Baixa’s restaurants for there to be little excuse not to look in  there later in the evening.

One mention of local brewers: apart from Passarola - you must check out their IPA - there are also good offerings from Mean Sardine, 8a, Bolina, Aroeira and others. You will not be short of strong, hoppy beers to sample. You won’t get that from Sagres or Super Bock.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Good, The Bad And The Commended – 3


And at last the Crewe Beer Blog survey arrives at the town’s best pubs, counting down from fifth best to the winner, or in this case, winners. As with the pubs at the other end of the scale, there is one gap in the line-up, thanks to Punch Taverns (long may they rot in hell) imposing closure on one of the best locals’ venues. But enough of mocking the afflicted – on with the countdown.

All of these pubs offer cask ale: some offer several choices. And all try that little bit harder.

5 Nag’s Head This tiny street corner pub just north of the town centre has retained its separate tap room – the temptation to knock through to make more space must have been very strong over the years – and has one regular cask beer with a rotating list of guests for backup. There is acoustic music in the lounge from Wednesdays most weeks. It can be a squeeze when busy, but it’s worth a visit.

4 Hop Pole Interesting room layout, smartly presented, an island bar, three regularly changing cask beers, good service, happy regulars, and a covered terrace for smokers. Welcoming to everyone, and much improved under the current management. No wonder it’s doing well.

3 British Lion Well, if it were open, it would be. A traditional locals’ pub on Nantwich Road, it had been run down of late and had closed once when I visited. Having not been reopened for long, it was already proving popular and a real effort was being put in by the new manager. And then it closed again, and Punch are trying to sell it for a Very Silly Price Indeed. This kind of PubCo behaviour makes me bloody angry. It should annoy you too.

1= Borough Arms Sorry, I couldn’t make one of the last two entries second and just one first. So it’s an equal top. The Borough puts a staggering nine cask beers on, as well as lots of continental stuff. Some concession to nitro-keg is made: you can get Guinness and “smooth” bitter. They brew their own on the premises, although the availability is a little hit and miss.

1= Hops This “Belgian Style Cafe Bar” offers five different cask ales, one of which is brewed especially for them. A range of keg and bottled continental beers are also offered, and the only concession to ad-mans’ land is Becks Vier, which adheres to German beer purity laws. No nitro-keg stout or “smooth” bitter here. It’s friendly and different.

And that’s the end of our survey. But there will be more from the blog later.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Good, The Bad And The Commended – 2

So now we come to the most difficult choice – not to make, but to publish. Because the time has come to reluctantly say which are, in my opinion, Crewe’s worst pubs. There are five names, and they appear in order of awfulness, ending with the pub which I reckon takes the wooden spoon as the grimmest in the town. It goes without saying that none of these offers its customers a cask beer choice.

5 Bridge Inn Despite advertising cask ales not once but twice, the Bridge does not actually offer them, and looks like it hasn’t done for a while. The locals ranged from indifferent to hostile, the service was provided only grudgingly, and the whole place was tatty at the edges. Not impressed.

4 Rockwood This pub has since closed, but that is nothing to crow about: nobody wants to see these places go to the wall, especially given the town has lost far too many of them already. But the wave of hate coming from the locals set the tone for a less than welcoming interlude. At least the barmaid smiled, but the place seemed dark and doomed. And so it was. A pity.

3 Cumberland Arms No cask beer, and they’d run out of two other offers when I looked in on the night the Alex won their play-off semi-final. While other pubs did a roaring trade that evening, there were less than ten punters here. At least the Guinness was OK.

2 Victoria Almost deserted midweek, a barman who appeared and served me a pint of Guinness and then piled off, and the discovery that the beer was off. Badly. With the Gaffers Row (Wetherspoons) just a couple of minutes’ walk away, this place is on a hiding to nothing – unless it raises its game.

1 Raven They’d run out of bitter completely, the handpumps hadn’t seen service in months, if not years, and the Guinness was the most appallingly rank bad pint I had in all the pub visits made. And it was 50p more than at the Cumberland Arms. Anyone on the Brookhouse estate who wants a decent pub and a decent pint goes to Ye Olde Manor. As I did straight afterwards.

Those three worst pubs are all under the control of the all-pervasive PubCos. As Beckermann’s widow tells Charlie Croker in The Italian Job, it wasn’t an accident.

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Good, The Bad And The Commended – 1

So the pub reviews are done. Which are the best and worst pubs in Crewe? Well, first, in no particular order, are those that I call Commended, because, although they haven’t made the top five, they’re all worth a visit.

Queen's Park, Crewe

So here goes!

9 Duke Of Gloucester Lees’ beers, food on all the time, good service, happy staff, and plenty of room. Worth the walk out from town and very convenient for those fortunate students at the MMU campus. A follow-up visit was made and the standard was just as high.

12 Waldron Yes, the Waldron, Party Central itself. You could do a lot worse in the town centre than this place, which has food offers all day, inexpensive cask beers, and is clean and tidy throughout. Haven’t figured out how they manage to serve a pint of Morland Original for £1.79 yet, mind.

15 Ye Olde Manor Yes, it’s a chain food pub but the beer is good – although, yes, it could well be FastCask – and of course there is food on all day. Very popular, which may be because the nearest competition doesn’t offer cask. I did warn you.

28 Horse Shoe Excellent locals’ pub, and another tied house, this time Robinson’s. Three cask ales on the bar, some interesting features, decent service and a cracking pint. Again, lots of room and it’s popular even during the week.

35 Gaffers Row The Crewe Wetherspoons didn’t quite have what I was looking for in a top five pub – that may change with the recent arrival of a new manager – but you know what you’re going to get, the prices are keen and there’s a wide selection of cask beers.

Next up will be the bottom five, the town’s worst pubs. The ones that I visited, folks, so you don’t have to. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

44 Brunswick

Visited On 10 July 2012
Here's the photo ...

... and here's the map

And so to the very last pub: unless I missed something, this review brings the survey of Crewe’s pubs to a close. The Brunswick is on the north side of Nantwich Road, near the Mill Street traffic lights. Its Art Deco tiled facade has been spoilt by a modern and pretty tacky ground floor addition, which is a pity. The pub also comes with a reputation: all I’ve heard has been unfavourable.

Well, I take each of these places as I find them, so we start with a clean sheet. The name of Greene King has recently appeared outside, so let’s see what’s on the bar. And here there is a pleasant surprise: although the IPA is off (as with the Express), there is Morland Old Speckled Hen, which, although there is a faction grumbling that it’s a shade of its former self, I rather like.

So it’s one of those, then. There is also a guest beer, this evening’s being Wharfe Bank Medal Pursuit, so at least one microbrewery is getting some exposure, despite this being a tied house. The beer is in good form, although once more this is a brew that has been trunked over a hundred miles: it’s brewed nowadays at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

There is plenty of custom this evening, and the pub does food more or less throughout opening hours. The hot food choice may be restricted to pizza, but that’s little different to what is on offer out on Nantwich Road. As with many other Crewe pubs, there is music of a weekend, but midweek there is just the obligatory screen showing whatever sport is on.

And there is plenty of seating too. I confess to quite liking this pub, so much so that I visited again a few weeks later. You could do a lot worse in this area, and with the British Lion having closed again, well, the Brunswick is just across the road.

And that’s that: 44 pubs, two empty chairs for not opening during the week, but 42 that were otherwise fit for review. Sadly, two have closed since, and that’s a worry.

Stand by next for the worst, and then best, pubs in Crewe.

Monday, 8 October 2012

43 Last Orders Inn

Visited On 12 July 2012
Here's the photo ...

... and here's the (not totally accurate) map

Onwards to the last two pubs – and on the traffic light crossing of Nantwich Road, Mill Street and South Street is the Last Orders, a basic pub with a small corner bar. There are a middling number of punters in this evening, but one thing they aren’t enjoying is cask beer. Yes, despite the usual array of national brand nitro-keg, there is not even one handpump, so here it comes for the last time.


So what’ll it be? I know, I’ve not had a pint of Tetley’s Smoothflow (tm) yet, and it’s, well, smooth, innit? So I order one of those. It is cheap. It is a brownish colour, although not quite the right shade for the Tetley bitter I recall – like from just across the road at the British Lion. It is a little too cold. It is undoubtedly stone dead. And it has the distinction of tasting of virtually nothing at all.

In this, it matches the nitro-keg Thwaites I endured in the Prince of Wales the other week. But hold on, there is something at the back of the tongue ... now, what am I getting here? Is it hops? Is it malt? Is it some kind of fruitiness, bitterness, dryness or something otherness? Wrong on all of those – it’s a faint metallic taste. Yes, the “inside of keg” aftertaste, the last word in modern cask conditioning. Not.

And that’s the hostelry’s finest ale for you. I take a seat and watch the traffic for a few moments, then glance around the pub to see that the rest of the punters don’t seem to have any great enthusiasm for their pints. It’s just another example of folks going through the motions, supping nitro-keg because it’s there, it’s predictable, and it’s cheap. So another pub chasing that declining market, then.

You can do better than this place just round at the Corner Bar. Or of you want something different, Square One. This is lazy and unimaginative presentation at its worst, and there’s only one ultimate result. Come on lads, you can do better than this. Just the one more to go. Chin up, eh?