Wednesday, 4 July 2012

4 Hops

Visited on 17 April 2012

Here's the photo ...
... and here's the map

So, having left behind the Cheese Hall and a pint of Banks’s “NotOld FlatFarter” Bitter, I clear the earache (“I say! Mine’s bigger than yours!!”) from my head and walk south along Prince Albert Street. At the prompting of the folks at the Chester Beer Project and the Chester Beer Appreciation Society, I’ve agreed to include Hops “Belgian Style” Cafe Bar in the first round of pubs up for review.

What is Hops? Opened in 2007, it’s allegedly a continental-style bar in Crewe. No, I didn’t think so either. Doesn’t compute. What will I find? Will it be appallingly poncy? Will I have a Margritte moment and find myself scribbling “this is not a pub”? Will I stop prattling on and sodding well review the place? Yeah, OK then. First off, it’s welcoming, well lit but not garishly so. It’s got an understated but purposeful vibe.

More than ticking over with midweek custom – I’d previously seen a busy lunchtime trade with folks sitting outside during the milder March weather – the Hops Bar really does have a wide range of British and continental bottled ales, and a menu to go with them (as well as the correct glasses). How correct? Well, someone orders a Kwak (which is a beer, and not a Belgian wet fart) and gets the full deal with the wooden stand. And that means someone is taking beer seriously.

Like the Borough Arms, there are keg taps on one side of the bar, with handpumps on the other. Unlike the Borough, though, just five cask ales are on offer, with four marked as being from local brewers (you can argue that one both ways, of course). I settle on yet another cask stout, Happy Valley Black Magic, and very pleasant it is. This one is definitely up there with Brimstage Oyster Catcher.

Happy Valley Brewery is in Bollington, and also brews Bollywood IPA, which I want to sample just on hearing the name. Whether the owners ever saw the Monty Python sketch of the same name I don’t know (it didn’t feature beer, but did show that smoking could ruin your health). One of the local brews (Townhouse Enigma) is produced specially for the Hops, but not brewed on the premises.

There is no music, muzak, giant TV screen, or any other noise to divert from conversation. Not being built as a pub, the cellar is on the ground floor level – but that doesn’t seem to affect the beer. You could happily spend a couple of hours here: the bloke running the bar is enthusiastic and informative on upcoming guest beers (these are also posted on Twitter).

Food is served at lunchtimes. This has a good reputation. Is Hops a better bet than the Borough Arms (#1)? Decisions, decisions. Maybe further sampling is required. One may volunteer to have one’s arm duly twisted. Another one to mull over as I walk back south past Dunelm Mill, which is a bloody stupid idea. There’s no lighting there at night. Doh!

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