Over the festive period we travelled over the Pennines to that grim urban, industrial/retail park sort of place along the Western M62 corridor, you know the bit they call the North West. Principally, locations between the Eastern end of Liverpool and the North of Manchester. Hopefully the tales of my adventure will emphasise many of the points I’ve been trying to make over the last six months. Namely, there are a lot of rubbish pubs about, run by lazy people. Whilst on the other hand there are a lot of people working hard trying to provide what people want – good beer in pleasant, well run surroundings.
I’m purposefully not naming any of the places or the pubs I went in. I don’t want to, it’s not fair, this essay is just a vehicle to portray my thoughts, not to criticise individuals and there may be underlying circumstances that I am not aware of. However the places are all real and exist and everything mentioned did happen.
The first case study relates to a small town in Cheshire, unfortunately not the rolling green part of Cheshire you associate with the ancient walled city, or the footballer inhabited suburbs of Manchester. On looking for a decent place on the CAMRA pub app, I read, ‘several decent real ales, the landlord takes a proper interest and is open to suggestions for guest ales’. A quick phone call confirmed they would be broadcasting the teatime Man Utd v Chelsea game. Owing to a misjudgement of walking speed, time and distance we managed to arrive at this establishment a full forty minutes before kick off, where we found only a handful of people, drinking bottles of lager. Thankfully the number of clientele more than quadrupled about five minutes before the match kicked off.
First pint in this traditional, well kept boozer, was a reasonably well known small NW brewer’s Christmas real ale offering. I could see the merits, but it had an unpleasant taste, that I suggest was not present in the beer originally. I asked if they had any other real ales on, but they didn’t? Undeterred I tried a pint of the locally popular (keg) dark mild which strangely had the same taste. Guinness followed and even a pint of major brand lager, unfortunately they all had that same rank taste. My opinion, the lines had not been cleaned for some time, probably since before the Christmas before! I would have said something, but being the only two people in the pub without the local twang and having made the effort on a bank holiday, i.e. not dressed in matching tracksuit top and bottoms, I felt it wise not to. In any case there was no landlord present, just a paid bar staff person.
I blame myself for not picking up the signs, I’m usually sharper than that. But, as soon as the match ended all the locals knocked back what was left in their bottles of lager, slapped them on the bar and went home!
Second case study takes us to a small town, maybe a large village? Near a bigger town, on the outskirts of Manchester. Quite a nice, middling to affluent place really. Accompanied by our local guide, we walked into the town centre for a few beers. What a result! Several pints of excellent well kept real ale, in a pleasant, well run modern bar. Apparently, before recent conversion, it had not been licensed premises. The only downside, they had six different beers on and I didn’t get to try them all. In terms of style, none of these were modern hop forward brews and were mostly local (to the NW) small and small medium brewers ales, well suited to the local taste. I would have liked to speak with the manager/owner who kept bobbing about pulling lines through and changing the tap list, he put two new beers on whilst we were in, but he was just too busy at his trade.
Now the place we were in is only a small settlement, but within one hundred yards there was another, relatively recent, similar, shall we say ale house? Okay it was small, I guess it hasn’t always been licensed premises neither, but it was packed. Again a good selection of well kept real ales. They must have been getting through them as well, judging by the number of empty firkins piled up outside.
As we set off back we passed two nearby, traditional town centre public houses, at a guess, at least nineteenth century in origin. We didn’t go in. I just looked through the window, searching for customers and the sign of a real ale on the bar. Sadly, neither appeared present. Even if either had been rammed or had good beer on I probably wouldn’t have taken any of my extended family into the one colloquially known as ‘The flying bottle’.
If you’re still with me, I hope you get what I’m trying to say.
Remember, ‘If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got!’