Saturday, 3 September 2016

Good Beer Guide 2017

It's arrived!!  In Merseyside there are 21 removals and 21 additions but, as I always say, you'll have to buy a copy to find out what they are.

Irritatingly, or perhaps I mean pleasingly, no less than eight of the new entries are pubs I've never visited.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The University and The Georgian Quarter

Time for a pub survey in Liverpool with a couple of friends.  We met up in Wetherspoon's impressive North Western, conveniently located at Lime Street Station.  At 2pm on a wet Wednesday it was pretty busy but we found a table and enjoyed 'Spoons usual food and drink.

Next, a walk in intermittent rain through the university (I've always used the main road in the past and so hadn't seen some of the impressive buildings here before.) to the Augustus John.  We all selected the same beer from the two or three handpumps and sat down.  The pub wasn't busy and the TV showing cricket was over my head and so not too distracting.  Unfortunately the beer was somewhat past its best, and rather cloudy - Probably the end of the cask.  This was particularly disappointing as I've always had excellent ale here before.

As we were finishing our drinks an enormous number of young students came in, and they were queueing six deep at the bar as we left - Thank goodness we didn't arrive then.

The next call was the Cambridge, another student pub.  I was a little worried in case the other half of the throng at the Augustus John had got here before us, but fortunately they didn't come this way and this small plain boozer was pretty empty.  The one hand pump served a rather bland Marston's Bitter.

On to the Caledonia.  In my experience this place has always been a bit of a dump, both before and after the fire, and today was no exception with a smell of mouldy floor-mop about the place, and a floor which could have benefited from the attentions of the same.  In contrast, the beer, selected from a small range of uncommon ones, was excellent as always.  In my opinion, dogs in pubs, if permitted at all, should be seen and not heard.

The problem with the Belvedere, our next port of call, is that it's way too small, so you always seem to be squeezing past people just to get served.  A bit of an architectural gem this one, but it seems to be looking a little threadbare in places.  Not so the beer, which was excellent.  And it came in a lined glass - I think this might be the only pub left in Liverpool that still automatically gives you a full measure, by using oversized glasses.

Next, the Pilgrim.  My beer guide notes an incident where I was refused a top-up on a very short pint here, but to be fair that was back in 1999 so I think it's time to forgive them, as I've had no problems subsequently.  Anyway, down the steps in to a dark cellar with a small bar in one corner, fairly empty with just a few other drinkers in the place.  No complaints on the measures this time, and good beer.

Not far away is the Grapes.  Well known for its wide range of quality real ales, this is another place where a bit more care on the cleaning and maintenance front is required.  We sat in a quiet corner which had a tiled floor with a number of the tiles missing or loose.  In fact the whole place has a tatty feel, and would benefit from a lick of paint.  As to the beer, I didn't like mine, I forget the name, at all but I think this was a matter of personal taste rather than there being anything wrong with it.

To finish the day out we decided on somewhere more predictable than the last few pubs, so headed to Wetherspoon's Lime Kiln for a pint of Abbot at only £1.99.  Last year this place appeared on a Wetherspoon's list of branches to be closed, but I gather they have now purchased the property and reprieved it.  The prices are much lower than in the other city centre 'Spoons.  It was certainly doing a good trade at half past six on a Wednesday evening, and we had to go upstairs to find a place to sit.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Real Ale in Rainhill

A short train ride took me to Rainhill, where there are a number of pubs which I haven't visited for a long time.  Passing the Commercial (A favourite of mine, but this was a survey trip!) I strolled down Warrington Road in the pleasant midday sunshine until I reached my first target, the Ship Inn.

My last drink here was way back in 1998, when it was a Henry's Table place, serving Higson's and Tetley's.  Eighteen years later I found it has joined the Ember Inns chain, and they have applied their standard decor inside.  Some people dislike Ember's identikit "modern contemporary" style but I find it pleasant enough.  And of course, you can  usually rely on them to provide some decent beer.  As the first customer in the pub at a couple of minutes after twelve I had to risk the first beer out of the pump, but my pint of Landlord was spot on.  As I believe is now fashionable, I was offered the choice of a dimple or an ordinary glass.

After a few minutes of having the pub to myself other customers began to arrive, dining families and what looked like guests for a nearby wedding.

In line with almost every real ale pub, the board listing the real ales was put on the wall with good intentions but was now somewhat inaccurate with the pump clips telling the true story.  Still, a good choice of mainly national brands except for one from Liverpool Organic.  And their own Ember Pale Ale which is brewed by Black Sheep.  There's 20p off a pint for CAMRA members, and on Mondays all real ales are £2.49.

A short walk from the Ship took me round the corner to the Manor Farm, an antique building in pleasant green surroundings.
The farm was built in 1662 and was converted to a pub by the late lamented Burtonwood Brewery in 1978.  There's a restaurant upstairs but I stayed in the bar on the ground floor where food is also available - The menu looks good but I didn't sample it.  The interior features plenty of low beams, and a well you can look down!

A range of about 3 real ales was on offer, and I chose Hobgoblin which was in good nick.

On a Saturday afternoon the place was very quiet, with just a few other customers, some having food, and the only thing to watch was the staff trying in vain to get one of the TVs going ready for the football later.

The CAMRA discount here is limited to after 8 pm on Mondays to Wednesdays.

My next walk was a longer one, all the way round Rainhill to the other side, passing a number of very posh residences on the way.  Eventually I reached the Rocket, a bit more down market than the previous two places.

This is more like a traditional boozer, featuring a plain bar side with pool table and darts board and a comfortable lounge side.  As usual I guessed the wrong door and found myself in the bar, but it was pleasant enough, if perhaps a little threadbare in places.

To my surprise I spotted a lone hand pump with a Doom Bar clip.  One pump pubs can often be a source of poor beer but not in this case, and I enjoyed a good pint from Cornwall.

The pub was pretty quiet, with no-one watching the football on the telly (It wasn't one of the 'home' teams.).  Eventually I was joined by the resident old codger who imparted a tale of smoke like fog on his journey to the pub.  As I finished my pint two fire engines passed by, supporting his story, and when I left the pub smoke could be seen and smelled, although I couldn't actually see where the fire was.

I headed back towards the station but I had one more target in mind so I called in to the Victoria.  My first visit to this large pub back in 1998 caused me to describe it as youth-oriented and grubby.  Luckily things have massively improved since then, and in 2004 I recorded real ale and pleasant decor.  This time I found that one of the rooms has been split off to become a restaurant area, which was closed on Saturday afternoon.

Food is also served in the large bar room, which was busy with drinkers and diners, but not too busy for me to be quickly served with a fine pint of Deuchars IPA and to find a table to sit at and reluctantly watch a bit of football.  (I'm one of those people who, if there's a TV in my eyeline, cannot resist watching it - Very annoying for someone trying to have a conversation with me if the telly's over your shoulder!)

And so ended an enjoyable survey, on which I was pleasantly surprised to get four pints of good real ale in four pubs.  I dragged my gaze from the TV and marched back to the station, and home.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Good Beer Guide 2016

My copy arrived this morning, and I immediately rushed to check what's changed in Merseyside.

Since last year, 21 pubs have been dropped, and 19 added.  The additions include the return of old favourites and some new to the guide, including at least one I've never heard of!

As I say every year, you'll have to buy the guide to find more details.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Tired Beers in Eastham

A nice sunny afternoon and England looked to have the ashes in the bag, so I headed out for a survey to Eastham, and four pubs I haven't visited since 2003.  Sorry, no pictures this time.

First call was the splendid Hooton Arms, with a fine antique exterior and interior. Sadly the real ale didn't live up to the surroundings, and my pint of Old Speckled Hen was rather past its best, although not bad enough for me to reject it. I watched Doctor Who on the telly, and used my tablet to provide one of the locals with a cricket update (Australia 82 for 0).

Next, a stroll just a few yards up the road, past the church where a wedding was just beginning. Someone had come in to the Hooton to report that the groom had been lost; hopefully they'd found him again because the bride arrived as I headed on to what used to be the Stanley Arms. Now called the Montgomery, it's been done up rather well in contemporary pastel style, and concentrates on diners with an up-market menu. I selected Copper Dragon's Golden Pippin from the three hand pumps, and was disappointed to discover this was another pint somewhat past its best. As I sat in splendid isolation - I was the only customer at three on a Friday afternoon - I was somewhat miffed to see the Golden Pippin erased from the blackboard to be replaced by a new real ale. If only they'd done that before I arrived!

(138 for 4) The sunshine had been replaced by a grey overcast as I headed into the council estate of Mill Park to the pub I've got listed as the Rake, but apparently it's now the New Rake Hotel. This is a classic unspoiled 50s/60s estate boozer, complete with art deco style glasswork inside, and it's got classic estate pub customers to match! The only thing to show I hadn't gone back thirty or more years was the missing fug of cigarette smoke! No real ale, but after the last two pints I was quite pleased to have a decent Guinness.

(153 for 4) My fourth destination has also had a change of title, the rather long-named Argyll and Sutherland Highlander is now the Argyll, although not much else has changed in this well cared for sixties pub with a pleasant open interior. Quite a few locals were keeping the place lively at five on a Friday. No real ale so another Guinness; last time I was here, in 2003, there was a choice of four handpumps. The menu of pub standards looks to be good value for money. 189 for 5 and time to head for home.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


A bright and sunny but somewhat chilly day saw me taking the train to Formby where I hoped to fill in a few gaps in the guide.

I started at the Railway, located conveniently adjacent to the station.  My last visit here was as long ago as 1998 so it was well overdue for a re-visit.  It's now a member of the Ember Inns chain which despite being a food-oriented organisation usually means a decent pint of ale, and I was not disappointed.  There are about twelve hand-pumps all told, although by no means all in use.  The ales on offer were mainly standard national brews - nothing wrong with that -  and I selected a pint of Tribute which I was pleased to note came in a Tribute glass.

The interior decor of Ember Inns pubs always seems to be the same, a sort of contemporary style, slightly up market.  I was pleased to note that, apart from a small display advertising Christmas meals, the Christmas decorations had not yet arrived.  The place was pretty quiet, perhaps unsurprisingly on a cold Tuesday afternoon, but there was a steady trickle of custom.

If a visit to the Railway was overdue, then my next pub was doubly so, because I've never been to the Royal before.  Here I found a large free-standing building containing a pleasant pub with the standard two-sided layout.  The bar side, where I first entered, is somewhat plainer than the nicely done lounge side.

Initially I could see no handpumps in the bar side until I spotted one at the back of the bar with a London Pride clip on it.  I suspect this is merely a signpost to indicate real ale is available, although I suppose it could be an operational pump.  Anyway, I strolled round to the lounge side where the barmaid was, and found two handpumps.  Unusually for me I skipped the London Pride and stuck to the Cornish theme of the trip so far with a pint of Tribute from St Austell Brewery.  (Which I had the pleasure of visiting a few years ago.) It was spot on.

I selected a table at the far side of the lounge from where I could observe activity, but there wasn't any; the majority of the few customers preferring the bar side. 

I checked out the menu - standard pub food at good prices - and noted the pub was not apparently part of a chain.

Pub number three was the Village Inn, located in a former shop in Formby centre.  Not only have I never visited before, but this pub wasn't in the guide at all until I discovered it on Google streetview while planning the trip.

Here was a large, well cared for, plainly decorated room with TVs showing sports scattered around.  Definitely a "wet-led" operation this one, and no real ale either, so I settled for a Guinness.  There were plenty of  mostly cheerful drinkers in the place, many of them older than I, and more came in to join the throng round the bar as afternoon turned to evening.

The Christmas decorations were up, by the way.

So far in my wanderings I had walked past the Cross House Inn twice, and to get back to the station I had to pass again, so at last I went in.  This has a proper restaurant area, with diners being shown to their tables by waitresses, but it's still a true pub as well, with seating and a telly for non diners.  Various real ales were on offer and I finished the day with a pint of Titanic's Lifeboat.
The interior is very nice, with lots of wood panelling, and some fairly tasteful Christmas decorations (Bah!  Humbug!  It's still November!)

When I arrived I noted that the food operation was not doing well, as I could see no-one eating, but as I got further down my pint a steady flow of customers appeared for the restaurant.

Time for the train home, noting that with two new ones today I've now visited 1,167 pubs in Merseyside, and there are 1,786 listed in the guide.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


For absolutely no reason whatsoever, I headed towards Crosby for an afternoon out.  I took a bus ride from Liverpool, giving me the opportunity to update entries in the database along the way:  Lambeth - tinned up, Lighthouse - closed, Prince of Wales - building site, Knowsley - closed, William Shakespeare - open and so on, all the way to Crosby.  In all I noted information on 22 pubs.

Once off the bus I headed for Stamps, a small two-floor pub/bistro (That's what the sign says - I didn't see anyone eating.) serving a range of excellent real ales.  I had a wonderfully tangy pale one called Solar Glare from Shiny Brewing in Derby.

I wasn't quite truthful when I said 'no reason whatsoever' because my next destination was that most annoying of phenomena - A pub in the Good Beer Guide that I've never heard of.  This particular example of that rare classification is The Liverpool Pigeon, a self-proclaimed "Micro Pub" located in a former shop. 

Here, I found a single open rather bare room with a parquet floor.  In the corner a small counter offered an impressive selection of real ales, I selected Hawkshead's Windermere Pale.  I was rather impressed when the barman came over a minute later to double check on the quality of my drink, because mine was the last one out of the barrel.  Even being extra-critical because he'd asked, I couldn't fault the ale.

When I arrived there were only about four others in, and it did seem to be lacking a little in atmosphere, but I bet it's a lot better later on.

One very special feature of this place is the use of oversize lined glasses so you actually get a full pint of beer.  This has become very rare nowadays, and I have pretty much abandoned my campaign for a full pint because it was going nowhere, so it was a pleasant surprise to find the larger vessels here.  It felt slightly odd to hold the bigger 22 floz glass in my hand, and I had to struggle to suppress a tut-tut when someone passed by my seat carrying two pints with a generous head on each.

Note - They have limited opening hours and don't open until 4 on weekdays.

My third visit was to the George Hotel, located right in the centre of Crosby in a good-looking stone and half-timber building.  I haven't visited this pub since 1999 and I was pleased to see the wood panelling inside was still there.  In fact, the interior doesn't seem to have changed at all except that the "Surfeit of bunting, brewery adverts, disco lights and hand-drawn posters" which I grumbled about in my previous report have been substantially toned down, making the place even more attractive.

Only one real ale was on offer but as Bombardier has always been a favourite of mine one was enough.  I was somewhat startled to find the price was only £1.89, this must be one of the cheapest pints around nowadays, and on top of that they offer a buy four get the fifth free loyalty card!

On the ceiling I noted a number of disco lights and glitter balls which threatened deafening music later on, but at the time of my visit, about five on a Thursday, there was no music at all, and the pub was filled with the pleasant background hubbub of cheerful drinkers.