Clive of India Pale Ale

We embarked on a pre-Christmas dads and lads outing to St Albans’ pubs – it was difficult to work out who was leading who astray. Enough to say that any evening that starts with winter ales, has a middle of pub carol singing with St Albans’ Morris folk and ends with a kebab is unlikely to result in much erudition. However, somewhere in the mists of drinking, some of us (i.e. Clive and myself), discussed the problem of IPA. At The Goat pub the dads had gone for Redemption’s Big Chief IPA and a couple of the lads had chosen Well’s Eagle IPA (or whatever they are calling it this week).

Whilst Clive would even ask for a blood transfusion to have added Citra hops I’m more of a roasted malts man but we can agree on a beer needing some taste and complexity. The Well’s IPA tasted of – well it didn’t have a taste to be frank, whereas the Big Chief was full of flavour including some citrus stuff but so much more than a ‘we’ve bunged in a load of Citra hops to make a strong beer that’s like alcoholic bitter lemon’.  Anyway pity was taken on the errant lads and extra pints of Big Chief were purchased to much acclaim.

The essence of my complaint about IPA is that as a description it’s now about as much use as teats on a bull. A Google search has over 680,000 results for “India Pale Ale” reflecting the fact that it has become a meaningless term of no use to the beer drinker e.g. someone explain black pale ale to me. But in a way, worse than meaningless given that it’s become a label used to sell any old (or even new craft) sludge.

In my early drinking career Worthington’s White Shield was a good bottle-conditioned standby in Burton’s pubs and a useful finish to a night when another full pint was unnecessary. It was a classic IPA (I mean to say was) and today it remains a ‘proud member’ of the Molson Coors’ Global Portfolio…in fact they’re so proud of it coming from Burton on Trent (sic) they even illustrate the Worthington’s White Shield web page with that beautiful corner of Burton otherwise known as Dunsop Bridge in Lancashire. Marketing muppets.

Anyway enough of my anti-Coors ranting, I don’t ask for much, so please dear brewers if you label a beer as an IPA make sure it tastes of something, that it’s more complex than an alcoholic bitter lemon and remember its origins as a Pale Ale.

Lunch with Dave and SamCam

Proper hill walking and the northern home counties aren’t easy bedfellows but the Chilterns give a decent opportunity to stretch the legs and get a good view or two. It’s a bonus that it’s an area packed with decent pubs.

We parked at the Plough at Cadsden (more of that later) with a plan to do a circular walk around Chequers (country house of the UK Prime Minister). We headed east on the Ridgeway with a testing hill to wake us up as the Red Kites swirled around checking us out as likely carrion. We strolled through old woodland, crossing a lane to Chequers with just a ‘Private Road’ sign to stop an incursion.

Another incline and we reached the Coombe Hill memorial. Although it’s only 260m above sea level, it offers some of the best views in Southern England and luckily for us the sun started to break through giving us views out to the northern horizon. The walking was now easy, the chatting was good but the inbuilt satnav started failing. It was a fine day so not a problem and we picked up the track down towards Dave & SamCam’s place. We walked across the main drive with just a couple of cameras watching us and a helicopter drifting overhead.

Coombe Hill

Atop Coombe Hill

Whilst we didn’t get invited into lunch we did ponder that our most senior politician resides in a country house estate covered in public footpaths with only a warning that crossing a low fence means you’ll be subject to terrorist offences or some such. We speeded up as our ‘pint’ visualisation techniques put us on a par with elite athletes. Quickly down the hill into Cadsden, boots off and into the Plough.

Good to see a packed pub in the middle of relative nowhere – you could feel a well run pub as you walked through the door. Very friendly folk on the bar with Marlow’s Rebellion IPA on offer as well as Brakspear’s Bitter. Excellent beers kept really well, topped up with very good freshly cooked food from a kitchen that coped admirably with the rush. It’s the pub where David Cameron left his daughter behind. I’m sure they kept her entertained and at least the Camerons support their local.

It was a perfect morning walk, 7 miles (after an initial ‘estimate’ of 5.5 miles) and an excellent pub stop but there are days when life just gets better and we set off for the Chiltern Brewery to buy the Christmas beer. (I refuse to pay to go in a pub.) As one of the UK’s oldest micro-breweries you’re served by people in brewery ties and aprons rather than hipster beards and you’re unlikely to find a mango-infused American IPA (8.5%). As I’m scribbling I have a glass of their Foxtrot helping the words to flow – a rich dark ale that’s surprisingly low in alcohol. Their beers are traditional in their taste and quality – not a bad combination. If you want a brewery trip for a day out from London their tutored tastings with beer and food are very good value and informative.

As the only non-driver I was the allocated taster for a range of fruit infused gins – we’re reckoning that Foxdenton‘s Winslow Plum with Aldi Champagne could be a good Christmas cocktail combination. A bit like mixing Benylin cough mixture with fizz. They had a good range of beers on draught as well as specials in bottle and unlike many micros they offer the choice of rough or bright for polypins. I still think there’s something magical about settling a beer – the wait is always worthwhile. As Sting might call it – tantric beer drinking. The Chiltern Brewery with its drinks, food and friendly chat would even bring a smile to old Scrooge’s visage. Happy Christmas to one and all.

OK pub, wrong gear

You know how it is…it’s only a short stroll across the fields to the next village, the weather forecast is fine so I’ll go in jeans – amateur walker you cry, he’s in the wrong trousers, Grommit. It gets gloomy and then rains. Why do jeans become like a boa constrictor on your legs as the rain drips incessantly off the bottom of a jacket, just as I’m trying to traverse a field where the horses have decided to congregate by the kissing-gate. Why do animals always gather around a stile?

A few purchases at Cunnington’s Lighting Centre (the wonderful antithesis of multiple retailing), bulk sausage buying at the butchers over the river Lea and then I might as well have a pint at the re-opened Swan. A swan not a phoenix, although it did rise from the ashes of a fire in 2013. It’s a pub that worked hard to keep its community links alive through various guises during re-building, despite the sloth-like UK planning system.

As I opened the door I realised how important the ‘grey pound’ is to the lunchtime trade of a village pub – I felt young again. A good choice of beers and the Bitter & Twisted from Harviestoun perfect for a thirst. The beer revival has spread to the extent that a standard village local will often have a decent range of beers and keep them in good condition. All in all a good pub working hard at serving the local community.

pub drugs

The Wrong Gear

However every pub should think twice about informal notices – particularly about the wrong gear. The old folk in the pub were probably on plenty of drugs but it’s easy to make something appear wrong if you give out the wrong message. A bit like giving lines to a whole class when the teacher knows who did it.

Anyway time to head home and a good job I was riding Shanks’ pony otherwise the gate could have meant a dismount. A drizzly walk back home and low and behold the sun starts to shine. Oh BBC and your 20% chance of rain…

bridleway

Shetland pony riders only

Too cool for old school?

Despite a deepening aversion to CAMRA (I’ll get to it in a later blog) I remain a traditionalist seeking out bitter and mild on a hand pump and I have a historic ‘keg gives me a headache’ prejudice. As a result I’ve wavered about visiting the Verulam Arms in St Albans – in essence I thought its website description of “introducing a Craft Beer Bar” was just too cool for my old school views. Was I facing Shoreditch in St Albans? On the basis that it might be a Gunmakers for the ‘burbs I’ve given it a go a couple of times recently.

The food, with its wild and foraged theme, is very good but I’ll focus on the pub and the beer. Whilst there are lots of people eating it feels very much like a pub rather than a restaurant and it breezed through the welcome test on both nights I was there – one trip for food the other just for beer. They had a few hand pumps including Adnams’ Old Ale and a Tring Christmas yo ho ho special. However in for a penny in for a pound I decided to avert my gaze for the ‘Old’ and head for the new – keg.

They had a couple of Adnams’ Jack Brand brews, a Camden Pale Ale and Titanic Stout. Strange, I thought,  offering beer in halves, two-thirds and pint glasses. Prejudice to the fore I grumbled in my head about craft beer pretentious nonsense but then gave it some thought. A half is just something to top up the last pint before closing but maybe a two-thirds measure could work if there’s plenty of decent choices.

I’d tried some of the Jack Brand beers in bottle on a recent trip to Suffolk and I’m impressed with Adnams as a business – but how good are these fancy dan craft keg attempts? The Adnams 1659 Smoked Ruby Ale was a beer for the fireside – I’ll leave the description to the brewer. As the man behind the bar said, the Adnams Crystal Rye IPA isn’t quite an IPA. I’d agree – at least not one of those ‘smack you in the mouth’ harsh IPAs that seem to be churned out by yet another new kid on the block. Much more subtle and better for it. (My daughter when given a taste declared it too cold and fizzy – a taught traditionalist I wondered.)

As Adnams has claimed, it’s been making craft beers for centuries and the latest attempts show innovation as good as the best of the new. As for the rest of the kegs, the Titanic Stout was like meeting a trusted old friend from Staffordshire, always reliable, and the Citra heavy Camden Pale was just as it says on the tin and for me that’s where it stays in future.

The Verulam is a fine pub with good beers and a few doors down is the Farriers (see earlier blog) a fine pub with good beers. They’re as different as chalk and cheese and that for me is the greatest talent of English pubs.

Well done Verulam Arms – old school dogs can learn new tricks. It’s a Gunmakers for M25 land and only a short walk from the Abbey. Christmas Eve Evensong and two-thirds of Verulam’s own newly brewed medieval ale might be just the job.

All the gear and ready for a beer

It was pointed out to me recently that my blog was supposed to be about walking as well as beer and it was about time I removed myself from the bar. Loins girded we started off from our friends’ place at Clough Mill in Little Hayfield to go round Kinder Reservoir (and then Lantern Pike on the following day). I still have a touch of the puritan attitude and feel that a beer should be earned and a decent stroll obviously qualifies. (The pint of Landlord at The Lantern Pike on Thursday evening was weakly justified by a long drive northwards. As the pub where the first Corrie scripts were written by Tony Warren it had to be worth a visit.)

It’s impossible to describe Kinder Scout without heading into the word box for ‘brooding presence’. It just suits a day with a touch of mist, drizzle and a breeze to chill you down. Whilst I’m all for a sunny day in the hills (usually in thewickingman shirt and shorts) it felt good to be wrapped in multiple layers following in the footsteps of the mass trespass folk from Manchester way.

We started off through the grounds of Park Hall where we came across the sadly decayed elegance of the hall’s heated outdoor pool. Even in the 1960s it seems to have been in use by the locals – I’m sure it made an interesting alternative to the municipal baths.  Out of the hall grounds and we soon had Kinder looming above us as we joined the Snake Path. The white-painted shooting cabin on Leygatehead Moor always reminds me of a cricket pavilion for what I imagine would be a game involving ‘hit a grouse and it’s 6 and out’.

kinder

Good on you, Benny Rothman

At the bottom of William Clough (named after the son of the Blades manager I wondered) we paused to let the pure damp air fill our nostrils. It was a good moment to think about my 250 miles of the Strathmore Stroll in 2015 as I knew I’d be walking down the said Clough in early September. Note to self – it’s time to plan the route in detail.

We headed round the eastern side of the reservoir and met the Kinder Road and sped up to reach the The Sportsman. It’s at such times that I think most walkers use sports’ visualisation techniques – imagine a full pint (straight or jug) and you’ll be in the pub at double quick time. The Sportsman was like most pubs we visited in our trip to the Peak – solid, reliable and short of customers.

I noticed in Monday’s Morning Advertiser alert that Roger Protz is telling us that, “The country deserves better than just leaving our dwindling pub stock to market forces.” I’m just not sure who is supposed to run ailing pubs at a loss. As alternatives should we frogmarch young folk to grubby back street boozers, arrest people who leave supermarkets with a bag of beer or operate a massive state subsidy. Perhaps not.

Anyway rant over and back to The Sportsman, a Thwaites’ pub – a fine pint of their Original Bitter and a very substantial sandwich & chips, but we were the only customers on a Friday lunchtime. They have bedrooms so it’s not a bad choice for a Kinder walking weekend. (I was amused recently to read in the London Standard that Thwaites’ Wainwrights was named after the Lake District walking books. AW would not have been amused.)

Next morning it was a stride up Lantern Pike through pasture fields with millstone grit walls. Very much a traditional Dark Peak walk and none the worse for that. The Little Mill Inn  at Rowarth was a welcome sight – feeling very much in the middle of nowhere but only about 8 miles from Stockport as the crow flies. As a man for tradition (boring says son) I’m not keen on supposedly amusing names for beers – I prefer the beer to do the talking. However in a wild thirst induced moment I went for the Jennings World’s Biggest Liar – a 4.3% bitter that veered nicely into roasted malt territory, honest. Brewed to celebrate their hosting of the recent competition it’ll be a shame if it disappears. Another pub with good fresh-cooked food and well-kept beer but we were the only customers for a while.

A short walk to Hayfield in the evening and it looks like The Village TV drama has given Hayfield a lift. The Royal Hotel has had a polish but it’s kept its three-sided bar to deliver a pint of Thwaites and also a pint of Kinder Falldown, nothing special – must remember to stick to beers with sensible names. The Royal refurbishment seems to have done the job. It was a packed Saturday night and its function room was in full swing with an 80s fancy dress night. I imagine a summer walk over Kinder, a pint or two outside and the tail end of a cricket match on the adjacent ground would be a fine day.

We wandered over the road to The George for a final pint – a surprisingly decent Adnam’s Old Ale given its long journey from Southwold and the Marstons’ EPA was also doing well. As we headed back to our beds we passed The Packhorse – a sad scribbled notice reporting its last day on Sunday. Much as I love a pint in a Peak District pub I realise they can’t all survive just for my occasional pleasure. Some will thrive, some will struggle and some will be lost forever. It’s illuminating to note that a vacant freehold pub in the Peak now sells for less than the equivalent residential property. Please explain that one CAMRA.