Life’s great artefacts: The Three Stags’ Heads, Geoff Fuller and his pots

Master potter and master publican, the late Geoff Fuller (together with his wife, Pat) made a difference to more lives than he’ll have ever known.

I can’t remember how many years ago we first went to the Three Stags’ Heads at Wardlow Mires. As a family we always headed to the Peak District for our Easter holidays. In later years the now ‘young adults’ in the family were introduced to the pub.

It always seemed such a huge change from my working life in the big business world of that London Town. You went in the pub knowing no-one was better than anyone else and you judged people on their merits. It was a simple pub that stripped people to the basics of a pint and a chat. Listening delivered wisdom of many kinds. Geoff, Pat and the rural polymath, Robin, behind the bar, created an atmosphere second to none.

Theres no doubt that Geoff brought the ‘irascible old bugger’ qualities of landlords past to new heights. God forbid if anyone didn’t shut the outside door properly. I remember one time when he went outside with the coal bucket and didn’t shut the door. On his return he was upbraided by Mrs TWM for his failure. He enjoyed the moment.

Harsh signs about mobile phones and asking for keg lager (‘a smack in the gob often offends’) belied the innate friendliness of the place. Outside the front door, a pumpkin carved by another local publican cheerily exclaimed ‘fuck off’. Everything done with warmth, just don’t forget you were a guest in their home. And don’t sit in Geoff’s chair by the fire.

There was a simple generosity about the place. A regular visitor who wasn’t going home to Germany at Christmas joined them for dinner. Pat asked if anyone had any spare Brussels as Tesco had run out, locals turned up with game. Food to be shared was brought out from a regular’s birthday celebrations the day before. It was that sort of place. Regulars from far and wide hefted to the Stags.

One snowy Christmas Eve, a few family members trudged across the snowy fields lit by moonlight from nearby Litton. Like the Three Kings we followed the single bulb outside the pub. More in hope than expectation. A bit like Headingley in 1981, everyone in the family walked there.

We opened the door to find it packed to the gunnels. Getting to the bar and toilet was like being like a part in the plastic number puzzles of my childhood. Everyone had to slide across to enable movement. A happier, chattier throng I’ve never met. As we stood there with a pile of coats on the floor, Geoff battled through to stoke the fire. “I see the bloody tramp’s in again”, he said as he stumbled over the pile.

One winter weekend, I stayed with my two adult kids in the youth hostel over the hill. (Mrs TWM was sunning herself in some exotic clime but still feels she missed out on our bargain weekend.) Friday night, a dash up the M1 and decent food and a couple of pints of Wincle in the hostel. Saturday morning we strode out on a hike. We managed 11 miles in nearly 11 hours. A poor effort if it hadn’t involved a session on the Brimstone. As we left the Stags my daughter uttered the immortal words, “Dad, were we philosophising, or just talking bollocks in there”.

As the first Abbeydale customer, the Stags always offered the best of their beers including the wonderful cask Brimstone. Just be wary of Robin’s persuasive words on the Black Lurcher beer if you were going to cross the A623 back to Litton. However, it was the people and the pub that really mattered.

Eventually the thoughts gathered here led us to early retirement and an escape to the Peak District from commuter land. We are humbly grateful for the opportunity to have experienced the Three Stags’ Heads in its heyday. I raise a glass to Geoff, Pat and the other players in the story of the pub.


What do I know?

I’m out of touch with what the pub-going public wants. There, I’ve admitted it.

A few days in Shropshire explained that the road to success is probably not my idea of pub perfection.

First stop, Sunday lunchtime in Holden’s Golden Lion in Bridgnorth. A spotless pub with wonderful cask beers and friendly locals. Masses of free cheese and crisps on the bar to feed the punters. The mild went down very quickly, as would the other Holden’s beers if we didn’t have to leave after a pint and a beef and onion cob. Sad to report that on a Sunday lunchtime in a perfect pub there was only half a dozen customers.

We exit perfection and walk past the nearby Wetherspoons. Packed outside and signs of more inside. That’s what many pub-goers want. Tim Martin knows the market and tightening purse strings will help him further.

On to Ludlow for a few days. Monday lunchtime, we wander down the hill to a riverside cafe. Not a pub shocker. Excellent food, a glass of wine. All tables full inside and out and serious money being spent by all.

At 4pm the thirst kicks in and we wander down to the Ludlow Brewery Tap. Old railway building on the edge of town. Comfortable for a brewery tap and decent beers. Not quite a Kirkby Lonsdale Barn but not far off. Closing at 5pm, but packed to the gunnels.

After a pint we head off back into the town centre to the historic Rose and Crown that’s had a bit of a Joule’s makeover. A tasty pint of Slumbering Monk, but we got the feeling it wasn’t doing so well. With just a few locals perched at the bar it didn’t suggest the usual Joule’s pub.

Tuesday lunchtime found us in the Three Tuns in Bishop’s Castle. A wonderful pub with a fine pub brewery history beloved by many. We were the only customers for most of our time there.

These are strange times and I get the feeling that some folk are still wary of the pub. And maybe they’ll never come back. For other people they’ll stick to their regular haunts and people they know.

Increasingly, I’m convinced that what I want from a pub isn’t what most of the market wants. It’s going to be tough going for my version of the perfect pub. Let’s hope enough people love them and more importantly spend money in them.

How come? Memories of a young drinker

A combination of advancing years, Boak & Bailey’s dastardly ‘Related’ links’ wormhole, and a lack of pub visiting has led me to to thinking about how I got into this beer drinking lark and specifically real ale. The story below may be riddled with inaccuracies but that’s age and beer for you.

2015-02-04 19.34.10

I also wanted to try and understand the psyche of the modern craft keg drinkers and their drinking venues. Is the craft keg emergence in some part a generational movement. In 1960s (and RetiredMartin) parlance,  a ‘get with it daddio’ moment. My son has better taste than me and certainly a more open mind..surely there must be something in these new beers with intense hoppiness and unusual flavours.

The mid 1970s had me drinking lager (22p a pint springs to mind) at the Poly bar with occasional forays into Wards and Stones in the Sheffield backstreet pubs. Quite rightly we were told…”you’re welcome to drink here, but don’t even think about stealing trophies”.

Cold tripe on the bar at the Captive Queen estate pub is burnt into the memory more than the beer. Occasionally we’d go up market and have a Stella!

Trips home to Burton would be Bass or Burton Ale (from 1976), never Pedigree. Being told off for sitting in someone’s regular seat at the Coopers. How could drinking beer be anything to write home about, it was just everywhere.


Who could say no to a true icon?

My dad, a confirmed keg lager drinker, just didn’t get why I would drink cask beer. Mucky beer that he’d seen my publican grandfather adulterate with slops and lemonade.

This was beer drinking because that’s what we did and we had what was available. Although I remember a lads’ holiday on the Norfolk Broads where we sought out pubs that had escaped the Watney’s Red Barrel curse. CAMRA having its first influence? I suspect we got very excited about Greene King in those days, and Adnams would have been off the scale.

Towards the end of the 1970s and early 1980s my memory suggests that life had changed. I had more money thanks to jobs and I’d hit the big cities of Birmingham and London. I suspect Richard Boston’s ‘Grauniad’ columns and the publication of his ‘Beer and Skittles’ had as much influence on the young middle-class as CAMRA.

However I do remember buying the 1978 Good Beer Guide. Had pubs and real ale been appropriated by the burgeoning graduate class? Or perhaps they just thought they had. A wonderful line in an extract from a Bristol Pub Guide in a recent tweet,  refers to a locals’ pub having “the students and trendies moving in”. All strangely reminiscent of current beer battle lines, perhaps.

We were so on trend with our nights in Atkinsons Bar, below the Midland Hotel in Birmingham. Barrels of Courage Directors, Ruddles (and possibly Bass, in my dreams) offering gravity poured pints from breweries of far away lands (relatively). I suspect there was some degree of drinking with ‘people like us’.

As a side line in drinking, it was Victorian back street pubs in the city centre or by the canal at the Prince of Wales. Ansells, Brew XI and the occasional Highgate Mild, all much loved by us town planners berated by Nairn.

When London beckoned at the start of the 1980s it was Sarf London boozers (we were right on), South Bank crawls and Firkin pubs. Beer types had started to matter but perhaps more importantly it was an opportunity to nail pubs as ours…well ours and similar people.

So as young folk we wanted beers that weren’t widely available, venues that were different and we liked to drink with people liked us. How times change.



What next for pubs?

My MP was asking for ideas on what to talk about re-pubs with Paul Scully, the under secretary for small businesses. Here’s my thoughts on what he and the government needs to do.

(Disclaimers: I’m not commenting on the need for financial support for pubs given that there are others knocking on that door. As I live in the Peak District, an area with relatively low rates of COVID, please don’t expect too many insights into urban living.)

As ever I’m thinking about those folks like me who are mere lovers of pubs and wistfully dream of the day when I can have a pint or two with mates after a walk.

They’re at it again

The last few months have had me shouting at the TV news on a regular basis but this week it went off the Richter Scale. ITV News presenter, Mary Nightingale, reported ‘they’re at it again’ in relation to a solitary publican in Walsall who decided to have a lock-in for customers. It was according to the reporter, ‘part of a stubborn minority who won’t obey the rules’. Go on, name them I shouted. Say what percentage of all publicans those pubs represent.

If ministers could do one thing for pubs I’d ask to start by recognising the good sense of 99.9% of publicans and their customers.

I’d like the Secretary of State for Business to say,

“No business sector could have done more to prepare themselves for COVID than the pub trade. They invested in COVID-safe infrastructure, equipment and monitoring. They showed why they provide such a great service to their communities. I note that many pubs have continued to help in feeding and delivering to the vulnerable in these difficult times. These pubs are a tower of strength in their communities

In the pandemic whenever pubs were open their customers behaved with good sense and helped in tracking, to a level unmatched by other retail outlets. It’s very unfortunate for them that as a government we have felt the need to shut pubs down.

The images in the media of groups drinking on the streets in the summer had more to do with off-sales of alcohol rather than pubs. We accept the good sense of publicans. Groups of police officers visiting well-respected pubs to look for COVID-ready failings had more in common with drones chasing dog-walkers and the harassment of women walking in the countryside, rather than British policing at its best.

The lockdown of pubs and the restrictions we have placed on them, have not been the fault of pubs and their customers. We now need to help pubs survive, recover and thrive as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Show a way forward

So how could government help? Pubs need to see a way forward. I recognise that fixed dates for the re-opening of pubs aren’t possible at this time. That doesn’t mean that pubs and their customers can’t be given hope and the opportunity to plan.

It’s time to set some targets. Government needs to decide the level of 7 day rates for positive cases, hospital admissions and population vaccinated per head of population, that need to be achieved by local area before pubs can open. Opening targets would offer an incentive to pub-goers and the opportunity for brewers, pubs and ancillary suppliers the chance to plan for their businesses.

Offer the pub sector a carrot and then, in my view, most publicans would accept the need for strict COVID-ready compliance. If that includes the government telling people to use local pubs rather than travel, so be it. Sorry to my chums the pub tickers, but you may have to stay at home for a while. Save your local, drink local.

By all means be tough on those few pubs who won’t comply. If that means some losing their licence so be it. We have to get pubs open.

End the substantial

During the pandemic there have been a few rules and guidelines without much evidence to justify decisions. Pubs seem to have suffered from this more than any other sector. The government ‘study’ with its comparison of all UK pubs to a few cases of transmission in bars across the world was one of the worst. It was poor research, it failed to make logical arguments and failed to present relevant evidence. It was a flimsy fig leaf to justify pub closures.

Whilst I’m partial to a pie and chips with my pint, I’ve yet to understand how the pie makes me less likely to fall prey to the virus. The ‘substantial meal’ issue has led to a level of ‘scotch egg’ ridicule that any government would do well to avoid. It’s also financially ruined the wet-led pubs that are the bedrock of many communities.

Let’s get the pubs open and forget the ‘substantial’. Publicans are experienced in dealing with customers who can’t behave. Let the publicans run the pub.

Understand pubs’ products

Pubs sell products with a very limited shelf life. In particular, the challenge of serving traditional cask beer at its best means that brewers and publicans need to have certainty that their outlets are open and will stay open. We cannot have a few weeks open and then shutdown again. Better to open later rather than too early. Please give them time to plan.

Be honest about PHE’s views on pubs

And finally, can we please have some honesty from government, the NHS and Public Health England. If they feel that pubs and their selling of alcohol is the personification of evil then let’s have a public debate backed by an understanding of pubs. Detailed evidence rather than the prejudice of a so-called health lobby. Some of us feel that pub closures have reflected temperance views as much as a need to control the spread of the virus.

Pubs have a hugely important role in their local communities. The majority of pubs are light years away from the Hogarthian vision of some health commentators. Beer is not the main reason people go to pubs. Pubs are not the reason for isolated cases of excessive drinking on city streets. Pre-loading and off-sales needing to be recognised as a serious issue, rather than blaming the pubs for every social disorder going.

Pubs offer the chance to be part of our wider world. A world that at its best accepts anyone, allows anyone to talk or read their book.

Let’s hear it for the pub and most importantly let’s hear it from a government that supports pubs.

We’re in this together

On a recent stroll in Arkengarthdale, north of Reeth, we happened across the Red Lion in Langthwaite. The sort of small spick and span country pub that gladdens my heart. It’s wonderful that it looks so good given that head-high flood waters rushed through and almost destroyed the pub in 2019.


If pubs are to survive the new normal my feeling is that we all have to do our bit. Pubs shouldn’t feel alone, we all have to be in this together. So, we weren’t stopping but we did. Gelled up, boots wiped I went in for my 3 halves of Black Sheep Bitter and a half of  lager. Every sale helps we thought. It was a friendly welcome from the owner and the beer was clear as a bell.

We sat down in the sun for our brief refreshment. A gulp of mine suggested it wasn’t quite right and Mrs TWM’s impeccable tastebuds confirmed the diagnosis.

I’m always wary of those very infrequent occasions (about once a year) when I’ve taken a beer back. I’ve had bar staff in a now former GBG pub holding up the beer to the light and loudly declaring to the bar and colleagues, it’s fine. (A later apology just a little too late.) I’ve had the ‘there’s a CAMRA chap in. I’ll ask him’, response in a brewery tap. i.e. the punter knows nothing and you shouldn’t bring it back.

I gathered up the beers and went back in the Red Lion. “Sorry, but I think your Black Sheeps gone”, says I, exuding technical knowledge…not. Now remember this is from a bloke who’s only bought four halves. A tight spender from out of town. I received a response that should be in every pub chain’s training manual.

“It might be the end of the barrel, sometime it’s alright to the last pint and sometimes it isn’t. I’ll go and check”. After a while the landlady comes back with a bucket in hand confirming it needed a new barrel. A bucketful pulled through and then a near half put on the bar. “Try that please”, was the friendly instruction. I declared it perfect. “Well you best finish it”, and so I did as my replacement three halves were pulled.

It was my best pub experience of the last few years. A small event of enormous generosity that we need to all match in my view. Let’s be kind to each other and our pubs as we get through these difficult times. If the Red Lion and its indomitable women can get through head-high floods of destruction and come out smiling, the rest of us can make an effort to support them and their ilk.

Please support the Pub.

Things can only get better, perhaps

The pubs are opening…hurrah. The pubs will have a higher cost base and less customers…boo.

I have no doubt there’ll be a surge in pub going on 4th July and good luck to the pubs and their customers. My suspicion is it’ll be the equivalent of a New Year’s Eve occasion with a January dip to follow.

Despite the initial enthusiasm, there will be regular pub goers who will be reticent to join the fray and there will be pub locations that will lose their trade into 2021. In many pubs, it’s a core of regulars that keep them going. Can they be relied on? There’s surely a big question mark over who’s going to hold back amongst consumers in the rest of 2020. As if the lower numbers due to social distancing measures aren’t enough of a problem.


Who’ll hold back?

Whilst some may say sod it I’m off to assert my god-given right to go to the pub, others may be unwilling to cross the threshold. Those with health conditions and with carer responsibilities may be obvious but there will be others. The lockdown pub alternatives may be the way forward for some. For others, rising unemployment may crush their pub-going spirit.

The Zoom and craft beer at home lifestyle, becoming used to drinking cheaper beer at home, or meeting up in the park may take some shifting as new consumer habits take root. Under the government’s guidance, pubs may no longer offer the social setting pub-goers crave. There are now other routes to drinking that folks see as the new norm. And by the middle of July, family and friends’ back-garden BBQs may be the preferred option.

There will no doubt be more market research going on to look at who is prepared to go back to the pub. In terms of current information, the consumer profile of the post-COVID pub-goers may be very different to what came before. Analysis (1/5/20) by Ipsos MORI reports that 6/10 of us would be uncomfortable in going to pubs and restaurants.

Of course these worries may have eased somewhat over time, but for me the main finding is that the young (36% of 18-34 year olds) are more willing to go back to the pub than the old (22% of 55-75s). If the relative percentages of pub-going concern persist I suspect that’s not good news for cask ale and wet-led pubs.

Which places will lose their trade? 

Off to the match   

In The Athletic online sports paper, Andy Mitten looks at the problems of the pandemic for the match-day economy around Old Trafford. In particular the Wetherspoons’ Bishop Blaize pub.

“We’re full to our 600 capacity hours before kick-off,” explains Ben Plunkett, 38, who has managed the Bishop Blaize pub for 11 years…”I just hope that fans can come back to matches as soon as possible. I’m doubtful that will be in 2020, and it’s that uncertainty which worries me most — we just can’t plan.”

It’s not just match-day business for the Blaize, “We’re busy the day before and the day after. Fans start arriving from Ireland or Scandinavia the day before a weekend game and this will be their home from home.

“We’re also packed when there’s a big cricket game or concert at the other Old Trafford over the road…We can also get pretty full before a concert at the Victoria Warehouse.”

Whilst not many have the long-distance pulling power of Manchester United, the loss of the match-day economy will have repercussions for pubs across the UK, particularly if the return for supporters is home fans only. Even in the lower leagues of football, pubs are an important part of the day’s events for home and away fans.

Will TV sport be part of their salvation? Back to the manager of the Bishop Blaize pub…

“Pubs are set to open on July 4. United are at home (to Bournemouth) that day and it could be perfect for us.”

For many pub owners their social distancing plans may well be challenged if they push the opportunity to watch matches in the pub. The scientists will be concerned about the consequences and the police will be very wary of groups gathering near football grounds.

Time will tell. A few pints of Bass for me at the Stretton Social Club before a match at the Pirelli Stadium seems a long way off.

What’s happened to our students?

Whilst students might not be the big pub spenders they once were, I fear for some of the pubs in our cities. In places such as Leeds and Sheffield, where the student population has dominated many areas, pubs will surely suffer from the knock-on effect of the move to online teaching. I can see little point in expensive student accommodation if there’s no face-to-face experience at the university. It’s a ‘bad news, good news’ story for parents.

Staying local?

Others have mentioned that punters will make their own decisions as to whether a pub is ‘safe’ and worth a visit in terms of their social offer. Will that lead to people staying local and sticking with the pubs they know?

If so, that’s another nail in the coffin of rural pubs dependent on visitors and the tourist dollar unless they can up their online information and presence. Travelling pub-goers will want to know what to expect when they get to a pub. Given that some operators struggle to provide information on opening hours, it’s going to be a challenge to let visitors know what they can expect in terms of their safety at the pub.


Will opening in July be the easy bit? I think it’s what comes after that will test many pubs to the limit. I wish them well.


BarBarrick views on Bass

This a guest post by Richard Barrick sharing his memories of Bass, Burton and the brewing world.

“As a lifelong ‘Bass man’, (Dad worked for Bass North 1972-86 and quickly learned Draught Bass was ‘the Rolls Royce’ of beers), it’s absolutely brilliant to discover I wasn’t the only one who appears to care about the existence of this ale and brand!

I first drank Draught Bass at a free house on the A19 south of Selby in 1979/80. Bass at that time was still fermented in the Burton Unions within the then No 2 Brewery on Station Street. I still believe that that the ale I got to know, love and be constantly amazed by until it began changing in the mid 1980s, was the finest beer I’ve ever had. I don’t think today’s version is in the same class (my opinion) but I do think it’s got better and better in more recent years at Marston’s. And love it still I do but as I say to everyone, a bit of it is ‘drinking from memory’!

Bass flyer

I spent 20 years in advertising creative departments, including writing the print/poster campaign for Ind Coope Burton Ale in 1989.  but following and creating trends as part of the job could run counter to what I thought really mattered. In this way, as a reaction against the cyclic pattern of ‘foreign bottled lagers’, I began nuancing the company Christmas parties by bringing in cask ales and regional British foods of the sort that I feared, big budget ad spends could advertise out of existence. Dubbed ‘BarBarrick’ the parties introduced many an amazed ad executive to the delights of cask English beer, pork pies, black pudding etc etc!

In around 2010, I got to know the owner of a then Bass outlet, The Ship in central London. A former Wenlock house, his father had built it into quite a temple to Bass and it was their only cask ale. With his blessing I organised the arrival of cask Worthington ‘E’ and a firkin of P2 (both recreated by Steve Wellington in Burton) for a famous night where all three were on sale, hand pulled, in a central London pub! ”

Mr Barricks Pies

Note: Richard runs Mr Barrick’s Pies, producing the only pork pies with a steam hole offering the glory of a red triangle. Hopefully when National Bass Day takes place sometime in the next few months, Richard’s pies will be gracing the bar of the Derby Inn in Burton.

It’s the differences that make pubs the same

(Pubs are wonderful places but our NHS workers are even more wonderful. Please do the right thing by them and our vulnerable ones over the next few weeks.)

As someone who usually has to be dragged out of the Peak District I’ve done some exploring in the last few months. As an obsessive I couldn’t leave home without a bit of research and a spreadsheet or two about bars and breweries. With help from the internet and beer Twitter it seemed safe enough to leave the land of village pubs and brown beer.

You’ll be pleased to know this isn’t a travelogue, albeit without an Alan Whicker voiceover. It’s more my reflections on how pubs and bars, across the globe, often seem very different but how the essence of the good ones is remarkably similar.

My journey starts in Ushaia on the southern tip of Argentina, a typical navy town that might not be the perfect stop for Brits. We played safe and headed for a craft brewery tap. Faced with a closed sign we moved on and warily approached a nearby old but garishly painted corrugated iron building with neon signage. ‘Bar Ideal’ it said, we’d be the judge of that.

It was a sports bar, decked out with navy memorabilia, shirts and the inevitable TV. Not a sports bar in modern parlance, it had more of the lovingly and gently battered air of Woodies in New Malden.


We approached the bar to see the beers on offer, in our typically British blokes way. We were ushered back to our seats followed by the main man, in his typically Argentinian way, with his drinks and food list.

Our Spanish was as good as his English. Negligible, apart from Mrs TWM. I’m not sure how it happens in a pub or bar but it became clear that, even without a common language, we were going to get along fine. We liked his Beagle beers and him and he liked us.

In the manner of a one-man Sam Smith’s he laughed at our enquiry about wi-fi. He smiled as we wandered the pub (it no longer felt like a bar) admiring his football and rugby shirt collection on the walls. We were welcomed into ‘his place’ and he realised we were happy to follow his benign unwritten rules, he was ‘the guvnor’. Before we left he turned to Mrs TWM, nodding in the direction of me and my mate Chris and said, “muy simpatico’. We felt much the same.

The pleasure of a new pub is the possibility that when you open the door something magical will appear. In the difficult times we’re in at the moment I increasingly realise it’s not the beer, it’s not the building, it’s the humanity of the places I’m missing.

Those shirts, the navy memorabilia and the indefinable feel of the place reflected the essence of the publican and his customers. A human warmth that passes all understanding.

In between trips abroad we needed a local stroll and headed along the Limestone Way from Elton to Winster. The White Peak at its best. Rolling green fields tidily wrapped with stone walls. A landscape cleared and created by man but none the worse for that.


We emerged at the top of Winster village and passed the Miners’ Standard. A pub that in our minds had gone downhill from our memories of years ago. We knew little of its recent history despite it being on the doorstep. It was a mystery apart from a new pub sign and a minor wash and brush-up on the outside. 

I persuaded Mrs TWM to turn round and give it a try. Halves and out the door if it hadn’t changed, I promised.

The door opened on to a place transformed. Not in a gastro pub way and really not much of a physical difference. Spiritual or metaphysical change? Or perhaps ‘it just feels different’ is easier to accept.

It had a life inside, village life. The lads at the bar happily moved aside to let me see the pumps. Bass was a surprise find but it didn’t really matter that the beer was so good.

The women serving were friendly in a ‘perfect pub’ manner. This place had evolved, not been manufactured in a training manual. By the time I got back through the throng, Mrs TWM had established ‘village across the dale’ credentials and been told what a difference the licensees had made to their village. It was their pub and the locals’ pub, but we were a part if only a transient part of the joy. Please come back the locals said. We will.

Just like the Ideal Bar, some 6,000 miles away, we were guests in somebody else’s pub world, but very welcome guests.

And then to Bruges. Wonderful beers and bars aplenty. Great advice from beer Twitter with promises of forgotten nights from 11% Tripels.

Strange then that our favourite was a simple neighbourhood bar that closed at 8pm in the evening. Volkscafe Sint-Jakobs was essentially Tom the owner. A gentle soul who enjoyed music from a gentler era.

The walls were covered in albums from the 60s and 70s, some classics, some cheesy. The music matched, as did the atmosphere, but strangely not in a nostalgic way. Just delivering a gentler pace.


Like all the pubs I’ve described it set its own tone. It walks its own path. Beers to enjoy and relax with. It was a place intent on doing things its own way and welcomed you to be part of it.

See you on the other side. Take care all.

National Bass Day will live on

Edited 8th July 2020

It was inevitable in the current crisis that I would have to announce the postponement of National Bass Day (now cancelled – please see below). From an idea that started over a pint of Draught Bass in a village pub in the Peak District it’s grown into a wonderful campaign that’s been supported by many.  My heartfelt thanks to those who’ve supported the idea of a crowd-sourced list of Bass pubs culminating in National Bass Day.


I’m sad, but more importantly, I’m extremely sad for those publicans who sell Bass and have been so supportive of the campaign. I wish you well and promise the Bass drinkers will be back.

Given the current circumstances (as at July 2020), National Bass Day 2020 is cancelled. Why not have a pint or two of Bass locally on 22nd August to celebrate this great beer.

National Bass Day 2021 will be on Easter Saturday, 3rd April 2021.

Obviously if some pubs are open (or doing take-away Bass) and on Easter Saturday this year by all means enjoy your beer. However keeping the NHS going has to be everyone’s priority. If you’re at home on 11th April. pour yourself a beer and raise a glass to a day that will come again.

Let’s keep National Bass Day going in 2021 and onwards.

Look after yourselves.

All the best.  Ian


National Bass Day 2020

Go in to a pub, any pub. The chances are there will be a Bass mirror on the wall. Many thousands of them across the country pay homage to one of the world’s finest cask ales. Yet, there are now less than 500 pubs in Britain selling Bass on a regular basis. (See Labouring with love through the Bass mirror ). The unintended consequences of government legislation has left Draught Bass languishing in the brand basement of AB InBev. That it has survived at all is a miracle.


It’s now time to celebrate its survival and look forward. National Bass Day 2020 is on Easter Saturday, 11th April and it coincides with William Bass buying his Burton brewery in 1777. It’ll soon be the 250th anniversary. Let’s start practising.

I’m not looking to see Draught Bass in the 9,000 pubs of the 1980’s but it’s just too good to let it fade away. Even in 2011 it was reported to be in 3,000 pubs on a permanent basis (see Mirror, Mirror on the pub wall, where can I drink Draught Bass?  ). The danger of the argument that goes, ‘I don’t want it in more pubs because the quality will go down’ is a recipe for extinction.

You can make a difference by supporting National Bass Day 2020. If you care about beer and pubs please read on to see how you can help. It’ll be worth your efforts.

Is Draught Bass still that beer, produced in the Burton Union system, in my memory from the days as a young bloke in Burton. Who knows, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. What is certain is that the Draught Bass, currently brewed under licence by Marston’s in Burton, is one of the most well-crafted traditional beers coming out of any brewery in England.  As Roger Protz has written, “If Timothy Taylor’s Landlord…or Draught Bass are bland beers, I am a banana sandwich.” He’s not a banana sandwich, but he does support National Bass Day 2020. Thanks Roger.

There’s no doubt that Draught Bass needs expert cellaring, it needs time and care. However in the right hands it’s a subtle gem that sells very well and gains a loyal following. As the manager of Simpson’s Tavern in the City of London reports, “training here consists of two rules, look after the customers and never remove Draught Bass”. Even in my own village local, a tentative move to having it as a guest beer resulted in their fastest selling cask ale of the year. 

Landlords such as Hughie Price at the Tynemouth Lodge Hotel, Carl Stout at Burton’s Devonshire Arms and the team at the Star Inn, Bath are fine exponents of the Draught Bass craft. 


So how can you help?

First of all, have a pint or two of Draught Bass on Easter Saturday. If you’re on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram etc. please let people know the pubs you’ll be in. Don’t wait until Easter Saturday, tell us now where you’ll be and use the hashtags #DraughtBass, #NationalBassDay, #NBD2020. And, of course, encourage your local to get Draught Bass on the bar. Could you be the leading Draught Bass pub ticker on National Bass Day 2020?

If you’re a landlord why not promote the day and let folk know that you’ll have Draught Bass on the bar. I’ll be offering free downloadable posters. Please PM me with your contact details through Twitter @TheWickingMan . A number of pubs have already offered to be the lead in their area. If you’re interested in doing the same please let me know.

If you’re involved in a CAMRA branch feel free to use the material in any of my posts for inclusion in your branch newsletters, and please highlight those pubs in your area who have Draught Bass. You might even want to produce a Draught Bass pub trail for the day? Places like Derby, Leek, Burton and Hinckley offer a very good day out.

If you’re a beer writer, blogger or on Twitter please let the world have your take on Draught Bass. Everything from your favourite Draught Bass pubs in your patch through to the history of Bass is very welcome. Support in the weeks leading to National Bass Day will be particularly useful. However, if the urge to write is already there, don’t let me hold you back.

If you’re a micro-brewery how about paying your own tribute to Draught Bass with a one-off brew? Go on, why not have a go.

Many thanks to the people who’ve offered their help promoting the day. It’s all much appreciated and I’ll be sending out regular updates by email and in blogposts. As ever I’d like to thank my Draught Bass mates, Pub Curmudgeon, Retired Martin, and Britain Beer Mat for their support. I couldn’t have asked for finer companions in a virtual pub.

By the way, if you get this far and think why is this bloke organising National Bass Day? What’s in it for him? Well, somebody has to, so why not me. I don’t have financial connections to any breweries or pubs.

Enjoy your Draught Bass. It’ll be the best Easter Saturday you’ve ever had.

All the best