Friday, 20 October 2017

Loafing around Leicester

Last month, Richard Coldwell of Beer Leeds suggested that he, Martin Taylor and I get together for a day out which we could all write up on our respective blogs and compare our different perspectives. We settled on Leicester as somewhere fairly equidistant from the three of us, that none of us knew particularly well, and which offered Martin the opportunity of a few new GBG ticks. We also invited CAMRA veteran and prolific letter-writer to What’s Brewing Paul Mudge (no relation) for whom it’s a fairly easy train trip from Stafford via Nuneaton. The date was set for Tuesday 17th October.

After a strange day of storms, yellow sky and hazy orange sun, it dawned bright and clear and markedly fresher, and I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the Vale of Edale on the train ride between Stockport and Sheffield. One tweeter made a rather mischievous suggestion as to what the assembled company might look like:

We met at the Ale Wagon on Rutland Street, a rather plain-looking 1930s street-corner pub on the south-eastern fringe of the city centre near the station. It has a largely unspoilt interior, with a long room down the left-hand side featuring a mixture of parquet and tiled flooring, and a smaller snug to the right. Owned by Hoskins Brewery, it features several of their beers, amongst which HOB Bitter and IPA were both extremely good, and a number of guests. We chatted to an old boy who had a wealth of recollections about the city’s pubs from the 1950s and 60s.

Skirting the southern edge of the city centre brought us to the Bowling Green on Oxford Street, an outwardly small 18th century pub incongruously situated between much taller modern buildings. Inside it’s surprisingly spacious and goes a long way back towards the rear. Posing tables predominated in an interior that seemed to be aimed at a student clientele, but we were able to find some comfortable seats at the front.

There were five beers available, out of which we had Robinson’s Dark Vader, York Guzzler and Adnams Broadside, the others being Hobgoblin and Lancaster Bomber. All the ones we tasted were pretty decent, and this was in fact the busiest pub of the day. It’s owned by Stonegate, and has an extensive menu of straightforward, good-value food. While not fine dining, everybody considered themselves well fed, and it was difficult to fault my 8 oz steak and chips (£7.29 plus 50p for spiral fries), which is something that is easy for pubs to get wrong.

Heading back into the heart of the city, we reached the Blue Boar on Millstone Lane, which outwardly looks as though it is an old pub, but in fact was converted from a solicitor’s offices only a year ago. It is owned by Kieran Lyons, who sometimes comments on this blog, although he wasn’t in today. While described as a micropub, it’s really more of a small conventional pub, with a single square room featuring Joules-style decor with wooden floors and panelling, and comfortable benches around two of the walls. There were eight beers on handpump, including their own Blue Boar Bitter brewed by Leatherbritches, and Titanic Kölsch, which obviously caught our eye as we all plumped for it. This proved to be a wise decision as it was on excellent form. A plus point was that all the beers were served in oversize glasses. The doorstep fillings of the selection of cobs in a case on the bar looked very mouthwatering.

A short walk took us to the Globe on Silver Street, which I remembered as the first pub in Leicester I had ever visited on a train trip out from university in Birmingham almost forty years ago. I also remembered that on one of these visits I had ventured in to a Shipstone’s pub on the market place (long since gone, I think) where I found myself to be the only customer under 50. Feeling distinctly out of place, I drank up swiftly and went on my way.

The Globe is a handsome redbrick pub on the corner of two pedestrianised shopping streets. Internally it retains a traditional, rambling interior with a variety of spaces including a cosy snug at the front where we managed to find a berth after dumping several scatter cushions on the floor. It offers the usual range of Everards beers – Beacon Hill, Tiger, Sunchaser and Old Original, plus a couple of guests including Oakham Bishop’s Farewell. Unfortunately the Old Original proved to be vinegary and, while it was changed without demur, you have to wonder how long it had been lingering around in that condition. The other Everards beers were in decent nick, but we were agreed that they always seemed a little nondescript compared with many of their competitors.

A quiet corner of historic Leicester

We then headed through Leicester’s historic quarter, past the church of St Mary de Castro and the site of the castle, before crossing the two channels of the River Soar to reach Braunstone Gate, which would appear to be the city’s “student strip”. Here we found Everards’ Black Horse, a street-corner pub painted in a striking shade of blue. It has two bars, with the public at the front being particularly congenial. The beer range comprised the four Everards’ usual suspects, plus Heritage Masterpiece. We all went for the Old Original, which was in good condition, but very much an example of the heavy, malty special bitters that were to the fore in the original real ale revival. A couple of the others spotted Edna, the hopefully non-inebriate cat, when going out to the gents’ at the back, but when I went to look for her she made a rapid exit through the catflap.

A couple of blocks further along is the West End Brewery, one of Martin’s new GBG ticks, which in a sense was the ultimate objective of the itinerary as it didn’t open until 5 pm. This had a characteristic distressed modern brewpub interior, but did at least have a fair amount of comfortable seating and an abundance of beermats. It also had an impressive wall-mounted Bass sign. They had four of their own beers on the bar – IPA, Copper Ale, Stout and Pale – of which we had one each. They were all in good condition, and the prices at £3 or £3.10 a pint were very reasonable. They were busy setting up their own cider press with the intention of pressing juice from a variety of local apples, with the finished product available next year.

A few doors down we spotted an achingly craft “pop-up bar” called Très Bien, which was only open Thursday to Sunday, and looked extremely Spartan inside. We also noticed a sign saying that they only took cards, not cash.

Heading back towards the city centre, we came to the Criterion, also on Millstone Lane not far from the Blue Boar. This is a modern pub with a tiled facade, built in 1960 by Bass and after a number of changes of ownership now leased to Market Harborough Brewery. The front bar was closed, with all the activity taking place in the long bar toward the rear of the pub. There were maybe six cask beers on the bar, amongst which we tried MHB Best Bitter and Très Bien Come to the Sabbat, both of which were good. Some members of the party, although not maybe all, were pleased to hear Jethro Tull’s “Living in the Past” being played.

Our final call on the official programme was the King’s Head on King Street, which is now owned by Black Country Ales. It’s always good to venture in to the warm, brightly lit interior of a pub just as darkness is falling. It’s a long, narrow pub with a number of cosy seating areas on two levels. The beer range comprised BCA’s three regulars – BFG, Pig on the Wall and Fireside – together with seven guests, from which three of us chose Oakham Bishop’s Farewell. Martin instead went for the Brewheadz Electro Beat APA on keg. It must be said that this was a pub where the beer range seemed rather ambitious when compared with its size and level of trade, although it was the local CAMRA branch’s Pub of the Year for 2016. We spotted a handsome ginger chap called Chairman Meow sashaying through the pub on the way to eat his dinner at the end of the bar.

Martin and Richard then parted company with us, as they were staying overnight and wanted to sample the perhaps questionable delights of the Real Ale Classroom micropub in the suburbs, while Paul and I headed back to the station along the New Walk, an attractive, tree-lined pedestrian route that runs right into the heart of the city. Because of the way the train times fell, I travelled back via Birmingham rather than Sheffield, but unfortunately my train from Leicester was delayed, resulting in a rather later arrival back home than I had hoped.

In summary, an excellent day out, with good pubs, good company and good weather. It’s just a slight pity that, while all the beer was pretty decent, little stood out as being outstanding, despite all eight pubs being in the current Good Beer Guide. For me, the HOB Bitter in the Ale Wagon, and the Titanic Kölsch in the Blue Boar, were the standout beers of the day. Leicester itself, while like any other city subject to much modern redevelopment, retains a good number of streets lined by handsome Victorian, Edwardian and inter-wars buildings, together with a handful of historic remnants.

And, late in the day, the news came through that Leicester City had sacked manager Craig Shakespeare. I hope it wasn’t anything we said...

Martin’s blogpost can be read here, and Richard’s here. It’s rather like the Three Gospels, seeing the same events from differing perspectives.

20 comments:

  1. Played with a very straight bat Sir! Nevertheless an accurate account of an excellent day. I do recall a Tweet likening myself to Compo, even though you had yet to meet me, which is rich coming from a veritable Peter Sallis character! You should have stuck with it, The Real Ale Classroom can be adequately summed up by the components of it's name - Real Ale, top Class (best pint of the day by a country mile) and not much Room! Looking forward to a rematch. Top day out mate - Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  2. So "Living in the Past" gets a fist an enthusiastic fist pump!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually more a nod of approbation - the photo was somewhat staged ;-)

      Delete
    2. Really fun to read three different blogs about the same day. Keep it going!

      Delete
    3. Please be careful with your suggestions and enthusiasm. I'm not sure I can take another day out like that?

      Delete
    4. You guys have a fan base to take care of.

      Delete
    5. "Really fun to read three different blogs about the same day. Keep it going!"

      Agreed. Just read Martin's; very different takes on the day (no criticism implied). Off to read Richard's take now. :)

      Cheers

      Delete
  3. Replies
    1. Not sure if still even exists. And no Bass either :-(

      Delete
  4. Would the Shipstones tied house be The Shakespears Head,i did it in the early 80s when i did almost all pubs in Leicester,it was pretty close to the Market Place.
    Shipstones had a fair few tied houses throughout the city.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think so, as that looks like a modern pub. Paul had a late 70s Leicester pub guide which suggested it might have been the Adam & Eve.

      Delete
  5. I think I'd be tempted to offer either an American Express card or bitcoin in the Très Bien. Nothing worse than hipsters being behind the times...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Glad you made it in, thanks for the favourable review, sorry I missed you, it was my day off :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I sent you a message on the Beer and Pubs Forum, but you haven't logged in to read it :-( And you don't seem to be on Twitter. But the Blue Boar was very good, even though (as Martin said on his blog) all the other customers looked like us.

      Delete
    2. I didn't see anyone else that looked like me?

      Delete
    3. You need to look in the mirror more often.

      Delete
  7. Went to Booze on the Ouse 2 at St Ives, Cambs on Thursday,trade day. Was asked to present an award by CAMRA, which I was happy to do. Started off with a third of my own HMS Glatton for QC purposes of course. then a very nice 4.5% abv, five inch drop. Tried a 6.2 ABV American style ale with Chinook hops which I found very tasty and refreshing. I was on my third third when the indoor barbecue-type cooker roared into a sheet of flame driving away the poor guy cooking. We were evacuated and decided to go off to the King of the Belgians in Huntingdon, passing the incoming fire engine on the way. So I'm now going to brew a beer based on Goat Tosser but with Chinook hops for our US brethren who frequent a local watering hole. An interesting day, sadly cut short by the fire. I never got to make the award either, which was a shame. Did meet up with the Papworth Brewery boys there though. We tried some of their beers (excellent BTW) and were chatting about brews and brewing when the fire started. Hey ho.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Just googled spiral fries. More impressive than I expected.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On this side of the Atlantic they are called curly fries. And yep, pretty good; though I haven't seen them on the menus of places I've been recently.

      Cheers

      Delete
  9. Chairman Meow at the King's is Pub Cat of the Year. http://trade.inapub.co.uk/play/item/2855-top-10-pub-cats
    https://www.google.co.uk/amp/www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/meet-leicester-feline-chairman-meow-408447.amp

    ReplyDelete

Comments, especially on older posts, may be subject to prior approval. Bear with me – I may be in the pub.

Please be polite and remember to play the ball, not the man.

Any obvious trolling, offensive or blatantly off-topic comments will be deleted.

See this post for some thoughts on my approach to blog comments. The comment facility is not provided as a platform for personal attacks on the blog author.