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:
Not met any of gents in question but I keep getting image of Compo Clegg and Foggy in Sid's cafe.— Chris Spinks (@BChrisSpinks) October 17, 2017
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...