Keyboard Warriors, Trip Advisor and A Defence of a Beautiful Pub

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I don’t publish my image online,  I have a “face for radio”. But I don’t hide, many people in the beer business in the North know who I am and – rather embarrassingly, as I am by nature quite shy – I get approached in pubs occasionally. It’s really flattering, but I’m actually a boring sausage. More Richmond’s than some artisanal chorizo.

My point is, I suppose, that I don’t hide behind this blog. And hundreds of people get to see me as the public face of The Independent Salford Beer Festival. As I said, I don’t hide.

But one thing that I do hate, is using the anonymity afforded by the Internet to do wrong – potentially harming a decent business. That cowardly ability to hit and run. And one of the worst fora for doing this is Trip Advisor.

I’ve seen many examples (and, conversely, abuse of the app via self promotional comment disguised as a customer) and one that hit me recently, was a posting about the Crooke Hall Inn on the outskirts of Wigan.

The Crooke is one of my Top 5 pubs. It is one of the few places that I, Atilla AND the brood agree on. They get a fabulous Sunday lunch, I get that allied with fabulous beer at ridiculous prices.

The thing about The Crooke is that it kind of relies on the food element of the business. Given its slightly remote (and picturesque) location on the bank of the Leeds – Liverpool canal, it could never be a “wet led” Pub. So, when someone has a dummy spit about slow service at a very busy time (Father’s Day) on Trip Advisor, it can do damage

1 of 5 starsReviewed 29 June 2016

“If TripAdvisor allows me to award zero stars throughout then I will. It didn’t so I’ve had to go through and click on one (unmerited) star.

Three of us visited this pub on Sunday 19th June at 6:40pm, with the intention of having a meal there, but we were told that the pub could not serve any more meals, since it was ‘busy’. It did NOT look busy to us, there being plenty of empty tables, and none of them had ‘reserved’ signs on them. As far as we could see there were only two large tables of diners being served their main courses at the time.

We were gobsmacked! Never come across such an negative attitude before.

Outside, an ‘A’-Board proudly proclaimed “Good Food Now Being Served”. Maybe it was, but not to us. I said we were quite prepared to wait, but that offer cut no ice.

Many pubs are sadly closing these days; this one deserves to join that list.”

  • Visited June 2016

“Deserves to fail”? The petty little man. Does he have no idea what such a sentiment entails? In the words of my Belfast relatives GO BOIL YOUR HEAD!

The response of one of the owners of Allgates was….choice. And made me smile. Read it.

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(My Sunday lunch today -rearranged by me…..)

 As I said, I know The Crooke. It makes my favourite Sunday lunch – I had one today in fact, having stayed overnight in a Camper Van – and it is a lovely old pub in a beautiful location.

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(Leeds – Liverpool Canal – from The Crooke Hall Inn Beer Garden)

These things are all opinion of course, but that post – based on my repeated experiences – COULD NOT BE MORE WRONG. This is a lovely old pub, in a fabulous (and rather unique)  location – positioned as it is in a conservation village on a canal bank with narrow boat moorings. The post comes across as petty and vindictive, knowing full well how damaging such an opinion could be.

The Crooke IS remote to many. It’s about a 15 min walk from Gathurst train station (on the Southport line) and is best accessed by car. I adore the food (superior for pub grub), the beer selection is varied, well kept and incredibly keenly priced (Allgates beers £2.50, guests £2.60).

I couldn’t recommend somewhere more.

GRUB & Runaway – Food and Beer. Matched. 

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I’ve been struggling to write recently. I needed something that matters to me, that I care about to get me jump started. And then I noticed what was happening on Saturday.

In the last 3 years or so, Manchester has been blessed with great beer. I’ve written about that side of things to the point where even I yawn. But in those 3 years, I have been privileged to witness – along with some old friends – some fabulous events held in (what I would regard as) the real Northern Quarter. Part of the original N/4. Events that pull together great local beers, great tunes and – most importantly – fabulous food.

And at the heart of this are Bailey & Jules. Better known as the people behind GRUB.

Starting at Black Jack and more latterly Runaway Brewery, they have created a “feel good vibe” that it has been a pleasure to be around. Relaxed, civilised and undeniably Mancunian. With a street food contact book to kill for, excellent beer connections and an instinct for what feels right, they have put on events that have become quintessentially Manc.

Just a little like a Manchester summer (that thing we rarely get), no matter the weather, when the canvas goes up in either Runaway or Sadlers Yard, I know what I’m going to get, great beer, great food and a smile on my face.

This weekend is no exception.

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Runaway just make some of the best keg beers in the country. No palaver, no hype, Mark, Darren and the crew just get on with making great beer – I’m a HUGE fan of the Pale & American Brown to name but two! And the newly married Bailey & Jules have brought together some simply stunning food traders to have with them. There might even be a Keg of the Hawkshead Mass Collab Session IPA knocking about.

(left – then clockwise – Scoop Up, Oh Mei Dumpling, What The Truck)

Food from three  exciting (and no doubt nervous) new traders in Scoop Up (Ice Cream – pray for the Sun Gods!); Oh Mei Dumpling (need a clue?) and the fabulously named “What The Truck” (Tacos, Bahn Mi and much more….) as well as the most excellent Mac Daddies & Hip Hop Chip Shop.

(Mac Daddies & Hip Hop Chip Shop)

What Bailey & Jules have done is put their heart and soul into something that they truly love – great food – and adding a certain Mancunian soul, it’s the only way that I can describe it. They make it look effortless. And I – for one – know the hard work that this takes.

With great food and beer like this (as well as some seriously laid back tuneage), let’s be proper Mancunians eh?

Let’s pretend it’s summer!

Steel City / Pub City – Sheffield 30/07/2016

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Earlier this year, there was a supposedly serious piece of research  by The University of Sheffield. About beer and pubs. It conclusion? That Sheffield was “The World’s Best Beer City

Notwithstanding the inherent bias likely in such a “study”, to call Sheffield even “the birthplace of the UK craft beer revolution” is patently bollocks – the claim being based on Thornbridge and the subsequent establishment of Brew Dog. Thornbridge being in Derbyshire kind of impales that theory.

I will argue the case for the North as hard as anyone, but Sheffield isn’t even – on any rationals analysis – even the North of England’s greatest beer city. That honour being bounded by the M60. Manchester surely being paramount.

But where Sheffield utterly kicks Manchester’s arse, is with its great drinking pubs. Beautiful venues – proper pubs – that serve tremendous beer. Call it modern, flavour forward, even use the C word if you like, but Sheffield’s pubs draw me like no other.

Manchester has an abundance of great places to drink great beer, but at the end of 2015, I started to feel a bit “been there, done that” to death. I needed something different to write about. And seeing as I wrote about Northern beer, a tour of the pubs of Northern cities and towns was the plan.

Part 1 was Liverpool – and a tour of some of its beery high spots. Courtesy of Julie “Ladies That Beer” O’Grady and her talented hubby Les, he of Neptune Brewery. Recap here.

Part 2 was Hebden Bridge, a beautiful town in recovery from devastating floods. Recap here.

But for Part 3…..our intrepid group – much depleted due to holidays and injury – find ourselves in Sheffield.

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And if you get to Sheffield by train, then it would be remiss to bypass The Sheffield Tap, wouldn’t it?

A huge jewel of a place. The Star of Africa in Sheffield’s beery sceptre. It is, quite simply, a stunning place to drink beer. Quarry loads of ceramic tiling, forests of dark veneered wood, herds of leather. It is beautiful. An abundance of rooms, each with its own feel & ambience, an in-house brewery to gawk at and some lovely beer to boot.

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Safe to say, it has that WOW factor, similar (but obviously different) to the effect that The Marble Arch can have on the first time visitor. It really is that special.

Of course, it all falls to rat shit if the beer’s no good. But it was lovely. The Rodeo from the in-house Tapped Brew Co was just the refreshing pale ale that was needed. Light & hoppy, without being overpowering.

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Steve – our host and guide – had an itinerary and a route all mapped out, with plenty of walking involved. So off we were. A bit of a walk, but I couldn’t begrudge that, as we were heading to the one pub that I insisted be included….

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The Rutland Arms – 86 Brown St, Sheffield S1 2BS

I insisted on The Rutland. If you ever went in, you’d understand. It is, quite simply, a proper pub. And it should be cherished. And I love it all the more, because it is – effectively – the brewery tap for Blue Bee Brewery. And I love Blue Bee beers.

With the feel of a Multiroom pub spread around the well stocked corner bar, this place just has so much soul. It looks untampered with. Just has a feeling that has caught me. I love this place.

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It also has what many pubs in Sheffield seem to have. A stunning beer garden. And, just for today, the sun broke out his sombrero.

From a beer perspective, there was plenty of choice, on both cask and keg. But I have to have Blue Bee. And the Reet Pale was a hoppy joy.

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The Rutland is one of those pubs with so much character (and such great beers) that you could while away a few hours just chatting and drinking – well, I could – but it was time to meet t’others (Yarkshire folk….)

Sentinel Brewhouse – 178 Shoreham Street, Sheffield, S1 4SQ

My first new venue of the day. This was where we met the Wakefield crew and – as I’ve accidentally deleted my photos, I’m on memory here!

The beer was decent enough, but what struck me here was the venue. OK, it’s a modern industrial unit, on a busy enough road, but, as a brewtap, it was a cracking space.

No hype, no fuss, just good beer, seriously good food and a lovely big cool airy space. With a big shiny brewkit behind glass for you to gawk at!

And a space like this would simply slay in Manchester!

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The Beer Engine – 17 Cemetery Rd, Sheffield S11 8FJ

My first new pub of the day and quite a contrast to The Rutland. Walking in, the second thing that I saw was the lovely curved bar, The first was a North Riding Brewery pump clip.

A single hop pale by Scarborough’s finest sliding down my neck, I could start to accustom myself to the charms of this pub.

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Firstly, the beer range was excellent. Something for everyone.Arbor, Bad Seed, Neepsend (a bit of local) and North Riding with some interesting keg options from the likes of Siren, that side was covered.

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A few different rooms to sit in, spacious, stripped wooden tables, a bright (today) beer garden (where Sheffield truly excels for me).

Sheffield is a city that reveals its beery charms slowly, and this was another cracking pub. Well worth the walk.

Next, my highlight of an excellent day.

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The Bath Hotel – 66-68 Victoria St, Sheffield S3 7QL

My first Thornbridge pub. And a thing of beauty. The frontage is deceptive, but the stained glass front windows should have given me a warning of the delights within.

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The pub has an almost odd shape to it which adds to its charm, it tapers off to a narrow edge making it a wedge shape, but inside it crams 3 rooms, loads of wood, so much stained glass, buckets of “original features” and a small yet perfectly formed bar into its diminutive footprint.

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Don’t ask me about beer notes, there was plenty of cask and keg to choose from. I had a big Thornbridge pale (not Jaipur) and it was simply gorgeous – maybe this is where Untappd would come into its own. But I don’t use it.

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A pub with soul to spare, various  events too, Poetry evenings, Jazz nights….a bit of everything. This took a walk to get to and it felt like it was on the outskirts of town (when it really isn’t) But, I’m so glad we did. Just a thing of beauty. If you come to Sheff, this is simply a must try.

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And a real fire for those cool Yorkshire summer evenings!

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The Devonshire Cat – 49 Wellington St, Sheffield S1 4HG

Having been in the company of Jim & Laura from Abbeydale for most of the day, it seemed fitting that we should end up in what is – effectively – the Abbeydale Brewery Tap.

This is a large open plan space, with judicious use of seat back dividers to break it up and give a feel of separate spaces. It was getting late, so a couple of nice pales were in order. On drinking a nice sharp pint of Abbeydale’s Deception, I picked up on some of the conversation about Abbeydale doubling up the hoppage on their more sessionable beers….Salford was at the front of my mind at this point….

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Then we hit some stronger stuff. Black Mass, there was something barrel aged going on too…things were starting to get hazy….(with a beer fest to launch the next evening this was getting silly…..but….)

A cracking ending.

HUGE thanks to Steve for walking us around. Malcolm and the Wakefield crew, Jim & Laura for the great company and chatter. Twas a joy.

(The Final?) Huddersfield Food & Drink Fest post to come, then 2 months off.

Hasta la vista.