HOP INN – SWINDON

Hop Inn
Devizes Road
Swindon
SN1 4BJ

SIXTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 24 DECEMBER 2014

FIFTH VISIT: SUNDAY 21 DECEMBER 2014

FOURTH VISIT: THURSDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2014

I was up Old Town as I wanted to visit Magnum Wines to see if they had any stouts worthy of a little project I have planned. As fate would have it I came away with a bottle of Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout. Of course, it would an absolute disgrace if I walked all the way up Vic Hill and didn’t visit the Hop Inn for a beer or three.

Despite being reasonably early on a Thursday afternoon there was already quite a few folk getting tucked into a beer. Thankfully, my favourite leather couch was unoccupied. I looked at the beer line-up but non of them were really calling out to me. I decided to go for a Westport Porter from relatively local boys Malmesbury. I’ve had a few Malmesbury beers in the past – they’re never as bad as I fear but never as good as I hop. The Westport was good. Not stunning but a pretty very enjoyable. So enjoyable that I popped back to bar for a second pint. The second pint tasted as good as the first. I was almost tempted to make it hat-trick but I decided my departing drink should be a bottle of Chouffe.

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THIRD VISIT: FRIDAY 1 AUGUST 2014

A couple of beers with the Swindon Twitter/Untappd massive.

I was the first to arrive. I perused the pumps and decided to go for a pint of Golden Fleece from Settle – it’s yet another beer from Yorkshire created to honour the Tour de France and, more specifically, its visit to Yorkshire. Quite a few people were already tucking into their beverage of choice but thankfully my favourite table was unoccupied. I plonked my ass down on the leather sofa and took a big slurp of my beer. It was okay but perhaps a little to earthy for my liking. My drinking companions arrived shortly before I’d got to the bottom of the glass. They both started with the Ticketybrew Stout and seemed to like it. I decided to give it a miss as I’ve never tried a Ticketybrew beer that I enjoyed.

I went for a pint of Arbor’s Petit Grand. It’s billed as a Saison. I don’t really consider Saison a true style. But trendy brewers and drinkers seem intent on it becoming one. And have arguably succeeded. Even though Saison isn’t a style, Petit Grand sure as hell ain’t a Saison. It’s a pale ale that’s had some elderflower chucked into the mix. It’s good but perhaps just a little too subtle. I prefer Arbor when they throw caution in the bin and experiment with no regard for failure. But I doubt such an approach to every beer you brew is a recipe for a sustainable business.

The beers were going doing swiftly and the chat was flowing freely and the pub was filling up nicely. I decided to make a slight change of direction and have a bottle of Chouffe. I love Chouffe. I much prefer it on draught when in Belgium or the Netherlands but a bottle is always enjoyable enough. It’s just a shame that the Hop Inn doesn’t stock Houblon Chouffe. One of our party had to depart to get home to let his dog out. The other decided to follow my lead and drink a Chouffe. His good lady wife was scheduled to pick him up at 7pm so we figured we had enough time for another drink each. He went for a Flying Dog Raging Bitch. I went for a Nøgne Ø Saison. Yeah, I know I’ve just said the Saison isn’t a style but Nøgne Ø Saison is one of my favourite examples of the (non) style.

When those two drinks were gone it was time for us to get gone. But I was quite ready to call time on this little session so I headed to the Plough on a quest for some Circle Cider.

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SECOND VISIT: 12 JULY 2014

I wanted to go to the bottle shop located just around the corner. My girlfriend wanted to go to boring shops to buy boring stuff. We struck a deal: she’d drop me off up Old Town and then go buy her boring stuff and I’d go have a couple of pints and score some bottles and then she’d pick me back up – perfect.

My eye was immediately drawn to the pump clip for Tiny Rebel’s Dirty Stop Out but I decided that it would make a better closing beer than an opener. A couple of the beers on sale were from breweries that I’d never heard of before – Settle & Firebrand. The house ale from Ramsbury and Bristol Beer Factory’s Sunrise completed the line-up. I decided to head into minefield territory on go for Firebrand’s Rye PA (7%). There were a few folk in the pub but thankfully the leather sofa was free so I plonked my ass down there. A radio was quietly telling anyone who cared what was happening in the cricket. The Rye PA was good. When I was about half way down my half pint I was thinking that I should’ve been brave enough to go for a whole pint. I drained the last of the beer and trooped back to the bar. This time I went for a pint of the Settle Classic. It’s a bitter.  I won’t be young forever and there will come a day when all I want to drink is bitter – it happens to us all – so every now and then I like to get in a little bit of practice. The Settle is a good stab at a style that is much maligned and misunderstood.People were coming and going including a postie who had just finished his shift. When I was kid my stepdad was a postie and he was always home before noon and especially so on Saturdays. Posties working until almost 4pm on Saturdays seems like a backward step for society. I figured that I had enough time for another pint (and if I was very lucky a bottle of Chouffe as a chaser). As planned, I ordered the Dirty Stop-Out. It’s a very good beer – nice and stouty and nice and smokey. Some people were feeding the pub dogs pork scratchings. One of dogs farted. It was quite an impressive stench. So impressive that a man began opening and closing the door in attempt to waft away the odour. I couldn’t work out if he felt he was genuinely necessary or if he was just doing it for comic affect. My pint was almost gone and I still hadn’t received the call. I was just about to take the final swig then head to the bar for a Chouffe but my phone starting ringing. Time to hit the bottle shop.

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FIRST VISIT: THURSDAY 3 APRIL 2014

The Hop Inn has recently been crowned the CAMRA Swindon & North Wilts Pub of the Year 2014, and deservedly so. It’s only been open 18 months but in that time it has managed to sell several hundred different real ales and every one of them, based on my experience and the word on the street, has been in tip top condition. They also sell Freedom Four and Pils, Palm and Vedett Extra White. And they have a tasty little bottle selection which includes La Chouffe, Old Foghorn and a selection from Nøgne Ø. Not too shabby.

It’s a small place. Ideal microbar size I’d imagine. The décor trip is reclaimed wood and exposed brickwork. But it does it well. It’s not wanky and pretentious. It’s relaxed and natural. In the evening it can get pretty rammed – good for them but not so good for a guy like me who usually just wants a quiet corner to read – so I prefer to pop in on a Thursday afternoon. Today, as is the norm, I was faced with five cask choices: the house bitter brewed by Ramsbury, Chennai IPA from Kissingate, Hopfuzz’ The Goldsmith, Arbor Oyster Stout and one other that has unfortunately faded from my memory. I decided to kick off with a pint of Chennai – it was pretty decent and had a very pleasant lingering bitterness. I retired to the leather couch at the back of the pub. The landlord asked if I would like a newspaper to read. I was offered the Times or the Guardian. A small but impressive piece of customer service and it was made all the more welcoming by the fact I wasn’t offered the Sun or the Sport. I flicked through the paper in supped my ale. When the ale was no more I returned to the bar and ordered a pint of the Hopfuzz – it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t as tasty as the Chennai. As I idly passed the time some people came and went – the landlord knew them all. The Hopfuzz vanished so I bought an Oyster Stout. For my money Arbor’s Oyster Stout is up there with Hop Back’s Entire Stout as the nation’s greatest everyday all-day stout. Delicious. I visited the gents. They were clean and fresh smelling and had an unusually large number of penises crudely scribbled on the wall – perhaps it’s some sort of tribute to the fact that in a former life the Hop Inn was a sex shop. My cash supplies were depleted but I fancied cracking open the bottle fridge so I nipped out to find a hole in the wall. As requested, the landlord expertly guarded my pint and jacket during my absence. The bottle I went for was Nøgne Ø Saison. I’m pretty sure it was the first saison I tried and it remains a firm favourite, not just of the style but of any beer. It was served with a Nøgne Ø pint glass but a pint glass that only holds 350ml. The bottles of saison are 500ml which means you can have 350 of super clear beer then swoosh up the bottle to get a final 150 of beautiful yeasty murkiness. Lovely. I fancied another but I knew if I did it would be unlikely that I would make it home at a respectable time and in a respectable state. With reluctance I said goodbye. It was a perfect afternoon in the pub.

The Hop Inn is by far the best pub in Swindon and if it wasn’t for the Red Lion in Cricklade it would be the best pub in Wiltshire. Each time I visit I promise myself that I will visit more often. I really need to make good on that promise.

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KING’S ARMS – LONDON

King’s Arms
11A Buckfast Street
London
E2 6EY

SEVENTH VISIT: FRIDAY 10 OCTOBER 2014

SIXTH VISIT: FRIDAY 12 SEPTEMBER 2014

FIFTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 2014

FOURTH VISIT: SUNDAY 4 MAY 2014

No thanks to you, a detour along Bethnal Green Road had taken me to the King’s Arms where I finally purchased a can of Westbrook’s White Thai. It was alright. Pleasant enough. But at the end of the day it is still a wheat beer and wheat beers aren’t really brewed for me. Nice can though. My travelling companion was feeling a tad under the weather and needed some fresh air. But I couldn’t resist the pull of the gnome and returned to the bar for a half of Hobblen Chouffe. But I’m not a total scumbag so I scooped it down a new world record time of no hours, no minutes and no seconds.

THIRD VISIT: SATURDAY 19 APRIL 2014

I wandered past Rough Trade East but they were queuing out the door – evidently that guy who used to be in Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized is more popular than I thought. I wandered past BDShoreditch but it was rammed – not quite queuing out the door rammed but rammed. I wandered past the Well & Bucket but it was rammed – not quite BDShoreditch rammed but rammed. Thankfully, the King’s Arms was quiet – not empty quiet but quiet.

As usual there was a great selection of beers available. The one that caught my eye the most was Custard Pie by Magic Rock and Toccalmatto. I like beer. I like custard. I like pie. How could I not like a beer called Custard Pie! And you know what? It does taste like a custard pie. Not all the way through, just a little bit on the finish but it is definitely there. Custard Pie Beer. Genius!

Once again I’d found myself in the King’s Arms and once again I’d found myself wanting a can of Westbrook White Thai but once again I had to leave before getting a chance to have one. Next time I’m in the King’s I’m having a can of White Thai – DO NOT LET ME FORGET, thank you.

* * *

SECOND VISIT: SATURDAY 12 APRIL 2014

A busy day. I’d been south of the river. North of the river. Beyond the confines of the M25. Back within the M25. North of the river. South of the river. And now, once again, north of the river.

When I arrived in the King’s I was informed I only had time for one beer as we would soon be departing on a quest for food. Bummer. I didn’t even bother scanning the beer board as I’d already been told that Earl of Denmark – a collab between Mikkeller and Earls (the brewing arm of the Earl of Essex up N1) – was on and tasting great. I’d been in the Earl of Essex the night before but the beer had failed to make an appearance by the time I departed at 8, despite tweets stating it would be on by the early evening. It tasted great. I would’ve happily bedded in for the night and had as many pints of it as possible. But friendship is a democracy so I had to go with the majority and leave.

Buckfast

* * *

FIRST VISIT: FRIDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2014

Alight at Shoreditch High Street. Walk east along Bethnal Green Road. Pass BrewDog. Pass the well and bucket. Walk a bit further. Then a little bit more. Take a right into Buckfast (Tonic Wine) Street and there you will find the Shoreditch’s best kept secret. It’s a nice space. A traditional London boozer that sells quality beer. The bar occupies most of the man room but tables line the perimeter and there are some barstools. The back room is the place to head if you want to be (mildly) boisterous or conspiratorial. The walls are lined with framed butterflies and moths. Not pictures of butterflies and moth but actual butterflies and moths. I’m not sure if there is an actual reason for such decoration or if the owners just thought it would look cool, which it does. As is becoming the norm, beers are listed on a beer board.

We took up residence at one of the front room tables. Unfortunately, the bench that runs along the length of the wall is rather thin and I quickly realised that I would not be able to get comfortable. But if you’ve got toned buttocks (unlike me) and don’t slouch (which I do) you’ll probably be fine. My opening gambit was a My Antonia by Birra del Borgo (originally brewed in collaboration with Dogfish Head). It’s a beer that I’d only previously enjoyed from a bottle. The bottles are delicious but the draught adds a whole new dimension to it but perhaps that’s only because I had a whole pint of it. I was getting way too uncomfortable so we relocated to a couple of stools at the bar. Despite the place have a decent amount if people in there wasn’t so many that we would be causing any annoyance by choosing to sit there. We ordered a couple of Old Freddy Walkers (a 7.3% Old Ale from Moor). As we suspected it was served too cold (the curse of keg) so we ordered a couple of pints of Birra del Borgo’s Cortigiana to allow it some time to warm. Even after we’d consumed the Cortigiana the OFW was still too chilly. We gave it a bit of hug. And a little bit more time. But it still wasn’t at the temperature that it should’ve been at. But we gulped it down anyway. There were plenty more beers that I fancied but I needed to get my south of the river.

CAFE DE POORT – AMSTERDAM

Café De Poort
Haarlemmerdijk
Amsterdam

FIRST VISIT: FRIDAY 27 JUNE 2014

A good old fashioned Dutch brown bar. Football tat everywhere and an ancient matriarch in charge. The three locals stationed at the end of the bar were chain smoking cigarettes. I’m sure they’ll all happily donate some cash if the bar is hit by fine. Amstel was the main draught beer but the three locals were helping themselves to bottles of Heineken from the fridge. The youngest of the three had two while we were there and both times he placed his finger inside the top of the freshly opened bottle then pulled it out so it made a pop noise. I couldn’t work if it was something he subconsciously did or if he was trying to impress the strangers. We ordered a couple of Chouffes. It’s great from bottles but it truly is a different beast when you have it on draught in Belgium or the Netherlands. Love it! The football tat was, as you’d expect, mostly Ajax and Holland related but there was also a signed photo of Gazza. Slightly bizarrely, there was also a signed photo of Maradonna’s Hand of God goal. It was signed by Peter Shilton. We finished our Chouffes and left. The matriarch and her little band of locals acknowledged our departure with a thin smile and a brief nod but they didn’t seem especially sad to see us go.