SIR DANIEL ARMS – SWINDON

Sir Daniel Arms
Fleet Street
Swindon
SN1 1RQ

SEVENTH VISIT: FRIDAY 10 OCTOBER 2014

I’d caught an earlier bus than planned so I had a few minutes to kill and I either had to do that killing at the train station or in a Spoons with a beer. I chose to kill it with a Bengali Tiger. The barman, who I think was the manager, asked if I wanted a glass. I replied that I did. He replied that he thought I would say that, which made me wonder why he’d bothered asking. I had no desire to engage him in conversation so I merely smiled in response. I took my beer in a glass to a vacant table. I took a hearty swig then gave the pub a quick sweep to see how many other folk were having a pre-10am alcoholic beverage. A load of men dressed in hi-viz jackets and steel-toecap boots were just finishing off their breakfasts. Most of them also had a pint glass containing beer. A couple of pints with breakfast then a couple more with lunch – it’s no wonder that the majority of construction projects in Swindon never get completed on schedule. I glugged down the last of the Bengali then sauntered off to catch the train to London.

* * *

SIXTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 8 OCTOBER 2014

Downstairs was busy. There was barely an unoccupied table and the tables that were occupied were occupied by dodgy looking reprobates. I ordered a pint of Devils Backbone IPA and a can of Bengali Tiger and took them up to the next level. Upstairs was busy. There was barely an unoccupied table and the tables that were occupied were occupied by OAPs.

I sat down on a couch and swigged my Bengali Tiger while I waited for the DBIPA to gain just a little bit of warmth. I hadn’t planned to visit Sir Dans today. The only pub I was going to visit was the Savoy but when I encountered a bad tasting pint of DBIPA there I decided I needed to visit Sir Dans and see what their DBIPA was tasting like. There are four Spoons in Swindon. The DBIPA tastes pretty damn fine in the Dockle, it tastes okay in the Groves and, as just mentioned, it tastes bad in the Savoy. And now I was sitting in Sir Dans with a pint of DBIPA. It tasted good. Not as good as it tastes in the Dockle but way better than the pint I’d recently had up the road in the Dockle. How can the same keg beer taste so different in four branches of the same pub chain in the same town? Odd.

Sir Dans DBIPA

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FIFTH VISIT: SATURDAY 6 SEPTEMBER 2014

Aye, I was very drunk but I really should have known better than go in this place at such an advanced time on a Saturday. I was surprised the door staff let us in especially after I asked ‘Can we come in, please?’ I didn’t bother looking at the beer pumps, I just ordered a can of Bengali Tiger. The place wasn’t very busy for a Saturday night. Men outnumbered woman by about 6 to 1. The atmosphere wasn’t nasty or violent but it certainly didn’t feel like a nice place to be. I was almost drunk enough to be tempted to start dancing but I felt that wouldn’t be fully appreciated by the folk already on the small dancefloor. I looked at the sleazy guys sleazing at the women half their age and I was struck by the sad realisation that a lot of the people present were probably thinking that I was a sleazy guy sleazing at woman half my age. Time to go.

* * *

FOURTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 3 APRIL 2014

The continuing quest for Yeastie Boys…

For this visit to Sir Dans I did something that I don’t normally do. I went upstairs. There’s a whole new world up there. Different beers on the bar. And slightly more respectable looking customers. Apart from the people out on the balcony. They are well dodge. Don’t go out there unless you are looking for a fight that ends in death.

There was no Yeastie Boys on so I opted for a Nøgne Ø Brøwn Ale. I’m not usually a big fan of brown ales but I am fan of this beer. It must be the best thing to come out of Wainfleet. I fancied another but my presence was required at home. But only because I was buying chinese takeaway for tea.

* * *

THIRD VISIT: THURSDAY 13 MARCH 2014

I departed London on the 1536 to Cheltenham. Smooth running meant I touched down in Swindon the correct side of quarter to five. I couldn’t be arsed with the hour long walk home so I decided to get the bus. Fortunately, the route from train station to bus stop goes right past Sir Dan’s… well, it does if you want it to. I rocked up to bar and ordered two cans of Bengali Tiger. I didn’t even bother scanning the taps. The bartender made a well-mannered complaint about having just finished facing them up. I asked if they were selling well and she said ‘yeah’ and smiled and nodded. One can was part-poured into a ‘craft beer glass’ and a second glass was then picked up. I quickly interjected and said I only required one glass. Thankfully the second can was presented to me unopened. Nice. One for the pub and one for the garden when I got home. The place wasn’t busy but all the comfy couches were taken. I selected the seat that allowed me the best opportunity of slipping the unopened can into my bag without being seen by anyone. I doubt anybody would actually bother about me sneaking out a can but I’ve been informed by a staff member of a different Swindon Spoons that all purchases must be consumed on the premises – strictly no takeaway. I’m a nice and thoughtful chap so I wanted to do my best to ensure nobody was embarrassed by my actions.

The actions of two women at the table nearest to mine forced me to drink up quicker than I had initially planned. One of them went to the bar. Then she shouted that she’d ordered the drinks but needed to go pee so her friend would have to go stand at the bar and await their booze. The friend duly obliged. They were both pretty plastered. That’s fine. I have on occasion been plastered in a Spoons. But never when I have been responsible for a young child. I was also pissed off that they didn’t want their drinks to be left unattended but they were happy to leave a child unattended. The child was asleep in a buggy. It was too big to be in a buggy but too young to be left alone. And from the bar it would’ve been impossible to see the child. I waited until the women were reunited with the sleeping child then left. I should have said something. But, ultimately, what would it have achieved? A mouthful of abuse for me and the child would still be left alone the next time the women needed a drink at the same time as one of them needed a pee. Sad.

* * *

SECOND VISIT: SUNDAY 9 MARCH 2014

Today I became a statistic. Today I scooped Sixpoint in Spoons.

Since Wednesday Twitter has been buzzing with tweets about beer geeks drinking cans of Sixpoint. Most of those beer geeks don’t normally dirty themselves by stepping over the door of a Spoons (or so they so) but for a can of craft USA beer they’ll happily comprise their standards and integrity (and, if they are a fan of Beyoncé, their xtianity). In a bid to justify just how evil Spoons is there has been countless horror tales of the sinister characters that folk have encountered while procuring their can based beverage. Whenever I read those tales I can’t help thinking that those sinister characters are exactly the same folk who have always frequented ‘local pubs’, which perfectly reinforces my belief that Spoons is the new ‘local’. As a famous poet once told me: ‘If you’ve been to the pub and at least one cunt hasn’t threatened to stab you then you haven’t been to a pub.’

As I awaited my turn to purchase a slice of history a guy standing beside me was informed that he wouldn’t be served unless he put on a top. Despite the fact that he had a t-shirt tucked into one of the belt loops of his jeans he politely said ‘Okay, fair enough’ and left. Before he received his ultimatum I thought he was a bit of dick but after he departed I couldn’t help having a strange and grudging admiration for him. He was still a dick but he was a dick who wasn’t prepared to compromise his integrity (perceived or otherwise).

I ordered a can of The Crisp (No one gets to see La Crisp! … Nigel…) and a can of Sweet Action. It would appear that the two for a fiver deal doesn’t truly exist in Swindon as both cans rang through the till at £2.50 each. Same result different formula. I was given two glasses and two unopened cans. Nice. I retired to a comfy couch to record my findings.

The Crisp is a lager/pilsner that clocks in at 5.4%. Due to my former life where I consumed a lot of Stella and Staropramen and Lowenbrau, being Scottish, Tennent’s and McEwan’s lager I still have a soft spot for lagers. Sadly, this wasn’t for me. It was certainly an improvement on the predominant UK brands but it still had next to nothing on the nose and next to nothing on the palate except a slightly oily finish. No. I won’t be drinking it again.

Sweet Action checks in at 5.2% and is described as a cream ale. It smells lovely: like a Thursday afternoon session in the Mikkeller Bar. The flavour is a decent blend of malt and hops but they both get on too well together and I couldn’t help feeling that I would’ve liked one of them to take control and push the beer onto the next level. It’s good but it feels a little too safe and friendly. I’ll possibly have it again but only as an occasional oddity.

Bengali Tiger is the big boy of the threesome and boasts a reasonably impressive 6.4% ABV. After I’d received The Crisp and Sweet Action unopened I decided to buy two cans of BT. The plan was to scoop one in the pub and have one in the sunshine of my garden. Unfortunately, as my eyes were turned towards the rugger both cans were part poured into rather stylish tulip glasses. Bummer. Bengali Tiger is the best of the three but even before we’d tried any of them we all knew that would be the case. It packs a decent juicy hop hit but nothing that several British brewers aren’t already doing and to a better standard. Will I have it again? Yeah, probably. But only if there’s nothing on draught that I fancy. And even then I’ll be more likely to opt for a bottle of Goose Island IPA.

I was only planning on having one of each of the cans but when I noticed that the Sixpoint/Adnams collab was on I thought it would be a gross injustice if I went home before having at least a pint of it. Ah, it was alright. It’s not going to inspire you to write a long and detailed letter to you granny proclaiming its merits but it’s certainly not the kind of beer that makes you feel that western civilisation is an steep and terminal decline. Decent enough.

And then it was time to go home to drink Courage Imperial Russian Stout and listen to cover versions of David Bowie songs. No. Really. It was.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

FIRST VISIT: THURSDAY 30 JANUARY 2014

The Sir Daniel Arms is the only of Swindon’s four Wetherspoons that at the weekend turns into a discotheque. So, unless you like that kind of thing, it’s best avoided at those times. Arguably, Swindon town centre is best avoided at those times. I always find Sir Daniel Arms way too dark, which, admittedly, is occasionally a good thing. And more often than not I’ll see someone lurking in a corner who makes me think of the strip club scene in Beverly Hills Cop. No! I don’t mean the woman who Billy Rosewood kindly gives some money to. And there’s often a load of mothers who think it is acceptable to leave their empty prams and buggies in the middle of the main walkways. It’s a strange place. Even for a Spoons. But sometimes the quest for a certain beer means you have to venture into places you usually avoid. This time I was on a quest for the semi-mythical Stone/Adnams Double IPA. I’d already been into the other two town centre Spoons but had failed to find the DIPA (and subsequently left both places without having a drink) so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Sir Dans had the beer I desired. And they also had Saltaire Blonde and the Sixpoint/Adnams Righteous Ale. Not too shabby at all. Naturally, I ordered a DIPA. I’d heard the stories of it only being sold it halves so I decided to save everyone’s embarrassment and just ordered a half. Subsequently, the barman asked ‘Just a half?’, which suggested he would’ve happily sold me a pint of it but I sensed a trap and decided to stick with my initial sizing. It’s a good beer. I’m not sure I’d be happy paying the standard Stone in the UK price of 4-5 quid a half but at less than £2 for a half I thought it was a reasonable bargain. It has a nice fruity and juicy hop hit but it does finish with a rather annoying lingering sticky dryness. I think a half a time is more than enough and then it’s best to get a pint of something else to perk your palette back up. Half dispatched I returned to the bar and ordered a pint of the Saltaire Blonde. I like Saltaire beers but, although they are starting to make inroads, I don’t find them in my little corner of the world very often. Thankfully, it was another Saltaire success. I was tempted to grab a pint of the Righteous but I’m not especially fond of red ales so I headed to Glue Pot on a quest for Entire Stout.

GROVES COMPANY INN – SWINDON

Groves Company Inn
Fleet Street
Swindon
SN1 1RQ

SEVENTH VISIT: SATURDAY 4 OCTOBER 2014

Was just walking past so decided to pop in and see if they were selling Devil’s Backbone IPA and the new BrewDog lager. There was no BrewDog but the Devil’s Backbone had pride of place in the middle of one of the keg fonts. As I’d gone to all the trouble of going into the pub I thought it would be a bit daft to leave without having a pint. The obvious choice was a pint of the DBIPA. I had a pint of the DBIPA. It was good but it didn’t seem as good as it did at the Dockle on Wednesday. I will undertake further research at some point in the not too distant future.

* * *

SIXTH VISIT: SUNDAY 14 SEPTEMBER 2014

On the train back to Swindon I’d decided that I’d visit a Spoons and have a can of Bengali… actually, I’d decided that I’d visit a Spoons and have two cans of Bengali. But before ordering my cans I had a quick look at the pumps to see if there was anything that piqued my interest. Nope. Two cans of Bengali it was. The bartender twice referred to me as ‘my love’. It didn’t actually annoy me but I did find it odd that a woman half my age was calling me such things. Perhaps I reminded her of her Granddad. She asked if I wanted her to pour them. I replied that there was no need. She left both cans unopened. Nice. One for the pub and one for the garden when I got back home.

* * *

FIFTH VISIT: SATURDAY 6 SEPTEMBER 2014

Was just walking past and it seemed a bit rude to not pop in for a can of Bengali.

* * *

FOURTH VISIT: THURSDAY 21 AUGUST 2014

We’d been on an early morning run to the tip to dispose of some grass and hedge clippings then popped into town to score some tickets for the Great Dorset Steam Fair and decided we may as well have a Spoons breakfast. I hadn’t planned to get a pint – I was more than happy with just a decaf – but when I spied a beer from a visiting dignitary my fate was sealed. We sat a table near to an elderly gentleman who was dressed in a suit and was drinking a glass of white wine while doing a crossword – how says Spoons are only full of riff-raff? My beer was a pint of Black IPA which was brewed at Caledonia by somebody from Barley Brown’s who are based in Baker City, Oregon, USA – never heard of them. It wasn’t great. It tasted more like a broon ale than a BIPA. It tasted pretty much like everything that comes out of Caledonia. Oh well, never mind, at least the yolks of my fried eggs were runny.

* * *

THIRD VISIT: FRIDAY 6 JUNE 2014

I had to head into town to get a bus out of town so I decided to stop off for a can of Bengali Tiger. The initial plan had been to go to Sir Dan’s but as I approached the place I could see that all sorts of sinister characters were occupying the outdoor area, so I kept walking. The clientele in the Groves wasn’t much better. As I sat drinking my beer I couldn’t help feeling that I was in a pub that was full old age pensioners who looked like they would beat you up if you happened to announce that John Terry is a bit shit. I kept quiet and left unscathed.

* * *

SECOND VISIT: THURSDAY 3 APRIL 2014

The quest for Yeastie Boys…

I’d been in earlier in the day and found the bar devoid of Yeastie offerings. I left without buying anything. A few hours had passed since that visit so thought I’d give it another. Nope. Still no Yeastie. And there wasn’t any beers from the visiting dignitaries. I decided to go for a pint of Adnams Red Ale. Stupid boy. I don’t like red ales. I’m sure this is a well made beer but it’s still a red ale. When will I learn. Probably never.

* * *

FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 8 FEBRUARY 2014

One of the more modern styled Wetherspoons: light wood and bright lights. You can usually find a decent pint of beer in here but occasionally it is home to nothing but Greene King.

I was in town to do a bit of boring grown-up shopping – a new shower hose and some hoover bags – and decided to pop into the Groves for a burger and a beer. I walked the length of the bar scanning the pump clips and was just about to exit stage left when I arrived at the last pump which housed a clip for one of Spoons’ USA offerings: California Session IPA (4.8%) brewed by Three Weavers & Golden Road at Bank’s. That’d do. California Session IPA is a good thirst quenching ale with a nice blast of peach blossom and citrus upfront but I did find something slightly off-putting in the finish that I couldn’t quite place. But it went down easily enough and I wouldn’t be upset if I had to drink it again

Within 30 minutes I’d entered the pub and scooped and ale and munched a burger and departed. If you ever find yourself in Swindon town centre and need a beer and a bite to eat but you have a limited time budget then the Groves is very probably your best bet.

CATHERINE WHEEL – HENLEY-ON-THAMES

Catherine Wheel
7-15 Hart Street
Henley-on-Thames
RG9 2AR

FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 24 MAY 2014

Hey, it’s a Spoons. And a damned big one too. Big enough to have two bars – one at either end of the building. We went to the left bar first. I bought a pint of The Publican by Societe Brewing Company. I’ve no idea who Societe are but apparently they are from San Diego and they brewed The Publican at, everybody’s favourite collabing with Americans’s brewery, Adnams. The Publican was quite a tasty brew. We left the slightly modern area of the pub and entered the trying to be traditional section. We decided to have something to eat. As is often the case, we settled on a gourmet burger – beef for the lady and a veggie topped with bacon and cheese for me. You can complain about Spoons as much as you want but you can’t really complain about a beer and a burger for a few quid less than a tenner. My girlfriend had almost a whole pint of lemonade left so said instead of getting her another drink I should get two for myself. Double prizes! I was tempted to go for two cans of Bengali Tiger but decided to mix it up a little and go for a can of Sweet Action and can of Bengali. I should’ve got two Tigers.

CRAFT BEER RISING – LONDON

Craft Beer Rising
Old Truman Brewery
19 Brick Lane
London
E1 6QL

FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2014 (AFTERNOON SESSION)

Craft Beer Rising launched in 2013. Even before it had opened its doors to the paying public the word on the street was that it was nothing more than a corporate wank fest. By the time it had gently shepherded out the last of its drunken punters that word on the street was that it was nothing more than a corporate wank fest but it was also whatever you chose to make of it. In due course the 2014 edition was announced and I initially had no plans to go. But then I was informed that the Saturday sessions were taking place on the same Saturday as a gig by The Coal Porters. A beer festival followed by a gig? Count me in. Over the coming weeks the brewery list began to emerge. It was certainly more than decent enough but not exactly epoch slaying. There were several great breweries on the last but hardly anybody that you’d struggle to find if you went searching within the confines of the M25. But, hey, a beer festival is whatever you choose to make of it.

I had a great time. Caught up some old acquaintances. Made some new ones. Chatted face to face with some folk who I’d previously only chatted to on Twitter. Bumped into quite a few people who I know from the excellent Bristol beer scene. And, perhaps most importantly, I got drunk on super tasty beer.

The Old Truman Brewery is a great space. The festival occupied several rooms of varying shapes and sizes – like a giant beer lined rabbit warren. Some the areas were way more cramped than others but even in those spaces the traffic was flowing reasonably smoothly and swiftly and you rarely had to wait for more than a few seconds to get a beer. Some criticism has been levelled at the amount of branding at the event but I liked the fact that each brewery had their own little stall and it was easy to see exactly who they were before getting too close as it made it easy to avoid having to make the embarrassing choice of walking away emptied handed or buying a beer you didn’t really want. Oh, the queue for the gents wasn’t anything to be overly concerned about, which is always a bonus. The people manning the bars and food stands were all friendly and helpful. And the stewards and security staff were numerous and easy to spot but certainly not obtrusive. All in all it was a job well done.

Anyway, for those interested, here are the beers I consumed:

Attaboy by Truman’s – 4.6%
Sour Saxon (Cell Rebirth) by The Celt Experience – 4%
Ola Dubh 18 by Harviestoun – 8%
Original by Thistly Cross Cider – 7.2%
Fifth Element by Beavertown – 7.3%
All Day IPA by Founders – 4.7%
Discovery by Renaissance – 4.5%
IPA by Lagunitas – 6.2%
Re Hop by Toccalmatto – 5%
Delirium Tremens by Huyghe – 7.5%
Black IPA by Brighton Bier – 7%
Sour Saxon (Cell Rebirth) by The Celt Experience – 4%
In The Pines by Wiper & True – 5.3%
Independence by Bristol Beer Factory – 4.6%
Imperial Raspberry Stout by Thornbridge & St Eriks – 10%

I suppose the simple fact that the only beer I had more than once was the Sour Saxon strongly suggests that it was my beer of the festival. It arguably was but it should be noted that I didn’t have a bad beer all day, which is something I’ve never managed to say after a session at the Great British Beer Festival.

If Craft Beer Rising returns in 2015 I will return to Craft Beer Rising.

VICTORIA – LONDON

Victoria
68-70 Page’s Walk
London
SE1 4HL

FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 22 FEBRAURY 2014

Being nestled away in the back streets of the no-mans-land that isn’t quite Peckham or Elephant & Castle (stick it up your arsehole), I can’t imagine a reason why you’d visit this pub unless you lived more or less next door or you were conducting some nefarious activity nearby. I live 85 miles away.

Like a lot of ex-Trumans pubs the place has a jaded and slightly unloved feel but at the same time it has the days-gone-by vibe that is hard not to feel slighly in awe of. The likes of BrewDog and Craft Beer Co. might own the must go to pubs these days but it’s doubtful they’ll ever have the tales to tell that pubs like the Victoria can regale you with. As much as I love drinking in BrewDog and those of it’s ilk it would be sad if these more traditional no frills (or exciting beer) pubs completely vanished.

The barman seemed like a friendly chap. Friendly enough to open his pub early because he saw a couple of thirsty looking lads hanging around outside. The keg lines boasted nothing of worth. London Pride and Adnams Southwold Bitter were the two cask offerings – the condition of both was spot on.

Nobody else entered the during the 20 or so minutes we were there. One weekend I’d like to return and spend a day sitting at the bar getting slowly drunk watching people come and go. I doubt that will ever happen.

Victoria