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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

DOCKLE FARMHOUSE – SWINDON

Dockle Farmhouse
Bridge End Road
Swindon
SN3 4PD

SEVENTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 5 NOVEMBER 2014

We needed to go food shopping but I knew if I didn’t eat beforehand I would end up stabbing someone to death with a baguette while in the supermarket. To the Dockle!

The carpark was rammed. I’d never seen it so busy. I was concerned that the pub was having some sort of Bonfire themed family fun night and little darlings would be running amok but indoors it was all relatively sedate. It would later transpire that the pub next door was having a fireworks display and people who couldn’t be arsed walking there had commandeered a rival pub’s parking facilities.

As seems to be the norm these days in Spoons the cask selection was pretty uninspiring. In the end I settled on a pint of Edinburgh Pale Ale from a brewery called the Edinburgh Brewing Company. Of course, I didn’t realise until I searched on Untappd that the Edinburgh Brewing Company is actually Innis & Gunn. Oh the horror! The beer was shit. We made our food choices and I returned to the bar. The guy before me spoke with a Scottish accent (so I presume he is Scottish). He ordered food and a coffee (as a gnarly old trucker once told ‘Tea’s an Englishman’s drink’) and half of the Whisky cask Thistly Cross Cider). I liked him even though he looked like he was a bit of a psychotic nob. I ordered the food and my now usual food drinks: a pint of Devils Backbone IPA and a can of Bengali Tiger. I’ve tried the DBIPA in all four of Swindon’s Spoons and the Dockle’s is by far the tastiest. Thankfully it was on form. The Bengali Tiger tasted a bit old but was venturing into Barley Wine territory so I was happy enough.

Outside the next door fireworks display was into its grand finale. I noticed some spent fireworks lying on the ground. Then one attached to a metal pole clattered down beside me. Phew! That was a close one. Thankfully, the walk to the car didn’t bring an further near misses.

* * *

SIXTH VISIT: THURSDAY 23 OCTOBER 2014

A quick lunchtime visit. I started with a pint of the Spoons Fest special from Two Birds. It wasn’t unpleasant but it wasn’t very good. Food wise I settled on the Flaming Dragon, which was a lot tastier and hotter than I was expecting. I liked it. To accompany my curry I had a pint of Devil’s Backbone IPA and a can of Bengali Tiger. The Bengali Tiger did a far better job of cutting through the chili heat.

* * *

FIFTH VISIT: SUNDAY 5 OCTOBER 2014

I needed food. But I couldn’t be arsed making any. I fancied a beer. But there was nothing in the house that wasn’t being saved for another day. To the Dockle!

I kicked off with a pint of Devils Backbone. It tasted better than it did at the Groves the day before but perhaps not quite as good as it did here at the Dockle on Wednesday. I’m enjoying my research. Lunch was a large beef roast couple with another pint of DBIPA and a can of Bengali Tiger – you can’t forget your old buddies just because there’s a new kid on tap. I fancied a bottle of Lagunitas IPA and a Rogue Amber but decided to be a good boy and go home.

* * *

FOURTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 1 OCTOBER

This week’s Wednesday movie was What We Did On Our Holiday. It wasn’t a film a particularly wanted to see but sometimes you’ve got to do things you don’t want to do. It was a beautiful little movie. One that made my eyes wet quite a few times. A very pleasant surprise.

Today saw the launch of the new Spoons food and beer menu, which meant that BrewDog and Devil’s Backbone were now on (keg) draught and Lagunitas and Rogue were in the bottle fridges. Crazy Craft Times! I had a cursory glance at the cask offerings – they were all dull and uninspiring. I had a look at the keg line-up – the Devil’s Backbone was on but no BrewDog. I ordered a pint of the Devil’s Backbone IPA and pointed at the tap. The bartender looked a tad confused and then went and looked at the clips on the cask beers. I told him it was a keg beer and once again pointed at the tap. He turned round and started looking in the fridges. Once again I informed him that it was a keg beer but the perplexed look upon his face suggested he didn’t know what keg meant. Oh dear. I know someone who works in a different Swindon Spoons and he’s told me that the get quite extensive training (and tastings) when new products are launched – I can only assume that the chap before me had been sick on the day of his training session. I was close to giving in and shouting ‘Just give me a can of fucking Bengali Tiger’ but another member of staff arrived and intervened and I was served a pint of Devil’s Backbone. Phew! Thankfully, it’s a pretty damn tasty beer. It was served way too cold – so cold that I initially felt that I could’ve done with a glove to pick up the glass – but after a couple of minutes sat on the table it was at a perfect temperature and it slipped down beautifully. I won’t bother mentioning that it’s brewed at Bank’s.

But it’s not all about new beer at Spoons today. There’s also some new food on the menu. I had a quick look and decided on the Philly Cheese Steak. I had a happy little moment when I discovered that Devil’s Backbone (and BrewDog) are part of the free drink meal deal. Nice. Sadly, the Philly Cheese Steak was off the menu. Apparently, it had been so popular that the pub’s initial stock had gone by 7pm – a new delivery was arriving at 11pm. We couldn’t be arsed looking at the menu again so opted for the good old Spoons staple that is a Gourmet Beef Burger. The second pint of DB IPA slipped down as deliciously as the first, perhaps even more so – I can see me drinking quite a lot of this in the coming months. Once the food had been despatched I was tempted to go for another pint but decided instead to go for a bottle of Lagunitas IPA. The bartender who had intervened earlier served me. This time it was his turn to look confused. I made it easier for him and said ‘the bottle that has IPA written on it big letters.’ ‘Ah, so that how you pronounce it – La-gun-ee-tas.’ I decided it wasn’t wise to tell him that it’s Spanish for Big Fucking Dog. He asked if I’d like a glass – ‘Of course’. He picked up a half pint tumbler but must have read the look on my face and swiftly replaced it with one of the ‘craft’ glasses. It seems the Dockle isn’t as hot on staff training as the Savoy is. Hey ho!

* * *

THIRD VISIT: WEDNESDAY 2 APRIL 2014

Wednesday night is (usually) movie night. This week’s choice was Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was great fun. But some of the fight scenes move so fast that it’s almost impossible to make out what it happening. I guess it saves the studios forking out loads of dosh on top class choreography as if it’s all moving superfast any imperfections will go unnoticed. And it assume it reduces the time the fight training ties up an actor’s schedule. Or perhaps I’ve just so old that my eyes and brain can’t keep up with the action. But, yeah, I loved the film.

With the movie done our attention turned to food (and mine to beer). I fancied some of the Yeastie Boys’ Gunnamatta. Sadly, it wasn’t on. But the Nøgne Ø Brown Ale (brewed at Bateman’s) was on. I love Nøgne Ø. I’ve had quite a few of their beers and never had a bad one. Thankfully, the Brown Ale, despite the fact that I’m not a fan of browns, was another winner. Time to order food: veggie burger with bacon and cheese accompanied by a can of Bengali Tiger. I think I’m starting to enjoy Bengali Tiger far more than I will ever be prepared to admit – much like the debut album by the Strokes. Burger and beer dispatched I returned to the bar to get one of the ‘festival specials’ – six beers served from gravity and sold for only £1.49 a pint. When I arrived at the bar there was one member of staff serving and a three people waiting to be served. A manager tried to pretend he was busy by moving bits of paper around, occasionally he’d glance at his customer’s with thinly veiled contempt. As a rule I find managers in Wetherspoons to be excellent and always happy to serve and clear tables and generally work hard. Not this chap. I decided to go for Fermin brewed by Mateo & Bernabe at Shepherd Neame. I also ordered a J2O for my special lady friend and a can of Bengali Tiger. I asked if the can could be left unopened as it would easier to carry it back to my seat. The server’s eyes darted towards the idle manager and she remarked that she wasn’t allowed to sell the cans unopened. Fair enough. The Fermin was mistake. It was grosso. I left half of it on the table as I departed with a cunningly concealed open can of Bengali Tiger.

* * *

SECOND VISIT: FRIDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2014

I’d only popped in for some breakfast and wasn’t intending on having a beer but I made the mistake of perusing the pump clips and when I noticed they had The Bruery’s Oatmeal Stout (brewed exclusively for Spoons at Caledonia) my fate was sealed. It’s a good stout. Perhaps too rich and sweet for everyday consumption but as an occasional pre-noon treat it works quite well. If you are a fan of bakewell tart smothered in chocolate sauce this could be the beer you’ve been looking for.

* * *

FIRST VISIT: WEDNESDAY 22 JANUARY 2014

Wetherspoons operates four pubs in Swindon. The Dockle Farmhouse is the only one that’s not in the town centre. And it’s the biggest. As the name suggests, it’s an old farmhouse. The original building was constructed way back in the 1800s. These days it is flanked by two sizeable extensions that were added sometime during the 1980s. The Dockle is effectively two pubs under one roof. The right side, as you look at the pub from the road, is affectionately known as the Butlins End, allows children whereas is the left side is adults only. As I never rock up at the pub with children in tow I always choose the left hand side. I have wandered into the Butlins End just to see if there’s anything different on the bar but each time I’ve had a look it’s always been stocked with just GK beers.

This purpose of this visit was to score some cheap food. Actually, I’ve never been to the Dockle for just a drink. Burns Night was just a few days away so things were getting a bit Scottish. Whisky was on special offer and the food specials were Scottish themed. But there was no Scottish beer. The Stone/Adnams DIPA was on the bar but sitting on top of the pump clip was an ‘Available Soon’ ticket. While I awaited the arrival of the DIPA I ordered a pint of Infusion from Bragdy Conwy – it wasn’t astounding but it was pleasant enough to slake my thirst. For food I ordered a Highland burger, which was a burger that had haggis where you usually find the cheese and bacon. The DIPA still hadn’t arrived so I got a pint of Loddon’s Hullabalo. In June 1993 I was in a band called Hullabaloo. We recorded an album called 25 Years of Avant-Garde Viola Music. The only people who heard the album were the four of us in the band. And my neighbours as we recorded it.

The DIPA didn’t arrive before I departed.

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

* * *

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.

RED LION WINTER BEER FEST – CRICKLADE

Hop Kettle Brewery
Red Lion
High Street
Cricklade
SN6 6DD

FIRST VISIT: FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2014 (with a slight return on Sunday 2 March) 2014

The first of what will hopefully be many Winter Beer Festivals taking place at the Red Lion in Cricklade.

Friday nights are always busy at the Red Lion and the beer festival would undoubtedly make this one busier than most so was I mildly concerned. The Red Lion is a great pub but no pub is great when it’s overcrowded. But I shouldn’t have been concerned because Tom and his crew know what they are doing. I should have known they would have a plan and that the plan would be a good one.

The beers were served from inside the Hop Kettle brewery, onto which a spacious and heated marquee was attached – spacious enough for several picnic benches coupled with plenty of standing room. The extra space was great but the real value of the marquee was the fact that it allowed the beer to be sold from inside the brewery – an excellent touch that gave the festival an extra stamp in the cool column. Another excellent idea was to have a wall of the marquee that doubled as a beer info point: each beer had a landscape piece of A4 paper on the wall which featured a print out of the pump clip art and tasting notes. There were printed programs available but the info wall served as a focal point that brought people together to share likes and dislikes and have a general chat about beer and whatnot.

Twenty five beers were up for grabs – 22 cask and 3 keg – alongside seven ciders. Cask beers were from (among others) Arbor, Dark Star, Hawkshead, Roosters, Tiny Rebel and Wild Beer. The 3 keg beers were Anchor’s Flying Cloud Stout (Zymaster Series No.3), Burning Sky’s Saison a la Provision and Barrel Aged Sunturnbrew by Nøgne Ø. All in all it was a pretty impressive list.

I started with a Hop Kettle Flapjack Black (Buffalo Trace BA). The original Flapjack Black was by far my favourite beer of 2013 so I was keen to see what being stuck in a bourbon barrel for four months had added to the mix. I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed. If I’d never had the original unadulterated version I’m sure I’d be raving about the BA version. But I felt the bourbon barrel smoothed off the jagged curves a touch too much. I like my breakfast stouts to be a little bit rough and uncompromising, which I why I feel it’s a style that always works better from the cask than it does from the keg. It was a disappointment. Not a true disappointment. Just a disappointment when compared to its illustrious predecessor. Like comparing Adventure to Marquee Moon.

Next up was a genuine disappointment: Bourbon Milk Stout from Sonnet 43. It tasted like a weak JD a coke that had been left on the mantelpiece overnight. The overall condition of the beer was fine but the taste wasn’t to my liking. Third up to bat was Old Stock Ale from Tiny Rebel, which was far fruitier than I was expecting it to be despite the tasting notes stating it was fruity little number. It was just the lift my senses needed.

Time to switch to keg!
Burning Sky are a brewery that folk have been shouting about for several months… and even several months before they had a beer on sale. When I turned up at the Red Lion Winter Beer Fest I still hadn’t tasted a Burning Sky (Call yourself a Beer Geek!?) Time for that to change. If Sorachi Ace is the hop that splits the beer community, Saison is the beer style (It’s not a style!) that splits the community. I like saisons but I’ve begun to grow slightly mistrustful of them as some breweries seem to chuck out a new one every other week. But Burning Sky’s a la Provision is a great example – a slightly sour liquid sherbet with a definite Belgian yeast hit. Lovely.

After a couple of palate fresheners it was time to return to the dark and moody beers.
Keg hit number two was Anchor’s Flying Cloud. It’s thick and indulgent – exactly how a 7.4% stout should be. Next up was the beer that had got me most excited when I’d perused the beer list prior to attending the festival: Nøgne Ø Sunturnbrew Oaked. I was not disappointed. A smoked beer that’s been smoked then smoked again.. then smoked again… than allowed some time and space to mellow out. Smooth. Luxurious. But with a little bit of an edge. A fantastic experience for all of the senses. (On the Sunday I returned for a two pint growler fill of the Sunturnbrew Oaked – it paired perfectly with a lazy afternoon spent watching superhero movies.)

Time was now against me as my designated driver wanted to get to the fish n chip shop before it closed at 10. I nipped back to the bar for another dose of Flapjack Black and decided that despite my earlier appraisal it warranted a growler fill. Then the party was over.

There was a great crowd at the festival. Several people I know. Several people I recognised as Red Lion regulars (or at least irregular regulars like myself). And loads of people who were first time visitors. But, if the ones I chatted to are anything to go by, a fair few of those first time visitors will be returning to the Red Lion soon and often. And the local CAMRA party had a sizeable contingent in attendance.

Great beer + a buzzing crowd = a perfect festival.

The summer edition should be taking place in June – when a firm date is announced you should stick it in your diary.

EDIT: The Red Lion Summer Beer Festival will commence on Friday 27 June 2014

KODAK Digital Still Camera