If Conwy had gone some way to restoring our faith in cask ale, Chester had it centre stage and shouting its quality to all comers. Handily underneath the Premier Inn where we were staying, Harker's
is a well known Brunning and Price pub on the canal-side.
Lavishly appointed, the haunt of Chester's well heeled and with a great
range of beer, we struck lucky with superb Crouch Vale Amarillo, which
was by a long chalk our best beer so far. The handpump was red hot as it
cranked out pint after pint, so we had a second as we assumed it would
be gone soon and we had other places to visit.
Next stop was the
beautiful Cross Keys and Joules (pronounced Jowls) beer. The pub is a
Victorian masterpiece and as good a place as you'd want to spend an hour on a Wednesday night. The beers surprised me. Since I last had them in Eccleshall around a year ago, they seem to have improved beyond all recognition. Across the road was Okell's Bear and Billet and there it was the Manx Pale Ale that stood out, with the charming service a close second. MPA is is a beer that you want to drink a lot of and we should have stayed for more, but the boys wanted to visit the nearby Spitting Feather's Brewery Tap in what was once a Jacobean Banqueting Hall. Now I did warn my friends that the place outshone the beer in the way a lighthouse outshines darkness, but they wanted to see it. Suffice to say other than the wonder of the surroundings, only the superbly attentive young lasses behind the bar, gamely trying to fashion a silk purse out of a sow's ear, made the visit worthwhile.
Our second last official port of call was a Sam Smith's house (can't remember its name) which one of our number had always wanted to visit. The OBB at £1.80 was just about OK but comfortably better than our previous experience. Then to JDW and one of the oddest, strangest, bestest, differentest pints ever. Bateman's Hazelnut Brownie (6.3%) was a liquid version of its name. It did what it said on the tin and no mistake. We all loved it and it was still a talking point at breakfast the next day. Round the corner, and back at our hotel, Harker's beckoned again, but alas it had closed at eleven. All wasn't lost though, as two of us nipped across the road to the Cellar and the very welcoming sight of Marble Manchester Bitter. Again the hospitality couldn't be faulted and the beer was on superb form. We staggered back across the road around the half one mark, slightly the worse for wear.
So there you have two of the simplest ways to make your pub shine. Offer a warm welcome and good beer. See a theme developing?
Such was the welcome that my companion was hugged by a barmaid from Harker's who was supping at the bar. This was by way of apology for being unable to serve us at 11.15 she said. He was also hugged by the landlord as we left. Nobody hugged me!
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer author, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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