Pub of the year, 2016 – The Needle & Pin, Loughborough

Continuing the end of year round up fun, we look back at the pubs of the month for 2016 and try to pick a winner.

The Beer Hall, Hawkshead Brewery, Staveley was the winner for January. A pub with a brewery attached, and even though the surrounding environment is perhaps less pleasing (an industrial estate in Staveley), the great food and brilliant beer on offer here made it the winner. It has also featured in brewery outlet of the year, as I choose to round those up separately. It’s a fine line between the two, but I think it is both.

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We sampled several beers on our visit, as well as having the “Brewer’s lunch”, huntsman’s pie (pork, chicken and stuffing), Brodie’s Prime sausages (made with the beer of that name), parma ham, slices of local ham, black pudding, sticky bbq ribs, a pickled onion, piccalilli, salad, sourdough bread and butter. Great food and great beer.

February was almost over when its winner came into view. The Shakespeare in Auckland, a hotel, pub, restaurant and brewery all rolled into one, and just a few hundred yards from our hotel.

Everything has a Shakespeare theme, from The Bard pale ale to The Jester pilsner and “The Works of Shakespeare” burger….

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That’s a burger, with a fried egg, bacon, beetroot, tomato, lettuce and a pineapple ring. Definitely the complete works of Mr S. A big portion and very tasty. A proper hand made burger, perfectly cooked, juicy and delicious. It lived up to their “best burger in Auckland” claim.

The Brewers Co-operative in Auckland was March’s winner. Somewhere we visited twice, after spotting it on our first morning in the city. We popped in for a drink after dinner at The Shakespeare (above). The Brewers Co-operative are all about quality craft beer from around NZ, which is a pretty good decision, since there’s so much to choose from. After you’ve been out there for a couple of weeks, you soon recognise some of the names like Garage Project, 8 Wired, Epic and Liberty.

On our second visit, we had dinner. They have a kitchen which specialises in fish dishes, and serves many of them in classic chip shop style, wrapped up in paper. Although I am a plate advocate, this lack of plates fits in perfectly with their laid back vibe. Lovely food, great beer, and a great place to escape the Auckland CBD.

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A well deserved pub of the month!

April’s winner was easy too, The Hanging Bat in Edinburgh. It took me several attempts to get there, due to some inclement weather conditions (rain, hail and snow). As it was over a mile from my hotel, it needed conditions to be right. Eventually they were, so I headed over, the lure of 20 taps of ale and lots of smoked meats was just too strong to resist.

Obviously I chose the pulled pork to eat (I’m the predictable pulled pork guy). With so much beer choice, that takes a bit longer, but they do “flights” of 5 x 1/3 of a pint. And they don’t need you to choose them all on the spot and pour them. You get tokens which you can use to order when you are ready. This gives you time to work out what to have next, either using the old fashioned “talking to people” method (this would never work in London), or more modern methods such as seeing if your mates on Untappd have had any of them.

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Many great beers were sampled, and the pulled pork was perfect. A fantastic pub in a city packed with so many great ones. Very highly recommended for anyone visiting Edinburgh. There’s bound to be a beer of your favourite style on. And the food is great.

May’s winner The Needle & Pin has featured many times during the year, and was nominated for pub of the month in April. May’s visit was not for any special occasion, just a chance to get together with the boys to drink good beer and eat good pizza. We did all of those things in the relaxed surroundings of Loughborough’s newest micropub, which is now my favourite town pub. Great beer, no gimmicks. Where else in Loughborough would you find “Hickey the Rake” by Wylam brewery, an attack of lemons and hops and full of good sharp flavours. Answer – nowhere!

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The unrivalled range of beers on hand pull and in the fridges (in our sleepy little town at least) made this a deserving winner for May.

We return to Edinburgh for June’s winner, The Potting Shed. We happened to be there on the night of our tenth wedding anniversary and celebrated with a very nice meal. It started off very well, with this awesome selection of beer to choose from:-

So much choice, so little time. My first choice was Findhorn Killer by Speyside Craft Brewery. I quickly christened this Hoppy McHopface, a deliciously balanced ale.

For dinner, Mrs MOFAD opted for the slow cooked spicy lamb, with coriander, coconut milk, fragrant rice and “flat breed” (that’s Scotch for bread). This was spicy and delicious, walking that fine line between spice and flavour and just about getting it right in Mrs MOFAD’s eyes.

I opted for the half roast peri peri chicken, with red slaw and skinny fries. A simple chicken dish isn’t something I’ll often eat because it is something that can easily be done badly, but I had faith here as I’d heard good things about the Potting Shed.

This faith was well placed, juicy and delicious chicken, nice and spicy peri peri, good red slaw and crisp fries.As this was a special occasion, we both opted for pudding (we will often share). For me it was Potting Shed Windfall; fruit & nut “soil”, chocolate mousse and a medley of mixed berries. This was as delicious as it looks, and I’ll forgive the plant pot, since it is jokey and there is a plate to actually eat from.

Mrs MOFAD’s eyes were bigger than her belly – a sticky toffee pudding proved to be too much of a challenge – it was delicious though. Being a perfect gentleman, I had some in order to help out🙂

A chocolately pudding needs the right kind of liquid accompaniment. I tried Fathom by Jaw Brew, full of chocolate, coffee and burnt treacle flavours, although it was very thin (they might have boiled the sugar out of the brew).

A lovely anniversary meal, probably one of my favourites. And I haven’t even mentioned that they also have a pizza called Boaty McBoatface:-

Great food and beer, a nice relaxed atmosphere and funky decor. The Potting Shed is a lovely place for a meal or even just a drink or two on a night out in Edinburgh.

July’s winner was also May’s winner, The Needle & Pin. With the 24 hour return of former regular MOFAD drinking companion Bruce, we decided that we had to start and end our little walking tour of Loughborough there.

A Magic Rock High Wire “unapologetically hop forward in character” started proceedings, and it delivers on that promise with mango, lychee, grapefruit and hops hops hops.

An international mash up followed. New Zealand hops (motueka, and it was amusing to hear Alec’s attempted pronunciation) made into a beer by North Riding Brewery in Scarborough. Sadly it needed loads more hops to bring out that distinctive NZ hoppy goodness. Pleasant, but not a showcase for this hop.

Always a pleasure to be at The Needle & Pin, it’s just a great pub with so many great beers to choose from, and changing all the time.

On to August, and Ye Olde Mustard Pot in Midhopestones, on the outskirts of Sheffield. Bank Holiday Monday must involve some kind of pub trip, but so many establishments seem to give their chefs the day off and stop serving food. Great for the hard working chef of course, but what about the hungry customer?

We were in transit from our camp site for the weekend to a family BBQ. After a nice drive across the northern edge of the Peak District, we were on the look out for somewhere near to Langsett Reservoir, where we were planning on having a little stroll in the summer sunshine.

Whilst driving around, we chanced upon Ye Olde Mustard Pot in Midhopestones. Despite the massive car park looking a little empty, they were in fact open and doing food (until 4pm), so we parked up and found a table in the bar (there’s a patio with benches out the front and also a beer garden around the back).

We had both ordered the same thing, a roast chicken baguette with chorizo and smoked cheese.

It was absolutely delicious, probably the tasiest thing of the whole month. The baguette was stuffed to the gills with filling, loads of chicken, plenty of chorizo and no skimping on the smoked cheese. Proper home made chips and a decent bit of salad on the side. One of the sandwiches of the year.

A lovely cosy pub serving great food. There was also a good pint on (Bradfield Farmers Blonde) but there was lots more driving to do, so I passed. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area and a worthy winner of pub of the month.

The Globe in Alresford took the title in September. After a lovely day out at the Alresford show we had booked a table at The Globe for dinner. We ordered some food and drinks and relaxed. There was also some local cider for Mrs MOFAD, which we had sampled at the show a few hours earlier. Meon Valley Cider was lightly sparkling from the bottle, a classic cider with toffee apple flavours.

Lots of nice choices on the menu, and I was on a fishy quest again, pan fried fillet of hake, with watercress (if you don’t have it on your menu in Hampshire, something must be wrong), burnt pineapple puree (much nicer than the word burnt implies), roasted sweet potato, ginger, chilli & coriander dressing. This was absolutely delicious, a lovely piece of fish with great flavours to accompany it.

This was joined by the always reliable Bath Ales Gem, a balance of malt and hops that makes for a classic English bitter.

A really nice meal at a really nice pub. Nothing was rushed, everything was relaxed, and their was a friendly atmosphere. Lots of diners on a very busy Saturday night, but the team were able to cope with everyone.

October was an Adnams heavy month, as we were in Southwold for a week. The Jolly Sailor in Orford was the winner, featuring the usual range of Adnams beers and lots of enticing food.

I opted for a Cumberland sausage baguette with onion jam, and it comes with a really nice dressed salad and vegetable crisps (Tyrell’s I suspect):-

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A lovely sausage baguette, great sausages, nice crusty baguette and sweet onion marmalade (they call it jam). Hearty and delicious. Mrs MOFAD opted for the ham & cheese toastie, which was well filled with ham and cheese, and nice and warming on a day of sea breezes. Our cycling and dining companions Hazel & Matt had the cheeseboard and some accompaniments, all very tasty stuff. I also got free grapes from the cheeseboard 🙂

The Jolly Sailor is a lovely seaside pub, and there’s a nice big beer garden out the back for warmer months too. Really nice food and good beer. And they allow dogs. Well worth it if you’re in the area, and definitely worth stopping off at if you’re riding the Suffolk coastal cycle route, which passes within about 50 yards of the pub…

November was a very quiet month, and there was only one pub in the running for pub of the month, because we only went to one pub. The Poppy and Pint in West Bridgford.

We were off to a little film festival being held above the pub, so it was the perfect location for a spot of dinner beforehand. Nestled between the Lady Bay tennis club and bowling green, the Poppy, a former British Legion venue, has become a firm favourite amongst the Lady Bay community and visitors alike, and it has very much a community centre feel to it.

Given that we visited just after Halloween, it was no suprise to find a pumpkin beer, Most Haunted by Castle Rock brewery, in Nottingham. It only had a 2 mile journey to get here – travelling fewer miles than we did tonight!

It was a tasty light porter, a mix of light and dark, with warming spices like a pumpkin pie.

Lots of menu options in the pub too, either the “standard” menu on the table, or lots of choice from the specials board on the wall. Mrs MOFAD and I both turned to the wall for our choices. For me it was this chicken in peppery cream sauce, with good pub chips and a decent salad on the side. It was really tasty, a great pub dish.

Mrs MOFAD went for this sweet potato curry with chickpeas, rice, mini naan, mango chutney and raita – a great pub curry.

A lovely pub with good food and a great selection of beer, both local and from further afield. It really is the heart of this community and well worth a visit if you can navigate your way through the streets full of parked cars. It may have won by default, but it’s a good pub which deserves to be in the company of all of these others.

December’s winner was another new pub. Cumbria provided it, and just like last year, it was visited on New Year’s Eve. The Crafty Baa opened in Windermere in August 2016 and it’s somewhere I’ve been keeping my eye on, hoping to squeeze in a visit. An opportunity arose to stop here for lunch, so we popped in and grabbed a table and then stood for quite a while scratching our heads and looking up and down the board of almost 100 things to drink. The delightful agony of choice.

In the end I kept it local with Fell Brewery’s Robust Porter, full of roasty and smoky flavours with a hint of chocolate. Very nice indeed.

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We were here for food too, the combo sharing platter, with three cheeses, plus a whole baked camembert, four different meats, sun dried tomatoes, olives, chutneys, grapes, and several different breads. Nom!

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It was even tastier than it looks. Lovely meats, interesting cheeses and the gooey camembert was unctious, warming and delightful. And if that wasn’t enough (in all honesty it probably was) we also had a bowl of nachos, with sour cream, salsa and guacamole. Because nachos.

The Crafty Baa had an awesome line up of beer (which is always changing) alongside simple, delicious food and some funky 1970s soul on the sound system, a crackling real fire lovely friendly staff and a great atmosphere.

So now the hard bit. Choosing a winner. So many great contenders, but in the end it has to the the pub that has featured in the monthly round up in every month that I’ve visited it.

The Needle & Pin is the MOFAD pub of the year for 2016, a very well deserved victory. It’s been a great first year for the pub, Sean and the team (Rebecca, Tom, Jethro, Sam and Ben) have achieved so much in a short space of time. Several craft beer nights, a gin night, Xmas shopping events, the launch of the craft beer club, and an ever changing line up of perfectly kept casks of beer complemented by two fridges full of brilliant bottles and cans from near and far, to drink in and take away.

They don’t forget the cider drinker either. There are always plenty of good ciders available, usually up to six. Sean is a cider fan so this is why they’ve had around 50 different ciders on since opening. This also led to them being crowned as Loughborough and North Leicestershire CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year.

In their first year, thirsty drinkers have made their way through 500 casks of ale, and created something else – a community of people who are involved with the success of the pub. As well as the people in charge, a pub is made by the people who support it. This community is on social media (1500 followers on Facebook and 450 odd on Twitter), but most importantly the community is inside the pub, the people who go to the events and who pop in for a pint when they are in town.

As well as numerous trips throughout the year, I had three trips there in December alone, including the brilliant Thornbridge tasting night where we sampled five Thornbridge brews, as well as a deconstruction of Serpent, their Belgian style golden ale, brewed with cider lees (the leftover bits from fermenting cider, yeasts, skins and whatever’s left), and then aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels for two years.

We were back again just eight days later, and “The twelve days of Thornbridge” was still in full flow, which gave us the chance to try Rattlesnake, a dangerously easy to drink 6.5% west coast IPA, and Lucaria, an ice cream porter brewed with lactose for a smooth finish.

Just two weeks later, a special trip was required, as the N&P had procured one of only 12 casks of Christmas Cake Imperial Stout, brewed by Cloudwater Brew Co in collaboration with ToØl of Denmark. It’s this kind of thing that makes an award winning pub.

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Congratulations and cheers to The Needle & Pin, a very worthy winner. I’ll bring your certificate in the next time I’m down…

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