Pub of the month, October 2017

For the second time this year, and the second time ever, there is no pub of the month for this month. A few trips to very dull bars in Portugal and a couple of trips to functional pubs at the end of the month, and that leaves us with very little to choose from.

So I choose nothing, and we’re now down to just a potential ten pubs in the running for pub of the year. I’m pretty confident that November and December will have entries…

 

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Pub of the month – September 2017 – The Narrowboat, Skipton

What a bumper month for pub visits! Twenty one in total, four pubs got two visits each, and one got four. Just like its 2015 counterpart, it is dominated by Skipton pubs, as we recreated the walking tour of Skipton. There’s also the same pub that we camped near to and pubs from a work trip. Very similar months.

We start with “work trip pub”, and an inclusion on exception criteria. Toilets. The most ornate pub toilets that I have ever encountered. This exceptional piece of work can be found in The Philharmonic Dining Rooms, in Liverpool.

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To the “camping pub” next, and it was nice to be back at The Beehive in Combs, where we have had some lovely meals, twice in September 2015, and twice already this year (July). It really is a great village pub, friendly atmosphere, lovely food and well kept beer. Once again it didn’t disappoint, with a couple of pints of Thornbridge Rattlesnake (dangerously easy drinking 6.5% west coast IPA), a classic fish’n’chips and a posher fish special.

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Another honourable mention to last year’s winner, The Needle & Pin. This month it was “Cloudwater night” and as I am a bit of a fanboy, I couldn’t not go. Featuring cans such as  ™ Life and Awkward Phase, it was a good Cloudwater celebration.

For the rest of this round up, we find ourselves in Skipton. Firstly, at the pub that wasn’t here when we last visited, the “Early Doors” micropub. Six cask ales on handpull and some other interesting things in the fridge. Much like a pub used to be, no Sky Sports, no fruit machine, just beer and good chat.

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Another favourite from our previous visit next, The Castle Inn. Not much has changed in 2 years, it wasn’t quite so sunny today but we sat outside again and had a pint of liquid and a pint of food. The liquid was Barista Stout from Theakston, a lovely sweet coffee stout. I remember having this one on a walking tour of Loughborough, and it’s still a lovely pint that could stand up to having a bit more coffee added. The second pint was a pint of chips.  We had pints of chips last time, so we had to have them again. Plates are always preferred, but the occasional quirky pint of chips is ok, especially when they are decent chips. It does make it hard to get the salt and vinegar evenly distributed though…

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To the September 2015 pub of the month next, The Beer Engine. This year there was no-one in talking about “London swearing” just lots of people enjoying good beer on a Saturday afternoon. It is a place that knows its market and caters to them. There’s not much point sticking 5 keg lines in here and trying to convince local drinkers to have thirds of double dry hopped triple IPAs.

There are 5 cask ales on hand pull, ideally suited to the local market. There are around 4 ciders and some good bottled beers including some nice Belgian numbers. The perfect place to enjoy a relaxed pint and a chat. Today that was Vale Ale by Three Castles Brewery from Pewsey in Wiltshire, a tasty caramel bitter.

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So, to this month’s winner, The Narrowboat. This was on 2015’s walking tour, but this year we had dinner here on the Friday night, and came back for a drink after dinner on the Saturday night, so it was not used on the 2017 walking tour. Declaring it the winner might be slightly controversial, because they did send out a burnt pie for Hazel to eat (it was eventually replaced with pizza, but they didn’t refund the difference). However, my pizza was fantastic, the beers were lovely, and Mrs MOFAD had her (to date) “best beer ever!” in the form of Passion Fruit Gose from Hawkshead.

A cask ale with Sorachi Ace hops, a Citra Star from Anarchy Brew Co and a Galaxy from Brewsmith – three excellent hoppy pints. Combine these with some lovely keg filth (the aforementioned Passion Fruit Gose from Hawkshead), Tiny Rebel Mojito Sour and Pogo by Wild Beer Co and you have the ingredients for a pub of the month.

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A worthy winner.

Pub of the month, May 2017

There isn’t one. For the first time since records began, I don’t feel able to award pub of the month this month.

A bland chain pub with no frills? Meh.

A quibble over an optional 10% service charge? Nope.

A dull pub paella? Narp.

So there is no pub of the month this month. This gives the other (probably) eleven pubs a statistically improved chance of taking the overall title at the end of the year.

Pub of the month, February 2017 – Mason and Co

A quiet month for pub trips, with just a handful to choose from. There are a few not to choose from as well, including a dull Marstons pub with a badly kept pint and a hit and miss burrito.

A few trips to Leicester (comedy festival as usual) and one of these resulted in our first candidate for pub of the month, The Landsdowne (Orange Tree). We’d been there before, but not for a few years, so there is no MOFAD visit recorded. It’s going to be our new pre-show dining pub, as we have abandoned The Marquis Wellington after our last visit.

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A good local pint and a decent chicken burger, so we’ll definitely be back.

A couple of trips to 2016’s pub of the year, The Needle & Pin, this month. One was for a pizza and a pint after watching T2: Trainspotting, and the other was the lovely dark beer night, where we enjoyed dark beers and some tasty cheeses, and other sweet and savoury nibbles. My favourite match was an extra smoky brisket from over the road at the Hog Stop, matched with Beavertown Smog Rocket smoked porter.

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So, we move on to the winner, Mason & Co at Here East in Hackney Wick. This is located just next to the former Olympic broadcast centre from 2012, right down by the River Lee Navigation. On a lovely summer’s day you could sit out and watch canal boats drifting by. In February, you need to stay indoors.

London 2012 was a big success. Cast your mind back to Wednesday 6th July 2005. London beat Paris to host the 2012 Olympics. This led to 7 years of cheap jokes, cynicism and classic British self-deprecation.

From Danny Boyle’s wonderful opening ceremony, through to great performances from athletes and the concept of “Olympic legacy”, this part of East London has been transformed. They’ve still not finished, as you’ll spot on the walk here from Stratford International station. Loads more building work still going on and it’s going to be a few more years before everything is fully complete.

It takes just six minutes to get here from St Pancras. Six miles in six minutes on the Javelin train. By car or underground it would take you six or seven times as long as that. So this part of London is now accessible for people approaching from the north. You can now watch West Ham play at home, as they have moved away from the Boleyn Ground, with claret and blue lighting up the London Stadium.

What you get inside the bar is great beer and great food, as Mason and Company is the brainchild of Edward Mason (owner and director of The Five Points Brewing Co, based in a railway arch under Hackney Downs station) and Rachel Jones (founder of street food company “Capish?”)

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There are 20 beers on tap to choose from, as well as numerous bottles. All of these can match with some street food classics, including a meatball sub, steak brioche, and fried chicken or aubergine parms on brioche (think posh KFC).

Plenty of sides to choose from, Italo-fries (skin on fries coated in oregano salt), courgette fries, a Hackney salad (which is much nicer than it might sound, remember this area has been regenerated!) and a few other bits and pieces. It was chicken parm for me, Italian fried chicken thigh, marinara sauce, basil aioli, sautéed kale and parmesan crisp on a brioche roll. Very much a posh chicken burger, accompanied by those Italo-fries.

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Great food and great beers make this a great pub if you find yourself down at Here East. A worthy winner of pub of the month, and I’ll be back again on my next visit.

Pub of the month, January 2017 – The Mortal Man, Troutbeck

January 2017 has been a tale of two parts. The first part (the first three days of January) contains all of the pubs in the running for pub of the month. The second part (the rest of the month) had three more pub visits, but to very disappointing chain pubs, including one that had no beer (Carling does not count as beer).

Off we go with our first contender. The King’s Head Hotel in Thirlmere is somewhere that we have been once before. However, the last time we came here (16th June 2010), all we did was park in the car park, before ascending Helvellyn. Yes, we have a list of Wainwrights that we have conquered and when, which is why I can quote that date.

Our visit was inspired by tropical storm Desmond, which had wreaked havoc in this area just over 12 months ago. We had a walk to take in some of the newly repaired and redirected paths in the area, and ending up at The King’s Head for lunch.

The King’s Head is one of those handy places that doesn’t down tools at 2pm, so when you arrive after that time you will be pleased to know that you can still order some lunch and a pint, such as this former Lakeland classic (now part of the Marston’s empire), Cocker Hoop by Jennings Brewery, a classic bitter golden ale.

Somewhere between our order being taken and heading off to the kitchen, my ham and cheese panino turned into bacon and brie, which is essentially just ham and cheese by another name. It was very nice, but not what I ordered. At this time, I was too tired to debate the matter, so tucked in. Nice side salad and always good to see some classic pickle on the plate too.

A nice lunch at this classic Lakeland inn.

We wind back the clock two days, and find ourselves in Wainwrights’ Inn, in Chapel Stile, part of the Langdale Estate. Again, we’ve been to the Langdale Estate before, way back in 1999 this time. Today, a largely familiar walk led us here for lunch.

Wainwrights’ Inn have subscribed to the tasting bat/paddle methodology, which allows you to enjoy 3 x 1/3 pint glasses of different beer. We managed to confuse them by requesting Tirril Pennine Pilsner as one of the three beers, but they eventually worked out that it was a proper beer so could be included. A light and refreshing pilsner, and it was joined by Derwent Brewery’s Cote Light (easy drinking light ale) and Penning Brewing’s Jingle Bell Rock (pleasant session bitter with standard festive pun name).

Lunch arrived on boards (boo – we want plates!) but was utterly delicious. A warm chicken, bacon & melted cheese baguette, served with a salad garnish and barbecue sauce. We also ordered some chips to share.

A great start to a New Year of eating and drinking. Three new beers to kick off #tryanuary, and a new pub too. Dog friendly and walker friendly, Wainwrights’ Inn is a jewel in Chapel Stile, and hightly recommended if you are in the area. I assume that the position of the possessive apostrophe means that the Inn is for all of the 214 Wainwrights rather than just Alfred…

We come on to our winner, somewhere which has featured here a few times already. The Mortal Man is definitely a MOFAD favourite, and we usually walk over from Ambleside via Wansfell to have lunch here.

The usual pint of Loughrigg by Hesket Newmarket awaited (I seem to have it every time we come here). The cider festival was on as usual so Mrs MOFAD treated herself to a few halves. The first was a Monkey Mango by Cockeyed Cider…

With so many visits, we can now compare the changing of the club sandwich. It’s fair to say that it was at its peak in 2014 and has deteriorated a bit since. The flavours are still good, but the removal of the plate and the lack of toasting change it from being a proper club sandwich.

Let’s see 2017 in close up:-

It was a tasty sandwich, featuring the right number of layers at last, but a club sandwich should be toasted. Mrs MOFAD also had a good sandwich which was enjoyed with Side-r Elderflower cider by Glebe Farm, intense floral notes but a little acidic.

My bonus beer today (no driving at the end of this walk) was a familiar name, Sally Birkett’s Ale. Until early 2016, it was brewed just down the road by Hawkshead Brewery, exclusively for The Mortal Man. The beer is now brewed in Carnforth, by Old School Brewery, and is still exclusive to The Mortal Man. A good session ale.

A lovely visit to The Mortal Man as ever, and a worthy winner of pub of the month.

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…

Pub of the month, December 2016 – The Crafty Baa, Windermere

December is usually a good month for pub visits. A few Christmas parties are usualy in the offing, the odd impromptu gathering with friends perhaps, and a few trips out after Christmas too.

This month’s round up starts at The Otter in Kegworth, which is my team’s traditional Xmas dinner venue. Every year I take my team out for Xmas lunch, a small token of appreciation for another year of hard work. I think it’s now 5 out of 7 years that we’ve been here. We tried a couple of other places, and they were nowhere near as good. If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it, as The Fresh Prince wisely advised us.

Instead of a photo of some dinner, here’s a view instead, because it was a glorious December day:-

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It’s still a Vintage Inn and not much has changed in the last 12 months. They still have an excellent online booking system which makes sorting out your reservation a doddle. Once inside, there’s pretty much the usual selection of ales. I did want the Purity IPA but it was off so it was Sharp’s Atlantic again, a good pale ale that is much better coming from a pump than a bottle. The full three courses were consumed, baked mushrooms in garlic and cheese sauce, slow cooked short rib of beef (not even spoiled by a sneaky sprout in the spiced vegetable fritter) and a lovely chocolate orange torte.

To Cumbria next. After a morning of walking, we descended into Little Langdale for lunch at The Three Shires Inn. It seems like everyone else had that idea, as we managed to grab the last free table inside (most of the outside tables were also full). A lovely pint of Loweswater Gold was soon being consumed, and it wasn’t too long before Mrs MOFAD was chomping on a tuna savoury sandwich whilst I had sausage ciabatta with chutney, which was very tasty, with a bit of salad on the side, and a bowl of chips to share.

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Staying in Cumbria, and travelling back 24 hours, we find ourselves in Tweedies, one of our favourite Lakes pubs. We usually manage to visit it on one of our winter walks. Because they have great beers and do great food. And you can opt for the beer bat/paddle/thingy where you get three different beers all served in 1/3 pint glasses.

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Good food as usual, a posh fish finger sandwich for me, and Mrs MOFAD opted for the rarebit (total cheese fest!) with a nice chutney on the side. It was warming and delicious, and went well with her beer choice of Sleeping Lemons which cuts through the richness of the cheese. It’s even more lemony than it sounds.

Back home next, for three trips to my favourite local pub, The Needle & Pin.

On the first day of December,
My local pub gave to me,
A great event with Thornbridge brewery…

We sampled five Thornbridge brews, as well as a deconstruction of Serpent, a 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.

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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.

As if that wasn’t enough, just two weeks later, a very special trip was necessitated, 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. The cakey Imperial Stout was infused with fresh ground spices and dried fruits to create something fruity, and rich, with lingering warming spices.

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Christmas cake in a glass, boozy dried fruits and gentle winter spices. Well worth the brief cycle to get there and try it. Nearly everyone who walked through the door during the couple of hours that we were there wanted to have some, the exception being a couple of people who had other things to do, such as driving home or operating heavy machinery.

We decided to stay for something a little lighter, Binghams Vanilla Stout, voted CAMRA’s Supreme Champion Beer of Britain earlier this year.

It was a gentle vanilla stout, very tasty, but it certainly won’t be my champion beer this year.

We return to Cumbria for our winner, and just like last year, December’s winner was visited on New Year’s Eve.

The Crafty Baa opened in Windermere in August 2016, filling a much needed gap in the town’s “drink in” beer provision. The “drink at home” customer is well served by Booths, just up the hill from here.

It was hastily lined up as today’s lunch stop. We grabbed a table and then stood for a number of minutes scratching our heads and looking up and down the board of almost 100 things to drink. It took a while, 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, and they keep it simple and tasty with various bar snack options (pork pies, scotch eggs, olives, breads, nachos etc.) as well as a cheese board (slate), a meat board (slate) or a combination of the two.

We had 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.

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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 has all of the ingredients needed to be pub of the month. An awesome line up of beer (which is always changing). Simple, delicious food. Funky 1970s soul on the sound system. A crackling real fire. Lovely friendly staff and a great atmosphere. We could have stayed there all afternoon, but we had to drive back to Ambleside, so reluctantly left.

A worthy winner of the final pub of the month for 2016. Stay tuned for pub of the year…