Sunday, 16 October 2016

Harrogate Tap

Traditionally, in the north of England men went to the pub on Saturday lunchtime, had a few beers and then went to a football match. We decided to do exactly that with an away day trip to watch an FA cup qualifying game in Harrogate.

As part of my research before the trip I had to find a decent pub between the railway station and the football ground in Harrogate. I am not a big fan of pubs with silly names such as the "Crusty Badger" so I  was pleased to find a pub, close to the station, that goes by the name "Harrogate Tap". I say close to the station but it is actually  part of the station and if you can spot the door then you can  access the bar from platform 1!

We were not that  sharp and made the 20 yard trek from the station entrance to the front door of the Tap .

My first impression of a pub is usually my lasting one. As we walked in  I was aware of lots of stained wood and two ranks of wickets on the bar. So far so good!

It was at this point that I encountered my first problem - more that 10 different ales and stouts on offer, many of which I had not come across before. What to start with? The barman quickly realised that we looked overwhelmed by the choice facing us and asked what our preferred style of beer was. My mate asked for a blonde and was offered several to choose from. I went with a pint of dry hopped stout called "The devil made me brew it" from the Arbor brewery at 5.5%.

What a good choice that was. "Where is it brewed?" I asked our barman. "Er down south " said the barman. After consulting his phone he announced that it was from Bristol. As we enjoyed our first drink I was able to take in the ambience of the bar. As you might expect with a station bar there were plenty of comings and goings as people went to catch trains or got off them. One slightly disconcerting feature of the bar is the windows behind it which overlook the platform. Everytime a train went past it gave the impression that the wall was moving.

I sank my pint of stout and tried a tried a more tradional bitter for my second drink. This was a pint of Sandcaskale  at 4.2% and was described as a dark copper ale. Another nice brew from the Box Steam Brewery.

For my third pint I selected a pale beer from Oakham Ales of Peterborough called Citra. This beer, launched 5 years ago uses only the citra hop which does make it a very tasty and thirst quenching brew. It is the one on the left in the photograph.

It was a lovely mild autumn day when we visited the Tap. Had we arrived mid-winter the open fire at one end of the bar would have ensured that we received a warm welcome.

As it was after 3 very nice pints of beer I was feeling quite at home and was ready to forego the football  for a few more pints of what the Tap had to offer. I was persuaded otherwise and went off to the match happy in the knowledge that we would have to return to get our evening train back to Leeds.

What a splendid find the Harrogate Tap is. If you are in town then I suggest that you call in and sample the lovely beers on offer. If you are inclined to go by train you will have the convenience of dropping off the platform straight into a comfortable and welcoming bar. What more could you want?

Friday, 9 September 2016

The George and Dragon, West Haddlesey

There must be hundreds of villages in the north of England which have fabulous pubs that no-one outside of the village has ever heard of. A friend of mine found one in West Haddlesey. The village lies to the north of the M62 and to the west of the A19 in the Vale of York near Selby and when we visited the grain harvest in the surrounding fields was in full swing.

The entrance is on the east side and as we went in we were confronted by a little man holding a chalkboard advising us of the Tripadvisor ratings for the pub. Next to him was a full suit of armour with a board advising  that it was bookings only tonight if you wanted to eat.

Bookings only on a Thursday night? Well it was Tenner Thursday! All food at half price or better! Fortunately my friend knew this and had pre-booked so our trip was not wasted. My first impression was that the ceilings were very low which immediately made you feel that you have stepped back in time.
The next thing I look for in any pub that I visit is the selection of beers available. After all the prime function of a pub is to sell intoxicating beverages! There are 3 handpumps on the bar. Two of them had beers on that were new to me.

On the left is White Dragon from the very local Brown Cow Brewery at Brayton which has been in operation since 1997. The beer, described by it's makers as "pale, aromatic and bitter with a hint of citrus" is 4% abv and looked the same colour as the grain in the surrounding fields. An East decision then - Dragons all round! I am sure that George would have approved.

The White Dragon received unanimous approval so it was only natural that our thoughts turned to food.. The walls of the pub are covered with menus and there is food to suite all tastes and pockets. However  it was "Tenner Thursday" so we checked out that menu.

When I am trying a pub's food for the first time I usually go for a pie - traditional fayre and easy to compare with pie from other pubs. However the crab fishcake caught my eye so the pie would have to wait.

Now that is a substantial starter and the chilli & lime sauce certainly complemented the crab. With my appetite more than just whetted we proceeded to the main event the steak pie!

Now that is what I call a pie! Crisp brown pastry brimming with steak - a veritable meatfest! it was delicious. My wife chose the cheese and onion pie which was equally magnificent!

After such a substantial pie it was only right that we should have more beer. The ladies stuck with the White Dragon but I had noticed that the middle wicket on the bar was pulling a "Pirate brew" from Bolton, Lancashire. Probably not a coincidence but the landlord and landlady of the  George & Dragon are both from Bolton. A dark bitter, Captain Jackman, 4.3% abv is brewed by Bank Top brewery which is housed in a former tennis pavillion and very nice it is too.

Meanwhile there had been considerable debate with the landlady about puddings, mainly centering on what different cheesecakes were available. The outcome of this was a very nice chocolatey one which my mate demolished.

So a splendid evening was had in the George and Dragon which is a little gem. Hard to find but worth the effort if you like good beer and traditional pub food in atmospheric surroundings. We will be returning on Bonfire Night if not before. In the meantime make the effort and take a trip to West Haddlesey . You will not be disappointed. 

Footnote: The pub is having a beer festival on the weekend 21/22nd October. Check out the website for details.

Monday, 15 February 2016

The Old Harkers Arms, Chester, Cheshire

Chester is an ancient city full of history and character. We went for a recent weekend break and discovered that it is also full of cracking pubs. This left us with quite a dilemma as we wanted to sample as many hostelries as we could whilst remembering what inns we had visited and what beers we had drunk. So much to drink, so little time. Whilst much of the weekend disappeared in an alcoholic blur our visit to the Old Harkers Arms on the Sunday afternoon was particularly memorable.

As well as being an historic place Chester also has an industrial past, much of it close to the Shropshire Union Canal which passes through the city on it's way to Ellesmere Port.

At its  closest point to the railway station an enterprising company, Brunning & Price, have converted the ground floor of an old industrial building into a pub, the Old Harkers Arms. Indeed when you walk in you are greeted by an old punch clock on one of the columns holding the building up.
Behind this column is the L-shaped bar with a fine array of handpumps. My first selection was a pint of 80-\- bitter from Conwy brewery. I can only describe this as a mighty fine pint of beer with a lovely smooth  malty flavour. In contrast Maggie started with a drop of blonde beer called Cheshire Cat. Both these beers were in fine form and set the tone for our all too brief session.
I should add at this point that plenty of people around us were ordering food and that it looked very nice and indeed tempting. However we felt that with so many beers to explore the food might interfere with the job in hand so we concentrated on liquid refreshment. My second pint, which was again memorable for its wonderful smooth flavour, was as I recall Slaters premium bitter from Stafford. Maggie also changed and tried a glass of Eastgate bitter.
We were sat  on bench seating next to a bookcase at the west end of the pub which was not really in keeping with the industrial setting but nevertheless had some interesting tomes in it. From here we could relax and watch the comings and goings of the happy drinkers. The atmosphere was certainly very relaxed compared with other establishments we had visited and the staff behind the bar were friendly and helpful which, for me, always adds to the experience. 
After imbibing such a majestic bitter as the Slaters I decided to follow it with a glass of stout Drystone stout from the excellent Hawkshead brewery was the order of the day and it was so very tasty!
I could have stayed in the Harkers all day. It is nice to see new pubs doing well and it would appear that the Old Harkers Arms has already built up a good reputation in a city full of good pubs. We enjoyed our stay in Chester and will return in the future. When we do we will certainly be calling in at the Old Harkers Arms. Try it for yourself!