We aim to bring you a stand out pub
and a tempting beer or two every month.
Mainly they will be from the North West of England, North Wales or Shropshire and now and again Yorkshire. The pubs will always feature cask ales and the beers will generally be on cask, with occasional bottles or cans.
We launch this page while in the second English lockdown, so first bring you a short selection of beers available on draught or bottles from some of our favoured brewers. There’s a mixture of online, click & collect and direct delivery across Cheshire, Wirral, North Wales and Shropshire.
Peerless Oatmeal Stout (5%abv)
Peerless offers this comforting full-bodied black and easy drinking stout as a perfect antidote to a dark and stormy November lockdown night.
Lots of oats give a rich and smooth mouthfeel. Dark malts provide a deep backbone with toffee and caramel tones with sweetness to balance the bitterness from roast malts. The bottled version of this beer was judged SIBA Overall Champion Bottled Beer for the North West for 2015. Also awarded Gold (Best Stout) in the CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain, North West Regional heat. At a tasting session in the brewery, Roger Protz said: “There’s chocolate and coffee with molasses notes on the aroma and lovely expresso coffee notes in the mouth.” Simply gorgeous.
Big Hand Super Tidy Pale Ale (4.0%abv)
Big Hand ales have become known as easy-drinking, quaffable, ales around Cheshire and North Wales in the five years since launching in Wrexham. Brewer/owners Dave and Andy believe that beer imbibing should be fun with friends – so they have avoided the extreme, often very hoppy brews, favoured by some emerging brewers.
This light coloured brew fits that profile; good British style pale ale with pale malt and gentle hops at a drinkable, moderate, strength. There’s gentle sweet lemon and floral aromas before a light fruitiness in the mouth leading to a crisp and clean bitterness which lingers pleasantly, without knocking the taste-buds out for the evening.
Ends/ref: Big Hand Super Tidy
Stonehouse Zaffir (4%abv)
This beer from Stonehouse began life as Zephyr, but had to change due to an earlier trademark registration on the moniker by another brewer. Never mind, Stonehouse boss Shane Parr simply renamed it Zaffir, which sounded close. Another name for cobalt oxide – a blue colouring agent - the label is metallic blue, so there you are. Shane sought the help of the Yakima Valley to source newish US hops Pekko and Ekuanot for this one.
These are gentle floral and citrus style hops, so this is not mega-hoppy, in-your-face beer - not the Stonehouse style. It is a very smooth drinking tipple with delicate hints of citrus and light tropical fruits to bring a bit of sunshine into the lockdown gloom.
Spitting Feathers Empire IPA (5.2%)
Spitting Feathers, located on a working farm near Chester, was named for the northern idiom for ‘blinking thirsty’ - or similar- and has produced a raft of very drinkable ales since inception in 2005.
These days it can be quite hard to know what to expect from an IPA (India Pale Ale). The new wave craft brewers both in the US and UK have played around with the style so much there is now a cornucopia of versions, often interpretations of the newly emerged New England or West Coast IPAs.
Here though, the clue lies in the name; this is a British style brew that you may possibly imagine making its way to the exotic East under sail on a long and stormy sea journey, destined to refresh the taste-buds of our very blinking thirsty colonials.
With a delicate, slightly grassy hop aroma it is a light amber colour beneath a foamy, creamy, head which lingers enticingly down the glass. There’s gentle toffee and biscuit notes from the balancing malts against the hoppy, orangey, fruitiness - but not overt – moving quickly into a rounded, very moreish bitter finish. Very, very, drinkable, but ooh, do go steady.
Available by delivery direct from the brewery, see www.spittingfeathers.co.uk
PUB OF THE MONTH
THE BIG HAND ALE HOUSE IN CHESTER
At Beer Tours, we love pubs, obviously. Over the past six months we have visited some 50 venues – several much more than once - without any Covid incidence reported.
Each visit has demonstrated the outstanding responsibility, imagination and resilience of publicans in coping with the trading challenges suddenly inflicted on their usually relaxed hospitality. The evidence shows that pubs, amid the general turmoil, are generally safe oases. Now, where open, they more than ever need our support during this very testing festive season and beyond.
In this baleful scenario, with pubs making herculean efforts to survive, it is very tricky indeed to name our inaugural Pub of the Month. However, we have finally chosen one from a clutch of Chester city centre pubs we favour for our tours - the Big Hand Ale House in Watergate Street www.alehousechester.pub
Opened only in 2018 by Dave Shaw and Andy Benson, owners of the eponymous Wrexham brewery, the Big Hand Ale House quickly became one of our favourite pubs in cask ale blessed Chester.
Slightly off the city centre circuit, but near the famous racecourse, this multi roomed, characterful hostelry resides in the basement of the striking Georgian Watergate House. It was once the very popular Fat Cat café bar. Dave Shaw met his wife-to-be Carol in there.
Back then, we knew it as a bolt hole from the PR sweatshop in a day when people lunched, rather than dashing off to the gym. Curiously, obesity was much rarer in those days. Anyway, during these very trying times, it is comforting to return to a pub enjoyed in the past - a bit like visiting your favourite aunty to chat over tea and cake.
Today the Ale House offers a splendid refuge from the cares of Covid-19, sensibly. Dave and Andy have spent money to meet and exceed all the Covid safety demands, with well screened and distanced booths, plenty of sanitiser stations and a one way system. Yet, the warm embrace of the pub remains, helped along by the helpful, bright and cheery staff.
It is an alehouse - so the focus is on an excellent selection of beers both in cask and keg. In normal times cask guests are on offer, but right now the real ale line up is limited to the house brews. That is still an excellent choice. Since launch in 2013, Big Hand has become known for easy drinking, highly quaffable tipples.
On our Sunday afternoon visit there was Super Tidy Pale Ale (4.0%abv): a British style pale ale with pale malt and gentle hops for lemon and floral aromas before a light fruitiness on the tongue and smooth mouthfeel leading to a crisp and clean bitterness.
Alongside was Seren (3.7%abv): Welsh for Star, this moderate strength brew shines brightly as a soft and fruity US style pale ale. Mosaic hops, so named for their assortment of flavours and aromas, take a lead role alongside some pale malt for a yellowish ale that offers gentle melon and peach flavours along with a hint of tangerine.
Then there is the newly launched Ostara, named for a Germanic Goddess - there is a reason. This malty, traditional style bitter with a shot of hoppy imagination delivers creamy fruity notes and gentle bitterness from two English hops. Eminently quaffable.
In keg there’s Big Hand’s Spectre (4.5%abv), deliciously rich and creamy oatmeal stout, and American style ‘hop monster’ Havok (5%abv). Regular lager guests include: Freedom Four from Staffordshire alongside Dunkel and Helles styles. For cider, Sweeney Mountain’s admirable Elevate (4.5%) comes from the Stonehouse stable.
Food is compulsory just now, of course. The Sunday lunches are renowned. On our visit we fell into a – distanced - conversation with two chatty Polish chaps; they voted the roasts ‘best ever’ across their ten years living in the UK. At present there are also ‘Boris Bites’ too – included is a beefy ‘Substantial Stew’ and veggie chilli, priced just £5. They go rather well, selling out on our visit.
A central tenet of the Big Hand philosophy is that ‘beer should be drunk with friends’. So, by the end of the evening we had our friendly, but lager drinking, Polish lads enjoying cask ale. Just like the old days. We think a good result under the Covid cosh.