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.
BEER OF THE MONTH
Acorn Old Moor Porter (4.4% ABV)
I hadn’t tasted this one for a good while, but it turned up in my Christmas Box ales from Yorkshire – and I was very grateful.
Porter was big in the 18th and 19th centuries, named for the erstwhile river and market porters of London, but went out of vogue with the advent of the lighter pale ales. You won’t find many market porters about in London’s tourist traps these days, but you may well discover contemporary versions of the tipple as new-wave brewers revive and recreate the style.
Old Moor Porter, from Acorn in Barnsley, was a pioneer in this revival. Victorian in style, this is splendidly full-bodied dark brown beer. There’s chocolate on the nose and then hints of liquorice, coffee and caramel on the taste-buds from Crystal, Black and Pale Chocolate malts joining with a Maris Otter backbone. English Challenger hops to deliver a teasing hoppy bitterness before a long and rewardingly mellow finish.
It has scooped brewing accolades a plenty including voted a SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) National Champion. Apparently, a porter with oysters was regular sustenance of the drinking classes back in the 1700s … interesting, but not compulsory. Maybe try it with a rich and spicy pork sausage casserole though - or chocolate pudding.
Peerless Knee-Buckler (5.2% ABV)
Knee-Buckler is sophisticated, deep golden IPA (India Pale Ale), judiciously hopped with a splendid mix of US Cascade, Columbus, Mosaic and Citra hops.
There’s a clever and careful balance of these tangy, spicy hops and the pale malt, with a gentle touch of Crystal and Caramalt to deliver a delightful citrus and light caramel aroma before a wonderful cornucopia of fruit, herby and mild toffee sweetness on the tongue. Maybe a little mango followed by a long hoppy crisp character with a delicious lingering, slightly orangey, aftertaste.
When Roger Protz visited Birkenhead to open the new Peerless plant he declared Knee Buckler ‘a classic example of an American pale ale, using pale malt and US hops … a massive fruit character from the hops…. gorgeous.’
Many agree. It has claimed several top accolades from SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers). Fiercely moreish, the moniker provides a hint of caution, but an ideal brew for lifting these long winter lockdown evenings a little.
Available from www.beersno42.co.uk
BEER OF THE MONTH
Salopian Darwin's Origin (4.3% ABV)
This distinguished best bitter ale was first brewed as special to celebrate the bi-centennial of Charles Darwin, Shrewsbury’s most famous son. So popular, it joined the core range.
Darwin became one of the world’s most predominant naturalists with his publication On the Origin of Species in 1859. His achievements were marked in 2009 with a host of events – and, fortunately for us, the launch of this lovely copper coloured ale. Just like the world roving boffin, Salopian has never stood still - developing brands and growing exponentially since launch by Martin Barry in 1995 as a two- barrel-plant.
In keeping with the theory of natural selection, this recipe was developed by brewery guru Wilf Nelson. Wilf was quite a pioneer in the use of New World hops. There’s judicious blending US Cascade and Australian Galaxy hops with New Zealand’s Nelson Sauvin and Czech Saaz. This complex hop character offers a lemony aroma over a subtle flavour of crisp, tart and delicate fruity notes working in harmony with juicy, toffee, malt and dry bitterness on the aftertaste; best bitter at its best.
We think the Mr Darwin would be well pleased; his beer has been voted Champion Best Bitter four times in SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) and CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) contests. www.salopianbrewery.co.uk
Tatton Blonde (4.0% ABV)
Tatton has been brewing excellent Cheshire ales since 2010, when owner/brewer Greg Sawyer took the plunge to bring brewing back to Knutsford after some 50 years absence. He also revived the traditional yeast originally used by Chester's Brewery - hence brewery slogan 'Real Cheshire Ale'.
One of four core beers, this light blonde brew is a delicate combination of Slovenian Bobek hops - often used in lager - with the classic, easy-going, English Sovereign and Oregon's Willamette joining cracking Maris Otter malt and body-boosting, Torrified Wheat.
There's grassy, golden fruity characteristics with gentle floral notes on aroma and taste with a white, creamy, head underpinned with beguiling bitterness.
A work we often use to compliment ales between slurps is 'balanced - this is. Highly quaffable, session ale' we think one pint is not enough.
BEER OF THE MONTH
Helmsley Brewing Company Yorkshire Legend (3.8% ABV)
Not too long ago a leading drinks magazine heralded a beer ‘revival’; the return of traditional British Bitter. It was maybe a southern thing. Certainly a surprise for many northern brewers.
Whisper quietly, but, up north, bitter never went away. Ask Acorn - top seller Barnsley Bitter - or Shropshire’s Stonehouse - where Station Bitter rules. Beautifully crafted exponents of the style.
Former teacher Kyle Boote began brewing in the picturesque North Yorks Moors market town of Helmsley in 2014. Yorkshire Legend ‘Classic Yorkshire Bitter’ was a must launch ale.
This is a simple yet quite complex tipple, modest in alcohol but boastful of flavour. There’s five Yorkshire malts - pale Maris Otter with crystal, black, chocolate and wheat - all in a friendly bun fight for affection, along with English Goldings and Northdown hops.
This inspired combination delivers a dark amber ale with a promise on the nose of toasted malt with dark berry fruit. The mouthfeel is rich and rounded from the beguiling mix of malts with restrained, yet confident, native hops; there’s delicious nutty, toffee and toasty notes with a wee tingle of spice and just a hint of blackcurrant. A final teasing bitter edge entreats another...quintessential Yorkshire ale.
My sample bottle came in a birthday box, but when the pubs reopen it will be poste-haste to Helmsley for a pint on cask. But we are not telling the south.
Beers available at www.helmsleybrewingco.co.uk
Weetwood Ales Mad Hatter (6.0% ABV)
Weetwood Ales of Kelsall, sits in the heart of rural Cheshire and is especially known for its smooth drinking, light citrusy, Cheshire Cat blonde ale. Mad Hatter red ale is a sibling of a different character.
With deep red-brown colouring, there’s a very good dose of luscious malts here to deliver just a touch of caramel sweetness and toasty undertone. Then - in an interesting twist the Mad Hatter himself could approve of - American Amarillo hops join the fun to add floral, citrus fruits and spicy notes on both aroma and taste. Yes, strange things can happen in Wonderland.
In cask this is a modest quaffing 3.9%abv ale, bottled it is boosted to a quite pokey 6.0%abv; guaranteed to make any tea party go with a bit of zing.
BEER OF THE MONTH
Conwy Clogwyn Gold (4.0% ABV)
Conwy has brewed on the wonderful North Wales coast since 2011, growing over the years with several finely honed core beers. This is a Welsh wonder of golden bitter. Bottle conditioned, there's a judicious mixture of pale ale malt and biscuity Cara Malt for body, with hop trio Cascadem Equinox and Citra - all offering gentle hints of grapefruit and lemon against sweet, mild toffee notes. With gentle bitterness and very thirst-quenching, it is named for a precipitous railway station on the slopes of Snowdon. If you have walked up there you definitely need one or three, but you don't have to.
BEER OF THE MONTH
Swannay Orkney Blast (6.0% ABV)
Owner/brewer Rob Hill has long years of brewing experience under his belt and has been turning out the internationally acclaimed Swannay ales from a windswept corner of Orkney since launch (first as Highland Brewing Co) in 2005. The island was a busy place during WW2 and the moniker of this strong ale derives from its forces newspaper.
Pale golden in colour, Rob carefully constructs Orkney Blast from three malts - Maris Otter, wheat and crystal - and three hops - US Citra, the English staple Goldings and the German Hallertaur Northern Brewer (HNB). Full-bodied, Rob has dubbed it an 'IPA/barley wine hybrid'.
Following on a gentle toffee aroma, touched with light fruit notes, it delivers a rich and complex mouthfeel of delight. The taste buds first deliver that promise of toffee overlaid with hints of peach, pear, orange, and herbs. Then a touch of hoppy spice and citrus kicks in, just before tantalizingly bitter finish leads to keen anticipation for another gulp. It comes with the health warning that 'it doesn't drink to the strength' - so handle with some care.
Orkney Blast has won awards aplenty, including SIBA National 2020 Cask IPA Gold. Try it with strong cheeses or roasts.
BEER OF THE MONTH
Big Hand Brewery Appaloosa (4.5% ABV)
Since launching by former engineer Dave Shaw and his ex-teacher nephew Andy Benson in Wrexham in 2012, Big Hand has made quite an imprint on Cheshire and North Wales - winning SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) awards along the way.
Appaloosa in cask is golden and hoppy American Pale Ale. Mosaic hops, named for their assortment of tropical flavours and aromas, take a lead role alongside citrusy Centennial and pale malt for rich malty notes and bags of tropical fruit flavour, with gentle melon, peach and herby notes with a dry and moreish finish. A SIBA Gold Winner, it's named for the lively American horse breed renowned for its colourful spotted coat - it can move just as fast too.
BEER OF THE MONTH
Morehouse's White Witch (3.9% ABV)
Moorhouse's beers pay tribute to the legend of the ill-fated 'witches' of landmark Pendle Hill, near Burnley - erroneously, historians now tell us, tried and executed at Lancaster in 1612. Well, there is nothing erroneous about White Witch (3.9% abv), although some may say it is quite bewitching.
Younger sibling to the chunkier Blonde Witch (4.4% abv), it was added to the core portfolio in 2015 by popular demand, following the initial rollout as a spring seasonal. It became the sixth brand in Moorhouse's celebrated core lineup and the top seller.
Led by the head brewer Dan Casaru, the creative brewing team blend Brewers Gold hops with the German origin 'noble' Tattnang variety to deliver lemon with hints of peppery spice on the aroma and a refreshing fruity flavour, with a touch of citrus, slightly floral with a subtle bitterness balance and a crisp, very moreish, finish. This is a very easy drinking session ale and ideal for proper summer weather. Prepare to be bewitched. Available in both cask and bottle.
Footnotes: Should you be wondering, the rather curious pump-clip represents the white witch transformed into an owl! See the website for the story: www.moorhouses.co.uk
For those in south Cheshire - White Witch is promised as a regular ale at the Bull in Shocklach - www.thebullatshocklach.com - a rare sighting these days in this area.