Thursday, 30 May 2013

Reading, Part One: Reading Beer & Cider Festival

Alright, alright, not strictly speaking a pub. However, for the four days Reading Beer & Cider Festival runs it becomes the biggest bar in Europe (apparently), so I think it's worthy of inclusion.
It is also incredibly convenient for the station, which as you might know is currently undergoing a massive reconstruction, including a new station building and all sorts of exciting railway engineering stuff. You also might not know this.
However, given that the beer drinking exploits of Reading are being split into two parts why not split the station exploits similarly? 
Opened in 1840, Reading was the western terminus of the original Great Western Railway. Designed by the great man himself, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the station was of basic layout, as one would expect from a terminus. Given that it wasn't particularly 'Great' it only seems appropriate that Reading Station didn't remain 'Western' for all that long, the planned Bristol terminus of the GWR opening in 1841.

In 1860, a shiny new station building was opened, built from shiny Bath stone. This building still stands in near mint external condition, finding business these days as a pub. But more of that another day.

After the war, Reading became Reading General, to distinguish it from the stones throwaway Reading Southern. In the seventies, 'General' was dropped as the Southern traffic had a special platform in the main station.

By 1989, it was decided that a new concourse was needed and it had to look proper 80s.

The results were astounding, the new building even including a shopping arcade named after Brunel himself. A fitting tribute.

In and amongst all the usual station chains, can be found a rather good little coffee shop called Tutti Frutti. As well as coffee, they do some top cakes and ice cream all served with a smile. I'd recommend it to anyone with a few minutes to kill at the station.

Now, to the festival!

Situated practically in the shadows of Reading Station on King's Meadow, Reading Beer & Cider Festival (RBCF) is organised by Reading & Mid Berkshire CAMRA and in its 19th year, is highly regarded. A combination of it being held on May Day bank holiday, and it stocking over 550 ales, 150 ciders and perries and much more mean it pulls in the crowds in a big way. Veterans will testify to the mad queues in years past.
This year saw a new advance ticket option and the days were broken into sessions, an afternoon and an evening. This makes sure people who have passed out or simply stopped drinking don't hog a valuable space inside the marquee.

The marquee itself is well lit, with the huuuuuge bar all along one side (left in the photo). There's music at the far end and the place had a great atmosphere on a Friday evening. There's always a good mix on the Friday, with clean shirts from the office mixing with beer nerds and Morris dancers joking with goths.

Beer-wise, a good proportion of those on offer come under the CAMRA LocAle scheme. The exact details of LocAle vary branch to branch, but the essential idea is to promote pubs to stock beer brewed within n miles (where n is number of miles) of said pub. As such, RBCF stocks some real crackers from all over Berkshire. One such I tried was from the Two Cocks Brewery near Newbury. Described as a beer for people who don't like beer, Viscount is a great strong, golden ale. The Nelson Sauvin hops give it a nice fruity taste. Weighing in at 5.6%, and with no dinner inside me I opted for a half. Keep an eye out for this one in the future.

Looking further afield to Stoke on Trent, we find the stillage containing Pithead by Talke o'Th' Hill brewery. I'll admit, trying this was by sheer fluke. Being into industrial things, the name caught my eye on a page of the program that had randomly flopped open.

As they say, a picture says ten words, so I'll let this one do the talking. Out of 7 beers I sampled on the night, this was one of the highlights and I'd like to bump into it again.

I'd definitely advise putting this one in your diary. Reading Station serves trains from London, Wales, Cornwall, the south coast, northern England and even Scotland as well as the local services so its almost insultingly easy to get to.

Who knows what they have planned for the 20th anniversary?

They're not our cans, honestly.

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Saturday, 25 May 2013


Being a soft southern English type, I really didn't know what to expect as our train pulled into Glasgow Queen Street Low Level. Would I be ridiculed for my pseudo farmer accent? Would I be instantly assaulted? Of course not, stupid boy.
As with Anniesland, Queen Street Low Level (QSLL) isn't particularly concerned with aesthetics. A proper station that tirelessly and thanklessly does its job: shifting loads of people about the place as quickly as it can.
It's not without it's history though. In fact, part of the underground line was built before the Glasgow Subway, making it the oldest underground railway in the city.
As seems to be trend these days, Queen Street has enjoyed a steady increase in passenger use. An 18 million passenger increase over 10 years isn't to be sniffed at.

Coming out of the station and into George Square, you're instantly struck by the wealth of the city. Grand neo-gothic buildings tower above. Many are formerly associated with shipping and ship building, a testament to what made Glasgow great.

The first pub on the tour of three came heavily recommended. The Horse Shoe Bar has been in the business since 1846, when it was opened by spirit dealer, William Turnbull. 
The inside and out are brilliantly preserved and have a real gin palace feel. The floor is made up of fantastic mosaic tiles and the bar is the longest continuous one in Britain. The pub has been recognised by Historic Scotland as being of historic importance. It has also been classified by CAMRA as one of Britain's Real Heritage Pubs. It well deserves both.

The staff were friendly and efficient and the pub had a great atmosphere on a busy Saturday evening. There are plenty of tellys about the place, so it's great for sport. The Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted was in excellent form, so good in fact that we had to stay for two. 

Just around the corner on Vincent Street you'll find the second pub on our little tour, the Drum & Monkey.

Formerly a bank, this Nicholson's pub offers a great range of beers from the established favourites to some of the newer microbreweries, both local(e) and from further afield. The Portobello Brewery VPA that I tried is a great example of the diversity here and a must for hop fans. The Cask Marque plaque and Good Beer Guide status say everything for the quality.
Despite not originally being a pub, the interior is brilliant. Split into several levels and rooms, there is plenty of room to eat and drink and the long U shaped bar means its relatively easy to get to. Being on a corner, the large windows provide plenty of natural light.

I always think the world is more interesting when you look up, and the ceilings and light fittings here are a real treat for nerds like me.

Lastly but by no means leastly we take a short stroll to Hope Street and the Pot Still. 

Walking in the door architecture geeks are greeted with a mezzanine floor framed with columns and ornate...ceiling bits. I did take a picture, but it was so blurred I might as well draw you a picture with crayons.
Most importantly though, the bar. What a bar. I'm not a fan of whiskey. Frankly the smell of it turns my stomach. Could this be a result of a bad experience in my youth? Perhaps.
Anyway, even I was in awe of the selection of whiskies here. The barman informed us that there were over 500 single malts available. So many, the bar staff have to use a ladder like an old fashioned library to get to some

Something I learned at the Pot Still was that there are no double malts, they're called blends. Everyday is a school day.

Beer wise the Harviestoun Grizzly, a fruity dark number was in good nick and there is a good selection of bottled beers available.

So there we have it Just three of the many pubs in Glasgow centre, all within a few minutes walk of each other. To be honest, it looks like it's difficult to stray more than half a mile from a railway station in Glasgow, so you've really no excuse to not explore this great city.

Find out more:
Glasgow Queen Street Station
The Horse Shoe Bar
The Horse Shoe Bar (unofficial)
CAMRA Historic Pub Interiors 
Historic Scotland
Drum & Monkey
The Pot Still
Glasgow CAMRA

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


My job drags me around the country. Now it would be easy to sit in the hotel and mope about all that I'm missing at home, which is why I often do. Sometimes though, I realise that I've actually got a pretty good opportunity to go somewhere different and do just that. Which is why we start in Anniesland.

Anniesland is a curious suburb of Glasgow. One side of the Great Western (no, not that one) Road is lined with opulent Victorian mansions, all gates and driveways. The other side is a very normal 1960s housing estate, an interesting contrast. 
At it's northern end, the Great Western Road is crossed by one of the North British Railway's former lines. Opened in 1874 as Great Western Road, Anniesland has enjoyed a steady increase in passenger numbers over the last few years and is very well served by ScotRail services, making a jaunt into Glasgow a doddle.

Not an attractive station in the traditional sense, but tidy and functional nonetheless.

As you leave the station via the pretty much invisible street level exit, you'll be greeted by the sight of the Esquire House.
According to Mr Wetherspoon, the pub was built in 1962 (I know, stop!) and joined his empire in 2001. By all accounts, the previous gaff was an interesting establishment, with all the excitement of a downstairs bar.

This is one of few Wetherspoon pubs that I've seen with Sky Sports, which makes a nice change from the usual 24 hour bloody news channels that you find on (WHY?!). It also is listed in the 2013 CAMRA Good Beer Guide and has Cask Marque accreditation. 

Once through the door, you'll find something slightly alien to many other Spoon's. Daylight. The massive windows shown in the picture light the place up a treat. Whilst this might take away some of the 'pubbiness' of the place, it's certainly nice as the days get longer. 

As is often the case, there are two rows of hand pumps on the bar, cunningly located at either end of the long bar. The one nearest the door has a handy blackboard advertising what's on, which does save the slightly embarrassing head bobs required to see the pump clips through the crowds,

As it had a recommendation from my mate Stuey, who hailing from St. Andrews is practically local, pints of  Houston Killellan were duly ordered. Bath Ales Special Pale Ale and Traditional Scottish Ales Sporran Warmer soon followed. All three were in great condition, the Killellan being my personal fav. Looking at their website it seems this small brewery have national distribution, so keep a weather eye.

Something unique to Scottish Wetherspoon pubs is the little Scottish Classics section on the menu of usual stuff. 
Indeed I was so intrigued I tried to order some, but they didn't have any. So that was that.

Judging by this natty little display, the Esquire House enjoys a good relationship with the local CAMRA crew.

A nice touch advertising Scottish breweries and CAMRA campaigns. Little things.

A good quality Wetherspoon pub opposite a frequently served station within a mile of a hospital. Ideal.

Drink responsibly.

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What We're All About.


Would you like some context?

There can be no doubt that the world of beer is enjoying a new golden age. According to CAMRA, there are now more than 1000 breweries in the UK, the highest number in 70 years no less. Craft beers (please take any disagreements outside) are windmilling their way to prominence, with plenty of micro, even nano keg breweries coming into the fold.
Whilst this is no doubt great for the world of beer, these nice statistics aren't mirrored in the pub game. The British Beer and Pubs association say that of 2011, there were 50,395 pubs in our fair isles. In 2010 there were 51,178. Frightening.

This country enjoys a love hate relationship with its railways. For every misty eyed steam buff there are probably 1000 enraged commuters, swearing and screaming at terrified station staff. Good old Michael Portillo tries, but I've not seen him covering London Paddington to Reading on a Tuesday night yet and I suspect he won't. 

The overriding fact however is railways can be used to get to pubs where beer can be purchased and consumed.

Most folk would agree that we all enjoy a pub. A fair few would appreciate a few pints of decent beer in one of these pubs. Some might even mutter vaguely about an interest in railways. Now imagine putting all 3 of those into 1. Now imagine one of those people dragging mates around traveling on trains to pubs to drink beer!

And there we have it dear reader, context!

Also might do canals and rivers too.

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