A proper pint of bitter
This blog had intended to be regular thing. A jaunt around pubs not usually given a mention on beer blogs. Blogs tend to centre around the CAMRA or craft beer clique recommended, such is the nature of beer and pub enthusiasm which focuses on real ale / craft beer and the pubs that you might want to gamble on serving it well.
I long felt there were many pubs of merit that remain ignored if one relies on a CAMRA endorsement, as such endorsements only carry value if you consider them your peer group of like-minded souls. It is no disrespect to CAMRA or its members, a by and large nice group from the selection I have met, or a wider community of craft beer bloggers to not share their taste in pubs and seek out establishments with a little more colour or spice. Such was my intent. To visit the pubs less travelled and see if something I think might have passed, still exists.
The blog has a bit of a downer here, but it comes back. There are pubs in it, eventually.
It fell by the wayside just as I was planning a jaunt around some proper working-class keg pubs when that morning, I got a phone call from a paramedic informing me my mother had died. My parents cared for each other in later life and with my elderly father requiring a fair bit of assistance, the last six months or so having not leant themselves to pub crawling.
But life adjusts and new normals and patterns emerge. A worry for my father in living alone after 55 years of marriage led to spending much more time with my father to assist in his living, eat a meal or two a week with him, shop and administer things. Run 2 houses and lives in a way. Not a burden in any way, but a rekindling of a friendship that in its way has defined me more than any other. Thus, I ended up on a saunter around the pubs of Reddish.
In truth I rarely pop in pubs these days, a couple on a Saturday afternoon in Wetherspoons being more or less it when a quiet couple of hours is needed. People don’t talk to you in Wetherspoons. You can just sink a pint.
With the closing of Portwood Railway, I lamented the end of a type of pub that has now more or less disappeared. The characterful dumpy pub. The slightly grotty dive bar that attracts characters, keeps its prices keen, scares off the more sanctimonious and offers a decent pint in interestingly lived in surroundings. Most pubs seem a sanitized somewhat anaemic place these days, catering for a defined social class or demographic by design and with what marketeers call an offer or USP. Not the type of pub where a scruffy looking old man would try and sell you a (possibly one of his, possibly stolen) child’s pet dog whilst claiming to have met Hitler in South America in the 1970s, all the time simultaneously smoking, coughing up a lung and swigging a pint. A pub where men banter in ways contemporary young men that are often described as “woke” would be appalled at. Where barmaids get asked what time they knock off, regardless of whether they resemble a model or your gran. Are these characters no more? Are pubs just middle-class middle-aged office administrators in outdoor shop Gore-Tex clobber comparing notes on microbreweries?
In my head I sound old saying pubs really used to be different along with the people that frequented them. The infamous smoking ban by and large put paid to most of them as pubs transformed into restaurants of differing standards or establishments catering for a particular vanity of a niche customer base, whether cocktails for people that watched American sitcoms or a wide range of peculiar or unusual beer for enthusiasts that built their self-identity around a liking for such things. Aspirational in that it reflects who you wish to be, the lifestyle you’ve chosen and the type of person you identify as. Rather than dumpy in that it challenges you to like it for what it is, regardless of its obvious and many deficiencies, and you end up loving it.
There are times a gentleman requires a drink or drinks and wishes an afternoon of not dealing with the myriad of an expanding to do list and which day I’m working from my own home or my fathers in order to deal with a tradesman and so my afternoon began with a wander down Reddish Road from South Reddish to North. I know little about Reddish and if you want to, I’m sure you can google it, but from my observation the South part of the district covers buggar all by way of pubs and appears pleasant housing and people one might describe as the respectable working class. Nice neighbours that put your bins out when you are away and take them in for you. A bakery of note, Ainsworth does an excellent lemon bun full of whipped cream. As you walk North in the direction of Manchester and Gorton and away from Stockport by the time you are passed the Morrisons and at the centre, the area becomes more firmly working class. The unkind would say if you carried on to Gorton the area gets a little rough, but that, as I said, is unkind. It gets more rambunctious as you get towards Manchester but it's not unsafe.
But I’m heading left and starting with one in the Holdsworth. A large empty pub and mostly empty save for a small area to the right where a lively group are playing pool and men are drinking pints of lager. The very tradesmen I spend time waiting in for enjoying a cold pint of lager. Men that can fix things. This part of the pub has a little atmosphere having a few customers just after lunchtime. My pint of Stella is cold, fizzy and lovely. The Bar Lady is a friendly lass that knows how to run a respectable pub and moderate the louder guests in a way that is accepted by them without trouble. It is a skill to do so in a pleasant way that achieves its goal without making the recipient feel admonished and ensuring people enjoy themselves and not spoil the enjoyment of others. Barmanship, if that’s not a sexist term. The clientele is mainly young to middle-aged working-class men, all of whom know each other and greet each other with “ow do”. Despite being a stranger, I get an “ow do” off one older chap. At least one decent pint in me as I head to my next stop, a micropub.
Now I feel it may be unfair slightly for me to comment on micropubs, but I shall. I have firm pre-established biases that may colour my opinion and make a fair review impossible.
I don’t much like them. I have a number of gripes in regard to micropubs and it would be fair to you to confess those now so that you may understand the perspective from which I write. You might love micropubs and feel I do them a disservice. That is your prerogative, and I would wish you every pleasure in your enjoyment. For a start they are small and pokey and rarely afford the basic comfort you find in a pub. They have a niche clientele rather than the broad spectrum of people that drink in full sized pubs and most tend to attract the type of people with a singular interest, usually beer. You could say the same of other places that attract singular interested gentleman. Golf clubs with golf bores, Rugby clubs with rugby bores and beer micropubs with beer bores. Then of course is the product. It is by and large niche beer, more often than not murky and you’re meant to appreciate the inconsistent beer as interesting and artisanal rather than the defective home brew of someone still figuring out how to open a Geordie bitter kit. Oh, and the shitters. The toilets are usually one crapper used by punters and staff, men and women and as pokey and uncomfortable as the pub and with plumbing and pipes not built for a man-sized shit. Not proper pubs.
So, you might think I’m going to hate Reddish Ales. I didn’t, though. I liked it. Maybe not enough to change my mind about micropubs but I enjoyed my pint. The clientele appeared to be the bright young things the area needs if Reddish is to gentry itself and my dad’s house to go up in value in time for my inheritance. Young geeks talking about the internet. Recent graduates drinking hazy beers in a nice bar. A different social class than the last boozer. I wonder how healthier the politics of our country would be if the two groups shared a common drinking haunt than dividing on class lines. They’d both hear opinions they didn’t like, that’s for sure, but maybe learn not to hate each other for that. Or they might have a big fight. My money would be on the tradesmen. An interesting overheard fact that may or may not be true that the local rail station, Reddish South, has the distinction of being the station with the least trains in the country. A franchise holder is legally obligated to keep the line going so puts on a once-a-month service and you have to request it to stop in order to get on. I don’t know where it would take you. I am tempted at some point to have a go on it, so I have an interesting thing to say to train geeks to mug them off.
I read the local CAMRA rag and thought it much improved with interesting information of the pubs of the district. They’ve got rid of the weird bloke that rants about smoking bans in favour of a poet. No, me neither. But heh, it’s free. They are not asking you for money. Everything is propaganda but we read it hoping to find news. The usual unjustified excitement about weird beer and micropubs and not enough about proper pubs and proper bitter but that’s the state of things. A couple of microbars near my house get a mention so I might check them out despite hating micropubs. Did I tell you I don’t like micropubs?
There are 3 casks on, a bitter, a hazy ipa and a stout. I cheekily ask if the bitter is hazy and she offers to check. I say don’t bother; I’ll take a pint so it’s my fault I get a pint of murky bitter. They had lagers on of the authentic imported variety so I should have got imported industrial lager if I wanted a professional brew. My beer was nice, though. Tasty and fresh. That hoppy homebrew taste you get from CAMRA micro beer. Nothing I’d complain about. I enjoyed drinking it. Here’s hoping they gentrify the area and add a hundred grand to my dad’s house.
I wander on aware that once it gets busier, I’ll be trapped unable to get out unless I ask people to get up and move. Micropubs fit a lot into a small space.
It’s a bit of a traipse to the Union. A contrast in every conceivable
way. Here was a busy loud pub, queue at the bar, large group cheering televised
football. We were back in working class pub territory. A loud rambunctious
boozer. The short measure police would chastise me for not asking for a top up
but in the interests of accuracy, this is what a pint is in here. A quickly
pulled pint, no time to settle among the throng of waiting punters. Am I your
campaigner for full measures? I’m a drinker and recorder of experiences. For
the record the pint was quite tasty. A decent enough example of what used to be
called Robbie’s bitter. I look around and to be honest, most are on short
measures of keg lagers than the ale. A usual barometer of quality is to follow the herd. But a pub this busy on a wet Saturday
afternoon before teatime? There must be something about the place I’m not
seeing. The sign in the shitter is revealing in what problems you might
encounter so I didn’t interact much with the locals. No coked up idiot caused trouble
on my visit, though. Difficult to judge, I wonder what it's like when there is no game on?
Short measures do beg interesting questions you can debate endlessly. The CAMRAs would encourage you to ask for a top up. The answer is clearly lined glasses, but pub campaigners somehow think asking pubs to serve an honest pint of liquid is somehow damaging to pubs.
Anyway, onward to the Grey Horse. A large holts pub. A nicer smarter boozer but quiet on this early evening. I chance the Holts Bitter, despite knowing of the 3 previous pints the Stella was the best one. That's why keg lager is popular, kids. I get what I’d describe as a proper pint of bitter. The short measure police of twitter comment on the head but it was arguable within normal northern parameters. Tasty, clean, clear. This is what bitter is like when it’s made by people that know how to make bitter. Chemistry graduates with post grads in brewing using clean modern facilities. Not an early retired accountant brewing murky bitter in a shed as he blows his redundancy cheque during a mid-life crisis. The best pint of bitter I have had for a while. If cask beer was consistently like this, I would drink less keg lager and more pints of bitter. But it isn’t so I won’t. The pint in here is an advert for cask beer. It’s nice. Not interesting or challenging or quirky or different, just nice.
I linger a while, a few more punters come in, the group at the bar are clearly regulars. I’d expect it gets busier later, but this size of pub is better serviced by casual dining than drinking these days and I’m a little surprised the business format is normal pub.
I begin my walk back. It is the dark of early winter evening. It is the weekend of bonfire night and fireworks accompany my walk. There is a queue of families waiting to get into the Houldsworth. I think a fireworks display is about to start. That’s a community, isn’t it? A pub as a public space used by the community. 4 pubs, all with a very different offer, a different clientele. I suspect if you are among the pub ticking minded Reddish Ales is likely for the CAMRA book, if not already in it. The best pint was the Grey Horse but I’d be surprised if that got a recommendation. If there was justice in this world it should.
The most expensive pint of the the afternoon was 4 quid in Reddish Ales, The cheapest 3.25 in the Union. A couple of buttons more in the grey horse, and south of 4 quid in the Houldsworth.
It’s interesting to go in pubs because they are there and see what you find. Not go into those pubs where you know what to expect. I’ll have to find the time to wander around more pubs now life is returning to a little more structure and order. I wonder if there are pubs at the end of the mysterious once a month train line and how one would get back if I got on it? Would I have to pack for a month, find a hotel and then request the train back a month later? Or maybe walk to Gorton to discover if there lies pubs as they used to be? I won’t leave it so long.