Real Ale Reviews Independent reviewers of real ales, beers and lagers from around the world, including beer reviews, breweries, watering holes and real ale events
    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    The bar is busy. The tables are full. The backroom is heaving and buoyant. Welcome to the Sebright Arms, dimly light and vivacious. We arrive from Soho at the fading of a sun drenched afternoon - four pubs, six pints, four hours. Three and a half miles later, bellies demanding meat and bread and barley, we bundle over the threshold. A table is found, pale beers ordered, burger menus devoured by hungry eyes. It's a young crowd, an old ...

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    A King and a Prince

    A Prince Amongst Beers

    It's not every day that you get the chance to try a beer that's older than you are. Last Saturday night I opened a bottle that was just that; I opened a beer that was older than me, so that’s over twenty five, give or take the odd ten years. In fact it was a lot older than me, more than twice my age. It was brewed in 1929 in fact, so that’s 83 years old. A mate ...

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    Build A Rocket Boys!

    Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow & Robinsons

    Elbow are the kings of soaring melancholy, masters of poetic northern introspection.  Let Elbow's albums flow over you and you can be mesmerised by their beauty alone. Put in the time to listen, to soak up the poignancy, the humour, the extraordinary manifestations of the ordinary and their albums become life affirming tributes to the everyday. Conversely, it's quite easy to stick an Elbow album on and realise thirty lethargic minutes later that time - and ...

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    Man shed!

    Readers Pubs

    At the first pub there's a piano in the window but no one to play it. The seats are filled with ghosts. A long pew is adorned with individually wrapped cushions, resembling a bum-friendly box of Mr Kipling cakes. It's quiet, the fireplace glows warm and friendly, everything is cosy and snug. Welcome to Pete's Retreat. "We'll be at home here, let's get a pint." Much as we could stay forever we've a long crawl ahead ...

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    De Struise Pannepot 2008

    Pannepot 2008

    Broody and brown, like blood-red soil on a wet day, four-year aged Pannepot is dragged out of the beer cupboard and into a glass like Jack Dee to an in-laws barbecue... It simply doesn't want to open (the journey back from Belgium wasn't kind: a contemporary shot it's load in the suitcase, drenching the stash of bottles and it's still sticky and downtrodden) but eventually, after much gushing and fizzing, it acquiesces. Perhaps it's just the toll of ...

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    John Keeling Fullers

    Desert Island Beers #50: John Keeling - Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC

    It's a special week on the desert island as we celebrate a half century of castaways being swept up onto our shores. Robinson Crusoe # 50 is a real coup for us as it features none other than Sir (it’s only a matter of time) John Keeling; Head Brewer at Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC, (better known simply as Fullers). John was born in Droylsden, Manchester, in September 1956. When he left school without telling his ...

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    Will Hawkes

    Desert Island Beers #38: Will Hawkes, The Independent

    Welcome to the latest episode of Desert Island Beers which this week features Will Hawkes who works on The Independent’s sports desk and writes about beer in his spare time. Born in London and brought up in sunny Kent, he has had an interest in ale since he could convince a barman he was 18 – but his real conversion to good beer came after a year spent living in Southern California in 1999-2000, when the ...

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    Marston's Fever Pitch English Bitter

    Marston's Fever Pitch

    First off I should point out that I don't often take kindly to products and advertising that jump on the football bandwagon. The best footy related marketing is the football advertising by Nike and Carlsberg (ignoring their most recent attempts). So, I'm potentially a little biased against Marston's Fever Pitch... Let's start with the positives: oranges, lemons, citrus peel but not zest. It's more interesting than I expected, more summery. A mellow bitterness that isn't displeasing and ...

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    Englischer Garten

    Drunken in Munchen

    Let's be frank, I'm not brilliant at getting drunk. It's not that I'm a bad drunk per se, but since my uni days my tolerance has faded and I'm much better suited to a lazy pub garden or the frantic but well partitioned boozing of a hot festival day. So, the morning after the night before, eating pizza along the tramlines of Munich, Stag Day 2 of 3, the first beer is an inevitable mistake. The 12 ...

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    Lowlands Bier Festival

    Beer From The Low Country

    The smell of beer slopped on wooden tables, the glint of light in the top of the chalice, the sounds of a deck of cards and the clink of glasses. I'm in a bar in the north country but my senses are across the sea and howling winds, in the bustle of a backstreet bar in Belgium. Four pm on a sunny Friday, sampling the beers of the Low Countries in a bar in Leeds, dreaming of ...

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    BrewDog Blitz 2.8% ABV

    Brewdog Nottingham

    The blue logo can be seen for hundreds of yards. The windows that look out onto Hockley's student-filled streets, opposite a tea room, cinema and acclaimed bistro, are plastered with huge crest shaped decals, archetypal generation Nike branding for a Starbuck's influenced post-modern brand experience. B R E W D O G Reminiscent of the type of industrial themed sandwich shop found in downtown Prague or New York's Soho, but with added chutzpah and a munificence for ...

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    Shibden Valley by Tim Green

    Shibden Mill Inn

    Down a winding single lane road the descent to Shibden Mill Inn is not one to be taken with nonchalance. A careless clutch foot could result in an unexpected round of automobile tobogganing, even without the help of rain, ice or snow. But survive the swooning approach and there sits a fine pub to be snowed in at: good beer, warm hearths and food fit for kings. The pub is infected with sunny Sunday smiles. Gregarious family ...

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    Packhorse bridge and Old Bridge Inn Ripponden

    A bridge in time

    A brisk day in March, wet but without rain. Ducking through the dripping steel railway bridge, carving through residual puddles, Sowerby Bridge seems jack-knifed between the twenty first century and the 1970s. It's partly the lack of ubiquitous chain stores, partly the dubious puns of the shabby independent shops, but mostly the hues of a downtrodden day in a small Yorkshire town. Out the other side of the town the road befriends the trajectory of the ...

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    Hopback Summer Lightning: a bit of a legend in Beerland

    Hopback Summer Lightning

    Some beers have a pedestal. Sometimes it's deserved because they are truly great beers, technically and taste-wise. Some are headliners, built by a cheeky PR campaign or an elaborate story. And some are deserved winners of awards and a place within beery folklore. Summer Lightning by Hopback falls in the latter category. Back when I was enjoying my third year on this planet and coming to terms with the fact I would soon have a baby ...

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    September 11th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    (…or ‘How to lose pub quizzes and alienate local people’)

    Appleby and it’s border of police tape falls behind us, but the sun is relentless. It pours from an open sky, an azure coloured two fingers raised up to the sun cream at the bottom of my pack. And the sunglasses that sit forgotten in my man drawer at home. The man drawer on which sits one of the three copies of OL31 that should be guiding us towards Dufton.

    Sitting a few miles north of Appleby, Dufton’s loudest residents are the songbirds that flutter and sing each evening as they perform their nesting rituals and celebrate another day in Cumbrian paradise. We’re in no rush as we amble forwards – the hostel won’t open until after five o’clock, the sun is out, and The Stag Inn is open ’til late. What could go wrong?

    Mud is what could go wrong.

    Under oppressive heat (not helped by hastily repacked rucksacks) we precipitate rather than perspire, and it’s not pretty. In the distance Pennine hills glimmer like a Saharan horizon rather than the northern countryside. Two pints to lubricate the short walk soon seem like a bad idea…

    But despite the rousing display of solar prowess it’s not long before our pleasant lane becomes a narrow bog of brown sludge stretching from the fences that hem us in. Despite the hottest day of the year so far, the long trail ahead is cloaked in a slimy foot-deep puddle of danger.

    “Some walk in the park this turned out to be!”

    Taunts directed at my father – whose idea this whole thing was – are short lived. Mid-sentence I navigate a rocky outcrop sticking up from the mud like a mischevious iceberg, an iceberg hiding a sea of stones and pain and soggy brown shorts should I hit the deck.

    And promptly I lose balance, spin under the weight of my pack and frantically grab thin air with one hand, whilst conducting a wild balancing action with the other that would have an orchestra dropping their instruments. Flapping and wobbling, my hand meets a solitary wafer thin branch and somehow I piroutte to safety. Phew.

    And then I realise my right shoulder doesn’t seem to have stopped moving. That’s because my right foot seems to be sinking beneath me into a world of mud. Another branch comes to the rescue but this one is decorated with thorns the size of pint glasses. I look up, still sinking, just as John wobbles along the hedgerow cursing the red liquid also trickling down his arm.

    It couldn’t get much worse, right? There’s no way that the powers that be would punish us by making us circumnavigate impassable mud flats lined with sharp as nails bramble in dehydrating sunshine and then throw us delirious into a steep sided forest of blood sucking insects clearly starved and awaiting their first feed of the summer? No, there’s obviously no-one up above because that would just be pure evil.

    We’re not even on the Pennine Way yet and we’re caked in mud, sweat, blood and bites. I mutter something that starts with ‘f’ and ends in ‘idiot dad’ as I watch the mud rise above my ankle yet again.

    But an hour later the orienteering is soon forgotten as we sip our first pint at The Stag Inn. Mud, midge and map woes are long washed away with a hot shower and a cold beer. Food barely touches the sides, cool pints of Cumbrian pale ale wipe the memories clean from view. Before long dusk fills the beer garden, the village green glints and glows in the lowering sunlight, and avian evensong is the only thing stopping us retiring for a sensible rest in preparation for tomorrow’s twenty mile hike to start leg 4 of 5 proper.

    “Trust you’ll be in the pub quiz?” an over enthusiastic voice breaks the magical spell. Wide eyed and under the influence of buxom smiles we nod obediently and throw a clutch of pound coins towards the pint glass thrust towards us. “But don’t win, eh?! The locals won’t like it.”

    Four pints later, having navigated the thorny inquisition of Dufton’s premier quiz master, that voice pierces the calm again.

    “Pennine Wanderers? Pennine WAN-DER-ER-ERS please?!”

    Isn’t that us?!

    “You’re in the tie break lovelies If you win you get to pick next weeks quiz master And you’ll win a round of beer for the night There’s just one question It’s DEAD easy Immediate answer please No dilly dallying The other teams already answered so I’ll crack straight on… How many bones in the human body?”

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    August 30th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    We practically roll down the sharp hill into Appleby, and with only a few miles stroll to tomorrow’s starting point at Dufton, buoyed by sunshine and the freedom of not being office-bound on a Thursday afternoon, we simultaneously chirp “Pub?”.

    (The question mark completely unnecessary).

    Soon a pint of lager in a glass of condensation glistens in my hand – a pint of smooth looks gloomy in John’s. Someone hit the on switch of summer and our backpacks stare back at using the afternoon heat, looking heavier than when they were frugally packed last night.

    On the benches outside the Hare & Hounds red-faced locals soak up sunshine with Stellas. From our shady window seat we opt against sweating our energy away before we’ve even started walking, instead studying the walls which bustle with a sepia tinted history of Appleby Fair in photographs.

    Stella. Artois.

    Stella. Artois.

    In a sun faded golden frame a young man stares defiantly at anyone who’ll look, legs akimbo on a well worked filly, bedraggled after stomping through the river. Each year the gypsy and travelling community swarm to this little town on the edge of Cumbria, and next week they come again. From Ireland to Estonia caravans roll along the A and B roads towards Westmorland. Since the nineteenth century Appleby has been a Romany mecca, though horses have been washed and traded here since a Royal Charter of 1685.

    A little later, and only a little tipsy, we cross the very same river and tread its banks, taking in the calm before next week’s storm. ‘Do Not Park’ police tape, only just yellow, loops over hedges and gates that straddle the winding road towards the outskirts, towards Fair Hill, the temporary home to the revellers. A man scrawls ‘No Parking’ on his driveway in chalk, looks up and celebrates the cloudless sky, and pulls plant pots closer to his porch.

    We leave the quiet of Appleby discussing our jobs, our recent adventures and the route ahead. The drinkers at the Hare & Hounds raise a glass to sweaty brows and discuss fairs gone by, and the spiritual diaspora that rumbles slowly towards them.

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    June 14th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Stout & Porter

    4.9%

    That’s less alcohol by volume than a bottle of Cobra washed down with a mild chicken korma.

    So where does the boozy aroma of a complex strong stout come from?

    Presumably Hardknott Dave had had one two many glasses of a something cosmic when he bottled this, he’s confused his 4s and 9s, right?

    Hardknott Dark Energy stout review

    Hardknott Dark Energy

    Dark Energy pulls me in with it’s deep ruby tinted complexion and lacy, spice-plumed head.

    It’s 9.4% I tell myself, definitely.

    Then I take a few sips. They turn to gulps. Where did the strength go, has it disappeared completely?

    Ebbing and flowing with wisps of berries, booze and cocoa beans it shares the weightlessness of strong imperial stouts – visibly and aromatically pungent but vapid in body.

    There’s a reason for the name I convince myself as the foamy promise tricks me into feeling high and dry, but then hooks me on it’s fleeting astro garbage of cigar fouled chocolate tiffin.

    What type of stout is this? Where do these flavours appear from? I’m confused, lost in space.

    How strong is this again?

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    March 12th, 2012DavidMayhallDesert Island Beers

    This weeks Desert Island Beers features our first brewster, Hayley Barton of Cumbrian Legendary Ales. Born in Gloucestershire, Hayley says she learned to drink real ale in the Old Spot Inn, in Dursley during weekends with friends whilst studying for her A-levels and around the same time was also very fortunate to be taken on a walking holiday to The Lakes by her best friend Tamsin & her parents Trev & Ros.

    After staying in Great Langdale, Hayley says she cried all the way down the M6 during the journey home because she had enjoyed having a wonderful holiday in the best county in England so much and she vowed then that she would go back to Cumbria to live at some time in the future.

    After completing a BA in Textile Design, Hayley started working behind the bar at the Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater in 2006, where Matt Webster was already brewing. Hayley says she used to sneak down into the brew room, using any excuse (usually it was to take Matt a cuppa) because she was so interested in everything going on in the Loweswater Brewery, which was no bigger than an average sized garage at that time. She started helping Matt with cleaning barrels, brewery paperwork & designing pump clips for the different beers that he was brewing exclusively for the Kirkstile bar.

    Before long Hayley found herself on a brewing course & Matt taught her how to brew. It was 2008 when she brewed her first beer “Melbreak Bitter” and in 2009 she jumped at the chance of being able to brew in the purpose built Cumbrian Legendary Ales Brewery recently acquired by Roger & Helen Humphreys and where David Newham patiently showed her the ropes.

    Hayley says it is an absolute delight to brew in such a fabulous location, (on the shores of Esthwaite Water) and was overwhelmed to discover that the brewery had won Champion Golden Ale of Britain at the GBBF in summer ’11 with Loweswater Gold. And that she absolutely loves brewing & brewing is a lifestyle choice if you’re going to do it properly.

    Hayley Barton Cumbrian Legendary Ales

    Hayley Barton

    Matt & Hayley

    Matt & Hayley

    Loweswater Gold Cumbrian Legendary Ales

    Loweswater Gold

    Harviestoun Schiehallion

    Schiehallion

    The Beers

    Hi Hayley and welcome! Which five beers would you want to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island, and why?
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    May 13th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Bitters, Cumbrian beers, Pale Ales
    Jennings Golden Host

    Jennings Golden Host

    I’d sum up Jennings Golden Host up in two simple words: floral and biscuity. Wordsworth might roll in his grave at that crude and lazy generalisation, so let’s try something a bit more prosaic…

    The scene that Golden Host conjures is a spring day, the first of the year where the cool air breaks the gentle heat of the sun; arms, necks and foreheads are exposed for the first time since the leaves started to reappear on trees. Hot cookies sit on a window sill, a view perhaps overlooking Bassenthwaite or Loweswater, an iridescent shimmer on the water that heralds a yawning season, waiting to become vivacious and dominant.

    There’s daffodils leading up the path to the maltings; for the workers there’s toasted teacakes and honey for breakfast; roughly cut brown bread and salad (dressed in herbs, perhaps even anise) for dinner; and following a rural supper of beer and bread those cookies get to fulfil their destiny.

    Don’t expect pomp and grandeur, or the glory of a god in the sky to shine down on you as you take your first sip – even if you are of a Romantic persuasion and this beer has you dreaming of Wordsworth and his zeal for floating clouds and crowds, nay hosts!, of daffodils, as the sun sets over the lonely vales and hills this is a simple beer of pale malt, floral hops, Fair Trade sugar and a subtle, fresh disposition.

    Daffodils in the Lake District

    'I wander'd lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils' - William Wordsworth, born Cockermouth, Cumbria, 1770

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    May 12th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Cumbrian beers, Ruby ales

    Treacle & cocoa, cashew & pistachio, berries and toffee.

    All that from hops & malt?

    Perhaps there are added kisses in Geltsdale’s Hops & Kisses, a Valentine’s re-branding of Geltsdale’s Hell Beck.

    It’s a red bitter and infused with dashes of all sorts, but perhaps my senses are getting the better of me. Crystal and amber malts and Fuggles and Goldings hops don’t seem enough on paper to impart the luscious body imparted from these very English ingredients.

    Rich toffee, hedgerow fruit, a roasted character that’s hard to pin down - Hops & Kisses is deliciously down to earth yet delightfully playful.

    Hops & Kisses is a smooth operator, another fine Lakeland ale.

    Geltsdale Hops & Kisses. Photo by David Ambridge

    Geltsdale Hops & Kisses. Photo by David Ambridge

    Beer information:
    Beer: Hops & Kisses
    Brewery: Geltsdale
    Style: Bitter
    ABV: 4.2%
    Country: Cumbria, UK

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    May 12th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Cumbrian beers

    Yates Cumbrian Ale might not be your easiest Lakeland ale to find, but if you can find your way to Open All Hours in Keswick or Laird’s Larder in Houghton, you might be able to grab a few bottles. But to add this to your summer beer roster your best bet in the North West is Booths Supermarkets.

    Straight away it’s different –  manuka honey and lemsip perhaps the easiest descriptors of a grainy, citric and medicinal infused beer.

    It’s comfy, reassuring beer; a summer cough syrup combined with a mug of Horlicks; a dollop of caramel and a gentle bitterness; light in alcohol, gentle in carbonation, the beery bubbles removing any cloying stickyness and thus ensuring it’s place as a beer well placed to serve a hot weather session.

    Yates Cumbrian Ale

    Yates Cumbrian Ale

    Beer information:
    Read the rest of this entry »

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    May 4th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Bitters, Cumbrian beers

    Dent Rescewe was bought for Yorkshire month, the month of June where we planned to sample mostly Yorkshire ales and report back on our regional fare. Surreptitiously it stared back at me when I needed a beer for an unexpectedly sunny day in the garden in May, and there I saw it on the label, the address that I had neglected to check: ‘Dent Brewery, Dent, Cumbria’. Cue immediate fast track to Cumbrian month!

    I’ve been to Dent only once, on a whistle stop weekend to the North Yorkshire Dales. It’s a living breathing Warburton’s ad, except Land Rovers rumble and bumble (depending on the age of their reg plate) across cobbles where flat-capped knee-socked boys should be cycling home, peddling against gravity and the extra weight of bakers fresh, crusty loaves.

    I’d always assumed it was a forgotten Yorkshire village, one of those quaint border settlements that nonchalantly gets on with life amidst the whims of policy makers and county councils who can’t decide exactly which authority should be organising the bin rounds.

    Dent Rescewe - Cumbrian beer

    Dent Rescewe - premium bitter raising money for the Cave Rescue Organisation in the Yorkshire Dales

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    April 20th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Cumbrian beers, IPA

    Tuesday night, two bottled bitters sunk and the quenches for thirst and flavour continue to itch away unabated.

    Cue Lakeland IPA, a beer that for one moment in time justifies the beatification of hops single-handedly.

    The perfect hiss released as metal hits glass and twists plastic; an aroma eager to reach a nose and knock on the door of the senses.

    Soft-fleshed fruit says hello – mangoes might not be typical of Cumbria unless visiting a certain kitchenware store for a peeling device that the kitchen drawer doesn’t really need, but here they add sweetness and a vibrancy missing from the evenings other contenders.

    Wisps of unidentifiable flowers blend without any disharmony and it’s all finished with a perfect bitterness to leave behind a craving for just a little bit more.

    Bitter End Lakeland IPA Cumbrian Beer

    Lakeland IPA, a fresh, floral IPA with a suitably apt bitter end

    Read the rest of this entry »

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