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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  • scissors
    November 5th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    Morning in Dufton is heavenly. Soft light glistens on the village green, the distant hills are misty, and the birds seemingly haven’t slept, instead devoting every moment, dark or light, to their celestial symphonies.

    No wonder it’s called the Vale of Eden. And the prospect of exploring Cumbria’s fertile land spurs us to leave Dufton. That and the unenviable comfort of youth hostel bedding…

    Within minutes of joining the Way we’re surrounded on all sides by undulating fields of faultless farmland dressed in a glorious, consistent green. The land is all one hue, the only difference in colour between fields achieved by the sun that dances on the curvatures of the land. Nature creates art with the shadows of millions of blades of grass, a silent spectacle unfolding beneath a cloudless sky.

    As we rise above Cosca Hill, fresh faced and glad we didn’t win a week’s worth of beer at the quiz the previous night, the terrain dissolves into the no man’s land between moor and field; trees thin out, streams narrow, and hedgerows give way to the resilience of reeds and gorse. Greenery darkens, the sun rises towards its late morning perch above the verdant cone of Dufton Pike. Against a dull hill the rigid blue sky is speckled with ever watchful radomes bouncing radio waves against passenger planes in the sky.

    This eerie place sits 1000 feet above Dufton. It’s a tough climb for the first day, and our route avoids the curiously new road surface that curves up towards the heavenly looking golf balls. Just to spite us, the detour naturally involves the circumnavigation of a disused quarry shaft, appropriately named ‘Dunfell Hush’ which is exactly the sounds of falling down it when miles away from another living creature. Luckily we skip over any hidden mine shafts and the path pop us right up against the radomes. The spooky spheres are less angelic up close, coloured in roughly with worn-off white and sat atop windowless square boxes that looks like they’d blow away in a gentle gust. They look less airport security and more hideout for mad scientists trying to create a real life Day of the Triffids. On the cheap.

    We’re not halfway done for the day but lunch is calling. The afternoon trek towards our hostel seems an age away. We can’t even begin to think of a pub yet…

    Our lunch stop marks the tallest part of the entire Pennine Way so far, surpassing the more foreboding features of even the Three Peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen Y Ghent. Cross Fell’s summit roars with wind and we join two southbound walkers sheltering behind the meagre walls of its dry stone cairn. The air is pregnant with cold and hot air which sweeps along the inclines of the fell and gives birth to the Helm Bar, an innocuous enough looking line of cloud that rustles the winds into a turbulent force of nature. They say Cross Fell is named for the typical English meaning of the words – think angry, grumpy wind demon sitting atop a desolate fell trying to keep pesky explorers away. “I don’t care how windy it is, it’s MY fell!”

    Suddenly two fighter jets accelerate cloud wards over nearby Dun Fell, so low against the brow of the hill that we could pluck the pilots faces out of a police line up. But even the power and noise of their twin jet engines fails to out muster the Helm Wind which sweeps across the tops and batters us into the cold hard discomfort of the shelter walls.

    Along with our fellow explorers we re-gather our strengths – bananas, dried apricots, Mars Bars, cheese and pickle sandwiches consumed via osmosis in the teasing gaps when the wind doesn’t batter us blue. Even without our lunch the views from our lofty plateau lift us – a panorama of vale and fell in equal measure spreads out for miles below. From this vantage point we can track the wandering of smoke from distant factories which cloud the view towards the peaks of the eastern line of the Lake District.

    We rise and turn into the wind, and very soon lunch seems insufficient and a pint seems unimaginably far away.

    Across Cross Fell

    Across Cross Fell towards the Lake District

    Cross Fell Ordnance Survey trig point

    Cross Fell trig point

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  • scissors
    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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  • OL31

    1
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    August 29th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    It’s not like this trip wasn’t planned in advance. It’s year four of five, day sixteen of twenty four. We booked the rooms six weeks ago. Without much thought or effort I could have procured all the necessary equipment, accoessiries and maps at any point in the last four years, when this Pennine adventure began.

    So why am I crouched, at 12.39, on platform 5C, arms flailing in and out of my rucksack, clothes tangled in a blizzard of futile prayer to St Stephen, desperately, frantically searching for Outdoor Leisure 31 (North Pennines) as the far more prepared passengers (that is the rest of the passengers) aboard the 1245 Leeds to Carlisle service.

    Of course the map that will get us to this years starting point – the short walk from Appleby to Dufton – is at home (specifically one copy is on the arm of the sofa where the cat sleeps, whilst one copy is on the bookshelf in the spare room. A third is in an envelope ready to be posted back to a forgiving Amazon bookseller after I over ordered). It’s the only map in the world that I own three times and it’s the only one that eludes me as the train guard prepares his whistle and flag. Sometimes I don’t know how I’ve managed to get to twenty eight years old…

    The driver fires the train up ready for it’s ponderous trek through Shipley, Saltaire, Settle and Kirkby Stephen. Soon radiant sunshine pours over the ethereal moorland below Ribblehead Viaduct and the entire carriage of tourists climbs out of real life for a moment to appreciate the beautiful landscape that the Settle-Carlisle line navigates through.

    For once mist doesn’t obscure the views northwards, towards the unmarked graves of navvies who laid the huge pieces of rock supporting the track nor southbound, towards Leeds and my now redundant trio of maps.

    The sun is bright and the view from our 22-arch vantage point prompts a blooming of SLRs from surrepritious camera bags. Lenses are detached and reattached to a theme tune of oohs and aahs and pointing fingers. No-one, not even the cynics, even contemplates the inevitable disappointment of realising viaducts are best viewed when not on top of them.

    I’m still restlessly, hopelessly poking around in my bag for the elusive map as we roll into Appleby mid-afternoon. (At one point I’d caught a sprig of the familiar Ordnance Survey orange as we flew past Ruswarp’s statue at Dent, the UK’s loftiest mainland station; but it was a false call: we don’t need OL42 until Monday, and even then it’s only for the last short slog into Bellingham, 58.5 miles away from us along the Pennine Way).

    “At least our sun cream and shades will come in useful” Dad offers as we tumble towards Appleby town centre under an eager sun.

    Oh balls…

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