Archive for November, 2013

The final days of the Hop Pole Inn

The city of Bath is an expensive place, when working there it is impossible to find a cheap room to stay in and therefore most tradesmen find refuge in hotels in the suburbs or in nearby towns. For me it was the latter. We were staying in the quiet village of Limpley Stoke at the rather obviously named Limpley Stoke Hotel.

For Some reason there are a lot of jugs hanging from the ceiling in the Avon bar.

For Some reason there are a lot of jugs hanging from the ceiling in the Avon bar.

Getting to the point: at the bottom of the driveway of the hotel is a small country pub, The Hop Pole Inn. Dating back to the 16th century, this pub has character and charm. All of the features you expect from an old pub, the log fire, the dark wood, the assortment of knick-knacks adorning the walls and ceiling. There was real ale on tap and an atmosphere that was spot on for the type of pub it is.

All of this , however, is about to change because as I write this now, the Hop Pole inn is pouring its final pints. Tonight the barmaid shall call time, for the last time. Yes, this fine example of English country life is to close. And I can not figure out for the life of me why that is! I know that the hotel owns the pub and I can get my head around the idea that the hotel management want to save money.

Trying to take photographs in a pub's decor and not look like you're taking a cheeky snap of someone's wife is tricky. I hope that explains this bad picture.

Trying to take photographs of a pub’s decor and not look like you’re taking a cheeky snap of someone’s wife is tricky. I hope that explains this bad picture.

Nearly all of the hotel guests go down to the pub for a drink and their evening meal rather than eating in the hotel, but surely it would be better to close the hotel kitchen? I was there for five nights and every night there was a large crowd in the bar and in the lounge. The hotel bar only ever had people in it when the pub wasn’t serving food. The reason they weren’t serving food? Because they were closing down at the end of the week and therefore were not ordering any more stock.

 Having had a pint of either Bath Ales Gem or Sharp’s Doombar most nights we were a bit shocked that on Friday when we were told that they had only bottled ales left. While we ate our final meal at the pub (steak pie – fantastic) we ordered a few bottles of Doombar (bottled), eventually we were told that we had been given the final two bottles of ale in the pub. From then on it was lager and cider only. I had the last pint of ale that the Hop Pole Inn may ever serve. An honour, but a terribly sad honour.

The Hop Pole Inn is for sale and I truly hope that someone buys it and keeps the tradition alive. This pub is worth it. If I had the money to put where my mouth is, I would.

The Hop Pole Inn on a cold November evening

The Hop Pole Inn on a cold November evening

Why do we get it so wrong in the UK?

I have just returned from a work trip out to Germany. In many ways it was exactly like you would expect. To be clicéic about it everything was well organised, efficient and clean. This applied to everything we came in contact with when we were out there, including the pub.

Zur Gemütlichkeit isn’t really what you’d call a pub. More of a tavern, it’s very german in it’s style (I’m not sure why that surprised me since we drove for seven hours across the continent to get there, it was hardly going to be a facsimile of The Black Friar, was it?). I find it a bit depressing that not two weeks after posting about how crap some places in Britain can be, I find the answer to all the problems and I find it in Deutschland.

I’m just going to bullet point off what I think they got right that so many places in the UK could learn a thing or two from:

  • The place is clean and tidy. And I really mean it. Spotless. Not a  mote of dust anywhere.
  • The food was actually cooked, not just reheated on site. The meat was of quality and not like in the UK, full of gristle.
  • If in the UK you do get food which is as good as in Germany, then you have to pay through the nose for it. This was reasonably priced. For two starter salads, two 300g (11 oz) steak and chips and 10 beers: less that €65! And I remind you, these are the sort of quality steaks you’d easily spend £25 each on in the UK for such a good cut.
  • There is an area for sitting at a bar, an area for eating in a civilised dinner and conversation way and a third area for watching the football that’s away from everyone else, so we don’t have to put up with the commentary when you’re trying to talk.
  • Children weren’t banned, but they behaved. There was no roudy group of underaged teenagers getting catatonic by the bar.
  • Because of the above things, the ambience was right. On the Friday night it was busy and even the restaurant part was louder. There was a group of men sitting together with large steins of beer who would occasionally burst into song, but it was OK because it was in a loud place (by loud I mean the combined murmurings of everyone having a conversation). I can’t imagine they’d have done the same thing on a Wednesday when there were very few customers.
  • The staff go out of their way to help you. Genuinely friendly people.

So to sum up, clean, friendly, good value, well done food and drink. Why is it that to get these things at home it’s all so expensive?

I’d like to start this post off by saying that my fingers smell like plastic and I have no idea why. Whether this is a good omen for writing a quality post or not, I don’t know, but in the interests of full disclosure I thought I’d better put it out there.

The Session logo

Beer and women. That is the session topic for this month. Our host for the month, Nicth of, has left the topic pretty open. This is a huge subject and there are so many ways to go with it. Nitch suggests a few different avenues, none of which I feel are quite right for me (I’m definitely not doing a history spot. I’ll leave that to Ron Pattinson. I dropped history as soon as humanly possible at school).

I was flicking through this months copy of CAMRA’s Beer magazine for some inspiration as to where to go with this and came across an entire article about Sara Barton of Brewsters Brewing Company. I was surprised by how few times the piece makes reference to her gender. Apart from the title “FEMALE TRAILBLAZER” the article actually goes on to tell Sara’s story and how she became the fantastic brewer she is. And trust me she is a great brewer I have sampled some of her beers at different beer festivals over the years, I’ve never had one which was even mediocre. Oh! and the article does go on a bit about her involvement in the Project Venus, and how she was one of only three women amongst the hundreds of men when she was working for Courage, and the obvious mention of her winning the brewer of the year award (2012 – 2013) awarded by the British guild of beer writers (making her the first woman to do so). My point is that these all things which are pertinent to the article and they are mentioned because they are interesting things and are important within the story. Had this article been written even five years ago there would have been a tone to the story which reading between the lines read “Hey lads, look at this! There’s a person brewing beer thats not terrible, and he’s a she!” like the most important thing about this beer is the brewer has different genitals. Mind you, I would be interested to hear about a beer being brewed by this bloke…

If you don't get that joke.. watch this

If you don’t get that joke…
watch this

Another thing I’ve noticed is that less and less women who blog about beer, brew beer or are in some way involved in this little bubble of beer geekery that we find ourselves in seem to feel the need to make such a big deal about their gender.  In the past there was clearly a need to make the point that these people were women as well as beer geeks. Some of the twitter handles make my point: @TheBeerWench @beerbabe @bierebelle. @realalegirlShea @BeerBeauty. More women, such as our illustrious host, are just using their name, because there is nothing wrong with that.

Finally I’d just like to say in the six years that I have been going to beer festivals I have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of young women attending. Yes, it’s true. Not just CAMRA propaganda. The first beer festival I went to was Bedford Beer festival, many years before I started any blog, and the only girls that were there were clearly all being dragged along by partners and husbands and friends. Indeed, our group was no different, ladies present because they were basically told that “this is what we ARE doing tonight”. The most recent festival was also Bedford, this year, and I can report that was a marked improvement in the numbers of ladies. I have to be honest, there were still women those who had the look on there face which read “bloody hell, not this shit again. Every bloody year he drags me here”, but there were young groups where everyone was having a good time, and they weren’t all congregating around the one barrel of sweet cider either, they were actually trying the beer and enjoying it!

So there you go, three things about beer and women which I have noticed change in the past few years. I think together they sum up as being a girl is becoming less important and the beer they brew/blog about/drink is. Will this do Nitch?


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