Chester is an easy one hour train ride from Manchester and the boys from the THT were eagerly anticipating the beery delights therein. We cheerily made our way along the canal to our first stop, Old Harkers Arms, arriving just as the bolts slid back, promptly at half past eleven. Game on. A decent display of beer awaited us and we slid straight into it with three of us opting for Brewers Gold from Crouch Vale which was in excellent form, and one deciding on Landlord. This is an excellent up market pub, with cheery attentive staff and very well kept beer. Even as first customers, it was clear that all the lines had been pulled through to provide fresh beer. Well done. None of this was cheap mind you, with most beers hitting the £3+ mark, but at least the surroundings and the sheer quality of the offering went a long way to justifying it. A shower of rain kept us there for another, with Cheshire No3 from Phoenix being added to those sampled. I also tasted the Weetwood Eastgate Ale, but wasn't impressed by its sharpness, so more Brewers Gold went down red lane instead. Suffice to say the Phoenix beer was bitter and hoppy. We left by a different door and discovered we had missed another bank of six handpumps. Damn. We'd have to come back later!
Further along the Shropshire Union Canal is the Mill Hotel. An odd up market place this, but no slouch on the beer front, with sixteen handpumps primed and ready. The choice was eclectic and bewildering. Beers from Atlas, Cairngorm, Phoenix and Weetwood were tried, but by this time the conversation and ale were flowing, so no tasting notes. There is a lot going on here in this comfortable bar and one thing to mention is price. All the beers were less than £2.50 a pint, some even under £2. Well done.
Next up was the Bear and Billet owned by Manx Brewer Okells. This very old building could probably have been treated a little better inside, but the choice was fairly good, though we all opted for the Okells Bitter which was brown, with honeyed overtones and a good hoppy finish. Old fashioned in a good way. Here though we found that Chester's own Spitting Feathers Brewery Tap had opened its doors for the first time the day before, so we went of course. In a very old building indeed, with a huge high ceiling, an old and I mean very old sandstone fireplace behind the bar, another big room to the side and a distinct smell of paint, this is an excellent almost baronial addition to the Chester scene. Eight handpulls offer a mix of Spitting Feather's own beer and guests, on this visit, from Facers, Titanic, Wentworth and Breconshire, so plenty of choice. We opted for Dave Facer's This Splendid Ale, which was indeed splendid. I am sorry to report that samples of the three Spitting Feathers beers on offer didn't tempt any of us into a purchase. Not bad beers, but really given the excellent beers we had enjoyed, rather ordinary. They need to up their game to match the surroundings of this wonderful boozer.
After this it was culture for the boys with a canter round the Cathedral while I enjoyed a quiet but forgettable pint in the Victoria Inn, a pub of absolutely no redeeming features whatever. Then we made our way back to the station where we called in again to Old Harkers. The place was jumping with office workers enjoying an after work drink and we mopped up some more beer. The Crouch Vale was gone, but by now, in little mood for experimenting, the boys went for Landlord. On a whim - OK, my judgement was impaired by alcohol - I tried a London Pride, served in excellent condition, Northern style, through a sparkler. It didn't disguise at all the underlying honey sweetness of this ordinary beer one bit. Where on earth are the hops?
The train journey home was spent amid a noisy, cheery, but slightly menacing bunch of Welsh speaking, cans of cider drinking, members of the travelling fraternity. Back in Piccadilly, John S and I went across the road to the Bulls Head to await E, whose train was due in an hour. To my chagrin, it appears this ex Burtonwod house has been acquired by Jennings / Marstons. Cumberland Ale was fine, but my back was playing up after Bury Beer Festival and I allowed my mate John to choose my second beer for me. Pedigree is just awful isn't it?
A good day out. Chester is a great place to drink. Go there!
INTO THE VALLEYS - I’m grateful to Swansea CAMRA for remind me to put my NBSS scores in. Remembering the beer names, when there’s so little consistency of range on the bar, ...
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