What's not to like when you have a couple of nights away with old friends as we have done once a year for more than the last twenty? Perhaps when you decide to stay in a run down seaside town like Portmadog that's what. It all seemed fine when we decided on it. A nice run through Snowdonia and then a night in a pretty town with three Good Beer Guide pubs in it, then up to Chester and a night there. What could possibly go wrong?
Of course history of such events tells us we usually - or at least it seems so - have one day where nothing goes wrong beer wise and one where, disappointment rolls in repeatedly, like breakers on the Irish Sea. It started promisingly enough in Llangollen where the sun shone and our lunch stop was at the excellent though very run down Ponsonby Arms. A very pleasant barmaid told us of planned renovations as evidenced by scaffolding outside and the beer, in my case Diawl Bach from Heavy Industry Brewery, had enough hops about it at 3.8% to be very enjoyable. It was in good nick too, despite us four being the only lunchtime customers. A wander down to watch the steam locomotives at the preserved railway then took us to the posh Corn Mill owned by Brunning and Price. Overlooking the railway and the River Dee, this was a beautifully renovated building with among others, Dave's Hoppy Beer from Facers, which was maybe just off the mark. A sign of things to come.
Now I hadn't been to Portmadog before and it wasn't quite what I was expecting. The Welsh Highland Railway was nice, as was the harbour, but the town had an ominously deserted feel to it. We started off with a trip to nearby Tremadog where the busy Union Inn (GBG) offered Purple Moose beers that just weren't anything other than adequate and opposite, the Golden Fleece, built into the hillside and festooned with hops, offered more of the same. Not bad beer you understand, but a bit tired and flabby.
All Good Beer Guide pubs next. The best bet beer wise in the Station Inn (a bit of a basic boozer) was Adnams Ghost Ship and that wasn't great. Our earlier experiences of Purple Moose Snowdonia had warned us off that, so after one, we supped up and plodded along to the Ship Inn which offered mainly national brands. It wasn't that busy at all. Our more exotic choice, Lancaster Blonde had that same midweek feel to it. Last up was the working men's club-like Spooner's Bar, at the narrow gauge railway terminus. We were persuaded by the barman to try a brand new cask of Snowdonia but it did little to convince us of its inherent qualities and after a couple we left, the boys to seek a curry and me to seek an early night.
It was eerily quiet as I made my way back to our rather nice B&B. I saw no-one and walking past at 10.15 pm, I noticed that the kebab house was firmly closed, as was the Chinese Chippy. Can't say I was shocked.
Conclusion? Take the GBG with a pinch of salt if the pubs are empty and it is midweek. Quality still cask's Achilles heel.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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