This on the face of it, located as it is on the corner of a main road, an awkwardly situated pub if you approach it, as most do, going to and fro to nearby Rochdale Infirmary. (Indeed as your hero does when the kindly surgeons inject my arthritic knee with God knows what, every six months or so.) This time, instead of zooming by, I'm approaching more slowly and realise if I turn up the hill beside it there is plentiful parking. Good to know as you scarcely notice that when driving past.
The Brownhill Hotel is a typical Sam Smith's pub for the area. Clearly Humph - the owner Humphrey Smith - has bought a job lot of off-white paint to do all his pubs - or most of them - and the pub is tricked out accordingly externally. Inside there is a typical vestibule area and short corridor, and a main bar area with bench seating and a games room to the right. Running the length of the pub a more well appointed lounge area looks inviting enough in that typical Spartan way that Sam's pubs have, but is empty save for one couple. I see them from my vantage point at the bar, contentedly sipping lager. In this instance, nobody looked round to check out the stranger, because they are having too good a time to bother. Around a dozen people, men and women mixed, have pole position under the main window facing the bar and they are exchanging banter and laughter with an ease that suggests they all know each other well. The barmaid greets me with a slightly quizzical smile, possibly wondering why I'm there. I have the feeling she is the landlady. I detect a Welsh accent and this is confirmed by two things - one an obviously Welsh husband or partner - and two - a scarf hung behind the bar sporting the legend "Cymru am Byth". An open fireplace in the bar, already set, but in this first warm day of the year, not (yet) lit, completes the picture.
I choose a pint of Light Mild, which is 2.8%, but has the body and taste that many stronger beers would envy. It is astonishingly a mere £1.34 and really very good. To accompany it, I buy a packet of Sam Smith branded pork scratchings which are comparatively expensive at 90p. Looking round I see behind me in the Sports Room a number of young lads are playing darts, a throwback (see what I did there) to the 70s or 80s. I wonder idly, as a former darts player myself, if they have a league hereabouts, but there is nothing by way of notices on the wall to suggest it. In fact there seems to be no notices or much decoration on the walls at all. I suspect this is some kind of decree from the autocratic Humph. There is one appropriate exception. The sole notice advises customers that "Mr Smith" has decreed that the pub must be cleared within a half hour of last orders being called and lists the times. Ominously it warns that "doubling up at last orders will not be allowed."
The bar has the usual array of brightly lit boxes. They are pretty standard here, with Cider, OBB, Sovereign and Taddy Lager, with Light Mild and Double Four lager bringing variety. Oddly the cool shelves have no bottles whatever other than Scintilla mixers. Almost everyone is drinking Taddy lager, though one renegade, without specifying, is served Double Four. In fact nobody in the pub orders a drink by name, instead approaching the bar and being served with what I assume is their standard tipple. The banter continues with the landlord observing a four playing cribbage (again) and chirruping from the sidelines when one hand was over "Winner, winner, chicken dinner." - and why not?
This was a lovely visit. It was great to see folk enjoying themselves with people they knew. I wasn't unwelcome as such, though you can't help but feel a little that you've gone to the wrong party by mistake.
I reckon though if I came in a few times, my Light Mild would also be served to me automatically.
I didn't date take any photos of the inside. I just felt that would not have been appreciated. A local pub for local people? Yes, but in a good way.
There is an odd bare feel to Sam's pubs. I reckon the Welsh scarf was pushing the boundaries a bit and was the sole and welcome splash of colour.
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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