Craft beers, real ales, breweries inside pubs, and tempting bar snacks, the best of the UK’s pubs and microbreweries offer a blend of convivial atmosphere and innovative brewing
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Winning tip: Stoke Canon Inn, Devon
This fantastic little country pub in the Exe valley serves a selection of real ales from two local microbreweries, the Exe Valley Brewery and The Beer Engine. It also offers a selection of local ciders. The pub is run by volunteers and early on a Tuesday evening one can even find the local curate, resplendent in his dog collar, pulling pints behind the bar.
Bare Arts Brewery, Todmorden, West Yorkshire
A quirky little brewery with off-sales and tastings. A wide range of beers and ciders lovingly prepared, beautifully packaged and reasonably priced. Owners Kathy and Trevor are entertaining hosts, and Kathy’s large canvases of nudes are available to buy. Bar snacks include pistachio nuts by the half pint, cheese wrapped in gingham paper with chunks of bread and smoked oysters, and it holds live acoustic music and tasting events.
The Black Isle Brewery, Highland
The Black Isle, neither black nor an island, is a beautiful peninsula north of Inverness. The Black Isle Brewery makes a great ale called Red Kite, and a delicious organic lager called Blonde. On 6-7 September there is its Jocktoberfest (weekend tickets including camping £25). You pitch your tent in a field, watch indie bands in a barn with hay bales as seating, and eat bratwurst and churros washed down with great beer.
Allanwater Brewhouse, Bridge of Allan, near Stirling
Behind the former Queens Hotel is a low-slung building that contains a brewery, bar and visitor centre. Innovative recipes abound, and most beers are produced by the inhouse TinPot Brewery. It’s welcoming and snug, and some of the warming fruity brews involve foraged ingredients, such as the Lavender, Bramble or Raspberry Pot. Gluten-free beers with honey and treacle go down a storm, and there’s also Clock Pot (with thyme) and Pizza Pot (with oregano).
The Four Candles, Broadstairs
The Four Candles, named for a tenuous link to the Two Ronnies’ sketch, is one of the new breed of micropubs, a tiny corner premises on a residential street. The standard offering is three (usually local) ales from the cask at £3 a pint, local cider and English wine. Bar snacks are superb: local pork pies, cheese platters and Kent crisps. Landlord Mike looks after his customers as well as he looks after his beer.
Beerwolf Books, Falmouth, Cornwall
Approaching Beerwolf feels like you’ve stumbled on a secret: it’s up an easy-to-miss alleyway between chain stores, in a beautiful 18th-century building on Bells Court. Through the door, there’s a staircase and a view of shelves of books. So it is a bookshop. Then there’s the smell of beer and the sound of chatter. So it is a pub. There are several cask ales and an interesting range of bottled beer, not only from Cornish breweries.
Royal Standard of England, Beaconsfield
This pub evolved from a Saxon dwelling: ale brewed by a Saxon alewife was sold to cottagers and her home became the local alehouse. Still privately owned, the pub claims to be the oldest freehouse in England. Untouched over the centuries, it looks like a quintessential English pub ought. It also brews ales at its own microbrewery, Britannia.
The Barrels, Hereford
The most popular pub in Hereford has fantastic Wye Valley beer at amazing prices – you can still get change out of a fiver when buying a couple of pints! Try the Hereford Pale Ale in summer or the stronger Butty Bach (“little friend” in Welsh) in winter. But it’s not just the beer that makes this place great. Its truly Hereford’s meeting place, attracting all sorts, and bands regularly play on weekend evenings.
The Watermill Inn, Ings, Cumbria
We are blessed with loads of fantastic microbreweries in the north-west. Marble in Manchester gets lots of well-deserved plaudits, as do Hawkshead and Lancaster. But at the Watermill you can order one of their fabulous dog-themed beers (Collie Wobbles, Dog’th Vader and more) and see it brewing as you go back to your table.
The Kernel Brewery, Bermondsey, London
Under the railway arches of Bermondsey, the Kernel produces a wide variety of craft beers, including pale ales, IPAs, porters, stouts, table beers and sours. It does them all brilliantly, and is building up a devoted following among London beer fans. Beers are sold from the brewery on Saturday afternoons, and there is an informal bar where you can sample some of the exquisite beers straight from the keg at a very reasonable price.
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