My trip down to Cranborne Chase last weekend gave me the chance to sample a few renowned “boring brown bitters” close to source, and see whether they really were better on home territory.
Palmers, Ringwood, Otter and Butcombe are all beers of some heritage, but rarely now seen in the free trade, certainly north of the M4 or in occasional Wetherspoons festivals. They’re also beers that I’ve had some disappointing pints of in recent years, particularly in some free houses in Sussex which seemed to have far too many hand pumps to maintain quality. Otter, in particular, is a beer that often appears as a house beer in a number of forms (Amber/Ale/Bitter) on reputation rather than taste.
I visited a number of Good Beer Guide free houses in the area bounded by Shaftesbury, Salisbury and Blandford; an area largely immune to tourists apart from those visting the big steam and music festivals in the summer.
After a number of months of hit and miss beer, every pub I visited was a winner (NBSS 3 to 4), as well as being much less gastro than I might have guessed. Standouts were the Fountain in Shaftesbury (a brilliant Palmers), Cricketers in Iwerne Courtney (Butcombe) and the Saxon in Child Okeford (Otter).
The common factor in the pubs I sampled was a sensible number of localish and known beers, with enough beer drinkers even in the foodie pubs to keep the beer fresh. A lesson for the rest of the South.
The photo is of the Vine in Pamphill