Back in the days when they were a regional brewer, Greene King ran some fantastic local pubs which could do justice to their IPA (Bitter of the year 2006, remember). In my part of the world this included the Plough at Ley Green, the Cock at Broom, and my particular favourite the Sow & Pigs at Toddington.
The brewery’s attempts to regain real ale drinkers’ favour seem to centre on expanding the number of beers (e.g. the Local Hero initiative), rather than presenting IPA at it’s best.
Quality at the Sow was so high that the pub was ever-present in the Beer Guide for more than 30 years, before Landlord Roger’s death led eventually to its closure. Beer aside, this was one of the most characterful pubs I’ve visited in the UK, something akin to a professionally-run version of those parlour pubs in Pontfaen, Leintwardine and Netherton but with younger Landlords.
Toddington is a lively village, similarly sized to my own, but with rather more pubs – still half a dozen despite some closures in the last 5 years. It’s commutable into London but also seems to have plenty of 3pm drinkers, and pubs that open mid-afternoon for them. It certainly makes a better break off the M1 than it’s eponymous Service Station.
The Cuckoo opened last year, and the Sow & Pigs memorabilia prompted some discussions with locals who clearly knew and loved the Sow. It turned out that Martin, who runs the Cuckoo, is the son of the Sow’s Landlord. Genealogy isn’t my speciality so I hope that makes sense. You can certainly see the family resemblance between the pubs.
The Cuckoo’s website describes it as a micro-pub, which certainly reflects the feel of the place and the size of the bar, though there are a couple more rooms in what used to be the Village Hall. It would be hard to escape being brought into village conversation here, which is both the pro and possible con of micro-pubs.
I’m always concerned to see eight pumps (six beers, two ciders), but reckon this is a beer drinker’s pub, and I followed the locals with a Horne’s Porter that was superb (NBSS 4). There were some decent keg lagers on too (e.g. Sierra Nevada and Chimay Gold).
In contrast to another Bedfordshire pub in the news yesterday, poppies are welcome here.