When I lived in Hertfordshire 20 years ago McMullen had a decent reputation with local drinkers.
There were a few non-foody drinkers pubs west of the A1, the boisterous (for St Albans) Farriers Arms was the birthplace of CAMRA locally, and the Queen’s Head in Whitwell served the best Bass south of Burton. The AK Mild on form was so good I’d often forego the Bass for it though.
Over the last 20 years, many of their pubs have become “me-too” eateries, and amid rumours of cask breathers their beers have fallen in favour as Tring, Buntingford, Fullers and the Cornish brewers have risen.
The Cricketers in Woodford Green appears to be the only McMullen house in the 2016 Beer Guide, though the now-free Farriers still sells Country. This fall in favour with local CAMRA branches mirrors that seen by family brewers like Arkells and even Wadworth, though not of course Robinsons.
Anyway, the case for McMullen rests on a couple of pints I’ve had this year. The first was an excellent Country in the Spice of Life, possibly their London flagship; the second his week in Baroosh Cambridge.
Mrs RM picked Baroosh for lunch as she likes opened-up pubs as much as I hate them. It also had a menu with lots of healthier snacks than the meat-heavy alternatives which the “crafty” places like Pint Shop, and Brewhouse are heavy on. A whole aubergine is a bit much though.
Baroosh had plenty of retired folk in for lunch, more than I saw in the more traditional pubs like the nearby Baron of Beef and Fountain recently. Cambridge folk seem to like to eat in a place that looks like a restaurant rather than a pub.
The venue is the former Arts Cinema, and the fourth levels still has a screen with nostalgic photos, but I think Wetherspoons do local history better, particularly in their converted cinemas.
We enjoyed the food, but the beer was better. Look at that head. Even first out the barrel (only 11.30 !), we rated the IPA good enough (NBSS 3) and the Christmas special even better (NBSS 3.5), though to be fair these are both beers around the 5% mark. I might even vote for it in GBG 17 nominations if it’s as good a second time.
No doubt someone will tell me now that the beer will have been served with a cask breather – who cares. It tasted really good and we’d both happily pop back for a beer. I may even make a nostalgic return to the Farriers for an AK.
Baroosh succeeds where the comparable All Bar One and Revolution fail, in offering a decent beer in a late night venue.
7 thoughts on “THE CASE FOR McMULLEN”
AK might have been a decent enough beer but it was a light bitter, never really a mild and I thought that designation had long been removed.
You’re right. McMullen rebadged it to remove the word Mild, presumably as much for marketing as due to an increase in strength over the years.
As with BCA’s, CAMRA have boxed themselves into a corner over the cask-breather issue. I sincerely doubt there is any person living able to tell where a beer has been stored and served under this system, which is why the campaign insist on cellar inspections as part of the GBG selection process. This is just one of a number of issues I have with CAMRA at the moment, and now I am no longer involved with pub-surveying I can safely reveal I have never once asked a licensee for a look in his or her cellar.
I’ve mixed feelings about McMullen’s. It’s good that they are one of the family brewers, from the early days of CAMRA who are still around, but unfortunately I can’t get excited about their beers. I used to quite like their AK, but was never all that struck with Country Bitter.
Time was when I would seek out the Nag’s Head in Covent Garden for a pint of Macs; but they seem to have sold that pub in recent years. There is a McMullen pub (Bullfinch) at Riverhead, just to the north of Sevenoaks, but it’s many a year since I last ventured in. You never seem to see their beers in the free trade, but I imagine this is because they scaled back production some years ago, in order to qualify for Progressive Duty Relief.
Really interesting about breathers and PBD Paul. Never seen them free trade, and doubt they appear on many festival lists.
The Christmas beer was spot on though, as they occasionally can be !
I agree that McMullens’ beers are not exciting, but are nonetheless very good examples of traditional (ie unfashionable) southern English bitters. I live on the North London/Hertfordshire border and often find myself seeking out a good pint of Country; The Wonder in Enfield can be relied on.
I forgot the Wonder; that’s a lovely pub. That stretch between A1 and A10 has very few Beer Guide pubs for the population.