I’ve mentioned Stockport‘s marvellous pubs many times on this blog. One thing I hadn’t done was join one of the local CAMRA branch’s renowned pub crawls, so the annual Hillgate Stagger last night was another tick on the bucket list.
Pub crawls with unfamiliar folk can be a bit daunting, so I was grateful to Cooking Lager’s blog (*) for explaining the etiquette. Buying your own drink at your own pace avoids any embarrassment about rounds, and allowed us to progress at slightly different speeds, reflecting complex factors such as the quality of karaoke (shocking), pint v. half acceptability, and bladder control.
Hillgate is the town’s main thoroughfare leading from the market place to the A6, and goes past around a dozen pubs, though we only visited the eight with real ale.
Stockport looked at it’s best on a mild, dry Friday night, and I’d already enjoyed the views over the gorgeous Underbanks, one of the most compelling reasons to visit the town. The food stalls on the Market Place (last Friday of the month) included a terrific Hot Pot better than the one in the Brunning & Price pub I wrote about in October, at half the price.
It makes sense to start at the Queen’s Head, partly as it’s at the start and partly because of logistics; the Gents is too small to accommodate multiple visitors.
Queen’s Head, Peter Shilton calling card
I’m a fan of Sam Smiths, particularly at £1.80 a pint in one of the country’s most attractive pubs, although this is not the best pint of OBB I’ve had in Stockport. I start to regret not starting on halves when the Stagger regulars introduce themselves; luckily they are all called Peter or Dave (even John is), which make things easier.
Winter’s, across the road, was the pub I was looking forward to revisiting. On previous visits, it’s been “lively”, which is better than dead. It’s the sort of pub you don’t get in Cambridge; where karaoke tends to be more reserved, and only found in Social Clubs. I thought the Holt Bitter the joint beer of the night.
In complete contrast, the Red Bull is probably the smartest pub of the night, albeit in a very traditional way. In most other towns, this would have been full of diners, but I only saw people of all ages drinking. A half of Unicorn was very good, the Carling glass it came in wasn’t.
When I first “did” the Stockport Beer Guide pubs 15 years ago, the idiosyncratic Spread Eagle (RIP) was a highlight; Robinsons pubs are slightly more 21st Century now, for better or worse. We passed the building now, alongside the brewery, but only I seemed to shed a tear.
By this time the stagger had about 20 folk, some racing ahead to the Waterloo, where the multi-roomed local looked a little “busy”, though I warmed to it once I found the memorabilia wasn’t exclusively dedicated to the team from Trafford. The half of Unicorn was average.
Back to Holts in the Sun and Castle (above), also offering karaoke in a slightly less rumbustious atmosphere than Winters. Another good half of Bitter in a friendly, busy atmosphere.
The quietest pub of the night, apart from the large group ordering halves of a good Unicorn, was the Star & Garter. My lack of photos for these pubs says something of the quality of the company, as much as of the beer.
Averaging 30 minutes a pub, we made it to the Fairway at the end of Hillgate. A pleasant pub whose modernisation might not be to everyone’s taste, where I had a half of Bootleg which was good enough without being knockout.
The knockout blow might have come in the Blossoms, where the traditional Old Tom made its only appearance, but a half of this classic made a civilised end to the night alongside an excellent Unicorn, my other beer of the night. Hats off (no pun intended) to the Old Tom pint drinkers.
I really enjoyed a relaxed social evening with Stockport CAMRA; Chairman John, Pub Curmudgeon, Cooking Lager and all, who I found friendly, interesting and able to hold their drink (in contrast withsome folk in the town centre much earlier). No Star Wars talk either.
I’ve spared the detailed beer scoring from last night, but I will say that I was impressed with quality throughout, particularly in the Robinson’s pubs. Given that only the Fairway is in the Beer Guide, this tells me that the pub scene has real strength in depth, and not just in the Free Houses in the northern suburbs.
Several pubs had just the one beer on, and only the Fairway had a large, changing range. A smaller consistent range can certainly help quality, particularly with the higher beer turnover tonight.
Stockport has many possible Staggers; I hope this retains its place in the Christmas calendar.
Thanks to all at Stockport CAMRA for their friendliness, also a feature of all the bar staff last night. Your secrets are safe with me.