I’m getting a bit bored of micropubs. There’s a predictability about layout, clientele, breweries and even the price of a pint (no need to ask, it’s £3). I appreciate that I’m wrong though; micros are revitalising real ale, increasing the number of pubs and allowing tickers to tick lots of overhopped beers. But there you go.
Part of this grumpiness comes from the number of micros now entering the Beer Guide, following a suitable period of time for careful review by the local CAMRA branch of course. As with the Stratford Ale House, I’m then required to revisit towns I’d thought ticked for a few years. Travelodges and train travel don’t come cheap in Warwickshire.
Stratford’s micro (top) is a friendly place, with an enthusiastic young manager and folk settled down for the afternoon with newspapers and CAMRA newsletters. I’m not a fan of high seats though, and walls covered with pump clips lose their appeal after a while too.
The ancient Garrick looked rather more inviting, but the lure of Warwick was greater than a pint of Greene King IPA. I’ve never warmed to Stratford, and the thinner numbers of Japanese visitors may suggest UK tourists are getting a bit more adventurous too.
Warwick looked a more interesting place for a day trip, with or without a visit to the Castle, which Merlin have done a decent job of adding to the theme park circuit. It’s a wonderful town centre, with the Lord Leycester Hospital just edging Okens House as my favourite old building. Despite gems like those, the town seems to get a fraction of Stratford’s tourists, but fashions change.
I wouldn’t historically have recommended Warwick’s pubs. As a prosperous, historic town, you might expect a decent pub scene of, say, St Albans proportions. Only the canal-side Cape of Good Hope, and more recently the Punch Bowl, have offered quality and variety.
The Old Post Office is therefore a significant new arrival. It’s micropub in feel and philosophy, if not size. Like the Black Dog in Whitstable this week, it’s packed with character, which is not just a way of saying it’s full of tat. Fans of stuffed animals will love it here, and the toilets are very classy.
The Church End Fox’s Hat was superb (NBSS 4), confirming my positive view of a brewery whose excellent beers I rarely see on my travels. Their Tap near Atherstone is a gem.
A five minute train journey brought me to the equally attractive Leamington Spa, whose Travelodge is one of that chain’s best and a posh hotel on the cheap.
It’s a building typical of a handsome town just lacking a bit of magic, though the Jepson Gardens again impressed. There’s more than a touch of Harrogate about the place, until you look for interesting pubs and eateries.
The new Guide entry this year is the Cricketers, an upmarket foody place with the exciting beer range below. The Saddleback was very average (NBSS 3), but I doubt the Landlord would have been much better given the volumes of beer being sold.
South Warwickshire really needed those new micros, for relief from a sea of similarity. Purity, Hook Norton, Wye Valley and Landlord are decent beers, but need higher turnover to be served at their best.