The demise of Boring Brown Bitters, replaced by a sea of exotic craft, is much overstated. Particularly in the suburbs of the Black Country. What Oxley generally lacks in architectural interest it makes up for with an ability to get you lost, always a bonus.
The Claregate is right on the border with Staffordshire, except of course that Wolves is really a Staffs town. It marks the transition from slightly smarter housing and schools to golf courses and canals. Fittingly, it’s a pub to cater for many audiences.
I liked it very much. Even with some obvious knocking-through over the years, there were still a good half-dozen potential comfy seating areas. I won’t claim the atmosphere at 3pm was cheery, this is Wolves not West Brom; contented would be a better word. The landlord’s selection of obscure blues tracks suited the mood perfectly.
A craft-free beer range included both Pedigree and Old Empire, two of my favourites, but it felt wrong not to stick to Banks’s.
Clearly the very word “Brown” is anathema to Marston’s, perhaps remembering this Coventry horror from my childhood.
QUIZ – NAME ONE OTHER CHOCOLATE BROWN MONSTROSITY FROM THIS GOLDEN AGE OF FOOTBALL (NOTE FOR DICK & DAVE – IT’S NOT CALLED SOCCER)
I clearly didn’t get the e-mail notifying me that Bitter was now Amber, and spent a fraction of a second too long examining the pumpclip (not a happy experience), enough to be outed as a real ale bore and CAMRA member.
Whatever it’s called, the stock Bitter (£2.50 a pint) is still gorgeous at its best, as here (NBSS 3.5). You won’t see the Claregate on any itineraries of Black Country pubs by visiting CAMRA branches, but that’s their loss.
Two miles west, the Bull at Codsall looks even more Unspoilt by Progress.
It was actually felt a bit more homogenised than the Claregate, though the customers was exclusively old blokes on pints. Pints of Fosters mind.
Slightly less easy finding a quiet corner, and the withering look of Staffy contempt I got when taking a phone call persuaded me not to hang around. They nail you, not your mobile, to the wall round here.
The Amber was OK; a fine line between NBSS 2.5 and 3.5 is well captured on the CAMRA website, though of course decisions to stay in a pub rarely consider beer quality.
Picturesque Codsall now has more Beer Guide pubs than, say, King’s Lynn. The predictably named Crown Joule’s is highly likely to follow, but quite what folk will make of that apostrophe is hard to tell.