Tag Archives: NorthEast

The Curfew, Berwick on Tweed

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After leaving Hartlepool, I spent two days cycling along the stunningly beautiful Northumberland coastline to Berwick-upon-Tweed, the last town before the Scottish border, arriving at The Curfew micropub in time for Sunday lunchtime opening. The entrance to The Curfew is quite low key, a narrow iron gate between two shops, with a small sign above. To me, it conjures up the impression that across that threshold will be found some kind of private members club, or perhaps an illicit drinking den! Or maybe I have an over-fertile imagination(!)

The narrow passageway then opens out into a lovely enclosed courtyard with tables and chairs with lots of potential for outside drinking, especially in the summer. The courtyard had been put to good use a few weeks previously when the pub had its first beer festival.

The micropub proper is off the right hand side of the courtyard, a long narrow single room with a bright but cosy feel. The floors are polished wooden floorboards, a mixture of seating includes some old church pews, and the bar, at the far end, appears to be made from old reclaimed oak panelled doors. Excellent! Knowledgeable barman, Dave, talked me through the 4 beers on offer and I plumped for a pint of Black Saison, a rich dark beer from Cornish brewery firebrand. There’s also an interesting collection of beers in the fridge. Wines are also on offer.

Owners, Gemma and David, arrived soon afterwards. They have been very supportive of my ride and it was great to have a chat with them about their experiences with The Curfew. They opened The Curfew in June 2014 after converting the building from a former bedsit.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Simon and Debbie Rutherford who are in the throes of opening Scotland’s first ever micropub “Rutherford’s”, just over the border in Kelso! They hope to open late May / early June, so I may have to plan a visit North of the border later in the year (although I might not cycle there!) With such good company all round it became difficult to just up and leave after a pint, plus which I knew that I would not reach my next micropub for several days as it was 160 miles away in Carnforth. A hailstorm outside and the discovery that The Curfew do 3 x 1/3 pint tasting paddles clinched it, and also gave me the chance to try all 4 beers on offer!

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The Rat Race Ale House, Hartlepool

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Approaching Hartlepool I could sense that I was about to arrive on hallowed ground : The Rat Race Ale House was the 2nd micropub ever to open! Back in 2009, Pete Morgan witnessed Martyn Hillier’s talk at the CAMRA AGM about setting up the first micropub, and decided that 25 years working in I.T. was enough. Six months later, Pete had opened the Rat Race Ale House in the former taxi office on Hartlepool Station.

Outside the Rat race, the signs are there for all to see – literally: “No Lager” ,”No John Smiths”, “No Ball Games!”,”No Dogs”, “It’s all about the Beer”…

Inside, it is raw micropub heaven in a way that could not be planned or contrived. It is hard to describe what’s so “good” about it – take a look at my photo’s, or better still, visit the Rat Race yourself!

The pub inherits the character of the station buildings, including their high ceilings. The furnishings are quite simple, some of which Pete picked up for a bargain price on Ebay, and some of the seating appears to be ex-train or bus seats. There are lots of photo’s and knick nacks on the walls – I got the impression that most of these things had just been acquired over time, including multiple awards from CAMRA. Most of the people in the pub when I visited appeared to be regulars, but were happy to chat with a stranger like me.

There’s no bar. A board on the wall lists the beers available. Place your order with Pete and he will pop into the beer room and serve you. There was a choice of 4 ales, a cider and a perry on offer when I visited – I chose a pint of Fell Yolo – it’s true, you only live once!

Another chalk-board watches from the wall, and portrays the rise and fall of every firkin passing. And there have been quite a few over the years! And to back up those stats, the ceiling and walls are also covered with all the old pump clips.

For now, Pete is happy to run the place by himself, and open the hours of his choosing. So be sure to check opening hours before you visit. But you really should visit!

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The Golden Smog, Stockton-on-Tees

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The Golden Smog, what a great name for a pub! (I’m told that “Smoggies” is a nickname for people from Teesside). The pub can be found down a narrow alleyway called “Hambletonian Yard” in the centre of Stockton-on-Tees. The Golden Smog opened in August 2014. It’s hard to believe that this is the first pub that John, the owner, has run as he seems such a natural.

When I visited, shortly before the early May Bank Holiday, John had no fewer than two events planned, firstly the pub was entering a team into the previously mentioned Dragonboat Race, and John had also planned another event called “Palegrimage” which would involve several teams carrying barrels of beer from various different breweries to The Golden Smog by bike, on foot or other means!

The pub is traditionally furnished with wooden flooring and various tables and chairs around the place. The bar has 5 handpumps: 4 for ales and one for cider, plus an impressive line-up of quality Belgian beers in the fridge.
Of the 4 ales on the bar when I visited, only one was under 5% in strength. I was spoilt for choice (Brass Castle Northern Blonde 3.9%, Milton Cyclops 5.3%, Brass Castle Sunshine 5.7%, Wylam Flannel Hammer 7.5%). Thankfully the Smog has an option of 4 x 1/3 pint tasters, so I could have the lot! The pic of the little wooden picnic table that serves as a tasting paddle that I posted on my Facebook page received more Likes than any other photo on my page so far. These taster tables were hand made by one of John’s regulars, which is just the kind of spirit that helps to make micropubs what they are!

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I enjoyed chatting with the regulars, and attempting to photograph Alfie the Shih Tzu, but he wouldn’t stay still for me, so this was the best shot I got.

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A great, characterful friendly micropub, well worth a visit!

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The Green Hops, Billingham

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The Green Hops in nearby Billingham. I’m guessing that it gets its name from being on the corner of Billingham Green but I can’t say for sure because I forgot to ask!

The Green Hops has only been open since December 2014. The upstairs of the building was formerly a CIU club, and the downstairs part of the building that is now occupied by The Green Hops used to be the club’s cellar. Landlord Neal (one of the two business partners in this venture) gave me a quick tour of the premises. I must say the ambience of The Green Hops has something of a CIU club about it, with one big difference: my memories of these clubs are of good cheer but crap beer. There’s certainly nothing crap about the beer at The Green Hops : up to 4 cask ales on handpump, plus a keg font dispensing Guinness and Pilsner, and an enormous beer fridge packed with various ales, lagers and ciders. My visit was a few days after St George’s day, so it seemed appropriate to try the St George English Pale Ale, and I did not regret it.

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The Green Hops has the smallest “cellar” that I have seen so far, a tiny understairs cupboard, making very efficient use of the small space available. Neal told me about the vertical dispense system they were using that allows the cask to stand upright and has a floating filter that always draws the beer from near the surface. (ok, I can sense what some of you are thinking, but quite a few of us *are* interested in this kind of stuff!)

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I also have Neal to thank for telling me about the No. 36 bus, which links Middlesbrough, Billingham, Stockton and Hartlepool (and hence all the micropubs in the area). This could be a useful way of doing a Teesside micropub crawl. More on this later!

The Green Hops is a great little pub in a good setting, and I wish Neal and James every success.

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Sherlock’s, Middlesbrough

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Sherlock’s is in Baker Street, Middlesbrough, so no prizes for guessing where the name came from! (It’s just two doors down from The Twisted Lip, which also turns out to be a (less obvious) Holmes reference). Sherlocks opened in June 2014 and is owned by 2 partners, Shaun and Robert. Unfortunately, neither were in when I visited but I had quite a long chat with barman Nick, and regulars Fabian and Linda. I learned that quite a few of the fittings, including the bar had been reclaimed from other places, but unfortunately I failed to make a note of where – you’ll just have to go in and ask!

The interior is dark, atmospheric, wood panelled and old-fashioned to the point that it became difficult to imagine that it had only been open for a few months. There is a variety of seating, including comfy benches, and drinking shelves with barstools, and there’s also a useful outside drinking/smoking area out back. It’s a great place to go for a quiet quality drink and a chat.

The following weekend, a charity dragon boat race was due to take place between micropubs Sherlocks, The Twisted Lip, The Golden Smog and another pub called The Storytellers. It was good to see the micropubs getting involved in the community.

On the bar are 3 handpumps for cask ales, plus keg fonts and a selections of whiskies. I chose a pint of Saltaire Triple Chocoholic Stout, without realising that it involved not just chocolate malt, but actual chocolate too – so a bit too chocolatey for me, but quite a novelty.

The owners of Sherlock’s are planning to open another micropub in nearby Stockton soon. Watch this space.

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The Devils Advocate, Middlesbrough

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The Devil’s Advocate describes itself as a “cafe bar”. Again, it has recently opened and was not on my to do list, but as I was passing ….

It’s another converted shop (this time a former estate agents, on a main road in Middlesbrough, a stones throw from The Infant Hercules, Sherlocks & The Twisted Lip), so the building looks nothing special from outside but the inside has a cosy pub feel. The Devils Advocate is run by three partners Dean, Antony & Gary, all friends but each with a different skillset and background: one organised the fit-out, one looks after the finances and one runs the bar – a perfect example of how a syndicate can run a micropub. There’s a small bar at the back of the single room that has two handpumps and a keg font that includes “Fruli” strawberry beer which,although not to my taste, will be of interest to many. Also available are bottled world beers and lagers.

Sells draught lager, serves meals? You could argue that the Devils Advocate has departed a bit from the original micropub concept; but I think establishments like this can only broaden the reach of cask ale. Mine was a pint of Stamp’s Blonde Moment, a pleasant 3.6% pale session beer – well it was time to pace myself!

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The Infant Hercules, Middlesbrough

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The Infant Hercules is the latest addition to the cluster of micropubs that has sprung up in the past year in the narrow backstreets between Middlesborough train station and the university. It had only opened a few weeks before my visit and therefore was not on my official to-do list, but what the hell! In its past life it had been a tea room and so, according to landlord Richard, it required fairly little work to convert to a micropub.

The shop unit has a narrow frontage but goes back a long way. A conventional bar/counter equipped with 3 handpumps and a keg font occupies most of the back wall, but walk down the side of the bar and you will find a small snug seating area with a couple of tables on the way to the toilets. The pub is furnished in a contemporary style, with wooden tables and comfy chairs.
On the walls framed photographs remember the region’s industrial heritage. The pub’s name comes from an 1862 quote about Middlesbrough by the Victorian minister Gladstone: “This remarkable place, the youngest child of England’s enterprise, is an infant, but if an infant, an infant Hercules”.

I had a very pleasant pint of porter but, alas, I can’t remember who brewed it or what it was called; that’s one of the problems of visiting 5 micropubs in one evening – things can get a bit chaotic(!)

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