After a few weeks of frantic brewing activity - to get readied for the summer party season - this weekend was a welcome break and a chance to have fun with mates and try some beers crafted by commercial brewers.
The weekend started off with a trip to Bracknell and to the Comedy Cellar, South Hill Park for an evening of laughs. Before the main event starts it's a chance to relax in the sun on the patio of the Atrium Bar where we had a really good burger and chips along with a pint, all for a very reasonable £6.50.
The food has obviously been prepared from the finest ingredients and cooked to perfection. To wash it all down a pint of Fullers Chiswick, a session style ale coming in at 3.5%, it is a golden colour with a fresh hoppy taste coming through the malt. This beer is made with a mixture of Northdown and Challenger hops - my favourite varieties.
I could have stayed on Chiswick all evening, unfortunately when we get into the cellar the choice of drinks goes down hill rapidly. Now the choice is limited to the generic pumps that you see in nearly every pub and club in the highstreet now days, a choice of lager or Guinness. Oh well it was good while it lasted.
The next night it was onto Henley On Thames, the historical hometown of Brakspear Brewery. Sadly they stopped brewing here a while ago in order to concentrate on their "prime" business of running the pub chain and the brewing operations were moved under license to Wychwood brewery. The distinctive Brakspear taste is still present in all their beers and when served correctly it is very drinkable.
With this in mind we decided to watch the England match in a Brakspear pub and the Queens Head looked favourite with it's two 70 inch projected screens providing plenty of viewing experience for the thirsty footy fan. What was worrying was how the large bar was full of taps for the usual suspects - that lager and Guinness bog standard line up - but very few pumps (2 infact) were serving any sort of real ale. There were none of the regular Brakspear beers were available at all, and only two seasonal ales were being served.
I plumped for the Brakspear Pavillion, a pale ale that is produced in support of the Henley Cricket Club to pay for, and the upkeep of, a new cricket pavillion. In fact, 10p from every pint goes towards the new pavillion. And the beer itself was another pleasant pale amber ale with some nice hoppy character to it. It went down so well that during a lull in the play (probably at the point when ITV HD put an advert on just in time to miss a goal) I go back to the bar to get another, only to be told that they have now run out of both taps serving real ale and would I be interested in some lager or Guinness!
So, for me the weekend served to prove that it is becoming harder to find decent pubs that serve or put enough importance into real ales. There are still plenty of pubs out there that are serving the good stuff but it isn't the norm and these establishments have to be sought out.
I might have just been unlucky but I see it in most towns now days, every bar serving the same bland, commercially driven offering to a customer base that is more interested in getting blotto than savouring a well crafted pint.