The company was first class. R invited me to join his group of people, and we did feel a little like gate crashers at first. Most of the group wanted to have something to eat in the hotel before the posibilty of exploring the town. We were made to feel welcome very quickly and this overcame the boredom of Thwaites Wainwright, which was the only handpulled ale in the hotel.
After dinner R, M and N were the only ones up for an exploration of the town, slightly disappointing for a group who professed to be interested in pubs. The GBG was consulted and we headed for the Agricultural Hotel. There was the predictable selection of Jennings ales - Bitter, Sneck Lifter and Cumberland Ale. Nothing wrong with the beers, but not exactly a reason to travel from our little pub to Penrith. They had "Wicked Witch" presumably a seasonal for Halloween. This was probably slightly more flavoursome than the Bitter - I took a sip from M's pint of bitter and had to concentrate hard to decide which was 'Witch'. The Wicked Witch had a little spicy hopping but was far from Wicked.
The Landlady and her Daughter were behind the bar which more than made up for the uninteresting beers. R was getting on top form and got good banter going with the ladies.
So, being close to running out of time and also getting slightly full of beer, R being a little wobbly by now, we could only fit one more pub in. We chose the Lowther Arms. The GBG gave it a good write up with up to 8 beers on.
We found there were only 3 pulls running - one with Deuchars IPA and two with Tirrel. Having tried the Duechars before, and being in Cumbria I thought it was only right to drink the Tirrel. Besides, Chris, who brews them is a nice guy and I know the beers well. Unfortunately the Acadamy Ale is so similar to the Wicked Witch and the Jennings Bitter that my excitement about the whole evening was rapidly only being propped up by the company I was keeping.
The Lowther Arms however is a nice pub. A shame it was the Landlord/ladies night off, but hey, I'm sure they deserved it.
So my mistake was not to drink Cumberland Ale, Sneck Lifter or Deuchars IPA, all of which I know well. It was the Thwaites Wainwright that turned out to be the best I tried during the whole evening. Come on Penrith, show a bit of imagination and get some Keswick or Barngates or Cumbria Legendary Ales or even, if you have to, some Hawkshead beers or hey, Hesket Newmarket aren't that far away either!!
Maybe I'm just turning into a beer snob. None of the beers were bad. In fact they are probably all good examples of classic bitter styles. All were well kept and served well. I need better beer choice though to want to travel that far. I did want to impress my companions with the exciting Cumbrian Craft Ale we have in our County - still, we'll get another bite of the cherry in Brussels I hope.
On the way back we had an excellent talk with N about pubs. So much agreement on the state of things made this big competitor turn out to be a really nice guy, hopefully we'll drink beer together again. I must remember though, to try and explain to him the difference between a cheap pub cheeseboard and a quality cheeseboard.