We had been given a list of suggested Real Ale venues to look at during a recent discussion on good pubs, so we set out to find them. 12 in all was going to be difficult to manage in one evening considering the distance between the pubs and the fact that we had to get food somewhere. In the end we managed 6 pubs. The map below shows the route we took.
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The first stop was The Bounty Inn at Maryport. I'm not quite sure how this one ended up on my list. It's not a bad pub, but it's not a real ale pub by any stretch of the imagination. One handpull with Jennings Bitter. I'm not keen on this beer at the best of times but here I think it was just a little bit old or perhaps needed pulling through. Clean tidy locals pub.
Next stop was promising to be better from the CRAG guide entry. Lowther Arms at Mawbray, I'd heard a lot about this. Only two handpulls but promised they are always changing and might include Cumbrian Micro Beers. Indeed, Yates Bitter, which I like and Bass Draft, which I should have tried and didn't. This pub won Pub of the Season spring 2008. Talking to the owner I can see why. The place was nearly derelict 2 years ago. They have transformed it into a nice homely place with character and the ideas haven't stopped flowing - keep it up Dawn.
Next was the Bush at Tallentire. I'd heard a lot about this one as well. When I walked in through the door I realised that I'd met the Publican before at The Whitehaven Beer Festival. Grand chap who really is keen on his ales. Jennings Bitter fills one handpull all the time. Oh well, got to keep the locals happy I guess. On his other two handpulls there is an ever changing array of beers. On this occasion there was Blackwater Scallywag 4.0% which seems to actually be brewed by Salopian Brewery. A straw coloured beer that lacked any real character, but was nice enough. But better was Titanic Iceburg 4.1% which had a good hoppy aroma.
Unfortunately, we picked a bad night for food. So far no decent offering for culinary satisfaction. Both the Bush and Lowther Arms had very promising menus but their kitchens were closed on this occasion. By the time we got to Cockermouth it was also be too late for food in any decent pub and mindful that we only had one and a half hours left before closing time a quick bite was needed. We would have gone into the Indian Restaurant but didn't want to waste time. We sat in a car and ate a Donna Kebab. I know, but as we were on a pub crawl, surely this is allowed?
Next pub was another Bush. Two bushes in one night, what a lucky man I am. On Cockermouth main street this time, a Marstons tied house so is bound to be rubbish. OK, on this occasion perhaps my prejudice is a little misplaced. 6 handpulls, predictably 5 Jennings beers, one of which is a seasonal, Cross Buttocks 4.5% and a further Marstons special, Ugly Sisters 4.5%. This last one, in my view, is just a bland beer that is varied from another bland beer recipe just to provide a seasonal guest, and is a poor beer.
But still, Cocker Hoop 4.6% went down well after the chilli source laden kebab. I recommend this beer with spicy food. Best of all they had Sneck Lifter which at 5.1% is a fantastic beer and the best the Marstons empire produce. All in all this is the best Marstons pub I've ever been in, I'd have liked to have seen one less Jennings beer and one more guest but still, the Jennings brewery is across the street.
1761, on Market Street in Cockermouth. I like this one a lot. The warm homely feel is certainly achieved here. Clean and modern with hints of history retained. Music level pleasantly just right. A menu with provided games such as Rubiks Cube, Mah Jongg or Scrabble.
It's got a bit of a modern wine bar feel but is obviously serious about cask beer. 4 handpulls with a good selection, although some risk of falling for the golden bitter trap. I tried the HSB 4.8%, which I quite liked. I didn't realise until now, when I looked for the link, that it's brewed by Fullers, but at least it's got a more malty thing going on than the alternative Golden Bitters that I was looking to change from.
Time for one more pub. Got to it only to find it was closed. Ho hum, well if we are very quick we might get back to Hensingham to the Sun Inn. We got there just before 11pm. Ann dropped me off at the door while she parked the car. The place looks a little shabby on the outside so I was a little worried about it being a rough town pub, with sticky carpets and broken glass. Not at all, looking lost on approaching the bar one local was very keen to help with my beer choice. I commented on the handpulls, both containing Jennings Bitter. "Oh everybody here drinks the Bitter Smooth" offered the kind soul. I chose the Jennings Bitter, much to the surprise of the gentleman.
This pub is not a great real ale pub. But this pub IS a great local. The best bit about it is the quality of the Marras that frequent the pub, a little bit wobbly due to the quantity of Smooth consumed, but proper gents non the less.
Just to be naughty, a ranking of the night's venues:
1. 1761, Cockermouth - many might not like it's trendy style, but it's beer selection is good
2. Bush, Tallentire - very close second
3. Lowther Arms, Mawbray - again, closing on the competition and will improve
4. Bush, Cockermouth - good Marstons' pub, but not a beer geeks paradise
5. Sun Inn, Hensingham - excellent example of a true local, lets just gloss over the beer issue
20. Bounty, Maryport - Does what it does, but does nothing for me