Many visits to pubs are pleasant enough but rather run of the mill. Meeting people you know for a drink and a chat, hopefully some decent beer, perhaps a meal if that is what you have gone for, though this is often over priced and over rated. Nothing wrong with these but they are very much what you would expect.
However, just occasionally a trip to the pub transcends all expectations and you really believe that if the experience could be repeated more often then there would be no problems with our pubs closing through being under used.
On a Saturday afternoon in mid January my son Richie and I made the trip out to the Sheppey at Godney to deliver a 20 litre bag in box of our Stone’s Bittersweet cider. If you have not been to this pub it is worth if for location alone. You have to go 3 or 4 miles (depending on direction) down very narrow lanes right out into the middle of the Somerset Moors. Flat lands with muddy cattle and pollarded willows. For the last mile or so the lane runs beside the ‘River Sheppey’ which was far fuller than usual and we speculated on how much more rain it could take until we had some of the flooding which beset this part of the country the previous winter. From the outside this pub is rather unprepossessing – you have to know it is there and check the door handle to see if it is open. Once inside people are amazed. It is a large open dining pub come restaurant and outside it a riverside terrace.
However, the bar is small and cluttered with a truly exciting array of drinks – including behind you a rack with about 10 different real ciders – the destination for our box of Stones Bittersweet. Opposite the bar is a seating area and along from there a snug where drinkers feel they are in a pub not the restaurant – though actually the off the wall décor, posters and artwork, background jazz music or a live performance give this pub an atmosphere of its own throughout.
The bar is a goldmine. Usually half the beers seem to have home made or temporary pump clips. There is a right mixture of Keg taps and hand pumps – or boxes for the cider. The selection includes a really rich mix of real ales, real ciders, lagers, keg ciders and an exciting selection of the new style craft beers. Be careful not to ask the price of these latter, just buy and drink to savour the experience – but for fiscal reasons it may be best to start with a half.
Despite our enthusiasm for cider it is one of these craft beers that we start on, a Coconut Porter from the Bath Ales sub-brand, Beerd brewery in Bristol. Porters have thankfully made a great comeback in the past couple of years. Smooth tasting there is a lot of innovation around flavour with some of these porters and this is definitely no exception. A wonderful beer though it is a bit of a shame that because it is in a Beerd Keg it has to go through a chiller – Porter should be best served at room temperature.
Anyway the first conversation with the afternoon is a discussion with the bar staff about the origins of the name Porter. They had previously been discussing it and the thought was that it was something to do with sailors needing a full bodied beer when they get their ships back into Port. I was of the opinion that it was something to do with the Porters at the big London markets like Smithfield and Billingsgate. I haven’t checked – it was a good discussion and for the sake of a good discussion you don’t need be too sure of your facts. I also introduced the subject of the ‘new’ Guinness original recipe Porters. Their 6.5% West Indian Porter is something special.
Anyway we sat down opposite the bar – in the rather terrifying picnic chairs – not designed for my bulk! There was a chap on his own next to us who we said hello to and explained about our Stone’s Bittersweet Cider which he had seen us put in the rack. He then got into a conversation with three men at the bar that were talking about doing up old bikes and needing a workshop. The guy next to us said it was a small world and that he had a collection of old bikes and would be willing to let them use his workshop if they did some maintenance work on his collection which he never got around to. It may be hard to believe in such co-incidences but that happens all the time if you are in a pub which is what a pub should be!
With the conversation now including everyone in the bar I suggested that the chap might be interested in exhibiting some of his vintage bikes in the Heritage Tent which I run at the Mid Somerset Show in August. He didn’t seem adverse to the idea and introduced himself as ‘Gammy’ though this was spelt ‘Dave Sparkes’ on the card he wrote out for me to get in touch with him. The bar thinned out a bit but as Gammy bought a pint of our cider to try – he had been on the Wilkin’s – we went onto cider to keep him company. To be fair we were delighted with our cider which we had blended that morning. Based on 2013 Dabinet SV which tasted clean but slightly lacking in character we mixed it with about 25% of 2014(New season) Morgan’s Sweet which certainly added some complexity and character to the flavour.
The conversation carried on and two more couples coming in who made the mistake of looking at the cider rack whilst being served took up the recommendation of trying the Stone’s Bittersweet. We discovered that Gammy and I had a common acquaintance in one of my work colleagues from the village of Burtle where Gammy lives. He wanted to know if Neil was ever going to return the football shirt he had taken home to wash 15 years before!
Conversation continued to flow and there was another half before we eventually got away, there is no way you want to drink too much with the winding lane beside the river in the dark.
Feeling very relaxed, having met new people, had some amazing conversations we prepared our excuses for when we got home and explained why we had been so long. But it was worth it. Drinking good Beer and Cider, meeting interesting new characters and taking part in some random but interesting conversations – this is what a pub should be.