The Silver Tankard


Bank Holiday ale fest
23/03/2008, 1:52 pm
Filed under: Pub crawl, Real Ale, Review, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

What better way to spend a bank holiday than guzzling quality ale in some of the Toon’s finest drinking establishments? It may have pissed it down for the best part of the day, but we weren’t too miffed…

Wor Lass accompanied me on a mission to visit as many pubs as possible, and sample some of the finest beer on offer. The rules were simple, one drink in each pub, North East ales only, and don’t order the same drink twice.

Now Wor Lass is a conscientious objector when it comes to drinking ale, but she was willing to offer her two-penneth on the beers on my list (which resulted in much condescending chuckling on my part).Me and Wor Lass (right)

Our first port of call was the Free Trade Inn in Byker, which sits on the confluence of the River Tyne and the Ouseburn. Here, the emphasis is on just three features: fine local ales, a free jukebox, and a glorious view of the Tyne and its bridges. Efforts in the rest of the pub are refreshingly negligible. There is no decor, the building feels on the brink of falling down, and the toilets are covered in the philosophical scribblings of drunken punters. Frankly, the Free Trade Inn is magical.

I order a pint of Gateshead Gold (5% ABV, Northumberland Brewery). It’s light and refreshing, which covers the fact that it’s practically rocket fuel, and there’s a slight fizz on the tongue as it goes down. Wor lass gets to sample the dregs, which she isn’t too happy about. ‘I don’t like ale’, she groans.

Just below the Free Trade is The Tyne, which sits underneath a viaduct – providing a great outdoor venue for live bands. The bar has one of the biggest selections of spirits I’ve ever seen, and Wor Lass looks like a kiddie in a sweet shop. Instead, she orders a bottle of cherry ale, Bacchus Kriekenbier, which at 5.8% ABV is enough to blow anyone’s socks off. I go for a pint of Magus (3.8% ABV), a light session ale with a spicy taste. I’m a huge fan, but Wor Lass is less than impressed: ‘It’s not fizzy, a bit warm, don’t think you’re gonna convert us like!’.

There are six pubs in the Ouseburn Valley, which make it great for a bar crawl. Unfortunately for us, it’s freezing, the rain’s bucketing down, and we’ve got to walk up a hundred steps to get to the Cumberland Arms. But it’s certainly worth it when we get there. The pub has three rooms: a bar; a gigging venue upstairs; and a lounge which plays host to all sorts of weird and wonderful gatherings, including aged fiddlers, drama troupes, and the local knitting society. The bar is old and rickety, and we’re welcomed by an open fire. Featured ales are listed and described on a chalkboard above the fire, and I order a Secret Kingdom (4.3% ABV, Hadrian & Border), which is a dark, malty, full-bodied ale. I love a dark ale, and I savour the roasted caramel taste. Wor Lass isn’t as keen: ‘That’s really bitter, how can you drink that?’. To my displeasure, she orders Strongbow – pint. There are a range of games to get stuck into, and we opt for Battleships. I get carried away quoting lines from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, only to be branded a loser by Wor Lass.

Next, we head down the bank to the Ship Inn, and enter to a soundtrack of Everybody Hurts by REM – a stark contrast to our jovial bank holiday mood. Wor Lass orders a Peroni, and I take a Millennium Bridge Ale (3.8%, Mordue), a cloudy ale with a creamy head and an unusual taste – tangy to the palate with a spicy aftertaste. Nice though. Wor lass isn’t too averse to it either: ‘I like it, it doesn’t taste like ale’ – a statement that completely baffled me.

By now, we’re getting pretty tipsy. We fancy a bite to eat, and this coincides nicely with a visit to the Cluny – probably the centrepiece of the Ouseburn Valley drinking scene. The Cluny attracts bands from all over the world to play in its excellent gig venue, and its bar is home to a fine selection of cask ales, ciders and lagers; plus it does a damn fine burger. The pub’s holding its own North East beer festival too. Wor Lass orders another Kriekenbier (and I’m beginning to fear some serious carnage from all this drink-mixing), and I get myself a Bucking Fastard – watch out for a slurring tongue here – (4% ABV, Northumberland Brewery), a light refreshing beer with a hefty head and a tangy kick. Wor lass takes a slight sip and grimaces. ‘Feels like I’m drinking diluted sick’. Nice.

We work off the burger with another hill climb, and reach the Tanners on Byker Bridge, which completes our stint in the Ouseburn Valley. The Tanners is a proper city pub, and somehow reminds me of a barer version of the Queen Vic. Happy hour is on, luckily for wor lass as it’s her round. She gets a pint of Beck’s Vier, and I opt for a Cumberland Ale (4% ABV, Jennings). This is a full bodied bitter, nice and hoppy with a pleasantly bitter aftertaste. Wor Lass isn’t as keen. ‘Is Cumberland in the countryside?’, her nose curls quizzically. ‘It tastes like it’.

From here, we dodge the elements by jumping in a taxi, and head to the Quayside. The first pub on the list is the Crown Posada, and I’m delighted. Six years in Newcastle, and I’ve never been here, so it feels like our visit is long overdue. The Crown Posada is one of the Toon’s oldest pubs, and probably the smallest. The bar is like a corridor, and the place is rammed. We perch at the end of the bar, near the gramophone, and I order a Gladiator (3.8% ABV, Hadrian Brewery), while Wor Lass takes a bottle of Budvar. Now I’ve heard good reports about the Gladiator here, and I’m practically salivating. It’s a dark ale with a deep roasted, smoky taste, and I’m blown away. Wor lass takes a sip, and raises an eyebrow: ‘Not bad… Quite nice actually’. She takes two further gulps, and I have to prise the glass away from her white-knuckled grasp. So much for being unconvertible.

Whilst quaffing the Gladiator, we get talking to two fellas from Preston – Jason and Lappy – who are propping up the bar. Although not real ale drinkers, they are fine gentlemen, and buy us a couple of pints. Lappy opts for a Spitfire (4.5% ABV, Shepherd Neame), and I join him. Although we’re breaking two of our rules here, what better place to do it than the Crown Posada?

After plenty of cross-Pennine banter, we say our goodbyes to the Preston lads, and wobble out of the pub. There’s no mistaking that, by now, we’re shitfaced. We need something to sober us up a little, so when we arrive at the Bridge Hotel, we grab two cokes – a magical remedy for drunkenness. The Bridge is a fantastic pub, probably the best in the city, but the music doesn’t complement its reputation. We enter to the sound of ‘Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me’. Hmmm. We neck the cokes and approach the bar. The barman seemed like an expert ale retailer; he must have seen the confusion in my eyes, and duly provided a brief synopsis of each ale, without prompt. Wor Lass sticks on the coke, and I go for a Red Ellen (4.4% ABV, Jarrow Brewery), named after the famous Labour politician and reformer, Ellen Wilkinson. Like its name, the beer is ruby-red in colour, and has a hoppy character.

Wor Lass has the hiccups, and can’t bring herself to sample any more ale. I announce that the coca-cola has sorted me out, and duly slip down the stairs – clearly this sudden sobriety is a mental rather than physical state.The view from the Bridge Hotel beer garden

The beer garden at the back of the Bridge has, quite possibly, the finest view in Newcastle; looking out over the Tyne and High Level bridges. I decide to celebrate this with one of the North East’s most popular local ales, Workie Ticket (4.5% ABV, Mordue) – a former Champion Beer of Britain – a tasty bitter with a malty palate.

My next order is a Pride of Pendle (4.1%. Moorhouses), another award-winner. Having quaffed this one before, I’m looking forward to its refreshing hoppy taste, and bitter finish, but Wor Lass has other plans. She decides I’ve had enough, and gets me a shandy. I don’t argue too much.

Finally, we head past the Central Station, and towards the Forth, on Pink Lane. This is one of my favourite pubs, and it’s recently been refurbished, with the minging toilets replaced by a nice seating area and moved upstairs, and a roof garden added for us dirty smokers. I order Sierra Nevada (5.6% ABV – blimey!) on draught, a classic American pale ale that I’ve never seen out a bottle. The spicy, hoppy taste is perfectly complemented by a glass full of wasabi peas – and I am immediately surrounded by a flock of European students who are on the sniff. A couple more Sierra Nevadas and I’m on my way – my notes are practically illegible, and we decide this is a good point to complete the mission.

Verdict: A tough, tough choice, but both Wor Lass and I agree on the Gladiator at the Crown Posada. However, we might have to head out again next time and work backwards, just to be fair…

For a glimpse of the ales we tasted, and our general drunken buffoonery, visit our photo gallery.

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4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Nice Blog mate, original format. I look forward to reading more.

Comment by Kieran Haslett-Moore

Hiya Kieran, just found this comment in my spam folder! Thanks for the kind words. Looking forward to doing some pan-hemispheric note swapping!

Comment by Dan

I love this, thanks! Giggled all through my Friday work-shirking

Comment by Jenny

Hiya Jenny, thanks for the comment. Glad it tickled you! Hope it whets your drinking appetite for the weekend. Do you partake in a few pints of the good stuff?

Comment by Dan




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