Mapped: Every British Brewery

I stumbled upon this incredible map of ALL the breweries in the UK. Phew, I can’t even imagine how long this took. It’s hidden on this Etsy page- https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/474870607/map-of-all-the-breweries-in-the-united?ref=shop_home_active_1

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I once saw a similar map of US breweries in a London pub and wondered- why isn’t this a map of British breweries? I guess it didn’t exist back then.

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Lovely detail. Even at a beer per day, it’d take years to try all the breweries I think.

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Candidate #22- Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, Nottingham, England

The oldest pub in England. Probably*.

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The claim of AD 1189 is a tad too quaint: this is the same year that Richard The Lionheart became king and at the bequest of Pope Gregory VIII lead the Third Crusade to the Holy Land, but not before the jolly knights filled up here before a little Saracen slaying. Hence the name. The lower, black and white timbered exterior almost certainly dates from 1650 and was still there in 1751 to feature in the book “History of the Antiques of Nottingham”, after which the taller outcrop was added. But here’s their claim as the oldest: the caves under the castle have been used to brew beer since construction in 1067. It could well be the oldest continuously serving pub in Britain.

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It is carved into the caves of Castle Rock under Nottingham Castle- that same castle where the Sherif of Nottingham lived as his land was beleaguered by the legendary Robin Hood. As you can see below, much of the pub really is in the caves. In one small room, a chimney leads vertically up and emerges into the open air outside the castle walls- this was likely the malthouse.

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A few legends persist- there is a very, very dusty ship which hasn’t been cleaned for hundreds of years for fear of death (it’s cursed) and the Pregnancy Chair that helps you, well, get pregnant. In The Ward Room you can play one of the oldest pub games: baiting the bull. One must swing a bull’s nose ring through the air and hook it onto a horn. This is pretty difficult if there’s anyone else in the room.

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Venue: 10/10

A real legacy pub. It may be owned by a large beer company that cares more about it’s market share and growth, but they have not at all ruined this landmark building. Old, quaint, storied and quintessential.

Beer: 7/10

A very good range of ales, and the specially brewed ‘Olde Trip’ is one of my all-time favourites. Completely standard range of bland lagers though.

Worthy? Yes

The ultimate ‘one for the road’ pub.

 

*Unsurprisingly, this is a fiercely contested title: in Nottingham alone, Ye Olde Salutation Inn and the Bell Inn both make such a claim. The Guinness Book of Records currently cites Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St. Albans, as the oldest, but this is far from certain: it might not even be the oldest in St. Albans.

The debate is not helped by the confusion between oldest building and oldest continually serving premises, the lack of solid proof for the latter and whether the former makes the latter redundant: for example, the Old Ferryboat Inn, Cambridgeshire, has archeological evidence suggesting the building foundations date back to 460 AD and records that show liquor was served in 560 AD, however the building is much, much younger, and who knows what happened in-between? If one supports oldest building, then the 143 million year old caves into which Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem is carved provide some gravitas to its’ claim.

Candidate #21- The Snowdrop Inn, Lewes, England

The postcard town of Lewes is home to Harveys Brewery, who take advantage of the River Ouse ambling through town. A raft of decent pubs serve Harveys straight from source as it were- overlooked by the impressive brewery building itself. But for something a bit more special, take ten minutes to walk a little through the suburbs in search of The Snowdrop Inn.

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Legend has it that after a devastating avalanche of snow from the nearby tor, the Snowdrop Inn was built upon the ruins. I think they just left a canalboat here for so long a pub was built around it.

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Alongside quality, incredibly local English ales (7 by the looks of things in the above photo), they stock a range from the local Burning Sky brewery, which offers less traditional pub tipples, such as Saisons and American-style IPAs.

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There are a bunch of recent bad food reviews on Tripadvisor, but we thought the tagine and enormous olives were very good, particularly since we weren’t actually in Morocco and one portion was enough for both of us.

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A quaint pub in a quaint town, just a few stops away on the local train from Brighton.

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Venue: 8/10

Oddly like a narrowboat. Set before an impressive landscape.

Beer: 6/10

Ambitious new beers alongside classic ales.

Worthy? Maybe.

 

Candidate #19- CASK, Pimlico, London, England.

As a wise man once said, pubs in London need only put in minimal effort, and the business will come. It just needs to be slightly better than shit, and they’ll turn a profit. So where’s the incentive to excel?

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And so London is full of pubs the locals say are good, but what they really mean (if they could contextualise and drop the blind belief that everything in London is the shit) is that it’s the best in the area. So it will be painted mauve or beige and serve artisan scotch eggs, or it will have original wooden flooring (but still owned and homogenised by one of the friendly local pub conglomerates). Against this backdrop, it a real surprise that CASK has somehow contrived to be even shitter.

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The decor is painful. You can’t escape how bad it looks, and so the confusion as to why people thought this was a good idea is recurrent and unpleasant.

Luton Airport.

Luton Airport.

Sure, they sell some beers. But loads of places do.

Venue: 1/10

Just woeful. It would feel uncomfortable as a coffee shop. As a pub, it is bizarre.

Beer: 5/10

Yeah, they got some beers, sure, but their ale selection is far from remarkable in the UK and their international range is simply average (weak, in Belgium).

Worthy? Nope

Candidate #17- Junkyard, Nottingham, England

The Midlands has a long, proud ale brewing history; Castle Rock, Marstons, Nottingham Brewery.

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But forget all that: the junkyard celebrates all the other types of beer; saisons, stouts, west coast IPAs, bizarre fruity potions and all sorts of hybrids. It’s bloody brilliant. A corner of the bar is reserved for fridges for take-out or drink-in, resplendent with a great selection of cans (usually a massively underrepresented receptacle, for some reason).

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The junkyard is tucked away down an alley in an actual yard, giving the venue outdoor seating front and back and a bit of peace in the city centre. There is a large row of bar seats which is rare and welcomed in England, and is a nod towards the underlying American influence. The food is classed-up bar food, with plenty of big flavours and stocky quantities to soak up the booze, with a pan-European influence: French toast, scratchings, charcuterie, Padrón peppers; and some American staples: fried pickles and popcorn.

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Venue: 6/10

Hidden away from the noise, two gardens, a long bar seating area and tasteful decor. Hopefully more will be added over the years to give an aged rather than worn feel.

Beer: 8/10

Very respectable selection of canned beers (an underrated option, in my opinion), and 15 taps mark it out as a leading stockist in the Midlands.

Worthy? Maybe

 

Candidate #14- The Alehouse, Reading, England.

Reading, the ‘Paris of The Thames’*. All that French Rococo and Neo-classicism can really make a person thirsty.

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Pubs in London don’t have to try very hard- there’re so many people, they’ll get the custom and pay the bills, resulting in an effusion of vanilla (or mauve) pubs cynically decorated with purchases from pubulike.co.uk (bar 4-5 exceptions. But that’s not many for 12 million people). So take the train to the provinces where customer loyalty is important, and enjoy all the benefits that engenders.

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One only needs to go twenty minutes away to Reading, where The Alehouse can be found hiding in plain sight on a commercial street. It’s full of all the sorts of people you’d expect in a real ale pub, and they indulge in a real community feel.

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The tap rotation is extraordinary (see beer labels just about everywhere) with 5 guests at any one time, and they are brilliantly kept. There are even a few choice foreign imports outside of the obvious: Belgoo, St Bernadus and Maredsous, for example. Also, Zero Degrees has a branch in Reading, so there are at least two reasons visit.

Venue: 8/10

Brilliant partitioning to maximise space. Unfortunately, its still in Reading.

Beer: 8/10

Great ales and choice internationals. Evidently, the tap rotation is vast.

Worthy? Yes

A gem on a faceless high street.

 

*Said no one, ever.

134. The Bell, Aldworth, Berkshire, England

Some people just can’t let things go. Like pubs; The Bell Inn has been in the same family for five generations: more than 250 years. Take that, inheritance tax.

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Many British pubs look quaint and akin to a film set from the outside, but are all too often trashed by tasteless interior renovations that currently seem to involve painting the walls ivory or mauve and filling two-thirds of the place with shiny mass produced furniture and calling it a ‘restaurant’. The Bell doesn’t subscribe to this nonsense. The interior seems to be vaguely centred around a wooden cubicle of sorts, from which the staff serve you through a window; the menu is a series of paper notes haphazardly affixed to the walls.

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The Bell is the proud winner of the 1997 Best Sandwich Pub Award (which is a thing, apparently). For a mere £3.50, you can chose a warmed roll stuffed with a doorstop of goats cheese and a side of olives, or a hearty handmade soup.

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Aldworth, the village which The Bell serves, has approximately 8 houses. I visited for the lunchtime opening slot (it closes in the afternoon, just like in yore) and every single resident and their friends must have stopped by since it was bustling. The next nearest village has four houses, and the local ‘town’ (maybe 100 houses and a Post Office) is over an hour walk away. There are no busses. No phone signal, and a phone box that doesn’t take cash but gladly accepts BT Phonecards, whatever they are. So just quite where all these people came from I don’t know. The 1940s, probably.

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Half of the pub is the old tap room and features a set of long benches for packing in large groups and making new (old) friends. The best seat (above photo) is in a recess that used to be the fireplace.

Best stay inside.

Best stay inside.

The Gents toilets are worth a mention: one literally relieves oneself on the wall outside, exposed to the elements, only a wooden fence separating your back from the car park. Efficient use of space.

Venue: 10/10

The definition of ‘real pub’.

Beer: 7.5/10

Small range, but still diverse and, of course, well-kept.

Worthy? Yes

Stands out amongst even the top tier.

Candidate #13- The Free Press, Cambridge, UK.

The Free Press is the pub that Cambridge deserves. This college town is both cosy and strikingly imposing. After walking the grounds of Trinity College and gawking at the cathedral of Kings College, it’d be a real shame to have to refresh yourself at Wetherspoons.

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The Free Press is not a proud, lonely bastion either. Cambridge has a bunch of great pubs, if you know where to look: even one famous for the discovery of the DNA double helix (beer makes you smart). But I always end up here at some point.

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Hogwarts Academy for the Wealthy and Privileged.

 

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It’s cosy and dark, so in wintertime it excels. There is a little section of the pub mostly screened-off and large enough for just one table, which you will be lucky to find free, and the roof of this dominion is pasted with old newspaper clippings from monumental events in history: Royal weddings, State funerals.

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The range of ales is more than a sessions worth, unless you are really committed, and even the pumps look cool. The service has been great whenever I’ve visited too. Without being uncomfortably busy, this place is no secret, so even lunchtimes can be generally full. If you want a quiet pint, go for the mid-afternoon lull.

Venue: 8/10

Plenty of rustic, old-England charm, just a short walk through quaint Cambridge suburbs from the centre and colleges.

Beer: 8.5/10

Well kept, well-poured; hard to stop.

Worthy? A good call.

It’s hard not to just choose 150 British pubs, if they’re your thing.

124. Kelham Island Tavern, Sheffield, England

The atmosphere in a pub is as crucial to its success as the quality of its beer, but the recipes and methods are frustratingly opaque.

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It is easier to reference a place that so perfectly illustrates an atmosphere; Kelham Island Tavern is that pub.

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Despite bordering an empty lot and varies industrial units but very little housing, there is a robust set of locals who the bar staff know by name. Far from being alienating, I was welcomed casually and affably, by the staff and regulars alike.

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Kelham Island Tavern is a regular CAMERA Pub of the Year winner (except in 2013, where The Shakespeare down the road stole the title). These were not won on the back of expensive and needless renovations, glitter and ball balls, but because it so thoroughly embodies what it means to be local pub, and why this is so important in the British culture. None of this success has gone to their heads; an understated, casual Northern attitude runs through the staff and locals.

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Venue: 9/10

No ridiculous renovations, plenty of old things.

Beer: 8/10

Exceptionally maintained local beers, served with true passion and expertise. A small but well-chosen international selection of bottles, too.

Worthy? Yes

This is the gold-standard for a good British pub.

138. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London, England

Just off Fleet Street, London (but oddly off Google Maps), is a museum of a pub. A heavyweight holding a candle to anywhere.

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Nestled down an alley, it is has been worth seeking-out since at least 1667. Even Dickens thought so.

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Old gent by the bar not guaranteed. Photo stolen shamelessly from beerlens.com.

The front bar is probably the best- ancient yet robust-looking dark wood encloses a quaint little room with a fireplace and more pumps than you’d think one would need for the amount of customers that could be squeezed in. The floor is covered in sawdust, as this was the normal way to mop up spills and debris and old people fear change.

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The excellent front room will of course fill-up quick, but Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is the gift that keeps giving; there is an overflow room on the ground floor, then a further two basement levels. People will have preferences, but you can’t really lose.

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Apparently the food is tosh, but who really cares? It’s not that sort of place; not that sort of blog.

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Venue: 10/10

Rebuilt in 1667. No need to improve it since.

Beer: 8/10

Samuel Smith’s pubs are a stalwart on the English ale scene. Not unique to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Not complaining.

Worthy? Oh yes.

The UK is blessed with (an unfortunately dwindling number of) old pubs. But this one stands out- did Charles Dickens drink at your local?