On the first day of ChristmasI would reckon my own local, Woods in the small Exmoor town of Dulverton. Part bistro and part rural bar, this has an atmosphere of its very own. Those who dine dine well, while those with a thirst for conversation and good beer (or wine if you’re partial to the grape — Woods has won oodles of oenophile awards) sit in the atmospheric bar and feel all wintery.
On the second day of Christmas I reckon a dip in the icy briny of the North Sea off Walberswick might be worthwhile. Or maybe just watch a coterie of mad fools covered in goose fat dash into the waves. Whether you want to get wet or not, make your way to the Anchor, where Adnams’ peerless ales will be joined at the bar by international delights such as Belgian Trappist beers and US IPAs. The food is also pretty fab and there’s always a chance that the pub will have a barrel of Adnams’ splendidly strong and mind-numbingly beautiful barley wine Tally-Ho.
On the third day of Christmas I fancy a change from the countryside and head to Leeds for the snazzy Northbar, situated just off the main shopping area. The minimalist interior leads you to expect cocktails served with a flourish — however beer is king here, taps offering rare beers from Bavaria, California and Flanders, while handpumps dispense ales from nearer home. If you’re lucky Black Mass from Sheffield brewery Abbeydale might be on, a rich and heady strong porter that will knock your socks off (especially gratifying if they are the horrible ones your great-aunt got you).
On the fourth day of Christmaslet’s head for London and take a trip to the foodie delights of Borough Market. You’re spoilt for choice here with the Rake and the Market Porter, but I’m heading south for a few minutes to the Royal Oakon Tabard Street, a traditional corner-street boozer that is owned by Sussex brewers Harvey’s (it’s their only house in London). The ales are superlative — I’m rather partial to their robust bitter and smoky porter — while the pub has a lovely comfortable feel that makes you want to stay inside for the whole afternoon studying the beers.
On the fifth day of Christmas I think I’ll buy a few books inHay-on-Wye. And afterwards it’s over to Kilvert’s, a hotel bar set in the middle of town. Some grub would be good here — and it is good here (the wild mushroom risotto got my wife’s pulse racing last time I visited). As for the beer, Wye Valley feature strongly — the light and sprightly HPA makes a delightful contrast to all these heavy beers I have recommended. They also have Brooklyn Lager on draft, one of the greatest expressions of this beer style to have emerged in the past 25 years.
On the sixth day of Christmas how about taking the car and just having one pint with a rather delicious meal — you know you’ll feel all the better for it. Not far from Hay-on-Wye, over the border in England you’ll find the Stagg Inn at Titley, a gorgeous Herefordshire gastro-pub that manages to combine award-winning food with great beer and cider. As I’m driving I’ll have a pint of Hobson’s Mild along with sea bass goujons with chips and homemade tartare sauce, thanks very much.
Hardy souls sit outside with their glasses of St Austell’s Proper Job, but inside it’s all slate floors, roaring fires and lots of fresh fish.
On the seventh day of Christmas it’s time to head to Scotland and celebrate the New Year with a session at Edinburgh’s Bow Bar. Even though it looks like it’s been around since Burke and Hare, this Old Town pub classic was only converted in the 1990s. Light and airy, its walls decorated with gleaming brewery mirrors, the Bow is a high-ceilinged one-room bar that features a good selection of cask beers served by the old Scottish Aitkens system of dispensation. Mine’s a pint of Stewart 80/-.
On the eighth day of Christmashow about several glasses in the Black Boy in Winchester? Bric-a-brac and curios rule in this quirky pub (keep an eye out for the stuffed baboon in a kilt), which has a fanatically loyal following. There are all manner of nooks and crannies all over the place, books to read and pictures and photos to admire, while a glass or two of Bowman’s soft and mellow fruity Swift One is just the job.
On the ninth day of Christmas it’s time to head back up north again, this time to Sheffield (Britain’s best beer city), where one of my favourite pubs is the Fat Cat, also home of the Kelham Island Brewery. But first I’ll have a Czech lager or two at the Sheffield Tap, a magnificent recreation of a traditional station buffet bar. In the Fat Cat there will be a coal fire burning, a pint of something like Pale Rider, and maybe a bit of grub. And afterwards if I feel like it I might go round the corner to the Kelham Island Tavern.
On the tenth day of Christmashow about a bit of music? The Cluny in Newcastle can be found in the Ousedale area and as well as having a wonderful selection of ales, foreign beers and great burgers, its concert hall seems to make its business featuring the sort of bands most of us had thought defunct long ago. Wishbone Ash and the Animals anyone? If that’s not your bag you can still sit in the funky, New York loft-style bar and guzzle away to your heart’s content.
On the eleventh day of Christmas it’s time to head back south. A particular favourite of mine is the Royal Oak on the outskirts of Cheltenham in Prestbury. The racing fraternity swears by it (it’s the nearest pub to the racecourse), but for the rest of us it’s a true pub haven with warm honeyed Cotswold stone on the outside and a comfortable locals’ bar in which I immediately feel at home. A pint of Landlord please.
And finally, on the twelfth day of ChristmasI think I fancy a pint by a river. Step forward, The Pandora Inn, an ancient Cornish gastro-pub in Restronguet Creek, just north of Falmouth. Hardy souls sit outside with their glasses of St Austell’s Proper Job, but inside it’s all slate floors, roaring fires and lots of fresh fish. Just the job for a detox… for a day or two anyway.
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