The day begins in biggleswade
This years tour started in the first pub of the original beer tour a decade ago and the location of the now infamous “PIE GATE” incident (which will be marked by Biggleswades first Blue Circle plaque outside the pub – but it might have a bite sized chunk missing!!).
Unfortunately the pub now seems to be a Charles Wells pub (not a free house) but still had several reasonable beers including Bombardier and Bomber (the difference between the 2 being “ardi”). This year the role of “whip master” was awarded to Jules, for the simple reason that he has had a lot more experience of whips than the rest of us put together.
The second pub was the lunch stop in Potton, which again had a good selection of beers (Woodfords Werry, Ghostship, Shipyard and others…). Unsurprisingly, the food this year was good (not single piece of halloumi in sight!) but this is probably only because Gavin was not with us! Over lunch we were joined by a new addition to the tour “an entourage of bikes” (John G and Ian) and discovered that John places his road kill on his bike seat (apparently to make his ride more comfortable?) and allowed Jules to get a much needed lesson on how to stand up with a bike. The excitement of having the bikes led to the really important question of the day… whether you can buy purple motor bikes and if so do the owners have helmets that match!!.
Now well fed, warm and relaxed we headed off towards the far East, with the hot sun in clear blue skies, a pleasant warm breeze, along the gentle winding roads through flat green fields of “young beer”, until we reached what turned out to be the highlight of the day… the Cheques pub in Gransden. After several earlier pints a few people were in need of a “golden shower” and that’s precisely what they got (apparently in tribute to Gordon Browns ineptitude with all things gold!) with the other 8 people being treated to a pint of “muck cart mild”. With pints in hand, we passed from the quaint pub environment straight into a family back garden (with washing line and all!). The landlord “Bob” was a bit of a star and explained that the pub had been owned by his parents and he brews all his own beer, whilst showing us the brewing room. This little gem of a pub even provided the first flowers of the day (for Ray to sit on obviously), however it did provide one disappointment, when Steve got a pint which apparently was much too sweet, a bit flat and served in a plastic glass!
We didn’t know it at the time, but this tiny disappointment would set the trend for the next couple of hours. The next pub was a slightly longer distance, but made more exciting by Matts desire not to dawdle (or perhaps to just race the bikes). The only good thing about the next pub was that it did Hobgoblin – but it didn’t !!! (they managed to squeeze one and a half pints of undrinkable stuff out of the pump before giving up). Shipyard and Pedigree provided poor substitutions. However we were still hopeful, because the next pub in Histon was “theoretically” the best.
The range of beers and the deco were good, however the personality of the bar staff was as flat a Steves “plastic pint” and he would not let us sample the beers on offer, which also prevented the planned use of the “Tony wee-man glasses” and the entertaining photo opportunity. Thankfully this was replaced by a different photo opportunity with a “small people welcome” sign outside (presumably the kind of small people that are too young to be served and therefore won’t ask the pub to follow the common CAMRA pub practice of “try before you buy”!!). Anyway the “Egyptian Cream” was a good pint with “Ghostship” and many others available.
The next pub (a micro brewery) was closed because they had chosen to set up at a nearby beer festival which we did not have time to go to! To add insult to injury (or at least injured pride of John H) the next pub was also unreachable due a multi million pound obstacle course called “A14 improvements”. This uncomfortable and extended time in the bus, combined with several pints of beer and some bumpy country roads had the predictable (and entertaining) effect on some of those sitting near the back of the bus and re-enforced the importance of the 3 golden rules for the over 60’s (something to do with not trusting, not passing and not wasting things!!). This uncomfortable (and prolonged) and dry period was filled by the ancient traditional Japanese art of Karaoke which included several world famous katas (or “cat cries”!) of ABBA and Queen. Another disappointment was the absence of any visits from Cambridge members (but perhaps they were just all waiting in the pub we couldn’t reach!?).
Thankfully the final pub was reachable and was open, but only had 2 ales (Shipyard? and Atlantic) instead of the advertised 4 ales. This pub and the Glastonbury footage on the TV were appreciated, but not as much as the pub toilets (after the time in the bus) and it brought an end to the slightly(?) unsatisfactory second half of the day and led us into the third and final part of the tour – the now mandatory curry. Ray had to leave us at this point “to get the train home” but rumour (and photographic evidence) has it he couldn’t resist the urge to return to last years starting point, the Highlander Pub in Hitchin to squash some more flowers.
The curry (especially Paul R’s) turned out to be the only thing hotter than the days sun (proving that curries are hotter in the East) and whilst there we were lucky enough to see a tribute to the Blues Brothers called the “Bright Blue Brothers” (Owen and Matt A) but fortunately there was no repeat of the days earlier Karaoke cat cries. Even at this late hour Paul R couldn’t resist the temptation of one last drink (some things don’t change), but this time it was a cucumber and yoghurt smoothie (but some things apparently do!!), a few years ago it would have been a flaming sambuka, but even this would have cooled his mouth down after his curry. Finally, as we all should have expected from years of experience, Jules’ behaviour was outrageous and totally unacceptable all day (he didn’t have a single pint of real ale and drank only lager!).
To summarise (and in stark contrast to modern trends in language and increasingly over use), this years beer tour cannot claim to be “the best ever!”, but in keeping with the other modern and fashionable trends to “gather feedback” and “continually improve” a few things to consider for next years tour is to do a check of the route beforehand (to filter out any “unworthy pubs” and check for any unscrupulous multi million pound attempts to obstruct our route) and also to possibly reduce the number of pubs to about 6 so we can relax and have an extra pint in the really good ones and also pamper to the “bikers” demands for more “road miles” between pubs.
Looking forward to next year, there is a suggestion for the 2020 tour to head South East from Stevenage towards Ware, which unfortunately (Tony S) we cannot call the “West is Best tour”, but perhaps the 2020 tour could be called the “no glasses tour” (work it out for yourself……?!!!).