My other half and I headed to Altrincham one fine weekend, armed with a bus/tram travelcard and a rather ambitious route plan. Working part-time gives me a bit of flexibility when it comes to getting 48 pubs into five weeks, but at the end of the day the 92 pubs are rather far-flung; there was never really any possibility of ticking them off in ones and twos. So an Altrincham Trip was in order.
This one started in Old Trafford at the Bishop Blaize (JDW), where Titanic Nautical Mild was rather fine: it’s a strongish (4.4%) dark mild, mid-brown in colour. It’s one of my favourite milds of this year’s MM: well-balanced, full-bodied, not too sweet but not overpoweringly bitter either.
Then to Sale… or not. At this stage we trimmed down the route plan from nine pubs to six. So then to Broadheath and the ever-reliable Old Packet House, for an ever-reliable Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best. No idea why the Graun was so sniffy about TT GB; it’s a lovely beer when kept well. It’s not particularly bitter, but lots of beers aren’t. (I’m not quite sure why the MM list has kept the old division into districts, incidentally, given that the scoring doesn’t use them.)
Altrincham was the day’s destination, beginning with the Orange Tree. I vaguely remember going to the OT back in the old days (circa 1990), when finding a decent beer was a matter of finding a pub that still served it. It’s had a refurb quite recently – probably not the only one it’s had since I last went – and is now well supplied with matt grey woodwork and hard furniture. But it’s a nice place with a pleasant, relaxed vibe – and they had a couple of decent beers on, including the excellent Rudgate Ruby Mild.
Next stop – after a Waterstone’s detour – was somewhere called the Jack in the Box, in something called the Market Hall; I knew no more than that. The Market Hall turned out to be an old market hall; inside, though, it was something else. Picture a stall with a chalk board advertising Scotch eggs for a fiver, and another advertising salads for a tenner, and another selling steak for £20, and… basically, picture enough up-market artisanal food stalls to fill the entire perimeter of a market hall. And the place was rammed; rather than look for beer straight away we bagged the first table we could find (just by a handmade pork pie stall), and it was just as well we did. The centre of Altrincham has looked a bit sad for the last couple of years, but the Market Hall is anything but; the local ‘craft’ economy is evidently doing fine. What about the beer? The Jack in the Box is a Blackjack tap, so naturally I had… well, I had Chocolate Marble, as this was the only mild that they had on. (Is it a mild? I’m sure it was originally a stout.) Then I went back for one of theirs, which turned out to be Devilfish. On keg, this was billed as an ‘orange amarillo saison’; a classic example of the fruit-machine brewing I generally revile, which was terrific (curse the luck).
The Unicorn (JDW) was mildless, as well as being busy and rather dimly lit; after a fairly extensive inspection of the bar I went for Blakemere Jewel IPA, which was unremarkable but pretty decent. We finished off at Costello’s; another brewery tap (Dunham) but with a much more extensive range of the brewery’s beers than the Jack in the Box, not to mention much lower prices. The Light was excellent, standing comparison with the Golden Best. I finished off with Dunham Gold – a similar beer in many ways, only twice the strength (7% instead of 3.5%).
As for the places I didn’t get to that day, another trip took me to the J. P. Joule (JDW) in Sale, which was serving Arundel Black Stallion – a decent but unremarkable dark mild. I’m afraid “decent but unremarkable” would be high praise for Holt’s Mild, which I had at the Volunteer. The Volunteer is a classic example of the kind of pub I’d want to keep open without actually wanting to drink there; just as well I live far enough away for it not to be an issue. No Bootleg beers on the bar there – in fact no choice at all beyond bitter and mild (I had the IPA there once before, but the bar staff told me then that it wasn’t moving). I took my beer to the pool room – actually just a corner of the main room, with bench seating and bare boards (plus a pool table of course). I noticed something there I hadn’t seen in a pub in many years: a “no work boots” sign.
Finally for this area, the Plough in Ashton-on-Mersey. I’d been there once before, timed it wrong for the bus and ended up walking – a 15-minute walk through residential streets (it’s one of those suburban areas where one district’s houses merge into the next one’s). This time round I timed it perfectly. Unfortunately the bus didn’t, arriving a full ten minutes late – five minutes after I’d decided it wasn’t coming and set off walking. Ten minutes after that, I made it to the Plough, where I encountered a small mystery. Just like the last time I went there, they were serving something – with an official-looking pump clip – called Hyde’s Light Mild. It was no Golden Best, but it was really rather good – and, I thought, quite different from the 1863 (whose pump clip actually describes it as a bitter). Have Hyde’s kept a light mild going for a select clientele? Or is it just the 1863 under another name, plus the effects of auto-suggestion?
So how’s it looking numerically?
Light mild: 4 (3 – or 4? – different beers)
Dark mild: 10 (7 different beers)
No qualifying beers: 1
Breweries: 11 (10 producing mild)
Pubs I go to anyway: 2
Pubs worth going back to: 4
Once-a-year pubs: 9