Last Updated : 15/01/08
've many memories of Preston but one in particular stands out from the rest: the longest 45 minutes of my life when I tried to shelter from a particularly vicious and unrelenting rainstorm outside the Black Horse with only a miniscule porch roof and porous umbrella to protect me from the liquid onslaught, and all for a pint of Hartley’s Fellrunners! Well, I suppose it was worth it considering the hugeness of the scoop, but it was certainly a memorable evening…
Thursday 12th July 2007.
Nice weather for it…
Coming back to current times, I had a couple of days work in Preston and decided that this was an ideal opportunity to reacquaint myself with the city’s beery charms and so, after arranging to meet up with Rick Pickup of Quaffale fame in the Bitter Suite, I tried to persuade work to book me into the very central Holiday Inn… without success, as it was full! I eventually had a reservation for the strangely-named Tickled Trout out by the motorway junction and spent a good portion of the working day trying to discover if I could actually get into the city centre on a bus. The main problem was that the direct ones which ran past the hotel finished at around 19:00 and so I was left with a trek up the precipitous hill of Brockholes Brow to the terminus of route 16, a good half-mile away, and to top it all rain was falling…
I was most miffed to be stuck in work until gone five and then even more pissed off when what should have been a ten-minute drive through Preston took half an hour due to millions of gibbering normals being unable to negotiate sets of traffic lights. By the time I arrived at the hotel it was almost six and I then wasted another ten minutes checking in owing to the incompetence of the front desk staff and/or computer system so, after a quick change and bag sort-out in my admittedly sociable room, I was back out of the door into the drizzle at lightning speed casting unbelieving glances at my watch – I was so late it was a relief that Preston’s not a mecca for scoops!
It soon became clear that I’d underestimated the massive gradient up into town when I’d driven up it the previous morning and so I stomped up the hill, blowing like a whale (not quite out of the top of my head, but it did feel like it), with a mixture of sweat and rainwater running down my face and into my eyes; things shouldn’t be as difficult as this, I gasped to myself, as I saw that I’d only climbed half the hill and there was plenty more to come. After what seemed like hours I finally reached the summit and my pace increased noticeably on the flat – I’d seen on the internet that the buses were every 20 minutes or so and just knew that I was going to miss one by a matter of seconds…
A great start.
Amazingly, as I huffed up to the bus stop, a bus was sat there waiting for custom and a quick glance at the electronic display hinted that I should get a move on as it was due to depart any minute. I made a vague attempt at a jog towards the vehicle and clambered aboard, pretty much knackered after my ascent of Preston’s equivalent of Snowdon, and asked the driver how much a return to town was but - as I did so - I noticed the “exact fare only” box and wondered if I had any change at all… 93p was all I could muster from a variety of pockets and I was very relieved when the driver let me off the outstanding 17p for a single to the bus station; top man! I slumped into a seat as the bus pulled away and reflected that, for once, public transport hadn’t conspired against my plans!
A mere ten minutes later we pulled into Preston’s huge Stalin-esque bus station which would surely win any “hideous concrete Soviet look-alike” competition as long as Wyndham Court in Southampton wasn’t entering that day and, after thanking the driver for his freeness, I was off like a greyhound with new-found zeal towards the Bitter Suite… well, there was beer and maybe scoops to be had! The pub seemed a lot closer than the last time I’d walked it and ten minutes later I was inside the club-like bar gasping for a nice bitter, hoppy beer!
Rick was already propping up the bar and so over I went to discuss all things beery. Three winners were on the pumps therefore I quickly acquired a half of each to lubricate the conversation; Flagship (sorry, Nelson!) Pieces of Eight (3.8%) was a typically dull, bland, toffeeish and hop-less example of that brewery’s output and was disposed of as quickly as possible; luckily I’d anticipated it being shite and my raging thirst brought on by yomping up the massive hill was quickly sated and I hardly tasted a thing after my first sip! Elland 7 by 7 (4.3%) came next and this was better if not as assertively hoppy as their beers usually are; amber in colour, it had a fruitcake maltiness and a restrained bitter finish leaving a moreish, dry mouthfeel.
The final beer was Pictish Palisade (4.2%) and, as is customary with Pictish, I expected great things from this beer but was vaguely disappointed as despite being the usual very pale colour the hoppiness was a touch grassy for my taste and the bitterness not as hefty as I hope each one of their beers will be. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad beer by any stretch of the imagination, but it just wasn’t a particularly good Pictish beer – which says a lot about their usual high beer quality and brewing standards – and didn’t reach the hoppy, thirst-quenching heights I’d hoped for.
One more scoop was acquired when Rick blagged Acorn Premium (4.5%) from the cellar and this was found to be a typically well-flavoured Acorn beer with a mid-brown colour, excellent liquoricey malt flavour and a bitter, toasty and well-balanced finish. We had time for another half of Pictish before we ventured out into the bright lights of Preston’s city centre in search of winners, although Rick had already warned me that some of the formerly good pubs were losing ground with regards to beer selection and no new ones had yet come forwards to plug the gaps.
Outcasts from society.
We walked along Corporation Street, turned left into Heatley Street, and were soon at the once premier pub of Preston, the New Britannia, which has been falling behind recently in terms of beer range but is still probably the second best pub in Preston in terms of scoopability. The pub seemed to still be making an effort, having beers on cellar runs, but the choice of some of them suggests that the new landlords don’t really know what makes a scoop a scoop – pint of Lichfield, anyone? No, I didn’t think so.
One scoop was available, Idle Landlord (4.8%), and so we had a swift half of this dark brown, slightly cloying, chocolatey and malty beer with a (surely unintentional) hint of brettanomyces in the flavour which left both of us distinctly unimpressed. With nothing else to detain us we made a swift exit to our next call, the Dog and Partridge just along Friargate; this is a strange pub, seemingly of a different era, with questionable décor and a surreal clientele but despite these reservations I still like it and it’d be a tragedy if it were ever “tarted up” and ruined. The pub usually has a couple of guests available but we both went for a beer much rarer than the Magpie Two for Joy; Tetley Mild! I’ve not had this for years although, judging by it’s taste, I don’t mind if this lengthy wait is repeated as it wasn’t what I’d call a quality brew, having little of the flavour or character which I’m sure it used to possess; a bit of a let-down, to be honest.
Next up was a rather strange selection of pub for two cynical and well-seasoned beer lovers; the Greyfriar Wetherspoons! This unusual choice was based on Rick’s suggestion that the beer range had improved greatly over the last few months and the place was now, correspondingly, worth a quick peek to see what beers were on. Inside was a riot of cheap aftershave, skimpy clothes and illiterate shouting but we braved the hordes of consumerist clones clutching their bottles of lurid pop and cast an eye over the bar - to see a Wentworth scoop alongside some other very passable brews; a half it was, then!
As we stood and supped our Wentworth Speckled Wood (4.8%) Rick and I looked around at the pub and I felt a twinge of not belonging to society in a way I've not felt for a long time; okay, so I've never really been a “normal”, but being one of probably only two people in a pub who seemed to care what their drink tasted like really brought home to me just how different my lifestyle is from 99.999% of the population, most of whom consider an evening out to be complete when they’ve drunk a gallon of fizzy chemical-laden piss and/or lurid chemical-laden pop, shouted a lot, had a quick fight and then thrown the salad from their kebab all over the pavement; a quick glance at Rick showed that he felt exactly the same as me.
We then took a wander through the Old Black Bull – yes, you heard correctly, through – and as there were no scoops we carried on to have a quick peek into the Old Vic, right next to the train station (as the name suggests), but nothing exciting enough to detain us was on the pumps and so we cut our losses and left, eliciting a sarcastic “thanks” from the barmaid! Cheers then, love, put something decent on next time and we might stay for a half…
A swift half.
With time marching on we had one more pub to visit before going our separate ways and there was only one real option at this end of town; the Fox and Grapes keeps five or six beers on cask and I remember the last time I was in Preston I even scored the massive Three B’s Bee on the Ball world cup brew in there! This time out of the five beers available one was a winner, Hydes Summertime Blues, which I’d tried to get in the Grey Horse in Manchester the week before but had been a few days early and had run up against and empty pump, thus we indulged in a swift half of that and I found it to be typical of Hydes’ beer these days with a quite plain and sweet maltiness and little else of interest.
With our time up we hurried off to our respective transport home, Rick to the rail station and I along Fishergate towards the Stalinist bus station, which I knew was along there somewhere – could I really miss such a massive concrete abomination? The answer was a predictable no, although it was hidden away to the north and had it not been so feckin’ huge and garishly lit I may have even missed it… ten minutes early for the bus, I amused myself by viewing some pissed-up chavs getting bollocked by a security guard-ess before boarding the bus which was a disconcertingly quick procedure; the driver snuck aboard, turned on the lights, opened the doors, and was reversing out less than 20 seconds later… had I not been watching out for him I’d have missed the bus and consequently had another twenty minutes of chav-spotting!
Only five minutes later and I was alighting at the terminus, glad that I’d done my penance in tackling the monstrous incline on the way to the bus stop earlier on, as I don’t know if I’d have been up to climbing it at half ten after a few pints! As I almost jogged down the hill, aided by the favourable gradient, I suddenly noticed that the rain had begun again and was glad to be back in my room a few minutes later - but was soon out again as I saw that in order to have room service I’d have to pay a £5 tray charge! Bollocks to that, I thought, and availed myself of the chiller cabinet in the BP garage across the road for a whole galaxy of treats which would serve as an evening meal… of sorts… well, the locally-made sheep’s cheese and onion butties were a surprising scoop for me!
Despite some of it’s pubs being on a downward slope scoop-wise Preston is still a decent enough city for a wander around and, even if you score very little compared to the old days, there are some good pubs with a respectable selection of cask ales for your imbibing pleasure. The undoubted highlight is the excellent Bitter Suite but, as this is a short walk out of the centre, it’s generally easier to start there and work your way back. Preston remains an above-average city beer-wise (Greede Kerching is mercifully rare plus it’s probably got a better beer selection in the pubs listed here than the whole of London!) and so here’s to the hope that some of the formerly top scooping pubs (the New Britannia and Black Bull) will hit the upwards slope again shortly!
For those of you who admire Stalinst architecture, the enormous bus station on Tithebarn street shouldn’t disappoint concrete lovers, nor will the amazingly Soviet car park along Ringway near the Greyfriars McSpoons – pure Eastern Bloc chic! Speaking of buses, I’m not a bus spotter whatsoever but the city’s bus company Preston Bus is one of the few in Britain to still be owned by it’s employees and not in the grasping tentacles of Arriva or First… and they also have a right old mix of heritage buses in everyday service for those who care about such things… apparently, so I’m told…
A Google map of Preston is here...
Pubs which sell scoops.
Bitter Suite, Fylde Road
New Britannia, 6 Heatley Street
Dog and Partridge, 44 Friargate
Greyfriars (McSpoons), 144 Friargate (junction with Ringway)
Old Black Bull, 35 Friargate
Fox & Grapes, 15-16 Fox Street
Other pubs worth a look.
Old Vic, 80 Fishergate
Black Horse, 166 Friargate (A Robinsons house, usually has the seasonal brews)
Market Tavern, 35 Market Street
Stanley Arms, 24 Lancaster Road
Pub and Beer of the trip.
The award for best pub isn’t that difficult, although so good is the Bitter Suite for both beer range and sociability that it’d probably still win best pub in the vast majority of cities throughout the UK! Five guest beers are usually available (plus Goose Eye Brontë Bitter) with a decent proportion of these being scoops or, at the very least, good beers. As for beer of the evening, it has to be the Acorn Premium we had in the Bitter Suite – Acorn are good, solid brewers and this beer was no exception, being a well-flavoured and complex dark bitter / brown ale.
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