Herefordshire CAMRA

HEREFORDSHIRE PUBS OF THE YEAR 2019

Tap House, Ross-on-Wye

TOP OF THE TAPS

Ross-on-Wye’s Tap House is crowned Herefordshire Pub of the Year for 2019

It’s a very long time since a pub in Ross-on-Wye was recognised in Herefordshire CAMRA’s Pub of the Year competition. In fact, it was way back in 1994 when the Crown & Sceptre on the town’s Market Square took the title. It’s been pretty lean times for the town’s pubs since then.

Ross has been a perennial underperformer on the pub front for decades. Other towns in the county such as Ledbury, Leominster and even wee Kington have all had Pubs of the Year and multiple Good Beer Guide entries ever since, but Ross has just languished stubbornly in the pub relegation zone for year after year. Things did pick-up a bit, when in 2001 the arrival of J D Wetherspoon brought some much-welcome beer variety to the town, but it has taken the arrival of the Tap House to deliver a long overdue transformation. And transformation is by no means too strong a word.

Located directly opposite Morrisons supermarket on a corner of the town’s Millpond Street, the diminutive ex-TV shop had a problematic birth. First there were objections to the planning application from a handful of local residents (something Herefordshire CAMRA was able to assist with), then on the day before licensees Nigel and Christine Ree were due to open the show in September 2018, a deluge brought down the ceiling above the bar. It didn’t look at all promising. However, Nigel and Chris are not quitters by any measure, and a lot of hard work and good humour meant the Mayor of Ross was still able to open the micro-pub to a thirsty gathering on time the very next afternoon.

Today an array of eight handpumps dispenses six cask ales and two real ciders or perries. Brews originate from some of the UK’s most exciting small brewers, such as Fyne Ales and Siren Craft. Those drinkers who have a preference for porters and stouts will find they are always catered for too, with Titanic Plum Porter and Oyster Stout from Gadds of Margate being just two dark-coloured recent visitors worthy of mention. In the fourteen months since opening, beers have featured on the bar from 177 different breweries, and in September this year things ramped up another gear when the pub hosted a successful first beer festival in a side room, which has since been pushed into service to accommodate all the customers who just keep coming back time after time.

What is so noticeable about the place is that it doesn’t just appeal to discerning real beer and cider drinkers. It has clearly caught the imagination of a lot of the town’s pub-goers, irrespective of what their favourite tipple might be. Alongside the beer, cider and perry (it’s a member of CAMRA’s Press2Pub scheme); it offers three craft keg taps, and features its own mini-gin bar. However, there is still more excitement in the pipeline with fiendish plans afoot for a micro-brewery on-site next year. This seems most appropriate as the Tap House occupies what was once part of the site of Alton Court Brewery, which ceased brewing in 1961.

Like most of the micro-pub genre, the Tap House doesn’t pretend to be anything fancy. There is no food (other than filled rolls at weekends), no muzak, gadgets or gimmicks. But what you do get is a good old-fashioned atmosphere, plenty of conversation and a genuinely warm welcome.

Nigel Ree said to the Hopvine about winning the award: “We’re quite overawed with the result. It’s been a hell of a journey, but it’s definitely been worthwhile. It’s great to have such a band of loyal locals supporting us too.”

Mark Haslam from Herefordshire CAMRA added: “It is nothing short of astonishing what has been achieved at the Tap House in such a very short time. It’s a wonderful addition to the Ross pub scene. The town can now say it has a resident beer festival every day of the year! What’s not to like?”

The Tap House, 1 Millpond Street, Ross-on-Wye, HR9 7BZ. Bus number 33 from Hereford. Opening Times: 12-2.30, 4.30-10.30 Mon-Wed; 12-2.30, 4.30-11 Thu; 12-11 Fri & Sat; 12-10 Sun


…AND THE BARRELS ROLLS ON

Barrels, Hereford

Named Runner-up for the second consecutive year is the Barrels in Hereford.

Wye Valley’s flagship pub, the Barrels on the city’s St Owen Street, has been named Runner-up or Winner in the Herefordshire Pub of the Year competition more times than any other pub in the county. It’s getting to the point where we struggle to find a new photo of the place to put with the next winning write-up. A few less-informed detractors might scoff that it gets a CAMRA award every year. Obviously, this isn’t the case, as the rules of the competition debar a winning pub from being considered the following year. It’s probably just a case of what some psychologists might describe as penis envy. It wins because it’s consistently good - full stop.

The Barrels enjoys a cult following in Hereford. And don’t take our word for it, as the very same word ‘cult’ once featured in the hallowed pages of the Lonely Planet Guide to Britain to describe it. The Barrels is an established part of the fabric of the city’s social scene, without it Hereford wouldn’t feel quite the same.

Being one of the last remaining multi-room traditional pubs in the city, it oozes down-to-earth character, which attracts a varied and eclectic clientele. Like the Tap House in Ross, it eschews gimmicks and just gets the basics right – every time. Its USP is that it sells good beer at very affordable prices in a welcoming and safe environment. It gets famously busy at weekends, but never intimidates or threatens. You can take your partner there as much as to meet up with friends after work. Moreover, witnessing one of the pub’s quiz evenings should be on everyone’s ‘bucket list’. It is the quintessential city pub at its very best - and it comes complete with a heart of gold.

As a 100% committed community pub, the highlight of the Barrels’ busy events calendar is its annual beer, cider and music festival. Held each August bank holiday weekend it’s basically a big party, but it’s also about giving something back. Since it started in 1988, it has raised an amazing total, in excess of £500,000, for charities. There can’t be many pubs in the UK - let alone Herefordshire - that can boast such a fund-raising record. We should raise a glass to a friend to all...the Barrels.

The Barrels, 69 St Owen Street, Hereford, HR1 2JQ Telephone: (01432) 274968; Open 11-11.30 Mon-Thu; 11-Midnight Fri & Sat; 12-11.30 Sun


GILL’S TRIPLE CELEBRATION

Black Swan, Much dewchurch

The Black Swan at Much Dewchurch being named Herefordshire Cider Pub of the Year was one of a trio of reasons to celebrate.

2019 was a very special year for licensee, Gill Constance, as she celebrated with her customers twenty-five years behind the bar. And over all that time she has stayed resolute to her traditional principles, as the Black Swan remains steadfastly an old-fashioned pub in the very best sort of way. It’s precisely the type of village pub many of us would dream to have plonked on our doorsteps.

What has been thrown away in a headlong rush to chic modernity in too many other pubs, still stands proud at the Black Swan. It has four separate bars. In the middle section of the pub is the main bar area replete with a roaring fire and inviting window alcoves. At one end is a more basic bar with pool table and TV, whilst at the opposite end is a small lounge featuring two comfy 1980s-style sofas and a piano, beyond which is a restaurant boasting a grand fireplace, numerous curios, lithographs and a wonderful old sideboard. Finally, upstairs is a room for private functions and meetings – how many pubs still have one of those? The pub does reveal a few frayed edges in places, but this is easily forgiven considering there isn’t a single piece of IKEA-inspired furniture to be seen; it’s decor recalls to one how so many village pubs used to be. What is more, this one sits right at the beating heart of a vibrant village community.

On a visit to the pub on a Saturday lunchtime in October those community credentials were on full parade. In one bar an informal darts match was underway, while elsewhere talk gently swirled around regarding one of the villagers who had recently had all his work tools stolen. As a tree surgeon, he relied on them for his living. Only that same night was to be a function at the pub to raise funds to help replace them: this is a pub where the regulars choose to care rather than stare.

These credentials were also apparent when the cider judging team arrived - on a November Monday evening. They were in the process of judging a short-list of six pubs, which didn’t include any previous winners. They observed that more establishments are finding customers that now better appreciate real cider and perry. The six pubs all served and promoted a range of local ciders, and there was an impressive variation across the county.

The Black Swan is a worthy winner of Herefordshire Cider Pub of the Year. It serves draught Westons perry; a selection from Colcombe House, plus the (very) local Cockyard Cider. It was the quality of the Cockyard Foxwhelp Cider which particularly impressed the judges, unsurprising, as it was later learned it had benefitted from three-to-four years of maturation.

Therefore, it’s congratulations three-fold to Gill: for winning Cider Pub of the Year; for being adjudged a close third in the overall Herefordshire Pub of the Year competition, and for completing a great first 25 years. The locals won’t be alone in hoping she’ll yet do another 25!

Black Swan, Much Dewchurch, Hereford, HR2 8DJ; Telephone: (01981) 540295; Open: 12-3, 5.30-11 Mon-Fri; 11.30-3, 5.30-11 Sat; 12-4, 6-11 Sun; Meal Times: 12-2, 7-9 daily.


PUB OF THE SEASON

Monkland Arms, Monkland

MONKLAND’S REVITALISATION NOW COMPLETE

The Monkland Arms is named Autumn 2019 Pub of the Season and Runner-up Herefordshire Cider Pub of the Year.

Some fifteen or so years ago the Monkland Arms - a roadside pub at Monkland - was acquired by a small Pubco who, like all good PubCos, had a very simple business model: if the tenant shows the slightest sign of making a profit, crank the rent up. And so the inevitable happened - a succession of tenants came and went and gradual decline was followed by the pub’s ianevitable closure. It then stood empty and unloved, with a sign outside offering a “Former Public House and Restaurant”, which conveniently overlooked the fact that - in planning terms at least - it was still a pub.

Rescue came in 2015, in the shape of new owners who undertook a major restoration and reopened the pub - now called the Monk. The layout was rearranged: created were a single bar-cum-drinking area with dining areas to one side and rear, plus a pleasant garden. It then unexpectedly came back onto the market in 2017 due to the owners’ personal circumstances.

Enter Jed and Allie Dunn, experienced publicans who moved up from Ilminster in Somerset to take over the Monk. After a quick tidy-up of the pub, and some more substantial work in the kitchen, they reopened in February 2018 under its original name - the Monkland Arms.

The Pub of the Season award came into being when it was realised the major Pub of the Year awards tended to stay within a more limited group of standout pubs, while other excellent pubs could go largely un-recognised for their efforts. This year’s Winter winner was selected before the short-list for Herefordshire Cider Pub of the Year was drawn up. In the event the Monkland Arms came out a very creditable Runner-Up in the cider competition. The cider award recognises that the pub stocks up to seven local draught ciders from producers like Newton Court and Gwatkins.

For the most part, the Monkland Arms is a place to go for drinks and meals in smart but relaxing surroundings. The menu embraces a wide range of dishes, made - as far as possible - from very local ingredients sourced from the likes of Howard Moseley (Family Butcher) and Parry’s Fruit & Veg, both of Leominster. Meals can be washed down with the aforementioned cider, or beers from Hobsons, Ludlow, Wye Valley, plus guests.

But the place really comes alive when there’s music - Allie & Jed welcome you to a village pub with folk at its heart. There are regular sessions on the first Friday and third Thursday of the month which are proving quite a draw. A live band performs on the second and fourth (occasionally fifth) Saturdays.

There are also occasional quiz nights, typically on a Thursday. All the events are very clearly set out on the pub’s website.

The Monkland Arms, Monkland, Herefordshire, HR6 9DE; Telephone: (01568) 720510; Winter opening times 12-2, 6-11 Wed-Fri; 6-11 Sat; 12-3, 7-10.30 Sun; Meal Times: 12-2, 6-9 Wed-Fri; 6-9 Sat; 12-2.30, 7-9 Sun;


Recent Pubs of the Season

Majors Arms, Halmonds Frome
Autumn2019: Major’s Arms, Halmonds Frome
Summer2019: England’s Gate, Bodenham
Spring2019: Lichfield Vaults, Hereford
Winter2018: Crown, Dilwyn
Autumn2018: Red Lion, Stiffords Bridge
Summer2018: Oak Inn, Staplow
Spring2018: Olde Tavern, Kington
Winter2017: Red Lion, Pembridge
Autumn2017: Moon Inn, Mordiford
Summer2017: Hostelrie, Goodrich
Spring2017: Balance, Luston
Winter2016: Black Swan, Much Dewchurch
Autumn2016: Talbot Hotel, Ledbury
Summer2016: Alma Inn, Linton
Spring2016: Oak Wigmore
Winter2015: Queen’s Arms, Bromyard
Autumn2015: Red Lion, Stiffords Bridge
Summer2015: Carpenters Arms, Walterstone
Spring2015: New Inn, Fownhope
Winter2014: Chase Inn, Upper Colwall
Autumn2014: Red Lion, Peterstow
Summer2014: Baron’s Cross, Leominster
Spring2014: Green Dragon, Bishops Frome
Autumn2013: Bridge Inn, Kentchurch
Summer2013: Royal George, Lingen
Spring2013: Wheelwrights, Pencombe
Winter2012: Crown, Woolhope
Autumn2012: Slip Tavern, Much Marcle
Summer2012: Wheatsheaf, Whitbourne