I spent a pleasant day yesterday imbibing in Leicester. Leicester is one of a triumverate of great beer cities in the East Midlands; the others being Nottingham and Derby. And with Sheffield a short train journey away, drinkers in this part of the World are thoroughly spoilt. Arriving by bus at 11:40 means that the vast majority of the best pubs are yet to open. However there's always a Wetherspoons open, so I nipped in The Last Plantaganet to see what was available at the pumps. I am usually disappointed with this member of the JDW chain, but on this occasion I was pleasantly suprised to find nice beers from Ludlow and Cropton. These were both in good condition and tasty. This was my first experience of a Ludlow beer which was pleasing.
I moved on from here to The Swan & Rushes where there was one of their festivals in full swing. Here I met Simon and his friend John. Simon promised me he would be resurrecting his blog shortly, so let's see if he's true to his word. Beers were available from the handpumps, the cellar and the courtyard. All the beers were nice but it has to said those from the courtyard were impossibly cold. I guess though that's the joy of a British winter. I've yet to see a warming blanket for casks; maybe they should be introduced. I had beers here from Abbeydale, Hobsons (the champion mild), Potbelly, Thornbridge, Amber, Saltaire, and my first beer from Bridgnorth. The emphasis of the festival was Christmas or Winter beers, so a fair few of these were on the strong side. The Swan was, as ever, friendly, welcoming and good fun.
However we decided to move on, as much in search of more temperate beer but also to experience more of the excellent hostelries nearby. Next stop was The Criterion which is my favourite pub in the city. The pub has an excellent range of real ales as well as great bottled beers and wonderful home baked pizzas. Today though was all about the beer, and I had stuff from Coastal, again a new brewery for me; Fyfe, and just for a change of continent, Flying Dog. The pub was bustling and seats were hard to come by, but we pearched on the corner of someone else's table and happily imbibed.
The Criterion is quite near The Shakespeare's Head, a pub which could well win the ugliest pub exterior in Leicester prize. The pub serves beers from the Oakwell Brewery at crazy cheap prices, and tends to be frequented by an older clientele than is average for most pubs. I took the opportunity to taste the Oakwell lagers for the first time, and I have to say it was a mistake. Neither the Acorn nor Oakwell lagers was pleasant, even by English brewed lager standards. The real ales are not bad and certainly as cheap as anything available in this part of the World. I would certainly recommend these over the lagers.
With the bus home rapidly getting nearer there was just time for a quick half in Out Of The Vaults, arguably the best pub for real ale in town. I had a new beer from Vale whilst watching the Wales v South Africa rugby match. One thing you will find a lot of in Leicester are rugby fans, as the city's team is more successful than the football team!
It was now time to split, so homeward I went amply full of good beer, good pubs, and good company.