This Is Crewe. All Change.
I grew up in Crewe but was never really a drinker whilst there. Even when I went to university I only drank Newcastle Brown or John Smiths. As a result I had no concept of how good or bad the pubs were in my home town, they were just pubs. Only when I was introduced to the world of Real Ale in my mid twenties did I begin to appreciate just what was available. With my newly discovered beer tickers head on I quickly learned that Crewe wasn’t an ideal place to look for interesting, or even good, beer.
Back then it was pretty much just the Borough Arms with it’s cellar brewery and large selection of beers. Or go to Nantwich. Or Manchester. Or Liverpool. Or, well pretty much anywhere else. The fact that the arrival of a Wetherspoons pub in the town was a major game changer tells all that you really need to know. But, gradually, over the years things started to improve, there was Hops, a Belgian style bar, and then there was Beer Dock which was the place that finally brought “Craft Beer” to the town.
I’ve always kept an eye on whatever was happening beer wise in Crewe, after all I still visit my home town and so I’ll always need to find good beer, even if I can be in Manchester in little more than 30 minutes. I was, therefore, aware of potentially half a dozen decent places to visit now, and with Christmas being spent at my Mum’s for the first time in three years, it meant that Christmas Eve gave me the opportunity to try them all out.
The first shock of the day came when the bus arrived in the town centre. The town centre has gone. Or at least a huge chunk of it has. Don’t get me wrong, Crewe has been overdue a facelift for a long time but it appears that the Council has gone for the nuclear option. The only problem is, according to the locals I spoke to throughout the day, know that they have demolished it all the Council haven’t yet decided what to replace it with. This strikes me as, possibly, the wrong way round for a project like this…
Anyway, whilst I was getting over this shock I wandered the, remaining, familiar streets to the Market Hall, I’d be on safe ground here. Except. They’ve redeveloped the Market Hall too! The building is the same but, and there is no simple way of saying this, there is no market! It is now a large hall with food vendors and cafés down the sides, copious tables and seating in the middle and a stage where live music was taking place. I’m not sure I know my home town any more.
Luckily one of the establishments that have set up in here was my first destination, the Crewe Dog. This is one of the growing sister bars to the excellent Salty Dog in nearby Northwich where I have enjoyed a few great beer and music nights with my mate and his band – Hazel’s Maze, check them out, you won’t be disappointed. Promise. The Crewe Dog has 10 keg beers on tap alongside 4 handpumps, cider and a fridge full of packaged beers. I chose a couple from the excellent selection including a third of the Omnipollo beer that they had on. This was priced at £6 for a third, pretty typical pricing that I am used to for this kind of beer. But then it slowly dawned on me, this is Crewe. Crewe. Not London. And they had a beer at the equivalent of £18 for a pint. How times have changed!
The thing about pub crawls in most towns, apart from London, is that distances aren’t huge, which meant it was only a couple of minutes to my second stop of the day, The Borough Arms. As mentioned earlier this used to be the only decent pub in Crewe. At one time it also housed it’s own brewery in the basement but Alan eventually decided to ‘retire’ down to Cornwall where he set up Coastal Brewery. But the pub is as good as it ever was. 10 well kept beers available on hand pump and a selection of keg beers that always seem to include something unusual from Belgium. I settled for a new Oakham beer and the Gordons Xmas Ale. This is a real locals pub where you can make yourself comfortable and instantly feel at home. Thank goodness not everything is changing.
Out of the door and stagger for about 60 seconds and you will arrive at the next stop, currently the only brewery in town, Tom’s Tap and Brewhouse. I’d only managed one visit previously when it was in it’s early days. It is now well and truly established and offers up to 30 beers and 10 ciders on tap. The range is fantastic, the quality is excellent and the guest beers are all top notch too. You won’t be surprised to hear that I ended up spending quite a long time here. The owner, Sean, recognised me from our Twitter exchanges and I was invited to join him and a rotating line up of friendly locals to pass the afternoon with great beer and good company. This is a really, really good place!
Conscious of time I finally dragged myself away and made the five minute walk to my fourth stop of the day, Hops Belgian Bar. A well established Belgian style beer café housed in converted workers cottages. I think. But I might be wrong on that point. Anyway, it is a really good bar with an excellent selection of both cask and keg beers as well as, obviously, a great selection of Belgian beers. Another really friendly place with knowledgeable staff who are happy to help with the beer selection. An eclectic mix of comfy chairs and ex-church chairs, plus a sizeable terrace, all go to making this a place you can happily lose yourself for a few hours.
Out of the pub, round the corner, up the steps and round the next corner and you get to the fifth stop of the crawl, Craft Beer Oasis. This is a huge building that opened as the last branch of the Beer Dock group before it had to close. It has, however, been taken over by Alan. You know Alan, you met him earlier. The very same! He still wants to be in Cornwall but his wife wants to be nearer to the grandchildren apparently. He lost, but he has opened a very impressive bar. What is more is that he is relocating Coastal Brewery to the building, although it is confusingly going to retain that name, what’s geography got to do with anything anyway…
As with Sean earlier it was good to talk to Alan to hear a publicans / brewers perspective on the beer industry in general and their own hopes and plans for the future, as well as the beer scene in Crewe.
Now I know I said earlier that all of the distances between bars were short, well I may not have been entirely truthful. Crewe has a second busy commercial area, Nantwich Road, which is where the station is. It is an historical quirk that the station is sited a mile outside of the town centre due to disputes over land access to build the new fangled railway. It is therefore a twenty minute walk to the last bar on the crawl, Ebenezer’s. Where the previous place was the last Beer Dock branch to open this is the site of the original. It is now the sister bar to the original Ebenezer’s in Nantwich. I should probably state at this point that one of the owners of Ebenezer’s is my cousin’s husband so there is a certain family interest in the place.
It is barely recognisable as the same place following remodelling work. A proper bar has been built instead of the original tap wall that Beer Dock had, but the ethos behind the place is the same. Good quality beer is the order of the day and they certainly deliver. I may have been running out of capacity but I was not going to turn down the opportunity to sample a new Polly’s Brew Co beer! It was also good to see that here, as with all the previous places, there was a healthy crowd in. Well I hope they were healthy given the current circumstances, but you know what I mean!
So that was Crewe. I would never have thought 10 or so years ago that the beer scene in the town would have developed in the way that it has. Half a dozen excellent venues that make up a really good crawl and one, soon to be two, breweries in the town. There is also a Twitter account dedicated to providing information about the six venues. What a time to be alive!