Sunday, 15 February 2015

Chelmsford

With London house prices continuing to skyrocket with no end in sight, it really is outrageous what a sorry mess the housing situation in the capital is at the moment. In South London houses in former no-go areas such as Peckham and Hackney now cost a fortune where well off professionals find themselves living in enclaves with upmarket coffee shops and trendy craft bars uncomfortably close to poverty and crime stricken estates where the residents will never see the benefits of "gentrification." West London is now a joke where rows of grand houses stand empty as foreigners use them as a safe investment, rather than them being used as family homes. North London has long stopped being a place where anybody could hope to own a house - unless you bought it forty years ago and are now living off the profits off an "investment" that went up in value by dumb luck.

But you haven't come to this blog to read my simplistic ramblings about London's dysfunctional market, you've hopefully come here to read my ramblings about beers and pubs. Because there is now nowhere affordable in London for people on normal wages, more and more people are moving out of town, including good friends of mine who have recently moved to Chelmsford, around half an hour away on the train from Liverpool Street. Me and The Lovely Jemma visited their charming house for a weekend of catching up and maybe visiting a few pubs. Chelmsford has eleven(!) pubs listed in the Good Beer Guide, and I cherry picked four of them that sounded interesting.

First up was the White Horse which I picked more for proximity as it was just around the corner from the house. Marketing itself as a "bar and lounge" it looked like a shabby student pub from the outside, but it turned out to be a friendly and busy locals pub. Apparently boasting Chelmsford longest bar there was the usual selection of lagers and ciders available, but on the handpumps things got more interesting with a couple of Mighty Oak ales available. I went for Captain Bob which was in good form, reminiscent of Timothy Taylors Landlord on a good day. My friends went for the Oscar Wilde which was also in good nick. The rugby was on and the pub was pretty busy, filled with punters loudly enjoying the sport. We didn't stay long but this was a solid locals pub which I wouldn't mind returning to when it's a bit quieter.

We walked past The Royal Steamer which features in the Good Beer Guide, however it seems a new landlord has taken over and the ale selection had been drastically reduced. We decided to skip it and move on to The Golden Fleece, a rock pub which has had a recent makeover and is now targeting the burgers and craft beer market. Craft favourites Beavertown and BrewDog were on tap, plus there was an interesting selection of bottled beer. Like the grumpy bugger I am I ignored the craft beer on this occasion and went for the cask ale, Brentwood Marvelous Maple Mild. It wasn't exactly marvellous but was a well crafted mild, with the malty flavours present and correct. The pub was looking fresh after its makeover but there was something oddly hollow about the place - it was lacking character with its generic decoration and furnishing. The beer was in good nick though and the place was busy with young trendy punters so it's clearly winning over the people of Cheltenham. A nice enough place but not somewhere I would return to repeatedly.

Down the road we popped into The Railway Tavern, a long narrow pub next to the railway viaduct. Peeking through the windows I thought this pub would be a horror show of decrepit old punters and grumpy staff in a crumbling pub, but of course I was completely and utterly wrong. Walking in we got an effusive and friendly welcome from the landlord and barmaid, who helpfully pointed to a blackboard showing the ales available. I went for Farmers IPA from the the Maldon Brewing Co which was a very pleasant sup. In the back of the pub is a quaint area set up to look like a railway carriage - a bit cheesy but it worked. A friendly bunch of regulars were at the bar and overall the atmosphere was very genial. I would of been happy to stay for another drink but time was running short and we moved on to the next pub.

We were going to have a drink in The Plough, a Nicholson's pub across the road from the bus station, but the place was rammed with sports lovers so we went straight to The Ale House under the railway arches. Walking in you are greeted with an interior that is a bit like being in a aircraft hunger, and to the right a long bar serves a selection of 12 ales plus a good range of real cider. We were lucky to grab a bench in the busy bar and I worked my way through their exciting collection of ales. First up was Wibblers Chocolate and Vanilla Porter, which was basically liquid hot chocolate in a glass. A delicious desert beer.Alright Treacle? a treacle stout from Waen Brewery was sadly nowhere near as good, a bit lifeless and I couldn't detect any treacle flavor in there.

Last up was Rule of Thirds from craft beer darlings Siren. As it's a craft beer it was unsurprisingly an American IPA, and as it's from Siren it's unsurprisingly very good indeed, the best beer of the evening. It's the first time I've had Siren on cask rather than from a bottle and it was very good stuff, strongly hoppy but very drinkable. There are no hot food offerings in the Ale House but I did sample a scotch bonnet pickled egg which was very good but sadly lacking in heat. The Lovely Jemma enjoyed the large selection of real cider available. Apparently the place does live music as well, and judging from the crowd it's clearly a popular hub in Chelmsford. An excellent end to a varied and surprisingly good ale trail.

I was a bit jealous of my friends having such a decent selections of pubs in close proximity to their house and I must admit by the end of the drinking session even I was thinking of moving out to Chelmsford. But the sobering thought of having to pay £3,600 a year for a season ticket soon put a stop to that idea. The pub of the night for me was The Ale House but I'd be quite happy enjoying a pint in any of the boozers we visited. Well done Chelmsford!

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