A few weeks ago I visited good friends of mine who are living in Chelmsford in sunny Essex, just on the outskirts of Greater London. A popular commuter town, the place is also home to a surprising amount of decent real ale pubs. I'd written about some of them previously on my first visit there, and this repeat visit gave me the opportunity to visit some of the pubs I had missed - luckily my friends were more than willing to join me on this real ale jaunt!
We first stopped for a spot of lunch to help sop up the alcohol in The Plough, a Mitchell & Butlers (M&B) pub near the train station. I believe this used to be a Nicholson's branded pub, but it now just appears to be a regular M&B's. Food wise burgers are the specialty of the house, with a varied selection of heart destroying beef (or chicken) treats available. You get a free pint with every burger but sadly the guest ales weren't included in the deal. This meant I had to settle for a Sharps Doom Bar. Like a million other ale drinkers around my age (34) this was one of the first real ales I drank regularly, before moving onto the more adventurous beers. It was one of the better pints of Doom Bar I've had, and sitting in the afternoon sun the drink went down a bit too quickly. I followed with one of the guest ales, the Lambton's Cask Ale from the Maxim Brewery. This was a refreshing pale ale. It was nothing outstanding but it did the job, much like the pub itself. If this was the only pub in town it would be a standout but in Chelmsford, which is overflowing with decent ale pubs, it's more a reliable standby, especially for food.
Next up, after a fifteen minute walk through the town centre, was The Queens Head. An unassuming backstreet local, it's worthy of attention as it's a Mighty Oak tied pub. The interior is sparsely decorated, with a small U-Shaped bar. The pub garden was a pleasant little oasis, with the highest number of dogs I'd ever seen in a boozer's backyard. The Mighty Oak Citra was in good form and by now the sun was beating down hard, so this refreshing pale ale went down a treat. Next up was Dark Star Redhead. This was a rich, satisfying red ale, and packed quite a flavorful punch considering it was only 3.7% abv. Despite the manageable alcohol percentage this beer was a bit too rich for me to make it sessionable, but it was a tasty sup nonetheless. A nice little local and also the most keenly priced of the pubs we visited.
Near the Queens Head is the The Orange Tree, although sadly it was closed when we visited due to unexpected structural problems with the premises. It sounded a bit worrying but hopefully they got it sorted out. We sauntered back through the town centre with the intention of visiting the Ale House, but we stumbled across a micropub along the way. I've enjoyed every micropub I've visited so far. I admire their principles of selling good beer in a environment designed to encourage conversation, usually achieved by using bench sitting which encourages punters to mingle with each other rather than being glued to the comforting glow of their mobile phone screen, no fruit machines and (usually) no music. Some people have reported finding them a bit "cliquely" but I've always found them welcoming. The Hop Beer Shop is another micro I can add to the "like" list. There was an excellent selection of local ales on, and it was also the first micropub I'd visited which also boasted a well curated selection of bottled beers. It's definitely more like a pub than a bottle shop though.
The manager was friendly and approachable and after mentioning that I was thinking of opening a much needed micropub in my corner of South East London we had a friendly chat about starting a micropub and the challenges involved. Following the recommendation of the barman I enjoyed a lovely half of Tring Pale Four, which was a superbly hoppy treat. To avoid appearing rude I also bought a few bottles to take home as well. The bottled beer selection ranged from local Essex ales to continental beers and they were all very tempting. The pub is small but although there were quite a few in it didn't feel cramped, the atmosphere was buzzing and overall this was an lovely place for a drink.
We eventually made it to The Ale House, which I wrote about in my previous Chelmsford visit and again it did not disappoint. The half of Salted Caramel from the Almasty Brewing Co that I enjoyed was a highlight. We ordered a calorific but delicious pizza from the take away across the road, which you're more than welcome to bring into the pub. It was so bad for me but also so good at the same time - the perfect takeaway pizza. We finished the night at Barista, a trendy nightspot. I never would of thought of going in here had it not been in the Good Beer Guide, as the place is a glitzy bar along the lines of Tiger Tiger and isn't the usual CAMRA friendly place. But nestled in the back as promised were three gravity dropped ales. My pint of Skinners Copper was in top condition and I enjoyed my drink as the bright young girls and sleazy old men of Chelmsford enjoyed a dance to enjoyable cheesy pop hits. A bit of a surreal end to an excellent day (and night) of boozing.
Chelmsford really is lucky to be blessed with several excellent places for beer, and I wish the micropub all the best success in such a crowded marketplace! I look forward to returning again to pay The Orange Tree a visit - plus The Ship which has snuck into the Good Beer Guide 2016. Well I got to make sure both pubs deserved their place! See you soon.