Crawling #6: Cheltenham
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Crawling #6 was supposed to be the details of my weekend in Stockholm with my wife Maria and my groundhopping podcast co-host Mike. However, Eurowings had other ideas and fucked us. So, here we are. I woke up at 4am. My phone buzzed at 4.36am. My 8.45am flight had been cancelled. Thus tanking my entire weekend in Stockholm including the beers and the football matches that had already been secured. To say I was a bit miffed would be an understatement. Anyway, when god shits in your beer…just get another one.
July 1, 2022.
We live close enough to Cheltenham that I ticked off the Johnny Rocks one night after work last season. So, with the failure of Eurowings fresh in our minds we headed out to Cheltenham for lunch and of course it turned into a pub crawl. Foolishly we parked in the Regent Arcade shopping centre, which is hard to find a way out of, and equally hard to find a way back into after the shopping centre has closed. I would not recommend it. The spiral entrance made Maria feel sick.
PUB #1: Whittle Taps
This looked great on Untappd, sadly their beer range has lapsed to very basic. The kind of stuff you can find in a supermarket. Nothing exciting. All the stuff on their Untappd page wasn’t there. We had a light lunch, and I had an UBU, the Purity beer, which famously doesn’t travel well. I think we’re too far from UBU central because this didn’t taste great. I left half of it. Food was good and it gave us a nice little central place to plan the day.
PUB #2: The Angry Parrot
This micropub is located in what used to be an electrical shop. It opened just before the pandemic and was promptly closed for 18 months. I’m glad it’s survived, and this was my first chance to pop in there. Paul, behind the bar, was talkative and listened to our tale of woe (what bartender hasn’t heard a tale of woe?) They have gravity fed kegs behind the bar and there’s a very limited choice, but he rustled up a bottle of coke and even some ice for Maria’s soft drink. There’s not much detail on the boards. I ended up having a Lookout from the Bristol Beer Factory, which was labelled up on the board as “LOOKOUT (BFF)” in crudely drawn chalk. It was very hoppy and dry but light and accessible.
The weird part about a micropub is never being quite sure what you’ll get, beyond the bar part looking like someone’s front room. The ‘lounge’ had sofas in it but looked quite dark. There was an upstairs, presumably a storeroom back in the day, with toilets and a nice little beer garden. Considering how badly they were treated by Covid, the Angry Parrot has come out with beautiful plumage. I left after my beer wishing Paul all the best and hoping to one day return. I meant it too.
PUB #3: Sandford Park Alehouse
This is the only pub on today’s route that I’ve been in before. My memories of it are so pleasant, we’re heading back for seconds. The Alehouse is just down the road from the Parrot so it’s only a short walk. The gaff is an old house in a run of them. Like the micropub, it’s bizarre and I love how modern pubs have developed out of a desire to experience something different. The bar has a staggering 28 taps including a mass of cask beers at the front with pump clips. It’s a delight just going to the bar.
I settle on an aggressively strong Otter Head from the Otter Brewery, at 5.8% ABV, and we perch ourselves in the beer garden. It’s improved since I was last here, but I was also here in the autumn, so I don’t think I stepped outside that time. It’s a sunny July day and Maria has a nap with her head on the table before we head back inside and debate what to do about dinner. The Alehouse does serve food but only from 5pm. It’s about 3.15pm. While we’re thinking about it, I grab a Steady Rolling Man from Deya. It’s a beer with huge hype around it. I’ve been asked by several people if I’ve had one. It has a strong glue flavour, which isn’t my bag. I preferred the Otter Head. Maria asks; “how can you be steady if you’re rolling?” Wise words.
PUB #4: The Strand
On our way down here, which again is another short walk, I’ve got Bill Bailey stuck in my head. “Let’s all go down the straaaand”. The Strand is another hit with hipster looking barmen and the beer boards being pieces of cut out card telling everyone the beer, style, ABV and whatnot. I have the Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout, the card of which reads “chocolate, coffee and dark fruits”. It’s not lying. It’s a taste sensation and the best beer I had all day. Why do pubs refuse to stock dark beer in the summer? It drives me mad.
The Strand is reasonably spacious and appears to have a decent beer garden as well. The staff are friendly and for my money, doing Parrot, Alehouse and Strand would be a lovely little three pub evening. Given the larger scale of the Strand it’s the only one of the three that’s in danger of becoming a bit soulless and corporate but it’s still a good boozer and I had a nice time in there.
PUB #5: Thai Emerald
While technically not a pub, I felt the need to talk about the place we got our food. Thai Emerald is the kind of place where everything looks gold, there’s carved wood everywhere from the walls to the seats to the inside of the tables, which are covered by glass. The first thing you see inside the front door is a carp pond.
Nearby there are a litany of decent looking boozers including the Kemble Brewery Inn, the Cotswold Inn, the Suffolk Arms and the Old Restoration, the oldest pub in Cheltenham. Perhaps all of these were preferable to where we went but we followed the crowds to an area of town called the Brewery Quarter. I was suckered in by the name only to discover this was the part of town with the cinema, Five Guys, Pho, Brewdog etc.
PUB #6: Brewhouse & Kitchen (Cheltenham Edition)
I’ve been into a Brewhouse & Kitchen before, and it felt like a nice friendly gaff. I didn’t even realise it was a franchise but going into this one has put me off a bit. The whole steampunk design has USA written all over it. Taking the concept of craft and commercialising it to the hilt. I will give them credit though; it’s super organised and by this point it was Friday night and the place was heaving. I got served almost immediately and panicked into ordering something I’d never heard of; “Crystal Rock”. Maria pointed out that was the name of a drug.
It was an ordinary Brewhouse take on a traditional bitter. It didn’t quite work but it gave me time to soak everything in around us, and while I don’t think I like it, the Brewhouse & Kitchen model should hopefully invade some parts of the country that don’t have any decent places to go for a pint. Much like Brewdog did. It’s weird to see them both in the same building. Strictly big brands only in the Brewery Quarter. No brewery though, so we went for a stroll….
PUB #7: DEYA Brewing Company
This is on an industrial estate near the train station and unless you know it’s there, you would never know it was there. It’s hidden away but as you walk through this deserted estate you gradually get the feeling something is happening nearby and then turn the corner and wham. Beer garden, food truck and after negotiating our way through a maze of tables into a massive, cavernous hall with all the beer making equipment on one side and a huge bar at the back. I called it “industrial craft” on my check-in.
The queue was halfway across the building, but it moved quickly, and I would have been served in moments had my beer not needed changing. I had a We’ll Take It Off the Zombies, a hazy, gluey NEIPA. Maria meanwhile enjoyed a swift half of Hokum Stomp, a particularly good porter and the only dark beer on a range of lots (I forgot to count, sorry). The frustration I get when I see craft reduced to 15 IPA’s and a couple of lagers is palpable. There was a better beer selection at the Strand.
That was Cheltenham. As I mentioned further up, there were other boozers worth going into and it’s a place where people have disposable income and do go out. As we went back to the car from the brewery, the city centre was bouncing. There were a lot of people going out. Having been to Cheltenham a good four (maybe five at this point) times, I can heartily recommend it. I’ve been to wrestling shows at the Frog & Fiddle (another nice boozer) and the Town Hall and way back in the day I remember going out for food with Bernard, who still lives around there. I can see why he likes it so much. It has the vibe of a powerful city like London but with less pollution and tourists and stuff.
Other options: Bath Road Beers. This was a bit of a stroll and it was here or the brewery. Bath Road Beers has six taps and a huge bottle fridge. Brewdog Cheltenham has all of their latest beers plus guest beers from Mad Scientist and the Gloucester Brewery. The Bottle of Sauce looked like a right laugh and has the modern exterior you’d expect from a craft place. According to pictures online it has a lot of benches. This would easily make the list on another visit. Tailors is more of an eatery than a pub but runs a range of Wadworth beers. I’d be tempted to make this the food stop on a second run. Copa is a Greene King but looked to be buzzing. That’s a solid maybe. The Old Courthouse looks somewhere between an upmarket Wetherspoons and a Conservative club. I’d be tempted. The Old Restoration is Cheltenham’s oldest pub, and they have Butcombe beers. Another pub I’ve been to before is the Swan, which has a nice laid-back feel to it, good beers and I had a roast chicken sandwich, with gravy for dipping.
My point being here that Cheltenham has a lot of nice pubs to choose from if you want to do your own little pub crawl around a cracking town. It has my seal of approval.