While bartenders understandably spend most of their collective time thinking about, working with, and drinking spirits, there are many real ale enjoyers within the community, so I thought it worth sharing the news that the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) have announced the four finalists in its annual Pub of the Year awards.
Real Ale, of the sort CAMRA champions, ticks all the right bartender-boxes – it’s made in fairly small amounts, often by independent producers, and the breweries have a distinct sense of place or community, with the ales themselves often made with locally-grown hops and other ingredients. A pub that keeps and serves real ale in such a manner CAMRA finds it awards-worthy is worth a visit, so readers in Tonbridge, Tamworth, Ramsey, and Skipton might want to plan a session at these boozers.
I haven’t personally visited these pubs, so the descriptions have been taken from their CAMRA awards nominations:
Nelson Arms, Tonbridge – Kent
Situated in a quiet residential area within easy walking distance of the railway station and high street. A range of six to eight beers across a range of styles representing national and local independent breweries is usually served. Up to 15 real ciders are also available along with craft keg beers. Landlord of the Nelson, Matthew Rudd said: “Naturally we’re delighted to reach the final of CAMRA’s 2023 Pub of the Year competition. It’s great for our customers, the team and the community as a whole. But most importantly it’s great for the Barden Residents Association, who in 2018 after a year of closure put an Asset of Community Value (ACV) on the pub and fought off the threat of redevelopment.”
Tony Shea, West Kent CAMRA Branch Chair, commented: “It is such a welcoming pub with fantastic staff and a superb range of ales and ciders. It is an important part of the local community with something to offer for everyone.”
Tamworth Tap, Tamworth (CAMRA Pub of the Year 2022) – West Midlands An elegant building, home to Tamworth Brewing Company and its tap. The cosy upstairs rooms have Tudor features, the historic courtyard beer terrace to the rear offers striking views of Tamworth Castle, and there is café-style seating to the front. Eight hand pulls usually feature one Tamworth ale, the rest from near and far. Various snacks are offered, plus a wide range of ciders, gins, wines and bottled beers.
George and Louise Greenaway, owners of the Tamworth Tap, said: “We’re overwhelmed to have progressed to the final stages of this year’s CAMRA Pub of the Year competition. Achieving this for the second year running makes it all the more special.” John Rowling, Pubs Officer Lichfield Sutton & Tamworth CAMRA Branch, said: “It’s obviously wonderful news that the Tap is once again in the final four – it will be a nail-biting time while we wait to see who comes out on top! Last year’s top spot was a marvellous tribute to the passion and effort that owners George and Louise show in making their pub such a fantastic, community-centred place.”
Trafalgar Hotel, Ramsey, Isle of Man – West Pennines
A long-standing real ale pub on the harbour, now owned by Odin Brewery and usually serving four of the brewery’s beers plus two guest ales. There are unobtrusive TVs showing sport and outside is a small area of wooden bench seating that overlooks the harbour. Friendly, welcoming and always busy, it is particularly popular during the TT motorbike race week.
The pub is a previous winner of several CAMRA awards. Owners Rob Storey and Andy Pegge said: “With Steph the landlady and Nikki her daughter, who together run the Traf, we put a lot of effort into the cellar and beer management. They run a great team, and we have very little staff turnover. It’s a real community pub and we do raise a lot for local charities!”
The Beer Engine, Skipton – Yorkshire
A well-established micropub in a tiny street between the town centre and the canal, with a friendly and welcoming ambience. Six handpumps dispense varying beers, always including one blonde or pale ale and one dark brew, plus a character beer. Extended in 2022, the bar now includes craft keg fonts. A still cider and a fruit cider are also on tap alongside a selection of bottled beers, cans and wines.
Adam Davies and Steven Gregory, Directors at The Beer Engine, said: “When we were voted Branch Pub of the Year for our area, we were so happy to get that accolade, and it had never even crossed our minds that we might get further in the competition. We just do what we do: serve a range of beer from breweries that we’d love to see if we walked into a pub! That combined with a lovely crowd, our fabulous staff, great conversation and a fantastic atmosphere makes The Beer Engine what it is.” Colleen Holiday, Keighley & Craven CAMRA Branch Chair commented: “Since Steve and Adam took over the Beer Engine, they have really made it their own, through expanding the beer and cider range and making it the most welcome and inclusive place possible. An absolutely wonderful pub!“