Last Updated : 16/07/09
No Vices, very few Virtues - Lincoln May 2009
s I sweltered, becoming tetchier by the minute, in Lincoln's stop-start traffic I reflected that I'd not scored a beer in the city since 1996 whilst the last time I'd visited had been to the city’s exceedingly crap beer festival that same year and I’d vowed never to return… now, 13 years later, I was back and crawling along in M25-esque style through the city centre on a fenced-in artery of traffic which made me wonder why I'd bothered to return again: surely a city with this many cars swarming through it's heart must have demolished all it's pubs to make way for roads and therefore wouldn't be able to provide me with anything worthy of scooping?
The road to bell(s).
Of course, as soon as I was at the hotel and ready to leave for my exploration of the city, I was in a much better frame of mind; driving has an ability to piss me off whatever I happen to be doing next, I'd be pissed off driving even if I was going to brew a scoop at Pictish! As I wandered down a traffic-thronged road towards the bus stop I examined the list of pubs I'd planned to visit and was glad that I had enough time for a proper trawl around as much had changed since my last visit with the city now having a brewpub (Green Dragon, Cathedrals brewery) and seemingly many other possibilities of a winner although I didn't expect too much; maybe five or six could be considered a good haul?
With only two buses an hour I wasn't particularly impressed when the first one didn't show up but at least it did eventually and, after seeing exactly how far it was and the severe gradient of the hill into town, I was slightly apprehensive about my trip back as it looked like, with a distinct lack of buses after 18:00, that I'd be walking most of the way! We soon arrived at the Stalinist bus station where once out of the gloomy concrete interior I consulted my map to see where my first visit would be and – fortuitously – I discovered that I could see it from my current location!
Seeing it and reaching it, however, were two very different things as first I had to cross the snarling stream of traffic which separated me from the pub. The road was equipped with heavy-duty industrial-strength fencing – presumably sponsored by the auto industry to deter anyone from trying to traverse it on foot and persuade them to buy a car instead – in such a way that the pedestrian crossing was the only way to cross without risking life and limb despite my dislike of being told where I can and can't cross a road. There was already a huddle of chavs at the road crossing when I arrived and it took a good minute before the green man reluctantly showed himself and we stepped out onto the tarmac whereupon the cars on either side stopped reluctantly, edging forwards as we crossed, as if we were causing a major delay in their occupant's presumably vitally important journeys.
A good start!
So, five minutes after beginning my 100 metre journey, I finally arrived at the first pub on my list, Sipper's, which I'd read was worth a visit but on first inspection didn't look too promising with it's dull, traffic fume-stained beige exterior and vaguely run-down air. I nonchalantly wandered past a few times, glancing in through the window, but this told me all I needed to know: there was nowt worth sipping on the bar out of OSH, John Smiths and Hop Back Summer Lightning... “Is it 1990 again?” I pondered, stomping uphill following the pseudo-motorway towards the cathedral perched atop it's hill, amazed by such a crap beer range at what was ostensibly a pub which kept decent cask ales.
I soon reached my next call, the Jolly Brewers, a pub which had presumably been built when the road outside wasn't fenced in and people in cars actually stopped at pubs rather than driving past as fast as possible. Inside was a riot of lurid green walls and other unpleasant decor but one thing caught my eye and that was an Alehouse scoop, Abbey line Anniversary! Now I knew that Alan and Mary had a B&B in town (the details of which I'd forgotten, hence my stay out in the wilds) and guessed that this beer had come to town via them, but I'd not guessed that I'd scoop something as rare as this; maybe it would be a decent evening out after all if this were anything to base a projection of scoops on?
The beer wasn't in the usual Alehouse style (i.e. it wasn’t pale and hoppy!) although it did have plenty of bitterness to balance the toasted grain flavour and was a good start to the day's drinking; after all I thought, as I carried on up the hill, that might be the best beer I have all day knowing what Cathedrals beers taste like! I managed to re-cross the road at a crossing – once again getting the feeling that the cars would, if there had been any possibility of getting away with it, rather have carried on straight over me – and was soon at the Forum McSpoons which, even though I don't really like the overall Chavtastic experience of drinking in them, sounded like it was worth a look on account of their alleged sale of Newby Wyke beers.
An afternoon wander.
Predictably, even though Newby Wyke beers were on three of the clips, they carried the proviso of being “sorry not available” and so with only Greede Kerching slops on the other pumps I turned around and headed back out the door. With the evening still young there was time for a wander around the city and so I experienced the steepness of Lincoln's hills as I gawped at the castle, cathedral and touristy streets around them. I did have a look into a few pubs along the way but all had dismal beer ranges, mainly from the Marston's list, and such is my dislike of their beers (both in flavour and company ways!) that I even flagged a potential scoop in the form of yet another dodgy cricket beer... which I knew I'd hate it so didn't bother!
After seeing the sights and relaxing for a while beside the impressively Gothic (and very beige) cathedral complete with resident screeching peregrines it was time for some more beer. I headed for a cluster of pubs by the castle passing on the way a bar called “cloud” which just happened to have Bateman's GHA, their new(ish) permanent beer. Now I'm not a huge fan of Bateman’s beers but I'd heard that this one actually had some hops in it – a rare thing for a regional brewer – and so I decided to give it a try in a spirit of munificence. Well, it was pale-ish and it did have a vague suggestion of hop in the flavour, but sadly it was a typical pear-drop tasting dry and malty Bateman brew which didn't have enough hops to satisfy my thirst for lupulins although I must admit I've had a hell of a lot worse from them!
My next visit was the Strugglers which I'd describe as that old cliche, the classic street-corner local, and entering the pub was like entering a different decade although, sadly, the beer range wasn't up to much with only Landlord (no thanks), Springhead (boycotted) and Rudgate (don't like) on sale. With a fairly hefty twinge of regret at not savouring the rare atmosphere that is a proper old boozer it was off to the Victoria to see if I'd do any better on the beer front there although knowing that it used to be a Tynemill pub and was now owned by Bateman's I didn't hold out much hope for anything to drink never mind scoop!
Out of town.
As I neared the pub someone was crossing the road heading for the same place as I was and, as we neared the door, we both smiled in mutual recognition; it was Alan off for a pint! Inside the pub I was relieved to see a good range of beer – including three scoops for me – and amusingly none of them were Batemans, and vindicating my scoop in the Cloud bar the GHB wasn't on either! I worked my way through the winners; Dixons Glory Hunter was a smooth and malty beer with a vaguely minty bitterness and a toffee-malt finish, Dark Star Summer Solstice was laced with ginger, not enough to render it undrinkable, but let's just say that it was no Hophead! I finished with Brewster's Decadence, a beer I was sure I'd had before but not according to my Mini-Aston; this was a fruity, bitterish ale with a citrus and blackberry hop taste (Bramling cross?) before a well-balanced finish.
Alan then suggested a little trip to an out-of-town pub, the Three Horseshoes at Waddington, so we picked Mary up from the B&B before heading out past the sprawling airbase to the pub. The village was suitably “olde” with narrow streets and little in the way of parking space where, after being advised by a roofer that our chosen parking spot was likely to get us “hit by a bus”, Mary and I left Alan to sort out another whilst we got the beers in! An impressive range was on the pumps and we tried the lot between us with two scoops for me in the shape of Fugelstou Pale Solace, a dull golden and sticky malty brew with no hops, followed by Potbelly Ambrosia which was much better with Maderia-esque flavours, honeyed malt and coffee grounds in the tasty finish.
Our beers scooped, it was time to be off before a bus rammed Alan's car so we headed back into Lincoln to the Golden Eagle which was one of the pubs I'd planned to stop off at during my long walk back to the hotel! Inside was a traditional bar with six or so cask ales available including, much to my incredulity, yet more scoops! Magpie best was a very dull amber ale with nothing to recommend it whilst Newby Wyke Lord Ancaster was a hundred times better with it's zesty citric hoppiness – the kind Newby Wyke do well – and a bitter yet balanced finish; top stuff, and the best beer of the evening thus far.
Next we headed back into the centre in order to visit the best beer pub – theoretically – in town, the Green Dragon. This superb old timber-framed building was bought by Milestone brewery a few years back and they have recently installed a micro-brewery out the back which produces the sadly very bland Cathedrals beers (Milestone's own beers aren't exactly remarkable!) plus it sells a wide range of guests too; all in all, then, it seemed the best chance for a pageful of scoops although I'd already ticked nine winners, a tally way in excess of what I'd imagined, so I wasn't feeling too desperate as we parked up and wandered towards the pub.
First, however, we were treated to a brief brewery tour as we had to walk past it in order to reach the door! The kit was fairly small, I'd guess 2 or 3 barrels in length, and the delicious sweet smell of boiling wort hung heavy in the air. One thing that always strikes me about breweries, including those whose beers I'd never consider drinking even if adrift in the Pacific in an open boat, is that they all smell gorgeous when brewing no matter what cheap adjuncts they use in the process; Boddies – even in it's dying days – always made Manchester city centre smell all gooey and malty whilst Brains did the same for Cardiff and even the repulsive effluence produced at the Royal in Moss Side smells decent enough if veering towards weetabix. It just goes to show that what comes out of the gate may be shite but it still smells appetizing when it's being made!
Around a dozen beers were on the pumps in the downstairs bar (those bars on the upper levels have less beers on, apparently) and I was amazed to see that I required five more winners; this was turning into an unexpectedly heavy session! Sadly every beer except one was exactly the kind of beer I dislike with the exception being a very strange one indeed; Rugby Sidestep was dull and malty, like going back to the 1980's before hops were used properly, Cathedrals Golden Imp had a nasty phenolic twang to the sticky malt taste, Anglo Dutch Sweet Jane lived up to it's name and I suggested that they'd forgotten to ferment it, Castle Rock Screech Owl was similarly worty although a decent fruitiness saved the day, and finally Alehouse Mexicana was a bizarre Chilli beer with what tasted like lime zest and cumin in there too; surprisingly, despite the ingredients, it was interesting and tasty although I doubt I could have finished a pint of it!
With time marching on and the offer of a ride back to the hotel too inviting to turn down that was that and we were back in the car hotel-bound, but there was one more stop on the way, the Ritz McSpoons. Now you may wonder – considering my dislike of the chain in general – why, but Mary assured me that this one made an effort with their beers and that Jaipur was usually on; if it's on form, there aren’t a lot of beers I'd rather see on a pump! Sure enough the hop-monster from Derbyshire was on along with yet another scoop so glasses of both were acquired. Oldershaw Thomas de Beverley Dancing Bitter had a bizarre name and a similarly strange taste with lots of coffee and toasted malt in the flavour along with a rich maltiness and sweetish finish, whilst the Jaipur was the best I've had for quite a while with a juicily zesty, oily hop character although I still think it's lost it's bitter bite compared to a few years back when it really was a superb beer rendering it just a very good one these days!
All that remained was for us to sup up and me to be dropped off at the hotel – still in time for my evening meal, amazingly – and whilst I munched my way through a mountain of on-expenses food I reflected that I'd just scooped 15 beers in a city not known for it's ticking potential; okay so I'm rather “empty book” in the UK scene these days and some of the beers were claw-backs for me but, even so, 15 winners is way, way more than I expected and I'm sure I'll be back in Lincoln a lot sooner than the 16 years it took me to return this time!
Lincoln isn't a scooping city, especially if you're on top of the game, but with a bit of luck most people should get a few winners and there's some decent beer and pubs to be found too. The theoretical highlight is the Green Dragon brewpub with it's 12 beers on pump although our visit found all beers sampled in average condition and of poor brewing standard – in my opinion, at least – with the exception of Kev's bizarre Mexicana!
The rest of the city's scoop-worthy pubs are a mixed bag with some gems amongst them plus there are at least 3 McSpoons in the city so there's always a chance of some “sorry not available” although the Ritz seems the best bet beer-wise. I particularly liked the Victoria, despite it's Batemans ownership, and the Golden Eagle was a nice old boozer with the city's best McSpoons a short walk away. The pubs are fairly well spread out around the city and it helps not to be too unfit (I know, glass houses and all that...) as there are some precipitous hills around, especially leading up to the cathedral and castle area, just ask my lungs!
So, with 15 unexpected winners, Lincoln exceeded my expectations by a wide margin and I'd recommend it to anyone as a nice little pub crawl with the chance of a few scoops into the bargain; just don't drive through the place, okay?
My Google map of the city's pubs is here.
© Gazza 16/07/09 v1.0