A couple of weeks sampling cask ales in the heart of England does wonders for the mind and body. Long walks followed by a few hours in a decent pub or out in its sunny, flowering garden with new cask ales on offer marks the perfect holiday, especially so when the food alongside the ale rises above the ordinary.
While I was told by relatives that it had been raining since before the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, the weather made an about face when I touched down at Birmingham International Airport. The sun shunted the clouds aside and it soon turned hot and sticky.
As much as I have been coming to the Cotswolds in the Midlands since 1980, it’s always great to discover a visually stunning new village (or two) containing a smashing pub not far from a place I thought I knew well. Ebrington is a mere two miles from the market town of Chipping Campden, but I never had occasion to make the trip out until this summer. Here the Ebrington Arms, dating from 1640, stands proudly at the heart of this village of golden Cotswold stone cottages, many of them thatched and clinging to the surrounding hillsides.
There is a neat front bar with up to five cask ales available and separate dining rooms beyond, that lead to a stone walled garden. There is also excellent en suite accommodation available at the Ebrington Arms.
On cask was Jack’s Spaniels, a 3.8 percent abv golden ale, from Gun Dog Ales of Daventry, Northamptonshire, so new that it had not made CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide 2012. And what a delicious pint it was, abundantly loaded with hop bitterness and perfect with the turbot chosen from the well designed and executed menu.
During lunch, however, it became apparent that I was seated in someone’s preferred place in the sunshine in the garden and she made no bones about it, pointing in my direction and announcing indignantly to her friend that her favourite place had been taken. Sorry about that!
Head out the opposite end of Chipping Campden on the B4081 and along the A44 toward Moreton in Marsh and not far away is the village of Bourton-on-the-Hill, Gloucestershire, a place that I had previously driven through to the nearby Batsford Arboretum but had not stopped in at the Grade II listed Horse and Groom. This is a sharp pub with stylish accommodation and a pleasant garden setting, where I dined on a traditional Sunday roast of tender, juicy leg of lamb, with roast potatoes, fresh beets, broccoli and a moist bread stuffing. The cask beer of choice was the pungently hop forward Rare Breed from the Butcombe Brewery in Bristol.
A return visit a week later saw yet another new vibrant ale on offer, Best in Show, a 4.2 percent abv beauty from the recently minted Cotswold Lion Brewery in Coberley, Gloucestershire. Best in Show, with a bit more maltiness but still having a decent hop charge, paired well with a tender duck leg cooked with flair and oriental flavourings.
There you have it, two great pubs but please don’t call them ‘gastropubs’, just good cask ale pubs with welcoming atmosphere and home cooked food using locally sourced ingredients.