Hophead Blog Archive

Hi real ale lovers! Let me introduce myself. I'm Hophead.

Hophead Says Cheers

I'm the mascot of the South West Essex Branch of CAMRA. I was so called as I first became acquainted with South West Essex Branch while they were travelling to visit 'Dark Star', the brewery that produces 'Hophead'; a particular Branch favourite. I've been with them for quite some time now. Some of you may have seen me or even spoken to me (after a few strong pints). I get out and about to pubs with my branch members, including pub crawls, brewery trips, branch week-ends away including the National Members week-end and AGM.

I let you know what you've missed out on, if you were unable to join us. We have over 1400 Branch Members, but see so few of you. We are a friendly bunch so come and join us at one of our events, particularly if you've never been along before. Whether an occasional real ale drinker or a seasoned (responsible) drinker, we'd like to meet you.

National AGM & Conference
31st Mar - 4th Apr 2016

Due to ticketing constraints, we had to split this trip into two parties on separate trains. My party was first off, expecting to get to Liverpool about 40 minutes ahead of the rest. However, due to delays we ended up only 20 minutes ahead.

Once in Liverpool, we arranged to meet up at the North Western, a Wetherspoon pub on Lime Street Station. As well as the two main bars dispensing 12 real ales, a third had been set up at the back of the pub serving a further 10 beers which were just about to come on once we arrived. How's that for good timing. This was for the influx of CAMRA Members descending on the City, which later that afternoon and evening was hosting a "Meet and Greet" organised by the local CAMRA Branch.

We had our own agenda but stayed for several pints, before heading off and getting ourselves booked in to our accommodation for the next four nights. Graham had booked us into The Devonshire House Hotel, which is about a mile outside the city centre. A taxi or bus ride away or those energetic enough, a walk (I did it once albeit on Steve's back, well he's got longer legs than me).

Time to explore the pubs of Liverpool.

We had agreed to meet at The Augustus John, a pub run by The University of Liverpool. Several of us jumped a cab whose driver didn't appear to have any idea of the area. Anyway, once we got there eventually, or I should say almost there as we were dropped off about a five-minute walk away, we were all together and properly starting the weekend.

Everyone stood behind bar at The North Western, a Wetherspoon on Lime Street Station The North Western (Wetherspoon pub on Lime Street Station) now belongs to us. MWAHAHA!

After a couple of pints, food was in order and someone suggested The Philharmonic Dining Rooms. A magnificent Grade II-listed establishment once a private gentleman's club and notable for its marvellous marble tiled gents' toilets. A good selection of beers but unfortunately let down by its slow service behind the bar and in some cases, a long wait for food or getting the wrong order.

Next, the Fly In The Loaf owned by Isle of Man brewer, Okells. Just the one in here before our final stop, The Pen Factory. This wasn't everyone's ideal pub, but I liked it. A good choice of beers, particularly the Plum Porter from Titanic and live music (although the acoustics could have been better).

A cab ride back to the hotel, a coffee then bed.

Friday morning, breakfast then off to explore Liverpool. Very much a please yourself morning, splitting into small groups and doing our own thing, either wandering around, shopping or visiting museums, anything until the pubs opened.

I had an interesting morning in the Museum of Liverpool before heading to The Pumphouse. We had thought this might be a good place for lunch, but so it seems did many others. So a quick drink here before catching up with Paul and Graham in the Baltic Fleet where I had Scouse for the first time. That's a stew, in case you're wondering.

A picture of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral spire The beautiful Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Who says beer and culture don't mix?

We had time for one more stop so checked out the nearest on WhatPub which happened to be The Abbey and the cheapest pint so far with CAMRA discount. We then headed to the Guild of Students and registration for the main event. Dropping off our registration slips, collecting the usual shoulder bag with contents of booklets and maps, purchasing a glass and beer tokens then getting it filled, we were all together again in The Members Bar.

Tonight, some of us went off on one of the organised coach trips to The Connoisseur Brewery in St. Helens. Only half a dozen or so tickets were available so we couldn't all do this. Those that did were given a choice of six ales on hand pump from their range, no limit on the amount we could drink, and a buffet. We were given a tour of the brewery in small groups of six or seven at a time.

A good evening with good beer, made an enjoyable visit.

Saturday and the most important bit (for some of us), The AGM and Conference. Those of us that were keen to get there for the start headed out straight after breakfast for a ringside seat. Little did we know that is exactly what it turned out to be, as some felt they had taken a few verbal punches. Unfortunately, I can't go into detail here. You should have been there...

Hophead sitting on the pumps at The Connoisseur Brewery in St. Helens Me helping out at The Connoisseur Brewery in St. Helens. Phew, I worked up quite a thirst.

However, once things calmed down we heard from two guest speakers. The first, Michael Hardiman, one of the original "four" founding members. The second was Tim Martin (Mr Wetherspoon himself). Once todays proceedings were over, it was a few drinks in the bar before heading off for another coach trip to The Parker Brewery in Southport. This time all of us were there.

Only three beers on offer here, but again no limit as well as a buffet. We were split into two groups to tour the brewery. After a couple of hours or so it was back on the coach for a couple more in the Members Bar, although by this time stocks were starting to look low.

Sunday, and a walk this morning down to the Conference (OK, I've already said I was carried). Only a morning session to finish off, then it's back to the pubs and Sunday Lunch. Pre-lunch drinks in The Belvedere before heading to The Blackburne for lunch. Whoever selected this picked a winner. Three (for some of us) really good courses.

Hophead and Graham (with his clothes on) having a chat A rare picture of Graham with his clothes on...

It was then a crawl for the rest of the day starting in Ye Cracke, said to be a watering hole of one John Lennon before he became a Beatle.

Next, The Pilgrim. A very busy pub where, after buying drinks and unable to find an empty table, we ventured upstairs via a spiral staircase. There were a group of people up there already who were just leaving, when a member of staff politely told us that we shouldn't be there as this bar was closed. We discovered afterwards it was their function room. We ignored him and stayed until we finished our drinks, anyway.

Onwards to The Grapes followed by The Roscoe Head before finishing in The Dispensary. All of these were good on so many counts: Staff, beer, atmosphere. It was a shame it was our last full day, but we made the most of it.

Few, some, many or a lot of pints later, depending on your intake capability, it was time to head back to our hotel for the final time as tomorrow we go home. (Well that's not strictly true, I had to go to Chester for a few days to look after Steve. You can't trust him out on his own).

Monday morning and our last breakfast (no burnt toast this time, remember Truro). Then back to where it started, North Western on Lime Street Station. A few more to finish off before heading home (or Chester).

A very enjoyable weekend was had by all and we now look forward to Edinburgh.

Christmas & Anniversary
24th Jan 2016

Hi guys. A month into 2016 and it seems Christmas and New Year is an age ago now, so here's just a quick round up of what we've been up to recently.

Between Christmas and New Year it was Anne's annual Crawl, this year in Teddington and Twickenham. As has become a bit of a habit before a day out, it was breakfast at The Barking Dog before heading off to Waterloo. There we were joined by several more Crawlers before boarding our train. This year we kept to just four pubs, less walking and more drinking. First stop, The Masons Arms in Teddington, currently CAMRA Pub of the Year for the area. A real gem of a pub. It was like stepping back in time. Lots of pub memorabilia on display. A bus ride to Twickenham for the next pub, The Rifleman, former CAMRA Pub of the Year for the area. It had been a bit quiet for these two pubs apart from us, but it was only early afternoon. A short walk in the rain up to The Sussex Arms. So many hand pumps, but we did our best to work our way through them. By now it was starting to get busy, time was getting on and we were getting hungry. So it was off to our final pub, The Aleksander, more of a foodie pub but still a good range of beers. After that it was home for me but I think a few managed to find at least one other watering hole on the way back to the station.


Our 40th Anniversary bash at The White Hart in Grays went well. It was good to see lots of old faces, old in the sense of previous members. Photo-boards depicting previous anniversaries were on display. Did some of us really look like that? A good many pints were supped that evening, particularly from the two barrels provided in the function room, the first inclusive with your ticket and subsequent ones at 40/- a pint (£2 for those too young to know what that means) as well as those purchased from the main bar. Anne gave a short speech, which led to several anecdotes being told. At the end of the evening when it was stated that we should look forward to our 50th, it was suggested that it might be wise to go for our 45th... Many thanks to the staff at The White Hart for their efforts on the night and for providing the buffet.


Three days later, it was on to the place where it all began for us, The Mawney Arms in Romford (read "How the South West Essex Branch of CAMRA was formed" by Trevor Benson, on the About Us Page). It was probably coincidence, but we got a real sense of the 70's when the pub and most of the surrounding area suffered a power cut. For a short while we couldn't purchase beer. Not because the pumps failed but because the tills wouldn't operate. Fortunately, this didn't last as long as those blackouts encountered back then.

Annual Branch Weekend Away
2nd - 5th Oct 2015

An early(ish) start on a bright October morning, saw eighteen raring to go real ale drinkers congregate on the concourse of Paddington Station for the South West Essex annual weekend trip. Now, some of you will say, there's only seventeen, but don't forget me, (hidden away in the luggage because someone forgot to get me a ticket).

On what promised to be, for the most part, a fair weekend, as far as the weather was concerned, we split up into two groups, let's call them the seniors and the others, and boarded the Penzance train for the four hour, twenty minute trip to Truro.

On arrival, to the relief of us all for the chance to stretch our legs, we made our way either by taxi or walking to the County Arms Hotel. The is a traditional Cornish Inn located in Highertown, Truro, serving award winning St. Austell Brewery Ales. (I got that line straight out of the brochure).

Graham P was in charge of sorting out the rooms and once we had all settled in we headed for the bar for our first beer of many of the weekend ahead.

'Proper Job', 'Trelawny' and 'Tribute', all from St. Austell, well it is one of their Hotels, being the beers available with I think 'Proper Job' taking the lead over 'Trelawny' for sales in this session.

Everyone Enjoying A Drink At County Arms Hotel
Proper Yum
More Pints at County Arms Hotel
"What do you think of this beer, lads?" "Yum!"

It was mid-afternoon and an absolutely glorious day, as we sat on the veranda overlooking the Cornish countryside and discussing the weekend ahead. Later that evening we were booked for a Brewery tour at Skinner's, but first it was a trip into town to see what Truro had to offer.

Around the Table With Phones Out Important and serious discussion about beer

Although we were armed with local guides for real ale pubs, compared to previous trips the choice of real ale wasn't as extensive as we would have liked. More local brews would have been welcome considering there are 14 breweries in Cornwall. However, we wandered around in small groups before all congregating at the Old Ale House, the Skinner's brewery tap. It seemed fitting we should all end up here even though we had not pre-arranged it.

Comparing notes on where we had been, no one pub seemed to stand out in anyone's estimation. But we were out to enjoy ourselves.

A few here to get us in the right frame of mind then it was a short walk down to the Brewery. We were welcomed and shown into the visitor centre which is basically a pub serving a range of Skinners beers. After a couple of pints we were taken on a tour of the brewery before heading back to the Visitors Centre for some more beer and a hot Cornish Pasty. These were included in the cost of the visit although we think we were allowed more than the usual allocation. The whole visit lasted around three hours so plenty of beer was consumed that night.

Tour at Driftwood Spars Brewery Shhh! Everybody listen, this is important

Saturday morning arrived and it's all down to breakfast. I think a few of us were feeling the effects of the previous day but after a hearty Cornish breakfast it was a leisurely morning before meeting at the bus station for the short ride to St Agnes, on the North Cornish Coast.

A quick stop off at The St Agnes Hotel for a "hair of the dog" before a short walk down Stippy Stappy and on to Driftwood Spars. A small brewery, part of the Driftwood Spars pub and B&B, established in 2000 situated in the Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes.

Hophead Sitting on the Bar My favourite spot at Skinner's Brewery

On arrival we were greeted by Pete the Brewer who we caught giving the place a quick clean up before giving us a quick tour which gave us a chance to browse the shop.

Afterwards it was across to the pub where we were given a tasting session of their ales. I think it was about seven beers sampled, and Pete gave a very informative talk, explaining why and how his beers came into being and the story behind the names.

After the tour and tasting session was over, we stayed on here for the next couple of hours or so, chatting and drinking, or wandering off to the surrounds for a spot of sightseeing.

Next door was a Chip Shop, sorry, Seafood Takeaway, apparently very important to get that right. I think most of us took advantage of this particularly as it was such a nice afternoon. What better way to spend a Saturday than eating fish and chips outside a pub alongside a brewery.

Time rolls on and it was back to the bus for the return ride to Truro. We had no group plans for the evening so we all went our separate ways. England were playing Australia in the rugby that night so some watched that over a few more beers in the various pubs in town.

Pete the Brewer Talking
Pete the Brewer explains his art
People Drinking at Driftwood Spars Pub
Never mind that, get these glasses filled!

Sunday, another day dawns. Breakfast then off to church (no, sorry, wrong trip). A trip to the seaside, Falmouth to be precise, although the plan wasn't to see the sea but, you've guessed it, visit pubs. We set off in two groups, by train and bus, arranging for a rendezvous in Beerwolf Books, a bookshop and pub in one. This we had expected to open at 11.00, but like most pubs didn't open until 12.00. Bear in mind it was Sunday, so it was a quick detour to the 'spoon before heading back a little later. Well we couldn't stand around on the street corner.

Another group, on their way from the station, stumbled upon 'front, surprisingly enough on the front. A former CAMRA pub of the year with 6 hand pumps. After a few phone calls between groups in the two pubs, those from the 'front joined the rest at the Beerwolf. Six hand pumps here, a few more here then a hill climb up to The Boathouse. Overlooking the Fal Estuary, we assembled on the covered balcony area. A little cooler than the previous couple of days but it was the only area that could accommodate all of us. By now, hunger was kicking in and we had not yet made any arrangements for lunch which we could have eaten here but due to the seating arrangements, and temperature, we decided against it. So a few more pints, then a late Sunday lunch at The Packet Station.

Denise Squeezing Al's Arm
Denise discovers whether Driftwood beers gives a man muscles
Hophead in his Sunglasses
Chilling out in the hotel, but not wanting to be recognised by my fans

Fed and watered (well, beered up again), it was a few doors along to the Seven Stars, seven beers plus ginger beer (not a beer, but you had to be there for Alan's wisdom). There were only a few locals in so we virtually took over the place. The landlord must have had a good increase on his takings that afternoon as the beer was still going down well. With still a couple of pubs to try, it was on to the 'front (for those not keeping up, I didn't get there earlier).

A couple of halves here, then off to the Cutty Sark, a pub we passed on the way down, but too early to be open. This was close to the rail station so seemed a good finishing point. I don't think the intention was to stay here long but with the train timetable being sporadic, once you missed one, you had no choice but to stay. Also the pub was hosting a Karaoke night. Now I know that's not everybody's idea of fun and you hope that no one is going to get up and ruin a good song, particularly if it's someone in your group. But we've got Steve and by all accounts, he just doesn't care. (for anyone interested, we had to endure Crocodile Rock, All the Young Dudes and China Girl).

Everyone Drinking Around a table
It's a thumbs up for The Boathouse from John,
but what's caught Wendy's eye?
Post Sunday Lunch Drinking
Relaxing after Sunday lunch at The Packet Station.
Actually, we were deciding on which pub next...

It was time to go as by now we had stayed until the last train. The rain was pouring down, it had been forecast and it was the first we'd had over the weekend so we couldn't really complain. At the station, the train should have already passed to the next and final stop before returning back to Truro. But it hadn't. After some amusing banter on the information intercom with someone who we couldn't be sure fully understood the workings of the railway, the train did arrive. So after a very long but very enjoyable day, we were on our way back to our Hotel for the last time.

Group Shot with Everyone Smiling Everybody saying "Cheese!" at The Seven Stars

The final morning. I sat looking out of the window at the overcast sky deciding whether I'd had enough and just wanted to get home or wishing I'd booked to stay another day.

Hophead Looking Out of the Window Looking out for naked Grahams

Then it happened. The fire alarm goes off. Surely it's not down to one of my lot? But it was. Apparently, Steve got his bread caught in the toaster. No, that's not a euphemism or punishment for last night. Turns out that while using the DIY toaster at breakfast, the bread stuck and just carried on toasting. A member of staff had been informed and was trying to get it out but by this time the smoke was such that it set the alarm off. Fortunately, as they were aware of this, the Hotel didn't have to be evacuated. This was a blessing to one of our group who had just got into the bath. I don't know what I'd have done if a naked Uncle Graham had gone running past the window!!

With the excitement of breakfast over, it was all back to the rooms to pack. We still had a few hours to go before heading back so everyone did their own thing. About half a dozen of us happened upon the museum. Just goes to show what a cultured lot we are.

Anyway, the time had come and it was back to pick up the luggage and off to the station. I suppose that means several hours back in that bag. I'll get my own ticket next year.

Chappel Beer Festival
8th - 12th Sept 2015

Hopefully many of you managed to get along to the Chappel Beer Festival. There were beers from all over the country served in the two main bars, The Goods Shed and The Restoration Shed. There were also four brewery bars, "Bartrams" - "Shalford" - "Wibblers" - "Colchester"

There was also the Foreign Beer Bar, featuring beers from Belgium, Germany and North America. Fortunately the weather was good (particularly on the Thursday when I went). A bonus considering what we had been getting before and after the event. This festival, organized by the Essex Branches of CAMRA, is also a fundraising exercise for the East Anglian Railway Museum.

If you didn't make it, there's always the Winter Festival in February 2016.

You may be wondering why, if you went on the same day as me, you didn't spot me. Simple, I was in disguise!

A Trip to Birmingham
17th Jul 2015

Seven of us set off from Euston Station on a bright sunny Friday morning, for a scheduled trip (Pub Crawl) in the City of Birmingham. Arriving just prior to the magic hour of opening time, the logical thing to do, we headed out of the city centre to BARTONS ARMS in Newtown. A splendid pub with Oakham beers and Thai cuisine of which a good feed was had by all.

We then headed back towards the city centre to the THE LORD CLIFDEN. While sampling a couple of beers here and consulting WHATPUB, we added a few unscheduled stops to our itinerary. THE CHURCH, a few doors along, The JEWELLERS ARMS and THE DROP FORGE, which all fall on route to our next scheduled stop of THE ROSE VILLA TAVERN.


Onwards to THE RED LION, which had the added bonus of a mini beer festival before our final stop THE WELLINGTON. This pub describes itself as a specialist real ale pub, and none of us can argue with that, and is an absolute must for any real ale drinker when in this city.

Any time spent here is not long enough but unfortunately New Street Station beckons and our journey home had to begin. A jolly fine day was had by all, not to mention more than a few fine ales and interesting pubs along the way.