A couple of years ago when I first met my beer friend Peter in the Euston Tap, I convinced him to come up to Runcorn, assuring him of its fine beers and even finer people. In the event many of the pubs he came up to visit were in fact, closed, and he had a bad pint served to him in my local. Oh the shame! I promised to do a visit to his home town of Northampton.
I had visited Northampton on two other occasions, both conventions for the American sci-fi show Heroes. I won a competition and had a Chinese banquet with some of the cast in a restaurant which was originally one of the only six Indian restaurants in the country. Then me and and my friend Kenny went to the Black Lion pub (now closed) by the station, and ended up drinking at Birmingham Airport. He missed his flight and fell asleep in a massage chair, being rudely awoken by its 6am test drive. Good times.
Anyway, there were no superheroes or massage chairs on offer this time, just some excellent pubs and mysteriously hidden beer gardens. Our first stop was the Wig and Pen, which was full of Proper Pub goodness like brass-topped tables, beams, and slightly dodgy carpets. At the back was a tremendous beer garden with multiple TV screens, some stupendous hanging baskets, and one of those mechanical roofs that you can deploy when it rains. Peter told me he had once been entrusted with the remote, and it’s the most envious I have ever been. A swift St Edmunds by Greene King which was a bit flat, with no lacing. But the hanging baskets were nice.
Onwards to the Lamplighter which boasted one of the nicest pub interiors I’ve seen in years. Although points deducted for the presence of a Bass mirror, with no Bass. Upstairs, the ‘drawing room’ looked like it had been laid out for a Church of Bass revival meeting, that would be Retired Martin’s spot, front and centre. The Lamplighter also gives us a lesson on how to make your ‘coming soon’ posters look swanky and cool, rather than a My First Photoshop Tutorial. There was another lovely beer garden out the back, this was becoming something of a trend. I had a JHB which was slightly warm, but then it was 24 degrees outside.
The Black Prince was once called The Racehorse but the goth re-branding has been completed by massive cast iron candelabras and suits of armour, plus they brew their own beer, Olde England Ales. I had a very enjoyable Charles I bitter. Out the back, and another beer garden, this one of the biggest I have ever seen. There was also a view of a shoe factory which Peter believed to be the one which Kinky Boots was based on. Unfortunately, I fact checked, and it wasn’t. But that isn’t going to stop me taking the opportunity to link you to a video of me singing a song from the musical on stage.
Our next stop was to be the Princess Alexandra, but they had all buggered off to GBBF so we were left bereft. Never mind, on to the local Spoons for some sustenance and a pint of Snecklifter. It’s a big old Spoons, called the Cordwainer as Northampton is full of cobblers, and was probably the busiest pub we visited. Forgot to take a picture of the carpet, what a rookie error.
The Malt Shovel was like a museum of breweriana, which is rapidly going out fashion but is still, for me, one of the markers of a Proper Pub. Just have a look at some of these beauties. I can’t recall what I drank in here but the beer will have to play second fiddle to the stunning surroundings.
The Pomfret Arms was a touch more modern in its interior, and just when I thought I’d seen the last of the giant, secret beer gardens of Northampton, BOOM! This one was about four times the size of the main pub and featured a barn where they have live music, along some actual trees. All of the cask was local, I had a Wagtail which went down a little too well, could have had a pint of it, but time pressed on.
Our last stop was the best. Aquick jog through the malty air brought to us via the Carlsberg brewery.
We stopped at the Albion Brewery. Words fail me. In fact, they don’t. Gorgeous! There’s a word. Lovable! There’s another. It has its own brewery, it has proper old fashioned bar games which are playable, not just hung on the walls like a fashion accessory. It has any amount of hops and fairy lights strung about but they’re charming rather than twee, and the beer is excellent. I had a Phipps Cobbler’s Ale in a half pint mug, it’s like they knew I was coming.