A brand new blog breaking new ground by visiting a completely new area for me. Football was involved, of course, but what would the pub and beer situation be like? And where would it be? Read on to find out....
I haven't been to watch FC Halifax Town as much this time around, but at the start of the season we had discussed one or two potential away trips where we would have a stop over. So having signed up early doors, four of us set off early last Saturday morning to visit Maidenhead, where we hoped to be able to come back with the points and enjoy a few pints in this corner of Berkshire. And of course I was hoping to find enough suitable material to put together a new blog!
Maidenhead is situated just off the M4 and close to the M40, and with a railway connection that gets you to London Paddington in 24 minutes as well as having services to more local places like Windsor and Reading, the town, which takes its name from its location where a new wharf or 'maiden hythe' was built in Saxon times, is handily located. The town centre, whilst it wouldn't win any awards for its looks, is compact, with the railway station, football ground, three of the town's five CAMRA pubs, and the Travelodge where we stayed the night all very close together. With a few delays on the M1 coming down, our journey took just over 4 and a half hours, but once we had got parked up near the hotel, we were able to amble around to the first pub and begin drinking our first pint before the clock struck 1.30.
Our first pub was the predictably-named Maiden's Head (well, somebody was bound to do it!), a pleasant enough town-centre pub with various separate areas within its general open-plan design. There were 4 hand pumps on the bar, as well as a number of craft beers in keg. From the cask range, we all went for pints of Rebellion IPA, a 3.7% copper-coloured beer, quite malty and sweet, with a dry finish (NBSS 3), and was a pleasant-enough beer to start the day. The brewery is based in Marlow, across the border in Buckinghamshire, and has steadily grown since being established in 1993. We were joined by a group of familiar Town fans, who had travelled down by train, and we compared notes on our respective journeys.
The next pub was only a couple of minutes walk away, a large and prominent traditional pub called the Bear, which is now a JD Wetherspoon house whose thresholds, as regular readers will know, I rarely cross. But we were relatively short on time, and whilst my pint of the 3.8% Windsor & Eton Knight of the Garter golden session ale was thin on flavour but too sweet for my taste (NBSS 2.5), I did at least have the consolation of picking up the tab for the round here, which have barely covered the cost of two pints in most of the other places we went over the day. But don't get me started about the breakfast we had here the following morning....
Much better was our final stop before going to the football. A Hoppy Place was a modern bar and bottle and can shop offering both cask and keg beers based on the ground floor of a residential development. Apparently it opened in 2022 following in the footsteps of a sister bar in Windsor. and features 4 cask ales and 14 keg lines. Today there were beers on offer from breweries such as Siren, Stardust, Tartarus, and Verdant, and from the cask range there was unanimity again as all four of us went for pints of Devotion, from Norfolk-based brewers Duration. This was a 4.4% hazy pale featuring the Motueka hop, which I have found that sometimes on its own can be a little bland, but it was certainly not the case with this. Well-balanced and smooth, it was easily the most enjoyable of our pre-match beers, and indeed one of the best of the day (NBSS 3.5). The atmosphere here was friendly and relaxed, and there were not surprisingly given the proximity to the football ground a number of supporters from both teams as well as family groups and beer afficionados.
It was yards to the football ground from there. York Road is amazingly the oldest football in continuous use by the same team, dating from 1871. Like the town around it, it is a hotch-potch, with low buildings, wooden huts, a couple of covered standing terraces, a more modern stand with seating, and a modern container-esque Alan Devonshire Suite, named after the Magpies' long-standing current manager. But it has a certain charm about it and unusually for the National League these days there is no crowd segregation. Unfortunately though, the football was where it all went wrong for us away fans, as we witnessed another disappointing performance by Town. Yes we should have had a penalty, and we piled on the pressure in the 2nd half, but we faffed about in the first half, kept giving the ball away, underlining once again that we are desperately short of a striker. It finished Maidenhead Utd 1, Town 0.
Football over, we got checked in at the hotel, and 10 minutes later we reconvened and headed across the road to the railway station from where we caught the train to Windsor & Eton Central, which involved a changeover at Slough. Now having never been to Maidenhead before, I did have vague recollections of visiting Windsor a long, long time ago. We got off the train, went down the steps and spotted two brewery taprooms situated in the arches below the station, Two Flints and Indie Rabble (who I discovered subsequently are owned by the same people that have the Hoppy Places). But the quick route was blocked off, and once we had walked round a considerable block, we decided to go to another brewery tap that was in the Good Beer Guide, on an industrial estate on the other side of the railway arches, that of the Windsor & Eton Brewery.
The snappily-named Windsor & Eton Unit Four Brewery Tap sits in a unit deep within the Vansittart Industrial Estate in sight of the railway line. We arrived to find a pleasant bar which was already quite busy and with several of the empty tables having cards with reservations on for later in the evening it seems that this is a place to go on a weekend. The brewery was set up in 2010 by some former employees of Courage, who had a big site in nearby Reading, and was the first new brewery in Windsor for almost 80 years. Today they brew around 5,000 barrels a year so they are of a reasonable size, with their beers sold mainly in London and around the Thames Valley, with local deliveries around Windsor made using a traditional horse and dray. I ordered a pint of Guardsman bitter, a 4.2% traditional copper-coloured beer brewed with Maris Otter malt and Styrian Golding, Pilgrim, and Fuggles hops (NBSS 3). The quality was fine, but I found its bitter hop flavours and underlying sweetness not really to my taste. They seem to brew traditional styles but there were several keg lines on as well, so it seems they are moving with the times.
The Windsor and Eton Tap marks the start of a new Windsor beer mile which I read about in the Berkshire South East CAMRA magazine which has the delightful title of Mad Cow (think about it). This also takes in the two new brewery taps by the station and the next two pubs we visited. From the W & E Tap it was a few minutes to the original A Hoppy Place. Set in a former retail unit on a pleasant street, there was a welcoming glow from inside as we approached. The bar and bottle shop is smaller than the Maidenhead branch but I quite enjoyed its relaxed atmosphere, with several customers chatting with the guy behind the bar which is situated at the back of a long room. It falls into two sections, with an area at the front with several tables and a couple of fridges selling cans and bottles. There are no hand pumps, but a couple of cask beers are dispensed from a number of taps on the back wall along with 11 keg beers, all of which are displayed on LED screens in both sections of the bar. We went for one of the two cask beers, a 4.8% American Pale Ale called Wapaloosie, brewed by Leeds-based Tartarus Brewery and named after a mythical creature from North American folklore. It featured a little wheat and oats to soften the mouthfeel, cara and crystal malts, and Ella, Enigma, and Comet hops to give some big fruity flavours, and was the colour of pale mud. An interesting beer which is also gluten-free (NBSS 3).
|The boys enjoying their Wapaloosies....|
Moving on it was another few minutes to the next place. The Windsor Trooper is a traditional pub decorated in an attractive style with several old brewery mirrors adorning the walls, whilst adorning the bar were 5 hand pumps with cask beers featuring Adnams Southwold Bitter, Oakham Citra, plus three guest ales. I'd noticed beers on sale in one or two of the places we'd been from Stardust, whose beers I'd not encountered previously. There was one here too, called Easy Pale featuring Mosaic hops, so I gave it a try. This 3.8% pale was clean and refreshing, and it was just what my palate needed at this point of the day after a couple of rather chewy pints. One of the best beers of the day (NBSS 3.5), and in one of the best places we visited. A great atmosphere, friendly staff, and top-class beer - what's not too like?
Unfortunately the next place didn't do a lot for me. The Grade ll-listed Corner House had a bouncer on for starters, and whilst the guy was extremely polite and courteous it always puts me off when you have some burly guy on the door and then wonder what lies within. Inside the bar was busy and loud, with a crowd predominately comprising some of Windsor's young and beautiful things. Championship darts featured on two large TV screens, whilst surprisingly there was a total of 10 hand pumps on the bar, including beers from Tiny Rebel, Brew York, and Stardust. I went for a pint of Stardust Easy Pale, but this time it featured the Citra hop. It was ok but not as good as the last pint I'd had (NBSS 3). I just felt that the over-riding sports bar feel jarred with some of the places we'd visited earlier.
We then made our way into the heart of the old part of Windsor close to the castle where lurking amongst some attractive narrow streets and alleys was our final pub of the evening. The Carpenters Arms is a Nicholson's house which means you would expect it be attractively decorated and well-maintained and to sell their house beer, a pale ale brewed by St Austell, probably Doom Bar, and several more interesting guest beers. And, yes, it was like that, with much dark wood, glazed panels, tall brass-topped tables, and wooden barrels, with pictures of old Windsor and marching guardsmen on the wall. There were also some artefacts featuring the pubs former owners, Ashbys. The Nicholson's Pale Ale was pleasant enough (NBSS 3), and the atmosphere was chilled and quieter than the last place, and quite relaxing. A nice spot for the final pint of the evening.
We walked down a busy street towards the river, the castle walls above us, and crossed the bridge over the Thames, where a few minutes later we arrived at Golden Curry, an Indian restaurant that had been suggested. Situated on a quiet road, it wasn't too busy and service was quick. The food was excellent, my seekh kebabs followed by chicken pathia with pilau rice and garlic nan washed down with a bottle of Cobra really hit the spot. We also received a complementary brandy and were then treated to some mind-boggling magic tricks by Amin, the restaurant's owner. It made for a splendid end to the evening's proceedings, before we got an Uber back over to Maidenhead and the hotel.
It had been an interesting day, ok the football and some of the beer hadn't lived up to expectations, but overall I'd enjoyed my day in this part of the world. And there's at least two new brewery taps waiting should I make a return trip to Windsor....
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