The Society for The Preservation of Beers from the Wood
Northern Ireland Branch
There are now quite a few pub awards and it is hard about how to judge for the award. Obviously it is about cask ales; how well they are stored, served and their
quality. But what else? Well, all those things that make a good business, whatever it is.
Consistent quality of product served (food, drink or accommodation).
Staff friendliness, knowledge and approachability.
Attention to detail.
Value for money.
Wish to revisit.
The choice was very hard and, as time goes by and cask ale knowledge increases, will get harder.
THE ERRIGLE INN, Belfast
A really excellent day out. Some tasty food, chatting with the excellent staff and imbibing two cask ales from the wood. The Beers were from the Cheshire Brewery sent over by owner Shane Swindells. The two beers were on excellent form and certainly helped accompany a well deserved meal. This bar is not all that long in handling cask ales but it certainly is making a name for itself and is a deserved winner of the SPBWNI POPTY Award.
Picture: Presenting the award - The certificate - Some SPBW members - Beers from the Wood
This year will see the first presentation of the S.P.B.W. POTY award for 2005/6. This is a new scheme and was not part of the original branch working.
THE KING'S HEAD
Since re-installed the cask ale it has been on fine form and always available. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable. Food and decor is good and, while very busy
at times, the noise level in the front lounge is not overpowering. All in all, a good place to investigate.
THE JOHN HEWITT
This is quite a change from the dark little side street pub known and loved by everyone. It is new, it has new owners but it still keeps some of its original
customers and tasty items from past menus - like the KBS (although now described as "The Paddy Pizza"). The ales are still going strong and well served. It has
taken a while to get acquainted with all the newness and the major change of having regular music nights, but the bar is extremely popular and right next door to the new shopping mall. An excellent place to stop of for an ale and a meal.
THE KITCHEN BAR
Despite first impressions, the John Hewitt is actually quite a new bar in Belfast. It soon became well known as one of the few places in the town not to drive
customers away with high prices. It also became the centre for traditional music, mostly Irish with a regular trad jazz night, but laterally a mixture of seasonally
hosted folk, bluegrass, cajun and others.
Now a regular spot for pub beer festivals. There is a fine selection of continental and foreign bottled beers - just right to compliment the excellent food.
THE TUESDAY BELL
It is always a hard choice to pick a bar for a POTY award. More often than not it goes to a well used (as in "can't be bothered going elsewhere to
investigate") bar without consideration of an all-year-round profile. Not so with this award!
A bar that quietly performs well every night, with consistancy and friendliness is hard to beat - and hard to find. The bar this year is one that had a difficult start,
with a bad customer group moving in from another local. Over the months this crowd got the message and the clientele are now seen to be regulars, supportive, friendlier
and much more relaxed. I have been using it on a regular basis and have found the staff well educated in the ales they sell.
THE CROWN BAR
A Victorian Gin Palace in all its beauty, still standing firm against the heavy encroachment of modernisation and minimalism. Loved by locals and foreign visitors, it
boasts good food, friendly staff, and some lovely pints of cask ale.
A worthy premise for an award! Several branch members came along to a presentation of the SPBW NI POTY award. Along with George (the boss) and his staff from the pub was
the owner of Whitewater Brewery, Bernard Sloan, and the (in)famous mainstay of Belfast reporting, Jim McDowell. A really relaxed morning and thanks to George for the
food and drinks.
Due to family ill health and bereavement there was no award given for this year.
THE SUNFLOWER BAR
The Sunflower opened at the end of 2012 and already it is making a name as a place to go for an eclectic mix
of music and clientele. The owner, Pedro, is well known in the trade and is well respected. The downstairs bar, while small, has a lively atmosphere and the staff are
all friendly and knowledgeable about cask ales. Tasty daytime snacks are now being served making it a great spot for local office workers to drop by and chill out.
THE OLD COURTHOUSE
A favourite away-day trip for the branch, this must be one of the best make-overs of an old government building. We arrived early enough to have a good substantial lunch before jumping into the prolonged photo session. The result will be seen in the next JD Wetherspoon magazine. Afterwards we relaxed with a few pints before heading home.
HILDEN BREWERY & TAP ROOM
Normally this award goes to a premise with a full licence but this is a special case to encompass over three decades of brewing casks ales and running a class restaurant. Seamus & Ann worked through the hard times when cask ale was more something of derision in the 1980's. Their labours paid off and now the Scullion scions are continuing the business.
The business is not able to sell drinks over the counter, but they can be purchased alongside some excellent food in the restaurant or beer garden. Plus, who could forget the annual Hilden Beerfest?
TO BE AWARDED
This will occur after the summer.