Unfortunately you seldom find good examples of both in the same place. There are good quality local boozers that are striving to provide top class cask ales from a plethora of micro and independent breweries, but their fare by the way of food is usually limited to crisps and nuts and sometimes the odd triangular ham sandwich with half a tomato as garnish strategically placed on top.
Or, you have “gastro pubs” that claim to create high class restaurant food in a “pub” environment, but their idea of a real ale is a nitro keg beer with enough chemicals, additives and CO2 to get Greenpeace worried.
The Sparrowhawk in Fence, near Burnley in Lancashire is the exception to the rule.
Having suffered becoming a managed, plastic pub in the nineties and serving rubbish food and even worse keg ales, it has been refreshing to see that “smoothflow” beers are all but a distant memory.
I worked there as a young lad in its last dying days as a “real” pub. I used to empty the bottle skips and clean the cellar. I remember the bar manager at the time, a lovely chap who didn’t smoke until 3pm but then got through 60 Bensons, and who didn’t drink till 8pm and then poured the best part of a gallon of Carling down his throat, seven days a week, 365 days a year. He was old school personified. He taught me the art of looking after and conditioning cask ale. His first words to me on entering the cold, damp cellar for the first time, were,
“If you knock a barrel you can do one of two things. Either get out of the cellar and the pub and never come back, or, you will never leave the cellar!!”
Needless to say I didn’t ever knock a barrel.
I used to be amazed at the ease with which he used to throw barrels, I do mean thirty sixes, on to the stillages. I still practise what he showed me to this day.
“Cask ale is a living breathing product”, I was told, ”It takes time and skill to ensure that every pint that goes over the bar is perfect”. That, I think, is the reason that so many places these days fail to deliver consistency of product.
Nowadays The Sparrowhawk offers up to five cask conditioned ales. They currently have Thwaites Original (3.6%), Marstons EPA (3.6%) and rotating guest beers from Prospect Brewery, Whatever! (3.8%), Bank Top Brewery, Sweeney's (3.8%) & Reedley Hallows, Monkholme Premium (4.2%).
To complement these ales they also have Franziskaner and Leffe Blonde on draught.
It is good to see local beers in a local pub. It is also good to see fresh, local, contemporary food in the same place. Wherever possible they source the finest ingredients from Lancashire and its surrounding counties. They are also committed to buying their meat from British farms & seafood from British waters. They pride themselves about this.
So why do so many people choose wine with their food when they could try ale? I think it is because they don’t know that they can. That is the reason why, at the Sparrowhawk, they are thinking about matching some of their wonderful dishes to their beers and recommending matches on their daily specials board.
For example Game goes well with dark lagers, Beef goes well with full bodied bitters such as Draught Bass. You can always quaff a bottle of Kriek whilst enjoying a succulent duck breast. Malty ales like Thwaites go well with turkey. Don’t forget the stout when you are tucking in to a rich chocolate brownie and how many of you have tried stilton with a glass of barley wine? Not many I wager.
Beer, therefore, offers as many if not more possibilities as wine when it comes to drinking with your meal.
So, remember, the next time you visit Fence pop into the Sparrowhawk for some quality food and maybe take a look at what beers are on offer before you automatically ask for the wine list, you maybe pleasantly surprised.