by Kate (@kate_blaszczyk)
(With thanks to Dave from @YesAleBlog for letting me use some of his photographs).
Having being born and raised in Stoke on Trent, it was a pleasure to become the #Tryanuary Champion for Staffordshire for the 2018 campaign. Now living just outside Manchester, I’m spoiled when it comes to craft beer establishments, and sometimes it’s nice to change pace and visit some venues on home turf. It’s no secret that ten years ago, when it came to craft beer, there wasn’t a great deal going on here. I don’t think I’ve previously heard many people utter the words “Anyone fancy a weekend in Hanley?” As in many post-industrial towns of the Midlands and North West, it’s still finding its feet now the bottle kilns have cooled and closed. However, fast forward to the dizzy futuristic times of 2018 and not only do we have a craft beer available here, we have options!
The only consideration now is distance between venues – bear in mind that Stoke on Trent isn’t a city in the ‘traditional’ sense. It comprises of five towns and it’s also important to know that the town referred to as the ‘city centre’ is Hanley and not Stoke (Stoke is one of the five towns, but not the main one, despite having the train station… you know what, it’s quite confusing, just Google it.) Generally, we are only talking a few miles but probably just too long to enjoyably stagger between them, taxis are cheap and plentiful if there are a few of you, and busses also exist. Hopefully in years to come there will be a “Stoke on Trent Craft Beer Corridor”, but for now, here is a rundown of some of the places I really enjoy :
Kraftworks – Alsager
At first, the small South Cheshire township of Alsager seemed a slightly incongruous location for a destination craft beer bar – a few pleasant local pubs and restaurants, along with all the other standard amenities of a town this size (when I originally drafted this post last year I had added ‘No Costa yet!’ but now, guess what…?) but not the type of place you would normally travel to for a night out. However, new kid on the block Kraftworks has quickly established itself as a haven of great friendly service, with a small local bar feel but with the selection of any decent Manchester/Birmingham establishment.
Established in November 2016, it promises 4 keg lines (beers on tap regularly feature Buxton, The Kernel, Beavertown and they recently hosted a Verdant tap take over) and an ever expanding bottle selection. The bar is modern, clean, comfortable and friendly with large rustic tables. They open early in the afternoon so I would recommend popping here first on the way into the city if heading there from the North. They also have handy little USB ports for charging your devices, I could happily spend an afternoon here ‘working from home’ (I wish).
(Honourable mention – While you’re in the area, The Lodge just a few minutes walk from Kraftworks would be worth a look if you’re after some decent cask selections. They’ve been keeping the drinkers of Alsager content for many years now with offerings from the usual suspects including Tiny Rebel, Marble and Magic Rock, with both cask and a few keg available, and also occasionally the landlord’s own Goodalls beers. There’s usually an open fire on in the winter and have a fairly large outdoor space for a pint in the summer (plus there’s usually some good dogs).
Bottlecraft – Hanley
Bottlecraft is proudly placed in the centre of Hanley, the city centre, and is one of the largest bars in the area. Established by three friends with a passion for craft beer in 2015, Bottlecraft began in a cosy premises just around the corner. It quickly gained popularity and required somewhere bigger to house all the enthusiastic beer lovers in the city centre. In 2017 it moved to its new home on Piccadilly, handily situated in Hanley’s Cultural Quarter, which also houses independent coffee shops, clothing stores and the fantastic Klay (aside – Klay does brilliant fresh pizza in quirky surroundings and also has a very decent can/bottle and tap selection from the likes of Magic Rock, Beavertown etc. If you’re needing sustenance on your trip, this is definitely the place to visit).
Bottlecraft is spread over two levels with plenty of space, with upstairs tables having a good view over the cultural quarter. Formerly a clothing store, lots of work went into turning this building into a cool bar with an industrial feel. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and there is always a diverse selection on tap. On recent visits there were offerings from Stigbergets, Amundsen, Northern Monk, Wiper and True, To Øl… Really no one will be stuck for something to enjoy here! They also host regular Tasting Nights which you can find out about on the blog.
(Please mind the small step).
Hopwater Cellar – Newcastle Under Lyme
Now we have ventured to Newcastle Under Lyme, just a few miles from Hanley. Enter through an unassuming green door to be greeted by enthusiastic staff, a vastly impressive bottle selection, and a small but perfectly formed selection of 2 keg and 1 cask beers. As the name suggests, this place is built slightly into a hill so depending on where you’re sitting, it feels almost subterranean, but not cramped or claustrophobic and they have impressively made use of the space. The crowd in here is a real mixture, not just full of beery types but drinkers of all styles and ages. I never fail to find someone interesting to talk to!
Ten Green Bottles – Newcastle Under Lyme
If I lived in Newcastle, Ten Green Bottles is where I’d meet up with my non-beer drinking buddies for a drink in a lovely setting before a night out. Set in a beautiful old building, there are plenty of beer offerings, but here they also specialise in fancy gins (which I know nothing about, but the bottles look special and they are described as ‘bakewell tart’ or ‘rhubarb and custard’ so they’re probably delicious). There’s something to please most people, and the venue itself is a gorgeous, relaxing space by day and buzzing trendy bar by night. Outside there is a stylish beer garden for the summertime. (There is also a Ten Green Bottles in Stone, I’m yet to visit but hope to very soon!)
Hop Inn – Newcastle under Lyme
Hop Inn was refurbished and reopened in 2014 after previously being owned by Punch Taverns, and has since built a strong reputation for a great selection of well kept beers. There is a modest bottle and can selection here, but with such a great selection on both keg and cask (around five rotating keg options and nine cask, always with offerings from Oakham and Mallinson’s), personally I don’t really ever feel the need to venture into the fridge!
CARMA Potteries ‘Pub of the Year’ in 2015 and 2017, Hop Inn is most definitely a pub and not a bar. I find the change of pace refreshing, as much as I’m a great fan of the sparse and rugged feel that has become synonymous with craft beer, sometimes it’s nice to feel that you’re relaxing in a local. Indeed, I’ve met some fantastic friendly faces in the Hop and some of them have become close friends (There aren’t many places where I’ve been introduced to people over a pint at Christmas and then arranged to go on a trip to Barcelona Beer Festival with them three months later), and that’s surely what beer is all about?
On Tap – Biddulph
On to the baby of the group, On Tap has been up and running for a few months now and has gained quite a reputation. It’s an impressive venture for three founders who still manage to keep their day jobs going, working behind the bar by night and roping in family members along the way. The beers available are unquestionably great, the surroundings are comfortable and quirky, but the people are what really makes this bar stand out. Chatty, enthusiastic, and well informed, you feel like a local after one visit. When we first dropped in in January 2018, we were greeted with complimentary bar snacks (not only that, a selection, including Karkli!) friendly conversation, and a beer board including locals from the Mobberley Brewhouse, and some favourites from further afield such as Deya, Partizan, and Redchurch. (Local tip – I like to pair a visit to On Tap with a great curry from Roti next door!)
Otter’s Tears – Burslem
Everyone knows about Otter’s Tears. If you need to stock up on some train beers for the journey home, then you definitely need to pop over to Burslem to visit the best bottle shop in Staffordshire (and beyond!) Otter’s Tears. The owner Phil is always on hand, even when he’s broken his foot, to chat and advise. His extensive knowledge and passion for beer is reflected on the shelves, with a huge selection of UK, European and worldwide bottles and cans available. The most likely place in the area to pick up some rarities too, along with two growler fill stations (At last visit, they had Northern Monk Sticky Toffee Stranik and Cloudwater/To Øl Christmas Cake Stout). It really is a must visit, one to rival some of the big city centre bottle shop VIPs.