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Cumbria Way Pubs: Coniston-Elterwater, The Britannia Inn, Coniston Britannia Inn Special Edition and No 9 Barley Wine

September 19, 2012 9 comments

Day two of our Cumbria Way walk started with a filling breakfast at the Black Bull in Coniston: thick bacon and poached eggs for me; an almost Germanic cold ham and cheese platter for Kate, before we started the walk up and out of Coniston in the rain. The first few miles of the walk were mostly gently ascending through pleasant farmland and woodland, with some spectacular views of cloudy fells beside and ahead of us. Despite the showers, the walk up to Tarn Hows was a very pleasing introduction to an area with some of the most striking views in the Lake District.

Unfortunately, at that point, Kate’s knee started to cause her a lot of pain. However, using two walking poles she valiantly struggled through the rest of the walk on access roads and through woodland to Skelwith Bridge. The walk from there along Elterwater (from the Norse for “swan lake”) was thankfully relatively easy and flat, so we decided to end the day in Elterwater village, rather than continue on for the last three or so miles to Dungeon Ghyll.

This meant that we were able to end the day’s walk in the Britannia Inn, an excellent coaching inn in the beautiful village of Elterwater. Three quarters of the residences in the quiet village are holiday cottages, but the Britannia Inn is a real pub and one of the best places to drink in the Lake District.

Unlike some other pubs, it continues to serve a small selection of warm food to hungry walkers and tourists between lunch and dinner service. We enjoyed a decadent basket of chips with melting mature cheddar, along with a couple of pints of Coniston Brewery’s Britannia Inn Special Edition Ale. The helpful description on the pump described it as Coniston’s take on a beer with the profile of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, and so it is: a solid, satisfying, robustly-hopped English best bitter.

After enjoying that and waiting for our lift, I decided to have a half of Coniston No. 9 Barley Wine, which I’d had in bottle the night before at the Black Bull, but which the Britannia Inn had on cask. It was even better from a handpull, adding to the existing smoothness, balance and warm drinkability of the strong beer that I’d enjoyed in the bottled version. The barman came out for a chat to see if I was enjoying it.

The Britannia Inn is one of those warm, well-stocked, happy pubs that you could cope with being stranded in for hours (or even days) if the weather happened to turn. Just so long as the beer, and cheesy chips, didn’t run out.

Killing Two Birds With One Stone: Coniston Bluebird & Bluebird XB

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Coniston Bluebird is one of the most beloved beers of the Lake District: almost as ubiquitous as Jenning’s Cumberland Ale, but for my money, much more interesting.  I’ve had quite a few pints in my time of both it and its American-hopped counterpart, Bluebird XB, in my time; however I’d never tried a side-by-side comparison and thought it was worth the exercise, so I bought a couple of bottles in Beer Ritz for the purpose of doing so.

Coniston Brewing Company Bluebird Bitter (4.2%)

Distinguished, the label says, with “unusual quantities” of Challenger hops, this bottle-conditioned version had very little aroma and what there was came across slightly bready.  There was a small amount of bread as well in the slightly tart bitterness, with a slightly oily mouthfeel.  I also noticed a chalkiness in the taste.

Coniston Brewing Company Premium XB Bluebird Bitter (4.4%)

The XB version adds the “new wave American hop variety Mount Hood with robust citrus aromas“.  Certainly this resulted in a much more interesting nose, with more citrus and perhaps even a slight fresh, herbal mintiness in there as well.  The citrus carries through to a light, gentle lemony flavour, but one that seems to meet head-on with the chalkiness I noted in the standard Bluebird.  As a result, the first impression I got was of the bitterness that you experience when drinking orange juice just after brushing your teeth. 

Mulling it over more, I think this alkaline chalkiness has always been present in Bluebird.  It might just go to show that I’ve tended to drink it without analysing the taste and the beers both contained some surprises when I really applied my attention to them.  Although I think I prefer the cask version of each, I did quite like both bottles and, given the choice, might tend towards the lighter notes and stronger aroma of the XB version.

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