My hometown is Winchester, in Hampshire, an hour southwest of London out of Waterloo railway station. Although small, it’s technically a city, the ancient capital of England, boasting a cathedral – with the longest nave of any Gothic cathedral in Europe, apparently. My mother says she often overhears tour guides saying the high street is the oldest in Europe too, but I’m not sure how that’d be qualified. (When it was a Roman city, the main drag was in the same position, if that’s any help.) It’s got an Iron Age hillfort, King Arthur’s Round Table (honest), some bits of medieval city wall, and even a few city gates, despite the Victorians’ best efforts to destroy the historical infrastructure.
It’s also got a lot of pubs, though many of them are pretty mediocre. Among the not-mediocre Winchester pubs is my old local, The Black Boy. (My old old local, The Mash Tun, died the death and now seems to be a tapas bar.)
I’ve been going to The Black Boy for, well, probably decades. It’s a great little pub, in a low-ceilinged old building, replete with plenty of novelty clutter (taxidermied beasts, eviscerated books), fireplaces (that are actually used in the winter), and plenty of nooks and crannies. More importantly, however, there’s also a decent selection of real beers. Not only that, they have a policy to stock local real beers, so expect stuff from breweries and Hampshire (mostly) and other parts of ye olde Kingdom of Wessex, like adjacent Wiltshire. Oh, and it’s friendly too – not something you always experience in British boozers.
The Black Boy always seems to carry Flowerpots Bitter from The Flowerpots Brewery in Cheriton, a few miles away from Winchester. I often choose their 3.8% bitter (so mild-mannered after all the strong Italian beers I’ve been drinking lately!), but for this visit to The Black Boy I sampled some of the other ales they had on and chose Ruddy Darter.
Although it’s classified as an English bitter by Beer Advocate and a Premium Bitter/ESB by Ratebeer, more specifically I’d call Ruddy Darter an amber ale, with its deep coppery-red colour. Andwell, the Hampshire brewery that makes Ruddy Darter, refer to it as a Ruby Ale, in a Premium Ale style. (Andwell, by the way, was founded in 2008; Ruddy Darter is their most recent beer.)
However you define it, Ruddy Darter is delicious. It’s got a fruity smell, which continues into the taste, which is also warmly malty, with a good sweet caramel flavour and mellow hoppiness. My pint was hand-pumped, with low carbonation, though I suspect the bottled version would be bubblier. (Something I experimented on a few days later with some beers from Holsworthy Ales, in Devon. Will write that up shortly.). Oh, and it’s named after a dragonfly, which is pretty cool. All in all, a very pleasant quick visit to an old haunt.
[Usual apology for quality of photos. One of my reasons for visiting Winchester was to get a new phone with a good camera, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to sign up for another 24 month contract or whatever.]