BEST BACK BAR!
16 February 2016
EAT, SLEEP AND DRINK!
BY DAVID HANCOCK, INN PLACES
With ‘dry January’ at an end, why not reward yourself with a stay at one of our ‘best back bar’ inns. Find some of David’s discoveries below, stay the night and clear the head in the morning with an invigorating walk….
Originally a Victorian schoolhouse, with steep gables and an octagonal bell tower, the Cholmondeley Arms stands in rural Cheshire close to the entrance to Cholmondeley Castle. If gin is your thing you’ll find yourself in gin heaven, with a mind-boggling choice of over 200 different brands and array of mixers on the menu. If Genever’s your thing and you’re with friends, try the ‘gin board’ – three gins, three garnishes, three tonics, all for £15. Ale lovers are also spoilt for choice with an impressive line-up of five pumps dispensing local beers from within a 35-miles radius of the pub.
The Olive Branch’s commitment to quality imbibing is every bit as powerful as its love of great food, with own-label Olive Ale bitter from Oakham on the bar and a cracking bottled-beer menu. There’s homemade strawberry vodka in summer, sloe gin straight from the hedgerow in winter; while the bespoke cocktail list includes the zingy Clipsham Cooler (gin, apple juice, elderflower, mint and lemon). Try it with Burleighs gin, distilled up the road in Leicestershire. The wine list is full of surprises, with exciting ‘wines of the month’ and a dozen offered in handy half-litre carafes.
Although the 17th-century Chequers Inn is primarily about destination dining in lovely Lincolnshire countryside, you’re perfectly welcome to drop by for lunch and a pint after a ramble up to hilltop Belvoir Castle (less than a mile away). Oenophiles are well served: 100 bins in the cellar, more than 30 vintages by the glass and a separate Champagne list – even the choice of Cognacs runs to double figures. The chalkboard cocktail menu is cosmopolitan and seasonal too, from perfect Manhattans to Bakewell Tart Martinis.
Stand at the impressive bar of this 15th century inn and expect to be bamboozled by the choice of drinks on and behind it. On tap, you’ll find local real ales from Adnams and Crouch Vale, alongside Suffolk lager from Calvors Brewery and local Aspall’s Harry Sparrow Suffolk Cyder. Look to the shelves for boutique vodka and gins from Sipsmith, Chase Sacred, and gin from Essex distillers Hayman’s. Equally not mainstream is the range of 15 malt whiskies and the adventurous wine list (Waitrose Good Food Guide Wine List of the Year 2015) that majors in Italy and France; 20 by the glass and carafe.
HORSE GUARDS INN
Tillington, West Sussex
The 350-year-old Horse Guards Inn is a magnet for locals and foodies alike, and it’s always bursting at the seams. The inn’s commitment to all things local shows up in the bar, with Sussex ales on the pumps, a 40-strong wine list that includes sparkling fizz from nearby Upperton Vineyard, and the seasonal specials are worth a punt too, especially the ‘winter warmer’ – a mix of spiced apple juice and cider, served warm with cinnamon, star anise and cloves. Bloody Marys, cocktails, homemade sloe gin and medicinal revitalisers complete the alcoholic package.
The creeper clad Wheatsheaf cuts a dash, with the smart, country-style good looks of the bar and dining areas matched by 14 glamorous bedrooms. The wine list is a cracker, with over 300 bins to choose from, including some French big-hitters sitting alongside interesting options from Italy, the USA and just about everywhere else. There are plenty of sparklers, too, including some English fizz from Nyetimber. If you fancy something a little stronger, take a look at the cocktail list (with a page dedicated to gin cocktails), or stick to the neat stuff and try one (or two) of the 20 types of malt whisky. They stock cigars if you intend going the whole hog.
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